Thursday, August 11, 2011

When Your Writing Seems Wooden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         You can usually tell when someone really loves to write.

The writing seems animated, sparkling, sharp. When I volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school, there are some stories that even really young children have written that just pop off the page.

But frequently I’ll read passages in books that seem really flat to me. There’s no passion at all in it…just a straight narrative.

Sometimes if we overthink what we’re writing, we can mess ourselves up, too. It can also be a sign of over-vigorous editing.

Infusing Life in Your Writing:

Consider your voice. Is the delivery flat? How you tell the story is uniquely yours…but you need to discover that voice.

Get your characters moving. Are your characters spending too much time sitting at diners and talking? Maybe it’s time to kick your characters in the rear and get them to move around a little. They don’t have to be jogging or anything—they could be looking for something they misplaced and be absentmindedly answering the protagonist’s questions. They could be washing their car. Change the scenery, use some verbs. Give them some action to respond to or have them instigate action.

Cut out the dead wood. Is there a scene that’s really pedantic? Is it necessary? Pinpoint the information that the scene is there to convey. If it doesn’t advance the plot, develop conflict, or assist characterization, then why is it there? Cut it out. If it does advance the plot, see if there’s a way to rewrite the scene to give it more feeling.

Create settings that pop. Make your setting pop by using vivid words and imagery.

Change the sentence structure. Are you stuck in a subject-predicate pattern? Try switching the arrangement of your sentences a little. Start a sentence with a verb, prepositional phrase, or adverb.

Consider your choice of words. Are you writing in an accessible way? What kind of an impression is our vocabulary or style giving the reader? The worst thing to do is sound pedantic or as if we’re talking down to our reader. Plus, it’s not drawing the reader in. And, usually? It reads very woodenly to me.

Use more dialogue. A conversation between characters that moves the plot forward or provides some character development is a great way to liven up a wooden scene.

Use both long sentences and short sentences. Mixing up the sentence length lends the text a different rhythm and pace.

Show, don’t tell. Instead of telling how a character feels about something, show the emotion through the character’s actions. There are times where telling is better than showing (action sequences, for example), but for the most part, it’s more interesting for the reader if they can draw their own conclusions instead of being spoon-fed information.

Consider the project itself. Have you lost interest in it? If you’re writing woodenly day after day, it could be symptomatic of a problem on your end. Have you fallen in love with an idea for a different novel? Have you written yourself into a hole? Assess what’s changed.

Has your WIP ever sounded flat? What did you do to fix it?