Monday, December 5

Gentle Reminders Beat a Slap to the Head: Why Refreshing What Your Know is a Good Thing

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I love reading about witting. There's something about an article that looks at -- say dialog -- in a new way and makes me realize I could improve it if I did X, that gets me all aflutter. It's one of the reasons I love reading writing blogs so much. They're a wonderful way to grow as a writer.

I often point these out to writer pals, and I've had some mention (and I'm paraphrasing here), "Yeah, that's a great blog, but it's all basic stuff. We're way past that." In a way it's true, but in a way, it's not.

It's easy to forget about the fundamentals when they're old hat to you. When you don't sweat over structure, worry over dialog, fret over setting, you don't always look at them as closely as you once did. Sometimes, they suffer because of it. Or if not, they might not be as stunning as they could be, because they're good enough. It's all stuff you know. You're past all that.

I came across a link a while back on a blog I read, which led me to a blog that had links to a bunch of blogs I don't read. I usually check out other blogs like this, because I never know when I'll find a great one to add to my morning reads. I found agent Sara Crowe's blog, and she had an older post about dialog that really made me stop and think.

Now, there's nothing in this post that I don't know already. Of course you want all your characters to have distinct voices. You should be able to tell who's speaking without having a tag. This is all dialog 101 stuff. But I couldn't tell you when the last time I thought about this was. This post made me think, "Gee, have I been doing that?" Does Danello sound differently from Aylin? Is Nya as distinctive as she should be? You can bet your bippy I made a note to check that, and make "check voices" part of my final polish check.

Had I not seen this post, I wouldn't have bothered. Because I know how to write dialog. (not in a cocky way, just, like, we know what we know). But here was a gentle reminder that while I know it, I might not always remember to do it to the best of my ability. There's so much to learn in writing that once you nail something, it's easy to move on to the next piece and not think about the rest.

I think it's a smart move to keep up on the fundamentals, (just like athletes do) to stay fit and sharp. That way we'll know we're always giving 100%, and not setting for "good enough."

Do you ever brush up on the fundamentals? Do you read posts that discuss things you know or focus more on what's new? How do you feel about "reminder posts?"

14 comments:

  1. I love writing dialog! They are the scenes that fly off my fingertips the fastest (albeit without all the necessary action intertwined - that comes later). It offers such an opportunity to show off each of my characters and how they think, and how their thoughts mesh together to make the group dynamics work.

    But I also agree that it's important to remember that even if we "know" it all, we don't always practice what we know!

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  2. Great reminder... And awesome link. That had me, too, thinking about my dialogue in a different way this morning.

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  3. Great post, and very useful link - hadn't seen that blog before. I always enjoy reading this kind of article as well!

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  4. I don't mind reminder post. Sometimes they're needed! I guess it depends on what I need to be reminded about! :)

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  5. Thanks for the reminder and the link. I loved her examples, especially the before and after. Like you said, "Reminder to self: check voices on next edit."

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  6. Oooh! Great link, thanks! I actually have "check dialogue" on my list for my current round of revisions :)

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  7. Great post! I could be better at reading blogs for a "refresh." I think this is the week for humble pie for me. And your post is a good reminder that I can learn from any source as long as I stay open and willing to learn. Thank you!

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  8. I do limit myself to how much time I spend reading about writing -- I could read posts all day and never write -- but I don't mind repeats. Sometimes it's just a good reminder. Other times I look at something and think, "A year ago, I didn't know that, but now I do. I must be learning and growing as a writer."

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  9. What a fantastic post, and a welcome reminder. You're totally right -- athletes continue to practice the basics, and aren't we all athletes of the mind? (Drop and give me 25 paragraphs!)

    I think it's also worth noting that, similar to what MKHutcins said, we get different things from each reading, depending on where we are in the journey.

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  10. What a fantastic post, and a welcome reminder. You're totally right -- athletes continue to practice the basics, and aren't we all athletes of the mind? (Drop and give me 25 paragraphs!)

    I think it's also worth noting that, similar to what MKHutcins said, we get different things from each reading, depending on where we are in the journey.

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  11. Yes! *This* is why I read so many blogs. :)

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  12. I don't mind reading posts on basics over and over again. I know I'm still learning, and will always be learning. The most I can hope for is improvement.

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  13. I think there are many many, many facets to what this post is addressing.

    Especially for writers like myself who aren't comfortable with plotting ahead of time.

    As Janice said-

    "There's so much to learn in writing that once you nail something, it's easy to move on to the next piece and not think about the rest."

    For me, this is why I personally get so paranoid about being concise.

    I know a real problem of mine continues to be that my desire to improve my constant weak points like concise writing, being clear about my plot, not unfairly mislead the reader while not handhold them like a paranoid control freak, and do right by the story I'm telling, but not leave readers confused and overwhelmed in ways that frustrate, not captivate.

    Often my failings outshine what I am getting right.

    It's why I get so anal about query letters, or any aspect that's supposed to "Hook" readers instead of bore them, and with so much subjectivity involved here, it's hard to know if you're not doing enough, period, or this really is a matter of individual tastes, and the line between the two often feels nonexistent, even if it's there.

    Imogen, I'm with you, but there needs to come a time when you, as the writer has to say, "This is best I can do, for now..." or you will never "Write the next story."

    That can and will stop your learning cold. Adding further doubt and guilt you don't need, seriously.

    I've been there and it's not a proud feeling. Trust me.

    Just my friendly words of warning.

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  14. Laura, so true! If it's the same-old-same-old it can get boring.

    Amelia, most welcome!

    Danielle, awesome! I think I added that to my list after I first read that post as well.

    D.B., I'm always on the lookout for new things to learn. We all want to improve, and you never know where that spark might come from.

    MK, that's a great point, about seeing how you've grown. I have cut down on my blog time as well for those same reasons.

    Jo, LOL love that!

    Jami, and why I click so many links in Twitter these days.

    Imogen, for me that hasn't gone away. I find new tips I can incorporate into my process all the time. That's part of what makes it fun.

    Taurean, the most anyone can do is try the best they can. To strive for improvement in whatever they enjoy. If all you ever do is focus on the bad, you'll never see the good. Some days you just need to do things for the fun of it.

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