Today, we have the pleasure of Biljana Likic guest-blogging for us! Biljana is a fellow FictionPress.com author, and is in the middle of revising her first novel. She’s an amazingly talented writer, and a bit of a prodigy, too–she just turned eighteen! Keep your eyes peeled for her name, because we just KNOW she’s going places!
Take it away, Biljana!
So, as we all know, reading books is an integral part of learning how to write. When you read only good ones though, it’s easy to forget that even they’ve had coarse and sketchy drafts. And while a great deal can be learned from reading good books, they often won’t tell you how to write well. Sometimes it’s the novice that will teach you the most valuable lesson, and reading a work in progress can act like a workshop. It can teach you the process of building an original universe.
A Work in Progress, or WIP, has a vulnerability exclusive to its kind. It’s a writer’s brainchild, and it can have an enormous amount to grow. In the past year, as I began to take writing more seriously, this growth and process has become fascinating to me.
Expressing my honest opinion to an author has led me to revelations that I’ve later been able to take back to my own writing. These revelations were always something that I knew in the back of my head, but was never able to consciously pinpoint. So, I thought I’d explain to you guys some of the key things I’ve learned and explored this past year through reading various WIPs.
1. Word Choice. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But there have been many times that word choice made the flow stumble. Find your voice and keep it consistent. Always use words that you think best describe what the protagonist is going through, and use variety. Nothing is more boring that a page full of “hot’s”. But if you substitute them with “blistering” and “torrid” and “sweltering”, the reader suddenly feels like they’re in an oven. A pickier point would be also not to use distinct words more than a few times. If you use a word like “piquant”, the reader will notice if it appears again a short time later. The thesaurus is your friend.
2. Awkward Phrasing and Over-Describing. Another obvious one. Personally, awkward phrasing is a nightmare to me. The key, I found, was to make it simpler. A lot of the time (and I’m very guilty of this, too), an author will try to make something sound more inspiring by giving it a different sentence structure or packing it down with too much description. Scrap it all. You don’t need it. If it needs to stand out, simplicity might even help it. If a big secret is being exposed, too many words will make us care less. And that is the last thing you want.
3. Repeated idioms/analogies. Unless it’s part of the character, or unless it’s frequent appearance is used in some ironic, funny, or deeply meaningful way, there is nothing more annoying than repeating an idiom or analogy. Some people even find idioms lazy, and think it’s just the use of common imagery to avoid the work of coming up with something new. I personally have nothing wrong with it, as long as I never have to see it again in the rest of the book. Think about it: how annoying was Sarah Palin with her stupid “pit bull with lipstick” spiel she’d throw every time somebody questioned her? The same can happen in writing. Once again, if it’s there for characterization, it’s fine.
For example, in Casablanca, Rick’s frequent “I stick my neck out for nobody,” turned into something heartbreaking by the end of the movie. That’s fine. What you don’t want is to repeat, “She was the apple of his eye,” every time you reintroduce a couple. Instead of endearing, as it may have been the first time, it becomes cheesy to the point of being painful. If you want to use an idiom or analogy, find a good, strong place to put it, squeeze all the juice you can out of it once, and then never use it again.
4. Transitions and flow. You can have great, amazing, stupendously awesome paragraphs, but if you don’t connect them well, they’ll sound like crap. Alright…that’s a little bit of an exaggeration. But transitions are really important. They are what ultimately keep the reader reading. A bad transition to the next section can turn a paragraph that’s great and exciting into one that’s anti-climactic. Almost every time you finish a paragraph, you have to go out with a bang because that’s what the reader will subconsciously remember when they think about how great the book was. You need dozens upon dozens of satisfying “endings” so that when you get to that most important one, the lead-up makes it explode into greatness. That said, however, you don’t always have to use powerful wording and creative punctuation. Find a medium, and exploit it.
5. Understating to Avoid Predictability. Painful predictability is every author’s hidden fear. Here’s a way I found to avoid it: understatement. A story’s ending has to make sense. Sometimes you’ll want the ending to be shocking. But you don’t want it so shocking that it’s completely unbelievable. You want to give the reader just as many hints as it takes to put the thought in their heads, but not enough to make them too suspicious. It’s just a matter of playing down the issue and making it subtle, manipulating the phrasing to focus on everything but the suspicious stuff. If the reader ever reads the story again, they’ll pick out these hints and simply marvel at how masterly your plot-weaving skills are.
And that’s all, folks! All that made clearer, just from reading Works in Progress. Makes me want to weep. Of course, there’s more. There always is. There’s continuity, pacing, dialogue… It never ends. But hopefully you now have a greater understanding as to why it’s important to read and critique other people’s works, and you have a few hints of how to better your own writing. Good luck!
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.