Monday, May 2, 2011

Mentor Monday: A Personal Check-off List

Belonging to the same writing group for a long period of time causes one to become a bit schizophrenic. As we write, we hear voices, the voices of our writer’s group, whispering in our ears:

“Write tighter,” says one.

“Add some dialogue,” says another.

“Why all the adverbs?” asks a third.

I don’t mind the voices in my head while I write. They’re a form of self-editing. Each of us has particular strengths. I like a story with tension and find that it’s the thing I make the most comments about when we critique. (“Gimme those page turns!”)

Over the years, I’ve also collected a list of other traits I want to appear in my writing. When I’m all out of voices in my head and it’s time to rewrite, I check my list. The questions I ask myself give me a starting point for revisiting my work with a fresh eye.

Here’s my list. Feel free to adapt it:

1) Have I appealed to the reader’s aesthetic sensibilities?
Example: “[The land] …resembled a giant’s quilt—white, of course, because of the several feet of snow—spread out over an enormous bed. Here and there were the bumps made by the giant’s toes or keens. In the distance, his covered head raised up a larger bump in the bedding.” Kirby Larson, Hattie Big Sky.

2) Have I used appropriate analogies, similes, methaphors?
“She tore a book from the suitcase, hurled it at him…The book came flapping like a wounded duck and fell at Jeffrey’s feet.” Jerry Spinelli, Maniac Magee.

3) Have I created any neoligisms?
(Examples: the name Wendy, Pollyanna’s The Glad Game, and the non-wizard folk, Muggles).

4) Does the use of alliterative words help set the mood?
(I’ve mentioned before how I love the name Ssseverus Sssnape).

5) Have I provided enough conflict between my characters?
No conflict, no story.

6) Have I alerted the reader to this conflict?
In The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963Christopher Paul Curtis uses chapter titles: “Chapter 1. And You Wonder Why We Get Called the Weird Watsons.”

7) Have I used anecdotes to show, rather than tell?
“All of my family sat real close together on the couch under a blanket. Dad said this would generate some heat…Byron had just turned thirteen so he was officially a teenage juvenile delinquent and didn’t think it was ‘cool’ to touch anybody or let anyone touch him, even if it meant he froze to death. Byron had tucked the blanket between him and Dad down into the cushion of the couch to make sure he couldn’t be touched.” The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963.

8) Have I developed my characters through speech, action, or thought?
(Think Charlotte Doyle vs. Charlotte the Spider. Same name, similar intrepid spirit, but two VERY different characters)

9) Have I controlled the dialogue so it serves to move the story?
(“So, I’m like, uh, don’t, uh, write like people really talk, okay?”)

10) Have I kept my scenes short and snappy but with good transitions?

Pick a favorite movie. As you watch, count the number of seconds a character’s face appears in each scene. Surprised? A well-edited movie, however, appears seamless. Do the same with your writing.


Diane Mayr said...

I'm happy to see you use The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963. In my opinion it is one of the best books of all time!

Mur said...

Thanks to my Sistah Andy for pointing out the typos in today's post. Talk about needing self-editing! Sheesh! Moral: head colds are not conducive to writing.