Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A hundred balls in the air

What element of the craft is the one you most need to improve?

by Dietrich
My aim is to constantly improve every element of the process. I never want to think I’ve mastered anything, and I never want to stop considering new ways. Not allowing things to evolve means the whole process would become stale.

Right from the jump when I started writing, I made the effort to improve my knowledge of grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure – like the tools of the trade. And from there, I played with genres and styles and ended up balling up a lot of paper, going for three-pointers in the trash bin. 
I played with plotting tight, tried it loose, tried writing standing, lying, and sitting. I learned to keep detailed sheets on each of my characters. A reliable memory just doesn’t cut it, so I learned to make careful notes and keep timelines to avoid making the kind of slips that are so easy to make, and then miss at the editing stage.
I constantly study how people actually speak to and behave with one another, and I bring a version of that to my make-believe characters, letting each of them come to life by sounding unique and real. I also learned to let them show their worlds through their own points of view, without me stepping all over the scenes and taking over the narrative. And I learned to pepper in dark humor, and not to overdo it – just the right amount. I learned to detail the scenes and settings, and to choose the best angles from which to describe them. Putting in all the needed details without letting the overall pace drag, yet allowing those spots where the action needs to slow – when a scene needs to breathe – before picking it up again. 
Working on voice and style, I got to a point where I felt I could keep everything consistent from the start of a novel to the final page. And I learned to tighten everything up going from a first to a second draft and so on. And I learned to edit; and just as important as that, I learned when to stop editing and call the whole thing done.  

Those are the mechanics that I learned and honed. Then there are the things that come by instinct. Like knowing what to put in, and what to take out, whose POV to tell a scene from, when to ramp up tension, or take a sharp corner and throw in a surprise – something I didn’t plan on – the kind of thing a reader wouldn’t see coming from several pages back. And feeling when something’s the right thing to do. 
Every writer’s going to have a best way that works for them, this is just my way. And for me, the creativity wants to flow freestyle, without too many rules or planning standing in the way. Over the years, I’ve gained confidence and become more efficient working through the process, and I’ve learned to trust my instincts. But, I never want to feel I’ve mastered anything, and I’m always looking for new ways to explore, and hopefully doing it better.


Paul D. Marks said...

I agree with you, Dietrich. If we think we've learned it all we stop growing and when that happens I think our writing grows stale. There's always something new to learn or a new way of doing something. That's half the fun.

Brenda Chapman said...

Dietrich - you've written a checklist for honing the writing process! All aspects that can be be improved upon no matter the stage in a writer's career.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Thanks, Paul and Brenda.