Sunday, October 10, 2021

Cha ... cha... cha... Changes

Has your writing style evolved over the years? If so, tell us how, and what the drivers of those changes were.

Brenda Chapman starting off the week.

I'm certainly hoping that my writing style has evolved since I look at the craft as a moving target that improves with experience and practice. I'd think it a rare writer who comes out fully developed, writing their best work from the get go, never learning or improving. What's the challenge and fun in that?!

I started writing poetry and studied creative writing, focusing on poetry and short stories for a university credit. The professor worked on ridding our work of melodrama and overwriting, which I was guilty of back then. So, I'd say this was the first writing-style improvement to my work.

My first published pieces were short stories, and each one taught me something new about word economy, tight writing and plotting. I moved on to write a middle grade mystery series, followed by a couple of standalones, and then the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series. I also penned an adult mystery series of eight novellas, called the Anna Sweet Mysteries.

I was learning the craft as I wrote for different age groups and audiences, but came to realize that in order to create a name in the business, I had to focus on writing for one age group. In addition, each age category, whether young adult, middle grade, adult, not to mention each genre, has its own rules, 'fads', and requirements. I gave up writing for kids to focus on the adult audience, although I continued to split my time between adult literacy and mainstream mysteries.

Writing adult novellas with a tight word count taught me to use precise words and to be sparer with descriptions, to omit the bits that readers skip over. I had a terrific editor for all the Anna Sweet mysteries named Pam Robertson, and I learned a lot from her about checking all the story details and making certain that every part of the plot as well as character choices are logical and consistent. Each word mattered. This attention to detail is easier in a 14,000-word novella than a 90,000-word novel, but equally important.

Like many writers, I've got manuscripts in my drawer that will never see the store shelves. I've gotten constructive feedback on some of them, and while I might never get back to rewriting each one, I've taken the advice forward to later projects. A lot has to do with plotting, an area that I continue to develop. Dialogue is another area where I continue to work on improving, aiming for realistic conversations that cut out boring bits. 

I think I'm on the right track with all of this effort to learn the craft, reinforced by many people reviewing my books on Goodreads as well as friends telling me that my books are getting better and better. I put this down to all the hard work of everyone working on my books, my willingness to accept criticism, and my continual reading of other authors' works as I try to learn from their examples. 

Writing is a journey; the targets are always moving, and the results are never certain. Art resembles life, I suppose, with all its ups and downs, successes and failures. We all need to accept and give a little grace, to support one another, and give writers time to develop their craft. I know that I've been blessed by all those readers who've been in my corner from the start, and by all those in the industry who've given guidance and the leeway to develop as a writer. It's why I'm still writing and sharing my work and challenging myself with new projects.

You can watch this five minute video on local television from this past week where I speak about my two series and what's on the horizon.


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