I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day and we were speaking about what part of a writing a novel(or short story) is the most difficult. I was surprised to here him say that he had the most difficulty with conversation. I always found conversation to be the easiest part, taking the least thought and concentration. I personally usually stumble when I have to go through a series of descritptions that don't involve characters. Laying out scenery or describing the general appearance of a place( partly because I'm very conscious about becoming too descriptive- a quality that really bothers me about some authors).
So I was curious, what do you find to be the most difficult area of writing?
And maybe by posting, we can find some advice on the areas that trouble us.
August 9th, 2001, 06:34 PM
I think it's interesting that you say you have the least difficulty with writing dialog. Many people I speak with also say this, only to have their works rejected, usually for the stilted prose in their dialog!
I too have had this said to me by editors and I've always been advised to read my dialog out loud. It's quite amazing sometimes how what you think you've written as pacy, inspiring words coming from your character's mouth suddenly sounds like childish babble. So, I always remember this about my dialog, especially when I think it's great myself!
As for descriptions, these are perhaps just as difficult. The author knows what he/she is referring to, but the reader doesn't, and painting the picture for the reader so that they too can get a mental image of what the author had in mind is a skill which usually requires much practice. Sadly, many writers opt for adjective laden descriptions and then forget about the plot, which is really what the reader wants in any case. If you set out to tell a story, that has to be the prime objective, in my opinion. No amount of savvy dialog or mind-boggling description will save a weak plot or storyline!
Editing is another area that many find difficut. No one wants to abandon their much-labored-over words, yet sadly, in almost every form of writing, copy editing and trimming the fat is as important as the actual story itself. My first novel was shortened by 10,000 words to appease an editor, and while at the time is felt like killing my offspring, the end result was a much tighter and easier to read story!
Following close on the heels of plot, is something which I've often mentioned at this forum, and that is direction, especially in chapter creation. No one wants to plough through page after page of excellent dialog and visually inspiring description, if, at the end of the chapter, the story has not advanced from the previous chapter. All chapters must have direction and take the reader from one place in the story to another, otherwise, you'll get the dreaded skip happening from readers with tired and uninterested eyes!
In short, I guess it's all a matter of balance; juggling the right amount of dialog, description and sub plot, without losing direction!
[This message has been edited by erebus (edited August 09, 2001).]
August 9th, 2001, 07:15 PM
good points, erebus. I particularly agree with you about Balance. If I had to pick one thing, that would be it. That is the main reason that I have trouble with descriptions is because It's very easy to write too much. It is much more difficult to write description by only using a few well placed words but still creating vivid imagery. (You know the saying, "Less is more"). Something that, for me, causes the most frustration.
A good tip for editing (if it's possible) is to not do it yourself.
Let me explain. The technique that I have found to be the most valuable is for me to write a few chapters, and then hand it straight to someone that I know will be honest(the more honest the better) and have them write down any questions that came up that werent fully answered or any areas that tend to drag, etc... Then I have them hand me their questions and criticisms and I adress them accordingly. This not only helps with the flow and pace of a story, but it also helps to find holes in your plot. Sometimes, you may have an idea that sounds solid, but once it has come up as a question, and you begin to try and explain it to your objective reader(a.k.a.-expense free ameture editor), you'll find that it may not have been as good of an idea as you originally thought. There is something about saying your ideas out loud that really shows just how coherent that they truly are. Which is also why it's a good idea to read your dialogue aloud( which even doing this, and having my VERY honest objective reader do this as well, I still find the fewest problems.)
And I can't tell you how much it has helped to have an honest opinion from someone close by. IF you can find that, then beg them to help you out and then consider yourself lucky(as I do).
August 9th, 2001, 07:48 PM
Absolutely...and I actually have three people who proof my manuscripts, all with differing opinions, which helps me determine a balance for the final text. Lying somewhere in a neutral point between myself and the three others is hopefully an end result that will be pleasing to the majority of readers for the particular genre. I agree that it is a prerequisite to have others proof your work; they'll always pick up errors etc. that your own eyes will always miss. Nevertheless, third party editing should never be used as a replacement for many, many re-reads by the author!
August 9th, 2001, 08:15 PM
I didn't mean it for you not to re-read. What I meant was more like this. In my opinion, Every time that you re-read your work, you become more numb to it, doing about half(generalization) the good as the time before. So by having others read your work, and then coming back to it later, you will not only have a new perspective, but a semi-fresh look at your own work as well. Because If I try to edit my work after I have just written it, I usually get very little done or don't catch some of the major errors. Giving yourself time to forget what you have written can be very helpful. ( and any help with editing is worth it. I'm editing one my books right now to send to publishers-Insert painful moaning noises here)
Another tip, try to find people of a different sex to read your work. I sometimes don't write female characters as well, be cause i myself am not female and I don't view the world in the same way(and, no, I am not a sexist, but women and men often do have a very different view on things.)
And also something that I have found to be a tough subject to work on is pacing. when a book has a good pace, it can make a good story fantastic. One reason that I love J.K. Rowlings books(and why I can completely understand their success) is because they are so well paced. Her books are never boring. There's always something new but it never moves so fast that you lose track of the central plot. Very hard to achieve, and kudos to her for doing it so well.
This is also the reason why I don't like certain authors. I don't paricularly enjoy tolkien or brooks(and many others actually) simply because their books become too stale within the plot. IF I ever find myself skimming to get back to the meat of the story, I consider that a bad sign. So whenever i write, I really work to make sure that I'm always moving with the story and never sitting idle for too long. But it is a task that is easier said than done. Sometimes it is hard to keep things interesting while describing, but sometimes it is that very description that is vital to the overall plot(which you then must figure out how to weave in without making it dull). It can be a pain in the arse, but like i said, it can really make or break story. It is also very easy to start moving too fast, and having a plot that comes off as confusing rather than exciting.
August 9th, 2001, 08:29 PM
Pacing...now there's something I like. With most books in the Fantasy and SF genre there is understandably a large proportion of the work dedicated to world building. This is very necessary, of course, but again, often times, in my opinion, some authors can get bogged down on this aspect and forget about the story they began to tell us!
I love to read books that move quickly; they're my favourite reads in actual fact! So, when I set about writing my own trilogy, I wanted to write firstly for my own enjoyment, but also to give (hopefully) the reader a fun read as well. I guess I wrote it the way I like to read, to a certain extent. This is certainly true of book two, which is considerably fast-paced, as is book three, (which comes out next month, btw) though in a slightly different way...
While plodding epics certainly have their place, and undeniable popularity, I for one love the refreshing enjoyment gleaned from a cracking, fast-paced, interesting and enjoyable story, especially if you don't have to tax your brain too much!
August 10th, 2001, 03:25 AM
hrmmm. The most difficult thing for me is making sure the story / book has no holes. This covers a lot of ground. I want to make sure that the point of view is consistent. I want to make sure that the narrative is confined to what that particular character can know. (In other words, character 1 canít know what character 2 is thinking / knows). I want to make sure the story flows from one scene to the next. I want to make sure that the characters donít do anything ďout of characterĒ. I want to make sure the foreshadowing is not too obvious. I want to make sure the foreshadowing is obvious enough. There is so much to consider, I suppose I could go on, but I wonít. http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/smile.gif
Before I evolved in my writing, the most difficult thing was dialog. I use to be very melodramatic. But, speaking the dialog out loud helped tremendously with that. Also listening to people talk, helps. I still take great care when writing dialog, but Iím much more realistic now.
In response to the 3rd party editor. Wish I could, unfortunately the response I always get is, ďItís good!Ē or ďI liked it!Ē. Although Iím glad they like the story, Iím looking for more information. The problem is that none-writers donít know how to critique / edit a story. They just read it. Thatís not what I need. Iíve found that if I put the story aside for a few months, work on another story or paint or whatever, then when I come back and edit the story, I catch many of my errors. Sometimes I have to do this several times before Iím satisfied. I have one story that has gone from my first edit with pages full of red marks, to my last edit with maybe 3 red marks.
I have tried to improve by sometimes typing up conversations from my real life, as verbatim as my pretty good memory can get them. I have learned from this that most real conversations are so nonlinear and full of in-jokes, pauses, references to past events, etc, that they'd never fly in a story. Sigh. So much for reality. On the other hand, having super-linear characters is boring, and having super-smart characters whose every word is crackling and witty is too unrealistic and can give your readers a nasty inferiority complex (as in The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russel, which is actually a great book). I dunno. I can't win with dialog.
Re editing, I have to agree with KATS that the best thing is usually to put something aside for a few months and then reread it with a cold memory and a cold heart. I also have an editor/writer friend who I can rely on for honest editing.
August 10th, 2001, 06:44 AM
Description for me. Dialogue I have no worries with (and if you ever need dialogue inspiration, read some of Joss Whedon's Buffy scripts). Desc, o my lord. It's horrible. I should give up and write screenplays. Let someone else worry about what it's gonna look like. I can see it all in my head, why can't you? http://www.sffworld.com/ubb/wink.gif I guess that's the biggest problem. Explaining what I see in my head without over or under doing it. I try to take Roger Zelazany's advice: More than three details at once is more than the average reader can deal with.
August 10th, 2001, 06:57 AM
Something that I found helps with dialogue is having conversations with different people, and notice the subtlties and habits that each person has, and then use those as a habit for one of your characters.
I noticed that people nod an awful lot during conversation, and many people use the word "Well" at the beginning of their sentences. So I try to include these type of things when I write.
Also, try talking to total strangers and watch how thy react to you. Most people will eye you suspiciously or be very careful about what they say, simply because they are not familiar with you. I found out a lot just by asking complete strangers questions(and sometimes, very bizarre questions for a different reaction), and then watching how they react.
So next time your talking to someone, watch them and listen to habits. It can make your dialogue sound more believable and not so unrealistic. It can be vey annoying when reading a book and every talks like some sort of prophet, saying exactly what they mean and never stumbling over words or getting choked up, or even using wirds that they don't know the meaning of and sounding foolish. Adding these little subtleties can really add a lot of charm and really help the reader get attached to your characters.