Sunday, May 1, 2011

What Have We Learned?; or, Charting Our Growth As Writers

[No, your eyes aren't deceiving you. This is, in fact, my second entry for today. Which, by my reckoning, catches me up to last Thursday. Sorry. I'll try to do better in the future.]

Continuing in my series of posts inspired by going back to read some of my earlier works, I decided that it would be a good time to evaluate my progress as a writer. So here is a list of things on which I think I've made progress over the last few years of writing:

POV: As mentioned in previous posts, my preferred POV is first person. So when I made forays into third person, I didn't always get that, unless I'm writing in an omniscient POV (and so far, I haven't), POVs should be one to a scene. But in my latest completed novel, I found myself deciding, at the beginning of each scene, who should carry the POV ball for that scene. Which means that I've made progress there.

Starting and Ending Scenes: I have a tendency to either start a scene too early, or let it run on too long. or both. I don't necessarily need to know that Annalise went to bed, fell asleep, woke up the next morning got out of bed, and got dressed before going down to confront her Uncle Jacob at breakfast. I can just say, "The next morning at the breakfast table, Annalise confronted her Uncle Jacob." Poof! The reader assumes all of the sleeping and waking and dressing things have happened while we were away. Which is helpful when one is trying to reduce one's word count... (who, me?).

Showing instead of telling: My older works are rife with phrases like, "Annalise was nervous." "The Earl was frustrated." Now, Annalise stares down at the reins in her hands, wishing that her palms were not wet with sweat. The Earl grinds his teeth as he looks at his enemy. Which (hopefully) makes the characters more vivid and the story more interesting.

Using active verbs/active voice: Instead of writing things like, "Just then, there was a rap on the door", I'm now writing, "Uncle Jacob rapped on the door, interrupting them."

Reducing "weasel words/phrases": Weasel words are words that suck the life out of a sentence, like a weasel sucks the contents from an egg. These are words like: Appeared, suddenly, seemed, a bit, just. (If I had a dime for every "just" I've taken out of either of the pieces I'm currently actively editing, I could afford cable television, I think!) Also on the list are what I'm coming to think of as "weasel phrases". My characters have an appalling tendency to "make their way" from one place to another, and they keep "finding themselves" doing things. I'm getting better at stomping those out, but I still have a ways to go!

Improved editing skills: I'm getting better at editing what I've written, even when it means deleting a scene I dearly loved, or even a particularly witty turn of phrase.

So I think I've improved as a writer in the last few years. I know I still have much to learn, and many skills to perfect, but it's good to be able to look back and see the progress I've made.

How do other people measure their progress as writers?