Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cracking Open Your Words

When we revise our work, it is often difficult to see past the polished prose that we’ve spent so much time burnishing to a high gloss.

And that’s the problem.

Words that are too polished can provide the illusion of completion while hiding the flaws of a story beneath the glimmer and shine of the polish.

When you revise your work, you have to look differently at your words. You have to look past them. You have to feel your way under them.

Even though it may be painful, you have to crack them open, like cracking eggs, to see what’s inside.

It’s not just the emotional content of the words that we’re curious about but the structure of the story on which the words are overlaid.

Is the structure sturdy? Is it built to last?

How can we tell for sure?

When you re-read each successive draft of a story, you want to make sure each scene contains a beginning, middle, and end, and you want to re-assure yourself that each scene moves the story forward, one scene not just leading to another but causing another.

And you want to know if the words in each scene show the reader a clear, concrete picture instead of describing the picture in an abstract, general sort of way. You want a sharply focused picture rather than one that's blurry and indistinct.

As you’ll discover when you begin cracking open your words, it takes a good amount of discipline, not to say courage, to pull up words like pulling up bricks that you’ve already laid down with such patience and precision.

Cracking open the words that you’ve set down with such care on the page can feel as painful as tearing apart a beautiful mosaic floor.

But you have to pull apart the words if you want to see what’s beneath them.

And cracking open each draft is the only way that way you can know if your story is poorly constructed and in danger of collapsing or built solidly on a sturdy foundation.


Pat McDermott said...

Good reminders, Bruce. I'd be lost without my writing partners to accomplish making a story "omelette."

Bruce Black said...

Yes, Pat, somehow our stories "taste" better when we have friends to help us crack the eggs to make the omelets that we will share with them.