Writer’s improvement hell – repetition

Improvement

I thought I had a good post on this topic, but I’m not sure I do. There isn’t one specific improvement situation that I feel like I can speak to just now. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I’m constantly working on, but nothing in particular is sicking out in my mind. So, instead of banging on about what I’m stuck on today, I think I’ll ramble on about a couple of things I’m constantly working on. The first is starting sentences. One of the things I try to do when I write is NOT start subsequent sentences, or even sentences in the same paragraph, with the same word. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most of the time it’s not. Even then, I still find myself being repetitive in this manner. Perhaps the first question one might ask is why bother? Well, it’s because it reads better that way. If I truly understood why this was, I wouldn’t be in writer’s improvement hell.

If you look at my last paragraph, you’ll notice that none of the sentences begin with the same word. The first draft had several repeats, but once it was revised to specifically eliminate these, the flow of the paragraph got better. I’m not going to try and claim it’s a golden example of how to write anything, but it does read reasonably well. Had multiple sentences started with the same word, it would feel repetitive, and that never reads well. Again, there are times when it just makes sense to repeat, so keep that in mind. An interesting side note here is when developing a presentation, I take the same approach. This tends to make the presentation seem more dynamic and less scripted. To make this work though, you need to kick in throw-away words. In the case of paragraph 1 of this blog post (for lack of a better example just now) The second sentence starts with ‘Sure’. This is absolutely unnecessary, the sentence could have just started with “there’s”. If I had done that though, it would have felt a little repetitive. Granted, not so repetitive that it would have sounded awful, but it seems better to me.

Having gone through that, there is a second writer’s improvement problem to be dealt with. That first paragraph still has a problem as far as readability is concerned. It’s the type of thing that drives my sister nuts (I’m not sure she reads these with any regularity, if so: Hello KDW and congratulations on your test!), the word ‘I’, in various incarnations, is repeated WAY too many times. This sort of repetition is probably not necessary. When writing in 3rd person, you get stuck using ‘him’, ‘his’, ‘he’, ‘her’, and ‘she’ a little more often than feels comfortable, but I couldn’t claim I’ve got an easy rule of thumb or remedy for that. There is, however, a remedy for paragraph #1. And here it is:

I sat down thinking there was a good topic for this post rolling around in my brain. Turns out, there wasn’t a specific situation I’m working through right now worth speaking to. Sure, there’s a lot of stuff I’m constantly trying to improve upon, but nothing in particular is sicking out in my mind. So, instead of banging on about today’s sticky points, I’ll ramble on about a couple of things constantly causing me heartburn. The first is starting sentences. One of the things I try to do when writing is to NOT start subsequent sentences, or even sentences in the same paragraph, with the same word. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but most of the time it’s not. Even then, this sort of repetition creeps into my writing. Perhaps the first question one might ask is why bother? Well, it’s because it reads better that way. If the technical reason was clear to me, I wouldn’t be in writer’s improvement hell.

In the second incarnation of the first paragraph, the word ‘I’, in various incarnations, is repeated a total of six times. The first paragraph has it repeated that many times in the first two sentences. Holy crap! Is that strictly necessary? –Probably not. Now, the best part of this whole post is the fact that the issue illustrated here is something I’m constantly struggling with, and often get wrong. On the bright side, I do recognize the problem, and more than anything else, that will help me to fix it.

Trying to figure out plausibility

Last week I asked a friend to look at a couple of chapters with the idea he would rip into them and tell me how bad they were. For various and sundry reasons that didn’t really happen, which is fine. However, what did come out of it was the general comment that there are plausibility problems. Nothing super major. I mean I am writing a fantasy story. There should be a lot of stuff that just can’t be. No, the issue was more specific to the human side of stuff. Mostly, how people are reacting/not reacting to certain circumstances. What really made the nature of the comment clear to me was the statement, Your main character is supposed to have been a soldier, but he’s not really acting like it. I brought the topic up with my wife when I got home, and also shared some thoughts on where the story is going next. Once again, the plausibility issue came up with rather vigorous discussion. This one makes me feel bad too, because I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure things are plausible. It really doesn’t feel good to have messed up an aspect I put a lot of energy into.

Okay, so it’s clear I’ve got a problem, what do I do? Turns out that’s not so easy. A few of the plausibility issues are embedded deeply in the detail. I’ve already gone through most of this stuff a few dozen times, and so I think it’s going to be tough for me to work out whether or not a particular bit of description or a reaction by a character works, or if it’s trash. I think I can do it, but I expect I’ll miss a lot the first time around, unfortunately that’s not really a solution, more of an approach.

The one place where my reviewer pointed out a problem he characterized as just being in the details will actually require a pretty thorough re-write to bring a measure of plausibility to it. Why? well, what he pointed out was just a symptom of a much larger problem, which I did see clearly once it was pointed out. It wasn’t just the details that were problematic, it was the entire situation that didn’t make any sense, which is why the details weren’t right. How could they be? I don’t think this is the only place I’ve got this problem, once I go through it looking for it, I expect most of my chapters will need rather a lot more work.

Another issue I’ve got with plausibility is a lot broader. While the plot is generally sound, I think, there are key elements that are pinned on pretty weak justification or on events that would not have ended in the manner I have described or imagined. It’s written so that those inconsistencies really don’t make themselves known until pretty late in the story.

My solution? I don’t have one, at least not a good one. I spent the weekend brooding on it (and going to a whiskey tasting), and can’t think of a way to really address some of these larger issues without re-writing significant chunks of the story to make the key plot points sit on top of much more plausible circumstances. Maybe that is what needs to happen, but really, how many times can I do that before I have to admit defeat and throw in the towel? I can’t say I’ve hit that point yet, but if the first reaction to a fantasy novel is that it’s not believable, that’s a major problem. If your reader is already expecting implausible stuff, yet it’s not believable. Damn, though I did ask for it, and I got it.

Wasting time

Why do I waste precious writing time on this blog instead of writing? Well, first off, I’m procrastinating. It’s one of the things I do when I’m a bit distracted and also have to solve a particularly challenging problem. Another part of it is the rubber-ducking aspect of it. When I blog about a particular issue I’m trying to sort out, I’m forcing myself to collect all of my thoughts on an issue and write them down in a setting where scribbling half-assed notes isn’t acceptable. In doing this, the solutions I’m making for myself have to be justified, and clearly thought through. It might be, I come up with very wrong solutions, but it’s better than what I had been doing. The last thing I feel like I’m accomplishing is writing practice. It might not be creative, nor does it help with the larger writing issues of plot, setting and characters or anything, but putting thoughts down in a blog is a way for me to try and improve the basic mechanics of my writing.