Friday, February 27, 2009

Writing To Your Strengths Or Weaknesses

Should you write to your strengths or weaknesses? I think the answer varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Before you figure out whether to consciously write towards strengths or weaknesses, you need to identify them. When you receive feedback from people who read your stories, are there any consistencies? For example, perhaps you’re often told that your settings are very descriptive and imaginative; in that case, you have a strength in creating settings. Or perhaps you’ve seen several rejection letters that indicate your characters are flat or clich├ęd; in that case, you have a weakness in writing characters. Weaknesses can also be things you’re just not comfortable with (for example, it took me a few years before I was willing to try writing first person narratives, so this became a weakness).

Once you understand your strengths and weaknesses, you might be able to write stories that play on your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. This tactic only works, however, if your weakness is something that can be covered up. Hiding a weakness in writing first person narratives is a lot easier than hiding a weakness in writing logical plotlines. It only takes a bit of foresight to write towards your strengths, and I think it’s probably a natural tendency. As humans, we like consistency and abhor change, so it’s easier to create stories the same way each time, even if the stories vary in plot and character.

I think there are good reasons to write towards strengths. If you are writing a short series of stories, you may want to consider writing to your strengths in order to maintain consistency. Lower the risk on what might explode, and stick with what you know. This is also applicable when deadlines come into play. I’d also choose this route when an editor asks for a rewrite (unless the editor specifies that you must explore an area of weakness in order to improve the story).

The only way to improve upon weaknesses is to write them away. Sometimes we need guidance on what we’re doing wrong and perhaps even why it’s wrong, but I don’t think advice alone will solve problems. Someone could talk to me all day about the best way to shoot free throws, but if I’m not in the court shooting for myself, I guarantee I won’t improve my percentage. It’s a difficult thing to force yourself onto the road less traveled, to take chances on a story you like in order to try things you’re not very good at. The advantage in the long-run is that you will have many more tools available to you than if you had stuck with your trusty hammer the whole time. There’s nothing worse than having an idea for a story that can’t be put together well because you don’t have enough skill to pull it off.

Whether writing to strengths of weaknesses, you will likely improve something. Just keep writing.

This article is part of the Top Five Writing Improvement Articles:
1. Writing To Your Strengths Or Weaknesses – Should you write to your strengths or weaknesses? The answer varies depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.
2. Writing Tools – As writers, we need to consider which tools will help us the most with our craft and have them at the ready.
3. The Callous Editor – To edit our own works well, we must divorce emotions from the process and make hard choices.
4. Writing Exercises – When thoughts seem locked up tight, try some exercises to get the sludge moving again.
5. The Jab – We need good openings to our stories, and this article shares some advice and an example from my own writing.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Living with an Alien

As I considered the behaviors of my thirteen-month-old daughter the other day, it seemed to me that living with her is in many ways how it would be to live with an alien from outer space.

There is a language gap between us. I use common English, while Elora blabbers in a type of speech that consists of short consonant sounds, clicks and raspberries. Sometimes we’re able to agree on a certain word or even give the same sign for it, but when I ask yes or no questions, the response always sounds negative (usually “Nah” or “Nuh”).

Elora also has no understanding of what various objects are. The other day, she took a napkin from the table, so my wife demonstrated how to use one. My daughter brought the napkin to her mouth and proceeded to eat it. I think she has few classifications for items right now, and the default categorization for new items is that they must be food. “What is this? I think I should eat it.”

If science-fiction has taught me anything, it is that 90% of the time, aliens are hostile, often for no particular reason. Elora displays considerable peace until her wishes are refused. When the tantrums start, I’m glad she doesn’t carry a ray-gun. She also enjoys chaos: emptying all orderly drawers and cabinets, spreading toys across multiple rooms and knocking down any towers that I build from her blocks.

Though she has commonalities with sci-fi aliens, Elora is a wonderful little girl, and no alien could ever touch my heart quite as much as her. Sorry E.T.