A popular post from December 2007
By Josi S. Kilpack
A friend called me the other night to discuss a point in her book. I had edited this work for her a couple years ago, so I was familiar with the story despite the fact that she'd done several revisions since then. The reason she called was because there was a magical element in the story that wasn’t sitting right with her. She’d gone over it a few times and just felt like it wasn’t sensible, that it didn’t work. She wanted to know what I thought.
I thought it was fine, very creative in fact, and I told her so. She was not appeased.
“Then why is it bugging me?” she mused. So we continued talking about it and over the course of a few minutes she came up with a solution that didn’t necessitate cutting the element—it really is very clever—but added a dimension to it that would work and make it more plausible. In once sense it was a very small, a minor detail, to her overall story, and yet in it’s own way it was huge.
After I hung up, I thought about scenes I’ve had in my own books that have stuck out to me. A couple specific ones came to mind after this conversation and I realized just how impressive it was that this friend of mine would take the quality of her work seriously enough to want to make sure she was good with this detail. It occurred to me what a brilliant thing this was for her to do and what a reflection of her skill as a writer it was as well.
Fact is, it’s relatively easy to make changes people tell us to make, it’s rather simple to cut things when we’re told to cut them. Letting someone else point out our mistakes makes us feel more secure somehow, but it’s a matter of skill to be objective enough about our own work to not only see our own mistakes, but then to ponder, discuss, and brainstorm on them enough to find a solution for the singular reason of making our book our best work.
My challenge to each of you, today, is to think of your work—maybe something on the shelf, maybe something you’re working on right now and objectively think of one detail that isn’t ‘settled’ in your own mind. Maybe it’s a character, maybe it’s a name, or a place, or a missing line of dialogue. Maybe it’s a magical element, or the sequence in an action scene; perhaps you’ve missed an opportunity to foreshadow, or you’ve laid it on too thick and exposed a plot line you weren’t ready to expose yet. I challenge you to find a quiet spot or a blank piece of paper and brainstorm that detail. How can you fix it? What would make it stronger? What would help you make peace with it?
It’s fabulous to have outside readers and it’s wonderful to get professional advice, but honing your own ability to objectively tweak your own brilliance, therefore admitting that you don’t always get it right the first time, will improve your overall writing far more than another person ever will. Then, when the time comes to ask someone else to give you an opinion, you can have confidence, rather than naïve hope, that you are presenting your best work.