Of course everyone has a range of strengths and weaknesses, but these are the two that definitely stand out from the rest – one way or another – for me. These two actually seem, to me, to be almost easy to get as diametrically opposed skills – case in point, both myself, and, at the other end of the spectrum, Rebekah.
So, first up. . .
My Best Strength: Description
I am a very descriptive writer – it comes naturally to me, and always has, from the very first stories I told, long before I began to seriously write them down.
Description can be very tricky, though, as a writer. No matter what is being described, it needs to be easy for a reader – they need to be able to feel the story, to progress through it, and not feel as if some cosmic pause button has been pressed while they are given all the details of the surroundings, characters, or actions, and only then let the story continue.
I love playing with these details. I always have. I love the challenge, the complexity, the pure fun of describing setting and clothing – and body language! My dialogue is almost always heavily supplemented with ‘what is the speaker doing now?’ – and supporting the plot and actions of the story with the appropriate descriptions.
Things that help keep the mood or influence it, phrases that give a bit more insight into the mindset of the character being focused on . . . really, as long as I stay away from the self-indulgent pages and pages of description, there’s little in this arena I don’t like to play with.
A quick example from one of my first drafts:
Sophie shifted her parasol lightly in one gloved hand as she pulled her pocketwatch out of the special compartment in her bodice to check the time.
She sighed. The train had been slightly delayed – she ducked a peddler’s waving arm, ignoring his spiel about his wares, and sidestepped the glowing blue tank that stood at his side – and now she had just over seven minutes to meet Madame La Blanc at tea.
Sophie detested lateness.
Still, she ought to be able to make it on time if she took an unladylike pace through several back streets on her way there.
Sophie detested being unladylike almost as much as she detested lateness, but in a case like this, only if she was caught at it. She collapsed her parasol, preparatory to walking crowded streets in a hurry.
Granted, just because descriptive writing is such a strong point for me, and because I enjoy it, by no means indicates that I cannot wind up with blunders. Very, very large ones on occasion.
I can often see it happening – except for those times when I really should have already accepted that I should stop writing before I pass out on the keyboard . . . and sometimes even then. I can even usually make some adjustments as I go to correct the descriptions before they entirely slide sideways from what I intended.
My Worst Weakness: Pacing
Conversely, while I can almost always tell when my writing starts to go sideways, in regard to my pacing, I generally cannot figure out how to fix it. That usually winds up being a ‘fix it in rewrites’ issue.
Sometimes – frustratingly often – it remains a ‘fix it, somehow, in the next rewrite’ issue. For . . . some time.
Part of that even comes from being such a descriptive writer – I can slide into descriptions so easily and so far that a conversation taking place during a walk through a palace can take ten pages, between actual dialogue, body language, tone, expression, and gestures, and actual descriptions of the surroundings.
I’m lucky in that it rarely feels like ten pages, when reading, or so I am told but nevertheless, this is not a reasonable way to write when you are trying to tell a novel-length story.
Pacing of this kind can actually fit rather well into more of a short story format, depending on what you are trying to do with it, and as long as ‘short story’ can mean ‘less than 30,000 words’. (I write a lot of ‘short’ stories, ranging from the truly tiny – 50-100 words – to the ‘are you sure you want to call it that’ – nearer to 25k.)
I have difficulty figuring out what parts of scenes, or what scenes in their entirety, I can skip over, or how to do so – or how to ‘gloss over’ things in scenes. I can take out and streamline description, but I almost always feel like I need to write the long way around. As if I simply don’t know what even happens without those details.
Even in longer stories, with many scenes, in some cases I’ve noted that it can be appropriate to let the pacing slide a little slower, let it take a little longer. I simply have difficulty keeping that slower pace, which is so easy for me to fall into, to only those scenes where it is appropriate – thus I do much, much editing down afterwards.
Even with practise, and lots of short fiction exercises, managing to train myself into cutting things out when I need to, I still have many, many issues with how much time can and should be devoted to a moment, a scene, or a chapter. I probably always will, to some extent.
I have improved over the last few years, with much focus given to how I look at longer works when I am writing, and to how it is handled in novels as I read, and I like to think I’m still doing so, happily.
The many short fiction exercises – formal and not – that I play and work with have strengthened me in this area, and when given a target wordcount for a short fiction piece I can usually hit it, even if it means I have to edit down severely.
Novel-writing remains the trickiest for me to manage.
So, do you struggle in the same ways I do? What stymies you the most when you’re delving into a new project? What is the easiest (and possibly most fun) aspect once you get into writing it?