I recently gave a friend a chapter of my WIP to read for feedback. This friend is a reader, not a writer and doesn’t usually read paranormal romance, or fiction, for that matter. Why did I do it? I wanted a brutally honest critique of my work. If you knew my friend, you’d know she’s not the warm and fuzzy yay-my-friend-is-a-writer-type. Why did she read it? After all, romance and fiction are not her usual self-help and how-to reads. Well, she’s a great friend and wanted to help. And help she did.
I didn’t get the lashing I expected from her on the sex scenes. They didn’t bother her. She even had a few suggestions, which I must admit made me re-examine my opinion of her scholarly life. What did bother her was a vision I presented to the reader. In her words, it was like ‘putting the cart before the horse.’ Let me explain.
There isn’t anything grammatically wrong with the sentence but what do you ‘see’ first? The bedside table. My intent is to impact the reader with the rose which signifies my heroine isn’t alone in the house when she should be. There is someone or some presence with her. I decided to fine-tune the vision: A black rose lay on the bedside table, dripping blood down the side and onto the carpet.
There were other things my nit-picking friend pointed out, reminding me that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I love the color blue and can’t fathom how someone might dislike such a peaceful color. I have to make a conscious effort not to use blue often in my descriptors of landscaping or clothing. You guessed it; my friend doesn’t like blue. For all you blue-haters out there, my heroine is now enjoying the clear waters of the Mediterranean Sea. All kidding aside, I’d forgotten to let the reader’s imagination have full reign. What if the reader prefers emerald waters? You don’t want to ‘tell’ the reader how to see a vision, you want to ‘show’ the reader their vision.
My friend didn’t have any complaints about the tone of my characters (language, postures, attitudes) – something I specifically asked her to pay attention to – but tone is worth talking about. Sometimes when I read a book I stumble over a phrase that feels off. Maybe it doesn’t seem right for the character to say. Maybe it’s a sentence that isn’t pleasing to my ear. The wrong tone can turn off your reader. If your character isn’t speaking/acting within the tone you’ve set for your world, the reader will not believe in your world.
I’ve been writing for seven years and somewhere along the way I learned these things. When you’re wrangling with a manuscript, taking your hundredth view of it, spell-check, scene-check, character continuity and world-building…you can forget some things. Actually, you can forget a lot of things.
One of the ways I remind myself of the rules of writing is to read. As a writer, I can’t help but have my editor hat on when I read another writer’s work. It’s easy to spot mistakes in a story you didn’t write, isn’t it? Might even be entertaining. It’s not so entertaining when it’s your story. When a mistake interrupts the flow of a story I’m reading, I journey down a mental roadmap of my own story and check for similar errors. That’s why writers have to be readers also.
Writers, what tips do you use to remember the rules of writing?
Readers, have anything to add to the list of what pulls you out of a good story? We writers want to know. 🙂
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