My 3rd calendar year of courses at Uvic is now complete. This year I successfully transitioned from a Fine Arts Diploma student to a Creative Writing Undergraduate student (2nd Degree program). In total I’ve engaged in seven semester equivalent classes, 4 of which were in Writing, and I’ve learned that:
- I’m energized by creative writing
- despite my enthusiasm, creative writing is harder than it looks
- 2 classes every semester, on-top of everything else, is ambitious
- I quickly grasp concepts – but always require more practice
- (Critique) Workshops are essential to improve as a writer
In an ode to irony, while my interest in writing has skyrocketed, my posts on exploring-art.com have plummeted. Only six posts in 2013, but I’ve learned that people like:
- Pictures (select, not too many)
- Cocktails (or maybe that’s just me)
- Concise observations on writing (and life)
2014 is going to be great! I’m registered in two classes next semester, I’m committing to at least one exploring-art.com post a month (including either a picture, cocktail, or concise observation), and I’m going to play more squash this year (this shouldn’t be hard I’m pretty sure I didn’t play any squash last year).
Happy new year’s – here’s to the year ahead, and turning over new leaves. Cheers!
On the footsteps of my post regarding “show don’t tell” I’m now thinking about another truism for the novice writer. It’s short, sweet and therefore easy to remember, expressed here via the Whims iPhone app.
Your poem should sound like natural, yet notable, speech. If it’s a clunky string of adjectives you’ve still got revising to do. As with all good advice, it’s easier to give than to follow, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the effort and the WRIT 100 journey.
Thus far the aspect of WRIT 100 that I’ve found most challenging is unpacking the writers’ cliche – “show don’t tell”. The expression inadequately summarizes a set of common issues that create bland writing. Below I break out 4 axioms that I’m actively practicing in an attempt to conquer my first year writing course.
Use Details to Allude to Depth
I love abstractions. My innate interest is in what people think and feel, not necessarily the details of what they look like, say or do. My typical inclination is to go right there. “Jonathan wrestled with the decision before him”. Look at me using an active verb to delve into the depths of Jonathan’s psyche… brilliant! Sadly it’s not so easy.
In order to engage your audience you need to paint a picture with your words, which alludes to what’s happening behind the scene, enabling them to imagine the depth for themselves. This depth is the home of the greater truth, the resonance, the unspoken “meaning”. This is generally what’s meant by “show don’t tell”. Yet the expression is deceptive because you don’t indiscriminately show everything. An attempt to paint all the possible details will befuddle. You must be frugal, discerning and fresh with your words.
Write exactly what you mean with the fewest possible words. Be specific, as opposed to generic, and concrete, as opposed to abstract. Yet be sparing with the quantity of words.
There is a hierarchy of power within words descending from verbs, nouns, adjectives to adverbs. Use verbs and nouns, but unless necessary limit yourself to one concrete specific adjective per noun. Attempt to eliminate adverbs altogether by being exact in your verb choice (except in drama). Applying this guidance will help you contain your word count. It will also encourage you to be discerning in your word choice.
Choose exactly the right word… every time. Does it mean exactly what you mean? Does it intentionally riff on something hidden in the depths? Does it possess the right sound? If not is there a better word? If not is this sentence necessary? What are you trying to allude to? What new sentence can help you get there?
Avoid common expressions. They are too easy to interpret and therefore fail to engage the audience’s imagination. Where appropriate attempt to describe ordinary things in fresh ways. For example if the sparks are symbolic in your work, don’t just write “sparks”, bring imaginative words to bear to paint the picture. Make your audience think about them in ways they never thought they would, employ vivid details that waltz.