I’ve been reading through fiction entries in a national writing contest I’ve been asked to help judge. Although the judge’s guidelines tell me most entries will be “average,” I got one that has clearly broken free of the pack. The scene writing is clean, the dialogue well-written, the conflict evident. Only one major thing (in my little opinion) needs to be addressed.
- Loosen Up. More than anything, I wanted to sit next to this contest entrant and whisper, “Loosen up. In places, you’re trying too hard .” I could practically see this writer trying SO hard to get everything right that she/he wrote the life out of it in spots. A mentor of mine used to call it overwriting, where I would write something good (usually sensory/emotional) and then explain it or otherwise ruin it. Beware the show, now tell-in-case-they-don’t-get-it problem.
- Commit to Crap. If you can allow yourself to write in a big, messy way when you draft, you may uncover that freshness, that voice we all covet. Revise intentionally, but draft (create) with the self-control off. It takes practice to be able to sit down and write something awful. But this is where discovery happens, where art happens. Learn to write crap.
- Go for the Guts. The way you pull your distinctive voice onto the page is by digging deep. You won’t be able to evoke a made-up character’s deepest emotions if you refuse to feel your own. I recommend journaling if you have a hard time letting your emotions show. But really, we read fiction for emotion, not info. The more you write honest, true emotion, the better your fiction will be.