Sunday, October 17, 2010

Finding the Writer in Everyone

This morning I helped submit a contest entry written by my sister to the lit agency running the contest. She’d written it on a lark because when I read the prompt to her, she felt it was too good to pass up.

Now Sis is a good writer on her own. She just doesn’t do it very often, which is more the pity. She has a strong voice on the page and a terribly creative mind to back up her words. But I digress.

I had agreed to edit the submission for her so that it would meet guidelines. The contest prompt was like none other that I’ve seen in any contest, and Sis was right. The thing was a hoot. It’s entire concept was made for the quirky minded and those who could take any five words handed them and make a story from them. Poets use this kind of prompt all the time for building poems. It’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Sis is very good at that, too. Just remember that. I’ll come back to it later.

Editing her work wasn’t difficult. I do it on a regular basis for several of writers. Most of us do. It keeps us on our toes and it keeps us honest, too. What we find in other’s writing that needs changing is always a lesson for our own work. None of us is perfect, by any stretch of a rope.

I tend to see certain problems a writer might have because I have difficulty with that same issues… parentheses and punctuation, for instance. Does the question mark go inside of the end paren even at the end of a sentence? That’s always a killer for me, and I can’t seem to ever retain the answer.

If you’re a writer, you know what I mean about learning from the mistakes you see in other’s work. Me? I’m one of those readers who gets stopped dead in the written road when my eyes come across a typo on the printed page. Until I correct it in my head, I can’t continue reading.

And don’t shake you head. You know others like me, too.

Regardless, writing and editing well requires two people. One to write, one to edit, and then the first gets to rewrite and so on until the work gets as close to perfection as they can make it. I learn far more from the editing process than I ever did from the writing lessons. The lessons stick far better, too.

In some ways, I’m an advocate of the “throw the aspiring writer into the deep end of the publishing pool with a good and patient editor” school of thought. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t adequate numbers of free editors hanging around the untaught, willing to take on that challenge. At least, that’s how it seems sometimes.

Now, let me return to that line from above about how my sister is a good writer. I gave her five words just a few minutes ago to use for the basis of a story with a word limit of 100 words.

The words I gave her were: monkeys, hammer, night, howling, and gratitude. I accept the caveat of using derivatives for this purpose (i.e. plural, singular, different verb tense.)

Here is what she wrote as she sat down with her e-mail.

Monkey’s Birdhouse

      The young boy carefully gathered his materials. He and his father were building a birdhouse together. His Dad had nicknamed him Monkey, because he loved to climb trees. He picked up his tools and began to assemble the birdhouse. He used his hammer, some glue and a saw. As he tapped in the last nail, he hit his thumb! He howled like a wolf in the night. It throbbed and was sore but not badly injured. He could now put up the birdhouse in the tree and listen to the sweet song of a bird's gratitude. (98 words)

Five minutes and a few words. Storyline -- Check, Main Character -- Check, Plot -- Check (Simple & straightforward,) Problem solved -- Check.

Does it still need work? Sure, doesn’t every rough draft? But is it a viable story? I think so. Yes, I would rearrange a couple of things, but that’s a matter of presentation and flow. The elements are there, the direction is obvious, most kids could relate to it in one way or another. It has achieved its goal of being a story under 100 words, using the target words given as its major points.

These words could have produced a multitude of stories and never repeated. And they wouldn’t have all been for children, either.

So, dear writer friends of mine. I issue the same challenge to you. Can you build a complete story in 100 words or less from the target words and make it work? Any genre or target age. And do it in less than ten minutes?

Feel free to post your resulting stories here for review by the small mass of writers who wander through. Think of this as part of the deep end of the pool and enjoy the swim. I dare ya!

Take care all. Watch your words. They have powers hitherto unknown to man. Hope to see you back here soon with great little rough drafts for all to read.

Until then,


1 comment:

  1. Oh I get that about stopping dead in your tracks when you see an error. My husband forwarded me an email he wanted advice on and I was mentally adding commas and rewriting the sentences to make them more clear.