Writing a novel is a journey. Bring along friends.
I try to look for opportunities to share my writing with others. Writing can be lonely work, and if it’s just you and the computer screen, you can easily forget how an uninformed reader will respond to what you’ve written. This is partly why I blog, and it’s why I take part of projects like Ryan Lanz’s Under the Microscope, where we get a chance to share our writing with others, hearing helpful compliments and critiques in response.
So when my turn came, and the scene from the beginning of Family Ties appeared on A Writer’s Path, I was excited. Eager to see what he’d thought. I’ve been a follower of Ryan’s blog for months, and I’ve read every edition of Under the Microscope. Each one is a helpful slice of writer’s advice, coming from a capable reader who pays attention to what he reads, so it’s always a joy to read his comments. I don’t always agree with his opinion—sometimes he dislikes lines I think are wonderful—but his opinion is always valid, and he expresses his opinion in such an intelligent, thoughtful, and helpful way that it is a pleasure to read.
One of the things I really appreciate is how textual his comments are. He reads what you wrote, thinks about it, and responds to the nuances contained in the words. He doesn’t introduce a bunch of symbolism, trying to interpret your words to mean something far different than you meant; he takes them, more or less, at face value.
So imagine my horror when, on the very first sentence, it becomes clear that I’ve lost him. Due to a few poorly-chosen verbs and a lack of description about one of the characters, Ryan and most of the other readers thought the character was a dead body. All the way through, this colored people’s expectations and created havoc, because my words let them interpret the scene that way, starting an avalanche of side effects throughout it.
You’re welcome to read the episode here and learn from my mistakes. A scene that was supposed to be fairly straight-forward—a man and woman on the run, going down a street in a dark, desolate city only to be stopped when he got a cell phone call which he absolutely must take—threw everyone off because of how I worded things. I was trying to use strong, effective verbs while focusing on his POV. Because he wasn’t paying attention to the woman he was with, the writing doesn’t either, but apparently, I followed his focus too far and lost my readers.
At first, I felt rather numb. I thought, I can’t write a thing, not even a first sentence without sending my readers way off in the wrong direction. But then I realized that, not only was the mistake my fault, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d first thought. There were sections people liked, particularly the descriptions of the city they’re in. And, because my focus has always been on the overall plot, it never occurred to me that readers would think the woman is a dead body that he is lugging around the city.
Now that it has occurred to me, though, I kind of like the idea. It’s intriguing, and creates all kinds of plot possibilities. So even though being under the microscope can be difficult (and startling), making you wonder why you even attempt this thing called writing in the first place, it is also very enlightening, and I would greatly recommend it.
Sometimes, it takes readers who have no idea where you are going to see where you actually are.
Copyright 2014 Andrea Lundgren Photo by mconnors, Creative Commons