Editing for One Element
By Kristen Roach Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio
As we come to the close of Week Three of the fall semester, most Bluegrass Writers Studio participants have experienced the thrill of having their writing workshopped. They've sat quietly as their class talked about their words - what was memorable and what was questionable. They've gotten written feedback from their peers on what was inspired and what should be retired. And they've gotten comments from their professor, with praise, prescriptions, and potential outlined.
The list of everything they've learned from critiquing others and being critiqued is starting to grow - so many things to consider! Dialogue, point of view, action, sense of place, pacing, voice, figures of speech, audience. And kaplooey! their brains split wide open.
Isn't it great? Something can blow your mind besides online trivia about recurring elements in Pixar movies. You can actually become aware of the psychological space you inhabit, and see how much more you can move into.
But how do you get there? One road at a time.
If you don't know where to begin, edit for one element. Take your six-page story that maybe turned out to be not as suspenseful as you wanted it to be. Go through it just looking at your verbs - are they dark, eerie? Maybe the wind should be bickering with the oak branches, or the torn flag in the cemetery stabbing at the air. Put tension there, then go back to the beginning. This time, look only at the dialogue - is each character's voice consistent throughout the piece? Next, expository passages - how are they balanced with more active sections? What are your adjectives adding? And so on. In your poems, look at punctuation, stanza breaks, enjambment. Then look at your title to see how hard it's working.
Take things one element at a time, following each road to the end. As E. L. Doctorow said in his Paris Review interview, writing is like "driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." Trying to interpret the entire map while you're doing so isn't required. Drive safely.
Published on September 04, 2014