March 4th, 2013

Lisa Coffee

Levels of Writing Awareness

In my recent quest to read widely, I've noticed a number of things that writers do to irritate me.  I'm reading published works that are part of our public library collection.  These are books that librarians and publishers thought were quality reads.  The authors followed the "rules" of good writing.  They gave us strong verbs and specific nouns.  The characters had unique qualities and evolved as the book reached the end.  The plots had twists and turns, highs and lows.   But none of these books achieved bestseller status or received awards.  I've never even heard of most of them.

Did I enjoy reading these books?  Absolutely.  From reading them, I've learned what I think separates these books from the books that garner critical acclaim.  It's not enough that authors know the "rules" and follow them.  The authors must also have the judgment to know how to use the tools behind these rules.

For example, we're counseled to give the readers multiple senses in every scene so the reader gets fully immersed in the setting.  In several books I've read, the writers inevitably tell us what a character smells like within two paragraphs of the character entering the scene.  By following this rule in such a formulaic fashion, the author makes this technique obvious.  I think this is what editors/agents mean when they say they like books that immerse them in the story without the author intruding.  Whenever we see a writer obviously following a rule, it's like the author has jumped up and said, "I'm now giving you a description of the smells."

All of this just tells me that writing has levels of complication and corresponding levels of awareness that writers must achieve. I've posted about this before, and I think I need to add a fifth category.  This level is the mastery level--the one that perhaps some of us will never get to.  This is the place where we know about all the tools of good writing but then we have the good judgment to use them seamlessly.  For example, we choose not only a specific noun but the noun with the appropriate tone for the moment.  One that reinforces the overall message and theme of the work.  One that creates a true voice for the work.

Who knows if I'll ever get to level five.  But I have to think half of the battle is knowing the level exists, right?

Happy writing, everyone.