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Writing help needed

26 May 2006 05:06 #5582 by YAGS
Writing help needed was created by YAGS
I've started to write a new short story, but I keep getting hung up in the details. Honestly, this is why I don't write very much. I spend hours trying to write a couple of paragraphs, because I keep writing and rewriting every sentence, because they just don't seem right to me.

In this case, I'm having the most trouble with the first sentence. In that sentence, I'm trying to paint a picture in the mind of the reader of something that isn't physically possible, and I don't think I'm writing it very clearly. I was wondering if some of you could read this and give me suggestions for how to clear it up.

Here's what I've got:

She leaned back against the wall, her pantyhose covered legs crossed at the knee, with one of her black high heels flat against the wall behind her and the other dangling above it in the air, as if to emphasize how casually she ignored the law of gravity.


Here's another version:

She leaned back against the wall, one pantyhose covered leg folded under so her black high heel was flat against the wall behind her, while her other leg crossed over it at the knee, as if to emphasize how casually she ignored the law of gravity.


Hopefully, you can see what I'm trying to describe here. It's not easy. I think the second one more clearly describes the scene, but the first is easier to read. I'm not really happy with either.

Maybe I should split this into multiple sentences for ease of reading, but I'm really trying to follow the old adage about drawing the reader in by making a big impact with the first sentence.

Any suggestions?

YAGS

PS. How come there are never posts like these around here? You'd think we'd all be asking for technical help with our writing, proofreading each other's works in progress, etc. Yet no one around here ever seems to discuss the process of writing. All the conversations just seem to focus on what to write about, and people only share their work when they're done. Why is that?

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26 May 2006 06:03 #5583 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
After thinking some more, I came up with an idea. The act of crossing her legs seems easier to describe than the resulting position. For instance:

She leaned back on the wall and raised one leg, resting her black high heel flat against the surface, then casually lifted her other pantyhose clad leg and crossed it over the first, completely ignoring the law of gravity.


What do the rest of you think?

Now you see why it takes me forever to write stories. I have plenty of ideas, and I can write dialogue easily enough, but I struggle with the descriptions.

YAGS

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26 May 2006 13:23 #5585 by argonaut
Replied by argonaut on topic Re: Writing help needed
It's a nice image. I enjoy this kind of casual, offhand display of ubergirl power.

But I think you're trying to pack too much into one sentence, thereby lessening the impact you're aiming for.

I'd go with your idea of breaking it into several sentences.

She leaned back against the wall, stretching out her long, shapely legs. The hem of her black dress slid hypnotically along her thigh as she slowly bent her right knee and planted her foot on the wall behind her.

"[Insert line of dialogue]," she drawled.

Casually, in disregard of the law of gravity, she raised her left leg and crossed it over her right knee, dangling her high-heeled shoe from the tip of her toe ...


Instead of presenting a static tableau, you've guided the reader, moment by moment, through a small but effective piece of action.

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27 May 2006 02:17 #5589 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
Thanks for the advice Argonaut. I will be splitting this into a few sentences. I've also decided that it won't be the first sentence of the story. In fact, now that I'm rearranging the direction of the story a little, this little visual vignette, which was my first thought in writing this story, may actually end up at the end of the story.

I've been doing a little research, looking for writing advice on the web, and one thing that someone stressed to me is to make the title and first sentence really count. Titles are obvious, but a lot of people don't realize the importance of a good starting sentence. So I'm trying to focus on that and a few other writing tips I found, which is why I was trying too hard to make this work. A better solution in this case seems to be finding something easier to write about in the first sentence.

It was a dark and stormy night... :P

YAGS

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27 May 2006 05:30 #5590 by ace191
Replied by ace191 on topic Re: Writing help needed
I am not in much of a position to give advice on this subject, but I would like to pass along the best tip I ever got from my 12th grade English teacher. Write! Put down your thoughts as quick as you can and keep writing. There is always time to go back later and rearrange them or punch them up.

I try to write the whole story and then go back and create transitions,
enhance the action or detail and trim the fat.

Another thing that I like to do is emmulate other authors. I don't try to copy their style, but sometimes I say to myself how would CF, DKC or Marknew handle this. The usual answer is to try to come up with a clever turn that no ones sees comming (which is really hard to do). LFan won recently with a good story that had a great turn.

Then, I need to get someone to proof it (usually Argo) and then I make the final corrections. It's great to have a mentor who can help you so that you are free to make new mistakes rather than just keep repeating your old ones.

But most important is what I have told my Soccer and Baseball Players for
years. Just go out and have fun with it, or you can all WALK home!

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27 May 2006 20:04 #5595 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
Ironically, that's what I was trying to do.

Usually, I get an idea in my head for a story, and I keep coming up with ideas for how the plot should go. Sometimes, I even write down plot points in an outline before I start writing the story. Then I write the specific scenes, usually not in the same order they'll appear in the story, then rearrange them and figure out how to transition from one to the next. But I often get caught up on little details and spend a lot of time trying to work out how best to phrase things.

This time, I got an image in my head and decided to write it down and see where it led me. But instead of a story, I just got a few sentences that I didn't like and kept re-writing over and over until they drove me nuts.

So I was trying to just write without over-thinking like I normally do, and I ended up over-thinking the details while under-thinking the plot.

At this point, I'm past that with this specific story. I've written a bunch more, and I think I know where I'm going with the whole thing.

The details are driving me nuts, but more in terms of what order to put things in than how to word things. I'm writing out of sequence again, and I want to tell the story out of sequence, too, so I have no idea how to arrange what I've written. And I've still got more to write, which will go in and around it all. It's just odd.

The good news is that I'm pretty sure I'll be entering workshop 2.5 once I'm done with this beast, making two in a row that I've joined.

YAGS

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29 May 2006 16:32 #5611 by WhitePaw
Replied by WhitePaw on topic Re: Writing help needed
Sigh. My head hurts trying to put together pictures and poses from this "thousand-word" style. You all focus on the technical details better left to Photoshop and leave the paper devoid of what I read in your "authors note" you're REALLY trying to write: emotional content, the "how it makes me feel" of the whole scene. Of how it's written so far I"m getting practically down to the angle of her knee, but still left hanging on why it's unusual or disturbing. Metaphor to the rescue, perhaps?

"She reposed high on the wall like steel-fortified bubblegum, her legs crossed like stockinged shears at the ready."

Wuv,
-Whitepaw.

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29 May 2006 18:24 #5613 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed

Sigh. My head hurts trying to put together pictures and poses from this "thousand-word" style. You all focus on the technical details better left to Photoshop and leave the paper devoid of what I read in your "authors note" you're REALLY trying to write: emotional content, the "how it makes me feel" of the whole scene. Of how it's written so far I"m getting practically down to the angle of her knee, but still left hanging on why it's unusual or disturbing. Metaphor to the rescue, perhaps?

"She reposed high on the wall like steel-fortified bubblegum, her legs crossed like stockinged shears at the ready."

Wuv,
-Whitepaw.

Heh. You're good. :)

Not the wording I would use, but you've made your point. And in doing so, you've really nailed down what I've always considered my biggest problem as a writer: I have trouble describing things. When I try, I have trouble being clear and concise at the same time. And as you say, it's probably because I'm being too technical.

I'm learning, though, and focusing on the emotion of the story, as you say, is part of what seems to work for me. Similes and metaphors. Hmm... food for thought.

But technically, in your version, those are similes, not metaphors. :P

Thanks for the advice,

YAGS

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29 May 2006 20:55 #5615 by argonaut
Replied by argonaut on topic Re: Writing help needed
But, WhitePaw, I don't see how your sentence delivers what YAGS was asking for.

YAGS asked for suggestions regarding a bit of physical description -- how to present a very specific image to his readers. That's a perfectly legitimate use of language, it's something a writer is often obliged to do while crafting a story, and it can lay a foundation for the "emotional content" you (quite rightly) expect.

"She reposed high on the wall like steel-fortified bubblegum, her legs crossed like stockinged shears at the ready."


To me, the first six words convey an image of a woman lying along the top of a wall -- not at all the image YAGS had in mind. My desk dictionary defines "repose" as "to lie at rest," and although I wouldn't take that too prescriptively (I have no problem with the sentence "He was reposing in his favorite armchair"), I think your sentence would imply a recumbent posture to many readers.

As for your metaphors -- which I gather are supposed to convey the "emotional content" of the scene ...

1. I presume (this being SWM) that the woman is supposed to be erotically appealing -- but a wad of chewed bubblegum stuck to a wall is about as unerotic and unappealing an image as I can think of. And what sense can the reader possibly make of "steel-fortified" bubblegum?

2. Likewise, the straight lines and sharp edges of a pair of shears are the opposite of the smooth and subtle contours of a female leg. And when shears are "at the ready," aren't they spread open -- not crossed?

Hey, I'm a fan -- I've even voted for a couple of your stories in the workshop polls. When your metaphors do connect, you often hit the ball right out of the park. But in my less charitable moments, I sometimes harbor the suspicion that your literary technique consists of comparing everything to something completely unlike it -- figuring that if your readers don't get it, well, that just shows what a very clever fellow you are.

But then I remember "Dropping By" and "Brimstone Nights" ...

Pax,
Argonaut

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29 May 2006 21:55 #5617 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
As I said, WhitePaw's metaphors aren't the words I would use. But the point was still made. I asked for how to write the technical details, and the response was "Why bother?"

Here's the result, in my own words:

She leaned back against the wall and crossed her legs in the air, casually ignoring the law of gravity.

I don't know why I kept trying to focus on what she's wearing, the fact that her foot's flat on the wall, etc. This is one of those "Cut the crap and get to the point" clarity moments. Her clothing can (and will) be described elsewhere, when it's actually important to the story.

As for the metaphors, it did give me some food for thought when looking at the rest of my story. Whenever I look at my writing, there are always sentences, paragraphs, or sometimes just phrases that don't look right to me. For instance, in this story I had a long sentence that ended with:

he was amazed at the strength in her hand.

I look at stuff like that and the two prepositional phrases in a row just bug me, especially since it made the overall sentence seem too long. The necessary change is stupidly obvious, but for some reason, I didn't see it until WhitePaw put the "think metaphor" bug in my head:

he was amazed at her iron grip.

I've always complained that my writing is too verbose and awkward, and WhitePaw pointed out that it's mostly because I'm too technical. Sometimes people need answers to their questions, and other times, they need someone to tell them they were asking the wrong question. I think this was one of those times for me.

Not that the other suggestions aren't appreciated, as well. I'm trying to graduate from talentless hack to mediocre writer, and every bit of advice along the way will help. :P

YAGS

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30 May 2006 00:25 #5621 by argonaut
Replied by argonaut on topic Re: Writing help needed

She leaned back against the wall and crossed her legs in the air, casually ignoring the law of gravity.


That works.

I think this thread answers the question you posed at the end of your first post. It's hard to comment on an individual sentence without knowing how it meshes with the surrounding sentences and how it fits into the story as a whole. A word that might be perfect for a given sentence considered in isolation might sound awkward if the same word had been used in the previous sentence. Or the tone of a sentence might be out of keeping with the tone of the story.

If you want to "get to the point" with a minimum of detail, your final version sounds just fine to me. If you want to draw out the moment and showcase the image, something like my version might be preferable. WhitePaw's challenging metaphors and elliptic narration offers yet another approach. And conceptfan could probably devote several hundred words to your image -- although in his version, the girl's crossed legs would be crushing some guy's head! :P

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30 May 2006 00:42 #5624 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
I still think these types of threads are a good idea. Posting whole sections of story, instead of just a sentence or two, and asking for proofreading would probably help with context. But at the time I started this thread, all I had was the image that I wanted to start with. There was no context yet.

YAGS

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30 May 2006 04:05 #5625 by YAGS
Replied by YAGS on topic Re: Writing help needed
Ok, rough draft is done.

The main thing I'm concerned with at this point is that I went with a non-sequential storytelling style for the first time, and I'm not sure if the transitions are clear enough, or if I'm just going to confuse readers. Would some of you mind looking it over for me if I mail it to you?

Given that it's a workshop story, I feel as if I shouldn't post it here yet.

YAGS

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30 May 2006 09:04 #5626 by WhitePaw
Replied by WhitePaw on topic Re: Writing help needed
Ha! Made ya' simile!

Yeah, I'm the illigit' spawn of Edgar Allen Poe and Douglas Adams. I'm Adam's asynchopated contrast in Poe's wordmisering grammar orgies. Them's my weapons of choice for sure. And yeah, I usually only get about 1 mind-blower per page of hard trying....and hard reading. They're usually "out of the park" worth it to those who bother. Prrractice makes perrrfect.

On a good day.

Honestly my good days are never "yesterday": always today and tomorrow. I'm learning as well, but mostly just making it up as I slow along. Real pioneering is unromantic like that.

I'm getting wetter though.

I'm far and away more adventerous with the language than the sum total of the lot of you. I figure if I'm going to survive my monolingual life, I'd better be cracking good at the one language I do bother with. English is an evolving tongue and I'd rather step out of Webster and push a bit than get licked. Angels may fear to thread where I grow, but a stitch here and there wouldn't thrill ya--or would it?

I'm probably most catagorized with Ordo, both of us barely legible to mortals: him for his cacaphony of thoughts and me for overclocking the few I have. As for the rest of you the two of us think you're just not trying if you're only ragged and raw in bits around the edges. We read for the frey of it. The bulk of you read to us like the faded pulse of dividing highway paint across the Mojave. Your artistry is subtle. I'll give you what I lack.

But yeah, I've my spots for licking too. :P

Write on. My readers know who they are, "both" of them, as always.

Wuv,
-Whitepaw.

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31 May 2006 00:54 #5633 by Ordo Cabaal Templarus
Replied by Ordo Cabaal Templarus on topic Re: Writing help needed
Aww, gee, Whitepaw, thanks! ^_^

The way I view mysellf doing it is writing whatever comes to mind, as is. For this reason, I'm trying to keep my latest stories (Greater Destinies) with as much down to earth feel as possible. Abheit too much...

Yeah, we both need to slow down and smell the roses once and a while, don't we?

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