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    Do You Have the Write Stuff?


    I HATE WRITING. I hate it. I put it off as long as possible; just ask my editor, or old friends whom I haven’t talked to in years who got a call from me tonight. You can always tell I have an assignment due if my house is clean.

    And you know what I do as soon as I’m done? Rewrite. And the first time I see my piece in print? Rewrite again in my head. Well, cringe first, maybe. The problem is that it’s an addiction. I love what I hate. My thoughts are bouncing around, and I have to make sense of them. I don’t mean to leave you adrift in a black sea of hopelessness. (That’s what’s called “overwriting.” Don’t. There’s your first lesson.) Perhaps your strength is drawing, or maybe the ideas. In any case, you have a story to tell. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be reading this — though I do agree that the columnist mug shot is irresistible.

    How, then? As Sammy Klayman said, “The question is why.” When Michael Chabon’s character told his cousin that the best comic book creations are those with the best motivations, he could have been talking to you or any other writer. He hit on what makes stories move. Every word must advance the plot. Even if it’s not obvious at first, everything must come to an end. Waste no words, especially in the sparsely worded format of comic books. The classic explanation comes from Strunk and White:

    “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

    Apply that to all parts of your story, not just the writing. What purpose does each character serve? Could this new character be folded into another? How does this serve the reader? Cry all you want about your artistry, but assuring your message is heard requires readers. That said, don’t write to please them; write to say what you want, write to make them think, write because no one’s ever said it that way before. I always search for the perfect sentence — or, when it comes to my own work, usually a phrase — whether I’m writing or reading, one that will roll around my mouth and stick with me for the rest of the day, the month, the winter.

    That’s a challenge, but well worth it. The goal of writing well can be intimidating, but seek the satisfaction it offers, even if comes just from a few words. That’s why I keep coming back. And when I finish, I get to run downstairs on a rush of adrenaline, shout out that I’m done — about time! will be the reply — crack open a beer and let my mind wander. To the second sentence in the third paragraph, most likely.

    Got a gerund to grind? E-mail grammarguru@comicfoundry.com or catch her in the message boards

    Posted by Tim Leong on February 18th, 2005 filed in Story Archive |

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