Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Writing a Book is Like Cooking a Turkey

It's really easy for it to be overdone.

You know what I mean (or maybe you don't). You glance into the oven, prick the poor dead bird (yes, that's what I call the turkey every year), think that it might need to be cooked a little more. One thing leads to another (potatoes, kids, husband, cats all causing trouble) and before you know it a half hour has passed and poor-dead-bird is still in the oven. You hurry to take it out, praying it isn't bone dry and inedible. Once you taste it you're both relieved and disappointed because it isn't bone dry and it isn't inedible, but it isn't quite the moist, delicious poor-dead-bird you'd hoped it would be.

How, you might ask, does this relate to writing a book?

It doesn't, but I can make this analogy work and I will. :0)

I've been reading a lot of manuscripts lately and have found a big problem with one in particular. Go ahead, ladies, panic! LOL. No, it's not yours. It's...mine. With so many deadlines looming it's inevitable that I'll have to spend hours of sleep time awake, hunched over my computer, staring at my own worse-thing-I've-ever-written book. And, yes, that's what I call every manuscript I write. As I read, I often find that I've overdone a scene. While not precisely wrong, the conversation or action is not precisely right either. Thus, the taste isn't exactly bad, but it's not exactly what I was hoping for (see, told you I could get the analogy to work!).

Perhaps you've faced this in your own writing. You're reading through and you think - this seems a little off. There's nothing obviously wrong, it's just not as right as you want it to be. If this happens, don't try to cover the spot up with a ladle of gravy or a pile of dressing. Unlike turkey, a manuscript's problems can't be masked with wonderful side dishes. Instead, ask yourself two questions - Is this what s/he would say here? Is this how s/he would act (react) here? Be honest with yourself. Use everything you know about human nature and your own characters to come up with the truth. Otherwise, asking the questions will be an exercise in futility.

The key to creating great stories lies in creating believable situations and characters. If you can't answer yes to both those questions, the scene must be rewritten to be a more realistic reflection of life.

I've got an example of some really bad writing saved on my laptop (yes, it's my own). If I get back here today, I'll post it along with the rewritten scene. If nothing else, it should give us all a good laugh before we go into the hectic holiday season!


Lynette Eason said...

Hi Shirlee,

Thanks for the analogy. I had this all written out, but then because of beta blogger or whatever, it wouldn't let me publish it, then I lost it all! Argh...when am I going to learn to write in Word and Cut and Paste? Sigh...

ANYWAY, as I was saying, I know EXACTLY what you mean. I can't tell you how many times I've looked at parts of my manuscript and thought, "Hm...maybe I don't really need that." Or "I probably should just toss that scene, it's not really relevant." And then I go, "No, it's okay. I'll leave it alone." Then I get comments back from contest judges--or my mentor--or an editor and they'll say..."You really don't need this scene. It's not relevant." Sigh...I suppose I should know by now that if I ponder over it, I shouldn't waste time wondering if I should toss it. I should just do it. Thanks for the reinforcement! Smile.

Happy Crazy Dead Bird Day!


Shirlee McCoy said...

That's exactly it, Lynette. We should trust our own instincts as readers. It's just hard to make the switch from writer to reader.

Happy Crazy Dead Bird Day to you, too!

Anonymous said...

Howdy, I want to be noted here too

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