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Monday, January 30th 2012

11:58 PM

Writing strengths and weaknesses . . .


Weaknesses could be a very long list.  I’m pretty hard on myself.  So let’s start with the positives . . . I can plot.  I’m great at brainstorming and I think in a lineal fashion so I’m always five or six steps ahead of whatever chapter/scene I’m organizing.  And speaking of organization . . . another of my strengths (and weaknesses, but more about that later).  This is my belief, you can be organized and work quickly or you can do it by the seat of your pants and write drafts that need a ton of editing.  Here’s the thing – if I’m going to my best friend’s house, I don’t need a map.  BUT if I’m driving from Florida to Montana, I’ve got a map and the GPS turned on so I don’t veer off course too often.  So I organize my book before I write the first word.  I do not do a traditional outline.  I actually start with the end.  As an example . . . I know the bad guy gets caught at the end.  Well for him to get caught, what has to happen?  Protagonist finds final clue.  Well, for protagonist to find that final clue, what has to happen?  So I go backward scene by scene until I get to the other thing I know – the opening or inciting incident – why now? Why this person? What happens to start the story?  Is a dead body discovered?  A threat made?  It doesn’t matter, all I need to know is why I’m telling the story.  I do use organizational software – and no, it doesn’t plot the book for you.  I use yWriter, WriteWayPro and Power Structure.  Why all 3 – because they offer me different things.  yWriter is free and allows you to make nice charts and graphs.  WriteWayPro is all about the characterization.  I think it costs under $50.00 and it’s a download.  Power Structure is my go to program.  This is where I put in all my plot points and keep track of names, locations, clues, threads, things to tie up – it’s very customizable, so you can use it in whatever fashion suits your style.  And having that  information on my computer isn’t enough.  I have to print everything out and put it into binders.  I need to be able to make adjustments.

My writing strengths – humor, dialogue and action.  Oh, and research.  I can do those things.

My weaknesses – my compulsiveness.  I literally can’t write unless I’m totally organized.  I have to have all my characterization and plotting finished before I can make the first move.  While that helps in the writing process – I can move at a brisk pace – I’m also redundant.  In the Finley Tanner mysteries, each chapter starts with a Finleyism.  I can’t write the chapter until I know the Finleyism for that chapter.  Anal, I know. 

In terms of skill weaknesses – I’m too sparse.  I always have to tell myself to slow down.  I think faster than I type, so that doesn’t help.  And before anyone suggests it – yes, I have voice recognition and I’m trying to get used to using it but I’m an old dog learning a new trick.  I’m really bad when it comes to writing sex.  I’d rather describe dismemberment than have to write a love scene.  I just think they’re boring.  I skip them in other people’s books too.  Just not my cup of tea.

I’m really bad at descriptions.  I tend to gloss over things and that means the reader doesn’t get a clear picture of a room, an outfit, and sometimes even the tone.  It’s still part of that sparse thing I have a problem with.  In the Finley books, she’s a shopper and addicted to the latest fashions.  I live in south Florida.  For nine months of the year I dress in shorts and a tee shirt.  The other three months are yoga pants and a tee shirt.  I loathe wearing make-up and I rather order in and relax that eat at a swanky restaurant.  So I have to really work at getting all that information right.  My favorite trick – subscriptions to fashion magazines and Nordstrom’s website.  I go virtually shopping for Finley all the time.

My biggest weakness – insecurity.  After 40 books I still think I’ll turn in the manuscript and my editor will call and say, “Very funny, now where’s the real book?”  I still feel like I have a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do as a writer.  I want to get better.  I love it when someone tells me the book they just read was better than the one before.  Then I know I’ve done my job.

So I’ll end with this – embrace your weaknesses.  Find shortcuts that will help you get over those humps (like In Style magazine).  Celebrate and play to your strengths.  If you’re great with dialogue – use that to your advantage – show don’t tell as they say.

Plot, plan and perfect.

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