by Tanya Parker Mills
I have an appointment with my orthopedist this morning to find out what exactly is wrong with my left shoulder and what can be done to help it function fully again (preferably without pain). Over the last two years, I've suffered injuries to the right side of my body--a broken bone just below my right shoulder and a ruptured Achilles tendon--and I joked, at the time, that I would doubtless begin to break down on this other side in 2010. Needless to say, I'm not laughing now.
Whether this turns out to be arthritis (Come on...am I really that old?) or something else, I've gained a new appreciation for physical balance in my life. When one joint or limb becomes less useful, a person tends to make up for it by overworking its partner on the other side. That, in turn, can become a kind of weakness.
Is it so different in our writing? I will admit, here and now, that one of my biggest weaknesses in writing is describing setting. Why? Because I have never taken the time to learn enough about nature--all the flora and fauna that add so much color to a scene. Rather than boning up on it, I squeak by with a rather spare description and, instead, concentrate on my perceived strengths: dialogue, pacing, etc. As a result, my sense of setting grows weaker and weaker...just like my left shoulder.
I'm certain the doctor today will prescribe some form of painful therapy and that is probably what I need to undertake in my writing, as well. Sometimes, writing is painful--hard, labored, and requiring extra concentration, and study. But if our goal is to be published, we must put in all the time and effort required.
I learned what is required during a "webinar" (online seminar) sponsored by Writers Digest yesterday with literary agent Rachelle Gardner. One of the many things she noted during the 90-minute session was what she looks for in any author's opening pages. She basically looks for strong story, strong voice, and strong craft. She went into more detail regarding each of those aspects, but honing in on the latter, she mentioned all of the following:
- Dramatic structure
- Sensory details and strong verbs
- Few adverbs
- Avoiding backstory
- Showing, not telling
- Single point of view per scene
Do our first few pages of our works in progress reflect all of those things? If not, they need to. To get our writing noticed by an agent or editor these days when they are being bombarded by hundreds (and sometimes thousands, depending on the agent) of queries each day, we need a healthy balance in those first few pages, if not the entire body of our work.