Writing Advice #16

When you’re editing your manuscript, read it though, at least once, as if you know NOTHING about your story.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our own heads when we write, especially during the first draft. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you want to catch errors and inconsistencies you have to not only get critical, you have to suspend your own imagination and forget–temporarily–everything you know about your own story.

Crazy talk, I know.

But doing that changes your perspective and can give you insights you might not otherwise have.

But one of the hardest lessons I learned in my college poetry classes was not to make internal references or “inside jokes.” I might get the reference but someone who doesn’t know me sure as shit won’t.

The same thing applies to fiction. Readers can’t read minds. You might write something that makes total sense to you either because you get the joke or you know what’s going to happen three chapters or three books down the road.

Your readers don’t know these things. They might get confused. They might stop reading.

It also shows you things that you might take for granted. For example: does everyone know werewolves are bothered by silver? Does everyone know what necromancy is?

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to spell out every little detail, dumb your writing down, or waste pages with info dumps but it is important to be mindful of what expectations you are putting on your reader and if those expectations help or hinder your story.

Looking at your manuscript this way doesn’t just help fill plot holes. It can show you ways to enhance your narrative structure.

Here’s an example from my own experiences:

I love prologues.

I know AuthorTubers and many a podcast host tell you to avoid prologues like the plague. But I’m one of those weird people who love reading prologues so I thought, “Fuck it, I’m gonna write a prologue and it’s going to be my MC, Regina, reporting on the death of another character. And it’s going to be awesome.”

Well, I gave the manuscript to one of my beta readers and she didn’t like it. She has no idea who was talking and no idea who these characters were. Because there was no context. I knew what was going on because I have the WHOLE STORY in my head. She didn’t. And it didn’t work for her.

Then another beta reader said the same thing. And I was sad…because I made the thing and would have to change the thing.

If one beta reader has an opinion you can take it with a pinch of salt. But if more than one person has the same problem, the problem doesn’t come from their interpretations or expectations, it comes from your writing.

And I thought, “Well, what if I make it an INTERLUDE instead?”

And that works so much better because by the time this character needs to die you, the reader, know a little bit more about the world and can follow along with the MC and learn the WHY and HOW without getting confused.

So now, whenever I’m editing I always make a plan to read through whatever I’m working on as if I have no idea what’s going on. This helps me get into the mind of a reader and I can think about what kinds of things I, as a reader, would want to know.

I recommend that at least once you read through your manuscript and pretend you have no idea what’s going on. See what happens.

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Photo by Adrien Olichon on Unsplash

Drinking Music

guitar eyes

drunk on that

music

scream low

smug eyelashes

take bastards

into heaven

hot lights

red clay

a little piece of

that July highway

a little relief

from god

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Found Poem: pages 45-72 of Trash by Dorothy Allison.

This poem was first published in my collection Lupercalia.

Photo by Mariana Vusiatytska on Unsplash

In the Voice of My Poetry

My poetry is about finding lost things.

If drinking makes you sick, don’t drink.

Find a clean puddle and dip your cup in that; drink the moon on the water.

My grandmother never wanted my grandfather to leave (he was an alcoholic). She had one sister who thought she was prettier than everyone else. Her grave has dead plants on it. And pink marble.

My poetry is about falling across the road as a bloody smear and making a new boundary, a new border.

My poetry is about an imaginary map.

I was born alone.

Wild roses are my favorite.

My poetry is about rotting and returning to the earth.

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This post is inspired by Bhanu Kapil’s Blog

Photo by Felipe Santana on Unsplash

Hotel Magic

pelvic bone

demolition

painkiller hotel

and hunger

cold coffee the

shattered lover

intoxicated

vertebrae

tangled

in the

Delta

transformation

night

sky-

dive

THE MAJESTIC HOTEL

BURNED FOR NEARLY

48 HOURS

Big Dipper

spiraling

catastrophe

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Found poem. Source: The New York Times, April 2014.

This poem was first published on my old blog Chewing Wormwood and then republished in my collection Lupercalia. (I can’t believe I remembered my old blog’s name!)

Photo by Ph B on Unsplash