Monday, December 12, 2011

Take It Off, But Don't Take It All Off


You have been working on your story or book for weeks, months, or years now. The question arises: How do I know when I am finished?

Here is a checklist against which to test the piece of writing:
1. Does the story/action happen on the page? Do your characters do something or just sit and think?
2. Check for abstract words such as wonderful, incredible, unbelieveable, beautiful, or fantastic. Re-write and give the reader something to actually see. A black funnel cloud ripping up trees, thirty-foot high waves, curves that would make Marilyn Monroe look like a fourth-grade Girl Scout.
3. What senses are involved? Smell is a superhighway to the emotions -- use it. Burnt toast? Pumpkin pie? What about the sense of touch? Rough as a cat's tongue? Soft as grandma's shoulder?
4. Forget what you know. Is the story on the page or just in your mind or memory? Have you included setting, scene, characters, and dialogue?
4. What's the point? As a test, state what the story is about in one sentence. If you can't do it, the piece might need focus.
5. Give it the line test. Read every sentence to see if it adds something meaningful to the piece. If it doesn't, get rid of it.
6. Read it aloud to yourself or ask someone else to read it aloud to you. Or, you could record your story and play it back. If you feel yourself bored or confused, you know where the piece needs work.

Now let's play Pretend. Pretend my story is an outfit.

I could tell you about an outfit I put together: It was all black. I know what the outfit is like; I can see it in my mind, but that doesn't help you. You may be envisioning a lace Victorian dress or maybe it a witch's dress or maybe a funeral suit. Or I could actually show you the outfit.

Now you know -- long sleeve tee shirt, black slacks.

It begins quite plain, no embellishment. Then, to my outfit/story, I add all the stuff mentioned in the first three questions above. Here's how my outfit looks now.

Now I apply the last two questions: What's the point and does every detail add something  meaningful?

Is this a summer or winter outfit? I have a straw hat and snow boots. Which do I want it to be? Do I need two details around my waist? Which do I want? Tailored belt or lacy scarf? What about that big handbag? It is cotton with sequins. Does that work with the snow boots? Does the outfit need that necklace? My outfit will also include Chanel cologne, Oil of Olay face cream, and Avon hand cream. Does all that make your nose twitch?

Just as putting together an outfit is a judgment call, so is writing. We want to leave room for personal style, but we want to avoid the bizarre and confusing.  Put on details. Take them off. When you have achieved the perfect balance, step out and see what the world says.


Too much. I once showed up at a college dance wearing a bright royal blue wool dress with wide blue satin belt and dyed-to-match blue satin heels. All the sorority girls were there in their matching blazers, straight skirts, and penny loafers. No, my date never asked me out again. That little story has a lot of "too much" in it, doesn't it? Too much outfit. Too much embarrassment. What is your story of too much? I once ate too much cheesecake, but if I told you about it, you would say, uh, too much information. Have you ever told too much, spent too much, loved too much, or suffered too much injustice? Write about it. Then re-write it -- until it is ready for going out in public.

CHOCOLATE INKWELL - Today's recipe is from  Enjoy!

German Chocolate Pie

1 c. sugar
2 tbsp. flour
1 tbsp. cornstarch
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp. cocoa

Mix well.

2 slightly beaten eggs
3 tbsp. melted butter
2/3 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. coconut
1/3 c. pecans

Pour into a 9 inch crust and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

The instructions aren't very specific, but I'm guessing you mix the wet ingredients and add them to the combined dry ingredients and then add the coconut and pecans. Or would you add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients? There's some rule of thumb about that, but I also do not remember that. However, I do remember that this recipe is chocolate and easy.

You still have time to order the Write Your Life Story in Eight Weeks Workbook, Second Edition. It's a great Christmas gift or project for the new year. Find it at

A fashion photographer, I am not; but I took the photos.

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