Friday, June 18, 2010

Staying our Hand (letting the unsaid words speak loud in our manuscripts)

There comes a time—maybe as you become older, or more settled—that you learn to, well, just Shut the Hell Up. When I was younger, I felt I had to say what I had to say and if I didn’t say it, I felt I’d just explode with all the unsaid words I needed to say. It was as if I’d eaten a HUGE meal and needed to vomit it out—the physical sensation of discomfort was real. Open mouth—Baalauuggghhh! I felt I needed to be Understood. And to be Understood, I needed to release lots of words.

But, as I grew older, I began to see the wisdom in holding back, waiting, weighing the words a little better and if they were heavy enough, and if I needed to release those weighted words, then I would, and all the superfluous or empty or light words would dissolve away. Or, as I found, sometimes even the heavy words needed pruning away. I would not explode if I didn’t get rid of all the words. I could sometimes not say anything at all and that said more than any words could. A simple action, a simple look, a simple walking away, a simple white space of time can say more than words can.

There is the considering, even in anger. I never regret this. If it’s important enough, it will find its way to be said, and if I do it smartly, then the importance of the message comes through better and more effective/affective than if I’d just spewed out all these words words words—the message mixed up in a bunch of blah blah blah blah blah blah blah me me me me you you you blah bleah blork bleep bloop.

The same kind of thing happens with writing. Sometimes I have to stay my hand. Luckily, in writing one can delete words -unlike in real life when words are out, they are out, and can't be taken back, can't be deleted. Lucky writers! We have the power to UnDo the doing!

If I don’t stay my hand in the first draft, I will go in and get rid of words. Sometimes lots of words. It becomes easier and easier to do this. It wasn’t always so, for just as I said above, I felt if I didn’t get out all those words words words, I’d explode. Oh sure, I’d heard “kill all your darlings,” and the like, but while the concept made sense, I found I wasn’t really doing that so much, not as much as I thought. I’d read my work and think, “But that HAS to stay in there;” or, “but if I take that out, the reader may not understand;” or maybe I just had fun saying it--whee! Look what I wrote! How fun! How cool is that? ooooo~!

Now I better understand. I better understand that if I look at something, and I mean really look at it, pause on it, skip on it, think about it, then it may be something I need to take out because I am NOTICING it. I better understand that I don’t have to give the reader every little thought or every little nuance. I better understand that sometimes the unsaid things are as effective/affective as the said things. Sometimes saying/writing something simply, or not saying/writing it at all, speaks louder.

Sometimes the staying of my hand comes with who is narrating the story. When I wrote the first Virginia Kate book, Tender Graces, it begins with VK as an adult and she slips back into time to storytell her life and her family’s life. When Virginia Kate is a young girl, I wanted to keep her voice in the age she was in and slowly let her grow up, and as she did, slowly let her voice/the language change to reflect her growing up. Many times I wanted to say something in one way (beause it was easier, or frankly and honestly, because it sounded lovely-oh the manipulation of language! *pant pant*!), and then I'd have to realize it was too sophisticated, too grown up, for a young girl to say and I'd have to remember who my character is --forget my ego and tell the truth of the character.
It meant sacrificing a little—staying my hand—creating a world of a young girl with “not so sophisticated language.” In Secret Graces, VK is older, and I felt freer with "grown up" language; although, VK has her own way of speaking and I'm not allowed to slip in my own way of speaking. It is her story, after all. She is the storyteller.

When we write, we have to let go of our ego, and sometimes that may be difficult, because we may not always be aware of our ego. But I believe the more we write, the more we understand ourselves and our style (and characters and their voices), the more practice we have, the more we mature as writers, the more we let our characters be who they are and not worry about how we are sounding as writers, then the better our books/stories will be--and this doesn't mean "perfectly written masterpieces" because we are human and we aren't perfect - this means TRUTHs. And everyone recognizes Truths.

That's all we can really do as writers: Be honest, and, forget our egos. Everything else is subjective.

Now, I’ve said too much.


Marisa Birns said...

No, you did not say too much; what you've said here is just the right amount. Goldilocks would choose your bowl!

Love the mantra here: be hones, and, forget egos. :)

Analisa said...

Excellent! I always need to take a moment to edit my words. In life and writing. Have you ever known that person who speaks little but when they do folks really do listen? That was never me. LOL.

Marguerite said...

Great advice! I tend to speak before I think, on too many occasions. Thanks for the reminder! :)

Angie Ledbetter said...

What all three of the ladies above me said!

I need to bite off my words more often too -- from my mouth and on the page. Hugs, friend.

Diane said...

I am learning this in life now. My two cents is not always necessary to be spoken. Ego and pride is right... :O)

Karen said...

Writing the spoken word. I love this concept of the two needing to be quiet at times. Thanks, a good reminder!

Suldog said...

If I forget my ego, there wouldn't be much of anything left :-)

Rick said...

I hate to be the one to break this to you, but you're now officially wise. Very, very thought-provoking post. Thank you, Kathryn.

Titus said...

Excellent advice. My biggest problem is that I want people to understand, and will not permit them an iota of intelligence with which to understand - my point is so important I must s-p-e-l-l i-t o-u-t in case they miss it.
Takes a lot of effort on my part to leave only the signposts or the Pole Star!

Glynis said...

As I progress further with my writing, I have found I can let the reigns loose on my characters. They are turning out to be far better than when I try and control them. I am maturing. :)

PS: Check your email Kathryn, I sent the October pic :0

Eryl Shields said...

You are very wise. I have the opposite problem, however, I have a tendency to terseness: I write four paragraphs and think that's it then, done. Same with speaking: I say half a dozen words on a subject and expect everyone to know just what I mean. Maybe I was a aphorism in a previous life.

prashant said...

My biggest problem is that I want people to understand,
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