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Tools of the Writing Trade

March 10, 2010
Nut and Bolt
Nuts and Bolts of Writing

Too many writers struggle through their prose, desperate to share their message, without concentrating on the foundations of their craft. As one of those writers who have flung themselves passionately into the page with little regard for strong structure or planning, it is time for me at least, to rein in that energy and focus on the tools of writing.

Strunk and Whites “Elements of Style” undoubtedly sits on many writers desks and its a fair bet it has gathered a similar amount of dust. To be fair, their work is extremely well regarded, full of information, detailing meticulously the rules and regulations of the mechanics of writing. However, their crisp, monotone voice devoid of passion or life, leaves me cold and detached from the plethora of information I really aught to take in, but find I cannot.

When learning a new skill or technique, most humans benefit the most from being able to relate the new information with something that they are already comfortable with or associated with. This is where the value of storytelling and analogies come into their strength.  Many writers look at the basics of writing as being tools. For someone practical and hands on such as myself, visualising these as real tools of a trade assisted me tremendously. Thus they could be divided into four basic groupings with an analogy drawn from the building industry.

Nuts and Bolts. These are the strategies which look at the physical arrangement of sentence, paragraph and words. These tools include making meaning within your sentences early, allowing punctuation to control pace and space and lots of revision and editing.

Blue Prints. These are the tools involved in plotting, character development, organisation and story building. Techniques include the appropriate place of plotting, building the story around key questions or themes, writing from different angles and writing towards an ending.

Production Plan – These are the tools instigated to build routines which support a productive writing life within the lie you already lead. The major tools within this highly organised pencil box are installing a mission statement focused on the outcomes of your work, ways to turn procrastination around, preparing our support group, learning from critics and owning the space you create from.

Interior and Exterior Decoration. These are the tools of originality, clarity and persuasion – adding that pzzaz to the piece. One of the most useful techniques in this little goody bag is “defamiliarization” – where the writer takes the familiar and makes it strange.  It is most likely to be utilised within fantasy and sci fi, but has no reason it cannot be used in other genres. Other techniques is mirroring and repetition where key words or themes are reflected throughout the prose to push a point or image.

A successful story, rich in its vocabulary does not necessarily require large or scholarly words; but rather the usage of simple, but precise words and images to transport the reader into a new reality. Just as a sculptor carves out stone or uses thier hands to mould clay, a writer shapes  their worlds with words. To paraphrase a famous artist – “though it might take half an hour to produce this piece of work, every brush stroke has taken 40 years to perfect.”  In effect – though it may take a few hours to write a short story, to get to that point may take you years.

Do you have any basic rules you like to keep in mind ( or wish you did?)

Image by JanneM via Flickr

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Annie Evett is revising her basics in an attempt to tighten and streamline her work.  She still can’t get her head round em dashes and n dashes and is adding a ! here just because she can.. so there!!!!! Follow Annie here on Twitter and start your escape into her world  here

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  1. March 10, 2010 12:48 am

    Aught does not equal ought.

  2. March 10, 2010 8:01 am

    In my first drafts, I tend to overwrite. It’s a habit I’ve been slowly breaking. But I am a very basic writer and I need to embrace that. So keeping in mind that you can paint a engaging picture with just a few words is what I keep in mind while writing. Great post!!

  3. March 10, 2010 9:16 am

    I’m with Hannah. I overwrite. as well. It’s easier for me to shape the story that way and then tighten it up after.

    Great post, thank you!

  4. March 10, 2010 2:38 pm

    I overwrite some things and underwrite others. The redrafting stage is where I start to realise where the holes are, as well as the flabbier parts.
    Like the point about ‘half an hour to write, 40o years to learn how’!

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