As writers we want nothing more than to have readers devour our every word from start to finish. For that we need more than an intriguing plot. We need every word to matter. We need to write well.
The function of writing is to be read and understood. Writing needs to be clear and simple, but still maintain a certain elegance. Clear and simple writing = craft. Do it well and you will have elegant writing. Hone your craft and you will create art.
The following is the first draft opening of one of my manuscripts:
“Invader. Attack and protect what’s ours.”
The war cry drifted through Jacob Lawson’s open window as he put the utility into park and leapt out. Too late. A barrage of thick, soggy mudballs sailed through the air. Right on target. Within moments Emily Miller, the children’s new governess, was an oozing brown mess.
It’s not terrible, but there are definite issues with the craft.
Issue: The reader is removed from the action. It’s Emily who is being attacked, but we’re watching it unfold from Jacob’s eyes.
Solution: Rewrite from Emily’s POV
Issue: The reader is told Emily is hit with mud to become an oozing brown mess.
Solution: Show what happens.
Issue: We don’t know anything about our heroine except her name and job.
Solution: Reveal some of Emily’s character.
Issue: The cadence of the dialogue doesn’t fit the situation.
Solution: Rewrite the dialogue.
Taking those craft issues into account, here’s a later, and much better, version of the opening:
The screech of an out-of-tune reveille pierced the air.
“Ready. Aim. Fire.”
Emily swung her head at the noise. Thwack. Something cold, wet and slimy hit her right between the eyes. She froze, except for her mouth, which parted for a sharp, shocked intake of air. Thwack. This time it connected with her shoulder. She snapped her mouth closed.
“Reload slingshots and fire.” Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.
A surge of adrenaline coursed through her as the shots continued to find their mark. With flight impossible in her strappy, wedge-heeled shoes, she did what any well-bred society girl would do.
Not a short squeal of surprise, but a long I’m-being-mugged-call-911 scream from deep in her diaphragm. If nothing else, it stopped the attack.
The key thing to understand is that craft is something that can be taught (and therefore learnt). The final quality depends on the skill of the crafter. The better the skill, the better the final product. Naturally, the more you practice that skill, the better you get at the execution.
Need a refresher on your craft? Come back to basics and join me in August for my OWL: Craft 101.
Craft 101: Back to Basics with AJ Blythe
RWA OWL Course Dates: 5 August to 8 September, 2019
Cost: RWA Member—$55. Non-RWA Member—$88.
Venue: Online – RWA Moodle Platform
For more information and bookings: www.trybooking.com/BACKD
AJ Blythe (Anita Joy) is an experienced TAFE trainer and educator who has done her fiction-writing apprenticeship over many years in the close company of some of her favourite published authors. She is that rarest of author-creatures: an author who loves to pitch. She thrives in short-form pitching and thinking on her feet. Since joining RWA in 2008 she been a finalist in the High 5, Ripping Start and Valerie Parv Award and won the Selling Synopsis award in 2013. Find her at www.ajblythe.com and @aussiecozy