So what I’m beginning today is a regular feature for all of you hard-working, big-dreaming, and ridiculously good-looking writers out there. And it doesn’t have a name.
I was going to call it KARQ: Your Kick-Ass Revision Question of the week. And although I like the way KARQ sounds and how it suggests I might be really smart about physics after all, I’m not loving the whole ass-kicking thing at the moment. Every once in a while, yes, I need that (metaphorically universe, thank you very much).
But this is going to be a regular feature, and I just don’t want to dish out that much violence two – four times a month. I’m looking for something inspiring, catchy, blissful, and easily acronymed. I’d like it to include the word question, to taste like strawberries, and to make me smile when I say it. And I want your suggestions!
Also, because prizes are neat, if yours is the name I choose, I will send you (or someone of your choosing) an autographed copy of Putting Makeup on Dead People.
As for the feature itself, I don’t really need a name to start it, so here goes. Your first installment.
Nothing has helped me more in my own revising than a good question.
Like, “What if this collection of short stories you have is really a young adult novel?”
Or, “What if instead of this story happening over thirty years, it happens in one?”
Or, “What would make someone want to turn the page?”
A good question is like a glowing, golden, glitter key with which we can unlock the treasure chests that are our stories. And if that doesn’t appeal to the eight year-old girl in you, I don’t know what will.
So here’s your (INSERT AWESOME NAME HERE) for the week: Do your flowers have enough soil?
A few weeks back, one of the writers taking my Discover the Book class was worried her language might be too flowery. And I said, “You’re allowed to have flowers if you’ve got enough soil. Do you have enough soil?”
Many writers are excellent florists. We pen beautiful ideas, lofty blossoms of emotion and petals of wisdom. But if they don’t have good dirt or the right dirt, then those ideas won’t be rooted in anything, and neither will our stories. Books full of flowers sit on coffee tables, which I guess is awesome if you’re working on a coffee table book. Let’s assume that you’re not.
In that case, you’ve got to earn those blooms by earthing those blooms. Earth means the nitty gritty, relevant and revelatory, sensory details. And pay attention to the relevant part. It’s easy to get distracted by all of the neato details that are possible, that might be happening. But the dirt has to serve the flower. If the flower is about Linda’s rage, for instance, what kind of details evoke rage or show the reader something about Linda’s rage in particular?
For instance, the children laughing at the playground across the street might be the perfect detail to create contrast to Linda’s anger. But knowing that earlier in the week, Linda received a Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon, which she recycled in the brown paper shopping bag next to the kitchen counter–probably not useful.
An example of flowery ideas/language: Helen was in the throes of despair; everything fell apart.
An example of the kind of dirt you need to earth such flowers: Helen’s first waking moment of Monday involved reaching over to swat the beeping alarm clock and instead dumping water all over her smart phone. The water, of course, was the water that Henry, knowing she got thirsty in the morning, had placed on her night table, before everything fell apart.
Before she pushed aside her full bowl of linguini and confessed to Henry that she’d slept with his brother. Before Henry looked at her with the disappointment he usually reserved for his driving students or flippant news anchors. Before he said in a low growly voice that he never wanted to see her again and left without shutting the door. Which let in a warm burst of air and a mosquito that sunk its little bloodthirsty teeth onto her thumb.
On Monday, when she jumped out of bed to grab the phone, Helen slipped on the water and slammed her left shin right into the night table. She howled with pain until Mrs. Disher, the upstairs neighbor, banged her cane three times on the ceiling, which meant that Helen was disturbing her and should keep it down.
And now, cradling her dead, wet, dumb phone in one hand and her fast-bruising shin in the other, with no hands free to scratch the mosquito bite on her thumb, Helen was in the throes of despair. She wondered if she might be thirsty for the rest of her life.
So, dear writers, do you have enough soil for your flowers? If not, where might you add some in?
Does this help? Any nuances you’d like to add?
Please share your ideas below–not only on this question, but also on names for this questionable, I mean question-y, feature.
Love and happy revising!
Thank you so much for reading. You might notice that I don’t have a space for comments, but I’m certainly open to conversation about what’s written here. If you’re so inspired, feel free to start a conversation with me via the contact form on the homepage of this site.