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November 26, 2010

Boredom and Confusion

The writer's greatest enemies are boredom and confusion. It's easy to tell when either of these are happening, but only if someone else is reading your drafts. 

Of all my writing memories, one of the worst is watching a professor of mine squint at my pages in total confusion, as if he was looking at a complex math equation. You know you're up against confusion when people ask you questions about the world, the character, or continuity that are obvious to you (or maybe not) that clearly haven't come across in the writing. Questions like "I don't get it," come up or, "so wait the character did this BEFORE that?" Last writer's group, someone told me my work was "surreal" and my confusion alarms went off.

Boredom is an easier problem, and it's easy to diagnose in group because people just usually stop reading. If you're lucky, the people in your group will be straightforward with you and tell you when they get bored. Sometimes in school, classmates don't want to admit that they weren't reading your work, so this kind of honesty usually happens outside the class when you're out in the world and going to writers groups for the love of writing and not for the love of credit. When you're writing an initial draft, you wind up writing a lot of stuff that is totally unnecessary to the final story but required in order for you to get the good stuff out. this is a lot like the wooden molds that help support concrete before it has dried. Yes, it's necessary, but it's also necessary to take away to reveal the finished product.

The good news is that a lot of the time, both of these problems can be addressed by cutting a lot. Sure, boredom is easier (you just cut a lot) while confusion usually has to be addressed by streamlining your story and removing unnecessary elements. But regardless of which you're dealing with (and you'll deal with both for sure) the result of addressing these issues is a tighter story. The even better news is that you've written something. The worse problem you could have is not to have pages with either problem.

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