Sparked by Words

 

As a writer I want my work to be the very best, every character memorable, all words meaningful, each scene evocative. In a word, perfect. Yet I’ll never get there, and part of the stumbling block is the one the reader places before me. Perhaps.

If you read any sentence by any author, you’ll notice there are so many other ways of saying the same thing, with different words, in alternate order, but resulting in nearly identical concepts. Examples: I would like to know the process by which you made this dessert. (Inquiry, formal.) How did you make dessert? (Inquiry, casual.) Tell me how you made the dessert. (Order.) Are you willing to share your recipe for your dessert? (Plea.) I’d really love to know how you made that dessert. (Flattery.) How did you come up with that dessert, for crying out loud? (Insult.) Same bowl of ice cream, essentially the same question: how’d ya do it?

Words count and the arrangement of words counts exponentially. Context counts the most here – who is asking the question, what’s their goal, under what circumstances is the question posed? The sentences are dialogue, whether internal or asked aloud of another person and knowing the character will determine what the reader comprehends about the tone and expectation of those words. The student asks formally. The best friend asks casually. The boss gives an order. The loser pleads. The admirer flatters. The bully insults. If the reader can’t intuit the correct tone, it’s probably poor writing on the part of the author. But maybe not.

The way a sentence is read with the inflection on different words will change its impact on the reader. Examples: HOW did you make that dessert? (Do you have a recipe you’re willing to share?) How DID you make that dessert? (It’s so spectacular, you must be a master chef.) How did YOU make that dessert? (I didn’t know you could make anything but a glass of water.) How did you MAKE that dessert? (You probably used ingredients only found at specialty markets.) How did you make THAT dessert? (Only you would choose something so bizarre.) How did you make that DESSERT? (It was so delicious I must have another piece.)

Which version did the author intend? It could mean something entirely different depending on how it’s spoken – shouted – wept – whispered – shrieked – or just read silently. If the reader doesn’t interpret correctly but infers a different meaning, the entire premise of the sentence is invalidated. Perhaps. Or part of the process of writing delegates power to the reader. Yeah, probably.

Then there’s the problem of words with multiple meanings or applications. When I write the word bat to mean the creature that glides into the night munching on insects but you think I mean the stick that smacks a ball to soar across a field, I am not communicating with you effectively. You’ll figure it out by the following paragraph, and hopefully giggle a bit or roll your eyes. The fault is mine of course for misleading you, but how much explanation must I include before the whole passage collapses under its own weight? Before you’re laughing so uproariously that you can’t even follow the story, and you put the book aside? Details, details, not all of them to keep.

I’m wide awake when I write, completely tuned in to my story, my brain erupting with ideas so flammable I’ll burn up if I let go the pen . (My blog is called Ink Flare for a reason.) The reader is likely nodding off, grappling with a chapter or two before going to sleep, in fact likely reading as lullaby. How attentive can she be? If in her sleepiness she glosses over important events, I can’t be held responsible that she doesn’t understand what’s happening in the book. Can I? Or perhaps the book is too boring to be anything except white noise, an effective barrier against the stresses in the reader’s life. And that’s why she chose it. Or she wanted something to keep her awake so she wouldn’t suffer her usual nightmares. Yeah – one or the other.

I didn’t write a perfect book, but I wrote a perfectly good one. Three, in fact, and a fourth opus in progress if the reader likes historical fiction. Perfection is elusive because every reader, including myself the writer the second and third time I read the work I’ve written, brings a personal interpretation to the story. Doesn’t mean my work can’t be improved, only that perfection is a false god. I aim for personal best – blastedly hard to achieve but still a reasonable goal. The reader gets to tell me how I’m doing. Please ignore the tears.

(Now what did she mean? Tears, as in rips in the paper – or tears, as in water dripping from her eyes? She’s so far from perfect – ugh!)

Or not.

 

Ballerina image courtesy: Google images and Pixabay

 

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Comments on: "Perfectly Unsure about Perfection" (44)

  1. I’m currently working with an author on a short story. It is really, really good. Maybe not perfect but it is well up there in the 90+%. So, it can be done.

    And I’m sure yours will be too.

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    • There are excellent writers all over the world, both traditionally and self published. This was meant to show that reading is a subjective and interactive task. Look up any book on the Internet and you’ll find reviews that praise as well as those that heartily disparage it. The writing is the same. What differs is the reader who responds with a personal bias or misreading the writer’s intent or disliking the book’s premise or writing style. At some point, writers have to determine that their work is complete and written to the best of their abilities. That’s as close to perfection as we can get.

      I would love to say, “Thank you, (name) but I don’t even know your first name, also don’t want to ask you to breach silence on this. So, thank you, Med, for your input. I hope your friend’s story is well received.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I agonise over sentence structure in the hope that is read is what I meant.

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  3. It seems you get caught up in the words, themselves, a little. You know, which one says exactly what I mean? It happens to me constantly to the point where I lose a little of my focus on the story.

    Question: Have you had beta reader read your work? I ask because you appeared to be hinting at a fear of readers.

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    • Yes, you’re right, Glynis. I used words, the smallest constructions of a book, as a means of showing how easy they are to misinterpret. Extrapolate that to an entire book, (plot and characters, etc.) and you can see that every published work is subjective. Anything subjective can’t be perfect. When writing, I also get lost sometimes in the words and word order but I maintain my vision of the whole work.

      No, I don’t have a beta reader for my last two books. I’ve been told there are on-line groups I can ask for help. Another thing I have to figure out how to do.

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  4. As usual, you got me thinking. I wandered from ‘constructing the perfect sentence’ to ‘constructing the long-standing novel’. Quite different, but the same. I’m going to sit back and ponder for a while.

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    • The little bits add up to the total. We all start with words, sentences, paragraphs, but they become the scaffold for the structure. Think about the critique group, and how we often focus on small things like word choice or reorganization of paragraphs in order to suggest a better overall story.

      Jacqui, I’d love to hear back from you when you draw additional conclusions.

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  5. Sharon loads of beta reader groups out there. I visit the GR ones which may be a good start for you. But, you may get a) no interest b) some interest but little useful feedback c) something good.

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    • Thank you for the info – I’ll look into finding a beta reader. Maybe I’ll get very lucky and find the “something good” reader with useful feedback!

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      • It can be really hit and miss. One reason why some people pay. At least they get some result. Although I charge for betas (apart from shorts/few chapters) I say try. Why not? If it doesn’t work out, then pay. Or get an editor who includes the whole beta thing too.

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      • I will definitely pay for a professional editor but I’d like first to find a partner beta reader or two so I have an idea what works, what doesn’t, make changes (maybe) and then move forward. Hoping that by offering to exchange beta tasks, another writer will accept, and we’ll both be committed to doing a good job. (That’s the plan.)

        What kind of stories do you edit?

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      • You might want to look into a critique partner.

        I edit pretty much everything, except graphic horror and violence. Memoirs in particular, but sci-fic/spec-fic/dystopian too. Mystery, crime, romance. No particular niche.

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      • Thank you, Med, I will definitely keep you in mind. You are honest – I like that quality.

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  6. Love this!! I think “perfectly good” is a perfect goal. That’s how I view my paintings… as for my writing, well… I just hope it sort of makes sense in the end! 😉hehe

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  7. The head space required to write can be daunting, Shari. Thanks for offering up a perfect slice of truth with your humor attached. Your effort is inspiring. I’m going to have to read this again tomorrow. So much needed advice in this write. Thank you.

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    • It looks so simple when the words come together sensibly, but it takes a lot of thinking about exactly what it is we mean to write, and how best to get an idea across. Even this post about trying to be perfect didn’t get it just right. Thanks for reading and commenting, Audrey.

      Like

  8. Thank you for the inspiration!

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  9. Sharon, this is great – an interesting reflection on issues that bother me too! The tears dilemma can stop me in my tracks as can read (one word should not be allowed to be both past and present tense!) In the beginning when I started writing I was perfectionist at heart which meant very little was written – I learnt through tutors and experience to write freely the first draft, then is the time for the nitty gritty!

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    • I completely agree with you, Annika. There is a whole lot more to the perfection issue, especially concerning the bigger aspects of a book. The flow of the story arc, the constancy of a character’s persona, and the likelihood of the final resolution also give us fits. Writing in first draft, then going back to fix the little things, and sometimes the big, is usually more effective. But I think for many writers, getting lost in the little things slows them so much they can’t get the first draft completed.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “Perfection is a false god” indeed! A good friend of mine, an artist, likes to remind me that “knowing when to stop improving your work” is at times the hardest part of creation.

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    • Do you think that trying to make it perfect becomes an excuse for some people not to even try to publish? I don’t think it’s intentional but I do think it can be an unconscious stumbling block. Thank you for your comment, Paul.

      Liked by 1 person

      • What a fascinating idea, Sharon! A friend of mine is working on her first novel. She’s been working on it for years. I have sometimes wondered if she really wants to finish it. It seems possible to me that she might be scared of publishing it only to find the public and the critics reject it, for I do believe she has a fear of rejection. She writes beautifully by the way. There’s no reason for her to be scared of anything!

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      • I suspect that most of us have a friend fearful of taking the next step. All we can do is offer support and tell them to go for it. At least she has you to tell her how beautiful her writing is. That’s being a great friend, Paul.

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  11. I’m so with you, Sharon. My stories are good, but are they good enough? When does lavishing love on your work cross the line into obsessing and procrastination?

    We all have to answer this for ourselves. There’s no wise sage anywhere who can absolutely tell us when it’s ready.

    That’s so terrifying. 🙂

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    • Thank you for stating the point of the article so succinctly, Cathleen. Ultimately, no one can tell us anything about our own stories, but I do welcome advice. And sometimes a nudge to tell me to move on to the next one.

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  12. My 21-year-old daughter says her generation considers all reviews suspect. She pointed out a few little known authors with tons of 5 star reviews and then some of the greats of literature with 3-4 stars. I think back to being a kid when we played with our Barbie dolls, creating worlds and scenarios and never thinking about reviewers. 🙂

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    • Letting our imaginations roam – you made me smile today, Adrienne. BTW, for me it was a Ginny doll – the age difference between you and me.

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      • I LOVED those Ginny dolls. My grandmother gave me my aunt’s entire collection of Ginny dolls and early Barbies. My aunt was furious, but by then we’d lost things and broken others. We had no idea my aunt treasured the dolls. My grandmother was a real piece of work.

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      • I saved my two dolls and all the clothes for my granddaughter but she’s never been a doll girl. She and I played with them once but she was clearly humoring me. I’ll save them now for the younger granddaughter – maybe she’ll like them.
        No point saving toys of and kind if not to let another generation of children enjoy them, IMHO. Did your grandmother still want to play with them as an adult? She was probably trying to hold on to something dear from her own childhood.

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      • No, my grandmother never thought of how her daughters would feel about their keepsakes (she even sent my aunt’s cat to the pound without consulting my aunt who was finishing college). She was raised to be an “independent thinker” but it was more like a tragic selfishness. I loved her though 🙂

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      • It’s more difficult to love people who make life tough, and it’s a mark of compassion when we do. I think it’s related to being to forgive. I’m able to love (some) people who are/were extremely aggravating and to forgive some who have inflicted terrible pain on me. Tragic selfishness – that’s a great descriptor. But I choose – I have walked away from friends and family who are toxic and I refuse to look back. My name is Shari – not Doormat.

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