by Anne R. Allen
What’s over-workshopping? It’s what occurs when writers attend too many writing workshops or critique teams the place they’re fed dogmatic, my-way-or-the-highway guidelines. Following guidelines too carefully can decelerate your story (and your profession.) It may possibly additionally get rid of what’s artistic and authentic in your work.
You possibly can spend years schlepping that WIP from workshop to workshop, by no means letting your writing profession take off. This may be easy concern of success. Or it may be a sort of dependancy to writing guidelines.
Writers want to understand that in writing there are not any hard-and-fast guidelines. There are solely tips. You wish to be taught the fundamental guidelines of writing and grammar, after all, however following guidelines to the letter can squelch a narrative and snoozify a reader.
Keep in mind that excellent is the enemy of excellent.
Listed here are a number of the workshop criticisms we will typically ignore.
1.“Your character wouldn’t try this!”
That is my unfavorite factor to listen to in a critique or editorial word. It’s virtually at all times unhelpful as a result of no one is aware of your character the way in which you do.
It typically means the critic needs to make your story about herself. What she means is “I wouldn’t try this,” or worse, “My psychological stereotype of that sort of individual wouldn’t try this.”
I as soon as had a beta-reader who mentioned I ought to reduce a scene the place a distraught lady absentmindedly eats a lot of the frosting she’s made for a good friend’s marriage ceremony cake and rushes to make one other batch earlier than the company arrive. “She wouldn’t try this,” the beta reader advised me. “Once I’m nervous I can’t eat.”
She was denying that anyone might have issues with emotional consuming as a result of she doesn’t.
Bestseller Catherine Ryan Hyde tells a narrative in our guide Learn how to be a Author within the E-Age concerning the critiquer who insisted “a truck driver wouldn’t learn Proust.” The person was merely stating his stereotyping of truck drivers, not something of use to the writer. A fan of French literature who drives a truck for a residing is attention-grabbing. A stereotype isn’t.
These are the sort of critiques that result in over-workshopping. A beginner author may take this stuff to coronary heart and take away precisely what makes her characters sparkle. She will be able to additionally find yourself with a “jackalope” freak of a personality made up of bits of personalities of all of the folks within the workshop that’s under no circumstances recognizable as a real-life human.
2. Don’t repeat a phrase in the identical paragraph
Would A Story of Two Cities be improved if its first line learn: “It was the most effective of occasions; it was the worst of historic eras.” (And Mr. Dickens, the “was” police could be throughout that sentence!)
Or perhaps Anna Karenina ought to have opened like this: “Glad households are all alike; each morose clan is despondent in its personal approach.”
Thesaurusitis is usually a a lot larger downside than repetition. 😊
3. By no means use a number of factors of view.
A number of factors of view in a single sentence — and even one chapter — could be annoying and complicated to the reader. That’s what we name “head-hopping.” However novels with a number of factors of view could be richer and have extra depth.
A single “deep” POV is nice for a easy, linear storyline, and it is likely to be greatest for a primary novel, however when you’ve mastered the fundamental craft of novel-writing, don’t draw back from a number of POV characters. I’m studying one proper now by a Pulitzer Prize winner that has no less than ten.
4. Eradicate “was,” “that,” and “simply.”
The phrase “was” doesn’t make your sentence “passive.” The verb “to be” is critical to create a number of tenses and voices in English. Right here’s my blogpost about tuning out the “was” police.
“Simply” additionally has many makes use of and meanings. Solely get rid of it if it’s an pointless modifier. “I simply acquired residence, so I haven’t had dinner” is smart. “I acquired residence so I haven’t had dinner” is mindless in any respect.
“That” is erroneously maligned, too. Generally it’s required for readability. Use your individual judgement as an alternative of over-workshopping your WIP into an incomprehensible mess.
5. Don’t use contractions.
This isn’t a rule. It’s simply plain dumb. However I hear from writers who’re advised this in workshops on a regular basis. Ack!
In case you’re writing a novel in English about human, English-speaking characters, you’re writing about individuals who use contractions.
Writing a guide within the voice of Information, the Star Trek robotic, or Andy Kaufman’s “Overseas Man” is likely to be a enjoyable tour de power, however it might get outdated quick. And if ALL your characters speak like international robots, you’re going to have a whole mess.
Speak about over-workshopping!
I’ve a sense this “rule” got here from college students studying to jot down faculty essays, or perhaps authorized briefs. However fiction that reads like a authorized transient could be a large snoozefest. There are additionally many various kinds for nonfiction essays. On the Internet, only a few articles are so formal that contractions are an issue.
Whenever you write dialogue, the #1 aim is to sound genuine, and dropping the contractions can have the alternative impact.
6. Take away all adjectives and adverbs.
Critically? Even when your POV character is, um, moderately obscure? That is why over-workshopping your guide could make all characters sound the identical. In life like writing, some characters will use adjectives and adverbs and others received’t.
Extremely-minimalist “austere” prose could also be in vogue with some readers, however it’s definitely not the norm. Chuck Wendig wrote a hilarious tackle this dictum. (Warning: sturdy language.)
7. By no means use the passive voice.
Oh, pu-leez. The passive voice exists for a cause. A scene can nonetheless be “lively” if the writer makes use of the passive voice.
It’s higher to your detective to say. “This lady was murdered!” than “An individual or individuals unknown murdered this lady!”
Pretzeling your phrases into 100% “lively” sentences will make your prose awkward and unreadable. An ideal instance of over-workshopping.
8. Eradicate all clichés.
Until your characters are wildly creative poets, unusual guests from one other planet, or kids fostered by wolves, their dialogue and ideas will embrace acquainted expressions.
Don’t rob your Scarlett O’Hara of her “fiddle dee-dees” or deprive your Bogart of “doesn’t quantity to a hill of beans” due to some dogmatic individual in a workshop.
And there’s a distinction between a cliché and a trope. Each style has its favourite tropes. In Romance, there’s the enemies-to-lovers trope, secret billionaire trope, second-time-around trope, and plenty of extra. These are acquainted plots, however not clichés. Don’t let anyone workshop away a preferred plot your readers will love.
9. Punctuation is so final century.
Sure. There are beginner writers whose shell-like ears are polluted by this sort of nonsense in costly MFA courses and prestigious workshops. Then it filters down into on-line writing teams and fora.
Okay, there are some literary writers, typically getting older male lecturers writing about their sexual dysfunction, who get revealed though they thumb their noses at readers by failing to punctuate their dialogue.
Different male lecturers undoubtedly get pleasure from studying their books.
The remainder of us…not a lot.
So except you’re an educational with a Viagra behavior, I counsel you ignore this silliness. Write for readers, not fashions in academia.
10. At all times Present, Don’t Inform
That is the Grand Poobah of writing guidelines. However following the rule precisely may end up in over-workshopping. It may possibly gradual your story down and infuriate the reader. I’ve written an entire put up on why emphasis on show-don’t-tell could be harmful.
In fact you don’t need your story to learn like a 7-year outdated’s recap of his day. “I acquired up and had waffles after which Mother took me to highschool and I fell down at recess and the nurse put a Band-Assist on my knee and we had pizza for lunch…” All telling is boring.
However so is an excessive amount of exhibiting. An excessive amount of exhibiting additionally slows the tempo.
In case you spend ten pages describing the shabby residence of the homicide witness, and we hear the screaming kids and the blaring TV and scent the unemptied cat litter field and overflowing rubbish can, your story isn’t going ahead.
A author ought to solely dwell on the important thing scenes the place necessary motion is going on. It’s completely okay to say your detective can inform the witness is a harried single mother who’s barely in a position to cope so her testimony could also be ineffective. Then he can transfer on with the investigation and your reader can get on with the story.
Begin one other undertaking to keep away from over-workshopping.
I do know authors who’ve spent years taking their WIP to writers’ conferences and workshops, obsessive about making a guide that will likely be universally accredited of. However that sort of guide doesn’t exist. You possibly can’t please the entire folks the entire time.
In case you concern you’ve been over-workshopping your guide, attempt placing it in a drawer and ignoring it for a month or two. Spend that point beginning one other one, or writing a brief story or a poem or two. One thing quick you may really end is greatest. Don’t present the brand new stuff to anyone till it’s executed and also you like it. Then take it to your critique group or workshop when you could have extra confidence in your work and might ignore recommendation that doesn’t resonate with you.
Bear in mind it’s your work, and your identify will likely be on it, not the names of your workshoppers. Be sure that it’s what you wish to say to your reader, not one thing you’ve mangled to please a handful of dogmatic writers.
by Anne R. Allen(@annerallen) November 19, 2023
What about you, scriveners? Have you ever ever fallen right into a sample of over-workshopping? How did you get your self to cease? What different guidelines do you see workshops over-enforcing? What’s your unfavorite writing “rule”?
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Featured picture, Antoine Raspal, the Couturiers Workshop, 1760. Wikicommons