Writing Out Loud
One of the surest traps to fall into when you are constructing a story is getting lost in the words. The longer we work on something, the greater difficulty we have in seeing what’s right in front of us. This ‘word blindness’ happens to everyone, but there’s a terrific way to fight it.
Read your work out loud. To yourself, not to anyone else. You’re not performing. You are unselfconsciously listening to see how your words and ideas flow together. This is also one of the best ways of finding spelling errors, typos, and identifying writing that’s confusing, wordy, or just plain bad.
Reading out loud is a great way of discovering where your story loses the thread and starts to ramble. Print out a draft on paper and read it with pen in hand. As you stumble across errors, missing words, or clumsy phrasing, mark up the pages to correct later.
If your project uses visuals, such as a photo exhibit, video, or website, print out a storyboard of the images with accompanying narration, text, or captions. As you read, look at the images that accompany the text to make certain that the connection between the two is clear, and that you haven’t forgotten some important ideas.
You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll find lurking there on your pages that are in need of attention. Just do it!
Check your spelling. Check it again. Have someone else check it. Then again. There will still be mistakes, but they will be fewer.
You are going to make mistakes. You have already made mistakes. Accept this now, and get help tracking them down. Everyone has to do this. Everyone. Also, beware of spell checkers that are integrated with word processing programs. They are very handy, but frequently make mistakes.
Typos and spelling mistakes and will do their best to elude you. Plan a way to track those errors down that doesn’t rely solely on built-in spelling and grammar checkers. This is another good reason to Collaborate.
Collaborating by exchanging storytelling ideas is an essential part of the creative process. Find out what others are doing. Look for ideas and resources that you missed. Don’t let shyness or caution prevent you from seeing what else is being done, and how others are telling their stories. When you open the collaborative door, it will make you and your work stronger.
As the remarkable Helen Keller said,
Kill Your Darlings
“Kill Your Darlings” means getting rid of your most precious and self-indulgent parts of your story for the greater good. Those are the ideas that you believe you think are smart, funny, dramatic, or beautiful. They are usually the parts you are most proud of and can’t imagine cutting, which is why they are called your ‘darlings.’ Watch for the worst of them. They are distractions, and they dilute your work.
Simpler is always better.
Check Your Sources
Confirm that you have all the information necessary to retrace your steps to identify, cite, and track down all references, quotes, photographs, and anything else that you have used as a source in the creation of your story. You may not need to include all of that information, but you need to have access to it when and if the need arises.
Everything in a good, solid story adds something. Everything has to be there for a reason. Nothing is arbitrary or decoration. Far better to have fewer words and pages, less filler and more substance.
If something doesn’t add to the overall story and is possibly there just to fill page space, get rid of it. For every page (and panel or scene) in your story, ask yourself these questions:
- Are my contents uncomplicated and clear?
- Is my text easy to read?
- Is the layout balanced and welcoming to the eye?
- Does each page of my story pick up where the previous page left off, and does the current page encourage the reader to want to know what happens next?
- Does everything point in the same direction? Are they all saying something about the same story? One direction only.
You want a Yes on all of these.
25 Words or Less
When you can summarize your story in 25 words or less, you’ll have a clear and commanding sense of what it’s about, and the way you present it will reflect your confidence.
Until then, keep working on it.