Many writers, including yours truly, struggle to write not just well but the bestest words. See that, I need to edit that. It’s very difficult to write out what you want to say. Sometimes you write the most perfect thing, then get disgusted when you read it back.
“How could I write that?! Why did I think that was so great!?” Those words can probably be heard often – if not out loud, at least echoing in someone’s head.
For me, coming up with a story isn’t that hard. Even writing it down isn’t that difficult. But then, reading it and editing it – that can be very difficult.
One problem I, and I’m sure many others struggle with, is writing with balance. Writing with balance can mean a couple things, so let me tell you what I mean.
For this post, writing with balance means putting the words on the page to say what you want to say, without those words sucking. I know someone laughed reading that, but I bet many writers are going, “yeah, that’s pretty hard to do.”
Maybe giving examples will help best rather than lecturing. Here is a bit of the infamous Harry Potter story:
From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger
Harry had no time to reply. At that very moment, a heavy black Bludger came pelting toward him; he avoided it so narrowly that he felt it ruffle his hair as it passed.
“Close one, Harry!” said George, streaking past him with his
club in his hand, ready to knock the Bludger back toward a Slytherin.
Harry saw George give the Bludger a powerful whack in the direction of Adrian Pucey, but the Bludger changed direction in midair and shot straight for Harry again.
Harry dropped quickly to avoid it, and George managed to hit it hard toward Malfoy. Once again, the Bludger swerved like a boomerang and shot at Harry’s head.
Harry put on a burst of speed and zoomed toward the other end of the field. He could hear the Bludger whistling along behind him. What was going on? Bludgers never concentrated on one player like this; it was their job to try and unseat as many people as possible. . . .
Fred Weasley was waiting for the Bludger at the other end.
Harry ducked as Fred swung at the Bludger with all his might; the
Bludger was knocked off course.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled happily, but he was wrong; as though it
was magnetically attracted to Harry, the Bludger pelted after him
once more and Harry was forced to fly off at full speed.
If you haven’t read this series, you really should, if for no other reason than to know what everyone else is talking about.
Is this the most perfect section of prose you will ever read? No, probably not. Would Ms. Rowling say she wrote the best piece of literature ever? I doubt it. That’s kind of the point. Sometimes we get so caught up in making every bit of it perfect that it never actually gets written. The little inaccuracies and personal choices are what help define our voice and make us unique and interesting. There’s the wisdom of the day, young Padawan.
Ok, now, what could she have written? I’ve got a couple examples below of how it could have been written. I know I have caught myself writing this way and have heard many other authors write this way at times.
Alternate Universe 1 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger
Harry had no time to reply. A Bludger came toward him. He swerved. The Bludger flew close to him. His hair was ruffled by Bludger passing by.
“Close one, Harry!” said George. George flew past Harry. George carried his club. Goerge hit the Bludger toward Adrian Pucey. The Bludger change direction and flew toward Harry.
Harry dropped to avoid the Bludger. George hit the Bludger toward Malfoy. The Bludger swerved toward Harry again.
Harry sped up and flew to the other end of the field. The Bludger flew behind him, making a whistling sound. Harry wondered why the Bludger was after him and not others.
At the end of the field, Fred Weasley waited. Harry ducked as he flew by Fred. Fred swung at the Bludger. The Bludger was knocked off course.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled. He was wrong. The Bludger after Harry. Harry flew off.
I think you would agree, that wasn’t as interesting. Was it telling the same thing? Yes, but it sounded more like reading the directions to a recipe than telling a gripping section of the story.
Again, I’m not being mean or critical of the work. Nor am I saying I write better, believe me, I don’t. I am using this to gain a better understanding of writing with that balance of saying what needs said and saying it well. Or saying it goodly if you like.
The next example is one I’ve seen quite a bit. It is the opposite of the first example. Instead of being dry and cut down, it goes the opposite way and says way too much. In an effort to make it interesting, the author gets it too flowery and has the opposite effect of what they want.
Alternate Universe 2 From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets chapter 10 The Rogue Bludger
Harry couldn’t reply, he had too many things happening at once. He turned his head and looked over to see a heavy black Bludger flying toward him. Shifiting his weight and gripping the handle of his flying broomstick, he adjusted his course and avoided the Bludger that had been flying towards him.
“Close one, Harry!” said George. George flew past him lifting his arm which held his club. He looked at Harry, waving his club in the air with his arm. Harry watched George shift on the broomstick, guiding it toward the Bludger. George flew at the flying ball and Harry knew he was going to swing his arm and hit it toward a Slytherin.
Harry saw George hit the Bludger. George swung his arm and the club hit the Bludger. He hit it with a strong whack. The Bludger flew in the direction of Adrian Pucey. The Bludger changed direction, flying one way and then turning in the air toward Harry again.
Harry flew across the field and saw the Bludger heading toward him. Shifting his weight, Harry adjusted the broom’s course and dropped quickly to avoid the Bludger. He flew through the air with the Bludger flying behind him. Harry saw the Bludger getting closer. Again, Harry, turned the broom, flying in a different direction, and the Bludger followed him. Harry saw George and flew the broom toward him. As he flew by, George swung at the Bludger. George connected, hitting the Bludger toward Malfoy. The Bludger flew hard toward the opponent who looked to see it coming. Once again, the Bludger swerved and changed direction, turning and flying toward Harry again. The Bludger was flying toward’s Harry’s head.
Harry saw the Bludger flying towards him again. Flying faster, Harry flew towards the other end of the field. Behind him, he heard the Bludger flying quickly, making a whistling sound as it flew through the air. Harry glanced worriedly behind him, seeing the Bludger close. What was going on? Bludgers never concentrated on one player like this; it was their job to try and unseat as many people as possible. . . .
Fred Weasley was at the other end. Harry flew toward Fred as Fred held his club, ready to hit the Bludger.
As he flew by Fred, Harry ducked, flying lower. Fred swung his club at the Bludger flying through the air. He hit the Bludger and knocked it off course. The Bludger flew away after being hit so hard by Fred.
“Gotcha!” Fred yelled. He was happy that he had hit the Bludger. He wasn’t happy when the Bludger changed direction. It flew through the air again towards Harry, seeming to be attracted to him. Harry turned his head and looked the Bludger. He saw the Bludger flying right towards him again. Harry turned the broom and adjusted his flight. The Bludger flew after Harry as Harry flew off across the field.
Compared to the example from the book. that was a lot of words and a lot of excess description. That can realy bog down a manuscript. If you compare each example with the original, you can see how the word choices in the original lead to a more pleasant reading experience. Could you find some things that could be different or even improved? Yeah, I’m sure you could and someone else may find something completely different that they think should be changed, and they would probably be right also. That’s what is great about stories – there is no one way to tell any story. There may be better ways, and by finding those better ways, you can improve your own writing.
Try to do what I’ve done – take an example from whatever book you are reading and rewrite parts of it. Start by writing out the original. It’s best if you do this by hand on paper. This sounds very tedious, but it can open your eyes to how a section is written and what the author is doing to make the story enjoyable and say it in their own voice.
Once you have the original copied out, rewrite it. Try to pare it down to the bare bones. Then try to rewrite it with the most extravagent flourishes possible. Maybe rewrite it as if another favorite author had written it. How would Harry Potter sound if H.G. Wells had written it? What about if Charles Schultz had written it? If you don’t know who they are, I’ll let you Google that on your own.