Flowers and Words

22 Nov

In Idaho, we have
two types of ground (you can’t really call it soil), sand and clay. Neither
grow much of anything except potatoes and sugar beets. As an Advanced Master
Gardner, I know this. The first thing we learn is how to make soil—technically it’s
amending soil. You can’t really make
soil. If you don’t have good soil, you can’t grow much of anything. Just like
writing, you’ve got to have a good foundation.

One way to amend the
soil is to add compost. Compost is a wonderful and potentially dangerous
commodity. If you follow the rules, you’ll be rewarded with flowers and food. And
not burdening our landfills with more trash. Sometimes, even if you follow the
rules, you can end up with a problem. The problem is that rotting material
produces a lot of heat. And when a
compost pile catches on fire (and they do) they’re hard to put out.

In writing, you can
take all the classes you can and follow all the rules in hopes of turning your
knowledge into a best seller. But if you look at some of the best sellers, they
don’t follow all those rules.

There are rules you have
to deal with; the confines of your genre, and word counts… In those first few
words, you have to get the story started along with the conflict, sensory sensations,
setting, character development, and move the plot forward. Tall order.

As in composting, you
can’t just throw anything in. You have to sift through the garbage and get rid
of animal products like meat, dairy and eggs. You need the right mix of carbon
and nitrogen. Carbon is dry material and nitrogen is mostly wet stuff. Then
there’s the right balance of bacteria and bugs. And so on.

There are no bugs in
writing, but we do have to strike the right balance of all the classes we take.
One class tells you to mark all the sensory reaction with different colored
marker. In another, you’re told to follow the hero’s journey. Yet another will
emphasize conflict, both external and internal. All are valid and important,
but you’ve got to weigh them with your style and story.

Not easy. If you
focus on one class, you’ll have a great deal of heart pounding and sighing
going on. And with another, you’ll have so many characters running through your
book neither you nor your reader will be able to keep track of them. With a
third, you’ll have characters so angst-ridden they belong in a mental institution.

These classes are
valuable but, as with all new things, we get overzealous. Be wary and remember
the presenters are giving you tools, not the whole compost pile.

It’s all balance. Take
from each class what will work for you and leave the rest. It is helpful to see how often you’re using
description, or the senses, but if you try to get it on every page and in every
paragraph, you’ll lose your way and your audience. Just like a compost pile, if
you put everything in it, you’ll end up with a stinky mess that won’t do you
any good. So take from the classes what will work for you and your story and
leave the rest.

What was the class
you took that was the most helpful to you?


Posted by on November 22, 2011 in Idaho


7 responses to “Flowers and Words

  1. Janis McCurry

    November 22, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    It is hard to winnow out what works for your story. That’s why we keep revising. I liked the “coloring” class just because using colors to identify the parts of your story is easily seen.

  2. Liz Fredericks

    November 22, 2011 at 9:10 AM

    First – brilliant analogy for writing, Peggy!

    Second – I’ve not taken a class for writing, but do listen to lectures on tape. The most valuable resource for me has been other writers from my local chapter. They’ve a wealth of experience. I’m frustrated at the perception that romance writers aren’t necessarily as skilled as those who specialize in ‘nonromance’ genres. (Really? Is there such a thing? Any good book I’ve read has love in some form as a factor, but I digress.)

    We’ve a critique service. I used it first and honed the first level of ‘poor soil’ and then was invited to a critique group where I picked up more useful information. I went on my own for a bit after that; I focused on nonfiction and work obligations. Eventually, I found my way to online critique partners and am now part of a group again. My CPs are the best resource for me.

  3. Meredith Conner

    November 22, 2011 at 9:37 AM

    great advice Peg!

  4. Jennifer Kellie

    November 22, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    Beautifully said! As someone who is just beginning the writing journey, I find myself overwhelmed by all of the “rules” that I’ve been learning.

  5. Lynn Mapp

    November 23, 2011 at 4:37 PM

    Balance. Wow. Well said.

  6. Carley Ash

    November 23, 2011 at 4:51 PM

    Peggy – I did not know you were a master gardener. I’ve taken up gardening and the idea of my compost catching on fire has me freaked out.

  7. Clarissa Southwick

    November 24, 2011 at 7:17 AM

    Hi Peggy, Sorry to be so late to the party. I love the compost comparison. My most useful class was Alex Sokolof’s Screenwriting Tips for Writers because it gave me the tools to measure my own pacing without changing my voice. Happy Thanksgiving.


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