I just walked downstairs, hiding two things behind my back, and asked my wife to pick a hand. In the left was The Writer Magazine from January 2008 and in the right was The Courage to Write by Ralph Keyes. Once she selected my left hand I held out the magazine and told her to pick a page with both eyes closed. (She doesn't do this very well and tends to try to peek... naughty, naughty.) After she opened up a page I told her to point to a spot, any spot she liked. (I had to remind her here that there would be NO peeking!) I figured I would write about whatever she pointed to.
So guess what I'm writing about this evening. Go ahead, guess.
That's right! I will be writing about My Magical Underwear! Wait... wha!? Who said that?
Well, Mr. Underwear-Dude.. I will not be writing about magic underpants, but since you seem so interested I will share this video with you, if only to keep you quiet while the rest of us grownups chat.
The funny thing about this video is that I grew up in Utah being, and still am, non-mormon. It would be safe to say that at times the LDS culture has been a little too in-your-face for my liking, but even I find the 'mormon critic' a bit goofy. This was a hilarious look at the culture of where I live as an outsider from an outside perspective. Enjoy your underpants video, weirdo! By the way, the best part is the very end.
Sometimes we can get so caught up in our stories that we can't see them from the outside perspective. Whenever I leave the state for training or vacation and someone finds out that I'm from Utah the next thing out of their mouth usually has something to do with, "Oh, so where are your other wives!?" Of course, now that I expect what's coming, I lean in close and tell them very secretively that they're buried in my backyard, talked back too much you see. Every now and then I get asked if I do freelance work. I've considered it, but only briefly. (No, "briefly" was not a reference to magic underpants... okay.. it was!)
The point is that sometimes you have to look at your story through someone else's eyes. Not literally, trust me - that doesn't work as well as you might think. Put your work down for a while, enough to create a separation. Some people can do this in a matter of days, some weeks, some months. If we're talking about a novel length manuscript this step is important.
As writers we must envelop ourselves with our story's environment. As such, we already know how everything fits together. In our excitement it can be easy to leave out those little breadcrumbs that string together to form our masterpiece. If our readers are left trying to figure out how a certain event or time-line came together, we haven't done our jobs. A lot of people seem to believe that polygamy still abounds throughout Utah, it might be safe to mention in a story centralized in Utah culture.
"So, do people, you know, have multiple wives?" He asked.
"Haha, no, that fad died out long ago. Now we keep elephants in our garages!" I replied.
"Really!?" he asked, a certain tone of disbelief in his voice.
"No, not really."
Rereading and putting things together from another perspective is a crucial approach to fine writing. This ties into so many other processes: are you presenting information overload with excessive details that don't pertain to the story as a whole? Are your characters consistent with the way the reader will view them?
(The book I'm reading now has one of the main characters described as an iron-gut who will saddle up to the autopsy table and dive right in to assist with the operation, she even walks another main character through the gruesome crime scene where a body has been dismembered and scattered across the house in the first chapter of the book. When the body is on the table and she comes to see the autopsy performed she's suddenly super-squeamish. This was the same body she nonchalantly pointed out at the scene. Nothing changed with the body, so what changed in her?)
Ask yourselves these questions because someone out there who's just like me is paying attention. Some other guy is still wondering when you'll be talking about magic underwear...
What did my wife point at on the magazine page? The white space between two advertisements! What a great help she was.... :D
For those of you who may have missed my Coffeeshop Confessional post, I'm still looking for responses! It's a fun little writing exercise and it'll earn you a link on my blog!