When Talking is Better than Writing

by Addie Boswell
Published on: May 18, 2011
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Comments: 6 Comments

Holly Black spoke recently at the SCBWI-WWA Conference in Redmond, WA. Her keynote was excellent, based on a topic that seemed at first, well… simplistic. Her problem was plotting — not knowing where to start or what to do, even when great advice was given. The solution she happened upon? Talk therapy. When talking through the plot with friends or writers, she could distance herself from the book to see the major themes and edits needed.

I tried it that night, talking through my protagonist’s motivation problems with my partner. He asked one (rather obvious) question. It opened the book’s plot up for me. Next week, I talked it over some more with ScrivaMelissa, who knows the ms well. Now I had more clarity than I had in months of reading books and making charts. Full steam ahead on the writing!

The Scrivas have, unconsciously, adopted this method into the critique group. This year, we added an opt-in: If you don’t have a ms to critique on a given month, you can reserve your 20 minutes to talk about whatever you want. New stories, plot problems, querying agents, even life itself. We added this because our output varies drastically. While some Scrivas are on strict editing/publishing schedules, others are deep in the heart of first drafts, where critique can kill the momentum. And then there are those “life trumps book” moments (see Sucking it Up). The talk option allows us all to stay in touch with our characters and each other, even when the Muse is hiding under the couch.

A quick exercise: Talk your Way to a Great HOOK

I use this exercise with my writing students to practice hooks (which I find torturous to write.) All you need is  a partner, a piece of paper, and a stopwatch set for three minutes. The listener starts the watch and GO!

Talker: Pitch your book as best you can. Keep talking for the whole three minutes. (I’ve listed some talking points below if you get stuck).

Listener: Don’t say a word or ask a question, but DO take notes. Jot down anything that grabs you or sounds especially relevant or unique. When time is up, compose your notes into a short paragraph. Read the paragraph back to the talker. “What I heard you saying is…” This quick blurb becomes an INSTA-HOOK! Or at least a good first draft.

Have you described….
your character
their motivation and goals
how s/he grows and changes
the setting
the major problem
the plot
the pace
the driving question of the story
why it is unique to the genre
what compelled you to write it

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6 Comments - Leave a comment
  1. scrivamary says:

    Loved this. Thanks for wording it so gently: “life trumps book” moment.

  2. Amber Keyser says:

    Why do so many writers specifically NOT TALK about works in progress? My scrivas have big brains. I want their input!

    • @amber: I find that my works in progress are sometimes fragile. Instead of thriving on all that “talk attention,” they get real shy, or whither and shrivel. I find out that what I wanted to do was tell the story and not write it. Often I don’t talk about a project until I know it’s got the staying power and strength to withstand the attention.

  3. […] Addie posted When Talking is Better Than Writing.  It really resonated with me because I am one of those people who will spew words about anything […]

  4. […] Addie posted When Talking is Better Than Writing.  It really resonated with me because I am one of those people who will spew words about anything […]

  5. this post is quoted by Finding My Way Home « Viva Scriva says:

    […] I’m talking with ScrivaNicole at length through A), inspired by ScrivaAddie’s blog post encouraging this (to me) radical idea; my usual approach to discussing my writing is to keep […]

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