Knowing when to say “No” (Part 2)

In my last post, I used the relationship between a parent and a child to describe the relationship between a writer and their work. I said that, on the first draft, you shouldn’t tell yourself “no.” Your job is not to censor yourself. If you do, you’ll end up killing the project prematurely. First-drafts are remarkably self-corrective.

However, the second-draft on, you have an obligation to tell yourself, “no.” In the terms of parenting, I need to tell my children, “no” if they’re doing something dangerous or rude. I like to think I have a societal obligation to bring them up to be constructive, polite members of our community. My hope is that they will one day better society because of it.

Your work is no different. By telling yourself no on revisions, you should create a stronger work, a more confident work, a work that will further literature, rather than simply getting lost in the slush of uninspired prose that tends to flood the market.

Revision is the time to say, “no.” But what questions are we talking about? Here are some examples of questions that, on your first draft, might elicit a response of, “It’s fine for now,” but on your second draft will require an answer of, “This isn’t going to work as it is.”

1. Is this character a strong enough lead?

2. Is this description original enough?

3. Is this plot convention overused?

4. Is this description cliché?

5. Am I appealing enough to the senses?

6. Is the dramatic tension strong enough?

7. Are my characters different enough?

8. Are my characters acting like real people, making real decisions?

9. Are my characters complex enough?

10. Is my setting playing a part in the overall story structure?

There are about a million other questions I could have listed, if you’ll pardon my hyperbole, but for the sake of time, I’m going to skip them. You know the questions already. Just remember when to say no.

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