This week in my writing world, I've had a good opportunity to examine how I write. I heard back from the latest On The Premises contest, which I entered a few weeks ago. I didn't win—no shock there—but I did take them up on the offer to critique my story.
Of course a big (BIG) part of me didn't want to look at what they had to say, but I mustered up the guts to open the file. It wasn't as bad as I feared. It seemed they at least liked it and they said my creativity rated above average (compared to other entries). They did have some things to say about the structure of my story, however.
That’s actually good news. Better “this passage isn't long enough” than “this idea is boring and unoriginal”. The former is much easier to work with.
There were some places where more detail was required. I was basically attempting to create an entire universe in a few thousand words and fell short in a few places, leaving the reader confused about the big picture. They were able to give me some specific examples as to where I made this mistake. Precisely the kind of feedback I needed.
Also, in this particular story, I alternated between the points of view of two different characters rather quickly. I’m not entirely sure why I did this. It’s something I have actually found annoying in stories I've read by others.
Not that changing POV is bad (except when it’s done mid paragraph or something) but doing it too rapidly, or at the wrong time, can keep the reader from getting drawn into the characters. I've read stories where I found that just as I was getting interested in someone I had to shift gears to someone else. Exactly the effect I unwittingly created here. I have no reason other than: it’s how the story came to me and I didn't give it much thought after the fact. I should have.
Most embarrassingly, I interchanged the word I intended with a homonym. I do this often—my husband often catches them if I ask him to proofread. In this case I had written ‘allowed’ for ‘aloud’. Twice. Seriously.
Yes I know the difference between the two. So why did I screw it up... and miss it again while editing? Who knows? For one thing I’m noticing that I hear the rhythm of the sentences and paragraphs in my head more than I actually look at the words I’m typing. Funny what we learn about ourselves. This is not what I would have expected. I’m generally a more visual than auditory person. In school I was always horrible at learning from lectures, but show me an example and I’m good to go. I wouldn't have thought my visual perception of the words could be so easily foiled by my impression of their sound. It appears the workings of the brain aren't so easily defined one way or the other. Surprise, surprise.
This error also highlights the downside of doing most of my own editing. Someone once told me that, no matter how careful we are, we only catch about sixty percent of our own mistakes on average. I am convinced that this is true--and at this I am not 'above average'.
To solve this problem, the site recommended reading aloud (there’s that word again). Would this work where homonym mistakes are concerned? I've actually tried it before and found it often does. Perhaps because doing so forces me to pay closer attention, to look at the words as I read them. I realised the when I read the critique that I hadn't used this technique for this piece, despite knowing about it. So, not only do I have to learn these lessons, I have to stick to applying them.
Final lesson of the day: It’s easy to get lazy.
I fully intend to enter the next contest by On The Premises and go through this process again. Maybe it will keep me honest.