Figuring out my strengths and weaknesses

Although I’ve been writing in one form or another for more than 20 years, I’m only now starting to take it seriously. As part of that ‘taking it seriously’, I’m learning to accept there are aspects I’m good at, and some that I struggle with.

The good

I’m never short of ideas, and they’re usually original enough that they don’t sound like a rehash of something I’ve read or watched. I enjoy the challenge of taking a popular trope or idea and twisting it around to become something new. I know how to take a common idea and drop it into a new setting, time period or universe.

I think I have a pretty good handle on characters, understanding their motives and their reactions to events. I’ve always had a fascination with psychology, and learning what causes a person to make certain choices. And I’ve learned how to embed that into an individual personality.

I know I’m good with the technical aspects of writing, such as grammar and spelling (barring any autocorrected typos!), and I think I understand how to use the structure of my writing to affect pace and storytelling. I’m still learning that part though.

The bad

Plot. I struggle with plot so much. The ideas I have always centre around a character, or a location, and I never seem to be able to expand that out into a solid plot. Especially not one with a number of subplots, which a novel is generally expected to have. I could write 10,000 words on a character discovering their feelings about an issue, but without a plot to carry it forward, that isn’t a story.

The ugly

This is just another weakness, but I really wanted to use the three subheadings, because I’m a bit of a geek. Also, I like breaking things into threes, which stems from my love of folklore and fairy tales.

I am not a poet. I don’t see the world in a descriptive way. When I see person, their hair isn’t as black as night to me. It’s just black. I see things in a very factual way, which means my descriptions are terrible. I’m lucky if my characters notice whether a tree has leaves, let alone the colour of those leaves and whether small children might play in them as they fall.

(see, even my example descriptions suck!)

What can I do about these?

That’s the big question, isn’t it?

There’s no point in doing this self-critique to discover my weaknesses unless I can do something about them.

I’ve decided to work on the plot aspect first. To do this, I’m switching my focus for a while, away from novels that require multiple plot threads, to short stories. Most of the time, a short story will have only one plot thread, with a clear beginning, middle and end, even if we begin in medias res. This will allow me to focus on creating a single plot, without the additional challenge of weaving other threads into it. I hope this will help me practice the skills I need to take forward.

As for improving description? I have no idea how I can do that.

Should I take a poetry class? Are there any books or websites I’ve missed that can help me?

If you have any suggestions for me, please let me know. You can leave a comment here, or on Twitter @kimsfic.

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