Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Responses to Comments: Scaffolding

Today is the first official day back after a holiday, and even though I worked quite a bit last week, not everyone else did. Now most of us are back at it, and it appears as though most of us are not too happy about that. The prevailing weather today is partly crabby with the chance of occasional panics, with flurries of e-mails continuing all day and probably into the night.

Here's hoping tomorrow is sunnier.

Way back when we were talking about polluted nose holes, Shalanna said two things worth addressing. First, she said,

I don't know what they mean by the buzzword "scaffolding," anyhow. That might be an interesting subject for one of your entries. (An example of "removing scaffolding" from a sentence is, apparently, changing it from "He jerked his hand back from the fence, realizing his palm was scorched" to "Painted wood scorched his palm." I think the first phrasing makes sense on first reading, whereas I had to re-read the second version to see what was really going on.

You got me, Shalanna. I don’t know what scaffolding is, either. Must be some new term they’ve cooked up in the years since I finished my fancy-pants creative writing degree and was learning all the jargon. I could guess, but I might guess wrong, so I’ll just back away quietly from this one. Alicia, you have any ideas on this?

I think the most significant difference between your two sentences is not the structural change but the potential impact on point of view. In the first, the viewpoint character is the subject and is taking the actions. In the second, we’re distanced from the point of view character’s viewpoint, and the whole thing feels disembodied. In context, the second sentence might work. Out of context, it seems wrong.

Point of view is an extremely tricky subject. The basics are easily grasped -- first person takes an “I” narrator, head-hopping can be disruptive without proper transitions, and so on -- but beyond those basics, there are many tiny ways a writer can break point of view. Be vigilant for any moment which strays outside your viewpoint character’s direct experience. There are times when you can and should stray, but an action as dramatic and immediate as pulling his hand away from a fire is probably not one of those times.

Shalanna also shares this anecdote.

I was once in a crit group that insisted I must change the lines
_The kitchen stank of burnt piecrust_
_The stench of burnt piecrust assaulted her nostrils_
I quit the group the next week.

To which I can only give the kind of linear, direct response such a story warrants: Smart writer. Very smart indeed.

Alicia said,
Theresa, at some point, we should talk about voice, and how it's no more "natural" than Maria Callas's singing voice. :)

Yes, ma’am. Should we start by defining voice? And we ought to talk a little about critiquing groups and editors, too. Editors ≠ CPs!


Anonymous said...

Yes, please re crit partners not = editors. I think this is a pretty nuanced concept.

I find myself doing line edits as a crit partner a lot of the time. Now I'm doing a little better, pointing out confusions, inconsistencies, and places where I jumped out of the story. But it's hard. I'm a virgo. Trees are my life. Heck, branches are my life!

So yes, please post about crit partners. I think a lot of us new to the game are struggling with the ins and outs of that very generous, but time consuming, aspect of writing.


Edittorrent said...

JanW, I'm curious. About how much time would you say you spend critiquing other people's writing? Just a ballpark average, say for a month.


Selah March said...

I, too, spend a lot of time doing line edits in my capacity as a crit partner. This seems to work for the folks for whom I'm critting, so barring catastrophe or complaints, I'll probably continue.

You didn't ask, but I routinely spend between 1 and 4 hours per week critiquing others' work. Less lately with the advent of Holiday Hell, but I expect it to pick up again next week.

Mary Marvella said...

As a former teacher of grammar I point out errors in grammar and punctuation. I also point out places where adding sensory detail would make the writing sing. I can suspend disbelief easily so I buy into the story and characters for a while. Inconsistency catches my attention and I do point it out.
I love rich writing, but I do suggest tightening when details or the writing get in the way of the story.