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Monday, July 9, 2007

Art Slush

I spent a good hunk of this morning scoring potential new hires for artist positions. I couldn't help but see the similarities between my job and an editor's.

We test on a variety of proficiencies, but the two things we pay particular attention to is creativity and follow-through. We can always teach an artist technical skills, but you really can't teach creativity and tenacity. You either have it or you don't.

There are some people (and I know quite a few) who don't have the creative instinct. And as we're grading art, layout, technique and efficiency, I can tell you in less than two seconds whether that person is going to work out or not.

So, it doesn’t surprise me in the least when editors/agents say they can pick through slush just by reading the first few sentences. You just know. There's a quality in the writing that tells you whether it's something that's going to engage you or not.

In the course of my writing development, I've learned to use this to my advantage and punch up each piece of the novel one bit at a time. The first draft always has the most outrageous narrative. Clich├ęs, clumsy tense use, and simplistic plotting. But at least, it's a base. It's something I can pound on like so much bread dough.

I start with the first couple of paragraphs. Is it hooky? Does it lay a foundation quickly? Then I expand it to the first three chapters. I use the 4-act play as my usual model for building plot so those first three chapters are crucial to creating the inciting episode.

The next bite will tighten each "act" to make sure I've completed the goals of the outline. I spend a considerable amount of time building the black moment as well as the resolution. I want to see a very definite spike in emotion.

After I've tweaked each section, I read for continuity. How well does one section transition to the next? If I did my job right, the reader shouldn't notice any hiccups.

I really feel the first two drafts are where your creativity kicks in, but the last draft is where true grit shows up. You'll either make it or you won't. It's an overwhelming task when you look at the big picture, but just like that old joke...

Q: How do you eat an elephant?
A: One bite at a time.

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