May 31st, 2010

You have to be the very best in every corner.

I realized today that my writing craft suffers from a problem I faced a few years back in motorcycle racing.

I had been in a season-long battle for the title in Thunder Modified. I was chasing down Elena Myers (who went on to be the first girl to win an AMA Pro National Race in history just a few weeks ago). I had lost 35 lbs and vastly improved my riding trying to catch up to her. This one weekend, for the first time, I was on the exact same pace as her and even found myself better in a few corners.

I analyzed the corners, picked out two where I planned to pass her and spent the remainder of practice making myself really, really good in those corners. I went into the race feeling positive. I could win this race!

We went out on the track. True to my expectations I was able to stay with her during the race. And I passed her in one of the corners I had practiced on, just as I expected. Unfortunately, she was able to stay at my pace and pass me back at will in several of the other corners. I was able to give her a battle. I crossed the finish line closer to her than ever before. But I couldn't win the race for one clear reason:
It's not enough to be better in one or two corners and decent in the others. You have to be excellent in every corner, every lap.

How does this apply to writing? It's very simple:
It's not enough to have a few outstanding scenes that can make a person cry. You have to be outstanding in every scene. Every supporting detail needs to build the story. Every word needs to propel the reader forward. Any phrase which simply stands in place is weighing your story down.

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