Putting the pieces together

At today’s voice lesson, I had my first glimmer of how all the things I’ve been working on the past couple years–breathing, low larynx, raised soft palette, tongue out of the way, notes kind of aligned and tubular–aren’t really separate things, but all part of the same thing; how they work together, not discretely, to create sounds in a certain way.

Yet I can’t think of any way I could have learned all these things together from the start–I would have been overwhelmed and confused and unable to get anywhere at all. I couldn’t have even begun to understand how the pieces work together, until I understood what the pieces were.

I still remember, when I first started writing, how the Alternate Historians would say to me, “More emotion! More description!” Yet simply adding more emotion or more description didn’t do it, though those were both useful things to learn. What I had to come to understand was that emotion and description were part of the same thing; you didn’t add them separately, but together, with the same words. Description conveys emotion; emotion shapes description; neither can really be taken alone.

I think these days this is true for all aspects of writing. Character, plot, prose, everything else–it’s not enough to make all the pieces work. They need to work together. They’re intertwined. They’re part of the same thing. They create the same whole, not from their separate places in the story, but together, all at once.

In some ways I find it harder than it used to be to give a useful writing critique. I want to say, “Here’s the thing that doesn’t work for me; go fix it.” Because saying “fix the characters” or “fix the prose” or “fix the plotting” isn’t really right–it all needs fixing, together.

But that’s not useful. As critiquers, I think we probably need to break it down into the pieces, the things that can be looked at and understood and fixed, one piece at a time. Especially in the early stages–but maybe later, too.

And then as writers, somehow, we need to take comments like this, and put them all back together again.

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