Monday, September 29, 2014

Eyes and Ears

It is an item of startlingly good fortune that Tyler-Rose and I found each other.  You probably already knew that, unless you're a new visitor to this blog (hi!) or you're exceptionally unobservant.  But it's true. 

Not only is she a wonderful human being and friend, and hilariously funny, and a writer like me, etc. etc... but she's also a very different writer than I am. 

Tyler-Rose is a pantser.  I'm a plotter. 

Tyler-Rose tends to deal with streamlined plots.  I gravitate toward subplot-heavy, multiple-POV stories. 

Tyler-Rose writes with her eyes.  I write with my ears. 

Beagle is pictured with its ears fanned out in the air.

I am trying to think of a better way to say that.  I am not coming up with one.  So allow me to explain: 

When I'm tired or being lazy, I write mostly dialogue.  The thing basically becomes a screenplay.  This is not because I don't want to use all the other resources available to a novelist, but rather because words are easiest for me when they're coming out of imaginary people's mouths. 

Tyler-Rose, on the other hand, has told me that when she is low on writing energy, she writes long, lavish chunks of description.  That is where the words flow most easily for her. 

In contrast, even my most final drafts tend to be deficient in description.  Tyler-Rose pointed this out to me, and you can see me beginning to work out the problem in posts from our early blog days:  "Defeating the Vacuum" parts One, Two, and Three

I haven't read much of Tyler-Rose's work yet, but interestingly, I hear her talk a lot about improvements she needs to make in her dialogue. 

Black and white dog with huge eyes sticks out its tongue.
Tyler-Rose observing nature.

Needless to say, it is REALLY helpful to have a writer-friend who complements your weaknesses.  This became particularly clear to me recently, when Tyler-Rose was working on a project for her graphic design class.  She had to design a book cover, and, to my utmost joy and flatterment, decided to make one for my as-yet-unpublished work in progress. 

It was a fine and dandy thing until she started asking me what things looked like.  I gave her a couple wrong answers, or at least some wildly imprecise answers, to start--and then realized after seeing her mock-ups that I had never really pinned down the visual features of certain important items in the story. 

Because Tyler-Rose is a true friend and a patient human being, this ended with me dragging precise descriptions out of my brain, image and word by belabored image and word, while she sketched what I was telling her and erased what I found to be not-quite-right once I saw it on paper. 

It was so good for me.  So difficult.  So not the way I am used to thinking.  (Thank you again, Tyler-Rose, from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my now-deeper imagination.) 

Excellent as that was, and for all that Tyler-Rose and I help each other, you don't need an uncannily complementary writer-friend to work on your weaknesses.  Low on description?  Take a drawing class.  Not best friends with dialogue?  Try Donald Maass's "Stripping Down Dialogue" exercise on page 78 of The Fire in Fiction.  (I saw Tyler-Rose battle through that one.  She looked much the way I looked when I had to describe my villain's minions to her in enough detail for her to drawn them.) 

And of course, important as it is to work on your weaknesses, having a tendency like this isn't a bad thing.  I think my writing really does have its highest impact at verbal moments.  And thinking back to the last thing I read of Tyler-Rose's, she created an atmosphere that is still vivid to me, a person who tends not to remember images.  The important thing is to be aware of your strengths and weaknesses, so that you can build up the latter and hone the former to the level of a precise and obedient tool. 


  1. I, too, write with my ears. My brain doesn't like to visualize worth a ha'penny piece, but I could listen to my characters talk all day long.

    ...which, come to think of it, I sort of do.

    Incorporating something closer to fully-realized settings in my work takes conscious effort, but I'd like to think I'm inching toward improvement.

    1. I'm glad I'm not the only one, Danielle!