Month: April 2009

Lifting The Lace

The best way she could describe it was with a piece of lace.

Let’s be honest. I mean, really honest. How many times have you heard Write What You Know?

I’m sick of that phrase. I hate that phrase. Every time I hear it I want to smash something. What does it mean, anyway? A friend of mine has started to break down that wall for me in a post she put up the other day. These words struck me, especially:

It’s about letting your experiences form the basis of what you write, of writing from your own pain, your own suffering, extrapolating from things you’ve actually felt and translating them into similar situations, even if the characters are inhuman or the setting isn’t Earth.

Writing what we know means being honest with ourselves, and allowing that honesty to spill into our writing. Notice I say spill. Not leak. Not drip.

And right now I feel like a dry well.


When I flew out to Washington D.C., I spent some quality time with a friend I met online. For the first time since meeting each other, we were able to sit down in person and talk face to face. I shared a lot of writing experiences with Lois. I showed her some of my past work, as well. Since she had read my latest work, Monarch, we discussed some issues I was having with it.

The best way she could help me was to describe my book like a beautiful painting. She could see its potential, but it was covered. Hiding. With a piece of lace.

The lace is beautiful, but what is underneath is even more beautiful. She could see bits and pieces of my true voice shining through the holes. “Just lift it up,” she told me. “If you’re brave enough. Write what you know you can write. What you want to write, not what others want you to write. Let them see the painting.”

Easier said than done.

Still Hidden

Another good friend of mine (the one who wrote about honesty up above) sent me an email this morning. She’s reading through Monarch and said things “clicked” for her last night. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing her words:

My basic issue with it – well, you know how everyone keeps saying you need to cut stuff? I think this is actually the symptom of a deeper problem, not the problem itself.

The plot is GREAT; it’s twisty, it’s pacey, it’s fabulous. The characterisation is mostly fabulous, and I think the bits that aren’t quite 100% are that way not because of the characters but because of the prob I’m getting to. Setting/description is great, very well evoked. Themes and symbols come through nicely too.

See one thing missing from this list?

She goes on to explain that it’s the voice that’s missing. My voice. A voice she has seen in my other writing.

You know what?

I hate the word VOICE, too. It’s almost as bad as the Write What You Know phrase. But if I think of it in terms of lace and art, it doesn’t seem so bad. To me, voice is the honesty I’m keeping away from my writing. It’s the experiences of my life welled up inside that aren’t getting through. It’s writing what I know, not what I want others to think I know.


I am getting so much feedback from my beta readers on Monarch. I’m in awe and constant admiration of those of you who are taking the time to give me your valuable thoughts and opinions! It is helping immensely.

As far as lifting the lace from my work, I’m not sure how to go about it or if I really want to at this point in the game. I have a feeling that the fabric full of holes might be heavier than I think.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Writing Process, 54 comments

You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About! Reading & Critiquing In Layers

Ah, more layers. I did a post awhile ago about Working In Layers. And now I’m expanding to talk about Reading & Critiquing In Layers.

What Is Layering?

As explained in my earlier post, think of layering like your body. Underneath everything is the skeleton. Add muscle tissue, skin, and then all the fine details that make the person interesting and unique on the outside.

When I spoke about Working In Layers, I explained how I edit in different stages or levels – or layers. It’s all the same concept. First I’ll write the story, then I’ll edit for fluff. Then I’ll edit for tension. Then I’ll edit for grammar, and so and so forth. Every layer adds something more to the work as a whole, and ultimately you’ll end up with a polished novel. I don’t like to do all of it at once. It’s too much. I find that if I work in layers, I can keep things much better organized and under control.

I also talk about layers as in layers or levels of meaning in a work. I also add layers like the symbolic layer. This often comes later when I can see how symbols and themes in the novel are coming together and where I can tighten them and make them shine.

What Is Reading In Layers?

I currently have my novel Monarch up for beta reading and up on its own novel blog for invited readers. After receiving some great feedback, I suddenly realized that like working in layers, we can also read in layers.

If you read The Great Gatsby, for instance, you might first read it for the PLOT layer. Then on your next read, since you know the plot, you’ll read for the SYMBOLS layer. Then maybe for the CHARACTERS layer. And so on and so forth. Being an English major, I usually read multiple layers at a time. However, I don’t think most readers do.

Judging from the feedback I’m receiving on Monarch, I’m beginning to see that many readers critique only specific layers. One specific reader (and no, it isn’t anyone who reads this blog) made me want to scream, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! Didn’t you see what I was trying to do with that point of view? Hello! It’s obvious. If you would just read a little more carefully!”

Then I took a step back and made myself breathe normally.
This reader was not seeing certain layers – besides the fact that I have not made that layer CLEAR enough yet, anyway. After realizing this, it was suddenly evident what I need to work on and which layer needs the most attention. I don’t want that layer to be obvious, but I certainly want it clearer than it is!

I don’t know about you, but I always read in multiple layers. Many readers pick up a book for only one layer – the ENTERTAINMENT or PLOT layer. I know I do sometimes. But many other readers are looking for something more to sink their teeth into.

What Is Critiquing In Layers?

My novel Monarch works on many different layers, but many of them are still not meshing right yet. It creates a discord that many readers cannot pinpoint.

For those of you who critique other works, try and remember that there may be several layers to get through. A good critique often involves more than one read-through. However, I know I certainly don’t have time to beta read a novel more than once! So I try and put my time to its best use and critique several layers as I go.

If something doesn’t feel right, I’ll step back and look at it from different angles. I’ll ask myself, is the writer trying to be symbolic here? Is that a layer I have not paid attention to yet? Sometimes it helps to take notes of certain threads and layers running through the story so you don’t forget.

But that’s just me. I’m a layer girl.

Posted by Michelle D. Argyle in Working With Other Writers, 44 comments