A Creative Critical Self-Evaluation: Fiction Writing

scrivener screen capture

Working on my novel in Scrivener.

Edit 12/2016: See my 2016 writing self-critique, the followup to this 2015 self-evaluation.

I recently turned 30, so I’m taking the opportunity to snapshot my creative skills and challenges. Knowing our weaknesses and instinctive tendencies is just as important as knowing our strengths, and allows us to be better creators, no matter what our medium. Honest self-evaluation – acknowledging both strengths and weaknesses – is the first step to improvement because it teaches me what I need to practice. I can also ask specifically for critiques of those elements where I need the most work. I’ve identified common challenges in my first drafts / mockups, as well as my successes and skills, areas where I excel.

I consider myself a skilled graphic designer within my field of expertise, environmental education – and a passable, almost-good-enough fiction writer. In both writing and graphic design, I tend to excess. With my focus on space opera, I write the grandiose. In graphic design, I prefer daring, out-there designs. I don’t believe excess is inherently flawed, but it’s not always appropriate to clear communication or suitable for branding, so it’s valuable to recognize in my work.

An Assessment of My Fiction Writing Abilities

My storytelling needs work; craft is my stronger suit. My report and technical writing are strong due to my science training, and I took naturally to essay writing, but fiction is a different beast. Fiction writing blends craft and skill, structure and intuition, personal challenge and necessity.

First Draft Challenges

  • Evaluating and reorganizing scenes in my space opera novel.

    Evaluating and reorganizing scenes in my space opera novel.

    Absent Antagonists / “Evil Entities” – I tend to pit my protagonists against faceless corporations and governments.

  • Blank Room Syndrome – setting doesn’t figure in to many of my early draft scenes, or are described so minimally as to be “Everyplace”.
  • Shallow Worldbuilding – beyond mere missing descriptions, the worlds I create often begin deep enough only to sustain the story I’m telling. Insufficient worldbuilding stifles creative plotting; adding depth to worlds often solves problems (and, admittedly, creates – or makes clear – other problems). Technology is a particular challenge for me. I also don’t do enough research.
  • Overacting Characters, Overlong Conversation – my characters often seem antsy or over-expressive thanks to excessive (and sometimes repetitive) tics and movements. Conversations stretch longer than needed, even accounting for some character-building or relationship-building banter.
  • Outlining in Scrivener - colors indicate different POV characters.

    Outlining in Scrivener – colors indicate different POV characters.

    Too Many POVs – simplicity requires effort, for me. I tend towards using many viewpoint characters, and want to visit scenes from multiple characters’ perspectives.

  • Middles – bridging beginning to end proves challenging in every story I write.
  • Knowing What’s Worth Including – I have written so many inessential scenes. If I had a nickel…

Skills and Successes in my fiction writing

  • My top-notch editing skills at work ;)

    My top-notch editing skills at work ;)

    Editing – I’ve always enjoyed editing, and getting my B.S. enforced my ability to pare sentences down to clear, concise statements. Marketing, especially writing for social media, also honed my ability to be brief.

  • Natural Voice – after a lot of work and practice, I’ve achieved what I feel is a comfortable, natural voice for my fiction writing. In some short stories where I experiment with other styles, voice can need a little attention, but I’m generally pleased with my ability to write unobtrusively.
  • Grand Scale Vision – I’m going to give myself credit for my ability to envision the epic. Execution, now that’s another story ;)
  • Alliteration – I appear to have an ear for alliteration, since I use it – unintentionally – all the time. I credit my jazz background for my instinctive inclination for creating repetitive sounds (<–total BS).
  • Patterns and Repetition – I often notice myself bookending stories with action or theme.
  • Fast Pacing – No one else has mentioned this, so I may be totally off, but I think I tend to write fast-paced scenes. I also think my action scenes turn out pretty well. Correct me if you’ve noticed otherwise ;)

I am not my work, but I value improving my work as I value improving myself, and take pride in what I produce.

Edit 12/2016: See my more detailed 2016 writing self-critique.

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About Tracy Durnell

Seattle-area graphic designer and SFF writer inspired by the Pacific Northwest, crafting a sustainable and intentional life.

One thought on “A Creative Critical Self-Evaluation: Fiction Writing

  1. Pingback: A Creative Critical Self-Assessment: Graphic Design | PNW Art, Nature, & Outdoor Lifestyle BlogCascadia Inspired

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