Sunday, August 9, 2009


The Sheepdog is at it again. More non-verbal communication. He put his gigantic head on my lap while I was writing the other day. You, of course, do not know my sheepdog so let me just say he’s got a cartoon head, one much too large for his quite adequately sized body. He’s about ninety-five pounds, but that head definitely provides disproportionate poundage to the whole. Anyway, he also has round cartoonish eyes. He may, in fact, have escaped from a cartoon, but that’s another post. He stared up at me, his big head heavy on my lap, his big eyes focused.

Such a look signals, usually, a basic need. He needs out, needs food, needs a walk, needs attention. But this time I sensed something else. Naturally I looked to the manuscript on the computer screen before me because sheepdogs, at least my sheepdog, is forever being cryptic about his writing advice.

What was wrong? Of course-- not enough detail. The sheepdog had somehow, with the keen insight of sheepdogs, seen the thinness of description and physical detail in the scene I was writing. Sheepdogs are naturally gregarious and, in my opinion, a bit over the top in their moment-to-moment living. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I tend toward the other end of the spectrum. A little too understated. Perhaps in life. Definitely in fiction. So, though he exists in perpetual overstatement, his criticism in this case was right on.

Since I know I have this weakness(among others), it’s one of the things I look for when I revise. One of the ways I try to work on my weakness with physical detail is to look for places in the manuscript that seem thin. I think of these as doors I can enter and add specific detail. When I go through the manuscript I look for as many doors as I can.

But what I’m really getting at here is every writer has strengths and weaknesses and if you can discover some of your weaknesses and isolate them, then it can be helpful in revision. Sometimes I will go through a manuscript just looking for one thing.


Anna Staniszewski said...

Your sheepdog sounds amazing. I think every writer should have one - maybe you could clone him?

Brian Yansky said...

He's a lot of fun and quite a character. Is the world ready for Merlin clones? I'm not sure.