Here at Nerdy Chicks Rule we celebrate strong women so it is our privilege to welcome author Yvonne Ventresca to the blog. Yvonne, who holds a third degree black belt in Isshinryu karate, shares how a martial arts principle can apply to writing. Hope you all enjoy A Black Belt’s Guide to Writing by Yvonne Ventresca.
As both a young adult novelist and a third degree black belt, I love to look for the overlap between the martial arts and creativity. Part of the philosophy of Isshinryu karate is represented in the eight codes called the Kenpo Gokui. “The eyes must see all sides” is one of those codes which can be applied in multiple ways to writing.
See the Scene from a Secondary Character’s POV:
In a self-defense situation, it’s obvious why we’d want to be acutely aware of our surroundings. But there’s a philosophical application to “the eyes must see all sides” as well. During a conflict, it’s helpful to consider the other person’s viewpoint. In writing, if we narrate a scene from a single character’s POV, we should still take into account the other characters’ perspectives. After all, each person is the main character in his/her own world.
In a tense scene between our main character and her boyfriend, for example, the boyfriend brings his own background and emotions to an argument. What is the boyfriend’s goal in the story? What’s at stake for him? This can change his response and reaction.
See from a Fresh Perspective
When we think about seeing all sides, that can also refer to the potential readers’ perspective. We don’t want to stunt our creativity worrying about this in early drafts. But during revision, a fresh set of eyes are key. Working with a critique group or critique partner is an opportunity to see our story from another viewpoint. It’s also helpful to take time between revisions. Neil Gaiman said, “The best advice I can give on this is, once it’s done, to put it away until you can read it with new eyes . . . When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.”
See the Big Picture of a Story
When it comes time to revise, it’s beneficial to look at a story overall. For a picture book, this might mean making a dummy. Author Tara Lazar has a helpful post with information about how to create one.
For novels, we can create a reverse outline. Basically this involves writing an outline based on what we’ve actually written (as opposed to what we planned to write.) It can be a simple table, instead of a traditional outline format, noting the characters, events, and timing of each chapter. Or it can focus on specific areas we want to concentrate on during the revision. (I provide an example in my summer school post from last year.)
Another idea to try is Darcy Pattison’s shrunken manuscript technique. She provides more information on her website, but basically the concept is to print the novel on as few pages as possible (she suggests thirty) so that it can be spread across the floor. This provides an overall perspective we don’t get from a thick pile of paper.
See the Finer Details
In the martial arts, when you’re blocking a punch, specifics like posture, stance, the angle of your arm, and its distance from your body are all important. Little changes can have a large effect. This is similar to writing and word choice. The thesaurus provides several options for “walk,” but there’s a big difference between a stroll, a march, and a hike. Another way to “see” a manuscript (once the big picture changes are made) is to focus on each word. Precise language (and grammar) can elevate a story. One way to achieve this detailed view is to read the manuscript aloud. I always find this to be painful but enlightening.
See the Gap as Inspiration
There is often a gap between our own skill level and
the skill of those we admire. It’s always a humbling experience for me to watch someone masterful perform a kata (a predetermined sequence of moves) that I’ve been practicing. The same goes for reading an excellent story. Ira Glass has a great quote about not being frustrated by the gap – there is a one-minute video of his full quote here. Overall, we can use the disparity between the book that we respect and the one that we’re writing as an incentive to improve.
Yvonne Ventresca is the author of Black Flowers, White Lies, a YA psychological thriller coming in October. Her debut YA novel, Pandemic, won a 2015 Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and will be available in paperback later this month. Yvonne has been both writing and studying the martial arts for over a decade. She was recently promoted to third degree black belt in Isshinryu karate.
To connect with Yvonne:
Newsletter | Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Goodreads
Indiebound | Amazon | B&N
Bonus: An inspirational quote selected by Yvonne! And if you’re a writer and haven’t signed up for Kidlit Summer School yet, check out the details HERE.
Wonderful insights, Yvonne! As a blackbelt (2nd dan, Tang Soo Do) I found many lessons transferred from the dojo to the writing desk. Among them: Show Up at the page; breathe; write like a river.
Sue — I love when the dojo and creativity meld! Thanks for these — so true.
Such great information and techniques to improve our writing and even using the techniques in the planning process. Thank you Yvonne for the post.
Glad you found this helpful, Deborah. 🙂
Thank you, Yvonne, for the fab tips and techniques. Loved the quote from Ira Glass.
I’m glad you like the quote, Charlotte. It reminds me to shift my perspective.
Reverse outline. I’d forgotten that idea. Good one! And will check into Darcy’s ideas too. Thanks for the advice.
I always learn something useful when I reverse outline. I hope it helps you, too.
Excellent post, Yvonne! 😀 And I didn’t know you were a black belt! No wonder you always look so fit 😀
Years ago I “shrunk” a first chapter, not for revision’s sake, but to see how it looked/felt/read printed the size (in every way) of a book. I love seeing things this way, including in table form, or a time line or anything that helps us outline and see things more easily and clearly. Thank you for this! 🙂
I agree, different “views” can provide different insights. I’m happy you liked the post!
Brilliant post, Yvonne!
Love these tips and the comparison to martial arts! Super interview!
Rebecca — thank you!
As a 4th Degree Black Belt in Taekwondo (hopefully going for Master 5th Degree in 2017), I’ve always thought of our tenets as well when it comes to my writing. Perseverance is one of the tenets which comes to mind and I’ve had a lot of opportunities to use THAT tenet when it comes to my own writing journey…;~)
Donna L Martin
Yes — perseverance certainly applies to both! Best of luck on earning your Master 5th Degree.
I’m trying to imagine how you’d squeeze a whole novel onto 30 pages. That would be some SMALL fontage!!!! I submit on partial for my publisher, so I’ve gotten in the habit of writing three chapters, then doing a synopsis to cover the rest. That helps my not-a-plotter brain at least get an outline down. Will I stick to that outline? Probably not at all!
Stephanie — part of the trick is to shrink the margins and remove the chapter breaks, etc. Plus small font. 🙂
Great tips and post—all so relevant. And good for Yvonne with her third-degree black belt! I only got as far as one green stripe on a yellow belt many years ago. 🙂
Thanks, Marcia — glad you liked the post.
Nice post. I especially liked the section on “see the finer details”. I also read my writing out load when I think I am towards the end of the editing process and often realize that I still have a ways to go. It really is enlightening.
Yes, always a ways to go, right? 🙂
That gap is oh so real and often so big when you try to bridge it. Loved the post. It has a lot of help for writers. Thanks you two.
Lee — I found his take on the gap so helpful!
In addition to making a dummy, I tend to write a single sentence for each spread of a picture book. That way I can see how it’s weighted. Thanks for your insights into the process. Cheers!
Great idea — thanks for sharing, Jilanne.
Great post! This got me thinking about all the ways in which writing is like both yoga and meditation. In those disciplines, you keep bringing your mind back and being soft and gentle with yourself, even as you exert yourself to stay with the discomfort of the practice. Much like we do when we keep bringing ourselves back, in the words of Anne LaMotte, to our “shitty first drafts”. Also loved the last summer’s post, which I missed.
Thanks, Carole. I love these comparisons, too.