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:
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.