When Writing: Learn to Draw the Hands

When I was little I loved to draw, but I was never very good at drawing realistic-looking stuff. I enjoyed drawing people (though they all looked like really bad cartoon drawings), but I hated drawing hands. I wasn’t any good at it. So, the result was a mass of pictures with the figure conveniently hiding his or her hands behind their backs. There, I thought. If I just hide them, I don’t have to worry about them. Voila!

What I didn’t realize, is that seriously restricted the range of what I could draw. Perhaps if I had been as much of an art-fart as I am a word-nerd, I would’ve taken the time, did the work, and practiced practiced practiced, until I got it right eventually. But instead, I chose to fine-tune my writing skills, which I am still doing, every single day.

So, what does learning to draw the hands have to do with writing?

This is a recent lesson I’ve learned during the process of rewriting my once-finished-but-now-a-WIP-again-second novel, South. After finishing the story in three months, revising for a month and querying agent after agent with no real luck, I found a few beta readers. With their help, I was able to see some areas in my work that were lacking. I was able to see a lot of areas where I had “hidden the hands” because I didn’t want to do the work. I didn’t realize it at the time, but thank goodness I see it now.

Here’s an example:

One of my characters is a hacker-type guy. In the first version of my novel, his character was too ambiguous. Partly, because I was unsure through the entire writing of what exactly I wanted to do with him. Never once did I do a Google search of the sort I performed yesterday. I Googled “hacker slang,” a simple, no-brainer search that opened up a whole new bag of cheerios. Because I realized he was so complex a character that I opted to be vague in some areas where I should’ve elaborated, all for the sake of not doing the work/research, and thereby not really getting to know my character. No wonder I didn’t know what to do with him. No wonder he was too ambiguous and a little “flat.” He wasn’t real; I didn’t know him. Once I began to see who he was, he became a real person—not a character—to me, and he showed me which direction he wanted to go in the story, which is becoming something only vaguely resembling the first one.

Another example is a serious action scene involving death. The way I had “hidden the hands” before, was to kind of skim over/rush through that scene, leaving out the gory, emotional details. Why in the heck would I do that? That’s the juicy stuff! But the answer is, I didn’t realize I was doing it. Some things we do as writers, we don’t even notice until someone else points it out to us. That’s why being open to constructive criticism is so important, as well as finding a few good beta readers to swap stories and tidbits with.

The details are what make the story/character become real, if done right. Yes, there is such a thing as too much detail, but if there isn’t enough where there should be, the reader won’t become grounded in your story, and there is a greater than zero chance they will be highly underwhelmed and not even finish it. And that’s not good. Hands are important; they hold, hug, touch, tickle, rip, break, punch, aim, and shoot . . . . Hands can make the story. Lack of hands can break the story.

Learn to draw the hands. Don’t rush. Do the work. You’ll be glad you did.

Until next time, writerly peeps . . . .

Write on 🙂

Oh, and if you haven’t yet, check out “50 Awesome Things Only Writers Would Understand” HERE


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