Where Are Your Strengths?

red penI’ve been discovering a lot about my writing strengths and weaknesses lately, more so as I’ve been working with other people’s stories for Havok, but also as I’ve gotten more feedback about my own work. I’m definitely a pl0t-first writer. I have great ideas for grand worlds and adventures, and then I have to stick people in there and hope they have a reasonably good reason for being there. Character development and character arc are hard for me. The Hero’s Journey and other such character helps sort of whistle past my brain leaving little to no impact. I have to really reach deeply into my mind to figure out my people. Which is pretty odd, given that I’m largely a people person and I understand people for the most part.

As I’ve worked on editing for Havok, I’ve discovered I edit in a similar way to how I write. I’m great at seeing plot holes and figuring out how to make the story world make sense, but I don’t always notice or care about character arc or some of the more line-edit types of details. It takes a lot more work and focus for me to go back over things and really take a critical view of things that are outside my regular comfort zone.

Of course, as writers (and as people), we should constantly be growing. We should be learning new things and applying them, and striving to continually get better, but sometimes we get to a point where we don’t even know what we’re doing wrong, so we don’t know how to fix it. We don’t know where our weaknesses are, so it’s hard to improve them.

This is when it’s most important to be willing to listen to feedback. I hate confrontation. I hate being told I’m doing things wrong. I hate the feeling of rejection when someone says I (or what I’ve written) isn’t good enough. It’s extremely painful. But it’s necessary. I can’t be perfect at everything, so I need people around me who are good at the things I’m not good at to balance me out and show me how I can improve. I need a different set of eyes to look at my work and show me the things I missed. I need to be willing to learn from my mistakes as well as my successes. And I need to be humble enough to accept that criticism is helpful, even as it is painful.

What about you? Where are your strengths (writing or otherwise)? What are you working to improve? Who helps you learn?

About Avily Jerome

Avily Jerome is a writer and the editor of Havok Magazine. Her short stories have been published in various magazines, both print and digital. She has judged several writing contests and is a writing conference teacher and presenter. She writes speculative fiction, her ideas ranging from almost-real-world action/adventures to epic fantasies to supernatural thrillers.

6 comments on “Where Are Your Strengths?

  1. LOL. I’m the opposite. Definitely character-first. Then I have to think of things for them to do, or they’ll just be sitting around talking about stuff. 😉

  2. Thank you for the article. This is helping me to see more and more of myself to figure out what my strengths are. I have always heard that you learn a lot when you judge competitions. I bet this is why you are seeing what you do when you edit for HAVOK? I am probably more character driven as I look at the emotions that are driving my stories. The setting is important and I have my world pictured in my head. Now I have to figure out how to get the details down on paper, lol. Always Learning!!!

    • Absolutely!
      I’ve judged several contests, as well, and it is really eye-opening to see what others are doing well as well as what needs work, and to then apply it to my own writing. It also helps to have a critique partner (or associate editor) who has different strengths, so they can point out things that you miss.

  3. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective on the problem, or of definition. I am definitely a character-driven author. I can invent and enrich characters at the drop of a hat – anybody’s hat. It’s working out plots which is harder for me. But working out plots is exactly what I focus on relentlessly and usually first, at least once Central Casting has put forward the lead actors 😉 – otherwise my characters (as Kristen said) will only sit around talking to each other. 😀

    There is a confusion by many people on the psychological level (as illustrated in considering personality type models) between what they *focus on doing* or what they *like to do* and what *actually takes them the least mental energy to do*. Thus many people with ENFP preferences (like me, and I’m guessing like you) will focus relentlessly on building the framework of the story and putting the story in order – both logical functions – and even enjoy doing it. They also see the necessity of doing it. But this still takes much more mental energy than what is most natural for people like me, using intuitive insight and value judgment in order to come up with a character. And what is most natural is often so natural that we can even overlook how much we actually enjoy doing it. Strange, but apparently true. Familiarity breeding, if not contempt, then letting it pass until someone strokes our ego about how good we are at exercising insight and value judgment – then we glow in the dark. 😀

    For me “the hero’s journey” is very difficult to work with too – that is, arbitrarily. I wonder if taking that approach requires intuitive foresight, which for me is a better threat assessment than a force for creativity. Rather, the approach which has always worked with me is to create a character, put said character into a logical framework, and then let the character unfold himself or herself in that framework. That way my foresight works the way it’s best designed to work: considering “what will be” as a backup and a sieve, but no more, to considering “what might be”.

  4. Hmm. I’m not sure where I am on the character vs plot pendulum, but one thing I find hard every time, pretty much, is endings. I can start off strong, with an interesting character and a unique situation, get them going, but then….fizzle. As you can tell, I am a “pantser”, so one thing I am trying to do more of is outlining. Even then, though, the end is hard for me to find until I write a little.

    • That, I think, would be indicative of character-driven rather than plot-driven preference, but there are other variables. My writing partner is plot-driven, but all the same he has trouble with endings and indeed with finishing a plot line he starts. So do I, the difference being it is more a learned art for me than for him (so far). But I am character-driven, without question.

      On the Myers-Briggs grid the F/T dichotomy seems to imply character vs. plot strength. It is the J/P dichotomy which seems to drive the ability to finish a plot vs. trouble with doing so. Thus an ENFJ-preferenced author, if I’m right, would have an easier time with endings than an ENFP-preferenced author like me does, as a general principle (we all learn skills by nurture which we may not have by nature, of course). Yet we both quite likely would be character-driven rather than plot-driven.

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