Saturday, December 5, 2015

Writing Strengths + Weaknesses

In which I let you in on my secret (or not-so-secret) flaws and my maybe-possibly strengths.

I've seen other bloggers post on this subject in the past, and it's been fascinating to see their self-assessments, to see where other writers excel and where they recognize their weak points. So I thought I'd do it myself, partially as an exercise in honesty and partially to see what I come up with.

*cracks knuckles*

(But not really, because I never crack my knuckles.)

Disclaimer: These strengths are not always strengths; likewise, the weaknesses are not 100% weaknesses either. These are tendencies, broken by the occasional anomaly. Continue.


I've been told since my early novel-writing days that I know how to pace a story. This mystifies me somewhat, because at that point I hadn't really studied the craft. But I did inhale stacks of books. Perhaps that's one of the best ways to learn. Anyway, I suppose I'm good at moving the story along and spending an appropriate amount of time on things. (Gosh, you guys, I feel like I'm bragging. That's why I'm getting the strengths out of the way first.)

This used to be a big weakness! My WIP series started out as a generic fantasy world: medieval England-type setting populated by humans, a handful of stock fantasy creatures, and a cut-out king. Nothing was fleshed out or truly lived in. I hadn't a clue about currency, worldview, religion, society roles, neighboring kingdoms, geography, or even the physics of things. It's still thatstill a medieval England-ish place and whatnot, but over the years I've come to recognize some of the flaws, and have slowly shaded in the details. People comment on my worldbuilding, so I suppose it's working?

Again, this was previously a weakness. Actually, it was pretty much nonexistent in my first drafts. Perhaps it was my dabbling in poetry, or simply becoming more aware of the little things, or just absorbing the artful words of others . . . But now creating vivid descriptions is one of my favorite things. I love metaphors. I love personification. Ascribing unusual qualities to things makes my writer self shiver with delight, such as when a sound is described by color. (This is one reason why I adore the Auralia books by Jeffrey Overstreet.)

I feel deeply. I've been known to exaggerate situations in my own mind, and then feel silly when I put it on paper or say it aloud, because huh. It wasn't so big after all. I also empathize with others. So putting those emotions into characters is really fulfilling. I have not been to the very depths of despair, but I've experienced sorrow of a kind, so I amplify it for that character in her darkest moment. I have never felt murderous inclinations, but I put my moments of hatred into the mind of a villain.


Yes, I did just list that as a strength, but it's also a weakness. Because sometimes my love of emotion and prose and worldbuilding bog down my pacing! Case in point: The Brightest Thread, in which I ran ten thousand words too long. I've always struggled to write anything short. When given short story assignments in school, the silly things would unspool into grandiose plots. And when I edited book 1, it jumped from 68,000 words to 131,000. Conciseness and I are not the best of friends.

Character motivation
So this is mildly embarrassing. I have found myself on numerous occasions typing happily along, sending characters on their merry way to death and destruction, only to be struck by a disturbing thought. "Why are they even doing this?" I seem to be a plot-driven writer, and so it takes conscious thought to beef up the character side of things. After all, what's a story without characters? And nobody wants to read about a prince who goes gallivanting off to save the princess for absolutely no reason, or a villain who wants to rule the world simply because that's what villains do. I think I'm growing in this area, but I still need to make sure those characters have minds and motives of their own, rather than plodding along from plot point to plot point.

Fight scenes
I write high fantasy a lot. Battles are inevitable. But I have never wielded a sword in my life, nor directed an army. So keeping the fights believable isn't easy. The actions can start sounding repetitive. The movements of armies can become robotic and illogical. And tactics! Yikes, I need to work on those! (John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice series does so well in that area.) Instead of just "FIIIIIIIGHT!!!" I'd like to have moves and countermoves, brilliant schemes and even brilliant-er foils. Have I mastered that yet? Well, I'm . . . getting there.

In the tortoise and the hare fable, I am the tortoise. (Hey, does that mean I'll win?) While others pump out thousands of words a day, sometimes a whole book in a month or a week (Cait, here's looking at you!) I have been grooming one bookand its half-finished sequelsfor oh . . . about seven or eight years now. Yep. Haven't moved on. Oh, I've worked on other projects in between, such as my Rooglewood retellings, but by and large my focus has been on this one thing. And it's taking forever. I hope that once my dream of fulltime writing is realized, I'll discover that I'm really the Flash of writing, otherwise a whole generation of readers might pass before a sequel ever comes out.

There you have it, folks. Some of my strong points and some of the areas in which I need to grow. Now I'm curiouswhat are your strengths and weaknesses in writing? Do we share any? Have any of your weaknesses developed into strengths (hopefully never vice versa)? Share in the comments!


  1. Thanks for sharing! I think we share some of the same strengths and weaknesses. (Not sure if that's good or bad XD) I think my BIGGEST weakness, though, is actually finishing a book. It sounds strange, but I always have a hard time finishing one of my books. (Me? Lazy? Nah, I'll blame it on all the shiny plot bunnies that demand to be written ;)) When I was younger, about eleven, I wrote HORRIFIC stories--but, hey, at least I finished them! (Something I can't seem to do anymore...)

    FIGHT SCENES. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with those. You'd think that since I write fantasy and adventure novels that I would be good with those, but I'm not at all. So shameful :P

    My biggest strength is probably emotions. I love to delve into my charries' minds and bring out all their emotions. (Which they probably don't really appreciate all the time XD) Another strength of mine is probably descriptions. I love to describe things and bring the characters and locations to life! (And I really feel like I'm bragging right now. Oh dear...)

    Anyway, those are just a few of this inexperienced writer's strengths and weaknesses. It seems that we share quite a few. Braintwins again! ^_^

    1. Do we? I'm not sure if that's good or bad, either. We shall just have to celebrate our shared strengths and commiserate over shared weaknesses. XD
      Ah, finishing. It's certainly not easy! Shiny plot bunnies are the bane of story-completion. We must develop a method of capturing those wild, fluffy-tailed beasties. XD LOL, looking back on those old stories is always good for a laugh!

      Yay, it's not just me!! Fight scenes sort of come with package of fantasy/adventure stories, don't they? Maybe with practice we'll get better...

      Me too! And in published novels, it's often the emotions that will make or break the experience for me. If I can't connect with any characters on an emotional level, something's wrong. (Ha, characters--when have they ever appreciated their author's devious ways?) I know, I felt like I was bragging too. But I think it's healthy to be able to recognize your strengths alongside your weaknesses. :)

      *high five*

  2. It's great that you can analyse your work like that. I should set aside a time to sit and analyse my strengths and weaknesses too. I often look at my writing and know that somethings wrong- I just can't quite figure out what it is. On the other hand, I'd also like to know what works and what I can build on.

    1. It's an interesting exercise, that's for sure. And since posting this, I've thought of a few more I could add to both categories...

      It's so frustrating knowing something's wrong, but not being able to pinpoint the problem! That's when another set of eyes is hugely helpful. Having someone else affirm your strengths and help you shore up your weaknesses is great. Thanks for sharing, Blue!

  3. This was great :) Don't be afraid to share those strengths (which is, in my case, a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black, lol). But sharing what you love about your own writing (and what other people have praised) does help!

    Conciseness is not my friend either :( I always admire those writers who can say everything with just a few neat sentences. I, alas, am not one of those people.

    And the character motivation thing - it's great that you realize that about your own work. I can't tell you how many published novels I've read where I was scratching my head, just trying to figure out WHY these people were doing what they were doing. If you notice it, then you can remedy it.

    I suppose I am good at dialogue. It's always flowed pretty naturally. I also seem to have a knack for action, especially creepy suspense action. But I still struggle with a lot of the things you put down as weaknesses. I can get so distracted by my characters interacting, that I forget that there needs to be a plot!

    Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks! It's something I'm working on--gaining the confidence to share strengths without feeling like I'm being too prideful. Yes, other's comments are so encouraging!

      Then we're in the same boat. Maybe this is why I never enjoyed Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea?" Too concise? LOL.

      Oh, same here! Once I had that flaw pointed out in my own work, I started becoming more aware of that issue in other books too. Give your characters values and motives, authors! Give us a good reason WHY they do what they do! But that's a rant for a whole 'nuther post. XD

      Dialogue! That's a sticky thing sometimes. It either works or it doesn't, and it's great that it comes easily for you! I find that if I'm not fully immersed in my story yet, the dialogue suffers and becomes wooden. And oooh, I love me some good suspenseful action. >:)

      And thank YOU for sharing too! ^_^

    2. Problem with the dialogue thing - I have entire pages of conversation before I notice it!

      Heads up - tagged you for the Dragon's Loyalty Award - don't feel like you have to do it (I know everyone's busy, lol), but if you're up for it:

    3. XD

      Ooh, nifty! I love dragons. I will definitely file this away for the future. Thank you!

  4. These are always so fun! I love getting peeks into my writing friends' writing lives, you know? I've always wanted to do one of these posts and...I can't remember if I ever actually did! LOL, My memory is so bad! Because I kept wanting to, so I don't know if I just THOUGHT about it or really DID it. *shakes head* My brain...

    Anyways, this was so fun to read! It's funny, most of your strengths are my weaknesses. My pacing is...yeah. I dwell on scenes for tooooo long, and then put too many scenes. But I think I am FINALLY starting to improve on pacing. It's a start! I also totally fail at worldbuilding, never enough creative stuff in my worlds. And prose. I love prose, but I'm not good at it! I just can't come up with pretty descriptions like I want. But YOU. That is definitely, definitely one of your biggest strengths. Practically every SENTENCE you write slays me with its beauty.

    Fight scenes! Ugh. The bane of my existence. I'm with you there. I write so many fight scenes, but I don't know HOW. I really need to do more research on sword fighting and things, but it kind of overwhelms me. Meh.

    I would not call speed your weakness! I WISH I had the dedication to stick with a book and make it the best it can be like you do. I get too distracted by other shiny new stories to fix up any of my already written ones. I think it's fantastic how you've stuck with this book all these years.

    Honestly I can't even imagine you have any writing weaknesses. Your writing is so gorgeous and wonderful and deep and lkadjofijaweojflkdjf! GIVE ME ALL THE TRACEY THINGS.

    1. It's so fun to see how other writers think and work, isn't it? I feel like you haven't done one of these posts... but I could be wrong. *shrugs* (LOL, I'm that way with conversations sometimes. I'm not always sure if I just thought about saying something, or if I actually did say it.)

      I'm glad you enjoyed it!

      Really? I know the only full work of yours that I've read is Burning Thorns (novella version), but from what I remember, the worldbuilding and pacing and emotion and descriptions were all GORGEOUS.
      But that's so good that your pacing is coming along! I was so excited to read about that in your Nano post(s). Yay for developing the craft! Just don't make your books TOO short. I need all the Christine writing I can get, okay?
      ACK, THANK YOU, DEAR. <333

      I need to research more too. But like you said, it's so very daunting. Wouldn't it be great to, say, take a fencing class or something? Maybe then the moves of swordplay would stick in my mind.

      Aww, you're very sweet to see it from that angle. ^_^ (Like Mary was talking about, PLOT BUNNIES. They run rampant.)

      *chokes* Giiiirrrrl, you've seen the prettier side of things. I have my fair share of choppy, ugly writing hiding away in a deep, dank corner. But your encouragement means so much! Thank you! <3

  5. Loved this post! It takes a lot of courage to say to the world "here are the things I think I'm good at and the things I'm not so great at" I admire you for sharing. :)
    It's funny, my biggest problem is always being TOO concise. I have these great elaborate scenes and worlds and characters in my head and only a quarter of it ever gets transferred to the page... sigh. I honestly don't know how you manage to write so many words! I am always just scraping the bare minimum word counts.
    And on the note of character motivation, I often find my characters being obstinate little potatoes who look at my lovely plot and say "you expect me to do that? I'd never do that!" which leads to a lot of plot-holes and bouts of writers' block. When I actually know them well enough, that is. Usually I end up dragging my characters through most of the book's plot points until I know them well enough to recognize that my plot isn't going to work for them. :P

    1. Thanks muchly! :)

      Can we swap problems for a few days? o.o I love fleshing things out when I find a spot of my writing that's too sparse (surprisingly, it does happen occasionally). I don't know--the words just...come? Heh, maybe I should write a post on how to write more words.

      Those obstinate little potatoes are just so opinionated sometimes! They refuse to cooperate nicely with the plot side of things. *shakes head* Sometime I'd like to try writing a novel where I start with JUST characters--no plot ideas whatsoever--and see where they take things. A character-driven plot, y'know?

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. I need to do this, evaluate myself so I can work on my weaknesses.
    I think I have the exact opposite problem as you with Character motivation. I always know what my characters wants and goals are, but I have no idea how to spin it into a story, or what to do with them.

    1. It's definitely a helpful exercise. :)

      That's great that you're so in tune with your characters! I've read some good advice on spinning those charrie desires into a story--basically, have the characters go after what they want, and set up a series of obstacles and twists between them and their goal. But of course, stories are such an intricate thing, so it's often a more complicated problem than that. :P (Aaaand I didn't mean to spout off a writing lecture or anything. Whoops.)

  7. This is some neat insight! I haven't evaluated myself like this fully, but I feel like one strength would be my characters. I've had numerous people tell me how realistic and three dimensional and fleshed out my characters seem. One of my weaknesses would be pacing, though I'm getting better at it. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Your Beautiful People posts (not to mention the attention you devote to your character art) definitely prove that! :) And with pacing, I'm sure your work on cutting and then re-expanding your work has probably taught you a lot.

    2. Aw. ^ ^ It has. It's kind of a hectic experience, but it has. XD

    3. Hey! I didn't know how else to contact you about this, so I'm doing it here in the comments. XD I'm doing a post series next year where I'm interviewing people from around the world so characters from those respective countries can be written accurately. I'll be asking questions like what makes your country unique, what irks you when your country is portrayed wrong, etc. Since you're from Canada, I'd love to have you for the Canada edition. Would you be interested in that?

    4. A proper "about me" page (along with an email address for such things) is in the works for the new year. Because you're right, I need another way for people to contact me. XD

      I would be THRILLED to participate! Honestly, that's a topic I have a number of thoughts about. The Canadian stereotype is just... yeah. It's a stereotype. Thank you so much for asking! I'm really honored. (And hopefully I'll have that email address and whatnot available soon enough for us to iron out the details at some point.) ^____^

    5. Haha. It's fine. XD

      Oh awesome! You can email me at (so your email stays private for now) and I can send you the details. :)

  8. Neat post, Tracey! Like Victoria, I haven't really evaluated myself on this, but I've always thought that coming up with plot twists was one of my strengths (can that even be a strength?) and that realistic characters/character emotions was one of my weaknesses, and fight scenes as well. They. Are. Hard!
    ~Savannah Perran

    1. Thanks, Savannah! Sure, that's definitely a strength! Plot twists are awesome. I love me a good twist. ^_^ But yes, realistic characters can be SO hard. People watching has definitely helped me with that recently. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Hehe, but hey! Quality over quantity?!?! :P My books are HORRIFIC quality...and I really need to spend more time editing instead of being slack, hehe. Ohhh, but I do love these kind of posts when we writers look at our strengths and weaknesses. *nods* It's super interesting. I'm DEFINITELY sucky at characters. I just...gah, they all end up sounding the same in all my different books? So I need to work on that...getting variety. >_> That's awesome that you're good at prose and pacing, though, because that's soooo important. xD I have the opposite problem with wordcount!! I had a book that was 100K and got it down to 60K. xD

    1. Maybe? :P A good balance of both quality and quantity would be nice. And hey, even if your first drafts are that horrific, writing so many so quickly gives you lots of material to work with. Which is always a plus. :D

      I've had the sneaking suspicion that all my characters--or main characters, anyway--are secretly copies of each other too! And I'm really not sure if that's just me doubting myself, or if it's actually a problem. >.<

      Share your wisdom!! Do your first drafts just end up being overly fluffy, or do you find all sorts of clever ways to condense?

  10. Awesome post! I'm notoriously bad at analyzing my own strengths/weaknesses (especially since they aaaall look like weaknesses to me... >.>) but aaahh I know what you mean! Especially about fight scenes... :P

    Also, I tagged you on my blog! :) No pressure to do it or anything, just thought I'd let you know. ^_^

    1. Thanks, Deb! ^_^ (But girl, you have so many strengths, not the least of which is your awesome humor.) Fight scenes, ugh. I'm glad it's not the *only* way to ramp up tension in a story!

      Woohoo, looks like fun! I've been wanting to do some Christmas posts. Thank you!

  11. Wow, I relate to so much of this list! I was in a totally similar situation re worldbuilding -- a generic medieval-ish fantasy, no map, no religion, no history, no currency, no month names, no year-counting system, no clear military or heraldic system ... good job, Emily. (That's what comes of starting NaNo 9 days after coming up with your premise in the shower. You, er, don't worldbuild much beforehand.) But, 2.5 years on, I'm so much happier! I feel like my world has a real shape now.

    Describing a sound with a colour?! YES! I love that too, and definitely tend towards that style in my natural style. Often I go overboard, so in editing I have to shave away the adjectives </3

    Gosh, but character motivation! I just yesterday wrote an argument between my characters in which Mel (FMC's BF) is like "why did you come back?! It's so dangerous!", and Corrie (FMC) is like "...."

    And I'm like yes Corrie, WHY DID YOU?????


    PS People who can write a book in a week ~cough~ Cait ~cough cough~ SO ANNOYING!

    1. Do you? I don't know whether to cheer for you or moan in commiseration--I guess it depends on whether we share strengths or weaknesses. XD

      Heh. Yep. That was my fantasy world, too. When I was masterminding (as I like to call the process of fleshing out world and plot and story elements), I had moments when I thought it might just be easier to scrap it all and start fresh, from the ground up. But figuring out those details is so satisfying! And hey, even if it took 2+ years, at least it took shape eventually, right?

      Must be why I love your writing style, then! ^_^ It's hard to know sometimes if you're being poetic or just spewing purple prose, though. For me, anyway. :P

      That's totally happened to me tons of times! I end up leaving sarcastic notes to myself when editing. Like, "Yeah, because invading the enemy's fortress with only three other people and a flock of birds is SUCH a good idea, guys." It's great to know it's not just me having this problem! XD

      P.S. And mystifying! I just sit here going, "how...?" Do you have an insane typing WPM? Does a story plop itself into your brain fully formed? Do you have a LIFE?? XD (But her writing snippets are fabulous, so obviously something is working for her.)