Intangible skills include stamina, persistence, an ability to release what you know to learn the next skill, and believing in yourself. Intangible skills are gathered through experience, risk, and good mentoring. The longer you write, the more of these you have.
Tangible skills are easier to gather. They come from close reading, taking classes, studying other writers, practice, and good feedback. I refined my list of tangible skills to ten essentials, the “never leave home without them” toolbox. These are the craft skills that have taken me from beginner to published.
- Enough happening (action)
- Tension from dialogue subtext
- Varied pacing
- A strong point of view
- Cautious use of backstory
- A chronology the reader can follow
- Enough setting details-well placed
- Strong motive
- Varying closeness/distance (camera angles)
- Enough character change
I learned how the different tools worked in tandem, too. Grouping two or three together gave me stronger characters. Others enhanced plot. A few were essential if I wanted the reader to get a sense of place in my stories.
In revision, I’d go through this checklist to make sure all the spokes of the wheel of ten were strong and moving together. When they were, a kind of alchemy clicked in, increasing the emotional impact of my writing (and my likelihood of being published).
On March 24 I’ll be leading an updated workshop at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis on this Wheel of Ten, where you’ll look at each of these ten craft skills, test your knowledge, and fill in the gaps. We’ll begin talking about the alchemy that happens when all the tools are working together. On March 25, also a one-day workshop at the Loft, we’ll focus on the three most important parts of that alchemy-character, setting, and plot-and learn how to manipulate the tools to make your writing truly sing.
I'd love to invite you to join me at one or both workshops, to test your skills, find your strengths and weaknesses, and begin to build your own toolbox.
For more information, click on the titles below: