Monday, June 14, 2010

Dogs Find Things and Prove We Don't See Everything

The setting sun makes gold light dapple the leaves over my head, red berries glisten to my right, and the inlet stretches to my left. The path slicing through the forest is downtrodden but nearly silent. I sidestep the patches of mud from last night’s rain and the roots that push their way above ground.

I think I’m observing the scene fairly well. Leave it to my dog to prove me wrong.

My dog Tye stops suddenly to examine something on the ground. I try to urge him forward because the smallest scents attract a dog’s attention and, really, what do I care? Why should it matter to me what my dog finds interesting? I’m being thoughtful and fulfilling my duties of ownership by taking him on a walk.

He refuses to come so I’m forced to see what he’s so interested in (though I have yet to care he’s interested in anything at all).

Then I see the dead bird, its beak agape in some sort of horrified rictus.

I push my dog away only to prod the creature lightly with a stick myself. I know it is dead, heck, it looks like it has no insides at all and the black feathers are slick and clumpy, I just can’t help it.

I’m morbidly fascinated.

I call my friend (who also missed the carcass) over to look. She bemoans my cruelty, wishing I never called her over and tries to make me leave. I’m harder to get moving than my dog was.

The sequence of events makes me think of my manuscript for the remainder of our walk. I just can’t get the bird out of my head, or the fact that my writerly powers of observation failed me.

It makes me realize something. I’m probably not finding the, perhaps slightly hidden, dead things in my story. Not the dead characters. Not the dead plots. Not the dead words.

I think I’m catching everything; I’m looking everywhere but I’m much too close to the work to catch the lifeless pieces bringing my story down. My friend probably won’t notice either – she looks at the writing like it’s my book, she has background info on my characters (stuff a random reader wouldn’t be privileged too), and she’s as lost in the atmosphere as I am.

I need a dog; someone with a nose to sniff out all the problems, who is objective and unbiased enough to not overlook the small things for my sake. Because let’s face it simply praising our work does us no favors. It won’t get us to publication.

The only thing that will is brutal honesty. I need someone who isn’t afraid to get a little dirty, to be morbid and blatantly point out the dead stuff in my writing.

Again, I say it, I need a dog.

I should care because it’s my soul in a book and every soul has flaws. I should care because I want my book to reach its potential. I should care because I can only improve. I should care because it isn't enough to just do our writerly duties.

I should care because it matters.

I care.

Do you? 

Is there a ‘dog’ in your life who helps you find the dead stuff? 

Word Of The Day: Wikiphobia - fear of wikipedia, fear of the ability to allow anyone to edit things.


  1. Oh my gosh! I LOVE this Melissa! What an awesome example.
    I have people who used to be my dogs but sometimes I think they're as close to the story as me. Thank goodness for contests. ;-)

  2. You have such a unique voice in your posts I LOVE reading each one you put up. It's like I just read the chapter of a book! The example is perfect, dogs really do pick up on things I never would...then again sometimes he doesn't. He picks up on things in other people, thier fear, if I should be fearful, if they are good, not so good, sick (like a fever) etc.
    My CP's, although have invested interest in my and my characters, they look at each chapter as if it is seperate. We distance ourselves from the work and person an agreement we all have and they STILL find the bumps in my work. Plus we offer a free beta service to people and we all have to stay at the top of our game. This sounds strange as hell, but if you need us to be your "dog" lol, let me know. I beta nearly everyday ;)

  3. Um, I don't know if my critiquing partners will want me calling them 'dogs' (outloud=)but they do help me identify problems and things I've missed with my narrowed sight:)

  4. What a great analogy! Yeah, my doggie helps us spot any birds, squirrels and chipmunks in the distance!

  5. This is SO true!!! I just wrote a post about needing a break from my work because I have trouble reading it objectively. I completely agree with you about the close friend also knowing a lot about the characters. Great post and blog!!!

  6. Great analogy! This is so true. it's definitely beneficial to have a "dog" sniff out those dead elements in our writing.

    I do not at the moment, so this is what I do: Stepping away from my writing helps a lot. I return to it with a more objective view. Reading a loud is another big help in spotting those dead things!

  7. Hahah. Good story. I was waiting for you to say the bird had it's wing over it's head, causing it to look like it fainted. And yeah I'm not the dog in your life. I get to excited about the story hahah. And you tell me everything. So there has been a canclelation so I think I'm doing it! Yipee. Hopefully I will pass. I don't want to have to come back.

  8. your descriptions of normal everyday things are so great. I enjoy all your posts but this was very good. I have always used my mother as my "dog" in sniffing out what is not important and actually opens up paths that don't need to be opened.
    I have never understood why people seem to think being a dog is a negative- looks wise MOST dogs are beautiful, they are always happy to see you when you come home- no matter how long you have been gone, are loyal, know when you need to pet them or cuddle, are easy to please, non-judgmental and are fierce protectors of their own.

  9. just so you know, i'm emailing you and occasionally for whatever reason my email will get dumped in spam the first time for some people which is total nonsense, but if you don't see it this afternoon check the junk mail D: I swear I'm not spam! lol (erica@chimeracritiques .com)

  10. This is so true. I too need a dog to sniff out all the problems. I haven't moved on to that next step as yet though. I recently took a break, and when I came back, I realized my MS was chock-full of problems, but it was still my world, and I'm still partial to it, even with its faults. I need someone to hammer at it, and pick it apart.

    This is a great post - I love the analogy. This could have been part of a book in itself, it was so descriptive! :)

  11. Um, Melissa? Nothing short of brilliant. And I'm not just saying that because I have a dog. It really was an excellent analogy. I think when we have read and reread and reworked and reread there is a tendency to skim over parts when we still need to be sticking our noses deep into them. This was such a great blog entry! Love love love it!

  12. You know, I've never really considered myself a dog person, but after reading this I'm a changed woman. Every writer needs a good dog. Great post, Melissa!!!

  13. Love this post :)

    I do not have a dog for my stories. I really wish I did. Right now I have my boyfriend read them (he writes too) but he knows almost as much as I do about the characters and the plot and his eyes are no longer fresh. I need fresh eyes (and a fresh nose it seems)!

  14. Okay, so... when you find that special little doggie... see if he has a cousin and send him my way. I'm not above begging, if necessary!

    *sigh* Maybe then it wouldn't take me an extra 1000 words to realize that dead bird was back in last scene!!

    Great post!!

    Oh, and I was never here. I was working on my WIP, okay? Okay!

  15. Great post! Be sure to check out my blog tomorrow. I'm giving you an award. Now I'm back to writing since that's what everyone thinks I'm doing.!


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