Q: When is Writing Like a Kangaroo?


A: When you can't figure out what it is.

For any of you who happen to like kangaroos I deeply apologize. I am not a fan. I mean look at that thing up there. If you click it will get even bigger and scarier. This is not the Disney version of Kanga and Little Roo. It has man arms with huge biceps that make him look like he could take out Godzilla with one punch. His head is shaped more like a horse but with a dog nose. Huge eyes with lashes many women would kill to have. And those are definitely donkey ears, and it hops like a giant rabbit, but only on its hind legs. Face it, the kangaroo is not one animal. It is a hideous amalgam of several creatures trying desperately to be one, to find unity and wholeness. And IMHO, it has failed miserably and has become little more than an angry, arrogant looking, jumbled up, disorganized, scary creature that romps the Australia Outback at will. Thank goodness we don't have them here in the U.S. Well, except in zoos and even behind bars they scare me. Imagine a kangaroo or three hopping down the boulevard on a Sunday afternoon. You'd run for the hills. "The roos are coming, The roos are coming!" The kangaroo is an animal in search of an identity. But it never will find it. Poor thing cannot change his DNA.

But this is not the case for writers with a kangaroo of a story. First drafts, or what I call exploratory writing, is like a kangaroo. It has all the parts -- head, arms, legs, biceps, nose, ears but for some reason when you put it all together it comes out ugly. Fortunately, unlike the sad kangaroo, a writer can change her novel's DNA and create a story that doesn't repulse the reader. It's called revision. This is when the real writing begins.

For openers, a writer needs to read her first draft for clarity. Is it making sense? Unlike our poor kangaroo up there. He is a jumble of parts. Novels cannot jumble. So when you're reading your exploratory draft, look for clarity. I am not necessarily saying to look for clarity in meaning. That's a little different. I am referring to very basic stuff. When I read a ms. for teaching or critique purposes I see many first chapters that force me to ask questions like, "Who is talking?" "But wasn't he just in the space shuttle and now he's standing in front of the fridge opening a beer?" "How old is she?" "When did she discover gold in her back yard?" Etc.etc.

The thing about early drafts is that they are crystal clear to the author. You know what you're saying and what you're characters are doing but your reader doesn't. When you start your first serious read-through. Read for clarity. This is not a license to toss in profuse dialog tags and description. Watch your context, be aware of what just happened in the manuscript not in your mind. Don't write a kangaroo.

Clarity-Good. Kangaroo-Not so much.

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