Friday, March 06, 2015

Writing: Advice From Frank Peretti

Author Frank Peretti has been absent from social media for a while, and it was good to see him reappear on Facebook recently. One of the things he posted was some writing advice he wrote some time ago. Here, with his permission, is that advice, which still holds true:

Know what you’re doing. Study all you can about the writing craft. Read books about story structure, writing a novel, character development. I’ve even read books on screenplay writing and found them helpful. 

Be able to write good English. There is no excuse for bad spelling, poor grammar, faulty sentence structure and so on. I will grant that writers, especially fiction writers, use all kinds of devices and artistic license with words to tell their stories, but they know what they’re doing and none of it is by accident. You need to know what the rules are before you can start breaking them.

Write, every day if you can. Start small, with short stories, essays on any subject you wish, a journal just for yourself, blogs like this one, and grow from there. Writing is like any other skill: you have to practice at it, so turn off the television and go to work. 

If you plan to write fiction, read a lot of fiction to get a sense of how fiction should sound, flow, hold your attention, evoke emotions. Always look for drama and how the author creates it.

Develop an ear for dialogue. It’s surprising to me how many writing students can carry on conversation and hear a conversation but they still can’t write it the way it really sounds. If you must, read your dialogue out loud to yourself, act it out, and keep at it until it sounds genuine.

Try to write for your reader and not just for yourself. Some would-be writers are still on some kind of artistic ego trip, writing unintelligible glop that may satisfy their own impulses but which no one else can understand. That’s fine if you want to starve. If you want to get paid for what you do, have respect and regard for your customer the reader.

Quit dreaming and get to work. The only way to get a project finished is to get your rear end into that chair and your hands on the keyboard and keep them there on a regular, disciplined basis until you’ve come up with something.

Get some folks you trust and who can be kindly and lovingly honest to read your stuff and give you feedback. Hey, even professional writers have editors who pick apart their stuff, so get used to it. If you're too insecure to get some helpful critiquing you're too insecure to write. You ought to see my manuscripts when I get them back from the editor - reminds me of high school.

Expect success to take a while. Your first one or two or three projects may not get published, but experience is necessary and you have to pay your dues. If you have the talent to begin with you've nothing to worry about; it's going to click eventually.

Another funny thing: you just never know what the market is going to like. A book can be technically correct, have all the pieces in place, even be a good read as reads go, but for some reason the reading public is looking for something else. Go ahead and pray for the Lord's timing; pray that your topic, your style, your "brand" is the thing that's going to be hot. Either that, or be a copycat and hitch a ride on somebody else's idea (something I don't admire, but you see it all the time in books, movies, television; the old bandwagon mentality). All this to say, if your book doesn't do well, it may not be due to a lack of good work on your part. Mark Twain, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, even Steven Spielberg (right, film, but the same principle) had works that were great and successful and works that fell behind. Oh, and did I mention myself? Oh, yeah. Same here.

It also wouldn't be a bad idea to acquaint yourself with all the new avenues for getting published these days, especially via the internet. If your work is good and you choose the right pathways, you might get a good start with your material without ever going through a publisher. Weird to an old schooler like me, but true.

Thanks for sharing, Frank. If you want to reacquaint yourself with his work and see what's coming down the pike, you might check here. 

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Patricia Bradley said...

Frank is one of the best! And his advice is spot-on! Thanks for having him here on your blog, Richard.

Richard Mabry said...

I agree, Patricia. And his advice, although originally given quite some time ago, is still accurate and applicable. Thanks for your comment.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

What great advice. I love that Frank Peretti thought out of the box with This Present Darkness and set a NEW trend in Christian fiction. I really admire forward-thinking writers! Definitely something I aspire to be. Thanks for sharing this!

Richard Mabry said...

Heather, thanks for your comment. Yes, he was ahead of the curve--and it's interesting that now he and three other well-known Christian fiction writers are thinking outside the box yet again (as evidenced by their new series).

Laurean Brooks said...

Hey Richard,

I had the honor of meeting Frank at the ACFW conference (2013) in Indianapolis. He's the same in person as he is on his radio interviews. Personalble, wise, real, and zany, all at the same time.

Thank you for hosting him.