Friday, January 24, 2020

Writing: No One Ever Tells You Everything

There are lots of things we learn along the way to becoming an author. The volume of material, the things that we have drilled into us until they become automatic, the steps that are necessary all make me cringe when I hear someone say, "I think I'll write a book." Oh, I don't discourage their trying. Maybe one in a hundred will stick to it long enough to string together 75,000 or even 100,000 words. And maybe yet even a smaller proportion will write one that's publishable.

We have lots of rules drilled into us: keep point of view constant (in a scene, chapter, even a whole book). Avoid the passive voice (keep the reader interested). Try to hook the reader from the start of the book, and don't let things wane too much or too often. Avoid the "sagging middle" in your book. Pay attention to the antagonist, as well as the hero. And on, and on, and on.

But the rule I find most helpful is one credited to Elmore Leonard, who "leaves out the parts people tend to skip." If the segment doesn't advance the story, doesn't hold the reader's interest, out it goes. Even if I like it. Even if it's one of my "darlings." Yes, we have to kill our darlings sometime.

You may study. You may take courses. You may have multiple books published. But you'll find that there's always more to learn. No one ever tells you everything--because, if they're honest, there's always something more.

Should that deter you from writing? No. But don't dismiss criticism out of hand. If it comes from someone who knows what they're talking about it, consider it. If you get the same criticism from two or more knowledgeable people, really take it to heart. But keep on. The writer who thinks they're beyond taking criticism is the one who doesn't realize that we all have to keep learning.

What do you think is the best advice for a writer?


Priscilla Bettis said...

Good advice. Additionally, I think don't publish too soon is good advice . . . as in consider your first book and probably the second book and maybe the third one, too, to be practice books where you learn the craft.

Richard Mabry said...

I've heard the first book (and sometimes the second and beyond) referred to as "like the first pancake." They never turn out quite right.