On Writing…

Got into an interesting commentary tangent yesterday with some people online about writing and figured I’d cut and paste it here, if you’re interested…

The first bit is rather brief and involves what I think are two things all authors should keep in mind and/or do:

1) Ingest a lot of fiction, chew on it, see what works and -sometimes even more importantly!- what doesn’t work. The more awful a work and the clearer you can see what makes it “awful”, the better because that teaches you the things you may not want to do.

2) I feel author Elmore Leonard created a fascinating list of 10 writing tips but its the final one that I like the most: Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Yes, it sounds snarky as hell but there is a startling clarity to this.  What he’s saying is don’t run up the page/word count just for the hell of it.  Hone your story into a razor sharp book, one where a reader will love every word and won’t find their eyes glazing over at any points.

That led to this longer posting where I elaborate a bit about what I wrote above…

Like many would be writers way back when, I also looked into the “How to” books on writing, up to and including the Stephen King book which I mentioned way upstream.

The bottom line, I’ve found over time, lies in the two things I pointed out. I’ve always been super curious about reading and/or watching stories (whether on TV or Movies, etc.). After a while, I began to detect patterns to stories, some of which were eventually categorized in other works (the “hero’s journey” being one of the biggies, though at the time I didn’t recognize its categorization!).

And I was highly critical about the things I would read and or watch. I would see where the things worked and very much paid attention to what didn’t. If a book, for example, started very well but lost me at some point, I would try to figure out why it did so. Likewise with movies. And if I felt everything worked, I’d also try to understand why as well.

This subsequently becomes applicable to one’s own fiction writing. You develop that understanding of what is in your mind “good” versus what you feel is “bad” and you obviously try to steer your work in the former rather than later direction.

Experience becomes key. My first novel took forever for me to write because not only was it my first attempt at such a beast (I had written shorter stories before that) but also I was just finding what worked for me from a technical standpoint.

Today, as I’m about to finish off my 13th full work, I have an understanding about the techniques I didn’t way back when. As I noted upstream, I tend to want to start a novel with a reasonably clear idea of how it begins and, even more importantly, how it ends. This doesn’t have to be written completely in stone, but the general ideas should be there and should be intriguing enough for me to take the next step.

The biggest struggles I have are in writing the connective middle, getting the reader (and me, the writer!) from Point A to Point Z. Here I fall back on my memory of all the stories I’ve ingested and try my hardest to create something that is as unique as possible. I loathe the idea of retreading a story and strive to make something that is my own. By virtue of the fact that there are so many stories out there, mine cannot be some 100% “new” thing -that’s impossible- but I do strive to give readers a ride and surprise them with whatever it is I’m offering them.

And that’s where the Elmore Leonard quote comes in, especially when I get to the later stages of the revision process. I also loathe the idea of having readers’ eyes glaze over with either paragraph upon paragraph or page upon page worth of stuff that doesn’t in the end make your story any better.

Back when I was in College and had a creative writing class the teacher talked at one point about Henry James’ theory of the “organic form”, ie the idea that a novel or story is like a human body and that every organ, muscle, cell, etc. has a purpose in said story. In some ways this ties in directly to Elmore Leonard’s quote in that you want your story to be razor sharp and not have any extraneous (beware, highly technical literary jargon follows) bullshit muddling the overall work.

When I finish my first draft of a novel, in general it can be at a low of 50,000-60,000 words. As I revise the book in the early stages I’m often adding material into it and the book can bulge up to 100,000 to 130,000 words. But once I have the book “locked down” and know all the elements I’ve wanted to include in the work are there, I start to pare things down, to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. The book will then generally become thinner, word count-wise, and by the end I’ll have a work that usually (but not always) winds up in the 85,000 to 110,000 word range.