Friday, August 8, 2008

Writing Clinic

For those who don't know, in my spare time, I'm writing a book. (That's not joke). It's about Helen of Troy --something which so completely doesn't relate to my personal life that it creates a great escape from the daily grind of diaper changing.

The thing about writing a book is, I didn't know how because I'd never done it before. Imagine a quilt created by a four year old using tape, safety scissors and fabric she fished out of a barrel from Good Will. It may eventually one day look like a quilt should look, but not before a lot of maturation, better equipment and better skill gets imposed. Still, being a determined four year old with safety scissors, I carry on with my self appointed task.

Here are my tips if you are considering writing the next great American Novel so that others may not have this sort of mess on their hands. Please note, I said nothing about getting it published.

1) No prologue. In the beginning...Before there was Harry....starting the story with back-story automatically brands you as a rank amateur. Agents and other writers can spot it a mile away and will instinctively run the opposite direction. Anything important to the story is important to the story and must be TOLD within the story. There is no back story, only bits of the past that become relevant as the story unfolds.

2) Outline. I admit, my book is suffering a great deal because I didn't do this. The reason people don't do this, is they don't know how the book will go. Outlining does not solve this problem but it does give a scaffolding, a structure upon which to hang the pieces. Having to outline after the fact is very annoying, it's like ripping down drywall to put in insulation and support beams.

3) Read. No problem with this part, plenty of material for me. Read books. Read books that have nothing to do with what you are writing and everything to do with what you are writing. Then, if a piece moves you, look at it to see what the author did to make you feel or think what you are feeling or thinking --how did they set it up? It's like looking at someone else's blueprint for their house to get idea for your own.

4) BIC. Bottom in chair. Books don't write themselves. Online, you meet a lot of dreamers who talk about their books but never post a word count. Set a number for each week. Sure 80% of the word count will be rewritten but the words have to be written first before you can rewrite.

5) Tapestry Weaver or Jackson Pollack? Do you fly where inspiration leads or do you know what it should look like before you start. Rowling was a tapestry weaver --she knew ahead of time where she was going. I'm admittedly more of a Pollack style writer. I start writing inspired and fall into it. Now I'm having to graft it together. Pass the mental crazy glue.

6) Time Space Continuum issues. Jumping forward, back, it works in sci-fi because the rules are bended, but just as after a time, having James T. Kirk, Spock and McCoy jump into different time lines and experience fish out of water moments becomes a crutch, it can be a means of not writing, but merely inserting a character into a timeline. That can’t be the whole story or who cares.

7) Enjoy yourself. If the writing is starting to bore you, it will bore the audience. If you aren't having fun picturing the scene, no one else will. Don't talk about what you will write much. If you tell, you won't write. Tell about what you've written to those who can help.

8) Cheaters mode. Letters, dreams, prophesies, newspaper clippings and neighborhood gossips –allow main characters to know what they would not otherwise know, and allow the writer to get away with the improbable in the midst of the story. Some authors even tell you they’re cheating with the character saying things like “I can finally tell you…” or “It is time you knew…”

9) Head hopping and narration issues. If you’re in one person’s head, you’re stuck in their head. If you’re the third person all knowing narrator, you still don’t get to switch to first person reflections. This is tough. We don’t get to know what Mr. Knightly is thinking, only what Emma thinks until Mr. Knightly reveals his own thoughts.

10) Big finish. The exploding deathstar where all is made clear, all is resolved and everything is happy ever after. Heroes are laden with excessive amounts of gifts and prizes such that it seems they are set for life. Closure yes. Here is where a lot of people get into the “I can finally tell you” or epilogue –another error seen often in first time writers. Resolution is resolution. We close the curtain and hope people applaud for allowing us into the world for a time.

Happy writing.

I'll be back to funny later, but every once in a while, the final tip of writing has to be observed. If you are stuck, write something else. Been having a major dry spell lately on funny stuff, so I'll have to fill this with something useful.

Finally, for those curious, My book, The Book of Helen is 81.6K strong and 14 months old. First four chapters, love ‘em, next four have good stuff, then there’s this sticky undisciplined tangle mess and a strong final conclusion. Got to go rip out some drywall though, and put in some support beams. Pass the safety scissors.


reprehriestless warillever said...

You are funny even when writing serious stuff.

The images of safety scissors and "ripping down drywall to put in insulation and support beams" will stick with me.

Now I just need to get BIC. Or rather, get my fingers typing something other than comments on someone else's blog.

Amy said...

Thanks for the pointers. Worth saving.

SuburbanCorrespondent said...

Don't forget the glue sticks.

JimmyV said...

Hey. I know a small publisher. Drop me a line and maybe I can set something up.

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!