Thank you for sharing this! I agree with most of what he said. I do think single third or first person narrator can be just as good as multiple, it just depends on the story and the writer. Two things that I disagree with are the advice to write short stories first and not to write fan fiction. Short stories are a different species of writing entirely and while some writers can create both, I don't think that's everyone or even most. I was going to say that I agree with not starting with a multi-novel epic, but then I can think of many writers who have successfully done so. I think you have to write the story that you need to tell. Finally, on fan fiction, I think it can be great practice -- no reason you have to develop every technique at once. And it is better to do so honestly, rather than writing a novel that every reader will see as a thinly veiled rip-off of some famous work (why do these get published???).
He's raised some interesting points in this article and there are two things that stood out to me.
The first one was stance on sex scenes. Sex is awesome, I won't disagree with that, but if I don't feel the scene adds anything to the story, then I won't write it. Do characters in my stories have sex? Abso-freaking-lutely! They usually do it behind the scenes, though, and reveal their exploits through dialogue with other characters. Or I'll take the Old Hollywood approach and "shut off the camera" just as they're removing their clothes. I've also read plenty of published material where characters don't do the deed and I didn't feel the books were missing anything without them.
Although I don't usually follow the advice of writing every day (I write almost every day, but there are days where I'd rather just curl up with a book for hours and hours on end or play guitar), I agree whole-heartedly with his statements about beginning writers needing to learn to create their own characters, worlds, settings, etc. instead of just writing fan fiction. While penning fan fiction can be a good time for some people, it's really a good idea to learn how to write something that is completely and 100% their own. Yes, dabbling in an already-established world is easy, but it is lazy and if one wants to be a good writer, they need to know how to build something from the ground up. I know that sounds cruel and if you're offended by those last few sentences, I apologize, but trust me - you're much better off creating your own worlds, characters, stories, and such than you are just writing about someone else's world.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerDec 28, 2012Student General Artist
The tapping in to emotion thing, I learned that in my acting class! That's emotional recall! And it's absolutely real, and it definitely works. The actors, and writers, who are the most believable, are the ones who can make that genuine emotional connection. They may not really have just witnessed a murder like their character, but if an immense, fearful memory is running through an actor's head, that fear is real and we can see it on the screen.
Actually, don't know how well that translates to writing, but it seems to fit. Definitely translates into writing monologues. If I can feel the emotional core of the character, their words are more natural.
"Write every day" is useless advice. I read somewhere, I don't remember where, but this isn't original to me, something much more practical, that makes sense to me: "The time you put into it is what you'll get out of it."
Basically, the article was talking about, like, if you want writing to be just a hobby, then feel free to write as much or as little as you want to. One hour a week, two minutes a day, whatever. If you want writing to be a part-time job, then treat it like one: write 10, 20, or even 30 hours a week, just like you would a regular job, and submit things you write to paying markets if that's an option. If you're in a place where you think you can be a full-time professional writer, then write 40 hours a week; it's your full-time job.
It's possible to write 20 hours a week and really only write three days a week if you feel like it, and you will gain so much more then just writing for ten minutes a day every day.
Honestly, right now, even though I'd like writing to be a part-time job, I'm still at hobbiest level. And as a result, I don't hate myself when I don't work on things for a while. There's no pressure except the pressure I put on myself.
That being said, obviously, there's a lot more to improving your writing than just writing a lot. Get a lot of feedback, study the craft in books or classes if you want, read a lot, all that good stuff.
"I think if I outlined comprehensively and stuck to the outline the actual writing would be boring."
he's looking at this the wrong way. word choice is important here -- he uses the term "outline", which is a dry description of what he's doing, which is plotting. he's acting like he's got no free will just because he's mapping out the course his story should take. i extensively plot my stories, lots of folks have seen my arc worksheet; all that does is let me know where to go and what to hit and when. you've also seen my results. this mindset of his is kind of disappointing. my way isn't the ONLY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY but i've been using it for at least 2-3 years and it works every time without fail. it works. and besides, he's basically admitting here's a method he doesn't use and already assumes it won't work. weak. what he does works for him but there's people out there who are new to writing who will clamp on to this because he is who he is, whoever he is. He's just another human out there, just like the rest of us.
"Write every day, even if it is only a page or two. The more you write, the better you'll get."
I fucking hate anyone who says to do this. hate it. it's fucking horrible advice. it's not guaranteed, why do they think it is? i also don't necessarily believe in reading everything you can get your hands on. it's good to be well-read but i think it's better to read what you are primarily interested in writing. i'm not going to read something that isn't going to help me accomplish my goals, that is a waste of my time. Cormac McCarthy and Raymond Carver and Mickey Spillane are who I need to read, not Asimov or Rowling or King. Time is precious and reading takes a while if I want to retain what I've read.
"Emotion is really what fiction is all about."
Fuck this guy. In the ear.
I know bullshit when I read it. We all should. I know people will think I'm full of shit. But there's a difference between me and this guy. People aren't hanging off my every word as if it's gospel.
I hate the "write every day" too. What if I don't want to write today? What if I'm doing something else because writing isn't the only thing I do? What if it's a beautiful summer day and I should be outside enjoying the scenery?
Because people say this so often I used to actually believe this was true and felt bad about not writing every day, until I realized it was a load of rubbish that you have to.
His take on "write what you know" is what I should have covered in my response to *raspil's thread on the same.
Also, his analogy about some writers being architects, some being gardeners...needs some rethinking. There are certainly gardeners who just plant seeds and see what happens, but most successful gardens require a degree of planning to work well. You need to know what you're growing and when to plant it, where to plant it, etc. He could however, extend it a bit and talk about how the kind of gardening he's thinking of sometimes requires removing and shifting elements for a particular site or overall composition to work. Maybe the analogy works better for those who don't do any serious gardening.
And I would say the tip on writing shorts first really depends. I don't know why he talks about the current market, since it's been common advice for genre writers since...well, several decades at least. It's not bad advice, as I think learning how to construct an effective short story teaches you about storytelling in general. But if your ultimate strength is novels, you might be wasting time that could be used to improve in that form. Personally, I only write short stories when I feel like working on something new and actually have an idea.
I think the main advice that I completely agree with is his advice to Read Everything. This applies to all artists of all art forms, not just written. If you only immerse yourself in one genre or style, whether that be a writer just reading fantasy, or an artist just looking at figurative realistic painting, or a musician only listening to dubstep, all you're going to be able to create is something that uses all the stereotypes and tropes of that one genre, and you'll just be another in the crowd.
What stands out most to me about a Song of Ice and Fire is how much it draws from the History of Britain. I remember looking at the map (as you always look at the map) and going "oh look a wall and a North and a South" it's basically England below Hadrian's Wall. And it draws on historical knowledge. But also I see glimpses of contemporary legal fiction about courtroom politics, and of course things gleaned from Newspapers and such as he mentioned reading everything.
As such what he has created is something that does quite obviously sit firmly in the genre of Fantasy, but it does avoid many of the fantasy tropes and stereotypes, which is what makes it so intriguing and different.
I think more people could do to just absorb everything in life and not just that one genre they want to create. The rest of the advice... well that's up to the individual. Writing Short Stories will help some and confuse and annoy others. Some need to know the full Language they made up others need to know some basic words and that's it. I don't think there are any rules for writing in the sense that "if you do this you'll be good" because in the end if you can critically push yourself and absorb and learn and grow in whatever way works for you then you can be good. ((I've found the minute somebody says "you can't write a good story doing X Technique" someone will come along with the best story ever using this forbidden technique. So long as you're not plagerising you can do anything you like))
That and I 100% agree with his description of "write what you know". I hate reading a character who's reaction to something tragic or happy just seems to be plucked out of a book or film and not out of author experience. Like screaming "nooooooo" or something when it's completely uncharacteristic. As he said in the article, the death of a childhood pet brings up emotions you can transfer to a character losing a husband or a child. Yes they're not the same but at the heart of it is loss, and if you have lost something you can apply your feelings to this. Otherwise your writing will be cold and distant because you'll be just pretending or writing from what you've seen other people do with spouse or child deaths and then it's just a diluted version of someone else's feelings towards death.
I do agree with his views on what often happens when the phrase "write what you know," is told to people. We don't write autobiographies about ourselves and nothing I write is based on a specific experience. If so, my stories would be very dull. None of my characters are me as a person. They some of their experiences might be influenced by what I've seen, touched, and smelled but me no.
He makes me feel a lot better about languages because as a fantasy writer, I can't do languages. I really refuse to make a language. I want to write the story, not spend several years on developing a language for it.
As for writing sex...I really honestly never thought about what hobbits do in their bedroom just because it's a story that sort of thing would seem out of place in the context of the story. Not to mention would you really want Tolkien talking about sex? I mean could you imagine page after page of him detailing hobbit, elf, and dwarf matting rituals? He'll probably start off with a intimate scene in boring detail and then go on a tangent about the history of dwarven birth control. In all all seriousness, sex is one of those thing that I can deal with it not being present in everything. One might say I have a preference for it. Yes I know it is there, the world shouts it out at you. Sex is one of those things I treat as, if it is important to the story, then I'll do something with it. Just don't be surprised I don't make it a huge deal of it.
As for the part about writers starting with short stories hmm, I'm not sure. I mean essentially all my stories were short stories before I started writing what came out to be my first true novel length story but I never really thought of them as short stories as much of they were just stories. I fell in love with the idea of a novel long ago but I knew I wasn't going to be able to write what I read. So I just wrote until I was able to write longer pieces. I never treated it like the ultimate writing goal or tried to write a series when I first started out. I just wrote.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerDec 28, 2012Student General Artist
I agree about the sex thing. Who on earth reads Lord of the Rings and goes, "Hm, great book, yes, but it needs more sex." What?
As far as stories go, I feel like, just tell the story you want to tell, you know? Regardless of length. Personally, I really love short stories, and I've never really "graduated" to novels (writing them, at least.) I've tried, but the plots always seem to peter out. But some people, I think, are novelists at heart, and there's no reason to try to trim their stories back if they want to grow
I'm a novelist at heart. I've never been fond of short-stories, I think too broadly when constructing a story and at one point I struggled with writing a short-story but I've proven to myself I can write them. It isn't hard. Now I honestly just chose not too. I actually been following the advice of another author and I can't remember who it was but, they said if you want to learn to write short-stories practice writing short-stories. If you want to learn to write novels, practice writing novels. I practice writing novels.
Lucy-MerrimanFeatured By OwnerDec 29, 2012Student General Artist
Well, I beg to differ on one point--if you're doing it right, it's absolutely hard. To write short stories, I mean. I don't think an engaging, well-thought-out story collection is any less of a feat than a novel. There's a reason I treasure Orson Scott Card's Maps in a Mirror anthologies just as much as, if not more than, his novels and novellas. Some of his stories settle on me and never let me go, in just a few pages creating something more affecting than half-a-thousand pages may ever do.
You're a novelist, which is brilliant. But I'm not, and I don't know that I should particularly want to be, you know? I don't think it makes me any less of a writer.
I think it's good advice to start with shorts. I would never have started writing shorts if it wasn't for DA and they've helped me so much. You can learn how to open, introduce characters, set the scene, maintain interest, and most importantly how to resolve the plot.
I love the bit about 'emotional truth'. I often think that a good story, even though it isn't real, it's true. Like its got emotional truth to it, because even though there are laser unicorns, deep down its about real life.