Saturday, 17 October 2015

On Writing: Part 2

I think people look to rules as a way to avoid doing something wrong.  Unfortunately, in my experience, some things are sufficiently complex or have edge cases where ambiguity can creep in that one will still do something wrong.  Life, living, and writing are full of mistakes from things going wrong.

Also, I think that there are no rules for writing a novel, only guidelines.

However, as a former cognitive behavioural therapist I will tell you that to do what works requires you to know what went wrong.  To be able to effect change one has to learn, and there the research shows that people respond to multiple modes of learning.  A mode or modality is seeing, listening, speaking, writing and doing.  The 'doing' can often be – teach the answer – to someone else.

The problems as I see them are:
Lifeless prose makes reading the story an exercise is drudgery.

Tangled sentences confuse rather than clarify the story.

Cardboard characters have no life outside the plot.

Listless plots leading nowhere.
A note on show don't tell.  Sounds good but stop before quoting it because it's not a rule, merely a guideline.  Show emotions, yes.  Her face turn livid with rage, not she was angry.  Show action, yes.  She slapped him around the face.  Not she was angry and hit him. Show a weeks worth of nothing happening, no.  Tell the reader, one week later, rather than nothing much happened for a week.

So how to reach this state of nirvana is the question.  I'm going to quote Heinlein, "Write, finish what you start, only re-write to order, send it out, sell it."  But I will unpack one part of his advice.

When he says, "only re-write to order,"  one has to remember there was an assumption that the person writing knew not to type lifeless prose, tangled sentences, cardboard characters, and the story had a plot (which is more than just a beginning, middle, and an end). But remember these are only guidelines.  The only absolute is do what works, don't do what doesn't work.  The trick is knowing how, and to do that one learns from making mistakes.

So this week I've been writing, if one assumes that editing is writing, which in my opinion it is.

I went through Bad Dog again after the realization I'd missed some things the last time round.  It took me four days to edit 84,174 words.  I then started back on the third draft of Strike Dog, and over the last couple of days I managed to edit 15,668 words.  My pace is a lot slower because I'm at a much earlier stage with my second novel.  It hasn't been sent to my Beta readers for criticism yet but when it is I hope that the feedback on the writing will be more positive than the last time.

If it's not then I will need to go back and assess where my prose is lifeless, tangled mess, and add flesh to the cardboard characters who are being swept ashore by an uncertain plot.


  1. Writing is hard. I can't wait to read your published novel!