Thursday, May 6, 2010

Accentuate the Positive

We writers are strange beasts. It seems that as a species, we are far more liable to remember the negative than the positive. I knew I was a writer! (well, actually, no I didn't know - not for sure)

If you pop about the internet or read books about writing you're constantly exhorted on how to write right. All this information sometimes makes me quake in my boots. I keep discovering how I'm writing wrong.

The first sentence is the most important. My first sentence is fine - but is it strong enough? Does it make readers quiver with anticipation?Honestly? I doubt it. But there's more to a novel than the first sentence, isn't there? There's the first paragraph for one thing - not to mention all the ones that come after that.

Don't put your character in front of a mirror. Okay, I get this on one hand - but on the other hand, why on earth not? I've got an extremely vain character - she enjoys looking at herself. No she doesn't think about her luxuriant brown curls or her sparkling blue eyes, (who on earth describes themselves like that to themselves?) but she is pleased with her new dress. Who wouldn't look in the mirror?

Fast pace is good. Faster pace is better. Now I'm in trouble. My manuscript moves along, but not at breakneck speed. I'm not writing a thriller. I don't have shadowy men with silencers on their guns or my protagonist skiing down a sheer mountain face. (bless him, he'd break a leg - and he's not fond of heights) However, neither do I have characters sitting around discussing their latest recipes for tuna. (although that would probably have a market - damn) My characters are at a country house party in 1935 - not chasing a holy grail or saving the world from certain destruction.

These are just three. There are many, many, many more.

There are days when I'm convinced I'm doing everything wrong. And then, there are the days like the last few, when your kind comments about my blog posts make me think that perhaps I can write, and I might just know what I'm doing. This boost to my confidence has had me writing away and I honestly can see the end of the tunnel - or the top of the cliff - depending on your point of view.

I'm off to write. I'm sure I'm making mistakes, but at least I'm writing. Thanks so much for the virtual pats on the back. A little praise goes a long way.

From me to you: Thank you! You're all tremendous. Come for tea.


  1. No matter what, you're going to always hear differing opinions on writing. Ah, what can you do, write with your heart first and then with your brain.


  2. Clarissa; You're so right! Honestly, I try to write using both.

  3. I always hang on to "rules were made to be broken."
    If my character has a love affair with herself in the mirror, then I just have write it such a way that it is still readable.

  4. Writing is a huge rollercoaster ride. Ups and downs. I think it's good; I think it stinks like old fish. I know what I'm doing. I don't know crap. The only constant is I love writing so much I can't stop. I must have a mental problem.

  5. Al; That's a good thing to hang on to! Sometimes I really feel like I know what I'm doing and other times I'm sure I don't have a clue.

    Carol; I'm sure I wrote a post comparing writing to a rollercoaster ride! I enjoy when I'm writing well, not so much when I know it stinks like old fish. Geriatric fish.

  6. Great post! It's so true. We're always hearing what not to do and then I turn around and read a book that breaks all those "rules." SO I read advice, try different things, but I use only what works for me and my story. When it comes down to it, you're the only one who knows absolutely what's best for your story!

  7. A fast pace doesn't mean "action." It means that the story moves along. You get to what the conflict or problem is, and you make progress on it.

    That progress actually could involve people sitting around taking about their tuna recipes. (Especially if the conflict of the story is several cooks struggling for social dominance in the group.)

    As for the mirror - if it suits your character and she's looking into it for an interesting reason, why not?

  8. Elspeth - I always think those "rules of thumb" are just things to think about - not really rules. Some of the most wonderful stuff I've ever read wasn't written "by the rules." So whatever works for you is, I think much more valuable. I'm especially thinking of the "pace" rule. The right pace is the pace that works for you.

  9. Developing the confidence to 'break' the rules is part of a writer's growth. The mirror thing is overused, so it's become a red flag if you're using it to describe a character -- and I'm totally with you on sticking in a character's head. The only time I think about what color my hair is, is when I go to the salon to make it happen. :-)

  10. I just read on another blog a quote from an author about giving ourselves permission to write badly - as this is the only way we'll ever write well. Now, that's the kind of advice that isn't hard to take :)

  11. Laura; Thanks for the advice and you're right.

    Daring Novelist; It just seems to me that many publishers are wanting all action all the time, but I understand your point. Perhaps my dry humour didn't translate into the written word. That's somewhat worrying.

    Margot; I agree. I don't think characters should sit around listening to their breathing for hours on end, but racing down mountains isn't always necessary either.

    Terry; I'm exactly the same way - who really looks at themselves in a mirror and describes themselves to themselves?

    Jemi; I have a friend who says exactly that to her first year writing students. Thank heaven for the delete button!

  12. Of course you can write! I think most of the directions on how to write being bandied about are based on the latest fashion and what's in the bestsellers. There are plenty of other valid ways to tell a story, and it's the most unlikely stories that become bestsellers and win Pulitzers, and it seems no one can predict that. If you even want that.

  13. You write beautifully!

    And I don't follow half the rules out there, either. :) I'm very fond of prologues.
    Mystery Writing is Murder

  14. There is so much to remember, isn't there? I think we need to be aware of what to do, but not to let it rule us, and not to worry about it when we're drafting. Go for it and enjoy!

  15. You're welcome, thank you also, for another fine post, and yes ... the tea? Don't mind if I do have a cup. ;)

  16. Most writers, even pro's, guess at why a novel sells. I do know that eye-weary agents give you ten seconds to impress them. Sadly, that's usually the first paragraph. And if they're in a mood, that means the first sentence.

    We are the microwave culture. Love your blog. And follow your instincts. You'll sleep better. Roland

  17. I second Al, rules are there to be broken.

    Especially the one about pace, I´d say. What makes a certain type of thriller ridiculous and incredible to me is pace.

    And I have read an absolutely wonderful short story about a postmodern, metrosexual man who loves standing in front of a huge mirror, admiring himself. My students always enjoy that scene thoroughly.


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