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  1. #5
    'Twas but a dream of thee El Jefe MacAllister's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005
    Out on a limb
    James D. Macdonald
    From "Learn Writing With Uncle Jim"
    Absolute Write Water Cooler
    Novel Writing forum

    A very short post today. Holidays, kids home from school, you know....

    First, a Trick for Analyzing your Writing:

    Take ten or twenty consecutive pages, and tape them, side by side, to the wall of your livingroom.

    Go stand on the other side of the room.

    Are all the pages big grey blocks of text? If so, perhaps you need to break things up with dialog, with paragraphs of varying length, with line breaks. All short paragraphs and dialog? Your reader won't have a chance to catch his breath and assimilate what you've just said. Your text should be varied, just as your story varies. The rhythm of your story will be apparent across the room. Big grey blocks = boring. All jagged = tiring.


    Next thing: Two books for you to read, over the weekend. They're novels, but you'll find lessons on writing in them if you care to dig those lessons out.

    First, The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars by Steven Brust.

    Second, Misery by Stephen King.

    Of the two I recommend the Brust more highly. You can buy copies, get 'em from your library, interlibrary loan, whatever.

    (Please note, too, that Brust's book is still in print, even though it was first published in 1987.)

    Is everyone so stunned that they don't have anything to say?

    Why did I recco Misery?

    This is all In My Opinion, of course, but books are about something other than the surface plot. What I think this one is about is the relationship between the author and the reader.

    The author is the reader's slave, the reader's captive. The reader has control of what we write. The reader also takes away parts of us.

    Observe the long descriptions of how the author has to play fair with the reader, and provide beliveable explanations for the events in the novel. The reader will withdraw her approval if we fail to satisfy her, if we fail to make her believe. The discussion, with examples, of how the fictional author makes the fictional "biggest fan" believe that Misery didn't really die at the end of the previous book is brilliant. And it works through the choices the author has to make, why some lines are right, and why some lines are wrong.

    I enjoy looking at the why of a thing. If I know why, I can often figure out what needs to happen in some other specific case by looking behind the surface.

    The descriptions of what it feels like to be writing (the "hole in the page") resemble what writing seems like to me.

    The clues that this is meant to be a writing manual include the long digression on why Corrasible Bond (do they even still make that stuff?) is dreadfully wrong for writing a novel.

    So, aside from the action/adventure/thriller surface of this novel, read it as a parable of the creative process as it pertains to writers and their readers (who are we without our readers?) and I think you'll find lessons that can improve your own writing.

    All I can really say is that I found it useful.


    Reph, not a day goes by when I don't think "Gee, if only I got serious about this I could be really productive." But yeah, we are prolific. That's what it takes to average two novels and two short stories a year, and that's what it takes (at least, that's what it takes me) to make a living doing this.

    Reprinted from elsewhere on this board:

    Your readers can always tell when you're bored.

    Writing is a lousy make-money-fast scheme. If you aren't doing it at least a little bit for love, I can point to a lot of things that will bring you more money for less work.

    Next: Observe this diagram.

    The area labeled "A" is what fascinates you; what you might write about. The area labeled "B" is what fascinates everyone else, that they want to read about. The area labeled "C" is what's marketable.

    You can't guess this in advance.

    Take, for example, Maureen F. McHugh. She was fascinated by Chinese people, gay guys, and subways. She wrote China Mountain Zhang. This was her first novel, and it was picked out of the slush pile. It was published, remains in print, and led her to a career in mainstream literary novels.

    The books you're seeing now as the Hot New Releases were bought two years ago. The trend as to who's buying what has already moved on. Write what's going to be on the shelf two years from now, not what's on the shelf today.

    King is an interesting writer. He's one of the full-blown Calvinist writers; Calvinism tends toward horror. (Once, when asked why he wrote horror, King replied "What makes you think I have a choice?")

    (An example of ur-horror, that passionately American genre, is Johnathan Edwards' "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." People traveled for miles to hear Edwards preach. When he spoke people would weep, or fall to the floor senseless. That's more than a good sermon: that's entertainment.)

    King is also, if memory serves, one of the few writers who has taught English at every level in the American educational system. That's more than a need for money -- that's a love of teaching. I expect that on some level everything he's written is meant to be didactic.

    IMHO, however, when he's remembered, King will be remembered for his short works.

    Oh, yes, his On Writing is highly recommended.

    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 02-01-2010 at 12:47 AM. Reason: links and format

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