Friday, April 2, 2010

Writing Instructions

I got my latest writing magazine in the mail this week and now that deadline is over (picture squished animals in the middle of the road and that's about how I feel post-March 31), I actually took a few minutes to flip through it.  And then, once my brain re-engaged with life, I actually read some of the articles.

One of the interesting viewpoints was "what kind of writer are you?" which analyzes similarly to a personality profile.  Get ready, I'm going to editorialize here.

Articles for writers are written by writers who are trying to earn some money while they're waiting for their books to sell or as a marketing technique to get you to recognize their name and read their books.  Nothing wrong with it, but at the end of the day, these articles boil down to one person's opinion.  Often they are dry, which makes me less inclined to read their prose.  Every now and then you come across someone whose personality shines through in their articles (case in point:   J.A. Konrath).  But I digress.  Back to my point - one person's opinion.

An important thing to note is that all writers are not created equal.  The "rules" of writing are a standard that most should follow and particularly for novice writers, they need to follow the rules until they learn when it's okay to break them.   An example here is Nora Roberts.  The Rule is stay in one point of view per section.  Nora is a terrible head-hopper, and yet she is wildly popular.  So the novice writer says "if Nora can do it, so can I."  But Nora has something they don't:  experience and knowledge.  My point here is that novice writers should stick to the rules.  Again, I'm digressing from my point (call it battle fatigue).

Back to the article I read.  Even when I don't agree with the author, there's usually something you can come away with.  I enjoyed this particular piece because it identifies how you write.  It tells you to stay true to what you write, but it also tells you to know enough about how you DON'T write to incorporate some of the other personalities into for a more well-rounded story.  (Not sure I'm making sense here - checking head for fever . . .)  Let me see if I can elaborate.

I fall into what she classified as "Type C" writer.  Vivid imagination, alternate reality, I can see it all in my head but I can't always get it onto paper.  I have another buddy who is a "Type A," which is defined as more clinical - to the point, but lacking depth of emotion.  Then there's the "Type B" that is all romantic interludes.  The author goes on to point out that there are rules for how many interludes you can get away with in your novel and those folks either have to write erotica or find balance in the A's and C's.

My friend who is a Class A writer throws in some of those Class B scenes according to the "rules."  Obligatory, she calls it.  I disagree.  I'm all for a good sex scene now and then, but there are some stories that just don't need them.  Dan Brown, for instance, writes excellent Class A books without having the hero jump into bed with the beautiful young heroine.  The attraction is there and clearly presented, but our hero has more important things on his mind.  To my point - Sex scenes are NOT obligatory.  If they advance the plot, well and good.

Call me out of touch, but I know what I like to read.  Reining back in to the article now.  Each personality needs to touch on the others to make the book a better read.  Although I can clearly see my convoluted plot lines and trains of thought in my head, without a little Class A balance to my Class C writing, my readers will have no idea what's going on.  And THAT is what I got from that article.  I can see myself, and I can see my shortcomings as she detailed them.  (Good writing!)

So as to writing instructions, and authors sharing all their tips and tricks:  at the end of the day, no two authors are created equal.  Nora Roberts is allowed to write head-hopping scenes, but the rest of the world is forbidden.  Dan Brown can write a plot line that stretches the imagination to its limits, but I guarantee you my critique group would point out immediately that it would be highly unlikely that my hero could solve a puzzle an hour in a foreign country where he doesn't know his way around, let alone the landmarks he has to find there.

It's all in what the editors will tell you - if you have a well written story, the rest will take care of itself.  People will overlook the rules you've broken if you can hold them with good writing, and good writing comes with a balance of imagination, attention to everyday details and yes, sometimes, a hot romance scene.  It comes from "showing" and not "telling" (the cardinal rule!).  Most of all, and this is probably why the article rang with me, is that you have to be true to yourself and not try to write outside of who you are.  If you're a Class C writer, embrace that and while you should incorporate the other styles, don't try to BE the other styles.

Yep.  I'm on board with that.  Half the battle is identifying your style.  Once you're there, you know what you have to work on.


  1. I've never followed rules well, probably because I just write what I like to read. If it gets far enough into the process for editorial feedback, of course I'll revise. If I have too much A or not enough B, I don't mind fixing it. Once the book is sold, it's a product and I don't have the same control over the draft manuscripts. I'm still playing around finding what my own writing style happens to be. Probably a blend of all of them.

  2. At the end of the day, it's all subjective. If it's good, it's good and the rules be damned. The articles always boil down to one person's perspective and their personal recipe for success, but I did find this an interesting perspective.