Do You Know The Secret Truth About Writing?

August 21, 2014

Break On Hammock

Another writing blogger, whose scribblings I often enjoy, pointed out in one of his musings a while back that with all the articles, novels, e-books and blogs available today, more words are being written now than ever before.

As he also pointed out, a lot of that writing can be summed up in one word … forgettable.

Sadly, I agree with him.

I’ve seen a lot of things written by the new surge of independent, self-published authors that are not only forgettable, they’re often trite, badly formatted, poorly written and downright boring.

I suppose that’s why my local library didn’t want my books in their collection when I first asked if I could donate them.

Two of the four books are award-winners. All have received 5-Star reviews. But folks at the library hadn’t read a single word, and they were adamant in wanting nothing to do with them.

They said “no” because I was an indie author, and that … at least in their minds … put me in that nefarious one-word category where they dump the work of a lot of indie authors:

Bad.

Looking For a Reason
I don’t blame the library for their early reluctance. Unfortunately, a lot of the writing being done by indie authors is just plain terrible, and they had no reason to believe otherwise about mine.

That is, not until Kirkus Reviews … a venue they both know and respect … had good things to say about my novel.

I’m happy to say the library has now accepted my donation. I’ve even registered for their Local Author Fair this fall … a venue where they ask authors to come, sign some books and promote the library.

It started me thinking. A lot of writing by non-traditional authors is bad. Not all of it, but enough to leave that kind of sour, negative impression of anything related to indie … even with the explosion of non-traditional publishing in recent years.

Why is that?

OK … it’s just my opinion, but I think it goes deeper than not having a cadre of editors to fix things. I think too many indies are still trying to follow the simplistic rules laid down to them as gospel when they were in school. Rules dictated by instructors who never came close to having a best-seller to brag about.

They listen to the kind of pablum that continues to be handed-out, or worse … sold … in writing classes and the myriad writing publications, but their work doesn’t get any better.

Why?

To Write You Have To Read
I believe it’s primarily because they never actually read the works they admire, and reading is the key.

I don’t mean just reading the words. I mean reading the story again-and-again to understand, at an intrinsic level, why it works. To get stronger as a writer that kind of analysis is crucial.

Why does the dialogue seem like real conversation? How does the author’s description evoke a reaction from all your senses? Why do you find the main protagonist, or any of the characters at all, memorable? How did the author actually make you see the scene?

Conversely, if the story was bad, why was it bad? Where, exactly, did it fall apart?

Most writer wannabes never read stories like that … with the intention of finding out why they admire them. If they did, they would discover the great secret truth about writing. Pretty words and grammatically correct sentences don’t mean a thing.

It’s All About Storytelling
Storytelling is the secret truth about good fiction writing. It’s never been about pretty words and grammar (sorry again, Mrs. Bliss, but it’s true) … because no matter how perfect the body looks, it’s the engine under the hood that makes the car move.

That’s not to say you don’t need to understand grammar and spelling and proper formatting. You most certainly do. However, most of what they teach you in school, or in books on writing, could be summed up quite simply as bodywork.

It’s all right, as far as it goes … but I’m telling you here and now it doesn’t matter how pretty the car looks (or how perfect your sentences are). The vehicle may seem pretty, but if the engine just doesn’t work you’re not going anywhere.

Good storytelling is the engine of good writing.

I’ll say it again, because it’s the most important thing you can learn as a writer. It’s the storytelling that matters most.

People like a story that makes them laugh or makes them cry, that thrills them … or scares them out of their minds. People want to FEEL something when they read your stories. If the engine doesn’t work, your readers aren’t going anywhere with you. In fact, they may never travel in one of your stories again.

It’s why I enjoy reading Stephen King. Some people don’t like the genre in which he writes, but in every case, even in the few stories I really don’t care for myself, his writing clearly displays his most wonderful skill: HE KNOWS HOW TO TELL A DAMN STORY.

If you want to write, learn to pay attention to things like that. It’s not easy. For some, it may be the hardest thing you do.

Don’t get me wrong. Writing doesn’t have to be painful. Writing should be fun, and it should be magical … for the person banging on the keyboard and for the people who read it.

With a bit of luck, and the concerted effort it takes to read and analyze the things you like, your own writing can discover the magic. It’s the “concerted effort” part that brings dismay, and some degree of hesitation, to many … but it does pay off and I guarantee you’ll have a smile on your face when it does.

Better yet, so will your readers.

 

 

Where Do Good Stories Come From?

August 12, 2014

Young-Buddhist-reading

Great Writers Agree
“Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun.

“Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

===============

Read, Write and Recognize
I try to follow good advice like that. I often do so without realizing I’m following anyone’s advice at all. Heaven knows I’m a voracious reader (so does my long-suffering bride). Over the years I’ve read thousands of books and have been a willing witness to some really great … and some equally shitty … examples of the craft.

But, as an author, I find that when it comes to judging my own writing it can often turn into an exercise in futility. Of course I wrote that in a compelling way. Don’t I always?

Well, my wife thinks so; so does my mother (even if she wishes I wouldn”t swear quite so much). Readers Favorite liked one of my novels. So did Kirkus Reviews.

Still, while I’m writing it’s sometimes hard to know for certain the stories are doing their job. That the characters seem alive and like real people … not cartoons or caricatures. That my dialogue sounds like real conversation instead of contrived bullsh*t.

At least, I find it’s hard to convince myself of that, even when others say it seems to be working.

I think part of the reason for that is an indie author must, by necessity, be a jack-of-all-trades. You’re not only required to be the author, you’re called upon to be a publishing entrepreneur, proofreader, editor, publicist, marketer and social networker.

You have to be. There’s no getting around it.

How you fulfill all of these roles, or fail at them, has a direct effect on your brand and, by extension, the success or failure of your book. You simply must get people talking about your writing.

They say a good way to self-promote is to offer samples of what you’ve done. With that in mind, below are excerpts from each of my books.

What do you think?

===============

It was widely accepted that Charlie, if you let him, could sell anything to anyone. Freezers to Eskimos and oil to the Arabs, that kind of thing. But it was also a generally held conviction that it was hardly a reason to condemn him. People should be held responsible for their own foolishness, after all.

When he stepped into the bar that cold night in December, Charlie acted as if Flanagan’s was definitely not the first stop he had made. If anyone had asked, everyone, and I do mean everyone, from me to Mayor O’Reilly, would have said Charlie looked like he had been partying since noon. Still, he somehow maintained the dignified presence that seemed to follow him wherever he went.

As Charlie smiled and wobbled his way slowly through the tables, I shook my head in wordless wonder. Charlie ignored many empty seats and finally plunked himself down at the bar.

He took the stool right next to old Beelzebub…

~ from my story THE DEVIL AND CHARLIE BARROW in the award-winning fantasy collection ZEBULON

===============

It was late August, 1962, when I first saw Albert Parker. After all this time I still remember the year quite distinctly. It was my second teenage summer, part of life’s first great transition, and I had been waiting months for something special to happen, something magical. Something like having Marilyn Monroe show up on my doorstep, wearing that flouncy white dress she wore over the subway grate in “The Seven Year Itch.”

In my dreams she would ask me, in her breathless whisper, to “take her.” At the time, I wasn’t even sure what that meant. Hell, it didn’t matter. Just having her show up would have been enough, as long as the rest of the gang saw her. Of course, Marilyn never came to 722 Reichold Street in Brickdale.

Albert did.

~ from my Gold Medal Winning novel REICHOLD STREET

===============

Some of the men I stood in the ranks with were the meanest, nastiest, dumbest and craziest people I ever knew. Many, I came to find out, had been given the choice of military service or prison, just like Albert Parker.

Some, unlike Albert, probably really deserved it. I remember looking around at the bunch of them and recalling one of the droll sayings my grandfather had been particularly fond of…”Mixing the good with the bad was like mixing shit with ice cream…it doesn’t help the shit any, but it sure screws up the ice cream.”

~ from my new Five-Star rated novel ONE WAY STREET (sequel to “Reichold Street”)

===============

The barn stood on a high, rocky rise, and was visible over the gnarled old apple trees to the north of the old farmhouse. While the basic structure was almost as run-down as the house, the hayloft in it was fairly new, with fresh-hewn flooring and a new outer door.

I liked it in the loft. With little effort, I could see north as far as Sam Prichard’s fish pond and south all the way to Newt Pearson’s General Store.

I looked south now, and strained my eyes to see in the waning light. There were a lot of cars at Pearson’s. That was not unusual. Many men, mostly those I never saw at the New Bethlehem Church on a Sunday morning, gathered regularly at the store. They arrived from various directions on the old gravel road and plunked themselves down on produce-crate chairs.

Soon, a thick, blue haze of tobacco smoke floated in an endless galactic swirl, while lanky young forms waited a turn on the tattered pool table that graced the center of the room…

~ From my short story SHARON ANN in the collection TINKER

====================

You can find my books as eBooks or paperback on Amazon, or at Barnes & Noble. You’re also invited to visit my web site, BROKEN GLASS, or like my Book of Face page. You can also follow my shorter ramblings on The Twitter.

====================

Comments posted below will be read, greatly appreciated and perhaps even answered.

 

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,176 other followers

%d bloggers like this: