Monday, June 1, 2020

In Which I Tell You What To Do

Hello! Hola! Bonjour! Pree-vyeht!
This here is my first post with Across the Board and I couldn’t be more excited to force my wisdom (for better or worse) down your eye-holes. I’ve been writing seriously (and I mean seriously in the loosest way possible) for close to twelve years, and in that time I’ve come across buckets of advice, most of which isn’t any good. Below you’ll find some of the best and worst of the bunch. As with everything, take it with a grain of salt. In the end, only you know what’s good for you.

(Chocolate. Chocolate is what’s good for you.)

Best/Worst: Write what you know.
I KNOW. I’m groaning looking at this one too. And that Best/Worst thing? What am I trying to do? CONFUSE YOU?
Maybe a little.
Here’s the thing: the value of this advice depends on what you do with it. If you’re a cattle farmer in Idaho and all you ever write about is cow-pats and the way little pebbles always find a way into your boots, well, your writing isn’t going to have much range. You might find an audience, but it’ll be small. More importantly, after a while, even you will get bored with describing the smell of manure as it rushes over the hill.
So how do you fix it?
KNOW MORE STUFF. Learn to play the flute. Take a clogging class. Read about the great monarch butterfly migration.
Because it is important to write about familiar things. Familiarity means you can ignore the surface and scratch below it. Find meaning in the migration. Bridge the gap between music and grief. But you don’t have to, and shouldn’t, limit yourself to your current life experience.
Best: Why is more important than what.
Characters are assholes. There, I said it. We were all thinking it anyway.
You want them to go here to do this thing, but it’s like they’re rooted to the spot, arms crossed and putting. Petulant children, the lot of them.
Except, maybe they’re not.
Often, our plots demand our characters do things, be things, say things, in order to keep the events of the story moving. The problem comes when we want them to do a thing they don’t want to. If you’ve created a good, well-rounded character, you know how they will react to certain situations. Lengths they are willing to go. Their limits. Their fears. If you try to push them too far out of themselves, even the most meticulously plotted outline falls apart.
PLOT TWIST: The murderer was the best friend!
Yeah, but why?
Writing, like in murder, needs three things: Means, Opportunity, and Motive. I would argue motive is the most important. Sure, Johnny has a perfectly good kitchen knife and Karen is just sitting there looking all Karen-y, but unless he has a good reason to stick it in her ice-cold heart, he won’t.
Worst: You have to outline before you draft.
The key part of this one is have to.
Some people plot. Some people pants. Some people plants.
never outline.
WUT.
I know.
I journal. I dream. I answer questions I know will come up (see MOTIVE) so I don’t get stuck. I write snatches of dialogue to get a feel for each character’s voice. I know where it will start, where everything changes, the climax, and (sometimes) where it will end. Then I get writing.
I have never written a book that didn’t need at least 50% rewrites because I didn’t know what was really happening in the book until I reached the 30k word mark.
Would it be more efficient to plot? Maybe. Would it be more fun? Shut your mouth.
The point is that whatever works for you, works for you. There is no one way to write. Do it in the way you find the most satisfying because the writing is the easy part. Everything that comes after is hard.
Best/Worst: Show, don’t tell.
Oh, hell. Not another one of these.
YES.
Generally speaking, show don’t tell. Don’t tell me Frederico is angry; show him staring out the window at his cheating wife, eerily quiet, every muscle tense as a guitar string.
BUT –
Oh, yes. The big ol' booty.
But sometimes, less is more. If we’re writing about Frederico as a cuckolded husband and the events of his marriage that led up to this point, do we need to spend pages on his upbringing in a small house in Chile, describing his parents’ imperfect marriage, the fighting, the anger, only to stay together out of stubbornness? Probably not. In some cases, it’s more effective to tell with a line or two: Frederico, like his parents, didn’t believe in divorce. There was no argument too deep, no fight so vicious, that would justify breaking their vows to God and each other.
Worst: Writing is solitary.
This is SO the worst.
If you’re like me, and you have a significant other that not only doesn’t read fiction (GASP), but doesn’t read your work (GASP AGAIN), talking with them about the particular struggles (and successes) of writing and publishing can be like talking to a wall. Their eyes glaze over and they’re SO SUPPORTIVE but they don’t get it.
You don’t need a tribe, but you do need at least one person. They can be a cheerleader or a helpful critic or just another person on the other end of the phone or computer who understands how you feel. Who will squee right along with you when you finally figure out a way out of a plot hole, or you come up with the perfect title for your WIP.
Best: How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
No matter how small the bite, you’ll be slurping that trunk like spaghetti in no time.
(Yes, that metaphor got weird. No, I don’t regret it. Stop staring at me and go write something).


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