Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What's the Best Advice?

What is the best advice you have ever been given about writing? It seems like this question shows up every time someone interviews an author. Sometimes it is reversed as, What it the worst advice you have ever been given about writing? I’ve tried to think, if someone were to ask either of those question, how would I answer? There plenty of tidbits of advice out there. Here are a few I’ve run across:

Write what you know: Some writers call this good advice and others call it bad. Mostly, I think it depends on how you interpret it. If you take it to mean that all you can write about is an author sitting at a computer, pounding out a novel, then yeah, its bad advice. It becomes good advice when we talk about emotions and motives. When writing about an emotion, such as grief or anger, draw on a situation were you felt the same feelings.

Write to the middle: This is a great piece of advise. Do you have a problem with sagging middles? Write to the middle. The reason middles sag is because there is too large of a span between the initial hook and the resolution at the end. We’ve said all we can about the problem, but we aren’t ready to bring the story to a close, so we fill the space with stuff that doesn’t move the story along. Writing to the middle solves that by placing a success or a failure in the middle of the novel. In a romance novel with a love triangle, this is where Carl asks our protagonist to marry him. We’ve been building to that point. Her loneliness is solved, or so it would seem. Then we cross the middle and we begin to see that Carl isn’t what she though he was and Brad is the right one for her, but now we have to find a way to get rid of Carl and move Brad into the picture.

Stick with your brand: This isn’t just a good piece of marketing advice. It is also very freeing. Suppose you write Suspense. You’re out driving one day and you see an old car rusting in a field of yellow flowers. You can’t shake the image and you want to write about it. There are a million stories you could write. As a Suspense writer, you only have to consider those with a Suspense plot. I write about families, so I would focus my attention on a story that involves the relationships within a family.

Learn from your critics: The writer doesn’t exist who can’t improve his writing. People who criticize our work do so for one of two reasons. One reason is that they see something wrong with our work. In that case, we should strive to do better. The other reason is that the person doesn’t like us. I don’t always handle situations like that as I should, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from some of what our hostile critics say.