Advice on writing is like salt—too much or too little spoils the soup. Without adequate guidance, a novice writer, even experienced writers, risk boring their readers or disgusting them with simple but excruciating mistakes. Like the use of ‘very’ – a useless word that creeps in when you’re not looking. Writing tired? Writing lazy? Go back to your work in progress and perform a search and destroy mission on ‘very.’
The other side of the coin is advice that undermines a writer’s confidence to the point that her work is never quite her own. Years ago, I experienced a devastating loss of confidence when I enrolled in a graduate level writing workshop. The instructor had achieved some fame and students fawned over him, but I later discovered he had little patience for female writers. He liked hard hitting action akin to Hemingway. Not everyone writes like that and not all readers enjoy that style. But because I didn’t write that way, I subsequently spent years trying to heal the wounds.
Fortunately, a few books like Suz deMello’s “About Writing” steer the middle way. Just enough salt. Want to know the dumb mistakes you might overlook? Care to think of ways to keep your work in the active voice, propelling your readers forward? Here’s a quick and easy read that hits on the most critical points useful to newbies and experienced writers alike.
The book is presented in two parts. “Plotting & Planning” addresses structural basics such as how to build a scene and follow-up with a compelling sequel that leads to the next scene, a critical junction in every story. Authors naturally build scenes to tell their stories, but it never hurts to take a more analytical view of one’s work especially in the nasty midsection where action can grind to a halt. The second part, “Write This, Not That!” delves more into more subtle errors that can be systemic such as the use of an ‘info dump’ and clichés.
DeMello’s tone is friendly and her style is accessible. She doesn’t waste your time wandering off into esoteric philosophizing about the writing craft. Instead, here is a bucket of tools an author can refer to time and again. When in doubt, here’s the right measure of salt.