Writing Advice

The most fascinating writing I’ve ever found are the works of M. John Harrison. He’s a British author, taciturn and enigmatic in the proper style. He’s also a wordsmith of stunning skill. I aspire to write like he does, but I despair I’ll never catch up.

He reached early acclaim with the Centauri Device, his third novel. I actually haven’t read that. What I lust after are his Viriconium series and his later Kefahuchi Tract series. Look him up on Wikipedia.

But aside from ranting about his work, I want to share one of his blog posts where he talks about writing fiction.

1. Don’t write what you don’t want to read, Elmore Leonard says. For me, that would include anything that wastes time establishing “motive”, fauxthenticating a “world”, or assuring the reader of the author’s ideological correctness & general decency; along with those scenes in which the righteous anger of sympathetic characters is vented on unsympathetic ones on behalf of the reader getting her rocks off.
2. All plots are weak, & no-one alive now knows the difference between character & action anyway. Not even Elmore Leonard.
3. But I really agree with his eighth rule.
4. Never give advice to other writers, especially about excluding from their fiction stuff that is “ordinarily found in non-fiction”. (Shortly after performing this exclusion, Elmore recommends Annie Proulx, lately the queen of local history quasi-fiction, see “The Indian Wars Refought”, or “Dump Junk”, in which character is created as much by listing the paper trails, objects & architecture people leave behind, as by “characterisation”. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Then there’s William Boyd’s hilarious “Lunch” [Fascination], written as a sequence of expense invoices; & Ballard’s skeletal “Answers to a Questionnaire”, from War Fever.)
5. Always listen to the advice of responsible figures in the publishing industry. That way you will write a book with broad appeal & massive sales potential, & your work will be recognised, bought & published immediately. Like Richard Adams or JK Rowling you will be on your way to celebrity within months. You will not have to self-publish Watership Down, or hawk Harry Potter & the Philosopher’s Magic Nice Stone around London for a long time, & be turned down by every fantasy editor in the industry before finding a publisher.
6. Never show the reader a morally unpleasant thing, then remind her it’s a morally unpleasant thing three or four times just in case she doesn’t realise you think it’s morally unpleasant too & writes a blog post saying how misanthropic you are. If you do I am coming with a machete & chopping the left half of your face off before you know what happened. & you know, I won’t care when one of your eyes is looking at the other where it dangles over your cheekbone. Are you ok with that ?
7. Reading is important to the writer. Never read anything good, in case you get the idea that you might want to do something like that too. If you do decide to read something good, here’s a tip: make it Maxim Gorky’s Fragments from My Diary. That will be all you need. Don’t read any of Gorky’s novels because they’re not good.
8. Joseph Campbell turned myth into the fiction of narcissism & self-glorification, enabling Hollywood to swaddle an entire culture in the same triumphalist story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over &
9. The narrative structure is the story. Don’t think you can change anything by pouring different content into it. If you use the same narrative structure every time, you too will be writing the same story over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & over & & over &
10. You’re responsible for yourself. Get your head together. Write or don’t write.

The above advice should not be taken as advice. If you take anything that appears on this blog as advice, your aspirations may not be met by the publishing industry. This disclaimer was brought to you from the kitchens of the Ambiente Hotel. We don’t have a returns policy on the Squid Surprise, but you can sometimes come to an arrangement with the boy who serves in the back bar.

Amid his blog post cited above is a link to another post with advice from several other writings. This is excellent material, dosed with a rich icing of humor. 

 

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Writing is Growth

When I started writing erotic romance, sex was the focus. Glorious uninhibited sex scenes with all the descriptive words that made the action come alive. (Heh–no pun intended) For a person like me emerging from a very conservative, religious family, this was a breakout moment.

Now, looking back, I’m not completely thrilled with the result. Oh, don’t get me wrong—the sex scenes are smokin’. But that’s simply not enough.

Stories of any kind are about people. And people are more than sex. While I managed to create compelling sex scenes, I didn’t manage to create compelling life scenes.

So I’ve decided to dive into revising a couple of my early novels with a greater focus on the personal struggle facing the characters. I’m adding scenes that show how they deal with adversity. I’m showing how they grow in the process of facing difficulties, how they develop more self-confidence or come to grips with challenges both internal and external.

This is a thrilling process, delving into the character with greater willingness to sit at my desk and think about them to let their personalities take full form. Before, although there were strong storylines and situational drama, there wasn’t as much depth to the characters as they needed. I’m letting myself feel them now, where they came from, what they worry about, care about, more than the person with whom they’re having sex.

My previous mindset about all this was that sex was the key motivating element. Sex was the transformative event that broke the character from his/her previous point of view and propelled them into a new paradigm. Yes, this is important.

But it’s not enough to be the main thing. I admit it kind of breaks my heart to say that because I’ve always seen sex as having the potential to do exactly that. It still does have that potential, but it’s like a really lovely slab of chocolate cake. It doesn’t make a meal.

It’s exciting to dig deeper and important enough that I can justify taking the time to go the next mile with revision rather than plunging into yet another new story. This learning process about creating stories with rich character and complex plot lines is an important one for any author.

Writing is a multi-phase, multi-layered endeavor. Creating something meaningful out of thin air isn’t an easy pursuit, and it is as much about looking deeper into oneself as it is about thinking up story details. After all, inside our minds and our life experience is where our stories come from. I’m happy to see where I stand on the long road toward ‘great.’

And yes, ‘great’ is my goal!

Happy writing in the new year, everyone.

The Magic Word

Books-to-Get-You-in-the-MoodI lead a double life. This is one of those moments when I’m in the twilight zone between those lives. Stuck.

As my alter ego, a writer of erotic romance, I fall in love with amazing men. I watch characters emerge from the page with their own agendas. I wander down long dusty roads into the past to tease out details of a love affair between a maid of early Briton and her Roman conqueror.

As my real person, I dig into local history and personalities. I blog about travels and memories, Most recently I’ve blogged about issues in the news that stir my venom against patriarchy and ignorance. My blood is up.

Days have passed as I-as-my-real-self flogged the keyboard, brainstorming how to phrase in even more impactful ways all the harms caused by religious extremism. For now, I’ve mostly satisfied myself that I’ve read the reports, the research, that informs and elaborates on my ideas. I’ve put it out there. I’m done, at least for now.

All this time, I’ve longed to return to the misty hills of northern Wales where my maid awaits her next confrontation with the Roman commander. Her future is unknown, as is the future of the Roman legion camped a short distance away. The story will unfold only as I type the words.

I want to read this story!

But my blood is up. I’m restless. Arguments still echo in my real-person head. I’m finding it impossible to slip back into the green rocky hills where Caerwin waits, against her will, for Marcellus.

The solution for today’s dilemma? It was so simple, I don’t know why I didn’t remember it from the last time I ran up this stump.

Read. The magic word. I will read. No writing required.

I’ll set aside the real world and its daunting problems. I’ll indulge myself by investing in the latest novel by one of my favorite edgy authors, Tiffany Reisz. I’ll spend the rest of this day in her stunning world of sex and angst.

I’m relaxing now. Planning lunch. Birds chirp outside my window. From wherever I arrive by the end of her book, I’m confident I’ll soon find my feet walking ancient byways in long ago Britannia.