Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Night at the Question Emporium

Just read a piece on your blog about writers wasting time fretting. I have a question about "rules". Like never start a novel with a character waking up. Never use any backstory in first chapter. An agent will never read it. They are trying to be helpful but many novels follow all the rules but are boring. Do I have to start at the scene of an explosion with dead all over ? I can do what I have to.

Is a good MO for me to just get 100k words and then worry about these questions later w appropriate input?

I know you are not a writing coach and I promise I won't be a pain in the ass but I have to ask someone who knows.

Merry Christmas.

(May the family violence unit not visit your building over the Holidays!)

Ah! You've missed a key element of the writing process: REVISION.

That's the step between "just get 100K words" and "later with appropriate input."

In the immortal and valuable words of Bill Cameron, no slouch at this writing biz himself, "give yourself permission to suck."

so, yes, get the words on the paper. Then and only then do you go back and take out the stuff that doesn't belong.

Generally that will be anything that doesn't move the plot forward or develop character (Kurt Vonnegut's rule)

This is where the "rules" will become clear. Does someone waking up move the plot forward or develop character? If it does in your book, break the rule.  If it doesn't you follow the rule.  But you follow the rule cause it works here, not cause it's a rule.

Rules are generally to help people look for places that are obvious problems to a more experienced writer.  Once you've written a couple novels, you've learned some stuff about how to do it.

There's one thing your opening pages have to do: entice me to read on.  If you can do that with backstory, weather, driving, or waking up, no problem. If you can't, you're in darn good company and you'll chop that part out before I ever see it.


Adam Heine said...

Well, you know, they're more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules ;-)

tlbodine said...

The Vonnegut rule is the #1 piece of advice I try to follow. I try to go one step further and make sure that everything I do does *both* -- advance plot AND develop character. If not, it gets cut.

I think a lot of people worry a lot about the content of the "rules" and forget about the spirit behind them. If you don't know why you're doing something (or not doing it), you can't manipulate the rule to suit your needs.

Wendy Qualls said...

You can certainly write whatever is in your heart, rules be damned, and then fix it in revisions - but you're dooming yourself to a much more frustrating revision process if you do. Some "rules" have easy fixes - cut a scene here or there, take out inadvertent head-hopping, find and delete all the "very"s from your manuscript.

Some "rules" are something you have to have gotten right from the start, though. If your main character is unlikable, there's not much you can do other than rewrite every scene he/she is in. If your characters have no motivation for their actions, you may have to completely re-do the plot (and rewrite most of the book in the process). If you write a YA book which reads like "50 Shades of Grey," you're not going to have much luck selling it to a publisher unless you change either the reading level or the content.

The rules aren't there to make things harder - they're to save you time in the end. Ultimately it's up to you whether you write first and then learn the rules or vice versa, but there's a reason most authors keep their first book hidden away "under the bed" and don't ever look at it again :-)

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I agree with revision over rules. We have two sides of our brain, and they tend to work independently. If a writer is so worried about breaking rules as he/she writes, the words will suck.

Okay, so a first draft sucks anyway. But this draft will suck worse--or it won't be finished at all--if rules become the focus.

Leave the editing out for God's sake the first time around. Just put the story together. And then go back through it and gut it, slashing out (mercilessly) anything that doesn't work, now matter how much you adored it when you wrote it out the first time. And then revise it again. And again. And again. Revise it until you can't find a thing wrong with it. Then give it to a bunch of readers, get their take on it, and revise it a few more times. Hone it. Make it brilliant.

Even if it never gets brilliant, the time wasn't wasted. Your work on it--especially the revising work--will make your next book that much better.

Love your advice pretty much all the time, but this entry was spot on.