Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Unified Theory Of Writing

It’s important to know that no matter how obvious and sensible a piece of writing advice might be, there are always going to be circumstances when it won’t hold true. Or when there are other, equally effective ways to tell the story.

It’s all open to debate and depends on context and specific examples. An unmitigated disaster for one writer, may be an unqualified success in the hands of another.

It would be a lot simpler if there were solid, unquestionable, carved in stone rules that we could all learn and then go from there.  So here are three universally true things that apply to all writers at all times in every situation (I am 1,000,000% not exaggerating for effect).

1. Turn off everything and sit down with pen and paper or at the computer and you will write something.

I mean turn off everything. Phones, internet, music (I know some people need music to write, but even you). No turning to books or magazines for inspiration. No distractions.

Will something come immediately? Probably not. Ideas to go do something else probably will. But if you stay where you are and don’t let your brain escape and just think about story ideas, they will come.

I’m not sure what the evolutionary advantage is in the brain trying to avoid doing the thing you want it to do (doesn’t seem very helpful) but you can overcome it just by putting bum in seat.

2. There are no essential scenes in your story. 

You might prefer some scenes. You might have written the whole story purely because of one or two scenes that inspired you. But there is nothing in your story that you can’t replace with something as good or better.

That doesn’t mean you can just take a scene out and the story will still work. You have to come up with an alternative, and you have to spend enough time on it to make it good. But you have that ability.

The reason you might want to get rid of a great scene is this: when a story isn’t working, you may think you can change that or that, but you definitely can’t change THIS scene. This scene is pivotal to the whole thing.

No, it isn’t.

Sometimes a brilliant scene in a bunch of scenes that need to go, needs to go too.

Obviously you can write another equally great scene (you wrote the first one), but it’s hard work. Replacing bad scenes seems worth the effort, but a perfectly good scene?

You can still find ways to come up with a workaround that allows you to keep the scene, but it isn’t because you had no choice. There is always a choice, and often it’s reworking the ‘essential’ scene that frees up your approach to the rest of the story.

3. Nobody can make you change anything.

Okay, possibly this isn’t true if you’re signed up to a big publisher and they insist on changes or they’ll cancel your multi-million dollar contract. Although in that case I imagine you would just tell you agent to speak to his Mafia contacts to have a word (that’s how the publishing industry works, right?).

Whenever somebody reacts badly to a criticism of their work (and it’s usually criticism that’s been invited, making it even more absurd) the key thing to bear in mind is that the person who has any power in that relationship is the writer.

If I think every word of your hundred thousand word manuscript is an affront to human civilisation, I can do exactly nothing about it.

I can tell you how I feel, try to convince you to make changes, get other people to agree with me in an effort to psychologically browbeat you into submission, but in the end the only person who can physically change the words on the page is you. And if you decide not to, your vote wins.

I’m not saying you should be stubborn or listen to no one. Advice, even the wrong-headed kind, is worth hearing. If nothing else it can help clarify your thoughts. But you’re the undisputed monarch of this kingdom. 


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17 comments:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

We do have the ultimate say in our work.
Be tough to write without music though. That's my inspiration and energy.

mooderino said...

@Alex - I don't mean ever, just when you can't get started or come up with ideas or are too distracted.

nutschell said...

When i first started writing a few years back, I couldn't bear to part with any of my scenes. Now that I'm revising my first novel, I've slashed an entire POV, and all the scenes that went with it. It's good to be ruthless when editing/revising.
Nutschell
www.thewritingnut.com

mooderino said...

@nutschell - painful at first, but refreshing (eventually).

C. Lee McKenzie said...

Dumping what doesn't serve the story is always good advice. The problem for me and why I need my critical partners is I can' always see those bits. Having someone point out that a character or a dialog exchange or a whole doesn't work for them helps me to take a more critical look at what I've written. I don't always make the changes as suggested, but I make changes that I feel will improve the story as I envision it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I cut a lot of scenes from my first two books, even if I liked them. Oddly enough, I don't even remember what they were now, so obviously they weren't essential.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Good advice Mood. On my first novel I had to dump half the book because the word count was INSANELY over the top. And there were many AWESOME scenes, but like you said we can write more. Cut out what is keeping the plot moving.

IT's tough, but it has to be done sometimes.

M. J. Joachim said...

Thus is the answer of creative genius!

mooderino said...

@C. Lee - it can be difficult. A little help is never a bad thing.

@Diane - I find the same. At the time they seem so important, yet later can't even remember them.

@Michael - i think is also gets easier over time. Not that it isn't painful still, but experience will tell you it will make for a better story.

@MJ - Verily!

mshatch said...

Interesting that you and the Golden Eagle have similar posts. Enjoyed both :)

mooderino said...

@MS - eagles do have great vision.

Lynda R Young said...

It's good to listen and consider, but also good not to treat the advice as law all the time. There has to be some give.

Lexa Cain said...

I enjoyed the post and think writers would benefit from all the things you mentioned. But I guess it's really subjective - as subjective as whether an agent likes or doesn't like an ms! lol

mooderino said...

@Lynda - whether you choose to listen to advice will depend on a lot of factors, not least your personal state of mind. But it's always your choice.

@Lexa - Agents don't really have any better idea of what's good than anyone else. They just had the only way in. Not anymore though.

Tara Tyler said...

so many awesome topics! thanks for the inspiration and information!
looking back, i have a hrd time reading for pleasure since i started writing! and i enjoyed spectrum & theme posts too! and infinite stories goes with todays, i think immersing myself into the character's perspective can make a scene/story come alive!

Kathryn Hector said...

No essential scenes - how painfully true. But once you get over letting go the scenes and chapters you spent months/years working on, it's brain bending to see something else work even better for your story. I highly recommend it, but maybe just once.

mooderino said...

@Tara - you're very welcome.

@Kathryn - it gets less painful over time, although I don't think it ever stops being painful altogether.

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