For the past few years, I’ve been reading a number of blogs that focus on writing. I wish I had discovered these before I spent thousands of dollars taking workshops.
For the purpose of this post, I want to discuss three recent topics that resonated with me. The first one is from Writer Unboxed titled “Rules and Tools” by Dave King. Dave writes of suggested guidelines and the danger of turning them into rules (Never write a prologue! Don’t include a flashback! Sentences should be no longer than a tweet!). Dave succinctly says:
Rules are made to be obeyed. Tools are made to do specific tasks. They’ll do one thing well, and another not so much. Once you know what various tools can and can’t do–what’s in your toolbox–you can pick the right tool for the job.
One the rule that is always on the top of a list to avoid is the prologue–a rule that Elmore Leonard stated in his “10 Rules of Good Writing.” But Dave says the following:
Prologues are certainly the wrong tool for the sort of terse, immediate writing Leonard usually does. But for other kinds of stories, they can foreshadow some key event and generate tension as readers anticipate what’s to come. A prologue showing some major development that happened before the main story begins can be an efficient way to lay in background. Dick Francis started Whip Hand with a prologue that did nothing more than introduce the main character – through a dream sequence, no less. (“Avoid dream sequences” is another popular rule.) Prologues can be useful tools, depending on what you want to do. And so can dreams.
If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I open Julius with a prologue. I’ve been going back and forth whether it should be a prologue or part of a chapter, but after reading this post I feel justified to keep it as I originally intended: a prologue because it sets the foundation for the story.
The second blog that had me nodding was Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds. Today’s post was 25 Things You Should Know About Outlining. Chuck writes pretty much what I’ve encountered, especially point nine:
A GOOD OUTLINE DEMANDS FLEXIBILITY
It’s okay to leave room in your outline for things to change. It’s even okay to leave sections of your outline with big blinky question marks and hastily scrawled notes like NO I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENS HERE BUT IT INVOLVES VAMPIRE SEX AND KARATE. An outline must bend with the winds of change, but it must not break.
I tend to take things too literally so when I began to outline and the story drifted into a different direction, I panicked because it wasn’t following my strict outline no matter how much I was forcing the story. I finally determined that I needed to be flexible because what I had envisioned wasn’t logical (and I learned not to force things, but in general that’s a guideline we should always follow with just about everything in life, right?)
Beyond the Margins post was a special treat. Erika Robuck, author of the new novel Call Me Zelda writes of the importance of objects in a story and what they symbolize:
Using a physical object in fiction as a manifestation of theme can act as a hand extending from the page, pulling the reader further into the story. Physical objects trigger multiple senses: an old pink sofa with worn arm rests might smell like one’s grandmother’s perfume or a college dorm after-party. If it is placed well, the object will serve the story.
In Julius, Corinne treasures a signed, first edition of Alvah Bessie’s memoir Men in Battle. Corinne admires the men of the Abraham Lincoln Brigades, for their bravery, for fighting that “good fight” to beat fascism, but most of all, she admires their loyalty, keeping true to their convictions no matter the betrayals they later encountered during the Cold War.
As I continue through my rewrite, I’ve discovered much what other writers have blogged about and shared, but for the individual who wants to try his or her hand to write a novel, this is what I suggest: Before you spend money on courses and how-to books (like I did) —STOP. Check these three blogs, read the posts, check their blog rolls, and subscribe to these sites via an RSS reader.
All your questions will be answered about craft, tools of the trade, and much more. I wish that I had saved myself the expense of signing up for classes (with the exception of one where I made a very good friend). They were expensive, and I didn’t learn much (plus I always felt that there was a mean-spirited competitive vibe going on between the instructor and the other students. So not a good experience for me, but that’s a completely different story).
And there you have it. Read, learn, and write.