Thursday, June 02, 2005

Getting my nose outta the book and back to the grindstone.

Just some thoughts I had, summarizing my ongoing experience with the book Writing Fiction.
I don’t think it’s a textbook on writing fiction at all. It’s a guide on how to revise and improve the fiction you’re already writing, which is just fine by me. The bottom line is, if you’re spending 10-15 bucks for a book on the subject of writing fiction, you’re probably already doing it; it’s just not something you’d try out from boredom.

While the exercises in the book have their merits and utility (because I’ve yet to see a writer’s guide yet that didn’t stress the “writers become better writers through writing), I’m not sure I need to do them in order to become a better writer, the early assignment to create a regular writing schedule (and sticking to it) notwithstanding. That said, the concepts the assignments refer to are absolutely necessary, not to writing fiction, but writing good fiction, by demonstrating the principles to hold your output to. Take that piece you’ve tinkered with and read it with a critic’s eye, sharpened by this book (or just about any other like it). You’ll probably notice that the scene (or character, piece of dialogue, whatever) that bugged you for previously undetermined reasons now bugs you for very precise reasons, since now you have questions to submit it to. Questions about character motivation and its crucial relationship with moving through the plot. Is the main character behaving/speaking in a consistent manner? Voice, POV, pacing, all mostly inarguable standards to test your work with.

The book’s not going to give you ideas, nor is it going to present some magic formula for cranking out epic works that will make the gods (or even your grandma) weep with joy. What it will do is help you read that first draft (and second, and sixth, and so on) far more objectively, more like a total stranger would, and to ask the questions of your work before the real readers get a crack at it.


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