[Elderhostel Mysteries & Fiction Writing Techniques]


BookMarc © #20
Writing/rewriting - part 1 of 6

     Phyllis A. Whitney said of writing: "You must want to do it enough. Enough to take all the rejections, enough to pay the price of disappointment and discouragement while you are learning. Like any other artist you must learn your craft--then you can add all the genius you like."

     Which, after talking about plotting and characterization, brings us to the third leg of the tripod, effective writing.

     Writing is rewriting. Look again at that quote about wanting it enough and learning our craft. Writing is rewriting, that may be a cliche, but it's true.

     I think it goes without saying, that if, after you have managed to conquer the principles of characterization, and spent a like amount of time outlining an engaging, intricate plot, it will all go for naught if your writing is so laborious that no one will care to plow through it.

     For instance... take that last sentence. If it goes without saying, why do I need to say it? And why do I need all those modifiers and clauses, and words like laborious which only muddles what I'm trying to say? Am I trying to impress you?

     So let's rewrite that flowery sentence as clear and succinctly as we can.

     If you ain't got good writing, you ain't got nothing.

     Okay, it's not grammatically correct, but doesn't get the point across? Effective writing is not always grammatically correct. It might contain fragmented sentences. It might use a descriptive word for a verb. But it will always contain ONLY those words needed to get the idea across.

     Rewriting that laborious sentence cut out forty words. That's why the second sentence contains so much punch. We could cut it still. "Bad writing equals nothing." But I don't think it's as clear and effective. Another example:

     She shined the flashlight on the fireplace, a couple of charred logs, partially burned through from a pervious fire, resting on a grate.

     She shined the flashlight on the fireplace; a couple of charred logs rested on the grate.

     If the logs are charred, doesn't that mean they are partially burned? And of course it was a from a previous fire. We cut out a clause and seven words from a twenty-three words sentence without changing the meaning. Which get's us to two principles.

     Spend only those words necessary to get the idea across.

     Cut out everything that doesn't advance the plot, add to the characterization, or gives a sense of place.

     When they call a book a fast read, a no-put-downer, it's because the author has squeezed the maximum use out of every word. But what about such things as descriptions? They don't advance the plot or add to characterization.

     Ah, but they give the sense of place, verisimilitude, the feeling of actually being there. Often when we first start writing our characters operate in a vacuum. A good description grounds the reader in the action and adds not only setting, but mood and drama and a ring of truth. It's like another character.

     The art of writing is in the balancing these elements. It's in judging how to spend our words. If we have an extraneous amusing incident or a funny bit of business, do we leave it in or take it out? It's a personal decision. If it contains a few words or is very funny, I'd leave it in. But if it's a lot of words and mildly funny, I'd probably drop it. But only the author can make that call. And if we screw it up enough, it could cost us the chance to be published. That's why we make the big bucks. Oo-oo-oh yeah.

     But suppose I write a story to make a political statement, or to point out a hidden truth, or to show a religious principle? Shouldn't I leave that in regardless?

     The obvious answer, no.

     Movies and books that set out to prove a point or make a statement and--forgive me--religiously hold to it, are almost always poor entertainment. A case in point is Michael Crichton's Raising Sun. I read that book thinking how tight it was until somewhere in the middle the character suddenly starts talking about the Japanese and their economy, and for a number of pages it was like walking through swamp muck. It added nothing to the novel and was intrusive. The author departed from a good story to state an opinion. It ruined a fast read for me, and history proved the superstition it to be in grave error.

     It's okay to start out with a premise, but once you get into a novel, if that premise no longer fits, it has to go. If you want to have a happy ending, but as you work it through your story everything points to a disaster--guess wha-at? Sure, you could force it, or phoney it up, but it will be obvious to your readers and leave a bad taste their mouths. Once an architect designs a building and gives the plans over to a builder, engineering rules its structure.

     So with our fiction writing. The story rules. We could consider it another principle, the story rules.

     In BookMarc #21 we'll look into specifics.

     If you would like to personally receive BookMarcs when they are issued, send an email to Peter at easyreadingwriting dot com taking out the spaces and changing the at and dot for the symbols.

     And remember: it's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading [Easy Reading Writing] than to curse the darkness of rejections. There is an easy order link to B&N to purchase the book.

© Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc ©
February 13, 1998

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