Throwback Thursday: What makes good writing? – Revisited
Thursday August 1, 2019 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Blogging | Leave CommentsCan you believe it's August already? This dates back to Jan 26, 2011. As I read through this I still think it is pretty much on the mark. Soon after I wrote this I read a book by Lisa Cron, called Wired for Story, that put an entirely different spin on what makes for a good novel. There is some distinction here, between good writing and a good book. I don't think the two have to be aligned. In other words you can have a book that is written well but doesn't tell a good story, and contrarywise, you can have a book that is written poorly that tells a great story. According to Lisa, the good story would trump the good writing. I personally have found this to be true to an extent. If the writing is truly bad it may be too much to get past. But as a general rule I think it is true. It is a gift to be able to turn a phrase in such a way that we actually set back and go, "wow." It does happen. I think of Laini Taylor, at least the first half of Daughter of Smoke and Bone was amazing. The second part of the story takes on a different tone. On the other hand I love it when I have read a bunch of pages and then realize that I was experiencing the story and it didn't feel like reading. That is always my goal. I'm not sure you can be taught to be a "great" writer, but you can learn the craft of writing, and it is something that you can rely on when you don't feel like writing or the muse is quiet. If you want to write for more than a hobby you can't rely on the muse to strike.
I downloaded a free version of Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper on my iPhone Kindle app. I read the entire series many moons ago when I was a young man and my recollection of the story doesn't match the reality I'm faced with reading it now. I remember the characters and the setting as being quite awe inspiring, and they are, but the prose are so heavy and overblown with description and obtuse phrasing that it's very distracting from an author's perspective. I am starting to get the feeling that reading now is going to be like riding on an airliner is for me. I fly large jets for a living and I'm not a great passenger now, as I know what every noise is. I really don't want the flight attendant to ask me if there is anyone onboard that can fly a jet. I find that spending the last couple of years writing and learning about writing has made me acutely aware of story and prose. I still enjoy well written books as much as the next person, maybe even more than before, but if the writing is marginal I have a much lower tolerance now. I don't think the Cooper's books would sell today, at least not in their present form. Mr. Cooper would get a rejection letter that would tell him to keep trying, that his characters were memorable and the setting vivid, but his story just didn't quite fit with their vision, and good luck. Does that make it a poorly written book? I don't think so. The thing we have to remember about "the classics" are they were groundbreaking in their day and the rules for writing were different, as were expectations. Some of them hold up quite well, but idioms and commonly used words were often contrary from what we are used to now. I thought about trying to get my young son to read it, but I think it'll have to wait a few years. On average the populace is WAY more educated today and in this fast-paced, gotta-have-it-now world our expectations to have something user friendly and easily digested have dramatically increased. I think we all (well, most of us anyway) recognize good prose when we see them, and I really appreciate when an author has me feeling a scene instead of reading it. But even then opinions vary on what makes good writing. Some appreciate the sentence structure and rules of grammar as the gold standard of writing, while others want something that goes down easy and doesn't bog us down with a lot of description or big words. What sells? Is that important in your calculations of what kind of story to write and how you want to write it? Ultimately I think you have to write for yourself. You can't fit your square novel in the round hole of publication. You should write about things you have a passion for and in your own voice. You have to figure out what that voice is. And that is a blog for another day. Clear Ether Read More
NaNo Prep: Writing Rules III – Return of WriMo
Monday October 29, 2012 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Uncategorized | Leave CommentsNaNoWriMo is merely three days away, and in the spirit of preparation I revamped my Writing Rules again. This time when I went back to review them I realized that they were a hodgepodge of thoughts with no form. So I organized them and revamped them and added some new content. As always I am open to suggestion if you see something wrong or something that needs clarified or plain just doesn't make sense.
This is kind of long and I have it posted as it's own page here.
Put your novel through CreateSpace in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Amazon. Cost: Free (or $39.00 if you want better distribution into all stores.)
Put your novel through LighteningSource in trade paperback form in POD. That gets it to Ingram. Cost: around $100.00
Finding Your Voice
Tuesday May 31, 2011 | By Hieronymus Hawkes | Uncategorized | Leave Comments
Point of view is a basic building block of writing a story. It’s the vantage point from which a story is told. When done well, it can really make your story pop. First person is obvious; you are in the head of the main character and stay there. 2nd person is a little strange, and rarely used in story form, but puts the reader into the story, referring to “you” instead of the “I” of 1st person. 3rd person is the most commonly used form for narratives and has many forms, from Omniscient, where you see into everyone’s head, to Objective, where you see into nobody’s head, to Subjective, where you have the point of view of a particular character. Subjective seems to be coming into vogue, and to me, it gives you, the writer, a lot more options to do interesting things. Limited 3rd person POV falls in this category and I’m using it for my current WIP. I started with the story in 1st person, but I decided to bring in a second main character, so I needed to change up how I was writing it. Limited 3rd person POV gives you the flexibility to change points of view and stay in the head of the narrator for that section. It is very similar to first person, but allows you to tell the story from more than one character, and if there are parts of the story that your main character won’t see but you want to share this can really add a lot to your narrative. Or maybe you just want to bring in a different view point to see something from a different angle. Another subcategory is the unreliable narrator, which adds another flavor to the story. This from Ask.com: The opposite of a reliable narrator, an unreliable narrator typically displays characteristics or tendencies that indicate a lack of credibility or understanding of the story. Whether due to age, mental disability or personal involvement, an unreliable narrator provides the reader with either incomplete or inaccurate information as a result of these conditions. Done well it will really draw in and perhaps down a path that may be misleading, as you can’t be sure what you are experiencing is reality or just how the character perceives it. I do have a pet peeve though and nothing bothers me more as a reader than when the author jumps from one person to another in successive paragraphs without so much as a breath, especially if they are very similar in perspective and style. I really dislike it, so I’m switching chapters for each change, at least until my main characters come together in the story. I may switch those to chapter changes as well after I finished reading a book by one of my favorite writers. I just finished William Gibson’s latest novel, zero history, and it’s a work of literary art in my opinion. His best work I think and I’ve read all of his novels. It is a study in character development and the use of limited 3rd person POV and a well done unreliable narrator in the character of Milgrim, a recovering addict. There is one particular scene that really stood out as a great example of how to differentiate your voice when looking through the eyes of a different character. In this setting each character climbs a stairway in the Salon du Vintage in Paris separately.
Hollis Henry -- She went with them, up a minimalist stairway of pale Scandinavian wood,… Milgrim -- …he climbed a handsomely renovated stairway to the second floor.In these short sentence fragments you can see how the world looks differently and how Gibson shows it. She notices the type of wood used and the architectural design. Milgrim just sees a newly renovated stairwell that he is favorably impressed with and little other detail, because he just doesn’t know architecture or materials. It’s a very small piece in a novel filled with details like this. But this is the stuff that sets the really great writers apart from the average. Every character should have a distinct voice that the reader should be able to pick up without you having to put up a neon sign. It can be tricky. You don’t want to start overdoing the speech idiosyncrasies; a little goes a long way. Men and women are different, but not so different that you turn them into caricatures. They should see the world differently, as they bring their prejudices and expertise, or lack thereof, to their viewpoint, but it’s little things. As the example shows, in the long view, many little things add up to a nice tally at the bottom of the balance sheet. Good luck in your writing! Clear Ether! Read More