Do This, Don’t Do That

By Kay Springsteen

A lot of how-to writing has been dedicated to the craft of fiction. Tell this, show that, use the senses, don’t use a passive voice, watch your point of view. . . Lots of good advice is to be found out there from other writers – seasoned writers, writers who made it, writers who took a class and want to share. Lots of questions are being asked by writers just starting out, writers seeking to improve, and writers looking to try a different approach.

With all the tips out there, it’s important to remember that many writing techniques—or the need for their use—are open to individual interpretation. What one person understands about a technique might be different from another’s perspective. In addition, writers may place different emphasis on what is most important in a manuscript. One writer may develop the ability for crisp, snappy dialogue and might suggest this as the best way to move a story along. Another might prefer to evoke strong imagery as a way of involving readers in the story, and thus may concentrate on how best to do that. If those striving to learn or improve at writing could absorb the how-to of all the varied techniques as presented on all the blogs and books about the subject, we would all be powerful writers, wouldn’t we?

Or we could simply find our brains cluttered with the advice of others, with no room left to develop our own writing voices.

The market changes constantly and you never know who might be the next big thing in fiction. That doesn’t mean all you have to do is sit at the computer and write and you might pound out the next Harry Potter. But it does mean that amid all the advice, you have to hold on to who you are as a writer, and your own sense of style. You also have to understand the market you are seeking to join. The best way to do this is to write the kinds of stories you enjoy reading. At least I believe that’s the best place to start. Pay attention to the small details in the stories of your favorite authors. What techniques have you read about that they utilize? How do they move the story forward? How do they handle dialogue? Back story? What makes you want to continue reading? What makes you put a book down? Sometimes reading your favorites authors with an objective eye will help you see and understand the various skills they employ to pull their stories together.

So research the market of your chosen genre. The best way is to read the top sellers, even if they didn’t necessarily appeal in the past. An author is a best seller for two intertwined reasons: (1) They got the attention of an editor, and (2) the public likes their writing. So find out what works for other authors, even try to figure out why. Discuss the work with others in noncritical forums – at this point, you don’t want to hear why someone doesn’t like certain top-selling authors. You want to know what people like about them. Talk to other authors who write the kinds of stories you do. Join a critique group, if you haven’t yet taken this step. A critique partner is good; a group is better. The more people who look at your work, the more chances you have that what they concentrate on in your writing will balance and compliment each other’s perspective. But, as I stated earlier, you must understand that everyone has an individual understanding of the writing craft. So don’t make yourself crazy trying to employ every single bit of advice from crit partners/groups. You risk losing yourself in the voices of others.

Ultimately, the choice of who you listen to, of what advice you heed is up to you. So, don’t stress out if you feel you aren’t “getting” something, and don’t feel you have to be perfect at every aspect of writing. The art of writing fiction is a process. You don’t just sit down and automatically have a great story and the tools to know how to tell it. A good author is a combination of born storyteller and attentive student, always changing, always developing his or her skills, always evolving. If you don’t understand a technique, not stressing over it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn about it, but stressing because you don’t get something seldom leads to understanding. Asking questions, on the other hand, will help lead to understanding. Find someone knowledgeable on a particular subject or technique and ask them to explain not only the skill but the reasons for its use.

Research and learn. Ask questions of other writers and learn. Take a course. Read books you enjoy and consider why you enjoy them. But above all, become aware of your own writing voice. Whatever you learn along the way, remain true to yourself, and never stop evolving as a writer.


7 responses to “Do This, Don’t Do That

  1. Excellent blog–one I feel most writers should read. My current MS has been through the ringer with crits. I’ve revised according to what works for me, my characters, and my story. I’ve also learned to follow my gut when it comes to my story and what is best for it.
    There is so much information out there. If one isn’t careful, one’s brain will get over loaded with what is right and what is wrong. My philosophy is to learn the rules like the back of your hand, read what is currently selling on the market, and write the best damn story you can.

  2. Kay you always have the best advice!!

  3. Jennifer Comeaux

    I couldn’t have read your post at a better time! I think lately I’ve been reading too many writing blogs and sites with advice and techniques. It’s great to expand one’s knowledge, but there’s so much information out there that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Staying true to your voice is key!

  4. Excellent post. It’s easy to overdose on writing advice or become the poor woman’s Debbie Macomber of Nora Roberts by trying to imitate them. It is important to find your own voice and be true to yourself. That’s not an excuse for ignoring important rules, but it is what makes your story unique.

  5. Great post, Kay. I’m a firm believer that a writer should learn the rules before breaking them. Only then can it be done with panache. But at the same time, I sometimes have to step away from all the writing advice and rules, or I would be too paralyzed to write. I guess that’s what revisions are for.

  6. Great post Kay!!! Still learning everyday…
    I’ve learned more from my critique partners– than I have through some classes that I’ve taken…

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