I’ve been ignoring my blog (and my job, and family, and dog) in favor of holing up in my office and finishing final copy-edits and cover designs for my upcoming story, RAZORS and RUST (releasing this Saturday, June 9th!!!). But a man can only focus on publishing shenanigans for so long. Sometimes you have to call a time-out, grab a good book, a
bottle glass of Scotch, some left-over pizza and relax.
Of course, this is easier if the book is good.
Often, it’s not.
I don’t know what it is, exactly—maybe the God of Books (Um…J.K Rowling?) is cross with me—but I’ve been having a hell of a time finding anything worthwhile on the shelves. It reached a head, finally, when I picked up a tome by a well-known author, someone I’ve admired for years, and read about half the book before throwing it against the wall. I could be heard yelling the following: “What the EFF!? This is crap. My four-year-old can write better than this!” (Well…maybe not. But she does paint a mean Beauty and the Beast).
The characters were cardboard, the setting hollow, and the plot limp as overcooked linguine. I was pissed, because the author knew better. I mean, I take writing advice from this guy! Still, even as I fumed I realized there were lessons here. Morals to uncover. Knowledge to glean.
I needed this crappy book—and so do you.
-This book is soooooooo boring
Sometimes we learn best by sticking our finger in the socket (That’s how Benjamin Franklin invented electricity. True story). You can sit in class and listen to a lecture on pacing, or you can pick up the latest John Grisham and pile through that turd. I know, it’s rough. It’s boring. NOTHING HAPPENS! But there are nuggets of gold in them there hills (or…uh, pages. It works).
Pacing takes practice, and you can’t learn in a vacuum. You can learn from the masters (George RR Martin, Roger Zelazny, The God of Books), which is fun, but sometimes you have to stick your finger in that socket and buy some good, old-fashioned, manure.
Sometimes it takes something stinky to make the flowers grow (I probably should have ended the analogy at “manure”).
-Why won’t this character die already???
Writers take a lot of time developing their characters (At least they should), but sometimes they mistake “developing,” with “loving,” and that’s when we have a problem.
A writer should never love a character so much they refuse to kill them.
We’re all guilty of this, we all have a soft spot in our hearts for our “Dobby.” But hey, you know what? The reader really, really hates that guy. All your beta-readers told you, and yet you kept him in the story, ignoring the pleas of your audience to “JUST KILL JAR-JAR BINKS ALREADY!”
Don’t be that writer. You know the characters you hate…now grow a little self-awareness and kill the ones you love.
-Everyone’s talking like a freaking idiot
“Why don’t they use contractions, like, ever? Come on, nobody actually says ‘inundate.’ The wording. Is so. Stilted.”
I know. But the best way to write gripping dialog is to read crappy dialog first.
I had a writing teacher who told me the best way to write dialog was to sit in a corner somewhere and observe actual people talking. Then write down the conversation and study it. Then throw that s@%t away, because nobody wants to read an actual conversation.
“Uh…I don’t know. Um…yeah.”
“Dude, I seriously don’t know, like, um…well, you know how that one time we went to the theater? Um…yeah?”
I exaggerate (kind of), but you see my point? Study the dialog in that novel you threw against the wall. Learn what to avoid.
-You call that an ending?
Sometimes a novel has a lot of promise. Great characters, imaginative world, compelling mystery…but no payoff (I’m looking at you, “The Dark Tower”). These elicit a good wall throwing more than any other book I read, because the author had me going. They tricked me! I was in for a penny, in for a pound (whatever that means), and I got nothing for it.
Curse you, Stephen King!
Don’t confuse this with leaving your audience wanting more. That’s a good thing. Leaving your audience staring at the last page wondering if you just gave up in the homestretch, that’s a bad thing. If you don’t know where your book it going, don’t write “The End.”
Unless you’re Stephen King. That man’s a national treasure.