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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Writing Advice #1

As any young ambitious writer does, when they find a subject of interest they devour any and all factoids available, like Pac-Man munching pellets. And the foremost idea writers are interested in is writing. And even Pac-Man couldn't clear all the mazes of yellow writing tip dots out there on the interwebs and books. However, like the pellets, they're all pretty much the same, and pretty much functionless. They're either obvious, intuitive, or don't fit in with your own writing style.

That doesn't mean they're not fun to read. So from time to time (when I have nothing else to write about, I'll put one up here and see if it means anything. Most of them do, but not very much. Most of these are from Stephen King's On Writing. I'm sure most of my opinion on Stephen King's writing will bleed through on the rest of this blog, but it's still a very good primer on modern American prose. Even if you don't like the guy, he still has lessons to impart. Plus, I'm saving you fifteen bucks, since only about 40% of the book is about writing at all, and the rest is autobiographical. So here's the first one.

Your first duty is to the story. Your second duty is to the truth.

Now this I agree with, mostly because I've heavily paraphrased it into something that makes more sense and carries more weight with me. I quote it frequently in my critiques, especially in the first part. What this means is that, above all else, you, the author, is here to tell a story. Not write an essay, not an article, not a thesis, not a blog entry, not a speech, not a personal profile. It's a story - beginning, middle, end, with characters, setting, and most of all: plot - characters started doing something, then ended up doing something else. For there to be plot there must be conflict. There must be variety. Often (and even I don't know how this happens really, maybe because my focus is often entirely on plot and not enough on characters) I see stories that just have characters talking (whining), some stuff happens (they go to school, take a walk), and the end. I'm often left thinking and saying "Where's the story?" This seems to most often happen with female writers, and by watching some of the movies targeted towards them, it really is just a bunch of stuff that happens. One could define a plot as being 'just a bunch of stuff that happens', but I think it's got to be more dynamic than that. Maybe I just don't have a good enough grip on the definition of plot myself. Could be why none of my fellow amateurs do either.

The second part is the duty to the truth. One writer, I forget who, someone modern, said "Fiction is harder than real life, because fiction has to make sense." Everything in the thing you're writing has to be plausible. It has to work together, it has to make sense. You have to tell the truth about what would happen if X happened to Y character(s). It has to follow to a logical end (logical doesn't mean not surprising or fantastic). There can't be plot holes, continuity errors, character mistakes (things a character wouldn't do), or other things that would make an aspect of the work 'wrong' or 'incorrect'... EXCEPT when those conflict with the duty to the story. Kind of like the three laws of robotics, the higher one overrrides the lower. So if fudging something would make a better story, go ahead and fudge. If you run into a roadblock because character X wouldn't do something, but needs to in order for Y to happen, make him do it (or the professional writer would find a way to force him to do it). If the story is interesting and satisfies the reader, the reader will forgive mistakes like that. But the author has to earn it.

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