Saturday, February 27, 2010

Are there rules for writing fiction?

"You never learn how to write a novel. You just learn how to write the novel that you're writing." --Gene Wolfe (via Neil Gaiman)
Quick rules for tightly plotted fiction --S. Andrew Swann

It can be confusing. According to some, there are no rules for writing fiction. Many of these folks feel that following a set of rules will make writing something mechanical. Others are only too willing to share rules and advice about writing, via books, web posts, and classes. And herds of us spend an inordinate amount of time reading their advice.

What's a new writer to do? Should they dive right in, assured that there are no rules and no matter what they do, it's right for them? Or should they study, study, study the subject of fiction until they've somehow absorbed the available wisdom and then tentatively wade in?

“Writers write. Everyone else makes excuses.” --Jack Bickham

My best understanding, from trying to do my own writing and reading several books and countless web posts on the topic, is that (as in most things) there is a happy middle ground. Indeed, the most repeated common wisdom on the subject is that writers should write (and read). But that doesn't mean one shouldn't seek help and wisdom from those who have already written.

I find it quite helpful to read about what others have done and are doing. Does that mean I'm going to blindly follow someone else's process? Obviously not. Everyone has to approach it their own way. And not every piece of advice covers every situation.

Take, for example, the excellent post from Mr. Swan I linked to above. I think what he has to say on plotting, based on obvious success and positive feedback, will definitely help me when I'm writing my plot-driven work ("Every scene... Introduces a problem. Makes an existing problem worse. [or] Resolves a problem."). It gives me one more ingredient to think about; another lens for viewing and reviewing. But his one-page post barely touches upon characters and character-development. He doesn't even try to discuss setting. He doesn't say whether he's an outliner or a panster. He's only addressing one piece of the puzzle, and only from his own perspective.

So, I will read the advice of others. And I may even try to heed it, depending on whether it seems to make sense and works for the book I'm writing right now. But most of all, I am going to try to do more writing than reading about writing. For that is the trick to getting things written.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

read: Rocket Science

This blog must make it seem like all I'm doing these days is read. I am writing, I promise. Oddly, this book is related to the novel I'm writing: what if, just after WWII, an unsuspecting, average guy found himself pursued by foreign agents, military police, and mobsters because of something that may not be of this Earth? That's not exactly where I started with my story, but it's where I seem to be heading. And so did Jay Lake in his first novel, Rocket Science (review below). Thankfully, his plot, setting, and characters turn out to be radically different from mine. But that doesn't mean I won't be borrowing a few ideas.

Rocket Science Rocket Science by Jay Lake

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
In Rocket Science, Jay Lake has populated a small post-WWII Kansas town with likable folks, Nazi agents, Communist spies, traitors, mobsters, military police, and a flying machine that's not of this Earth. He blends them together in a tale that is a page turner from start to finish, with the biggest surprises at the end. [More...]

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

read: The Shack

The Shack The Shack by William P. Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Why is The Shack so popular? Answering that question is the reason I picked up and read this book. Short answer: Probably because it's so easy to read and seems to offer spiritual insight. But for me it was a mixed bag on both fronts, ultimately leaving me underwhelmed. [more...]

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Look to the Stars

I just moved some book notations to GoodReads from ancient scrawls in InfoSelect. In the notes was a reminder of what I had in mind when I gave each book from 1 to 5 stars. I think they still work:
***** WOW - everyone must read this book
**** Good - I would recommend it
*** OK - Read it if you like this sort of thing
** Whatever
* Yuck
- Why did they print this?
I also have a grading system for films, correlating the Yahoo! Movies grading system (which used to have the associated text) and the IMDb 10 star rating system.
10 = A: Outstanding
9 = A-: Almost perfect
8 = B+: Memorable
7 = B: Good
6 = B-: Fair
5 = C+: Flawed, but worthy
4 = C: Mediocre
3 = C-: Disappointing
2 = D: Dreadful
1 = F: All-time worst
Yahoo! also allows A+ for films. But I've always thought that A was as high a grade as anyone should get. And below C-, I don't bother distinguishing "+/-". What does it matter at that point?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

read: Boneshaker, Little Brother, Wrongful Death

Some other recent reads that I neglected to post here:

Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century, #1) Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The setting, as unbelievable as it was, was fun and exciting. The characters were well drawn and likable and unlikable as appropriate. I read it as fast as I could, but wanted more when I was finished.

Little Brother Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an absolutely fantastic book. What it mostly is about is fear and civil rights and personal responsibility. But for all of that, it's a very strong, personal story with plenty of action, adventure, and suspense.

Wrongful Death: A Novel Wrongful Death: A Novel by Robert Dugoni

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About a fourth of the way in, the book became a thriller. Nice crisp writing. Setups that seemed to be headed in one direction and then surprisingly, but logically, taken in another. I was kept up reading way too late.

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read: Enemies and Allies

I've shifted my book lists and reviews over to

Enemies & Allies: A Novel Enemies & Allies: A Novel by Kevin J. Anderson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Enemies and Allies sets forth a comic book thriller set in the early 1950s, creating a weird time frame with both Batman and Superman just a couple of years into their superhero gigs [more].

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