Paralysed by book of advice for authors

Ca
Carradee
Posts: 422
Joined: Fri Mar 27, 2009 11:38 am
Platform: Mac
Contact:

Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:54 pm Post

zikade wrote:Back in 1999, when I started directing TV-Shows, an experienced director (friend, mentor) once told me:
You have to know the Rules. They are the basics of our trade; once you know them all, you will know when and how to bent or even ignore them. And even why you should do so.

It took me years to fully comprehend this.
But it has consequences as well: your work gets less compatible to the mainstream.


Side note: that advice (that you have to know and master the rules so you can bend & ignore them) also applies to grammar. I intentionally mix US and British rules, myself.
Wanna hydroplane?
--My brother (while driving)

re
refusion
Posts: 54
Joined: Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:14 am
Location: Shanghai, China
Contact:

Mon Jun 08, 2009 8:10 am Post

Stephen King's personal suggestion in his book 'On Writing' is to not include back-story unless it is absolutely essential as it can kill the flow of the novel. But, I should note that many of his books are copiously filled with it...Dark Tower series, anyone?
Old Lady: 'The universe rests on the back of a turtle!'
Scientist: 'Ah, but what does the turtle rest on?'
Old Lady: 'Young man, you can't fool me! It's turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down!'

dr
druid
Posts: 1721
Joined: Fri Jun 22, 2007 2:29 pm
Platform: Mac, Win + Linux
Location: Princeton NJ, USA

Mon Jun 08, 2009 3:16 pm Post

King's advice may be good for a pure action-suspense thriller, but not for a historical novel, where memory, and secrets about the past, are everything. I recommend not dumping out lots of back story in the early chapters. Let the reader get to know the characters first, as they appear.

The time for deeper revelation should come later on, preferably after the plot has taken a strong turn in new directions. King himself does that in The Body, which later became the Rob Reiner film, Stand by Me.

re
refusion
Posts: 54
Joined: Fri Mar 20, 2009 1:14 am
Location: Shanghai, China
Contact:

Tue Jun 09, 2009 12:32 pm Post

druid wrote:King's advice may be good for a pure action-suspense thriller, but not for a historical novel, where memory, and secrets about the past, are everything. I recommend not dumping out lots of back story in the early chapters. Let the reader get to know the characters first, as they appear.

The time for deeper revelation should come later on, preferably after the plot has taken a strong turn in new directions. King himself does that in The Body, which later became the Rob Reiner film, Stand by Me.


Good point. On that note, be careful with tenses, particularly using 'Historic Present'. Tense shift can be tricky to spot and correct later in the draft.
Old Lady: 'The universe rests on the back of a turtle!'
Scientist: 'Ah, but what does the turtle rest on?'
Old Lady: 'Young man, you can't fool me! It's turtles, turtles, turtles all the way down!'

Tr
Tripper
Posts: 247
Joined: Sun Feb 11, 2007 9:33 pm
Platform: Mac
Location: UK

Mon Jun 15, 2009 3:14 pm Post

My second novel, which I've just had an offer for, has alternating chapters each dealing with the protagonist's past and present. That means that the chapters set in the 'present' are not hampered by the retrospective ramblings which hopefully form a story in their own right. This is sustained for half the book until it moves completely into the present. Having said that my first draft was overly heavy with the past until I axed 10K words.

There are no rules, really. It's all about what's bearable by the book. I'd write the 1st draft without any worry about the rules (and don't read any more 'how to write' books), knowing that it will be crap. Then put it away for a bit, several weeks if you can bear it.

You'll then hopefully be able to read it with a fresh eye and the places you get bogged down in are the places to cut.

Trip
The person who says it can't be done should not interrupt the person doing it.

Su
Susievintage
Posts: 15
Joined: Sat Nov 24, 2007 3:28 pm
Location: Cambridge, England

Thu Jul 02, 2009 7:32 am Post

Thank you all for your thoughts and advice. I know we always focus on the bits that chime with what we want to hear, but I like Trip's suggestion just to write, and then worry later about whether it works or not. And also the idea about alternating chapters is one I had considered and may well try.
The writing is actually going well (I discovered the Scrivener word count feature the other day and was astonished to find that I have written 42k words - surely not!), so it's full steam ahead to get the first draft finished.
Mind you - and I know you'll all say that's what the imagination is for - I'm finding it tricky in the current heatwave to write convincingly about my character's winter weeks in a freezing cell in Newgate! Perhaps I should sit with my feet in a bucket of ice to recreate that chilblain feeling.
And I have resolved to Stay Away from the self-help shelves in the bookshops. They just make me uneasy anyway (perhaps I do have depression? marital difficulties? irritable bowel syndrome? - but I felt fine until I reached this bookshelf...).

ll
llmember
Posts: 159
Joined: Fri Feb 27, 2009 5:00 pm

Fri Jul 31, 2009 4:47 am Post

A little guidance like 'try not to bore me with the details' is okay, but don't let anyone's book on 'what not to do' stunt your imagination. Get to writing or you'll never finish that book.
How do I love Scrivener? Let me count the ways......

User avatar
Siren
Posts: 758
Joined: Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:29 am
Platform: Mac + iOS
Location: U.K.

Sun Apr 20, 2014 11:25 pm Post

Very late to the party on this one (in fact, it looks as though the floor has already been hosed down and the empties taken to the recycling point)...

I read Mittelmark and Newman's How Not to Write a Novel yesterday. If I tell you that I was enduring an enforced stay in a Premier Inn in a desolate car park on the outskirts of an industrial town, in what might have been the Midlands or possibly South Yorkshire (I'm never very sure where one stops and the other starts), you will understand that I was not in the mood to be amused. But it actually made me laugh out loud, more than once. Very entertaining. The book has been languishing, unread, on my Kindle since November 2010, and I'm glad that I finally got round to blowing the digital dust off it. It does make many serious points, and at one stage a sense of shamed recognition crept over me with regard to a piece of writing I am [supposed to be] working on now. But mostly it is just good fun.

My instinctive, independent approach to the unpublishable novel has been quite successful, in a quiet sort of way, but it seems weak and half-hearted now that my eyes have been opened to just how unpublishable an unpublishable novel can be if you know how to go about it.
Literature & Latte support team

User avatar
devinganger
Posts: 1852
Joined: Sat Nov 06, 2010 1:55 pm
Platform: Mac, Win + iOS
Location: Monroe, WA 98272 (CN97au)
Contact:

Thu May 08, 2014 6:26 am Post

The best advice I ever got on applying advice for writers was this:

"How does it let you tell your story better?"

If you know the answer to that, then you know whether to heed or ignore the advice.

Character backstory? As others have said, you may have it all in mind, but it probably enhances the story better by being spread out to enhance dialogue or action.

Multiple viewpoints? What does each viewpoint allow you to tell in the story that you can't tell or reveal in some other way? Does it need to be revealed at that time?

The goal is to be thinking about the rules. They're not really rules, they're best practices -- default settings that *in most cases* help keep writers out of trouble. But every best practice has situations where it isn't the best practice...and by thinking about the rules and the story you're trying to tell, you can figure out when those times are.
--
Devin L. Ganger, WA7DLG
Not a L&L employee; opinions are those of my cat
Winner "Best in Class", 2018 My First Supervillain Photo Shoot

zo
zornhau
Posts: 137
Joined: Wed Nov 17, 2010 2:17 pm
Platform: Windows
Contact:

Wed May 28, 2014 11:45 am Post

I think "all is conflict". If backstory is one side of a conflict, then it's in. If childhood is a force in a conflict, then that's in too.