I’m Confused Enough Already
Photo Credit: Stuart Miles – DepositPhotos.com
My thanks to D.B. for hosting me on her site this week. D.B. and I share a similar educational background in biology. She stayed the course through graduate school to become a working scientist. My road to a biology degree took a few detours. After two years of forestry school, someone advised me to get a real degree. It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school, that I realized I made crappy scientist. I was also tired of being broke. Bailed on it all and went for an MBA.
Advice is a tricky wicket, especially if you’re new to the process. Writing came late to me, tied to the advent of word processors that allowed me to backspace and erase with impunity (my obsessive need to edit on the spot earned me a D+ in High School typing). Not much need for literature in a science major, but stories cue-balling in my head, refused to be ignored. The story part was easy. Being an avid reader helped immensely. Understanding the mechanics of plotting and structure was another story altogether (pun intended). I can quote the basic laws of biology, but dangling participles was something I learned on the fly. My first 300-page attempt was a laughable exercise that simultaneously encouraged (I am a writer, I am, I am, I am), and depressed me (Dear Occupant, thank you for your submission, but …). Not having a pedigree that comes with a Fine Arts education, I had a steep hill to climb.
I read and collect articles on the writing craft. Advice in the writer’s world, thanks to a plethora of self-help books and the internet, has certainly made perfecting the craft a lot easier. It has done wonders for me, not to mention saved a butt-load of money on writer’s conferences and … more self-help books. Learning is good, never ending, but I’m starting to get a little confused with all the conflicting advice. It reminds me of Woody Allen’s 70’s movie, Sleeper, where he wakes up in the future to learn fatty foods are actually good for you.
Writing advice is often numbered. Three tips for writing heavy emotion, four types of character arcs, five mistakes to avoid (just five?), six sins of storytelling, 7 essential questions in plotting, 8 ways to create killer openings, nine traits of sympathetic characters, ten ways to not start your novel. You get the gist. It suggests that anything less, or more, is irrelevant.
Third-person peripheral is best for this genre … wait … this advisor calls for first-person peripheral. If I’m not using all five senses in a scene, I’m telling too much. If I overdo it, it looks like genetically-modified wordsmithing (can I get a copyright on that term?). If the protag meets the love interest by chapter two and has a satisfying ending, it’s a romance novel. If they meet in chapter four, it’s not a romance. Who decides if it has a satisfying ending? Do they share a cigarette?
The use of italics in a story is one of the more hotly debated subjects in writing, and the use of commas, is capable of reducing this manly guy to blubbering fits. Don’t even get me started on the use of ellipsis … in a sentence.
An article popped-up in a recent WSJ, by Joe Queenan, “A Word to the Wise“, a satirical (yet bitingly accurate) piece in which he examines how we’re all still screwed up, despite our love for advice. Mr. Queenan makes a point, “…the Internet’s appeal is the immediate availability of useful advice on virtually any topic …well that and the free porn,” but people are still making all the same mistakes. I’ll bet it has something to do with all the conflicting advice. People get confused. I’ve been confused since birth.
I get asked on occasion for advice on what works in writing, given my extensive research on the subject, but I usually I beg off if I can. Something about my self-depreciating view that, if I so damned good at it, how come I’m not on the bestseller lists … or any list for that matter? Any opinions I make, will come with a lengthy disclaimer.
When advised to go mainstream and scuttle his dream of writing satirical fiction for literary magazines, Joe Queenan quotes:
“I took a piece of unsolicited and not particularly flattering advice from a complete and utter stranger, and it totally changed my life, and I never even bothered to thank him. In my defense, the note was a rejection slip.”
I guess he figured out which advice to follow. As for me, I reference a few, credible editing professionals. For everything else, I’ll toss a coin, or ignore it altogether.
How do you handle all the conflicting advice in writing life?
A native of Wisconsin and Connecticut, DT Krippene deserted aspirations of being a biologist to live the corporate dream and raise a family. After six homes, a ten-year stint in Singapore and Taiwan, and an imagination that never slept, his muse refused to be hobbled as a mere dream. Now a full time writer, DT writes mostly young adult science fiction and fantasy.
DT is represented by Victoria Lea of the Aponte Literary Agency
You can find DT Krippene at:
Searching For Light in the Darkness
Thanks for the guest post, D.T.! It’s so nice to learn about the creative process from another scientist-turned-author – I’m totally going to use the term ‘genetically-modified wordsmithing’ (with proper citation, of course). Like you, I’ve found some useful information via personal research and craft books. Stephen King’s On Writing comes to mind. Most of the best advice I’ve received has come from my generous and talented writing mentors, Jenna Bennett and Phyllis Bourne, Super Agents Natalia Aponte and Victoria Lea, and resources available through my local RWA chapter.
What’s worked best for me is this: finish the story! You can spend hours/days/weeks/years perfecting this chapter or that paragraph, but it will never see the light of publication if you don’t finish it. Finish the project, put it away, and then come back to it later. You can always edit it (or burn it), send it out to beta readers, or put it in a drawer and be glad you didn’t ever submit that version, but the best way to hone your craft is to practice it.