A story with all the rules followed and no heart is just a jumble of words that no one will want to read.
Still, we must communicate properly.
It’s a balancing act.
I write with abandon (that’s what “write drunk” means), and I don’t care if nobody but me understands a damned word. I’ll even make up words (Hey, Shakespeare did).
That said, too often I might be the only one who knows what the hell I meant by what I said. So I come back and re-read it (that’s what “edit sober” means), to ensure I’m communicating properly.
This stems from a piece of advice a boss gave me when we had to write technical reports: write as though a completely disinterested 3rd party is picking this up. To that, I added: and take them from point A to wherever you are in your knowledge. If that is in your head at the outset, you are aware that in a scene with three characters talking where two of them are women, things can get confusing if we don’t frequently point out which specific “she” is talking.
Eliminating confusion can cause the story to become mundane, though!
BALANCE is the skill we employ to keep our stories well-paced and moving.
SUBTLETY makes balance work. You can’t say Sarah 10 times in three paragraphs, just so we know it’s not Michelle. But you have to clarify who’s talking. Be sneaky about it. (See ways to write better dialog HERE, HERE and HERE.)
The fastest way to ruin your story is to try to please all your masters. Please one. Find a target and write to that muse, reader, nondescript high school friend, fantasy lover, yourself, your sons, whoever.
(We have talked about writing to your muse, HERE)
Take editing advice after the story/chapter/whatever has been written. I break my critique partners down into percentages of what I will follow from their advice.
GROUP A: 100% = they totally “get” me, my writing, and my intent, pretty much all the time. We’re FB friends outside of the critique group and would probably go out for a beer if we lived anywhere near each other. If they come to Florida, I expect a call. I will usually incorporate every suggestion they make. There are maybe 4 people in this group. The sub-tier of this is a 80%-90% group who are almost as good. There are about 2 people in the sub-group.
GROUP B: they are technically proficient and are good at catching missing commas or misspelled words, but their stories SUCK and I cannot take story advice from a writer who can’t write a good story. Neither should you. Sorry, that’s how it is. I use their typo notes and will consider other stuff but I skim over about 70% of their suggestions.
GROUP C has two categories
C1 – fucking idiots.
C2 – bigger fucking idiots
(Are we allowed to swear here?) Needless to say, I like that these nice people follow my story but I don’t care what they think at all as far as writing suggestions. Their suggestions suck and I am not changing a word of what I wrote for them. They are basically fans, so I want them happy (as readers) but they don’t do the writing, I do. Sadly, they are 75% of the critiques I get, but if I do my job correctly, they will never know it and I’ll make many very helpful suggestions to their stories that will go completely unheeded because they’re fucking idiots and they don’t get it. So it works both ways.
You have to put yourself out there was a writer and the rules are a big fat fence designed to keep things safe. Great writing isn’t safe. It’s a wild animal that will tear open the reader. But that animal still has eyes and a heart and a brain – and will bleed if cut. Those are rules, too. A wild animal lives by ITS rules, not by ALL rules.
Know the rules and break them, but tell YOUR story, not the story of the rulemakers.
Most rulemakers couldn’t write a decent story to save their lives.
Don’t let them ruin yours.
Got a QUESTION? ASK IT! Send it as a comment to any post or hit the Contact Me button and, you know, contact me. I’ll see what I can do. (I have lots of smart friends, too.)
FOLLOW ME! I’m this helpful and funny all the time. Probably. Don’t miss another valuable bauble that falls from my fingertips. You read this far; you may actually need this stuff. SUBSCRIBE/FOLLOW TODAY (click the follow “Follow” button, above) and if you send me your email through the Contact Me button I’ll send you a free copy of my amazingly cute book “The Short Years” plus we’ll probably become friends and start hanging out and stuff.
If you benefit from this blog, share it with your friends!
Dan Alatorre is the author of several bestsellers and the hilarious upcoming novel “Poggibonsi” – yeah, we know. We’re trying to convince him to change that title – check out his other works here http://www.amazon.com/Dan-Alatorre/e/B00EUX7HEU/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1425128559&sr=1-1 and check back often for interesting stuff.