Monday, May 23, 2011

Controversial subject on improving one's writing - How so?

This post for some, might seem a tad provocative and controversial in content!

But, here's advice on improving one's writing, and straight from a top-class editor's mouth.

So you want to be a novelist?
1) Forget 'How To Books' on writing a bestseller.
2) Read, read and read again books from Chaucer to Dickens to the latest top 100 bestsellers.
3) Write from the heart. Write, write and write again.
4) Read your manuscript until your eyes bleed. Make sure there are no typos and spelling mistakes.
5) Make sure to send it to a publisher who publishes your chosen genre.

As I see it, that's the best advice ever. But then, I'm an avid reader and always have been. I can't see the point in all the "How To Books" that are out there. Yes, such books pinpoint specifics as to how the How To authors' express themselves with words/style (voice) etc, in novels, but most of these books enforce the idea that there are rules and regulations within writing, which seemingly change with the wind. What might be in vogue for a few years (1st person POV) within say YA novels, could well change a year hence and leave those who've crafted the art of writing from one character perspective utterly in limbo. The getting inside two MC heads much less easy, because suddenly the author is faced with multiple viewpoint, which to others will be second nature. 

Being a woman there are times when as an author I have to think male perspective! Yes, I can ply my hubby for his perspective on certain things, because let's face it men don't ncessarily think differently than women but they don't say things quite as openly as women do. Men are more guarded, especially the loner types, whereas group mentality can appear more open but is often tainted by peer pressure influence and therefore what is said may not reflect a character's inner thoughts. 

To understand male desires and frusrations is quite difficult for a woman to quantify, but after reading "The Magus" by John Fowles, a novel about a man's inner desires and written 1st person POV, I felt I better understood how to express male perspective on sex, desire, male frustrations and associated consequences. So, yes, I think the best way to improve one's writing is to read the broadest spectrum of novels possible. It's not all about analysis of house style, writer voice and overall format, it's a way of feeling the writer ground beneath one's feet and finding one's writer path.

So why do some romance publishers always say on submission pages  "The best way to know what it is we look for in a romance novel, is to read a selection of our books from the line you propose to write for" ?  Great marketing strategy is that, and in turn creates tunnel vision of a wouldbe novelist lured by seeming high chance of publication without an agent's guiding hand. But, there's nothing worse than reading a book where a so-called arrogant hero thinks and reveals inner self via thoughts and woman talk!!!  ;)



  1. Great post, Francine! Rules should provide guidelines, but should never be followed to the exclusion of everything else. I'm always amazed by how much time people spend (especially on writing loops) talking about the rules for writing and publishing, to the exclusion of everything else. If they spent half as much time reading and working on their own writing, they'd be much more productive! And that's my rant for the day ;)

  2. It's easy to read well-done books--the rules are followed or broken so seamlessly, I can get lost in the story. Those authors make writing look easy. I needed books and classes to learn the principles of POV and story arc. I couldn't grasp those just from reading.

  3. Ana, there are some great POV books out there! And if you ever get to take a workshop with Julia Quinn, she's amazing at switching POV.

  4. Hi Jennifer,

    Yep, a there's a lot of procrastination within writer loops etc., including those whom spend hours on facebook and all day tweeting. She says, while gobbing off on blogger! :)

    Hi Ana,

    I know what you mean re getting carried away in a good book, but even when a kid I was always intrigued at how sometimes the MC was the narrator, then at other times it was multiple POV and, much switching back and forth per character. The ones I liked best involved MCs POVs (clever switch sequences)and the rest of the info by way of dialogue. I chose MC POVs as my starting point in writing, and practised and practised ways of switching POV in subtle ways, such as telephone conversations: start with one character answering the phone, and the speaker then taking centre stage: end the call with the speaker!

    The phone trilling was the last thing she needed. She threw the divorce papers to one side. Damn Mark, damn him to hell and back. Not now, damn you not now. About to shove the phone off the hook she instead snatched it up. "What now?. If you're going to say . . ."

    "Hey, wait up. It's Mac."


    "Yeah. Mac. Mark's mate."

    "Oh, so he's got you dong his dirty work now."

    "Er no. It's not like that, it's kind of hard to say this . . . Mark's in hospital."


    "Tess, you there?"

    "Yeah, I'm here. What happened?

    "Car accident."


    What in hell was wrong with Tess? Did she really not care enough to ask if Mark was OK? "Look, I know it's been difficult for you . . .


  5. I think this is great advice. It's definitely important to follow your heart and write from there insteado following trends. Those will have changed by the time your novel is published.