Monday, September 20, 2010

On Writing: What Works

I've been reading Stephen King's On Writing off and on since June, and in the last few weeks, I finally got past his biography section to his advice on writing. Since then, my interest in the book has definitely increased. Having never read one of King's novels, I have no more than a passing interest in his history. However, on his thoughts on the craft of writing, I'm all ears.

I've found his advice to be remarkably straightforward and surprisingly helpful in pinpointing the parts of writing that work and don't—the types of things that I could previously recognize by instinct and taste but not pinpoint what was making a paragraph/chapter/writer good or bad. Since starting the actual "On Writing" chapter of the novel, I've read four fiction novels, and I've not been the least bit surprised that the authors' whose writing has followed the "good writing" guidelines have been far more enjoyable to read than those that don't.

You can't be a writer long without hearing the negative press passive prose gets—for good reason. King covered that, but he also brought up the evils of the "ly" adverbs. I'm as guilty as the next writer of inserting too many in my first drafts. It's also one of the things that typically gets edited out in the next draft. But once King pointed it out, I started paying attention to it in the writers I've been reading. Terry Goodkind's writing was heavily smattered with them. It weakened the prose. Julie James's writing was clean of all but the most aptly placed "ly" words. What a difference it makes in pacing and clarity!

Having read On Writing just before starting my current novel, I can already tell it's helping. I find myself noticing passive voice, those pesky "ly" words, and pertinence of the parts I'm including in my story. Overemphasizing backstory was one of the largest chunks of text deleted and time drain in editing for Madison. I don't want to make the same mistake with this novel. Thus, I'm doing my best to not include a single line that doesn't advance the plot or character or both. I'm sure there's a lot I'll change later, but it's a better rough draft than my previous novels.

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