Saturday, November 20, 2010


Before actually getting into the skinny of the nuts and bolts of writing, I think it's worth mentioning something about learning the tools of the trade. This is the subject of:

BookMarc #2, The Craft of Writing

No one can teach you to write fiction. Say what? I really believe that. What they can teach you is the tools of the trade.

A beginning potter who wishes to do more than just slap something together to hold water, must learn to use the tools of the his/her craft: a kiln; a potter's wheel; and his own hands. But after that it is a matter of practice, of trying to transfer a vague image of the mind into the clay in the hand. It doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen without failures and near misses. But if he persists, the image will sharpen in his mind and his fingers will learn to feel the mud so that eventually the two will merge to form a vessel that both holds water and is beautiful to behold.

Why would we expect anything less with the craft of writing? This may seem counter intuitive. Do we not do some form of writing every day? But just because we walk eight miles does that mean we're ready for Mount Everest?

Like the potter we must learn the tools of our trade; how to build characters; how to write dialogue; how to develop plots; how to string sentences so that one flows into another. But in the end it is up to each of us to work the clay under our fingers and to sharpen the image in our minds until our writing imitates life. It doesn't happen overnight. And some never get it. All artists need the collaboration of an audience to make their vision whole. Our job is not to tell a story, but to use the imagery of words to build our worlds inside the heads of our readers, so that they experience the story.

Do we have the talent to do that? Talent is cheap. Determination and perseverance are gold coins. The perseverance to go through the rewrites necessary to turn out the best novel we can. And the determination to make the next book better than the first. And this requires us to master the tools of our craft. I really want to emphasize this. If we don't learn all the elements that go into to building a novel, we'll spend a lot of time writing things no one will read. I know, I wrote eight books no one will read.

You might want to sign up for a college extension course in fiction writing. We don’t want an English teacher whose idea of creative writing is correct grammar. Preferably we want someone with credits to their name, people who actually have novels or short stories in print to demonstrate they know what they are talking about.

In addition, or as an alternative, we need to study some books on writing. The trouble with many of the books on writing is that they are often difficult to read. Does that sound right? Good writing should be fun and easy to read. Well, if the authors of writing books are trying to teach us how to write easy-reading, shouldn't their books on writing be easy reading? Or at least interesting reading? I include myself in what I'm saying here, folks. If you are having trouble reading my stuff, hey, I probably don't know what I'm talking about.

May I recommend Easy Reading Writing, easy reading about writing easy reading, on which these BookMarcs are based. In fact, the editor of Scrivenery Press noticed these BookMarc's on line and offered me a contract to expand them into a book which became Easy Reading Writing. I wish I had these tools when I started out. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Lastly, if we want to write easy-reading, we have to read books that are easy reading. Not books written thirty or a hundred years ago, but those written today. Television and movies have changed the perception of how we view stories, instant starts rather than the slow pace of long-ago novels. So choose the genre you're interested in, and read for pleasure and to see how it's done. When I am not writing I'm usually reading, either with my eyeballs or listening to audio books. When you're finished, write a few paragraphs of what you liked about it, what worked, and what didn't. This will help you focus on some of the things you are trying to accomplish. One comment about audio books, if you are just starting to listening to them, you'll probably have to back up a lot, but once you become used to them you'll find things will flow.

One more caveat. When I talk about reading books of today, I don't mean to disparage the masters of yesterday, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who always have something to teach.

And remember: It's always better to light a candle in your mind by reading Easy Reading Writing than to curse the darkness of rejections. To check out the first two chapters with an easy order link to B&N, simply click on:

Peter E. Abresch - BookMarc© February 13, 1998.
Author of The Faltese Malcom, Capitol Coven, If They Ask for a Hand at: and the James P. Dandy Elderhostel mysteries at:

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