Thursday, March 7, 2013

Not So Bad

It is a fact that when writers - not just beginners, but any writer not yet at the top of their craft (and most of us never are) - go back and read their earlier works, they cringe at how poor the writing is. Maybe it's not awful, maybe just certain aspects of it seem bad, but they feel they could write it so much better now.
    Even accomplished writers will say that their first drafts are terrible. But they understand that will a few or a dozen rewrites the work improves, becomes something they can be proud of. But for beginners and intermediates and anyone who doesn't have the validation of having a bestseller (or being paid decently for a consistent production of "midlist" books), reading our previous work that we might have been really proud of before we were knowledgeable or experienced enough to know better, is a humbling experience.
   We have to resist the impulse, when reading our past work and realising that it  less than stellar, to  believe we have no talent for writing and never will. For this reason, many new (new being a relative term) writers hate revisiting earlier. It is often so disheartening.
    This is not always true. I recently revised, for the millionth time, a collection of short stories I have written over the years, mostly horse related, mostly mysteries, several of which had been published. And it was a very rewarding experience. (This is good because I was editing them to publish this very week.) They really weren't bad. In fact, I feel a lot of them were quite good, and like most writers I am often my own worst critic. 
     I feared that, as much as I loved them and thought they were brilliant when I wrote them and even several times since when I read them,  now that I was going to publish them, they would seem so bad  I would be crushed by my own ineptitude. But I wasn't. They really are good. Not amazing, not stellar, but well-written and entertaining.
    While this may prove daunting to many writers, I suggest when you need an ego boost or some encouragement, go back and read some of your work that you feel is an example of good writing. You may be surprised at how good it is; it can elevate your writing spirit and show you that you do have talent, that you can write things that others will read and enjoy.  Sometimes, in the absence of the support of writing peers, we have to be our own best cheerleaders.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Leave It In

Common advice to novelists is that if anything in the story - scene, action, dialogue, description - fails to move the plot forward or reveal something about the character(s), it should be cut. This is mostly sound advice.
  I recently read books by Janet Evanovich and Robert B. Parker (Stephanie Plum and Spenser series books respectively) and noted there were several scenes that did little to move the story and didn't give any new insights to the characters.  The action or dialogue had nothing to do with the main plot and what the characters did or said was exactly what the reader would expect from what they knew of the characters.
   The thing these unnecessary scenes had was humor. They were really funny. Stephanie Plum novels I think are primarily funny but some of the events are serious and scary. Spencer's cases tend to be more serious, but there is a lot of humor to keep the whole story from getting too dark.
   Whatever the purpose, if humor can be said to have a purpose in a novel, these scenes could  be cut without taking anything from the story. The plot line and characterization would remain unchanged. According to the aforementioned advice, they should have been left out.
    I don't think it need to be argued that there is no valid reason not to have humor in a novel, even if it serves no other purpose. So, I feel this particular bit of advice should be amended: If it doesn't move the plot forward or add to characterization, cut it. Unless it's funny. Humor should be kept.