Saturday, February 17, 2007

Learning the Craft

By Keith Fisher

The other day, I struggled with a novel I found lying around the house. I say struggled because it was hard to read. The concept of the plot appeared to be heading in an intriguing way so I battled to keep reading it.

"What was so hard about the book?" you ask. I’ll tell you, but first, let me tell you a story.

About ten years ago I submitted a novel. It was a labor of love. It was a book everyone needed to read. It told the story of a family’s experiences in a way that would touch hearts and change lives. It was a good story.

Of course I got a rejection letter. But it was a nice rejection letter. I was told that it WAS a good story but perhaps I would benefit by attending a writer’s workshop somewhere.

Ten years later I look back on that experience and realize that the publisher was right. The story was told not shown, there were point of view problems, and the characters were flat. In short, my book wasn’t ready to be published.

At the same time, the other novel, (the one I struggled with), was submitted to the same publisher. I doubt it sold very well, at least I hope not, because it would explain why LDS fiction got a bad rap. If this sounds like "sour grapes" I suppose it is. But I’ve had time to learn about my mistakes and will eventually be a better writer when my book gets published.

It might be interesting to note however, a published non-fiction author wrote the hard book I mentioned.

While reading the book, I was reminded of everything I’ve read about not telling but showing, point of view mistakes and "head-hopping". The big problem was the author let the protagonist’s mind wander all over the place. Normally this can give depth to a character but I found myself skipping whole pages because the subject had nothing to do with the story and it went on and on. When a writer dedicates page after page to a character’s ramblings it becomes narration (not unlike non-fiction).

I read once that some non-fiction writers have a hard time crossing over to fiction because of the tendency to tell.

So what can we learn from all this? One lessen is, that it helps to know someone in the publishing business, but most important for me is to remember to get it right before it gets published. As much as I want to see my work in print, I also want to give my readers a wonderful experience, to help them come away with the realization that they have been reading for hours and didn’t notice time passing. I want them to buy my second book because they had a great experience with the first one.

Here are 2 writing tips I am learning. The first is about showing and telling from Sol Stein (a writer, editor, and publisher).

He was nervous. tells.
He tapped his fingers on the tabletop. shows.

As for point of view, if you’re writing about what’s in the head of a character and in the next sentence, you switch characters, it’s called head hopping and it’s confusing because the reader isn’t sure who’s head they are in.

My hope:

May all your creative writing, always prove to be perfect prose. As for the book in question, I finished it and the author never answered the story question that kept me reading. I might dig a deep hole and deposit it in the bottom. (Just kidding).


Anonymous said...

There's nothing worse than finishing a book because of the hint of something good ... that the writer never follows through on.

It's amazing how some books even get published. Guess the writer must know somebody!

Good job on this blog.

Nichole Giles said...

For me, books like those are great motivators. I remind myself that I really don't want to write a book like that, so I work so much harder to write quality material.

Keep writing and submitting. I've seen your work, and it will find a publisher.


Triple Nickel said...

Great Blog. As I was reading a smile began to glide across my face as my head started to bob up and down. I most heartily agree.
Good job!

Marsha Ward said...


I once read a book that was such a motivator to me. It depicted travelers in some sort of peril huddling together as they traversed the spooky canyon with towering walls above them--of South Pass, Wyoming.

Now, South Pass more closely resembles a high plains meadow than a typical mountain pass like the one shown in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," but the writer seemingly didn't even think of checking his facts (neither did the editor, alas!). That one goof spoiled the whole book for me, and made me determined to research my work carefully. I don't want to lead my readers on a fantasy trip when it's supposed to be a factual one.

Incidentally, although the author has published at least one book since then, I decline to read anything by him/her again.