Friday, July 25, 2008

The Whine List

I've become a fan of Mur Lafferty's podcast "I Should Be Writing" which is a great source of encouragement for writers labouring in the wilderness - that would be me. It's good to hear about the experiences of someone going through the same hassles I am and Mur has lots of level-headed advice about the trade.

But in this podcast she said something that experience tells me is not true. Writers, she said, should try to get better at what they do because the better the story they write the more chance there is that someone will want to publish it.

I've no quibble with the assertion that writers should study their craft and hone their abilities but, I've got to say, that will have almost no effect on the saleability of a story.

I'm driven to say that because of a comment that turned up in a recent rejection - yet another which was of the "almost but not quite" species. The comment was that the whole picking of which stories to publish was such a subjective business.

Until I read that I'd harboured the fantastical notion that an editor presented with ten stories for five slots would pick the five best - by which I mean the most technically adept, the best written. But I have been foolish and deluded. Editors pick what they like to read. By which I mean crap gets published all the time.

It strikes me that it would be perfectly possible to go through an entire writing career turning out technically flawless stories but never getting anything published because no editor liked any of them quite enough. Tobias Buckell said he got rejected 500 times before he started to make it. I hope it does not take me that long. I've just hit 100 rejections after three years. So to hit 500 I'll have to do this for another 12 years.

The days after I realised all this have been dark - I've really considered giving up. Especially when I worked out that since I've supposedly been getting better at writing the ratio of acceptances to rejections has got a lot worse. Significantly so.

I've said before that my motivation hinges on whether I get a good response to what I put out and at the moment I'm not. Now though I realise that the only person I need to please is myself. I feel quite liberated and what I write has changed a lot. Getting published is a bonus that luck has a lot to do with. And I have to believe in luck. How else, to paraphrase Cocteau, how can I explain the success of my rivals?

Monday, July 14, 2008

The rules for the game

In no particular order...
Be specific - sardines being grilled is better than fish being cooked.
Use active and direct verbs - he walked rather than he was walking.
Avoid abstractions - such as horrible, violent, frustration.
Make every scene and sentence count.
Use the minimum amount of magic/hi-tech to get things moving.
Adverbs - Gah, away with them.
Reveal character by action. Put characters in situations that force a response.
Do not hide information. A surprise works better if no-one suspects it is coming.
Experts plan to the end.
Dialogue - Do not let it meander. Conversations are great ways to show character and attitude.
Elaboration of motive - a character's actions should reveal more about them, what they are doing and why they are doing it.
Write for yourself and no-one else.
Writers write - try to make progress every day.
Keep an ideas notebook with you at all times.