July 2014 – Andy Peloquin

Andy Peloquin

I am an artist – words are my palette

Month: July 2014

What is a Writer’s Best Asset?

I’ve always thought that a creative mind and writing talent were the two most important things for a writer, but it turns out I was wrong.

According to one smart woman:

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” —Harper Lee

Turns out the woman who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird had a bit of flak coming her way. While it won a Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic that everyone must read, upon publication reactions weren’t so hot. For example, Granville Hicks said the book was, “melodramatic and contrived”. Even the greatest books have their own detractors.

As a writer, you’re going to find people just don’t like something about your book. Whether it’s the story line, the dialogue, the plot twist that you thought was so original, or the character development, there will always be people telling you that your book sucks.

When I published In the Days, I thought I had done a good job with it. I got a few good reviews, and I was happy with the way things went. And then I got my first 3-star review:

“For one thing, it was too difficult to work out who were the good guys and who were the baddies. So I was left with not liking anyone which isn’t a good way for me to read a book. This book took more effort than I was willing to give it. A real shame as the author shows real talent.”

That was a bit hard for me to hear, because I thought I had done a pretty good job of writing the book clearly. This is just one of the three 3-star reviews I’ve gotten, plus a few more negative comments on sites like Goodreads. None of them are HORRIBLE, but they can be a bit discouraging for an author.

And then I read the Harper Lee quote on having a thick skin, and I realized that I had been given an opportunity to take these criticisms and use them for good. As I’m sitting and writing Book 2 of The Last Bucelarii series, I’m taking into account all of the negative feedback I got. I’m trying to avoid making the same mistakes, thereby hopefully improving my books.

As an author, you MUST have thick skin. Negative feedback and even outright criticism is just a part of your life as a writer, and you’ll need to deal with it in order to be successful. Use that criticism for good, and learn to love it! It will make you a better writer in the end.

 

 

Writing Mistakes: Wordiness

Writers, keep this one piece of advice in mind:

“Never say in 10 words what you can say with 3.”

One mistake I find myself making A LOT is being too wordy. I like to think that adding an extra word or two helps to add something to the sentence, something like gravitas, weight, an extra punch.

See what I did there? I made that sentence far longer than it needed to be to prove a point.

To be a good writer, it’s time to cut your writing way back! You need to start looking for concise ways to get your point across, as that will make your work much, much better.

Think about this line:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Short, pithy, and properly Dickensian. In that line, it basically sets the tone for the entire book. It tells you everything you need to know about the setup for the story, and it’s just 12 words!

According to some experts, as many as 50% of writers make this mistake. Some writers could stand to lose a few thousand words, while others would do well to trim it down by ten, twenty, or even thirty-thousand words. Talk about editing with a brutal pen!

When you write, try to say as much as you can in as few words as possible. Keep your paragraphs short, your dialogue snappy, and your descriptions on track. Don’t meander and give your readers too many details, but just give them enough to keep them hooked.

Once the writing is done, go back over it and start looking for words to cut out. If they’re extraneous, cut them. If you can say with one word what you currently say with three, cut them. If they don’t add to the book in some way, cut them.

Stephen King likes to trim his books down by at least 10% in the second draft. That’s a serious reduction in word count, but it works to make his prose so much better.

Remember: sloppy, wordy prose can sometimes come across as sloppy thinking. Trim down your writing, and your readers will thank you for it!

 

Writing Mistakes: Not Reading Enough

This is something you’ll hear EVERYWHERE, so I apologize if it sounds a bit clichéd. I think I’ve even posted on the importance of reading more, but it’s so fundamental to your skills as a writer that I’m going to repeat it in this issue of Writing Mistakes.

One of the silliest mistakes you can make as a writer–content copywriter, a novel writer, comic book writer, or marketing writer–is not reading enough. Why is this?

You’re no doubt good at something right now, but how did you get those skills? It doesn’t matter whether you’re a skilled skateboarder, a video game champion, or a top-level advertising executive, you had to learn from something and someone. You studied, watched videos, and exposed yourself to as much material as possible in order to expand your skills.

The same is true with writing!

When you write, you have your own style, the way you write RIGHT NOW. You may think that your current writing style works, and so you live in your own little bubble of how you believe things should be done.

However, when you limit yourself to your own skills and expertise, you stagnate. You end up regurgitating the same swill over and over, never really learning or trying anything new.

And then you crack open a book, and a whole new world is opened up to you. You not only read a new story with new twists and plots, but you experience a new writing style. You encounter things that you like and want to emulate, as well as things you hate and want to avoid. By the end of that book, your writing style has changed slightly–hopefully for the better!

Basically, you need to read more in order to see how good writers write. Your style may be good, but why not make it great or AWESOME? To really improve your skills as a writer, you need to start expanding your knowledge base and reading more.

Are you a novelist? Pick up novels not just within your genre, but in other genres you’d never write about as well. Are you a copywriter? Look at copy written by the top experts in your field and see how they write engaging content. Are you a graphic novelist? Read more comics to see how the big dogs (Marvel, DC, BOOM, etc.) do it.

The more you read, the more versatile you become as a writer. It’s just that simple!

How to Define Your Writing Style

I find myself listening to audiobooks and reading novels and realizing, “I like the way this author writes. I want to write like him.” I make mental notes of the writing style, the way he/she strings sentences together, and plan to imitate that writing style when I next sit down.

And then I actually sit to write, and all of my plans go flying right out of the door! Instead of coming out in the writing style I wanted to imitate, it comes out the way I normally write.

That’s kind of the way a writing style works. A wise man once said:

“Style is to forget all styles.” —Jules Renard

Truth be told, your writing style will NEVER be the same as someone else’s. You can try to model your writing after the great writers that you read regularly, but you’ll never get it quite right. The way you think, the way you speak, what you read, your emotions, and millions of other factors influence your writing style. There is no way that all of those factors will be the same as the writers you want to emulate, so your style will always be a bit different.

Now I’m not saying that you shouldn’t try to copy what you like in other writers’ styles. When I was writing In the Days, I was reading Glen Cook’s latest Garrett P.I. novel. It’s a snarky, sarcastic book, and you can see that same sarcastic tone in the way I was writing.

When I started writing my latest novel, The Last Bucelarii, I was smack in the middle of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings. The descriptions are much more complete, and the writing is much more somber. When you read the book (hopefully in the next few months), you’ll see that the writing style has shifted in that direction.

To be a good writer, you SHOULD try to emulate the writers you look up to. I know that I’ve been referring to writers like Brandon Sanderson, Michael Sullivan, and Scott Lynch for descriptions, characters, and dialogue. It helps me to “up my game” so that my writing comes out at a level hopefully somewhere in the vicinity of theirs.

But, can I try to fit my writing style into their box? Absolutely not! I have my own unique writing style, and no amount of reading will ever change that.

You need to find your own unique voice, and make it stand out. Learn from the best, but improve on their work if you can. Let your reading help you to improve your writing, but find your own voice in your writing. There is already a Brandon Sanderson, a George R.R. Martin, and a J.K. Rowling in the world, and we don’t need another. You are the only version of “you” that we’ve got, so let your writing give us that taste of who “you” are!

Random Thoughts

Do you ever find yourself without anything to say? It’s happening to me right now. I’m sitting in front of this blank Word document, and I have no idea what to say in this blog post.

I could tell you about how my latest novel is going, but it’s only so interesting to hear, “I’m finishing Chapter 14 of 15, and then I have to go back and re-edit and do a second draft and blah, blah, blah…”

It makes me think that writers by nature tend to be fairly self-centered people. After all, we post updates on our progress, hoping that someone(s) will say, “Hooray! I’m looking forward to reading the latest brain-cloud that you are now turning into something you’re trying to sell.” It’s like we’re putting ourselves out there in search of validation from an external source, when really we are kind of insecure little boys and girls on the inside.

I wonder what that says about readers as well. Why would someone read a story that comes from someone else’s mind? Are we so desperate to distract ourselves from the s*** in our own lives that we have to gobble down someone else’s c*** as a temporary relief? Seems pretty much the case, but I guess that’s what makes a story so interesting.

A story does exactly that: it pulls you out of your own life and puts you in the life of someone else who is having to deal with their own crises. You get this god-like view of someone else’s suffering and trials, and the whole time you read a book you’re almost rooting for things to go from bad to worse just so that the story gets better. After all, it’s only the insurmountable odds and huge challenges that make for a great story. No one ever reads the story of “The Day I Went Shopping at Wal-Mart and Came Home With All the Groceries I Needed”.

I apologize for the random post, but that’s what was on my mind at the time. I promise that the next one will be much more coherent and organized. Cheers!

Writing Mistakes: Following the Rules Too Closely

In my last Writing Mistakes post, I talked about the importance of following the rules of grammar and punctuation in order to make your writing good. This week, I’m going to advise you to break a few of the rules.

Everyone knows that you have to follow the rules of grammar and punctuation in order to write well, but sometimes following the rules too closely leaves you with dry, boring writing.

If everyone followed the same style of writing, every book would be samey. There would never be anything original, as everyone would follow the same general structure and formula for writing.

A good writer follows the advice below:

“Learn the rules of good writing… then learn when and how to break them.”

Essentially, you need to know how to do things right first, and then you can fiddle around a bit.

For example, if you read the Prince of Thorns series by Mark Lawrence, you’ll find that he uses fragments A LOT. On the other hand, flip through any Dave Barry book, and you’ll come across sentences that occupy entire paragraphs. These sentences aren’t technically grammatically correct, but they set these writers’ writing styles apart from the others.

When writing, try to find your own unique voice. Don’t copy the grammar and style of other writers, no matter how awesome those writers are. Use their writing style to help you find your voice, or to discover, “Hey, I like it when this writer breaks that rule of grammar. Let’s see if I can do the same.”

Break just one small rule, but try to break it consistently. Make the rest of your writing 100% grammatically correct, but let that one broken rule set your writing style apart from everyone else.

IMPORTANT: THIS IS WHERE BETA READERS COME IN HANDY. They’ll read over your writing and give you feedback on how that “one broken rule” sounds. If they like it, you’ve found your writing style. If it throws them off or doesn’t work for them, try again!

Finish What You Started!

“The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress.” —Philip Roth

How many of us have something that is still “in progress” but is going nowhere? There’s that novel we started all those long years ago, but which we can never seem to find the time for. There may be a short story we’ve been planning to pen, but it’s never gotten past the stage of “story concept”.

I’ve had some of my writing friends tell me, “I’m in the middle of three or four different WIPs (works-in-progress), and I can’t dedicate enough time to any of them!”

Of course you can’t find enough time! A work-in-progress is very similar to a child. It’s something you love dearly, you want to spend as much time on it as possible, and it consumes every spare thought. Basically, it demands as much time as a child does.

So, if you’re spending all of your time on one “child”, how could you have any MORE time to spare for a second, third, or fourth?

What is it that stops us from finishing what we’ve started? I’m currently in the middle of only two projects: the one that is occupying all of my time, and the one that I’m putting off writing. Do you know why I’m putting off writing that second one? It’s because I’m scared!

That’s right: I’m terrified of making progress on that second WIP because I’m afraid that it’s not going to be as good as it could be. It started out with an idea so genius and brilliant that the first “chapter” came ripping out of me. I had to stop driving, pull over to the side of the road, and take the time to write things down before I lost that creative genius. The chapter basically wrote itself, all I had to do was type.

But now, the creative flow is no longer there. I’m worried that when I pick up that pen again, it’s just not going to come out as good as the first chapter did. The quality is going to slip, the story is going to suck, and it’s going to flop.

I’m going to face my fears in a few weeks when I finish my current WIP, and I’m going to pick up that pen on that second WIP and hammer out some more. I’m going to swallow that anxiety that my book isn’t going to be as good as it could be, and I’m going to ignore that nagging side of my mind that tells me “Oh, this sucks!”

Fear may be what’s holding me back from making progress on this WIP, but what’s holding you back? Why wouldn’t you finish one thing before moving on to the next? My friends and fellow writers, finish what you’ve started!

 

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