Friday, April 13, 2012

Notes on writing

Looking through some old notes, in preparation for reading/judging entries in a contest, I happened upon a list of "Fatal Errors in Mystery Writing:

1) Use of coincidence. If you must use one, put it in at the start of the story and don't make it vital to the solution.

2) You must reveal clues to the reader as the sleuth discovers them.

3) Don't make your readers ask:
Why didn't she just go to the police?
Why did he go alone into the abandoned warehouse (or whatever) to confront the villain?
Why did he stick around?

4) Have only one viewpoint per scene in a novel. Short stories often do best with just one point of view (maintained consistently throughout)

5) Information dumps.

To this list I would add "flat characters."

Another item that provided me with food for thought came from an unexpected source, O Magazine, July 2009. In it I found an article by Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours and other novels. The title: "A writer should always feel as if he's in over his head."

Cunningham asks, rhetorically, why writers are such complainers, seeing as they're not the only people who work for limited rewards and little recognition. Then he answers his question by citing a personal experience. Someone came up to him and said he had a great story and would like to work with him. The stranger offered to provide the plot while Cunningham supplied the descriptions, characters, dialogue and settings. He implied that he was asking Cunningham to do the easy stuff.

There is a widespread belief, wrote Cunningham, that anyone can write a novel. Why? Because many authors are so good at their craft that their achievements seem effortless.

As well, many people assume that the characters and events in a work of fiction are to some extent autobiographical, and that all the writer has to do is remember the past and slap the memories down on paper.

Although writers are irritated by the prevailing attitude toward their profession, they are "also happy in unmistakeable ways some of the time," concludes Cunningham

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