People often ask me for recommendations on resources for learning to write, and I’m happy to give them. There are some great guidebooks out there–any of our own Donald Maass’s books being some of the best, in my opinion. But I have a confession: I think the advice that books on writing give is very often stellar. But when I’m drafting a novel myself, I very rarely use it in any conscious way. I mean, when I set out to write a chapter, I don’t consciously ask myself, what is my main character’s primary goal in this chapter? What is going to stop her from getting it? When I’m wrestling with plot, I don’t consciously follow any of the ‘approved’ basic plot structures.
I suppose I’d have to say that in my own writing I tend to rely on something closer to basic, gut-level instinct. I try to dig deep into what makes my characters unique, what exactly about them made me so intrigued with them, so determined to tell their story. And then . . . instinct takes over. I’ll write a chapter, then realize it needs an added scene of danger or suspense or conflict simply because it feels right. Of course, the converse is also true. Has anyone else ever had the experience of writing a scene/chapter/book . . . and it’s a good scene/chapter/book. The language is polished, the setting vivid, the characters real and vivid . . . and yet on a gut-level you just know that it’s all wrong? That there’s nothing to be done but toss the whole thing in the trash and start again?
That happened to me recently on my current WIP. I’d been working on it for a few months, and I genuinely liked everything I’d written. That’s what made it so hard, that subtle, sickening feeling that somewhere, somehow, the book was just fundamentally not right. That I hadn’t yet reached the true core of the story I wanted to tell. So what can you do? [Read more…]