So you can read my books

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Don't forget to vote for my entry in Tessa's OUTSIDE THE BOX blogfest :

That's right. Dare to be bad.

1.) Ernest Hemingway said it :

All first drafts are shit.

He was a genius. And if his first draft was bad, ours will most likely be less than sterling, too.

Which is a relief.

It takes the pressure off us to write that masterpiece right out of the chute.

We know what we write will be bad. Then, with the rough foundation laid, we can get down to the fixes.

2.) The Zen of Writing :

Write in the moment.

Have your goal for the chapter you're creating up on the chalkboard of your mind. See it as a mini-three act play :

One : build-up with tension and foreshadowing

Two : the dominoes fall into place, sometimes flowing into an unexpected pattern.

Three : the bottom falls out of someone's expectations or plans.

With that mini-three act play in your mind write the first things that occur to you.

Flow with the internal logic of your words, set your sail with the mood of the winds of your muse and travel across your fictive world.

3.) Finish Your Vegetables :

Complete your chapter -- hopefully with a cliffhanger.

(You do not want to give the agent a convenient stop point. Make her want to turn the page and keep on reading into the wee hours of the morning.

If she can't stop reading, she will feel that the publisher and reader will not be able to stop either.)

4.) Bad prose is just a problem to be solved.

Every prose problem has a solution. Perhaps not a perfect one but an improvement of your earlier prose.

Look at your finished chapter. Correct what mistakes you see on the computer monitor. Print out the chapter.

Read it silently, correcting as you go. Read it aloud.

Slash through clunky sentence, writing the improved version above it. Read it aloud, listening to the flow of the words. Is there lyrical magic to them?

No? Read them again, slashing as you go. Try to see if you can make the mental images clear and vivid in your mind. It can be done. Sometimes simple prose is best.

Write the simplest version of the trouble sentence you can.

Write the first words that come to mind. Like the first answer to a difficult test question, it will more than likely be the right choice.

5.) Every prose pothole you stumble across can be fixed.

You don't have to be a genius. You don't have to be Pulitzer Prize material.

You just have to care ...

about writing at your highest level.

about how people interact and how they hurt and heal one another ... sometimes one act right after the other.

You're a writer.

You've observed people around you. You've reflected upon your own words and actions on the job, at play, and at home.

Use those observations to lend depth to the interactions in your novel.

6.) Put Tab A into Slot B :

A frequent agent complaint is that your story doesn't hold together.

What does that mean any way?

It means the individual parts don't fit.

At the start of writing your novel, write what you believe will be your last chapter. Tie up all the loose ends you plan to dangle along the course of your narrative.

Present your protagonist, having learned all the hard lessons he picked up in the heat of the crucible. Have him admit to his failings of the past. Have him stand proud and laughing or silent, strong, and humbled by his hard-won wisdom.

Then, using this chapter as a guide, write your first chapter. Show the flaws in your protagonist that have been mended in the climax. Spotlight the areas where growth is needed, especially the ones to which your hero is blind.

Introduce the theme of your novel : Love makes lust seem pale and unsatisfying. Life is more than success. True friends are your real wealth. Family is the yin and yang of life, both pain and healing.

As you write the meat of your novel, keep your creative eye on both of these chapters to time your pacing, tension, laughter, foreshadowing, and ultimate victory.

*) If you dare to be bad, your novel will be very, very good.


  1. Ha, my first THREE drafts were crap. And I'ms till at it. Oy...

    Lovely words and inspiration from a lovely writer.

  2. Amanda : Me or Hemingway? LOL. Thanks for reading and commenting. It means a lot.

  3. This is so true! We must give ourselves permission to write that rough first draft. I mean it isn't called 'rough' for nothing! Excellent insight, eloquently put!

  4. Thanks Roland,

    Such great advise, especially at this time ... at the beginning of a new novel.

    This helps a great deal.


  5. Heather : I'm glad you liked my post. And thanks for the praise.

    Michael : I wish you luck and smooth sailing with that new book of yours!

  6. 'Love makes lust seem pale and unsatisfying. Life is more than success. True friends are your real wealth. Family is the yin and yang of life, both pain and healing'.

    There is always a passage that takes my breath away. That was 'it' in this post.

    Excellent advice. As always, Roland.

  7. "Bad prose is just a problem to be solved." I like the optimism in that one!

  8. Wendy : After I wrote those words, it hit me that they are basically the core themes of most of my novels. I'm glad you enjoy my posts. It means a lot to me.

    L.Diane : All of us have garnered some awareness of how the world and the people around work. Tapping into that knowledge will go a long way in solving most klitches in our work. Thanks liking my post.

  9. I just did the "dare to be bad" for my overview of four books in a series. I can fix the holes and prose problems after I lay the stories down. And, as much as I love the whole screenwriting method to writing, I have to do it this messy way first before I get my plot poles in place.

    Thanks for the reminder that it is good to be bad!

  10. Christine : Each of us has our own compass to find our way through our novels. I'm glad to have found another "dare to be bad" compatriot!