Posts tagged: Editing for Success

What Aspiring Authors Can Learn From Larry David

By , September 5, 2011 12:00 am

 

It is natural for us aspiring authors to seek advice about writing and publishing from those whom we admire most in the industry.  We turn to the Stephen Kings and the Donald Masses to point us in the right direction.  And though they may vary in their styles and querying tips, they share a core mantra:

 

Read a lot and write a lot.  Turn off that rerun of Frasier, stop dreaming about your novel, and get busy crafting your book.

 

All of this reading and writing and studying the industry then turns us on to new authors and publishers who tell us this same common-sense-yet-we-need-to-be-reminded-anyway drone in their own words.  Which is great except for the fact that we live in a world of entertainment where we also enjoy stories that unfold on the big and small screen and not just on the pages of a novel.

"An Indie Education" by MMRule

"An Indie Education" by MMRule

 

We needn’t feel like we are crippling our literary abilities just because we want to unwind in front of the TV instead of pouring over literary fiction.  Isn’t story telling in a novel similar to writing a script, after all?  Don’t we all slave over characterization, pacing, dialogue, setting, conflict, etc.?

 

Can’t we novelists also learn from the Seth MacFarlanes and Larry Davids of writing?

 

Until now comedian-actor-writer Larry David has not been much more than “that Seinfeld creator” to me.  I was young enough during the nine seasons of Seinfeld that I only really saw the show years later during 11 o’clock network reruns.  I then entered a seven year period when I was vaguely aware that a show called Curb Your Enthusiasm existed but didn’t even have a clue as to what channel aired it.

 

My indifference ended when I caught the Larry David TV Guide promo and then came across a few episodes from the current, eighth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO after my Sunday True Blood fix.  Once I stopped loling, I realized that Larry David is one of the best writing coaches I’ve found.

 

 He Outlines

 Many writers sing ballads of praise regarding the merits of outlining, and they are right to do so.  Outlining before writing helps us understand the beginning, middle, and end of our story and allows us to formulate the major conflicts that propel the action of the story.  Even better, the early organization helps us cut down on our editing time.  But the trick to outlining as we see through Larry David’s example is to use it as the guide it’s meant to be and nothing more.

 

But He Doesn’t Outline to Death

Ever stick to an outline so closely that you stunted the growth of your characters and the development of your plot?  The solution is improvisation!  Larry David clues actors in to the outline of a scene and then sets them forth into the scenario.  They speak how they want and respond to events as they happen.  The result is that the audience sees people in unusual (or unusually comical) scenarios acting as they normally would.  And the end product is successfully devoid of stilted writing and poorly delivered lines.

 

Larry David achieves what we want for our novels–characters that act naturally and believably in a fictional world.  Let your characters do as they please.  Leave your forced, premeditated characterizations of them aside and have them speak for themselves based on the conflicts they encounter and the world they are forced to reconcile.  Have them dictate the pacing of your scenes and talk when they want to talk!  You’ll likely find that they enrich your novel and create new dimensions of conflict that you never could have imagined ahead of time.


He Has Fun

Does Larry David really act?  According to him he doesn’t; he instead behaves like himself.  Next time you are writing, ask yourself if you are putting words down with the intent to write like a bestselling novelist.  If you are, I bet that your book is filled with needless flowery prose and littered with little gems of wisdom that you think sound great but that detract from the action.  Have some fun with your characters.  Ask yourself, “What Would Larry David Do?”  Start letting your characters react and stop trying so damn hard to be great.  You’ll be surprised by how quickly your work develops a pulse of its own.

 

Name your nontraditional writing guide in the comments section.  And let me know if you are also not ashamed to watch TV even if you do love to write!

Writing One Dimensional Characters? Try Getting a Life!

By , August 8, 2011 12:00 am

 

Birthing a novel creates a new dimension of life challenges for aspiring authors.  Balancing family, friends, work, errands, and the occasional clogged garbage disposal means that free time is really writing/editing time.  But that’s okay for us.  I’m not ashamed to admit that my ideal “me time” consists of sitting in my recliner for hours straight with my laptop and a box of Cheerios.  (Total darkness is also my preference.)

 

"An Indie Life" by MMRule

"An Indie Life" by MMRule

 

Unfortunately, finding the time to write forces authors into a realm of other difficulties.  Sometimes the sacrifices we make to construct our work in progress leave us too caught up in our heads and not in the world where we and our characters exist.

 

As the result, the characters that we thought were so thrilling and titillating end up falling into clichés that we didn’t recognize until we wrote them.  They just look through their windshield and think for an entire chapter.  They have complicated dreams that are just like real life, except they’re not.  And worst of all, they sit around and stare in the mirror, realizing for the first time that they have brown hair.

 

You may wonder what is wrong with writing those scenes.  Yes, dreams are often exciting and symbolic.  And who doesn’t look in a mirror and study their old acne scars while reminiscing about past lovers?  The problem is that these moments of deep thought and self discovery aren’t interesting to read!  At the very best they don’t further the plot of a book, and at the worst they bore the reader and damage the author’s relationship with him or her.

 

If writers want to create interesting and thought provoking characters, they need to break away from their computers and remind themselves of what it means to live a life beyond feeding their kids or typing a memo about synergy before returning to their novel.  They should try their darndest to engage in some of the activities that even non-writers love, like volunteering, going to the zoo, and getting some exercise!

 

Taking a break to do some living will help a work in progress in wonderful ways.  You will remember to let your characters move away from their thoughts and into an interesting world where they can define themselves through their actions!  So, get a life and reap the richness that your experiences will bring your story.

 

How do you keep your characters fresh and active?  Share your method for writing interesting characters under the comments section for this post!

 

Advice from Stephen King that Writers Can Live Without

By , August 1, 2011 12:00 am

 

It is a well known fact at The Exception to the Rule that I long ago named Stephen King as my literary idol.  I love him so much in fact, that when I was a teenager, I pooh-poohed reading The Poisonwood Bible because I had just picked up a copy of Cujo.  How I could resist the allure of Oprah’s Book Club sticker is beyond me!  (And yes, that is about as rebellious as I was in high school.)

 

It was also during my high school years that King wrote On Writing.  My Christmas list that year included On Writing, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Bonne Bell lip gloss, and the Backstreet Boys “Black & Blue” album.  My dad dutifully typed the list into his Palm Vx for safe keeping, and I received everything I wanted.

 

"Indie Angst" by MMRule

 

Naturally on Christmas Day, with Bonne Bell on my lips and the Backstreet Boys flowing out of my Discman, I sat down and started reading On Writing by tree light.  I was going to be an author, goshdarnit, and Stephen King was going to tell me how.

 

Now that over a decade has passed since that Christmas, I have a novel+ under my belt and am getting my feet wet in the querying kiddie pool.  I have also realized that I am not Stephen King, and not everything he told me is going to work.

 

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

 

King didn’t come up with this equation by himself.  It is advice that an editor wrote on the bottom of a rejection slip during his early days, and it in part helped his writing evolve to legendary status.  But as of today that advice has not helped me, and it likely will also not help you.

 

Why?

 

Super star blogger Nathan Bransford mentions in this post on word count that many aspiring novelists produce staggering drafts that pass 100,000 words and keep going.  I, on the other hand, am not alone in completing a draft at 70,000+, fearing that I didn’t write everything I should have.

 

Subtracting 10% of your draft isn’t going to help your work in progress if you struggle with these length issues, or if you have an appropriate amount of words but wrote 50% action and 50% boring backstory that no one but you cares to read.  I suggest a different approach to the equation.

 

2nd draft =

1st draft – Everything that isn’t Important + Everything Important You Forgot to Include

(Repeat until your draft is an appropriate word count for a debut novel in your genre.)

 

Is this formula too vague for you?  It should be vague!  King’s advice works best for someone who can already tell a damn near perfect story, but who at times includes too much detail.  However, that is not my problem, and it likely isn’t yours.  Part of the work that distinguishes a writer from an author is the ability to self diagnose.  To critically think about a work in progress and keep pushing it until it stands alone.  Being an author means that you write something that has a backbone because you built it from your labor and desire to improve.

 

Stephen King found the editing method that worked for him, and now it is your turn to tear through your work in progress and find what works for you!  Plug those plot holes, evolve your characters, and have the courage to write your own equation for success.

 

Help get the conversation started at The Exception to the Rule by posting your equation for the perfect 2nd draft as a comment for this article.  Happy writing!

 

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