I participate in several writing forums on the net, and I glean lots of goodies from the different threads that come up. Many of them give me inspiration for these very articles. Something that comes up time and time again is cutting corners in the writing process. I see a lot of questions come up about authors (or I should saw writers and this point) having difficulty with certain parts of their story. Show not tell, for instance. How about point of view? Dialogue tags? Passive voice. All the classics.
It really annoys me when I see feedback from other writers and sometimes authors (you should know the difference by now) telling them it’s okay to let things go and move on. That’s sounds a bit extreme but I’m not done. There’s more to it than that. I’m not about to give an absolute without a bit more detail.
WHEN TO LET GO
Especially in the early stages of writing, a writer, even an author can get too hung up on the details. If you concentrate too much on being nit-picky, you can very well lose the muse. On the other hand, the more experience you get, the fewer of those details you’ll have to deal with through sheer attrition. The cleaner your initial prose will be. There are certain writers that never get it. They’re just plain terrible and never really learn the craft. They can create a good story, but the mechanics they leave up to a very tolerant editing staff. Unfortunately, I see some of these authors in the marketplace, in fact one I’m reading right now. Without mentioning that name, or a few others, there are those in the science fiction and thriller genres (that I know of specifically) with editing staffs that aren’t that good!
Then there are those writers and authors always striving to better themselves and hone their craft. The more they write, the more they learn, the better their drafts become.
However, in the interest of following your muse, getting the flow out, you sometimes need to stop fretting over the details and get the story down. Worry about fixing the details later. When you get to a sticking point with mechanics, stop writing and get hung up trying to get the POV right, or worrying about tell, then go to the net or a bunch of other writers somewhere and get a bunch of different answers, you’ll probably forget what you were trying to do!
Stop! Get back to writing and worry about it in the first or later edits. Geez! Let go.
Okay, here I am, right in that category. I’m giving you my two cents on what to do. So are a lot of others on forums, at writer’s groups and everywhere. Are we all right, wrong, in-between?
I look at it this way. It’s best to do it right the first time. Period.
Others will say, “but what is right?”
What I can say is there are not too many absolutes, but there are some. Cutting corners isn’t one of them.
The one piece of advice that really gets to me is the standard, “It’s the story that counts.” Bull! I’ve seen too many great stories diminished by crappy writing.
Do you want your legacy to be a great story told through crappy writing? Do you want people to remember you as that guy or gal that had that great book that couldn’t write your way out of a parking ticket?
Cutting corners is a great way to do that. I often see advice on the forums where that’s the case.
“Oh, you can head-hop if the story requires it.”
“If you need to tell, go ahead. No story doesn’t have any tell at all.”
“Forget worrying about the tags. They’ll get over it.”
“Passive is okay.”
In only the vaguest terms are any of these true in my opinion, especially as an editor. In fact, I don’t tolerate ANY head-hopping, though that’s a huge trend now, especially in thrillers.
So, with people saying stuff like that and not qualifying it, new writers think they have a free hand, they cut corners and, especially if they’re self-published, well…with no editing oversight to keep them in line…you get the picture.
Setting aside head-hopping which I won’t compromise on, what this advice should be saying is:
“A little tell is okay. Showing is much better and more active, but do your best to show and if a little tell leaks though, don’t worry about it. If it’s a lot of tell, you have a problem.”
“Vary your dialogue tags. Use action tags if possible or imply them through the character’s speech. An occasional “said” is okay, but avoid using other words for them speaking. You don’t have to go to extremes.”
“A little passive is okay, but not a lot. Cut out as much as you can, use word search and reword into more active verbs. People often talk passive in speech, but the narrative should be as active as you can make it…not necessarily to the extreme of eliminating every single passive word.”
Cutting corners is not abiding by any rules and just going with the “all that matters is the story” philosophy.
Sorry, not going to “cut” it. Those who give advice otherwise and show “New York Times best seller” examples that are crap writing are doing every writer a disservice. As I like to say about music. Someone can record farting in a paper bag and make it a hit. That doesn’t mean it’s quality stuff. Novelties don’t stand the test of time.