My father spent his life editing magazines in New York. Of course, his was strictly non-fiction, but over the course of growing up I caught several occasionally repeated phrases which are still worth repeating. Follow:
“It’s okay to speak off the cuff as long as you write it down first.”
I am thinking of this blog and so many other blogs written by writers and would-be writers. They say if you want to be a writer these days you need to establish a presence, and a blog is a good way to do that. I think, though, some bloggers could spend a little more time considering their words. Put that way is a kindness. A blog may or may not say something about the person writing it, but it will certainly be taken as saying something about the writer.
My dad was a Civil War buff. He went to nearly all of the battlefields in his lifetime, and one thing he always liked to do was check for typos. He would see, for example, how many misspellings of Connecticut he could find cast in bronze forever. Okay, that was a little weird, but it proves the point. I don’t have his editor’s eye, but I try to be careful in my posts, both in the writing and in the content. I would think any would-be writer should.
“Good writers know what to put into a story. The best writers know what to leave out.”
What can I add to that? My last writerly post was about revising and editing, not rewriting. In that post I mentioned tightening the prose, but only in passing. Still, I believe it is imperative for any writer to learn how to be concise. Yes, at times the prose can be too spare, but the human tendency is to pad things.
A young man told me recently he finished a good story but it was 35,000 words, a very hard sell in this market. He asked me if he should expand it to novel length. So I asked where the other 35,000 (to 50,000) words were going to come from and why will that not be the worst case of padding since Weird Al Yankovic sang about being fat?
Seriously, you need to know how to tell a story if you want to write well, but if you want excellence, you need to know what to leave out.
Then there is this, and I will leave you with this thought.
“Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story.”
Too much back story? Too much information? Too many explanations? Too many graphs and charts and maps so you look like a Glenn Beck wannabe? You fill in the blank. Remember, stories are always about people. They may be alien or fairy people (science fiction and fantasy) or animal people (Narnia or Homeward Bound) but they are people all the same. Don’t let the facts get in the way.