Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Use what works for you

By R.J. Harlick

Is there a piece of conventional writing advice you take serious exception to?

When I first started out on this writing adventure I was desperate for advice. I would seek it from whomever or whatever was offering it; writing experts, established authors, workshops, books, magazines even my fellow aspiring authors, though I stopped short of my mother. I was willing to try anything that would help me get my manuscript to the point that a publisher would agree to turn it into a book. Some I found tremendously helpful, some worked for the moment, some I tried, but quickly dismissed and some I never bothered with because they looked like more work than the actual writing.

I know where Meredith is coming from with the old adage write what you know. I agree with her that for an established writer it is better and more challenging to write about what you don’t know.  Only by challenging oneself can one mature as a writer. However, for a beginning writer I think it is a good place to start. There are so many obstacles facing the first time writer.  For them to write about that which is mostly familiar removes one of the obstacles and might make the writing process a little easier. 

It’s one of the reasons why I set Death's Golden Whisper, the first book in the Meg Harris series in a setting I knew very well. Needless to say I have since put Meg into unfamiliar situations and places that stretch me as a writer. My upcoming book A Cold White Fear is a good example of this. 

There is one bit of advice I took aversion to fairly early on, the character bible. I first learned about this technique at a creative writing workshop. The leader kept hammering into us the importance of developing an extensive bio for each of our major characters and some secondary ones too. She had a worksheet listing appropriate categories with numerous questions intended to help us flesh out these bios. I tried it. I really did. But it just wasn’t my thing. Too much detail. I also felt I was spending more time putting this together than on the actual writing. So I have never used it. But that’s not to say each of my characters doesn’t have their own story. They do, but I keep these details in my head and will adjust and add to as the Meg Harris series progresses from book to book.

But this said. I know writers who find these bibles tremendously helpful and put together a set before they begin the writing of a new book. 

One of the things I have learned on this writing adventure is that each of us has our unique writing process. What works for one writer doesn’t necessarily work for another.  The only advice I would offer to a beginning writer is to try them all, keep those that work and discard those that don’t.


On a final BSP note, there is only one month to go before you can get your hands on a copy of A Cold White Fear.  November 7 is the big date. I’ll be launching it in Ottawa on November 17 along with Vicki Delany who will be launching the first book in her Christmas series. So if you live close by come join the big celebration. We’re going to party.


1 comment:

Susan C Shea said...

Totally agree about that 'bible.' I tried it too and realized knowing what color suits my character wore or what she ate for breakfast and why was no help at all and that I was building my characters quite well to begin with, and finding out more about them as they turned up on the page worked for me. The core lesson is a good one though - for readers to attach themselves to your story, the characters have to be real and believable. Good post and I'm glad I wasn't alone in getting impatient with the exercise!