Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Just the facts, Ma'am? Screw you; I'd rather embellish.

Worst writing advice I ever received: Only give the reader what they need to know.

The wisdom behind the message: Keep the pace pumping with news as it happens. Keep pushing the story forward, not sideways onto a tangent or backwards into a flashback. Stay current, stay relevant, and clip along quickly. Don't give the reader a reason to be bored and put the book down.

Who this advice is great for: Authors who indulge in long passages of setting, backstory, internal monologue, physical description, et cetera.

Who this advice was dead wrong for: Me.

When I wrote my first novel, I had taken a few writing courses where I learned a lot of very useful things. But I was petrified of too much exposition. I followed all the rules I'd learned about killing your darlings and deleting any unnecessary parts, and then I followed them again.

The result: My first novel was written almost entirely in dialogue. Very little setting, almost no visuals on the characters. And only the backstory that's relevant as a clue or red herring. Anything else fell victim to my delete key.

I don't totally hate my first novel. (Dead Politician Society, ECW Press, 2010) It's fun and fast and it gave me a quirky protagonist who I really like to work with. But the story clips along at a racing pace and never stops to breathe or hang out with the characters.

If I could write it again, I'd...

Actually this is the really cool part: I am in the middle of a rewrite. Three years and two novels later, I'm working with an ECW Press editor to fix what I feel was broken about my debut novel.

I'm adding flesh to the characters—flesh they already had in my mind, but I kept from the book because I was afraid of breaking Elmore Leonard's Rules 8, 9, & 10. I'm slowing down to look around—to see the setting a bit more, to feel the events more fully, to (hopefully) give the resolution more impact for knowing these characters better.

The story will still be fun and fast—I'm not restructuring it or changing the plot. I'm just giving the reader more than they need to know.

Because to hell with the rules. Rules aren't why any of us want to be writers.

If you'd like to read along with this rewrite, we're posting the whole book on Wattpad a few chapters at a time. Click here to go there.


Jackie Houchin said...

Well, that first novel must not have been TOO bad if it got published. I know excellent writers whose very well-written novels are languishing because they can't find and agent/editor to sell them. It's good that you can fix what you don't like in the book - I've never heard of this happening - and hopefully your readers will like the new version.

Barry Knister said...

There's just one rule: It has to work.

Robin Spano said...

LOL - Agreed Barry/Brenda - that's the only rule worth listening to.

Jackie - Thanks for the vote of confidence, and you're right--it's rare to get this chance to rewrite a first novel. Normally I wouldn't bother going backwards (just take what I learn to make each next book better) but I'm glad this is happening, because I'm enjoying playing with these characters again.

Meredith Cole said...

What fun to rewrite your first book, Robin! And I love that you're giving people a sneak peek of the new chapters.