“write people you would want to spend time with – even the nasty ones” – Neil Gaiman
Look, I’m obviously a Gaiman fan but I’m fairly sure I would find this piece of advice intriguing even if it didn’t come from him and here is why…
I love to read. I have always considered myself a bookworm. I really think books are one of the greatest things in the world. But there are books I dislike, books I hate and books I never finish because I don’t think they’re worth the small amount of time they would take me to read. And books I dislike tend to fall into one of two categories:
1. They are too wordy with long sentences I get lost in and paragraphs about nothing, or
2. I don’t like the characters.
And, if I’m honest, 2 is a much bigger problem for me. I made it all the way through Les Miserables despite finding large chunks of it fairly boring. I loved War and Peace despite, well, all the detailed War sections. I can deal with boring paragraphs if I care enough about the characters.
But if I dislike the main character the chances of me finishing the novel are slim and the chance of me liking it is basically non-existent.
Can any of you think of a novel you like with a character you dislike?
My general stance toward mottos is displayed very cleverly in one of the Series of Unfortunate Events books and is also summarized beautifully in Ecclesiastes.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…” (Ecc. 3:1)
While I sometimes like simple mottos I do not often trust them because you can’t. Sometimes one action is right, and sometimes another, because no two situations are identical.
I was scanning through a list of Rules for Writing Fiction and (surprise, surprise) a lot of the so-called “rules” were contradictory. So here’s the thing: writing is art. In order to make good art you need to make art that is different from other people’s art. In order to make good art you need to make art that is you. (Yes, yes, of course this is another simple tip and you should feel free to ignore it.) On this theme, there is a piece of advice from Margaret Atwood which I really like:
“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
Again, I am cynical and think that this will not always be the best way to write, it certainly seems (to me) a very good way to complete a first draft. It’s like brainstorming: you’ve got to let in enough silliness and honesty to get to the really good ideas.
Anyway, I shall continue picking and choosing the advice that I like, which mostly involves ignoring the stylistic advice and taking the motivational/conceptual advice. I don’t want to sound like anyone else in my writing but I do want to sound like the best version of me.