Monday, September 9, 2013

Writing Tips - Advice from Robert Newton Peck

According to Robert Newton Peck, the author of many fiction and non-fiction books, "Writing is not an art. It is a craft. And the more you work at it, the better you become." I met Mr. Peck on several occasions and his directness and sharp insight made his message all that more poignant. Of all the books, Mr. Peck as written, I'll always treasure the one he signed for me, Secrets of Successful Fiction.

This book is meant to be a toolkit for writers. I've read it. And, I'd like to share some of Mr. Peck's more important messages with you. Even though it was written in 1980, the information shared is well worth the read.

Humor is a big part of Robert Newton Peck's life and work. If you ever get a chance to read this or any other book he's written, you'll be amazed at how he can infuse humor in nearly every situation.

1. An amateur writer tells a story. A pro shows the story, creates a picture to look at instead of just words to read. A good author writes with a camera, not with a pen.

2. Flowers belong in gardens, not in books. As a reader, I can't stand flowery writing. Writing is not description. It is action. Writing is not a butterfly collection of adverbs and adjectives. Good fiction is a head-on crash of noun and verb.

3. Resist beginning your story with a description of the setting. This is the trademark of the amateur. Instead, start your book with a combination of talk and action. Nouns and verbs.

4. Writing is not a shotgun. It's a rifle. Zero in. Get dirty. Do your research. Focus on the story.

5. A plot is two dogs and one bone. A plot is merely a dramatic situation where a character 1. wants something, 2. tries to get it, 3. And is opposed. It boils down to want. Mother Nature, in her wisdom, created all living things to want something. The want-syndrome is observed, understood, and practiced by every savvy writer.

6. Where's the camera? Point of view is knowing where the camera is that records the action, dialogue, and thoughts. Point of view is determined when the author decides which character is going to tell the story. Does the camera always, in every book, have to be in just one person's head? No. To write a book in which your characters think secret thoughts about each other, you must use multiple viewpoints, with the camera inside the heads of many. But remember this: there is only ONE camera.

7. A writer must learn to stick to the here-now of an established situation, and not go gallivanting off to Topeka, Valdosta, or Flashback, Wyoming. Don't wander. Stick with the action that you have taken the time and trouble to establish.

8. Humor is necessary to any good book. To lighten the lyric. For pace. Humor is a bridge, a connection, a sudden span that unites two previously disassociated entities. It is that surprising arc-jump of light that flashes between anode and cathode. Comedy is a marriage of two things, two ideas, two beings that were never before connected.

9. Before you begin Chapter 1, be sure to outline all your characters so that you know them inside and out. If you get to know your characters, they will help you write your book. Get to know them so well that they begin to talk to you. To say things. Do things. Want things.

10. If you have a hero in your book, pour two ingredients into your mixing bowl: good and bad. Make him real. Rub some mud on the guy. Get him dirty. No one is nice all the time.

11. Read  a lot of stuff. Browse in bookstores. See what's being done, sold, and then go do it yourself. Borrow.

12. Amateurs worry about overusing the word "said" when two characters converse, so much so that they herd in every substitute for "said" they can muster. Worse than that (if anything could be) the amateur seems compelled to describe "how the obvious was stated ... by adding useless ly adverbs following each "said". Don't be afraid that you've said "said" too often. Nobody reads it.

13. Avoid exclamation marks !!!

14. Quit underlining every other word because you think it's important.

15. Avoid cliches.

16. Make your character care. As soon as you make your character care for someone, or something, the reader begins to care about what happens to the character. But the care must be for something or someone other than himself.

17. Sound is one of the spices of fiction, to perk a reader's ear (and eye) and make him fell he's really there. Use sound effects.

18. Hook the reader with the opening of a chapter. A page in a novel is not a block of text. Readers hate this, and have since childhood, because it reminds them of textbooks. Learn to open up your pages to welcome the reader's eye. A book page must not only read well, it must also look inviting. Open, like a panoramic painting. Be generous with your white space.

19. Titles are darn important. Here's why: For every one person that reads your current novel, there will be a thousand who will just read your title. And (you hope) remember it. And maybe even say, "Yes, I've heard of that book." Titles, like you and me, are born.

20. Remember that committees of people don't (or shouldn't) write books. One person does. That's you. Editors suggest changes. Then, it is up to you as an author to measure the worth of those suggestions and act upon them. Very few authors can edit their own stuff. A good editor tightens as book. He gives a manuscript polish. Be easy to work with. Be flexible.

 A lot of great advice, eh? If you get the opportunity, read the book.