By Sherry — in Northern Virginia where we are still digging out.
As authors we hear lots of writing advice. Things like sit your butt in the chair, have a daily word count, and set regular writing hours — advice I often ignore. I was wondering, dear Wickeds, if there was some piece of advice you’d gotten that took your writing to the next level.
Sherry: I’ll start. One year at Crime Bake I was lucky enough to have Hallie Ephron read part of my unsold manuscript. The book features a protagonist who is a gemologist. My protagonist was searching for someone and enters a dark alley to look for the missing person. Hallie asked me why she would go into a dark alley with a murderer on the loose. I had no answer. Hallie said to keep her smart. In a rewrite my protagonist thinks she sees the missing person enter the alley. My takeaway was that if someone is going to do something dangerous/risky/foolish they’d better have a great reason for doing it! I try to keep that bit of advice at the forefront when I’m writing and editing. For those of you who want to hear more of Hallie’s great advice try her two excellent books on writing — The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel and Writing And Selling Your Mystery Novel.
Edith: And you definitely do, Sherry! How many times have you added a comment to my manuscript to the effect that, “She wouldn’t do X. She’s smarter than that.” I didn’t realize I needed to thank Hallie, too (I’ll remedy that at my next opportunity).
Manuscript critiques by established authors are priceless. Hank Phillippi Ryan critiqued the first twenty pages of my first mystery, Speaking of Murder. She said, “Nothing happens.” Whoa – she was right! I guess I fixed it well enough because she later gave the book a glowing cover endorsement. I also submitted a number of short stories to local anthologies in my early years of writing fiction — all rejected. Editor (and author) Susan Oleksiw remarked that I had set up a good story and drawn several intriguing characters, but I’d ended the tale before anything happened. So the piece of advice that changed my writing was: Something has to happen. Seems obvious, right?
Barb: I’ve mentioned that I’ve been in a writers’ group for twenty years, right? One piece of advice I quote all the time came from my colleague (and all-time critiquing great) Mark Ammons. “If you’re going to tell a lie, tell it fast. Don’t elaborate, don’t apologize and don’t look back.” What I take this to mean is that in every manuscript there is a “gimmie,” a plot point, action or decision the reader must buy for the story to work. Lots of times it’s just better to put it out there, without over-explaining, contexting, or rationalizing, before or after. It’s often when you pick at the point again and again, particularly if you give multiple, differing justifications, that the reader begins to question it. To me, voice is confident story-telling, and a strong enough voice can get you to believe just about anything.
Jessie: I would credit the agent we all share, John Talbot, with a piece of advice I tell myself at least once during the course of writing every book: “You can fix anything except a manuscript that isn’t written.”
Julie: What a great question! For me, it is trust your reader. I tend to over explain, and have learned to trust my readers to understand the journey without me explaining every single step.
Readers: Do you have a piece of advice that changed how you write? A wise word that changed your life in some important way?