Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Lots of good advice here

From Janet Reid’s blog, writing advice I actually like. I don’t know that I think this is advice that could be easily taken in a practical sense, but I still like it. It’s from a twitter thread by tv writer Matthew Federman

Some tidbits that particularly caught my eye:

4) When you’re going in the wrong direction it feels like a slog. If you spend a suitable amount of time grinding gears, reassess.

I find that completely true. There can be other reasons your WIP just stalled out. (I’m sure there are an infinity of reasons this can happen.) But by and large, when the gears start to grind, then I personally have found myself deleting thirty or sixty pages and taking the ms in a different direction.

I remember writing three completely different Chapter Fives for one manuscript. And this absolutely happened in House of Shadows too.

18) When characters are complex, plots can be simple.

That sounds so pithy and elegant. Also, it might be true. True-ish. If the writing is inviting enough and the characters are appealing enough, then I expect that the plot can be simple even if the characters are not that complex either. I am thinking of Romance here, but I feel that is basically the case in general.

One might argue that characters have to have a certain level of complexity in order to be appealing, but I’m not actually sure that’s a very high level. Maia in The Goblin Emperor strikes me as an example of a protagonist who is very, very appealing without being all that complex. YMMV, but I think the portrait Katherine Addison / Sarah Monette draws of Maia is intimate and deep, but also simple.

22) While it is great and necessary to have flawed characters in drama, not all flaws are created equally. A Hero can be unfaithful, they can be wrathful, they can be stubborn. One thing they can rarely be: incompetent in their chosen field. 

Now THERE is a true statement. Nothing in the entire realm of fiction is less appealing than a protagonist who is incompetent.

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2 Comments Lots of good advice here

  1. Mary Catelli

    The other thing that I would say about writer’s block is that it can be very, very subjective. By which I mean, you can have one of those days when you sit down and every word is crap. It is awful. You cannot understand how or why you are writing, what gave you the illusion or delusion that you would every have anything to say that anybody would ever want to listen to. You’re not quite sure why you’re wasting your time. And if there is one thing you’re sure of, it’s that everything that is being written that day is rubbish. I would also note that on those days (especially if deadlines and things are involved) is that I keep writing. The following day, when I actually come to look at what has been written, I will usually look at what I did the day before, and think, “That’s not quite as bad as I remember. All I need to do is delete that line and move that sentence around and its fairly usable. It’s not that bad.” What is really sad and nightmarish (and I should add, completely unfair, in every way. And I mean it — utterly, utterly, unfair!) is that two years later, or three years later, although you will remember very well, very clearly, that there was a point in this particular scene when you hit a horrible Writer’s Block from Hell, and you will also remember there was point in this particular scene where you were writing and the words dripped like magic diamonds from your fingers — as if the Gods were speaking through you and every sentence was a thing of beauty and magic and brilliance. You can remember just as clearly that there was a point in the story, in that same scene, when the characters had turned into pathetic cardboard cut-outs and nothing they said mattered at all. You remember this very, very clearly. The problem is you are now doing a reading and you cannot for the life of you remember which bits were the gifts of the Gods and dripped from your fingers like magical words and which bits were the nightmare things you just barely created and got down on paper somehow!! Which I consider most unfair. As a writer, you feel like one or the other should be better. I wouldn’t mind which. I’m not somebody who’s saying, “I really wish the stuff from the Gods was better.” I wouldn’t mind which way it went. I would just like one of them to be better. Rather than when it’s a few years later, and you’re reading the scene out loud and you don’t know, and you cannot tell. It’s obviously all written by the same person and it all gets the same kind of reaction from an audience. No one leaps up to say, “Oh look, that paragraph was clearly written on an ‘off’ day.”

    It is very unfair. I don’t think anybody who isn’t a writer would ever understand how quite unfair it is.”

    ― Neil Gaiman

  2. Rachel

    Mary, that is so true! Books and scenes I really struggled to write often turn out to be perfectly fine a year later.

    I do feel that scenes I really loved writing are generally pretty good. On the other hand, I doubt the book I just wrote like that is gold straight through. It will be very interesting to see how I perceive it in a year or two.

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