Tuesday, July 3, 2007

If it ain't broke

I recently had the pleasure of being part of the faculty at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, an incredible event for anyone serious about writing crime fiction. It was like being a kid in a candy store. This year’s faculty included Michael Connelly, David Hewson, Jacqueline Winspear, Eddie Muller, Tony Broadbent, David Corbett, Kirk Russell, Cornelia Read and a host of other writers so good at what they do that everyone in attendance – including the other writers – felt like a student whenever someone started talking.

But what struck me the most was how everyone does it differently. About half the writers outlined before they put pen to paper. Others said they wanted to feel as surprised by the plot twists as their readers and therefore had no use for outlines. In effect, they wrote by telling themselves a story. A handful stopped writing about a third of the way through their first draft and then outlined to figure out where they were and where they might be headed.

Most, but not all, knew the ending in advance, but everyone agreed endings can change. One writer actually starts with the title and then creates the premise for the book from that combination of words.

The conference covered a broad range of topics including character development, plotting, and so on, but the biggest lesson of all was that there isn’t only one way to do this. You could almost hear a collective sigh as writers discussed their differences. (Writers are inherently neurotic and tend to second-guess themselves, even after they’ve become successful.)

If something isn’t working, feel free to try something new, because odds are someone else does it that way, too. But if the way you write brings your voice to life, stick with it and don’t worry if other writers do it differently. If it ain’t broke, stop looking over your shoulder and just tell the story that’s inside you.


Mark Combes said...

One of my all time favorite novels is "Far Tortuga" by Peter Mattheissen. At first blush, you'd hardly recognize it as a novel - it looks more like a poem than a work of prose.

There are so many shapes and sizes out there. That's why fiction is so great.

Joe Moore said...

Good points, Tim. There's a comedian named Larry The Cable Guy who has a hokey signature line: "Git-R-Done". That's how we should all write. Just do what it takes to git-r-done. At the end of the day, our readers don't care how we did it as long as they are entertained and satisfied.

Mark Terry said...

I agree with Joe and Tim and Mark (I'm an agreeable kind of guy today, I guess). I'm pretty much a sit-and-write kind of writer, no outlines, but sometimes, particularly in the middle, I might need to outline through to the end. Sometimes I need to rewrite as I go and sometimes I can tell (it's a momentum thing) that I just need to get that story down on paper. Sometimes...

I think you get the point. Stephen King commented once that if he's stuck he might try writing it as a screenplay--basic description tags and dialogue. I haven't tried that yet, but I can really see how that might work. The point, of course is, git-r-done.

Julia Buckley said...

Thanks for the advice, Tim. It's very Ralph Waldo Emerson. :)

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Tim, your posting was excellent. So many roads and conveyances lead to the same place ... a finished manuscript ... but, unfortunately, I find many budding authors get so caught up in the mechanics of getting there, they either lose their story or can't seem to finish it. I know many personally who have stalled because they can't grasp the "Git-R-Done" mentality. (GREAT comment, Joe!).

In fact, maybe "Git-R-Done" should be a panel topic at some of these writers conferences.