In today’s Journal
* Quotes of the Day
* One Subscriber
* Another slightly shortened day
* My Best Advice for Fiction Writers: Part 2
* Of Interest
Quotes of the Day
“I don’t know how you perceive my mission as a writer, but for me it is not a responsibility to reaffirm your concretized myths and provincial prejudices. It is not my job to lull you with a false sense of the rightness of the universe.” Harlan Ellison
“This wonderful and terrible occupation of recreating the world in a different way, each time fresh and strange, is an act of revolutionary guerrilla warfare. I stir the soup. I inconvenience you. I make your nose run and your eyeballs water.” Harlan Ellison
“I hate when a director says to me ‘Here’s how I envision this scene’…excuse me? It’s right here in the script – I ‘envisioned’ it FOR you. Do what I wrote. If you want to ‘envision’, you should become a writer. Where the fuck were you when the page was blank?” Harlan Ellison
and an excellent storyteller in her own right, bless her heart, was concerned enough about my mention of the plummeting open rate of the Journal that she wrote me a whole long email about how to remedy it. I felt a little guilty that she spent so much time and effort on it.
I appreciated it, but as I explained to her, it didn’t really apply to the Journal and its very niche audience. For the better part of 8 years, I’ve had roughly 90 subscribers to the Journal. That number has never varied more than 10 in either direction, and the list has never broken 100.
For that same extended time, my almost daily posts have enjoyed an average (and almost unheard-of) 89% open rate.
So when that suddenly fell off to 15-40%, I mentioned it because it seemed a precipitous drop. And as I wrote yesterday, probably it was caused by the uncertainty of the future of the Journal. But no big deal.
I more than likely will continue with the Journal into next year, albeit with a slightly different format and with less-frequent posting. For example, there’s no reason for me to spend an hour or more each morning reading things online only to send them on to you.
Another slightly shortened day
Welp, another slightly shortened writing day, but with good reason. I went back to the Hovel to write one more session (Keep Coming Back, remember?) and heard what I thought was a hydraulic leak in my desk chair.
Nope. It was a rattlesnake. He had somehow embedded himself behind the desk on which I keep my writing ‘puter. Which means for a few hours during the day, my right calf was within no more than two feet of his head and fangs. He might even live in a hole in the wall of my adobe-dirt Hovel. Wrap your head around that.
I don’t scare very often, but that scared me. With my ticker problem, one strike and I’d be out for good. So I left the Hovel. I was able, leaning over my desk from the side, to get both my computers and bring them to the house, from which I’m reporting this morning.
OKAY, now, finally, onto something that might actually be helpful. By the way, if you do find any of this stuff useful, please consider sharing and/or recommending the Journal to your writer friends.
My Best Advice for Fiction Writers, Part 2
If you missed it, see Part 1 at https://hestanbrough.com/my-best-advice-for-fiction-writers-part-1/.
By Way of Example, a Pop Quiz
Please imagine that your distant cousin, who is rich or famous or infamous, asked you to write the story of one part of his or her life.
Maybe it was how s/he went about making that first million dollars, or maybe about the nomination, win, and acceptance of an Oscar for a performance in a film. Or maybe it was all about that last bank robbery, the one that failed and landed him or her in a high-security federal penitentiary.
Now imagine s/he somehow granted you full access to open a window into the past—to actually watch and listen as s/he made that first million or honed those acting chops or planned and carried out that bank robbery.
a. feel the need to outline or plot or plan what was going to happen in the story or embellish it afterward? Or would you
b. just watch, listen, and write it down as it actually happened?
If you chose b, yeah, me too. Because that would be the actual, authentic story, wouldn’t it?
And don’t say you can’t change it because it was a “real” life whereas the other stuff you write is fiction.
First, memoir is much closer to fiction than nonfiction. It isn’t an account of what actually happened. It’s an account of what the POV character remembers happened. If you don’t believe me, write even a brief a memoir about an event from your childhood, then invite comments from your parents and siblings.
But more importantly, the story from the exercise above is your cousin’s story, not yours. Just as the story you write from your characters is your characters’ story, not yours.
Finally, that’s the end of my first bit of advice for fiction writers. If you’ve forgotten, the first point is Understand the difference between your story and your characters’ story.
I repeat it here because it really is essential and fundamental to everything else I’ll talk about. If you haven’t read Part 1, or if at this point you don’t really get it, I recommend you go back and read it now at https://hestanbrough.com/my-best-advice-for-fiction-writers-part-1/.
On with Part 2—
2. Heinlein’s Business Habits for Writers is invaluable. Heinlein’s Rules are ridiculously difficult to follow and incredibly fun and fullfilling to attempt. Adhere to them. When you fall off (and you will fall off) get right back on as soon as possible.
For a free annotated copy of Heinlein’s Rules, click https://harveystanbrough.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Heinleins-Business-Habits-Annotated-2.pdf.
3. Every word of the story must come through the characters.
4. Any description of setting must come through the POV character.
To lay to rest the myth of “too much” or “too little” description, any description that comes through the POV character can’t be “too much.” You can’t “decide” (critical mind) whether anything is “too much” because you don’t know what’s going to happen later in the story. Duh. The POV character often will describe something that seems insignificant in the moment but plays a significant role later.
Conversely, ANY description that comes from the author (Mmm, I think maybe I should describe the shelves in the library) is always too much. Why? Because the source is external to the story. And that one description, if you allow your conscious mind to insert it, will throw the story off track.
Use all five of the POV character’s (not the writer’s) physical senses and at least one indicator of at least one emotional sense (fear, anger, irony, joy, hatred, etc.) in every major scene.
And no, you don’t have to force anything on the character. The POV character WON’T use every sense to describe every setting. Take what s/he gives you. But if s/he describes something, don’t alter the description and don’t leave it out.
That’s it for today. I’ll be back with Part 3 tomorrow.
Part 4 will round out my best advice and offer recommendations for resources and craft material.
Talk with you again soon.
See “Telepathic Communication + Unnatural Mayhem” at http://dyingwords.net/telepathic-communication-unnatural-mayhem/. This isn’t a site I check, it’s a subscription, and I recommend it.
The Journal…………………………………… 1250 words
Writing of WCG 7 Santa Fe 2 (novel tentative title)
Day 1…… 2190 words. Total words to date…… 2190
Day 2…… 3049 words. Total words to date…… 5239
Day 3…… 2588 words. Total words to date…… 7827
Day 4…… 3373 words. Total words to date…… 11200
Day 5…… 3317 words. Total words to date…… 14517
Day 6…… 3771 words. Total words to date…… 18288
Day 7…… 3102 words. Total words to date…… 21390
Day 8…… 2020 words. Total words to date…… 23410
Day 9…… 1504 words. Total words to date…… 24914
Day 10… 2524 words. Total words to date…… 27438
Total fiction words for December……… 43852
Total fiction words for the year………… 258826
Total nonfiction words for December… 15400
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 213480
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 472306
Calendar Year 2022 Novels to Date…………………… 4
Calendar Year 2022 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2022 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 70
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31
Disclaimer: I am a prolific professional fiction writer. Because It Makes Sense, I trust my characters to tell the story that they, not I, are living. This greatly increases my productivity and provides the fastest possible ascension along the learning curve of Craft because I get a great deal more practice at actually writing. It will do the same for you if only you trust it.
2 thoughts on “My Best Advice for Fiction Writers: Part 2”
For the pop quiz, B for me. It was interesting for me when I talked with my friends about people who don’t like reading fiction. I would bet memoirs are non-fiction for most of them. But it’s not my job to persuade them to enjoy fiction more… Even if it is about my fiction. But to think about memoirs more alike to fiction, it would give me a good point.
I like your way of thinking about conveying the character’s story. Even if I heard this from other sites, it is never as clear as your description. And since I was your mentor student I always write that way. Before that… hmm… Most of the time, but not always – and it gave me problems.
Have a nice day!
Thanks, Baláz, for taking the time to leave a comment.
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