Writing Through a Stone Wall: Hard Won Secrets of Success
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by Ardath Mayhar
Category: Self Improvement
Description: Multi-Award Winning Author Shares Her Writing Success Secrets! Here is an invaluable how-to book for writers, from a woman who has published nearly fifty books and won or been nominated for over two dozen awards and prizes including the Margaret Haley Carpenter Prize, the Omar Award, the Balrog Award, the William Allen White Award, The Western Writers of America Spur Award, the Mark Twain Award, and the Nebula Award. In this unique work, Ardath Mayhar, author of such impressive works as The World Ends in Hickory Hollow, Golden Dream: A Fuzzy Odyssey; High Mountain Winter; How the Gods Wove in Kyrannon; Hunters of the Plains, Medicine Walk, Warlock's Gift, and Far Horizons shares the personal insights she has gained during her thirty-some-year literary career. She calls these "hard-won wisdoms," and her hope is that by sharing them with other writers, she can make the road to writing success a bit easier As she says, "You will encounter many pitfalls and stonewalls in the business of writing. I have tried to put up signs that will help you to write through those stone walls..." Among the topics covered in this must-read eBook are the nuts and bolts of Creating Atmosphere, Making Things Happen, Characterization, Plot and Theme, Transitions, Conflict, Imagery, The Shaping of Language, Spelling and All that Good Stuff, How to Build a Culture, ReCreating the Past, How Not to Starve as a Writer, and much, much more. You will want to sit down and start on your own story or novel as soon as you finish! Discover why author Joe Landsdale says, "Ardath Mayhar is a national treasure!"
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner, 2005
eBookwise Release Date: January 2005
7 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [168 KB]
Reading time: 108-151 min.
CHAPTER 1. THE LEAD PARAGRAPH
In today's overworked and understaffed publishing world, it is more and more true that the decision to read or not to read a manuscript may depend upon the beginning of the story or nonfiction piece. Editors read huge stacks of manuscript every week, and their eyeball-power is strained to its limits.
It is not, however, only the editor who makes his decision on the basis of two or three pages. The casual reader, browsing through a bookstore, will more often than not decide upon the purchase of a book by reading the first paragraph.
I have done this myself, knowing that some books take a hundred pages to hit their strides. And yet my eyes, too, suffer from overwork, and this is such a convenient shortcut.
As one who has taught people writing, as well as editing the work of beginning and professional writers, I can say with some truth that you usually know at the end of that first paragraph whether the work is going to be worth the time and eyestrain devoted to completing it. By the third page, you can be sure that if there will be any strengths they would have showed up.
But the first page and the first paragraph and the first LINE of the first paragraph can grab you so solidly, in some cases, that you are well and truly caught by the proverbial Narrative Hook. Never discount its value.
This is not a device used by hacks to sell potboilers, believe me. It is a necessary concomitant of writing commercially viable prose, and it is as true for nonfiction writers as it is for those who create fiction.
Many years ago I attended a writer's conference at which one of the prominent agents of the day was a speaker. I will never forget the line that he quoted as hooking him on a story that turned out to be disappointing, yet which he read to the end, simply because of the lead.
"They piled out of the cabin and squared off in the snow." That line has stuck in my mind since 1952, if you can believe that. Look at it--how lean, and yet how full of information it is!
You are in the north country (cabin and snow). At least two people are involved in the action, and there is a fierce altercation in progress, or they wouldn't be serious enough to carry the action out into the snow. In twelve words, a novice writer stumbled upon the perfect way to begin a story that he had not yet learned the skill to complete on the same level.
Another fine example of a lead line that pulls you, willy or nilly, into the story is that of Mary Renault's novel THE LAST OF THE WINE. It is to the effect that when the narrator is depressed about anything, he recalls that "on the day I was born my father wanted me killed." This jerks you up short and will not let you go until you learn all the circumstances surrounding this character and his background.
Once you have that perfect first line, you cannot afford to let your fishing line go slack. The paragraph into which it leads should develop that initial statement, creating still more interest, suspense, or atmosphere.
It is a good idea to analyze books and stories that you particularly enjoy. Watch how the writer went about catching your attention. How did he introduce his story? How was the main character introduced? What background is indicated, either directly or by implication, and what effect does it have upon your perception of the action and the people involved?
There are many ways in which to begin a story, and new ones are being invented all the time. Yet every story has its own best beginning, and it is up to you as the writer to learn how to find it, and, indeed, at which point it is best to start telling your tale. Not only will this affect the reception of the story, it will color your own approach to writing it, for that beginning is also your own first immersion in this story you want to tell.
There have been stories that had problems that were solved when the writer went back and created a new lead. I have seen entire books rewritten in first instead of third person, or vice-versa, as a result of restudying that lead. To a great extent, it is even more important than the ending.
Actually, by the time a reader gets to the end of the book, he has usually bought it and can't do anything about it, so a disappointment there creates only a delayed problem. An editor can usually spot a problem with an ending and make excellent suggestions for correcting it. But if your lead paragraph hasn't snagged that editor into buying the book, you will never know.
* * * *
CHAPTER 2. ENDINGS
If your lead paragraph is an inducement to the reader/editor to finish reading your story, then the last few sentences can be your opportunity to make him glad that he did. It is so easy to get lazy near the end of a book or a story.
You have worked very hard, forming good characters and a fascinating plot. You have done a wonderfully dramatic climax. At this point you are just finishing up, it sometimes seems, and your task is done.
But it isn't.
At this point, you need to provide some sort of summation of your story. Have you settled all the important situations? Have you tied off all the subtle threads that spun off from the main plotline? Perhaps all your characters are now prepared to live happily ever after, but something still remains to be done.
You have to make it all make sense. Something needs to convince the reader that all the sturm und drang was worthwhile, that the characters and the reader and even the writer learned something or accomplished something, even if it was only enjoyment.
It is at this point that you make a lasting friend and reader. Here you convince him that you are a writer after his own heart, one who takes infinite pains to make certain that his sense of fitness and completion is satisfied. You have hung in there to the very end, trying hard all the while.
How many stories have you read that left you with a vague sense that you were uncomfortable with their endings, no matter how logical they might seem? Something was simply amiss. You couldn't say just what, but something was.
If you react as I do, you seldom pick up another work by that particular writer, just because of that one reaction.
It is like an itch you can't scratch or a pebble in your shoe. It isn't vitally important, but it isn't something you intend to repeat unnecessarily, either.
At the end, the last thread must be tied, and some final statement needs to pull the whole story together into a coherent whole. As an example, I will use the last couple of paragraphs from my first published novel, HOW THE GODS WOVE IN KYRANNON (Doubleday, 1979):
But we shall be, ever and always, alert to the outside world. Never again will I shut myself away to save my own hurt. Linked into the skein of spirits that have wrought together in the name of the gods, we shall know what passes overmountain. Should another seek to take the Tyrant's place, he will find himself beset from south, from west, from north, by forces of terrible power. We go not to be hermits but free beings, living as we love to live.
So the pattern is completed, the shuttles return to their places, and the hands of the gods lie idle, or turn to other tasks.
* * * *
CHAPTER 3. BASIC NEEDS
There are a number of elements that can make your life as a writer much easier, if you know about them from the beginning, instead of having to stumble into them by accident as you stagger through the creative maze. I will list here some of the things I have learned by hard experience:
1. Read widely, not only in the field in which you are interested, but also in many different areas, from children's books to classics, from science fiction to mysteries. I also suggest strongly that any writer read psychology, anthropology, archeology,and ancient history, getting some idea of the multitudes of ways in which our kind has lived, what cultures have existed, and how our minds work. A deep understanding of mankind and why he is as he is will give every character you ever write about much more reality than you would believe possible.
2. Don't pay too much attention to books and courses that teach you how to write (including this one). They can be helpful, useful, and they can save you a lot of bumbling around in the dark, but every writer has his own best way in which to approach his craft. Don't let anyone tell you, "This MUST be done in this manner," or "Nobody works that way!" Believe me, there isn't a way in which somebody doesn't work successfully.
3. Study the English language. This is your bag of tools, your element, and an understanding of its grammatical construction is a powerful ally. But in addition, savor the words you have at your command. As you read work you admire, study the ways in which the author uses words to express his meaning in a unique manner. Read poetry to learn how to add rhythm and depth to your writing by the uses of unusual nouns and verbs. Think in unusual terms. And if it lies within your capacities at all, learn to spell!
4. Don't misunderstand the old adage, "Write what you know." This doesn't really mean never to write about anything you haven't experienced or observed. That would mean that nobody would ever write creatively at all, simply reporting what came within his/her purview. No, this means that if you write about an alien world, SEE that world inside your mind. Visualize the things that you write about, learn to know all about the places as well as the people with whom you tenant your tales.
If you do write about the sorts of things you see from your kitchen window, do it in unusual terms, with original insights. You can make poetic or philosophical conclusions arise from the most mundane situations, if you understand how to look at them with the creative eye.
5. Learn the techniques of writing and then follow your instincts. Rules are made to be broken--but know the rule and break it intentionally, not accidentally. If you use a technique that defies the canon, and it means arguments with editors and copyeditors, even if it means loss of a sale, if it works for you and you know it will work for readers, stick to your guns.It is the writing that is your reward. For money, you should have become a plumber.
6. Don't rewrite just to be rewriting, because you have read that writers MUST. A good rule of thumb is to do one draught as well as you possibly can, and then go back for a second that is BETTER. Any third and fourth and fifth draught writing labels you either sloppy or afraid to finish and measure your work against the market.
Use your critical judgment, after the work hashad a few weeks to cool off. Or get a knowledgeable acquaintance to read it for flow and coherence. It is possible to omit something really vital, simply because you know it so well that you think you have it down ... and you don't. People who work for thirty years polishing a novel have other jobs that support their dependents.
7. Do your best to keep in touch with other writers, if only by mail. This is a lonely field, and even the most devoted and understanding spouse doesn't really understand how you feel when something you know is good gets rejected by all the suitable markets in existence. Another writer, with whom you can share triumph and frustration, can keep you writing.
8. Don't be discouraged by rejection. Remember that it is this specific piece of writing, not you as a human being, that is being rejected. And don't rewrite every time your brainchild comes home from the wars. If two or three editors mention the same apparent flaw, it's time to look at that element of the story/article/book and reassess its clarity. If you begin to see loose spots and ragged edges, after a time, that, not earlier, is the time to begin a rewrite.
Principally, selling is a matter of sending the same piece out and out and out until it sells. When you have used up all the good markets, put the work in a file cabinet for a couple of years and then start the process all over again. Editors change with remarkable regularity, and you can hit an entirely new batch after a reasonable lapse of time. Upon resubmitting, however, it is a good idea to change the title, for companies sometimes keep logs of manuscripts coming and going.
9. Don't be sidetracked by literary fads. The sort of writing that lasts is that which finds a response in people who are neither academics, writers, nor critics. Writing is for people, not for those who practice artistic one-upmanship or academic obscurantism.
Any mode undecipherable to anyone except a professor of creative writing or another avant-garde writer is going to die soon and completely. Modern fads do not last.
10. WRITE! After work. While the washer runs, during fire drills, while driving or sitting in the dentist's office or the bathroom. Write in your mind if you don't have a pencil and paper.
Make notes of every person you find interesting, every place you live or visit, all the odd facts you come across. Retain flavors and scents and the feel of specific places. Everything you have ever known is going to come in handy to you as a writer, so write! And write! And write!
Too few professions have any inherent joy, nowadays. Ours is one that includes skill and love and reality and imagination. We have something inside us that we must put onto paper, in order to communicate it to our fellow human beings. We live with the demanding and frustrating elements of the business, simply because we love what we do.