If More Isn’t Better, What Is?

Last time I made a case for writers slowing down their writing rather than flooding the market with less-than-best novels. With the change of status of the e-book and the ease, as well as the lower cost, of publishing that format, authors may be tempted to increase how fast they put out books rather than to slow down. I think that would be a mistake.

Writers should continue to improve. How can they when they barely have time to get a story down and turned in on deadline, even as they put in hours promoting the previous book?

But how, exactly, can a writer improve?

Last time I mentioned that characters can improve with time. As a writer gets to know the characters, they become like real people and therefore behave on paper in realistic ways. Gone will be the lines of dialogue the author forces on them because readers need to know certain things. Instead conversation, thoughts, and actions will fit naturally because this particular character would say, think, and do these particular things.

But it’s a stretch to make characters unique. No two people are alike, and an author needs to work hard to make no two characters alike, in what they do, how they think, how they sound. In addition, no character should fit a mold. Just like an author should avoid cliched expressions, she must avoid cliched characters.

Along those lines, a writer aiming for better, not just more, should avoid cliched answers to the difficulties she puts her characters in. Finding an uncommon way of escape is a challenge on several levels. One is to find something that hasn’t been done to death already. The other is to foreshadow it properly so that the problem isn’t solved by some force or mechanism that appears conveniently at just the right moment when nobody (especially the reader) expected it or looked for it.

Besides believable plot points that are properly foreshadowed, the better plots are not convoluted. Once I had an editor call a synopsis I wrote “convoluted.” He was right. I hadn’t written the book yet and put the synopsis together based on ideas I had for the story. I knew where I wanted to go but not what all I wanted to happen on the way. I put in all the interesting things I considered. It was too much and of course as I began to develop the story, it was obvious to me which ideas didn’t fit.

Unfortunately, it seems like some books retain all the interesting ideas even if they don’t fit. Plots should not be hard to follow. They can have interesting twists, certainly, but the bottom line should be, the protagonist has an objective and a plan of action. So does the antagonist, and the two are on a collision course.

Most importantly, however, books should say something. Unless they are modeled on fables in which a stated moral is part of the story, the something a book says should be woven into the fabric through symbolism, character growth, plot developments, and resolution.

Such weaving takes time and is often a result of extensive revision.

I could go on and discuss character motivation and language and imagery and subplots and a host of other things that better stories have, but I think it’s probably time I put this particular rant back into its cage for a while. Let me end with a simple answer to the title question: If more isn’t better, what is? Creativity — and that takes time.

4 Comments

  1. And the weaving is the truly difficult part now isn’t it (at least for me!) : )

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  2. I hate doing laundry, but the one positive side to folding all those clothes is my story simmers inside my mind. I get to know my characters, deepen my plot, visualize scenes all while doing housework 🙂

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  3. Alex and Morgan, thanks for your input. Yes, I agree, the weaving is the truly difficult part. It takes planning and time and a willingness to undo stitches that had seemed neat and tight.

    Morgan, I’ve read several articles about this “simmering” (great word). Seems that a part of our brain is at work when we’re doing routine physical tasks that brings creativity to the forefront. I don’t remember all the technical parts behind it, but it is true to my experience too.

    I came across an article from an editor today that reinforced what I believe about this subject. She was talking about a group of YA writers who were on a panel discussing YA thrillers. The problem was two-fold: these writers were all also authors of adult books first and they were saying things about the genre that this agent found to be untrue. She finally realized, they were talking almost exclusively about their own books, not the genre at large, which she knew better than they did. Here’s her conclusion:

    And I think the reason they’re not well-read in YA is probably that they’re simply writing a LOT of books. It’s hard enough to find time to read for pleasure writing one novel a year. It’s probably impossible when writing more than that. And for most of these panelists, I got the sense YA was their secondary market. I’d wager they are a LOT better informed about adult thrillers cause they read them for fun.

    So there’s an aspect I hadn’t even considered about writing too fast — not enough time to read!

    Becky

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  4. You said it perfectly, Becky. I have made a determined effort to slow down and tell my story, instead of rushing to just get the novel done so I can try and sell it. It will be worth it in the end!

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