Fiction writing, avoiding the pitfalls, Uncategorized, What writing's all about

Good Writing Advice to Ignore

In many ways, “Write what you know” is limiting, if not downright stultifying advice for would-be novelists. Apart from military personnel, law enforcement, physicians, nurses, EMTs, financial experts, moguls, and other professionals who do write dramatic novels based on their work experiences, most fiction writers seldom do even a small seldom do even a small percentage of the things their characters do, at least physically. The majority rely on their own more mundane backgrounds and plenty of research to enrich their characters’ dialogue and create experiences vivid and exciting to read about. They apply what they’ve learned through hours of research, which includes talking to people who know more than they do about the subjects at hand, as well as reading the novels written by those professionals.

There, now you have it, advice from an "authority" on the subject of writing--reading work by others is good, good, good for your career!

To enhance the scenes they create, most fiction writers employ their own senses, their own emotional and mental reactions to events, and apply them to their characters’ responses. Every writer has feelings we can use to enrich our imagined experiences. All we have to do is dredge them up out of our own psyches, minds, and gut feelings by asking ourselves, “What would be happening inside me if…” or “How would I feel if…” or “How long could I tolerate this if…” and “How would my life be changed…” Each writer has to become her characters, to draw on the varied, often disparate sides of her own personality to discover the answers to all the questions she has to ask of her characters.

I’ve never been to space. My only experience with weightlessness was enjoying negative buoyancy while scuba diving and imagining how weightlessness in space might feel similar, which allowed me to apply that to the experiences of my characters. I’ve never been through a space-fold that took me far beyond the night sky I’ve seen all my life, but my characters saw familiar constellations appear skewed because I imagined it would be that way when each group of stars was seen from a different angle a few hundred astral units beyond the customary view.

I’ve never been mountain climbing but I have studied mountains through binoculars while mentally inserting my terrified fingers and quivering toes into cracks and crevices that appeared impossibly small even to my enhanced vision. I’ve watched climbers on film and in person, scarcely able to breathe while they ascended. My fear of falling helped me write about a character’s sensations in the moments before her rope stopped her slide when she did slip off an insecure hold. I knew this terror from a time when I scrambled (very briefly!) up a climbing wall. Thanks to that foolish stunt, I managed to inject my initial fear of falling into my character’s emotion because it created contrast to the intense sense of accomplishment when she succeeded and reached the summit. (I didn’t get that on my climbing wall. I had to be helped down from maybe twenty feet up, but I turned my disappointment on its head and reversed my self-disgust in my character’s mind, giving her, instead, a sense of triumph–the emotion I feel when I finish a first draft.)

I believe the advice “Write what you know” was mainly intended for non-fiction writers, such as those who write articles aimed at specific markets, or those talented people who compile how-to books based on their own experiences and knowledge. It would be pointless to write an explanatory article on fly-fishing if you haven’t learned the specific techniques involved, body movements probably not easily gleaned through research, but only by doing and putting in hours of practice. If you’ve never so much as planted a seed, you need practical experience before you can write a good, helpful gardening book or one about post and beam house construction.

Writing what you know also applies to location. If you’ve never been to Seattle you might be able to create a walking tour on paper by using Google Maps. That’s great, you can even see pictures of the place, learn the street names, picture the buildings. You won’t hear sounds specific to the place, though, feel the rumble of a ferry’s engines under your feet or see the utter grandeur of Mt. Rainier’s bulk looming above the city. You’ll also be far too likely to repeat a misconception you’ve heard all your life—that it rains all the time. It does not. If you’ve never been downhill skiing, don’t put a novice on a black-diamond run. If you’ve never been to a Caribbean beach, or on an ocean liner, or visited the inside of a submarine it’s hard to write about those places with authenticity. Research helps, but personal knowledge is better when it comes to setting a scene in a place readers might know well and find fault with your impressions.

So, if you’re writing non-fiction, by all means, write what you know. But if you’re writing fiction (apart from the above advice about location), let your imagination be your guide, but research well and thoroughly so you can inject a strong degree of reality into the scenes you write. Your readers want to go with you on your adventures and the only way to carry them along is to be authentic and help them feel what your characters experience through your imagination and the authority with which you write

Ignore all advice about writing. Leave your blood on every page. Every page!

Miriam Toews

Available in Amazon Kindle, Print, and Audible.

Fiction writing, avoiding the pitfalls, Living the Writing Life, What writing's all about

Romance Novels–Bad for Women? LOL.

This is a repeat of an earlier published article. I believe it bears repeating. Probably daily.

Bad, bad, bad romance novels

Why are romance novels and romance novelists looked down upon?

It’s easy to dislike something you’ve never tried and difficult to try something you’ve been told you must dislike if you want to be seen as a mature, thinking human being.

People who have never and will never read any novel that could possibly be construed as a romance have a low opinion of them and the novelists who write them because they have chosen to believe others without thinking for themselves. They have likely been told by people they admire that they must have that opinion, and speak it loudly, if they expect to be taken seriously as connoisseurs of the written word.

I once had a Child Psychologist (not a person who dealt with adult human relationships) tell me my books were “damaging” to women because my readers would “develop impossibly high expectations” and “such books are what lead to high divorce rates.” Her message was that women are so weak-minded they can’t differentiate between fantasy and real life. When I asked about the fantasies written by men, she gave her opinion that those books show life more realistically. Uh-huh! Books in the genre of one-man-single-handedly-saves the-world are safer, psychologically speaking, than women reading about romance and love. Of course, if the world-saving hero get to bed six or eight women during the course of a two-hundred-page novel, that’s okay. It’s just “male fantasy.”

I suspect the almost universal belief that all romance novels are “trash” may have been established by a few male professors in the day when certain magazines with pulp paper interiors inside slick covers bearing brightly colored titles containing words like “Romance,” and “Confessions,” and “True” were popular and beloved by many teenagers and young women. If those short “true” accounts were “trash” (they were seldom true, and many were written by men in the forties and fifties, according to statistics I’ve read), then anything to do with romance must also qualify as junk–at least according to the detractors. Luckily, I wasn’t prejudiced when it came to reading books written by men, but many men have a much harder time being seen reading books written by women whether those books are murder mysteries, thrillers, or science fiction.

I grew up and was educated at a time when about fifty percent of my contemporaries (the half of my class with penises) and a fair number of my teachers, insisted on telling me books written by my gender must, by definition, be “bad” or “poorly written” because the characters in them didn’t go in guns blazing or fists flying to settle differences. Books without those elements were boring, not at all “exciting.” If a book dealt with human feelings, human frailties, and if the conflicts could be resolved without death or arrest or both, it had to be “badly written” because those touchy-feely factors scare the hell out of a great many readers. I feel sorry for people who were, and still are, so afraid of their own emotions that reading a romance might make them feel crawly or even cause them to shed a secret tear or two.

Instead of trying to ascertain why they have this strong aversion, such people perpetuate the belief, and speak it loudly from their lofty university pulpits or bar stools, or book-review panels, asserting that most women can’t write “real” books because few women understand the way the kill-or-be-killed world works. For them, there is no such thing as men or women experiencing personal growth throughout the story in which finding love—that is love, not just sex—is the main goal. If a reader cannot accept that a character’s admitting to his or her weaknesses and learning to overcome them makes them stronger, if they cannot accept that redemption is possible, they will never understand the romance genre. Those same people likely consider “redemption” a dirty word unless the novel has at least a thousand pages and takes place in a major theater of war or was written as a result of a war or involves the priesthood of some religious belief.

When some men write what they consider romances, chances are there is no happy ending, and “a lesson has been learned” so the reader will have to think and ponder what the author of the book really meant. If I have to wonder what conclusion I, the reader, should draw, and why I needed to learn that lesson, I consider the book poorly written because the answer is too often pat—as in “infidelity, while it might feel good at the time, is wrong.” As a reader, I want something deeper than that, and I don’t like being told “you’re born, you die, and life’s a bitch.”

So, if you think that’s romance, I’m here to disagree and tell you, “Uh-uh. Nope. No way. Not this reader.” That kind of “romance” doesn’t work for me. I want a woman and a man (or a woman and a woman or a man and a man,) with serious, deep-seated inner struggles that keep them at arms’ length despite their desire to be together. Their problems must be a whole lot more difficult to solve than say, geography or a misunderstanding that could be resolved by an open conversation. Whatever conflict keeps them apart needs to be potent enough to prompt the reader’s question, “What the hell are they going to do?” A good writer of romance novels will solve those problems with common sense, a considerable degree of human psychology, and a lot of caring, without killing anyone or anything. We want our happy endings, because, pal, without that, what we romance writers call, a H.E.A. conclusion, (Happily Ever After) it just ain’t romance.

You don’t like ’em, don’t read ’em, but fucking quit telling the world they are “bad,” and even worse, “bad for women.”