This whole blog thing is a new adventure for me. I've spent most of my energy creating two new mystery series and working on my websites. Consider this an invitation to visit at:
I'm going to use this blog as a showcase for my Seedlings Column - featured at Bob Burdick's The Back Room and FMAM (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine). "Seedlings" are little seeds of ideas that sprouted in my brain while driving to work or before falling asleep. Not enough to flesh out into novels, by any means, but insistent enough to require capturing, all the same.
Here's the first of many. Do let me know if you find them useful. Feel free to email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advice for New Writers
by Aaron Paul Lazar
by Aaron Paul Lazar
In my “day job” as an electrophotographic engineer, numerous emails are exchanged each day. Sometimes, when discussing an esoteric topic such as transmission density or fusing quality, I sense a “writer’s voice” within the technical flurry of words.
Occasionally, I ask the sender if they’ve ever done any writing. A year ago, a colleague answered, “I loved to write in high school, but I just don’t have time anymore!”
She was extraordinarily busy, mothering an active two-year-old, commuting over an hour a day, managing her home, as well as holding down a full-time managerial job.
I knew she was overloaded, but sensed a unique talent in her words. I didn’t hesitate.
“Just write,” I suggested. “Take fifteen minutes at lunch each day.”
“But what would I write about?” she asked. “I have no idea where to start!”
“Write whatever comes into your head. It doesn’t matter what it is. Once you get going, it’ll just flow out of you. You don’t need a plan. Just do it.”
She wrote during a break the next day and sent me a page of lovely prose. I encouraged her to continue. We began to exchange writing daily, swapping edits and chapters with glee. Mind you, this was as good for me as it was for her. She had talent. Lots of it. And she was a hell of an editor.
Six months later, my friend completed the manuscript for her first novel, a historical time-travel piece. She’s submitting it to publishers as I write this.
As time marches on, I collect little buds of knowledge through my association with other writers, continued voracious reading, and simply through the process of relentless writing.
Following are ten suggestions that can help a young writer tone up his or her skills.
1) Just write. To start, write for a few minutes every day. If your passion is genuine, you’ll find that you can’t stop! You’ll manage your life to make it happen. I schedule very early mornings for writing, from 4:00 to 6:00 AM. It’s the only quiet time in my hectic life and I couldn’t accept spending less time with my wife, daughters, or grandsons. So, I go to bed early and forget about TV. What’s more important? In doing so, I’ve produced nine novels in a bit over five years.
2) Cut out the flowery stuff. I adore adjectives and adverbs, and I ache to describe scenes in lush detail. But in the end, I hack away at all the excess. If you read a line out loud and it feels stilted – stop! Take out all the extra words that slow you down, and just tell the story. Use the descriptors sparingly. I’ve found that after writing nine books, my style has become simpler and more streamlined. I’m going back now and red-lining much of the early work before it reaches the bookstores. It hurts like hell to do it, but it’s absolutely necessary.
3) Observe, observe, observe! Soak in every tiny detail that surrounds you. Colors, textures, sensations, expressions, birdsongs, sunlight, and the ground you walk on... Notice everything and brand it into your brain for that next chapter you’re going to write. Now, this may sound ludicrously opposite to the previous point. But remember, use these details judiciously, don’t splatter them all over the page.
4) Listen to the voices! No, not the voices in your head – though they can be useful. Listen to the grocery clerk, the bank teller, children at play, professors, grandparents, and neighbors... listen! You’ll never create natural dialogue without listening - hard!
5) Tap into your emotions. When someone close to you dies, it’s an overwhelming, dreadful experience. But, the same emotions that flatten you at that time will be indispensable when you write about loss. Recreating those deep-seated feelings will make your book come alive and ring true with readers.
6) Make your characters feel deeply and give them a rich history. This takes time and requires paying close attention to detail. It’s particularly important if you’re writing a series. If readers don’t care about your characters, they won’t come back for more. Don’t worry about defining them in detail in the beginning – just start writing and they will develop. You can always go back and add more detail that supports your characters’ growth.
7) Perfection comes later. Just get it out there, get it down on paper. Then, when you go back to it, hack away at the unnecessary prepositional phrases and the ungainly adverbs, extract those awkward scenes that stand out like sore thumbs, and supplement those that seem abrupt. One tip that works is to read your prose aloud. There’s something about the verbalization of a sentence that shoots those ungainly words right to the surface. If you have trouble speaking the sentence, then cut out the words that make you stumble. Then, set it aside for a while. After I’ve completed a novel, I put it down and start on the next one. Many months later, sometimes years later, I’ll come back to it. It’s best if I don’t remember much (I’m often surprised at how much I forget!) as that’s when one is in the best position to challenge one’s own work. Sometimes, I’ll be surprised at an unusually eloquent passage, or humiliated by a flimsy section through which I obviously rushed. That’s the time to roll up your sleeves and be ruthless! Cut out the excess and fortify the weak!
8) Find a skillful editor. I’ve been lucky. I have writer/reader friends with eagle eyes who will scour my manuscripts and be brutal where necessary. Try to find one or two writers who are willing to follow along with the book as you create it. That’s the best way to start. Share this service. Swap chapters as soon as they’re done. That’s what I do with several writer friends now. They catch things that I miss, and I return the favor. We aren’t shy about helping – if a passage sounds stilted, they tell me immediately! If I want to “see” more of the details in a scene, I ask them to elaborate. It works extremely well. Then, when the book is in a reasonable shape, I send it to another friend, who is a fine author in his own right. He goes through with a fine-toothed comb and imparts writing gems in the process. I call him, “The Master!”
If it weren’t for them, my books would stink. Well, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I’ve learned so much from them that the finished manuscripts read more smoothly and are of higher quality. I also have an “inner circle” of readers who’ve traveled with me through the series far in advance of publishing. They keep me honest and provide feedback about the characters they’ve come to love.
9) Maintain the tension. You want your readers to need to read more. Keep up the pace. Make it flow seamlessly from chapter to chapter. Try to avoid unnecessary excursions into boring territory. I use lots of dialogue; it moves the book along quickly. Short chapters also help the reader feel as if he’s making progress. Readers say that with short chapters, they’re more apt to think, “Just one more chapter before I go to bed.” Of course, if the tension and suspense are stimulating, your poor readers will stay up way past bedtime!
10) Polish it ‘til it shines. Don’t submit anything but your best work, buffed to perfection. You may have to go through it dozens of times, but it’s worth it. Have your friends and family do the same. Each time they scour it, they’ll find something new. It seems endless. But if you keep at it, you will produce a superior product.