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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

I'm reading a how-to-write book! 

Now, just writing that title has opened a whole can of worms.

My attitude towards these sort of books, is one of those worms. I think over the years I have been writing or attempting to write, I realise I have built up a sneering attitude towards them, thinking them a cynical way of exploiting the millions of wannabe writers who haven't the slightest hope of writing a thing. If you do this, this and THIS then you will be published!

I know it's not like that. There is no magic formula for writing a book in such a way to get it published. There are obvious things to avoid which will stop you being published. We all know those: use one side of the paper and don't use crayons. That sort of thing.

Books that purport a magic formula really are exploiting people's desires without actually helping them.

So why am I reading this one?

I have been having a lot of trouble restarting my novel and making the first three chapters the most, instead of the least, interesting. Some time ago Graham gave me a book -- for some reason he had two -- and I put it to one side thinking I might read it one day. The book is The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman.

Strangely apt for my current situation and so, when I came across the book while clearing out my bedroom in preparation for the delivery of my new bed, I decided to read it.

It turns out it's a great book! It explains a lot of the things that can get a book rejected by a publisher in seconds and then some of the traps an author can avoid once the publisher has no other choice than read the book you've sent.

I am pleased to see that I am wise to quite a few of the traps but, and this is important, I have also fallen foul of one or two as well. There are one or two things I haven't liked about my writing in the past that I had no idea how to fix. Some of the things I write are a bit dry and academic, for instance, and my dialogue needs work. I also need to do rather more showing than telling.

The big thing is that I am plot driven. I have the plot in my head and I am impatient to get it down on paper and because of that other things suffer.

Where the book helps is that Lukeman describes the problems, how to fix them and, most importantly, gives examples. It's very easy for writing teachers to say "show not tell" but rather harder to realise when you are doing that.

I feel rather better armed when I next approach my novel and try to create fully functional gripping first chapters.

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