Once a month on Go Teen Writers, we're lucky enough to have a group of authors take the time to answer a writing question. This month's question is:
What writing technique made a big difference between you being published and not published?
From Marlo Schalesky
At my first writers conference, Ken Petersen (then an editor at Tyndale, now the big-wig at Waterbrook), sat down with me and said two words that changed my writing for the better: Tension Management. He then pointed to a spot in my manuscript where the bad guy shot the hero. "Your chapter needs to end here," he said. Not where I had ended it - several paragraphs later when the tension was low again. Keep them reading, he said. And I got it -- my goal was to manage the story's tension to keep the reader turning pages. To do that, I needed to end chapters with something so compelling that the reader can't wait to keep reading. Because of Ken, my number one goal for all my writing became (and continues to be): Don't Bore the Reader!
From Deborah Raney
I think the best writing technique I've learned is SHOW, DON'T TELL. Learning to write cinematically solves a host of different writing issues in itself. For instance, when I write as though the scene is playing out before me, it helps me write actively, rather than passively. Showing instead of telling keeps the pacing moving quickly. It also helps me write strong characters because instead of telling the reader, "He was furious" I SHOW the reader how his nostrils flared and his fists clenched and his face turned red. Showing is like painting with words. It creates a vivid image in the reader's imagination––or more importantly, in the imagination of the editor I want to buy my story!
From Vickie McDonough
It wasn't just one, but several. When I first started writing, I knew next to nothing about crafting a book, but the things I learned that made the most difference in my writing are showing vs telling, using dialogue beats rather than tags, and using lots of action and just a little narration.
From Shannon Dittemore
Write in scenes! Once you’ve got your scenes drafted, make sure each one of them moves the story forward. If it doesn’t, cut it.
From Donita K. Paul
Concentrating on story. All other techniques fade in and fade out, but a good plot keeps you published and makes your work classic.
From Steve Rzasa
My biggest problem was proper use of points of view. I did some serious head-hopping within scenes. My publisher/editor had to take me to school on that one, to give the poor readers a break. Now I limit myself to three or fourth POVs in a story, and focus more on the lead character. I've also experimented with first person in some of my unpublished projects.
From Sarah Sundin
Learning good story structure. The book that made the most difference in my writing was Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, which explains classic story structure. Once I understood structure, I could see where my story didn’t work and why, how to make it work, how to pace, and how to challenge my characters. I also learned to use goals and secrets and fears to amp up the tension.
For me, the writing technique that made all the difference was learning to use the omniscient narrative.
In a market where "Show Don't Tell" has become the battle cry, classic omniscient narrative style has fallen into disfavor. It's all about strict-third person or first person narratives . . . even first person present tense is considered preferable! Thus, when I first began to study creative writing, I followed the "show don't tell" law to the letter, restricting my work to a strict third-person. And I learned a tremendous amount while doing so!
But then I started to notice something: All my favorite authors used the omniscient narrative.
I don't mean just the classics like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen, or any of the Victorians with their long rambling narratives. Nor do I even mean the renowned C.S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, who more recently put the omniscient narrative to brilliant use in their modern-classics. As much as I love all of these writers, I can see why (unless you're Susanna Clarke and write genius work like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell) that style would not fly with today's readers.
But my favorites, my very favorite current YA novelists, all wrote using the omniscient narrative as well! Megan Whalen Turner, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin McKinley, Sir Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaimain . . . brilliant storytellers all, who have created some of my most-loved literary characters. They were getting into multiple viewpoints within scenes . . . they were describing things that the viewpoint character could not have actually seen . . . they were addressing their reader . . . they were "telling" as much as they were "showing" . . . and they were doing it so well!
So I took a step back from the strict third-person narratives I had been pursuing and began experimenting with the omniscient. It took a lot of work to learn a whole new writing style, very different from anything I was seeing promoted among CBA authors of that time. And even now, I get flack from various folks in the market who believe that my narrative voice is "wrong" and "outdated." I have even had a reviewer call my work a "publishing travesty" simply because of the narrative voice I chose to write in!
But my editors at Bethany House Publishers were thrilled to have something fresh and different come across their desks. Working with them, I have continued to hone a stronger and more vibrant omniscient narrative voice, and I really love it! It's just the right tone for my Fairy Tale adventure novels, and I would never go back to strict third-person.
That being said, the omniscient narrative is not the right style for every story out there. I recommend young writers to try it, however. See how your work-in-progress sounds with a little extra narrative heft, with a little "telling" here and there. See what happens if you write multiple points of view all in the same scene. It can be terrible! But it also can be truly beautiful.
What about YOU? What have you learned about writing that's made a big difference in how you do things?
July's 1-question Interview: How do handle all the rejection in this business?
June's 1 question Interview: Ups and Downs of the Writing Life