My important piece of writing advice

Back in the day, I majored in English literature and went on to do graduate degrees in linguistics, which kept me in close contact with a lot of literature people, including ones who taught literature classes. About ten years ago today, I heard what has become one of the most valuable pieces of writing advice in my life.

A woman who had taught the undergraduate introduction to literature many times was complaining to me about the frustration of the experience. She described the conversations she would have with visiting students during office hours, trying to explain the stories she’d assigned to them. In short, she would say

“So here, you see that he loves her…”

and the students would give her a blank look and say,

“Where? Where does it say that he loves her?”

So the piece of advice I have is: YOU MIGHT AS WELL WRITE EXPLICIT EMOTIONAL MATERIAL. If he loves her, SAY that he loves her. If you’d like to sell copies, anyway. If you’re creating Art, you’re on your own and probably not reading my advice anyway.

I suppose this scene is a quick way to break down the difference between literary fiction and popular fiction… or at least the difference between “hard” fiction and “easy” fiction… which I suspect is the difference between fiction that might or might not get great critical reviews but never be a runaway bestseller, and fiction that might or might not get great critical reviews but could, maybe, be a runaway bestseller.

Or, as Billy Joel put it, “tell her about it.” A seething quagmire that stays under the surface is difficult. Even if you think your first-person narrator is tightly strung and emotionally retentive, the reader will appreciate explicit emotional material. You might as well put it in. It enhances the reading experience.

All of this is to say that, after not reading the first three chapters of Dark and Deep for a couple of months, I did so yesterday and ended up re-writing quite a lot of what goes on between the leads to make it more emotionally compelling. I am hoping, again, that this is the final revision of the book, and I am taking it, again, as a lesson learned. Sit on your work for as long as you can possibly bear it. You won’t regret doing it, in the end.

All of the changes happen before the 15% mark in the book, so if you’ve already read it, congratulations! You got through the tough part. You are officially a loyal reader.

If you haven’t, now is a great time to grab it.


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