The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

Archive for the tag “writer myths”

How Good Does Your Novel Have to Be?

By Larry Kahaner plainenglish

When I was just starting my non-fiction writing career, I wanted to be published in the Sunday New York Daily News magazine. I had been born and raised in Brooklyn and to me the pinnacle of  ‘getting in print’ was this publication read by millions. It was the tabloid newspaper for the masses and I wanted to reach that audience. For those who have not read the magazine, there was not much to the stories. They were mainly human-interest stuff, some sports, local color… you get the picture. Literary masterpieces they were not.

As much as I tried, I could not get them to buy my material. I tried for years and I was perplexed because I would read the stories and say to myself, ‘I can write better than this. Why won’t they take my stories?’

Fast forward to Boston University’s graduate school in Science Journalism where I met a professor to whom I was telling this tale. He said: “Maybe they don’t want anything better than what they have.”

The light bulb went on in my head. He was right. Not to sound cynical, but the editors were happy with the quality of the stories they printed. They didn’t want anything more clever, better written or exciting.

How does this to relate to novel writing? I read a lot of thrillers and some of them are what a reviewer friend of mine calls “perfectly fine.” They don’t blow the roof off the house or some such saying but they are enjoyable and satisfying to read. The most successful and bestselling authors know this. They don’t spend a lot of time concocting complicated phrases or sentences. They write simply, clearly and provocatively.

That’s the real secret of novel writing success. Fancy, witty and clever stories are okay… if you want to write them …  but nothing makes readers happier than a compelling story, simply told,  with a satisfying ending.

Leave the high falutin’ words for your dissertation. Just relate the story as if you were telling a friend. And, as I always say, you have only one job: make the reader turn the page.

 

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Writer’s Block and other Writing Myths

By Larry Kahaner
Every successful writer has his or her favorite myths. Here are some that I’ve heard or read about and eventually confronted, dealt with and dismissed. Here’s your opportunity to do the same.

writers-block04

1 – Write what you know: If writers wrote only what they knew, there would be no Star Trek episodes. Have you been to outer space? There would be no serial killer stories. How many novelists are serial killers? Don’t answer that. You get the picture. You don’t need to experience something to write about it convincingly. Unmarried people can write about marriage. If you’re going to write a sweeping historical saga read about that time, study the habits, clothes and mores of the period.  If you’re going to write about murderers and thieves learn about them. Meet some if you can (I have) but you don’t need to know everything about a topic to write with authority. Good writing is illusion.

 

2 – Show, don’t tell: You hear this all the time and it drives me nuts. There’s nothing wrong with telling the reader: “The cop was tall, his black curly hair was unruly. His eyes were blue.” You don’t have to describe the cop looking into the mirror and seeing his stature, hair and eyes. Another character doesn’t have to describe the cop either. You can do it. You’re the writer. One more thing: you don’t have to describe a character completely. Let readers use their imagination. Let them form their own pictures. I promise you that it will end up working in your favor.

 

3 – Writer’s Block: There is no such thing. Do plumbers have plumber’s block? Do doctors have doctor’s block? Writer’s block is often a way for inexperienced or lazy writers to say that they don’t want to work today. It’s a way for would-be writers to feel special. We all have those days that we don’t feel like working, but it’s not because you’re a writer. It’s because you don’t feel well, or you’re tired or you’re hungover. You have only two choices: you can work or you cannot work. If you want to get your book done then write. If you don’t, then don’t. And this is related to the next one…

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