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The Novelist's Briar Patch
by Charles W. Sasser
Writing a novel--indeed, writing any piece of
fiction--may be compared to attempting to negotiate a briar patch. Novelists
must avoid the thorns in order to reach success on the other side without the
loss of too much blood. Five major snares lie in wait to trap unsuspecting
The most threatening of these is lack of
discipline and perseverance.
Talent is important, but possessing talent alone
is not enough. The skills of writing can be learned, the love of books and words
is granted or you wouldn't want to be a writer. It is discipline and
perseverance, not necessarily talent, that make the difference between a
published writer and an unpublished one. No writer of whatever persuasion ever
escapes the briar patch without acquiring the simple ability to stick to the job
as though he were being paid a salary by a stern boss looking over his shoulder.
No one ever climbed a mountain by quitting halfway to the summit.
The second snare menacing the novelist may be
called simply trash writing.
Trash writing is a briar patch all its own, a
tangle of thorns, creepers, runners and tendrils through which even the most
tenacious of editors, much less readers, will not attempt to wend his way. It is
convoluted sentences, dangling clauses and phrases, excessive use of adjectives
and adverbs, wrong antecedents, show-off words and, often, a pretension toward
literary by writers who have not bothered to learn their craft and the mechanics
of creating clear sentences and paragraphs.
A third set of briars, companion to trash
writing, is the aspiring novelist's neglect in understanding the craft of
fiction and developing that craft in himself.
Fiction writing requires a working knowledge of
narration, exposition, transition, scene and character building, dialogue and
all the other skills of creating believable stories. Many would-be authors seem
to think that all they have to do is sit down and let the muse take over. Wrong.
Writing is a trade, a calling, a job with often a very long apprenticeship. This
apprenticeship may be shortened through concentrated self-study, attending
classes and seminars, and critical reading and evaluation.
Skills must be learned, by whatever means. A
writer who has not mastered the skills of his profession is like a garage
carpenter attempting to build a high-rise. Results will never equal the effort.
A writer must learn his craft in the same way that a doctor or lawyer or any
other professional learns his.
Poor plotting or even no plotting looms as a
fourth snare full of thorns.
Many unsuccessful writers are so caught up in
admiring their insight into the human condition, their adroitness and special
sensitivities that they feel insulted when told that fiction writing, first and
above all else, is story telling. Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.
They go somewhere. They have a point. There are conclusions. For the writer
whose goal is to publish, even his most brilliant efforts are generally an
exercise in futility without plot, without story.
If the most threatening brambles are lack of
discipline and perseverance, perhaps the most common thorn trap in the briar
patch is overwriting.
Some novelists feel compelled to tell literally
everything when they write. John walks up to the door, he opens the door, he
walks inside, he closes the door... You get the point. This is "real-time"
writing in that reading an account of an event takes nearly the same amount of
time as living the event itself Every character, every scene is described in
minute detail, almost down to the colors of the protagonist's socks.
Writing is not real life. It must be a crisp
representation of real life, condensed to the essentials of plot, story line and
Recognizing and overcoming these five major
snares of the novelist's briar patch does not necessarily guarantee success.
However, failure to recognize and overcome them does guarantee that the briar
patch will stretch unending to the horizon.
© Copyright 2000, Charles W. Sasser
Charles "Chuck" Sasser is author of more than 60 published books and thousands of magazine articles. Visit Chucks website, www.CharlesSasser.com
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