By David E. Sharp
My earliest "writings" were theatrical productions I would perform for my parents with stuffed animals portraying all the roles. Well, almost all the roles. I did enlist my brother for any parts that required a more dynamic performance than a stuffed monkey could offer, though the monkey was better at taking direction. Still, we got moderately good reviews and presented many repeat performances.
|Ladies and gentlemen, we are proud|
to present, "The Teddy Bear's Lament."
No flash photography, please.
Commentators responded with such discerning feedback as, "What on Earth is the matter with you?" and "Where do you come up with this tripe?" and "Untie me at once! I can't watch anymore!"
Cut to 2017, I've had some projects pan out on a less theatrical frontier. I've learned the fine art of conveying an entire story with only ink on paper. There aren't as many unexpected ad-libs, and I can set a scene on a space ship without having to figure out how I'm going to build a space ship on a stage and with what I can bribe actors to wear Martian costumes. The depth of my writing has developed to such levels that readers regularly suggest I might benefit from some therapy.
So, is this it? Have I arrived? Am I now the crackpot writer I always dreamed I could be? Do I have insights I could place in a reverse time-capsule for that younger me to dig up back in the tail end of the 20th century? Yes. Yes, I do. Outside all the obvious advice we've heard so many times, here are the nuggets I've only been able to take hold of through personal experience.
This is the other advice:
Every critic is right for one hour
|This is how long you've got|
before I start throwing things.
Once sixty minutes have passed, name-calling starts and I light up the effigies.
There is only now
It's easy to write a scene with a later pay-off in mind. But I can't stand scenes that are all build-up. I don't read a book so I can enjoy it tomorrow. When potential readers crack open my book, I want every page to be interesting enough on its own to draw them in. Besides, I don't want to be bored either. And, as the author, I'm going to spend significantly more time in these scenes than the readers. I do believe in delayed gratification, but there's no place for it in writing. If I'm not enjoying the book right now, then I'm not enjoying the book.
No stuffed monkeys
|"Now is the winter of our discontent|
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
You are not your characters' friend
In fact, the real antagonist is you. It is your job to rake these wonderful characters over the coals so they have a chance to rise and overcome... you! If your characters haven't imagined your death in fifty different ways, you're not doing your job. Story comes from conflict, and conflict doesn't come from sunshine and daisies. I'm not saying you can't have a happy ending, but that's where happiness belongs. In the ending. All the rest of the story is strife, strife, strife.
And you're the one who chose this profession. You sicko!
Writers are readers
|What are these "chores" you speak of?|
I call it research. I'm much better at conducting research than I am at conducting laundry. If the dishes aren't done, it's because I'm so studious. A good series might keep me from vacuuming for weeks!
But, hey! You're a bunch of writers. I'm sure you all have loads of unconventional advice to share. Let us know in the comments.