Welcome back to Firsts in Fiction, loyal listeners! Got something different for you this week. Aaron was in North Carolina speaking at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. He gathered up some of the fine faculty and a particularly insightful and eager conferee to talk writing. This week, we ask “What piece of advice to you give writers that no one else does,” and, “What do writers do that bugs you?” Had some great responses. As always, you can listen above or download the episode here. Sadly, no video this week. Find Steve and Heather and Aaron on Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and Stitcher.
Steven James is the bestselling author of the award-winning Patrick Bowers and Jevin Banks series. James has received wide critical acclaim for his work including two Publishers Weekly starred reviews, three Christy Awards, and as a finalist for an International Thriller Award. Steven is an active member of International Thriller Writers, the Authors Guild, Mystery Writers of America, and International Association of Crime Writers. He is also a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest. His latest book, Story Trumps Structure, is available here. Steven lives in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee with his wife and three daughters.
Brian Bird is a 30-year veteran of the Hollywood film and television business. His writing and producing work comprises nearly 250 episodes of network television, including such series as Touched By An Angel, Step By Step, Evening Shade and his own original series currently airing on the Hallmark Channel, When Calls the Heart. Additionally, he has written and/or produced a dozen movies including Captive, the untold true story of 2005 Atlanta hostage crisis, coming to theaters in 2014, The Ultimate Life for 20th Century Fox (2013), Journey to Jamaa for World Vision and Word Films (2011), Not Easily Broken for Sony/Screen Gems (2009), The Last Sin Eater for 20th Century Fox (2007) and the Morgan Freeman-directed Bopha! for Paramount Pictures(1993). For Television, he has written and/or produced the films, The Confession (2012), The Shunning (2011), both for the Hallmark Channel, Saving Sarah Cain (2008) for Lifetime, Gametime for NBC (2011), Call Me Claus for TNT, the highest rated cable movie of 2003, and Captive Heart for Hallmark Hall of Fame (1996). Bird’s films and screenplays have garnered numerous awards and nominations, including the Crystal Heart Award from the Heartland Film Festival 2011 for Journey to Jamaa, the Movie Guide Epiphany Prize for Not Easily Broken and Saving Sarah Cain, the Camie Award for Saving Sarah Cain, and the NAACP’s Image Award and the New York Independent Film Festival for Bopha!.
Alycia Morales is a full-time freelance editor, an Associate Editor with Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, and Senior Editor of Inspireafire.com. Her clients have won numerous awards for their books. She is also a writer of New Adult books and multiple articles, devotions, and flash fiction pieces. She co-authors a blog for writers and editors at www.thewriteediting.com.
Ben Wolf has written a total of six action/adventure novels and is the Executive Editor of Splickety Publishing Group. In addition, he’s also a freelance editor, ghostwriter, conference speaker, and consultant.
Aaron Gansky is author of The Bargain, the Hand of Adonai series, and Firsts in Fiction. He’s also the host of the Firsts in Fiction Podcast, a writing mentor, fiction editor at The Citron Review, and teacher.
Jake Pendleton is an aspiring writer hard at work on an epic fantasy novel.
What one piece of writing advice do you give that no one else does?
Aaron Gansky: I like to tell writers to read and write poetry. The good stuff, too. Not just Shakespeare (if you can’t understand it) or the simple rhyming poems for children. Roll up your sleeves and read some Marianne Moore, or Adrienne Rich, or Elizabeth Bishop, or Amy Nez. These geniuses have a way of expressing abstract ideas in tangible terms, and they do it all with a keen since of rhythm. If you can learn to write with a poet’s tools, your fiction will become immediately stronger.
Steven James: I like to teach about character status–the idea that characters function in different roles depending on the situation. Sometimes they’re more dominant, sometimes more submissive. For example, I’ve got a certain status with my wife, and another with my kids, another with a cab driver. Seeing them in these places helps us to better understand the characters dimensionality, and it makes them real. This is something I picked up, not in writing classes, but in comedy and acting. But the principle still works in fiction.
Jake Pendleton: I notice a lot of people who want to be writers are too nervous to show people their work, so they don’t get a good outside opinion of what they’re writing, which really compromises the quality and the speed at which they can finish a project. So I tell them to show it to someone who knows what they’re doing, and then not to give up if they get some negative feedback. They need to ask for honest opinions and then use those to get better.
Ben Wolf: Write flash fiction. It’s the best way to hone your writing craft as a whole. It teaches you to write tight. Every word counts in flash fiction. It’s an opportunity to advance your publishing career more quickly because they’re faster to finish than traditional short stories, novellas, or novels.
Alycia Morales: I would say, “Be ready to work, and be teachable.” We’re constantly getting better. We’re always learning. Even now, when I edit a novel, I learn something. So you need to be ready to roll up your sleeves and go to work.
Brian Bird: I tell people to copy the masters. Not to plagiarize, but to study the masters, to see what they do, to analyze them. When you can copy the technique, your skill will develop. But you need to remember that you need to bring your own voice, your own vision, to develop your own story. Grab the scripts that you love, analyze them to find out how they pace their scenes, how they describe their scenes. Then mimic those techniques with your own stories. For every script I write, I read five scripts I love, and that helps me prime the pump, so to speak.
What’s one thing that writers do that bugs you the most?
Aaron Gansky: I’ve always been annoyed by writers who do not trust their readers. I see this most in redundant sentences, or over-explanations. I see it a lot with chapter-long info-dumps, or the assertion of an idea in different words. Remember, confident writers will trust their readers to pick up the subtle hints that we leave for them. This will make your writing more professional and crisp.
Steven James: I never like when authors do what we expect. I like something original, a new twist on an old cliche. Look for the unexpected and the inevitable. Predictable books are boring. Give me enough twists to keep me reading. It’s a concept that’s been around since Poetics, but we don’t do it enough. But don’t go too far on the other side and use gimmicks or Deus ex Machina. They may be unexpected, but not inevitable.
Jake Pendleton: The thing I don’t like is when writers use confusing points of view to be mysterious, but it’s just confusing. Who’s head are we in? I don’t mind if writer’s move between points of view, but it should be clear enough for the reader to easily understand. The reader should never be confused because of a deliberate lack of detail on the writer’s part.
Ben Wolf: Something I see a lot in submissions to Splickety magazines are stories where nothing happens. It’s just a guy sitting in a dark room thinking. Something should happen. Have a meteor drop in the characters front lawn while he’s thinking. Have something more than a couple people hanging out drinking beer and thinking.
Alycia Morales: From a reader perspective, the repetition bothers me. If you remind me in every chapter how depressed your character is, I’ll probably get bored with your book and put it down. From an editor’s perspective, I really get irritated with books that are clearly rushed to publication, and there’s no careful editing. If you haven’t checked your grammar and spelling and punctuation, you probably haven’t checked your characters or plot either. You haven’t done your work as a writer.
Brian Bird: The thing that bothers me most about writers who ask me to look at their scripts and screenplay is the sense of entitlement on the part of the reader. Maybe it’s our fault for giving trophies to kids just for showing up. But when someone gives me a careless script, and I say something about it, they get defensive. If you can’t pay attention to the minimum details in your work, you’re in the wrong line of business. Don’t be entitled about your work. When someone gives you constructive criticism, listen to them.
Thanks all for listening. Until next week, good writing.