Thanks to bensound.com for the intro and outro music.
ASK THE AUTHOR: From James Earls via aarongansky.com: How many times do you go over one page before you say that’s enough? Is it possible to go so far that you ruin or lose part of your story?
AARON: If you’re ruining your story by editing, I think you’re doing it wrong. 🙂 This answer will vary from author to author. For me, I don’t go over the first page (or any other page) until I’ve completed the novel. I know others, like Dean Koontz, who will go over it several times until he feels it’s perfect. I’m not that kind of writer. If I’m not moving forward, I’m not moving. The key here is not to get into the rewriting trap, where you become a rewriter rather than a writer. I’d love to give you a number here, but I don’t think the answer is that simple. You just have to know when it’s compromising your forward momentum.
POPS: Every one’s brain is wired differently. The only right way to do this is the way that works for you. One way that works for many writers is to write a scene, then review it before moving on. I tend to hold off review until I’m done with the story. Writing the first draft is a different mental process than writing the second draft. I need a little time to pass before I can properly review what I’ve written. When I do that, then I come to the project with fresh eyes. Sometimes what I write in the third act of a book changes what I did in the first act and I have to make changes. So, first draft is for getting the story down and finding the bumps in the plot; the second draft is for fixing and expanding; the third draft is for editing.
MJ: You can’t ask me. I do it wrong. I may have been known, in the past, to beat the edit horse to death. The truth is, I’m wired so that I must have everything lined up behind me before I can move forward. Having said that, I’m learning to highlight and make notes where changes should occur, and keep writing. About once a week, I’ll go back and make changes/corrections, but I try to do three times as much forward writing than I do back editing. Sometimes I’ll reread the last chapter or two, to get reinspired, but I think as long as whatever work you do is propelling your writing, and the story, to a better future, then it doesn’t matter how often you edit, as long as you write more than you edit.
Firsts in Fiction
FiF’s Favorites: Authors!
We’ve got a fun show lined up for you. Rather than chatting about how to write fiction, we’re going to take a look at some of our favorite authors and what we love about them. To make reading easy, I’ve put my (Aaron’s) favorites in black, Al’s in red, and Molly’s in blue.
Flannery O’Connor: I often list O’Connor as one of my favorites, if not my favorite, because I’m in love with her bizarre characters and spot-on dialog. I also love her book Mystery and Manners, which is one of the greatest books on writing I’ve read. I think what I love most about her are two things she discusses in that book: the unexpected but inevitable ending and the moment of grace. I’ve spoken and written extensively on these topics, but to do a quick rehash, the unexpected but inevitable ending is one in which the reader feels like there’s a twist, but on further examination, realizes there is no other way for the story (or novel) to end. The prime example of this is A Good Man is Hard to Find. The moment of grace is simply an idea that all characters are “fallen” and must have an opportunity to “receive grace.” They should have an opportunity to make good on their errors. They do not, however, have to take that opportunity, and rarely do.
Ben Bova: I should refer to him as Dr. Ben Bova since he earned a PhD. Bova writes science fiction and science fact. He has penned over 120 works and was the editor of Analog magazine and Omni (now long defunct). His writing is solid, but I most appreciate his adherence to science fact in his novels. People like Bradbury and Rod Serling put story above fact, but writers like Bova insisted that you could have both. He is an intelligent man and an intelligent writer. I have Moonrise and the Green Trap on my shelf.
C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia are some of the best gospel-themed writings available, in my opinion. They’re written for a younger age, but that’s the joy I find in reading them as an adult. There’s an abundance of nuance and messages younger readers don’t necessarily grasp. And who doesn’t love Aslan? It’s empowering that this little girl, Lucy, can befriend the King and put into motion the salvation of the world.
Cormac McCarthy: He’s got some language and violence, so reader beware. However, if you can get past that, you’ll have a hard time finding someone else who’s got a voice like McCarthy’s. His novel The Road was incredibly powerful. He writes in a minimalistic style for most of his books, but has entire passages of description and detail that make me envious. I find myself studying him whenever I get a chance. Also, his dialog is incredible.
Sir Arthur C. Clarke: was an engineer turned writer. He’s responsible for many SF books and stories including 2001 and its sequels. My favorite remains Rendezvous with Rama. Clarke writes in a style popular when he was young. Long narrative passages. He is wordy like Bradbury but not as ornate. He pulls it off and that’s not an easy thing to do. Clarke was the intelligent man’s dreamer. His ideas were, at the same time, over the top but always believable.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: I have a great affinity for mystery writers, and the Sherlock Holmes collection is one of my favorites. The combination of setting, era, characters, and plot twists are always compelling. The Hound of the Baskervilles was read and reread and reread in my childhood household.
George R. R. Martin: A guilty pleasure, yes. He’s an incredibly graphic writer, in terms of violence and physical intimacy and language. However, you’d be hard pressed to find a writer with better developed characters. You get to know them in every regard. Some you love. Some you hate. Some you hate to love, and love to hate. Also, the way he controls the “slow burn” of a plot is admirable. A lot happens in his books, but everything builds to something larger. You’re never bored, even when you’re reading about people doing boring things.
Michael Crichton: The late Dr. Crichton (he had an MD from Harvard) always captured my attention. He wrote a couple of books that didn’t show his strengths (Prey, Sphere) but all of his books were exciting and thought provoking reads. I always made a point of picking up the newest Crichton. He is perhaps best known for Andromeda Strain, which (if memory serves) he wrote while in medical school. He also wrote Jurassic Park. He is sometimes called a science fiction writer but I don’t see him that way: he’s more of a “tech goes bad” writer.
Frank L. Baum: I have a strong affinity for Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz. These were the first books that transported me to a world outside our own, with unique creatures and characters, and can we just talk about those shoes?! Honestly, I have a great appreciation for many child- and young-adult books that depict strong female heroines. The ones I read all helped shape me as a writer, and as a person.
Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: Another warning here: he’s a dirty old man with a foul mouth. That said, he’s also incredibly funny. What I like most about him is his tongue-in-cheek voice and his ability to wink at the reader without it being distracting. You get the sense you’re listening to him talk, rather than simply reading a book, and he’s a fascinating story-teller. His stories are bizarre and hilarious. But he’s also not afraid to tackle difficult political issues and satirizes the human condition like no one else can.
Dean Koontz: I consider Koontz my mentor. He doesn’t know that, but I make the claim nonetheless. I did more than read his books, I studied them, analyzed them. I learned how to set scenes, create sympathetic characters, and how to write weird stuff. He’s a little hard to classify since he doesn’t confine himself to one genre.
Margaret Mitchell: She wrote Gone With the Wind. Need I say more?
Ray Bradbury: Imagery. Unashamed, unrelenting imagery that is vivid and original and organic in nearly every instance. You won’t find a lazy cliche anywhere in his writing.
Al: I agree. Bradbury is one of my choices as well. He wrote during the classic age of science fiction. He’s generally considered a science fiction writer, but he was more of a science fantasy writer. Sometimes just a fantasy writer. The Martian Chronicles is not rooted in science but that doesn’t matter. It’s a great story of human nature and the results of encountering the unknown.
Louis L’Amour: A wonderful artist of words. Many people associate him with his Sackett series of books, but he also wrote many short stories and they are simply beautiful to step into. Rich in character, environment, conflict. If you want to study short stories, I recommend him. There is not one wasted word in any of his manuscripts.
Raymond Carver: A renowned “minimalist,” Carver earned his reputation for sparse stories rife with conflict and emotion. He writes mostly about relationships gone wrong, but much of his later work became more detailed and more optimistic. His short stories are haunting and powerful and disturbing in a way a horror novel can never be. Powerful, powerful stories.
Rex Stout: Stout was a mystery writer best known for his Nero Wolfe stories. His strength rests in his ability to create odd characters who remain believable. This is best seen in the interplay between Nero Wolfe, a beer drinking private detective who never leaves his brownstone home. He loves orchids, good food, great books, and hates people. Archie Goodwin is his sidekick. He’s a tough, no nonsense guy who drinks milk instead of beer. He does all the leg work and butt-kicking. Simple, straightforward prose that carries the reader along.