On Writing Well

Filed in Gather Writing Essential by on January 19, 2008 0 Comments

A while back I received an email from a young man who was all in a tizzy to get his work out to the awaiting public. So incredible was his works of fiction it would make The Lord Of The Rings seem like a tale scribbled on the back of a paper bag by a homeless man with a twitch. Indeed, this was going to totally rearrange the world of literature in a manner that had never been seen before. Once I read it, the author assured me, my life would never be the same again.


Self -confidence, apparently, is not the man's problem.


Honestly, the story wasn't half bad. But even more honestly, the story wasn't that good either. Clearly, the young man had imagination. He wasn't lacking vision at all, but he did lack writing skills to speak of.  The craft of writing had suffered a cruel fate to be tricked into being the medium by which the Grand Design was to be revealed to the rest of us. I greatly feared that many people would be injured had his novel exploded because of the many sentence fragments within. Were everyone allowed a certain number of commas I would suggest that chapter one will be the last that any of the critters would call home. Someone left a number of homophones off the hook and his metaphors were like a ill dressed child at a funeral for the accessory impaired.


Alas! Poor Yorick, I knew him good.


Look at this sentence: The gallant knight rides into the dark night and he thought about turning around and perhaps riding back, he decided to continue onward, and was glad he decides to do so.

Run this mess through a grammar checker and it's clean, but my god the thing is a disaster. I've seen train wrecks with more hope. This doesn't mean the story of the knight at night is a bad story, but there is almost no amount of passion that can fix it. Moreover, isn't the very term "gallant knight" a bit cliché'? Adjectives are great tools but there are some things a writer is just going to have to accept sounds corny as hell. 


I cut one paragraph from the tale and ran it through a grammar check, which he obviously didn't own, did a little surgery on the rest of it, and pared down three hundred words to about two hundred fifty or about a fifteen percent cut. I'm a writer, Jim, not an editor, but the going rate is about eight cents a word. The man is going to lose a lot of money.


I haven't heard back from him. I suspect he either realized his writing skills need to catch up with his imagination, or he thinks I'm an idiot and he's off trying to peddle the mess elsewhere. No matter how good you are, your readers aren't going to stick around if they have to work around the way you write to get to your story. If your story reads like some lunch break fantasy of a High School stoner, it doesn't matter how great the plot might be.


Don't get me wrong here, I encourage bad writers to write more, not less. Nevertheless, a writer has to come to terms with the idea that words go together a certain way. There is a process to this craft that has to be obeyed if a reader is to ride upon the words as if transported via magic carpet. Moreover, if a writer truly knows the craft then almost any subject matter will carry the day. A poem on walking in the woods may not seem earthshaking but written well it may reveal a road less traveled.


Writing well is your ultimate message. The beauty of your imagination clothed in a well-constructed paragraph will quicken heartbeats, and inspire passion. If you have the vision, if you have the dream, if you have within you something that will change the way human beings think about literature, then you have it in you to do it right.


Take Care,


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..................I write...........

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