Friday, February 12, 2010

The Secret

Writers joke about finding "the secret" to publishing, or "the secret handshake" among the fellowship of professional writers. How-to writing articles in magazines are frequently given titles (NOT by their authors, incidentally) like "Six Secrets to Getting Published." Usually these are the same pretty obvious bits of advice found in every writing book ever composed ("Submit a double-spaced clean manuscript printed on one side of 20-pound bond.") However, as a result of one conversation with a friend and one discussion in the class I teach, I started thinking seriously: Is there, if not a "secret," then one technique that more than any other helps to create a successful manuscript?

I think there is.

It isn't startling or Earth-shattering, but stories that work do take account of it -- or they don't work. Here it is, in all its banality: Become the reader as you write.

This means splitting yourself into three persons (there's a reason most writers are a little nuts). You are the writer, of course, putting words on paper. You are also the character, so that you can write what he thinks and feels and does. But you also must become the reader, constantly monitoring: How will this strike someone who does not know everything that I already know about what's going to happen? Have I given enough information to grasp the motivation for and implications of my character's action? Have I given so much information that the reader's eyes are now glazing over? Is there enough physical description to let the reader see what I see in my mind? Is that line of dialogue really enough to indicate how my character feels about what just happened, or do I need to go into her thoughts about it?

It's not easy being a multiple personality (although it becomes easier with practice). But I truly think that becoming the reader is what separates successful writers from those whose stories don't quite make it. From my point of view, at least, that's the "secret." Make of it what you choose.

1 comment:

bluesman miike Lindner said...

Nancy, I think the real secret for a fictioneer is persistance.

You want it bad enough, and have any talent at all, you will succeed.

F. Paul Wilson, NYT best-selling author and HWA Grandmaster, confided that in his early days, he collected enough rejection slips to wallpaper his basement.

But he kept at it.

Not everybody is Heinlein!