Writing is full of decisions. Did a writer make the best choice of words, plot points, structure, characterization? Recently, a writer friend asked me and other writers to respond to the questions below. How would you respond?
- Question: At what point is too late to introduce a new character? An editor who looked at her book before said everyone needed to be introduced somehow before the sixth or seventh chapter. But when she tried to do that, it seemed cluttered and disorganized. She has read many books, great books, where characters come in much later. Is there a rule about this?
My response: If you were writing a travel adventure, some of your characters would have to be introduced as you traveled, I would think, even as late as several chapters before the end. If you were writing a mystery, readers would cry “foul!” if you introduced a character and possible suspect late in the novel. Rules are broken every day and that works when they are done skillfully by a writer who knows why there is a rule and has found a way or reason to circumvent it without raising eyebrows.
- Question: When you are re-writing, what is your most effective process? Re-write the entire thing at once? Do small sections at a time? Do you remake your plot/grid and create a tactical plan for the re-write, or just dive in and chew away at it? What is the best way?
My response: I write and rewrite as I go along. Once I have the entire novel written, then I can go back and expand, touch up, redirect, cut, etc. etc. because I know where the novel is going and have a better sense of the characters–what I want them to be like, feel, and do.
5) At what point do you feel like you can comfortably walk away and say a book is “done” – that yes, maybe you could improve it, but you are happy with it as-is, and ready to move on to something else?
My response: It is truly scary to put your book out there to endure the “slings and arrows” of the critics. Once you have a completed polished novel that you feel is the best it’s going to get right now and you have two or three other novelists (not family but people from your critique group) read it and give you positive feedback and it has been copy-edited and proofread, then I say go for it. Then see what readers and reviewers say. It may not be perfect, but then most things rarely are. I would hope the book I write tomorrow will be better than the one I write today. I recommend a book called Rotten Reviews and Rejections, edited by Bill Henderson and Andre Bernard. The editors include devastating critical reviews of many books now considered classics. Examples:
On John Milton: “His fame is gone out like a candle in a snuff and his memory will always stink.” – William Winstanley, Diary, 1687
On Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: “…a huge dose of hyperbolical slang, maudlin sentimentalism and tragic-comic bubble and squeak.” – William Harrison Ainsworth, New Monthly Magazine.
On Rudyard Kipling: “I’m sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” – San Francisco Examiner rejection letter.
On Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary: “Monsieur Flaubert is not a writer.” – Le Figaro.