The first rule of write club is: don’t talk about write club! The second rule of write club is: there are no rules! (Which, of course, negates rule one, and more interestingly, itself, which then un-negates rule one…)
I follow a bunch of blogs and Facebook groups that discuss writing. More often than not, the discussion is not very interesting, or even not good. But from time to time, a gem comes to the surface. This is one of those.
Such as McCann’s comments on character. Character is the most important part of any story, whether that be a flash fiction piece or a novel. McCann suggests “writing a character into being is like meeting someone you want to fall in love with.” What makes us fall in love with a person? It certainly isn’t what’s on their resume. It’s their quirky mannerisms, their character, their beliefs and world-view. Those things are what you should be focusing on when you describe your character the the reader.
Another good point McCann makes is the importance of the first lines of your book. This is something I am learning the hard way. If you plan to try to get an agent to represent your book, be aware that most will only look at the first 3-5 pages before they make a decision.
For me, I think my book’s initial pages are a bit too slow. The major hook for the entire work comes in at around page 12. This has to do with the unique structure of the book. Even though I have a reason for it, the slow start still seems to be hurting me. I am actually considering going back to my finalized manuscript and adding some new first lines.
One bit that I don’t fully agree with is the idea that you should not use dialogue to convey information. Most often, the opposite is true. If you can deliver the background information in dialogue, you should probably do that rather than an exposition info-dump.
That being said, this can be taken to extremes. Andrzej Sapkowski‘s first Witcher book Blood of Elves is perhaps the best example of dialogue info gone horribly mad. I have been listening to the audiobook for a while and I would not be surprised if some 80% or more of the entire book is dialogue. Worse, it is dialogue between a bunch of undeveloped side characters that I don’t care about. There are scenes in the book that are literally just a bunch of random lords sitting around a table discussing politics. I never got a good grasp of who these people were or why I should care. Those long, drawn-out conversations would have been much better as basic exposition, keeping the focus of the book on the protagonists. As it stands, the book often gets distracted with meaningless characters and information.
The tips in this article are targeted at novel writers, but I think most of them apply to any form of fiction besides the smallest micro stories. If you’re looking to improve your writing, you would be doing yourself a big favor by checking it out.