Friday, March 5, 2010

Dead Reckoning

Traveling back and forth 70 miles across Phoenix to my new home, I look at the mountains with their green fuzz from the monsoon rains. These aren't the Rocky Mountains, but still most people don't expect any bump in the desert landscape. I thought I'd share a photo of Camelback Mountain - he looks west. Photo was taken from Papago [the name of a Native People] Mountains by one of my sons. See the camel's two humps? Go left to his ear and follow his nose. There is another mountain behind it that gets in the way - sorry, I didn't notice that at first. BTW, all of this is in the middle of the City. Cool?

There are all kinds of embarrassing stories to tell about me getting lost in my new hometown. The thing is, Phoenix is laid out on a grid where the roads are wide and point in the four compass directions. The exception is the mining roads, such as Grand Avenue which cuts a diagonal to the assay office (or where it was then) from the mines in the northwest. All I can say is there must have been a lot of directional impaired people in this part of town. Nothing is on the compass in my new town - but I do like it here even if I can't see Camelback and fix my position.

And what's the point of all this, you ask? Readers. Readers expect to be able to navigate through a story without feeling lost. My big annoyance is dialogue that I can't follow without stopping to count down to see who said what. Misdirection is a part of mystery writing. There are all kinds of writing tools, but we are expected not to misuse them or slop through our stories.

The point is: if your dialogue needs tags, use them. Who cares what 'they' say is the way to write, if it isn't clear without them, use tags. The other point is: don't get cute with misdirection. I hate being on the outside of an inside joke - I think it is a rude thing to do to guests.

The point is: Write to your readers. Write honestly - no tricks, no alligators over the transom. Write clearly, tell your story to the reader, don't just write to hear yourself talk. (Okay mixed metaphor, but you got it, didn't you?)

I've heard novice writers talk of falling in love with their characters, of needing to write like it is an addiction. My opinion is, they are writing for the wrong person. Fall in love with your readers. Romance them. Adore them like a lover. Bring them gifts and surprises. Bring them the flowers of your best work (and that metaphor isn't my best work).

This isn't about what's in it for the writer - I guarantee very few make a bucket of money; this is about the reader, your reader. Love them well. Everyone else (agents, acquisition editors, publishers) will fall into place if you fall in love with your readers.


  1. Good point - love your readers. I t hink every writer should remember that.

  2. I love the way your 'travelogue' turned into writing advice. I have no idea what you mean about aligators and transoms though - in fact I don't even know what a transom is!

    Good advice though, love your readers not your characters (or yourself?).


  3. Good morning ladies. Odd how my dyslexic mind works, isn't it? Keep in mind, this is all just my opinion. I do think if you write to your audience, not the industry, you will be pleased with your work too.

    Over the transom.

    Read all the way down. Transoms in older buildings opened to help the natural air flow pre air conditioning. The idea I'm referring to is used in the craft to mean dropping a solution in the ms out of the blue after writing oneself into a corner. Basically a bad technique. I don't know who came up with the aligator part, but basically it is an unlikely happening. You'll find this phrase in American beginning writing books.

  4. I go around in circles with the advice out there. Once I stopped trying extra hard, the more my work flowed. I think you are right, we must write for our readers, and not lose them because we tried to be clever.

  5. Glynis, I agree. Besides no one person has the writing answers for all of the industry. As I said, acceptance is subjective and lots of educated guessing.

    These are the basics I think, the very basics, a writer should know: basic grammar; beginning formatting; storytelling (beginning, middle, end), (the MC has to be on a quest, it has to get resolved), and you have to write the length of a novel (at least 60K words). From there you build your 'writer's tool kit' with literary devices.

    I think writers have to have patience and passion with their work, the industry, and themselves.

    I break the rules all the time: Never, ever begin a story with dialogue. Whoops! I always begin in the middle of a conversation. And so on...

    I think it is much easier to write a good book than to find a good agent.

  6. I liked this blog, clever the way it turned.
    But you are so right.
    My first novel was written for me; actually it had to be. I had stuff to get of my chest, it was therapy. I think a lot of people's first novels may be like that.
    My new one had an audience in mind before I started. My mother is a great reader and I thought about the book she would like as entertainment.

  7. Hello Glyn,
    I agree that many first novels turn out to be therapy - hyper journaling, if you will.

    As you probably know Kathryn's Beach had a specific audience, my friend who wanted something to read when cabin fever struck during an ice storm. By the time High Tide came and I was doing rewrites on KB, I began to think of the other people who would read them. I think it helps to visualize an audience curled up on the sofa with your book as you write it, even a specific person in their fav reading spot.

  8. I had to force myself to read the post as I kept wanting to scroll back up and look at the photo. I am glad I took the time to read your post though as there's some good advice in it. x

  9. DJ, I'll have to take more AZ photos for you. It is a great state, I simply love it - always have (even during uni when I was a starving student).