Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Can Good Fiction Writing be Taught?

That was the question asked of two famous fiction writers on the back page of the New York Times Book Review section last week. Thriller Guy forgets their names and is too lazy to look them up, mostly because their answers were kind of wishy-washy and not very interesting. TG, who is known for his blistering, forthright, unsparing opinions, would answer this one with a resounding, um, maybe?

TG loves books, web sites and blogs that purport to teach folks how to write good fiction. TG has a stack of these books, some good, some bad, and mostly offering up the same advice as everyone else over and over again. It used to be Allen Appel’s custom to read a few of these books every time he started in on a new novel, his experience being that if you learn one thing from one book the reading time was worth the effort. Now he no longer does this because he can get the same benefits by cruising around the thousands of book blogs that litter the Internet. Also there’s another reason, and that’s because TG writes on of those book blogs himself. But you already knew that. This has led TG to consider a different question: Why does Thriller Guy burn up his writing time and rapidly failing mental abilities writing a blog about books, writers and how to write good fiction? Especially because there are so many perfectly good blogs doing the same thing already out there.

It sure as hell isn’t because he’s done so well in the business he wants to give back to those who haven’t achieved his exalted position of power, influence and wealth. TG is scratching out a pathetic living just like most of the writers he knows, older and wiser, yes, than he was years ago but probably worse off as far as traditional publishing success is concerned. Here’s a harsh truth, Little Ones, the longer you stay in this shithole business without overwhelming financial success the less likely it is that any of the regular print publishers are going to publish your novels. You think that fashion models hit a ceiling and age out? Corporate execs who never rise to the top positions? Musicians? Dancers? Pretty much anyone in any of the arts? They’ve got nothing on writers these days. Thank God for Amazon and Kindles as they have given a last shot for aging mid-list writers to sell books, or at least get them in a venue where they have a chance of selling, as opposed to where even if one of the legacy guys takes a chance on you, your book hits the shelf with the lifespan of a mayfly, up there today, gone in two weeks, sloughed off by a system that doesn’t recognize that a book needs time and a decent push if it’s going to sell. And then they scratch their heads and whine about electronic rights and how writers aren’t toeing the line, and why, oh why, their business model is headed for the crapper.

Hey, TG just figured out why he writes a book blog: so that he can write a paragraph like that last one and not care what anyone thinks of him or that it might piss someone off. So he can start an entry with the purpose of asking and answering a question: Can good fiction writing be taught? then go off on whatever tangent his dark little heart desires, and we do know how TG likes to go off on wild hair tangents. Yeah, that’s pretty much the reason for doing this week after week. It’s kind of a release. Though he does have a soft spot in his aforementioned heart for the odd folks who read this blog and comment and send him emails, and yes, every once in awhile who go to TG’s Amazon page and buy a Kindle book and then sometimes another and sometimes another. Has TG thanked you for this recently? Probably not, but thanks. You all must be about as crazy as TG.

So does anyone learn anything worthwhile from this book blog or any other? Can good fiction writing be taught? TG thinks so. Because learning to write is pretty simple, and also pretty damn near impossible, as TG has said so many times. First you read a lot, then you -- altogether now, lets all repeat TG’s writing mantra --

Sit down; shut up; get to work. Talk about pathetic. Can’t you do any better than that? Say it again, loud and proud…

Sit down; shut up; get to work.

Get words on paper. Try to organize them in a way that is like the books you read that you think are really good. Then go back and rewrite them over and over, utilizing all the little tips and tricks you learn from TG and all the other books blogs out there. If you do that, and stick with it, eventually -- actually it takes about a year -- you’ll have a novel. And maybe other people will want to read it. Maybe they’ll even want to buy it.

Readers of Thriller Guys blather will recognize the name of TG’s writer pal Larry, often referred to in these pages. He’s Larry Kahaner, who has written fiction and lots of non-fiction and regularly reads Allen Appel’s work and helps with suggestions and edits. He is also a lunch companion, valued friend, one of the writers in the Squatting Toad, Appel’s writer’s group, and an extremely important resource for working out plot problems and other writer dilemmas. Larry has entered the world of writer blogging with his site, The Non-Fiction Novelist.

What makes his blog different is he contends that people who write non-fiction – journalism, business work, pretty much anyone who can write a memo or a report – can use those abilities to turn out good fiction. TG finds this an interesting concept and is sure he’ll pick up some tips at Larry’s site that will help him beat the novel he is currently battling into submission.

Check him out; maybe you’ll learn something. 

1 comment:

  1. I just wrote an entry on how to commit a perfect murder. It is, of course, fictional: