The other day I Googled (I just love Google. Can I say that again? I just love Google.) for best books on writing, or something like that. It's easy for me to get rusty on the finer points of writing, even if I am doing it everyday. And when is it a bad idea to stay sharp?
Unless you're supposed to be blunt, that is.
Some of the best books on writing I've read. I own them. I've underlined in them. Others I've heard of an one or two I started and never finished, for various reasons that I won't get into here. One that came up again and again was a book called Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I'd never heard of it, so I jumped over to my local library web site and put it on hold. A few days later I got an e-mail telling me that my book was ready to be picked up. Yay, writing book!
I kind of expected a commentary on her life. Especially when the reviews said things like, a great view of writing and life. Or something like that. Okay, fine, I can handle someone's view of writing and life all squished together in an overly wordy book. I'm an author (aspiring) so I can dig it.
And mostly I can. The mistake the author made was to tell me, in one of the early chapters, that the ONLY way to write a good story is to create characters first and then put them into a plot.
This is the only way. She left no doubt about it. She was very firm in her belief.
Hasn't she heard of Orson Scott Card's M.I.C.E.? Or does she assume that the M, I or E stories are all bad. This is a distinct possibility. However, I'm pretty sure some of those M, I or E stories have won awards. Sold more copies than most of us can imagine. Made otherwise plain people quite famous.
Now don't get me wrong. Good characters are essential to a story. As a matter of fact I think my first novel suffers from a lack of character development. I've been meaning to go back and fix that for a while. So I believe! In some of it.
I heard another author/writing teacher earlier this year say the same thing. Not about characters, but about writing. He said you can write any way you like, as long as you follow his formula to the tee. This was after he criticized Stephen King for saying the exact same thing in different words.
Uh-hu. Who are you again?
Sorry, I get a little grouchy when people pull the my way or the highway card. Just write. If the characters come first, great. But don't go beating your head against a wall or stalking people at the Wal Mart to try to get great characters to jump into your mind. (Which isn't a bad idea, by the way) And if the idea comes first, dive in. Don't stand on the shore of a beautiful ocean refusing to take a dip because the surfers haven't appeared yet. Who knows, maybe your story is about a jelly fish.
Just over 68k on the latest novel, by the way.