Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Writing Habit

David Huddle, the author of one my long-time favorite books, Only the Little Bone, published a book on writing in 1991 called The Writing Habit. I read this book over several years for two reasons. Huddle is himself a magnificent writer; that is, he is so articulate and interesting that reading his prose is like listening to a favorite friend. Second, his advice never wears out.

For example, here is his take on unsuccessful stories:

1. They are too abstract and not concrete enough. They are too much of the mind and not enough of the senses.
2. They are inadequately considered; they don't go deep enough.
3. They are written by a false self.

This second criticism is one I'm finding myself mired in with a novel I'm editing. The author's basic plot is a good one: attraction, jealousy (both romantic and professional), fame and fortune, but she writes about her characters instead of living them onto the page. And I'm having trouble explaining that to her. That mannerisms and hair color aren't enough. That thoughts and actions may not be enough. Real characters are real people in all their complexity and that is the real challenge of the writer: to go deep into the life of the heart and mind and somehow, rather magically, get that on paper, i.e., get on paper what makes them ache with joy or with sorrow. How do you convey that without being obvious?

My author is young, impatient. She isn't interested in steeping herself in the kind of classic readings that might show her how to do this. And that's okay. But her writing shows it and it may well go nowhere.

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