Mark A. Carter - novelist

a writer writes ... always

World famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist Mark A. Carter gives some encouraging advice to neophyte writers on the art of writing, for what it's worth.

"I like it," and, "I don't like it," are not useful ways to approach the analysis of literature nor are they a helpful approach to the writing of it. I bitched and complained to no end in my fourth year English Literature class on Classical Comedy that a more serious approach was required. My fellow classmates stared at me like I had lobsters crawling out of my ears, to borrow an expression from the film: A Christmas Story. I recommend, from the get go, that to write well you must understand the theories underlying literature, the deus ex machina that makes it work. To get an education in a nutshell, I recommend Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye. Anatomy is also available in paperback. By the time you read Professor Frye's tome, and all of the books that he uses as examples, you will have a better literary education than most professors or than most universities provide, and at an affordable price. It will, though, take you several years to accomplish. There is no free lunch. Everyone who desires to write well must pay their dues.

My next piece of advice is to forget the technical stuff you have learned about literature and writing. Why? It gets in the way of creativity. Create first. Get those interesting ideas down on paper. Move beyond note taking and into a narrative voice. Perform the technical craft after that. Personally, I create in the morning, quietly, in a book of blank, white pages, with pen in hand and music playing on the CD player. And, after lunch, I perform the technical part of writing. I correct, proofread, and transpose script to type on my computer.

Have a daily writing routine. Leonard Cohen taught me that. You can only do so much every day. Don't worry about it. Some days will be better than others. Don't worry about that either. But keep at it. And in the end, while others have been frittering away their days, you will have a product. And story by story and book by book, you will get more efficient as a writer and more diligent as author, editor, and proof reader until it all comes together.

When I first started writing full time, every one of my words was sacrosanct. I didn't want to cut any of them. My writing was, by my standards today, interesting. Why? I didn't write enough. I didn't structure my stories well enough. I took very few notes. I didn't do a lot of the things that are important to do. Consequently, I wrote myself into corners and the writing came to a crashing stop because I didn't know where to go next. That's amateurville, baby. Don't let that pitiful kind of block happen to you.

Start by asking the question: what if?


Be encouraged. Whether you create in a corner of your apartment, or attic, or basement, it's the worlds that you imagine and the words that you put on paper that are important, not your surroundings.

So, no matter what, keep writing.

To quote from the 1987 film Throw Momma From the Train:

"A writer writes ... always."

It's good advice. Take it.

I no longer write myself into a dark corner, as I used to when I first started writing, and crash and burn in the full stop of unrecoverable writer's block. Read: Writer's Block. I now plan extensively, write copious notes, and work out the details of my novels for months prior to the onset of writing. Do you realize that I had more pages of notes for my Mythpunk novel Hephzibah of Heaven than the novel is long? And at over 450 pages, it's a saga. The same goes for Thea of the Seraphim at 214 pages. It's called preparation. By the time you make notes to yourself about every aspect of the book you want to write, you will be ready to write it. And, as you write, if something else strikes you, keep notes as you go. If you don't write them down, you will forget them. And you never know where the next great idea will come from, if not for the book you're currently working on, then for the next one. Keep those creative juices flowing, baby.

Let me tell you what else not to do. Don't stay up all night writing. Don't write for days without sleep. Don't delude yourself that it's all part of the Bohemian lifestyle that you have to live in order to the great American novel. First, there is no such thing. Second, you need your sleep. Nobody creates well if they are tired. You just spin your wheels and rip your writing to bits. Why? Well, you can still perform the technical part of writing when you're tired. But, you're not using your best judgment. The best thing to do, instead of trying to tackle large story elements that take days to complete is to write a little bit of good stuff every day. By the end of the year, you'll have plenty of stuff to work with, to proof, to edit, and to erstwhile polish. Chop will become your middle name, baby.

And read everything in your area of interest. If you plan to write Romance, read Romance. If you intend to write Fantasy, read Fantasy, and so on. You have to read novels and short stories. And you have to read the current stuff published in the pulps. Eat up the stories. Then create your own. But don't steal. That's plagiarism. Look it up.

Try to be original. But really, it's all variations on a theme. Isn't it? So, create an ingenious variation. Start by asking the question: "what if?" That question lies at the heart of every good story. It sets up a problem for which you have to devise an ingenious solution.

When you write, don't lose sight of the fact that you're telling a story. Don't get lost in the claptrap of gadgets and gizmos. If they aren't used dynamically to advance character or plot, they are only wardrobe and window dressing. And if they don't add to the story, they take away. If used well, a gizmo may become a character unto itself, advance plot, tear at your heart strings, and hold a mirror up to society.


Reading is sexy.

Every sentence you write should be clear, concise, and utilitarian; and should advance either character or plot. Make clear, concise, and utilitarian your writer's mantra. It's how you should write. Say it to yourself every day. Print it in large bold letters and stick it to the wall of your writing area so you are constantly reminded. Strive toward it.

Good writing also demands that you be merciless with your editing, as in: "Here comes a chopper to chop off your head." Your words are not carved in stone. Chop. Chop. Chop. Your writing only gets better. A good novelist writes a million words then chops it down to one hundred thousand.

Mark A. Carter also shares some tidbits with new writers during his talks with Mary Chanton Krater.

Read: Eye Candy
Fiction Bubble
Journal Infernal 
Killing Characters
Writer's Block 

Now you know.

from the imagination of Mark A. Carter - novelist

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