A. Carter - novelist
a writer writes ... always
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.
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
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.
by asking the question: what if?
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
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:
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
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
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.
you write should be clear, concise,
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
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.