Very Important Question About Book Writing

Hilary! asked the following:

I have a VERY IMPORTANT QUESTION ABOUT BOOK WRITING!!!!!!!!! My Friend Weslie is writing a book and I’ve been helping her, but she won’t exactly tell me what the plot is, but i feel that since I am helping her with it anyway, she SHOULD tell me. What’s your take on it? PLEASE ANSWER PROMPTLY!!!!!

When you say you’re “helping” her I’m assuming you mean you are critiquing her work. Right? If so then, yes, it’s really difficult to make constructive comments when you have no idea where the book is going.

For instance, say she’s writing a vampire love story (judging from my poll opposite my readers are VERY into vampires) but she only slowly reveals that one of her characters is a vampre. You the critiquer need to know that so you can tell her whether her various clues along the way are too obvious or too subtle. It’s very difficult to critque a story when you don’t know where it’s going.

On the other hand, it might be that she wants to see whether you can figure out what’s happening and will rewrite depending on what you say. I don’t think this works that well unless she’s already written the entire story, in which case you’ll know what the plot is because you’ve got the whole story in front of you.

When I critique friends work-in-progress they always tell me where it’s going (if they know). Scott always tells me what the plot of his novels are before he writes them.1 My comments are much more useful when I have a sense of where the novel is going. Otherwise I’m not sure what to say except at a sentence-by-sentence level.

I’m not sure if I have answered your question. Anyone else got a different take?

  1. Things do change in the writing process, however. []

I am not an expert

I occasionally get letters from beginning writers and newly published authors who are confused by some of my writing advice and observations about the publishing industry. Confused, because they have read exactly the opposite information elsewhere.

This is my disclaimer for everything I say about writing and publishing1: I am not an expert.

I do not know everything there is to know about writing and publishing. What I post here may or may not apply to you. That’s especially true if you’re looking for publishing wisdom. I’ve only been in this game a bit shy of five years.2 There’s still a TONNE I don’t know or understand. I’m constantly bewildered by publishing. Fortunately, I know lots of more experienced publishing folk whom I can turn to for explanations, like my agent. Though sometimes it’s hard to ask because I don’t entirely understand what it is that I don’t understand. The publishing industry is arcane and weird.

As for writing. Well! There are zillions of different ways to write a novel. Me, I’ve only written six. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to folks like George Sand or Joyce Carol Oates. I’m still learning.

The novel I’m writing right now is unlike anything I’ve written. Previously, I’ve started at the beginning and written my way through to the end. Makes sense, right? This new novel I’m writing scene by scene but so far not one of these scenes follows directly from a previous scene. This novel refuses to be written chronologically. It’s making me relearn how to write a novel. It hurts my head!

All writing advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe it’ll work for you, maybe not. There are no hard and fast rules, only guidelines. Do what works, chuck what doesn’t, but stay open to it maybe working for you at a different time or for a different novel.

Well, there is one rule: All novels are improved by the addition of zombies. VASTLY IMPROVED.

  1. or anything else for that matter []
  2. And only if you count from the offer. The actual contract wasn’t signed until late 2003. []