Key/Interesting Points from Horwitz’s Blueprint your Bestseller

I feel like I’ve read a litany of books ‘on writing’ which sometimes (not always) contain brief sections on editing and revision, which is a little ironic or misguided because as I’m sure most of you have realized too, as much of the ‘hard part’ of writing a novel is finishing a novel, the next ‘part’ of editing, revision and rewriting is just as if not more grueling and difficult. (there is a reason there is a myriad of editing services out there)

Blueprint Your Bestseller is the first non-fiction piece I’ve read exclusively for editing and I confess I experienced a big of dumb realization that there is likely a whole sub-category of ‘on writing’ books that I have yet to experience – suffice to say if you’re like me and haven’t dived into books specifically on editing give it some consideration…

Anyhow.

Not going to ramble on for a whole post, some of the really useful and interesting points Horwitz made in regards to writing were:

  • Have a single theme/thesis/premise

Horwitz called this the theme but I think this could be misleading to some writers. One key point which I agree with  is that even a novel length work needs a key premise or point. The point doesn’t haven to cover every detail of the story (obviously that is the point of the whole book) but just a relatively clear point to it all, which ties everything together and provides a sense of purpose to the tale.

  • Subplots

While a novel might have one theme, Horwitz argued that the story would have multiple subplots. (although again he doesn’t use the term subplot his exact phrase escapes me right this second). The interesting thing about Horwitz’s approach is that each subplot doesn’t have to be complicated or dense, in fact his method of organizing content is about simplifying plot ‘movements’ to make sense of what changes and what stays the same across moments or scenes in the story.

What I found particularly interesting about that point is that writers are often told to keep moving their story forward, and this can create a sense of pressure to keep having things happen in their story. However when one acknowledges the multiple subplots of their tale one can better craft what changes and what doesn’t, for example a romantic subplot of an action story might not change in every scene so it can be useful to pinpoint which moments the romance happens.

  • Scenes

Finally Horwitz recommends collecting around 99 (on average) scenes per novel – in terms of editing his method basically describes cross-matching your scenes to subplots and determining where movement happens or doesn’t.

As a conclusion Horwitz also offers some interesting advice on scene transitions and types of story resolutions.

Blueprinting your Bestseller is very much about the overarching structure of the story, e.g. making sure that you have the right scenes in the right order. The thesis is relatively short but useful and highly recommended for writers!

 

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People Pleasing versus Writing SOMETHING

I was watching a review of Justice League the other day (haven’t even seen the movie…) and something MovieBob said struck me as very interesting (I thoroughly recommend MovieBob’s work as someone who really likes to overanalyze film)

In his review he basically compares Justice League to Batman vs Superman, a film which prompted, so far, 3 hours of material from Bob about why its so bad. And yet favourably says about Batman vs Superman that at least as a train wrecks it is interesting, whereas Justice League is fluffy and safe doesn’t really do anything.

This got me thinking about the nature of writing and art in general and what we’re trying to achieve. As writers we are often trying to people please, to produce work that won’t offend or at the very least we feel there are so many boxes to tick in terms of “good” writing we can lose track.

Now I’m not saying its time to throw off the oppressive shackles of reasonable feedback, or to deviate of the path of always improving, but I think it is useful to reflect on your work and what you’re trying to say with it and put that first. I’ve probably said this before, but for me crafting and improving a work of writing is about how to best emphasize and communicate the message of the piece, and sure that crafting may be to make the work more accessible or easy to read for a wide audience but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the message. If that message is something that isn’t bestseller material so be it – I’m pretty sure that most people prefer to be challenged by something that makes them think twice then consume another piece of cotton candy sanctified piece of writing.

One of the really weird perfectionist issues of writing is human beings have a hard time dealing with being less than 100%. The reason its odd is that I don’t actually know anyone who is a cliche ‘perfectionist’ its an odd quirk of (I think) Western culture where its considered a waste of time to do anything if you’re not going to put your best into it, by which I’m trying to say none of the writers I know are desperate perfectionists in the sense of locking themselves in rooms and being terrible pedants for details, but rather psychologically struggling to deals with this ‘less than 100%’ issue (well I certainly do).

Again obviously this isn’t a permission to do an average job, but what I’m building up to is to point out that our writing isn’t going to be 100% awesome for its readers either. If we’re all honest with ourselves I think we write hoping for best-seller type acclaim and even if we accept that’s a slim possibility I suspect there is still a sense that what fans we will have are fanatical.

Realistically there is going to be a range of responses to our work and that’s OK – however going back to my original point is that the more we try and please everyone the more boring and sanitized a work might become. In my opinion if I have three readers (probably an overestimate) it would be far more interesting to see a range of responses than a bland equality of ‘good I suppose.’

So anyway – what are your thoughts? Do you try to people-please in your writing?

what-other-people-think-about-you-is-none-of-your-business

According to Google this quote is attributed to at least 10+ different people!

Why Editing Sucks Butt

Illustration depicting graffiti on a brick wall with a hopeless concept.

So after feeling pretty proud of myself over the past 1-2 months of actually having a good writing routine and consistent production things have come to a bit of a screeching halt now that it’s time for draft number 2. (This is despite all my other posts about editing, for shame Thomas, for shame)

Turns out that productive writing habits don’t necessarily equal productive editing. A few folk I’ve chatted with online have found a similar thing.

So in true procastinatory fashion I ruminated on the whys and wherefores of this issue to blog about it.

I guess first of all it helps to point out some ways that completing a 1st draft lends itself to a regular routine, especially if you use my strategy of ‘vomit drafting.’ Vomit/crappy/dirty drafting is basically where one conquers writers block and anxiety but simply allowing oneself to write anything and everything towards just getting stuff on the page. The theory is its much easier to rewrite well than write well (HAH!)

The main reason I find drafting to be somewhat easier than editing is you can use word-count as a measure of success, and being able to see your progress is a great way of keeping motivation alive.

So that’s pretty much the first reason editing blows. You can’t really go on word count, often with editing you’re destroying words, but obviously you can’t measure progress by words deleted (although systematically deleting everything does have some temptation). One can spend an entire session on a couple of lines in editing (and hopefully make a significant improvement) and the lack of visible progress makes one feel like a slouch.

The next challenge is you can’t really ‘vomit’ anymore. You’re editing you’re supposed to be writing good well now. To be fair, I know that a 2nd draft isn’t going to be ‘the one’ but it’s hard to find that balance between freely writing whatever, without becoming paralyzed by high standards of editing.

Another subtle barrier is that writing and editing are quite different activities, and like anything else our stamina for each needs to be developed. I’m thinking back to when I first started plugging away at writing first thing each morning, the first few times where like trying to run (at all [I hate running except towards pizza or pikachus]). After a while I found that I could manage about the twice the material at the same amount of effort. I’m hoping here that editing is the same, because at the moment I’m managing a few paragraphs of work before I decide to start blogging about how shitty editing is.

I’m quite sure there are some more reasons – I was particularly interested  in exploring why the transition from drafting to editing was such a slog, I suppose there are all those emotional reactions too like realizing that your dream of being published is still a ways of (assuming this is the piece too)…

 

What other ways does editing blow chunks?

How you do combat the slog the rewriting?