It was in the late 1990s when I had a humbling conversation with one of my writing heros, Frank Peretti. As an author publishing with the same publishing house (Crossway Books), Frank had been gracious with his time and critiqued a manuscript for me. I remember one of his comments like it was yesterday.
Monday, February 28, 2011
My Favorite Teachers
"You're breaking the rules, Harry."
I leaned forward. "What rules?"
He smiled. "Don't be afraid to read what the fiction teachers are saying."
When I questioned him further, he gave me an example of how I had broken a point-of-view rule in a scene I had written. Now realize, at that point in time, I had been blessed by having four novels published and had a contract in hand to write a fifth one (that I hadn't yet started). But until that time, I had only written by natural gifting and had never opened a book to instruct me on how this whole fiction world worked, and what the "rules" were (essentially what works and doesn't distract the reader). So I went to work and started reading book after book on how to do what I'd already been doing for years. The result? I had to fight being "gun-shy." As I read "the rules," I found myself worrying. Can I do this?
Of course, that was a silly worry, but when you write without knowing all the rules, you don't really have a basis for worrying if you are doing it correctly!
I think my early success slowed my maturation as a writer. Now, my writing is much tighter, and hopefully I've learned a few tips about conflict, suspense, pacing, and tension along the way. I've been able to polish my dialogue and edit more efficiently.
Now, people often ask me, "who are your favorite fiction teachers?"
I have a few I pay attention to. Here are my favorites: Donald Maass. He has a series of books including the one I pictured above about writing the breakout novel. Read all you can find from Sol Stein and James Scott Bell and even a guy named James Frey (although his books How to Write a Damn Good Novel I and IIprompted my then 12 year old to put masking tape over the spine of the book and substitute the word "Very" for "Damn.") OK, so I'm glad my son didn't like the title, but I loved the advice.
Who are your favorite teachers?
Posted by Harry Kraus