by David Ellis
I figured if I ever wrote a blog, I would sometimes just go off on various topics. Since I joined up with the talented bunch of writers here, I have limited my comments to a single subject on writing. Not today. We’ll see if people are okay with this. A few rants, raves, and observations.
1. Don’t you hate it when you’ve thoroughly researched a subject and you proudly vomit all the information onto the pages of your novel—only to discover, either on your own or through your agent or editor, that you went on way too long and you have to cut it down? That has happened to me a lot. Whenever I get outside my comfort zones of law and politics, I seek outside assistance, compile a bunch of information, and then end up over-detailing the subject. For those of you aspiring novelists out there, I think the lesson is this: The novel is not about you. You learned a whole lot about an obscure subject? Congratulations. Use it at cocktail parties. But the people buying your novels don’t give a shit. Just tell them what is necessary to make the book interesting.
2. Speaking of the cutting-room floor, some of my favorite passages from my novels are the ones that didn’t make it. Usually I am the one removing it, and the typical reason is that the passage no longer fits. The plot, or the character, has changed. And then I do what, I suspect, all of us writers do—I store that nugget away for another time. And you know what? I have never once taken one of those nuggets and inserted it into another novel. The lesson here is—actually, I don’t know what the lesson is.
3. I think I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: If you are bored with a particular passage in your novel, count on this universal truth—the reader will be, too.
4. Is there a “far left” political movement in this country? I hear, in major newspapers and TV news channels, about the “far right” all the time. I hear them called “extreme,” too. Ever heard of the “extreme” left? The “far” left? Just asking. Hey, I’m no Rush Limbaugh, but I’m a fan of evenhandedness.
5. My take on writing about sex: Leave it to the imagination. A novelist I respect who shall remain nameless (she writes on this blog) once told me (she has red hair) that she (her initials are LC) thought the sexiest scene I ever wrote was in my first novel. But that scene didn’t have a single graphic image. It was all about the lead-up, the flirtation. I have never—and I mean never—read a sex scene in a novel that I found captivating.
6. A really cool thing happened to me the other day that illustrates the organic nature of a novel. I was writing a scene between my protagonist and a woman who, so my plan went, was only serving a minor role. I was rolling along through a brief encounter between the two when suddenly, the thing turned a little sexy on me, and the next thing I knew, something was developing between the two of them. It wasn’t what I had planned. It doesn’t really fit in my novel. But hey, romance often doesn’t fit with your life. Damned if I’m not going to keep it in the book. That’s what I love about writing.
7. When someone says your new book is the best novel you’ve ever written, does that make you momentarily feel insecure about the ones that came before? My favorite fan is the one who says that all of my books are equally compelling. I hope to have one of those fans someday.
8. I absolutely, positively, cannot fathom how anyone could have written a novel on those old typewriters, or long-hand. I jump around my novel like a frog on speed. (Mental note: cool simile, store it away and use it in next book!)