Opinions

On Writing or Why Charles Dickens Sucks.

I once heard on Twitter somebody say don’t take writing advice from non legacy/traditionally published authors. I don’t believe in that, since there are plenty of legacy published authors you shouldn’t take writing advice from. That also doesn’t stop self-published authors from giving advice.  I’ve decided to write this one blog post giving writing advice .

My one piece of advice on writing is this: Don’t write like me!

Ok, you can try to write like me, it’s just harder to pull  off. They only reason I can get away with my style so easily it is because I’m high functioning autistic, and write like I think and talk.

There’s a reason I’m the first person seemingly in history to write a book featuring parrot gangsters and  have it work.  My mind is unhinged, I don’t think like most people.  Because I don’t think like most people, I can approach the seemingly dumbest ideas in history, like parrot gangsters and treat the subject matter seriously and respectfully .I don’t need to go into this in more detail, it’s self-evident.

My practical, utilitarian writing style works because I, like most people with high function autism(aka Aspergers) are practical to a fault.

In life, my mind just can’t wrap around non-practical ideas like etiquette. I’m not talking manners here, like being nice, and chewing with your mouth closed. I can understand the practical applications of those. I’m talking things like thank you notes for gifts somebody gave you in person. If I’ve already thanked someone in person, why do I have to sit down and write what amounts to a form letter doing something I already did? I just don’t get it. No amount of explanation will ever make me get it.

Because I’m practical, when writing, I cut out all the extraneous details. Why spend an entire paragraph describe the state of disorganization and mess in a room, down to types of each piece of garbage and their placement, when “the room was cluttered and messy, it smelled like it had been cleaned in days. Trash was everywhere, covering the furniture and the floor,” does just fine?  You can fill in the blanks, your mind probably does it anyway. You don’t need to know that Pepsi cans piled out of the trash cans, unless a character needs to knock them over.

Basically, I apply Checkhov’s gun to everybody and everything including entire scenes. If it doesn’t build character or advance plot,and simply exists to fill space, it doesn’t need to be there.  You’d be surprised just how many authors ignore that rule.

The same practicality with details applies to the amount of words I use. I hate verbosity. Authors like Charles Dickens can go screw themselves.

The first paragraph of Oliver Twist:

Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.

That paragraph was trying to be deep and profound, but it comes across as hollow and pretentious. In some ways, writers like Dickens are the forerunners of the modern literary movement.

Now let me rewrite that paragraph:

Among the nameless buildings in a nameless town, there was a workhouse. In this workhouse, on some day and time, a boy was born.

I just said the essentially the same thing Dickens did, in a fraction of the words.

“But Noah,” I know people are typing into the comment box below, “Dickens is a legendary author loved the world over. You’ve probably sold a few dozen books at max.”

True, but let’s get real. How many people outside of school read novels by Dickens? I’m not talking the shorter stuff like A Christmas Carol, I’m talking about works like Bleak House. Despite having to read all 1000+ pages of it for a college seminar, I remembered just about nothing of what happened beyond some women got disfigured, so inheritors have trouble getting their inheritance, some other women shooting somebody else and something to do with  parliament that doesn’t go anywhere.

My guess, beyond the curious, almost nobody. And I’m sure most of the curious never finish.

Dickens wasn’t verbose because he was trying to be profound, he was paid by the word. Nobody today gets paid by the word except for short stories in magazines and they all have maximum word counts. However, in a sense it still exists for novels as publishers won’t except works below a minimum word count(50,000+ average, more or less depending on genre). The reason for this is it’s easier to sell a fatter book than a thinner book because they’re easier to see on a bookstore bookshelf.

This was a big reason I never tried to get published, I wasn’t willing to add filler to meet work count. The last time I did was the first novel I ever tried to write, which clocked in at 80,000 words, and was terrible. The next work I wrote, barely hit 30k and was better because of it, though it suffered from other crippling issues.  My best stuff by far, the K23 novellas, are complete stories with novel length plots, just aren’t novel length because I use fewer words to tell the story.

My paltry word count is ironic considering my chosen genre, Fantasy, is known for its huge word count. How many works on that list have I actually finished reading? None(though the Gunslinger is shorter and worth a try).

Is my writing style for everyone? No. I don’t expect everyone to like it or copy it, and they shouldn’t. But I think there are enough people out there who aren’t autistic who either don’t have time or the attention span to read full length novels anymore  but still want good fantasy reads,  that I might be able to carve out a niche given enough time.

Still, it is important to note that I’m trying to ever improve as a writer. For example,  I tend to  over rely on the same words, phrases and sentence structure over and over when I talk, and it shows up when I write(see “Still” at the beginning of the paragraph which I left in on purpose). I’m trying to cut down on that before I hand a manuscript off to somebody to edit. Sometimes, in my haste to cut words, I’ll cut so many details I haven’t built a scene. I’m trying to add them back in too.

Even if I K23 fails, which it might, I still have plenty of other ideas waiting deep inside my brain, just itching to come out.  One of them just might succeed.

—-

Here are some writing samples.

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Chrysoula Tzavelas (@chrysouladreams)
    September 3, 2011 at 6:37 am

    Hey!

    It’s like we’re writing twins or something (judging from your description of your approach to writing, anyhow). Sometimes I’ve wondered lately if I’m HFA…

    Anyhow, I totally get what you’re saying about cutting out extra details. I hate putting in meaningless sentences that don’t foreshadow or contribute characterization or move the action along or raise tension or SOMETHING, and most of the time, boring physical description qualifies as meaningless for me. Who cares if she has brown hair, and the rug was green?

    (I mean, sure, some people do but I secretly believe those people are wrong. Or misguided, anyhow.)

    I have a novel coming out from an indie publisher early next year, and it is 87k long and sometimes I worry that because I don’t put in the literary equivalent of spacers that it will fail miserably.

    Anyhow, I have a question for you. Do you find yourself reading other books very closely? Guessing plot twists from the first line of foreshadowing? Seeing relationship evolutions from random early lines of dialogue? Because I do this. I don’t even mind– it’s part of the fun of reading for me– but I end up /writing/ for readers like me. And yet it turns out apparently most people don’t do that, and if some damn hint or subtle bit of exposition isn’t repeated at least 3 times, these people won’t get it.

    • Reply
      Noah Murphy
      September 3, 2011 at 12:02 pm

      Anyhow, I have a question for you. Do you find yourself reading other books very closely? Guessing plot twists from the first line of foreshadowing? Seeing relationship evolutions from random early lines of dialogue? Because I do this. I don’t even mind– it’s part of the fun of reading for me– but I end up /writing/ for readers like me. And yet it turns out apparently most people don’t do that, and if some damn hint or subtle bit of exposition isn’t repeated at least 3 times, these people won’t get it.

      Yup, I do all of that. When I go to movies, my friend is astounded at my ability to predict plots accurately from trailers. When I watch TV, I call out of lines of dialogue before they’re said and most of the time correct. It’s hard often to read fiction because I know what will happen before it happens. And most people just don’t do that. When writing, I’m often very subtle, sometimes too subtle, having a major plot point spring out from one off hand reference twenty pages ago. Many readers claim that my writing is simplistic and shallow, they just don’t simply read closely enough, but its my problem ultimately, one I’m trying to fix.

  • Reply
    Maria Johnson (@Maria7627)
    December 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    “Still, it is important to note that I’m trying to ever improve as writer. For example, I tend to over rely on the same words, phrases and sentence structure over and over when I talk, and it shows up when I write(see “Still” at the beginning of the paragraph which I left in on purpose). I’m trying to cut down on that before I hand a manuscript off to somebody to edit. Sometimes, in my haste to cut words, I’ll cut so many details I haven’t built a scene. I’m trying to add them back in too.”

    Hey – isn’t that the whole point of an editor? To pick up on these little lapses, or not? Sometimes they might actually work. By the way… it should be “improve as a writer”!!

    • Reply
      Noah Murphy
      December 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Unfortunately I don’t have someone edit my blog posts. I wish I did but I don’t have the money.

  • Reply
    honestindiebookreviews
    February 6, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    K23 is NOT going to fail! It’s already succeeded just by making it into existence. That’s huge. Take it from someone struggling just to get an entire first draft completed.

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