Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
The other day I read one of my client’s manuscripts and came to the conclusion that the opening paragraphs were convoluted, forced, and confusing. I wrote to him to suggest he delete those first paragraphs; the manuscript, I assured him, unfolded beautifully thereafter.
My client responded to my suggestion with this: “I already had felt a pang of conviction [about those paragraphs] after rereading a portion of A Moveable Feast when Hemingway says, ‘If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.'”
The conviction my client felt when he read the Hemingway passage, added with my perspective, convinced him to start his novel several paragraphs later.
As I thought about how a few sentences from A Moveable Feast had pointed my client to the error of his writing, I realized that the masters generously offer us their writing insights, often through books devoted to instructing us. They seem eager to tell us what they’ve learned as they’ve sweated over their masterpieces.
That realization caused me to list a few helpful instructions I’ve gathered from the masters about writing principles. Here are three of them:
“Thunder and lightning too often, and they stop getting under the bed.” –Mark Twain
“Murder your darlings.” –Critic and writing instructor, Arthur Quillin-Couch
“Writers must be fair and remember even bad guys (most of them, anyway) see themselves as good—they are the heroes of their own lives. Giving them a fair chance as characters can create some interesting shades of gray—and shades of gray are also a part of life.” –Stephen King
Other authors who were eager to share their wealth of knowledge are C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, E.B. White. The list goes on.
What writing advice have you gleaned from the master writers?