The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Write this Way
Chris Parra

      [Chris asks for advice on writing] The tough thing about writing a story isn't in coming up with a novel idea or unique characters — but that's what a lot of newbies focus on. The hard part is mastering the techniques of storytelling. It's not something that comes naturally. There's a great deal of craftmanship to be learned, from descriptive writing to writing dialog to mastering the basic elements of style, etc.
      It's one of those clichés that is profoundly true and insightful that says an author must write a hundred chapters before finally writing one that is any damned good.
      And why not? It takes a long time to learn anything else, such as playing a musical instrument or flying a plane or brain surgery. I don't understand how someone can be walking down the street one day and suddenly decide that he can write a story.
      But you have to start somewhere. So go ahead and write what you feel. Don't worry if your first few attempts suck — they probably will. Write 'em anyway, forget about 'em for a while, then come back and try to figure out where you went wrong and what you can do to make your next attempts better.
      What's cool about the Internet is that you can probably get some people to read your stories. With any luck, a few of your readers will tell you that you suck — and then tell you why. And if one of them actually knows what he's talking about, you need to buy that gentlemen a beer. Hell, a case of beers.
      It also helps to write anything, such as a lot of email. But don't just hammer your keyboard thoughtlessly. Make an effort to make each message you send perfect in form, with clearly expressed ideas and language that rocks. Learn and apply rules of good grammar and make sure there are no (or at least damned few) misspellings. Develop good habits and work on perfecting them.
      It takes a lot of time and effort to write a story that rises above the unending piles of reeking crap that currently litters the landscape of the Internet. You can become part of the torrent of sewage by accepting mediocrity — or you can rise above it by consciously making yourself better than the other 98% of literary wannabees.
      Maybe. A certain amount of talent is probably necessary, too. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants desperately to become a professional at anything actually has the wit, intelligence or imagination to get there — no matter how hard they try. You have to be brutally honest with yourself in evaluating whether or not you have what it takes and if you are willing to spend the time grunting through the drudgery of applying yourself to mastering the craft.
      I'll be happy to take a look at what you come up with. I can't spend a lot of time acting as a mentor, though. I'm way, way behind schedule on my own story.                   
      So, have you written anything lately that I could see?

      [Snippet from an essay] "I believe seeing the horror of the atomic threat on a daily basis jolted the people out of their complacency, made them face the harsh reality that all wars are horrible, and inspired them to work towards a more peaceful world."

      Except that it's not a more peaceful world. There are 104 countries currently engaged in armed conflict at the moment. True, they are not dropping nukes on each other, but some of them would if they could — Iraq and North Korea come to mind. India and Pakistan are recently nuclear capable and threaten each other. Israel would use their nukes if the existence of their country was seriously jeopardized. Then there are the terrorists like Osama bin Laden and Khadafi — who will almost certainly eventually get nukes from the Russian black market.
      The US military is currently deployed to more international hot spots than at any time since WWII. Following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were scores of wars involving nearly every country on earth at one time or another — Korea, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Laos, the Falkland Islands, the Middle East, Chechnya, the Balkans… Remember the Hutus and Tutsis? And then there was Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Also the Bay of Pigs, Granada and Panama. Our soldiers were dragged through the streets in Somalia.
      There have been other doomsday weapons that have been perceived as horrible enough to end war. Poison gas in WWI killed and mutilated more people than the atomic bombs have so far. The firebombings of Dresden and Tokyo killed more people than the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs. Following the Fascist air raid on Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, it was widely believed that bombing civilian populations would lead to such panic and fear that no nation could endure the agony.
      The so-called 'peace movements' did nothing to end the nuclear balance of terror. Cold War nuclear confrontation is on a hiatus these days only because the Soviet Union collapsed from trying to match West's military expenditures — they were outspent into oblivion by Ronald Reagan's probably ridiculous Star Wars initiative. If things continue to go badly in Russia, there is a chance that some strongman will seize control of a nation that still has thousands of nukes.
      In spite of the duck-and-cover rhetoric of the Sixties, the US and the Soviet Union very nearly came to the point of a nuclear exchange over the Cuban Missile Crisis. I think it is only a matter of time before some rogue state, terrorist organization or as-yet unknown belligerent lobs a nuke at someone, quite possibly us. Saddam had enough nerve gas to destroy Israel, but not enough nerve — probably precisely because he knew they had nukes.
      Peace happens when the bad guys are convinced that potential victims will defend themselves. War happens when the bad guys have no respect for their potential victims. If the US had followed up the Iraq adventure by kicking a few helpless countries around just for grins, we'd be assured of peace in our times. Instead, we elected a coward as our leader who decimated our military with budget cuts, shattered its moral by flagrantly tolerating gays, lowered its standards by accomodating women in combat arms, then sold our foreign policy to the highest bidders. We will eventually pay for this stupidity with our blood.

      OK, that's my rant. Now for some writing analysis. Compare our letters. How are they different in style and substance? I'll give you a few hints to get you started.
      For one thing, research makes a huge difference. Knowing the facts and being able to organize them gives you the voice of authority in your writing. If you can sound as if you know what you're talking about, it makes your opinions stand out as strong and persuasive. In the Susan book, the amount of sheer research I did probably represents a greater effort than the writing itself. Of course, a lot of it is stuff that's familiar to me, but it just shows that there is some truth to the adage, "Write what you know." And if you don't know, research.
      Another technique is to use the active voice. Don't keep your subject at arm's length — develop a strong opinion about something and shock your readers with your convictions. Use strong words, even profanity. Call a spade a spade. Go out on a limb. For heaven's sake, don't generalize an opinion. Tack it to something definitive.
      The rhetorical asides (bogus quotations) you used look very amateurish. It has the effect of trying to put words in my mouth — as a reader — that I would never use. If you use quotations, attribute them to somebody. Also, you need to follow the punctuation conventions when using quotations. Look them up or read something analytically to see how they're used.
      Gotta go. I'm nearly finished with another chapter of Susan. I hope to put it on the website tonight. At long last, my patient and long-suffering readers will find out why I named the book 'Susan'.

Next Letter

Proper Waffles
Table of Contents

© Patrick Hill, 2000