The Amazing Adventures
of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey
Write this Way
[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
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
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
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
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
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
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'.
© Patrick Hill, 2000