In a thought-provoking, writing tips based ThrillerFest panel provided by WD managing editor Zachary Petit, four popular authors shared what they believe to be the deadly sins of the writing craft. Here are seven of their offerings. Have you committed any of them?
(David Hewson, author of the Nic Costa series)
Intellectual laziness is something all writers are prone to: as in writing the same type of book, and doing it annually. “I think you really have to fight against laziness and constantly keep challenging yourself.” Like great art, books aren’t ever finished—they’re abandoned. (In other words, don’t just finish writing a first draft and call it a day.)
2. Trying to be a good student
(Lisa Gardner, author of The Killing Hour)
Gardner said it’s a thrill to rope a lot of cool forensic facts in the research process. But the danger is in going home and regurgitating all of them in your novel—“When really thrillers are all about entertaining. …” Keep that story moving forward.
3. Marching down the outline
(John Sandford, author of Buried Prey)
This occurs when you sit down to write and follow your outline exactly. Sandford said some people use an outline like a frame, and merely embroider within it. Outlining is fine, but sticking too closely to it can stifle your story. “If you do outline, you have to be aware of the problems that that kind of thing can cause.”
4. Denying jealousy
(M.J. Rose, author of The Hypnotist)
“I try to not allow myself to be jealous of other writers and the books they’ve written,” Rose said—but in fact, she believes it’s a good thing to let some of that jealousy seep through. So don’t bottle it up. “I think it’s really healthy to let yourself have the full range of emotions.”
5. Focusing too heavily on the business
One of Sandford’s friends obsesses over the business end of writing—his friend writes a book, and then gets lost in all of the trappings of business and promotion … “to the exclusion of actually writing novels.”
6. Not reading books
Reading is essential for writers. Rose cited a study that said that 23 percent of people in the United States want to be writers. If all of them read 10 books a year, Rose said, “We’d all be doing a lot better.”
There is a difference between imitating a book, and being influenced by a book. Hewson added that it’s valuable to figure out why you think certain things work in the books you read, and why others don’t.
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