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I am a writer, editor and reviewer based in Perth, Western Australia: my first novel, The Dagger of Dresnia (Book 1 of The Talismans) is published by Satalyte and available from their website as well as Amazon.com and other online outlets. As both writer and editor, I specialise in historical and high or epic fantasy. If you have a manuscript in preparation, don't waste money on editing too early. Instead, let me help with a mini-assessment of your work, based on careful reading of your synopsis and first 20 pages. Then, when you've worked on the manuscript in line with our discussions, I will be happy to do a full edit before you send it off into the big wide world. My fees are very reasonable - for more about my editing work, CLICK HERE

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Monday, 28 November 2011

The value of "how-to" lists for writers

A friend on one of my mailing lists sent a message yesterday about a great blog post by author Ian Irvine, on creating suspense. Ian Irvine is the author of 27 novels. His next epic fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm, to be published by Orbit Books in Australia in November 2011, and in the US and UK in April 2012.

You can read the post at http://ripping-ozzie-reads.com/2011/11/26/ian-irvine-reveals-41-ways-to-keep-readers-turning-the-page/.

A second friend replied, questioning the value of such lists. He pointed out Ian Irvine's suggestion that puzzles and mysteries create suspense through curiosity, and said ‘I agree with this but it only tells you to have puzzles. It gives some examples, but doesn't really tell you how to have a puzzle.’

An interesting discussion ensued on the list, batting the pros and cons of such lists back and forth. There was plenty of food for thought. My take on it is this: the underlying problem is that in fact no one can actually teach us to write.

Lists such as Ian Irvine's are useful because they can help us to identify where our work might be lacking. The lists are written by people who analyse writing after it's been written, by themselves or others. Naturally gifted writers don't need lists - they just do the right things without thinking about it. The process they follow is largely unconscious, and therefore can't be readily taught to others.

Anaïs Nin is on record as having said that one of the essential characteristics of a good fiction writer is being able to access the unconscious at will. I don't think gifted writers always realise they are doing that, but there's no doubt that some people have a gift for knowing intuitively how to plot. When you analyse what they done, it nearly always falls into the three-act structure - inciting incident, three disasters and a denouement. Many of these very talented people also have the knack of knowing how to keep up the tension without any analytical process at all, and might also have a gift for getting characters down on the page in a manner that makes them come across as real live people.

As my second friend pointed out, Ian Irvine doesn't tell us "how to have a puzzle". He just points out that puzzles might be Good Things to Include, and when you think about it, that's the kind of thing that makes up any set of writing instructions. I don't think Mr Irvine or anyone else can actually teach me a formula that would enable me to create puzzles (or other tension--inducing factors) in my stories. By analysis, I can see what really gifted writers do, but all the lists in the world will not make me able to do it myself.

Many of us, myself included, just have to struggle along with the trial and error method. Lists such as Ian Irvine's help us along a bit, that's all. But they form an essential part of a would-be writer's reading, so thank heaven they are available, or some of us would never learn to write at all!

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