My mom just emailed me this link to a Salon.com article by Laura Miller, "A Reader's Advice to Writers" on what she, as a reader, who say to writers. There are five pointers, and they're all very good, I think, including one that I find sadly true (#4). You can read her detailed reasons at the above link, but here's the gist:
1. Make your main character want something.
2. Make your main character do something.
3. The components of a novel that readers care about most are, in order: story, characters, theme, atmosphere/setting.
4. Remember that nobody agrees on what a beautiful prose style is and most readers either can't recognize "good writing" or don't value it that much.
5. A sense of humor couldn't hurt.
A couple of things about this list. First, as a writer for young people, those first two on the list are majorly "duh". In fiction for young people, it's a given: the character wants; the character does. I imagine Laura Miller is thinking of *literary* novels, broody, introspective intellectual things. (She's in no way addressing children's literature; I don't know if she reads it.)
Jim and Clementine and I had a lovely dinner (of pizza, yum) the other night with Matt Holm and Jenni Holm (creators of, among other things, the Babymouse graphic novels for kids), Matt's wife Cyndi, Jenni's daughter Millie May, and picture book writer Eric Kimmel. (Super fun!)
Well, Eric Kimmel made an interesting comment about how dull sometimes speeches delivered by *grown-up writers* can be (when you're used to hearing kid-lit authors speak), because they haven't honed their speaking skills before groups of kids and teens! I thought that was a really good point. Same with writing, of course. Adult readers might give a book a few more pages to engage them than a kid will. Writers for young people cannot eff around, and they cannot let the story loll, because a fourth grader will think nothing of abandoning a book whenever and wherever it gets boring.
This was reinforced by Jim's recent listening to audiobooks while illustrating -- he went through two fabulous YA sci-fi novels: Feed and The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and then attempted an "adult" title and found the beginning so ponderous and slow by comparison. Of course not all adult books have this problem!!! But. Very very very few books for young readers suffer from this.
But back to Laura Miller's list. Yeah, #4. I know it's true. There are readers like me who really savor the actual prose, along with the story, but I think of the general reading population, it is not so. And I whole-heartedly agree: story is more important than style! But man, I love it when an author does both. Those are the books I keep, recommend, reread, etc. Knowing as I know that style isn't really that important to [most] readers, I occasionally try to detach myself from it in my writing, to ignore it and write more quickly, not taking such care to shape the language as I do (which takes extra time!!!!). But I can't do otherwise than I do. I can only try to work faster within the framework of my brain's natural function. Besides, the tinkering with language is one of my favorite parts of writing!
I really have changed as a reader though. Back in my college days I leaned much more heavily toward style than story ("literatyoor, my good man"). Now I'm on the side of story, but hoping for a little style in there -- like spice for the soup, you know? It's not necessary, but man does it make the soup taste better!
Anyway, I thought it was a good list. Laura Miller also links to this list, put together by the Guardian (which Stephanie also emailed me the other day), including Elmore Leonard's top ten, which I guess is famous writer's advice, but I'd never read it before, and also Roddy Doyle, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and many more. I like Neil Gaiman's #1: Write. It puts me in mind of Jane Yolen's advice: "Write the damn book," which I really ought to stencil on my wall. And I notice in passing perusal (haven't read these yet) this, by Jonathan Franzen: "It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction." Ha ha! (And what am I doing right now instead of writing my book???? Hm???)
Okay. So that's that. Duly chastened, Jonathan Franzen (who I've never read). Good bye!