ave writing advice this week in, of all places, the Squiffy forum (Squiffy is an easy-to-use text adventure game maker). Since I’ve been messing for squiffy for years, I’ve gotten to be a SME on site and I usually provide answers. But the other day, I happened to glance at the general forum where you can post damn near anything. Someone had written a story about his uncle and was asking for critiques.
The story was slow. It didn’t get anywhere quickly. It didn’t hold my interest. I couldn’t get more than a few paragraphs. And so I wrote the guy – explained I was a published author and all that crap. And told him about losing my milk teeth in a creative writing class long ago. I’d attended it for two years and it probably led me to the writing successes I’ve enjoyed (limited as they are). But I told the guy the important lesson I learned in class one night.
A lady had brought in a story about why she loved her granny. It was all sweet and everything, and the instructor read it deadpan. But at the end, he looked over the top of his glasses and said, “So, I must ask – who cares?”
Really. I understand that your grandmother was important in your life, but she wasn’t important in mine. And if you can’t give me a decent start, beginning with an episode of why you loved her, show-don’t-tell stuff, then you are wasting my time. It’s painful reading a story which doesn’t make any concession to my busy life, and if you can’t make me care within a paragraph or two then my reading your story all the way through is a favor, nothing more.
Cold hard truth.
In my review, I mentioned Treasure Island. We are interested in young Jim, not because we watch him wipe tables in his mother’s inn and go about his drab daily concerns, but because early on a mysterious stranger with a long, colorful (and assumingly rapidly-ending) life enters. Suddenly I want to know more about this guy. And now Jim’s involved and I want to know more about him. And suddenly the story of a middle-of-nowhere tavern boy is suddenly very interesting (if you haven’t read Treasure Island, by all means, do yourself that favor).
That was the point I made in my criticism, that you gotta make people care.
Of course, immediately afterwards, someone else softened my words by blowing sunshine up the writer’s ass, telling him it was quite good and all, but not offering examples of why it was good. Just encouragement. Which is, frankly, monkey balls. If you want to learn to write then read damn near everything (I have) and listen to the criticisms you are lucky enough to get. Otherwise, my critique is wasting your time, and your writing is wasting mine.
Cold hard truths. Or monkey balls. Either way.