Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's Not Cheating If It Helps

So I was perusing my copy of The Art of War For Writers by James Scott Bell, looking for tips as I prepare to start my brand new book from scratch and I came across this suggestion from Chapter 20:

"It's the little things that mount up to victory. So make yourself a reminder list..."

Bell suggests that you list the things you know you need to improve in your writing on notecards, or post-its --a sort of cheat sheet-- and keep them where you can see them when you're writing.

Some of the notes that he uses personally include:

Emotion! Emotion! Emotion! - Which reminds him that his primary objective is to give readers an emotional ride.

Be Dialogue Happy - Reminding him to let the dialogue flow, he can always edit it later.

And my favorite:
The Second Right Answer - This one could be a post all on its own. Bell suggests that we should learn to stop at every major creative decision in our story (for example: plot turning points) and think of several options before moving forward. This is because usually, the first idea we have (the right answer) for "what happens next" is the obvious, or cliche, or standard way of going.

This is something I actually do when plotting. I ask myself, what is the obvious expectation here, and what are my other options. Then I pick the one that's most interesting, or surprising, or emotional, that makes sense for my characters and my story.

I think this is a great idea and am definitely going to make up a few reminder notes for myself. Other than what Bell has listed, I know I'll have one that says "Description! Description! Description!" because I tend to leave that out of my draft.

What about you? Do you make reminders for yourself? What would be on your post its?


Christopher S. Ledbetter said...

Love this post.
Must. Get. That. Book.
Thanks for sharing.

Ken Lindsey said...


And then something about not going on the internet. I'm sure there are more, but I'm on the internet right now and my brain meats are fried.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

After hearing so many good things about The Art of War, I finally bought a copy. Now, I just have to read it! :-)

Kathi Oram Peterson said...

These are great suggestions. I'm into lists. And love writing dialogue. The options...yup, I'm going to keep that in mind. Thanks for sharing the tips.

Anonymous said...

'The Art of War' by Sun Tzu is one of my favorite books of all time. If I would've seen 'The Art of War for Writers' on the shelves, the snob in me would've scoffed and moved on, so I'm happy you reviewed it here! After reading your review, I'm excited to read the book for myself. Especially since I'm in the process of starting a new novel as well.

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