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Re: Jess Mowry on Writing

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  • ravenadal
    I wish I had submitted this. Oh, wait, I did! http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SciFiNoir_Lit/message/3848 ... stories ... what ... has ... those ... effort ...
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 31, 2004
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      I wish I had submitted this. Oh, wait, I did!

      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SciFiNoir_Lit/message/3848

      --- In SciFiNoir_Lit@yahoogroups.com, "belsidus2000" <
      Frofidemus@n...> wrote:
      >
      > I got this from Kalamu's Edrum list
      >
      >
      > Some basic advice about writing
      > By Jess Mowry
      >
      > The basics
      > I get a few letters every week from new writers, showing me
      stories
      > or parts of their novels and asking advice about how to write,
      what
      > to write about, and how to get their writing published. This site
      has
      > been up for about five years, and in all that time I've only seen
      > three or four stories that I would call "bad writing", and even
      those
      > weren't hopelessly bad if the writer really wanted to put some
      effort
      > into learning how to write better.
      >
      > Not surprisingly, the natural talent of very young writers usually
      > shines the brightest, and it saddens me to know that many of
      these
      > natural story-tellers will either not go on to develop their talent,
      > or will become discouraged by rejections and give up writing.
      >
      > As with any god-given talent, whether it's an aptitude for playing
      an
      > instrument, a knack for painting or drawing, or the natural
      ability
      > to tell a good story, your talent alone is not enough. Your
      natural
      > skills have to be developed through practice. Developing your
      natural
      > talent for writing a good saleable story (novels are stories too)
      is
      > no different from developing a natural talent for shooting hoops
      or
      > freestyle rapping: you pick up advice from experts in the game,
      you
      > check out other people's styles and imitate those you like.
      >
      > And most of all you practice.
      >
      > As you might guess, I don't have time to write a detailed
      critique to
      > everyone who sends me samples of their work, so I hope this
      page will
      > give you some basic advice about how to develop your own
      natural
      > talent for writing.
      >
      > Probably the best advice I can give -- especially to young
      writers --
      > is to READ. Read until your eyes go blurry and your head is
      stuffed
      > with all kinds of things you never thought you'd want to know!
      > Besides making you a better writer, you may not have to work
      for the
      > white man the rest of your life.
      >
      > Knowledge is power!
      > Knowledge is the only true power in the world. If you've got
      > knowledge you can do just about anything and survive just
      about
      > anything... and the best way to survive the ghetto is to get smart
      > enough to get your ass out. Knowledge is better than money
      because
      > with knowledge you can always make money in some way. But
      ignorant
      > folk are always poor and usually stay that way.
      >
      > In the U.S., being poor and ignorant leaves you with better than
      a 50-
      > 50 chance that you'll end up in prison before age 25. And If
      you're
      > black and ignorant, you're probably in prison already.
      >
      > There is nothing cool or "bad" about being locked in a cage
      and
      > treated like an animal... an ignorant monkey. If you believe that
      > getting locked in a cage is some sort of black passing rite to
      > manhood ("everybody has to do time sometime") then you're
      ignorant.
      > Period. The concept that wasting months or years of your life in
      a
      > white man's prison is some sort of black ritual, isn't a black
      thing,
      > it's a white thing. It's also a white thing to play gangster games
      > and feed on or kill your Brothers and Sisters. If you weren't an
      > ignorant monkey, then you'd ask yourself who really benefits by
      > locking up black boys, or teaching them it's "cool, bad and
      manly" to
      > kill each other?
      >
      > Anyway, back to writing... and reading.
      >
      > Develop your natural writing skills... READ!
      > Black History and current black issues are very important to
      know,
      > but don't restrict your reading to only these things. And don't
      limit
      > your reading to only black authors. To be a good writer you
      have to
      > know a little about a lot. Also, by reading many different writers,
      > you will gradually develop your own writing style. There are
      many
      > times when I can tell what few books a young writer has read --
      or
      > who his or her favorite author is -- just by the way they write. So
      > can most editors at publishing houses and magazines.
      >
      > Imitating your favorite author is normal: in fact it's how most
      > successful writers got started. But it does reveal that a new
      writer
      > is still a little wet; and just as in most professions, whether
      > trades, sports, music or film, very few people in the writing
      > business have time to deal with a wet one.
      >
      > A new writer may have tons of natural talent that shines
      through his
      > or her rough or imitative style -- hardly a week goes by that I
      don't
      > see an example of this -- but editors don't have time to help a
      new
      > author develop their skills. Most editors are not writing mentors
      or
      > teachers, they are business people, and their jobs are to
      chose books
      > and stories that will make money for their publishing house or
      > magazine.
      >
      > The general attitude of most editors who encounter a gifted
      new
      > author who hasn't yet polished their writing to a saleable
      degree is
      > basically the same as a band leader or a film director when a
      > talented but unpolished young musician or actor comes in for
      an
      > audition... "nice, kid, come back when you've learned a little
      more."
      >
      > There are many definitions of "writer". Can you call yourself a
      > writer on the legit and not be published? Sure. There are lots
      of
      > really great writers who aren't published yet, and probably just
      as
      > many who will never be published, just as there are many
      great
      > painters who will never be recognized, and many great sports
      players
      > who will never be professionals. In many cases, these great
      natural
      > writers will never be published because they either won't work
      hard
      > enough polishing their writing to a saleable degree (which
      usually
      > means learning the right form for novels and stories) and/or
      they
      > won't put enough effort into trying to get their writing published.
      >
      > Get busy!
      > Just as if you were a poor kid in rural Mississippi with a great
      > natural talent for playing the guitar, the odds are that you're
      never
      > going to be a professional musician and get paid for playing if
      all
      > you do is sit on your porch and play for yourself and your
      friends.
      > The chance that some big-time music promoter is going to
      break down
      > in his Lex in front of your house and be captivated by your
      music is
      > pretty damn slim.
      >
      > Yet many great natural writers seem to think that some big-
      time book
      > editor or literary agent is somehow going to stumble across
      their
      > novel or story!
      >
      > Do you think they're going to bust your crib and find your work
      in a
      > drawer?
      >
      > Just like that Mississippi boy, you're going to have to get off
      your
      > ass, call attention to yourself, and show off your talent. You will
      > probably be treated like shit by a few people, and have a lot of
      > doors slammed in your face; but if you keep on trying and keep
      > getting better at what you do, then sooner or later you'll land
      your
      > first paying gig... sell a story.
      >
      > No one is going to know how great your writing is if your story
      or
      > novel is only shared with friends and family. You're going to
      have
      > start sending your work to publishers; and you'll probably get a
      lot
      > of rejections and be treated like shit by some people. But if you
      > keep on writing and getting better at it, and keep sending your
      > writing to publishers, then sooner or later you will be
      published.
      >
      > Don't be scared of rejections
      > A lot of new writers have a fear of rejection, and this keeps
      them
      > from sending their work to publishers. (Just as it keeps many
      young
      > black people from going out into the white world and building a
      good
      > life.) But writing is a business, and rejections are just a part of
      > that business. Most rejections are based upon editorial taste...
      > meaning the personal likes and dislikes of an editor. I've had
      many
      > books rejected by white female editors just because they don't
      like
      > stories about young black males.
      >
      > Editors keep their jobs by choosing books and stories that
      sell,
      > which makes money for their publishing house or magazine;
      and if an
      > editor has been successful by choosing only certain types of
      stories,
      > then he or she probably won't take a chance on publishing
      something
      > different.
      >
      > Unfortunately, black books and stories are often "something
      > different", so many editors are afraid to publish them. But that's
      > just another part of the writing business, and you have to
      accept it.
      >
      > You should never take rejections personally... it was your book
      or
      > story that was rejected (for whatever reasons) not you.
      >
      > Practice = work
      > Most young people are very creative in many ways. For
      example, the
      > cartoons that many young people draw are excellent. But the
      > difference between a cool cartoon on a school binder or a
      warehouse
      > wall, and the work of a professional cartoonist in a magazine,
      or as
      > animation on a movie screen, is that the professional
      cartoonist has
      > to draw his or her characters in many different poses and
      situations,
      > and from many different angles and perspectives, not just the
      one or
      > two poses that he or she likes to draw.
      >
      > Maybe the cartoonist is good with faces but hates doing
      bodies or
      > backgrounds. That doesn't matter in the real world of
      cartooning: the
      > professional cartoonist has to draw all of those things to make
      a
      > whole picture. And, the professional cartoonist has to draw his
      or
      > her characters over and over and over again, and polish them
      to
      > perfection each and every time, including the parts of the
      drawing
      > that he or she may not like to do or want to do.
      >
      > And, he or she must draw every day whether they feel like
      drawing or
      > not.
      >
      > The same concept applies to professional writing. That
      "inspired"
      > short story you wrote in an hour, or the first chapter of a novel;
      > the idea that came to you in a dream or in a in a moment on
      the
      > street; the scene, the situation, the protest, the picture, that
      > demanded to be written -- the story that was "fun" to write or felt
      > good to write -- is only the beginning of a long and sometimes
      > painful process if you want to see that story or novel between
      covers
      > and out on a book store shelf.
      >
      > Rewrite and polish!
      > There are a few successful writers who say that they never do
      a
      > rewrite or polish their work. I think that's bullshit. At least I've
      > never written anything that wasn't improved by rewriting and
      > polishing. And I don't think any real successful writer ever has.
      I
      > can still read one of my most published short stories and see
      how
      > changing a word here and there, adding or deleting a
      sentence or a
      > paragraph, could make it better.
      >
      > Sometimes rewriting can be fun, but often it isn't. Rewriting is
      > work... a four-letter word. Just like a professional cartoonist
      who
      > polishes his drawings, polishing your writing is something that
      you
      > might not like to do, yet it must be done.
      >
      > You should think of your inspired story or novel chapter as a
      first
      > draft. It probably felt really good when you wrote it; maybe it got
      > you an "A" in English, and all your friends liked it: but if you
      hope
      > to get it published, or go from a ten-page first-chapter to a 300-
      > page novel, then there's a lot of hard work ahead, and at least
      some
      > of it won't be fun.
      >
      > Just how to go about rewriting and polishing your work is
      something
      > you have to find out for yourself. It's helpful to ask how other
      > writers do it; but eventually you'll discover what works best for
      > you. My own way is to read over the beginning of a story, or the
      > start of a new novel chapter from yesterday, polishing as I go
      along,
      > and let this polishing flow into today's new writing.
      >
      > Some authors write their whole story or novel all the way
      through
      > with the first inspiration and then begin at the beginning to
      polish
      > and rewrite it all over again. But, no matter how you do your
      > rewriting, you will always find that fresh words, descriptions,
      > ideas, scenes, characters and perspectives come to mind and
      improve
      > the story.
      >
      > Study
      > Go into any bookstore and you'll find hundreds of books about
      how to
      > write and how to get your writing published. A lot of those
      books
      > were written by published professional authors. Most are full of
      good
      > advice, and many will claim to give you all the tricks you need
      > to "write to sell."
      >
      > But, what works for one person may not work for another. The
      best
      > advice I can give you about these kinds of books is to read a lot
      of
      > them so you'll get many different opinions and perspectives.
      >
      > Tricks are for kids
      > Don't pay much attention to "writing tricks". The trouble with so-
      > called writing tricks is that most editors already know them,
      and
      > will see them in your work. Some editors will even know which
      "how to
      > write" book you got those tricks from! A book of writing-to-sell
      > tricks is a lot like those infomercials on TV where somebody
      who
      > supposedly made a million dollars selling self-cleaning cat-
      boxes
      > wants to show how you, yes YOU, can do it, too.
      >
      > For a price, of course.
      >
      > There's a big difference between writing-tricks and good
      writing.
      > About the only real trick a black writer can use to sell his book
      is
      > to tell the whitefolks what they want to hear about us -- a trick
      the
      > whitefolks never wise up to -- but I assume you have higher
      standards
      > than that.
      >
      > Learn the form
      > But the only on-the-real trick to sell your writing is to use the
      > right form when shaping your story. Form is one of the writing
      rules
      > you're going to have to follow whether you like it or not.
      Besides,
      > if you need tricks to sell your work, then you're not much of a
      > writer anyhow.
      >
      > Obviously I can't go into every detail of how to write in the space
      > of a web page: all I can do is give you some basic advice.
      >
      > The basic form (or rule) for a short story or novel is that you
      have
      > an interesting character (or characters) and that character is
      faced
      > with a problem. This problem can be anything... something as
      simple
      > as buying new jeans, right on up to getting drive-byed. It's up to
      > you, the writer, to make your character and his problem
      interesting
      > enough that someone wants to read about them.
      >
      > Let's say your character is a 13-year-old boy named Terrel.
      Having
      > Terrel get drive-byed on his way to school would catch most
      readers
      > (and editors) attentions no matter what color they were. It sure
      as
      > hell caught a lot of people's attentions when I had the Friends
      in
      > Way Past Cool get drive-byed on their way to school.
      >
      > Creating an interesting character in an interesting situation
      that
      > most people would want to read about is not a writing trick, it's
      a
      > necessity.
      >
      > But, stories don't have to be life-and-death, dirty, dark, or violent
      > to be interesting (like having Terrel get drive-byed). For
      example,
      > just finding the right jeans when Terrel doesn't have much
      money, or
      > having Terrel venturing out of the 'hood to some uptown
      whitebread
      > mall for his jeans -- or venturing into the hood from middle-
      class
      > suburbia to score a pair of genuine G jeans -- could be just as
      > interesting to read about as Terrel in a life-threatening
      situation.
      >
      > You start your story by introducing your character and his
      problem to
      > your readers. Some writers like to describe their characters
      and
      > settings -- Terrel's room, his building, his house, his
      neighborhood,
      > how he looks and dresses -- while other writers keep all that to
      a
      > minimum. That's a matter of style... your style. You present
      Terrel's
      > problem as soon as you can in the story... set the stage... and
      > Terrel fights in some way to overcome or solve that problem.
      >
      > If Terrel has just been drive-byed on his way to school, his
      problem
      > might be to find out who did it and make sure it won't happen
      again.
      >
      > If Terrel wants to score a new pair of jeans, his problem might
      be
      > how to get the green, or how to get into that whitebread mall
      past a
      > racist security guard.
      >
      > Or, Terrel's problem could be how does a middle-class black
      boy from
      > the 'burbs survive in the 'hood long enough to score those G
      jeans
      > and come home alive?
      >
      > Terrel's fight to overcome his problem builds up your readers'
      > interest and adds tension and excitement to the story. If you
      write
      > well, it keeps your reader reading to see what happens next.
      Will
      > Terrel discover who drive-byed him? And if so, what can he do
      about
      > it?
      >
      > Will Terrel from the 'hood be able to outsmart the racist
      security
      > guard and get into the mall? Will he be chased by the guard?
      Will he
      > get his jeans?
      >
      > What about middle-class Terrel? What kind of problem does
      he have to
      > overcome in the 'hood to score his jeans?
      >
      > Finally, in the end, Terrel either solves the problem and wins...
      he
      > finds out who did the roll-up and deals with him.
      >
      > Or, Terrel outsmarts the racist security guard and scores his
      jeans
      > after an exciting chase through the mall.
      >
      > Or, suburban Terrel comes home alive from the hood with his
      jeans
      > after being chased by gangstuhs. Etc.
      >
      > Comedy or tragedy?
      > This, by the way, makes the story a "comedy". A story doesn't
      have to
      > be funny to be a comedy. A comedy is where your character
      overcomes
      > his problem and has a happy ending.
      >
      > On the other hand, the problem might be too big or powerful for
      > Terrel to overcome. ...Terrel gets capped while trying to find out
      > who drive-byed him.
      >
      > Or, the racist security guard catches Terrel and frames him for
      > boosting a pair of jeans.
      >
      > Or, suburban Terrel gets put on his back and his jeans are
      stolen.
      >
      > This would make the story a "tragedy". Romeo and Juliet is a
      > tradegy... they both died. They didn't overcome their problem.
      >
      > Of course, Terrel doesn't have to die for this story to be a
      tragedy:
      > he just doesn't manage to solve his problem.
      >
      > So, that's the basic form or rule for writing a story... interesting
      > character, interesting problem, does Terrel solve his problem
      or not?
      > If you're a good story-teller, then you've probably gotten several
      > ideas from these examples. Remember that Terrel's problem
      doesn;t
      > have to be life and death to make a good story or grab a
      reader's
      > attention.
      >
      > Story or novel?
      > It's hard to define the difference between a short story --which
      can
      > be pretty long sometimes -- and a novel; but usually a short
      story is
      > about one character and one main problem. A cast of
      thousands is
      > usually reserved for novels.
      >
      > There's no rule about how long a short story can be, but very
      long
      > short stories don't sell well these days because there's no
      market
      > for them. Most magazines and short story books (anthologies)
      only
      > want stories that are around twenty manuscript pages.
      >
      > (See the Submitting Your Work page to find out what a
      manuscript page
      > is all about.)
      >
      > Sometimes a short story idea pops into your mind all complete
      from
      > beginning to end and can be written down in an hour or two --
      the
      > first draft, anyhow -- but a novel usually takes a lot of time and
      > thinking to work out; and sometimes you don't even know
      where it's
      > going until you get there.
      >
      > Three of my seven books began as short story ideas and just
      kept
      > growing, while a few of my novel ideas became short stories
      because
      > there just wasn't enough material to build a novel. Some
      writers say
      > they can tell the difference between a short story and a novel
      idea
      > before sitting down to write it. Maybe they really can.
      >
      > Point of view
      > An important thing to consider is from what point of view you're
      > going to tell your story. Many young writers start out with the "I"
      > point of view... like, "How I Spent My Summer Vacation".
      >
      > This is the easiest way to write for a lot young people... your
      > character tells the story to the reader. For example, here is
      Terrel
      > telling the story:
      >
      > I woke up and shoved off my blankets. Outside it was warm
      and sunny.
      > I could hear birds singing in the park. But I felt like shit 'cause I
      > got real drunk last night.
      >
      > This may be the easiest way to tell a story for many young
      writers,
      > but using the "I" point of view has a lot of limitations and some
      > disadvantages. For one thing, if it isn't done right it gets boring
      > pretty fast, unless Terrel is really good at expressing himself
      and
      > describing his surroundings. And, unless you have Terrel
      checking
      > himself in a mirror...
      >
      > I checked myself in the bathroom mirror; my eyes were a little
      red.
      >
      > ... it's hard to tell your reader what he looks like. For example, If
      > Terrel is handsome and muscular, he's going to sound full of
      himself
      > by telling that to your reader...
      >
      > Also, since 13-year-old Terrel is telling the story, he can't use
      > words and descriptions that a person of his age, environment,
      and
      > life-experience wouldn't use.
      >
      > With the "I" point of view, nothing can be going on in the story
      that
      > Terrel isn't there to see, hear, smell, feel, touch, or think about.
      > Terrel might hear what sounds like 1970s muscle car cruising
      his
      > hood, but he can't know that its full of bangers waiting for him
      > until he goes out and gets drive-byed.
      >
      > If Terrel is telling this story, then your reader is sort of like
      > inside Terrel's head. Your reader can only know what Terrel
      sees,
      > hears, feels, smells, etc. And all these things can only be
      described
      > in Terrel's own words... the words of a 13-year-old boy. And
      your
      > readers can't know what Terrel is thinking unless Terrel tells
      them.
      >
      > Probably the biggest disadvantage for a young writer using this
      "I"
      > point of view is that it looks like a story written by a beginning
      > writer, and this can turn a lot of editors off.
      >
      > Another way to tell a story is sometimes called "the narrator
      point
      > of view." In this style you, the writer, are sort of like God... you
      > know all, see all, hear all, etc. And you tell the story instead of
      > Terrel...
      >
      > It was a warm sunny morning in West Oakland. Birds were
      singing in
      > the park. Terrel woke up and shoved off his blankets. He was a
      wiry,
      > chocolate-brown boy of thirteen, with big, puppylike hands and
      feet
      > and a normally cheerful smile. But he didn't feel much like
      smiling
      > today. He'd gotten really drunk last night and his head hurt like
      > hell.
      >
      > As "God", you, the narrator, know everything about Terrel, his
      > neighborhood, his friends, and everything else that's going on
      around
      > him. You watch his every move, and you see and know things
      he can't.
      > You also know what he's thinking...
      >
      > Two goddamn forties of O.E.! thought Terrel. I'm never gonna
      do that
      > shit again!
      >
      > You can say things like: Out on the street, a black '75 Chevy
      Camaro
      > rounded the corner. Inside were six bangers from over East.
      They
      > seemed to be trolling around for somebody.
      >
      > Most books and stories are written from this narrator point-of-
      view.
      > It's often more interesting to a reader than the "I" point of view,
      > and it gives you, the writer, a lot more room to move. For one
      thing,
      > you don't have to restrict your vocabulary and descriptive
      powers to
      > those of a 13-year-old boy.
      >
      > There are several other points of view to write from, but my
      favorite
      > is sometimes called "stream-of-consciousness". I think it
      combines
      > the best parts of both the "I" and "the narrator" points of view.
      >
      > Like the "I" point of view, stream-of-consciousness storytelling
      is
      > limited to what your character sees, hears, smells, tastes,
      thinks,
      > etc. Terrel still can't know that black Camaro is packed with
      bangers
      > trolling for him until they do the roll-up. But Terrel isn't telling
      > us the story through his own voice; instead, you, the narrator,
      are
      > telling it.
      >
      > Like the "I" point of view, we are inside Terrel's head
      sometimes,
      > but now we know what he's thinking without him having to tell
      us out
      > loud as if he was talking.
      >
      > In the stream-of-consciousness point of view, the same scene
      would go
      > something like this...
      >
      > Terrel woke up and shoved off his blankets. Outside it seemed
      to be a
      > beautiful day. He could hear birds singing in the park. Birds!
      The
      > hell were they good for? Why didn't they just shut the fuck up!
      His
      > head hurt as he rolled from the bed and padded into the
      bathroom. Two
      > goddamn forties of O.E. last night on an empty stomach! His
      eyes were
      > red when he checked himself in the mirror, seeing a wiry,
      chocolate-
      > brown boy of thirteen with big, puppylike hands and feet.
      >
      > Get the idea? Not only can you, the narrator, tell the story, but
      > Terrel can also tell it by thinking... Birds! The hell were they
      good
      > for? Why didn't they just shut the fuck up!
      >
      > That's the basics
      > So, we've covered the basics of writing a story: you need an
      > interesting character with an interesting problem to overcome,
      and
      > you need a point of view from which to tell your story.
      >
      > A few writers switch points of view during their stories. While
      this
      > can make a story more interesting, it can also confuse and
      annoy your
      > reader if it isn't done right. In most cases there's no need to do
      > it. Confusing or annoying an editor is almost always a
      guaranteed
      > rejection; and even if your story is published, confusing and
      > annoying readers will make them stop reading your story.
      >
      > Bad advice
      > Finally, I want to warn you about what I think is probably the all
      > time worst piece of advice young writers can get... usually from
      your
      > English or Creative Writing teacher.
      >
      > Don't ever... ever... let anyone tell you that you must only "write
      > about what you know"! This advice is bad enough for white
      writers,
      > but it can keep you down forever if you're black.
      >
      > Did space aliens write Star Trek? Do real detectives write most
      > mystery novels? Nope.
      >
      > One of the best novels about the American Civil War, The Red
      Badge of
      > Courage was written by someone who had never been in that
      war.
      >
      > Better advice would be: If you don't know, then find out before
      you
      > write about it.
      >
      > If you don't know, don't guess
      > If you don't know, don't guess and don't fake it -- do your
      research,
      > get your facts and details right . The internet is a good place to
      > find out just about anything you need to know. Write about
      anything
      > you damn well want to! Don't let anybody say you can't!
      >
      > Dream!
      > And don't be afraid to dream... BIG.
      >
      > Jess Mowry is the author of Way Past Cool as well as other
      novels for
      > and about Black children and teens, such as Six Out Seven,
      Babylon
      > Boyz, Rats In The Trees, Ghost Train, Bones Become Flowers
      and
      > Children Of The Night. Check the Site Index page for details.
      His
      > stories have appeared in many anthologies, such as In The
      Tradition,
      > Cornerstones, School Is Not Cool, Follow That Dream, I
      Believe In
      > Water, Face Relations and Brotherman.
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