In my experience, books on writing haven’t been that useful to me. The ones I’ve read make a big deal about stories having a beginning, middle and end. Or they tell you things like “write every day” or “write what you know” or “use active voice.” Timeless advice found in any book on writing, but nothing new. Stephen King’s book was good, but mostly because I was interested in Stephen King. He had a few good tips in there, especially on editing out things like “that” and what not.
Yesterday, I stumbled upon a great book recommendation at my favorite editor’s blog (the Editor’s Blog). It’s called, “How not to write a novel.” In it, the authors go over all the things they hate to see in submitted works by the unpublished masses (like me). Not only don’t they pull punches, but they actively ridicule anyone who makes these mistakes (without naming names). It’s actually pretty funny. Just this morning, I got caught off guard by the observation that some writers dredge up vocabulary from “the darkest regions of the dictionary.” This caused me to snort, which caused my hand to jiggle, sending coffee dribbles spilling onto my shirt.
I’ve read about 2/3 since yesterday and I have to say: I’ve done many of the things they’re talking about, at one time or another. Recently, I committed the crime of writing what they call a “benign tumor.” A benign tumor, according to the authors, is when you write a scene that extends the book, but if you cut it out, absolutely nothing happens to the story. Imagine the good guy going to kill the villain and taking 5 pages to talk about a detour he was forced to take through a nice part of town, musing how after he kills the villain maybe he’d move there. Benign tumor.