Friday, May 27, 2005

Getting it Write

I've been reading John Keegan's "The Face of Battle" today. In the novel I'm working on, I have one character give advice to another character after a battle, and now I'm wondering whether the advice was correct as given. I've never been in a combat situation, and I only know two people who have, so I need to ask them whether the advice I used was good and logical or completely inane. It sounded right to me when I wrote it, but I don't want to make a careless mistake that will lose me any potential readers among the military. What sounds great to me and all my non-combatant crit partners might be just a lot of hooey to people who've actually been in a war. I'll run the scene by someone tomorrow, if at all possible, and then either breathe a sigh of relief or tear into those paragraphs again. Either way, I'll do whatever it takes to get them right.

I know what it's like to think that you know what you're talking about but be completely lacking in experience. Then once you have had the real experience, you realize just how much you didn't know before. It was like that for me with the nursing field and with parenting, and it has also been like that with various aspects of writing. There was a time when I was at that "no one appreciates my brilliance" stage, but by the time I'd completed my second novel, put it on the shelf for three months and read it again, I realized that those first million words really were garbage! Boring, boring, boring. There were some redeeming qualities, but as I recall, my plot was so-so, my cardboard-cutout villain had no believable motivation, my prince character was a real milktoast, and about the only thing that didn't scream amateur was my dialogue. Now I'm on my fifth novel, the fourth having been the one that finally turned out well enough to hook an agent, and I'm still learning.

I've been dabbling in the craft of writing since age five. I've taken classes at writers' conferences for the past seven years, including three of Don Maass' Breakout Novel Master Classes and one Breakout Novel Intensive Workshop. I've read stacks of books on novel writing and editing and just about anything writing-related, and I know I've still got lots to learn. But that's really the point. The moment we think we know it all and we've got nothing left to learn, that's when we start to stagnate. I pray I never reach that stage when I think I don't need editing, critiques, advice from a soldier, or whatever it takes to do the best job I can for any readers I'm blessed with over the years. I'm in this for life, not a quickie, and I'll do whatever it takes to get it right. So tomorrow I'm off to find a military guy and see if he's willing to tell me whether I've given my character the right advice. I'm sure that no matter what he says, I'll learn something I can use.

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