This particular article also has an interesting link to 9 Books on Reading and Writing by Maria Popova, which includes books by Stephen King, Hemingway and Ray Bradbury. I can recommend King’s On Writing. I haven’t read Bradbury’s or Hemingway’s, but I think I will, as both are among my (many) favourite authors.
Anyway, to get back to the title of this blog post.
Steinbeck advocated:‘If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.’
I agree with this advice. There are points in a story where perhaps some research is lacking, or the characters are taking an unexpected detour that leads to a dead end (that’s dead end in the journey sense, not the mortality of the character!) Some might call this writer’s block. It isn’t – it’s simply a lack of preparation. If you write a plot-plan for your novel (or even short story), you know where you’re going with the characters (most of whom you’ve got to know in the preparation stage). Yet these impasses will inevitably occur from time to time as your plot-plan won’t be overly detailed (as then it would be a literary strait-jacket) and the devil is in the details, as we all know. In trying to get the details right, you can come to a stop. My advice is, don’t. Don’t stop, that is. Move on with the rest of the story’s plot-plan. The reason for the unexpected faltering stop might go away or a solution might present itself in your subconscious as your characters battle with the other obstacles placed in their way. Or you can return to that point when you’ve completed the entire work – add the detail – or excise it if it isn’t really necessary, since, as Steinbeck states, ‘it didn’t belong there’.
So, the advice is, go on – and on – until you get to the end. That first draft is most important. Once you’ve got it under your belt, then you can build upon it, layer upon layer, infusing it with more character, sense of place, emotion, readability, narrative flow and clarity of thought.
'I start at the beginning, go on to the end, then stop.' - Anthony Burgess. The emphasis is on 'go on'...