The Irresistible Novel

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The Irresistible Novel

Two or three times a week I get asked, “Where can I find a great book on editing?” I’m always flummoxed by that question. You see, I’ve read dozens of excellent books on editing, and I always have to stop and say, “First, you can’t read just one book on editing. If you really want to understand the controversies in English usage, you need to read all of them.” Then I want to tell the writer, “And reading all of them won’t help your writing much at all, because real audiences don’t give a hoot about editing rules—they’re looking for great stories.”Recently I picked up yet another book on the topic, The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke, which expressed these principles beautifully.

In his book, Jeff goes through about a hundred “rules” that new writers are taught by other writers in writing groups. He explains what these rules are, what the controversy on the point is, and then gives his own feelings about the rule.

For example, one rule that you sometimes hear is “You should never use an –ly adverb.” There are some writers who actually believe this rule. In fact, I know an author last year who had a novel rejected from a major publisher because he used a couple of –ly adverbs.

Now, some authors love –ly suffixes and will pile them onto verbs. For example, a romance writer might say, “Lovingly, longingly, lusciously, he probed her tongue with his.” For poetic reasons, they’re repeating the “l” sounds, called an alliteration, but they’re also getting attached to the –ly sound.

Sometimes an author will get carried away and begin using an –ly adverb on literally every verb, and that can become problematic. The author may even feel that in order to be a real author, she needs to find a way to tack on an adverb to every verb, and other writers will notice her problem glaringly. (Yep, I meant to say that!)

The “writing Nazis,” as Jeff calls them, would point out that instead of coupling an –ly adverb to a verb, you can use stronger verbs. For example, instead of saying “she said softly,” you can write it as “she whispered.” It’s a valid point. Most of the time.

In some cases, you need an adverb in order to express the subtleties in a situation. For example, if I say “she slapped his hand away playfully,” I’m not sure that words like hit, spanked, or cuffed really express the right connotations. Sometimes you need an –ly adverb.

Jeff expresses the pros and cons of each writing “rule,” then gives his much more balanced opinion—and I agree with him in every case.

Jeff correctly points out that new writers who are trying to figure out the “secret code” to writing well, often get hit with contradictory rules. They spend a lot of time rewriting novels, trying to figure out how to break into the business. He reminds us of writers who ignore those rules and become huge successes anyway. He suggests that every “rule” is a guideline, and while some are good guidelines, others are just wonky.

What I liked most about Jeff’s book is that he goes beyond the usual and says, in essence, “Uh, folks, if you want to break into publishing, instead of looking at these little writing rules, look to your story. See if the form works.”

Jeff goes on to talk about how stories work at the level of brain chemistry, and discusses stories in terms of mono-myths, archetypes, and so on.

This is much more than a book on editing—Jeff does a good job of presenting an in-depth look at how to tell a story, too.

Jeff is also a frequent speaker at writing conferences, and I’ve heard great things about both his lectures and his editing skills. Like me, Jeff is a novelist and screenwriter in addition to being an editor. You can buy any of his books on writing by visiting his website at www.jeffgerke.com.

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