Anyone can write a book —

12 May

This is a simple declarative sentence written in the English language. As such, it states a fact that is basically not necessarily true. Sad, but true.

It should perhaps be amended to:  Anyone can write a book, but only (maybe) 10% of them will be readable by anyone other than the author.

‘Ay, there’s the rub,’ said a very famous author, known mostly by only one name, which begins with the letter S. Although, to be sure, there is a lot of debate about said author. Did he or did he not, really write all the words that are so glibly attributed to him? I don’t know, and that’s not the main topic of this blog post, anyway.

Since 1991, when I sold my first book, the status of being a ‘published author’ immediately put me in the exalted position of being (supposedly) more knowledgeable about writing than a good many other folks out there. It’s true, I do have good English language skills, but that and $5. will (I think) buy me a cup of coffee at most coffee shops. Mostly, I was in the right place at the right time, able to read (and understand) the instructions for a particular series of books wanted by a New York editor. AND I was willing to put in the time and effort to not just follow those instructions, but also to do a lot of research in order to compose a believable story that LIVED in the time and place it was set.

It was not just a costume drama that could have happened in any other time or place. It was very firmly grounded by the customs of the time and place, as well as the society in which it happened. It was so firmly grounded, in fact, that it spawned another story – the prequel to this one – and started me on two others, which unfortunately were not completed, due to circumstances beyond my control at that time.

As a published author, I was also asked to judge writing contests – sometimes half a dozen or more in a year’s time. I really enjoyed this task, and have been well-pleased to shine a spotlight on several then-unpublished authors who’ve gone on to populate ‘best-seller’ lists of all kinds. I think I was indeed prescient enough to recognize talent plus that certain ‘something’ that lifted the story out of the mundane. BUT – the biggest thing the author had going for him or her was – not just talent, but a desire to work at their craft to become even better.

Writing a book that is readable is NOT easy. Trust me on this. If the author declares a particular book to be set in 1870, would a character from that year really say “Oh, wow!’  I somehow don’t think so.  That’s also presuming, of course, that said character was able to speak in complete sentences. And all too many of them cannot.

I used to think that if I started to read a book, I was compelled to finish it, even if it was the worst piece of clap-trap I’d ever encountered! Like Pollyanna, I always hoped for the best – surely, a published book couldn’t be this bad all the way through. Could it? Well, yes, entirely too many of them are. And that’s even more true these days, with self-publishing so easy and available for most writers to be able to see themselves in print. It was marvelously freeing to me to realize that I did not have to finish reading every book I started.

But please – for goodness’ sake! If you choose a year in which your story takes place, be sure the events you describe really could have taken place in that year. For instance, the first automobiles were invented a couple of decades before 1900, but how many ordinary folks would even have known about it, or have been able to actually ride in one? Unless, of course, your character was Karl Benz or either of the Duryea brothers — Charles or Frank.  Radio was not even thought about at that time, although the telephone had been invented by then, but again – how many people actually had one at their command? Big cities had newspapers, but many small towns didn’t.  Communication from one part of the world to another was very slow.  Not instant like today.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t write a book – I’m only asking you to please pay attention to the details: the who, what, where, when and how. And maybe, add in why? Such attributes are not restricted only to non-fiction. They’ll serve your work of fiction very well, too.

And one more request, please.  If you cannot read well enough to pay attention to what you write – to be able to catch missing or mis-spelled words, for instance — please, PLEASE, find a friend who can and will do this for you. You won’t regret it. Really. Trust me on that, please?

As always, if you have comments or questions, please send them to me:   Many thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: