Don’t Forget To Wipe! How to clean up a Stinker of a Novel

Once you’ve excised the not-so-great parts of your novel, give it a once-over to ensure there’s nothing left dangling.

No, I can’t do it.

No.

Pun noting aside, advice contained within posts with similar titles to this one shit me. Writing is a lot like many things, and I do think the lessons we learn from other parts of life can be applied to what we do. I’m constantly making analogies between writing, fiction, and something else.

I use them because I feel they’re apt, but I always try to tie my point back to writing in a clear way. I’ve seen a lot of posts also make analogies, but not explaining what they mean. One could say “Writing a novel is like hosting a dinner party – you have to to serve each course at the right temperature!” It’s pretty obvious, right?

Well, no.

Is the course meant to represent a scene? A plot point? A theme? The analogies break down unless you explain why it’s important. It’s not until you become adept at using the different tools at your disposal, the ones pushed by each analogy, that you learn what they are and can use them. Cooking IS a lot like that too. Sometimes it’s safest to follow the recipe, or in the case of writing, follow the Hero’s Journey, a three-act structure, or any traditional approach to storytelling. We don’t know why things work yet, but they do. A dash of citrus or vinegar can reduce the heaviness of a dish, in the same way that a steady use of short words can reduce the heaviness of a sentence that already has extremely polysyllabic words. If I want to help people, can I say “give your writing some zest! A bite!” and leave it at that?

I don’t think so.

Simmer your sentences, a dash of salt, and let the juices marinate. Novel’s done! I love the concept behind such advice, however you can’t leave it at that. If this were a blog on cooking, I couldn’t compare the process to writing and say edit, add hooks, and build the theme gradually and expect anyone to come up with an palatable meal out of that. Yes, those are roughly the concepts behind each, but advice shouldn’t require one to be wearing a deerstalker.

If you find my analogies are either unclear or unrelatable, call me on it!

We all have different experiences as people, and while I know exactly what I mean by the immersing qualities of Journey, or the tension at Sad Hill Cemetary, it’s very likely that you have no idea, and don’t immediately think of mountains of endless sand, or those steady glances between Blondie, Angel Eyes, and Tuco. That’s when I need to explain how the lengthy stretches of sand immerse you, how your tiny character wandering through the desert, hopping over ruins and singing notes to other travellers becomes important. But I shouldn’t stop there. If I want to give real advice, I need to explain what that means for your writing. It’s very easy to say “That’s what you should do in your novel!”, but it’s better to say that you could push your environments to large expanses, that a non-verbal type of communication between characters (where they silently help each other) could feel more heartfelt and honest than speeches about honour and camaraderie.

There shouldn’t be gaps with advice. If you want an overview, that’s fine. My most recent post on world-building was very generalised, but it gave details. It could be more detailed still, and I’ll probably write a heavier post on the same topic in the future. I almost did today.

There’s no reason you can’t use a catchphrase, old idioms, golfing terms, or statistics when you’re telling people how to write (well fine, maybe not statistics), but there’s a definite reason you shouldn’t – when you don’t tie it back to writing.

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