Sunday, February 3, 2013

Creative Writing: Learning From the Masters.

I am about halfway through the ibook, Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters.  The masters are Norman Mailer, Amy Tan, Earnest J Gaines, John Irving, Carol Shields, and Joyce Carol Oates.

I have read a couple of John Irving’s novels (The World According To Garp and Hotel New Hampshire) and seen at least three films adapted from his novels (the previous two plus The Cider House Rules). I have read one Norman Mailer novel (Tough Guys Don’t Dance) and seen the film that he directed of that novel. I have read The Best American Short Stories 1999 edited by Amy Tan (I loved her foreword where she said that a lot of the stories, which had all been previously published, she considered for the collection left her wondering what they hell they were about. So I am not the only one who is not afraid to admit they didn’t get a story.)

They all Started Young.   

All the masters started writing when they were young. And they all had success when they were young: publishing award winning novels, winning scholarships to exclusive schools, winning short story competitions. Their early success is not good news for me, unless I count a high school teacher reading a story I wrote to mine and at least one other class due to its cleverness, or my writing of skits that were performed in university revues.

A couple of the masters did stop writing for a while to raise a family or fight in a war.


The ibook then got into the basics of writing. Nothing really new to me, until the section on revision came up. Revision is split into three very separate activities: redrafting, revising and then editing.


Once a first draft has been completed it is time to redraft it. “Redrafting is the process of making broad sweeping changes to the major elements of a story.” When redrafting the novel an author should consider the key elements of their story: POV, plot structure, the purpose of all the characters and the major themes of the story. Is there too much or too little mounting tension? “Does the theme clarify a universal truth the reader can relate to?” Redrafting is a time to really think about the novel overall and cut and replace large chunks of it.

The novel I am currently writing is 175,000 words and will probably creep over 200,000 before I am finished. So redrafting will be all about cutting it back in size. In the redrafting stage I will be asking myself whether I need the long build up to the crew reaching their destination.  And then how (or if) to restructure and cut back on their time on the planet, which is crucial to the story as that is where the central character grows significantly.


After redrafting it is time to revise. “Often when writers think they are redrafting their stories, they are actually revising them. Revision is the act of tackling the smaller issues around language, scene, flow and nuance.” I am one of those misguided writers.

In the revision stage for my current manuscript, one of the things I plan to do is remove a lot of dialogue and paraphrasing it.


This involves the refinement of both content and structure. It is basically what I have come to call copy editing. Removing stray commas, getting rid of adverbs, changing say into said, removing overused words like “that” and “was”. Editing also involves making sure factual details are correct. Oh, faster than light travel ain’t possible, bummer. A second pair of eyes is recommending during the editing stage.

Creative Writing: Learning from the Masters is an ibook available from the Apple ibookstore section called itunes U.


Anthony J. Langford said...

Sounds like a good book. I think alot of writers don't necessarily know where their story is going, other than recording thoughts, feelings. I know a couple of stories I've written and some poetry doesn't really have an a to z flow, its more a state of emotion.

Wow, youre book really is bigger than the bible - lol - the new Peter F. Hamilton?
Almost three in one!

Redrafting, revising, its all editing to me. People like to create rules etc and its nice to have a work program that works for you. That's the trick I think - finding what works for you.

One bit of advice that's really handy during editing, that I always remember is, if the words don't add to a sentence, then remove it. Writing is removing. Can't remember who said it, but I like it.

Thanks for a very interesting post.

Graham Clements said...

Hi Anthony,

I tended to do all my revising and editing at the same time and call it rewriting. But what is the point of revising or editing something that in reality would not survive a redrafting? So I will try to do them separately when I return to revising my previous manuscript.

I nearly always know where my stories are going - I am big on plotting a novel before writing it. The novel I am currently working on always had the same start, middle , end, character arc of the main character and major theme. Nut a few secondary characters have done some very unexpected things, helping to make the novel a lot longer than I expected.

Thanks for the comment.

Anthony J. Langford said...

Sounds truly epic.

I never go back at all until its completely finished. If I did, i would see its flaws, get pathetically insecure and not finish it.

Then I start at the beginning and go to the end, and just keep doing that, until I'm happy, no matter how many times it takes, which depends on that all important first draft.

Graham Clements said...


You sound like you try to make the first draft as "perfect" as possible. Whereas, I have been in the habit of changing just about every word on the second "drafts" so I am not too fussed about getting the language anywhere near "perfect" the first time round. I just want to get to the end and make sure the plot works when I am writing the first draft.

Beach Bum said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beach Bum said...

Redrafting and revising are one of my biggest issues. I write as a hobby and free time is scarce for me so both are usually done on the run.