(part 2—Ally’s philosophy on the craft)
11. Show don’t tell. This is pretty controversial, but I come down firmly in favor of the “show don’t tell” rule, not because it’s a rule and I like to follow rules (although that’s generally true.) I like it because, I think, it makes for far less boring books.
As a reader, I want to be engaged. I want a role to play. It’s a lot like taking a cross-country plane ride. Would you rather sit beside the guy who talks on and on about how painful his root canal was or the guy who describes the dentist’s office, and the chair, and the feeling of the needle that was supposed to deaden the area—but didn’t. Don’t tell me “I went to the dentist, and wow was it painful”; show me the needle and let me figure the rest out for myself.
12. For me, great stories always take place within the context of scenes—your characters have to BE SOMEWHERE, doing SOMETHING. If you find yourself going pages and pages without letting the reader know where your character is or what he/she is doing, chances are you’re “telling” (see above) your story.
13. New characters almost always equal new conflict. I’ve frequently said that the most brilliant decision J.K. Rowling ever made was to give Harry a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year.
14. Don’t force it. The best things I write are almost always the easiest things I write. Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t try a few dozen bad things before I finally discovered the right word/scene/subplot, etc. But great books are very much like puzzles—if you’ve got the right pieces you shouldn’t have to struggle to make them fit.
15. Writing and publishing are two incredibly different endeavors. One is creative and one is a business. Treat them differently.
16. Voice is one of the most important things a writer can develop. It’s something that is unique to that author/book, but it won’t happen overnight. Don’t worry about it—just write.
17. The most important thing a book can do is take a reader to another time and place. Think about the reading experience as hypnotizing someone. You don’t want any extraneous noise or movement, nothing but the experience they’re focusing on—nothing that might snap them out of your world and back into their own.
18. It takes a great deal of effort to write something that reads effortlessly.
19. Writing a book can feel like pushing a boulder up a hill. But if the conflict is intrinsic to the story (this can also be called “High Concept”) then, for me, the writing is far, far easier. The higher the concept, the higher the boulder starts out, and the less I have to strain to figure out what comes next.
20. In his brilliant book, ON WRITING, Stephen King says something like “first drafts should be written with the door closed; second drafts should be written with the door open.” I think about that quote all the time. Write your first draft for YOU, but when you’re editing, keep your readers in mind and try to see the story through their eyes.