It Only Takes ONE

For the last three years, the VP of my department at my Evil Day Job has been forwarding newsletters from motivational speaker Jon Gordon. Every time one of these newsletters comes into my email box, I eagerly read it from beginning to end. While most of what Jon writes and speaks about does not translate well into the publishing world, I always strive to find that one kernel of truth that holds even in this fickle industry. In fact, Jon’s ideas and words of wisdom have sparked more than a few blog posts of my own, and today’s is no different.

I have noticed a very distinct increase in the number of self-published “writers” over the past two years. I have only to scroll through my FaceBook newsfeed to see that approximately half of the 4000 people on my friends’ list considers themselves a writer, most of which have at least one novel self-published through Amazon or are working on their first novel that they plan to self-publish. One would think that being around that many creative minds would be conducive to helping a writer stay on track and do what they do best – write.

Unfortunately, as I have discovered so many times in the past, being around writers is actually counterproductive for a lot of us. We tend to measure our own successes by how much other writers have accomplished. It’s disheartening for most of us. Who wouldn’t be discouraged when they have a half-dozen projects going at once with no tangible goal other than to actually get one of them finished sometime in the next six months, while their newsfeed is filled with writers who have churned out their fifth book in as many months. Sure, we all know that we shouldn’t measure our own successes by those of others’, especially when we know what type of quality most of these “writers” are producing.  But when you are bombarded by this information in virtually every other post in your newsfeed, it makes it extremely difficult to not feel at least the tiniest twinge of inadequacy creeping in.

Then today, I had this wonderful piece of advice from Jon fill my inbox, and I realized that what I have been telling other writers for so many years still rings just as true not only in the writing world, but in the business world as well:

Sell without selling out. Focus more on your core principles and customer loyalty than short term commissions and profits.


For years I have told budding young authors that they don’t want to write a word-vomit book, the self-published equivalent of a mercenary writer, those writers who focus more on quantity than quality. A word-vomit book is just that, a book that someone vomited words onto a page without so much as a single rewrite and little to no edits.  These types of books are generally seen the most in categories that contain a propositionately  larger number of sales than other categories, such as erotica. These types of writers will churn out large quantities of sub-par reading material in an attempt to keep a steady stream of royalties in their bank account. These types of writers rarely make any type of real name for themselves.

As I like to say, such writers are “selling out” their readers by offering them mediocre plotlines when they could have just as easily spent the required time to polish it to perfection. Consider this, Harper Lee only ever published one book in her life, and that book has become one of the single most read books of all time. It is a timeless classic, required reading material in half of the nation’s schools and banned by the other half. That is no small feat, especially these days. And while no one may know the author’s name, they have most definitely heard of the book.

I remember a fellow author friend posting on FB that in this day and age, a writer cannot just produce one book a year and expect to make any money. You have to keep churning out dozens of books to keep your name out there.

I find so many faults in this statement. It only takes ONE really great book to make a name for yourself in the writing world. And you have to ask yourself, do you want to be remembered for producing thirty mediocre books, or for producing that one book that is read for generations to come, the type of story and characters that stay with your readers regardless of how many other books they read? There are over 1.5 billion English speaking readers on this planet. You will make more money by selling one really great book to a few million of them than you will trying to market dozens of crap-tacular books that will only sell a few dozen copies each at most.

This is another reason why I love this wonderful piece of positive wisdom. So many writers are focused only on getting the next book out, to do a massive launch and sell as many books as they can the first week or two. And once they see their sales start to tank, they immediately start writing the next mediocre piece of word vomit and wonder why no one outside of their base 100 fans are buying. It never occurs to them that there are literally MILLIONS of readers out there that have yet to be exposed to their works. And if they did not spend the time and energy to produce the absolute best piece of literary work they are capable of, it does not matter how many books they produce, it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE badly written book and they will never read another book by that author again.

The good news is that it only takes a reader getting hold of just ONE really great book by an author to keep that reader coming back again and again, even if it does take you a year to produce your next book. It is for this reason that while I continue to write and do a bit of marketing for each new release, I only really do heavy marketing for ONE of my books. Those who already know about my work stay in touch and eagerly snatch up the next release, but for those who have yet to discover my vivid imagination, I try to captivate them with only ONE book, and once they take a look around, they will see that I offer a wide range of books and adventures.

It only takes one. This is my motto for everything. It only takes ONE good book to make a name for myself. It only takes ONE reader talking about my book to spread the word. And it only takes ONE badly written book to turn off a reader forever.

My advice to authors is to start using this same philosophy. Stop trying to churn out an endless stream of sub-par books. Concentrate on creating just ONE really awesome book, and market that book far and wide. And once that ONE book has become a household name, you can start working to make another one of your books into a household name. Keep writing, and treat all your books as if it is going to be that ONE truly great book. When you do this, one day you will realize that you have a half-dozen really great books, and any ONE of them can help cement your name in the history books.

Are People Just not that Creative Any More?

Today I got a very interesting PM from a fan.   It was in regards to an ongoing little novelette that I had written called “Vindictus, the Dark Lord.”  This was a little story that I had actually started writing on 3 separate occasions, with 3 different takes on the storyline.  I ended up taking pieces from all 3 different parts and wove them into this one tale.  As the story progresses, there are a few flashes of “history” regarding this make-believe world and the characters in it.  It wasn’t anything all that great or special in my eyes, although I did put a good bit of thought and effort into the history behind this story and a lot of time and energy into the creation of the characters.  What had started off as something that I had jotted down and pushed to the back of my mind soon became a story that had fans begging for more.

I have had dozens of comments on this story, all kind-hearted words of enthusiasm and encouragement, and quite a few, “Please!  Write more!  I love this!”  My PM from today was more of the same, for the most part.  Except that it wasn’t all entirely praise.  The reader had made the comment that I had gotten quite a few myths and legends wrong in the story.  I replied with a polite thank you and informed the reader that the story had not been taken from any myth or legend that I was aware of, and if it did resemble something else from Greek mythology, then it was purely coincidental on my part.  After all, I have never studied any of the mythologies of the world. 

I am not saying that I am original in all of my works, because with several billion people on this planet it is really hard to come up with anything that is completely unique any more.  I do put forth a lot of effort and thought into my stories, the plotlines of those stories, the characters, and even the world and culture that the characters live in.  Often times the world gets created before the characters do.  I realize, however, that there are going to be a lot of books and stories out there that are going to sound a lot alike.  But this statement from one of my readers got me to wondering.  Are people really getting to the point where they would rather rip-off someone else’s hard work than come up with their own creation?  Or have readers gotten so use to reading stories that all sound alike that when a writer actually does come up with something remotely unique, the reader immediately assumes that it has been taken from some mythology or legend of old?

It makes me wonder what ever happened to writers depending upon their own creativity and convictions to come up with something that no one else has ever thought of.  It use to be an embarrassment for a writer to come up with anything that remotely resembled any other author’s work.  They would rather cut off their own finger than have a critic compare their work to something else that had already been done.  Writers use to take pride in exercising their creativity and coming up with something so very unique and surprising that the literary world would be forced to take pause. 

Now days it seems that writers either don’t want to take the time and put forth the energy required to come up with their own ideas, or they simply cannot get in touch with the creativity and imagination that it takes to be a really great writer.   Someone had made mention that we were educating our children right out of their creativity.  I believe that perhaps we are, to some extent.

My music appreciation instructor posed the question, “Do you think that Mozart would have been as good of a musician or accomplished all that he had if he had been born in the 20th century?”  My response was, “No.”  While I believe that the raw musical talent would have been there, I do not believe he would have become the master musician that he was if he had been educated in today’s society.  We spend so much time trying to make our children “more well-rounded” that we are, in fact, educating them right out of their creativity.  We no longer try to teach them to “think for themselves” when it comes to creativity, only to do their own work and not copy their neighbor’s test.  Creativity, in today’s world, is being able to put a positive spin on a business’ latest bad publicity.  We are so wrapped up in pushing “facts” onto our children and insisting that they stick to nothing but the “facts” that they are ceasing to be able to come up with a single creative thought on their own.  We are, in essence, trading phenomenal natural talent and creativity for the ability to write computer software programs and build large monetary empires out of a well-planned idea.

With so few writers being encouraged to “think outside the paragraph” and come up with their own ideas, it’s no wonder that a huge portion of today’s literature all sound like spin-offs from the same plotline.   I’m not saying that you can’t write about vampires because all the “good” ideas have already been thought of.  The whole point behind being creative is to look at what others have not already come up with.  If everyone is writing about vampires and werewolves and you know this would be a great hit, why not flex your creativity muscle and try thinking of something unique that would stand out.  Create a whole new species, try a plotline that no one else has ever thought of, or toss in every single element every written about the idea and weave it into one epic novel.  Don’t be afraid to take risks because you think no one would be interested.  If Bram Stoker had not taken a risk and bet the bank on the fact that females would fall in love with an undead walking body that sucks blood to remain active, then our subsequent beating hearts would never know the beauty that is Edward Cullen.

In today’s literary world, finding your voice and speaking up loud and clear will help to separate you from the sea of mediocrity that is the publishing business.  Don’t be afraid to try out new ideas, to think outside the paragraph, to give rise to that frightful creature who impregnates his victims with a phallus tongue.  Variety is, after all, the spice of life.  Unless, of course, you don’t mind your readers asking you which myth you stole your ideas from.

Why Try to Fit in When You were Born to Stand Out

A lot of today’s writers have forgotten some very basic words of wisdom when it comes to being a writer:  be the best writer that you can be.  Unfortunately, a lot of writers do not fully understand this concept.  Some are so busy chasing around someone else’s fabulous ideas or trying to figure out what ‘the next big thing’ is going to be in literature that they have forgotten that the best thing they can do as a writer is to forget what everyone else is doing, thinking, saying, and writing and just write like you.  A wise (and experienced) writer knows that the best way to get known is to not fit in with other literary greats, but to stand out from them.

I had pointed out that as a writer, you do not really want to be known as the next “insert famous-writer’s-name here.”  Do you really want to be hailed as the next “Stephanie Meyer?”  If you answered yes to this question, then you need to take a step back and have a really long, hard look at your writing style and efforts.  If you are being compared to an already well-known writer, then no one is going to pay attention to your name.  All they are going to see if the famous author’s name.  And if, by some miracle, they run out and purchase your work because they happen to be a fan of Stephanie Meyer’s, imagine their disappointment  when they read your words and discover that you do not write exactly like Stephanie Meyer.  After all, there is only one Stephanie Meyer.  No one will ever write exactly like her but, well, her.  Anyone else is going to be just a very poor imitation of her writing style.  So readers who took a chance on your words because critics were happily comparing your writing style to hers will be very quick (and very vocal) to point out that you are merely a poor imitation of Stephanie Meyer.  Do you honestly think that readers will want a poor replacement for their favorite author when they can just sit down and read the words directly from the horse’s mouth?

Where does that leave writers?  Think of your favorite authors and their writing styles.  The best thing you can do as a writer is forget how they write.  You are not trying to write their next great novel for them.  You must write the way that you feel comfortable with.  If that means run-on sentences and fragments from time to time, then embrace that style and own it.  If you prefer writing in absolutely perfect English that would make any English professor beam with pride, then do so with gusto.  Whatever your style of writing, you have to claim it as your own and run with it.  Stop trying to sound like other writers who you look up to.  Sounding like Anne Rice or Laurell K. Hamilton or Charlene Harris is not going to get you as far in the publishing world as you may think.  While it may seem like a good thing in the beginning, as a writer, you must have the ability to see past the edge of your nose and into the future.  What happens when 100 unhappy readers have told two dozen people apiece that you suck and sound nothing like Stephanie Meyer?  How long do you think it will take critics to turn against you and start calling you what your readers already know:  that you really are a poor imitation of an already famous author?

Great storytelling doesn’t mean dead-on perfect English.  There can be beauty in the flaws of your writing.  But only if you take your flaws and use them to your advantage.  Otherwise, you are just going to be known for imitating someone else’s words.

Back to Basics

As a writer, there are certain universal basics that you will need to follow regardless of whether you write short stories, novelettes, novels, or the like.  Other writing “rules” can be relaxed in certain instances depending upon the writer’s own personal style and the story at hand.

1.  misspelling words  and using the wrong word – Unless you are using street slang in a dialogue or trying to capture some other cultural element during the course of a conversation (be it between characters or internal dialogue between a character and himself), there is absolutely no excuse for misspelled words.  Likewise, there is no excuse for a writer to not know when to use the correct word, such as using “two” instead of “to” or “knew” instead of “new.”  Such elementary errors makes the author look unprofessional and uneducated.  The good news is that misspelled words and using wrong words is not something that will ultimately hamper your writing style.  More importantly, it is also nothing that a good proofreader will not be able to spot and correct.

2.  developed characters – Unless you are specifically trying to create a two-dimensional character, nothing says “amateur” like writing a 3000 page novel full of characters that all seem to speak and act the same way.  Add in characters that also have the personality of a grapefruit and you are sure to have one doozy of a snooze fest on your hands.  Take the time to put forth some serious thought into your characters.  Go beyond what they look like to include a brief history of their life.  How does their past history affect their way of thinking, the way they act, the way they perceive the world around them?  When they speak, are they always saying something smart-mouthed or are they laid back?  Do they anger easily?

If you have ever done any written role-playing, you will be familiar with a character biography.  I use this same technique when creating all of my characters.  It includes the character’s name, parents, birth date, age, their physical attributes, a brief history, their likes and dislikes, the way they act and their way of thinking about the world around them.  Taking the time to really focus on all the things that make a character the way he/she is will go a long way in making them seem more real and well-rounded to the readers.  Just knowing how they look is not enough. 

Having a character bio handy will help you to decide exactly how your character will react in certain situations in your storyline.  By having something to refer to, it ensures that your character will speak, act, and react the way you intended them in any given situation, making them more uniform and real.  After all, if you have a character that is terribly afraid of spiders who starts playing with a pet tarantula, it will make the readers scratch their head in confusion.  It may seem like a small thing, but if you have enough small “loose ends” in a 500 page novel, all those little things can add up to become a big fat flop in the eyes of the reader.

3.  developed storylines – Have you ever read a good book that did not have any “loose ends” left at the end?  Or perhaps you read a book that left more questions than answers or had you thinking long and hard about what was going on with the story?  Both instances can be a really good thing for the reader.  But having a story that leads nowhere is about as fun as week old catfish.  The last thing that you want to do is lead your reader through a maze where nothing happens.  But remember, there is nothing wrong with taking little ‘side trips’ through your story.  Think of it as your characters trying to get through the maze and taking a few wrong turns.  What matters is that the storyline starts in one place and ends in another.  Of course, if you are writing a series then the storyline as a whole will end in one spot while the individual plotlines for each novel in the series will end in another.

Confusing?  It can be, which is why taking the time to create a “map” of what you want to happen in each plotline can be very helpful in keeping your plots straight.  Writing an outline can be extremely helpful in doing this, especially if you intend to create a lot of twists and turns in your storyline.  Nothing says ‘aggravation’ for a writer like having to go back and try to work in a key element of your storyline that you forgot to incorporate the first time around.  Having some type of outline or ‘map’ to go by will help you to keep your storyline on track.  Otherwise, you may find yourself tossing out entire chunks (or even chapters) of your manuscript because you forgot to write in a very important part of the storyline.

Whether you are trying to write a simple short story or an epic novel, having a storyline that engages the reader is key to keeping the reader coming back for more.   If you have the reader take a trip that leads nowhere, shows them nothing, and has nothing happening, then you will most likely end up with a reader that tosses your latest creation out with the trash.

4.  basic grammar – Using grammar correctly can go a long way in keeping the reader interested without keeping them confused to the point where they don’t understand what it is that you are trying to say.  Run on sentences, fragments, dangling participles, excessive adverbs and adjectives…grammatical errors can work for you or against you. 

I would not ever tell a writer to not use run on sentences or to avoid fragmented sentences.  The first rule of thumb for a writer is to just sit down and write however it pops into your mind.  The important part is to go back and edit it, throwing out the grammatical errors that take away from the story, make it confusing, or makes the whole thing just sound like an elementary student wrote it.  There is a time and place for grammatical errors, but they should be used infrequently.  Let me give a few examples.

EXAMPLE:  Sitting in the car.  I tossed back in disgust.  My head landing on the headrest.  I had forgotten about my science exam again and now I was going to flunk and wouldn’t that just piss my mom off.  Damn.  Now what do I do?

In the above example, there are a lot of fragmented sentences and run on sentences.  It sounds bad, it’s hard for the reader to really understand what is going on, and it looks worse on the page than it sounds in the reader’s head.  This is an example of having a lot of grammatical errors that work against a story.

Now let’s look at this same passage again after it has been cleaned up.

EXAMPLE:  I tossed my head back in disgust.  I had forgotten about my science exam.  I was going to flunk now for sure.  My mom would be angry.  Now what do I do?

In this example, the passage has been cleaned up with all the unnecessary words taken out.  If I were to submit the original passage to an editor, the second example is close to what I would get back.  But it seems very drab, boring, and does not convey the agitation that the character is experiencing.

Here’s the same passage again, only this time there are a few fragmented sentences.

EXAMPLE:  I tossed my head back in disgust, the back of my head thudding dully as it hit the headrest.  I had forgotten all about my science exam.  Again.  Flunking was almost a certainty now.  My mom was going to be so pissed.  Damnit!  Now what do I do?

As you can see in the above example, there are several grammatical errors.  However, the way it is written clearly demonstrates the agitation and worry that the character is experiencing.  Not to mention that the way it reads does not seem so systematic and boring.  As I have said, creative writing isn’t just about coming up with a great plotline.  The way  in which a story is written can have just as much effect on the way a reader perceives the story as the actual plotline itself.  That effect can be positive or negative, depending on whether or not you use grammatical errors to your advantage or just sling words down on a page.  Some writers can pull this technique off, and some can’t.  If you are one of those who attempts to write in this style but the end product closely resembles word soup, you may want to just stick to basic writing principles.  Writing in this style takes years of practice and is not for everyone.

5.  dialogue – If you are writing a story, regardless of length, you are going to have characters.  Those characters are going to interact with each other.  And somewhere down the storyline, they are going to speak to each other.  Thankfully, dialogue is not rocket science.  The best way to pull off good dialogue to keep your characters, well, in character.  If the person speaking has the type of personality that would cause them to make some smartass comment during the situation at hand, then write it down that way.  If the person speaking would make some off-the-wall comment that has absolutely nothing to do with what is going on or the conversation at hand, then feel free to write it that way.  Don’t try to make it sound “perfect.”  If you try to force dialogue between characters then it is going to come off sounding that way to the reader. 

The wonderful thing about dialogue is that all the basic rules and regulations of good writing goes out the window.  If you are trying to capture a Cajun accent, then there is no need to try to spell correctly, use complete sentences, or follow all the basic grammar rules.  Unless, of course, you have a southern bell speaking to her betrothed.  This one again goes back to having your characters speak in a way that compliments their personality and style.  For example, if your character is a very proper and highly educated gentlemen, having him speak in slang terms and fragmented sentences will throw the whole feel of the story off and confuse the reader as well.  Characters should speak, act, and react in a way that is true to their own personalities.

Another great thing about dialogue is that it does not have to have anything to do with the storyline.  It does not have to further the plot.  Sometimes characters talk amongst themselves just for the sheer joy of it.  Allow them to ramble once in a while.  Interesting diversions are always a good way to keep the reader interested.

Which brings me to my last bit of basic writing skills.

6.  keep the reader interested – This bears repeating.  KEEP.  THE.  READER.  INTERESTED.  By any means necessary.  Use your writing style to keep the reader wanting to read every word you have committed to paper.  If that means breaking some of the rules, then more power to you.  However, break rules cautiously.  Whatever your writing style, having a strong storyline and well-rounded, believable characters will go a long way towards keeping your audience coming back for more.

The Right Kind of Wrong: Clichés and Creative Writing

As I have said in previous blogs, most readers fall into two categories:  those who think that a novel is great because the plotline of the novel is great, and those who think a novel sucks because he thinks the plotline of the novel sucks.  If you are a writer who thinks this way as well, then I hate to burst your little bubble, but good writing and good plotlines do not go hand in hand.  I have read many books that had great plotlines behind them but the actual writing was atrocious.  Likewise, I have read some awesome books that really had a very weak plotline but I kept reading it anyway because it was so beautifully written.  As a writer, you will want to strive to have both a knockout plotline and be such a creative writer that people will want to read every word that you have written down.  And if you cannot do both, then you had better either be one hell of a writer or come up with such awesome plotlines that people don’t care that you are not that talented. 

‘Creative’ writing is subject to an individual’s own perspective.  In my opinion, being creative doesn’t just stop at coming up with a great plotline.  Often times writers get so hung up in trying to follow the rules of the English language and ‘proper’ writing ‘rules’ that they forget that writing is still an art form.  You are, in essence, trying to paint a picture, and words are the paint that you use to create that picture.  Creative writing isn’t about following rules and trying to sound like an English writing assignment.  It is about using the English language to create pictures in the mind’s eye of the reader.  For some, it comes natural.  For others, it’s like pulling teeth.  Ultimately, it is going to take practice, practice, practice.

I have read numerous articles and blogs regarding the use of clichés.  Most people know what a cliché is when it comes to single sentences or dialogue or even in some descriptions.  Basically, a cliché is something that has already been written about many, many times before.  For instance, if you have ever read about a grip that was  ‘vice-like’ then you have just read a clichéd description.  Big on romance?  Ever noticed that the man is often described as the clichéd tall, dark and handsome stranger?  Of course, I am guilty of this as well, but not because I want to use the cliché.  The men of my novels usually sound a lot like this simply because it is the type of man who I find extremely sexy, not because I can’t think of any other way for them to look.  Still, I have been accused of using this cliché to the extreme by a very outspoken critic.  What most readers do not understand is that often writers see their characters very clearly in their minds and cannot imagine the story without that character, or even imagine that character looking any other way.  Often times writers will get very emotionally attached to their characters and will not, or cannot, fathom the possibility of changing the way they look or act. 

If you are going to use this clichéd look for a character, then you will need to make him stand out in other ways.  Maybe he has a quirky personality trait or a scar or is blind in one eye or even missing a limb.  Whatever you do, don’t make your characters perfect, not even your vampires.  One of the points of writing is to create characters that seem real enough that your readers can relate to them.  If you have a novel full of absolute human perfection, your readers are going to get bored really quick.  Not to mention that we see enough ideals of ‘perfection’ on the covers of magazines.  No need for anorexic models in your reading material as well.

For the record, I will once again state my opinion that there is no right or wrong way to be a good writer.  Yes, there are things that you can do to polish your work and hammer out the kinks.  But the bottom line on using clichés will ultimately rest with the individual writer.  I myself use clichés all the time, to the extreme.  But I mix them up, change the traditional storyline around and add so many of my own unique twists that for some odd reason, all the clichés work for me rather than against me.  I, however, am not the norm for this.  I have been writing for twenty-eight years.  I have always written with the mentality of breaking every single writing rule that I possibly could.  Actually, I don’t just break them, I stomp all over them with a vengeful fury.  I have made it into an art form all its own.  For most writers, it simply is not going to work.  But I can give you some tips and tricks on why using them can actually work for you instead of against you.  Think of it as being a good writer in reverse.  Or as one writer so eloquently put it, ‘The right way to write wrong.’  This statement has been my motto for my entire writing career.

Using clichés isn’t about just ‘using’ them in your storyline, but putting your own twists on them to the point where they stop resembling tried and true clichés and become something very unique to the writer.  Let me also point out that sometimes when you write about something that has been done to death, like vampires, (cliché alert!  warning!) you are not going to be able to get around the cliché no matter how hard you try.  Take, for instance, the vampire’s ability to hypnotize his/her victim.  If you are going to have vampires that can do this, then be prepared to write about a cliché.  Glamourize, bespell, bedazzle…all clichéd words used to describe a vampire’s ability to hypnotize his victim and make him/her do what he wants. 

If you are going to write about a cliché, then be prepared to embrace it and make it your own.  In this case, writing the word in a story one or two times makes it a cliché.  Constantly bringing it up removes it from cliché status and makes it a very important part of the storyline.   But don’t overuse them.  The last thing you want is a novel full of nothing but predictable storyline clichés.

Which brings me to my next point.  If you are going to use clichés, then you are going to have to keep the reader interested in what you are writing, make them want to read every word that you have written.  How?  By coming up with your own unique and interesting twists to the storyline and, inevitably, the cliché in question.

How can you keep a reader interested?  There are lots of ways, but the easiest way is to surprise them.  And that surprise doesn’t have to be scary, just unexpected.  For instance, a common description cliché would be a storyline that has a female walking the streets, at night, all alone.  There would be no moon, maybe even lightning and thunder in the distance.  Perhaps the night would go quiet all of a sudden and then…well, you already know what happens.  She gets attacked.  Doesn’t matter by what or who, the reader knows she is going to get attacked because the writer used a very cliché description.  But what if you went through all that trouble of building up that suspense, really got into describing her emotions of how scared she is, how dark and ominous everything is…only to release that tension by having the character break her high-heeled stiletto and fall face first in a big mud puddle?  Skip the whole ‘she gets attacked’ crap right then.  You can have her get attacked further down the storyline, like after she gets home and is whining about the ruined dress.  The trick is to release that tension that you built up, let the reader get a good laugh, let the reader realize that what they thought was going to happen didn’t, and give them a false sense of calm and then…WHAM!  Let the attack come out of left field.   The writer used the cliché to his advantage and still surprised his reader.  Now that is creative writing.

Another type of cliché is where you begin writing something that is so standard and so done to death that the reader figures out what is going on, what is going to happen, and, if it’s a mystery of some kind, the who-done-it before the first chapter is over.  Let’s take for example the classic vampire novel.  If you are writing the standard clichéd vampire plotline, you know that there is going to be some biting, some bloodsucking, a main character and the love interest, a nice romance and maybe even some sex to spice things up.  But if this is all that the plotline entails then congratulations.  You just wrote yourself a huge clichéd novel destined to get you a giant “REJECTED” stamp on the front of your manuscript.  Now if you want to save this sinking Titanic of a novel, you had better start pumping it full of unique ideas and plot twists.  Have aliens invade, set the plotline in an apocalyptic world or on some distant planet, hell set the damn plotline on the Titanic if you have to…anything to set the clichéd plotline apart from all the other clichéd novels out there.

Can clichés work to your advantage?  Yes.  But only if you can add your own unique twist to the standard cliché.  You are going to have to be extremely creative, think and write outside the box, and not be afraid to take chances.  If you think a story would be best told by killing off the main character then do it.  If you are wanting a tragedy but are afraid that your readers will turn against you if you write some huge tragic novel, then you are writing for all the wrong reasons.  But don’t off your character because you can’t think of anything else to write.  Taking advantage of a cliché and using it to your advantage is an art form all its own.  It is not going to work for everyone.  Most people would be better off if they avoided clichés like they were Michael Myers because chances are they are going to murder your novel before it ever gets started (see how I worked that cliché in there?).  Although if you are going to insist upon using them, be prepared to make those clichés your bi-och.  If you don’t own them and make them uniquely your own, then you are just another clichéd writer in a sea of mediocrity.

A Good Story is in the Mind’s Eye of the Reader

It has always been my opinion that a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. Just as beauty is subject to the person who is doing the viewing, a good story, or movie, or art, or piece of music is subject to the person who is partaking of the piece of art. I have always believed in ‘live and let write.’

Needless to say that for every book written, piece of music composed, piece of art produced, or movie directed, there is going to be at least one person, and in some instances quite a few people, out there who hates the work. What’s more, these people insist upon sharing their criticism of said work with anybody and everybody who will listen to them. I use to wonder what made these people such experts on the created art form. Had they ever written a book, composed a piece of music, produced a piece of art, or directed a film? Chances are, no, they haven’t. So why criticize? For the most part, critics get paid to share their opinion. For those who go against the general public’s feelings on said work, the critic can get quite famous, or infamous, for having their apparent distaste published on some type of public medium. This, of course, translates in to more papers/magazines/air time sold. So for some, it literally pays to publicly bash a work of art.

Other ‘critics’ are those who do not get paid to share their personal thoughts regarding a piece of art. Some people do it because a piece of work hits them so strongly that they just have to share their feelings, whether they be positive or negative. Others will publicly bash a piece of art because they like the attention that it brings them, even if that attention is negative, much like their paid counterparts who bash a movie that the general public loves. And still others will attempt to openly humiliate the creator of the work of art simply because he/she is jealous of the creativity that the creator possesses.

I’ve made it clear that I have always thought that I was a pretty good writer.  Not great, mind you, but fairly decent.  I spend an absurd amount of time researching, making notes, creating characters, outlining events and deciding on what plot twists I want to integrate into a story. And then there were the endless months, and sometimes years, spent writing the story, proofreading it, editing it, re-reading and re-doing and sometimes throwing out whole chapters and story endings only to replace them with something I thought would be even more bizarre or fun or just plain silly. All in all, I pour my heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears into the work that I produce. I was praised by English instructors, won writing contests, received awards, been told by family and friends that I was a very talented author.

Loving the written word, I joined many role playing forums and games over the years as an outlet for my very active imagination. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of being around so many talented writers. What was more, those talented writers thought that I was a very talented writer as well.

With encouragement from a growing fan base, I decided to go more ‘mainstream’ and began posting a few of my stories out on the web. Now I know you can’t please all the people all the time, but I was completely unprepared for the outright rudeness of some people. It was quite the eye-opener. I was amazed at the number of people who had never written anything in their life who seemed to think that they were experts on what made a story good or bad. But, as I’ve said, a good story is in the mind’s eye of the reader. So to each his own.

Another thing that I was unprepared for, and something that still boggles my mind, is the whole popularity thing that goes on with some sites. Readers apparently don’t know that a good idea and good writing do not go hand in hand. I have seen readers fall all over themselves to praise a writer who sounds like they barely made it out of the first grade.  

I’ve always said that I do not think on an elementary level, therefore I do not write on an elementary level. Since I have a tendency to write above a lot of people’s heads, I assumed that I would get a lot of backlash on my use of compound and complex sentences. I also like to write without any regards to formal English composition rules, so my work often sounds more like someone is giving an oral recount of the story rather than it reading like a story that was written down for public consumption. It’s just my style, and I have gotten many, many compliments on how this style makes the reader feel like they are right in the thick of the story. Of course, with the good comes the bad, as in plenty of bad reviews on my lack of attention to the proper English writing rules. Well, rules be damned. I’m not turning this in for an assignment.

On the flipside of the elementary coin were the writers who would write with the same complexity that I so enjoy using in my own work. I have gotten complaint after complaint regarding my work being too hard to comprehend because of my complex writing style. It made me wonder if these other writers, who so many readers were fawning all over, had the same problem. The more complaints and insults that I received, the more I began to doubt my ability as a writer. Could I possibly be as bad as some people wanted me to believe? Writing was not, and is not, a hobby of mine. I have been cranking out literary works for over twenty-eight years, a fine feat for someone who has not yet hit her thirty-sixth birthday. Surely someone with that kind of experience could not be all that bad. So what did all those other writers possibly possess that brought in tens of thousands of readers to their work? What was I lacking?

In a word, confidence. I was doing what everyone else was not doing. I was letting assholes bring me down and second-guess myself and my talent. I found that I was always having to defend my work. But so were the other writers. The only difference was that I was apologizing for my work.

Well, I refuse to apologize any more for producing the fruits of my imagination. They may not be the best in the world, and I certainly never claimed to be the best writer. But I am a good writer. A damn good writer. I have the tens of thousands of readers to back up this statement. What’s more important, perhaps the most important thing, is that I like the way I write. I like my ideas and my writing style and my overall pieces of literary work. At the end of the day, I feel that I have produced something worth reading. I don’t care if other people think I use too many adjectives or adverbs or complex sentences. I wrote it a certain way for a reason.

So the bottom line is, if you can’t appreciate the fruits of my labor, then I wholeheartedly say ‘Fuck you, and the horse you rode in on!’

As a writer, you have to be prepared to get all kinds of criticism:  the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Some of it you might can use, but most of it you will probably be able to toss out with the trash.  Whatever you do, don’t let the occasional asshole persuade you to think that you can’t write.  That’s not to say that there will never be room for improvement.  But knowing the difference between criticism that can help make your work better and words slung by someone who was obviously out to ruffle your feathers can go a long way in soothing your hurt feelings…and possibly even give you a good laugh.