Writing Tip #23

Make decisions. In the movie Wonder Boys, Professor Grady Tripp (Michael Douglas) has difficulty making decisions in his life, and this translates to the book that he is writing, which goes on and on in increasing detail, but doesn’t go anywhere. As Hannah (Katie Holmes) tells him when she gets a sneak peek: “You seem not to have made any decisions… At all.”

When you’re writing your book — whether it’s fiction or nonfiction — you need to be able to make choices about the things you are going to include and the things you’re going to leave out. Even in the longest, most complex works, authors have had to make these kinds of decisions — don’t let them fool you. So decide whether your main character should be a plumber or a security guard. Decide whether he should live in Wyoming or Massachusetts. Because reading about a plumber who moonlights as a security guard on the weekends and lives in Wyoming during the summer and Massachusetts in the winter may sound like a happy solution to you — and perhaps it is, in some cases — but more likely the book will come across as diluted, lacking focus and weak. As will its author.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Tip #23

  1. I’m sure you’ve had this experience, Dina:

    You’re going along making decisions (some impelled by your own mind, some instigated by feedback from others) and the book itself “intervenes” and says, “No!”.

  2. Oh, yes! For sure. Case in point: I knew, from when I first started writing BABY GRAND, how things would end up. But as I was writing one of the very last scenes, my book “intervened,” as you say, and summoned me to veer off in another direction. I listened, of course. But, remember, that too is a decision, and one that I’m glad I made. :)

    • Good point; even though the book intervened, you still had to make the executive decision…

      I’ve also faced decisions that the book has trumped and, even though I want to change things (for various reasons) the book “takes the decision out of my hands”. I’ve called this “bowing to the book’s ‘integrity'”.

  3. Many of my decisions are prefaced with, “Is this word/sentence/paragraph/scene needed to move the story ahead?” Sometimes beautifully written passages please me but are just not necessary. They get cut and pasted into a blank file for possible use in something else. Trying to decide on character names that reflect a double meaning sometimes requires me to quit waffling and just choose. I tell myself I can always change it later. Being indecisive can make novel writing a very long process!

  4. You are so right, and often decisions are not my strong suit…. whether in a restaurant or in writing. It’s not so much that I don’t have opinions, just that I second (third, fourth) guess myself way too much! Thanks for an important reminder!

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