Background artiste from 'Better than Stars'

Sunday, 18 September 2011

What Writers Need Most ...

... Maximum Credit

Thanks to The Scribbling Sea Serpent's recommendation, I've recently been reading Maximum Ride, and it's taught me a lot. It's aimed at an audience I've been trying to write for, and as such it's a good model. It cracks along at a tremendous pace, narrated by a strong, funny protagonist who speaks to you as if you're flying alongside her.

Yes, I really did say that. Flying. Because this book underlines the point I made in my previous post Desperately Seeking a Story: it's the story, or the idea behind it, that matters most. James Patterson, one of the bestselling contemporary authors for all ages, has written a highly successful series driven by the amazing idea of kids who can fly. What young reader could resist that?

I've spent my writing time over the last few days trying to extract a single viable story from a novel I abandoned within sight of the end four years ago. I dropped it at the time because I realised it consisted of two incompatible plots hopelessly entangled. I left them to their efforts to strangle each other and got on with writing another two books, but now I'm back working on the same MS. Why? Because it contains an idea I still believe has potential. And I'm prepared to make major changes: partly to free it from its evil twin, and mostly to incorporate the huge amount I've learned about writing since I wrote it. Trouble is, I'm also finding lots I want to keep: characters I'm fond of, scenes and passages of dialogue that seem to work, the story itself ...


I've been trying to write seriously now for about 6 years. In that time I've thought of loads of story openings, but there are only a few I feel I could develop into whole books. The number of good, original ideas that could drive a plot is even fewer. These are my most precious stocks in trade, yet it's one of these I'm keeping wrapped up in a tired old story I created when I was just starting out.

This is what I've learned from James Patterson. Maximum Ride is a good read, and it's holding me, an adult, strongly enough to make me want to finish it. He's got the important things right - character, voice, urgency of plotting - and the whole thing is driven by a powerful idea.

Our good ideas are our most valuable possessions, and they deserve to be shown off in the best of settings.

Looks like I'm going to have to start again.

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