Patricia Wrede is a fantasy author whose works include the popular Enchanted Forest Chronicles. In the business since 1980, when she sold her first book, Wrede now shares her wisdom about the craft and the business of writing in a book, Wrede on Writing, that is sure to appeal to beginners looking for sound advice from a fantasy writing pro.
Wrede divides her book into four parts: getting started, basics, not-so-basics, and business side, creating something of a complete manual for aspiring novelists.
Of course, and as Wrede points out herself, writing advice ought to be taken in with a grain of salt. What works for one writer is often unique to that writer. The point is that you have to develop your own process, learning what you need to improve upon versus what you’re already good at. Because only you know what you need to learn about writing, there is no one true way. You need to find your own.
Consequently, no one book can ever present all information that anybody would need to learn how to write — for that the aspiring writer needs to read a great deal more books, including books on how to write, as well as to actually write. Wrede makes this last point clear in her very first chapter — if you want to be a writer, write!
Before you can write, of course, you must have an idea. Wrede suggests that the secret to finding story ideas is to learn to ask questions (why? and what if?) about ordinary events. Speculating on the answers leads to possible story ideas. Another entry into story can be a writer’s own curiosity — whatever provokes his interest is very likely good material for a story.
The first step in the process, is to write this idea down. Then you develop it by asking questions about the missing pieces. If the starter is a situation, you have to figure out what set that situation into motion and what it’s consequences will be. A situation also implies characters. Who they are will also need to be fleshed out.
In terms of the nuts and bolts, Wrede covers crating characters, writing action scenes, dialogue, world building, point of view and building interest among other essential elements. Hooks and cliffhangers are given their due. “The Skeleton in the Closet” chapter teaches the reader about the basic structure of plot. I’d like to see more on the process of creating a story from start to finish: from the idea, to the plot and its complications, to the ending. A running case study example, perhaps, might have enriched the book more.
Writing is only part of the writing business, which the writer finds himself in — there is the business part. Wrede uses the concept of the business model for a business organization to discuss the seven areas writers need to cover as proprietors of their writing business. Make no mistakes: as a writer, you are going to have to deal with tax issues that are more complicated than those faced by most people. If you are self-employed, for example, that is if your writing is your sole source of income, you will be facing a unique tax situation in that, unlike people working in most jobs, you will be required to pay various taxes, including city, county, state and of course federal taxes. Contacting an accountant is a good idea.
Besides taxes and finance, you will face the issues of marketing yourself. Authors are expected to do more to promote their work these days, but Wrede cautions against an attitude of entitlement on the part of the author — don’t expect people to like your book. Arguing with someone who wrote a bad review of your book is “an extraordinarily bad idea. Arguing with people in the comments is worse, if that’s possible.”So is doing in on Twitter, one might add.
Sometimes this is hard to accept, especially when you have a lot riding on a book. Recently a woman sued a reviewer for a bad book review and not only lost but damaged her reputation, the very outcome she hoped to avoid by suing, to a far greater extent than would be possible by one book review. While you don’t have to send ARCs to people whose reviews you don’t like, sometimes your book will become available to a reviewer you would not send a book to and a bad review might result. Wrede advises silence rather than engagement in such situations.
Wrede’s book won’t answer all questions or teach the beginner everything, but it does provide a good start on the journey.