Best Advice Ever by Shannon Donnelly
Advice is one of those things that we all really need at times, but it’s not always welcome…or fun to get. It’s like that saying—the truth will set you free (but first it’s going to piss you off). That’s what good advice does. It hits home and stays like an arrow in your heart.
Over the years, every writer gets some kind of advice. Sometimes it’s from an agent or an editor. Sometimes from another writer. Sometimes from a reader who really hated what you did. Sometimes it’s just plain wrong-headed. It’s really an Urban Legend in disguise—as in when someone says you can’t start a book a certain way or do certain things with fiction. I’ve always been of the opinion that you can do whatever your talent will let you pull off. But advice has been helpful to me as a writer.
While I’ve learned a lot over the years about writing, the craft and the art of it, two bits of advice have really stuck with me more than anything else. They gave me the “ah ha” moments that suddenly burst your writing up a few notches.
The first bit came in a writing contest. I’d started off writing—as many do—because I’d read a lot. I was still learning a lot about craft and technique. And in one contest a writer I really respect noted I needed to learn viewpoint control. That was it. One great comment.
Now, up to that point I knew what viewpoint was, but I tended to let it wander. I’d dip into omniscient, float a bit, go third person here and there. I’d written first person, so I knew how to die viewpoint down if I needed to—but I didn’t. My viewpoint was a leaf on the wind—and I let it go where it willed.
What hit me was that viewpoint control is really the control of the emotion in the scene. I was squandering the emotional impact with my wandering viewpoint.
That lack of viewpoint control meant I was losing the reader because I’d duck out of viewpoint at the wrong place. It left the scenes flat and weak. So I gave myself the task to stick to one viewpoint per chapter and only change viewpoint at the chapter breaks. That book became the first book I sold—and a Golden Heart winner. I’d hit on something important. It’s important enough, in fact, that I teach a workshop on POV. If you can’t control the viewpoint, you won’t be able to focus the emotional impact in a scene. Learn viewpoint control and your writing will become a lot stronger. If you can control your viewpoint, you’ll control the reader’s emotions, too.
The other bit of advice came much later in a workshop I was taking. The teacher casually said, “If you take on a huge technical challenge, you’re going to spend the whole book focused on making the technical stuff work instead of making the characters work.”
I’d been working on different technical challenges—one in every book—to improve my craft. As I noted, the first book I sold nailed viewpoint. I then worked on dialogue in another book, and on description in another, etc. The story always came first, but focusing on perfecting a technical aspect of writing was also helping to improve my writing. But now I looked at that and thought, well, duh—of course I want the characters to matter the most. I gave up being the clever writer so I could just be a good storyteller.
These days I often see ‘ambitious’ young writers taking on huge technical challenges in their writing. Either the book is going to be epic with a cast of thousands, or there are four protagonists, or the story is going to span decades, or the book will have multiple main viewpoints, or some other genre breaking idea is being mixed into things. I always wince. Yes, you can do whatever your talent will allow you to do—but do you really want to focus more on those ambitious ideas and not the characters?
These days I’m back to basics. Viewpoint control to get the emotional impact I want in the scene—I pick the viewpoint of the character with the most at stake emotionally in a scene. And not taking on huge technical challenges. I content to let the story be about great characters. I’ll leave the huge challenges for others.
But I’m also open to new advice, too. You never know where it’ll come from.
ABOUT SHANNON DONNELLY
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a nomination for Romance Writer’s of America’s RITA award, the Grand Prize in the “Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer” contest, judged by Nora Roberts, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: “simply superb”…”wonderfully uplifting”….and “beautifully written.”
In addition to her Regency romances, she is the author of the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the SF/Paranormal, Edge Walkers. Her latest book, Lady Chance, is the follow up book to Lady Scandal. She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and has also written computer games and offers editing and writing workshops. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and the one love of her life.
Shannon can be found online at: