When I'm driving or walking, I like to listen to my iPod, specifically, to the Podcasts of Barnes & Noble’s Meet The Authors series. One that I've particularly enjoyed was the interview with Jim Butcher.
I really like his Harry Dresden series. (Amazon has a volume containing Books 1-6.) When SyFy ran about 12 episodes of The Dresden Files, I'd hoped the series would be popular enough to warrant continuation. Sadly, that didn't happen.
I’d like to share a bit from the interview with Mr. Butcher. Now, his series is quite successful, but he struggled in the beginning as most writers do. Here's his lightbulb moment.
Mr. Butcher had taken classes for several years from Deborah Chester, who has written nearly 40 books and holds the John Crain Presidential Professorship at the University of Oklahoma where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on writing style and structure in the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Like most popular authors with many books on her resume, Ms. Chester began her career by writing romance novels before she moved into other fiction genres, most notably science fiction and fantasy. She’s also novelized several science fiction television series.
Rest Of The Story
Anyway, Jim Butcher told how he broke that invisible barrier between unpublished and published. He’d been taking Ms. Chester’s classes for about 4 years and had written 4 books that didn’t sell. He mostly ignored Ms. Chester’s experience, instruction, and insights and kept doing it his way. After all, he related, in a very amusing manner, he had a degree in English literature, and all she’d done was publish about 40 books.
Finally, he told her that he’d do it her way, and he filled out the character charts and did all the pre-writing instruction and wrote the most outlandish book he could just to show her that it wouldn’t get published. Surprise! Upon reading the first part, Ms. Chester told him, to his shock, that the manuscript was salable, and it was.
After publishing several novels in the Dresden series, he sent her a letter which she now includes in her students’ packets. Basically, the letter said: “Shut up and do what she says.”
Good writers recognize good writing, regardless of the genre. If an author has managed to publish several books in whatever genre, chances are he or she knows what it takes to write a novel that will sell–whatever the genre.
Writing is one of those businesses where degrees really won’t help you a whole lot. What you really need, beyond the requisite narrative and grammar skills, is the heart / soul / mind / voice of a storyteller.