No way around it, Phyllis A.Whitney is a blockbuster author. She has written of more than 40 novels. Novels like “Vermilion,” “Domino,” “The Glass Flame” and “Spin Drift.” (All favorites of mine.)
I remember devouring her books as a teenager. I think I read almost everything she’s written. I loved her exotic settings and plucky characters. She inspired me to seek not only her books, but all of the Gothic novels I could find.
Recently I came across her “Guide to Fiction Writing” and I thought who better to learn from? I’d like to share a sampling of the book’s nuggets.
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1. No one can give you the drive to write. No one can give you the special talent you’ll need. But talent can be developed from its early raw state and helped to grow.
2. We need never be afraid of so-called “rules.” They aren’t set in concrete, but only serve as guidelines.
3. Opportunity is like a train. You who may be just beginning, remember: What you do now counts. Never mind the rejections, the discouragement, the voices of ridicule (there can be those, too). Work and wait and learn, and the train will come by. If you give up, you’ll never have the chance to climb aboard.
4. As a writer, you are your own boss, and working discipline is the most important habit of all to develop. Every beginning writer, and sometimes experienced ones, suffer from the temptation Not to Write.
5. These days in my writing I try to offer, as a “plus factor,” something unusual in the way of background or profession, and something significant in what my characters must learn in the course of the story—always remembering that reading fiction should be entertaining, and that I must first tell a good story.
6. Your plus factor can be anything that will add dimension, a “certain something” to your writing. It’s that “certain something” that every editor is looking for.
7 To 10. In her advice on how to ward off writer’s block and keep the creative juices flowing, Phyllis Whitney recommends these 3 practices:
a. Put raw material into your mind. Ask questions.
b. Give yourself time for this to be “processed.”
c. Examine what has come into your mind; find the answers.
11. Probably the best way to start any story, long or short, is to show a character with a problem doing something interesting.
12. No scene should remain static, without movement or action. However small it might be, possibly even as simple as people sitting in a room conversing. There should be movement of plot, even if not of people, and a furthering of, or setback to, the character’s present problem.
13. The best way for me to handle a scene is to visualize it as if it were taking place on a stage.
Phyllis has a lot more to say about writing, including more tips and more words of encouragement. If you’re a fan or you’re looking for advice about your writing, I recommend this book. I’ve found it -- as well as many of her other books -- on Amazon.com or at my local library.
In closing, I ask this question: Do you have a favorite Whitney novel? I’d love to hear from you. Thanks.