Wednesday, June 17, 2009

What Phyllis A. Whitney Says About Writing

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.

Header from samulli

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 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.


  1. I'm a writer but I don't think I'd be a good novelist. It seems so hard and I have the idea in the back of my head that fiction is lying.

    I enjoyed reading these.

  2. Good stuff. I haven't read any of her work. I think I'll be doing a search online. Thanks for the heads up Happy T13!

  3. I love your list and have bookmarked it. I will do a quick search about her online. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Colleen,
    That's an interesting perception. I'm going to ponder that a while. Thanks, for commenting. I enjoying hearing your thoughts.

    Alice Audrey,
    Thanks for dropping by!

    Adelle Laudan and Hazel,
    Thanks. I think you'll enjoy Phyllis Whitney's stories if you give her a try.

  5. Wonderful tips. I'm pretty sure I've read one of her novels, but right now I can't think of the title. Once again, a great, well thought out post!

  6. Wow. I really liked your list. There were some great tips.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this...I'm printing it out. I may have to read the book too. This is good stuff!!

  8. Ella Drake, I am Harriet, Smittenly Written,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I'm glad you enjoy it.

  9. Auntie Q,
    Thanks. I like 3 too. It pays to press on.

  10. The writer's block info is very good... and even though I'm far from a fictional scribe, it works on non-fictional levels as well! Thanks for posting it!

  11. DoubleDeckerBusGuy,
    I'm glad it's helpful. Thanks for dropping by.

  12. I vaguely remember reading Whitney books when I was younger, but I couldn't give you titles. Gothic rings a bell. She has some good advice. :)

  13. Ooh, I think I might need to read that. Once I'm caught up on the other 500+ books floating around my office, plus the stuff my kids are reading, plus...

    I have a small book problem. Ironically, I'm trying to give others the same problem!

  14. Shelley Munro,
    Yes, I agree. Phyllis gives good advice. Thanks for visiting.

  15. Susan Helene Gottfried,
    Ha! I think a lot of us have that book addiction. Happy TT!

  16. Opportunity is like a train you say, yes, you just have to catch the right one !

  17. Timely writing wisdom for me. I've been neglecting MY writing for photography since I got my Nikon D60 in January and have been taking Digital Media classes. I find I agree with Colleen about feeling that fiction is lying ... but I'm trying to let that thought go and experiment all the same. I've not read Phyllis Whitney for YEARS, but once upon a time I enjoyed the diversion ;--)

    Thanks for dropping by Small Reflections and checking out my morning skies. I shared 13 different skies at Happily Retired Gal yesterday too.
    Hugs and blessings,

  18. Great advice! Hope you had a great weekend.

  19. How did I miss this one? I've never read Whitney, but this sounds like a good writing resource.