Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Write Like Yourself by Andy Scheer

I thought I’d done him a favor. But his email made me wonder.

I’d recently edited his manuscript. The book was powerful, especially for only his second novel. But he’d come to the task well prepared. And he was exploring themes that held his passion.

Now he was asking me about future novels. The next would be a sequel. But for the third, he was weighing a new direction. Rather than a novel set in familiar territory, he’d “like to move toward an international mystery/drama.”

After suggesting how he might take his main characters to an appropriate setting, I unintentionally planted seeds of doubt. I recommended he read a general market bestseller: The Columbus Affair by Steve Barry.

Since an international drama would be new to him, I thought he’d benefit from reading a stand-alone by a master of that genre. A co-founder of the thriller writers group, he sets the bar high for both story and craft.

That was the problem. “I’m about half way through it,” my friend said. “It’s a super fast paced read. It’s a great book.” Then he asked, “Do you think I have the ability to write something with that kind of pace and creativity?”

Time for some damage control. I suggested he view the Steve Berry novel as more than just a recent international thriller. It’s also Berry’s eleventh published book, created after he’d been writing fiction for twenty years. A well-practiced effort, it’s stronger and more complex his earlier novels.

My friend would be setting himself to fail if he tried to write like Steve Berry, James Rollins, Dan Brown, or anyone else. Yet if he wants to get published in that field, he’d be wise to consider what elements in their approaches might also make sense for him.

I suggested he learn what he can from masters of in the genre, especially where it stretches him. In his case, especially consider how these writers plan a complex plot, depending less on seat-of-the pants spontaneity.

But there’s a limit in reading top writers. Learn what you can from them. Incorporate what make sense. But don’t try to let another writer squeeze you into their mold.

If he learns from the best, rather than try to imitate them, the result will be a stronger storythat still sounds like him. And because it will spring from his deep faith, the story will resonates with themes often absent in international dramas.

Can you write like that? Don’t even try. Yet by learning from them—and incorporating your unique skills and perspectives—you may be able to write even better.

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