Monday, November 28, 2005


All this controversy over James Patterson admitting that he only comes up with the ideas for his books while someone else does the actual writing is really not a new argument. Privately, writers often argue whether ideas and characters are strong enough to carry books alone and if the art of writing well is dying.

Like most arguments, the answer is seldom definitive. I know authors who could write about cow flatulence and make the subject poetic. I know others whose ideas and characterization are so superb that they could write their stories in three word sentences and I’d still read them.

My own abilities—and that of most other authors—falls somewhere in between. My ideas are part of my personality. If Patterson believes his stories have superb twists, perhaps his personality is twisted. In my case, I avoid conflict. I know, that’s a no-no in storytelling. But it’s my personality and hard to overcome. So part of my revising and editing process is to strengthen the conflict to improve my story. If someone else wrote my idea, they’d be up a creek, wouldn’t they? I’m the only one who knows my story well enough to know how to fix it.

Same goes for the actual writing. Perhaps Patterson found a craft genius who can express his ideas just the way he intended. I can’t express my own ideas the way I intend them without rewriting a few thousand times or so. Just as a very limited example, here’s a sample of SMALL TOWN GIRL, version 101 (because I’ve already deleted the first hundred versions!)

Rubbing his whisker stubble with his aching hand and feeling old, Flynn Clinton gazed over the dance floor of lithe gyrating bodies and figured his days of being called a bad boy were over. He might be bad, but he sure the hell wasn’t that young anymore.

Here’s the same opening sentence in the final revised and edited copy:

His badass days were over. Flynn Clinton rubbed his whisker stubble with his damaged left hand and gazed over the dance floor of lithe gyrating bodies. He might be bad, but he sure the hell wasn’t young enough to make an ass of himself any more.

The meaning, the idea, is the same in both paragraphs, but I’m hoping the final version has more immediate impact on the reader. This is just a tiny example of how writing craft affects a story. It’s more difficult to show how emotion and character are expressed through the writer’s craft. I’ll save that for another day.

Suffice it to say, IMO, a writer needs both idea and craft to create a powerful story.