A fictional guide to editing your writing?

bone clocksIs it weird to take advice on editing from a fictional character? I think that’s weird, right? But when that fictional character is (maybe) based on Martin Amis and the author behind the character is novelist David Mitchell, perhaps it’s not quite as daft as it seems.

I’ve just finished reading The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell and particularly enjoyed a scene where Crispin Hershey (the Amis-esque character) is teaching creative writing to undergraduates.

Here’s his thoughts on adverbs:

“Adverbs are the cholesterol in the veins of prose. Halve your adverbs and your prose pumps twice as well.”

On simile and metaphor:

“… grade every simile and metaphor from one star to five, and remove any threes or below. It hurts when you operate but afterwards you feel much better…”

And if you can’t decide if it’s a three or a four? Crispin is asked:

“If you can’t decide… it’s only a three.”

Crispin is also an advocate of writers building character sketches. He wants his students to write letters to themselves from their characters. When asked what they should put in the letters he’s demanding:

“Your characters’ potted life histories. Whom or what your characters love and despise. Details on education, employment, finances, political affiliations, social class. Fears. Skeletons in cupboards. Addictions. Biggest regret; believer, agnostic, or atheist. How afraid of dying are they?…Have they ever seen a corpse? A ghost? Sexuality. Glass half empty half full, glass too small? Snazzy or scruffy dressers? It’s a letter so make use of their language. Would they say ‘mellifluous’ or ‘a sharp talker’? Foul-mouthed or profanity-averse? Record the phrases they unknowingly overuse. When did they last cry? Can they see another person’s point of view? Only one-tenth of what you write will make it into your manuscript, but when you knock on that tenth… you’ll hear oaken solidity, not sawdust and glue.”

All great stuff really, but my favourite bit of all is Crispin’s thoughts on the writing life:

“A writer flirts with schizophrenia, nurtures synesthesia, and embraces obsessive-compulsive disorder. Your art feeds on you, your soul, and, yes, to a degree, your sanity. Writing novels worth reading will bugger up your mind, jeopardize your relationships, and distend your life. You have been warned… Art feasts upon its maker.”

Love it!!

This entry was posted in advice from writers, craft, developing characters, editing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A fictional guide to editing your writing?

  1. ray4115 says:

    I loved this section. Read it twice and then quoted it at the others in my writer’s group. I like another quote from Mitchell on writing: To be a successful writer, you must neglect everything else.”

  2. Ha! So true. My husband always says he can tell I have had a good writing day when he comes home and there is nothing for dinner 😉

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