December 5, 2010

WRITING ADVICE – Mike Duran 1: Good Writing Is Not Subjective

I have never seen Mike Duran. We met a couple years ago because of a little…altercation I caused by saying something less-than-nice about Christian speculative fiction on his blog. Mike, being both a spec-fic writer and editor, won me closer to his side with gentle and wise words. Since then I’ve found that Mike has lots and lots of gentle and wise words. I’m going to be looking at how some of them have had an impact on my own writing in the next ten WRITING ADVICE posts. I strongly suggest you head on over to Mike’s Christian Speculative Fiction and Other Stuff blog called deCOMPOSE at (Quotes are used with his permission.) He also participates in “ONE OF WRITER'S DIGEST 101 MOST VALUABLE WEBSITES FOR WRITERS, 2008 & 2010”, NOVEL JOURNEY at Check him out, he really is THAT good!

I know I can write.

As much as a whine and cry (at least in my head), I know I can write for publication. I have a string of forty-two short stories, articles, a play, six puppet shows, and a book of children’s sermons that has been out for twelve years. I have two short stories that were recently published and two science articles in major children’s magazines coming out in Jan/Feb and June 2011.

I know I can write.

My biggest challenge though, can be summed up in Mike’s words here: “There is a difference between good writing and good storytelling. C.S. Lewis considered George MacDonald one of his literary masters, adept at the art of myth-making. But in the preface to MacDonald’s LILITH, Lewis writes, ‘Few of his novels are good and none is very good.’ Huh? You see, Lewis made a distinction between the craft of writing and the creation of Story. Stylistically, MacDonald was average. His expertise, however, was in telling stories. Likewise, you must make a distinction between the technical elements of writing and the essential story being told. ‘Good writing’ may be either or both, but it can’t be neither.”

In my writing, I struggle with story telling. I can do it write – I have the pedigree to prove that I can. But I have been unable to do it consistently. I’ve had more stories rejected lately than accepted, and I’ve been entirely unable to find an agent for any of the three novels I’ve been shopping around. I’m not ready to give up yet. That won’t happen for a while, because I really like the books. But I am hounded by the possibility that I haven’t told the story well.

I know I can tell a good story verbally. I would never have made it as a teacher if I couldn’t, because a major tenet of teaching is telling good stories – though not necessarily fictional stories. I can tell a whopping tale of Sir Isaac Newton’s invention of his three laws. I can do a stirring tale of how architecture is affected by culture and how calculations of pressure and force allowed the building of the World Trade Center in New York and how physics brought it down as well. I can do that so consistently that I’ve been teaching science in a classroom for thirty years.

I just can’t do fiction consistently. That is the skill I am working on now – telling a CONSISTENTLY GOOD STORY.

The whole purpose of this blog is to solicit your opinions about the success or failure of my quest. Good writing is objectively judged by editors and readers. Good writing can be GRADED and I’ve been doing that for thirty years.

So – how’m I doing?

To read Mike’s entire post, “Good Writing is NOT Subjective”, go here:


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