How many of you have ever gone to a classical guitar performance in which the instrument was splendidly crafted, the musician inspired and the music selection brilliantly uplifting, and yet the performance sucked because the guitar was terribly out of tune?
(Wait a second. You’re telling me you’ve never been to a classical guitar performance? Not even in college to impress a girl/guy?) Of course the answer is none of you. It’s ridiculous to think a professional or even amateur guitarist would be so asinine as to put hours of practice and hundreds of dollars into such a performance and yet simply fail to tune the instrument.
You see where I’m going with this?
As an independent writer all the same factors are in play for the creation of a crowd pleasing novel. The guitar represents the structure of the story. Without the essential elements even the most talented writer is left up a isle without a pick.
The musician of course represents the writer. Not only does the writer need to know how to create all the basic sounds (character development, dialogue, plot, etc.) he or she must be able to use voice/style to put them together into sentences, paragraphs and chapters. One of the best concerts I’ve ever been to was Greg Brown, a simple folk songwriter and singer. He isn’t the most accomplished guitar player I’ve ever seen, but man can he paint a story with song.
The song selection represents the plot. Again, an extremely talented writer classically trained in story structure can still deliver a garbage novel if the pieces are fit together in an uninspiring or predictable manner.
As an indie writer caught up in reading indie novels, I see stuff lacking any one or all of these elements. (I’ve done stuff lacking each of these, although never at once! I swear!) With only a rudimentary training in college, I’ve had to upgrade my guitar, practice playing it for hours and sharpen my song writing ability all on the fly. Any monkey determined enough can do these things (at least to the point of being an accomplished street performer. ie. mid-list novelist).
The inconceivable truth is that, more often than not, I abandon an indie novel because it was simply never tuned. The basic pieces are all there and yet, the author didn’t cherish his/her performance enough to edit the stinking novel! The obvious difference between a concert and a novel is that one is a performing art, while the other is not. Thus, my solution to rectify this:
Writers, if you can not read your story out loud (with glowing pride) to a packed house, then don’t publish it! Rewrite it, again, and again until you can. The only possible explanations for the garbage we produce is that a.) we don’t read what we write b.) we’ve never read a good book and wouldn’t know one if it bit us in the brain pan c.) or we are hopelessly tone deaf*.
(*I once reviewed a piece that started with a 150 page prologue explaining the character’s backstory as a dry history essay. I suggested that the writer start the story with the actual action of the story, and the writer put me in my place by explaining that he/she had written the story as a boring history lesson on purpose. So there.)
Okay, so tuning a novel is harder than tuning a guitar. It’s more like tuning an entire orchestra one instrument at a time. But still. Can you honestly say you would listen to an orchestra out of tune with each other? Spend the extra weeks and massage each paragraph into tune with the others. Read out loud and trust your gut. If you hesitate with even a single sentence, make it better. By doing so, you’ll span the gap between an embarrassment and an enjoyable piece of art.