A friend of mine gave me a book of writing advice on short stories for Christmas. It was actually a very thoughtful gift :$ Anyway, the book starts out with an introduction, and the author explains that he can’t give you the magic formula for a great short story. He can merely tell you some pitfalls to avoid. This is a good approach because it’s much easier to specify what is wrong with a story than it is to define what is right about it. Not even great authors know or every book they write would be their magnum opus.
Awhile back I received a critique on a piece where I was told me I was doing everything wrong, and he rewrote a large chunk of my story, butchering my prose and characterization in the process. He also gave me links to books that would show me how to write because I clearly didn’t know what the hell I was doing. To be honest, the only thing it did was discourage me. Only later did I realize that if anyone (including those writing books on how to write) tells you they (or someone else) has the magic formula for writing they are either lying or oversimplifying things.
Writing has several things in common with ballet. It takes years of hard work and dedication for even those predisposed to ballet to become great. I know this because I was training to be a professional ballet dancer. One doesn’t learn ballet by reading a book on how to dance. Instead they learn through sweat, tears, and guidance by great teachers. I’ve had many great writing teachers over the years, McCarthy, Atwood, Orwell, Findley, etc. Even if I’m not writing I force myself to read every day or else my writing skills regress.
I may read more writing advice books. Not sure if they will help, but it’s worth a shot. Advice books are geared towards helping one with story dynamics and characterization more so than prose. I don’t know of a better way to fix prose besides reading books with great prose and practicing till you’ve gotten all the purple prose out of your system. I’ve ignored story dynamics for the past few years in favor of prose, so I’m focusing on that for now.
More on things to avoid in your writing from the blog, “Writers Helping Writers.” I might write more of these, which is why this entry is labeled as Part #1. For the next one I may write about why you shouldn’t kill off a character in the intro or first chapter. I wouldn’t say I’m qualified to give writing advice, so it’s more like my thoroughly biased opinion which you are free to ignore or disagree with.