On Reading William Zinsser – Part 2

“Trust your material if it’s taking you into terrain you didn’t intend to enter but where the vibrations are good. Adjust your style accordingly and proceed to whatever destination you reach. Don’t become the prisoner of a preconceived plan. Writing is no respecter of blueprints.”  On Writing Well, p. 52

 Zinsser writes these words in Chapter 8 encouraging journalists and non-fiction writers to let their material lead them in an “unexpected direction” and not to “fight such a current if it feels right.” But, I think the words apply equally as well to novelists and short story writers.

 Even in my not-particularly-vast experience, I know that what I have planned for my characters isn’t always what happens to them. I learn something new about them as they and the story grow, and that “something new” takes them and the story in a new direction. In one WIP, I changed the voice part way through. I had started in third person limited, but my character was so strong that he got tired of being a “he” and decided to become an “I.” Free to talk in his own voice directly to the reader, he blossomed into an even more lively, funny and spunky character.  I would have missed all the fun if I hadn’t let him take over.

 The intimidating part was going back to the beginning of the book to see if it would work with the material I’d already written. I had polished those first pages so many times I practically had them memorized. Now, I was going to throw all those finely tuned words and take a risk with a new voice. A scary experiment, but it worked. The opening is faster, cleaner, funnier and tells a better story.

 Have you ever amended, erased, thrown out your blueprint? What happened? How did you feel about the result?

 

2 thoughts on “On Reading William Zinsser – Part 2

  1. I have done this many times, Heather. In my current WIP I bounced back and forth so many times I became dizzy. But then I decided to relax and enjoy the story, let it tell me where I needed to go. I’m happy to say that this time it’s working. 🙂

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