Friday, March 23, 2012

From the Friday Mailbag

by Scott Rhoades

If you're a writer, you know how popular you are at cocktail parties because of the vast stores of knowledge in your head. You also know how much mail and e-mail you receive from people seeking enlightenment.

You also know that the above paragraph describes one of your fictional worlds.

In reality, you know all this stuff, or have read interesting information, and you wish people would ask you the right questions, so you could share your knowledge. But you're holed up in your writing room, counting paddle ball hits while you avoid writing, so nobody ever does.

One of the great influences on my own writing, a brilliant columnist for the local paper where I grew up, the late Ray Orrock (that's his picture over there), used to occasionally write columns full of answers to questions he wished people would ask. I'm going to borrow a page from his legendary act.

So here, now, are some insightful answers to questions I'll never be asked, from my mailbag that's always empty.

Dear Mr. Roach: Love your blog and read it at least a couple times a year. Here's my question. My writer's group always says my stories need more emotion, but where I come from, we hide our feelings. I'm not even sure what emotion is. Where can I learn more about emotions? --Bob, from La Verkin.

Dear Bob from La Verkin, I'm glad you asked. I recently found a web page (you do have Internet down there in La Verkin, I trust) that discusses several emotion models, and how different emotions relate to each other. Although good writers don't actually name the emotions their characters are feeling, it's good to know which emotions are available to them. is a good place to start.

Hey, Rotz-Dawg, I have a question por voo, see voo play. I want to write a book and I have lots of idea, but I can never seem to get started. Do you have any suggestions? -- Stan the Man from LeVan.

Dear the Man, you are not alone. Most people with an idea for a novel or story never start. But I'll assume your problem is that you're just not sure how to to start, and not that you like the idea of writing better than actually doing it. The best thing to do is just start. The beginning of your story is the part that will probably be rewritten the most, so don't let a bad beginning stop you. Just get something down, and get going. Or, you could do as the good folks at The Writer Magazine suggest in this week's writing prompt, and begin at the end.

Mr. Rhoades, This letter is to inform you of a pending law suit--

Wait. How'd that one get in here? Next.

Dear Mr. Rose, You know all, so I thought I'd ask you before I asked anybody else. What is the future of publishing? P.S. Are you related to Pete Rose? Phyillis, from Flowell.

Dear Phyllis, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that I'm not related to Pete Rose, since we don't have the same last name. I'm Rhoades, not Rose. As for your question, there's lots of hand-wringing these days about the death of publishing as we know it. The "as we know it" is the key. I think the publishing world is getting a grasp on its changing world, and there are signs that it is turning around and becoming profitable, due in no small part to digital publishing. The thing I wonder about is whether fiction will ever have the same place in our lives that it did in the first half of the twentieth century. But publishing itself seems to be getting healthier. For an insider's answers to this question, you might check out this interview with the Chief Digital Officer of Simon & Schuster, Ellie Hirschhorn. And while you're at it, take a look at this response from author Bob Mayer.

I think we have time for one more question.

Dear Miss Rhodes, I keep hearing that social media is important for authors. I have a MySpace page and a Classmates account, although I haven't been on Classmates for several months. Is that enough? Howard S., from Orderville.

Dear Howard, social media is very important to writers. Social media sites are one of the best ways I know to spend the time I should be writing. Therefore, they are dear to my heart. Sadly, I don't think your Classmates and MySpace accounts are enough. They don't take enough of your time. You might end up having to actually write. I would suggest you join Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, Goodreads, and any other site you can find. Then you can spend all of your time building your platform, without needing to actually write. For one of the best discussions on how writers can benefit from social media, I'd suggest Robert Lee Brewer's Ultimate Guide to Social Media for Writers.

That barely scratches the surface of my mailbag, but it's enough for now. Thanks again, Ray Orrock, for the inspiration to answer these questions this way, as well as for all the other ways you inspired me. Miss your column tremendously.


Julie Daines said...

Haha! That cracked me up! Good answers.

Let me say one more thing about the showing of more emotion in writing. I think often when someone asks for more emotion or interiority, they don't mean find different ways to show the emotion, they mean tell me why s/he is having those emotions.

For example, and this is completely hypothetical, let's say there is a scene where essentially a girl gets raped. Sure the girl is going to feel angry and sickened. But saying "Anger flooded through me is telling."

"I wanted to scratch the man's eyes out" is showing good anger, but it still doesn't tell us anything deeper, just that she is angry.

"How could anyone who ever called them self my mother let this happen to me?" Takes us deeper into why she is angry. We're like, oh, she hates the man and wants to scratch his eyes out (completely justified IMO), but it goes deeper, she is angry and feels betrayed by her mother for giving her to this guy.

Hope that helps, Bob.

Scott said...


Portraying emotion in writing is almost as complicated as understanding real-life emotions. People who can do it are a huge step ahead of most people who write, even some of the famous ones. There are some good books about characters and emotions, but even those aren't enough. This is an aspect of writing that requires a lot of work. But it's worth it.

Erin Shakespear said...

Ha! Okay, this was brilliant. I looooooooved it.

Great post Miss Rose. :)

Anonymous said...

Ditto here! It's exactly the writing break I needed today! Now back to the grindstone ;)

Danielle Paige said...

That last one is so funny! And so true...