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What I Learned about Writing this Week…from…well, Me

Courtney Cantrell's weekly writing advice

As soon as I sat down to write this post, I found myself facing the combined conundrums (conundra?) of the intimidating blank page (which Aaron has made less intimidating here) and the question of what I’m going to do with the long title attached to this weekly segment.

Don’t get me wrong. I love said title. Said title leapt into my heart, burrowed its way to the center, and took up permanent residence in my endocardium the moment Aaron mentioned said title. However, in addition to my instant amorous affection, I also felt the immediate need to gift my wordy inamorata with a fond nickname, that we might enjoy each other’s company unhindered by any hint of verbose bulkiness.

Hence, I delved into my formidable powers of creation and came up with an acronymic nickname for this weekly segment: WILAWriTWe [wil-uh-RIT-wee]. I considered trying to give you the International Phonetic Alphabet notation, but that’s really too ambitious even for my standards. I haven’t done IPA notation for anything since college–and for all of our good health and sanity, I don’t believe I should start again now.

Maybe next week.

But, as I am so wont to do, I digress. WILAWriTWe it is…and WILAWriTWe from Me is that I enjoy anthropomorphizing phrases and giving them cutesy nicknames. Oh, and I like acronyms. This really is self-explanatory, and I really don’t think you needed me to tell you this.

But wait, you say. This weekly post is supposed to be about what I learn from actual published writers*, n’est-ce pas? That, Gentle Reader, is what you’re here for, isn’t it? Well? Innit?

Okay, fine. You don’t have to roll your eyes. I hear ya loud and clear. And as I’m an accommodating sort (most of the time), I’ll give you what you’re looking for. But still, I get the satisfaction of knowing that my very first WILAWriTWe post was all about ME, and you can’t take that away from me, mwah-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaa–


Okay. For real now.

WILAWriTWe…from Dean Koontz

Dean Koontz has been one of my preferred authors for going on twenty years. It’s interesting to go back and re-read some of my first Koontz favorites and track how his writing style has changed and grown over time. That isn’t the point of this particular post, or I would go into it further, as there are some beneficial lessons we writers can learn from observing the “greats” (and I put that in quotation marks because I won’t assume each of my gentle readers is as enamored of Mr. Koontz as I am) and analyzing how their writing evolves through their experience (often from one work to the next). Our own craft should undergo the same metamorphosis, if we’re doing our jobs well. But that, my inklings, is another story and shall be told another time.

Right now, I’m approximately ninety pages from finishing Koontz’s ODD HOURS, the fourth novel in a series spun around a psychic young man appropriately named Odd Thomas. Describing Odd as a character would be yet another blog post in its own right; suffice it for now to say that I find him fascinating, amusing, heart-warming, endearing, and many other positive words suffixed with -ing. What I’m currently interested in, and WILAWritWe from Mr. Koontz’s novel is something to which I myself am not adhering as I write what you are reading now, and that something is this:


The voice of the character Odd Thomas–both in his narration (for it is a first-person-point-of-view novel) and in his dialogue–is straightforward and…well, simple. Koontz doesn’t let his main character ramble unnecessarily. He describes the character’s surroundings in direct terms. He leaves out the pesky embellishments of adverbs. He makes every word count.

And that, Gentle Reader, is an ability each of us writers must develop. The old imperative comes into play here: Keep It Simple, Stupid! (KISS–another acronym! Woot!) You don’t have to use big words. You don’t have to put a gajillion subordinate clauses into your character’s mouth, when all she’s trying to do is ask the vendor on the corner where to find the nearest self-cleaning Porta Potti. Your character has something he wants to say–and feeding him over-intellectualized psychobabble will do nothing but paralyze him and make your story die a quiet, unremarked-upon death.

We want no quiet, unremarked-upon deaths. If somebody in your story is gonna die, we want them to go out in such a way that makes everybody perk up and pay attention. We especially want your readers (gentle or otherwise) to pay attention. And the best way to make your reader sit up and grip your book so tightly that pages crinkle and knuckles whiten is to banish the frills and allow your characters to have their say without you getting in their way. At the risk of offending: Sometimes, we writers just need to KISS off.

And that’s WILAWritWe!

*Or from movies. Or from people around me. Or from my cat. Really, I’m allowed to share WILAWriTWe from anything and everything, so by sharing something gleaned from my observations of Me, I wasn’t actually breaking any rules. You only thought you could point at me the iron finger of accusation. Foiled again! Ha!

(But wait! There’s more! If you click on any of the links in this post, and if you buy a product, This Starving Artist will get a few bucks. Consider it your small contribution to The Arts. ;o)

Photo credit Julie V. Photography.

3 Responses to “What I Learned about Writing this Week…from…well, Me”

  1. You know, I never got further into that series than the first book, Odd Thomas, but I have heard many good things about it from others. I think the…uh ‘limitations’ of the protagonist bothered me (hoping to avoid spoilering with that one…) and I couldn’t see myself getting into a series about it. Plus, the whole psychic/supernatural genre is not one of my favorite.

    BUT, I do remember that first book being very simple, which I think is ironic, because lately the Koontz books I have been picking up seem to be far the opposite (ie. he gives an entire paragraph when he could have used one sentence, or possibly even one word). I think I need someone to personally point me to the better of his works for future reading. 🙂

  2. Julie says:

    Courtney, has anyone mentioned how hilarious you are? When I read your writing, I feel like I must read fast because you have a “fast” voice. Well, at least in my mind, you do. You “talk” very fast.

    I know I’m not going to give any great commentary on your Koontz insights because I’ve never actually read any Koontz, but I still found this post absolutely delightful. I share your fondness for acronyms and attitude toward IPA. (Although, I will admit saving the passed notes my friends and I wrote 10+ years ago in IPA and pulling them out every so often to see if I can still read them. Ahem.)

    Anyway, I’m glad that you are writing on here with Aaron. I think you really bring something to the table with your fast-talking, vocabulary-stretching whimsical style and I look forward to future WILAWriTWe posts.

  3. Courtney Cantrell says:

    Becca: If you’re looking for simplicity, I can only recommend the rest of the Odd Thomas series. He retains the same straightforward voice throughout–although you will have to contend with the supernatural/psychic stuff. ;o) Some of my personal Koontz favorites are “From The Corner Of His Eye,” “Watchers,” and “Twilight Eyes.” Koontz deals in some form of the supernatural in most of his works, and these three are no exception. But I’ve gleaned a lot from them over the years…and besides, they just make really good reads! ;o)

    Julie! Thanks! LOL No, I don’t think anyone has mentioned the word “hilarious” in connection with me–but I’m so glad to know you appreciate my sense of humor and “fast talk.” ;oD I, too, am glad that Aaron invited me on board. I think it’s going to be a great romp. And here’s hoping I don’t disappoint your WILAWritWe expectations!