Guest Post by Quanie Miller
I once turned in a story for a professor to critique. I waited eagerly for her feedback, certain that she would be so impressed with what I’d written that she’d call every industry professional she knew and say, “Hey; let’s get this girl an agent!”
I was brimming with anticipation as I headed to her office for our one-on-one. I arrived early, ready to hear her thoughts on my masterpiece. “So,” she said, with a smile. “Let’s talk about your story.”
She drummed her fingers on her desk. “About the beginning….” Yes, darling. What about my marvelous beginning? She shifted in her seat. “Do you know of a story that starts…I mean, with someone just…talking? To nobody?” She laughed nervously.
“What do you mean to nobody?”
“I mean, like, to thin air?”
I’m sure she could tell by the look on my face that I had no idea what she meant. We talked about other aspects of the story (though, I couldn’t really receive the information because her critique about my beginning left my head spinning), and I left her office, dazed and confused. I went around for quite some time thinking that a story should never start with a character “just talking.”
Well, fast-forward a few years (and several creative writing courses later), and I realized that was probably some of the worst writing advice I’d ever gotten. Perhaps Ms. Writing Instructor Extraordinaire was getting dialogue and narration confused. Perhaps she had never heard of a tale called Moby Dick that begins: “Call me Ishmael.” Or, even more recently, a novel called Gone Girl that begins: “When I think of my wife, I always think of her head.” Two totally successful novels. Both begin with characters “just talking.” I’ve since kicked that bad advice to the curb and haven’t looked back. And the runner up to the worst advice? “Whenever you get stuck on a scene, add a new character.” Now why on God’s green earth did my instructor tell me that??? I was adding characters left and right, like it was going out of style! My poor stories were like Grand Central Station, with multiple people rushing in and out. For shame!
On the flip side of that, I’ve had some really awesome writing advice, namely, from a screenwriting professor. I was telling him my idea for my screenplay, and he could sense my trepidation. “I mean, can I do that?” I asked, afraid that my idea was just plain ole stupid.
He said something to me that has since given me wings: “How can it be wrong if you’re just making it up?”
A penny dropped for me. Yes: how could it be wrong if I was just making it up? After all, a story was…made up! That was truly some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten, and it’s allowed me to be truly uninhibited in my writing.
What about others? What’s some of the best and worst writing advice you’ve ever received? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
In the small town of Carolville, Louisiana, no one knows that Adira Collins inherited mystic powers from her great grandmother. All they know is that she’s beautiful, poised, graceful, and ruthless—especially when it comes to love. And no one knows that more than Leena Williams, who was all set to marry the man of her dreams until Adira swooped into town and stole the man’s heart.
Being left at the altar is bad enough, but Leena and her ex share custody of their son, so she has to see the new Mrs. Collins on a regular basis.
And it burns every time she does.
But soon, Leena starts to suspect that there is more to Adira Collins than meets the eye. And it’s not because she owns some kinky lingerie shop or allegedly insulted the pastor’s wife—it’s the strange way she can make a door close without touching it, or take one look at something and make it drop dead at her feet.
Leena starts digging for answers and soon discovers that, unlike her public persona, Adira’s true nature is somewhere on the other side of grace. She also learns, a little too late, that some secrets are better left buried.
She was on her knees in the back yard when she heard the unmistakable sound of Johnny’s truck pulling into the driveway. She turned her head slightly to the right and got up just as calmly as Ronetha Powell had done the night she put a bullet in her husband’s head. She had done it so calmly. Walked in there while he was watching Wheel of Fortune, put the gun to his head, fired, put the gun down, and then went to Wednesday night revival and sang “Somebody Prayed for Me” with such vigor that the visiting pastor singled her out and shouted, “Woman of God! You are blessed!”
It was two days before they found Mr. Powell. Before that, Ronetha had merely stepped over him like he was a bunched up rug that she didn’t feel like straightening out again. She was taking her meatloaf out of the oven when they surrounded her house. When Leena saw Ronetha on the front page of the Carolville Daily, being taken away in handcuffs, she thought to herself that Ronetha looked as serene as a river on Sunday morning. In some odd way, Leena felt the same thing. Serenity. It washed over her as she quietly opened the door and tiptoed through the ice cold house, which, for some reason, was blanketed in shades of yellow. She heard movement upstairs and knew that Johnny was in the bedroom. She walked to the kitchen and set a pot of water on to boil.
She walked slowly up the carpeted stairwell thinking that she should have changed that beige carpet long ago. When she got to the bedroom and saw Johnny — putting a picture of them face down on the nightstand — the shades of yellow that had intruded upon her vision turned stark raving red. Still clutching the letter in her right hand she cocked her arm back and hit that son of a bitch for all he was worth.
Quanie Miller grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana. She fell in love with reading at an early age and spent most of her time at the Iberia Parish Library discovering authors like R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike (she was often found walking back home from the library with a stack of books that went up to her chin). She holds degrees from Louisiana State University and San Jose State University. She has been the recipient of the James Phelan Literary Award, the Louis King Thore Scholarship, the BEA Student Scriptwriting Award, and the Vicki Hudson Emerging Writing Prize. She is the author of The New Mrs. Collins, a southern paranormal novel, and It Ain’t Easy Being Jazzy, a romantic comedy. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and is currently, as always, working on another novel. To find out more about Quanie and her works in progress visit quanietalkswriting.com.
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