Met Joel Thomas Hynes today and had a nice chat about writing. The guy is as stand-up as they get. No bullshit with him and if you've read Down to the Dirt you know he's from a rough side of the tracks and unlikely to coddle you when you sit down with him.
What I like about meeting people like him, people with hard, knuckle and bone pasts, is how perceptive they are about others. Not to mention how much empathy they often have for humanity in general. A universal acceptance not always evident from those of us with less-difficult upbringings.
Before we met he read several pages of my latest project, tailoring his advice to what he saw. It appears I'm on the right track (whatever that is), but I thought I'd mention a few suggestions he offered--at least this is how I understood them:
1) Write your ending and paste it into the body of your piece--no matter where you are in the story. Even if the ending changes by the time you're finished, write it into the story anyways. Why? Because it marks an end point, a goal to progress towards.
Writing a story is not always a linear process, so write the ending down as soon as you have an idea of what it is. If you have it and the beginning, you essentially have your story. What is left is bridging the gaps in between.
2) When you get bogged down, try changing POV. Move to 1st person for awhile, even if the rest of the story is told in 3rd. Perception is key--not just how your protagonist perceives others, but also how others perceive him/her.
Often helps flesh a story out, by incorporating the viewpoints of several characters, perhaps making a particular event more (or less) reliable by revealing it through the eyes of many instead of just one.
3) Pare down every sentence to the bare essentials. Man I know I need to work on this more. Consider each sentence and reduce it.
4) Play on the readers' emotions and fears. Whatever you're working on, there will be people who identify (for good or ill) with what your story is conveying. Work with that, make the story use this potential to your advantage. Not pandering to the reader per se but realizing the emotional connection. The trick is to avoid the sentimental or melodramatic. Easier said than done.
5) Find your real title. Seriously. It should embody your entire work down to a few words. I'm working on this right now and it's proving to be more difficult than I anticipated. It also makes me wonder--especially when I look at some book titles on shelves--how many people don't spend enough time on this.
General advice, in some regards, but important I think. Check out some of Hynes' work, if you're interested:
Down to the Dirt
Right Away Monday
Down to the Dirt (film)