Thursday, April 27, 2006


No, this is not some sort of politic rant. I’m simply talking about ROWE. It’s something every writer must adhere to if they expect to create good work. What is ROWE, you ask?

R –> Read
O –> Observe
W –> Write
E –> Experience

If you think about it, it’s pretty obvious. I’m sure most authors do all of the above without even realizing it.

The first teachers we have as writers, the first who really begin to shape our skills, are the authors we read when we are young. We didn’t even know we were in training then. But the way sentences were crafted, the way dialogue was presented, even the subconscious realization of point of view, all were seeded in us beginning with that first book we read.

But the learning process doesn’t stop there. The best writers continue to read everything they can. Learning, soaking it in, and just enjoying. Each book is like a classroom. Even the bad ones (perhaps even more so than the good.) We learn what to do and what not to do. What sounds right and what sounds forced. We learn that sure, sometime you can get away with short cuts, but we also learn that when short cuts aren’t taken how much better a story can be.

It has happened often, but it always surprises me when I hear of a writer who doesn’t read much. Mostly, this has been people I’ve met in old writing groups. And when I read their submissions, more times than not, what’s on the page is not very good.

We stand on the foundation of those who have gone before us. To ignore that is just stupid.

Reading is probably our most important tool, but it is not the only one. Good writers are able to see what others do not see. We observe life. We watch the interactions of strangers. We sit in a coffee shop and try to guess at the lives of those around us. When we walk into a room, we not only see the person waiting there for us, but we also see the couch that’s slightly askew, the stack of comedy DVDs next to the television, the dying flowers in the vase across the room. We may smell the chicken baking in the kitchen, or the scent of rain that has followed us in from outside.

We see place. We see character. We see life in levels others don’t even care about. This is what we do. This helps to make us better story tellers.

Hand in hand with observation comes experience. You can’t always do everything your characters need to do. But you can do things that will help you understand them better. If your main character is a risk taker, then jump out of a plane or take hang gliding lessons or just drive on the freeway for an hour. If she or he loves to travel, then travel. If your character shoots a gun, go to a range and take a handgun lesson. Know what these things feels like.

Drink the wine that they drink. Watch the movies that they would watch. Go to the places they would go. Experience your own life then use that in what you write.

And that’s the final thing for every writer. We must write. Every damn day. Even if it is just a paragraph that you toss in the trash as soon as you are done. WRITE. WRITE. WRITE. There is no excuse not to.


J.B. Thompson said...

EXCELLENT advice, Brett. All writers should take lessons from you.

I'm adding another cue card to the bulletin board over my desk, right next to the ones that say "SHOW, DON'T TELL" and "25% EXPLANATION, 75% ILLUSTRATION".

And maybe I'll put another one up that says "NO EXCUSES! NONE!"

(I was going to say something about ROWE, ROWE, ROWE your boat ... but I didn't want to look like a smart-alec. [GRIN])

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL, and here I was humming, "gently down the stream" JB!

This is great advice. Show, don't tell. Lose the adverbs and adjectives and no excuses!

Give the man some pom poms.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Hmmm. I'm trying to decide if you're more 'internationally renowned troublemaker' or 'escaped from the asylum'.

Any votes.

Brett Battles said...

Excellent question, Sandra...if I had my druthers (something I lost several years ago in a poker game, but no time to go into that now), I think I'd go the international route. Too bad you don't have a "Internationally renowned asylum escapees" category...

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, well, I could always start a new category!

Brett Battles said...

I would not even presume to ask so much. "international Troublemaker" is more than apporpriate. But I leave the final decision to you.

Brett Battles said...


Glad you liked the post. Every time I write something like this, I feel like i'm stating the obvous and the only responses I'll will be something like:

"Well, duh. Quit wasting our time."

Anonymous said...

Lost your druthers in a poker game, so that's the story you're going with huh? Just so you know I still have your druthers, your wherewithal and a few other things. The poker story is quaint but you should really come up with something a bit more creative writer man... excuse me now while I get back on my high horse :)

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, with minor adjustments that have entertained me...Tell me if you like.

Brett Battles said...

ACK!!!! An attack on my creativity???

Fine. Does it help to know it was a game of strip poker and everyone kept folding so I wouldn't loose? And I still lost my druthers?

You know, anon, you're right. I do have to come up with something better. Perhaps if it was a bull riding conest instead? head hurts.

Brett Battles said...


That is PERFECT! Those damn men with their tranquillizer guns...I'm always having to ditch them.

JT Ellison said...

Hey Brett, et. al.--
Have you ever seen the M. Night Shyamalam (a ding-dong) American Express ad? He's sitting in a restaurant and all these strange things go on. That, to me, embodies your post. We writers invent worlds, not just characters.

But, it's only the best writers who can explain their craft, make the process come alive forwriters and non-writers alike. Since I'm sure there's at least a couple of both ilks who lurk around here, there' no "duh" moments.

M. Night Shyamalan said...

M. Night Shyamalan

Spelled it wrong, shocking as that may be...

Brett Battles said...

Love that ad, and you're right it's a great example of what I was talking about in when in observation mode. Thanks, J.T. for reference.

(That commercial was better than his last couple of movies. I mean, come on? Aliens who can be destroyed by water come to a planet that's over 70% h2o? That said, Six Sense and especially Unbreakable are two of my favorite films.)

JT Ellison said...

I agree. What does that tell you -- that the creative process is more exciting than the end product. Whether that applies to the creative types only is another question.