Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Road Ahead

Writing time lately has been nil. I blame work, but deep down I know that's not really an excuse. What is happening at the moment for me, is that a few things (such as 2 rejections in quick succession) have made me stop and take stock.

What is it about my writing that could improve? How do I take it to the next level?

I have always written rather 'organically'. I put my fingers to the keyboard, thoughts flow out. Sure, I've become a lot more structured as time goes on. There is more depth to the writing, more to consider about plot, structure, theme, emotional conflict and the like. These 'improvements' all stem from my ongoing thirst into all things literary, from reading, talking and writing, from networking. But is it enough? What can I do to keep progressing? To keep from stagnating.

In my last post, I mentioned fleetingly how insightful I found Anne Gracie's workshop on 'Reading the Rejection Letter'. This workshop wasn't just about rejection letters and how to interpret what editors are saying, but rather on how to 'convert' that feedback into writing that sells.

Here are some of the gems I took from Anne Gracie's workshop:
  • Rejection letters tell you who you are

This relates to reading beyond suggestions/criticism and seeing through to the other side. Eg: Is the editor telling you you're too verbose for the genre? Perhaps you're in the wrong genre! What is the 'promise' of the line you're pitching your writing at? Do you really understand the requirements?

  • The publisher/editor needs to LOVE your heroine!

If your hero/heroine is NOT lovable, then what do you need to change? Sometimes a few tweaks will do the job. A little more introspection will reveal her character enough that the reader sees she's conflicted in her actions - not just callous or thoughtless. One way to accomplish this is to have the character 'thinking' before speaking. If she's thinking the opposite to what she's saying, then the contradiction is obvious to the reader.

  • Your book needs to be a strong roller coaster ride

  • No weak/ordinary characters

  • Editors want their socks knocked off

  • Readers want a story to take you away from mundane reality

Think of a movie premise that makes you want to go and watch that particular film immediately. An irresistible premise such as that is the hook you need. It needs to be a fresh take.

  • A romance is a sexy duel, a fun duel. The protagonists have to spark off each other. That means sparkling dialogue

This is an area I sorely need to improve. Boring characters are an obvious alarm signal. As such:

  • Don't be afraid to be bold

  • Dig into the dark inner past, bring it out

  • Find ways to do crazy, over-the-top/on-the-edge love-stuff

  • Emotional punch IS the roller coaster ride

What strong emotions are readers going to feel in your current novel? Fear, anxiety, empathy, excitement, self-doubt, lust, humiliation? Are they going to feel daunted, joyful, hopeless, bewildered? 'Yearning' is a good one. Think about the passionate emotions of a mother in relation to her child. THAT is the kind of depth you should be striving for.

When dealing with emotions, though, a writer must remember to provide contrast. A book written in extremes will be exhausting to read. There has to be light and shadow. The contrast is what makes it work.

  • Make emotions as strong as you can

Can anxiety become despair? Annoyance become rage? Think about it. Editors don't buy stories because they're well written.

  • A storyteller SPELLBINDS

Does your story have sexual/emotional tension? Does it have a titillating scenario? Good likable characters? Unpredictability? What are the books that blew you away? What was it about those books that created that sense of uniqueness? What was it about those books you loved? How can you create a similar experience for your readers? A mildly pleasant, enjoyable read won't catch an editor's eye.

  • Editors don't buy books that are JUST well-researched or well-written

  • Blow-you-away storytelling will get you there

What is REALLY about your story? Is it really funny? Really exciting? Really touching? Really emotional?

  • Don't move the characters around like chess pieces. It should feel natural for the characters to behave in a particular way

  • Give your characters disasters in their past

  • Their baggage will determine their behaviour

  • Get inside the characters

  • Put them into conflict and follow them

A good story is about people and how they change. Choices with consequences!

  • Giving characters choices makes the reader barrack

And in returning to great characters, what specifically is it that makes a character lovable?

  • The reader has to feel sympathy for the hero/heroine

  • If the hero/heroine is not lovable, then the reader won't care enough to read on

  • Being 'nice' is not interesting

  • Give the character faults we can relate to. We don't like perfect people

  • We need to admire characters

  • They need sass, confidence, attitude, strength

In conclusion:

  • Keep the conflict simple, but go deep

So thank you, Anne Gracie. A very relevant workshop that helped me to focus on some key elements that could do with a lot of 'ramping-up' in my writing.