Friday, October 25, 2013

Who's on First? Power in Characters and Power in Locations--How Good Pairings Raise Tension in Your Novel or Memoir

A writing rule I wish I knew when I started out:  to create tension in your scenes, two or more elements of power must be combined.  "Power" in literature means the ability to evoke change in the status quo.  If you play it safe, you'll keep this from happening with your characters or locations.   

Your writing will lack tension to drive forward, to become a page-turner, to irrevocably engage a reader's interest.

The writing rule about power is an antidote to the unconscious desire to play it safe--which many writers struggle with.  This rule reminds you to make sure each scene has at least two power elements.  Three is even better.  You want that itchy friction that keeps a reader wondering what's going to happen.   

Friday, October 18, 2013

Writing Emotions into Your Book: How Being a Good Observer Brings Your Characters--Real or Imagined--Alive

Emotions reveal us, but we don't often reveal our emotions.  Players on your page are the same.  They show us who they are via movement, quirks, gestures, what they notice around them, their history, and many other aspects--rarely through straight-out delivery.

So a writer has to both observe and write the signals of emotion.  Characters who are well observed come alive for the reader.     

But we writers get lazy.  Just as we take real-life friends and family for granted--and stop seeing their uniqueness--we can fall into routine with our characters.  We copy characteristics in people we know, or we use stock images for emotions without trying hard.  Our observations grow limited and (to the reader) boring and predictable.

This creates what's know as the "flat" character.  The antidote is to let yourself really observe, so you can see around the stereotype and create fresh, original characters.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dialogue Do's and Don'ts: Crafting Lively and Believable Back-and-Forth on the Pages of Your Book

Writing dialogue should be easy, right?  Most of us talk.  We text, we email, we use words in conversation all the time.  We listen (sometimes) to other people talking.  Dialogue runs through our thoughts all day, every day.  So why isn't dialogue on the page just a matter of listening well and copying down what we hear?
Literature has different rules than real life--obviously.  Dialogue on the page has different rules than spoken dialogue.  It makes sense.  What we read must present high stakes, tension, and not give it all away--otherwise, why would we keep reading? 

Friday, October 4, 2013

If You Want to Quit Your Day Job and Be a Full-Time Writer . . . Is It Possible?

In 2004, I decided to leave my full-time editing job at a small publishing company in the Midwest, move to New England and go back to school for my MFA degree in fiction.  I'd been at my job for eighteen years, and it was a good job, with great people and tasks I enjoyed.  I'd learned so much working with the editing team, but I'd come to a place where I wanted very much to test the waters, see if I could create/write full-time, have as much space and energy as I wanted.

A collection of short stories and a couple of novels were simmering.  I also needed more advanced skills, so the MFA program felt like the next step.

Wonderful dream.  Instant upheaval.  Not only did I immediately lose benefits and salary, I had too much time on my hands.  That totally astonished me--that, left to my own devices with unlimited time, I fell into a rather uncomfortable state.