Tuesday, April 30, 2013

21st Century Fiction

I read an interesting book lately, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling by Donald Maass (Writer's Digest Books, 2012). Maass' premise is fiction is changing in our new century; to be successful novels must be high impact. Maass says, High impact comes from a combination of two factors: great stories and beautiful writing. High-impact novels utilize what is best about literary and commercial fiction. They embrace a dichotomy. They do everything well and as a result sell astoundingly. The publishing industry has a convenient term for these wonder books: literary/commercial fiction. Wow! That's a tall order!

On the one hand, literary novelists "create art" and "treasure fine writing and seek to capture the world the way it is..." On the other hand, commercial novelists "want to spin stories that delight readers" and "thrill, scare, and stir through a mastery of craft." Maass claims to give techniques to utilize methods of both literary and commercial fiction.
Chapter topics are:

  • 21st Century Fiction
  • The Death of Genre
  • The Inner Journey
  • The Outer Journey
  • Standout Characters
  • The Three Levels of Story
  • Beautifully Written
  • The 21st Century Novelist
  • The Elements of Awe

As I've discussed here before, books are a collaboration between writer and reader, so your take-aways will differ from my take-aways. Some ideas I gleaned include: characters need to have a deep and true emotional landscape and plots need to be unpredictable. The four levels of story are: plot, scene, micro-tension, and art ("the way in which the author unfolds his intentions").

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me was Maass' discussion of beautiful writing. He says, "..beautifully written isn't just about imagery." And, "Beautiful writing is more than pretty prose. It creates resonance in readers' minds with parallels, reversals, and symbols. ...It engages the reader's mind with an urgent point, which we might call theme." Interesting. I'll have to ponder all this for a while.

If you're trying to improve your writing, I recommend this book.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

new writing paradigm?

I read an interesting how-to-write book recently (which I'll blog more about later). The author opined that in the twenty-first century authors have to combine all the best elements of genre and literary fiction to be successful. You must create a great story that also has beautiful writing. Essentially, this is a new writing paradigm. Authors have to do it all.

A great story involves a compelling external plot with lots of twists and turns and which is linked inextricably with the protagonist's emotions and internal journey. In essence, a great story enables the reader to achieve a new understanding of what it means to be human.

Beautiful writing doesn't just mean pretty imagery and descriptions and lots of similes and metaphors, it also means all that stuff you studied in English class: symbols, parallels, reversals and all the rest. Thus, beautiful writing engages our intellect on both a conscious and subconscious level.

Wow! This is a lot for authors to live up to.

What do you think? Is it time for a new writing paradigm?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Email

Recently, one of my critique partners got The Email. This is the email from an agent that says, "I love your book! I'd like to represent it, but before we sign a contract, please revise the entire thing and send it back to me." The Email may or may not have suggestions on how to revise.

Long-time writers are chuckling/grimacing/nodding. I think we've all gotten The Email, probably more than once. Of course, my critique partner is over the moon. He thinks he's about to get an agent, who will, no doubt, sell his book very soon. Who knows, maybe all that will happen. I've heard tales of writers who DO get agents and DO sell their books. I really hope it happens for him. Good luck, buddy!

But... The first time I got The Email I was super-duper-excited. I dropped everything and revised, revised, revised, according to the agent's suggestions and sent it off with bated breath. I never heard anything back, despite eventual repeated attempts at contact on my part.
Over the years, this has happened a few times. I've even gotten The Call. This is the same thing but in verbal form. Again, after I sent off my revisions, I never heard back.
Somehow, I always do the revisions. And sometimes these revisions even result in a stronger book. I always seem to have a least a little trickle of excitement that I can't tamp down. Maybe writers are eternal optimists?

So, you will never guess what just happened... I got an email from an agent that says, "I love your book! I'd like to represent it, but before we sign a contract, please revise the entire thing and send it back to me." (!)
Wish me luck!

Good luck to you as well with The Email. :)

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

writing tips

I recently came across Joss Whedon's Top 10 Writing Tips. Check them out here. Whedon is one of the most talented and successful people of our time, so when he gives tips, I listen! His tips include: Finish It, Structure, Have Something to Say, Everybody has a Reason to Live, Cut What You Love, Listen, Track the Audience Mood, Write Like a Movie, Don't Listen, Don't Sell Out. Seriously, check them out.

All this prompted me to wonder what my writing tips would be. So, without further ado, here are my off-the-cuff writing tips:

  1. Keep writing. This is, of course, closely related to 'Finish It' but with good reason. Are you really a writer if you don't finish anything? Are you a writer if you don't write?
  2. Find joy in writing. I hate to say it, but I know many writers at various stages of their careers and money doesn't seem to be plentiful for anyone. Authors need to find their fulfillment elsewhere: in creating new characters/stories/worlds, or maybe in meeting and getting to know other like-minded souls, aka writers.
  3. Get feedback on your writing and listen to it. I don't know anyone who can write a perfect first draft. I know some aspiring writers who think their first drafts are perfect... And I'm not optimistic about their publication success. Note, however, you shouldn't change your work willy-nilly based on what random people say. Only you know in your heart what your story is and what it needs.
  4. Develop your writer's voice. Voice is invaluable. Voice is the combination of subject matter, vocabulary, sentence structure, tone, theme, and all other aspects of writing. Of course everyone has a voice, but you want your voice to be distinctive and unique. Think of Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, or Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. You'd know those voices anywhere. How do you develop your voice? You write with your inner editor turned off. Incidently, NaNoWriMo is great for this.
  5. Keep trying to improve. Read writing books. Study novels and stories: what worked, what didn't work? Go to writing conferences. Talk to other writers. Read writing blogs about writing tips. :)

How about you? What are your writing tips?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

follow your intuition

I've been a naughty writer. Last week I didn't write any new words. The previous week I didn't write any new words. I don't think I wrote anything new the previous week either. And maybe even the week before that. Ugh. :(
Sure, I did revisions and submissions and critiques and all manner of other writerly-related tasks, but I didn't WRITE. Suffice it to say I was feeling very grumpy about it, too. I managed to put myself in quite a foul mood.
Why so much procrastination, you ask? Every time I tried to work on a particular WIP it felt like pulling teeth. I couldn't make myself put the words on the screen. I was hating the WIP. I considered abandoning the WIP.

But then I took a step back. Rather than try to force the WIP to go where I thought it should go, where else could it go? I brainstormed. What could happen, rather than what should happen? I thought of some new fresh ideas. I decided to abandon the old stale ideas, and, Huzzah! suddenly, I could write new stuff again. I wrote two chapters this week and have lots of ideas for additional chapters.

Yes, apparently, it is difficult to teach old writers new tricks. I should have listened to my intuition weeks ago. If something doesn't feel right, it's probably not right.
Intuition is there for a reason! Follow it!

How about you? Have you ever tried to ignore your intuition? What happened?