Saturday, December 1, 2012

Best Writing Advice #1 - MAKE IT WORSE!

I've read a gazillion books on the writing craft. I'm reading a couple as we speak. Although no single book holds all the answers for me, I have been able to take tidbits of advice from the stable of books to string together some really great lessons on becoming a better novelist. So, I'm starting a series of blogs, very short ones, that discuss the best pieces of writing advice I've ever read or heard. Those pieces of advice that gave me the big "Aha" moments in my own writing and have helped me craft books that have actually sold to a Big Six house.

Best Writing Advice #1

A  few years ago, when editing my first novel, I bought a book called Manuscript Makeover by Elizabeth Lyons. I didn't have a lot of money to spring for a freelance editor at the time so I tried to do as much as I could myself. But as a newbie to writing fiction, what I didn't and still don't know about writing could fill FedEx Field. So, I bought just about every book on the market because perfectionist that I am, I didn't want to miss anything. (Yeah, I was so naive). This one remains among my favorites and I refer to it often.

Anyway, one piece of advice in this book gave me a big "Aha" moment, probably one of the biggest in my writing career, and stuck with me like superglue. This single piece of advice has helped me  consistently craft page-turning novels.


When you're faced with the choice between keeping your character in a "safe space" and intensifying the drama--intensify the drama. Ratchet up the pain! And look for places to do that scene by scene. And this works for any genre, not just suspense and thrillers.

I have a tendency to impose my own fears on my characters. You ever do that? When writing scenes you can physically feel the twinge, the discomfort. So instead of pushing through that pain and doing what I call "writing up" you "write-down" to make yourself AND the character more comfortable. Or even worse, you resist the ratchet in order to make the reaction more "realistic." Screw comfort and realism.They only make the book less exciting and less enjoyable for the reader, or as Ms. Lyons calls it--Flatline.

Don't let your stories flatline, rather take it to the next level. The worse you make it on your characters, the better you make it on your readers.

The practical lesson.

So, in this scene I was crafting for my very first novel, my character, a woman in emotional turmoil over a bad relationship break up a few days before, walks by a bedroom and sees a freshly showered naked Adonis toweling himself off; he's her client. I could write her walking by the room, all aflutter, containing her desire as she should--playing it safe. OR she could step into the room and see what happens. Well, at first I had her walking by the room all aflutter--boooring. But after reading Ms. Lyons' book, she walks in the room--and they go all the way. And this extreme action is the ONE scene about which I get the most "angry reader" emails.  

How could she do that?! 
I couldn't believe it! 

The reader bought into her turmoil, they bought into her drastic decision, and they kept reading to see how it would end. Then they got so emotional they wrote me an email.

My work is done.


Stay-tuned.  More to come.

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1 comment:

  1. Ha! Too funny. I should only hope to get passionate responses to my writing like that some day. :)

    Been editing my first novel and recently rewrote parts of my protagonist's emotional climatic scene. It involved her arriving under the influence of alcohol (and she normally doesn't drink) at another character's hotel room at 3am-ish. Initially, I think I handled the scene relatively tamely then decided that wasn't enough (the tone wasn't dark enough to match preceding events). Decided to "turn up the heat" and now it not only mirrors those character's initial meeting from the beginning of the story by having their roles of the seducer vs. the seduced reversed but also has me questioning whether I've taken things too far!

    Guess I'll find out when I have beta readers take a look at it for me...


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