Posts Tagged ‘novel writing’
I’ve fallen out with a novel I had eagerly bought. I picked it out the ways I always do. I went to one of my favorite bookstores (aka a big store with a decent, varied collection and offering comfy seating and quiet to explore), took 5-10 books whose premise (and genre) I was intrigued by and read a little. I chose the one that appealed to my current reading need: a fun, fast-paced, emotional romance novel. (While I’m also a huge fan of thrillers, I’m working on a romantic/comedy/drama manuscript myself, it makes more sense to research the market – seeing what sells while getting the escapism I need.)
And it started fine enough. For the first 50/100 pages or so, it was unputdownable. I read it on the bus, on the escalators, before I went to bed… If I wasn’t working (or resting my eyes), I was reading it. Sure, there were some wordy descriptions, a few mentions in a foreign language and some jargon related to the characters’ work. It set the mood. It was sort of relevant. I didn’t mind.
But then the characters dropped their foreign language randomly in their sentences regularly. Some characters were from that foreign country so it made sense. Regrettably, it wasn’t one of the languages I sort of spoke. No, they went beyond your typical travel phrases or widely-known vocabulary. Then there was the jargon rain. It kept coming and coming.
Now, the book is aimed more at a female audience. The romantic storyline, a typical female character (I’ll get into the “typical” in my next post) and even the job (decoration-related) probably made the majority of female readers happy. But, you see, when it comes to interior design, I’m more like a guy than a girl . I don’t have an extended furniture vocabulary . Sure, I love shopping and decorating myself, but I don’t want to know the name/root/history of every single thing. So the book slowed down further. I kept giving breaks and then coming back.
The third turn-off was the detailed description of the more minor characters- characters we run into once or twice as the reader. Yes, I could picture them all vividly, but it took me off from the plots and subplots. Now, there are some things the book did very well. The woven storylines, the setting and the dialogue were pretty good. But I started rolling my eyes way too often, and the initial love and enthusiasm disappeared.
The good news is, the book breaks some rules with novel-writing advice. It’s good news, because it proves you can follow your heart, write your novel your own way and get it published. The bad news is, this book isn’t a debut. So the writer had some leeway. First-timers don’t usually have this luxury.
Now, the point is this post isn’t to critique one particular book (hence the absence of the the title and the name of the author), but to spark a discussion about using other languages, jargon, and the amount of details insignificant characters deserve. Basically, this author hasn’t killed her darlings but has given birth to them over and over and over again.
How do you feel about the use of them? How generous are you with these when it comes to your fiction? As for my musings on “typical“ female character, that’ll be in my next post, so please stay tuned. Until then, you can check out the problem with following advice in this post The Problem With Following Advice, and Writing Your Novel Your Way.
How good are you at following advice? For me, there is no single answer to this question. It depends on where the said advice comes from (reliability), and whether or not it can match my personality traits and some very rooted habits. Meaning I won’t (and can’t) fool myself into thinking I can take the “get up early” tip of some writers, because before 9 o’clock, I’m cranky, useless, sleepy and yes, unproductive. So instead of having a staring contest with the blank sheets or screen, I get up a little later and get the most out of my awake self.
For instance, I adore John Grisham’s legal thrillers and dramas, but the fact that he got up two hours before work (as in before he headed to the law firm) while working on his first novel makes me think he is an (awesome) alien.
I’m sure you can relate. Maybe not to my sleeping habits, but to how I analyze and decide to internalize or chuck tips from successful people. I can work with “be organized”, because that’s sane advice. I might not be able to keep the tidiest house, but I will clean up the mess before I start working.
Where’s this coming from? I’ve been reading about agents and publishing since I started working on my novel, and while some of the tips make me say “Of course!”, some make me scratch my head and get a bit pessimistic. The latest collection of tips that inspired this post can be read here.
(Some of the tips I couldn’t agree more with are about “dream” starts, verbose paragraphs, laundry lists… Please refer to this post for these to make sense )
The good news is, following some viable advice, combined with a good story and hard work, can get you published. Bad news is, it might kill diversity.
I’m working on a romantic/drama comedy which will probably appeal more to women than man on the basis of its genre. Let’s assume I get published (I haven’t started pitching yet,) and a reader picked it up. Here’s what he/she won’t see:
- A main female character picking all her physical flaws and insecurities apart in several different places.
I read this sensible tip that says no one wants to read about physically perfect characters. They’re boring and/or hard to relate to. I agree.
But when I mentioned the “beauty” of my characters in this story, I referred to how other people perceived them. For instance one character is confident, playful, free-spirited and cute. She has no problem flirting with men, and this is observed by her friends. Maybe she has crooked teeth, or eyes that are too small for her face or she doesn’t like her nose much. Who cares? Her insecurities are irrelevant to her storyline, so I don’t mention them.
Or let’s take my leading male character. He’s described as handsome in a manly and outdoorsy way. He’s also smart, nice and extremely altruistic. So even before my female lead meets him, she is very intrigued. And because she finds his personality sexy too, she is drawn to him. While their chemistry dominates the scene, I don’t talk about if he is too tall or she’s too short or they’re going through a bad hair day. They might not be everybody’s type. They are certainly not perfect, whether physically or personally. No one is. But as far as their looks are concerned, they are perfect according to each other.
- First person present tense narrative from this main female character.
I love romance and comedy, and I read a lot of fiction with a female leading character, told from her perspective and in present simple. I like this type of narrative. It’s fun, captivating and quite addictive. But the problem is, as I identify with this 20-something, physically-not-perfect but-can-be- quite-alluring-with-the-right-style character who has some problems at work and her romantic life, I keep wondering what the other characters are like. I get how the lead sees them, but I never get to see what they truly think. You can show and not tell as much as you want, but you are still showing one character’s point of view.
I wanted to study from published and well-received romance novels so I could get an idea of how to tell a romantic drama/comedy using past tense, and with an omniscient narrative. I failed to find such books…There are many thrillers and dramas like this, but romantic comedies? Not really. (If you can think of some, please recommend away!)
So I fumbled through my first novel. I tried to use what worked for me as a reader, and what didn’t. I left out what bored me. I tried to produce the type of story that I’d like to read.
I’m not saying it reinvents the wheel. It doesn’t. I’m not saying it’s not unpredictable, or as catchy as the first-person narratives I’m a big fan of.
But this is the story I wanted to tell. I’m open to critiques, rewrites and notes on it. But since there are numerous authors who have been doing this so well for so long, maybe I can find an agent that will take a shot with me, because it’s a bit different.
I realize that some of the advice I don’t apply might work against me. But for the sake of this story being its own (and mine), I have to reject certain tips, and cross fingers that I made the right call.
As always, I welcome all your tips, experiences and opinions.
Recommended Posts on Fiction Writing
Some people love to chase. While I am not a big fan of chasing when it comes to dating, chasing inspiration is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer.
I love it when inspiration comes by itself. When I have a magical A-HA! moment. When an idea comes by itself and not when I was brainstorming, forcing my brain to fix a plot problem. When it comes unannounced, unexpected and gives me the rush to start writing it right there and then. And even if I can’t start at that moment, I am smart enough to take enough notes so that I don’t let it get away.
Except this rarely happens to me. Especially when writing fiction. An exciting, entertaining idea doesn’t just come on its own. An idea- typically an ordinary one- comes when I think about what I want to write about. I know I want this ordinary situation or character in some way, but I don’t want it to be ordinary. No, I am not contradicting myself.
OK, think about it like this. You want to write about cancer. But you don’t want to go down the old, depressive, tragic, “what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this route”. Or the “I’m-already-dead-might-as-well-go-all-self-destructive route”.
Instead, your character decides to make the most of her life right there and then. She finds out humorous, practical and innovative ways to deal with her son and husband. She doesn’t care that much about saving money any more. She buys a red convertible – which will go to her son after he reaches a certain age. See how she lived for the moment, without screwing up anyone’s future? She also has workers build the swimming pool she always wanted. Impulsive? Yes. Irrational? No. If anything, this will increase the value of the house.
Did the plot sound familiar? Well, it is the plot of the comedy/drama show The Big C starring Laura Linney. Before watching it, I remember thinking “Humor in cancer? Right. Like that could happen!” But it has, and the show turned out to be really good and unique.
Isn’t this more interesting than typical ways of grieving?
This happens to me a lot. I respond to my ideas by changing the core of the story, changing the sex of the main character, shaking stereotypes, or adding some unexpected traits to the archetype. Victoria Connelly did a wonderful example of this by creating a writer character in her book “A Weekend with Mr. Darcy”.
In the book, the main character is Lorna Warwick – a modern day, famous author of best-selling Jane Austen style novels. But of course Lorna is the pen name and the writer is actually a guy. And he is not gay or a nerd. He is a masculine, heterosexual, sexy guy who hides behind the persona – and does adrenaline-inducing outdoor activities with his friends while he is not writing. And best of all…his interest in Jane Austen, and his novels, is genuine.
A Weekend with Mr. Darcy may not be the best book ever-created but I really liked the male protagonist being a guy’s guy and loving Jane Austen, and her characters, as much as the next gal. And guess what? Connelly has been published many times.
Where did the inspiration for this article come from? It came while I was reading this Writer’s Digest article about how not to write a novel, and one of the best ways to do it was to wait for inspiration. I am trying to write a novel and yet after all this time creating stories, I still tend to make the mistake of waiting for inspiration. The article stroke a chord and I wrote about it.
So an article about writing inspiration came when I was studying writing (so I could write my novel better and I could get to know the magazine enough to pitch great queries.) Not when I was doing something totally unrelated, or not doing anything at all.
While inspiration might occasionally do the favor of dropping by out of thin air, it mostly loves to be chased with vengeance. So you can just start writing about anything in anyway…and spice things up later.
If there is something that bothers me than writing something ordinary…it is not writing at all. The name of this blog is not a coincidence. I truly am addicted to writing. And while ordinary can be changed into extraordinary through trial and error, extraordinary isn’t born from nothing.
How fast can you churn out a decent novel? 3 years? 3 months?
While I was hunting for a good resource on writing a good page-turner that would satisfy me and land me an agent (and later hopefully a publisher), I thought Writer’s Digest’s 90 Days to Your Novel was reasonable enough.
The book tells you everything you need to know from the beginning to outlining to writing dialogue. And while I didn’t finish my book in 90 days (it is on me though – I also love to maintain a part-time career in teaching, as well as a career in non-fiction), I learned a lot from that book.
Then of course if you are ready to dedicate a really good portion of your available time, I do believe that even the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is not a far-fetched concept, especially if you do have a certain grasp of your main events and characters before starting. A novel- at least a reasonable first draft- can probably be written in 30 days. And a goal of 30 days, whether you officially join other writers in a contest or just set it for yourself, is a great and productivity-fueling idea.
But while I was reading an article on the Funds for Writers newsletter and saw the term 3-Day novelist, I thought it was a typo. A novel? In 3 days? Right…But then I read on to find out how the writer had used fundraising for her book and her proposed budget was $120….So I hit google.
Sure enough there it was: 3-Day Novel Contest. OK, to be fair, the novel is going to be about 100 pages but 3-Days? Seriously?
But short(ish) or not, I don’t honestly see myself sitting through one weekend and being able to finish a novel. But it is a challenge like I have never seen before. And if you win, your prize is getting published. But there is an entrance fee, and you must be ready for a true marathon.
- Have you ever joined the NaNoWriMo? Or the 3-Day Novel Contest?
- Did you assign yourself a certain amount of time to finish your novel and stick to it?
- What do you think is the most probable amount of time for producing a satisfactory novel, or its favorite cousin: the holy first draft?
I would love to learn about your experiences and insights.
Balancing Showing and Telling in Writing & Why “Show, Don’t Tell” Can Be Easier in Screenplays than in Novels
“Show, don’t tell” is a great advice. You-as the writer-need to make the readers see, feel, smell, touch…You want them to understand the characters and be immersed in the story without spelling everything out them. You want to them to see that your character is smart by the things he does or says. You don’t just tell them he is so smart. Or you might, but you also prove your point by showing that he is smart.
“But Show, Don’t Tell” is easier said than done, especially when it comes to writing novels. I can’t tell you how many novels I put down because they tried to tell me a million things, while also showing them to me. And ideally, no matter what kind of writing that you do, you have to balance the two.
There are many screenplays that just tell. Remember the movies where characters talk all the time, and never actually move their butts to take action about anything? The movies that bore you to death? Yeah- the screenwriters just told things, and the director went with it.
But with fun screenplays, the writers do a good job of balancing what to tell and show. But of course the screenplays are written for the screen, and everything will be shown by the actors. If they want to show the progress of a romance, they put on a good song and show us what the actors do together instead of giving us dialogue.
And this is exactly what I do when I write a screenplay. Sure, I sweat over lines and details, but sometimes it is more effective to choose the song with the right lyrics and let the reader/viewer get the message. But I can’t take advantage of music when I’m writing the novel. Well, I can- to motivate myself. But I can’t give my audience a soundtrack to go with it (although that would be pretty neat). I need to sweat over the thoughts, setting, and scenes- all the time. There’s no shortcut. This is a pretty hard thing to do.
Yes, I watch a lot of movies and pay attention to a lot of scenes. I also analyze novels on how much and how they showed and told. I keep my fingers crossed, and keep working on my first draft where I try to entertain, engage and make readers feel. But it is a tough road. Wish me luck.
How about you? Do you write fiction? Do you have problems balancing showing and telling? Please let me know in the comments.
Can it be done? I have nothing against chicklit. In fact, if it is written well, I am a huge fan. Hell, I am a romantic, and I am a chick- and a fun chicklit provides great escapism and some good laughs. But I highly doubt guys actually read any. Maybe some are dragged into the movie theaters if the book was adapted, but then the overwhelming pop soundtrack probably annoys the hell out of them, and minus the hilarity of the author, the comedy is easily lost on them. Well, I know that pop soundtrack definitely destroys the romance for me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want to be read by women. They will be the majority of my readers, and I am happy about this. I just don’t want the book totally ignored by guys just because the cover and tagline screams for women only.
OK, let’s get back to the novel. I’ve had this great idea for a romantic drama/comedy. Earlier, I had written about my indecision about the medium and why I’d decided to try writing it as a novel instead of a screenplay.
So, I collected some decent resources about how to write an engaging novel (and how to go about selling it.) And of course being the fan of romantic escapism, I dove into the novels of similar genres and started studying them.
Unfortunately, almost all of them had either been written in first person and in present tense or in third person limited from the girl’s point of view. And therein was my problem: I don’t have one protagonist. I have two. I don’t just want to get into the girl’s head- I also want to get into the guy’s.
And I have some pretty decent subplots which are also highly related to the main plot so I want to get into several heads. Don’t I have lots of books that were told in third person, unlimited? Sure, I do. Unfortunately they are all thrillers!
So what does a girl have to do to write a romantic novel that is not sappy? That isn’t all about the girl?
Yes, I want to be able to flesh out all my characters, and convey what they all actually think-as opposed to just the girl’s interpretation of what they think…I don’t want a pink cover. I love the color pink, it just doesn’t reflect the core.
So guess what I want? I want a novel that is as unisex as the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love. I loved everything about that story, and as much as it had a bromance of a sort, it was just a sweet, hilarious and universal story. And I know how to write one into a screenplay. I don’t have point of view problems there.
The question is, how to write its novel? Well, I’m writing and rewriting scenes from my first draft, and eventually it will all look right. Of course then the actual nightmare of looking for a publisher will start. But hey, let’s worry about one thing at a time, shall we?
What gets in the way of your storytelling?