Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Friday, March 26, 2010
So much of what I read in manuscripts these days is quite competently written. The characters are good, the story relatively strong, dialogue sharp, etc. But what the story lacks is freshness. What it has too much of is predictability. Once you understand the characters and their motivation and generally where the story is set, the rest of the plot falls sadly into a very predictable pattern. If A does this, then B, of course, is going to do that and as a result, C happens. Far too many stories (be they romances, mysteries, or general fiction) have the same A's, B',s and C's.
But recently I read two very different books where the ABC's were all mixed up and the results were delightful. One book was the much-acclaimed first novel by Gail Carriger, Soulless. There the author weaves both unpredictable characters and events throughout her story. Even her choice of words often sets one's head spinning. For example, instead of focusing on the usual powers of vampires and werewolves, the author has written a wonderful tale about a woman with no soul who actually touches those paranormal creatures and returns them to human form. Just imagine how that could twist a standard vampire plot! From the opening words of the first paragraph of the book, there's no question that the reader is about to embark on a most unpredictable tale.
The second book is Danar by Matthew MacNown. I came to know this book early in its life when the author's mother retained my legal services to help negotiate the publishing contract. Matthew (whom regrettably I have never met) must be a most remarkable young man; not only because at the age of twenty-two he can already say he's an author, but also because he has autism. I couldn't wait to read the book when it came out. It's a fantasy set in a far off land of dark and light where heroes do battle with wicked villains. But what delighted me most about the book was the fresh perspective Matthew brought to the story. There were inventive names and words throughout and a focus on what was happening in the story unlike any other I'd read in a long while. It was that unpredictable and fresh look at what could have otherwise been a very traditional story that resonated with me.
So the next time you sit down to write, think about how you can introduce the unpredictable and unexpected into your story -- think about your language and dialogue, your characters, your plot. See if you can't play off the predictable to come up with something new. Remember you still have to have believability. You don't want your unpredictable element to simply drop down from the sky. It has to emerge from your setting, plot and/or characters in a way that the reader can understand and accept, but try looking at the world you're writing in a different way and I'm confident you'll come up with something fresh and new.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Crafting a good story can be quite the balancing act. It’s never easy to include all the important elements, such as character development, plot, and setting, without accidentally focusing on one of these a little more than the others. And it can be difficult to balance what you convey through exposition with dialogue. Too much of one and not enough of the other can be disastrous.
Unfortunately, something that I have been coming across lately is excessive use of dialogue in place of exposition. I say unfortunately because this tends to give me no other option than to recommend passing on a manuscript.
There is a time and place for everything. Characters need to converse with each other in order to grow as characters. As readers, we need to hear their voices in order to know them better. But dialogue can’t accomplish everything. It is important to recognize when exposition should be used, like when creating a strong sense of place for a story, or even when building up your characters’ interiority.
This is certainly not to say that you should throw in lots of exposition and severely cut down on dialogue. When I was growing up, I remember hating Island of the Blue Dolphins because there was so much exposition. Every little detail of the island was described, and I simply didn’t care. There was hardly any dialogue, since the protagonist was alone on the island for most of the story, and that made the book bore me completely. All I wanted was a little dialogue!
There is a fine line between having too much dialogue or not enough, too much exposition or not enough. Never forget that writing is a balancing act. Of course, it isn’t easy, but that’s why the revisions process exists.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Today we're celebrating Cowboy Trouble, the debut release from author Joanne Kennedy. When big city journalist Libby Brown flees from her latest love-life disaster to live a self-sufficient life on a farm, the last thing she expects to find is Luke Rawlins, a sexy cowboy next-door neighbor who's more than willing to help her weather her first Wyoming season. Libby and Luke find themselves enmeshed in the small town's only crime, it looks like things will only get hotter--and more complicated--for the two of them. Cowboy Trouble is available everywhere books are sold, including Amazon.com and Indiebound.org. Congratulations, Joanne!