Thanks for stopping by once again, everyone. I still can't believe that hundreds of you are visiting my blog daily. Please know I really do appreciate it.
What follows is writing advise coming from a guy as suspect as the rest. In every single case, please trust your own judgment, instinct and voice. But maybe the following will give you something to think about.
Today, I got an interesting request from a nice person who wants to be a professional author. To clarify, "professional author” probably means something different to everyone, so for the sake of our discussion, I mean this person wants to make his living as a writer, wants to be paid strictly and solely for stringing words together on a regular basis. In short, he wants to be like me. I write for corporations, and over a quarter million of my fiction books have been downloaded in the last 18 months. I work from my home, surrounded by 7 acres of lawn, a pond, a brook and a few hundred ducks that hang around this time of year. When I need a break from the keyboard, I lean over the rail of my sixty-foot porch and feed a dozen loaves of bread to my feathered friends. It's hard to believe, but I can actually exist for days, even a week at a time here with my family, without leaving my property. And, in large part, I owe that to you, my many readers. Thank you.
So this very nice person with the goal of making a living as a novelist forwarded a manuscript via email earlier today. I took thirty minutes to review two chapters that may well have taken months to create, and each subsequent page made me sadder than the one before. Not because the work was total crap. No. I was sad because the writing was actually pretty good. Strong logic, great descriptions, realistic dialog. Honestly, this author has a lot going for him...except the ability to recognize or create interesting story.
I sent an apologetic email explaining the problem and was surprised when the author asked if I could blog my answer so more writers could benefit. Though he gave his permission, I’ve opted not to include his name. I figure he deserves a chance to be known for his polished, corrected work, not for his early naivety. So, what exactly was the problem?
And too many of us never get it.
Fiction writers are paid to torture their characters.
And I don't mean the antagonists, though it's okay to beat on them, too. No, the protagonists are the ones who need to be stomped on, spit on, beaten up and then left for dead. In the old days, the Brady Bunch had a few challenges, but modern fiction cries for pain a thousand fold from those innocent days. The sooner something terrible happens in your story, the sooner readers will be hooked. Consequently, the longer you take to create tragedy for your character(s), the longer it will take to hook readers...and if you don't hook them early, they might just close their book or shut off their e-reader.
You have to catch them before that happens!
So what did I read? I can only describe it as two days in the life of one of the most boring men I ever met. And I do feel like I met, let’s call him Bob Mackswell. Bob had a good job, a sweet family and no financial problems that I could discern. He also slept pretty well, seemed to get along with his coworkers and had an uncanny knack for noticing poetic landscapes on his way to and from work. I can even assure you that Bob ate a satisfying breakfast of three pancakes topped with patties of real butter on the last page I read…before shooting my e-reader across the room!
Okay, that was a dramatic exaggeration, but I did want to throw it.
From the first page, you MUST throw your protagonist(s) into the deep water and make sure they do not know how to swim. The more you abuse your main characters, the more your readers will love you for it. They want to live through a crisis with their fictional friends. They want to feel the pain, the anguish and the hopelessness of these characters. And, from my school of thought, only after a long and uncertain battle, they want their fictional friends to succeed.
What about the writers who say, “but I have to introduce their normal life first; I have to make my readers like them first; I have to…I have to…I have to…”
Not true. Wrong really. There is a reason that everyone stands in the street when a violent crime has happened. It’s the same reason that news channels focus 90% on wars, murders and injustice. We want tension. We want tragedy. And if we don’t get it on one channel/in one book, we will find it on or in another.
Am I suggesting that every writer should toss out their breathtaking sunsets and beautiful cloud scenery at the opening of every book?
Unless that sunset signals the end of a life or those clouds are hovering over a murder scene, those flowery openings should be gone. I would also suggest you get rid of small talk, coffee breaks, long uneventful car rides and family banter. A few words is all it takes to invoke everyday life. The rest of your work should be focused on the systematic and unyielding destruction of your main character(s).
So what happens then? What happens after you’ve beaten these wonderful characters into a fictional mush?
I’m not sure, but send me the manuscript because I’d love to read about it.