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Posts tagged ‘Erica Jong’

5 ways to keep readers out of your story world

As a writer I’ve done all five things until I learned better, and so can you. Keeping readers out of your fictional world can be as simple as not giving them the information they need to “be there” with your characters. This idea arose out of Facebook, when I compared notes with friends about what advertising we were seeing. Depending on what pages they “liked” or commented on, some saw anti-aging and diet products, others saw cars and travel. One day I was invited to have “famous hair.” Go figure.

The point is, we don’t all see the world the same way. Most of us know this intellectually, when we need to get it at the gut level. How readers see and react to what we write depends on it. If we don’t all see the world the same way, or only see certain bits of it, how can we be sure our writing isn’t keeping readers out, when we want to draw them in and make them forget they’re reading something we made up?

Here are five ways readers can be shut out of our stories. See if you recognise any of them.

1. Use lazy words
Words like short, tall, old, young are lazy words. They represent our view of the world. In my workshops, ages go from teens to eighties. Asking who considers themselves old gets few hands in the air, except for the odd joker, usually someone younger than me. Old and young depend on your OWN age and the goal posts shift with each birthday. We’ve all heard toddlers call someone in their twenties old, while headlines say, “60 is the new 40.” The solution is to “show, don’t tell.” Simply put, this means show the reader what’s there, rather than tell them what to think. Wrinkled skin, thinning hair, stooped build can all suggest a mature character. Describe what’s there and leave the rest to us. Ditto tall. Show the character ducking under a doorframe, or their feet overhanging the bed. Show us the character in enough detail for us to draw our own conclusions.

We don't all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

We don’t all see the same things on Facebook or in the world.

2. Don’t be consistent
Science fiction and fantasy are fun to write. You can imagine the world any way you want. But having set the rules, you must obey them from then on. No good having gravity turn off every day at noon for an hour, then forget next day and have characters sit down to lunch. Or turn blue-eyed Sandy into brown-eyed Susan between chapters. Characters need to be consistent as well. If Susan is thrifty because of a poverty-stricken background, don’t give her designer clothes without a good reason, a splurge she may feel guilty about, or a conscious decision to fight her conditioning.

3. Don’t get specific
I can’t mention a tree in my books without knowing the species, whether it’s in flower (which dictates the book’s season) and other details. I may not use them all in the narrative, but I need to know them. Through the magic of Google. I can find exactly the Russian swear word, unusual computer bug, or character illness I need to make the book work. It’s said that the best way to hide information is on page two of a Google search, but I’ve gone through twenty or more pages to find exactly what I need. Get specific and you will draw readers into your story world.

4. Don’t stretch yourself creatively
Whole blogs are written about the language used in romance novels. None of your prose should be in there. Avoid purple prose (over-written descriptions); cliched character actions – looking in a mirror while you describe them; misunderstandings where the heroine thinks the hero is kissing another woman. Heroine then storms out without waiting to learn the woman is his sister. First decide what you want the scene to achieve. If it’s to separate the characters while they discover they love each other, what’s the most original way to show this? I make lists, challenging myself to come up with twenty or more ways this could be achieved. The first few will be the cliches, the repetition, the boring. The next few will be wild flights of fantasy, then slowly I’ll get to the nuggets of gold. Sometimes two or more points can be combined to achieve my goal. This method has never failed me.

5. Don’t finish what you start
This is guaranteed to keep readers out of your story world, because the point of entry is the finished book. Whether on a device or in print, your book must be where readers can access it. Erica Jong famously said for a long time she avoided finishing anything. As long as it was work in progress, it couldn’t be rejected. Your book will never be perfect. Using the points here can get you a lot closer, but the last step – putting your story in front of an agent or editor – is essential. As a writer friend put it, “books in my head will never get read unless I get up and write them.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? Do you keep readers out of your story world? How have you overcome these problems? Please leave a comment here.

Valerie

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http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

First Monday Mentoring for June – a writer’s to-don’t list

Happy first Monday in June, the day when I open this blog to your questions about writing. They can be on creative, craft or business matters. You can also share your experiences as a writer with others.

I’m sorry that comments need to be moderated before they appear.
I’m often tempted to turn that off, but friends who’ve done so report an avalanche of spam and rudeness we can all do without.If you’d like your comments to appear right away, click the ‘sign me up’ button at lower right. I don’t share your email address with others.
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I do share blogs and information I find exciting. My new fav find is a blog called Marc and Angel Hack Life. Their thoughts and comments on living are well worth reading (and subscribing as I’ve done). Recently they blogged about making a “to don’t” list here http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/05/28/7-things-you-need-to-stop-doing-every-day/#more-621 Right click on the link to open in a new tab without closing this one.

Most people have a “to do” list, many are pages long ūüė¶ For writers, here are some things for your “to don’t” list. Since it’s First Monday, feel free to share what you’d add to the list.

DON’T compare yourself to others

This month, Romance Writers of Australia are running 50k in 30 days – not as someone thought, 50 kilometers, but 50 thousand words during June. Like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November, these are ways to get writers writing instead of hoping, dreaming or planning. Both events involve reporting progress to a group or forum. This is where things get sticky. If other writers are reporting 2,000, 3,000 or 5,000 words and you wrote 500, how do you feel? Under the ‘don’t compare’ rule, you feel pretty darned good. You wrote 500 words. Over 30 days, that totals 15,000 words. Keep going for 5 or 6 months and you’ll have a novel, just by writing 500 words a day. Your output is your output.

DON’T wait till you’re ready

As Henry Ford famously said, you can’t succeed by what you’re going to do tomorrow. Today, this minute, is all we have. Start writing now. Pour your thoughts and ideas onto the screen or page then edit afterward. Same with research. Leave gaps where you need to look something up. I write “tk” a printer’s mark for “to come” when I need to find some important detail. Get that first draft down without interrupting or second-guessing yourself. Only then can you edit, correct, fill in gaps and – as I do – layer in elements you missed first go round.

DON’T expect perfection
By all means aim for wonderful, but settle for whatever comes as long as it’s the best you can do at the time. Remember, if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll still land among the stars. And don’t use perfectionism as an excuse. Erica Jong wrote that for years she never sent any work out. As long as it was ‘work in progress’ it couldn’t be rejected. Fear of rejection, of not being good enough, is an occupational hazard writers must learn to live with. Write anyway.

and most importantly…
DON’T give up
Every writer I’ve ever met, whether New York Times bestseller or not, has moments of thinking their success is a fluke. Multi award winning romance writer, Marion Lennox, says she still expects her publishers to tell her it’s all a mistake and want their money back. It won’t happen. Nor does Marion let anything stop her from writing her books. That’s the bottom line. DON’T stop writing.

This is First Monday so the blog is open to your thoughts, ideas and questions. What would be on your ‘to don’t’ list?

Valerie
189650_437726069621804_1397664210_n

http://www.valerieparv.com
on Twitter @ValerieParv and Facebook

Read some reviews already up at http://www.valerieparv.com/birthright.html

Feel the fear and write it anyway

What’s so scary about writing? It’s not like you have to bungy jump into a book or be like Bear Grylls battling the elements while eating still-squirming things to survive. Yet fear comes up time and again as a reason why writers do almost anything rather than sit down and write. ¬†Or if they do, never finish. Or avoid sending their work to an agent or publisher. ¬†Author Erica Jong ¬†¬†www.ericajong.com ¬†said that for years she avoided sending anything out. As long as the book was a work-in-progress, it couldn’t be rejected. She’s far from alone.

If you want to be published, you have to wrestle your fears to the ground. In my book, The Idea Factory, I recommend asking yourself what you’re really afraid of. Usually it comes down to one of these fears:

  • being wrong
  • ridicule
  • actual loss

Writers aren’t the only people afraid of being thought stupid or ¬†wrong. Trying something new IS risky and you might fail. You could also succeed beyond your wildest dreams. The infamous writers’ block may be a defence against fear. If we don’t put ourselves “out there” no one can find us wanting. Try reminding yourself that you are not your work, nor does your career depend on one piece of writing. Even the most successful writers produce a “what were they thinking?” piece some time in their careers. If not, it may be that we’re not pushing ourselves far enough outside our own comfort zone.

When Allen & Unwin invited me to edit the anthology that became How Do I Love Thee? Stories to stir the heart, I said yes then wondered what I’d gotten myself into, never having edited other writers before. Mentored yes, through Romance Writers of Australia’s ¬†Valerie Parv Award, but contracted, inspired, collated and…gulp…given a group of multi-published authors feedback on their work? Hell, no.

I followed the advice in a handy book called Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers Ph.D. http://www.susanjeffers.com The title pretty much says it all. I said yes, felt the fear – boy did I ever – then edited the book. That experience became one of my most rewarding in a long time. This month, the book was published in Korean, and a review on A & U’s website says:¬†Who would have though that such a mixture of emotions could be unbottled by opening this little book. It will have you smiling, crying, laughing, wondering all the while your heart skips a beat.” –¬†Trinette, NSW (via Lifestyle YOU)¬†http://www.allenandunwin.com/default.aspx?page=94&book=9781742370804¬†

A sign in my office says, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday, and all is well.” So go ahead, feel the fear and write your book anyway. It’s much more satisfying than eating wriggly things, I promise.

Valerie

http://www.valerieparv.com

 

 

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