Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Secret to writing success # 1

There's something satisfying about making lists, so I'm at it again. First, I listed rules for writing. Now, I'm listing secrets to writing success. Who knows? If we put these thing together, we might have something worth talking about!

Secrets. Who doesn't love them? As a suspense writer I'm intrigued by the word, by the mystery and unknown that it invokes. Secrets are the building blocks on which relationships can be made or broken, the backbone of wonderful myths (think Nessie and Sasquatch), compelling oral tradition, and the perfect beginning to many great novels. Secrets make life interesting, but when it comes to writing there are none. So, why title this post secret to writing success #1? Because, it seems so much more exciting than common sense writing advice or traits of successful writers or any number of variations on that theme.

So, on to the secrets.

As I've spoken with other published authors, I've found that there are certain traits we all possess. The first is imagination. Seems simple doesn't it? It's not. Imgination is a powerful thing and can lead us on a merry chase if we let it. We want to write something unique, something that hasn't been done before. In our quest to do so, we often cross the line from compelling to unbelievable. Unbelievable can be the death of a well-written manuscript.

I know what you're thinking - Monsters, Frank Peretti's newest book, or one of any of thousands of examples of stories that are so farfetched a reader could never imagine them to be reality. Stephen King is a perfect example. His stories are unbelievable. Yet when we read them, we believe. We don't stand outside the action shaking our heads and rolling our eyes, because King's characters demand that we believe. Their fears, their struggles, their pain is real and compelling. While one might argue the merit of reading such fiction, one can't deny that King paints vivid and real pictures of both the depth and heights of human emotion.

And therein lies the secret. Imagination must be tempered with reality, it must be balanced with a voice that speaks to the human condition, that vividly reflects the struggles and triumphs of the characters. Stories are believable when characters are believable, and in that respect we must box our imagination and strive for truth. To this end, character sketches are invaluable. In each scene and chapter successful authors paint an ever more compelling picture of their protagonists, leading the reader step by step to a satisfying conclusion. For this reason, imagination balanced with a vivid understanding of people is the first step to being a successful author.

So, are your characters real? Do their actions ring true as you move them from one scene to another? Will your reader believe their actions and reactions, or step back, shake her head, and be pulled out of your story?

Just something to think about on this rather gloomy Maryland day.

8 comments:

Dani said...

Shirlee,

Great post! You're absolutley right, again :o)

Characters are story. Without them we have only a sequence of events and who gets emotionally involved with events?

My husband has been trying to convince me to read Stephen King for characterization. I think I'm going to have to take his advice. He says no one else can compare characterization wise.

Not enjoying this dreary day. Where'd our sunshine go?

Dani

Shirlee McCoy said...

I just sent you an email, Dani. Let me know if you don't get it. It seems my entire menor group is not getting my emails. It's very frustrating.

Anyway, about Stephen King, your husband is right. If you don't want too gory, look for the book about the girl who gets lost in a national park - THE GIRL WHO LOVED TOM GORDON. That one gave me chills. It was so well written and King did an astounding job of depicting the lost child.

Sabrina L. Fox said...

You're right on target, Shirlee. I love when I'm finished with a book and part of me is sad because I'm going to miss the characters. Or I wish I could visit the town that was depicted. LOL.

Shirlee McCoy said...

Me, too, Sabrina. So, have you mailed your stuff out?

Sabrina L. Fox said...

On vacation next week so I'm sending it then. Mainly just because I'm one of those people who can't leave stuff undone. I have to send it even though I'm sure it will be rejected. That way I can say I tried. =) Better to have tried and all that...

Then I'll be able to concentrate on my Genesis entry. It's a story worth telling and I've learned so much this year I think I'll be able to finally do it justice.

How 'bout you? Did you get your book done?

Shirlee McCoy said...

Done? Please! I'm getting closer. That's the goal. One word at a time builds a sentence which builds a paragraph which builds a page which leads to the end.

One thing at a time. My motto. It keeps me from panicking!

Camy Tang said...

Is it still gloomy in Maryland? It's sweltering in California.

I agree about the characterization. And another place I go for great characterization is TV. Firefly and Battlestar Galactica (the new series) both have such awesome characterization, I'm green with envy. Wish I could write like that. Well, maybe I would if I wrote sci-fi. LOL

Camy

Shirlee McCoy said...

I always wish I could write like someone else. Alas, I've got to write like me.

I know a lot of people who use tv shows as good examples of characterization. I tend to watch the history channel and Discovery. Great ideas for murder plots, but not so much on characterization. Then again, fiction is always just skewed reflection of reality.