DRAWN HAUNT – Not All Bad

MC910215955

I’m wrapping up the DRAWN Haunt party today with a post about writing those dark characters – the villains in our stories. Seems appropriate for Mischief Night!

If you’ve missed it, the DRAWN Haunt has been a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. You can explore through this past month’s posts to find lots of book-related stuff about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. You can also subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

So, about those bad guys. Is it true that they’re…

NOT ALL BAD

Bad guys can be seriously tough characters for an author to write.  But every story needs them. What would Star Wars be without Darth Vadar? Or Harry Potter without He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?  But writing these characters in a way that makes them believable is tricky.

You want to create huge problems for your hero, and that requires a villain and some true evil. But write about a person who is all bad and you have a cardboard character.  Like those villains in the silent flicks who twirled their mustaches while tying the damsel to the train tracks.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00050]

Literary Classics International Book Awards SILVER AWARD Winner; A Long and Short Reviews “Best Book”; A Night Owl Reviews “Top Pick”

In my novel Drawn I had to create several baddies. The book is about teen artist Michelle De Freccio, who moves to England hoping for a more normal life. Almost immediately she starts drawing a guy from the 1400’s. When she meets him (Christopher) at the town’s castle, things really get strange…and when she follows Christopher into the Middle Ages, well, stranger still. The novel needed villains in the present AND in the past, so I had my bad-guy work cut out for me.

The secret, I found, is to show another side to your villain. Even if it’s just for a moment, you want a glimpse of someone who means well at times, or who is wounded in some way, or who truly believes they are doing the right thing. If I can get the reader for just a moment to see this side of the bad person, then I know they’ll have a different view of things. That they may even understand how the bad person went so wrong.

Here’s a moment from Drawn when I try to do just that… In the following scene Michelle discovers that her visits into the past have seriously begun to alter history and to wound Christopher’s fate. At this point, she’s started to really fall for him, so seeing history books that accuse him of terrible things is frightening indeed. Michelle has pulled book after book off the Academy’s shelf, searching for answers. Her modern-day nemesis Constance takes this opportunity to get Michelle into trouble with Constance’s mother who is the Academy’s Headmistress:

I blink and see Headmistress Hunter looming over me. Constance peers smugly from behind her.

“Such disorder,” the Headmistress says between tight lips, taking in the jumble of books at my feet. She’s almost trembling with anger. “Horrific. We do not treat reading material so shabbily, Miss De Freccio.”

“Yes, ma’am. Sorry.”

“The Academy expects appropriate behavior both in school and out. We pride ourselves on being the best.” She sniffs as if I clearly don’t qualify.

Constance grins.

“Clean this at once,” the Headmistress is saying. “Understand, this will go on your record. And on your father’s. This doesn’t bode well for his future here.”

Constance’s grin fades.

“But this isn’t his fault,” I say and hate the pleading tone in my voice. “Please don’t let it affect my dad, Headmistress.”

Constance whispers, “Mother, I don’t think—”

“Are you criticizing me?”

“No, of course not.” Constance looks at the floor.

In that brief scene the reader knows that Constance didn’t mean to endanger Michelle’s father’s position at the Academy. We see Constance has some sort of a soul and some limits, and that she is terrified of her own mother.

As for the villains in the medieval part of the book? This was a tough one because there is a mystery intertwined in the plot. Who is the traitor? Who murders the Earl? And who is killing off all the courtiers? What if all signs point to Christopher, the young man (er, ghost?) Michelle has now come to love? I had to spread doubts and clues in a way that gave info but also made the reader (and Michelle) wonder who can really be trusted. I can’t tell you who the real villains are without spoiling the book for you, but when all is revealed, you can bet the reader understands why the bad ’uns are doing what they do.

Balancing good and bad in a way that’s convincing can be a real challenge for any writer. Put in too much good, and the villain is not a real threat. Put in too much bad, and you’ve created someone that’s ridiculous and unbelievable. I tried very hard to balance my villains for just the right feel… I hope readers will find it all works.

Actually, a review about Drawn that popped up on the site Author Chronicles says: “not a single character is one-dimensional—each one has flaws, strengths, and depths to them. Even the snotty ‘Queen Bee’ girl, Constance, who could easily have been a stereotype, has flashes of a soul at war with the front she puts up.”

Not all bad! 😉

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Advertisements

DRAWN Haunt – DRAWN from My Art Background

MP900309567The October DRAWN Haunt party, full of ghosts and drafty castles, rocks on today with a special post about how my experience as a fine artist influenced my writing, and about how vivid imagery can enhance any scene you write. The DRAWN Haunt is my way of sharing the celebration of DRAWNs 5th year anniversary. FYI, DRAWN features a young artist who falls in love with a ghost from the 1400s. 😉 To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, check back often or subscribe to this blog (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about DRAWN, click here. 

Now, about that drawing thing…

DRAWN FROM MY ART BACKGROUND

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00050]

A fun, historical time travel full of creativity, beautiful scenes, and an engrossing mystery…I fell in love with the entire story…The castle that Michelle meets Christopher in is spectacular.  And going back in time during that setting? Brilliant…Their romance was very beautiful and endearing. I didn’t want to see it end. 5 STARS
The Cozy Reader

In some way or other, aspects of my own life seep into my novels. And in my novel DRAWN you will find it’s the artist in me. Like in these lines from the novel:

“I sit on a wooden pew in the back row, flip open my pad and lose myself in my sketch.

Things make sense when I draw. Everything is angles and texture and relationships.”

Like Michelle in this novel, I’m a very visual person. I notice the slant of an eyebrow, the curl of someone’s hair along their neck, the slightest twist at the corner of a mouth. In college I double-majored in English and in Literary Art, which was a major I created that blended creative writing and fine art.  My plan was to become a writer/illustrator, but since then I’ve been all writer.  The artist side of me has always been within me, though, lurking.

As an artist, I tend to unconsciously sketch the lines of things I see. You might find the pointer finger of my left hand (southpaw, here) tracing the lines of what I see onto my lap or on a tabletop. And as a writer, this “mental sketching” naturally filters into my writing. I’m always making connections about what things look like. It filters into my scenery, like in this part of my novel when Michelle is describing a graveyard she’s walking through:

I like St. Paul’s because you enter its yard through a little wooden gateway with a peaked roof. The roof leans to the left and the gate makes a horror-movie squeak when you open it. Best of all, the graveyard is filled with stones in varying stages of decay. Tall ones lean forward or backward like giant levers that have been pushed or pulled. And full-sized carved stone images of knights in armor on top of marble slabs look like they’d laid down for a nap and froze into place for a few hundred years. Closest to the tiny church are the oldest graves. Words washed away by time. Stones cracked and crumbling. My favorite stones are the ones that look like giant gingerbread noblemen resting on the ground. Their arms and legs are separated from their bodies as if they’d been soaked in milk for too long.

And it shapes my character descriptions, too:

He rubs his chin. “Yet there is something, indeed. And you wield some power over me. I feel it.”

I shake my head but I think there is something about him. Christopher has this rugged appeal that makes even William Wallingford ordinary in comparison. I can’t seem to look away. It’s as if I’m studying him for a portrait. I notice he tends to raise his chin. The very corners of his mouth curve up, making him seem slightly arrogant. And his eyes. Their light color gives them endless depth. Yet they seem so full of…of what?

Longing.

I glance away, surprised.

Of course the fun here is that Michelle actually is an artist too. This means I can use her powers of observation to shape what the reader sees, and her drawing skills are integral to the plot.  Through her drawings she starts to channel what is either a ghost or a delusion. And her ability to notice details ultimately helps her to put together the pieces in an ancient mystery. It also presents a great opportunity for me as the writer to create some beautiful images, especially of the guy Michelle is so drawn to:

I take a deep breath and open the door. The flickering fire in the small stone hearth casts a shadowy light. Christopher is in his bed asleep. I close the door and press my back against it. My eyes fill with grateful tears. I’m not too late.

He is bare-chested, a sheet covering him just below his arms. His one arm is flung over his head and his chin is turned toward the fire. The coin he took from me hangs on a chain around his neck, a silvery orb resting in the hollow of his throat. I quietly set my bag beside the door, peel off my sweater and crouch beside the bed, wincing from my sore knees. But what do sore knees matter? He’s here and he’s real and he’s safe and he’s even more beautiful than I’d remembered. I’m glad he’s asleep so I can look closely at him without embarrassment. The pout of his lips. The curl of his dark lashes. His flexed bicep. I long to touch him but can’t bear to wake him.

I’ll draw him.

IMG_0230

My drawing of Christopher, which was used for the book’s original cover.

I’ll draw him…  With DRAWN, it’s as close as I’ve come to being the writer/illustrator I’d once envisioned I’d become. I did draw the book’s original cover myself, which is a pencil sketch painted with India ink. I guess in a way I am a writer/illustrator and always have been. Just painting images with words.

And hoping you, as the reader, are seeing what I see.

Happy reads,

Marie

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

DRAWN Haunt – Just Because You Can

Edinburgh - Writer's museumThe DRAWN Haunt party continues today with a post about how to tame all those big ideas into one tightly written book.

The DRAWN Haunt is a month-long celebration for my award-winning novel DRAWN‘s 5th anniversary. All October you’ll find here book-related posts about writing, romance, ghosts, time travel and more. To catch all the spooky DRAWN Haunt posts, explore the blog, and check back often or subscribe to this site (see bottom of this post for how).  And for more about my novel DRAWN, click here. 

DRAWN was a complicated novel for me to write, but it definitely taught me a lot. So here’s the most important thing I learned…

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN

Fiction writers can create a story out of anything, and every character they put down on paper can have their own conflict, their own story line. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000032_00050]

In DRAWN, Marie Lamba deftly entwines romance and mystery, past and present, into a page-turning adventure. Buy it today and I promise you’ll be finished reading far too quickly! — Joy Nash, USA Today bestselling author

When writing my ghostly time-travel novel DRAWN, I knew I was creating what, for me, was a “big book.” Up to that point I’d been writing novels that took place within a tight one month time frame. My plots revolved around my town and were populated by people very familiar to me. “Write what you know,” they say, and I knew the worlds of my first two young adult novels WHAT I MEANT… and OVER MY HEAD very well. But DRAWN was a different sort of story.

Time is slippery in this time-travel book, involving a month-long time frame in the present, but also an eight-month long time frame in the past. The setting is present day AND 1460 England. I’m a bit familiar with modern England, having lived there for a semester and visited numerous times, but the past? Not so much. Intensive research was required. My characters in this new novel range from Italian-Americans, to British citizens, medieval lords and courtiers and servants. Add into this mix a plot line where the past and the future continues to be altered as our heroine travels back and forth in time and, well, you have a big book indeed.

And I struggled a bit to make sure it didn’t turn into one big mess. Which gets us to the heart of this post: Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. I can’t tell you how many characters I spun out into entire story lines with their own scenes and character arcs…and some of these characters don’t even appear in the book anymore. You might think the solution is an outline, but even when using an outline it can be hard to tell just how far to go with a character’s story or to know which scenes might be important.

Sometimes the only solution is to write it through and then cut cut cut! Sure, you are doing a ton of character research by writing those extra scenes. But when the character ends up being barely a minor one, it becomes a case of TMI. You don’t need all, or sometimes any of that stuff. And by heading off here and there on wild plot chases, you are wasting time, wasting your energy, and muddying your own clear view of things.

In DRAWN, I’d created this character Guncha, who quickly became one of Michelle’s friends after Michelle moved to England. Guncha was gossipy and romantic-minded, so she was the perfect person to give Michelle the scoop on things, and to nudge her in matters of romance when Michelle finds herself stalked by an unknown guy who also, by the way, mysteriously appears in Michelle’s sketches. But when it came to Guncha, I didn’t stop there. Before I knew it, Michelle was visiting Guncha’s house, sleeping over, meeting her family, learning of Guncha’s conflicts with her traditional family. And Guncha was planning an escape with a secret and unsuitable boyfriend, etc. etc. etc. Nearly one hundred pages later, I realized that my story had naturally strayed far from its central focus: Michelle and her encounters with Christopher Newman, the hot medieval ghost with a sketchy past.

So, refocus and cut cut cut! In the final book we only see Guncha at school and at a carnival. There is no secret boyfriend. No family to speak of. And Michelle wishes she felt closer to her, but realizes that she just can’t share her own secrets with Guncha. How would Guncha ever understand that Michelle’s budding new relationship just might be with a ghost? As Guncha implores Michelle to tell, but secrets continue to build, the reader is in on the gossip instead of Guncha, which is fun. So in this case, I would have saved a ton of time if I could have decided up front not only that Guncha was going to be a minor character, but also what her true function in the plot would be. This is a biggie, because if I knew this I could have smacked my own hand every time I deviated from this mission.

Sounds good, right? But what if your extra character’s story parallels and weaves into the main plot, adding intrigue and mystery? Why wouldn’t you stray into that storyline?  DRAWN involves an ancient murder, and a chilling curse that still lingers in the town’s castle. In the book, the Wallingford Papers (based on the real Paston Letters…look ‘em up if you’re curious) are a series of preserved family letters dating back to the 1400s. They detail the history of the murder, and the heroism of the Wallingford ancestors. But are all the letters actually in the public record? And are they to be believed? This plot is essential to the book, involving the fate of the ghost and pretty much everyone in the story.

Okay, so doesn’t it seem obvious that a scholar could be at the heart of rooting out this mystery? Since the Wallingford family reputation (and much of their success) hinges on their heroic background, wouldn’t you expect that family to do anything to keep their family name clean? So, is it that crazy that I created a scholar who in the ‘50s uncovered their secrets and was about to go public with it, before an untimely death? Flash forward to the present, and I also created Mr. Llywelyn, a history teacher at Wallingford Academy (Michelle’s new school) who was related to this very scholar and who is also fighting to uncover the truth of the murder, the papers and the death of the scholar, and…

Cut cut CUT!!! Jeesh. Do you see how the fiction writer’s mind can spin and weave and deviate from the main story path, even while she is following that very same path? Yikes, it’s like entrapment I tell you. In the end I had to give a long hard look at the story elements that were most essential. Yes, I wanted a scholar who was silenced, but I decided that this scholar would have absolutely nothing to do with the history teacher. The scholar now has merely a mention, just enough to add to the danger and the gravity of the treacherous ancient secrets being kept. As for Mr. Llywelyn? Well, he’s Michelle’s history teacher, instructing the class about the very era Christopher the ghost inhabits. The teacher’s role is now limited to occasionally adding in a fact about the Wallingford Papers, about the dangers of living at that time, etc., thereby ramping up the tension for Michelle when she realizes what these facts mean to a ghost she’s starting to have spooky good feelings for. I had to focus on Michelle as the hero, as the person who solves the mystery and makes things happen. No way should this be relegated to another character.

So again, a supposed major-player was reduced to a few lines. Lines that were necessary and served the plot. And beyond that? Well, this just wasn’t his story.

Sometimes writing a book is a process, sometimes it’s an ordeal, but it’s only successful if we give our draft a hard look and decide if scenes are moving us forward, and if our deviations are truly creating the book we’d set out to write.

As I get further along in my writing career, I’m training myself to create a clearer story line and to force myself to stick to that path. If the story is complex enough, like DRAWN is, there is no need to deviate and take elaborate side trips into other character paths. It’s enough, while plotting, to stick to the main issues and simply ask myself: And then what? And then? And then?

The answers, surprisingly, can equal a rich and complex novel.

 

*Marie is a Literary Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

Agent Monday: 3 Things I’m Searching for in Fiction

Businesswoman standing on a ladder looking through binocularsHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  With last week’s blizzard a distant icy memory, it’s time to dig into my submission inbox – hoping for some hot fiction I can represent. Often, though, submissions look so promising on one front, but don’t deliver on another. So I thought I’d share what I’m looking for in that “total package,” in case it’ll help you amp up your own fiction into that coveted must read for agents and readers alike. So here are the 3 things I’m searching for in submissions…

1. An Intriguing Idea

I know, duh, right? But this is essential. When I read what the book is about, I want to think: Oooo, that’s interesting! Not: Oh, THAT again? Or: And? I care because? If your idea is ho-hum, this presents a huge challenge for you the writer. Also, your idea should be handled in a fresh way that only you will show me.

2. Skill

Double duh. BUT, so very often I find that intriguing idea and think, “Yes!  This is something I’d love to read. So excited!” Then I start to read the manuscript and find the writer’s craft is lacking. They have a great idea, but can’t carry it off.

3. Follow Through

Writer’s that have an intriguing idea, and demonstrate skillful craft, must still be able to take that idea, and, with skill, develop it into a satisfying read to the very end. Too often, manuscripts start off well, and then plateau and disappoint. A great manuscript must promise something great to the reader, show skill, and then, and here’s the real key, deliver even more than what the reader had anticipated.

So a great manuscript grows that intriguing idea. The writer’s style and personality works perfectly with that idea to truly create a world and show us something even more insightful, moving, and or unique than we’d ever anticipated. That writer has truly taken us on a journey. We end the read more than satisfied. We are amazed.

What I’m often seeing are manuscripts that give me #1, but not #2. Or #2 but not #1. And when #1 and #2 are in place, #3 is missing. As an agent and a reader, I need all three elements in place. And when I find them, it’s reading magic.

Need some examples of projects that snagged my attention on all three fronts? Here are just a few from our client list:

Adult fiction:
DAUGHTER OF AUSTRALIA by Harmony Verna (releasing through Kensington this March)

Young adult fiction:
MENDING HORSES by M.P. Barker (Holiday House)

Middle grade fiction:
ELIZA BING IS (NOT) A BIG FAT QUITTER by Carmella Van Vleet (Holiday House)
THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin Books for Young Readers)
THE FRIENDSHIP EXPERIMENT by Erin Teagan (releasing through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2016)

Picture book:
TO THE STARS! by Carmella Van Vleet and Dr. Kathy Sullivan (Charlesbridge)

As a writer myself, I strive for those 3 elements in my own fiction, and work hard to hold myself to those standards whenever I dive into my own fictional worlds. If you want to check out my YA novels, here are the links:

DRAWN by Marie Lamba
OVER MY HEAD by Marie Lamba
WHAT I MEANT… by Marie Lamba (Random House)

And coming in 2017, is my picture book:

GREEN GREEN (Farrar Straus Giroux) by Marie Lamba and Baldev Lamba, illustrated by Sonia Sanchez

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

 

 

 

 

 

Agent Monday: Tips from My Writer’s Digest Articles

Marie's WD ArticlesHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  And a lazy August Agent Monday it is indeed. Well, not lazy for ME, but the world of publishing definitely slows down at this time of year. Few emails, fewer phone calls, and that means it’s a great time to catch up on reading client work and queries, etc. So, while I do that, I thought I’d point you to some reading you might want to do… like my two articles in the recent issues of Writer’s Digest magazine!

In the September issue, my piece titled “Reader is My Co-Pilot” is all about how to bring a deeper level of reality to your fiction. The trick is to fully draw in the reader by engaging them as the co-creator of your world. The more you invite them to fill in pieces in their own imagination, the more vivid and real your fictional world will become. In the article I include techniques I’ve figured out as an author of my own fiction, and I offer up concrete tips you can use for setting, imagery, emotions, plotting…stuff like that!

In the October issue (which, believe it or not, is now on the stands), my article “I’ve Got an Agent! Now What?” gives readers an inside peek at what you can realistically expect from an agent, what the submission process will be like, how to be a great client, and what are and are not signs of trouble in the agent/author relationship. It’s what I wished I knew when I was starting out as an author seeking an agent.

So check these out if you can. I’d love to know what you think of them.

*Marie is an Associate Agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her Agent Monday posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the Follow link located on her page on the upper left margin.

Agent Monday: In Good Company…with Character

RetirementHappy Agent Monday, everyone!  No matter what sort of fiction you write, it’ll really soar if you include believable characters…people we care about, people we love, or people we love to hate. Without compelling characters, a story can really feel flat, and a story engine can chug to a full stop. Today I’m excited to welcome to the blog Richard Uhlig, who is a terrific author, and who I’m proud to call my client. Richard definitely knows a thing or two about creating compelling characters. Here’s his take on it…

In Good Company
by Richard Uhlig

“This is hell!” my fiction-writing students say. “How can you do this year after year? It’s drudgery sitting at my desk for hours trying to come up with a story someone will want to read.” One writer I know calls his den The Torture Chamber. Norman Mailer said writing was the Spooky Art, “… where there is no routine of an office to keep you going, only the blank page each morning, and you never know where the words are coming from, those divine words.”

Yes, writing an original book, play or screenplay can feel like you’re shoving Noah’s Ark up Pike’s Peak by hand. Then, over your shoulder you hear Cassandra whispering, “All this work is adding up to nothing.”

You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help comparing your writing to Vonnegut’s, Fitzgerald’s and Munro’s, always coming up short. What you thought was a solid idea when you sat down to write it can default faster than the Greek banking system.
There is, however, an opium for this kind of creative pain. I know it’s helped me. It’s easy and close at hand: masturbation.

Kidding aside, write about people who you find entertaining.

Unconventional people. People who stand up to seemingly insurmountable problems. People burning with dreams. People who are their own worst enemy. Exceedingly bad people, exceedingly good people, but most of all exceedingly interesting people who shake up your sense of decorum and expectation.

Ideally, these people should want something desperately, even if, in the case of Shrek, that something is just to be left alone.

Beginning writers often waste months ironing out a concept, or trying to figure out the intricacies of a plot, without having given much thought as to who the yarn is about. Writing a story where the characters are secondary to a plot is like dancing without music. It’s okay for cookbooks and instruction manuals, I suppose, but you’ll never come up an Auntie Mame, Humbert Humbert or Willie Loman.

Tip: Put your characters in drastic, hilarious or god-awful situations right away. Follow their reactions. They should lead the way. If they don’t, search for a new character who does.

Keep in mind, this is creative writing we’re talking about. Not journalism, not biography. To write a facsimile of your church-going third grade teacher, Mrs. Carter, can lead to narrative paralysis. The real Mrs. Carter would never allow Miss Barkley, the p.e. teacher, to kiss her. But what if the fictitious Mrs. Carter lets Miss Barkley kiss her? That would buck your reader’s expectations. In other words, allow the Mrs. Carters in your life to inspire you, but free them to do their own thing. Reveal their hidden desires.

And don’t freak out about writing stereotypes. No offense, female p.e. teachers. The fun, like with Mrs. Carter, is to add contradictions to stock characters. Take the hit 1980s situation comedy “The Golden Girls.” Blanche is the slutty southern belle, Dorothy the tough Brooklyn Italian, and Rose the naive farm girl — clichés all. But the writers artfully forced these stereotypes to reconsider what they believe, constantly pushing them out of their comfort zones while maintaining a core consistency. The result? Some of the most memorable characters ever created for TV. Sinclair Lewis, the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, wrote chiefly about “types.”

Writing can be a lonely game, for sure, but if your characters consistently surprise you by what they do and say, you’ll soon find them great company. Who knows, you may even find them more interesting than a lot of people in your non-fictional life.

So, the next time your novel stalls like a New York taxi at rush hour, get out of the driver’s seat. Let your characters take the wheel. It’s easier for you, and it’s a hell of a lot more fun for the reader.

 

Rick UhligRichard Uhlig is author of the YA novels LAST DANCE AT THE FROSTY QUEEN and BOY MINUS GIRL (both published by Knopf) as well as the e-book MYSTERY AT SNAKE RIVER BRIDGE.  He’s also penned the feature films DEAD SIMPLE, starring James Caan and winner of the Seattle International Film Festival’s Critic’s Choice Award, and KEPT, starring Ice-T.  Richard wrote and directed the award-winning short films CAN’T DANCE and MY KANSAS.  He lives in New York City with his wife and two children, and is represented by Marie Lamba of The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency.

Agent Monday: Back to School for Writers!

Colorful CrayonsHappy Agent Monday, gang!  By now all the kiddies are back to school. If your kids are young, that means back to routines, and hopefully more time for you to write and to query, etc.  If you’re newly an empty-nester (like somebody I know), that means you’ve got time to rearrange your priorities around yourself and your writing.  And if you yourself are out of school, then this is the time for those unsettling nightmares where you find yourself rushing down your old high school hallways madly searching for the right classroom because you have a test on something that you definitely didn’t know about five minutes before.  Either way you look at it, September is all about back to school, and I think this is the perfect time for back to school…for writers!

So in today’s post I want to talk about the writer’s learning curve a bit. I’m not talking about MFA programs, here, I’m talking about you developing your skills in a conscious way. As an agent, too often I see the results of an undeveloped author. That idea that wasn’t fully worked out. That writer who can’t get beyond telling their own “what I did” personal story and into a larger fictional tale. The person who hasn’t taken the time to learn how to handle dialogue or grammar. And there are those folks who show promise, but just aren’t there yet. Maybe this novel isn’t good enough for publication, but in the future, if that writer were to work harder at their craft, they could be brilliant.

So writer, teach thyself!

Not a one of us, no, not even J.K. Rowling or whoever you think of as the most successful writer in the world, ever stops learning new ways to get better.  If you just sit yourself down in a small room and write that one book and then spend the next three years marketing it before writing anything else, then YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.

There. I said it. Writing is a process and you, the writer, will continue to learn things and to change for the better. So one way you can continue to learn and improve is simply by continuing to write. The next book. The next article. The next short story or poem. Journal. Write letters to friends. Consider it all your homework! Writer’s write. And successful writers write a lot.

But of course it’s not enough to just dash words on a page. You must read them over, have others read them, open your mind to other opinions about your work, and see if you can improve. Don’t have anyone to share your work with? Time to find people. Join a local writer’s group or form your own. Meet other aspiring writers at conferences, swap emails and critique each other’s works. Or swap critiques with folks online through online writing organizations that you join.  Sometimes you can clearly see errors in another’s writing that you initially can’t see in your own stuff, but then it’s like a light bulb goes on and you notice a new way to bring your own words to a better level.

Other ways to stay in school? Read a ton of books in general. Take a writing course. Read books on the craft. Study them.  Pour over the craft magazines like Writer’s Digest and The Writer, etc. Writing is your calling, right? Why wouldn’t you want to develop your “A” game in it?

And one of the best ways to learn how to write better is on your bookshelves right now: your favorite books by beloved authors.  Open one up and read it not as a reader, but as a writer.  Analyze how the author creates the character, describes scenery, manipulates you into caring or feeling certain things, demonstrates voice. Take that work apart. How much dialogue is on a page versus narrative? How long are sentences – do they vary?  Take a chapter and physically type it out on the computer to really look closely at the words, then highlight the crap out of it and write all over it noting different elements of craft at work. Can you use any of these tricks of the trade to improve your own writing? Learn from the masters.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????So there you go. Homework assigned. Back to school you go.

Now pack your lunch in your paper bag and hustle on out there before you miss that bus!

 

*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City.  To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.