Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Things I've learned lately about writing

1. Personalize queries. You hate getting those impersonal forms back, right? You love it when it sounds like there’s a real person at the other end, right? Well, do the same thing in your queries. (If you don’t know how to personalize something because you don’t know anything about that agent, well…maybe some homework is in order.) (Although true, if someone is extremely new, it can still be tricky.)

2. The plot development of everything jumping sideways. I forget whose blog I read this on first—but the idea is that somewhere after your inciting incident, when you’ve got your character moving forward and doing things—something completely unexpected happens that throws your MC’s plans in a different direction. (Yes, it still needs to fit logically within the book, at least if you have all knowledge, as the reader should by the end.) They discover a new element they hadn’t realized. They learn something new about someone that changes things. Etc. The book I just finished and am now revising was based on this idea, and I really like how it turned out. Plus, it keeps the plot from being stale: And then we went on a long, long journey to destroy the magical artifact that wanted to take over our minds. And then we battled the dragons in the way. And then we walked some more, so we could destroy the magical artifact. Etc. Boring! This technique livens things up beyond just a long, slow trudge to the end.

3. One model of worldbuilding involves laying out magical or real world skills/situations that, in the time of climax, your MC can use. Ie, the solution comes from the extraordinary tools the character already has rather than those skills just being window dressing. This idea is from a fabulous essay on magic systems by Brandon Sanderson (see my previous entry for a longer discussion and a link).

4. Piggybacking off of this idea is my own that if you make a character’s weaknesses become tools they can turn inside out and use as solutions in the end, you will give them an even sweeter victory.

5. Or, you may choose to take the Austen plot approach, discussed by Cheryl Klein, where the MC, in wanting something very much, acts to get it but doesn’t have the full knowledge they need. So they end up complicating the plot themselves, making the situation worse for themselves, to the point where part of the plot becomes solving that very problem. I think that characters’ actions should cause plot complications.

6. It’s always best to write those scenes that emotionally pin your work when they’re hot in your mind. A book I wrote and rewrote many, many times has one scene that is virtually unchanged from when I first set it down. It’s the one scene that readers (including hardened agents) respond to every time. True emotional punch is stronger even than lots of pretty word polishing. You can always polish. You can’t always catch that feeling.

7. When stuck on your revision, write a new book. Even if it’s completely unrelated, that new book just may teach yourself something about the old one. Mette Ivie Harrison has commented on this before—I believe she writes a whole new book before going back to revise the last one. Not sure I can write quite that fast, but even just starting a new one opens up new ideas in my head. I highly recommend it if you’re stuck!

What about you? What things have turned on lightbulbs for you in your writing lately?