Writing is like long distance swimming or an intense game of tennis. Being a champion is an individual accomplishment. No one else can feel when your form is right, your strength is at its peak, or your timing is impeccable. The trick to honing your creative strength is to condition the right intellectual muscles: concentration, objectivity, creativity, and analysis.
|Writing is like working out and being a champion an individual accomplishment.|
Understanding this, I spend time exercising and perfecting my ability to write a solid story with interesting characters and an enjoyable structure. Following are the three areas in which I am always striving for better performance.
Story vs. Plot
There are two parts to this possible writing weakness. The first is misunderstanding the difference between them. Story involves the character's arc, and that arc is driven by the plot. For instance, to sell your novel that takes place in 1940 you might try to pitch it as a book about World War II. Instead, lead with the story. For example, this is a book about a young girl coming of age in a small French village during the German occupation. Now you focus an editor on the story of a girl rather than trying to impress with her with the overwhelming background of a war.
Once you identify the story you need to fortify it by creating a strong plot. What elements of life in 1940 would shape the story of your character? What aspects of war would form her concept of justice or her view of courage? What dramatic opportunities would lead your character to show how she is changing and what she has become?
The second part of the plot/story equation is mistaking drama for development. Like many writers, I am susceptible to what I call scene deception. Sometimes I will see a wonderfully dramatic scene in my head. I know exactly how the characters will act and react within it, I know what the dialogue will be, I know where the scene is set. I believe I have a book but what I really have is a unique scene that would be a great opening hook, a middle plot point, or a fabulous climax. I do not have a well thought out novel and more work needs to be done.
Readers remember a wonderful story because they identify with your characters - hero and villain alike. If your characters are one-dimensional the reader will abandon the book no matter how hard you have worked on plot and story.
Challenge yourself to know your characters inside and out. How do they talk, walk, and eat? Where do they live? Who do they love and who do they hate? Most importantly know why your characters do what they do. Impress an editor with boldness and depth of insight; leave the bland and expected to someone else.
A book is a strategic work. In tennis, for instance, brute strength is not always a path to victory. Strategy often wins the game. Knowing when to use a deep shot, when to use a drop shot, when a bit of spin is necessary - these are the tactics that win the match. In short, a tennis game is a living thing that is constantly in flux because of the athlete's knowledge of strategy. Writing a book is no different.
Is your writing static and predictable? Does every sentence have the same cadence? Does every character speak the King's English? Does every paragraph have the same number of lines? If you answered yes to any of the above, you need to stretch your creative muscle.
Remember, though, that your creative decisions should acknowledge your genre. I wrote women's fiction with a soft voice and languid sentence structure. I spent creative time building a sense of place with well-chosen adjectives and long stretches of dialogue to acknowledge the reader's desire for an intimate, romantic experience. This is like a long distance swimmer gracefully stroking until she sights land and then gives it everything she's got to reach shore.
Now that I write suspense, I vary my sentence structure drastically often using one word sentences and alliteration to heighten the sense of fear and foreboding. Pounding well-chosen words onto the page will draw a reader into a scene and leave them breathless. Follow that with a calming expository and you keep your reader on a satisfying literary roller coaster. This technique is like an overhead smash followed by throwing the opponent off-base with a deep, backcourt shot.
Strategy, change of pace, knowing your own strengths and weaknesses - these are only a few examples of how to polish your writing in the same way a champion trains for her sport. Pushing yourself in the areas of story, character, and structure development will strengthen your ability to produce engaging fiction
Read Rebecca Forster's excerpt from Silent Witness.
Rebecca Forster, a USA Today bestseller, began writing on a crazy dare. Upwards of 22 books later, she concentrates on legal thrillers. Currently on the stand are Privileged Witness (Signet, 2006), Silent Witness (Signet, 2005) and Hostile Witness (Signet, 2004). She is married to a Superior Court judge and has two sons. http://www.rebeccaforster.com