Friday, January 20, 2012
Writing is Easy (a job?)
Someone (who shall remain nameless) recently said to me that it must be nice not to have to work and just go to school.
Well, I have to agree. That would be nice.
Unfortunately, I don 't know a thing about it.
For today, I am going to focus on just one of my jobs (since, although this person didn't realize it, I have more than one) to simplify the focus of the blog.
I am an author.
If you don't think this is a job, then you have never done it. Or perhaps you haven't done it the way I do it. The following post is full of my opinions on the craft and my advice. I can't cite its credibility. I can tell you I have won some awards, gotten some awesome reviews and hit a bestsellers list using these tools but I don't know everything. (That is the cool thing about being a writer... You get to learn something new everyday. Best job on the planet. Just yesterday, I learned about death erections. W00T!) If that isn't enough credibility, there is a red x somewhere floating to the far right corner of your screen. Click it. (sorry. first cuppa coffee. muahhahahaa...)
What is an authors job?
The simple answer is to tell a story. But if it really was that simple, everyone would do it. To tell a story well, your story has to flow, have believable characters, have understandable terms, move the characters forward in some way and leave readers feeling like they have gone on a journey with you.
Sounds pretty easy, right?
If your editor tells you that something doesn't flow well, this is a huge problem.
The acrid burn of the smoke and the crackle of flames was a living thing, churning like a red sea around Marcy. Crawling on her hands and knees, she choked and thought of the ocean. The ocean had pretty waves that broke on sand. Sand was gritty. Gritty like the air around Marcy. If she could just get out of this hellhole, she could find her son.
Okay, I think I made it pretty obvious in that passage where the flow breaks up and throws the reader off track. If not, let me remove part of it and tell me if you can see how it flows better with some of it taken out.
The acrid burn of the smoke and the crackle of flames was a living thing, churning like a red sea around Marcy. Crawling on her hands and knees, she choked. If she could just get out of this hellhole, she could find her son.
Flow can be even more dramatic than that example but the point is that it throws the reader out of the story you are telling. Anything that jars the reader, taking away from the story you are telling, is considered a disruption of flow. It can even be an awkward word choice. Like this example:
Darcy's hands fluttered like lead balloons. Lead does not flutter. Neither do balloons-they float. Your reader's head is tilted sideways and they are thinking, "Huh?" And you lost them.
Believable characters are one of the hardest things for an author to accomplish. The art of breathing life into words and turning them into people that you could actually fall in love with, hate, laugh at, be friends with... that is nothing less than magic.
But you have to do it on two levels as an author. It is your job to not only breathe life into your human (or alien or animal or... whatever) characters but also your setting. Worldbuilding is just as important as telling us that your main character has brown eyes and likes ice cream.
It is a balancing act. You can't dump all of the info on us. (I will do another post another day on the disservice of an infodump.) But you have to know it so intimately that we can see it with you. Which brings about the key to giving us those believable characters...
Show, Don't Tell
You can't tell me that she has brown eyes or that she is hurting. Show me those brown eyes leaking tears of agony and have her scream her pain to the stars. Tricky. But if you distance me, the reader from your characters by telling me what they are doing rather than showing me...
I am bored. I have just been jarred out of the story. You lost your flow. You didn't do your job, author. And I, the reader, am suffering because of it.
And while you are doing this, you have to do it in understandable terms...
What the hell are understandable terms? Good question. Understandable terms are things that your reader are familiar with. I know, making a reader learn something new is great. I try to write in something that will teach at least one tidbit in each and every story I tell--even my shorts. I love to learn and I love to teach. Tossing a moral in or a chance to get on my soapbox... I love that shit. Especially if I can sneak it in.
But that is why we have context clues. Your job as an author includes giving fragments of information when introducing new terms so that the reader can keep on seamlessly reading without cranking out the dictionary or googling every other word.
Now, this does NOT hold true for academic writing or non-fiction. But for fiction writing, the goal is to take the reader away on a journey and you can't do that if you lose them. You want to take them with you and you have the tools (words) to do that. Make sure you give them the breadcrumbs they need to stay with you.
Move the characters forward
Allowing room for growth is important. If your character starts the book off afraid to get into a relationship because her last one was with an abusive SOB... she has tons of room for growth. If your male lead is emotionally retarded because he doesn't believe in love and is stupid enough to tell her that, GREAT! But remember, they have to move forward from that point. And you can't have them do something so unredeemable that your readers pitch the book across the room, done with the characters and done with you as an author.
A balancing act
All in all, it is a balancing act. You are juggling characters. You are juggling social networks. You are juggling publishers and editors and other author friends. You have a real life, too.
And sometimes people in your real life will comment that you need to get a real job... *giggle*
Because... y'know... writing isn't any work.
Happy writing! And juggling.