Thursday, October 18, 2018

Strong Writers Are Always Learning Craft

A recent trend I have seen are the number of authors who stop doing anything with craft once they are published. The focus now is 100% on marketing. It is all about sales. What I find interesting though, is that far too many authors pretty much disappear after those first initial books. The answer is simple. The readers have gotten tired of the fact that those authors have not grown.

Let me also stress that being published DOES NOT mean that you are an experienced author. I see over and over authors presenting at workshops, or writing articles as a reliable source because they are "published." When you see what they have published, or how much they have published, it should become clear to anyone, this might not be an "expert." Like everything else out there, becoming an expert takes time.

Now, I fully get that taking a class on how to plot, or how to create a strong character might not be something that an experienced author might need, but it is something that new authors still need. Taking courses like this, even if an author is experienced will give that writer a chance to re-think what he or she is doing.

Learning is also a matter of constantly researching what publishers are doing and what other authors are writing. Again, I see many of the published authors now use that reading time for "pleasure" reading. They are finally published, so now they can just read for pleasure. Nope!

I would also argue that reading what publisher and authors are doing is not just for how to market that book, or to find new story lines. It is a matter of following the continual trend in voice. A good example of this is to go back and read some of the writing from the early 1900's. The voice of the publishers and the authors is far different than what it is today. The same goes for looking at what each publisher writes. All are different voices.

If you truly want to stay in this business a long time, it requires changing with the times. Think of musicians like Madonna, David Bowie, and the Rolling Stones. They changed and they are still here. Will you be?

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Money Was Not Why You Started Writing

I was going to do this as a video post earlier in the week and realized it turned more into a rant, so we are going to go this way...

The simple question for the day is, "Why did you start writing in the first place?"

I bring this up because frankly, I am seeing far too many writers missing the mark on this. The result of this, is that the writing is not good.

When you started writing, the odds are that you started writing because you liked writing! You loved the creating characters and throwing them into situations, just to see how things played out. You loved plotting those stories. Money was never a consideration. Sure, we all had a dream of being able to retire and just write, but that was one of those wishful thoughts, much like living on an island in Hawaii and doing nothing.

But, when the money starts to take the lead in the discussions, the author is not thinking about the story. They focus all of their attention on how to market that book, how to increase sales, and how to beef up social media to get that book to the readers. Of course, the time spent on that is taking away from the time you should be spending on making the book good.

Conferences are doing the same thing. We see over and over again conferences pushing all of the marketing approaches and not tapping into skills for making the story strong.

When ever I think about this, I am always reminded of my wife's grandfather. He used to play blackjack. He would say that as soon as he started saying things such as "If I can win this next hand, I can be back on track" then he would walk away from the table. Why? He was simply not thinking about the hand, but thinking about the money. Not good when you have money on the table.

So, ask yourself today. Why are you doing this. Money CANNOT be the motivating force. It can be, however, a great bonus when you do write well. 

Monday, October 15, 2018

What Is The Underlying Problem?

About 10+ years ago, I was teaching a program called Future Problem Solving. This is fantastic program. Students work in small groups and study a scenario to eventually solve problems in a timed setting. One of the pieces that I always go back to is a first step the students go through. This is the identification of the underlying problem. I wanted to bring this up because it is something I see so many authors missing when it comes to editing and revising those projects.

For many authors, especially those who don't plot, they often find themselves sitting at a point in the story where things just unravel. It looks like there is no hope without completely throwing the entire story out and starting over. Obviously, this is not something any author would want to face. And yet, over and over again, I see authors doing this.

But they don't have to.

The best approach is to look at that story and determine exactly what the underlying problem is that has created your roadblock with your writing. The odds are, it is not a full blown plotting issue, but more likely a small issue that, if tweaked, can take care of the entire issue.

I remember working with an author on a project. Her editor came back with this huge issue of the hero and his motivations. The editor was looking for adjusting the plot that would have entirely re-written the story. The impact was not just fixing the hero, it was also forcing the author to change the heroine, the conflict and, if I remember right, the setting of the story.

This is just too much work. I am personally someone who, if I can find a quick solution, I will take it. In this case, we looked at the underlying problem, and the issue was not the plot, it was the motivation of the character. Our solution? We added one paragraph where the hero had his first love die due to a simple disease. He simply did not want to have a relationship because the pain he went through is something he did not want to go through again.

In this case, the underlying problem is what we tweaked.

So, if you are facing issues with your story, take the time to really study the plot. Go for the underlying problem and you may find that you don't struggle as much as you have in the past with editing.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Using Tropes Successfully

I have seen a lot of writers lately who, I do believe, is missing the mark on this. I am talking about the use of tropes in writing. What I am seeing is a complete misinterpretation of the actual concept. Writers seem to be heading in the direction of utilizing common plot lines and not tropes.

Let's first begin with a basic definition of tropes. These are simply repeating literary motifs or ideas in your writing. In romance, for example, these can be ideas of secret babies, upstairs/downstairs themes and so forth. Authors will use these ideas to build plots around. And, it is this second part that I want to stress.

Using tropes successfully is to build the plot around the trope. You don't use tropes AS the plot! These are elements and ideas that shape your story.

Let's take the idea of the Cinderella trope. This is a basic rags to riches story. This is one of those where the character is often start off in a lower social class and move up in society. The idea here is to show the uncomfortable things that characters is going to have to go through, just to get established. It also deals with the idea of how others see the characters. So, does this mean that you should have a story about a girl going to a ball? No. Should this be a girl who is now living in or with a family that sees her as an outsider and is treated poorly? No! In this case, an author going to this level is simply copying the classic Cinderella story line and not the trope.

Another example is the beauty and the beast trope. If you do this correctly, it is just one character having to see another character for who they are, not what they put out there for the public to see. Shakespeare did this with Taming of the Shrew. It doesn't have to be to the full level of the entire plot. Just find elements that work.

So, what is the take away here? Quit using the whole plot. You will also find that your stories will probably be seen my those editors and agents as original and not simply a copy of some other writer's story.