Thursday, June 25, 2020
Strong Writers Review The Basics
I am always talking here about the need for writers to truly understand the craft of writing, as well as understanding how to do literary analysis. It is beyond crucial for an author to understand what makes a great story great and a bad story bad. Unfortunately, too often, writers just come back to "I didn't like it" or will only look at surface issues that really don't factor into the quality of a story. I would also add that the Romance Writers of America have faced this same issue over the years with their Golden Heart and RITA competitions. Fellow authors critiqued and scored other authors' stories with no criteria other than "Do I like it or not?" Far from literary analysis.
When I bring this idea up, I always return to the basics we all learned in junior high and high school English classes as well as those freshman level courses in college. These 4 basic elements hold the entire story together and authors need to take the time to fully understand the "whys" and the "hows" of each of these elements: PLOT, SETTING, CHARACTER, and THEME.
PLOT Writers often screw this one up horribly. Where most people go wrong is the thought that the plot is nothing more than a sequence of events. This happened and then this happened. While that is partially true, each of those events have to have a purpose and have to connect to one another. Strong writers know why they put events into a story and how those events extend off of an earlier event and connect to the next event. They also understand the use of transitions that smoothly connect those events, especially when moving from one sub-storyline to the next. For reference, authors know how to use the basic plot diagram.
SETTING This too is amazingly important. Strong writers know why they are placing that story in a certain location and time period. There is a true reason for doing so. The weak writers miss the point. For example, I had an author submit a suspense novel to me several years ago. She placed it in the early 70's and her only rationale was that she didn't want the characters to have wi-fi. That was it? The problem is that the story now felt out of date. It was a contemporary that just felt strange.
To take this a step further, authors know what setting will really sell right now and what stories will not sell. Think of it this way. In this turbulent time, there are simply some places in the world using that setting would set off too many bad feelings.
Finally, these strong authors know how to make the town come alive. The setting is not just a name. Again, I see all of the time, authors creating small towns such as "Quiet Valley, Colorado," or "Harmony, Wyoming." To somehow convey the mood of the town. It has to be much more than a name.
CHARACTERS Successful writers fully understand their main characters and know exactly what they would say and what they would do in each situation. Weak writers have the plot telling them what to do. Not good!
Too often, I read projects where the characters just feel flat. Sure the author has put in dialogue tags and adjectives, but the character is nothing more than a Flat Stanley.
Why have you chosen that character? What do the secondary characters really do in the story? These are things you need to be able to understand fully to be successful.
THEME This is the big one and something too many authors simply do not understand. What is the message you want the readers to walk away with? What is the "take away?" When I ask authors this they often say things like, "This is a coming of age story." or "This is a lost love story." No, this is not a theme but a trope. The theme is the underlying message that EVERY action, scene and character work though. This is the lens the author is telling the story through. Consider this basic list. UNIVERSAL THEMES.
Look, there is nothing wrong with saying you might not fully understand these elements. In fact, if you can admit to it, then it becomes your first step in becoming a strong writer. Take the time to learn these, not just as a reader, but also as a writer. I promise, your stories will become infinitely stronger!