One thing became painfully clear when I first began writing Chronicles…my training/background up to that point in my life (medicine and science) had left me woefully unprepared for this type of project. Even my love of all thing history and rather healthy reading list was inadequate as most of it was written in narrative form. Compelling first person history is a rather recent development, or at least it has become more popular in recent times. The right side of my brain knew exactly what it wanted to say – the flow and the art form was there, but the left side struggled to let go of anything that wasn’t scientific and brutally narrative in form. Recognizing this I sought help. I read as much as I possibly could, I was reading stories certainly, but also studying the style and creative genius of the authors. I ran my own little clinic.
Despite all the personal efforts, books and reading can’t replace the human interaction of an editor (mine is a genius by the name of Diane Mettler). That’s where real training takes place. IT WAS BRUTAL!!! I brooded over her comments and criticisms, drowning my emotions with coffee strong enough to pop eyeballs. “Why can’t she see where I’m going with this?” or “This is a vital part of the story because of something that will happen three chapters later.” or “There’s no other way to do this because the reader needs the background information so everything will make sense.” Each and every time – I WAS WRONG.
Some of the basic lessons I learned are as follows:
- Don’t tell us what the characters did…show them in action. Let the story show the characters doing things. Don’t be the omnipresent narrator.
- Read your work out loud. Gaps in the writing become painfully obvious when you do this. In silent reading it’s natural for the brain to fill in the gaps. In other words, they fly under the radar.
- There has to be drama. There has to be a reason to WANT to turn the page, to read on and continue reading into the next chapters.
- Conflict builds drama. Reveal the external conflicts between people as well as the inner conflicts that are pulling them apart.
- Don’t be afraid to show the dark side of a character…even the good ones. This makes it more realistic and interesting.
- When taking feedback it’s natural to get defensive. A person’s writing is very dear to them…it’s very personal. Don’t allow pride cloud your vision. Let it go and you’ll get better. At the same time…you HAVE to stay true to yourself and your vision. The work has to be yours.
- It’s okay to have a style…as long as it’s real and not contrived. Language is an art…not a science. It allows for flexibility. But, if your style is contrived it will fall apart and do you a disservice in the end.
- Have as many people read your work as possible. Their feedback is important. Be careful who you ask. If all you are going to get is a, “It was great,” or “I liked it,” don’t waste your time. You need honest and open feedback. When you get feedback it’s okay to ask questions and clarify…but don’t argue that their perceptions are wrong.
- NETWORK -NETWORK – NETWORK