Friday, July 10, 2015

give yourself time--- between drafts and revision

If you're like me you have a love/hate relationship with your work. You get really excited about a sentence you write or a cool idea or a cool new character. You feel good about it all. Then you feel really bad. Then good again. It's great. It's terrible. But as you work through drafts, you feel better. The story seems to come together. Many aspects of the work that were out of focus are more in focus. You improve your sentences. Your characters are more in the scenes, more real, more developed. They have depth--yes they do.  It all seems to be going somewhere. Hallelujah.

And then there comes the moment when you think you are finished. You have done everything you can. You're done.
Probably not.
Do not be fooled.
If you're like me, you're seeing a manuscript that has been greatly improved by many drafts. You're seeing something that is so, so much better than that first draft. You're  thinking about the cool things in the manuscript and accepting the weakness as not all that weak. You want to believe they're small and of little consequence, like a few tiny chips in armor. Nothing to worry about. And the cool things. Come on,  so cool--it's good--a good story.

This is the point where you need at least a month to get far enough away from the manuscript that you can see that though the cool things might still be cool, those weaknesses of the manuscript are real and need to be worked on. And you will also see that there are other problems you couldn't see before. Sure, it's a little disappointing that after many drafts there are still a lot of areas that need work. But doing this final revision, working on these weaknesses, can be the difference between a pretty good manuscript and a very good one.

Give yourself time and distance from your work AFTER you think it's  ready to go. Doing this has really helped me.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

"And know the place for the first time"

 from T.S. Eliot “Little Gidding”

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time"

I was thinking about the Hero's Journey and the way that some writers use it as a method of story structure and I saw this quote and I thought--yeah, that's it. The stages and the specifics of the "journey" structure can be somewhat helpful if not followed too closely, but this right here is what I'm trying to get at with my quest story.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bad Writing Advice: write what you know

If we could only write what we know there would be no Harry Potter, no One Hundred Years of Solitude, no Red Badge of Courage. So many great novels would have never been written because the writer tried to stay on the narrow road of his own experience. Don't write what you know. Write what you can imagine. OK, you can write what you know--sure. BUT you don't have to.

I do think this advice has some truth in it. You have to be emotionally engaged in what you write and you have to find experiences in your own life that will help you be emotionally engaged. These experiences might come from actual life but they can also come from things you've read  or watched in a movies or over-heard at a party. Whatever you use, it is only raw material. For me, at some point, imagination will transform these kernels of experience into something very different, something that fits in the story.

Write what you know is, for some of us, like wearing a straight-jacket. We might as well be coloring by number. Our characters and our worlds won't breathe. There will be no life. Write what you want: What you know, what you can imagine, what you over-hear, read, see, whatever gets your work done.

Or so I think today.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Here's a link to a post I wrote on why character is not plot. I'm thinking about plot a lot lately because I struggle with it so much and because I see other writers struggle with it so much. You have to be able to do a lot of things to get novels published and plot is one of them. But plot was hardly mentioned at all in any of the writing classes I took in college. I think part of that was most of the teachers didn't understand it and part of it was they thought it didn't belong in a discussion of "serious" fiction. But look at the best books. They're good stories first. All the other pleasures come out of that. There are a few that are primarily about other things, like language, but these are the exception. Most good and great novels are good stories first.
 Here's some thoughts on plot and character:

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2015/05/character-is-not-plot-by-brian-yansky.html

Also, a new video for my novel, UTOPIA, IOWA. Thanks for watching.


 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Why do they do what they do?

Sometimes I think a very large part of writing is figuring out my characters' motivations. Why do my characters do what they do? Yes, it has to do with what they want and who and what stops them from getting what they want. And it also has to do with how they see themselves and how that changes when they get involved in the plot.

Being true to the motivation for all characters--even villains who, naturally, see themselves as the hero of their story-- can take you a long way down the narrative path.

But this motivation question  is not just about the big events.  Every scene, every gesture, every conversation and silence, has motivation in it and can, if done right, reveal character. Every little thing done by every character has to be accounted for. And when you have main characters who are on stage in a scene and act in ways that feel inauthentic, it is usually the unfortunate failure of motivation that is behind their inauthenticity.

Why do my characters do what they do in both small and large ways? I try to keep coming back to this question. A lot of discovering and revealing the secrets of character lies in motivation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The number one thing that a novelist has to have is...

Novelists need a lot of things to write well. They need some talent with language and story. They need to have read a lot to learn the structures of fiction. They need to study and understand all the elements of craft-- like characterization, plot, setting, language, show and tell, voice, POV and on and on. They need practice, lots and lots of practice. BUT the number one thing they need, in my humble opinion, is a passion for writing. They don't have to love to write all the time--good god no-- but they need to be passionate about their writing. And here's why--the writers who end up publishing and making a life, whether it pays all the bills or not, out of writing are those who continue to write and try all kinds of ways to get better.

I fully admit I have a love/hate relationship with writing. I love it much more than hate it but there are a few frustrating moments when I do hate it. But I am always passionate about it and it is this passion for writing (not publishing which is a different beast all together) that sustains me. I've met a lot of talented writers, particularly in graduate school (MFA in Writing, yep) who are not writing now and have published very little. The praise a person gets in school isn't going to sustain him/her as a writer once out and the teacher and student audience is gone and the larger one not yet materialized. What sustains a writer is that passion, that learned love of the act of writing.  Honestly, it takes most writers years and years to start writing well. What you have to do as a new writer is just keep writing and finishing (VERY important to your development is finishing work so you know what it's like to write an ending) your manuscripts. If you focus on what you love, write what you love, then you will feed that thing that I think is most important--a passion for writing, which means you will do it whether you get the pay or praise of the outside world.

Novelists do need many things (including luck) to get published but what sustains writers, I think, what keeps them going and writing the next manuscript and the next is passion. A little talent and a lot of passion will push a writer to keep writing and learning and those things make many things possible. You have to write and finish work to give yourself a chance to write something you've always wanted to write. The passion keeps you writing and the writing, finishing work, gives you hope and that's a fundamental part of the writing life.

Or so I think today.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Here's a link to an interview I did and also a giveaway of free hardback copies of Utopia, Iowa at this site. I have several other interviews coming up about writing that will be on the web. One is about Merlin and his effect on my writing and on  drinking coffee, and one is on writing and reading and one on process. Also, I have a few book events coming up: I will be at the North Texas Teen Book Festival on March 7,  teach a class for WLT on Plot in Character Driven Fiction on April 4 and be on a SCBWI panel on process on April 11 and at TLA  in Austin on April 16, 17.

http://www.adventuresinyapublishing.com/2015/02/brian-yansky-author-of-utopia-iowa-on.html