Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Have Skeleton; need muscle.

I'm in the initial stages of a new novel. I call it the skeleton stage.

I start with a central idea that will carry the meat of the project. The first idea comes with a protagonist, someone who I am determined to get into a lot of trouble before everything is done.

The skeleton stage is all about research. I need to elaborate on the central conflict adding muscle (sub-plots, characters, troubled backstory and layers) that will give my story movement.

Then I'll need organs, the major plot points that will get my protagonist through the chief conflict, arriving at the end with some definite growth as a result of dealing with the conflict.

I need skin and connective tissue to bring it all together in a way that won't seem choppy and disconnected. It has to look real enough so that readers won't think, "that would never happen."

At this stage, I have an open folder called "Novel 15." Inside, I have documents that are nothing but a jumble of ideas. I'm searching for the reasons for my characters to act like I need them to act. I'm learning to know my characters at this stage. Some days, it feel like a bag of loose bones. I've got a tibia, a set of ribs, some vertebra, a mandible, a femur and a humerus.

Now I need to fit them together.

The more work I do now, the better and faster the result later. The problem is, when the word-count on the novel isn't piling up, there is a sense that nothing is getting done. That's not really true; but it's a feeling I need to fight.

I'll be happily writing away soon enough, heading down that road until I reach a final step and pull out the paddles on the defibrillator to see if I can shock this monster into life!

Enjoy the process, folks. Whatever you are working on, I'm pretty sure there is a "skeleton stage." Do the foundation work right and you will see the good results later on.

Here's to the bones!


Saturday, April 2, 2011

Writing From the Heart

Someone a lot smarter than me once said that we write non-fiction to convey information; we write fiction to elicit emotion. I’d like to suggest that the best non-fiction does both: it conveys information by stimulating an emotional response.
So look back over the last scene you’ve written in your work in progress. Forget all the little pearls you’ve been taught about limiting attributions, killing those pesky adverbs, and avoiding repetitive words. Resist the urge to line edit. Just ask yourself one question: How did it make you feel?
Did it make you angry? Good.
Fear? Very good.
Love? Hate? Excellent.
In a novel that may involve hundreds of pages and dozens of scenes, ask yourself whether it deepened your emotional response on any level. Did it make you love more? Deepen your anger? Ratchet up your fear?
If you don’t feel something or feel something more, toss it out! The reader whose emotions aren’t involved is a reader who is going to skim ahead looking for a bit of tension that will grip him or her at a heart level.
Writing that is made up of beautiful sentences, graced with metaphor and simile, but doesn’t make me feel something is unlikely to impact me for a minute beyond the time I devoted to the reading. Words that anger me, touch a chord of fear, or make me love or hate are words which will be remembered!
Mark Twain said, “No tears the writer; no tears the reader.”
So this can become our judge: as you are writing, what are you feeling?
I remember a few years ago, I was working on a novel. I had gotten my hero into all sorts of trouble: false accusations, loss of job, threatened career and relationships, all the cards stacked against this guy. Finally, late in the novel, he comes to faith. I was setting in my favorite chair, writing the conversion scene, and as I wrote, tears spilled onto my cheeks. My wife walked by, pausing to look at me and question, “Are you OK?”
I nodded. “Seth just came to Christ.”
Hardly. If I didn’t care about the outcome for my protagonist, if I wasn’t ├čemotionally tangled in the climax, neither would my reader! Don’t let your friends convince you that just because your characters are imaginary, they don’t matter. They deserve your emotional investment. In fact, if you don’t invest emotionally in them, your readers won’t either.
So forget all the other writing pearls for a minute and reread your last paragraph. Are you touched at a heart level?
I hope so. If not, you risk creating a page of information that your reader will grow impatient with, turning ahead until something strikes them in the heart.
As we reach out to non-Christians around us, we can take this information to another level. Although we carry the great truth of the gospel, unless you wrap it in emotion, your friends will likely keep searching. I wish I knew who said this because it’s so true: they will not care what you know unless they know that you care!
Emotion (love, joy, hate, anger, fear) is what makes a message stick!
We have been told (quite incorrectly) that truth is the engine, faith is the coal car and feelings are the caboose, obviously not reliable and certainly not to be trusted. That’s craziness! The God who asked us to love him with all our minds asks us also to love him with all our souls.
That subject is way bigger than I can address here. For now, give this simple test to your latest writing and see if it will pass. How does it make you feel?