“People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.”
– Harlan Ellison
“First, find out what your hero wants, then just follow him!”
– Ray Bradbury
“My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.”
– Anton Chekhov
[found on 5writers5novels5months.com]
“Why Do We Torture Our Heroes?
There are three big problems with a hapless victim as protagonist.
Problem #1: Repetitive Agonizing
Over-tortured, victimized characters tend to express their constant frustration. After all, the author has to give these poor sods something to say, and when a character with a life-threatening disease, whose true love recently dumped him just after his dog was run over by a car, falls off a cliff and into a gigantic waterfall after being chased by evil aliens … well, let’s just assume the first words out of his mouth after he hits the water will not be, “Wow! What a beautiful waterfall.” How many readers want to spend a whole book with a constantly anguished or angry protagonist? We all want someone to root for, not just feel sorry for.
Problem #2: Boredom
Being in a pickle is not inherently exciting. Giving a protagonist a ton of problems to worry about and suffer from does not automatically create conflict and tension. A guy sitting in solitary confinement in a prison cell has big trouble, but watching him pace the floor and mark the days off on the wall is not interesting. Or even tense (for the reader, at least). Why? He can’t solve his problem. All he can do is be miserable. And misery without conflict, action or interaction is kinda boring. (In case Papillon comes to mind as an exception, that was Henri Charriere’s memoir and, arguably, the exciting parts were the escapes, not the scenes where he spit out his rotting teeth in a filthy cell.)
Problem #3: Miraculous Victory
“The Perils of Pauline” told classic damsel-in-distress stories. Sending in some outside force to rescue the protagonist is one way to get him, or her, down from the tree. But if you’re not (intentionally) writing melodrama, you have to figure out a way to have your hero find his own way down from the tree. If you’ve beset your protagonist with continuously mounting (and unsolved) troubles through the whole book – your character is going to have to morph from hapless victim to unstoppable Superman in the last act to get out of the mess by himself. (Okay, Papillon is certainly a breathtaking example of this … but if it hadn’t been an autobiography, who would have believed it?)
So, what does the “up a tree” dictum really tell us to do? This is something we discussed at length in Whistler, and my own personal epiphany was about the purpose of giving your protagonist troubles. It’s not to make him a miserable, complaining victim. It’s to give him something heroic to do. To put him in action. Only by the protagonist’s reaction to his troubles can we get to know what he’s made of.
Ding … the lightbulb went on for me. Give your hero problems he actually can do something about. Then let him show his stuff. Do we really care about a hero who sits up in that tree kvetching and waiting for miracle? No, we want him to be visibly overcoming his fear of heights, planning his escape, throwing apples at the baying dogs below, weaving a rope out of twigs or something … anything! The tougher the problem, the bigger the hero. But if the protagonist is not well matched with the problems to be solved, the writer may have to cheat and resort to miracles or magic, and that could actually diminish the hero.”
“Prose is architecture, not interior decoration.”
– Ernest Hemingway
[found on queryshark.blogspot.com]
Query Shark: “How To Write Query Letters … or, really, how to revise query letters so they actually work…” A site that works for YOU. Query questions? Read on…
Example of this tool:“Dear Query Shark, Winston Smith has been a foolish man, and on Christmas Day of 2012, it’s going to cost him his life. This is a great opening line. Do I want to find out what happened? You bet. On top of a faltering marriage – and there’s been no sex for eight months – not only has he neglected to tell wife, Julia, their heavily indebted dairy farm is up for an income tax audit, but he’s corresponded with the auditor that “the thought of having to hand over my life in letters and source documents for examination by you, a total stranger, on pain of punishment, makes me physically ill,” and he will not be cooperating with the Inland Revenue Department. And then you take veer so completely off the path of taut, lean prose that it’s almost like you’ve morphed into Prolix Man. For starters, don’t quote the novel in the query. Also, we don’t need to know why the marriage is faltering, just that it is. And the only thing we really need to know is the audit is going to be a big surprise to Julia. Tom Parsons life previously could have been summed up in a word: inertia. Married to mousy Sally, the one girl he dated at high school, their marriage has become routine since the birth of their son, Syme. What? Wait. Who? What happened to Winston and Julia? This abrupt segue is confusing. Remember, I’m not sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea, savoring your query. I’m not reading this like I read a novel. I’m sitting at my desk, I’ve got ten minutes before a scheduled phone call and I’m trying to find the queries that entice me to read on. In other words, I’m reading fast and mostly skimming. Whether you think this is a good idea, or fair is immaterial. It’s reality and a smart query writer will write to his/her audience. What that means: You make sure I know who a new character is by telling me “Inland Revenue agent Tom Parsons” And you don’t have FIVE NAMED CHARACTERS in the first two paragraphs. At the most you have two….“
[found on http://queryshark.blogspot.com]
“I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.”
– Stephen King
[found on us4.campaign-archive1.com; by Rachelle Gardner]
“Those Annoying Exclamation Points!!!
By Rachelle Gardner on Jul 01, 2013 09:34 pm
Over many years of editing books, it seems I have become a heartless eliminator of exclamation points!!! Seriously, I developed a hatred for them! People tend to WAY overuse them! Not to mention italics and bold, and that oh-so-effective use of ALL CAPS!!!!!!!
Here’s a hint to avoid coming across as amateur: Use the above devices sparingly in any writing intended for publication. (I’m being specific here, because in blog writing and emails, you’re free to go crazy. I do.)
If you tend to use a plethora of exclamation points, do a search-and-replace in your manuscript and put a period in place of every single one of them. Yep, every one. Then you can go back and add an exclamation point here and there if you really must. But I’m not kidding: VERY . . . SPARINGLY.
Same with other means of artificial emphasis: italics and ALL CAPS. Your writing should be so effective by itself that the emphasis isn’t necessary.
As for bold, don’t ever use it in running text! (It’s OKAY for headers!)
Isn’t THIS irritating??!!”