Wednesday, January 23, 2013

critical factors

I was reading my Writer's Digest Magazine last night, and once again came across a superb article about why some novels become successful and others don't. Culprit number one, according to Donald Maass, is timid voices. "A snappy premise and meaty plot can hook us and keep us reading but cannot by themselves work that magic. It takes something extra: voice." Further, "voice in a novel is not the author's thoughts or vocabulary but the sum total of what her characters observe, think, feel and express in their own unique ways."

The fix is easy. Write your characters with strong voices. Let them speak in their own words and tell the story.

(Which is exactly what I've been doing with my latest wip! I know, great minds think alike, right? Me and Don? We are so on the same page when it comes to characters. It's scary.)

Anyway. Moving on. Culprit number two, according to Maass, is untested characters. If they don't do anything then what was the point? How compelling is it to read about a character who doesn't react? The best characters act bravely even though they're scared, jump to defend their principles and rise to face their deepest fears. They come out the other side, changed different, and so do we for reading about them.

But the last and best is culprit number three (Overly Interior or Exterior stories), which really hit home: "Certain story patterns are pretty much guaranteed to lead to fiction of underwhelming force," especially novels heavy with "delay, suffering, and being stuck." Fiction of underwhelming force is, of course, the last thing we want. The way to rectify this, Maass says, is to give interior stories "more dramatic outward events; by the same token, dramatic outward events need to create a more devastating interior impact."

Yeah. I had to underline that last part. Brilliant, right? Especially the devastating part.

And if that doesn't get you all fired up to write something then I'll give you a last gem I found, a question to ponder. Ask yourself, what's the biggest thing your protagonist could possibly do, but can't? By the end of the story, have her do it.

Hmm. I think I might.



23 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing Donald Maas' awesome tips. It's definitely things we should remember.

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    1. yeah, he's a prety smart guy :)

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  2. Thanks for sharing this insight. Much goes back to that old expression: I don't know what 'it' is, but I know it when I see 'it.' . . perhaps 'read it?' Anyway, I felt an eye-opening surge when I read the part about the protagonist just doing it.

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  3. I have several of his books. I love reading his insights.

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    1. This article really hit home for me just how insightful he is.

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  4. I'm always amazed at how you religiously read your WD Magazine. I need to be more diligent with that.

    "...but the sum total of what her characters observe, think, feel and express in their own unique ways." Okay, now that is genius. Love this!! Thank you so much for sharing it!!

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    1. well, I don't read as many writing books as perhaps I should (I read a ton of fiction!) but I do read WD from cover to cover every issue and always find something that clicks.

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  5. Hi, Marcy,

    THIS is AWESOME.... Fantastic advice.... THANKS for sharing with us!

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    1. you are welcome! It was a great article.

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  6. I'm reading along thinking maybe I've got this thing licked. Everyone says my MC has great voice. The characters are all fairly well tested, BUT then number 3 - 'Dramatic outward events need to create a more devastating interior impact'.
    WOW! I wrote that down and tacked it up above my computer. Thanks.

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    1. That's exactly how I felt when I read those words.

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  7. He always has such great advice. He's always pushing for BIG world stakes balanced with personal ones. He's so right. With nothing to lose there isn't much for a hero to do.

    Also, I finally renewed my subscription to WD again, so hopefully they'll send me this copy soon. :)

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    1. It wasn't the only good article, and the reject a hit at the end was pretty funny.

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  8. i read that article. wish i could go hear him in person, hes going to be only 2 hrs away from me this wknd!

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    1. That would be inspiring to hear him in person.

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  9. Maass always has fantastic advice, I love reading his articles. Thanks for posting the highlights of this one, I'm definitely fired up to write! Unfortunately, I'm several hours from home and my laptop. Oh well, there's be time this evening. :)

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    1. I really enjoyed this one.

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  10. I guess a novel that moves at a brisk pace isn't an underwhelming force then?

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  11. Maass is a master at writing advice (and a super nice guy). At PPWC, he recommended people number their pages then throw their manuscript in the air. Gather it up, not in order, and see if you have tension on every. single. page.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

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    1. well, I don't know as though I'd want tension on every page. As a reader, I do like to see the characters I love get a breather now and again, but not too many!

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