Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Wielding Words With Wisdom

On Monday Sharon talked about words that rankle - trigger words that can make a reader sit up and take notice (or itch). I'm in the throes of editing my next novel and Sharon's post reminded me how powerful words are.

In that spirit, and considering we are running our second Audience with An Agent contest, I wanted to share with you a list of the top ten things you can do to improve your writing in 2010.

1) Write to the right audience
You have an amazing story - now picture yourself reading it aloud, - to an empty cow pasture. The story is fantastic, but no one is listening. How can you ensure your story will find an audience? By knowing your audience before you write. Part of it is to understand the genre you write in, but it goes beyond that to the actual people who will read (and love) your story. Think of specific people in your life and write to them. Knowing your audience will sharpen your fiction, keep it on track, and help you use the perfect words to express the story.

2) Let go of your inhibitions
A sure-fire line to kill a great story? "Oh no! I could NEVER write that!" I'm not talking porno or profanity, we're all sick to death of being bombarded with those things. I'm talking about holding back from asking the bigger questions, poking evil in the eye, having a character act in a way that you would never act, or think things you would never think. By avoiding difficult conflict, you're killing off the best parts of your fiction, the parts that examine questions we all have. Wrestling with story is wresting with life. I say, "Let 'er rip!"

3) Make space
Grab some real estate in your home and make it your writing space. Guard it. Don't let junk mail pile there, don't let kids toys and other people's cell phones clutter your space. You don't necessarily have to have a whole room, just a space to call your own. By taking your writing seriously, you'll train everyone in your household to take it seriously too. If you're feeling cramped and crowded in, it will show up in your writing.

4) Clear your mind
A writing life can be a cloistered one - all that tip-tapping away on a keyboard, deep in thought, lost in a storyline that doesn't quiet make sense yet. Make a habit of getting out there in the world. My Dad calls it, "Blowing the stink off" and every writer needs to do it. Writing is a reflection of life and it's issues and you need to experience those things in order to write about them. Take breaks, call a friend, get out of the house and clear your mind - it sets the stage for fantastic fiction writing.

5) Read dense books
Like to write zippy cozy mysteries? Got a passion for chick-lit? Great! But you owe it to yourself to get out of the wading pool and swim in deep waters. Get lost in a classic book, or discover a shining new literary talent. Find a book that challenges the assumptions of your life, examines questions you've never asked and boggles your mind. Wrestle with the text, suffer through the passages you don't understand, or care for. Read outside your favorite genre - Your writing will blossom.

6) Be passionate
Find the things in life that move you, thrill you, anger you, enthrall you. Then chase them for awhile. Rub up against people who aren't like you. Find that gutsy, lusty, go-for-the-gusto part of you and embrace it. Great fiction is filled with passion for living, for people, and for stories. Throw open the doors of your heart and embrace your red-hot joy for living.

7) Stop trying to explain
Fiction must be about human experience. Many writers, in an earnest attempt to convey a meaningful message, resort to heavy-handed, neatly wrapped packages (especially endings) and hollowed out characters who only exist to serve the message. Give your characters depth and let them live out the story instead of trying to live up to your message. Remember, life is messy - therefore fiction needs to be messy.

8) Be Unique
Every writer looks to other writing for inspiration - each of us stands on the shoulders of writers before us. But there comes a time when you must leave the road others have travelled and forge your own path. You must tell your story your way - not the way your favorite author would, not the way your Pastor's wife would, not the way your Great Aunt Bea would. Fling your own words around the page. Dig deep, and trust your instincts.

9) Try something new that scares you
It's been said, "Fiction is conflict". Writers love to dream up characters and then throw them into all sorts of harrowing circumstances. But when was the last time you had a heart-pounding adventure? How can you recreate the feelings, sensations, and inner dialogue of someone in peril if you haven't left your house for ten years? Find something that makes your pulse jump and go experience it!

10) Admit life isn't simple
Okay, you have a great story, wonderful characters, a theme, an outline - everything is ducky! But check again - have you tied too neat a bow on the whole package? Have you let your characters get sloppy, make mistakes, and put their foot in their mouth? Is your story a journey with pit-stops? Life isn't a simple tale, and your fiction shouldn't be either. We all like happy endings, but it's so much more interesting to leave a few threads loose.


Patti Hill said...

Bonnie, these are exactly the words I needed to hear as I'm contemplating a course correction in my WIP. Woohoo! I'll print this post and refer to it often.

Steena Holmes said...

Great advice Bonnie! Thanks! Also - a huge thanks for hosting this contest ... can't wait to enter!

Bonnie Grove said...

I'm so glad to hear that, Patti!

I wrote the list out of my own need - they are things I need to remind myself of frequently.

Bonnie Grove said...

Steena: Looking forward to your entry!!

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Love it! These are great! Thanks!

Just wanted to let y'all know I have a space now--and a chair! My parents surprised me with my dream chair for Christmas for my new apartment. I now have a "writing nook". Now I just need to decorate it accordingly!

Carla Gade said...

Great list! Thank you.