Over the past few weeks I’ve been typing away on the current WIP. I let the last rejection letter get to me for a couple of months, but then I pulled myself back up from my pit of despair ( yes, I’m melodramatic – I’m a writer) and decided to get back in the saddle. Or rather in my sturdy chair.
I have certain milestones that I shoot for each day, and at those milestones I allow myself some free time. For instance, after getting down 2000 words I can go check in with my writing groups on Facebook, or crack the pages on one of my to be read books. Lately, I’ve been visiting one of my writing groups on Facebook where the posts break down to legitimate writing inquiries, gripe posts, praise reports, baby elephants and funny memes. There are a great group of people in that group, but not all are serious writers. That’s ok, it’s not for everyone.
I think there are numerous people who are fascinated with the idea of writing a book. I can’t go anywhere without some form of the following conversation:
“What do you do?”
*30 to 60 seconds spent debating whether I share beyond the day job* “I’m a writer.”
“Oh really? I’ve thought about writing. I have this great idea for a story, it’s about *insert their idea here*. You know, I should really start on that. I’ll be rich in no time and be able to pay for my cruise instead of putting it on credit card.”
Most people think it’s easy. Just write down a story and whala! Instant money! If that works for you can you please share your method? Please?
It’s simple, but not easy.
Out of 100 people who decide to write a book, only a handful ever publish their book. Out of that handful one or two are good. Just about anyone can write, but very few can write well.
My daughter came home from school today sharing with me about a boy in her class that suddenly decided that he’s going to write a book. I’ve taught my children that grammar is important, that if you are going to put your name on something make sure it’s something that you can be proud of. (Hence part of why I haven’t braved the self publishing obstacle yet, battling with the over editing problem and worry that the rejection letters mean that I am a crap writer.) Some of the issues I have with bad writing have overflown onto my kids. They are both readers first, and have read their share of good books and bad books.
As a reader, you don’t need to understand the key elements of a good story. However, as a reader if any of those elements are missing or are insufficient you know that this book isn’t a good book. The reader may not be able to tell what’s wrong exactly, it just fails.
As a writer, you better darn well know the elements that comprise a story. You better have them nailed. A writer checks and double checks the details, can get lost in research to make sure his/her story is believable.
One of the sure signs of an amateur is not researching. The excitement and exhilaration of the new idea blossoms, and they are off writing. I see it every year during NANO. The gun goes off – (not literally, there is no starting pistol for NANO, just the clock stroke of midnight on OCtober 31st.) They are off, writing at a maddening pace. Us slower more methodical writer’s scratch our head wondering why we can’t seem to match their frantic pace. Their virtual pages are scorched with the speed of typing ten thousand words in one day while my meager two thousand closes out my first day.
Then around day ten, they fizzle out. They’ve written themselves into a corner because they didn’t research. They didn’t think things through. They have no plot, they haven’t developed their characters nor have they spent any time building their world. The new kids on the block are in the rubber room, some sitting in the floor crying, one over in the corner babbling, one is writing on the wall trying to figure out how to undo what he’s done without deleting the last thirty thousand words.
Those of us who’ve been around the block a few times quietly plod along at our own manageable pace, checking our notes as we go along.
Nancy new author has hit the NANO goal of 50000 words, but her story is missing 4 of the 6 key elements. They go ahead and publish it without an editor, riddled with bad grammar, typos and infested with inconsistencies. This is what gives the Indy business a bad rap.
Trust me, I know several Indy authors that not only write well but put out a quality book to read so I know it can be done. Then there are those like me who trudge along over editing myself, second guessing myself, and terrified to release my babies into the world because of past rejection letters. It really doesn’t help when I read about Stephen King or J.K. Rowling getting numerous rejection letters, because each time I get one is another blow to the fragile author ego.
I am determined however, this year to pull the trigger. I am submitting to traditional publishers until a certain date and if it’s not picked up then I will go ahead with self publishing. I’m working hard to make my stories the best they can be and have gotten good responses from my beta readers thus far.
So, what are the 6 key elements of a story?
- PLOT – what happens, the structure of the story. There are twenty basic plots, and beyond that are variations on those basic twenty.
- CHARACTERIZATION – the way that the characters act or are portrayed to convey the plot.
- POV – the point of view, or perspective that the story is told from. I have written in first person and in third, the current one being in third person omniscient.
- SETTING – the time, place, or even atmosphere in which the story is set.This is the world building that is crucial to your story.
- STYLE – the language used by the narrator to convey the story. The style of Mark Twain is a more casual laid back manner than that of Jane Austin. You know that Twain’s characters are poor folk, where as many of Austin’s works are about an aristocratic class.
- THEME – a universal meaning that your readers will connect to, or most readers will connect to.
If any of these elements are lacking, it is evident to the reader in the quality of the story. Most often the step that the newbie omits is the planning stage. It’s not as fun as the actual writing stage and to be honest we all want to jump in with the writing. However, it’s when you get to the muddy middle of a story that if you haven’t done the planning and research that the author has painted themselves into a corner with no way out. This is also the point when some hit the delete button, or shove their notebook in the drawer, or decide that they suddenly need to go do something else. Yeah, anything else that doesn’t make your brain hurt.
I’d be willing to bet that you’ve read some books that one or more of these elements were lacking. Perhaps the characters were flat Stanley’s or MarySues. Or maybe the setting was missing, and in your mind you got some semblance of a cardboard cut out town in the backdrop.
I’m a sensory writer. I expect my reader’s to be able to see the marble tiles, the clean pine scent lingering in the air, and the slightest fragrance of the Orchid sitting on the windowsill. I paint a picture that the writer can experience what my protagonist experiences. When she’s heart-broken I expect my readers to feel it and perhaps shed a tear of their own. When she feels elation, I expect my reader to feel it in the depths of their soul and rejoice with her, perhaps letting out a shout of triumph on the train home making the others around them wonder what they are reading. I don’t think there could be any better compliment to a writer’s work than invoking the emotional response of the reader.
So as I slip back to my writing cave to pound out the next chapter, and then the next I’ll occasionally give you a few snippets or an excerpt. This is mostly in a first draft so keep that in mind.
Here is the first snippet:
His eyes played down her sleeping form, admiring the lush curves. It was refreshing to see a woman at a healthy weight instead of the skeletal thinness pushed by the media. A woman should have curves, not be a walking hanger to showcase the clothing. The clothing should accentuate the woman not the other way around. She shifted in her sleep, turning just enough that he could catch her profile and swell of her breast. It was tempting to caress and feel every inch of her, but for now he was content to gaze at her sleeping form.
Her hand found his, fingers lacing between his own as the sweetest smile curved across her face. She was genuine and in no way pretentious. That was one of the few things he had on his “check off” list. The events of the previous day and night played through his mind. It had started with him staying up till two going over and over the files. As he’d shared with Mark he hit on details that would win the case. He worked hard over the past seven months and was really hoping that this firm would offer him a partnership. He had plans to eventually open his own law firm in New York City, but until them he needed some experience under his belt. Once he found the puzzle piece, he had spent a grueling day in court.
The tension had his stomach in knots. There was a jittering excitement just below the surface. He knew in his mind that he had won the case, it all came down to how he managed himself in the courtroom and how he presented the evidence. When the verdict was announced he smiled, but remained calm until he had returned to his apartment. If Ashleigh had been there. . .
A stern expression crossed his face. Ashleigh. He hadn’t given her anymore thought since last May when she ripped his heart out. Then last night, on the eve of his first big win she shows up wanting to rekindle things. Her farewell speech was burned into his mind. He had replayed it over and over while he sat at that bar in Tampa.
“I can’t do this with you anymore.” She crossed her arms, turning away from him.
He reached for her as she pulled away.”All you ever do is obsess over these cases. You never have time for me. For us. It feels like in your world there isn’t even an us.”
“Ash, babe. You mean the world to me. Of course there is an us. I love you.” He stepped towards her and she walked around the kitchen island placing her hands on the edge before looking him square in the face.
“Do I? It seems the only thing that means anything to you is your work, this job. I mean, well it’s ok to have dreams and goals but you’re obsessed. All you ever think about is work.” Her back was straight, tensed as she looked away to the side. “Do you even see me in your future at all?”
“Of course I do. I thought you were on board with eventually opening my own law firm in New York. It would be perfect for both of us, convenient for you to get modeling jobs and for me to get clients. We’ve talked about this Ash. It takes a lot of hard work to get to that level.”
She sighed before standing up straight crossing her arms over her chest again, her lips pursed. “No, you’ve talked about this. You’ve told me it will take a lot of work. You’ve talked like I’ll be your side kick while you work hard. You’ve never talked about us, about getting married or starting a family. You’ve never encouraged me in my modeling. I’m tired of it. You’re selfish and afraid of commitment and I can’t take this anymore.”
“Take what? I thought”
“You thought what Derek? That I would stay at your side until you figured things out? Until you decided to grow up? No. I’m done. You’ve wasted enough of my time.” She grabbed her purse off the counter giving him once final glance before she walked out.
Just like that, she had walked out. After a year and a half together. For months he’d thought long and hard about what she’d said wondering if she was right. Then he found out that the very next day she had left for New York City with Jean Merdoux, a photographer that she’d been working with. Funny how she failed to mention that part to him. He had checked up on her on social media a few times, feeling sorry for himself.
Let me know your thoughts – does it evoke an emotional response in you as you read? How do you feel about Derek? About Ashleigh? Do you want to read more?
Write on my friends, write on!
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