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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.


Sean McLachlan said...

Interesting post. I haven't pick up a copy of WD in a while. I preferred the late and much lamented Writer. That article has sparked my interest again.

Liza said...

This is a thought provoking post. I keep reciting in my brain as I write, "What is the worst possible thing that could happen to my character?" That has taken me places I didn't think I could go as a writer...and improved the story, too.

Francene Stanley said...

I like this last challenge. Now, how could I work it into the story? Great article.

mshatch said...

I thought it was an excellent article - which is why I'm sharing it here, and at my own personal blog (no you're not seeing double, just a duplicate post - because no one sent me any characters to play the personality game with!)

LD Masterson said...

Excellent food for thought. Thanks.

DEZMOND said...

that's a bold piece of advice!

mshatch said...

maybe that's what Donald Maass was saying, that in order to be successful our fiction, and thus our characters, have to be bold in some way.

Liz said...

That's always the trick, isn't it?

M. J. Joachim said...

Love to read a good book with strong characters! Can't stand a cheesy ending that bailed on characters I've come to know. Excellent blog post - recognized a few things from books I've read recently. Your words ring true.