Advice for aspiring authors

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

― Thomas A. Edison

Have you ever considered giving up?  Good news, you are not alone.

I’m going to give you a few example of others who almost pitched in the towel and left the writing to others. .  . almost. Thank goodness they didn’t give up.

Most recent, during an interview with Writers Digest, author Joe Hill (The Heart Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2, and the short story collection 20th Century Ghosts) talked about his journey toward publication.  He didn’t tell his agent who he was because he wanted his writing to stand on its own merit. In other words, he didn’t want anyone to publish his novel because he was Stephen King’s son.

The list is long and varied.  Mystery author Agatha Christie collected 500 rejections in four short years.

The quality of the message associated with rejection is also often disheartening and horrific.  Her’s a paraphrase of a rejection received by author Zane Grey, “you have no business being a writer and should give up”.

Sometimes the ability to choose the correct or enthusiastic publisher or agent eludes us, but the person who believes in our work as much as we do is out there.

The authors of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” were informed that anthologies don’t sell.  Can you believe that?  Thank goodness they didn’t.

C.S.Lewis collected 800 rejections for “The Chronicles of Narnia”, and  Margaret Mitchell received 38 rejections for “Gone with the Wind”.

Author Paul Coelho sees a limited 800 copies of “The Alchemist” sell, but with a new publisher, the number climbs to 75 million in print.

Fourteen agencies reject Stephanie Meyers “Twilight” which went on to spend 91 weeks on the NYT.

L. Frank Baum, told his works was “too radical a departure from juvenile literature”, finally sells “The Wonderful Wizard of  OZ”.

Louisa May Alcott was told by a publisher, “you should stick to teaching” which, thankfully she did not, and is still in print 140 years later.

Even the esteemed Beatrix Potter, the beloved author of “Tales of Peter Rabbit” was rejected so often she chose to self publish.  From its original 250 copies to 45 million.

The Christopher Little Literary Agency collects twelve rejections for author J.K.Rowlings’  “Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone”, until the eight year old daughter of a Bloomsbury editor insists on being allowed to finish reading the manuscript.  This led the way for this series of books which now has 450 million books in print.

The message here is clear.  Rejection is a part of the writing life.  We all experience it in different ways, at different levels, and with or without rancor.  But persistence is the key to success.  The willingness and the ability to come back and try just one more time can be the difference between life an author, and life wishing you’d finished the last book.

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Building Character

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

Helen Keller

In fiction, much like real life, character is built by one’s life experience.  The ability to engage with a character without showing their life story  right up front is a basic skill ever writer learns. Sometimes the hard way.

Short stories differ from novels and novellas in that  the time to establish character is less in a short story and therefore, a different type of telling is used, usually dialogue exchange.  Characters can tell you a lot about their fellow travelers on the fictional journey and should be used accordingly.

But in the longer piece of fiction, characters are built, and many aspects must be addressed.  Such as, physical description.  What does your character look like and how will you let the readers know?

What does your character sound like?  Is the voice strong?  Commanding?  Authoritative? Or is the voice meek, mild, submissive, or even absent?

Is the character a person with a gentle touch, or more like a” bull in a china shop”? Is the behavior which determines their presence intentional or accidental?  Are they aggressive or just clumsy?

For the more intimate moments, the writer should let us know how others respond to the characters we build.  Reaction, though limited and more focused, is often poorly interpreted.  This is a significant problem with single or first person point of view.  Your narrator is often reactive to the behavior of other characters and can easily misinterpret the behavior or intentions of others.

During the intimate physical exchange or even during the “dance of attraction” don’t forget to let us know how your hero and heroine stimulate each other, touch, sight, or smell.

Olfactory response is the earliest indicator of recognition for us humans, and often invokes powerful memories which in turn stimulate neurological responses.  Intimate and even unknown fears are sometimes triggered by the sense of smell.  So if you’re looking for an opportunity to motivate your character to one of those little “turn around ” a deep-seated fear connected with a specific odor might serve.

Don’t forget the motivation comes from the history of the character you built,  and that is the path through which the great story is achieved.  You can only hope to thoroughly engage your reader with a spell binding character, well motivated, and easily identified  with, before you can craft a story that won’t be put aside.

Characters

So you have your work area.  You’re ready to start writing.  But what do you do next?  What I do is start with my characters.  To me, these are the most important thing in your novel.  If they are strong and well defined, the plot will come from them.

When I start writing, I know what type of book I want to write.  Yes, it’s usually medieval romance.  But I need to know a little bit more then that.  Is it a book about redemption?  Is it a book about family?  About loyalty?  This is called theme.  I’ll talk about this more in another post.

I like to jump right in and begin writing.  That’s because I’m a pantser.  I write by the seat of my pants.  For me, writing this way allows me to explore the plot and characters and sometimes, it even holds a surprise for me.

In order to do this, I need to know a little bit about my characters.  Their name, what they look like, a little bit about their background.  Not everything, just enough for me to be able to relate to them, to sympathize with them.  I don’t need this information for all of the characters, not yet anyway.  Just for my hero and heroine.  For names, their are numerous sites on the web where you can find first names.  (Below is a small sample)

Medieval Names – http://www.thinkbabynames.com/search/1/medieval
Top 100 Medieval Boy Names – http://www.top-100-baby-names-search.com/medieval-boy-names.html
Behind the Name: Medieval Names – http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/medieval

Also places to find surnames.  (Below is a small sample)

Medieval English Surnames – http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval_surnames.htm
History Learning Site – Medieval Surnames – http://tekeli.li/onomastikon/England-Medieval/Surnames.html
Surnames Meanings and Origins – http://www.lisagenealogy.com/Surmean/surintro.html

What the characters look like is totally up to your imagination.  Background, again, is up to your imagination.  Below are some helpful links about medieval life that you might find helpful.

Medieval Life – http://www.historyonthenet.com/Medieval_Life/medievallifemain.htm
Medieval Life and Times – http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-life/
Life in a Medieval Castle – http://www.castlewales.com/life.html

At this point, I know just enough to begin the story.  As I write, more comes out, more ideas, more background.  More story.  This is were I begin writing.  Remember, characters not only come from your mind, but they are born from your heart as well.

Inspiration

“Where do you get your ideas?”

A question all too familiar to most writers, whether they are seasoned professional with a hard track record of novels multi-pubbed in many foreign languages or the aspiring writer  who has just — mistakenly– shared their aspiration to a career of full-time writing.

This is a common question for two very good reasons; 1) people are genuinely interested in how your process works or, 2) the can’t think of anything else intelligent to say to someone who makes their living as a writer.  After all, full-time author isn’t a real job, is it?

Happily or sadly, dependent on which side of the argument you fall, people do make a living at nothing but the writing.

So back to the question, where do the good ideas come from?

They are all around us.  The good ideas are in the people we know and those we don’t know, the folks we’ve grown up with and those we pass on the street.  The good ideas are everywhere if you know how to mine them out of your everyday life.

What will you do when faced with a life changing decision?  What do you think the people you know really well– your nearest and dearest do, when faced with a life altering choice?  Would they sacrifice one loved one for another?  Would they sacrifice their own life for someone else?  Or would they sacrifice another in order to live?

The choices we make on our best day as human beings is not usually the choice we offer our characters in a novel.  Those choices are much more difficult.  The things we know– or think we know about ourselves can all be called into question in our fiction.  This is what we mean when we talk about writing what we know.

In fiction we build characters who help us tell our stories, of what we think we would do– or hope we could do, or even help us tell of the better person we would like to be, if we aren’t telling the cautionary tale of  history which shows us the path others have chosen, much to their regret.

That is what fiction is all about, after all.  Telling the story.  Choosing the path for our characters, writing what we know and asking –” What if?”

So share with me, where do your good ideas come from?