There's a question that I sometimes see on Query Manager that asks, "Why are you the right person to tell this story?" It's one of those deceptively simple questions that usually has an infuriatingly complicated answer.
Despite the potential for infuriation, there's a variation on this question I think authors should ask themselves while they are drafting their book: "Why is my main character the right protagonist for this story?"
"Because I said so," you might say. "Because I'm writing this story, and this is the main character I picked!"
But if that's your answer, you’re at risk of writing an entire book with the wrong main character. You know what I'm talking about — we've all read those books in which we find a side character infinitely more interesting than the protagonist the author is making us follow.
To avoid writing a book that suffers from "Wrong Main Character Syndrome," ask yourself these three questions to determine if the protagonist you’ve chosen is the right one to lead your story.
I’m perpetually in the middle of re-watching 30 Rock. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than sinking into a bubble bath with Howl's Moving Castle, which I’ve read approximately twenty times. And as much as I love to explore new stories and challenge myself with genres outside my comfort zone, I can’t help but appreciate the merits of spending time with “old friends.”
This has been especially on my mind because of Fruits Basket.
Getting good feedback on your writing is hard. That’s because giving good feedback is hard. In your quest to find a good critique partner, it’s important that you’re able to reciprocate. Giving a good critique is more complex than telling a writer your first reaction to their work, so below are some of the things I think about to give the best, most helpful feedback.
Forget brutal honesty
Often times, writers will ask for brutal honesty. “Don’t pull punches. Tell me the good, the bad, and the ugly,” they’ll say. “I can take it.”
“Show, don’t tell” is the first creative writing advice most people receive. On the surface, it seems sensible. For someone putting pen to paper for the very first time, the instinct is to tell — “First this happened, then this other thing, and finally a third thing happened. The end.”
In that case, “show, don’t tell,” can be a good reminder to slow down, take a breath, smell the flowers — and let the reader know about their scent.
But as gospel writing advice, it sucks.
I am a character-first kind of gal. If I'm reading a book with the most intricate, clever plot, but I don't feel like I know the characters, I probably won't get to the end of the story. I don't necessarily have to like the characters. I just have to know them.
Consequently, in my own writing, I can't start on a project until I have a good sense of who my main characters are. Once my MCs have been developed to feel like whole people, they influence all other aspects of the storytelling.
A few years ago, I took a class with Michael A. Stackpole where he outlined five different approaches to creating those whole-feeling characters, and since then, they've framed my characterization choices ever since. Having these methods in your back pocket will help you get in the right mindset when you start planning your next novel.
When I first started thinking about writing historical fiction, I knew that the storytelling and worldbuilding would be completely different than the projects I had undertaken in the past. Since my story was to take place in 1913, I went to the library, checked out a book called Daily Life in the Progressive Era, and plopped down to read. However, I quickly realized that reading an overview was not a great way to immerse myself in the time period. Over the years, I’ve amassed a battery of resources to help get in the right headspace for historicals.
There comes a point in my first draft process, usually around 30,000 or 40,000 words in, where I just hit a wall. I spend thirty minutes staring at a blank page, or I can’t stop my hand from clicking over to an open Twitter tab. When I’m feeling listless in my writing, I am a procrastinator to the extreme, so I’ve started using some interventions to keep me focused.
I have no self control. If I have the impulse to go to Wikipedia, I will spend hours reading about the history of the Boston subway system or the lives of medieval kings. Which is great for building a repository of fun facts for parties (well, my definition of fun, at least), but is not great for getting a novel finished.
On the blog, you'll finds musings on writing craft, book reviews, and general updates on my work. If there are any topics you'd like me to cover, leave a comment!