Thursday, April 26, 2007

Words of Wisdom

Somewhere along the way I stopped being the new kid on the block. I am now, ahem, a multi-pubbed award-winning author, so why do I still feel so clueless? I mentioned on my response to Kate's Balls post that I'd had a breakthrough when I realized that the characters, and not my readers' expectations, would determine the love scenes. So what else have I learned? Here's a distillation of my wisdom from the past six years or so:

Don't write for the market. Who knows what it is anyway? I imagine each publishing house has a special room where a chained, foul-smelling beast lives. Every year there's a ceremony where a virginal editorial assistant is sacrificed, and after slaking various appetites, the beast lifts its dripping maws. Assembled executives tremble in fear. Some weep and soil themselves. Next year, menages with dyslexic men in Regency heroes are Navy Seals are in...

Keep the story going.
Now I get very intolerant and ranty about writers--and we've all met them--who smirk and simper, I'm a storyteller. Because god knows if you describe yourself as a writer you're one of those litfic snobs no one reads and whose heroines fling themselves under trains. But, yes, you do have to keep the story going, and that doesn't necessarily mean straight narrative, but everything should be there for a purpose.

Only contest judges care about formatting. Editors like a legible, seriffe font, and reasonable margins. And, oh yes, very, very good writing.

Go with the majority vote of your critique group unless you're absolutely convinced you're right and they're not. For instance, if four out of the five say, to a woman: I'm sorry, but I really don't think the heroine would feel like having sex minutes after she's seen her village destroyed and her kitten eaten by the hero's mastiff, and while she's in labor--take note. If one says, I don't like the heroine's dress, ignore her. But you might wonder why that stuck out like a sore thumb for her.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. This really means obeying your inner laziness. You want to make a particular point? Tell us. You are allowed to tell. It doesn't always have to be showing. For instance, sometimes, amazingly, people just walk into rooms. They don't have to stride, scamper, sidle, shuffle, limp, stagger, lurch, run, trot, sashay, swagger, and so on.

There is no right way to write or plot. You find what works best for you.

What are your words of wisdom? Do share!

The art, by the way, is Minerva Dressing (1613) by the female artist Lavinia Fontana.

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Kate Pearce said...

So true Janet. Gay Navy Seals are in? How about gay Regency rakes? Or did I mishear? Damn...

My critique group now know that if I smile and get very 'British' and polite and say 'hmm, that's an interesting point you all make about it not being manly to wink and cry at the same time, I'll think about it" really means "NO WAY AM I CHANGING THIS LADIES, YOU'RE ALL FLIPPING NUTS"
To be fair, I do change about 90% of what they suggest mainly because they are right, damn them.

More words of wisdom-don't get attached to the title you choose for your book. Someone, probably in Marketing, will change it.

Celia May Hart said...

I don't let anyone critique my book except for my editor and copy editor.

However, I do have some gals who will shred to pieces my plot (why, yes, I do have plots, post for another day) because I am brilliant at creating plot holes that a coach and four can drive through.

So I would add, you don't need a critique group, but you do need folks to bounce off crazy ideas.

Pam Rosenthal said...

Excellent, wise post, Jane.

It was a liberating moment when I realized I wrote too slow to keep up with the market.