(Also this morning, I have a post on the mindset of revision – including an excerpt from my new book – over at The Kill Zone. Please return here, though, for a refreshing guest post from a passionate young writer.)
I receive frequent requests from writers who want to post here on Storyfix.com. That’s a nice compliment, but even so, as the gatekeeper, I find myself a bit on the picky side. But this one, while perhaps revisiting familiar ground, struck me as worthy of our attention. I value the fundamentals, and this is a nice refresher. And so I bring you…
A guest post by Leona Hinton
In today’s writing world, making your mark is rendered more possible with the availability of a vast array of available tools. Books and websites that help you craft a story that will attract readers. Editors and designers who will help you polish the final product. Conferences where you might just meet the perfect agent. Venues that will not only sell your masterpiece, but also help you format and digitize it, and then pay you a 70 percent royalty in the bargain.
These days you don’t need to be a millionaire to get your book published. Those days are long gone. But you do need to understand the steps involved, both creatively and technically, and the high standards you must reach to have a shot at success. And while much of the technology is new, one thing that hasn’t changed is a high level of craft, often years in the making.
Given the new nature and level of competition for readers, this is more true than ever.
Part of the journey involves avoiding the mistakes that cause other aspiring authors, especially newer ones, to stumble. Toward that end, I offer you three of the most common traps and pitfalls that await.
Mistake #1: Failure to decide who your readership will be before you write the book.
In other words, know your genre.
Your audience will respond not just to the plot and to empathy for your hero, but on an ability to understand your language, as well.
Perhaps this is most especially apropos when writing a children’s novel. You may indeed have a swashbuckling tale to tell, but you must deliver the theme, the plot and the characters with English that your young readership will not only understand, but will relate to. Got a Gen-X novel? You better not sound like your old high school English teacher. Unless you are writing adult literary fiction, each genre has its own tropes and expectations, the essence of which can and should be learned before diving in.
Mistake #2: Failure to develop your book’s plot along a viable dramatic spine.
In any genre the author’s challenge is to engage with your readership, keeping them engrossed and hungry to move onto the next page or chapter. Exposition should be strategic, growing tension while ramping up to the climax , where tension and stakes are highest.
There are models and tools for that, as well. Structure – as Larry has told us many times – is like gravity. It just is. You may think you get to make it up for yourself, but as your story develops and feedback arrives (including your own sense of a need for another draft), the story will begin to align with the forces of structure, which are frighteningly similar in virtually any modern novel, in any genre.
Readers should be intrigued by the nature and source of conflict (internal or external) that drives the story along that structural spine. If you don’t understand – or better yet, haven’t discovered – the generic structural model for successful storytellers use, then avoid the mistake of taking it for granted. Or worse, ignoring it as formulaic.
Gravity isn’t a formula, either. It just is.
Mistake number 3: Failure to fully develop the characters in your book before you stamp “final” on any draft.
Everyone who is part of your story should be both unique and relateable (those are not mutually exclusive terms). That means each character should be described so that the reader can literally visualize them, that they could sit down with a piece of paper and a set of colored pencils and draw your characters from the exact expression on their face to the type of clothes they wear.
And then, to make the character – at least the main characters in your story – multi-dimensional, with pasts and inner landscapes that come to bear on the actions and decisions they make within the present of the story itself.
Critics call these characters vividly drawn, and the analogy is apt: as authors, we are drawing our characters in multiple dimensions of depth and resolution, inside and out, past and present, with a future that logically links to all of it.
When you’re finally done…
… and when you’ve decided to self-publish…
… at some point in the near future you’ll face the need to advertise your book.
Wouldn’t it be great if once you could be an automatic success without having to venture into the dark and scary world of promoting and even advertising your novel? Unfortunately this is not the case.
Your Facebook profile is a good starting point. Many Facebook followers are on the lookout for anything dynamic and new, especially if they’re your “friend” and know you are an author. The theory is this: once they find your book, buy it and love it, the news will spread through the Facebook community. Other venues are available, as well, such as blogging, speaking and other means of getting you, and your story, out in front of readers.
Find your voice. Then strive for stories that create a framework that invites readers into new worlds, or new spins on familiar worlds. Give us something fresh and new, delivered with emotional resonance that results in a vicarious reading experience.
Do this, and begin to put in your 10,000 hours of apprenticeship in this craft, and you will never regret the time and investment of self required. That’s the beautiful thing about telling stories – we are our own readers, and from that high bar success becomes achievable.
Leona Hinton is a young editor and passionate educator from Chicago. She can’t imagine her life without creative writing and finds her inspiration in classic literature. Contact her on Linkedin.