Red Lettering

Stories will not be written easily. A story without a heart is dead, and the only place it will get a heart is from the author.

Archive for the tag “A Tale of Two Cities”

Your Novel DOESN’T Follow a Formula

Your Novel DOESN'T Follow a Formula

So many times recently, I’ve seen so many posts in so many writing blogs, giving so much writing advice that offers a formula.

This is how your beginning should go, they say — or, perhaps worse, Your novel should have a character type from all of these.

And to this, while they’re all very talented writers, all I can say is, HA!

Of course, I wouldn’t state it like that if I was speaking to an individual.

To keep certain novels from suffering with low self esteem, the AfPoCR (they’ve branched out since they named themselves the Association for Protection of Character’s Rights, but chose to remain the AfPoCR) came up with a slogan: Every novel is loved – Every novel is special – Every novel is unique. 

And, indeed (though the AfPoCR tends to be a little extreme at times), the last part is very, very true.

Imagine A Tale of Two Cities compared to Left Behind*. Both are novels, both fiction, both written by men —and yet, they are two drastically different stories.

They both have drastically different characters, different beginnings, and different endings (something about the world ending in one). And yet, both of them are good novels, beloved by many readers.

There are many such book out there. Though they’re incredibly different, both are good; neither is correct or incorrect.

You do not need to have eighteen different types of characters in your novel. If you think you can’t properly manage that many characters—or if you don’t think it wouldn’t be best for your novel—you can dispense with the father, stepmother, guide, and multilingual best friend. You don’t necessarily need your hero to have an elderly guide. While monkey wrenches are sometimes fun to have around, they don’t always need to be there.

And, while the three-act structure is common and clever, there are other forms of story structure which you can use.

The odd thing about writing, the one thing that we all end up both loving and hating, is that there is no formula. There is no Seven Steps to the Perfect Novel; if there was, what would the use of reading novels  anymore? They would all be the same story with slightly different characters and only vaguely different plots. You, as the writer, posses the imagination, the skill, and the power to create your own characters, your own novel, your own story structure. While you can do things similar to another author, you don’t have to follow all the steps. 

Do read them; do learn from them; do consider them. Yet always be aware that, whether your favorite author, a bestselling author, or a random name you don’t know states it, they don’t have the perfect formula for your novel.

You have that.

I have actually not read Left Behind, but instead am basing my assumptions about it off of what my sister told me.
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Keep Reading

One piece of advice that people in the writing community will often hear is just write. Listen to music until your eardrums are gone, drink astronomical amounts of tea or coffee, and eat however much chocolate you can manage (and can afford! No exciting bit of writing research for a scene involving a police chase, please,) but whatever you do, don’t stop writing.

This is one of the best pieces of writing advice I have ever heard. Like people need to keep running or their running skills will rapidly degenerate, when a writer stops writing, they lose the skills they took the time to develop.

But while you’re writing, don’t forget where you first found your love of stories. Don’t forget to keep reading.

Symptoms of Lack of Reading in Writers

  • Readers find that characters in a new story seem strangely familiar. Could it be that they’re the same character with a different name?
  • Plot devices keep coming back. One might find a drought in one, and, a few years later in another story, another drought.
  • Authors find their inspiration draining away, and every word starts to feel like a rusty nail driven into them.
  • All complex story-lines and beautiful sentences mean nothing. The reader can tell that there’s something wrong with the story, even if they can’t seem to find what the problem is.

Recently, those in my family who read have been doing so nearly obsessively. For a while, we read very little fiction. Now, after the Clive Staples Awards, we found several new authors that we’re following the books of. Strangely enough, while I liked those novels (some of them quite a bit), I found very little inspiration from them. Some, certainly; but not a large amount. Nothing worth mentioning.

Oddly, it was reading A Tale of Two Cities, and re-reading Lord of the Rings that gave me the most inspiration. The first book, one that I’ve heard a lot of negative opinions expressed on, I read for school. I was not expecting to enjoy it very much, as I’ve heard several unflattering things about Dickens. Yet the characters seemed strangely familiar to me, even though it was the first time I had read the book, and I found that I have characters similar to a few of them. In spite of the slight difficulty reading it produced, I found myself enjoying it more and more as I went along. The plot lines were intriguing, and, as I neared the end, they were astounding as I realized that there had been nothing misplaced or irrelevant; everything tied in to the conclusion. One of the scenes stole my breath for a whole afternoon.

Lord of the Rings I have read several times before. Even so, I found things that surprised me. At one point I paused to do something and stepped away from the book for a moment; when I returned, I resumed at the beginning of the paragraph I had read before leaving the book.

‘Alas! I fear we cannot say here longer,’ said Aragorn. He looked towards the mountain and held up his sword. ‘Farewell, Gandalf!’ he cried. ‘Did I not say to you: if you pass the gates of Moria, beware? Alas that I spoke true! What hope have we without you?’

(Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R Tolkien. Chapter entitled, “Lothlorien.”)

All of a sudden our battered and bruised copy of The Lord of the Rings surprised me with the amount of emotion to be seen there. Aragorn stopped just outside the mountain, raised his sword and screamed his words to an empty sky and to a man he knew could no longer hear them. That book is known as an epic filled with heroism, a great quest, various deep characters, and plot twists. Very rarely is it mentioned the amount of emotional turmoil the characters must have had to go through. It’s not explicitly stated, but if you look deeper, if you engage your imagination, you would find emotion and fear and pain.

Both of the books surprised me. My respect for Charles Dickens was raised several notches. My firm belief that Lord of the Rings changes every time you read it was reinforced.

Both of them gave me more inspiration than I was expecting.

Old books aren’t often recommended for writers, especially young ones. Yet I’ve found that there’s a hidden wealth of emotion, of inspiration, of epic things, in older books.

For fast energy, read new books. The action-packed adventure stories with upfront emotional drama, sometimes deeper than expected, sometimes shallower, will bring you to your feet again. But when you’re ready, don’t be afraid to pick up a dust-covered old tome, blow the fragments of old history from its cover, and open it again.

Look deeper. It might just amaze you.

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