I had a wonderful time on Saturday at my local RWA chapter’s meeting. I love visiting with old friends and meeting new. I got to hear Robyn DeHart talk about building characters, and it was as if she was describing the way I work to a T. No multi-page character charts. No interviews or questionnaires. Just discovering what I need to know FOR THE BOOK, most especially the goals, motivations, and conflicts.
During her talk, she mentioned that she tends to write the same type of character (heroine) over and over. I don’t remember exactly what she said, something about librarians, but it was funny. :) She also asked everyone to think about their own body of work, and look for their own common thread or theme, that we most likely all have one.
I’ve actually been doing that a lot lately with my own projects because similarities have been popping up like whac-a-moles. I’ve written several stories where the hero or the heroine build things, furniture, houses, or sew, or bake, or garden, and the theme is often crafting a family together, a patchwork extended group that is more closely knit than any of its individual members are to their own blood relatives.
Robyn also discussed the character arc, and she broke it down so simply that it was like a light bulb going off. She said at the beginning of the book, the character has an “error in thinking,” and by the end of the book, the character has “learned a lesson” or corrected that error. And wow. That really struck a chord. Especially since I just finished writing a synopsis where several characters had BIG errors in thinking, heh.
This is why after forty-something published works and many unfinished ideas, I still love listening to authors talk craft. Yes, we talk a lot about the market and what’s selling, and about promotion and what works, but in the end, none of that matters if the craft isn’t there to support the book. I can’t remember ever sitting in a craft session and not coming away with a tidbit to use, a trick to try, a way to look at something I’ve never before considered. Craft is everything. I want to say books live or die by craft, which should be the case, though I have read some which are very popular and yet could have been SO much better had the author delved deeper.
In a recent post at Tess Gerritsen’s blog, author Julia Spencer Fleming talked about having three years between releases in her Clare Fergusson series, saying:
Here’s the thing: I think it’s one of the best novels I’ve written. (It’s not the perfect, Platonic-ideal book in my head, but they never are.) Those extra months gave me the luxury of expanding the story, to look into every nook and cranny of the characters’ lives. Then, I had still more time to pare it down and polish it to a shine.
“It’s a wonderful, wonderful piece of writing,” my agent said when I turned it in. “Just please, don’t take so long next time. They want a book a year.” I know they do. And I need to get back on that merry-go-round. It gets hard, reintroducing yourself every three years. But still, I can’t help but realize I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t taken all that time. And I wonder, what stories aren’t getting told because of that book-a-year clock ticking away.
Let me emphasize that last bit: And I wonder, what stories aren’t getting told because of that book-a-year clock ticking away. Something to think about, isn’t it? And that’s in hardcover mystery/suspense/thriller. In romance, authors are writing three, four, five books a year. It boggles to think what isn’t getting told. Sigh.