Advice, Books, Craft, Doubt, Fiction, Writing

Ray Bradbury wrote this just for me!

If you’re a writer, I’m sure you’ve heard the terms plotter and pantser. For the non-writers: those terms refer to opposites in how much a writer prepares before he begins a work. Pantser comes from an aviation saying, “Fly by the seat of his pants.” meaning to fly on instinct alone, without instruments. (Finally looked that up.)

I’ve confessed to being a pantser, but the truth is, often my method is more like ultimate pantsing. I take the bare bones of a story idea and explore it—not before I write, but as I write. At first, I didn’t realize there was any other way to write. Then I decided to become a SERIOUS writer and bought book after book promising to teach me how to work like a real writer. Uh-oh.

I learned many useful things from these books, but some of the advice stymied my Muse. I hadn’t pre-written outlines, synopses, plot points charts, etc. for my many stories and one novel. And because I hadn’t followed those rules, I feared none of my work could possibly be any good. My hope for publication faded.

Then, a little over three years ago, I put my fingers to keyboard to elaborate on a dream I’d had and write it as a story. But the characters kept talking to me and the story grew. My dream turned into a novel. Some new writer friends thought it was a good novel. But I doubted their judgment because, again, I’d written mostly on instinct. In fact, most of the time, it felt as though I was only taking dictation. So how could it be good?

I’ve mentioned in a few recent posts that I was reading Ray Bradbury’s collection of essays on writing, Zen in the Art of Writing. I finally reached the last chapter and read something that, for me, surpassed all the bon mots I’d selected before. Mr. Bradbury didn’t know it, but he wrote the following part just for me:

The time will come when your characters will write your stories for you, when your emotions, free of literary cant and commercial bias, will blast the page and tell the truth.

Remember: Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. It is the chart that remains when an action is through. That is all Plot ever should be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.

So, stand aside, forget targets, let the characters, your fingers, body, blood, and heart do.

Sha-zam! A celebrated writer had validated my method. It may not be every writer’s way, but it’s right for me. I no longer have to doubt the value of a story just because it seemed to write itself. Of course, not everything I write will work, but if it fails, it won’t be because I flew without instruments. It will be because I didn’t “stand aside” enough to let my “fingers, body, blood, and heart do”.

What say ye? Does Bradbury’s advice make your heart sing or shudder?


Photo credits: Anne Burgess – Creative Commons License

Books, Feedback, Fiction, Marketing, My Books, Novel, Promotion, Reader, Writing

Should I have turned up the heat in my novel?

Recently, I had a discussion with a hairstylist who read my novel, The Brevity of Roses, and recommended it to many of his clients. His opinion, shared by some of his clients, is that I should have written more explicit love scenes. “Sex sells,” he said.

I don’t deny that’s true. In the advertising world, sex sells everything from toothpaste to tennis shoes. It also sells certain genres of fiction. In my lifetime, I’ve read (and written) fiction rated from XXX to lily white chaste. I’ve concluded I prefer reading books that allow me to imagine the love scenes—designed precisely to my tastes, not the author’s.

Cathy Yardley of the Rock Your Writing blog, recently used my novel as an example when she wrote a 3-part series on how to profile your target reader and create a 10-step novel promotion strategy. She admitted mine was a difficult case because Brevity is a cross-genre novel. Cathy described it as a “women’s fiction/commercial lit fic novel”.

I appreciated her effort and expertise, and I’m implementing as many of her suggestions as I can. However, her next post after my case study spoke about the difficulty of marketing genre blends. Hmmm.

I’m not sure that Brevity qualifies as a true genre blend, but if so, I’ve certainly got a hard task ahead of me in marketing a “broccoli brownie”. As literary fiction, I don’t think readers necessarily expect explicit sex. As women’s fiction or commercial fiction, I’m not sure.

Now, I’m curious. If you’ve read The Brevity of Roses, would you have liked a little more steam in the love scenes? If you haven’t read the book, but have read the description, would you expect R-rated scenes?

Family, My Books, Real Life, Social Media, Writing

If life hands you a lemon … just whine on your blog!

In the midst of writing a thoughtful post pondering why we write fiction, I answered my own question, rendering the post moot. So now, I’m writing a ten-minute free-write glimpse into my mind and hoping it doesn’t result in someone calling for the butterfly net. Okay, go!

I am afraid to write my next book. I spend just about as much time talking myself out of it as I do writing it. It’s not because I think Brevity is so fabulous that I can’t hope the next one will live up to it. I think it’s more that I fear Brevity is as good as I can write. And yet—and I think I said this to someone once—how will I know unless I try? ‘Tis a conundrum.

The other day, I saw someone on Twitter, or maybe Facebook, bemoan that they were too old to still be getting zits. I feel that way about a lot of things. I’m too old to be so socially awkward. I’m too old to be so indecisive. I’m too old to be such a … wimp. That’s what I feel like. Grow up, already!

I haven’t been back to Indiana since my father died five years ago today. I will be going there next week, and I’m reluctant. I think, in some tiny corner of my mind, I like to believe he’s still there. Plus, my mother’s health has deteriorated since he died and the last time she came here to visit, and I don’t want to face that. I’m a coward. But my youngest son will be receiving his PhD at Ball State, so go I will.

How maudlin. Let’s move on.

Everyone on Twitter is talking about Google+ … except me. You had to be invited to join. My invitation got lost in the email, I guess.* Or maybe it’s just for Blogspot bloggers. People are setting up circles, apparently. The rumor is, circles will replace Facebook … or is it Twitter? … or both? I will probably never know. I think I’m a square.

But really, do I need more social networking? I said to someone this morning … or was that yesterday … that I feel like I’m whirling around constantly and I expect to pass myself eventually. I probably won’t recognize me, though. I still think I’m young and thin and look like I have a clue.

Time’s up. Now I have to figure out what sort of illustration will fit this bizarre post.

If you can find anything above to comment on … have at it. Please.

*Shortly after I wrote this, I received an invitation to join Google+ … now, will someone explain the circle thing to me?

Author Interviews, Books, Contest

Please follow me!

Today, I’m being interviewed by the fabulous Christi Craig. In answer to her probing questions, I babbled on about the Eye of God, ants, skeletal versions, disembodied voices, and then I ended with an apology. Seriously! You don’t want to miss this one. And best of all … she’s giving away a copy of The Brevity of Roses. Come on follow me!

Hey! Have you voted in the reader polls yet?

Book Reviews, Characters, Feedback, Fiction, My Books, Novel, Reader, Writing

Psychoanalyzing fictional characters

Clinical psychologist Suzanne Conboy-Hill and I have been virtual friends for a year and a half. Recently she read my novel The Brevity of Roses. I was a little apprehensive when she tweeted that she had started reading it because I figured she might analyze my characters and find them wanting. This is how she reviewed my novel on Amazon:

“There are two things you should know; I’m not a fan of romantic fiction so I would never have read Brevity if Linda were not a twitter-buddy. I approached this with some trepidation, but once started, I read over half the novel at one sitting and the rest at another. It had me. Why? Hard to say because I really wanted to smack Jalal for his adolescent self absorption. Then I wanted to yell at the women around him who seemed hell-bent on keeping him that way. But maybe it was because, in my youth, I would have fallen hook, line & sinker for him. Maybe it’s because he was so well drawn that I was reminded of an incident in a café when an equally stunning creature dived out ahead of me and pulled up at the bus stop, offering me a lift ‘to the rest of my life’*.

Perhaps I saw myself in Renee, jealous of her predecessor, and intimidated by Jalal’s wealth and position. The feminist in me hated the family kitchen scenes, the division of labour, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ but not ‘up-front’ cleverness of the women. In short, I ranted at the characters, identified with some of them, yelled at them to avoid the traps I’ve fallen into myself, and growled at their weaknesses and ineptitudes. Now that’s writing! Make me forget I’m reading something I’d normally avoid; make me angry with the characters so that the writing becomes the skilful, competent engine that purrs quietly beneath; get me involved with people whose behaviours make me spit feathers, and I’d say you’ve got yourself an authoritative author.

If romantic fiction is your thing, you will love this. If it isn’t, give it a try; you might find you’ve inadvertently read a very satisfying, well plotted novel that had you involved enough to be hissing at the page. I wonder if, like me, you will still be yelling ‘No no no!’ as you close the book. And on whose behalf …

*I accepted. It wasn’t!”

As a rule, I would never question, or argue with, a reviewer, but I couldn’t resist picking Suzanne’s brain a little more. I tried hard to make my characters believable and their thoughts, words, and actions consistent with the “psychological profile” I had given them, so I was curious to know how she interpreted a few things. Plus, I wanted to know on whose behalf she was yelling, “No no no!”

So, now we’ve exchanged a couple emails on the subject of the psychology behind my characters, even discussing what might happen to them after the last scene in the book. We agree and disagree on various points, but I was relieved to find we aren’t far off.

As writers, we sometimes find it hard to leave off that editor hat when we read. I guess, for those who wear it, it’s just as hard to leave off the psychologist’s hat. Thanks for the free analysis, Suzanne. 🙂