The Writing Life

Jody Lebel
Published on: January 2012
Just about everyone I know has proclaimed at one time or other that they are going to write a book. Don't we all have that one great novel fluttering around inside somewhere? Just how to do it is the question.

Writing is an art, sure, but it's a learned art. There are rules and formulas and lots of writing and rewriting. Can you do it at your dining room table with a pad and pen? It's been done. But how realistic is it that you'll ever finish? If you don't have a computer or word processor, invest in one. It will make the rewrites easier (and there will be hours of rewrites in your future) and you can save your work as you progress. Save it on your hard drive as well as an external drive. You never know when the computer will crash taking all your hard work - not to mention your soul - with it.

The first step is to decide what type of book you want to write. A romance? A mystery? How about a thriller or an historical? The answer is to look where your heart lies. You've probably heard that you should write what you know. But my advice is to write what you like to read. That will give you a base on how to structure your story and also a feel for the way the genre is presented in today's market.
I write romance with a little suspense thrown in and a pinch of humor, so this column will focus on that genre. But many of the writing hints/ tips I offer can easily be adapted to other types of written work. Each genre has its own rules about what should be included and an online search will give you pages of examples. In a romance the couple must meet as soon as possible, first page ideally, and create sparks that make an unforgettable love story.

The hero can be harsh or hard but never cruel. The heroine should be complex, strong and smart but never promiscuous. The writer must also introduce a conflict fairly early on that challenges the couple and intrigues the reader. Romance novels are written primarily from the woman's point of view.

There are nine categories of romance: contemporary, historical, inspirational, paranormal(here's where we fit in our vampires and ghosts), Regency, romantic suspense, young adult (the couple never goes beyond a kiss), category (writing for one line at a publishing house) and erotica. There are also sub categories within each class. Each grouping has its own set of reader expectations. And if you want to be published, you must please the reader.

A writer's job is to write stories that people will want to read, but it must be your story. Never borrow or steal a story line with the intention of brushing on a new coat of paint. That type of behavior will come back to haunt you. Be aware that our own experiences, books that we've read, our contact with movies and television will color our written words, and that is expected. But use your individual voice and make them your own words.

There are no new stories. Every story line you can think of has already been used; murder, revenge, greed, and lust to name a few. You must present your version in a fresh and entertaining way to have a successful novel. Also realize that most sensational subjects have been written to death. Crazed serial killers, with their kills getting more and more bloody, are now losing reader interest. Resist the lure of the dramatic story. Steer clear of tired plots and clichés. We are drawn to them because they are convenient but the real problem with clichés is that they rob us of genuine details which may be more interesting.
Avoid stock characters; the starving artist, the low self esteemed woman who hits all the bars, the workaholic and cold husband who drives his wife to cheat. Tell the story only you can tell but give us real, interesting and sympathetic characters. Stay away from typical scenes and melodramatic action. Any over the top action results in melodrama. A man freshly dumped by his wife drives himself off a cliff. Yawn. A drug dealer told to leave the neighborhood comes back and kills the rival drug dealer.

Melodrama, used up and clichéd.

So your assignment for this month is to choose a genre you're interested in. Think about your characters and what type of situation you want to put them into.

As the months pass, this column will give you more writing tips to polish & mold your novel. Next month, I'll talk about choosing characters and settings. Happy writing.
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