Hello Readers! I’m pleased to introduce Tiffany Lawson-Inman to the blog. She’ll be joining us about once a month to talk about all things writing! Welcome, Tiffany!!
Thank you so much to Justine for letting me preach good writing craft today. It is a subject very near and dear to my heart.
As another Thank You to Eight Ladies Writing, I’m going to offer a free online course to one of your lucky readers. If you respond to my question in the comment section, I will put your name in a hat and pull one out for a free online course I am teaching at Lawson Writer’s Academy. See below for more details.
Here’s a strange question for you:
What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?
They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a FRIENDS reference. Season 3, episode 13, where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it. To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book. He doesn’t want anything happening while he’s not looking!
So he can breathe.
Joey is so emotionally invested in what is happening in The Shining that he literally puts the book in the freezer so that his brain and heart can take a breather. The pages of the book are scrunched from having held on so hard. He’s been turning pages like a mad man all night. He is hungry for what happens next.
Here is a quickie recap:
Rachel finds the book in the freezer and she razes Joey for letting a book get to him. But then Rachel kind of understands the urge to stop fictional time while reading a book that is just soooo good and she gives Joey her well-worn and page scrunched copy of Little Women to read; a book that he didn’t think could match the gripping ability of his much-loved page turner, The Shining. Which he then gives to Rachel to read in the book swap. The last scene of the episode shows a distraught Joey, so emotionally caught up in the character’s lives, that he is then forced to put Little Women in the freezer too.
Hmmm…this leads me to ask another question:
Why is it that we think only of a high intensity thriller when we hear the phrase “Gripping page turner?” Is it the non-stop action, fast pace, a billion plot twists, high stakes, extreme emotions, and exhilaration?
Joey would say, “Um…yeah?”
The stereotype-breakers are the books that I like to read. Lisa Unger, Tana French, Elliot Perlman, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson. These authors PUSH your brain to read complex fiction. The best kind. While reading each of these author’s novels, I am always on the edge of my seat. Sometimes quite literally.
I read books based on these three elements:
- Writing craft
- Character development
Well, gosh…ALL three of those elements are at the top of my list for reading other genres too. Hmmmmm….
What am I saying? Strive to make EVERY novel a Thriller. No, not with hype and a million plot twists or you-can’t-turn-away gory details, but with QUALITY WRITING.
Did you happen to notice that WRITING CRAFT is number one on that list?
Darn skippy it is!
Just because you are writing Women’s Lit or a Western Romance, doesn’t mean you scrimp on the high intensity. It means add it in, in an alternative way. Learn how to tell your story with the best writing craft possible. Don’t write down to you readers. Find out what works and what doesn’t.
That is what those pesky NYT best sellers are doing. NYT best sellers have learned how to ramp up the character’s deep emotional detail instead of the gory details of any old thriller. NYT best sellers have learned how to show active environment even when it is simply a scene in a kitchen or coffee shop or a street corner. NYT best sellers have learned how to move story forward through dynamic dialogue runs.
NYT best sellers are NYT best sellers for a reason.
You say your Romance novel isn’t about life or death?
The stakes can be just as high as life or death because your character’s spirit will die if she doesn’t have her happy ending. Right?
I don’t care what genre you are writing, I want you to be at the top of your game. And so do your readers.
One genre is not above another genre in terms of writing craft…or it shouldn’t be. From authors that pump out a book every three months for Harlequin authors that have been working on the same novel for years and make it to Oprah’s Top Ten, if you are striving to be published in ANY capacity, I expect excellence on that page.
Not just because I am an editor, but, because I am a reader.
You DO NOT want your readers passing on your book because they have read the first chapter on their Kindle and they aren’t impressed. You DO NOT want your readers struggling to finish your novel and in turn, never buying another one of your books.
You DO want your reader to be dazzled and emotionally attached to your characters, plot, and sucked in by writing craft. How are you going to do this? By following in the footsteps of the THRILLER. Dig in to a quality thriller and take note of how they:
- Show emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
- Show active description
- Show active dramatic moments within the dialogue
- Show character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
This is what I want to read, every time I crack open a novel, thriller or non-thriller.
So, writers, my last question to you: Is your novel “freezer-worthy?”
Before you go skipping off to slave over your laptops because now you have a renewed passion to slam quality writing into your novel, I’ve found a snippet from a quality thriller, by one of my “freezer-worthy” favorite authors, Lisa Unger.
And I have done a quickie dramatic dissection to show-off how Unger executes the Four Show list above. If your passion wasn’t renewed before, it will be after this.
From Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Have we met?”
“I’m Eloise Montgomery.”
It took a moment. Then he felt the heat rise to his cheeks, a tension creep into his shoulders.
Pop – visceral reactions as his response.
Christ, he thought. “What can I do for you, Ms. Montgomery?”
Showing us his thought and then the line – immediately gives us an invisible tone to his voice, without saying, “ he said, with an irritated tone.”
She looked nervously around, and Jones followed her eyes, to the falling leaves, the clear blue sky.
What a fabulous way to show setting and a little of what this Eloise lady is all about. Why would she be looking at these things, unless she didn’t want to look at him directly? Unger is a master of active description and active characterization.
“Is there someplace we can talk?” Her drifting gaze landed on the house.
Interesting – she is showing a lot with the way this woman is approaching the situation. She doesn’t want to look at him, she doesn’t want to intrude on his home, and yet there is a look to the house, as if to will him to invite her in, without her asking. Lots of stuff going on here between, under, and above the actual words.
“Can’t we talk here?” He crossed his arms around his middle and squared his stance. Maggie would be appalled by his rudeness. But he didn’t care. There was no way he was inviting this woman into his home.
A strong reaction and an internalization – both very informative about his character. And this raises a lot of questions in my reader brain – why is he behaving like this. What has this woman done to him? A lot of emotion here for a man who didn’t remember who she was at first.
“This is private,” she said. “And I’m cold.” She started walking toward the house, stopped at the bottom of the three steps that led up to the painted gray porch, and turned around to look at him.
She still has not verbally invited herself in – but her actions say something else entirely. Her dialogue is short and unapologetic, which raises MORE questions about who/what this woman is in relationship to the man in the scene.
He didn’t like the look of her so near the house, any more than he did those doves.
On the previous page he mentions having to upend the home of some doves that had taken residence in the light inside his garage. They didn’t belong in his house either. Called them harbingers of death. Is that really what he thinks of this woman?
Birds make messes.
This is a fabulous tie in to something he doesn’t have to describe again for us – we know he is thinking she is invading his space and is likely to make a mess. Very nice technique.
She was small-boned and skittish, but with a curious mettle. As she climbed the steps without invitation and stood at the door,
Nice slice of character description here. Love her word choice.
He thought about how, with enough time and patience, a blade of grass could push its way through concrete.
Perfect use of active and emotion infused analogy.
He expected her to pull open the screen and walk inside, but she waited. And he followed reluctantly, dropping his gardening gloves beside the rake. The next thing he knew, she was sitting at the dining-room table and he was brewing coffee. ****
Simple compression of time here. And also an opening for even more reader questions, an opportunity for the reader to lean in and turn more pages. Very smooth writing. I can see every piece. Unger lays out the crumbs and her readers cannot help but to scurry from behind snatching each and every one.
My assignment for you, dear writers: Dig through your manuscript and make sure you are executing the Four Shows:
- Showing emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
- Showing active description
- Showing active dramatic moments within the dialogue
- Showing character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Thank you for reading on Eight Ladies Writing today, now go forth, and WRITE!
P.S. I am on page 285 of Lisa Unger’s Crazy Love You and I have wanted to put it in the freezer about 3 times. AND my Great Fiction Examples file is sizzling from overuse.
I’ll tell you mine, if you tell me yours! The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life Of Bees are two of my freezer dwellers… My body can’t handle those high-impact emotions all at once. It is the curse of Theatre college and the ability to live through the minds of characters.
Remember my offer from above? You comment and you might win one of my online courses! For the comments section – What books in your past and present have you running for the freezer? Have you learned anything from them? Do tell!
Wanna learn tools to help you write a freezer-dweller? Triple Threat Behind Scene Writing starts in February.
And in March I will be teaching the course that has had writers begging me via email for over a year to sell them lecture packets or teach them individually; Action and Fighting in Fiction: Writing Authentic Choreography With Precision and Bite.
Tiffany Lawson Inman claimed a higher education at Columbia College Chicago. There, she learned to use body and mind together for action scenes, character emotion, and dramatic story development. Tiffany’s background in theatre provides her with a unique approach to the craft of writing, and her clients and students greatly benefit.
As a freelance editor, she provides deep story critique, content editing, and line editing. Stay tuned to Twitter @NakedEditor for Tiffany’s upcoming guest blogs, classes, contests, and lecture packets.
She teaches Action and Fighting, Madness to Method: high intensity emotion, Triple Threat Scene Writing, Writing Humor For Every Genre, and Short Story Workshops for Lawson Writer’s Academy online. She presents hands-on-action workshops, and will be offering webinars this year.