Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Early Bird Breakout

In a few short weeks I'll be sitting in on ACFW's early bird session on Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, so I thought I better re-read his novel and take a look through the workbook again to be prepared. So, from now until conference I'll be sharing a little of what I've been reading in at least a couple of my posts each week. It's about time I get back to sharing the art of studying craft on this blog. I've always found that it helps cement the concepts into my head too.

Whenever I study a craft book, I pull out my trusty highlighter. Love that invention! In my first read through, I used yellow, but this time I'm using blue. So when something ends up greenish (blue on top of yellow), I know I've hit something that sings to me. So I'll be sharing a selection of those noteworthy lines in these post for us all to learn from. Can't share them all--I'm noticing way too many greenish lines so far to do that! So, for starters:

"Breakout novels are highly detailed and generally complex." (Pg. 28)

Okay, now that poses an issue for me. I'm not a complex person, nor do I like stories that take me in several different directions at one time. But is that really what this means? I'm going to refer to Twilight often in these posts, because I believe that it is one of the most widely and most recent known breakout novels published. Is it highly detailed? I'd say yes. But it isn't riddled with such on every single page. Stephenie Meyer chooses carefully where to put detail and how much to include, whether intentionally or not. And that's what keeps the story moving and not overwhelming.

Is it generally complex? Aw, well, do vampires really exist? How does Meyer's make Edward seem so human, yet he's a mythical "vegetarian" vampire? I think the key word in this is "generally" for one thing. Generally gives a lot of leeway, so that it doesn't go over the top of most peoples' heads, but yet it's sufficiently different from the norm that it grabs and keeps our attention. Do we need to tap into the untrue to achieve that, though? No. If we write strictly reality driven stories, then I believe to make it "generally complex" we need only dig deeper into the issue we're creating the story to portray. Make it something that the reader will learn from, or at least start pondering their own view on, so that it becomes "generally complex" to them.

I write inspirational romances. A lot of people frown on any sub genre of romance, as if they have no real value. I sat watching my family eat at the popular Kawartha Dairy ice cream on vacation last week and looking around at all the other patrons sitting at picnic tables, glider swings, and on the grassy hillside, I noticed several "couples". Each couple told a story (at least in my mind they did.) Everywhere I look, I discover more couples. Our world revolves around relationships, relationships with God, relationships with co-workers, relationships with your doctor, and yes, relationships with the love of your life. If you don't have a love-of-your-life, the odds are you're looking for one. So, you tell me, is writing an inspirational romance that depicts a healthy, yet sufficiently complex enough courtship, that also delves into a "generally complex" issue (as if finding romance isn't complex enough) worthless?

It isn't to me. Romances written to inspire and stretch the human realm of emotions, are as valuable to me and my growth as a human being, spiritually and otherwise, as a new study and cure is for heart disease to a Cardiologist. And it's something I can much more relate to, also.

So, how are you making your stories, whatever genre, detailed and generally complex enough to possibly become the next breakout novel? Or, if you're a romance writer, how do you validate writing in a genre that is so widely criticized and snuffed off as irrelevant or petty?

Surrendering to Him,



Warren Baldwin said...

I like this statement you made about developing complexity in characters: "start pondering their own view." I think a master of that is Charles Dickens. I remember when I first began reading his novels a few years ago and being impressed with how he developed the personalities and ethics of his characters. You actually felt you know the people and you felt their pain and joys, insecurities and strengths. I remember in one story he had a boy cry b/c his feelings were hurt. The boy leaned up against a wall and cried to himself, "Why do we get our feelings hurt and cry because of what others do to us?" Powerful part of the story.

Just finished Redeeming Love. I was impressed with how Francine developed her characters so realistically, even to describing their inner emotions. You could see the self-righteousness in Paul and feel the continuing shame in Amanda. Francine later explained why Amanda never defended herself against Paul's insults: her shame.

So, yes, I think fiction can be very educational and provide food for spiritual growth.

Stephanie Faris said...

I've never written a vampire or even a paranormal (outside of the ghost patrol series about teenage ghost hunters I'm working on). The thing is, a good writer can make even a completely ridiculous character, like a vampire, believable. I'm told Meyers' book is great even if you don't like vampire's the way she did it, more than the subject matter. I need to read it but I'm so far behind on my reading as it is I may never get there!

Terri Tiffany said...

I like that you are reviewing the book before you go there:) ANd I like that I get to learn too as you go along as I haven't read that book.
I try to make my characters complex in their emotions--only way I know how to!

Erica Vetsch said...

I'm sitting here pondering everything in the!

I agree totally about what you've said about the romance genres. I write inspirational romance because that's what I'm living. :) Write what you know.

Complexity in novels, that's so hard to quantify, because sometimes plots are complex while characters are not, and vice versa. I guess the real breakout novels are those that can do both?

Keli Gwyn said...

Eileen, Writing the Breakout Novel is one of the books on my TBR mountain. I've heard such good things abbout it.

Like you, I write inspirational romance, historicals set in the second half of the 1800s. These are the stories I like to read. Love is one of God's greatest gifts to us, and I enjoy well-told tales of two people receiving that gift.

I read a recent post on Rachelle Gardner's great blog in which she talked about the need for as-yet-unpublished authors to write what she termed the "break-in" novel. I know some, such as JK Rowling, score big with their first book being a break-out novel, but most build a career. I'm trying to write the very best "break-in" novel I can.

Melanie Dickerson said...

This is a great idea, Eileen! I'm so excited about being a part of Maass's class at the conference. I love his Workbook and I've used it a lot to help me plot. Do you know what we're supposed to bring to class? I keep forgetting to check that.

Lazy Writer said...

Thanks for passing on what you are learning. It's very helpful.

Jeanette Levellie said...

Eileen: I am not a detail person either, but I try to use sensory details as much as possible to "make it sing" as you say.

I love your use of different colored highlighters!

Have fun at the conference. I bet that class on the Breakout novel is going to be packed!

Missy Tippens said...

Eileen, first I want to say that your blog is so pretty! I love the background!

Reviewing Maass's book is such a gret idea. I need to pull it out, too. But instead, I think I'll follow your green highlighting. (I do the same thing with blue and pink to get my purple highlights. :)

Honestly, I've had a hard time thinking about writing a breakout novel when I write small southern towns and family relationships within a 55-60k word count. But I like how you highlighted the word "general." It can mean various things for various types of books. And looking for universal truths needs to be done in small town settings and shorter books as well.

I look forward to future posts!

Jessica said...

Ooh, thanks for the post! It's so helpful when you share all this info. :-)
I'm not sure how complex my writing is. I know I have different threads going on but I don't know if that'll qualify. LOL I read Rachelle's post too and will admit that a break-in novel is less scary to me than a break-out.
As for the romance stigma, I don't know why people have it. My hubby has some friends and they found out I wrote romance so they cracked a joke and I was like, LOL, no, I write Christian romance. No sex. But there's this thing that romance novels are only about attraction and they're not. They really stand for some excellent values. Most of them. Snort!
Anyways, great post! I won't be at Maas's thingy but I'll see you at the conference! :-)

T. Anne said...

Gosh, I couldn't say my YA is too complex but it is inspirational and fun, doesn't that count for something? I bet Maass would have a lot to say about that. I really like him. I was in one of his seminars last year, he is phenomenal! He's pretty nice too a bit wry but he has good suggestions. I also pitched him at that same conference, he has an amazing amount of energy for writers. I can't wait to hear full report of your trip!

Jody Hedlund said...

Excellent post, Eileen! I love the principles in Maass's Workbook and have been going through them myself this summer in prep for my next book. I think the idea of developing complex characters and plots will add detail to our stories and make them deeper. Looking forward to more of your greenish quotes!!

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

I've never read this book, but appreciate the nuggets you're sharing. Brandilyn Collins' book, "Getting Into Character," is helping me add depth to my characters.

I'm looking forward to reading more posts on Donald Maas' book.

Susan :)

Katie Ganshert said...

I'm looking forward to your posts, Eileen! I just ordered the workbook. Excited to get it in the mail!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

very gla you're going to be doing these posts. i haven't read maass and i'm going to the early this will be great!

Teri K said...

It's been several years since I read Mass' book. There was a lot of good info in it, but I thought some of it was formulaic. Now that I've done more writing I need to reread it. My perspective, thus my opinion, might have changed. I'll look forward to hearing more about your classes and ideas. So please keep posting.

Faith said...

I write in a variety of genres, and one of them is chick lit. I've had everything from rolled eyes to "what's that?" to smirks when I've mentioned it, and I've even found myself acting like it's not really worthwhile when talking to someone... as if I have to validate that I'm a 'real' writer, chick lit was just something that 'happened'. I know that's a terrible way to act toward my own writing - and a genre that's alive and well - but it's difficult to feel good about my genre when it's traditionally disdained by everyone except the people reading it. Sigh.

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Faith, I guess we romance writers aren't alone. I don't know why people like to put down certain genres. I suspect they put down the genres they don't care to read, but I refuse to do that. There is value in all genres to different people. We need them all to widen our ability to connect with everyone.

We just need to pray for our own confidence in what we do and direction in how to do it the way He desires, and let Him be the judge, no one else. I need to take my own advice more often on this, because I find myself putting down my own writing because of the stigma out there too.