Friday, October 4, 2013

Story Crafting Tips from Steven James

     Recently, Cossette and I had a pleasure of catching part of an interview with Steven James. Even though neither of us had read any of James' novels, we both left the interview encouraged--our writerly selves inspired by what he had shared about the way he approaches the writing process. Below are a couple of his comments that struck me (in bold) with my follow-up thoughts.

  • Don't write what you know. Write what you're curious about. I liked this comment. In the past, I had heard and tended to follow the "Write what you know" advice. Sometimes this has worked and other times it has resulted in stories that are boring to write and equally boring to read. But if you write what you're curious about, then you as the writer will remain engaged in the writing process and it will show in your writing, making it more readable. And don't worry, you're brain will automatically pull from "what you know" to fill in gaps and flesh out "what you don't know" when creativity fails you.

  • Create an interesting main character--you're going to spend 1,000 hours alone with this person. I laughed when he said this, but it's soooo true. Writers should pick a person they find fascinating for their story's main character (and supporting cast for that matter) because they're stuck with this person for the time it takes to write the novel. Don't just pick a 2-D, cookie-cutter character because it's a type of character who is really hot on the market. Spend time getting to know your character's bones, then add flesh and heart. Unique scars (physical and emotional) can also be important because they tells us where the person has been (and possibly point to where they are going). Real-life people are complex. Why should made-up people not be? Good writing requires complex characters. Motivations can be simple, but characters should not be.

  • Don't make an outline. Especially if you're a new writer. While this may not be the best advice for every writer, this point really resonated with me. Some writers need structure--others find it suffocating. I'm not a big into outlining and when I fall into that trap, I lose interest in the story. There's just something about writing like a reader and discovering the story as you write it. So it was encouraging to me to find that you can write without outlining and still be a successful writer. But although he doesn't outline, James' does do extensive revision and editing, which is probably key to making a story coherent if you don't outline.

    On that note, I'm suddenly feeling inspired! Think I'll do some writing and then head over to the library to pick up a Steven James novel to read.

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