Beth Camp Historical Fiction

Sunday, January 13, 2013

ROW80 Sunday Check-in

This month's Writer's Digest has an interesting article by Donald Maass, "Failure to Launch" (Feb 2013). He's telling writers that great fiction will sell, and he itemizes what specifically we should check to ensure we are writing enthralling fiction.

What drew me into the article, though, was my personal history with Agent Maass. Back in the day when I subbed my first novel, Mothers Don't Die, he sent me a short but personal note. He said very directly that he didn't see how my book would appeal to readers because of a pretty unsavory character (one of the good guys) who appeared in Chapter 1. The most on-target advice I've ever gotten. I smacked my head and put the draft in a drawer, ready to move on.

This month, I'm deep in revision of my second historical novel set in mid-19th Century, messing around with the motivation of a particular character (Deidre) who faints as easily as a misplaced semicolon.

Did Maass have some advice for me? He identifies three pitfalls in this article:  (1) Timid voices, (2) Untested characters, and (3) Overly interior or exterior stories. He then provides some practical exercises for each problem area, and one exercise fits exactly where I am.

He asks writers to consider the essential story problem from the point of view of the protagonist (my fainting female). Think about, he suggests, the protagonist's understanding of the beginning, middle, and end of the story. How is her understanding different by the end?

Writing out this exercise transformed the structure of Deidre's motivation and her self-awareness of the obstacles she faces in my story. Deidre's not fainting any more. So this experience ties in neatly with today's ROW80 check-in, for I'm making steady progress in revision, in reading about the craft of writing.

Writers: How's your week going? Any novel revising strategies to share? When all else fails, perhaps we just need to switch gears and do something entirely different, like take advice from Donald Maass. Did you know that lions sometimes sleep in trees?

Sleeping lion, Serengheti, Tanzania (November 2012)