Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Don’t blink! Authors Don’t Look Away. (Part One of My Unsolicited Advice Series)

Well, some do, and when an author blinks an angel eats their soul with spidery mandibles and coughs up a hairball of mediocre prose that gives us all a bad name. Okay, so maybe it’s not that bad, but it can take a potentially amazing work and make it blah.

As a professional editor, I've found the advice I end up giving to my authors more often than not is to get deeper into their character’s POV, and to not be afraid to type the words that make them cringe. Good writing comes from the heart. Awe inspiring comes from the gut, particularly if you’ve torn it out and drizzled it all over the paper—go there, say it, write it. The more difficult a scene feels to approach, the more important it is that you free yourself to write it.

Let the bad guys be BAD.

One of the worst lit crimes I see, and I see it often, is when authors write jerks. Jerks, asses, and douche-bags get no love in most books. They may get a lot of screen time (probably not) but they don’t get the TLC of a protagonist. This is a problem, because you could have a book with really well developed protagonists,but when you pit them against their jerky rival, the scene loses balance and authenticity—it’s hard to take a hero seriously when he’s fighting a cardboard cut out of a cartoon bad guy. If you really want to make that “bad guy” believable, and the threat to the protagonist genuine, you need to employ the same sort of deep POV and characterization you use with your protagonists.

I know it feels icky and you want to distance yourself from feeling like an ass as much as possible—nobody wants to get under the skin of a character no one is supposed to like—but you will thank me for it later if you really give yourself over to it…and so will your readers. What’s the worst that could happen? A reader picks up your book and makes the mistake of thinking some part of you is just like the jerk in your story? Well, yeah, that may happen, but it’s better than the reader thinking some part of you is a cliché, mustache twirling, drama hound, right? Give yourself permission to say all the vile, awful things that little dark part of your heart has always wanted to say. Give yourself permission to slip into the shoes of your berating father, your overbearing mother, that jackass at work who doesn’t know his sexist jokes aren’t funny and spits a little when he talks. These wonderful models of terrible people in your life are not contagious—you can wear their skin for a scene and go right back to being your usual pleasant self…after you show your ass in the scene and make your protagonist really uncomfortable. Don’t hold back. Don’t parrot the words of bad guys from TV—it comes off sounding like a bad high school play—get real, get ugly, and go there.

Don’t tone it down.
Don’t just give your readers what you think they can handle in terms of asshole people.
Don't do that! Don't write a jerk, BE a jerk.
Don't tell yourself "I can't have them say this because...it doesn't sound like writing" or pull back because some part of you is just afraid to relive those words people have said to YOU again.
Just spill it. Let your jerk be full-on rotten.
And let him or her be inspired by the full-on rotten people in your life. It's like method acting. You channel that hateful awful person through yourself, to the keyboard. Let us see you be bad!

1 comment:

Susanne said...

Some really good points!