Sunday, May 15, 2011

Enticing Readership with Skill

I just finished an exceptional book. You know…the kind that grabs you by the socks and lifts you until you’re floating above the ground… the kind that conjures up rich plot and natural dialogue, and charms you into the book’s pages only to mesmerize you with its come-to-life phrasing. Reading one chapter of this type of story proves my undoing. I can’t put the book down until I reach the end, panting for more.

What makes one book more compelling than another? I’m sure a variety of answers come to mind, though individual tastes might have something to do with what you deem as top-rate. Admit it. Some writers are much better at writing than others. Publishing trends lead us by the neck and tell us which authors to read—which writers are better than others—and they may know from experience some of what they are talking about. But just because they lead you to the trough, doesn’t mean you have to drink. How many books an author sells isn’t always an indication of his writing skill. That’s why I shout praises when I get hold of a book that zaps me with its magic. I want to analyze every part, discover every component that makes the world pop out at me like the action in a 3-D movie.

Take The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton—this exceptional book I was telling you about. Over and over again, the author surprised me with how she transformed an ordinary sentence into fresh, living imagery. Her words sucked me into each scene, had me living the characters lives vicariously as they searched for understanding. And she didn’t have to use the lurid tactics of the majority of those who call themselves writers today, either. I’m tired of searching for an author who can tell a story, one who makes us better after reading their work. Such talent is lacking in today’s entertainment.

So what’s my point? I think I’m ruined for life. I won’t find satisfaction until I can find another skilled writer like Kate Morton who can enthrall me with their clean, precise, and magical words. A reader shouldn’t have to strain to envision what they’re reading or wade through a clutter of nonsense, and a writer should use their skill, not sensationalism and smut, to entice readership.

Bravo, Kate Morton. You have me hooked. I hope my followers will feel the same.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Bogging in the Comparison Mire

I have a useless habit of comparing my least to someone else’s best, especially when writing. I judge my blog posts with narrow eyes and a sneer on my face when my words fail to inspire or snag comments like the witty quips that successful bloggers post. I often throw out acceptable sections of my manuscripts or lash at my words until they beg for mercy all because I want to become like some other author. Comparing our work to others’ for the sake of learning a better way to write can be useful, but if we weep on our keyboards or berate ourselves for not measuring up to someone else’s style, we’re bogging in the comparison mire.

I say go ahead and admire another writer’s work, but remember you as a writer need to develop your own style. Recognize the myriad ways to make words come alive on the page…that maybe your way is more concise or less trite or builds on a style you have used throughout your manuscript. Chances are when you give your words a rest and come back and read them later, the passages will jump out at you as clever phrasing, just like you imagined when you first saved them to file. And if not, then put your fingers to the keys and come up with something else. It’s that simple.

I, for one, want my work to resonate from my own inner voice. I don’t want my readers to say, “Hey, she writes like Dan Brown or John Grisham. Not that I could, but why would I want to? I want my fans to recognize my work the moment they read one of my sentences. I want them to say, “Yep, that sounds like Peggy Shumway.” I read a blog the other day where the author suggests there is no such thing as style. She claims that style IS the writer. I guess that’s true. My inner voice is exactly that…who I am as a person.

However, we are influenced by other authors and our style will reflect what we like to read. The world is replete with different ways to write a novel or a magazine article, but the more unique you are in your design, the better chance you have to capture an editor’s eye. Learn the techniques that make you a better writer and then let your creativity take over until you create a story that reveals the facts in a fresh way. It may take a while to learn how. Let’s face it; some writers have success flowing through their veins, others, well…they have to try a little harder or find something else they like to do.

Just don’t flail in the comparison mire. If you want to write as much as you want to sleep or eat, you’ll do what is necessary to learn how to write and to find your voice. You must practice your craft, edit, and read your manuscript over and over until you get it right. And if you find the process takes too much work or, after years of trying, you can’t satisfy you own muse, find a new day job. You’ll be much happier.