We're so excited to have with us today at WITS: Tiffany Lawson Inman -Naked Editor! She's not only Margie Lawson's pride and joy, she's an amazing editor who can help take your writing from good to great! Here's Tiffany:
Why is it, we think only of a high intensity thriller when we hear the phrase, “Gripping page turner?” Is it the: Non-stop action, fast pace, a billion plot twists, high stakes, extreme emotions and exhilaration?
The stereotype breakers are the ones that I like to read. Lisa Unger, Tana French, Elliot Perlman, Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson. While reading each of these author's novels, I have been on the edge of my seat, literally.
Was it because of a brawny uniformed man swooping in to save the day? The convenient mass market size and price?
I read books based on these three elements:
1. Writing craft
2. Character development
Well, gosh…ALL three of those elements are at the top of my list for reading other genres too. Hmmmmm….
What am I saying? Strive to make EVERY novel a Thriller. Not with hype and a million plot twists, but with quality writing. Just because you are writing Women’s Lit or a Western Romance, doesn’t mean you scrimp on the high intensity. It means add it in, in an alternative way. Learn how to tell your story. Find out what works and what doesn’t.
That’s what those pesky NYT best sellers are doing. They’ve learned how to ramp up the character's emotional detail rather than the gory detail of a thriller. NYT best sellers have learned how to show action when it’s simply a scene in a kitchen or coffee shop. You say your Romance novel isn’t about life or death?
It is. The stakes can be just as high as life or death because your character's spirit will die if she doesn’t have her happy ending. Right?
I don’t care what genre you are writing, I want you to be at the top of your game. One genre is not above another in terms of writing craft…or it shouldn’t be. From writers that pump out a book every three months for Harlequin to writers that have been working on the same novel for years and make it to Oprah, if you are striving to be published in ANY capacity, I expect excellence on that page. Not because I am an editor, but, because I am a reader.
You don’t want your readers passing on your book because they have read the first chapter on their Kindle and they aren’t impressed. You don’t want your readers struggling to finish your novel and in turn, never buying another of your books.
You do want your reader to be dazzled and emotionally attached to your characters, plot, and sucked in by writing craft. How are you going to do this? By following in the footsteps of the THRILLER. Dig in to a quality thriller and take note of how they:
- show emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
- show active description
- show active dramatic moments within the dialogue
- show character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Here’s a strange question for you: What does The Shining have in common with Little Women?
They are both good enough novels to go in the freezer. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is a Friends reference. Season 3, episode 13, where Joey is so grippingly scared by what is happening in The Shining, that he puts it in the freezer when he’s not reading it. To somehow stop or “freeze” the events happening in the book, so he can breathe.
Rachel gives Joey her well worn copy of Little Women to read; a book he didn’t think could match the gripping ability of his much loved page turner, The Shining. The last scene of the episode shows a distraught Joey, so emotionally caught up in the character’s lives, that he is then forced to put Little Women in the freezer too.
This is what I want to read, every time I crack open a novel, thriller or non-thriller.
So, writers. Is your novel “freezer-worthy?”
Let’s do a quick 'n easy Naked Editor Dramatic Dissection on a snippet from the first chapter of: Darkness, My Old Friend by Lisa Unger.
“I’m Eloise Montgomery.”
It took a moment. Then he felt the heat rise to his cheeks, a tension creep into his shoulders. Pop- visceral reactions as his response. Christ, he thought. “What can I do for you, Ms. Montgomery?” Showing us his thought and then the line – immediately gives us an invisible tone to his voice, without saying, “ he said, with an irritated tone.”
She looked nervously around, and Jones followed her eyes, to the falling leaves, the clear blue sky. What a fabulous way to show setting and a little of what this lady is all about. Why would she be looking at these things, unless she didn’t want to look at him directly? Unger is a master of active description. “Is there someplace we can talk?” Her drifting gaze landed on the house. Interesting – she is showing a lot with the way this woman is approaching the situation. She doesn’t want to look at him, she doesn’t want to intrude on his home, and yet there is a look to the house, as if to will him to invite her in, without her asking. Lots of stuff going on here between, under, and above the actual words.
“Can’t we talk here?” He crossed his arms around his middle and squared his stance. Maggie would be appalled by his rudeness. But he didn’t care. There was no way he was inviting this woman into his home. A strong reaction and an internalization – both very informative about his character. And this raises a lot of questions in my reader brain – why is he behaving like this. What has this woman done to him? A lot of emotion here for a man who didn’t remember who she was at first.
“This is private,” she said. “And I’m cold.” She started walking toward the house, stopped at the bottom of the three steps that led up to the painted gray porch, and turned around to look at him. She still has not verbally invited herself in – but her actions say something else entirely. Her dialogue is short and unapologetic, which raises MORE questions about who and what this woman is to the man in the scene.
He didn’t like the look of her so near the house, any more than he did those doves. On the previous page he mentions having to upend the home of some doves that had taken residence in the light inside his garage. They didn’t belong in his use either. Birds make messes. This is a fabulous tie in to something he doesn’t have to describe again for us – we know he is thinking she is invading his space and is likely to make a mess. Very nice technique.
She was small-boned and skittish, but with a curious mettle. As she climbed the steps without invitation and stood at the door, Nice slice of character description here. Love her word choice. he thought about how, with enough time and patience, a blade of grass could push its way through concrete. Perfect use of active and emotion infused analogy.
He expected her to pull open the screen and walk inside, but she waited. And he followed reluctantly, dropping his gardening gloves beside the rake. The next thing he knew, she was sitting at the dining-room table and he was brewing coffee. Simple compression of time here. Very smooth, no speed bumps for me.
My assignment for you: Dig through your manuscript and make sure you are:
- showing emotion through EVERY aspect of writing craft
- showing active description
- showing active dramatic moments within the dialogue
- showing character description and characterization through body language and dialogue cues
Go forth and write!
P.s. I’m on page 267 of Lisa Unger’s book now and, yes, I want to put it in the freezer.
I'll tell you mine, if you tell me yours! The Lovely Bones and The Secret Life Of Bees are two of my freezer dwellers... My body can't handle those high impact emotions all at once. It's the curse of Theatre School and the ability to live through the minds of characters.
Which books on your shelves, have you running for the freezer? Have you learned anything from them? Do tell!
Tiffany Lawson Inman is a freelance fiction editor. Find more about her at www.nakededitor.net Updates on where she’s been guest blogging, where she’s going to be next, and other writing/editing tips at Naked Editor Blog: http://bit.ly/NakedEditorFictionWritingBlog
Want to learn from Naked Editor? Tiffany teaches online at Lawson Writer’s Academy. Check out the course she has coming up in January– you don’t want to miss it! http://bit.ly/LawsonWritersAcademyCourses
Comment today and you could win her lecture packet: Triple Threat Behind Staging a Scene. An Actor’s Take On Writing Physicality, Choreography, and Action --- based on the current class she is teaching.
**Don’t worry, if you wanted to take the Triple Threat course and learn in the one-on-one atmosphere with Tiffany, this course will be back in the spring!