I’m Not a Novel Virgin

Jun. 17th 2011

Forgotten April, my debut novel, isn’t my first novel. Like so many writers, I have a bottom drawer dweller, or, in this case, a novel that lingers on my hard drive in a folder called “Bad First Novels.” The novel is called Lily’s Legs. Don’t ask me who Lily is — she’s not a character; she’s simply a thinly-veiled version of my twenty-something self. And the other characters are people from my life back then: the morning show host from the radio station I worked at in the 90s, family members, lovers.  I took the whole “write what you know” adage literally and forgot an important thing called imagination.

But that’s okay. It had to go like that. I think it was Stephen King who said in his memoir On Writing that you have to write a million words before you can call yourself a true writer, since a million words is what it takes to smooth out the rough edges, to rid yourself of the frogs in your throat and the endless ahs and ums that occur when you’re trying to explain something you don’t understand yet. That was me, anyway, when I was penning those 73,000+ words. (I was still using double spaces after periods, too. Sheesh!)

I spent some time today re-reading portions of it. I wrote a lot of it in Provincetown (pictured), one of my favorite places in the world, and I remember sitting on my hotel balcony that was a stone’s throw from the ocean and writing on my laptop. I was one of the only people I knew with a laptop then, and it made me feel all official-like, as if I were a “real” writer. (We’re talking circa 1995.)

Anyhow, today as I was re-reading it, I noted that 99.9 percent of it was crap, but I also remembered a scene I had written and quickly found it and discovered why I remembered it now…because there was a spark of “something” there, something I’d learn how to manage better over the next fifteen years and turn into “story.”

We all have to begin somewhere. And while I’d NEVER want this book to see the light of day, I’m still proud of it in the same way I imagine mothers are proud of the kindergarten artwork they hold onto from their now grown-up kids. The work shows faith and diligence and a little bit of chutzpah, which are all things “real” writers need even after they’re all grown up.

What’s in your “Bad Writing” files?

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 1 Comment »

But It Really Happened That Way!

Mar. 17th 2011

I imagine many writers out there have heard a fellow writer say, “But it really happened that way!” when questioned by beta readers or critique partners about a particular event in their story. (I might even be guilty.)

This isn’t an original thought, but I’m sharing because it’s worth remembering: just because something happened in real life doesn’t mean repeating it in your story will automatically make it “real” to the reader. It’s your job as a writer to render the event believable. That might require deviating from the “real” nature of the “real” event in order to make it authentic to your characters, story, and, ultimately, your audience. You might know it’s “for real” since you experienced the event or saw it happen or whatever. But your audience doesn’t know that.

That’s why ripped-from-the-headlines television shows are such a hit, I think. Their almost-unbelievable story lines become believable because the audience has “heard” it before, thanks to the media. (I think many readers would have had a hard time accepting Room’s premise if not for the Josef Fritzl and Jaycee Dugard cases.)

While readers often willingly suspend their disbelief, they’re willing to suspend it only so far. It’s the writer’s responsibility to make even the most unbelievable thing feel real. Not an easy task.

Have you read anything recently that made you go “No way. That never could have happened”? Or have you read anything that seemed unbelievable but you kept reading anyway and the “thing” became believable, thanks to the writer’s skill? Share in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing | 5 Comments »

Movies for Writers – Stand By Me

Feb. 18th 2011

I’m sure all writers have that one movie they feel every writer should watch. Mine is Stand By Me, which is based on the Stephen King short story “The Body.”

I love this film for so many reasons: the time in my life when I saw it (aged 13 in 1986), the story itself, and, of course, the whole writer theme. I’m embedding the trailer below. I highly recommend adding this to your Netflix queue if you haven’t seen it yet.

What film do YOU recommend all writers see? Leave your picks in the comments.

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Posted by Robyn | in Creative Writing, film | 7 Comments »

A Bone to Pick with “Bones”

Feb. 7th 2011

I get sucked into the crime/thriller show marathons that stations like TNT run (Law & Order, anyone?). Bones is one I watch, although I don’t love that show as much as L&O or SVU. But I do have a bone to pick with the writers of Bones: it always irritates me when a character is a writer, but she NEVER writes.

Dr. Temperance Brennan, or “Bones,” is a forensic anthropologist and is wicked smaht as we say back here in Beantown, but a wicked smaht person does not a writer make. I know she’s in the exceptional category and she can compartmentalize and hyper-focus and  such, but that still doesn’t take away the fact that writers need to write. A lot. Especially when they’re cranking out bestsellers in their “spare time,” as this show seems to suggest. I think I’ve only seen her character actually writing once (and I’ve seen a lot of the shows, though not all), and that was a hospital bedside scene where Bones was waiting out Booth’s coma.

ARGH.

This sort of portrayal does a disservice to new-ish writers or people who “want to write a novel” because it suggests that it’s easy.

It ain’t easy. It takes work and practice and commitment and daily effort (or full weekend effort or full night-time effort…keyword is effort).

One of the reasons I appreciate Sex and the City (also now in marathon runs on E!, gawd help me. I’m dreaming about Mr. Big again), is because it shows Carrie writing in every episode. And not just sitting there tapping away on her keyboard and making it look easy. It shows her stopping and thinking and getting up and procrastinating and late nights and deadlines (remember when Aidan was stripping her floors and she was on deadline and had to go to a hotel to get some quiet?).

What other shows — past or present — get it write (ha!). I mean get it “right” in terms of how it portrays writers? What other shows get it wrong? I’ve been trying to think of other shows where the main character is a writer, but beyond the ones mentioned and maybe Dave’s World (based loosely on Dave Barry), I’m coming up empty.

Weigh in. Can you think of others? Do you get annoyed, too?

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