Thursday, May 29, 2014

Thriving in the Darkest Hour

I read an awesome blog post by Robin LaFevers the other day on Writer Unboxed. It's about how a writer can not only survive but thrive in that "almost there" phase before they get an agent and a pub deal. It spoke so deeply to me, because I've been in that "almost there" phase, or the "Dark Night of the Soul" as Robin put it, for well over a year now. I was a semi-finalist in one online writing contest, and won my age category in another popular online pitch contest, but the agents that requested ended up passing. I got very complimentary feedback from an agent that loved my writing but had something too similar, and requests to submit my future work from a couple others. In essence, it's been an extremely frustrating period of near misses. A period of good, but not good enough.

Reading Robin's post was like a beacon in my dark night, and inspired me to keep at it with gusto. Not that I was thinking of quitting, but it enabled me to smell the roses again. In her post she talks about using this phase in your pre-career to really amp up the excellence in your craft. So, being the list freak that I am, I decided to list out what I felt were the main elements of a story, with the sub-elements that make a novel delicious. My goal with this is to take an honest look at how I stack up in these various areas, both overall and for each book I've written, since each book is of course a unique creature. Here's the list of elements I came up with:

  • Character
    • Depth, details, uniqueness
    • Motivations
    • Emotions
    • Relationships
    • Dialogue
    • POV
    • Character voice
    • Arc
    • Antagonists
  • Plot
    • Concept – new or archetypal?
    • Scenes
    • Pacing
    • Tension
    • Hooks and Cliffhangers
    • Turning points – inner and outer
    • Twists/surprises
  • Voice/Style/Skill
    • Writer’s voice/style
    • Skill with words, mastery of craft
    • Structure
    • “Feel” of the story
    • Ability to immerse reader
    • Subtext
  • Worldbuilding
    • Description – range from lush to minimal
    • Visual and full-sensory experience of reader
    • Details – whether real or fantasy world
    • Setting as character 

So, writer friends: have you experienced a dark time in your writing career? What do you think of the list above - what did I miss? How do you self-evaluate?

I'll let you know how my self-evaluation process goes. I've been reading writing craft books and I have some other exercises to experiment with. Whatever you're up to, I hope the summer is unfolding beautifully!


  1. I think you analyzed it more than I ever have!
    I spent many months sending things to publishers with no results. (Never sent to agents - knew it was a long shot for me and would take too long.I wish I'd spent that time in between working on a sequel. I could've had books come our faster if I'd been prepared.
    If you've had those requests, then you know you are really close!

  2. You are getting really close to snagging that agent. Hang in there Alexia. I have had many dark hours, somehow, I have managed to survive them.

  3. I think you have it analyzed well. Keep working on it! Persistence is key. :)

  4. Oh man, I hear you Alexia. I LOVE Robin LaFevers, GRAVE MERCY is one of my all-time favorite reads. Thanks for this post. Using this time to polish up your craft is wise, indeed.

  5. As long as you have tea with your dark night, you can probably get through it.

  6. This is a neat thing, it feels like a nice recharge. Great when a book can do that. Powerful stuff. Cheers and boogie boogie.

  7. I've never gotten quite that close, but the darkness comes and goes. And still, I keep writing. :shrug:

    I hope in the midst of all your evaluating and the encroaching writerly darkness, you're taking some time to enjoy the world around you. Sometimes that helps stave off the darkness. :hugs:

  8. I loved Robin's post.

    My dark time was parting ways with my first two agents. I felt so close both times, but then nothing happened. I kept at it, though.

  9. Oh, I really like your list. Seems thorough to me! So glad you got recharged and invigorated. :) You're definitely close, so keep powering onward!!

  10. Popped in to see what you were doing today.

  11. Definitely. Mostly my low-writing times are my high-(day job) working months. I think every year I improve in a few areas of my writing and then I see where I still need to improve. Last year I think I found my unique writing voice and style. This year I'm working on plot: pacing, turning points, climax,... One of these years I'll get it all right. :) Christy


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