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!