Good morning! We’re pleased to start the week off with author Barbara DeLeo. Welcome, Barbara!
I’d never thought myself a slow learner until entering my seventh year as an unpublished author. I mean, I’d graduated high school and college, received some degrees and diplomas, I could even program the DVR to work, most of the time.
So, what was I getting so terribly wrong? Why was I able to finish six manuscripts, win competitions, even get to the revision stage with editors, but never be asked to sign on the golden dotted line?
Well, although I obviously didn’t know it then, I’ve been pondering some possible answers since my first book, Contract for Marriage, came out this month, and I’ve formed a little theory.
I think I was crippled by craft.
My undergraduate degree was in English literature and much of my time as a student twenty years ago was spent analyzing novels. I wrote essays on conflict and theme and conventions of the period; I could discuss symbolism and imagery, and often I’d compare techniques between books, or between authors. So, when I sat down to write a romance novel I focused on what I knew. Of course I’d always loved reading romances, but instead of focusing on what it was about the story that I loved, I began feverishly learning about elements of craft.
I took courses on conflict, did practice exercises on writing dialogue, I could see a clunky point of view change from a hundred paces. And all of this took time. With each manuscript I’d feel as though I was mastering a different aspect of craft but the minute I’d have a handle on one thing, some new tip would pop up and off I’d go with that.
And what suffered? My story.
This quite possibly seems so simple to you. So logical that it’s laughable. But I really believe that in my quest to “write right”, I lost focus on the organic beast that was the story at the heart of my book.
“And where do I find this elusive organic story beast,” I hear you ask? “I’ve been hunting it for a few years and it keeps dodging behind trees for me too,” you say. What should you do?
Well firstly, I’m definitely not suggesting you throw your craft books out, or cancel your subscription to some of the brilliant courses there are out there. Craft IS important, but it’s worthless in a story vacuum.
There are probably a hundred ways to approach finding your story, but I’ll tell you what works for me. I get a comfy pillow, lie back and close my eyes, and try and “see” my story in my head before I put fingers to the keyboard.
I imagine that my brain’s a movie screen, my eyes the projector, and instead of being the director (as I have been over and over again) I’m merely the viewer. Popcorn tub in hand, I wait for the story to play itself out in my head.
It’s often slow at first. The characters might be hazy, the setting generic, but when I practice this at the beginning of each writing session I usually start to “see” my story take shape. I might only spend five minutes or ten doing this, but I find it helps me hang onto the heart of the story, and when I lose my way, I’ll go back to that movie theater and either watch the next installment, or rewind and start again.
Dialogue, too, keeps me rooted in the story. I’ll often only allow myself to write dialogue in a scene. No tags or narrative, just dialogue between characters, and it’s amazing how elements like internal conflict and back story reveal themselves in the most natural ways. Once the dialogue has been written and the heart of the story has shown a little more of itself to me, then I’ll go back and think about point of view and emotion and sexual tension. And the funny thing is, the more I focus on the story, the more confident I become in my craft.
I’d love to hear if you think you might have the same issue as me, or whether you recognized it and addressed it. If you haven’t had this experience I’d love to know how you hunt down your story beast!
RU Authors – are you craft book addicts? Have you scheduled so many craft classes you don’t have time to write? What’s the secret to finding your story?
Join us on Wednesday for another terrific post from Sara Megibow!
Barbara DeLeo’s first book, co-written with her best friend, was a story about beauty queens in space. She was eleven, and the sole, handwritten copy was lost years ago, much to everyone’s relief. It’s some small miracle that she kept the faith and is now living her dream of writing sparkling contemporary romance with unforgettable characters.
After completing degrees in Psychology and English then travelling the world, Barbara married her winemaker hero and had two sets of twins.
She still loves telling stories about finding love in all the wrong places, with not a beauty queen or spaceship in sight.
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