In my one-person crusade to educate the world about writing, fiction writing in particular, I commonly encounter the following scenario in advertisements seeking ghostwriters: "I'll tell you my idea, you write the book, and I'll give you a half share in the royalties."
Um... no. As I've stated ad nauseum, ideas are easy and plentiful. Developing them is hard work. It takes time, effort, and skill to produce something worth reading.
But how does you know whether an idea is a good idea? Ask Google and you'll get 129,000,000 results. That alone should tell you that this question occurs frequently.
Writer's Digest publishes a list of questions and actions to determine whether an idea can sustain development to novel length (minimum 50,000 words). The Balance also offers a list of qualifying questions that will help the writer determine whether an idea has the strength to endure a novel's length. Jane Friedman's website takes a somewhat different approach in emphasizing that if you're writing on a popular theme, agents and publishers won't want your manuscript. She distills the previous lists into three succinct questions: 1) Why make this? 2) Why make this now? 3) Who cares? She goes further to touch upon the question authors should not ask agents and publishers: What are you looking for? After bursting a writer's bubble, Damien Walter offers "six core qualities for a strong commercial novel." Those are high concept, larger than life characters, inspiring locations, close relationships, high stakes, and multiple points of view.
These qualifying questions and traits work well for those writers who write out their plots, develop outlines, and otherwise proceed through the story development process in a methodical, disciplined manner. Authors of this type are called "plotters."
Unfortunately, that probably won't work for "pantsers." Yep, you got it. I'm a pantser. I can work from an outline--someone else's outline. Often the writing process is as much one of discovery for me as it is for the characters and the reader. As Robin McKinley writes in her book Beauty, "Begin in the middle and work outwards. Don't be stuffy."
As an English teacher once said about good story ideas: "Drop an ordinary person into an extraordinary situation and let him or her resolve the conflict." That's as good advice as any, to my way of thinking.
So how do I tell whether an idea is good, whether it will support 50,000 or 100,000 words? The idea has to hold my attention. A powerful idea simmers in my brain, won't allow me to relax my mind, and practically forces me to either put fingertips to keyboard or temporarily drown the voices with the liberal consumption of wine. (Being that warm weather has arrived, wine may take a back seat to gin and tonic.) The upshot is that the story holds me in its grip. It's on my mind when I wake and when I go to bed.
The story must be expressed or my head will explode. I don't write because I have nothing better to do; I write because I must.
Ultimately, I think, the idea doesn't matter so much as the development and execution. Think about it: how many variations on Cinderella have you come across? It's a simple idea: poor, downtrodden woman meets wealthy, privileged man; they fall in love; a problem prevents them from pursuing a relationship; they resolve the conflict and live happily ever after. And, yet, the idea endures despite its repetition across genres and centuries.
Music follows the same general order. Some musicians and groups produce great music that endures, some one-song wonders and currently popular bands produce a hit or two that the public won't remember in ten, twenty, or thirty years. People today still listen to Mozart, the Eagles, and Bessie Smith. Something resonates with the music they produced that still captivates the listening public today.
So, back to the original question: Is the idea good? Only the writer can truly answer that and readers will validate that answer.
I read far too many "new adult" romances. I say "too many" because most follow the same script and employ the same characters. They're formulaic: sexy bad boy + scrappy or doormat heroine. Multiply melodrama with angst.
A fairly recent trend--and one that just lit my fuse, which is why I'm ranting here--is a heroine's rush to lose her V-card. When did that first time become a nuisance rather than a gift? That burden of ridding oneself of one's virginity ties into the whole unrealistic concept of sex without consequences.
It just ain't true, folks. Whether one inserts himself inside another person's body or takes another person's body inside hers, no act of such physical intimacy can be performed without some lingering effect either in one's body or in one's mind and/or emotions.
I offer no moral argument here, just a simple statement of realism that, curiously, is often missing from "new adult" romance.
We used to call it coming-of-age fiction, which showed the emotional, intellectual, and perhaps physical maturation of a character growing out of adolescence into adulthood. A boy becomes a man and accepts a man's responsibilities and obligations. A girl becomes a woman and accepts a woman's responsibilities and obligations. Over the last 30 years, adolescence has been extended to the point where even the federal government recognizes it by allowing children to remain on their parents' health insurance policies until the age of 26.
In "new adult" fiction, the early twenties are merely an extension of adolescence, a time of careless self-discovery, hedonism, and shallow giddiness because Mommy and Daddy will pay for everything. Likewise, the maturity of adulthood which entails the assumption of adult responsibility and mature behavior has been delayed. Romantic heroes, apart from their all-too-common billionaire status, display a deplorable postponement of maturity. The descent into doing what feels good regardless of potential consequences demonstrates a disturbing lack of self-respect, both in fiction and in real life.
Yes, I understand that "new adult" romance is fantasy, but even the most outrageous fantasy requires some realism to anchor it so readers can relate to it.
Maturity and adulthood don't mean forsaking all pleasure; it means judging the value of that pleasure and acting in accordance with the consequences.
Giddy, shallow, squealing, irresponsible. Those words don't describe the heroes or heroines in my books. They may not wait until marriage to fall into bed; but neither do they hop from bed to bed like kids playing musical chairs. There's a time and a place for everything, or so the saying goes. The years following adolescence should be a time for growing up and maturing.
To those characters who hit nineteen or twenty-five and live like dependent teenagers: Grow up. To those authors who write such characters: You do your readers no favors.
The past couple of weeks have been crazy-busy, so y'all can be grateful for the respite from my weekly musings. The respite's over, folks.
With a schedule already packed with books to produce, I have begun on a story absolutely not intended. It happened as these things often do: I saw something that sparked an idea which lodged in my mind and simply wouldn't leave. So, I began writing. Here's the opening content:
From two steps behind and slightly off to the right, he watched his lady walk with stately grace and ignore the thinly veiled sneers of contempt, jealousy, avarice, and resentment from the provincial kings who sat in their imposing thrones that lined the great hall. Edan himself regarded his lady only with pride and loyalty. She’d done much good for the province, leading it back to productivity and prosperity after a generation of greedy, shortsighted, and careless rulers.
It mattered not to him that a woman ruled. She’d proven herself more than capable.
She stopped a respectful distance from the gilded throne and bowed deeply, again showing the proper respect, and murmured, “Your Majesty. I have come as you bade me.”
This particular story has a fantasy base and the romance will center on the two protagonists. Hey, it's my story and my stories have romance.
Last weekend I attended ConGlomeration 2017 as an exhibitor. The younger son accompanied me. He proved to be helpful and excellent company. I met several authors, including science fiction author and NASA rocket scientist Les Johnson, urban fantasy writers Lydia Sherrer and Ronald Van Stockum, Jr., and illustrator and author Bill Levy. Ronald and Lydia offered good advice with regard to marketing, which essentially boiled down to "build a mailing list and keep in touch with newsletters" and "build rapport with people at conventions."
Since that was my first "con," I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I did triple duty during the event, promoting Red Sun Magazine to build interest, promoting myself as a freelance ghostwriter and editor, and promoting my books. I managed to sell a handful of books and gave three away in prize drawings. Winners were Annett Rose, Mike Thompson, and Lydia Sherrer. I hope they enjoy the books.
The upshot is that I took a first stab at a personal newsletter to my short list of contacts and have promised myself that I'll make the effort to participate in three or four cons per year. Newsletter subscribers don't have to worry about being inundated. Other than this blog, I have no intention of sending out weekly or even monthly promotions. I dislike receiving constant promotions from anyone and won't commit the same sin. As for attending more conventions, there's a cost beyond hard dollars that takes its toll on me. Simply put, I'm a diehard introvert and forcing myself to interact at the level required for promotion just takes too much out of me.
By the way, if you want to subscribe to my mailing list, send me a message through the contact page. Otherwise, check in every so often to the Hen House Publishing page on Facebook or Google+. Don't look for me on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, or other social media. I don't text either.
As a final word, this week, I bid good-bye to our dog. We adopted Buffy from a pet rescue 10 years ago. We were told she was four years old. Fast forward a decade, actually two years longer than expected since Great Pyrenees dogs don't usually live past the age of 12. Buffy had declined to the point where she could barely walk, had difficulty keeping food down, and had lost bowel and bladder control. That decision I made is never easy. So we mourn the passing of a big, gentle dog.
No more dogs, I tell myself. It hurts too much when they die. It will be awhile before we can fill the big, Buffy-sized hole in our family.
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