|Boroughs Publishing Group|
Today's festivities feature the Boroughs Publishing Group, Where Story Matters. E-publishing has changed the way the world reads. Boroughs Publishing Group is part of that revolution and joins with readership from Abu-Dhabi to Vancouver in demanding memorable stories that you’ll return to over and over.
Day One - Lunchbox Romances
Day Two - The Red Ridge Pack series
Day Three - Celebrating Regencies
Day Four - Our Editor-in-Chief, Chris Keeslar, on Writing
Day Five - Naughty and Loving it - Bad Boy Heroes
Day Six - The New Year's Eve Club series
Day Seven - True Love, Romance and Valentines
We're on day four of our journey with "On Writing" from their Editor-in-Chief, Chris Keeslar.
Chris Keeslar graduated from the creative writing program of New York University and left with an eye on publishing. Initially intending to make a name for himself as an author, he took work as an editorial assistant to support that ambition and soon found himself as handy with a pencil as with a word processor—or maybe handier. Since becoming an editor, he’s won both national and local awards for his work and is widely respected. Chris embraces Boroughs’ philosophy that it takes time to grow and groom authors, as opposed to simply churning out product.
The following is a selection from Chris’ articles in our monthly newsletter. If you’d like to keep up with what’s doing at Boroughs Publishing, visit our website at: www.BoroughsPublishingGroup.com to sign up for our newsletter.
LIFE MEETS ART
There’s a television show called Slings and Arrows that I find immensely enjoyable. I discovered it earlier this year; it’s a Canadian sitcom or dramedy that began in 2003 and ran for three non-contiguous seasons about a Shakespeare festival based loosely on the one in Stratford, Ontario. The show has a number of strengths, including that it presents people dealing with the artistic process, particularly the process as it relates to acting and directing, but it also has a bit about writing. In the show, at one point a character begins a relationship with a playwright. The playwright lifts a great deal of personal data from her and is finally asked, “What are you saying, that a writer just copies conversations that he has in life and makes actors repeat them?”
The answer is basically yes.
Well, sort of. My career has obviously brought me into contact with numerous writers, as has my life in general; a lot of my friends and friends of my friends are writers. It’s amazing how much biographical material goes into the work of successful authors, how much their lives are on display to people who are paying attention.
And yet, it’s not amazing. Our experiences and feelings are a natural starting point. And I say, don’t fight it. Real experiences are more easily reproducible, more likely to be recognizable than emotional journeys pulled entirely out of thin air—though truly masterful writers can change contexts easily. But the good news is, everyone can use their feelings as a starting point.
Of course, I’m not saying that writing a believable character journey is quite that easy. Good writing is about conflict, and so to be truly able to write something you experienced, you have to be able to understand both sides of whatever conflict you experienced and present it fairly—or at least relatively fairly. No reader likes to be preached at; they want to make conclusions on their own. And you have to be careful about including the personal information of people close to you, so you should be incredibly cognizant of protecting their feelings, or at least be aware of the dangers of exploiting their part in your life.
Another danger: Almost every romance writer I know has been asked the awkward question, “So, are you writing about the sex you’ve had?” Usually it’s posed by someone outside of the industry, though I’m sure one or two veterans have asked (or thought of asking) it themselves. The truth is, probably many writers do write about the sex they’ve had. Or at least they use their experiences to flavor what they’re writing about. Personal experience is always a great place to start—and then you add a healthy dose of imagination. And since you’re going to get asked the question about sex whether or not you’re using your experiences, don’t bother skimping. If it makes you uncomfortable, just deny it later.
So, if you’re looking to write a powerful story, look inside. Look at the relationships you’ve had, the ones that failed and the ones that succeed. Look at the relationships of your friends, and see what’s working and what’s not. (Though you should probably be really good at changing context if you want to keep the friends.) This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people want to steer clear of their own baggage. But the truth is, that baggage is what makes you you, and when you open the closet, that’s when you’re going to find that your skeletons can be allies. We’ve all got them. Why not let them out to find their friends?
Forgive my gaucheness, but I’m going to talk about presents.
You see, writing a book is like giving one: There are many ways to do it. You can chuck the obligatory dollars in a brown paper envelope five minutes before the exchange, or you can spend time thinking about your audience, their expectations and needs, buying several smaller but more specific offerings and combining them, wrapping them in discrete layers of beautiful but misleading paper, turning them all into the shape and feel of a brand new plaid sweater from Aunt Myra(!) but then adding ball bearings that rattle when shaken; taunting your son, asking him to guess, suggesting he might have the right answer, letting him shake and touch and sniff the package, letting him do all the guesswork before the final revelation of love and generosity. Before the final revelation that you grok him.
Taunting, you say? That’s cruel.
Or is it? Being a reader is about figuring things out. It’s about experience and calculation. It’s the blend of logic (what will happen?) and emotion (why do I care?) and anticipation (when am I going to know for sure?!). Because, like with everything in life, it’s the journey not the destination. The truest way to find joy in fiction is to experience the events yourself; otherwise any story could be just as easily relayed in two paragraphs. If I told you two kids from feuding houses fell in love and ended up committing suicide for each other, would that come anywhere close to the majesty of Romeo and Juliet? No. It’s the waiting, the hoping, the feeling alongside the characters that connects us—and in that story’s particular case, it’s also the elegance of the wrapping paper.
Wasn’t it William Goldman who said something like, “The best endings are both surprising and inevitable.” The best craftsmen know exactly what they’re revealing and when, and every step is toward something sublime. Every book is a holiday in itself, with as many gifts as chapters or themes, each of which can be a beautifully yet impossibly wrapped chance to awe and astound.
BURGLE ME, BABY
So, it’s a new year, a blank slate, a fresh chance to excel. January is about beginnings, and beginnings are where (consciously or not, you pantsers) we plan, where we take stock of our strengths and weaknesses to determine the best method to reach our goals. As a writer your job is to entertain, and to entertain you need to keep readers on their toes. Yes, you need to surprise them. Over and over. But that should be the fun part of writing: processing all the different aspects of your story then finding your particular strengths and playing to them.
Every novel has numerous opportunities to inspire wonder and awe: fantastic but believable settings, unique and/or sympathetic characters, groundbreaking concepts, lyrical narrative, witty dialogue. But the most obvious way to keep your readers on their toes is through plot devices. Every time you have a conflict, ask yourself if you’re taking the easy way out. How many stories have you read where you can’t possibly see the hero and heroine escape…and then things get really dicey? Not enough. Many authors (even veterans!) take the first opportunity to resolve tension. My advice? Resist. Keep your readers on the edges of their seats. They’ll thank you for it later.
I hasten to add that evoking a “Huh?” reaction from a reader does not qualify as surprise. At least not a positive surprise. The easiest example: Too often I see chapters end at strange points, where an author thinks, “Well, they’ll have to keep reading if I just don’t tell them what happens.” The cliffhanger is greatly overrated. Every story has a series of beats, and these are what chapter breaks should mark. A well-crafted tale maintains tension through the end of a beat.
Along that line, a reader should never be confused or feel denied critical information. They can and should be intentionally misinformed, perhaps, keeping within the rules of your universe, but never confused. Don’t withhold information that is crucial to later payoffs; layer it in early. If a hero’s sister died falling off a horse and there will be a dangerous horse race for the heroine at the climax of your story, tell us at the beginning. The less information we have to process at any moment of emotional turmoil, the more we can live in that moment. Tell us early, tell us often. But if at all possible, tell us indirectly.
The cleverest writer is a burglar: By the time you know which emotion she’s looking to steal, she’s already got it.
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