Monday, May 4, 2009

Two for the Price of One

Today's writing post will cover two handy-dandy tips. Both came to me through reading yesterday. Since I read them both within an hour of each other, I thought I'd share them both with you today. If I was smarter, I'd save one for next week, but . . . oh, well.

Tip #1 - Clues

Yesterday's San Antonio Express-News carried an item about Mary and Carol Higgins Clark. You can read the full article here.

Near the end of the piece, the writer includes a quote from Mary Higgins Clark:
"In one version of 'Hansel and Gretel,' Hansel drops smooth stones and Gretel drops bread crumbs," Mary explains. "The suspense writer is dropping both. Most astute readers will pick up the bread crumbs and ignore the stones."

Clues don't apply only to mystery and suspense plots. Clues apply to character, setting, attitude, passions, and just about everything needed for a successful story of any genre, whether the story is a flash or a novel.

Clues take many forms. A clue can be the proverbial gun on the mantel. It can be a look between two friends, the choice of one shirt over another, or drops of blood on the living room floor.

So remember the importance of clues. Have fun with them. And plant them well. They will grow into a lush story with many colorful characters.

Tip #2 - Writing Who You Are

Some writers say: Write what you know.

Other writers say: Explore and learn. Write beyond yourself and don't make every character a copy of you.

I've always said: Do both.

And it appears I'm not alone.

Yesterday I finished a book that had been sitting in my TBR stack for a long time. It was Devil's Corner by Lisa Scottoline. An excellent read, by the way.

Near the end of the final chapter - and this isn't a spoiler for anyone who hasn't read the book and wants to - is this bit of dialogue between father and daughter:

"You can't go home again, Victoria."

"I know people say that, but I disagree. I think you never really leave."

"What?"

"I'm Devon, Dad. I'm Devon, wherever I go. Some people are pure South Philly, and a New Yorker is always a New Yorker." . . . "Think about it, Dad. There's Jersey girls and Valley girls. Chicagoans and San Franciscans, Texans and Bostonians. . . ."

This says what I mean by doing both. Like the old saw that you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl.

If you write mystery, one of your characters kills another. Most mystery writers have never killed anyone. Yet we are able to project how and why a character will commit such a crime. We create both characters and neither may be like us in any way that we can see. The murder may take place in a location we've only dreamed about visiting.

But - each character contains at least a smidgen of our DNA. Even if we now live in Phoenix, where we're from is always with us. More importantly, everything we've learned in our lives is always with us. It shows. It might be in the way we string words together to form a sentence. It might be in how a character reacts.

And the setting, although real, is stamped with our imprint as well. It's presented to the reader as we perceive it. And it will be different from the way anyone else sees the same place. Even if it's presented through a character and may not reflect what we, personally, think of the location.

So explore - online, in books, or if you're lucky enough, in person. Learn new things. Grow - in both your personal and professional lives. But don't be afraid to put yourself into your work. Austin or Boston. Both are great. Don't hide.

Let yourself shine, and your stories will shine, too.

4 comments:

Paul Brazill said...

very good advice indeed.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thank you, kind sir.

SusanPBaker said...

Good blog, Carol.
From your writer friend on another Texas coast.

Carol Kilgore said...

Thanks, Susan. Good to see you here!