I’m a reader. When I read, I read for entertainment. I love the escape.
But I’m also a writer. Writers need to study the craft. One way to do that is to read like a writer. To that end, I did some research into exactly how one reads like a writer. I discovered this handy little printout from Teaching That Makes Sense. It’s the best at-a-glance resource I found on the topic.
That left one question: What do I read like a writer?
I find my inner writer comes out easily when I’m reading bad writing. I see the obvious mistakes or failings and laser in on them. But that’s not what I want to study. I want to study good writing. I need to study the writing I would love to emulate.
The genre of my WIP is fantasy. It didn’t take me long to decide the novel I was looking for:
Yes, you see two copies of the book there. On the left is my hardcover. The thought of writing in it to make notes broke my heart a little. So, I purchased a paperback copy. It’s so pretty I had second thoughts about writing in that one, too… but I must.
This will be a bit of an adventure for me, and possibly a bit of a struggle. Forcing myself to pick apart the words when all I want to do is fall into them… I think I’m going to have trouble with that. I’ve read this novel twice before, and got lost both times. Maybe the third time will allow me to focus on my purpose.
I may do a follow-up post to share how it’s going.
Here’s to reading like a writer!
I AM A WRITER
My mission is to create fiction that will entertain readers while sharing the Gospel in some form. I have always admired writers, and have dabbled in creative writing since about age nine. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve written longer stories that have caused the urge to write and publish a novel to grow until it could no longer be ignored. I see great fiction as a portal to another world inside of our minds, and hope to succeed in helping readers find that portal through my words.
I crafted this mission statement as part of a writing exercise in The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills.
Historical novelist Alyssa Palombo, whose second novel The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence is out now, graciously agreed to answer a few questions on writing. You can read her answers here, and be sure to check out the giveaway at the end of the post.
1) What drew you to write about Simonetta Cattaneo?
There were a few things: the first is that I learned that she is the woman depicted in Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, which is my all-time favorite painting. I love novels that tell the story (or imagined story) behind a famous work of art, so it seemed natural that I would write a story like that myself. The second thing is that, in my preliminary Googling of Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, I learned that Sandro Botticelli had been so in love with her that he asked to be buried at her feet when he died – and he actually was! This seemed such a romantic detail that suggested more than a simple artist-muse relationship, so I knew I had to write about it. Lastly, I don’t think there is nearly enough historical fiction set during the reign of the fascinating Medici family, so the opportunity to write about that era was very exciting to me as well.
2) Did you find it easier to write your second novel?
Absolutely not; it was much harder than the first. Even though The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence took me MUCH less time than The Violinist of Venice, it was more difficult in every other way: I knew, by then, all the work it takes to make a book ready for publication, so I knew exactly how daunting the task that lay ahead of me was; it was the first book I’d written KNOWING it would be published (as it was the second book of my two-book deal with St. Martin’s Press); it was tough to transition from working on Violinist for so long to writing something new; and having sold Violinist I started to be plagued with doubt that I could write something as good that my agent and editor would love as much. I definitely got in my own way on this, but I now know this is a common occurrence for published writers writing their second book (or first under contract).
3) Do you type or handwrite your first draft?
Always type! I tend to write long and then need to cut down (although The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence was an exception in that the first draft was the shortest, and it kept getting longer as I fleshed it out in revision and in edits with my editor) so if I hand wrote, I don’t even want to think about how long a draft would take me!
4) What is your favorite part of the writing process?
I love both drafting and revising, because both are exciting in their own way, but I think revising is my favorite. I love the feeling of taking the words I’ve already put on the page and polishing and shining them until they really sparkle. That said, there’s no feeling like writing the first draft of something you really love. And probably the BEST feeling is when you finish a first draft 😊
5) Is there an aspect of writing you struggle with?
Most of my struggles do tend to come during the drafting process, when I have those days where it just feels impossible to get any decent words on the page. I always hit a bit of a lull in my creative energy in the middle of a draft, because that’s when it starts to feel the most like a slog – I’ve been working on the draft for a while and still have a long ways to go before I get to the end. The good news is that I’ve done this enough times now that I know that feeling is coming and can mentally prepare myself to push through it and not let it get me down.
6) Describe your daily writing routine.
I don’t write every day, so I don’t have a daily routine – and I don’t have much of a routine at all, either, come to think of it. What with working full time (and having the same family/personal obligations as anyone else) I just have to make writing time whenever and however I can. I usually write a few nights a week after work and most weekend days when I don’t have other plans. When I’m on deadline or really rolling on a project I also will write on my lunch breaks at work. I also have a writing group that meets Wednesday nights at a café, so that helps me plan writing time into my week and show up and get the work done.
7) Are there any authors who have influenced your writing?
Absolutely! Philippa Gregory was the author who inspired me to write historical fiction. Other big inspirations for me are Sarah Dunant and Margaret George. And, though she’s not a historical fiction writer, I love Ann Patchett and strive to write sentences as beautiful as hers. Her novel Bel Canto is one of my all-time favorite books.
8) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was pretty young – maybe eight or nine? I used to write little one page stories (some made up, and some about things that happened to me throughout the day) and give them to my family and friends. In middle school and high school I started seriously trying to draft novels – those ones were handwritten, because I used to write during my classes when my teachers thought I was taking notes! 😊
9) Name three authors you read for entertainment.
Only three?! Okay, here are some recent favorites: Vanora Bennett, Michelle Gable, and Donna Leon.
A BIG thank you to Alyssa for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to check out her latest novel, The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence, on sale now at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other stores.
The novel up for grabs is Alyssa’s debut novel, The Violinist of Venice. I chose to do this novel because it left such an impression on me. I knew in the first few pages that I was a fan of the writing, and the story just pulled me in. Click the cover to the left, and you will be taken to the giveaway, hosted on Amazon. The giveaway ended May 20, and the winner was contacted by Amazon. You can still click the cover to the left to bring you to the giveaway page.
Be sure to visit Alyssa’s website for more information on her novels, and her great posts on art and Italy.
I’m ready to get to know my characters!
If you’ve been around my blog long enough then you probably know that I think great characters can save a weak book. If I can latch on to a character, I’m more likely to follow through to the end. That’s why getting the characters right in my novel is so important to me. This is part of the reason I decided to step back and really dive into the creation of my story (or pre-writing processes) before I write any more of my novel.
The more I study the craft, the more I realize how important this pre-writing time is, even for someone who has always considered herself a pantser.
As I work on creating my characters, I’ll be using several resources:
Characters, Emotion, & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress – This book I plan to read in full, before any of the others, since it’s all about character. Viewpoint has been a source of angst for me, so I can’t wait to see what’s in here. I’ve already skimmed through, and it looks like lots of valuable information inside, along with exercises (some of which seem a little scary, if I’m being honest). I’m starting this one tonight.
Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Linda N. Edelstein, PH.D. – This book is one I will probably use throughout my writing as reference, but I think it will be a helpful tool in the pre-write process as well. This one breaks down personality types, traits, disorders, and more, giving example behaviors and characters. Like the book by Kress, this one also has some exercises to guide you to use the information in writing.
How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card – Card’s book is important, since the novel I am writing is in the fantasy genre. Chapter 3 is set aside for Story Construction, which begins with character information. This book will be useful to me later on as well when I get into world building, but for now I’ll be focusing on character.
Writing the Breakout Novel (Workbook) by Donald Maass – It’s a workbook, so there are exercises galore! Part 1 is devoted to character development, broken into multiple sections.
Story Trumps Structure by Steven James – I’m looking forward to reading this one in full when I start world building and working out the details of my story, but there is also a section on characterization that I want to read before then.
The Dance of Character and Plot by DiAnn Mills – I just ordered this over the weekend after watching DiAnn speak about writing. I share her belief that characters and plot are inseparable, and that a character’s choices must drive the story forward. I’m really looking forward to reading this, and I plan to do so right after I’m done with Kress’s book.
Are you writing? Are you working on your characters or are you beyond that point now? Do you like creating characters or is it the worst part of writing for you? Tell me struggles and victories.
Finding my writing groove has been hard. I’m what’s known as a pantser. I write by the seat of my pants. No outline. That’s how I’ve always done it, and enjoy doing it.
The thing is that I was writing for me and a few friends; little stories, usually around 20,000 words, sometimes much shorter. There were no subplots. There weren’t a lot of characters. Maybe five at the most that weren’t just extras or bit players, and only one was my POV character.
Writing a novel is different, and I realized that soon after I started. I’m going to need subplots. I’m going to have a larger word count, so I will need more action and character growth. All of this, somehow, has to come from my brain.
I’ve been digging into studying the craft far more than I ever did before. I know now that I am ready to take this task seriously, but I still struggle.
I struggle with structure more than anything. Finding my main character (I just figured that out tonight), picking a historical timeframe to model my fantasy world after, and making the story flow as my thoughts all come together. I’ve realized that I can’t do this as a pantser. Not completely. Not this first novel. The problem for me is that I know I’m not an outliner. I want to write, not outline. I want the story to flow naturally as I continue to learn my characters and watch them grow. I don’t want to be tied to an outline.
The key for me is to find the happy medium. After hearing the processes and methods of several published authors, I’ve learned that the happy medium does exist. That’s where I am now in my process. I’m doing basic outlining while I create characters and build my world. This means coming up with the basic structure and a few key incidents or problems that the characters will face. This gives me the structure to work out any foreseeable issues with the plot, yet gives me the freedom to make changes. This is important, because I’ve already changed aspects of the story (both large and small) and I don’t even have much written. I just keep tweaking it in my head as things come to me.
I have a long way to go. I have lots of research to do, and lots of world building. I’ve chosen a story that will be daunting for my first novel, but it’s the story I want to tell. I’ve decided not to write another word until I’ve done my research and done my basic outlining/plotting process.
Are you a writer? Are you a pantser or an outliner? What makes it work for you? Leave a message in the comments.
While procrastinating a few days ago I found this wonderful thing called “A Wordplayer’s Manifesto.” I love it! It has many inspirational phrases for writers. I wanted to post it on my desktop, so I decided to add some decorative touches to it. I can’t keep it to myself. So, with permission from the creator of this Manifesto, K. M. Weiland, please feel free to download the wallpaper.