Going Beyond Your Depths

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

90. Adding depth to your writing

Oh man, this post could go in so many different directions depending on how we think about the word “depth”. My brain is beginning to hurt just thinking about it. Couple that with the fact that I’ve never so much as submitted a manuscript to an editor, agent, or publisher, and I find myself wondering if I’m really one to talk. But as with several of the other posts I’ve written in response to the 101 Blog Post Ideas, I’ll go ahead and give you my thoughts and opinions, and you can take them for what they are. For additional info, I suggest wandering over to Kristen Lamb’s Blog. She’s written advice on almost every aspect of writing and she’s about as close to an expert as I’ve ever come across.

So…depth. There’s no doubt about it, you want your writing to have depth, but that’s a fairly broad term. Are we talking about emotional depth, depth in the plot line, or depth within our characters? Are there other forms of depth we could be considering? Probably, but these three are the ones that come to mind right now, so let’s talk about those.

First of all, emotional depth and character depth, which actually go hand-in-hand. Maybe this isn’t an important aspect to all readers, but for me it’s an absolute necessity. If I, at some point during the reading of the story, do not feel emotionally attached to a character (not necessarily the main character) then I feel like the author has not done his or her job. If the book in question is part of a series, failing to make me feel emotionally invested in a character will result in my failing to continue on to the second book in the series. That’s not to say that every character has to have an elaborate back story that endears me to them, but someone in the story has to make me care about them. Otherwise why do I care what happens to them? This sort of depth is best achieved, in my opinion, by finding reasons for your readers to bond with your characters. Harry Potter gains our empathy because he’s an orphan and we feel sorry for him for having to grow up with his awful relatives. Eddard Stark gains our approval because he’s an honorable man who cares deeply for his family and finds himself in a difficult situation that pulls him from them. Frodo Baggins has us rooting for him because he’s clearly the underdog with no discernible skills or abilities. Your characters have to have both upsides and downsides, merits and faults. The main reason that so many people hate the character Bella Swan is because she’s too goddamn perfect. Even her “faults” are played off as things that make her more adorable and endearing to the other characters. It pulls the reader away because you find yourself wanting to see her fail just to prove that she’s capable of failure, and that’s not a great way to think about the character who is meant to be your hero. Your characters have to be human (even when they technically aren’t) or else your readers can’t get inside their heads and feel for them, become them, and find themselves desperate to see them succeed.

As for depth of the plot, this is something that will vary from book to book, genre to genre, but the basic element remains the same. You do not want your story to be predictable. Now obviously a psychological thriller is going to have a lot more plot depth than a supernatural romance, but the point is that you have to occasionally give your reader something surprising or upsetting. If your reader is constantly thinking “this is what’s going to happen next” or “this is totally the big reveal” and it turns out that they’re right, that’s not a good thing. Sure, some level of predictability is to be expected, and there are always going to be those readers who somehow always seem to know what the author was thinking while writing the story, but most readers crave some kind of mystery to their books. You don’t want to be able to figure out exactly what is going to happen because otherwise you could just write the story yourself. One of the reasons the A Song of Ice and Fire series is so interesting is because it constantly has you guessing. You’re never quite sure who is a good guy or a bad guy, or what might happen next, or what just happened ten pages ago for that matter. You don’t have to create a labyrinth of mystery, confusion, and intrigue, but you have to give your readers something worth looking forward to. Reveal a good guy to actually be a bad guy or vice versa. Throw in something magical or otherwise supernatural just because it would be surprising and interesting. Kill off a character that the reader would have thought was important or had become attached to (this one doubles for emotional depth). Keep your readers guessing, basically, because that’s what keeps them moving on to the next page, and the next, and the next. Why do you think so many television shows end on a cliffhanger every single freakin’ episode?

In general, when writing your book, think about what it was you liked about the books you’ve read. Think about the types of things that made you like the characters, what events made you gasp or cringe or cry, what about the story made it impossible for you to put the book down. They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and that all the different types of books have already been written, and any truly good author will tell you that part of being a writer is stealing from other writers. Use those concepts to figure out what is good about other books, and to imbue your own stories with those successful elements. Build depth by learning to recognize it in the writing of others. And when in doubt, remember what I always try to remember: if my writing doesn’t affect me, emotionally and mentally, then how can I possibly expect it to affect others?

Categorizing Yourself

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

82. Why you write in your category or genre.

A long time ago I read a bit of advice that has been repeated many, many times: write what you know. While that’s a bit of an oversimplification, it is still pretty good advice. Why write what you don’t know? If I were to write a mystery, for example, it would be truly awful because I don’t know mysteries. I don’t read them, I’ve watched very few movies or shows on the topic, and while my brain has occasionally aided me in solving an average mystery or two, it is ill equipped for constructing them.

I try to write what I know, which is closely related to what I enjoy. A few years back my husband began to introduce me to classic zombie cinema. Before I knew it I was hooked. I wanted to watch all of the zombie movies, began playing zombie-based video games, and (of course) read some excellent zombie literature. It was after reading several of these zombie novels (most notably The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks) that I began to think, “You know what? I can totally do this.” That year for NaNoWriMo a brand new zombie novel was born, and someday I hope for it to reach adulthood, leave the nest, and support me in my old age.

Ha!

It’s the same with fantasy. I write fantasy because I read fantasy, I enjoy fantasy, and I feel that I know enough about the fantasy genre to write it without sounding like I’m forcing it. I am able to produce something that, at the very least, has the proper basics. Conversely, when I try to write romances I find I come off sounding a bit like a pent-up teenager. I just don’t have the background in romance to lean on when I write, so it’s like I’m a grade school student writing their first original story and I have no idea what it should sound like.

“Write what you know” is also the reason I enjoy writing fanfiction. The world and the characters are already created for you and as long as you know enough about them to write without destroying the pre-established conventions, you can create a fun and enjoyable story with relative ease. It makes sense, doesn’t it? The more you know about something, the easier and/or more enjoyable it will be to write.

So the short answer is that I write in the genres I chose because they are genres that I enjoy and that I know enough about to write with a decent level of intelligence.

The Infamous Agent

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

42. How not to get an agent

If you’ve been paying attention to any of my previous posts, you know that I don’t have an agent. I have no writing career to speak of, aside from my ambitions and will-be-finished-someday-soon-I-swear manuscript. As a result I’ve had to do a bit of research on the next few prompts, since they all involve information that only someone who had put actual effort into a serious writing career would know.

For how NOT to get an agent, I’ve snatched a few ideas that I found from actual agents explaining what not to do if you want them to pay any attention to you.

If you do NOT want to get yourself an agent…

…send them a query letter that talks about how wonderful your book is. They will be the judge of that.

…send them a manuscript of a genre that they have stated they do not represent.

…waste time and energy telling them your entire life story when you should be focusing on the important information about your manuscript.

…send them a manuscript that is rife with spelling and grammatical errors.

…contact them in inappropriate ways, i.e. stalking their Facebook page, calling their home phone number, etc.

…reply to a rejection with anger; seriously people, grow up. You’re supposed to be a professional.

…beg and plead for them to accept you. Again, I say, grow up.

So there you have it. Pick a couple of the above suggestions, have at it, and you’ll not have an agent in no time!

Genre Wars

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnagin’s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

18. If you could write any genre (and it would sell), what would it be?

Fantasy, definitely. No question. I enjoy writing other genres as well (hello, zombies!) but fantasy is definitely the most fun for me. I love being able to do anything I want, create anything I want, and be able to say, “Hey, it’s okay! It doesn’t have to make sense, it’s fantasy!”

I guess that’s a kind of black and white way of looking at it, but let’s put it this way. If I had made the main character in my zombie novel have some kind of supernatural special power or ability, people would scoff and wave it off as ridiculous. Even though we already have an extraordinary premise (the zombies), the story is still set in the “real” world, and the crazy premise is actually one that we can almost believe as being plausible. Even though you know better, the idea of something that’s so ingrained into our storytelling history (monsters and the like) intermingling with the “real” world makes an acceptable level of sense. Superpowers, on the other hand, are pure fantasy and thus don’t have any place in a story where “plausible” things are happening.

Does that make any sense? Oh well, it works in my brain anyway. 😛

Continuing on from that thought process (however flawed it may be), writing fantasy allows you to pretty much do whatever the heck you please. Want a dragon in there? Boom! Dragon! Want your main character to be able to transform into an animal? Bam! Done! Anything your childish imagination can come up with is fair game because, hey, it’s fantasy!