This last weekend I attended the Southwest Washington Writers Conference. I was also privileged to attend a class called Creating Plots for Page Turners, given by the keynote speaker, Robert Dugoni.
I say privileged, for this reason. Robert Dugoni is a bestselling author of thrillers, My Sister’s Grave being the book that caught my attention several years ago. Dugoni understands what makes a gripping story.
As I sat in the class, it became clear to me that attention to writing craft is integral to his work, but he also sees it from a slightly different angle. While he covered many things which I will discuss in my next blog post, several things pertain to recent posts of mine, regarding the first draft.
Bob asked a question I found intriguing: “What is your purpose as an author?” There were several different replies. He said, “Your characters must entertain the reader. Never stop entertaining.”
That was my thought, exactly. So how do we entertain our reader? What should we avoid?
One of the main pitfalls of the first draft is the info dump. These boring stretches of background info are mostly for you, the author, and are meant to set the scene in your mind. You know the rules, and don’t want them in the finished piece, but they slip into your work in insidious ways:
- Is the information you are about to dispense relevant to the character and his/her immediate need? Does it advance the story?
- Resist the urge to include character bios and random local history with the introduction of each new face or place—let that information come out only if needed. Dispense background info in small packets and only as needed.
- Resist the urge to explain every move, every thought your character has. This is probably the most annoying thing an author can do.
- Is a flashback a scene or a recollection? Recollections are boring info dumps. Scenes take the reader back in time and make them a part of a defining moment. Write scenes, not recollections.
- Opinions about the scene or the character, or anything—author intrusion is to be avoided.
- Don’t be lazy—show the story, even when it is simpler to tell it.
Points 3, 4, and 5 were concepts I consider in my own work, but never really thought about and hadn’t articulated them. They are critical and do bear mentioning here.
A question Dugoni asked was one I have often considered and discussed here. “What is a story?” The answers varied, but the one he wanted, and with which I agreed, is the story is the journey.
Frequently, stalled creativity is the result of the author having lost sight of the character’s journey, both the physical and the emotional journey.
Dugoni offered a solution for when that is the case: Ask yourself, “What is the character’s physical journey/quest?” You must ensure each character has a journey, a quest, but Dugoni adds third aspect–a dream. That idea that the journey/quest is also a dream that must be fulfilled resonated with me.
Then, consider the emotional journey. Why do these people continue in the face of great challenges? Is it love, anger, fear, duty, greed, honor, jealousy, or some deeper emotion that drives them?
Find that emotion, and you will find your character’s motivation.
Then ask yourself what happens if they don’t succeed? What are the consequences of failure?
- What is the public risk?
- What is the private risk?
Something important is at stake, or there is no story. Once you discover what it is and how it affects the characters’ emotions, the story will come together.
Classes like this are why I attend writer’s conferences. Robert Dugoni, Scott Driscoll, Cat Rambo—these people have the knowledge I need, and they are wonderful, accessible people who freely discuss all aspects of the craft in seminars, frequently at conferences I can afford and which are near me.
The companionship and support of other authors has been invaluable to me, and I have made every effort to repay their many kindnesses by supporting them in their endeavors. The friends I have made through this career are as dear to me as any I grew up with, and that circle widens with every conference I attend.
You may meet writers who are local to your area, and they will know of good writing groups near your home. They will also know about resources you can draw on, reference books you may not have heard of. If you are serious about the craft, you will seek out the company of other writers.
Find a conference in your area, and see what turns up. You may find yourself learning from a master.
Robert Dugoni’s most recent book, Close to Home launched Sept 5th and has garnered well over 65 customer reviews on Amazon in the first week alone and maintains a 4.5 star rating.
New York Times bestselling author Robert Dugoni’s acclaimed series continues as Tracy Crosswhite is thrown headlong into the path of a killer conspiracy.
While investigating the hit-and-run death of a young boy, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite makes a startling discovery: the suspect is an active-duty serviceman at a local naval base. After a key piece of case evidence goes missing, he is cleared of charges in a military court. But Tracy knows she can’t turn her back on this kind of injustice.
When she uncovers the driver’s ties to a rash of recent heroin overdoses in the city, she realizes that this isn’t just a case of the military protecting its own. It runs much deeper than that, and the accused wasn’t acting alone. For Tracy, it’s all hitting very close to home.
As Tracy moves closer to uncovering the truth behind this insidious conspiracy, she’s putting herself in harm’s way. And the only people she can rely on to make it out alive might be those she can no longer trust.
Robert Dugoni is the critically acclaimed New York Times, #1 Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Best Selling Author of The Tracy Crosswhite series, My Sister’s Grave, Her Final Breath, In the Clearing, and The Trapped Girl. The Crosswhite Series has sold more than 2,000,000 books and My Sister’s Grave has been optioned for television series development. He is also the author of the best-selling David Sloane series, The Jury Master, Wrongful Death, Bodily Harm, Murder One, and The Conviction. He is also the author of the stand-alone novels The 7th Canon, a 2017 finalist for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award for best novel, The Cyanide Canary, A Washington Post Best Book of the Year, and several short stories. Robert is the recipient of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction, and the Friends of Mystery, Spotted Owl Award for the best novel in the Pacific Northwest. He is a two time finalist for the International Thriller Writers award and the Mystery Writers of America Award for best novel. His David Sloane novels have twice been nominated for the Harper Lee Award for legal fiction. His books are sold worldwide in more than 25 countries and have been translated into more than two dozen languages including French, German, Italian and Spanish.