Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

Today I turn the tipping over to Philip Martin, of Great Lakes Literary Agency.

Philip Martin is the editor of The New Writer's Handbook (which includes my short article on working with kids, "Show, Don't Tell.")

He offers the following advice on telling a fresh story:

The core of the writer's challenge is to tell a fresh story. As William M. Thackeray (Victorian novelist, author of Vanity Fair), summed it up: "The two most engaging powers of a good author are to make new things familiar and familiar things new."

But how? How to put a fresh spin on old and common themes?

As children's book author Morris Gleitzman says on his website:

"I don't think you can make emotions up, no matter how good your imagination is. (. . .) All we can do is use the emotions we all feel every day. Love, hate, hope, fear, excitement, jealousy, sadness, guilt, joy, anxiety, etc. The characters in our stories may be feeling them for different reasons to us, but they're the same emotions. (. . .)

"So part of the storytelling process for me is to find interesting and unusual reasons for characters to have the emotions that the rest of us experience every day for familiar reasons."

The key to the trick: "interesting and unusual." In a word: quirky.

Too many beginning authors prefer to create a familiar, likable character, someone who doesn't rock the fictional boat . . . while the ones we enjoy the most (think about it) are often the quirkiest, from Pippi Longstocking to Holden Caulfield to . . .

Find the character that swims against the tide, and you've got a core element of a good story.

For more about Philip Martin, visit The Writers Handbook Blog.

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