The other day I was musing about muses. This was a rather convoluted process that went something like this:
I want to write but I don’t have an idea. I should write, but I’m bummed because I don’t have an idea. I could write if I had a great idea. I need to get one and until I do, I’ll watch TV. There’s a movie on TV called The Muse. I’ll watch The Muse and get inspired.
This is how the musing went after the movie.
The Muse is awful. She’s demanding, self-centered, and doesn’t care about the writer’s work. Still, the he sees something in her. What does he see in her? I want a muse. I just don’t want a muse like that.
I turned off the TV, obsessed with the idea of getting a muse. I just had to figure out where to get one. Since I’d never actually seen a muse, I decided I better find out exactly what I was looking for.
In the dictionary, the first definition of muse is to be thrown into a deep state of dreamy abstraction. The second is a noun, naming any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology that preside over song, poetry, the arts and sciences. The third definition is the one we think of most often, a human source of inspiration or a guiding genius.
With this information in hand, I analyzed my career and realized that a muse has guided me every step of the way. I have often found myself lost in a dream state inspired by another writer. Their work has more often than not sparked an idea for a book of my own or a shown me a new way of laying a story foundation or become a point of reference for an essential building block.
The second definition – the naming of the goddesses – is a matter of inspirational faith. I have always believed that there is ‘something’ hovering over artists that not only encourages the creative soul, but also gives it the courage needed to present its work to a critical public.
That brings us back to the movie and the third definition of muse: the source of inspiration that we can touch and talk to. For some people this is one person, for me it has been many. I don’t call them muses; I call them friends, lovers, family and colleagues. Each step of my career was inspired and moved forward by the muse of the moment, the one person I needed just then.
There was the high school teacher who told me I wrote well, my husband who rescued by early attempts from the trashcan, my children who proudly said their mom was a writer. As the years went on and the books piled up, there were editors who trained me and readers who cheered me on, inspiring me to be better at my craft. All these people were – as definition three would have us believe – guiding geniuses.
It doesn’t matter if they knew the roll they played in my writing. What matters is that I wrote because of them and never in spite of them. The truth is, all you have to do to find a muse is open your eyes, your mind, and your heart. That muse is there – sometimes where you least expect it.
E.B. White (co-author of Elements of Style) said, “An editor is a person who knows more about writing than writers do but has escaped the terrible desire to write.”
OK, I’m certainly not E. B. White but I am an editor and I’ve worked with writers of every genre for 20 challenging and enriching years. There is nothing more exciting than helping a writer move through the process of writing. With no skin in the game I can be objective about where a story has taken a wrong turn, hear a particular turn of phrase or a plot point that doesn’t ring true, see inconsistencies in characterization — and spot the typos and those pesky homophones that get overlooked to the great peril of publication. I ask the hard questions, I offer possible solutions. It’s a grand give and take.
You’re a writer. Your head is filled with bits of story: the perfect setting — a women watches in her rear view mirror as the wedding cake dumped on the highway recedes in the distance. A character — Mistress Renfrew is overly tall and awkward and harbors a secret passion for Lord Dumfrey’s collection of assassin’s knives. Odd events — the deadly rivalry for Miss Abundance at the Apple Valley fairground, a lake in summer, tidbits of history, the perfect love triangle ripe for explosion. But where to start? How to corral all those creative bits into a cohesive whole?
One method: start with a simple premise.
Can you express the premise of your book succinctly? If you can write the essence of your story in as few as fifteen words you are on the road to writing a novel. What happens next? The plot will come from the premise.
It’s the way you dress up that simple premise, populate it and move it forward in narrative form that makes the story emerge. Starting from a succinct premise gives you a foundation on which to build a great story. Whether it’s the characters that drive the action or action that drives the characters, the premise provides the blueprint to keep the work moving forward.
The premise should be carved in stone, but only as long as it supports the creative effort. Stone can be reshaped; Michelangelo did it all the time and look at those results.
Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned writer I look forward to sharing On Writing again here at A Slice of Orange to explore methods, tools and tricks of writing that can help your story shine.
I never give writing tips. I figure everyone has his own personal style. Plus some people are just naturally good. But I do think there are a few things authors can do to sharpen their work. Here are some of the things I think about when I am writing a novel.
1. Start with a hook. Make your first sentence or at least your first paragraph compelling. Make the reader want to read the book! In INTO THE FURY, my newest Romantic Suspense, the first sentence reads,
SINNERS, SLUTS, and WHORES–BEWARE. Your TIME is at HAND. Standing next to the long mahogany table in the conference room, Ethan Brodie re-read the note heâ€™d just been handed.
Everyone who sees this paragraph recognizes the threat in that note. Someone–probably a woman–could be in grave peril.
With any luck, this opening will intrigue the reader enough to keep reading.
2. Enter late and leave early. In the above example, weâ€™re starting in the middle of the scene. Weâ€™re not in the conference room waiting for Ethan to show up. We arenâ€™t there until after he receives the note. From there we start charging forward, finding out whatâ€™s going to happen next. Just remember the reader isnâ€™t interested in â€œHi, how are you?â€ â€œIâ€™m fine, and you?â€
At the end of the scene, get out.
3. Make sure thereâ€™s conflict in every scene. This doesnâ€™t necessarily mean violent conflict. It can be man against nature, man against man, man against himself, anything that makes the reader interested in continuing.
In my example, the conflict in the opening scene of INTO THE FURY is mostly Ethanâ€™s battle with himself. He doesnâ€™t want to take a job bodyguarding what he thinks will be a bunch of air-headed models. Heâ€™s had too much woman trouble lately, but itâ€™s a good job that pays well. They need his skills and so he decides to take it.
4. Stay in the active voice whenever possible. Try not to use the word was too many times. Hereâ€™s an example. A rumble of thunder in the sullen gray sky blotted the reverendâ€™s next words. I could have written, The sound of thunder could be heard in the distance. The sky was a sullen gray. Thatâ€™s passive voice. Itâ€™s important to stay active.
Personally, I have to work at this. I often go back and change from passive to active after I write the first draft.
5. Write characters that grow and change. Writing a character arc, itâ€™s called. It means your characters learn something or do something that changes them. During the time Ethan is working with the La Belle lingerie models, he learns how difficult their job is. He comes to admire their work ethic and their brains.
It changes some of his thinking about the female sex and helps him realize the kind of woman he really wants in his life.
There are lots of great tips to writing. The five above I learned from studying very successful authors. Dean Koontz has a wonderful book called Learning To Write, but its out of print and hard to find.
All the authors Iâ€™ve studied, all the books by other authors that Iâ€™ve enjoyed through the years, have helped me immeasurably. I hope these tips will help you, too.
Best of luck with your writing and all good wishes for a terrific 2016.
New York Times bestselling author Kat Martin is a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara where she majored in Anthropology and also studied History. She is married to L.J. Martin, author of western, non-fiction, and suspense novels.
Her last 10 books have hit the prestigious New York Times bestseller list. AGAINST THE WILD, AGAINST THE SKY, and AGAINST THE TIDE her latest release, took top ten spots. Visti Kat at the following:
Itâ€™s a new year, a new novel, and a time revisit the basics.
As the commercial says, â€œJust Do it.â€ Just write.
Read as much and as often as you can. Remember, every writer is a reader first.
Keep a journal or notebook handy to jot down your ideas. If youâ€™ve got a smartphone, download a note-taking app. A voice-recording app also comes in handy for recording notes and ideas.
Make sure you have a dictionary and thesaurus available whenever you are writing. Dictonary.com is also a great resource.
Be observant. People and activities will provide you with great inspiration for characters, plots, and themes.
The Chicago Manual of Style and The Elements of Style are a must for your book shelf.
Grammar: learn the rules and then learn how to break them effectively.
Read works by highly successful authors to learn what earns a loyal readership.
Join a writersâ€™ group.
Create a space in your home especially for writing (I covered this topic in an earlier blog).
Proofread everything at least three times before submitting your work for publication.
Start a blog. Use it to talk about your own writing process, share your ideas and experiences, or publish your work to a reading audience.
Subscribe to writing blogs on the Internet. Read them, learn, share, and enjoy!
Let go of your inner editor. When you sit down to write a draft, refrain from proofreading until that draft is complete.
Make it your business to understand grammar and language.
You are a writer so own it and say it aloud: â€œI am a writer.â€
Write, write, write, and then write some more.
Most importantly, love your craft and always, always fall in love with your heroes.
Wishing you a happy 2016,
w/a Elise Scott
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