Today we are having our Nightingale Book Bomb to celebrate all of the awards the novel has won. We need your help to draw even more attention to Nightingale. If you were planning to buy a copy, today is the day to do it because it will help the novel's rankings on Amazon. If you already have a copy, you can facebook, tweet, pin, or blog about the Book Bomb for a chance to win a t-shirt or a hardcover copy (your choice). All of the information is here. By the way, I am now on pinterest. Feel free to follow me.
In honor of the Book Bomb, I am doing a two kick special today.
Finding the Courage to Write, Part 2
If I were to write a beatitudes for writers, courage would have to go at the top of the list. You can't write well without it.
One time I was speaking on a panel with a science fiction superstar, Orson Scott Card, and he mentioned that he always waited until a book was due before he began writing it. This surprised me. Many writers need to have some kind of stress before they can spur themselves into writing. But writing in fear of missing a deadline causes certain
Scans of brain waves show that authors and other artists tend to do their best work in a relaxed, dreamy state. You can't really reach that state if you're living in terror of bankruptcy because the bills that are stacking up because you've missed a writing deadline. How Card manages it, I don't know.
But you can't reach that relaxed state if you are worrying about sick children or friends. Nor can you reach that state if you're terrified that a reviewer will dis your work.
I knew one author who became a reviewer for nearly twenty-five years. Once he became a reviewer, he was unable to write. The worry that others would pick apart his work caused too much stress. He couldn't begin completing novels or writing short fiction until after he resigned his post.
I've seen countless writers who start out writing a great novel, sell it on spec, and then become so worried about how it will be received that they are never able to complete it at the same level that they've started.
Fear cripples you.
So, to help overcome your worries about criticism, memorize this little saying: "Any idiot or ass can criticize my work--and many of them will." That's because it is far easier to throw stones than to build a castle.
The truth is that no matter how well you write, you're going to find plenty of people who hate what you do. J.R.R. Tolkien is commonly credited at being the finest fantasy writer that the genre has ever produced. But go to Amazon.com and you're bound to find plenty of people who tell you that he's boring. The same will be true of people like Frank Herbert and William Shakespeare. The same is true even of such greats as David Farland!
Such criticism, quite frankly, has little to do with the genius of the author.
Here's a fable: Once upon a time, the fox decided to throw a huge party and invite everyone to a contest to see who could make the finest milkshake in the world. A hound dog responded. After months of research, the hound determined that the best-tasting cream came from Jersey cows--not Guernsey’s or Holsteins or any other breed.
After feeding the Jerseys diets of various grains and grasses, his keen nose detected that sweet alfalfa mixed with fresh corn and a bit of clover provided richer cream than any other food source. He found that the finest vanilla beans in the world were grown in a small valley in Nicaragua, and that they had to be dried for 38 days and then ground by hand to just the right thickness for the perfect taste.
Finally, after months of meticulous research, he presented his prize to the fox--who spat it out and cried, "What the devil kind of chocolate shake is this?"
The moral of the story of course is that critics are often so enamored of tales that conform to their own tastes that they are incapable of recognizing the beauty or power in other’s works. Our political views, ethical views, and even our own dialect and ways of phrasing things may act as blinders to keep us from seeing the value of even the greatest of tales.
David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants – Damaged Characters
One night I caught the season finale to a show that finds needy families and then rebuilds or replaces their homes. In this case, the father in the family seemed to be a great coach and a great person, but he was suffering from ALS, a disease that will take his life within a year or two. He also had a six-year-old son, who was as cute as could be, who suffered from spina bifida, which has left him paralyzed. The show was a tear-jerker from start to finish as we saw the courage, the nobility, and the real suffering in these people.
Orson Scott Card has said that when we tell a story, our viewpoint character should usually be the person who is “in the most pain.” Very often that pain is caused by others, but in the real world the truth is that so many of us suffer from various ailments and mishaps that we have no one at all to blame. It’s simply misfortune. As authors, we are typically hesitant to write about characters who suffer from horrific ailments. After all, we don’t want to be accused of being maudlin. Yet one of the best ways to gain a reader’s sympathy is to put a character in pain.
There are a couple of rules that you have to follow, though, in order for this to work. First, look at the cause of the pain. If another character is causing your protagonist pain, your character needs to confront the source. That means that if a boss is abusing women, your female protagonist needs to talk to him directly or even take legal action in order to resolve the issue. In fact, you can create a perfectly satisfactory tale in which your protagonist commits murder in order to put an end to the abuse.
If the pain is caused by nature—by an illness, for example—the character still must do all he or she can to resolve the problem.
If the pain is self-inflicted, the reader isn’t likely to give a hoot. At least here in the United States, we expect people to take responsibility for their own actions. Let’s say that you write a story about a fellow who likes smoking crack so much that he robs the home of a friend and accidentally shoots his friend’s son in the process. Are we going to care about that protagonist’s pain? Absolutely not.
Self-inflicted pain is weak—unless the pain motivates the protagonist to change. In that case, the protagonist must recognize his problem, confess to himself or some other character, and actually carry through with his plan to change.
Whatever problem I have—whether terminal disease or sociopathic neighbor or anything else—the problem must be faced with courage. This means that your character can’t cry about it, no matter what the source of pain. Now, Scott Card points out that when we let a character cry, it gives the audience permission to cry, too.
But it does something else. Any time that a character breaks down, we as an audience may cast judgment upon that character. Different cultures have widely varying standards about who should cry and when. I used to have a Latin American/Italian friend who would cry about anything—the weather, his shoes being too tight, a girlfriend that left him, or the people he’d had to kill when he was in the CIA.
In some cultures, crying is all but forbidden. Here in Utah, I once saw a little boy, perhaps three, who began crying after he tripped on the sidewalk. His mother gave him an angry look and said, “Cowboy up, Michael. Cowboy up!” In this part of the country, that’s an order to “Quit crying and get back on the horse that threw you.” The boy kept crying, so his mother slapped his face. She wasn’t going to tolerate a son who bawled in public.
So we tend to judge people who cry, admiring those who show great tolerance for pain, and disliking those who don’t. So we love a cancer patient who faces her disease stoically, battling it all of the way.
Which brings me to what I call a “deadly combination” in storytelling: the character that is suffering from self-inflicted pain and then whines about it. Now, for me at least, that combination will kill any story. I not only don’t empathize with such characters, I actively detest them, and I suspect that the majority of other people do, too.