Okay, I should be editing, but I’m doing my lazy Sunday morning blog surf instead. First thing after lunch, eight hours editing starts!
Found this post , which set me off on more reading. Kate Harrison’s publisher wanted to reprint her first published women’s fiction story. Kate wanted the chance to revise it first, as she knew her writing had developed over the six years since that novel was published.
There’s a theory that to master any art or craft – music, painting, writing – one needs to spend 10,000 hours on it. This works out at eight hours per weekday for five years. I haven’t kept a timesheet, but I would say I’m approaching that now. I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered fiction by any means, but I find out something new about craft or story-telling with every book. I definitely edit far more now than I did at the beginning.
So apart from being more of a devil with the delete button, what exactly have I learned over the last six years? I think the single thing I’m clearer about now is the need to create an emotionally satisfying journey for the reader. When I first wrote about Tracey, I believed that for the most part, people didn’t change significantly – which, I realise now, fundamentally misses the point about fiction, which is that it is all about change. ‘Emotionally satisfying’ in women’s fiction doesn’t necessarily mean a trip up the aisle (or even up and down the aisles of Selfridge’s), but it does need to have some form of redemption or resolution – a sense that the story tells us something about human nature, and perhaps about ourselves, even if it’s just that we want to laugh in the face of adversity.
That issue about characters changing through the story, I think is crucial. It’s why plots based on external conflict aren’t usually as as emotionally satisfying as stories based on internal conflict. If it’s circumstances keeping the hero and heroine apart, all that needed is that the situation changes, and the characters can get together. End of story. But there hasn’t need any real character change or development. These can be stories where there’s a lot going on, but we don’t feel like we’ve gone as deep with the story people. The resolution doesn’t always have that “Yesssss!” sigh at the end. It can feel like they haven’t really earned their HEA.
When the story is driven by internal conflict, it’s what is inside the characters that is getting in the way of the relationship developing (just had this image of a horrible little Alien-like creature known as the Relationship Block, living in the character- ewwweeeee!). To get to their HEA, the characters have to challenge their own beliefs and fears to grow and change, face that monster and defeat it. The journey is primarily an emotional one, and the reader is along for the ride. These are the stories that move us to tears at the Black Moment, have us cheering at the Resolution.
The other thing that intrigued me was the 10,000 hour concept. So I followed that up. It’s from the book Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which has been on my Amazon wish list since it first came out, but I haven’t read yet. Kate’s post links to this article which specifically looks at this idea and writing. Doesn’t say we have to clock up the 10,000 hours to get published. This is to mastery.
This made me smile-
Just as there are no sneaky geniuses who cheat the rule, there are no cursed losers who grind away until they die. Gladwell described a study published in Psychological Review (“The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance,”) and wrote that the researchers simply couldn’t find any “people who worked harder than everyone else, but just didn’t have what it takes to break the top ranks.”
Nice. Even when I’m writing crap, I’m making progress.
That’s reassuring. Because too many of us have this belief that talent is something we either have or we don’t. If we feel like we’ve tried and don’t succeed, we question ourselves, wonder if the problem is us, that no matter how hard we work we just don’t have what it takes. His theory seems to junk that idea. The book’s premise is that what is seen as exceptional talent is a combination of being in the right place, having the right opportunities and support, but mainly working working working working. And if we really and truly put in the work, we will become skilled, we will finally reach mastery.
Okay, how many more hours do I need to put in? 10,000 is a helluva lot of time, a helluva lot of work. Better get on to that editing!