Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Collaborative, Multigenre Writing Is King (and Queen)

Nikoo and James McGoldrickLately, we've been hearing more and more that multigenre writing isn't the taboo it used to be, an approach that may work even better in collaboration. This week we have a guest post from Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick, authors of the May McGoldrick historical novels and Jan Coffey thrillers.

Here's their take on what makes collaboration and multigenre writing work.

AMA: So, who are May McGoldrick and Jan Coffey?

N&J: May McGoldrick, a historical romance writer, is a diligent and industrious professional. Jan Coffey is a bit neurotic, because she writes suspense thrillers. To be honest, May and Jan are really both the same people. We (Nikoo and Jim) have been collaborating as May McGoldrick on historicals and as Jan Coffey on thrillers.

AMA: Tell us a bit about what it's like to write in more than one genre, as more than one character and with more than one authorphew, that's a lot of hats!

N&J: First of all, we should tell you that we started setting our early stories in the 16th-century period because we had some academic background in the time period. Write what you know, they told us. But writing historical novels as May McGoldrick, we’ve always tried to create new stories, new characters, and new problems for our heroines and heroes to overcome. To do that, we’ve pushed ourselves to stretch into areas where we have needed to learn new things. We have to admit that if we only wrote about what we knew, we never would have written about murderous lairds, or covens of Highland women, or cross-dressing artists, or children with physical handicaps, or promiscuous English queens! Those things are just not a part of everyday life in the McGoldrick household.

AMA: So, what's your secret to having such a broad range?

N&J: The solution for us is research, imagination and mind-set. While in the mind-set of the historical writer we read Britain magazine. Research is a seductively pleasurable pastime that takes us, mind and soul, out of our daily life—and away from the writing we should be accomplishing for that day. It places us smack dab in the world that we are researching.

AMA: How does this work when you're May McGoldrick?

N&J: When we are May McGoldrick, writing a historical set (for example) in 1760’s England, we read things like James Boswell’s London Journal of 1762-1763. As May, we study about the wool industry of the 1500s and watch the History Channel (actually, though, it doesn’t have to be the History Channel. Any show with ruins will do.) In planning and plotting out our stories, we do about 20% of our planning upfront and 80% of it as we write. In May’s stories, the writing tries to capture some of the texture of the historical period. As a result, her scenes are sometimes longer than those of her contemporary counterpart, who finds that short scenes keep the pace of a story rocketing along.

AMA: What happens after the first draft, when you want to really ground the story?

N&J: In revision, we find that we need to shift our gears a little, too. As May McGoldrick, we live by the Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary and the Oxford English Dictionary and their references to the dates that words came into use. For example, are you able to say that a character was “mesmerized” by another character. F.A. Mesmer, the early hypnotist, was not alive until the 18th century; it just won’t do to use the term in the 1500s.

For more about May McGoldrick, Jan Coffey, and Nikoo and Jim McGoldrick visit Jan Coffey.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Time

The Marche region of Italy, a great place to take time
Time — there's no substitute for it. Especially for good writing. The kicker, though, is that you don't necessarily need copious amounts of it, but you do need the right type. For writing, especially the editing phase:
  • Slow down to read and ponder each word — is this really what you want to say? If not, what's the best word to describe it?
  • Take time away from a piece before returning to edit it.
  • Take time in a different setting to read your work.
  • Don't be afraid to let your mind wander to imagine the possibilities for your story. This frees up the imagination to embrace new paths.
  • Great meals take a bit longer to prepare, but that just makes them more satisfying to savor.
Now, did that take too much time?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Stephen King to the Rescue: Using Imagery to Bring a Story to Life

I just read an article that has literally changed my writing life. I was stuck on a plot problem and couldn't figure out how to resolve it. The problem? I couldn't imagine what happened. Since I like to inhabit my work, it's more accurate to say I couldn’t see what had happened. Not what should happen, but what had happened, and I couldn’t see it. Why? I hadn't taken the time to imagine it.

As providence would have it, I was in Starbucks waiting for a friend and catching up on reading when I came across an article in the August issue of The Writer. It was a magazine archive piece by Stephen King called, "Use Imagery to Bring Your Story to Life." And life is what every writer wants, and what every story and the people who populate it need.

Here are snippets from the piece and observations to accompany them:
  • "… the most important thing that film and fiction share is an interest in the image…" without image there is no story, at least none that's memorable
  • "…story springs from image: that vividness of place and time and texture…" — without imagery, there is no texture
  • The difference between ideas and images? "Ideas have no emotional temperature gradient; they are neutral."
  • "Imagery is not achieved by over-description …" In fact, less usually is more.
  • "Imagery does not occur on the writer's page; it occurs in the reader's mind."
  • "Good description produces imagery …"
  • As to the oft-asked question what to leave in? "Leave in the details that impress you the most … the details you see the most clearly; leave out everything else."
  • How does this "imagining" occur: "… we must see with a kind of third eyethe eye of the imagination and memory."
  • Why do this? "… to write is to re-experience, and as you write, that image will grow brighter and brighter, becoming something that is very nearly beautiful in its clarity."
  • Why is this crucial to good writing? "…image leads to story, and story leads to everything else."
  • It also benefits you, the writer: "… remember that a writer's greatest pleasure is in seeing, and seeing well."
To borrow another maxim, "when the eye is good the body is full of light," and so is the writing. The point is to see, and to inhabit the scene. To experience it. And experience is the best foundation for writing.

To hone this skill, slow down. And imagine. Make King's writing prompt your own:
Close your eyes and see. Imagine the scene you want to convey. Per King, "You opened your eyes too soon." Close them and try againgive yourself 30 seconds, maybe even a minute. OK. Go ahead."

I recommend The Writer magazine and the article; I certainly recommend the technique.