Monday, March 19, 2012

Catching Up & Using Books as Writing Examples

First things first. I know I haven’t given you any Farworld news yet. Trust me, it’s not by choice. Sometimes these things just take a while. But I do hope to have good news soon. I am so anxious to share Air Keep with you. It is definitely going to be the best Farworld book yet. And there will be some shocking twists.

So, please, please, please, keep an eye on the blog and I’ll tell you the moment I have Farworld Book 3 news.

In the mean time, if you haven’t read Mark Forman’s (Corrected the spelling of Mark’s last name. Mark Foreman is Bob the Builder’s big brother.) latest Adventurers Wanted book, Albrek’s Tomb, you totally should. Just finished reading it with my boys and it was great. Really fun D&D style middle grade series. (Yes, this is the same Mark who keeps bugging me here for Farworld news.)

Also, I had a chance to take part in several awesome activities over the last few weeks that totally deserve a shout out. Last Saturday I was at the Writing for Charity event at the Provo, Utah library. So-o-o-o-o much fun. Lots of great writers, both published and soon to be published. And a really great event for a great cause. Thanks for a wonderful time, and Hi! to my little writing group and all my other friends I met there.

The Saturday before that I was teaching at the Teen Writers Boot Camp put on by Writers Cubed. There must have been 300 teenage writers there. I was totally blown away by how talented these kids are. If you didn’t make it to either of these events, put them on your calendar for next year. They are great!

Finally, over the last six weeks, I have been teaching a Spanish Fork city creative writing course. I always start teaching this class wondering if I can find the time and I end up being so glad I did, because the writers are truly inspiring. It gives me a huge boost to talk shop with writers who are so good and so committed to succeeding. This year, the amazing Annette Lyon taught the last two classes. If you haven’t read her books or discovered her blog, you need to. I never miss a Word Nerd Wednesday.

One thing I hear a lot when I teach classes is, “But [insert big author’s name] didn’t/did do that.” If I teach that starting your book with a dream sequence is generally not a good idea, it’s inevitable that someone in the class will have read a successful book that starts with a dream.

There are many reasons for this. One, big name authors can pretty much do whatever they want. Two, for every rule there are bound to be exceptions. Three, I might be full of crap bad advice.

There’s a better reason though. I’ve always known this but haven’t ever heard it put quite as succinctly as Brandon Sanderson put it last Saturday in his plotting class. If you are going to read books to see what works and what doesn’t in your genre, read books by authors that have been published for the first time in the last five years.

Duh! Why haven’t I been saying that to every single class I teach? I guarantee, I will from now on. The point is not that you shouldn’t read books by established authors. It’s that if you are trying to get published now, you need to see what kinds of debut books are being sold and published now. Something that worked twenty years ago in epic fantasy, very likely will not work in a romance published last year.

This is the case with all art forms, not just literature. Sit down with your kids and watch a family movie that came out twenty years ago. It might still be a great movie. But it will almost always be obvious that the movie is older. Not just from the clothes, cars, and technology either. Effects change, dialog changes, techniques chance. What was cutting edge then is a cliché now.

Don’t get me wrong. You can learn a ton from reading older books, going all the way back to the classics. But if you want to understand what new authors are currently getting published, the only way to find out is by reading works by new authors. I’m not talking about trends. What’s hot now may be done to death when you finish writing—so chasing trends is a bad idea. I’m talking about POV, tense, voice, length, and style.

So next time someone teaches not to start your story with the weather, don’t quote that fifty year old book that begins with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” You can’t get away with it now! And I will haunt you in your writing dreams.