The initial idea for my current novel hit me years ago, but I only recently unlocked it from the safe in my imagination to develop it. A simple idea begins with a question, “What if?” From there, your simple question leads to infinite questions, and a story emerges. You charge ahead—paving paths, creating a world, learning your characters, and wrapping them in conflict.
But then you begin to wonder, “Am I doing this right?” It’s not writer’s block. It’s more like writer’s haze. You wonder if your protagonist is really changing. Am I making sure every scene is intentional? Is every conversation revealing something that will ultimately highlight the theme or strengthen the connection between the reader and the characters?
With these types of questions bubbling up in my brain, I decided I needed proof that I was getting it right. I needed a flashlight to shine on the less obvious parts of my novel: the theme, the metaphors, character transformations—you know, the literary stuff. In addition to being a writer, I'm an English teacher, so I’m striving to write quality literature like the amazing stuff I read or have read with my students, like The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare, Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis, and James Hurst’s short story, “The Scarlet Ibis” (which I plan to blog about in the near future). That’s when I thought of this fun, eye-opening exercise for us committed writers who want to write actual literature.
Step 1: Pretend that your novel (even if it’s incomplete) is being studied by a group of students from your intended audience. In my case, it’s a class of middle schoolers. Your novel may be for adults, so think college students.
Step 2: Come up with an essay assignment for your students which requires them to analyze your work.
Here are a few examples:
– In Climb, compare and contrast the relationship between Tizzy and Mama with the relationship between Skip and his parents. (There should be contrasting relationships in your novel.)
– Explain how Tizzy is a dynamic character. Provide examples comparing and contrasting her at the beginning of the novel and at the end. (Your protagonist must change by the end, even begin changing as the end draws near!)
– What do the woods between Tizzy’s trailer and Skip’s house symbolize? Explain and provide evidence. (Symbolism takes your novel from good to great.)
Step 3: Pretend to be one of those students and write an essay response. It doesn’t have to be a complete essay, but locate the examples from your novel. If you can’t locate examples of character relationships, transformations, symbolism and other deeper elements of the story, you need to back up and add the details, behaviors, and dialogue that you’re missing.
Sometimes literary writing doesn’t flow from us naturally because the plot focus gets in the way. We have to be intentional about adding these deeper elements. I hope this little exercise helps you add or sharpen those fine details. As always, feel free to add your own advice and comments below.
Until next time, keep writing.
When googling “committed writer” as I hunted down the best title for my blog, I was surprised at the number of hits I received regarding writers and suicide. Apparently, writing or creativity or both can drive a person to ending it all, and this doesn’t surprise me. The writer’s life is lonely at times and full of roller coaster twists and turns. Sometimes we hit a major high with lots of accolades. Other times we crash down clutching a fistful of rejections.
The good news is becoming a committed writer doesn’t mean you’re signing your suicide note. It simply means you plan on hardening that soft shell of yours. You’re going to suit up and get your weapons ready. Here’s how you do so:
Oh, and welcome to The Committed Writer Blog where we’re committed to writing, not committing suicide.