Five Minute Writing Tip
This year I'm sincerely trying to ease into autumn rather than do my usual kicking and screaming. It's not that I don't enjoy the harvest season, it's more that I love the summer and don't want it to ever end. Our summers are beautiful in the Pacific Northwest and autumn seems but a small step into a long, wet, messy winter. If you're wondering where I going with this, I'm is leading up to my October writing tip.
American novelist Elmore Leonard's first rule in novel writing is: "Never open a book with weather. If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people."
Most novelists must agree, because very few books start with weather or a change in seasons. But changes in weather can establish a profound mood when telling a story; a foreshadowing of what's to come. Describing a brewing storm moving in can create a subtle stirring of discomfort in a character, or a profound fear about experiencing something untoward. The changing of seasons can also symbolize life changes, be they ominous or hopeful. The dawning of a new day might bring about a renewed energy, even courage to move forward. A full moon can enhance a romance or intensify a fearful situation.
So, even though it's not a good idea to open a story with weather, using it as a "showing" tool can enrich you story. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, used it as a great cliffhanger in short story "His Last Bow"; an omen of what was to come. Holmes says to Watson:
"There's an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less and a cleaner, better stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared."
Conan Doyle often reflected current realities in his stories. "His Last Bow" was published in the fall of 1917, as the Great War was raging.
Five Minute Writing Tip
Letting go takes a load off your shoulders and clears out clutter. By not dwelling on negativity of the past, you live more fully in the moment. So why is it so difficult to do? Humans are probably the only animals that love lugging around their unnecessary baggage. I don't think it's because we're comfortable doing so. We just don't always trust ourselves and are afraid to take risks. But once you let go, a light-hearted freedom results.
What does all this have to do with writing? For me, it's sending out a manuscript after working on it for months, or years, and trusting that it's ready to go. I usually know when that time comes, but not always. I began the manuscript six years ago. I was determined to have it ready to go this summer. I'm close - very close - but I've never been completely satisfied with the first three pages, which are the most important if you're planning to submit to a new agent or different publisher. You have to grab them with the first couple of pages and seal the deal by page five.
This manuscript has been read by at least a dozen people: friends, family, other writers, and professional editors who say they like the opening of the story. But until I can read those pages and pump my fist in the air, I can't seem to let it go. At least that's what I tell myself.
When faced with a difficult decision, I ask, "What's the worst and best that can happen?" With writing, the worst is it gets a cold rejection like, "No thanks, this is not for us." The best is it's accepted with a comment like, "Wonderful piece of work!" But when you really think about it, the worst is not so bad. It means, you have more work to do. It's like getting a second chance (and sometimes a third or forth).
Letting go is not just knowing when to send off that manuscript. It's also letting go of worry about unknown results, and believing everything works out the way it was meant to be.