Monday, January 25, 2010

Making It Worse!

Have you ever read a book that was fantastic most of the way through, but the end just felt flat?

Chances are, you have. And chances are, the reason had to do with the climax. The story may be wonderful, but if they solve the climax before it climaxes, it's a letdown. Face it, we like characters to face unconquerable odds, impossible choices. We want to see how they'll take absolute defeat and turn it into incredible victory.

When everything is as bad as it can get, that's when we want the good guys to come blazing their way in and save the the nickiest nick of time.

You never forget those books.

So what's with the bad climaxes? In most cases I read, the characters solve the problems too quickly. You just start getting excited when POOF, it's all over and everybody lives happily ever after. And you sit there and go “Hey! What about...”

MIW is the way to avoid this. It's quite simple. Take your climax and check it out from all angles. Look at the opposition. What's standing between your character and victory? When you know what the main problem is, make it worse. Make it as bad as it could be. Then make it worse again.

Result: a never-to-be-forgotten climax!

My favorite illustration of this is Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. Think about the climax. Frodo and Sam are dodging Nazgul and lava on the slopes of Mount Doom. Gandalf, Aragorn & Co are marching to certain death. The Shadow of Sauron is falling everywhere. Everything you care about is dying. And the world is ending. Bad as it can get, right?

Oh, but then Frodo decides to keep the Ring. And instantly it's so much worse than you ever dreamed! There is no way you'll ever forget that climax.

The thing I've just discovered is that MIW doesn't just apply to thriller/action/suspense/mystery. It works just as well for romance, and even straight literary. You can make emotional situations worse, or moral quandaries. Whatever you use it for, it's guaranteed to ratchet up the stakes and make readers care. Just remember, if you have a climax that feels flat, figure out what the opposition is, and make it as bad as it can get. Then make it worse.

You may get hate mail from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Characters, but your readers will love you.


I'd love to hear what you think on this! Have you used MIW? Tell me about it!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Two Heads Are Better! - A Look At Co-Writing

For two and a half years now I've co-written with Ruth Rockafield. I'm a co-author and proud of it! Just last week someone asked me once again what it's like to share a story. Many people wonder if it would even be possible for share something as intimate as a piece of writing.

Since this question keeps popping up, I decided to address it in the form of an interview. I took the most commonly asked questions and answered them!


Why did you decide to co-write? It was rather spontaneous. We started out writing a single short novel about a British nurse and an RAF pilot, which spun into a longer novel, which spun into a trilogy, which is now spawning loosely connected other novels!
Our approach to co-writing is to each take a MC. In the first two books of our Wings of Fire series, Ruth writes the RAF pilot, Peter Standish, and I write a set of sisters, Liz and Julie Knight. The neat part is that the characters take on real depth. Ruth and I are very different people, and the characters as a result are also very different! Feedback tells us the resulting depth of character is unusual and appealing.

Do you approach writing differently? Very much so! Ruth is the dreamer, the idea-spawner. She gets all the brilliant brainstorms. I tend to follow along after her weaving the stray electricity into actual words. I'm the one who structures the story, builds an outline, figures out the details. Ruth breathes the life into it! She also is the one who is never discouraged, and always positive – which is wonderful for me.

Can readers tell which of you wrote which parts? No. Since both of us edit each other's sections, the writing styles blend. For fun, we've had friends try to guess which of us wrote which parts – they never are sure!

Do you ever have conflict over where you want the story to go? Not really. We're grand friends, which spills over into our writing; but we forestall collisions by outlining. For about six months before starting a novel, we talk it over constantly. By the time we're ready to write, we know exactly where we want it to go.

What is the best thing about co-writing? The energy. When writing alone, I'm often tired or discouraged, but that never happens when we write together. If one of us is stuck, we just holler for help! The excitement of working through the story together is the best part. Ruth will come up with a good idea, I'll add something else, which gives her another idea, which gives me another one – and so on! Our absolute favorite scenes have emerged through this rapid-fire ping-pong style of brainstorming.

What is the worst thing about co-writing? I love most of it. But I will say – the responsibility is sometimes overwhelming. Knowing any wrong decisions I make will also affect Ruth is scary. Also, we have occasionally had different goals for publication, which have been rocky to work through when one of us felt very strongly about something. Thankfully, on those occasions, God has stepped in and solved the problems for us!

Both of you write alone as well. How is that different from co-writing? Both of us wrote separately for years before beginning to cowrite, and sometimes we just need to tell a story of our own. Sometimes, the freedom to make all the choices without consulting anyone else is refreshing. Other times, for me, it's not as much fun! But we usually get involved in each other's separate works as well – if only to share advice, feedback, and support. Sometimes I feel that Ruth gives me so much support on my separate projects that she should really be listed as a co-author!

Do you plan to always write together? I hope so! We have quite a few projects planned already. We intend to finish our Wings Of Fire trilogy with A Dwindling Fire, the story of a Luftwaffe pilot who returns to Germany in 1945 as a British agent, and the Frenchwoman searching for her sister in the ruins of Nazi concentration camps.

Then we're outlining two other novels. One, Enemy In Our Midst, takes place during the Civil War, with Ruth writing a Confederate calvary captain, and myself writing an passionate abolitionist Union spy. The other, Shadow Of A Whirlwind, takes place in in New Orleans during the War of 1812. Ruth writes a dashing, mysterious aristocrat-by-day, pirate-by-night, and I write a woman whose past is hunting her down in the shadows of war.

And finally – Ruth has succeeded in talked me into writing a novel about the Korean War. Loosely connected to Wings Of Fire, it will be the story of an RAF pilot who, after an empty life of war and adventure, is searching for a place to belong. Little does he know he's about to become responsible for a very pretty missionary with twenty adopted Korean children – the enemy is closing in and his life will never be the same.

As you can see, we're very busy!

What advice would you give to people trying co-writing for the first time? Make sure you're compatible. If you aren't friends, chances are the experience will be upsetting. The “discussion” period, where you talk about your vision of the story, really helps to know where you both want to go. Also, make sure you both are passionate about the story! Writing about something only one of you is interested in could be miserable.
Have you tried co-writing? Are you about to? Do you like or dislike co-written novels? I'd love to hear your thoughts!