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Friday, June 28, 2013

Guest Post from Boomer Lit Author Claude Nougat

Why Do You Read? The Secret to Writing A Good Yarn


Storytelling is as old as humanity. We all have this vision of cavemen sitting around a fire after the hunt, munching on their grilled meat and telling stories to each other. The Lascaux frescoes comfort us in this vision. But we've moved on, we want more than stories of preying on wild animals and killing. But we still love suspense.

Suspense is the key.

Release from suspense is what we yearn for, in the form of laughter or tears. And herein, you find the very essence of comedy and drama, the two major forms of literature. But there's more. We want to walk away from our reading feeling that we've gained something, that we are a better individual.

What do you get out of your reading? Before you answer in the comments below, let’s take a quick look at why writers write.

For some, writing is a flight of fancy, an escape from oneself or reality. In the case of older, more experienced writers, writing is an exploration, and in the best cases, it results in shedding a new light on reality. That is often the case with Boomer Lit authors: when they write a boomer lit novel, they populate it with mature characters like themselves who have faced many challenges in life. Boomer lit books are informed with the life experience of their authors. That’s what sets this genre apart from others.

Ultimately, a writer is always someone who feels he/she has something special to say... Yes, there is a certain lack of modesty here, but aren't all artists immodest? Besides, when you come across “great literature”, don’t you feel you are learning something? When you close that book, don’t you find yourself looking with new eyes – the author’s eyes – at the reality around you?

Whether a writer has something special to say or not is the litmus test. Nobody is interested in banal tales or cliché characters. Hollywood knows this: to evaluate the success of a film, they measure how many "emotional beats" it has. The more “beats”, the larger the audience.

Like movie goers, readers want suspense, they want to laugh and cry. They are interested in stories. The problem is that writers are interested in themselves or they wouldn't write. This is where you often have a disconnect between readers and writers. And this is why so many books are disappointing: the writer forgot that all the reader wanted was a good yarn.

So I'll let you in on a secret. I am a writer but I also happen to be my own most demanding reader. If I don't get a kick out of my own writing - if my first draft doesn't amuse me as I write it - then I stop writing. You have no idea how many novels and short stories I have abandoned after I was one third of the way through. Why? Because they bored me!

I know, the writing gurus will tell you that you should never give up, there's no "silver bullet" etc. Sure, I agree, there isn’t. But why finish something that bores you silly? Chances are that it will bore your readers even more! Indeed, that is one of the reasons why I never work out complete, detailed outlines prior to writing. I always jump in, hoping to keep my enthusiasm for my characters and plot alive, right down to the closing line. And sometimes, I'm lucky, my characters regale me with their shenanigans and surprise me with an unexpected ending. When that happens, I'm happy, I know the book is worth publishing (once it's been thoroughly gone over and edited of course). Otherwise, forget it! I don't mind, I don't want to see it.

If you're a writer reading this, let me know how you go about writing. And if you're reader, let me know what you seek from your reading, what kind of book makes you really happy? And if you’re a baby boomer, give some thought to reading Boomer Lit, you’ll be pleasantly surprised...


About the Author
Claude Nougat, a graduate of Columbia University, is a writer, economist, painter and poet. She is a prime exponent of Boomer literature and author of nine books of fiction, including two written in Italian and published in Italy. Her boomer novel, A Hook in the Sky, about a retiree-turned-artist has been termed “quintessential boomer lit”. Her most recent work, Forever Young is a ground-breaking sci-fi serial novel that renews with Orwell’s 1984 tradition. She is married and lives in Italy. 

Connect with Claude


16 comments:

  1. Claude, what an interesting piece! It appears to be the perfect follow up for my blog last week about Who do we write for? And, as always, you have insightful comments for us to chew on. You are absolutely right, if we are amused by what we write, put it down and move on! We are all very glad you stayed with A Hook In The Sky and 2213: Forever Young! Cheers!
    Marsha

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    1. Thanks Marsha for the kind words about my books...And I'm happy to hear I'm not the only who needs to be amused by her own writing to keep going!

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  2. I write to be published and I'd prefer a wide range of readers. I'd so like to do a series, but my muse pushes me elsewhere. I'd done my based-on-my-life cozy mystery, and now I'm in the midst of a SF mystery, Austen mystery and a paranormal mystery. I've given up on all of them at one time or another, and moved over to the other when concrete sets in. :) OTOH, my way if determining if I'm going to write something is to put down that great start we all get enthused about, but then, it is the ending that has to write itself with enthusiasm that must come next. No ending, no story. This way you have a destination and that really helps with the middle that we all meander through. I don't like outlining.
    As a reader, I'm looking for good stories about older women who lead their own lives. Well, you might ask, who else's life would they be leading? You'd be surprised. Now there's a place where books get put down and forgotten. I give 50 pages, most people give 10, agents and editors give one page.
    Patg

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    1. Thanks Patg for the interesting comments...Yes, a good ending is needed but I don't think I could ever start a book by writing a good beginning and a good ending. I'm sure it works for you but it doesn't work for me at all. My beginning always stinks and I regularly rewrite it after I've finished the book. As to the ending, if I wrote it right off, I would never get around to writing the middle of the book, I'd be bored stiff since I'd know how it all ends...

      I need to surprise myself...or more precisely, what happens is that the characters in my book start growing, they become independent from me and THEY decide how the book ends...I guess you could call that a "character-driven plot" - but that's the way it's always been for me. I just can't bend and mold my characters to a preordained plot!

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  3. I agree that this is the perfect follow up to last week's post from Marsha. You both have given us so much t think about! I also agree that a writer has to like his or her own story enough to share it with the world. I've always felt that it's just as important, maybe more, to entertain my readers as it is to communicate a message. Although I do abandon manuscripts that bore me or when I lose the thread of the story, I keep most of them to work on some other time. I'm sure many others writers also experience the joy of rereading something written long ago and thinking, "This is pretty good, after all," and pick it up again. Perhaps the distance gives us new insights to share or perhaps the muse just needed a vacation.

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    1. Yes, Shelley, that's a very thoughtful comment, our muse always needs a vacation at some point or other, just as we do, ha ha!

      And I'm sure you're right, many writers do pick up an old ms set aside a long time ago only to discover that it isn't so bad after all...It's happened to me once, I went back to work but the result wasn't all that good, so it's still in its drawer gathering dust. Who knows, maybe some day...

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  4. Claude, I thought I was the only writer with a drawer full of half finished (or half baked) novels. Just kidding. I know it's a common ailment. Thank you for sharing. I too start projects with a burst of enthusiasm for a particular setting, a character that fascinates me, an intriguing plot premise, or just a cute opening sentence. I may ride that wave of excitement for 40k words or so and then, yawn, I discover that something's not working. Recently I have tried outlining and planning my story elements a bit more, but the resulting words are less exciting. Where's the middle ground?

    Bill Branley

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    1. Bill, yes, that's a real problem: where is the middle ground between writing on a whim and writing to a fully developed outline?

      I guess the answer is that it depends (ha ha! I know, not much of an answer there). But it's true. It depends on where you are in your life. Do you write to escape from it? Do you write to deepen your own understanding of life? Do you write to entertain others, or perhaps open new doors for others because you know you have something unique and important to communicate?

      All these reasons require a very different approach to writing. For example, if you write to deepen your own understanding of something that happened in your life and that was important to you, then it's best to write with a first-person POV. It's easier that way, more immediate. The events and your reflections on them will flow out on the paper (or type themselves on your computer screen, as the case may be). Just write without worrying about structure, plot, sequence of events or anything else. Just write to get it ALL down. That can go on for weeks, even months. But don't worry, you're not wasting your time. You're putting together the SUBSTANCE of your novel. That's how I wrote A Hook in the Sky: it was inspired by my own experience of retirement and my decision to renew with a childhood dream and become an artist. I didn't become a great artist of course, I ran into all sorts of problems. But I kept writing about it and two years later I had maybe 100,000 words or more.

      Then I let it sit for one year and did nothing with it.

      When I came back to it I decided NOT to make it a memoir (not my style) and I turned it into a novel, with a main character as different as possible from me: a man (I'm a woman) and unhappily married (I'm happily married, thank you!) - but with the same dream of becoming an artist once retired. I didn't know how the novel would finish: would his wife, irritated by his academic paintings, leave him? Would he find other women to love and who would understand him better? Would his wife come back to him? Honestly, as I wrote, I didn't know, and that's what kept me writing...

      So you see: this is quite a big middle ground. A lot of research. A lot of writing up about the events and people. Then picking a character and letting him/her determine the plot...So yes, writing a novel is a LOT of work but so rewarding! Good luck and keep writing, the ending will always come from an angle you least expect...

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  5. One of the hardest tasks for me is to edit out scenes I love when they don't work for the overall story. Those are some tough calls to make. When I do have to be brutal and cut, I save those scenes and turn them into short stories and 600-word articles for blog posts. That way, I never have to truly let them go. They get a new life of their very own.

    Great post, Claude!

    Courtney Pierce

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    1. Thanks Courtney, and yes, I'm all with you: it's SO hard to cut out scenes you love! I must have cut out about as much as I leave in!! But what a good idea, to keep the stuff and serve it up as a blog post or a short story. I never thought of doing that, thanks for the suggestion!

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  6. You're right. If it's not entertaining to write, it probably won't be fun to read. I'm amazed at how often my characters seem to come up with ideas and behaviors of their own, almost without my guidance. I find an outline helps with pacing, but it's fun to let the scene develop as I write. Thanks for the article, Claude.

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    1. Beth, then we're sisters in writing!

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  7. I'm definitely a plotter. I need to have a roadmap to assure me that I won't get totally lost along the way. It's not a detailed outline, but more of a brief itinerary.

    I tend to agree with Patg. Although I probably won't write the ending until I get there, I have to know where I'm headed. More of that map stuff. Writing into the mist doesn't work for me. That's not to say I won't take some interesting side trips as I travel along that map because I have had awesome things happen during the writing that are terribly exciting.

    Rather than totally abandoning a story if I get bored with it, the boredom is a signal to me to stop and figure out WHY I'm bored. Sometimes it's because I've got a Main Character who isn't someone I'd like to know. Sometimes I find I've gotten into a section where I'm lecturing instead of telling a story. Sometimes it's because I've planned a trip to Los Angeles, but my heart really wants to go to Dallas. Whatever the reason, there's usually a solution and, when I find it, I can once again write with joy.

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    1. Elise, that's an excellent idea, I have to confess I've never done that, i.e. try and figure out why I got bored. Great, I'll try that next time it happens, thanks Elise, for sharing the advice!

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  8. Claude, your piece confirms what I'm finding on my current WIP. I wasn't "feeling the love" for some time. After some soul searching, I realized it was because each character felt empty to me because there was not enough conflict. Suspense/conflict is the key reason to stick with a character. I couldn't even stick with my own because not enough conflict existed. Problem solved and writing well underway, but a reminder why it matters to your reader, too.
    Enjoyed your post.

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    1. Sharon, I'm so happy you enjoyed my post. Yes, readers should be our utmost, deepest concern. And I'm so happy for you that your writing is well underway again!

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