Write Wow!

Writing tips and techniques from the publisher of Swimming Kangaroo Books. Send your 3-page writing sample to be critiqued to dindy@swimmingkangaroo.com with the word "critique" in the subject heading. Your submission will be critiqued on the blog, but your name will not be used unless you give permission.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Life is Real. Write Real.

Readers today are increasingly more and more sophisticated, and they expect the same sophistication out of the books they read. Consequently, the old adage, "Write what you know" has never been more true. As a former kindergarten teacher, I can tell you that it drives me batty to read books or stories about kindergarten teachers because most of the time it is very obvious that the writer has NEVER spent any time in a kindergarten classroom. Likewise it drives me nuts to read stories with female protagonists in which the woman never has to worry about picking her children up from day care on time or finding child care at the last minute when the little boy is too sick to go to school. It seems that most books with female protagonists also have a convenient neighbor who is always happy to look after the kids no matter what time of day or night, or a live-in parent so the woman doesn't ever have to worry about it.

My point is that as a writer, you need to get real and understand the nuts and bolts of your topic, as well as the nitty gritty of your characters' daily existence.

A couple of pet peeves I have:
1. Precocious kids. The world of fiction is full of kids who are geniuses. Let's face it, much as we parents hate to admit it, although all kids are unique, most of them are also pretty average.

2. Characters who forget their cell phones. Folks, this is the year 2007. Our cell phones are practically glued to our ears. It is a lazy plot device to have your character be unable to call for help because she (and it's almost always a she) left her cell phone on the kitchen table. (This is usually a weak plot device used to get the female character into a situation where she can't call for help and needs to be rescued.)

3. Gourmet cooks. Detectives seem to fall into one of two categories-- those who are gourmet cooks and those who don't cook at all. The ones who are gourmet cooks generally stop by the grocery store on their way home, carefully select their ingredients, prepare every single menu item from scratch and lounge luxuriously in front of the fireplace with a glass of wine before going off to bed where they usually make extremely passionate love with their companion (usually several times a night).

Let's look at real life a second: Detective drags home at 8:00 PM after a thirteen hour day. Husband is asleep in front of the TV, snoring, when she walks through the door, a can of beer at his side. Detective goes and stands in front of the fridge, hoping that the refrigerator fairies will have miraculously filled it with delicious food while she was at work. Finding nothing but limp lettuce from her last trip to the grocery store about nine days ago, she pops a bag of microwave popcorn, eats it while watching the news on TV, then stumbles off to bed. Husband wakes up and climbs into bed beside her; they aim kisses in each other's general direction.

I absolutely adore Lee Martin's Deb Ralston mystery series because she does such a terrific job of realistically depicting the daily life of a female homicide detective. Unless you are writing a fantasy of some type, allow your characters to have real lives. They don't have to be perfect to make us fall in love with them. We just need to be able to relate to them, and it's much easier to do that if they seem like REAL PEOPLE.


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