The Literary Genre

I have added this after attending a writers' retreat where I read one of the participant's manuscript. It was about a woman and the way her life changed in response to events in it and her own growing maturity as a person. It made me reevaluate some of the things I've taught and written in this book. My focus used to be on action driven stories because that is what I did. It is what I did because it is what I was capable of doing. If I were capable of writing War and Peace, The Sequel I suppose I would do that, but I'm not. Yet.

Many writers want to write about people, not specifically action. There is nothing wrong with that. I have perceived though, that there are some things to keep in mind in a character oriented book and I will touch on what little I have learned and experienced.

In a character oriented book you should treat your characters like you would subplots in an action book. For example, don't have a character in chapter 3 if you don't develop and use that character by the end of the novel. To abuse the Chekov quote I used earlier, don't have a character in your story unless that character impacts the main plot by the end. Just as all subplots must be kept tight to the main plot, all your characters must be tight to the main story, which is your main character's development.

Each character must be real and have his or her own agenda, just like each person in real life has his own agenda, even if it isn't a conscious one. The characters must also be consistent.

Also realize that perhaps the greatest flaw most people have is their lack of awareness of themselves, never mind others. True characters are not walking around self-actualized on Maslow's hierarchy. Many times they are walking around ignorant of their own agenda. Sometimes authors are also ignorant of their own agenda, specifically why they are trying to write a novel.

I have also found that character oriented books often need to be cut down much more than action oriented books. There is a tendency to wander a bit, because people's lives tend to wander a bit. Now, there are some authors whose style is so good that you like that wandering—say, a Larry McMurty or Pat Conroy. But for most, less is better.

Some authors come to mind for these types of books: Lisa Alther, Anne Tyler, Richard Russo, Jane Smiley, Clyde Edgerton and many more. If you want to write like these people, you should read everything you can that they write. You should study the craft of writing, of putting words into sentences into paragraphs.

You have to judge yourself accurately as a writer. For example, my goal in the next few years is to apply the skills I have learned in plotting to my characters.

One thing for sure: The quality of writing in a character oriented book must be higher because it must evoke emotion in the reader, not just intellectual interest. Marketing character-oriented books is also somewhat different and I will touch on that in the business section.

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