Editing: Find a Feeling

Maas  This is really a post about editing AND writing. I’m a great fan of literary agent Donald Maass (Pictured here. Cute, isn’t he?). He’s written several “how-to-write” books that provide specific, real things you can do to improve your writing. In the latest issue of Writer’s Digest, he came through again with his article “Fire Up Your Fiction.” In it, he says:

“Many fiction manuscripts feel lackluster. What is missing when a manuscript hugs the wall and refuses to dance? Originality is not the key. It can’t be–otherwise every new vampire novel would be dead on arrival. The issue, then, is not whether a story has a cool new premise. When a manuscript succeeds, it is invariably fired by inspiration. Passion comes through on the page.” 

Ah, yes.  I think back to my ill-fated attempt to write a vampire novel. Heck, they were selling, weren’t they? But I felt no passion for this subject. I just don’t get what is so sexy about vampires. When I recently re-read the first three chapters I’d written on that manuscript, I found they … well … they sucked.

I remember my excitement when writing it. I didn’t give a hoot about the vampires, but I had a passion for the setting of Whitby, England. This was the quaint little fishing village where Bram Stoker’s vampire departed England for America. I could just picture Stoker sitting on a bench overlooking the water and writing Dracula. So, predicably, the parts of those chapters that came alive were about Whitby.

This leads me to think: in choosing what to write next, what am I passionate about right now? It can’t be ideas that grabbed me five years ago, because feelings change and their time has passed. It can’t be ideas that are guaranteed to sell, like the “amnesia” plot of many romance novels, because they just make me yawn. It can’t be a clone of a best-selling novel, because I’ll read another one tomorrow and lose interest in this one.

The master, Dwight Swain, also wrote about this in his book, Techniques of the Selling Writer. He said, “First, find a feeling.”

Sooooo, what right now makes me feel fury? Futility? Betrayal? Hope? Joy? Arousal? Shame? Grief? Pride? Self-loathing? Security? That’s what I need to be writing about.


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