How to Write a Bestseller with Joy Fielding – Day 2

If you’re in any type of creative field, chances are, you have a thin skin, which stinks, because you really need a thick skin.

Day Two of class with Joy Fielding was pretty intense, as we started critiques of everyone’s work, but more on that in a minute.

First, a few tidbits:

-          I got a chance to “talk shop” with Joy a bit before class started.  We talked a bit about Chicago and a book tour she did there once where her publisher put her in a crack house of a hotel.  I mentioned I had worked for a bookstore in college and she asked if I knew the author escort for the chain and I did.  We gabbed about him for a bit and turns out we had a similar opinion about him. 

-          Joy asked us what we thought about yesterday’s author readings.  Everyone was pretty much in agreement about what we liked and what we didn’t like and Joy gave a few tidbits about how a bad reader can kill a reading and signing, no matter how entertaining the book is.

-          She reiterated that if you’re not in love with your book and your characters, no one else will be.

-          In contrast to what Gillian Flynn shared atPrinter’s Row Lit Fest, Joy is an outliner, believing you must know the ending before you start, because it helps you to keep “upping the ante.”

-          She shared how she came up with “See Jane Run,” and shared a copy of her original outline.  Contrary to what you think of for an “outline,” it was actually done in a narrative format, vs. bullet points.  Okay, maybe I’ll rethink my stance on formal outlining, since I now know it’s possible to do it and not feel like I’m back in English Comp 101.  Maybe.

-          She originally saw “Whispers and Lies” as a play 30 years ago, kind of in the vein of “Single White Female,” (which came much later).  She re-imagined it years later as a deceptive young woman who rents a cottage from an older woman.  If you haven’t read it, check it out.  It’s one of those books that meanders along like it’s not going anywhere then – Bam!

-          She rewrote the first ten chapters of “Wild Zone” three times because…she didn’t outline. Hmm…

Writing Exercise
We got our first bonafide writing exercise in the form of describe our book in 25 words or less.  I took a wrong turn because in trying not to give the whole thing away, my description was termed as “too vague.”  Oy.  Gotta go back to the drawing board and come up with something new. 

I’ll post both in the near future.

Interesting enough, when one of the students read her description, I was floored, because her chapter didn’t match her description at all.  And I’m not talking vague – I’m talking she was describing a totally different book than what she handed in.

The Critiques
We critiqued four first chapters today. This was actually a good exercise, because it kind of let me know what to expect in terms of how the process would go.  My goal, when my turn comes tomorrow, is that I don’t come off as defensive, as some people did.  I’ve gone into the process by reminding myself to be open and receptive to the comments, good, bad and ugly, because it can only help.  I don’t want to fall into over-explaining, being flip or arguing.  In other words, being defensive.  Of course, I may be singing a different tune this time tomorrow, but my plan is to just take it all in and apply accordingly.

For the most part, a lot of my comments on the submissions echoed what everyone else felt, though I was baffled to hear one student praise as their favorite, a piece that was overwhelmingly viewed as not that strong. 

But what do I know.

The Advice:
-  Good ideas don’t die.  But still write them down.

-  Don’t front load all the backstory or characterizations.  Reveal them slowly, but not so slowly that the reader gets bored.

-  In every chapter, give the character a goal and try to stop them from reaching that goal

-  Describe what people look like.  You don’t have to overdescribe them, but enough so that the reader has a visual of some sort.  It adds depth to the characterization.

Writing Exercise Two
We wrapped up the day with an assignment to outline our book in five sentences from beginning to end.  In other words, five key events in the narrative (in order) that demonstrate, “what story am [I] telling.”

On that note, until tomorrow.