How to Write a Bestseller with Joy Fielding – Days 4 & 5

Well, after availing myself of Canada’s culture for a week, I am back home in the good old U.S. of A. As I predicted, I didn’t manage to get up blogs about the last two days of class with New York Times Bestselling Author, Joy Fielding, so here’s a slightly condensed version of what we learned on days
4 & 5:

Day 4
We’d each been asked as a writing exercise the day before to do a five point outline of our manuscript. That was tougher than a 25-word or less summary.  I handed in my five points for critique and got a pretty good response, with Joy’s comment that I seemed to be “figuring it out,” and she liked what we discussed in class the day before with regard to my plot.

Onward to the tidbits:

-  Don’t leave troubling questions in your story

-  Don’t be wedded to the facts

-  The dramatic journey is important, vs. what actually happened

-  Get away from the literal truth to get to the real truth – what’s important is the revelation

-  Book Titles: choose something with an emotional pull; you’re telling a story in a few words

-  Joy doesn’t like a few of her titles; in fact she “hated” the title for “Don’t Cry Now,” (good book, BTW) and felt “The First Time” “wasn’t strong.”  She particularly liked the title for “Mad River Road,” which was inspired by an exit she saw off of an expressway in Ohio.

-   Write for the people who like you
    -    “Bad writing is contagious.”  Indeed.

-   Sequels should allow you to come to each book on its own and make sure you carry your theme all the way through each book.  Joy is currently working on her first series/trilogy.

-          Questions to consider when writing a series:

o   Will the characters age (if you live in Sweet Valley, apparently not.)

o   How much will the characters lives change

o   Continuity

o   Be mindful of giving away too much information

o   Keep each element of the series fresh

o   Each standalone book should have a distinct beginning, middle and end.

-   It was recommended we all read “Silence of the Lambs,” as it was “masterfully done,” particularly the way the characters are seamlessly woven into the narrative thrust, which remains strong throughout.

-   We finished our in-class critiques and I got a pretty good sense of who would be selected to read their piece at the end-of-week luncheon the next day.  No, it wasn’t me.

Day 5
We were all a bit sad, yet inspired by the intensity of the week and all we’d learned.  Had it been a week already?

Joy came to class bearing some of her books that she thought might be helpful for a few of us in untangling our plots or figuring out our narrative thrusts.  Since some folks were writing about science fiction or YA Fantasy, not everyone received a book. I was delighted to receive a copy of “Kiss Mommy Goodbye,” (which Joy signed) and I’d never read.  She challenged each of us to read the books from an analytical standpoint, to study what she did and why, since there were “no accidents,” in what she wrote.

Joy declared the commercially minded writer should start their book from their ending.  Hmmm....

We delved quite a bit into self-publishing and what a game-changer the Internet has become in that arena, as it has removed the gatekeeper.

One of the most fun parts of class was when Joy shared her own journey to bestsellerdom.  She wrote her first book, “Best of Friends,” longhand at her parent’s kitchen table (she told us “don’t bother” reading it, as it’s “not that good,” and sent it to five publishing houses. Putnam published the rough draft, not changing a word and it took Joy four years to get the second book, “The Transformation,” published (another early effort she said “don’t waste your money” on), and later “Trance.”  I can’t remember which of the three she said she had tried to read recently and couldn’t even get through it.  It was “Kiss Mommy Goodbye,” (the new addition to my library) that broke her through, making her a bit of a phenomenon in the publishing industry. And the rest is history.  Coincidentally, she said that was the first book she did an outline for and doing so changed everything.

We ended class by casting our vote for the story to be read at the luncheon (it was who I thought it would be, and who I voted for) and tendered our evaluations of the course and of Joy.  I gave it high marks, deeming it to be a phenomenal experience.  My only quibbles were that it would have been nice to have the books we were asked to read ahead of class be representative of multiple points of view and getting a bit of one-on-one time with Joy would have been great.  Otherwise, I was thrilled with the experience. 

So of course, I am brimming with ideas on how to fix my ever-present plot problems and move forward with my manuscript.  My first order of business is to make the edits Joy and the rest of my fellow students suggested (well, with two exceptions).  The second order of business is to read “Kiss Mommy Goodbye,” and do the critical analysis Joy suggested.  Third will be to continue honing in on my “narrative thrust” and finally tackle my plot problems to the ground once and for all.  Finally, I will press my “first reader” into service, which should be interesting.

BTW, I just read that Reese Witherspoon bought the movie rights to “Gone Girl.”  Not sure how I feel about that. 

To be continued…