The Geomancer


Still Writing: Kay's Newsletter

Still Writing )
Kay Kenyon's reflections on the craft of fiction with updates on her writing and tips for yours. (A bi-monthly newsletter) June 2007
In this issue Conflict: Lighting a Fire in Your Fiction Take Back Your Time! They Really Like Me!! Nuts and Bolts: Critique GroupsOn the RoadSee You In August

This month I'm back on the road. Bookstore appearances in Western Washington and in early July, a conference near Boston. My new book Bright of the Sky is launched, with stellar reviews. I'm frightfully busy, so where is the time to write? If you wonder about that for your own writing, read on . . . .

Kay Kenyon

Conflict: Lighting a Fire in Your Fiction
Kay's picture

Every aspiring fiction writer hears how important conflict is in storytelling. Despite this, beginners sometimes avoid it. Why?

Maybe the reason is that we are timid in facing our own issues or daunting challenges. Or the reason might be that we want to concentrate on character instead. Or we dislike the obvious villains from pulp stories and films. I can't help you with the first issue except to say that, as storytellers, we're not writing about ourselves. Please. Are you really that interesting? I know I'm not.

If you're ambivalent about conflict, let me urge you: get over it! Without tension and conflict a story is boring and your readers will abandon it. Without a collision of wills, your characters will appear flat.This is one of the most intriguing intersections in fiction: the outer drama of conflict reveals deep character. Conversely, it is character that makes action meaningful: why does she do what she does? How will he find the understanding or strength to do what is needed? Don't create a cardboard hero, then, who is pure at the beginning and remains so. Rather, make her a compelling personality who is not yet wise enough to overcome opposition. But who will be.

It's a mistake to relegate the source of the opposition to a character we despise. Conflict is both more believable and satisfying when those who oppose the protagonist deeply believe in a worthy position. Explore those motives fairly without signaling too strongly what your position is. Without this complexity, we have melodrama or at least a simplistic story. If conflict comes from a more general source of opposition, find a way to put a human face on it, embodying the general in a specific person. Better yet, have both cultural forces and individual opposition. You see the direction here: more, more, more. Isn't life like that?

And lastly, moving to a higher level of challenge--use internal as well as external conflict. In a nuanced character, desires collide. Inner conflict brings the reader into the story, asking, What would I do? Then your job is to keep the reader hooked by creating a dilemma that is irreconcilable. No happy endings? Yes, there can be. But there is a price to pay. No one gets everything.

Sound hard? It is. It's why so many books disappoint! The author didn't work hard enough on conflict, making it believable, memorable and deeply, universally human.

Take Back Your Time!

Our lives are so busy. We all complain about it, and me louder than anyone. When can there ever be enough time to write a novel? Or even a short story?

There is a concept called scarcity. There is never enough of anything; it's what gives things value. Time is scarce, among other things. The approach to this problem takes an open mind (damn it, anyway!) and a willingness to think outside the lines. In a nutshell, here is what must be done: Take a clear look at how you're spending your time. This is your life. This is all there is. Are you squandering your moments?

No one, you say, can be productive all the time! Can't I just relax sometimes? Sure, if it is consciously chosen. But what about those nearly unconscious decisions to: . . . run to the mall for the sale . . . read the whole newspaper in the morning . . . answer chatty emails by the dozens . . . watch junk TV (you know which programs, come on!) Cut out one of these pointless time-killers and I guarantee that you can write a novel in a year, writing a page a day. In my recent time crunch over my book launch, a writing conference I helped put on and writing deadlines, I gave up all but one hour of TV a week. And no movies. Maybe you don't need to be so ruthless. But something has to go. Isn't it better to miss Dancing With the Stars than getting your memoirs down?

Help me out here. Tell me how you found an extra hour a day so that you could write. Send me your first name at least, and I'll post your idea in this newsletter. Hey, we're all in this together!

They Really Like Me!!
book cover

My new novel from Pyr, Bright of the Sky, hit the streets in mid-April, and the response has been--well, serious love. I have to say I've never in eight published novels ever had reviewers all love a book.

My husband is starting to say things like, "What, more accolades?" I shove the latest review in front of his evening newspaper: "Yes. Read this. Read it three times!"

If you'll indulge me, here's a quote from SF Site: "Bright of the Sky enchants on the scale of your first encounter with the world inside of Rama, or the immense history behind the deserts of Dune, or the unbridled audacity of Riverworld. It's an enormous stage demanding a grand story and, so far, Kenyon is telling it with style and substance. The characters are as solid as the world they live in, and Kenyon's prose sweeps you up and never lets go. . . . Bright of the Sky could very well be the book of the year."

Nuts and Bolts: Critique Groups

Getting feedback on your work is tough when you're just starting out. What disinterested party can you ask? The answer to this perennial question is a critique group.

A critique group can provide constructive criticism of your work, suggestions in problem solving and the support of a small social network. Don't underestimate the power of that last benefit. Commiserating on rejections and celebrating successes can mean the difference between giving up and keeping on. I still remember the genuine friendship of my first critique group and the time, on the occasion of my first sale, someone brought champagne.

While it takes some courage to put your work in front of others, the payback can be worth it. You learn not only from feedback on your own work, but what is said about others' stories. You'll be learning the diagnostic skills that will become second nature to you as you continue to improve your fiction.

Critique groups can meet in person or through email or an internet forum. Even if you live in an isolated area, you can create a circle of trusted advisers. If you're starting one from scratch, you can specify the genre, the group protocols and the membership. Writing conferences in your area may act as brokers in helping groups form. For many writers, a critique group is the first step toward a serious approach to writing. It's an isolated undertaking, writing. But it doesn't have to be.

On the Road

If you're in the neighborhood, drop in to see me as I travel here and there for chats with readers and book signings:

Tuesday, May 29, 7:00 pm -- U. Book Store, Seattle

Thursday, May 31, 7:00 pm - Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, WA

Friday, June 1 -- 7:00 pm - Village Books, Bellingham, WA

July 5-8th - Readercon -- Burlington, MA

See You In August
Kay's Cat

These are my June thoughts. I hope they were helpful to you in your writing. My cat will make an appearance in August, giving an opinion on What It's Like When Your Housekeeper is a (shudder) Writer. Let me know if there are topics you'd like me to discuss. Happy to.

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