I had the good fortune last Saturday to attend the Donald Maass Workshop, Writing 21st Century Fiction, put on by the Rose City Romance Writers (see Meggan's post from Tuesday). If you're a writer and ever have the chance to attend one of his workshops or lectures—do it. You won't be sorry.
A lot of the information was familiar, but it was presented in a way that it struck a new chord (for me, anyway). Here are the highlights that resonated the most with me.
"Don't write what is safe."
Writing what's easy, expected, common, familiar, will not touch readers. You need to dig deeper into the story—and into your own experiences—and write what you're afraid to write.
We—and by extension, our characters—never feel just one emotion at a time. Use those secondary emotions, instead of "skimming the surface" by writing the primary (expected) emotion in a scene, to create a visceral connection to the reader.
"Write the unexpected."
What is the one thing your character would never do? Write that. Now what happens?
Yes, this is a variation on "don't write what is safe," but I can't tell you the epiphany I had as I thought about this question. I'd done all the usual things while plotting and writing The Lazarus Gambit — escalated the conflict, made the bad moments worse, and, and, and...I realized I'd played it safe, for my heroine and for myself. Well, not any more!
"Stories are inherently bigger than life."
Don't be afraid of the fromage! Just be sure to set the context before you deliver the cheese. In other words, don't be afraid of writing "over the top." Readers are engaged with and want stories that are bigger than life.
"Story is an infinite well."
Don't save things. Series writers have a tendency to hold things back/save things up for future books in the series. Don't! Put them in — you'll find more later! Story is an infinite well, and the more you write, the more the ideas will come. If you hold back, out of the fear that you won't be able to think of something later, you'll short-change what you're writing now — and it will show.
These are a few of the things that stood out to me in a workshop packed with great information. I've already planned serious changes to The Lazarus Gambit, and I know I'll apply these to future books, as well.