Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Will Write For Shoes

I like books which get into the specifics of writing for a particular genre, so I picked up Cathy Yardley’s Will Write for Shoes, which is subtitled How to write a Chick Lit Novel.

The book discusses the various types of chick lit, including its history from Marian Keyes (I loved Watermelon) and Bridget Jones, to Sex and the City. I didn’t know there were such subgenres as Tart Noir, Widow Lit and Christian Chick Lit.

While this is a short book, it touches on nearly every topic a beginning writer might have questions about – even the elusive “voice”, which IMO is very difficult to dissect and pin down. I also like the stress placed on conflict, though I’m not certain that every scene has to end in disaster, i.e. with a character not getting what they want.

The reader may still be invested in finding out if your character still achieves her overall story goal, but they’re probably thinking, “She’s okay for now,” which is dangerous. Why? Because that means you’ve given them a rest stop. They can now put the book down and do something else.

I would be careful about applying this advice, because a character who fails over and over and over again is more painful than fun to read about. If every scene ends in disaster, it’s also predictable. Another thing to be aware of is that this book was published in 2006, and there have been changes in the publishing industry in the years since then.

On the other hand, my favorite part of the book was the discussion of how to outline. Outlining tends to be a controversial topic on discussion boards, because some writers (like myself) swear by it and others work best with a seat-of-the-pants approach. But the author was given a six-month deadline to complete the second book she sold, and she needed a system in place to complete it.

So in conclusion, this was a quick read, taught me some things about chick lit that I didn’t know before and would be a help to new writers. Plus, if you ever wanted to see an outline that’s both carefully constructed and flexible, and which can be applied to any work-in-progress, I recommend this book.


Janna Leadbetter said...

Interesting. I guess there's a need for it, huh?

Hope all is well for you these days!

Cathy Yardley said...

Hi Marian,

I'm glad WILL WRITE FOR SHOES was interesting for you. I enjoyed writing it immensely!

I did want to clarify one point... when I mentioned "end the scene on a disaster" I am using Jack Bickham's advice and terminology. It doesn't mean that every single scene ends with something catastrophic, necessarily. (That would grow increasingly ridiculous, you're absolutely right, and the tragic would become the absurd.) The "disaster" is simply something that prevents the scene from accomplishing its goal... keeping the protagonist striving and the reader guessing.

Good luck with your writing! "Before the Storm" sounds really intricate, and love your tagline.

Cathy :)

Marian Perera said...

Hey Janna!

Classes are running me ragged these days, so I'm looking forward to the Christmas break to get some serious writing done. Thankfully that's not long to wait.

Then I'll blog more too. :)

Marian Perera said...

Hi Cathy,

Thanks for your reply and for clarifying! I see what you mean about keeping the protagonist working towards a goal... not necessarily that she fails each time, but that there continues to be something she's trying to get or accomplish. Basically, leave it open-ended in some way. That makes sense.

Also appreciate your compliments on Before the Storm! It's coming out in paperback in just a few months, and I can hardly wait. :)

Mary Witzl said...

Any book that could show me how to outline would impress me a lot. I'm not totally adverse to outlining, but I have come to think that some people just aren't cut out to do it and I am one. I start out with good outlines and invariably scrap most of them. The worst thing about them is that they make me feel tied down and miserable. When I'm free to write what I want with a few goals in mind, I tend to write better. Or maybe it just feels like that.

I hate stories where the MC is kept in a permanent state of misery. In books like that, I yearn for the MC to settle down for a good night's sleep after a tasty meal and a hug from a friend. I've been run ragged by books where the MC is put through so much stress and trouble with never a break or a meal or a drink or a pat on the back. I like what Cathy says about keeping the reader guessing. I do like NOT knowing what's going to happen -- as long as the MC gets the odd break along the way.

Anonymous said...

All well and good, but does the book have a definition of what Chick Lit is or does it tackle the current backlash against it?

I know, it sounds like a dumb question, but one I have yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Unknown said...

Why would outlining vs freewriting be a controversial topic? It's two mindsets that really aren't mutually exclusive or interfere with each other at all. Then again, it's the internet, people will argue about ANYTHING on the internet.

Marian Perera said...

Mary - If outlines don't work for you, don't use them. Not having an outline makes me nervous, like I'm driving without a map, but that's me. A lot of writers feel the way you do: that they work better without an outline.

And hey - you got an agent, didn't you? So obviously you're doing the right thing! :)

ralfast - I'm pretty sure it had a definition of Chick Lit, but I can't remember if it said anything about Chick Lit being less popular now. Though the mention of a backlash makes me curious. I should do more research into that.

Marian Perera said...

Neutral Fire : I agree, those are two mindsets that don't (or shouldn't) interfere with each other.

I've seen it get more personal, though - "Which is better?" "Is it lazy to write without an outline?" "How do you know either method won't work for you unless you've tried it?" and so on.