Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Monday, December 18, 2006

ABC Gum

Remember that disgusting little joke when you were in, say, sixth grade?

“Hey, Jude. Got any gum?”

“I have some ABC gum.”

“ABC gum? What’s that?”

Jude pokes finger in mouth and pulls out wad... “ABC. Already Been Chewed. Ha! Ha!”

Yuck.

Have you ever read a book and thought, Gee. Seems like I’ve seen all this before...

Sure you have. Like the old ABC gum, your book has become stale, lacks flavor, and is covered with someone else’s spit.

So where do fresh, new, flavorful ideas come from? Hasn’t every plot imaginable already been explored and exploited gazillions of times?

In a word...yes. As far as plots are concerned, there is nothing new under the sun. Read Shakespeare, and you have them all.

So how are we, as aspiring authors, supposed to impress agents and editors with something unique, something that blows them away, something so fresh that they think, I have to sign this writer?

1) CHARACTER

Plots are finite, characters infinite. Characters aren’t invented, they’re born. We have to nourish them, put up with their tantrums, give them the love and attention (and yes, sometimes discipline) they deserve. Then, something like magic happens. They take on a personality of their own, and sometimes lead the story to avenues unexpected. Give your characters at least three dimensions, and eventually they’ll start giving back.


2) VOICE

Agents and editors will always tell you they’re looking for a ‘strong’ voice. A ‘fresh, new’ voice. What the hell does that mean? Nobody knows for sure, but when you find your literary voice, you’ll know it. You might have to write a million words, and imitate innumerable successful authors you admire. Then, one day, something will click and the words will start flowing and...you’ll know. You’ll just know. It’s you. At long last, it’s you. You’re writing like nobody else in the world can write. That’s your voice, and it’s essential.

3) PLOT

“But, Jude...didn’t you rather dismiss plots earlier?”

Not really. I said plots are finite, and I believe that. Still, it’s extremely important to have a strong one. I like suspenseful mysteries and thrillers, because it’s 100% guaranteed that something is going to happen. You know, before you ever crack the spine of a Peter Abrahams novel, that you’re in for a roller coaster ride. You know, before reading the first page of a Stephen King book, that you’ll soon enter a nightmarish funhouse full of surprises. And, even though you know that the main character will somehow prevail, you want to see how. You want to ride along with them and feel every pothole.

So, there you have it. Character, voice, plot. Simple.

Now go and write that book.

And, the next time someone asks you for some gum...

Make sure to offer up a nice fresh stick of Juicy Fruit.

Nobody wants ABC.

8 Comments:

Blogger Erica Orloff said...

Brilliant post. As someone whose chick lit books didn't always sound like every other Bridget Jones or Shopaholic copycat, I always thought it came down to a character you could never forget. I can't tell you how many books I have started and then just quit because it was all too much "been there, done that."

E

7:48 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Hi Erica,

I agree 100%. Name any classic novel, and it's really the characters and voice that are memorable, not so much the plot. I know some authors disagree, but I think Story happens because of character, and voice makes Story a pleasure to read.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Aaron Paul Lazar said...

I'm with you both on this. Characters are what bring the readers back, book after book, to follow a mystery series, for example. They care what happens to your protagonist (and maybe his family/friends) so much that they ache for the next one. I'm like that with the series I follow - I can't wait for the next Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell adventure by Laurie King, and still remember collecting all the John D. MacDonald books about Travis MacGee. Oh! and Rex Stout's books, too. Characters carry a series. No doubt about it.

Great post, Jude!

Come over and see me when you have time. My most recent post might interest you. It's about succeeding as a writer. ;o)

Merry Christmas!

11:04 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Hi Aaron:

That's what I'm about, trying to create a character that readers will want to live with for, say, twenty books. :)

9:06 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

Jude,

You've inspired me to look deeper into my characters and their motivation. AND with the adjustments I'm making, my manuscript is coming to life,

Thank you,

Kathy

6:14 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Glad to hear it, Kathy!

Thanks for the kind words.

10:12 PM  
Blogger lainey bancroft said...

I think its admirable that you've made a 20 book commitment to your character, Jude! Guess I'm a bit of a character commitment-phobe, that's why the romance sub genres work for me. I like to give them a beginning-middle-end, and put them away when all is HEA.
But you're absolutely right about making the characters 3 dimensional. Plenty of fast paced books penned with technical skill hit my discard pile because the characters have failed to come to life. I've forgotten their names before I've even finished the book.
I strive to give birth to characters who will make readers sorry they reached the last page. Characters real enough that a reader feels as though they're closing the cover on a friend they'd like to learn more about.

p.s. the smell of Juicy Fruit makes me queasy. Could I have cinnamon instead? :)

8:39 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

LOL Lainey! Yes, you can have cinnamon.

Don't you just love getting so involved in a story and its characters that you're sorry when the end comes?

12:22 AM  

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