The Displaced Nation

A home for international creatives

THE LADY WHO WRITES: Wannabe novelists, before you write: Read, and read some more…

LadyWhoWrites_brandIntroducing…The Lady Who Writes, Meagan Adele Lopez—a repeat expat in the UK (she now lives in London). Besides writing, her talents include acting, blogging (during her first UK stint, she kept the blog “The Lady Who Lunches”), and crafting ads for social media. In this monthly column, which began yesterday with a self-introduction, Meagan is doling out advice to international creatives who are contemplating writing a novel about their novel, shall we say, life experiences.

—ML Awanohara

Hello again, Displaced Nationers! After my self-introduction yesterday, I’m happy to be back today to discuss my first topic: reading.

Yes, you heard that correctly: reading. Before you even begin to write, you really need to know how to read.

Reading is not just about absorbing the words on the page. You have to be as observant in your reading as you are in your own writing.

Perhaps I am telling you something you’ve already seen in book-writing manuals—but it still remains the best advice I received before writing my novel about an expat love affair, called Three Questions: Because a quarter-life crisis needs answers.

I was always an avid reader, but somehow got out of it once I finished college. By the time I’d decided to write a novel, I was shocked to realize it had been a few years since I’d read more than one book in a year.

Always one to kill multiple birds with one stone (that’s an awful phrase, isn’t it? I really would rather not kill any birds but, alas, the phrase says I must), I formulated a plan to read as much as I could before starting to write.

I would read books that would help me understand the rhythm of the sort of book I intended to produce, while also learning what my target audience was interested in.

And to do that, I would develop a sort of focus group of people who would give me honest and relevant feedback.

The Ladies Who Read

How did I create this? I started a book club for women. BUT this was no ordinary book club. Oh no! This was a book club with sass, spunk and activities, called the Ladies Who…(yes, I am fond of this moniker).

Our group would meet every month to tackle a different book and create some sort of experience based off the book.

One month, we were Ladies Who Cooked. Another month, we were Ladies who Karaoke-ed. Another month, we were the Ladies who Roller Skated. The topic didn’t always completely correlate to the book, but we did our best and always had a blast doing it.

And, although the novel I ended up writing—Three Questions—belongs to the “chick lit” genre, the books we read weren’t necessarily chick lit, and they weren’t just fluff. Some were literary, some were trashy but popular, and others were largely autobiographical.

“Let us read; and let us dance…” — Voltaire

One thing these books did have in common, though: my fellow “ladies” were interested in reading them.

Before, during or after our “Ladies who…” events, we discussed the book: what we liked about it, what we wished the author had thought more about, what bored us, what gripped us, the ins and outs of the character development—and I took notes.

To me, this was better than sitting in a classroom with fellow writers because I was getting first-hand knowledge of what the people wanted out of a good woman’s fiction novel.

The best part about it? One month it was my book that we did this to!

For me, reading before I started writing was immensely helpful. As I mentioned, being able to understand the ebb and flow of what makes a good narrative is extremely important.

I wanted to keep my readers always wanting more, never getting bored (I’m an actress, remember)—but also not jarring them by jumping from scene to scene. It’s a difficult task to accomplish, but reading other successful novels helps. For me, novel writing is not a science. It’s more of a feeling, an art form…

Notably, I found it more difficult to continue reading while I was in the throes of writing because I found myself subconsciously writing in the same style of whatever author I happened to be reading at the time. This caused my writing to become disjointed, confused and derivative, lacking its own identity. I had to separate myself from reading others’ writings during the course of my novel-writing for this reason.

Others might be different, but this was my experience.

Turning the page

Am I saying you must start a book club immediately in order to kill all those birds at once? OK, I’ve got to come up with a different metaphor. How about: “Throwing the baby out with the bath water”? (Ugh, equally as horrible, if not worse.) Actually, this is where the author must come up with her own! Writing your own metaphors, avoiding clichés and repeating phrases could be its own blog post entirely. I digress…

No, I’m not saying that you need to start a book club. What I am saying is for you to know your genre inside and out.

To sum up, here’s Novel Writing Tip No 1 for International Creatives:

Be the master of what you are writing about. Let no one else understand how to let that cliff hang, those lovers love, or that monster scare little children like you can. NO ONE.

* * *

Readers, any questions for Meagan, THE LADY WHO WRITES? What do you think of her book club suggestion? Zany, helpful—or both? Perhaps you have alternative suggestions? Please share in the comments…and let’s get a “Ladies Who Talk About Writing” club going. (Men, you are welcome, too!)

Meagan Adele Lopez grew up in the U.S. with a Cuban-born father and American mother, and at one time enjoyed an acting/casting career in Hollywood, something you can detect in the beautiful trailer for her novel, Three Questions. Her day job these days is in social media advertising. To learn more about Meagan, go to her personal site.

STAY TUNED for next week’s fab posts!

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