Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Theory on Thursday with Aimee Carson

I have a really timely post for Theory on Thursday this week because my guest is Aimee Carson who writes for Mills & Boon RIVA and as it happens, I've just finished reading her fabulous debut book ''Secret History of a Good Girl.'' So welcome Aimee - really pleased to have you here and VERY excited to hear about this book which (yet again) is sitting on my shelf practically unopened. *Hangs Head In Shame*.

So... without further ado, welcome Aimee!

I’m so happy to be guest blogging about craft books today. Thanks to the fabulous Rachael Johns for having me!

First of all, I have a confession to make. I am a geek to the core. I love craft books. Unfortunately for my husband, not only am I constantly reading them, I like to talk about them, too. To illustrate how significant this problem is I’ll share a quick story with you.

Last month I was watching The Green Hornet with my husband and son. The movie begins with the main character as a kid, and in the scene his dad is criticizing him in a horribly humiliating way. At the end of this heart-wrenching moment, the father grabs his son’s beloved action-hero figure and breaks off the toy’s head. Without missing a beat, my husband turned to me and said, “Guess we just discovered the main character’s backstory wound, huh?”

Ha! I knew my reading had ruined my ability to watch a movie without analyzing it, but my poor husband is now a victim of my studies as well.

I’ve read several dozen craft books through the years, so picking out my favorite was an impossible task. Instead, I chose the one I often reach for just before I start a round of revisions. It has the rather unwieldy title of Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore.

Written by Elizabeth Lyon, the book is broken down into four parts and spans a broad list of topics pertaining to writing fiction. It even includes sections on style, prose, grammar, and punctuation. Boring, you say? But of course! Unfortunately they are necessary elements no writer can ignore. The author’s handling of these subjects is excellent, and her chapter on creating movement and suspense in writing is fascinating. She states:“Everyone knows what movement is; that part is easy. It’s action. In fiction, it is certainly that, but it also encompasses the idea of change. Change of ideas, realities, and emotions. These shiftsaction and changecreate movement of the plot and character . . . One of your most basic jobs is to keep driving your story forward, through action and change, to its conclusion.”

Throughout the book, including the section on movement and suspense, she uses excellent examples to illustrate her ideas, and these really help to clarify some fairly esoteric ideas in an effective manner.

My favorite section of the book is part three. Its focus on characterization is well worth the price of the book alone. It contains a chapter on character dimension and theme, a chapter on character-driven beginnings, and another on character-driven scenes and suspense. If you struggle with the concept of a character-driven plot, these three chapters pack a wallop of information that can help. Entwining the elements of plot and emotional arc is essential to ensure you are writing character-driven stories.

Most authors are familiar with the concept of goal, motivation and conflict. In Manuscript Makeover, this is reframed in a way that really clicked for me. The author explains how every protagonist should be struggling to fulfill a universal need, the goal in a story’s GMC. She prefers to refer to this as a personal yearning, and she calls the traumatic or dramatic event in the past the “hole in the soul” that the protagonist seeks to fill, or to heal. Elizabeth Lyon states, “The protagonist’s quest to fill the hole in the soul creates the internal or psychological story. This character arc is all-important in driving the character’s action in the external story.”

And finally, the most reassuring aspect of this craft book to me is the idea that getting it right the first time around is far from necessary. After the first draft, the author states we should be sure to ‘layer in’ character development, a process which she describes as such: “follow the ‘bones’ of backstory wound, strength, weaknessand the way those factors impede and propel the plot goaland make sure you show and tell your character’s personal yearning of one universal need throughout the story.”

I have to admit I was pretty proud of my husband’s astute observation of the backstory wound in The Green Hornet. I guess he’s been paying attention to all my crazy ramblings, eh?

Secret History of a Good Girl is out now in the anthology Mills & Boon Loves. You can find out more about my upcoming books at

WOW - Aimee, awesome write-up. I can see I'm going to have to pull this book down off my shelf. And soon, because I'm almost at the end of a first draft myself and I'm sure it's going to be in need of a complete overhaul before I sub it!

Anyone else read Manuscript Makeover!?


Louise Reynolds said...

Uh-o. Another fabulous sounding craft book I don't have. Thanks for the recommendation Aimee. Guess I need to trot off to book depository again. I also had to laugh at your husband's response. My partner is pretty much the same :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Louise! I remember when I was disappointed with the movie Transformers and made some comment about how they could have developed the characters a little better. My hubby looked at me like I was crazy :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Bec said...

This sounds like another book I'll have to get. Will maybe leave the title lying about for Santa...

I'll tell hubby he's not alone! Ah, ruining pure entertainment for partners everywhere.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Aimee. Looks like another excellent book.

Loving this series, Rach. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

Bec :) "Ruining pure entertainment for partners everywhere."

LOL. Yep, I'm definitely guilty. Though, in my defense, I didn't say a THING during The Green Hornet - it was all my hubby that time.

Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Cathryn, I agree! I'm loving Rachael's series as well, cuz I'm always on the lookout for my next craft book purchase! Just doing my duty to support the economy :)

Thanks for stopping by!

Wendy S. Marcus said...

I've never read Manuscript Makeover but am considering adding it to my resource shelf. I love books on craft, too.

Loved your debut! Great sexual tension!

And while I don't typically evaluate movies, I can't read a book without critiquing it and identifying what I'd have done differently!

Fiona Palmer said...

Thanks Aimee, It sounds like a great book. I might have to make it my second craft book. lol.
Rach, love these posts, keep 'em coming :)

Regina Richards said...

Wow, Aimee. Great post. I'm pretty sure theres a copy of Manuscript Makeover in my future. I KNOW there's a copy of Secret History of a Good Girl. Wish the mailman would hurry and deliver it. I can't wait to read it!

Anonymous said...

Welcome, Wendy! And thanks for your kind words. I literally cannot watch a movie without analyzing it's structure. Fortunately that doesn't seem to interfere with my enjoyment of them.

Anonymous said...

Fiona - This book really is chock full of great information. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

Regina, hope you enjoy Manuscript Makeover as much as I did! So happy you dropped in for a visit :)

Rachael Johns said...

Thanks Aimee for stopping by throughout the day!! You know... I must be one of the FEW writers, who don't analyse movies - well, unless they are REALLY BAD examples :)

Rachael Johns said...

I so glad you are all loving the Theory on Thursday series. If anyone would like to do a guest blog about an aspect of craft, please email at rachaeljohns077 @ gmail dot com

Nas Dean said...

Thanks Aimme, this was a great post.

Thanks Rachael for bringing to us this series.

Nas Dean said...

And Aimee, congrats on the release of your book! It sounds a fantastic read from what Wendy says above!

Jackie Ashenden said...

Lol, I'm another with a husband who has been turned to the dark side by my monomania when it comes to character. Hehe. I notice it EVERYWHERE now. It's kind of annoying.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Nas! So nice of you to stop by!

Anonymous said...

LOL, yes it IS annoying, Jackie! Great to have you here!

Kerri Williams writer of romance said...

I think I may have to go find that one and I love your cover, it's gorgeous!

Anonymous said...

Kez - thanks, I love the cover too! I highly recommend the book Manuscript Makeover. It might be a tad dry but it really is chock full of great information. Thanks for stopping by!

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