Ronie Kendig is an award-winning, bestselling author who grew up an Army brat. She married her own hunky hero, who’s an Army veteran. Her life is never dull in a family with four children and a Maltese Menace. She has a degree in Psychology, speaks to various groups, is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and mentors new writers.
Rapid-Fire Fiction, her brand, is exemplified through her award-winning novels: the Discarded Heroes military series and her series about military working dogs, A Breed Apart. Ronie can be found at www.roniekendig.com, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/rapidfirefiction), Twitter (@roniekendig), and GoodReads.
Laughter rolled through the living room during a Christmas party after someone had told one of my twins a joke. Everyone laughed, adults and children alike. Except—one of my twins, Ryan. He slanted a look in my direction, shoulders stiff and uncertainty in his hazel eyes. I wrinkled my nose and shook my head to help Ryan, who has Asperger’s, realize the man’s story was a joke. It wasn’t real. It wasn’t literal. Then Ryan let out a small laugh and said, “oh.”
Technically, he got the joke (albeit a bit late). But his tendencies toward Asperger’s wire his brain so those subtle nuances that make the joke funny aren’t there, and the enjoyment—for him—is lost. Such is the way with some writers. Technically, their work is flawless. Everything is there, the story, the set up, the craft. . .but it falls flat. Their story lacks the subtle nuances that make it sing!
Awhile back, a friend asked me to read over a story and give my thoughts on what could be improved or fixed to make it better, more saleable. Normally, I won’t do this because we each have our own styles and finding a critique partner who “gets” you and one whom you “get” can be as difficult and subjective as buying a home. But I wanted to help, so I agreed.
After reading, I sat back and grunted. Something was missing. But for the life of me, I wasn’t sure what. She had POV down pat. A fairly good balance of showing/telling. Characterization was decent. Emotional elements could’ve been beefed up but weren’t bad. Lost as to what was niggling at the back of my brain, I re-read the chapters. As I read, it dawned on me: “There’s no heart.”
That missing “heart” in her story caused the technically perfect elements to be as dull as a grimy mirror. It’s still a mirror. But without the spit and polish of voice and style, without the flare of individuality, there was no reflection of the author, only stiff guidelines carefully followed. Much like my son, who is often stiff and stoic (but the guy is really charming and intelligent, let me tell you!). To me, this is when those rules are strangling the life out of a story. The voice out of the author’s countless hours of writing.
So, let’s look at some tips to avoid this straight-jacket type of writing: The key is to first: know the rules of good fiction. There are a lot of “rules” out there, and almost every writer has their pet peeve that they’re willing to throw perfectly good books out the window for. This rule learning takes time. Don’t rush this—it’s not a race. It’s a journey that grows you.
Next, master those rules. This isn’t a shiny start on your chest that warrants you to slice and dice all your friends’ stories because you’re now a “master.” This is a type of freedom that allows you growth of another kind—you’re moving within the norms, within the guidelines. You should be gaining confidence at this point, that you’re honing your craft each time you write. Get them down so you know them in your sleep. So that you almost can’t write without realizing you’re shifting POVs; that this doesn’t sound in character with the hero; that it’s boring; that something is. . .off, etc.
Now that you’re a “master,” accept that you’ve got the rules mastered, and now that you have experience, you can start bending the rules. Maybe even breaking one or two outright. Let the rules be (as in the words of a famous pirate) “more like guidelines.”
Accept that you know when it’s right and when it’s wrong. This doesn’t mean arrogance, but awareness of your growth as a writer. Awareness that should provide you with more confidence to combat the “this is all drivel” moment of panic that makes you want to set fire to your computer. Awareness and confidence that carry you past the naysayers who stare only at the rule as they scream, “You can’t do that; it’s against the rules!”, and not at the beauty you’ve created with your words, voice, and style. So, yes—at this point, it’s okay to occasionally break a rule if it really accents something in the story.
Let me be clear: this is not a license to break rules just to proclaim that your work is “edgy” or “outside the norm.”
Putting the heart in your story is as much about you, the author, as it is the story. Without you, without this amazing idea and concept you have, the story won’t be the same. In fact, the imperfections that are unique to you will be what keeps your readers coming back for more! Just as a grimy, blurred mirror image isn’t quite you. Just as my son, Ryan, with his Aspie tendencies, is uniquely imperfect with his rigidity of thought yet so amazingly perfect because, simply, he’s my son!
So, embrace your skills, hone your weak areas, release the reins a bit—it does not have to be technically perfect—and infuse that story with heart!