Friday, June 20, 2014

8 Craft of Writing: Write What You Love and Stay True To Your Passion by Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore has been a regular author we've had on the blog for a few years now. She's full of brilliant advice, and is unbelievably sweet. Her last post with us was around the release of MANOR OF SECRETS and has talked about her creativity drug. Today she is here for the release of BRAZEN, which hit shelves on the 12th!

Write What You Love and Stay True To Your Passion by Katherine Longshore

One of the questions I get most frequently is, “What advice do you have for other writers?”

I think the implication behind the question is “What advice do you have for unpublished writers?” Writers who are looking for agents, looking for publishers, looking for the name on the bookstore shelf. But my answer—I hope—applies to all writers.

Write what you love.

I know it sounds facile, and it’s so easy to argue with. I love vampires and no one is buying vampire books anymore. But that doesn’t mean they never will. In 2008, everywhere I looked in the industry, I saw someone saying, “Historicals don’t sell.” In 2009, I attended a conference where an editor said, “Don’t send me any historical fiction.” In 2010, GILT sold at auction in a three-book (all historical) deal to that editor.

This taught me two things: Never say never. And it can pay off to write what you love.

You see, I think that love shows through. If the writer is passionate about his work, the reader will usually be, too. But over the years of uttering that compact little phrase, I’ve come to realize that it doesn’t offer much in terms of actual craft—functional, applicable reference points. I recently had a crisis of confidence during which I wondered if I would ever come up with another idea for a book. Everything I mulled over felt a little flat. So I started thinking about what goes into fiction—the pieces that make up a novel—and came up with the following things that might help:

  • Character. For me, character comes first. I’m not going to get into a debate of plot-driven vs. character-driven novels, because plot doesn’t work without character (and vice versa). It feels like a chicken vs. egg argument, and I just want to get down to what’s important—the writing. One way to write what you love is to identify and create a character you can love—your readers will likely follow suit. What kind of character do you fall in love with? Perfect? Handsome? Heroic? Great. All inspiring things. But what else? The craft books all tell us to give the protagonist a flaw. What flaws do you find compelling? Perfectionism? Vanity? Rebelliousness? Write those in, too. Then find other things—tiny details that maybe only you will notice. In BRAZEN, Mary Howard gets claustrophobic in crowds. Not an easy thing to deal with in the Tudor court, which was notoriously overpopulated. What else can be compelling? A desire to try every kind of ice cream? The need to visit the beach once a day? Neatness in all things except the school locker? These little details will help you fall in love with your characters, but also add depth and dimensionality that your readers will fall in love with as well.

  • Plot. What do you love about your story? The premise? The major climactic turning point? The end? Great. You need to find something to love about it—something that will carry you and your readers all the way through. Writing a book is a massive time commitment, and you have to love your story before your readers can. And for longer. But what if you’re like me? I often don’t know what my story is until I write it. How can I sustain the love of a story for eighty thousand words when I don’t even really know what it’s about? I find the one thing. In TARNISH, it was the final image. I wanted to get Anne Boleyn to the point where she would choose Henry VIII rather than the man that she loved—and walk from light into blinding darkness. In BRAZEN, my desire was a little less tangible. I wanted to follow the story of Mary Howard as she fell in love—discovering along the way the subtle little shifts in emotion and relationship that lead a person to that discovery. Find the one thing. And follow it through. If you make that one thing shine with the love you have for it, it will become the thing your readers focus on, too.

  • Setting. I fell in love with my setting long before I even considered writing a novel. I read many histories of Henry VIII and his wives, visited the palaces and watched biographical documentaries. I loved not just the costumes and lavish places, but the very atmosphere of it. One of fear and extravagance and Machiavellian machinations. What is it about your setting that you love? The beauty of it? The horror? The vibrancy? Let that be seen through your characters’ eyes. What if you have two narrating characters and they each see it differently? How can you make the setting almost become a character?

  • Theme. One of the reasons I was not an English major was because I never wanted to answer questions about theme in relation to a work of literature. The very question, What is the theme of this work? seized my heart in fear. But theme is important when writing. It can be one of the things that puts the most passion into your work. What is it you are really trying to say with this book? You don’t have to know before you start writing. Heck, you don’t even have to know while doing the first revision. But as you go over your manuscript again—and again—you will see things popping out at you. Tell the truth. Dreams matter. Work together. Listen to your own heart. Those are the things that make us fall in love with literature. Once you begin to notice these repetitions (or if you know what you want to say from the start) the real fun begins, because you begin to see all kinds of beautiful ways to make it evident. Symbolism and dialogue and imagery. Even the story itself. I am definitely not advocating getting onto a soapbox and cramming propaganda down your readers’ throats. What I am saying is what do you love about what your story means? How can you highlight that? How do you make that love evident? The best way, of course, is through what your characters say and do. But there are other ways as well. You’ll find them.

  • Voice. One of the hardest aspects of fiction to pin down. But one of the first things agents and editors mention when asked what they’re looking for. A great voice. But they can’t fall in love with it until you have. Writing is easier if you have the voice in your head (and your writing) from the very beginning. But sometimes you have to work it in with revision (I did with BRAZEN). Find the things you love in the voice—attitude, perception, diction. Play with them. Write a scene that takes that particular aspect to extreme. You can always bring it back down again if you need to, but you probably won’t.

I know it’s all very well and good talking about writing what you love—even after breaking it down. Many of us keep asking the question, “Yes, but will it sell?” “What if I write an entire novel and love every minute of it but no one wants it? What if I don’t get an agent? What if I don’t get a contract?” Or even harder, “I already wrote a book I love and it didn’t go anywhere. Now I just want to write a book someone will buy.”

I’ve said all of those things. And yes, I’m lucky. I didn’t know anything about the market when I started writing GILT. It was only after I fell in love and couldn’t not write it that I heard that “historicals don’t sell.” But when I finished my contract, I struggled with a proposal for the next book. Because I’m a pantser, I don’t have a clear idea of the story before I write it. It was only when I “met” a group of characters in a setting I already found intriguing that I discovered another book that I couldn’t not write. I don’t know if it will sell. I don’t know that it matters.

Because there are a lot of other jobs out there that you can do without loving them. We’ve all done a few of them. I haven’t ever hated any of my jobs, but I’ve never had another job that woke me up in the middle of the night with inspiration. That I thought about constantly during a six-hour drive—having to stop frequently to write down ideas. That I wanted to do on days off and weekends and even Christmas. That I love, even when it’s so difficult it makes me cry.

Find something to love that will keep you going, even with those multiple little disappointments. Plot, character, theme, whatever. Even if it doesn’t sell, it will make your work—and your life—so much richer.

About The Author

Katherine Longshore is the author of several historical novels for teens, including Gilt, Tarnish, and the upcoming Brazen, three interconnected stories set in the court of Henry VIII, as well as the YA Downton Abbey-esqu Manor of Secrets.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads

About The Book

Mary Howard has always lived in the shadow of her powerful family. But when she’s married off to Henry Fitzroy, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, she rockets into the Tudor court’s inner circle. Mary and “Fitz” join a tight clique of rebels who test the boundaries of court’s strict rules with their games, dares, and flirtations. The more Mary gets to know Fitz, the harder she falls for him, but is forbidden from seeing him alone. The rules of court were made to be pushed…but pushing them too far means certain death. Is true love worth dying for?

Amazon | IndieBound | Goodreads


  1. I completely agree, and I am one of those with unpublished work. I did write a novella for an independent project for my undergrad, and my adviser suggested I add fantastical elements to the story line. What came out was a novella that didn't feel as if it was my work, but was influenced by someone else, and didn't feel authentic. I think I will take a stab at writing it the way I feel would fit the character instead of what might sell.

  2. Thanks for this encouraging post. It speaks to my historical-fiction-I'm-stuck-on-my-story-because-I-love-the-premise heart!!

  3. PS I NEED to read your books!! Off to Goodreads I go.

  4. Brazen sounds so awesome. I'm a HUGE fan of Phillipa Gregory's books, so of course I love all that intrigue and betrayal.

    I absolutely agree about writing what you love. I write books that I would like to read!

  5. What a wonderful post. It is so full of good tips and encouragement. Thanks!

  6. Really, really great post. Thank you.

  7. What an encouraging post! And so true. With all the crazy loops, hills and detours on this writing-publishing journey, I can't imagine doing it for a story and characters less than ones I absolutely love!

  8. Thank you all for reading and commenting! I can't seem to reply individually, so let me just say good luck to all of you writing the book (or the character or the theme or whatever) that has lodged itself in your heart.


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