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INTERVIEW: Laurie Viera Rigler Says Character Rules Throughout Writing Process

Updated: Mar 1


Welcome to the Tuesday Author Interview with Christina Boyd for the Who, What, When, Where, and Why.


I have been a fan of Laurie Viera Rigler's since 2007, when I read Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and then the sequel, Rude Awakenings of Jane Austen Addict. You can hardly imagine how excited I was to meet her in real life at the Jane Austen Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Vancouver BC in 2007 and then again at the AGM in Portland. I confess to being a squealing fangirl.


CHRISTINA: What comes first, plot, or characters?

 

LAURIE: Character always comes first for me.

 

As a reader, I want to know how the hero I’ve become attached to and care about and worry about and sometimes want to shake by the shoulders is going to make it through whatever mess they’ve got themselves into.

 

As a book coach, I talk about the hero’s journey as not only the core of the story but the story itself. The hero’s journey; that is, what the hero longs for, the obstacles that stand in the way of fulfilling that desire, and the path the hero takes to blast through those obstacles and accomplish what had seemed impossible—is what drives the story. 

 

Focusing on the hero’s journey is key to keeping the storylines of a novel or a memoir moving in a forward, concerted, and focused direction instead of getting lost in the weeds. I encourage the authors I work with to look at every scene and ask themselves: Is this scene part of/connected to/in service to the hero’s journey? If it’s not, it may be an opportunity to cut or set aside for another novel or story.

 

As an author, when an idea for a novel first comes to me, I see a challenging situation or a scene unfolding in my head, and the focal point of that scene or situation is always the character—my protagonist-to-be—who’s found themselves in it.

 

Character rules throughout the writing process. Sometimes, I think the hero should proceed in a particular direction or make a certain choice. But often, the hero tugs me in a different direction. If I insist that I know better than my hero does, I’ll inevitably end up rewriting that part so that the hero ends up getting her own way. The storytelling, the quality of the writing, really does come out better when we, as storytellers, surrender to our characters—even when a character wants to do something I know she’ll regret. Especially when a character wants to do something I know she’ll regret. After all, that’s one of the things that makes stories compelling: If our heroes acted like rational human beings a hundred percent of the time, then we’d miss out on a lot of opportunities for conflict and suspense. It’s like those moments we have as readers when we’re shouting at the page to the hero: No, don’t do it. Don’t! And, of course, they do. And it’s a trainwreck. But there we are, turning the pages, gasping to find out how the hero’s going to dig her way out of the wreckage. Do we want to deprive our readers of that addictive suspense? No way.


CHRISTINA: Thank you. I have been working on just that thing. But it's so good to hear it so concisely from you.


What is your current project or latest release?

  

LAURIE: The novel I’m writing now is a murder mystery with romantic elements, and it’s set in Vienna. I’m having a lot of fun writing it, not only because I love exploring the city and have wanted to write a mystery for a long time but also because of the plotting. The intricacies of writing a mystery, with all its signs, misdirection, red herrings, wrong turns, and puzzles, has turned me into more of a plotter; actually, more of a hybrid of pantser and plotter, than the full-on pantser I used to be. Or maybe I’ve always been a closet plotter before and was in denial about it. I usually do know how my stories end well before I’ve written a lot of the middle. 

 

To that, I’ll add a bit more advice to new writers: Nothing in writing should ever be a dogma, including whether you plan things out or fly by the seat of your pants, or write the chapters in order, or write in a patchwork that jumps between beginning, middle, and end and then finally piece it all together. As long as it works, it works, no matter how you get there.


CHRISTINA: Ha! You're a hybrid. A plantser.


Best advice for new writers:

 

LAURIE: Don’t be intimidated by the task before you. If writing a book-length work feels like an intimidating number of pages, just remember that a novel is made up of individual sentences. You can write a sentence, right? Great. Now, write the next sentence. And the next. You might even have a paragraph by now. Good. Now, write the next sentence. See? Keep going.

 

Read Stein on Writing by Sol Stein. It’s an excellent book on storytelling techniques. I often referred to it when I was writing my first novel, and I recommend it to many authors I work with.

 

Read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s all about conquering the inner naysayer. The ability to silence the voices within and without that are telling you you’re not good enough or that you should just give up is an essential skill you must cultivate, as is learning and constantly improving your storytelling skills. But you can have all the storytelling skills and talents in the world and still sabotage yourself with a lack of belief. I am convinced that cultivating a steadfast belief in your worth as an author and as a human being is as essential an ingredient for success as writing an excellent book and creating a powerful query package.

 

Be a voracious reader. Reading is your best writing teacher. If you’re writing a novel, read novels. If you’re writing a memoir, read both memoirs and novels. If you’re writing prescriptive nonfiction, read not only prescriptive nonfiction but also novels and memoirs because you’ll want to absorb storytelling techniques to illustrate concepts. Read for pleasure. Then, go back for an educational bonus and look at some of the parts you like and figure out why you liked them.

 

Be choosy about whom you enlist as your beta readers. This includes writing teachers and writers’ groups. Make sure it’s someone who:

· is an avid reader with similar sensibilities.

· has the ability to tell you what they liked and why and what they didn’t like and why.

· isn’t jealous of or competitive with you because you’re writing or have completed a novel that may be a better read than what they have or haven’t written.

· will be genuinely supportive and encouraging.

 

I’ll never forget when a talented participant in one of my writing workshops told me that when she was in school, a teacher had told her she could never be a writer because she’d made some spelling errors. What?! Can you imagine?

 

Don’t query too early. Querying early is the biggest mistake I see new writers make.

Don’t start querying before the query itself is a killer one. Hone your query till it’s so persuasive and reads so much like irresistible back-cover or jacket copy that you make it easy for the agent to say yes—including the recent comps you’ve cited that demonstrate there is an avid readership out there for your book. In other words, you’ve not only teased the idea of your story brilliantly, but you’ve also helped your prospective agent figure out their strategy for making a sale. But first, they need to read your included pages. Which brings us to the next point.


Make sure your included pages are unputdownable, including and especially page one. If page one doesn’t grab them, they might go on to page two, but unless your first and second pages grab the reader’s attention, drop them in the middle of an exciting, compelling scene, they may not stick around. Make sure every following page—till the end of the book because you want them to request the full manuscript from you-- is equally immersive and propulsive.


Bottom line: Your time is better spent drafting and re-drafting your book till it’s so highly developed and compelling that potential agents won’t be able to put it down, and drafting and re-drafting your query till it jumps off the page than it is to query before you’re at that point.

 

Believe in yourself. There is no inherent virtue in making yourself small. But do know that believing in yourself is not the same as feeling entitled or having an outsized ego. You have to do the work. And do it to completion. And do it to perfection. Just because you’ve written seven drafts of your novel and you’ve “put enough time into it” does not mean you are now to be rewarded with representation or publication. You still need to make sure that your seventh draft (or, more or less, there is no rule) is compelling enough to attract an agent. You still have to write a killer query letter. You still have to follow the agent’s submission guidelines to the letter. And you still have to believe in yourself. Every day. That’s all part of the work.


CHRISTINA: Gosh, so much good stuff. Don't queasy too early. I wish I could re-do the first months I queried agents. My letter was all wrong, my manuscript was far off wordcount for the genre, the story was not ready.


So far, what is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

 


LAURIE: A very unexpected one; that is, the huge gift of hearing from readers who tell me my novels have made a difference in their lives. Many readers have reached out to express that in reading my books, they felt understood, a kinship, that they were not alone. And many have thanked me for the escape into another world that my stories gave them. One reader told me that my first novel helped her get through a time when her child was in hospital because when she was reading it, her worries slipped away. Another reader said my novels restored her faith in love. There’s little in this world that is more humbling than that.


CHRISTINA: What a satisfying, validating gift to receive from a reader.


What are you reading now?

 

LAURIE: This Bird Has Flown, the debut novel of Susanna Hoffs (of girl-group The Bangles fame). It’s a blast.

Also, Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman, a biography by Lucy Worsley. Fascinating.


CHRISTINA: Have you gone on an author pilgrimage or research trip? Where and what was the most memorable moment?

 

LAURIE: The first author research trip I ever took was when I went to London, Bath, and a couple of villages in the Cotswolds to do additional research for my Jane Austen Addict novels. Every moment was full of wonder, but one moment in particular stands out: when I toured the Roman Baths and visited the Pump Room in Bath. At one point, I was standing in the Pump Room looking out of the windows and thinking of how the spectacular Roman baths that were now accessible to me had lain hidden beneath the baths of Jane Austen’s time, which I was looking down on from the windows. And how Austen herself and two of her heroines had stood where I was standing and where my own characters would be standing. It was a moment in which the layers of time felt like they were all happening simultaneously, and the thin line between reality and story felt like it had vanished.


CHRISTINA: That gave me chills. On my one trip to England in 2017, I visited Bath too. One of my favorite cities. Can't wait to go back.


Thank you for your time to answer all my questions and for sharing such excellent advice. I wish you luck on your next projects. And I hope to meet again.



Smiling White woman with white-blonde hair wearing scarf and denim jacket
Laurie Viera Rigler, author

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laurie Viera Rigler’s best-selling Jane Austen Addict novels have been published in North America, the UK, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict and Rude Awakenings of a Jane Austen Addict could be considered semi-autobiographical—if they didn’t also involve time travel and body switching.


Her comic, courtroom-drama short story entitled Intolerable Stupidity, in which Mr. Darcy brings criminal charges against the writers of Pride and Prejudice sequels, spin-offs, and retellings appears in the anthology Jane Austen Made Me Do It (Ballantine).

Laurie’s next novel is about an ex-Diplomatic Security Services special agent investigating a murder in Vienna while also hoping to solve the mystery of second chances for love with the one who got away.


Before turning to fiction, Laurie teamed with entertainment columnist and film critic Richard Roeper to write a humorous, gender-specific take on movies for St. Martin’s Press. She also co-authored a collection of real-life stories of marriage proposals for Walker & Company.

Having spent several years writing her first novel and reading all those proclamations about how aspiring novelists were more likely to win the lottery than ever get published, Laurie is passionate about encouraging other writers. She works with authors of fiction and nonfiction as a developmental editor and book coach and has also taught workshops in storytelling technique at Vroman’s, Southern California’s oldest and largest independent bookstore.


Connect with Laurie via: 


2 Comments


I love Laurie's comment about the power to impact readers. That really is an amazing aspect of sharing one's writing. Also, great advice about reading and finding a support group! Thanks for this interview!

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I bet Laurie is a great book coach too!

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