Wednesday, March 31, 2010
We've all done it - had some great plot twist, or specific event that we needed to have happen no matter what. We made our characters get there, ignoring their protests along the way. What do I mean? How about an example!
Say you have a smart, feisty character, let's call her Veronica. Veronica is trying to solve the mystery of who killed her best friend. So far Veronica has done some sneaky spy-like investigating, racked up a bunch of clues, and run from a creepy guy who seemed to want to kill her too. Now it's time for the big reveal/fight for her life climax that you envisioned when you started this story. It starts when Veronica gets a phone call. A mysterious, very creepy, man, tells her to come to the woods alone at midnight and he will give her the evidence she needs to find out who killed her friend and put him in jail. After the call, Veronica's inner monologue goes something like this.
I have a bad feeling about that phone call. Only those stupid girls with big boobs and high heels in horror movies went out to the woods alone. He's probably going to kill me. I'm only 5'1", I don't have a weapon, and my cell phone doesn't get a signal out there. I know that if I go I'm as good as dead. I don't know why I don't call Logan to go out there with me, or why I wait until midnight and go out there by myself, but I do.
It sounds ridiculous doesn't it? As a reader you're wondering why would she be so stupid? Veronica is smart, resourceful and yet she's going to do something so out of character that even she has no idea why she's doing it all for the sake of getting to the big action showdown sequence.
When your character says they don't know why they're doing something, pay attention! It's your subconscious telling you that this plot point doesn't work. It means you're cutting corners, and cheating your readers out of a much more intense and exciting story.
In the example above, you would need to go back and ask yourself, Veronica's too smart to go just for a vague promise of information, so what would be enough to get her out there on her own? Have the caller hold her boyfriend hostage and threaten to kill him if she brings the police? Or if there's nothing that would get her out there by herself, what smart, resourceful thing would she do to protect herself? Notify the police and have them help her set up a sting?
With either of these options, you could still get that action-packed information reveal you'd been dreaming about, and you would have the added bonus of having your character act believably which always makes for a more satisfying story.
Don't get me wrong, this is not the same as a character not knowing why they feel a certain way. That goes along with Kristi's post. An action coming from an emotion, whether the character understands that emotion or not, is authentic. And when I say "no good reason" I don't mean the reason has to sensible, only that it has to make sense to the character. If Veronica wanted to go out to the woods by herself because she's a danger-junkie and loves the thrill, that would be fine. Stupid, but fine, as long as she knew that's why she was going and let us know that.
So the bottom line is, listen to your characters. If two of your characters have a conversation about how stupid something you're having them do is, chances are they (and your subconscious) are trying to tell you something.
Monday, March 29, 2010
Why? Because that's how real people are. They surprise you sometimes. Here's a real life example from my vacation last week. I know my 5-year-old son inside and out -- I've spent most of every day with him for the last five years which is way longer than I've spent with any of my fictional characters. So when my 2-year old (now 3-yo) daughter popped his precious light saber balloon, I could've placed money on how my Star Wars/light saber obsessed son would react based on his 'character.' It would involve tears and screaming that his light saber was ruined, followed by pointing his finger in his little sister's face, saying "Kyra, you're mean!" That's pretty much how he reacts every single time she commits some perceived injustice.
But I wouldn't have been right this time. As my husband was telling our son he was sorry for letting Kyra play with his light saber, Caleb held up his hand and said verbatim: "Dad, don't apologize (yes, he used the word apologize). It's not your fault and it's not Kyra's fault. Sometimes, balloons just pop. It's okay." I stared at him a moment wondering if at some point in California, he'd been abducted by aliens and replaced by a pod person. NOTE: This concern was alleviated the next day when he pointed his finger in Kyra's face and told her she was mean. I think Kyra was relieved as well, as her daily goal is to make him upset enough to do this to her.
The point here is that while it's important to know your characters, it's okay to make them human too. Let them surprise you once in a while. It keeps things interesting. Have your characters surprised you or stepped out of line with their 'personality' while writing? Were you okay with this or did you feel the need to fix it to get them back in line?
CONTEST NEWS: The very cool Moonrat is hosting a contest over at Editorial Ass to celebrate her 500,000th visitor AND she's offering a 20-page critique to the winner! It closes tomorrow 3/31 at 11pm EST so hurry the heck up already.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Check them out:
Writing a Query With Voice from querytracker.net
The Secret Strength of Killer Queries by Nathan Bransford
What are some of your favorite query advice links?
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Anyway, I digress. The purpose of this post is to honor the sweet and wonderful BETH REVIS. In case you've been living under a rock, Beth recently landed an amazing book deal and is having an awesome contest to celebrate. Head on over to Beth's blog at Writing It Out and enter her contest. Oh, and be sure to congratulate her while you're there!!! Congrats Beth - you rock!
Friday, March 19, 2010
- Reading level: Young Adult
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: Viking Juvenile (March 19, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 067001110X
- ISBN-13: 978-0670011100
- Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1.4 inches
- Get it on Amazon here
“We held hands when we walked down the gingerbread path into the forest, blood dripping from our fingers. We danced with witches and kissed monsters. We turned us in to wintergirls, and when she tried to leave, I pulled her back into the snow because I was afraid to be alone.” WINTERGIRLS, page 99
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Well, that it’s every day. Evil is cumulative. It happens. People believe that they’ve got to do a job, they’ve got to take on an ideology, that they’ve got a life to lead; they’ve got to survive, a job to do, it’s every day inch by inch, little compromises, little ways of telling yourself this is how you should lead your life and suddenly then these things can happen. I mean, I could make a judgment myself privately, this is a terrible, evil, horrific man. But the job was to portray the man, the human being. There’s a sort of banality, that everydayness, that I think was important. And it was in the screenplay. In fact, one of the first scenes with Oskar Schindler, with Liam Neeson, was a scene where I’m saying “You don’t understand how hard it is, I have to order so many-so many meters of barbed wire and so many fencing posts and I have to get so many people from A to B.” And, you know, he’s sort of letting off steam about the difficulties of the job. And so I suppose you can step back and that is where the evil is, when you can step back and look at it.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Awesome, right? AMAZING! I was stunned and surprised (and let this be a guide for everyone hoping to draw attention to their work, two tips - 1. MAKE SURE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS IS ON YOUR BLOG and 2. TAG your teasers!) and then moments later, the elation turned to that most evil of all emotions - DOUBT.
I won't get into what those doubts were, they were the standard fare that I'm sure you can come up with on your own. What I doubted is not the point. The point is that in a moment that should've felt like validation, I was personally invalidating myself.
The important thing is that I realized I was doing it. And 90% of solving a problem is figuring out what that problem is. (Okay I just made that up, it could be like, 78%.) Knowing I was having an irrational reaction helped to tone that reaction down and keep it from overwhelming me and convincing me that before I send anything I need to say, rewrite my entire book in the 3rd Person POV of a snail, and remove all instances of the word "the".
So what to do about doubt? I don't think it will ever go away. It's like the weather. Sometimes it has to rain, but you can prepare for it, and you can know it's not going to rain forever. If you're serious about being the best writer you can be, and creating the best work, then you will have moments of doubt. Even Mother Teresa questioned her faith!
Just make sure that when those moments come you recognize them for what they are - your desire to be your best - take a deep breath and don't email or delete anything until you've calmed down!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
The excitement of the first draft of a brand new manuscript reminds me of the initial stage of a relationship. New story = new boyfriend. Think about it -- the book consumes your every waking moment, all you daydream about is the scene or conversation that happens next, and you neglect basic things like dishes and laundry just to be with your characters for a few more minutes (please don't tell me I'm the only one with heaps o' laundry in my closet). Don't get me wrong -- revisions and edits have their own unique brand of charm -- but it's not the same thing.
So I've been cooling my heels waiting to submit revision number bazillion of my book to my critique group and -- something happened. It was a soft whisper in my ear, beckoning me closer. And guess what? Yeah, I've got a new boyfriend. Technically, an ex-boyfriend since I started this ms before my current book, but this ex really wants me back. He's been very persistent and I'm back in that excited 'first draft' stage. I know I'll settle into the routine of revisions when I finish the draft but for now -- I'm just going to enjoy my new love. What about you guys? Any new boyfriends out there?
Monday, March 15, 2010
Friday, March 12, 2010
- Reading level: Young Adult
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: HarperTeen; 1 Reprint edition (April 21, 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0060887494
- ISBN-13: 978-0060887490
Have you ever had the out-of-control dream? The one where you know you're not crazy, but no one around you—not your parents, not your teachers, not even the authorities—will listen to you?
For sixteen-year-old Brit Hemphill, the out-of-control dream comes true when her dad enrolls her at Red Rock, a bogus treatment center that claims to cure rebellious teen girls. At Red Rock, Brit is forced into therapy, and her only hope of getting her life back is in the hands of an underqualified staff of counselors. Brit's dad thinks Red Rock can save her, but the truth is it's doing more harm than good.
No girl could survive Red Rock alone—but at a treatment center where you earn privileges for ratting out your peers, it's hard to know who you can trust. For Brit, everything changes when she meets V, Bebe, Martha, and Cassie, four girls who keep her from going over the edge. Together they'll hold on to their sanity and their sisterhood while trying to keep their Red Rock reality from becoming a full-on nightmare.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
The biggest hurdle, I think, is true for all first person narratives. It's what I call "let me tell you my story" syndrome. The narrator tells the reader about what happened to them rather than jumping into the middle of the action and letting it unfold with the reader right there in the middle. You can debate showing vs. telling all day, but having plenty of showing and a minimum of telling is very important in a first person story, in my opinion. If you "tell" too much that creates a huge distance between the reader and the story- the narrator/protagonist is literally standing there, blabbing, instead to acting, and that equals boring.
It's so interesting to me to read this, because I've found it doesn't happen at all in present tense. There's just not a lot of room for sitting around ruminating on the past in present tense, because you are by definition, in the moment. I looked over my (very) rough draft and realized that I had fallen into this trap of "let me tell you a story" which was making my characters distant and the story itself, less powerful because it was being told as if it had already happened rather than as it was happening.
Here's an example of some of the changes I made (and remember please that both of these are still rough drafts!):
The "Let Me Tell You A Story" version:
I had a bad feeling as soon as Jenna said “party at Snake’s,” but I ignored it. Snake, Jenna’s latest victim, was twenty-two, and when he wasn’t busy selling drugs to the rich kids at West Haven, he worked at his uncle’s body shop.
Jenna was stoked though, so what could I do? I had just dumped my boyfriend, it wasn’t like I had other plans.
The "In The Moment" version:
Jenna shoved her phone into her back pocket and flashed me a grin. “Party at Snake’s.”
My gut said bad idea, but one look at her face told me I had no choice. Jenna had that “new guy glow”. Even the pink streak in her hair looked brighter.
Jenna rolled her eyes. “It’s not like you have other plans.”
See the difference? One is a character standing in some undisclosed place, musing on events that happened, and the other is that character actively experiencing those events. I think the second version feels much more connected to both the character and has more energy than the first.
I find for me that it's important to remember that just because the character is narrating in past tense, doesn't mean that everything happened in the past.
I'll leave you with my new favorite piece of advice on tense: When it's done right, tense should be invisible.
Monday, March 8, 2010
1) The fab Elana J.(seriously, if she had a fan club, I'd be her president) is having an awesome book giveaway -- and the books are SIGNED. Check it out here.
2) The dynamic duo Bethany and Suzette from Shooting Stars are having a killer contest as well. One of the prizes is a 40-PAGE submission and critique from super agent Suzie Townsend of Fine Print Literary. Details, including other great prizes, can be found here.
3) The third Lucky Agent Contest through the Guide to Literary Agents blog is being hosted by another super agent, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe of Nancy Coffey Literary. Joanna is seeking urban fantasy and paranormal romance -- she's giving a 20-page critique to the winner! More details here.
NOTE: All 3 contests have deadlines of Sunday, March 14th so get movin' and good luck!
Friday, March 5, 2010
- Reading level: Young Adult
- Hardcover: 192 pages
- Publisher: Viking Juvenile (January 7, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0670011533
Product Description from amazon
Colt and Julia were secretly together for an entire year, and no one—not even Julia’s boyfriend— knew. They had nothing in common, with Julia in her country club world on Black Mountain and Colt from down on the flats, but it never mattered. Until Julia dies in a car accident, and Colt learns the price of secrecy. He can’t mourn Julia openly, and he’s tormented that he might have played a part in her death. When Julia’s journal ends up in his hands, Colt relives their year together at the same time that he’s desperately trying to forget her. But how do you get over someone who was never yours in the first place?
Beautiful writing, memorable characters, and jam-packed with emotion and teen angst. I loved everything about this book. Not to be missed.
Thursday, March 4, 2010
- Kristen Yard
- Ethan Marcantel
- Gail Zerrade
- Lisa M. Basso
- Alyssa M. Kirk
- Carolyn Grace Matteo
- Durga Walker
- Courtney Alameda Lowe
- Bethany K. Dellinger
- K.M. Walton
- Christina Lee
- Mary Danielson
- Kimberly Mitchell
- Candace Ganger
- Cathy C. Hall
- R.C. Lewis
- Morgan Baden
- Jessie Harrell
- P.G.K. Hanson
- Laura Perdew
- Mark Freeman
- Patricia Perez
- Eli Ross
- Erin Richards
- Kristi V. Helvig
- Sandi Greene
- Nikki Katz
- Chris Shanley-Dillman
- Lisa Magedler
- Joelle McClure
- Amitha Jagannath Knight
- Tiffany Truitt
- Rebecca Lees
- Mariah Abotossaway
- Steve L. Edwards
- Lori Sowell
- Lacey Boldyrev
- Jordan Elizabeth Mierek
- Julie Moffett
- Annie McElfresh
- Kym Balthazar Fetsko
- Pam van Hylckama Vlieg
- Elle Strauss
- Dean Hardy
- Jodie Meadows
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The Writer's Journey by Christopher E. Vogler - This has been one is a carryove from my film school days, it's been one of my favorites for years. A GREAT look at plotting and the three act structure. It's aimed at the screenplay, but it works just as well for novels. I like to take my finished draft and compare it to the steps in the journey and see if I'm getting the most out of my story. It can also help if you're stuck on a plot point.
The Power Of Point Of View: Make Your Story Come To Life by Alicia Rasley - Lots of great info on POV, the benefits of each kind, staying in the POV you've chosen and how to choose the best POV for your story.
Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt - Another cool one with tons of plot/structure ideas. It's fun to flip through when I'm stuck, but also gives a good understanding of how plot structure works if you just read through them.
Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass - A book loaded with info. I mean, literally LOADED, it tackles everything from POV to plot to editing by an agent who knows what he's talking about.
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print by Renni Browne, Dave King - I'm actually about to dive into this one this week. I haven't read it yet but I've heard nothing but good things about it.
On Writing by Stephen King - because, well, it's Stephen King.
What are some of your favorite books on writing?
Monday, March 1, 2010
In the last two days, I've gotten two requests for partials from agents after entering several contests. While I have yet to start the query process, I believe in celebrating baby steps -- which is why I freely admit to spending several minutes dancing around my kitchen like a monkey on crack. Realizing the requests only mean that my query is decent, not necessarily my book, I've spent the last day obsessing over my partial before sending it (thank you wonderful Sisters for your help!) I'm feeling stressed and I haven't even begun to experience the additional stresses of submitting to publishers, editorial revisions, book publicity, etc. Writing involves a lot of fun but a great deal of stress as well. So...
Here are 3 ways to deal with the stresses involved in being a writer. NOTE: I didn't include chocolate and wine, but I'm not saying those don't work too!
1) Rest. I'm not just saying this because sleeping is one of my all time, favorite activities. Everything seems better after a good night's sleep. I'd say shoot for 8 hours a night but those of you with young kids know you have a better chance of winning the lotto. Sneak naps if you can.
2. Play. Do something fun. See a great movie, hike, go to dinner with friends, take the kids and/or dogs to the park. Remember: All work and no play made Jack one f*#@'d up boy.
3. Read. More specifically, read something outside of your normal genre. If you live and breathe urban fantasy YA, read adult literary fiction. In my book club, we take turns picking the book we read each month and it's forced me to read things I wouldn't have picked up otherwise. I've enjoyed some amazing books this way and it gets me thinking outside my typical zone.
Simple, right? What's interesting is my kids do these 3 things every day and they are amazingly happy, stress-free kids. It's when we get older that we tend to lose touch with our inner kid. No matter how stressed I get, five minutes of dancing with the kiddos gets me centered again.
Except when I dance like a monkey on crack which prompted my 5-yo son to ask yesterday, "Daddy, what's wrong with Mommy?" So how do you relieve stress? What would you add to this list?