Friday, December 16, 2011

I really just used this sentence

"The egregious breaches of grammar protocol are fun!"

Happy Friday, gentle readers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dream a little dream

Or conversely, The Importance of Being Dreamist. I should warn you, this is a long rambling post with lots of parenthetical statements (as I am wont to do), so maybe grab a cup of coffee before you start in on it.

I get a little soft-eyed around the holidays, with the weather turning grayer and the fireplace more inviting, and the end of yet another year looming fast. You really only get six days to think about the impending new year after Christmas, which isn't much time to pack in those end of year specials the networks love. So I start my own personal JEMiniscing (see what I did there?) a little early.

This year, I've discovered that trying to be an author is HARD. Plotting a book is hard, finding the right words to convey your story is hard, sharing that story with others is hard, editing is hard, querying is hard, and I'm sure it's just as hard to try and get that book published and loved by the general audience. I hope to find out some day. But the hardest part of all of this, at least for me, is keeping my spirits up during this whole process. When taken as a whole it seems an insurmountable task to actually write and publish a book that people will love. And standing at the beginning of a new story, starting all over, is kind of like trying to love again after a failed marriage. You're not even sure you're ready to trust someone new, and SNIs have a funny way of luring you in and then betraying you after 60,000 words.

I've run up against this mountain of a molehill a lot this year. I finished a manuscript that I hoped was ready for querying, and have spent the better part of this year editing, writing queries, revising said queries, sending my work out to everyone I could trust/bother to tell me how to make it better, and sending out queries. I didn't have a spare moment for any new stories, and when I tried writing them they floundered after a couple hundred words. I needed all of my energy for the book I wanted to query.

But I found out soon enough that the energy wasn't there. Every query felt like a hundred ton weight around my neck. The research, the personalizing, the endless editing, only to get a form rejection after 30 minutes (or never hearing back again). I knew this was part of the process, and I haven't given up, but it took a lot of the fun out of the story, and I found myself questioning every decision I ever made (should she really have eaten chicken soup?!?). I consider myself a pretty strong person, but I started questioning why I thought writing was the path for me in the first place.

I took a step back from the whole process a couple of weeks ago to collect myself and my thoughts and devise a new game plan. And what I discovered is that I need dreams. All day, all night, staring out the window type dreams. I need stories that fill my head with people who seem more real to me than my own best friends. Stories that whisk me away from gloomy days to even gloomier days with dark and stormy nights and tall handsome strangers. I need to be a princess, a warrior, a gypsy, a thief, maybe even a tramp. My poor little grinch heart feeds on dreams, and I was starving myself.

I started writing again. I started at page one, word one, and let myself dream. And now, even though the querying is still hard and the plotting trips me up (but how do I get them OUT of the cave?), I'm happy. I'm entertained, and I'm renewed in my efforts to fight for these characters to share their story somehow, some way. I've unstoppered the bottle and let the genie out, and he's running amok with my imagination. I think they're planning a timeshare in the Poconos.

So my advice to you, no matter where you are in the journey, is to keep dreaming. Dream all day, dream all night, ignore your emails and celebrity gossip sites and laundry and just dream. And if that doesn't work, just dance.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Overprotecting your characters

I have a tendency to overprotect my MCs. They are my little cacti - I spend so much time nurturing them, pruning them into the perfect shape with just enough soil and a cute decorated pot, that I don't want to mess them up. I'm not going to put my delicate little cacti out in the desert, do you know what lives out there? Lizards and cow bones, if I believe every western movie I've ever seen. And it's hot, and animals eat their delicious buds. No no no, not for my little cacti.

The problem with that mentality is that cacti are supposed to live in the desert. They are supposed to survive the heat and get their little buds eaten and hang out with cow bones. And literary characters are supposed to get in trouble. They're supposed to struggle and fail and get threatened by evil villains. That's what makes them interesting to follow for 300+ pages.

But when we get so attached to our characters, we sometimes do them (and the story) a disservice by protecting them from bad things. My critique group recently discussed a YA piece in which the MC struggles with being in love with her best friend. She has such a history with the guy that it breaks her heart to see him go out with other girls. The problem with the story is that we didn't get any of that history, so as a reader I didn't understand how he was breaking her heart. I knew they had a history, but without seeing it I couldn't experience the MC's pain.

Turns out, my critique partner was so concerned with protecting her MC from that hurt that she didn't allow the MC to show us that pain. She shielded the MC from reliving the past hurts, which meant we as the readers didn't get to see them, either. The writer knew them perfectly, but didn't share. As a reader, I needed to live through those moments with the character, I needed to hurt with her. It was the only way I was going to feel as shaky and defensive against him in the present as the MC does.

I'm not innocent in this whole scenario, either. In one of my earlier manuscripts, a beta reader of mine gave me some of the most helpful feedback that I've ever received, and that I've tried to carry through my future work: he told me that he always knew my character was safe. Even when she was in the most dire of situations - and believe me, they were dire - he knew she would get free. Something about the way I wrote the scenes, the way I overempowered her, broke the tension of scene. Sure, she's trapped, but we know she's going to get free. There wasn't any urgency to it.

So now I fight that need to save my character. They're supposed to be in trouble, that's why I'm writing about them. And even if I am going to save them, it shouldn't be obvious how. And they might not escape without a few scrapes or a broken heart. Oooor, they might not escape at all...

Do you overprotect your characters? Or do you enjoy torturing them even more?