Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What's on a wall? A study in character

While planning my latest WIP I ran into an interesting wall (no pun intended) (but it worked out nicely) while developing my MC. She is a 16 year old girl in a futuristic setting, and the opening scene takes place in her room. My initial reaction was to skip over what her room looked like, because that wasn't really important to driving the story forward (or so I thought). But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn't move forward until I actually knew what her room looked like. Why, you ask?

A little back story: I tend to either trudge through scenery descriptions or dispense with them all together in first drafts, because I personally hate writing scenery. I hate reading it and I hate writing it. When I read I tend to skim over the descriptions as soon as I figure out the bare bones of it - they're in a house, they're in a desert, they're in a robot prison shaped like an egg, etc.. I tend to write the same way, giving skeletal descriptions or only describing what I think is important to the story later.

So describing my character's room? Not high on my list of fun things to do in a first draft. But as I pondered the question of what would be on her wall, I realized that I wasn't just talking about Backstreet Boys of the Future posters or pictures of friends or some cool futuristic device. I was talking about her character.

Because what we put on our walls - how we decorate our homes, what color palettes we choose, whether we hang paintings or pictures - defines us as people. It was like an episode of Room Raiders on MTV, where people would go into someone's room and go through their stuff and try to determine their personality. (At least, I'm pretty sure that's how that show went.) The contents of a bedroom can sometimes tell you more about the person than they way they look or dress or talk.

I find the concept to be especially important in teenagers, since their room is typically their sanctuary. As we grow older and start owning things like cars and houses and garages, the concept of our own little corner of the world gets a little skewed. But for a kid, that room/tree house/crawlspace under the stairs IS their universe. And defining what that universe looks like defines who they are inside, regardless of what they show the rest of the world.

And for me, answering what was on her walls gave me the central plot point of the story. It told me who she was, what she wanted, and what she would do to get there. It grounded the character for me, and oddly enough I didn't struggle with her personality for the rest of the WIP. All I had to do was remember that room, and I knew what she would do.

Do you typically envision your MC's room? How does it impact your story? Have you ever surprised yourself after figuring out their little piece of the world?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

September, what are YOU doing here?!?

Just a brief check-in with all my bloggy friends to say hallow, and confirm (yet again) that I've not bitten the big one (yet) (again).

I've been hard at work on edits on my current WIP after running it through the ringer with my critique group, and as of this week I've shipped it off to some gracious beta readers who will tell my what my eyes are too tired to see: what's actually wrong with it. I'm looking forward to it, the way a marathoner looks forward to the walk to the car after a run. Which is to say: yeesh.

Editing for me is a slippery slope. I often complain about clients in my day job changing their mind about how a product should look because they've been allowed to sit with it too long. Which is exactly what I do when I edit a manuscript. I've been left with it for so long that I'm SURE that scene is no longer powerful, and I just KNOW this subplot will be so much better if everyone wears purple. And oh, ha ha, let's just change the name of half the characters because Larry is a stupid name (which, in my defense, it was for that character).

So eventually I had to pump the brakes on myself and take a step back to hand it over to betas. Is it perfect yet? For sure not. But do I know where it's not perfect anymore? For SURE for sure not. I can't be trusted with that red pen, friends. Tis a far nobler thing I do, making my betas read it, than I've ever done before.

So I sent it off to betas, and now I'm decompressing my brain with some good old fashioned reading. I'd forgotten a little bit how to read without the backspace button, and it's surprisingly enjoyable. I'm reading for my book club, catching up on books I bought last year and forgot were in my e-reader, and reading books in the same genre as the next WIP I want to write. It's like finding the sun after being trapped in a mine for six months or so.

I'm big on the similes and metaphors today, apparently.

I'm easing back into a manuscript I started several months ago and sidelined as I worked on revisions for the current WIP, but so far I'm giving myself permission to go slow. I don't have to write every day, and I don't have to pump out 2,000 words every time I sit down.


I'm not good at the patience thing.

What are you up to? Are you sad the summer is over, or glad the heat is (almost) gone? How are your manuscripts doing?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What does it mean to be a geek girl?

I'm going a little off topic today (which would imply I'm ever ON topic, which I'm not).

I read an interesting article on CNN (see the article here) about "booth babes" and their negative impact (according to the author) on the growth of the nerd culture. Basically the author's argument is that these model-type women who couldn't hack it in the real world have infiltrated the geek world to boost their own egos. They have no real interest in gaming or comics or cosplay, they just want to dress up in skimpy outfits and show up at conventions and be fawned over by men they wouldn't give the time of day to in the outside world. According to the author, they give true girl geeks a bad name, and set back their cause in geek culture.

On one hand, I agree with the author. I appreciate someone FINALLY calling out Olivia Munn, because I for sure don't think she's actually interested in anything nerdy. In fact, she's done a good job spinning her "geek girl" celebrity into other acting ventures and distanced herself from her original persona. Do I think she was ever a real nerd? No. And I'm not a fan of anyone leveraging a pretend interest in something just to get their foot in the door.

But what really struck me about the article were the comments. Good gosh are they horrible. Everything from people saying "it's fine if you use them, since they're just using you, just make sure they don't poke holes in the condom" to "geeks don't care what girls are into as long as they're hot and wear skimpy outfits." I have no idea who these people are, if they're just trolls looking to tear down the internet a little more, but it's horribly indicative of a disrespectful and potentially violent mindset. These kinds of comments aren't just opinions, they're pre-excuses for bad behavior. And coming from the "geek community," they're particularly appalling. This isn't a traditionally aggressive community (aside from all the primeval online slaughter).

I confess myself more than a little out of touch with this community. When I was a kid, a "geek" was anyone who preferred reading over the jungle gym at recess and was really good at math. Since then the definition has expanded into the digital world, and I'm afraid I've lost my street cred as a geek because I like reading and don't play video games. If there were tiers of nerdery, I'm probably toward the bottom rung.

Still, as someone with lingering nerd fantasies of mythical worlds and magical powers, I find these comments disturbing. And I find the idea disappointing that women have to battle again for their identity and their right to be part of a culture. I really think it messes with girls' heads to be told "be hot, but not too hot, and you only really belong if you meet standards we set for you." That's the surprising message I get after reading this article and the comments, and it makes me sad. We spend so much time deciding what other people should be, and we end up excluding or judging others for what reason? To claim true geekery?

For myself, I think I'm old enough and don't care about opinions not my own enough to say I am a nerd, and a geek if I feel like it. And the way I dress, or the ways I choose to define my nerdery, are not up to anyone else's opinion but my own.

Do you consider yourself a geek or a nerd? What defines the term for you? How do you feel about "booth babes" and their impact on geek culture?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Using your query letter and synopsis to identify plot holes

I'm in the process of editing/fixing/crying over/rewriting/preparing my latest WIP for querying agents. I learned a lot about the process and my own blindspots last year when querying The Librarian (including my own horrible titling skills). I'm honestly a little gun-shy this time around, which I think is a healthy thing. It's forced me to look at my work, really really look at it, because I don't want to screw up my one(ish) chance with this WIP because I didn't put in the due diligence. It was definitely my shortcoming last time around, and I prefer not to Napoleon my mistakes (i.e. repeat them).

One of the warning signs I didn't pay attention to last time that's screaming in my face this go round is the query letter/synopsis red flag. What's that, you ask? Well, gentle reader, let me tell you. It's the flag that gets raised in your head like a sopapilla flag in a Mexican restaurant (I might be hungry) when you're writing out that query and you can't figure out why something is happening. Or what drives the characters on to the decisions they make. Or what the inciting incident is in your story.

You know, things like that.

It's not so bad as all that, I promise. Well, sometimes it is. If I'd paid attention to the niggling thought in my head when I wrote the synopsis last year, I would have heard "Boy that sounds like a lot of subplots. Are you sure about all of those? And what is the MC's motivation? Why does she keep fighting what has happened to her?" But I didn't pay attention, and here we are.

The great thing about the query letter and the synopsis as editing tools is they quickly identify major story issues because you're consolidating down to the most essential elements of the book. It's easy to pretend like a subplot is super necessary because it's hilarious and you had fun writing it in 100,000 words, but it's hard to pretend the same when you've got 1,000 words to say the same thing.

Writing out my synopsis yesterday, I finally had to face that vague feeling I'd pushed away during all my last rounds of editing: that my beginning still wasn't working. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't solid. It was good enough for me to convince myself that I didn't need to change it again, but trying to summarize it in two paragraphs and make it sound interesting blew the problem wide open.

I threw myself a little pity party for about thirty minutes, but then the most amazing thing happened. I thought of a better beginning. Similar elements to my existing beginning, but now that I had the whole story in front of me I could see the threads that I needed to weave in the beginning to make the whole story work. And after I'd hammered out what should happen in a mini-synopsis, this great weight lifted off my shoulders. Because it finally made sense. I still have the hard work of actually writing it ahead of me, but at least I know where I'm going now, and I know why. I'm not ashamed of that synopsis, and my query just got a whole lot more compelling.

Use your query/synopsis to identify just a few of these potential problems:

  • Unnecessary subplots, or subplots that actually detract from the main story
  • Missing character motivations
  • Sagging beginnings, middles, or endings (because if you get bored writing the synopsis, imagine how your reader will feel slogging through 50,000 words of it)
  • Dropped story threads throughout the book
  • Fluff chapters (because if you can skip them entirely, they probably don't matter to the plot)
Have you ever used your query or synopsis to identify further issues in your story? What issues have you found in your own story after writing the query/synopsis?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Knowing which manuscript to follow (not so easy)

I've had a lot of trouble lately staying focused on one particular story. I finished a WIP back in January and started on heavy-duty edits, the first round of which I finished up about a week ago (huzzah!). I've got a few more rounds of edits to go before it's ready to start querying, but I'm in that lull where I should be working on something new.

It's not that I'm not writing, because I am. I've been pretty consistent about writing 3-4 days a week for at least an hour, which comes out to 8,000 words a week. Not bad from consistency's sake. The problem is, I've started/stopped/started four different stories in the last six months. Stats below:

- 30K words on the first manuscript
- 15K words on the second manuscript
- 10K words on the third manuscript
- 2K words on the fourth manuscript (started this past weekend on a whim)

See, I've got the pretty decent makings of a full manuscript if all of those words were on the same story, but my brain keeps bouncing around. I don't know if I should just let myself go incrementally on each story and have several finish around the same time, or force my attention onto one until it's complete. Usually I move to a different story because I've stalled on a plot line, or I'm still trying to solve a big BUT WHY?!, or I've lost interest in the characters. In my previous experience, I've found that once I lose interest in something and keep trying to slog through the story, my readers will suffer as much as I did.

This weekend I went back to the first manuscript and read through it just for fun (because why not?), and discovered that it wasn't nearly as terrible or boring as I thought it was. In fact, by the time I reached the end of what I'd written I wanted to keep going on the story, like I'd been reading someone else's work and got jazzed up about it enough to continue the story. So maybe I'm being too hard on myself, trying to force something new and linear out of myself every day. The woods are lovely, dark and deep, and maybe (just maybe) worth the detour every once in a while.

How do you start new manuscripts? Do you stick to one story at a time or jump around? Do you ever pick up abandoned manuscripts and keep going at a later date?

Monday, June 25, 2012

And this is why I don't tell family I write

I recently spent some time with extended family, and the topic of "what I was up to" came up, as it does with us young-ish folk. Since the partner-in-crime and I are not making little criminal babies, people naturally assume something horrible has gone wrong in our relationship. At which point I explain no, we're just busy doing other stuff we want to do first. For me, that includes pursuing writing. Which, as soon as I say it, opens the door to questions/comments like:

- Oh, that's a nice hobby, I like to knit.
- What are you writing about? Can I read it?
- Hurry up and get published already!
- What is YA?
- What does your husband think about this? (honestly got that question)
- I've got an idea for a children's book about a penguin that flies in space.
- Oh, you should give the book to Aunt Jemima/Uncle Herbert/your cousin LooptyLoo, they would be a good person to read it and tell you if it's good or not.

I think we've all suffered some form of these kinds of inquiries, because non-writer types really don't understand what it's like. They don't understand that it's a profession, they don't understand that we're serious about it, and they really REALLY don't understand how the industry works. When I told someone recently that it could take up to two years to get a book published AFTER you got a signed contract, I had to get a forklift to pick his jaw up off the floor. It's such a different model from any other business that most people are familiar with, and they don't understand how it works.

Not that people don't mean well, because they do. They want us to succeed, they want us to be happy, they want to see our name in lights (or maybe that's just me). But I spend more time patiently (or not so patiently) explaining that no, you don't just submit to publishers and yes, you do have to do significant editing before you even send out a query letter. And yes, there's a thing called a query letter, and yes, it's the bane of my existence.

But all of this to say, spending time with people who don't get it makes the people who do get it all the more special to me. Having my time with my critique group, my writer friends, and my blogger friends keeps me sane, because we all need to find a corner of the world that understands us and our dreams. I'll save telling my family I write for when I can just hand them a book and answer all their questions :).

What one question/comment do you get the most? Which do you hope you never hear again?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My bone to pick: the "worthless" protag

I've noticed a trend in YA of the "never good at anything" protagonist. And when I say trend, I mean it's in like every book I've ever read in YA. Well, maybe not EVERY book, but it's pretty damn prevalent. To the point that I roll my eyes when I read book descriptions that say something like "Swiggy Figglebottom wasn't very good at math/sports/ladies/basketweaving, but when a mysterious blue haired stranger showed up on his door and informed him he was the lost prince of Swiggy's Swag Palace, he found an awesome power that made him superly awesome and awesomely super."

And look, I get it. Kids want to be empowered, and most kids think of themselves as ordinary or no good at sports or whatever, and this is their escapism to be something great and amazing. It's inspirational and uplifting, and for some kids (like little JEM back in the day) it is a way to cope with the less than satisfying world around them. I'm definitely guilty of the same tropes in my own writing, and have crafted more than one story where some weird little forlorn girl in a seaside town is discovered as princess of the universe. So I realize the hypocrisy.

But what annoys me about this trend and the concept behind it is that it reinforces that someone really can be "worthless." That because you're not the star basketball player or head cheerleader or editor of the newspaper, you're nobody. That what you do, or what you're good at, is what defines your worth. Not who you are or how interesting you can be or how awesome your knowledge of trains is, but what you can demonstrate. And that's just not true. In fact, the most fascinating people in my life are not the ones who can jump the highest or fly planes (fine, ONE GIRL flies planes), but the ones who can keep me engaged in an interesting conversation. And it was the same in high school. I didn't collect my friends based on what they could do, I collected them based on how interesting I found them to be. Sometimes that translates into awesome skill sets, but sometimes it translates into perfectly ordinary skill sets. Luck of the draw.

My point here is that I'd like to see the genre move away from the Swiggy Figglebottoms into more complex characters. It's an easy out to write the characters who were terrible at everything until they drank the magic potion. I want characters who come from all walks of life, and who are interesting even if they can't shoot hoops or don't live in the rich neighborhoods. And sure, they can have a chip on their shoulder about it, but I don't want their lack to be what defines them.

I read a great piece of advice once (maybe Maggie Stiefvater?) about your characters: they shouldn't necessarily be who we are, they should be who we want to be. A kid who doesn't live on the right side of the tracks but can still hold his own with the rich kids without being a douche about it? I like him way more than Swiggy Figglebottom, and that's a character I would want to watch over 400 pages.

How do you feel about the "no good at anything" protag? Do you like this concept or are you fed up with it like me? What kinds of characters do you like to follow in the books you read?

Monday, May 21, 2012

How do you capture ideas?

I think any creative type knows the drill: you're walking out to your car and inspiration hits. Or you're just about to hop in the shower when that scene you've been agonizing over finally crystallizes. Or worse yet, you're deep in revisions (dreaded, dreaded revisions) and a shiny new idea smacks you upside the head.

What do you do? Follow the rabbit down the hole and potentially write the next Hunger Games? Push the thought aside and focus on the task at hand and maybe lose your brilliant idea? Sit on the idea until it becomes something worth pursuing as it foments in the back of your mind? Or scribble it down and shove it in a file somewhere to come back to later?

Inspiration is a funny thing for me. When I first started writing, I would chase down every idea by writing it out until I couldn't think anything up anymore. What this translated to as a young writer (like, 10) was that I never finished anything. ANYTHING. In fact, the very first time I finished an entire manuscript, I was shocked that I'd actually finished something. Chasing down every idea left me scatterbrained and half finished, and that wasn't going to drive anything forward. I also never had time to practice craft because I was spending all of my time in that first feverish state of writing when you're willing to stay up until four in the morning just to capture a whisper in your mind.

So then for a while, I made myself focus. If an interesting scene or premise popped into my head while I was working on something, I set it aside and didn't follow up on it. My thought was if it was interesting enough to pursue in the future, it would stick around long enough to be told. I had the same approach to songwriting (back when I wrote songs); if a melody was good enough to be remembered, I would remember it without recording it. So of course, this meant I lost tons of ideas. Sometimes I'd have the perfect dialog exchange with myself in the car on the way home, and by the time I got around to writing it I couldn't remember half of what I'd said. So what I ended up with on the page was wooden and boring, a shadow of it's car self.

Which brings me to my current approach to capturing ideas. It's a flawed system, I'll admit that up front, and the hyper-efficient organization freak inside me wants a real system, but so far it's been a good blending of my two prior approaches. When inspirations strikes, whether I'm at the grocery store or sitting in front of my computer at work, I sit on it. I spin out the web of the story and look for ways that I could craft it into a full-fledged story (and not just a vague idea). If I hit a wall immediately, I know the idea was just that - a passing fancy in the wind. And I don't record it, because if I'm not even interested in following it down the rabbit hole for five minutes, I sure as hell won't be able to write and edit an entire manuscript about it. But if I can follow it for more than five or ten minutes, I'll open a new Word Doc (or Google Doc, depending), and write down everything I can think of.

This file is usually a mess of bullet pointed ideas, short snippets of scenes, character and location listings and their descriptions, and links to initial research if I need it (I'm into period pieces). I don't restrict myself on what I write, so long as I capture everything I thought of in conjunction with the idea. This helps me later on if I do eventually return to the story idea, because it's usually the cute/clever little details that I forget when I sit down later. Or, I solve my problem from the beginning and forget what I decided I would do.

And if I'm in the middle of something else, that's where the brainstorm ends. I don't let myself get sidetracked, I don't start writing from the beginning (I'm a very linear thinker and writer), I just capture the storm of ideas and then save them later for safe keeping. And if they're interesting enough to write about, I can't stop thinking about them until I have to go back. If they're not, I haven't wasted 50,000 words talking about them.

So how do you capture ideas? Where does inspiration strike you? Do you have a methodology that's more organized than mine (PLEASE share if you do)?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Confession time

1) I have so many great blog post ideas rattling around my brain, but I don't have the time/brain space to dedicate to them. And so they sit in half-drafted form in my unpublished folder.

2) I don't understand fruit on the bottom yogurt. Why am I paying to mix my own yogurt? You mix it for me, I give you money, this is the transaction. I feel the same way about salads in restaurants, which is why I almost always order ceasar salad.

3) I've been avoiding editing my latest WIP. I've gone through a (great) critique session with my fellow critters and I have some wizzbang ideas for improving it, but I've been balking at actually making those changes. I don't know if it feels too overwhelming, or I don't feel like diving back into the story, or if I feel like I need to constantly be producing new material (or all of the above), but it's really starting to tick me off. With myself.

4) I've been trying to cut back on my coffee consumption. My second bowl of coffee this morning tells me it's not going well.

5) I've read a lot of mediocre YA novels recently. I'm obvs not going to name names, but I was surprised in each instance at how underwhelmed I was with the writing and storytelling. I still consider the YA genre to be groundbreaking, and a lot of my current favorite authors are writing in YA, but some of the ARCs I've read recently are suggesting to me we're hitting a saturation point with the genre. In a way it's good, because it means YA has come into its own as a genre, but it also makes me think production is prized over quality for some publishers.

Do you have anything to confess today?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Writing action scenes

I'm a big fan of action scenes in my writing. I write (mostly) adventure stories, and adventures involve all kinds of sword fights, ninja throw downs, tunnel chases, and booby traps. Writing action scenes is a whole different barrel of monkeys that often confuse people when they're first starting out.

I don't claim to be an expert on writing action scenes, but I've learned a lot about how to craft them through my writing classes and other helpful blogs, and in the spirit of charity I'd like to pass on those learnings to all you, my lovely readers.

Tips for writing whiz-bang action scenes (technical term)
  • Keep voice out of the scene. That sounds counter-intuitive to every piece of advice you've ever read, but for action scenes it's true. Writing in action scenes should act like a window through which to view the physical, and a lot of times voice can break the tension or pacing of what's going on in the scene by reminding the reader that someone else (not them) is watching.
  • Keep your word choice concise and your sentences short. Action is fast-paced and clipped, and your writing should be as well. This ties into the previous bullet point, but deserves to be called out as it's own point. If you think about a comma like a breath, when people are fighting for their lives they don't have a chance to take a breath, and neither should you as the writer.
  • Stay focused. This isn't the place to wax poetic on the brutal nature of man, or focus on the vibrant foliage in the background. Set your scene up before the action starts so the reader is clear about where they are, what they're wearing, what weapons they have, and why they're fighting. Don't get distracted in details in the middle of someone swinging a sword.
  • Think about your action like a movie. Action scenes are probably the closest a book gets to a movie, and the details need to be crisp and obvious enough that readers can visualize the action in their head. If you can't visualize it as the writer, the reader definitely can't visualize it when they're reading, which breaks tension.
    • I have a special advantage in that I take martial arts classes, but they've taught me how to describe the physical in words that make sense. It's critical to know what descriptions make sense to most people.
  • Consider your audience when making vocabulary choices. If they don't know what a mace or a stiletto or a rapier is, then make sure you make it clear what they are before they start fighting. You don't want someone thinking your character is throwing shoes in the middle of a castle dungeon.
What action scene tips can you share from your own writing?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Zombie dreams

I apparently have very vivid dreams. Having never experienced anyone else's dreams, I figured the way that I dream is par for the course for most people. But when I discuss my dreams with people, especially the more lucid ones (the ones where my house is a school that's not a house are a bit hard to explain), the person I'm talking to usually gets a weird, surprised gleam in his/her eye.

The partner-in-crime, delicate communicator that he is, had out with it Sunday night after I described my dream from the night before to him.

"Your dreams are so weird," he said to me.
"All dreams are weird," I replied.
"Yeah, but yours are really weird."
"Because they're so real."

Yes, he speaks in italics, and yes my dreams are very real. I often think of my dreams as mini movies, with complete story arcs and multiple characters and scenes. That really is how I dream most of the time. I've woken up from more than one dream with a story idea pre-prepared, and I keep a log of all of those story ideas for later exploration.

The funny thing to me, however, is that I usually dream in suspense movies. I am not a suspense/horror writer by day, but apparently all my creepy crawlies come out at night. The dream in question above, for instance, was about a zombie invasion. I'd been on the streets running from the zombies, but I actually lived in a high rise in New York. So I returned to my apartment building to get back to my apartment, thinking zombies wouldn't have made it to the 37th floor where I lived. In typical zombie fashion, it was hard to tell who was a normal person and who was a zombie in the making, and in fact the only way to really know was to hear them speak and make them recite something like a song or the Pledge of Allegiance (because zombies don't have memories, obvs).

The majority of the dream was me in an elevator. When I first entered the building, dodging zombies as I went, I plunged into the first open elevator in my haste. Only I didn't think to check which elevator bank it was, and I'd chosen an elevator that didn't actually go to my floor. The closest I could get to the 37th floor from my elevator was the 46th or 28th floor. And there began the suspense. People kept getting off and on, and every time someone joined the elevator group, I wondered. Zombie? Not zombie? Almost zombie? It was impossible to tell, because no one speaks on elevators, and we all watched each other in guarded silence. We would also pass floors where we could hear screaming for help through the doors, and you never knew if you would end up on one of those floors.

I finally got off the elevator on the 28th floor and resolved to take the stairs to my floor, but once I stepped off I realized how foolish it was to trap myself in the stairwell. It was probably crawling with zombies. I had just started to decide how to get back to an elevator that would take me to my floor when the p-i-c woke me up.

See? Movie dreams. Scary movie dreams. But the greatest thing about my movie dreams is that they give me insight into what scares me. Not what scares other people that also scares me, but what really, really scares me. Like zombies and body snatchers and dark roads at night. And when I need that scare effect for something I'm writing, I have an endless well of half-remembered dreams to tap into.

How do you dream? Do you use those dreams in your writing?

Friday, April 6, 2012

What I'm working on

I've been MIA from the hinterwebs lately, but not because I don't harbor a deep obsessive love for all of you. I've just been busy. Work stuff, family stuff, life stuff, writing stuff, it tends to get in the way of my internet time.

But that doesn't mean I'm not working hard. I've been focusing the last couple of weeks on building out my writing communities. I am between/in the beginning of several projects and not knee deep in revisions, so I've had some time to evaluate the last several years of writing and when I seemed to be the most productive. And what I've determined is that even though writing is a very solitary activity, being a writer doesn't have to be.

So I've started looking for writing organizations, groups, secret writers among friends, etc. And I'm building a physical presence of writers around me. Not that blogging isn't great (because it is), but having someone to sit down and chat with over a steaming mug of coffee before playing dueling computers is much more satisfying. And since I (eventually) want to make writing my career, I want to build out those communities now so I don't get lonely and depressed and eventually drink myself into a Hemingway.

What do you do to keep in contact with other writers? What organizations (national or local) would you recommend?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Some things I've learned from reading historical romance

1) Women love men who lean against things, especially indolently.

2) I now have a healthy suspicion of heaving busoms, broad expanses of chests, and features chiseled from stone.

3) Women in the old days used to get almost raped A LOT. We probably should have come up with pepper spray a hell of a lot sooner.

4) A good 80% of my French vocabulary comes from dress descriptions in period novels.

5) Fiesty women with freckles were very much not the norm.

6) The ultimate way to prove your love to a man is to get knocked up before you're married.

7) For every brooding, handsome, rich devil out there, there is a witty but smaller brother.

8) Women who go out with their hair uncovered are risque, but women who let their breasts hang out in evening gowns are not.

9) Everyone in the past had awesome colored eyes.

10) Aunts and uncles of girls with trust funds were greedy bastards.

What have YOU learned from your genre of choice?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My thought for the day

There is nothing quite so satisfying as determining the perfect word to express your intentions.

Back to the cave with me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Giving your characters intimate moments

I have a tendency as a storyteller to focus on the story and not the characters. Sometimes this works out fine, because the characters are so clear to me that I don't really have to think about their backstory. It just kind of exists, and influences their behaviors without me analyzing it too much.

Oh to be so easy, right?

Well, that's not the case with my current WIP. The story is there, the action and twists and turns are all coming together quite nicely. And the characterization is there, but it's not always solid. My MC is the victim of the story, carried along by what she needs to do instead of what she would do. As my crit partner put it, "I can clearly see her now, but I can't see her how she was before this story started."

Part of this comes from having too much action without enough quiet moments. Quiet moments allow a reader to get familiar with a character outside of the story. Readers aren't distracted from learning new info or following action, they're just hanging out in a private moment with your character. And as we all know from our shower conversations with ourselves, private moments bring about unguarded actions that reveal us more than anything else.

Sometimes this comes in the form of quirks. Maybe your character talks to himself when he's alone, or sings show tunes, or cries when there's no one around to see him in a moment of weakness. Sometimes it's an action or behavior so ingrained they're not conscious of it, but it speaks volumes to the reader.

For example, the MC in my current WIP is an archer. In one scene, she's stuck between a rock and a hard place (literally) and needs a moment to plan. As she debates her decision, she strokes the fletching on her arrow. This services the scene on two levels: on the most immediate level, we see her nervousness in the habit. And the action speaks more about her nerves and internal prep than me as the author just saying "she was nervous and preparing for the next step."

But on the higher level, the reader sees it as a habit. It's a reminder: she's done this before. She knows to check the fletching for breaks, it's an action ingrained in her since she first learned how to shoot. She's probably done it hundreds of times before, in moments just like these, and suddenly we have an insight into her past. If she's been around arrows enough to pick this up as a nervous habit, then archery must be important to her life. It must have served a large role in her childhood, which naturally leads to more questions. Why? For how long? What else did it influence? And so on.

The moral of the story here is to give your character intimate moments with the reader. When you find those quiet scenes between actions, use them to build up the rapport between your character and your reader. These moments are insight into the MC's true personality, and allow you to share back story through their actions without info dumping on your reader.

How do you like to use your character's personal moments?

Monday, February 6, 2012

The benefits of spilling your secrets

I like to tell people I would do great in a zombie apocalypse because I have the hoarding mentality of the Great Depression. Maybe it's the fact I grew up poor, maybe it's the fact that I'm only slightly less selfish than a 2 year old with a My Little Pony collection, or maybe it's just part and parcel of my personality. I save new clothes for months before wearing them, I hide sugar packets in my desk in case we run out at work, and I hide my favorite foods in the cupboard so the partner-in-crime doesn't get to them before I do.

As a writer, this has translated to hoarding secrets. At first I thought I was saving the conflict for the climax. You know, Pedro can't find out Martha is really his daughter until 250 pages in. That big of a secret, you need to hoard it, right? Because if you give up all your good secrets at the beginning, you'll have no story left to end the damn thing.

What I really found out was that I was being lazy and protecting myself from actually having to work for something. Keeping that secret for 17 chapters meant nothing happened. People ate dinner, walked from one room to the other, but nothing really momentous occurred because I was waiting. As a result, my middles dragged and my climaxes were obvious from a dozen chapters off.

So this go round, I issued myself a challenge. When you have a secret, share it. Anytime something occurred to me - Martha is Pedro's DAUGHTER - I had to reveal it. Maybe not to the characters themselves, but to the reader. Because tension lies in the divide between the reader's knowledge and the character's knowledge. If the reader knows Martha is Pedro's daughter, but Pedro doesn't know it, we have tension.

And in the end, books are just secrets we're waiting to reveal. All stories are a string of revealed secrets, and we as the reader keep reading to find out what they are. What will happen when Pedro finds out? What does Martha want? Why didn't Pedro know Martha was his daughter in the first place? Secrets.

So my challenge to you: when you have a secret, spill it. You might be scared that you'll run out of secrets like I was, but what you'll find instead is that more secrets rise up through the cracks to answer the questions behind the secret you revealed before. And the climax you end up with is so much greater than what you started with, because you had to think harder to top yourself. And that's entertainment, my friends.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Busy busy busy

I'm going to assume that everyone else's first of the year is just as busy as mine, if for no other reason than to excuse myself for not having posted the last few weeks. I've been buried under mountains of work, and will continue to be buried for the next couple of weeks. But I promise to return with all kinds of fun posts about stuff I haven't even thought of yet. That's how prepared I am.

Hope your January is going well!

Friday, January 6, 2012

This could be the last 2012 EVAR

It's a new year, gentle readers, according to my calendar. I'm having a private detective follow up on these claims that it's January, as I'm highly suspicious, but until they come back with proof that October 2011 never actually happened (because SERIOUSLY), I have no choice but to believe it.

Mayan calendars aside, I'm looking forward to 2012. I learned some valuable lessons in 2011 about myself, my writing, and my amazing capacity for eating Mexican food. I plan to learn more, share more, explore more, and for sure eat more. I'm not really a New Year's Resolutions kind of girl, but I am a fresh starts kind of girl. So every January 1st is a chance at a fresh start, a renewed vigor for capturing the goals we set for ourselves the year before.

What are your goals for 2012? What are you proud of accomplishing in 2011? Do you also share my intense love of beans that have been fried TWICE!?!