Saturday, December 18, 2010

Settling on a Style

Sometimes I feel like I have split personalities when it comes to my own writing.

On the one hand, I love depressing glimpses into the human soul. Give me grim, give me bleak, give me chilling and stark. Happy endings? Who needs them! Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Connor, Daphne Du Marier, and Joyce Carol Oates are some of my favorite authors. Discovering "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" at seventeen inspired me to be an author one day. The Blind Assassin moved me to tears--tears of awe. When I finished Mockingjay, I kept whispering "Wow" to myself, because I was so stunned and delighted by her courageously dark ending to the series.

And I love to write this way too. I'll finish a short story, triumphantly present it to my husband, and ask proudly, "Isn't it so deliciously awful? Isn't it chilling? Doesn't it just make you want to lie awake all night and THINK?" (Most of my short stories tend to be this darker literary style.)

To which he usually replies, "You love sad stuff. It's weird."

He doesn't like "sad stuff."

My styles are night and day different.
On the other hand, I really love funny, whimsical, lighthearted, happy-ending things too. Pride and Prejudice (I'm not saying it isn't deep, but it certainly isn't dark) is one of my favorite books and miniseries. Harry Potter (ditto on the deep, and maybe the dark too) certainly has its whimsical moments, and I eat that stuff up. Ella Enchanted (the book, mind you, I don't like THAT silly of stuff that the movie got into), Emma, Penelope, all of Neal Shusterman's books, smart romantic comedies . . . love, love love. I don't feel like I've peeled back the layers of my own soul when I read this kind of stuff, but I do feel like I've gotten a good bear hug and maybe a cup of hot chocolate,

(And that's just as valid a form of art, in my opinion.)

And I also love writing this kind of thing. Naturally, it's completely different than the first in both theme and style. It's also a little more commercial than the former, perhaps.

So I wonder--CAN I DO BOTH? It's not even a question of genre, because I tend to stay pretty close to sci fi and fantasy these days. But I don't want to give readers whiplash.

I've been told (vaguely) by a few agents that no, I can't.

I do not want this to be true. I don't want to have to choose one or the other. To date, my success so far in publication has been with the bleaker stuff (my short story "Vestigial Organs"). But there's hope for my fun stuff too, right?

...Right?

I've considered possible solutions. I might have to use another name for the more lighthearted stuff. (Also, it occurs to me, what I consider lighthearted isn't exactly fluffy necessarily ... it's just not hopelessly grim, and it has a happy ending!) I'm trying to think of authors who do this.

I might have to settle for mixing my light and dark. I think Megan Whalen Turner does this to perfection. Her books are pretty dark in some ways, but the lasting impression I always come away with is "hilariously funny and immensely cathartic in the end." I also think JK Rowling always did a good job with light and dark. I know her stuff gets pretty hardcore, but my lasting impression of her books, however, is "lighthearted." I don't mean that in a dismissive way, mind you.

Fellow writers, do you like to write in more than one style? How do you manage it? Can you think of successful authors who are all over the spectrum in their book styles?

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Overthinking It

Yesterday I was reading a book, and I had a small epiphany. It amused me, and I thought I'd share.

I've been overthinking this writing thing in some ways.

See, I want my books to be WOW and DIFFERENT and SPARKLES OF GENIUS. I want people to read them and be blown away by their insight and depth. I want critics to weep at the beauty of my prose. Weep, I tell you.

So I sit down to write, and I have all those thoughts and hopes and aspirations piled in the back of my mind like a mountain of bricks. And I type, "The man entered the room and saw the bird."

I stop and examine this sentence. Will it make my readers WEEP WITH THE JOY OF ITS LYRICAL BEAUTY? Hmmm. Unlikely. Perhaps I should reword it. It's too plain, too frank, too straightforward, too boring. Readers don't want entered and birds! Too simple! Not enough descriptors!

Back to square one. The new sentence reads: "The young man stepped nervously into the blank-walled space and gazed at the canary." I stop again and read. Ack, I've used adverbs, adjectives! Is it purple prose? It looks pretty purple to me. Granted, it is more ... complicated. Will complicated make readers weep? (Maybe, but for all the wrong reasons?) The voice is weird. It sounds old. Is that how my writing voice sounds? Do I even know what my writing voice is? This one feels pretentious.

I consider the sentence. I have read that using one word instead of two strengthens the writing. I rewrite the sentence again. "The man tiptoed into the room and stared at the canary." Is this good enough?

It needs more. That is spare and brisk and good enough, but will. it. make. them. weep? I gnaw at my nails. I stare at the screen. I try again.

"The man ran into the room, gasping for breath. He scanned the room for the canary, freezing when he saw it."

"The man scrambled for the door, his gaze sweeping the room for the bird."

And really, this could go on and on, couldn't it? I could write this sentence a million different ways, with a million different shades of emotion and implication. I can become creatively paralyzed by it.

Imagine I spend thirty minutes on this sentence. Giving up in exhaustion, I put down my laptop and pick up a literary masterpiece that has awards plastered all over the cover. My eye falls on this sentence:

"The man entered the room and saw the bird."

* dies *

No, but really. I had a moment like that, and it occurred to me that I somehow, unconsciously, feel that I need to reach this unobtainable standard. I feel like every word has to SPARKLE and MAGIC and DAZZLE in some mystical way, like ordinary words just aren't good enough or something. I don't really know what I'm reaching for, but it isn't there. As I told my husband yesterday, in desperation, yelling loudly:

"All I have to tell this story with are WORDS! WORDS THAT TALK ABOUT THINGS! I need more than that!"

He had a good laugh.

Now, don't misunderstand me. I'm not trying to bash wordsmithing. I think there are better, clearer, stronger ways to word things. I think some words are a stronger choice than others. I think prose can be sloppy, or purple, or weak, or lazy. I think all telling and no showing is generally a mistake.

But at the same time, I'm trying to keep myself from becoming paralyzed when I write. I'm telling myself that I don't have to make every sentence a tiny kingdom of philosophical musings. It's okay to say things simply sometimes, because complexity in a story is not due merely to the structure of my sentences or the level of my vocabulary.

Just something I'm pondering.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monday, December 6, 2010

What Scares You About Writing?

News and things

I'm planning on starting work again on my novel. Actually, scratch that. I'm planning on starting work on three of them. Two are re-writes and one is in a stalled-out first draft. These are three projects I feel extremely passionate about and I want to see them all finished.

The hard part right now is deciding which one to pick first.

Sometimes I really wish I could just ASK all the agents--Would you want to request pages for this plot concept? Because I have twenty more if nobody's interested in this one. But you can't do that. Danggit.

Oh, in other (completely unrelated) news, the kitties are getting along famously now. I'm extremely relieved--I'd been reading too many horror stories about neurotic cats that never adjust to the companion adopted to keep them company. But our sweet little cats love each other. They share a food bowl and spend hours snuggling and licking faces. It's been a little over a week, and I don't think either of them remembers that they ever lived without the other.

* pauses for a collective awwww *

The scary part about writing

For me, the hardest part of writing is that fear of failure. When I dream up a story, I see it in my head. Not the whole thing with every detail and every word and every plot twist neatly wrapped up, but the general shape and beautiful, sharp little fragments and snapshots and the FEEL and TASTE and AURA of the story. It's like an addicting mental perfume and I am just in love with it and blown away by it as it comes together. Then when the time comes to do the writing part, I freeze.

What if I write it and it isn't any good? What if I can't capture the things in my head with words? What if I don't know what I'm trying to say?

What if.

I really wish I had some magical comfort to give myself about this. I don't really know how to combat this fear, except for in two ways.

1) I believe it was Robin McKinley who first put me straight about this. On her blog, she wrote about this fear and she said essentially that the story will never be as perfect on paper as it is in your head. So get over that and just write it. So I'm giving myself permission to be a human being and not have a perfect manuscript the first time, or the second, or maybe even the final time. Kind of a scary thought ... but freeing too. If freaking Robin McKinley can say something like that, I feel comforted. Because The Blue Sword was very nearly the perfect book.

2) I read this quote today, and it made me smile. It also made me think. It was by Nic Alderton, and it was pretty long, but he basically said and I'm paraphrasing here, "Think of a story and write it down. What's going to get in your way? Not thinking it up and not writing it down."

So . . .

So I can't overcome failure by hiding or wishing I would just sit down and write a perfect, polished manuscript with one snap of my fingers. I can't not fail by never doing it because I'm scared I won't do a good job. Not trying is the worst kind of failure. I may not get these books right the first time (*giggles morosely* technically one of them is either the 4th or 5th re-write of its respective book, so ... definitely not), but I can do my best.

And at the end of the day, that's all I can really expect from myself.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Doing A Hard Thing Is Hard

Hello readers!

I have been gone a long time. I realize this. I have been on vacation, and eating turkey and pie, and ...

... the husband and I adopted a second kitty.

This last thing has not gone over well in our household.

To explain briefly, our first kitty Sansa is a little spoiled princess. She has been the sole recipient of love, affection, compliments, and attention since we brought her home. She has been praised and petted and snuggled. But now there is Gizmo, a tiny shelter rescue with a coat the color of a sunset and a purr that sounds like something from a mashup of a wombat, a tribble, and a video game.

Gizmo

Right now Sansa hates Gizmo's guts. So we're keeping him in a spare bedroom for a few days so he can acclimate and adjust without having to fight for his life.

We've followed all the recommendations--we have rubbed him with a towel that we then put under her food dish in order to associate his scent with food/pleasure, we've let them sniff each other out with him safely in the cat carrier, and we distracted them with toys when the growling started (well, Gizmo was distracted. Sansa just watched him like he was the literal embodiment of the destruction of all her hopes and dreams).

We have let them interact a little, but we watch carefully because Sansa is on the warpath.

Yeah, this is Sansa right now...


In short, it's been a stressful few days.

Stress is not my friend.
 
At least nobody has done any marking of territory, especially not in our bed (read about that one online...)

Doing hard things is, well, hard. Adjusting to this new cat is hard. Writing a book is hard. Lots of things are hard.

But we're going to get through this one day at a time. Which is the way I get through novels, which are probably equally stressful for me. In fact, I'm procrastinating starting on my rewrite for that very reason. But I'm going to handle that like I'm handling these silly kitties.

1. Have goals.
2. Patiently work toward the goals.
3. If something isn't working, try something else. Allow extra time and expect set-backs.
4. Take it one day at a time so you don't become too stressed.

Hope everybody had a great Thanksgiving (or if you don't celebrate Thanksgiving, hope you have a good weekend anyway :-D)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Submitting Stories

For me, story submissions of any kind feels like getting in line for one of those theme park free-fall rides where you sit on the little bicycle seat, get strapped in like a baby in a carseat and then get dropped seven stories. You're a little excited, you're pretty scared, and you know it's going to probably hurt.

A lot.

Yeeeaah, at a time like this I always just want somebody to hold my hand and ride with me :-(

Seriously, rejection sucks. There's a part of me that would almost rather just not know that my writing is no good and nobody is interested. I'd almost rather just blissfully think I've got a shot at this whole writing business.

Almost. Fortunately, the desire to actually succeed is stronger than that head-in-the-sand mentality.

On a slightly different note, does anybody else feel that disorienting mental split when they read their own stuff? Half of me is like THIS IS GENIUS! and the other half is like Nobody in their right mind will want this stuff. It's AWFUL.

Hopefully, the reality is somewhere in the middle between those two. Or, hey, I'd settle for the former... :-)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Good Thing About Short Stories

The good thing about short stories?

I can totally surrender to the plot bunnies!!

If you aren't familiar with the term, "plot bunnies" generally refers to those pesky ideas that multiple like rabbits in your brain while you're diligently (trying to) chipping away at your 100k word novel. Plot bunnies for me are like shiny objects are for my cat. Unbelievably distracting.

The beauty of a short story is just that. It's short. So while I'm writing short story 1, I can pop over to a new word document and jot down a few paragraphs for short story 2, 3, and 4 without experiencing the spasms of guilt that usually accompany such actions when I'm writing a novel. Heck, I might even finish story 2 right then and there before I've returned to story 1.

It's refreshing.

I'm enjoying my creative break. I'm not NOT writing, I'm just doing something else. And the plot bunnies are going crazy.

Anybody else struggle with plot bunnies?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Blarg Blarg Writing Stuff

I run through three week cycles of manic-depressive creative confidence/despair. My life is a lot like this, actually.

So this week I'm dragging a bit.

However, I've had some success in the short story department. I'm knee-deep in a post-apocalyptic story at the moment, aiming for about 7k and getting close to finishing it, and I'm editing a paranormal one a wrote a few months ago (though I do wonder what sort of market those have these days. Are they out? Hmm.)

And I had this great idea the other night of how I can update an old civil war short story to make it a little more palatable to sci fi tastes.

So I'm being (sort of) productive.

Eh.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Friday Fun at Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse


Friday night I did something I've always wanted to do. I went to a Halloween haunted house attraction with some friends. And this was not just any haunted house. Folks, this was an interactive, role-playing, undead extravaganza of apocalyptic awesome.
My awesome artwork.

The Atlanta Zombie Apocalypse.

I found out about this unique attraction when zombie author Carrie Ryan twittered about it, actually. I was instantly intrigued. Zombies? Guns? Military escorts? Gotta do it. I dragged my (reluctant) husband, my (extremely eager) brother-in-law, and a handful of their friends on board with the idea. We went Friday night and had a complete blast.

I should add that when it came down to it, I was the one being dragged. I don't really LIKE being terrified out of my wits. I generally don't watch horror movies. Never in a million years would I want to spend the night in a real haunted house. But this experience, which was described by one reviewer as "like being dropped into a live video game," sounded too fun to miss. So I went, fully expecting to chicken out at the entrance, but my husband got exasperated, declared "You're going," and bought a $20 non-refundable ticket. It was the point of no return. And at the time, while I stood staring at this wall of skulls with creepy music playing and creepy workers milling around, I really didn't know if I was going to make it out alive.

But the event was really enjoyable. The basic premise is simple. You're a group of survivors in the middle of a zombie apocalypse being escorted through an undead-infested city by two military personnel equipped with M-16s. There's a lot of running and screaming. The video available through the link at the top of this post makes it look nauseatingly scary, but the actual experience was closer to simply "adrenaline-pumping fun." We ran through dark corridors and up and down staircases with stuff jumping out from dark doorways and popping around corners while escorts were shooting everything that moved. We got chased by zombies down narrow hallways and through a nasty hospital with some undead nurses lurking in the shadows. A blood-covered doctor flung something in my eye--I think (hope!) it was water? I was nearly accosted by some freaky biker dude in the red light district of zombie town. The military people interacted with us and each other. I got called "bright eyes." There was a mad scientist with an evil plot.

In short, it was FUN. I'm a giant wuss and I did just fine, so if scary stuff isn't your thing I think you'll do just fine =)

So if you live in the greater Atlanta area, I suggest you check it out.

~ I am still, however, Team Unicorn ~

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Short Stories!

Naturally, I picked THE EXACT TIME that image uploads are disabled to write the post. I'm freaking brilliant, people.

WIPW!

It's Weeeeednesday, which means that I have to give some sort of status update on my WIP. And I actually have good news, ya'll! Let's retrace the steps of MASQUERADE (working title):

How I write a novel

1. (2006) I have an idea while walking along a beach in Boston. I scribble down a few sentences.
2. I come up with plot lines and character arcs and hate them all. I loosely plot the book. Nothing is working. I hate it. I don't write anything. I loudly proclaim my despair. I forget the idea and work on something else that IS making sense. I write 6 other books before returning to this one.
3. (2009) I remember idea. Love it all over again. Scribble ideas, brainstorm, daydream. I put it aside, afraid to write it. It's not ready yet.
4. (early 2010) In a burst of inspiration, I discover the ending to the story and thus the entire book begins to make sense. I begin plotting and brainstorming characters. I dream up Shana. I love her. But I haven't quite figured her out yet.
5. (spring 2010) I begin writing while procrastinating on another book. At my in-law's house, I invent the romantic interest. I immediately fall in love with him. More writing.
6. I run into horrible trouble. Nothing is working. The characters feel flat and lifeless. I don't know what the emotional point of the book is, I don't know who anybody is or what they want. They all have secrets they're hiding from me. I become discouraged. I rant to my husband about character motivation and eat too much ice cream cake. I contemplate changing the POV.
7. (summer 2010) I discover, in another fit of creative brilliance, what my main male character is lying about. I realize why he and the queen have so much baggage, and why he can't fully trust my main character Shana. I decide I'm a genius. I begin writing again.
8. I impose a new rule upon myself. Must write for internet--I can't get online unless I've produced 1k of story. I get a lot done, but it's haphazard. I abandon much of the original plot and gleefully chase after secondary characters. The story has more rabbit trails than a petting zoo bunny enclosure. I discover lots of wonderful things. All semblance of order goes to pot.
9. I hit 45k and decide the whole thing is ruined. Angst mingles with horror. I throw everything out and declare that I'm starting over.
10. I decide to plot this time around. I write paragraphs of notes about each chapter, carefully making note of clues for the mysteries in the book. There are now all kinds of mysteries and twists and liars and secrets.
11. I finish plotting. I love the book. I already have ideas for a sequel.
12. (This morning) I write the first 2 chapters. I like them. I resolve to finish the 2nd draft by the end of January.

And there you have it. That's basically how I write a book. I've barely begun, really (I'm in chapter 3!) but at the same time I'm really about halfway done. I'm feeling pretty confident, though. HOPEFULLY this will all come together this time around.

Other news

I'm completely in love with short stories again. Yesterday at work I read a short story that knocked me flat. It was amazing. I went home and promptly began writing about paradox, which lead to writing about a girl at her grandmother's funeral, and her complicated relationship with her mother. I have no idea what I'm going to do with this vignette, but I am determined to finish it and make it into something beautiful. Also * deep breath * I want to try submitting some short stories. I've always wanted to but never dared.

Has anybody out there ever done so? Any advice?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Zombicorns and Answering Questions

Happy Monday!

Actually, this Monday was a bit of a dud, and not very happy at all besides the slice of double chocolate ice cream cake I ate after work. So I added a zombicorn to this post, because zombicorns cannot help but make everything better.

 * Zombicorn *


See?

Anyways.

I have a question for you guys! If you're an aspiring author, do you tell people about your goals and dreams? Are you candid with your family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances? Or do you mumble something about your day job when they ask what you do/want to do, leaving the writer bit out completely? Or is it something in between?

I know people mean well, but I have a hard time with this question.


Annnd question 2! If you DO tell them, what do you say? If you DON'T, why? Leave your thoughts in the comments, please! I'm planning a post about my feelings on the matter, and I'm interested in seeing what other writers think.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

WIPW: Scrapping the Rough Draft

Last night I was lying awake thinking about my WIP. I have written almost 45k a this point in the rough draft, but I'm still pretty dissatisfied with the whole thing. Now, I really like the premise, and since I added a paranormal subplot I like it even better. However...

Right now the structure is pretty flawed. I feel like there needs to be at least one more subplot, something that will give my main character some more emotional rapport (I'm thinking of adding another friendship/drama and possibly another romantic interest early on) and something to think about beyond the main plot of the story, which has to actually get slightly buried on her list of priorities.

Anyway, I was contemplating the whole thing and all the work I'm going to have to do to restructure and fix the character arcs, and then I realized--I really don't even like the tone of the book. As I've been writing it, I've realized how much I want it to be a darker, Asiany/Gothic (weird combo?) story. Murder, plots, blackmail, monsters, masks. I want a sort of bizarre wonderfulness that has darkness and sparkle at the same time. It's the kind of book that I could write while listening to Phantom of the Opera or Poets of the Fallen. But right now it's more of a glittery fairy tale.


I don't know if I can do what I want to with this book, but I at least want to try.

So basically I decided it would be easier to throw everything out and start over, trying to get the mood right and the characters right from the beginning. But all isn't lost! I figured out where I want to go and who everybody is with that first draft, as awful as the thing was on paper. And who knows? Maybe I'll be able to salvage a few chapters.

Has anybody else successfully thrown out a first draft?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

How Twitter Could Help You As A Writer

Twitter can be controversial.

When I first heard about Twitter a few years ago, I thought, "What's the point? You just tell people online what you're doing all day long? Who cares if I'm eating a sandwich right now?" At the time, the whole thing seemed pointless--a stripped-down networking site that reduced the user's presence to the equivalent of abbreviated Facebook statuses. And a lot of other people feel the same way, if blog comments and overheard conversations and things said on Facebook are any indication.

Fortunately, however, I bowed to pressure from my brother and got an account. I let it sit for a while, doing little with it other than following a few screenwriters and authors. I didn't really know how to navigate it, I didn't really know how to utilize it.

* BTW ~ Ignorance, my friends, is no excuse in the age of Google. *

Anyway, after a while I started tweeting about writing, and I got a few followers. I started to see that I could use Twitter to connect with others who shared my passion. Then I found this blog, which opened my eyes to how to use Twitter. She actually had a fantastic article about Twitter, which I would have posted here (but couldn't find it!) ... This was my turning point. I began to use Twitter in earnest as a tool to improve my writing.

Sometimes I hear people say things like "Twitter is just a huge waste of time" in relation to writers, or just people in general, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from giving them my rant about how a tool's usefulness is determined by the user, and how people shouldn't make blanket statements before they understand something.

Now, in all fairness, Twitter CAN be a waste of time (albeit an enjoyable one), and I'm not going to pretend I don't use it to procrastinate too. But it can also be supremely useful, and I hate to see something that is so useful be slapped down without any defending on my part.

So here's my rant about how it has helped me:

1. COMPANIONSHIP. Twitter is an excellent way to find others like you. Writing is lonely work, and Twitter has allowed me to connect with other writers, especially other aspiring writers who share my dreams and hopes and fears. I don't know a single other person in my normal circle of friends and acquaintances from my home town who is writing seriously with the intent to be published (there are one or two fanfic writers, but if I tried to talk about publishing houses to them they'd run screaming). Heck, nobody I know personally even knows what a query is, or why a synopsis makes me want to tear my hair out, or how funny Janet Reid is and why she makes me laugh till I cry, or what sorts of trends are big in YA right now (Well, nobody except for those unlucky individuals who I've chosen to confide in on a daily basis, IE, my bestie Nikki and my husband, poor souls).

This is why Twitter is so awesome. I have 300+ individuals who are following me who KNOW MY PAIN. Solidarity is a fantastic support when it comes to writing, and furthermore, having that emotional support and commiseration with others has transformed me as a writer. I am no longer alone in my journey through the valley of the shadow of queries, and that by itself is a reason to be on Twitter.

2. INFORMATION. Twitter is a huge grapevine where information passes word-of-mouth rapid-fire. Information flows thick and fast as users in the writing community share links to blogs, videos, events, and contests, and they tweet good news like an author's NYT bestseller list debut, or upcoming books, or author signings. My understanding of writing, writers, the publishing business, libraries, conferences, awards, and much more has quadrupled since I started Tweeting. If somebody has something interesting or helpful, somebody else out there will retweet it, and then somebody else, and it gets passed on down the line until I see it.

Basically, Twitter gave me the tools to become a better, smarter, savvier writer.

3. SUPPORT. Twitter helped me find people who could help me, like agents who would answer my querying questions and beta readers who would help me edit MSS. With all those writer-related people connected to me, and with the ability to share information and blog posts and tweets and links, I've forged friendships. From these friendships come all kinds of benefits, like offers to trade and critique manuscripts, offers of help on synopses and queries, and just general support and encouragement.

I would have never met these people without Twitter.

In summary, Twitter can be extremely helpful to the aspiring writer. Yes, it is possible to fritter away all your writing time tweeting, but if you can practice some will-power (an important skill to learn anyway, if you want to write) you can keep that from taking over your life.

Twitter is a tool, and a darn good one in my opinion, that has proved invaluable to my personal growth as a writer over the last two years.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Does Anybody Care What You Had For Lunch? A Rambling Post

This is sort of a ramble, so bear with me.

I just picked a scab (I know, ew) and my face was bleeding. I was on Twitter, so I thought idly that maybe I should tweet "My face is bleeding." But instead I got up to dab it with a napkin and, as often happens to me, I started a conversation with someone in my head as I did so (not myself, because this imaginary person is way too negative to be me).

Me: * Thinking about tweeting about bleeding faces and wondering if that's TMI. *

Imaginary Person: Nobody wants to read about your bleeding face. Seriously?

Me: Oh, I don't know. Somebody might. It's just something to say. It's kind of funny. I could make it a joke about zombies or something. See?

IP: Nobody cares if your face is bleeding. Nobody cares if you just ate a sandwich. Why do you tweet about anything about your mundane life? Nobody cares! Nobody!

At this point the conversation ceased, because I'd seized upon a thought that surfaced after that last remark. I hear it ALL THE TIME, but . . .


That simply isn't true.

About the face and the sandwiches, I mean. Now at this point I figure the Imaginary Person is sort of mishmash of things I've heard many people say over many years that I repeat back to myself, not necessarily because I believe these people and the things they said, but because I like to argue with them and discuss their points and think about their reasoning in a safe setting (my brain).

Mind you, this isn't the part where I go "Of course people care, because we're all special little snowflakes blah blah blah snore." No. I mean, that's not what it is for me. I just know it's not true because:

I just LIKE knowing random facts about people. I like hearing what people think. I like knowing what they're up to and how they're like me and how they're different. It's interesting.

See, I'm sort of a harmless snoop. I WOULD feel bad admitting that because it sounds sort of weird/creepy, except it seems to be somewhat common among writer types. (Tawna Fenske wrote a post about it a few months ago, I remember. I was all HAHA I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE!). See. I care about crap like bleeding faces and what people had for lunch. Don't get me wrong--I don't want to have a 20 minute conversation with a stranger about these topics, that would be sort of intimidating, but I'm genuinely interested in the dumb little details people tweet about all the time.

I am always looking at people and wondering, "What do they see when they look at the world? What are they thinking about me as we're having this conversation? Are they as bored by the small talk as I am? Are they as shy as me? I wonder if they hate cats." And other kinds of random things. I people watch. I make up random stories about people in my head. If I know someone even in the most casual sense on Twitter, and they tweet "Going to the pool! Wearing my pink and red flip-flops!" I find that interesting. Usually it sets me daydreaming about a story idea or something like that. I'm not trying to be creepy. I'm just really into details, and I love it when people toss them around for me to graze on at my leisure. Hence one of the reasons I really like Twitter.

Mind you, I don't go around looking in windows or anything, but I love people watching and I love overhearing conversations. I love seeing little snippets of other people's lives. And I LOVE LOVE LOVE it when people dissect all the things they were thinking and feeling in a given situation. I blame the writer inside my head. She finds this stuff fantastic fodder for character motivation. They're always like, "This is probably so boring to you," and I'm like ... "It really isn't."

I mean, what is reading if not the chance to see things through somebody else's eyes for a little while?

Anyway, like I said before, this is a ramble! I just wanted to be able to say all this in response to all those times when people have declared "NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU HAD FOR LUNCH . . . Bunch of sad lonely people on Twitter, thinking anybody cares." And they mean it. They're being sincere and they think they're doing everyone a favor by saying so. I mean, I don't think some of these people are being douchenozzles about this. They really think it's true.

But I get so sick of that. Like one person can stand up and declare how every person in the world thinks. Usually the people bellowing loudly about how little they want to know about your pathetic, uninteresting life are the type to least know what other people are thinking, perhaps because they're so determined to focus only on themselves.

I say all that to say this. Don't feel guilty if you tweet about what you ate for lunch. Granted, if all you tweet is "Now I'm putting on my shoes." "Now I'm watching Law and Order" "Now I'm watering the plant" that might not make you an interesting follow and people might wonder other things about you, like what you think about the latest movie you saw, or what you're writing, or whatever. But don't feel like you have to be a link-spewing machine either. Or that you have to quit Twitter because some angry guy in a suit said nobody could possibly be interested in anything you have to say.

Lots of people are interested in the stuff you have to say.

That goes for writing books too, I guess.

Okay ... rant over.

PS ~ Gee, I sound like a psycho. Voices in my head, snooping ... lol. It's a writer thing.

Anyway.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

WIPW: The Role of the Rough Draft

It's WIP Wednesday!

I have previously discussed (whined) about all the trouble I've been having with this WIP I'm currently working on.

Aside: I think this book needs a working title. I mean, it has a working title, but not one that I want to share. It's nothing naughty--don't think that! It's just boring. And this book is anything but boring, so it needs a fun title! Something random. Thoughts? Hmmm. * ponders *

ANYWAY the WIP isn't giving me fits any more. I feel downright calm about it. This magical transformation of attitude occurred after I realized something pretty imporant.

(Disheartening, but important.)

Sometimes rough drafts are just for practice.

Oh, my soul bleeds at that thought!That is a terrifying thing to contemplate. Ugh. I don't even like reading that sentence.

But it's true.

I really was dragged into this realization kicking and screaming, but once I warmed to it I found that it was comforting. Of course, all rough drafts don't have to be thrown away. The previous 2 MSS I've completed were acceptable after heavy editing and required no total rewrite. HOWEVER, every book is different.

Sometimes, you have to write to figure out what you want to write. Sometimes you have to write the book to understand the characters.

And then you have to start over.

Now, I'm not so willing to martyr the book yet. When I'm done, I'll take a good long look at it and determine if I can get away with just a really vicious edit. Maybe it can be done. I certainly hope so, anyway.

I say all that to say this. If you are despairing at the state of your current project, or if you think it's horrible and rambling and going nowhere, don't stress so much about it. Even if you have to throw it away and start again, you aren't wasting your time. If you write all that and discover your book really is about something else entirely--take heart. It's part of the journey. Sometimes you have to write it to know that it's wrong.



"I rewrote the ending of 'Farewell to Arms' 39 times before I was satisfied."- Ernest Hemingway

What he said ;-)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WIP Wednesday: Forcing Productivity

If you saw my previous tongue-in-cheek-but-actually-confessional post about actual productivity for many writers, you'll know why I was distressed after I took a good hard look at my own time set aside for "writing."

I had to come up with some kind of plan. Some incentive to keep me on the straight and narrow. Otherwise it would be internet forever and no books at all to show for it.

But, my inner self whines whenever I think this, I like writing rough drafts about as much as I like shoveling manure. On the other hand, I LOVE internet.

I had to do something! So I created a rule for myself that went into effect immediately.

NO INTERNET unless I've written at least 1 thousand words in the WIP. Per day. 

Writing is hard. But will write for internet!!!

BUT so far, it's working out pretty well. I grit my teeth and bang out the required lines, which produces a happy, glowing feeling inside. Once I'm finished, I triumphantly hit save, and then I can log onto Twitter and brag about my success. With this accomplished, I'm free to gleefully watch youtube videos about fainting goats and baby tigers. And chances are, since I got my creative juices flowing, I might just return to the WIP too.

Speaking of Works in Progress, I've returned to the nasty nasty MS that gives me fits. And I think I'm making headway!

* fireworks! applause! ice cream cake! *

The biggest push for me was a new and enthusiastic beta reader who is begging for more. Naturally, being the kind and generous soul that I am, I must write in order to put her out of her misery. * modesty * Annnnd with the writing comes sudden bursts of creativity.  It's really a lovely cycle.



So thanks for that, Rebecca :-D

Anybody else making headway with a WIP lately? What's YOUR secret to getting that creative drive back?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

WIP Wednesday!

I have some great news to report.

I'm writing again.

At least, I'm excited about writing again. For the last month or so I've been struggling to get words down. But over the last week I've had a few good ideas regarding plot holes and characterization.

I don't have anything to post in terms of WIPs, because I'm in first drafts right now and they are t.e.r.r.i.b.le. in my opinion. BUT! I have a question.

How do you get from THIS ...
To THIS?

What do you do to motivate yourself when you absolutely do not want to write? When writing feels like holding your hand to the fire or pushing a cart full of bricks up a mountainside or chipping at an iceberg with a plastic spoon?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Themes That Inspire

What particular themes in books inspire you as a reader?

And you aren't allowed to just say "love." That's too basic. I'll use it as a jumping off point, though! Let's think about love. Let's pretend you said "love." What KIND of love story inspires you?

Types of love, for instance

Forbidden love?

Unusual/unexpected attraction?

Dangerous/ill-advised attachment?

Unrequited love?

Friendship-that-turns-into-love?

What's the point of this, you ask?

I think if you play this game with yourself you'll discover the threads and undercurrents that you can put into your own writing to give it that punch of genuine feeling that can breathe life into a work. So ask yourself, what speaks to you?

I actually want you to think about something other than love if possible, even though I mentioned it above. Dig deep; consider emotions that are more nuanced and less articulated in song and film and poetry. 

What speaks to me

I pondered this question recently, sifting through memories, favorite books, and childhood stories. A common theme emerged, and once I recognized it, I realized it made sense. I like stories about vindication.

vin·di·cate  (vnd-kt)
tr.v. vin·di·cat·ed, vin·di·cat·ing, vin·di·cates
1. To clear of accusation, blame, suspicion, or doubt with supporting arguments or proof: "Our society permits people to sue for libel so that they may vindicate their reputations" (Irving R. Kaufman).
2. To provide justification or support for: vindicate one's claim.
3. To justify or prove the worth of, especially in light of later developments.
4. To defend, maintain, or insist on the recognition of (one's rights, for example).
5. To exact revenge for; avenge.
I suppose this says a lot about me as a person, not to mention my childhood. C'est la vie.

(^ For clarification, I have provided the definition of the word according to The Free Dictionary. I highlighted my favorite bits, too.)


After I recognized my love of/need for vindication in literature and embraced it, I started trying to put pieces of it into every WIP. This injects emotion into my writing and motivates me to care more about the work.

What themes and emotions move you as a reader, and why?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Speaking Up for SPEAK

If you're on Twitter, you're probably familiar with the controversy surrounding Laurie Halse Anderson's beautiful book SPEAK, the story of a girl who slowly goes silent after she is raped. I wanted to speak out myself about the importance of this story. I feel like I have a responsibility as a writer, as someone who suffered in silence, and as a Christian to take a stand on this issue.

First, this book helped change me.

I won't say it saved my life, because I was past that crisis when I read Speak, but the book deeply moved me and taught me and healed me all the same. It told a story that I had a part in. A story about marginalized people who are dying inside silently even as they are judged and misunderstood by those around them. It said things I couldn't say. And reading it changed me--this book made me stronger.

There are only a few books I can say that about. Speak is one of them. I have spent most of my life in pieces, and every once in a while I read a book that puts a few more of the fragments back together for me, a book that's like a window into a dark room or a hand reaching out to me in a crowd.

Speak is that kind of a book.

Censorship angers me anyway, but I am a devout Christian believer and the fact that this man is trying to ban this book in the name of God and my faith deeply saddens me. (I'll be honest and admit it doesn't surprise me, but it saddens me.)

This blog post isn't going to turn into a raw description of the horrors I experienced in regards to my own personal issues. I'm not ready to go there. I just wanted to say that the words of Laure Halse Anderson and provided such healing and such release for me--Wintergirls as well as Speak. It's not just about rape or eating disorders or specific things like that. These books speak out about being so hurt and torn and beaten down and lost and weak and silent that you don't know how to even cry out for help.

Speak has given abused, hurting, and silent teens a voice.

Veronica Roth says it so beautifully on her blog that I wanted to include an excerpt here. She says,


"The world is broken. No matter how much time you spend covering your eyes, and covering your children's eyes, the world will still be broken when you uncover them. And when I say the world is broken, I mean that bad crap is happening to people everywhere and people are doing terrible things everywhere. Do you want your kids to understand just how beautiful the grace of God is? Then they have to understand how crappy the world is. It's not just "a good idea." It's necessary."

All I can say to that is AMEN.

I wonder what Bible this fellow is reading, because it surely isn't mine. The Bible depicts a lot of brutal and hard things, sir. It doesn't shy away from the horrible, disgusting things that happen out there in a fallen, messed up world. You may want to cover your eyes and pretend it doesn't happen, but I can't. And I won't.

I've included links to the blog posts of two other lovely fellow writers who articulate all of this much much better than I do here:

C.J.'s post

Myra's post

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

WIP Wednesday!

Guys, I FORGOT it was Wednesday.

This means it's Work In Progress on the blog. I'll get to that in a minute.

First, I had an idea while I was driving home from work today. I was thinking about American Idol, Project Runway, America's Next Top Model, etc, and then I thought, How awesome would it be if we had a show (or even just a contest) like American Idol and such except for wanna-be authors?

I don't exactly see such a concept making for great TV, mind you ... I mean, where's the drama in a bunch of people sitting around writing? But what if there was some kind of online forum where the writers' pieces could be posted, and people could vote, and there could be all kinds of awesome prizes like a book deal for the winner? I would definitely tune in for that.

Or maybe I just wish writers got a little more love. Like Ally Carter pointed out recently on Twitter, when has Dancing With The Stars EVER had an author on the show?

Well, I digress. On the the WIP stuff.

What exactly am I working on right now? Good question. I'm sort of floating several idea around in my head and picking none of them. I have a couple projects that I'm working on ("working on") but I have the end-of-summer blues. Yick.

Anyway, here's a little bit from one of my current fantasy/court intrigue WIPs. Shana, the main character, heard sounds of struggle outside her rooms in the palace and went to investigate. She finds a man bleeding in the corridor. Someone she knows ...

Enjoy!


           
         “Help me,” he whispered. “They’re trying to kill me. I’ve been stabbed.”
His voice sounded vaguely familiar, but Shana had no time to consider where she had heard it before. She reached out and caught his wrist. The door had shut behind her—it was too dark to see much. She needed to get him out of there before someone came back. “Can you stand?”
            “I think so.” He gripped her hand. “Your shoulder, please.”
She bent down, and he wrapped one arm clumsily around her neck. Shana braced herself against the wall as the man slid his legs forward and found an angle through which he could push himself up to a standing position. Together they limped for the door, and she pushed it open with her elbow.
            The man collapsed on the ground just inside her chamber. Shana looked down into his face and froze.
            Lying on her rug, dressed entirely in black and bleeding profusely from his side, was the queen’s stupid, handsome, dangerous Fool.
            Shock slipped over her skin like ice.
            The Fool lifted the hand that had been pressed to his ribs, and Shana saw the dark blood smeared across it. For one awful moment the room around her blurred except for that splash of dark red against the white of his skin, and she felt a cold, sharp pang run straight through her like a blade. Was he dying?
            More importantly, why did she care?
“Mistress,” Filia gasped from the doorway, her voice dragging Shana thoughts back to the present and what needed to be done.
She shook off her shock. “Filia—A doctor. Find one. Quickly.”
            “You will hardly want to explain my presence in your rooms,” the Fool murmured, speaking calmly for a man who might be bleeding to death as he met her eyes and tried to smile suggestively. But his face was turning gray, and his words began to slur.
            “I want a dead man on my floor even less.” Shana crouched down beside him and turned back to Filia, who was still hovering uncertainly by the door. “Go now. We can bribe the physician to keep his mouth shut.”
            The servant girl slipped outside and was gone.         
“Are you planning on using that?” The Fool nodded at the knife in her hand, which she hadn’t realized she was still carrying. Shana slipped it into her bodice, between the bone supports of her corset and the thin silk of her undershirt. Awareness of what she’d done was beginning to trickle through her, the full import of her actions blossoming in her mind.
            “Do you want to tell me why someone just tried to stab you?”
            He rolled his head to one side to see her better, his golden hair flopping into his eyes. “Someone doesn’t like the fact that I’ve been keeping the Austrisian diplomat from speaking to the queen, I think.”
            “Hmmm, maybe the diplomat himself?”
            He shook his head slightly, wincing at the movement. “He wouldn’t dare. Such a move against the queen could make his job . . . messy.”
            She looked him over. “Killing you wouldn’t cause a war.”
            He tried to sit up on his elbows, but the pain in his side made him fall back. “No. But such an action, within her own palace . . . ? No, he isn’t that stupid.” He lay down again and tucked his hand over his wound.
            Shana rather thought he was being generous to the diplomat in matters of intelligence, but she let it go. She reached for a pillow and put it behind his head. The Fool’s eyebrows lifted, and she scowled.
            “I am not incapable of kindness, you know.”
            “Then can you find something to stuff in my side to keep me alive until the doctor comes?”
            She found a pillowcase and he pressed it to his side. A stain blossomed across the cream-colored fabric like spilled ink. Shana put her hand over his to hold the cloth steady. They glanced at each other, and the unspoken words between them shivered in the air.
            The door opened, startling her, and Filia slipped in again with one of the palace physicians in tow—a young doctor-in-training. He licked his lips and looked from Shana to the Fool.
            “Trouble between lovers?” He suggested with a smile, but his voice trembled a little. 
             Shana and the Fool pinned him with twin glares.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fitting the Character to the Story

Know what drives your characters. Use that.
Today I'd like to talk about a pet peeve of mine: characters who do things that make little or no sense simply for the advancement of plot.

Characters + Plot

If you find yourself having to move your character around in the book like a puppet, pulling strings and forcing actions that don't make logical sense or seem like cop-outs to your readers, then you need to adjust either 1) your story or 2) your character. 

How should the writer handle such a situation in which they need to make a character do something without just, well, making them do it? First, you need to start with your character's personality.

Who is your character?

Would would your character do in this situation, and how is that different than if another person were in the same situation? What motivates your character? What do they want? What are they like?

The story and main characters should flow together in harmony. You shouldn’t be able to have one without the other. The character’s personality, temperament, and motivation should have a direct effect on how that character will behave within the plot.

 Writing exercise ...
 
Here's an exercise to try--swap the main characters from two of your WIPs ... what happens? What is different about the books?

Hopefully a lot. Your character and his or her personality should affect the flow of the story somehow.

For example, my character Briand from DRAGONSAYER is impulsive, defensive, and tomboyish. Shana, a main character from another MS I'm writing, is calm, pensive, and calculating. In Shana’s story, she is sentenced to six years in a mining colony, but before her sentence can be carried out she is offered a job as a spy in the queen’s court in exchange for her eventual freedom. If Briand was dropped into this circumstance instead of Shana, she would most certainly get into a knife fight, blow her cover, and run away. But Shana takes the job and does it well because this is the sort of person she is, not just because I, as the writer, forced her character to do so.

In Briand’s story, she is hated outcast living in her uncle’s house. She's constantly getting into trouble and she's about to be shipped off to an apprenticeship as punishment, which sets in motion the rest of the events of the story. Shana, being the practical, quiet, clever person that she is, would not have made Briand’s mistakes. And without Briand’s impulsive and troublesome behavior getting her into one scrape after another, we wouldn’t have the story at all. 

Conclusion?

Character and story should be inseparable. Make the story fit the character, and the character fit the story. This might mean that as you write your story and further discover who your characters are (if you're an in-advance plotter, that is) you're going to have to make some changes to your plot along the way. But don't worry about that now. Be flexible. Allow your plot to unfold organically. Just don't make characters do things for no reason. Let their motivations come from who they are.

Don't make characters do things just because you need them to. If that's the case, you probably still have some adjusting to do somewhere else in the flow of the story.

"Plot springs from character ..." ~ Anne Lamott

Friday, September 10, 2010

Killer Openings (not in a good way!)

I love reading Kristin's blog, Pub Rants, and this brief entry was so good that I wanted to share! Check it out.

I know for sure I've done at least 2 of these things in the past. * cringe * And both of them in a manuscript submitted to her agency! *head desk * I'm pretty good about not opening with #1 back story (I always hated that in books, even as a kid) and with #2 (well hopefully so!!), but embarrassingly, I've definitely been guilty of #3 and #4.

I'm especially bad about prologues that have no immediate connection to the following chapter (probably because I've read real books that do this and I thought it would be okay/preferable). I think my rationale was that I could write something really cool and interesting to grab the agent's interest before I got into the main story. Oops! Looks like my strategy had the opposite effect ... glad I eventually ditched it.

It's good to know that prologues (at least certain kinds of prologues) are no-nos. For future reference.

Which mistakes on the list have you made in the past?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Work In Progress Wednesday


Hey, all! Today is the day in which I talk about a current WIP of mine.  Also, I'm going to talk about Dragon*Con, Carrie Ryan, and robots, so stick around.

First today's menu is a gigantic helping of cool excuses as to why I haven't exactly been working on my MSS this past couple of days.

Excuses: 

It's been a busy week for me. My husband and I went to the Decatur Book Festival, for one thing, where I heard Carrie Ryan talk about her zombie books. That was cool. But it did interfere with writing.

Also we did stuff with friends and family.

Then we spent a day at Dragon*Con:

Cute little lego stormstroopers!
I wish I'd taken more pictures of the awesome and the crazies at Dragon*Con, but I'm really shy and I was generally hesitant to walk up to random people and ask for a picture of them. I mostly took pictures of Star Wars costumes because I knew my little brother and sister would want to see that. I also saw a TON of awesome steampunk costumes, which made me very excited (but unfortunately I don't have pictures of that). And at one of the vendor booths, I found the steampunk pocket watch that inspired a portion of DRAGONSAYER, the book I'm currently querying...

But still, no writing.

But I'll talk about the WIP anyway:

I'm still having trouble with the flow of the story, and perhaps this is where some of my procrastination is coming from... I'm slowly uncovering the motivations of various characters and figuring out their convoluted back stories, but even then the writing itself is feeling clunky to me. Slow. Clogged. I need to do something, but I'm not sure what it is yet. If anyone has any suggestions, let me know.

The problem MIGHT be the POV (I'm currently writing in 3rd, but the story is beginning to feel like it needs to be 1st ... since I'm 30k in at this point I rather dread the prospect of changing it...)

Also, robots:
He could look like this.

I really really really really really wish I had a robot that could change the POV or tenses for me when this happens, because it is SO TEDIOUS to do myself. I would call him Robob. Will someone invent him for me, please?

Thanks. I'll be eternally grateful.

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