Wednesday, March 31, 2010
"How do you make memorable characters?
First, you must know them better than you know yourself."
Bev is very notebook oriented in her writing, which I love. She advocates using a drawing pad for character development. Each character gets a fresh, blank page, and she writes in columns everything she knows about the character. Then she focuses on their dreams and regrets, which she says are the most important elements since they help create character motivation.
Though she says writing journal entries in her characters' voices works for her, she also recommends having your character write a letter to you, the author. Listen to what they want, but also to the cadence of their speech, the syntax of their voices.
Another key to making memorable characters is to give them memorable traits. Make them interesting and memorable, and have flaws that come into play.
[My example, not Bev's: Arthur Dent is one of the most passive characters in all of literature (Yes, Hitchhiker is literature, dammit!), and he's an ordinary man. Hard to care about a character so ordinary. Why should we?
Part of the reason he's so memorable, aside from the adventures fate thrusts him into without towels or proper tea, is because he's constantly kept from getting what he wants. This gives the reader a reason to care about him. Of course, having hilarious writing and other memorable characters with interesting quirks and extra body parts always helps. ;)]
Bev says to remember that the important part of the story is not the outcome, but the struggle.
Readers want to read about active people trying, and often failing, to take charge of their lives. Readers also want characters to change, but it can't happen out of the blue, or be "told". We must "see" the events that change the character, or we won't believe it. This makes it seem to the reader that your characters are acting out of character, even if in the eyes of you, the writer, the change seems logical and natural. Think about what you're not showing the reader.
As for Bev's everyday writing process, she keeps multiple journals. One is an "emotional dumpster". Another is for random notes she takes as they come to her. She also keeps a project journal for each project, which I strongly advocate.
Her most important journal, she said, was her travel journal. This comes in handy for spying on people and eavesdropping. "If anyone's speaking in public loud enough to be heard, it's okay to steal." ;) Her pocket notebook captures the essence of the moment, and keeps that moment fresh until she can use it.
I tend to use the notes function on my phone for this, and for those middle of the night notes to myself. Much easier than trying to interpret my handwriting from 3am.
Hope you enjoyed this post! Bev was a hoot, and I wanted to leave with one last quote from her about writing:
"Editors reject books for being too familiar, and because they've been submitted too soon. It's like gumbo, folks, the longer it takes, the better!"
Tomorrow's post will be from literary agent Marly Rusoff's master class.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
This speaker is not only an author of both novels and short stories, he's also a professor at the University of New Orleans. He teaches his students to look at revising as finding the right way to tell the story.
In his classes for grad students, he has a list of "Rules of the Game"-- the sort of rules you've got to learn before you can break them.
1. For Boyden, Plausiblity, or the suspension of disbelief, ranks number one. Nothing jolts a reader out of the story faster than inconsistencies in character. Characters will/should change, but not without reason. Their motivation and willingness to change should come naturally as a part of the story.
2. Have a reader you trust. If you can't find someone you trust, read it aloud to yourself. Tape yourself reading and play it back to catch inconsistencies. Trust "the reader" as in, your audience. They are going to read based on their own personal experience, which may be completely different than yours.
3. Choice of narrator is key. They bring their own "baggage" to the story. They must take action, and not sit passively, all big eyes and ears. Victims of circumstance must eventually choose their own path. Readers want to side with a narrator NOT the author, which is why 3rd person omniscient pov has fallen out of favor. Which brings us to:
4. POV. How is the reader going to connect with your story?
Aside from sounding a trifle old-fashioned to the modern ear, 3rd omniscient never allows the reader to bridge the gap between them and the characters. Third person dramatic (a new one on me) tells a story using third person pronouns, but unlike limited or omniscient, the reader only sees what is obvious, the character actions, and is not given a glimpse into the minds of the characters.
Third limited is more or less exactly like first person, with different pronouns. It allows for greater empathy than omniscient. Second person narrative tends to read like an instruction manual.
90% of all first novels are told in 1st. The reasoning being that if we the writers are inside our character's heads, anything "they" say must be how they are experiencing life. But one of the pitfalls is to resort to too much telling. Its limitations include the inability to show the reader a scene if the narrator isn't there, and that it is more insular than third. Someone reading Nabokov's Lolita may feel uncomfortable referring to its anti-hero as "I" "Me", but might not have minded if it were in third. (Of course, in this case, prose and style win a lot of points over discomfort)
*If you alternate pov (at this point I swear he was staring right at me, like he knew about PARALLEL), you'd better have a good reason for it, and your results had better be effective.
Distance is the biggest problem during revision. Characters must come alive through action and dialogue, hence, interaction between characters is important. They play off one another, build each other's character.
5. It helps to break down the parts of your story into "Building Blocks".
a. Exposition- background, internal monologue, filling in the blanks. Not to be overused or abused, "telling" passages better have great "voice".
b. Scene- action as it happens. Sounds easy enough, but the actions must strike a balance with both Exposition, and:
c. Dialogue- speech. No "telling" of the plot, no "As you know, Bob..." Speech should reveal more about character and emotion than plot. If it feels too easy, it probably is.
6. Tempo- Not only is pacing important, but each individual sentence must have rhythym and emotional impact. Don't rush or drag out scenes or the emotion won't be there.
7. Finally, What you find yourself leaning on, is probably what you'll need to excise the most. (I think we can all look inside ourselves and answer that one.) Recognize when you're falling into patterns. Question your reasoning for making a decision you aren't sure about.
Tune in tomorrow for my notes on author and professor, Bev Marshall's class on creating memorable characters. Bev stepped in for E.M Kelby, who was unable to attend the festival.
And don't forget to visit The Beta Club today!
Thursday, March 25, 2010
I'm lucky enough to be attending various Tennessee Williams Literary Festival Master Classes today and tomorrow at The Historic New Orleans Collection, so I'll try to do some posts next week on what I've gleaned from them. For now, here's a link to the program. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments, but I'm not attending the 9am this morning.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
We all have our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to our writing.
I'm weaker with character development and dialogue than I am with setting description and plot twists. I know what I need to work on, but sometimes knowing feels like it's only like a sixteenth of the battle. Maybe less.
Here's the eternal question: How do we get the story in our heads to match up with the story on the page?
It turns out I've had to do a lot of scene by scene work, determining exactly what's happening in each scene. I'm realizing that I'm sacrificing characterization for the sake of plot and word count in many places, and that ain't good.
Who cares what happens in my story if my characters aren't alive? Well, you know, alive in the mind of the reader and all that jazz. So I've been trying to analyze what I enjoy about the characters in the books I've been reading recently.
Alexia Tarabotti from Carriger's Soulless didn't have to do much to earn my sympathy--sure, she had to kill a vampire, keeping her wits about her, but it was the fact that she'd escaped the confines of a stuffy party in search of a dessert cart that really won me over. The more I learned about her (not only is she lacking a soul, a secret she can keep from her family, but not supernatural creatures, she's also suffering from the unfortunate malady of being half-Italian ;D) the more I wanted her to get exactly what she wanted--even if she didn't know she wanted it yet.
It's all well and good to analyze, but putting this characterization into practice is much more difficult for me. One writing book I read (which one? really they're all a blur at this point) said that nearly every line of your manuscript should be pulling double, or even triple, duty.
For example: Dialogue should enhance character development as well as advance the plot. Narrative in a first person pov should do the same.
During my next round of revisions, I'm going to be ruthless with my writing. I'll have to make sure every line is pulling it's weight, or if there's a different way to say the same thing that will add to another aspect of the story, adding realism and affecting the reader in an emotional way.
Difficult as it is to read my own work as if I don't know the story, I'm trying to see it with fresh eyes this time around. Hopefully, I'll be able to add an extra dimension of detail and emotion to the story that was lacking before!
How do y'all tackle characterization? Does it come naturally, or is it like dragging a basketball-sized lead weight through a swamp in the dark with no shoes on? Cause that's how it feels for me sometimes. ;)
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I had a giant chocolate truffle last night that my husband made. It was delicious. And the sun is shining this morning. In case you were wondering. ;)
So waaaay back in the last week of February--c'mon, people, if I can remember back that far, y'all can too--I posted how I had all these awesome books to read, yet I hadn't read more than the first chapter of any of them.
Well, it only took me a month, but as of this weekend, I've finished three of those books:
The Maze Runner, by James Dashner
Soulless, by Gail Carriger, and
Fire, by Kristin Cashore
Now I can plow through the rest of the fourth and fifth Percy Jackson books and not feet guilty. ;)
But I'm glad I read those three book when I did. Frankly, I was getting a little burned out on YA paranormal romances, which is a genre I love to write. I kept telling myself I needed to stay abreast (that's right, I said abreast *giggle*) of what was being written in that genre, but the more of them I read, the more I felt like my work was too different from what people expect from the genre to be popular or successful.
Of course, they said epic fantasy was dead and look at Kristin Cashore. Reading Fire was like going back in time... ya know, to that time like fifteen years ago when I read a ton of epic fantasy. I've got to read Graceling, now, too. She not only revived the genre, but reminded me that not every YA novel has to be set in a high school. Sweet.
That's just one of the aspects I enjoyed about The Maze Runner. Not only did the prose live up to the premise, I really found myself rooting for these kids until the end. Hell, I'm still thinking about them, so guess what's got two thumbs and is going to be coveting the sequel when it comes out in October? *points thumbs at chest* Yes, me. Huh, that bit doesn't go over so well in print. But anyway, if you like adventure novels or are looking for a good book for your 12-35 year old son/husband, it's a sure thing.
As for Soulless, I realized that it was the first non-YA book I'd read in quite some time... not since I read Dearly Devoted Dexter in December--look, I can be alliterative, too. Both of these books have a way with words that I adore. I'd love to be able to do that with my own work, but I fear it would come across as too pretentious for YA, and not suitable for my current urban fantasy. But they were fun to read. It reminded me that I need to read more widely.
In fact, I'd recommend that to any writer feeling frustrated with their chosen genre. Write literary fiction and keep moaning how you'll never be the next Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood? Read some genre fiction instead. Maybe shifting gears will get your brain out of that rut. And all us old people writing for teens should remember to read books written for old people every once in a while just for fun. ;)
Or just read outside your comfort zone for a change! When was the last time any of y'all read an entire book of non-fiction? That's what I thought. Try it.
You might be surprised by a good book you never thought you'd read.
Anyone been pleasantly surprised by a book lately?
And don't forget today's Beta Club!
Monday, March 22, 2010
In case you can't tell, I'm feeling a little blue this morning.
The last thing I wanted was for this weekend to end. I planted a bunch of trees on our street, saw Alice in Wonderland in 3d, got some new jewelry-making supplies. But as the weekend was winding down, I realized I'd lost my wallet, I didn't make any jewelry I was happy with, I didn't do any editing work on Strings, and my husband was going to have to start work Monday morning at a job he's going to hate.
How did things change so much between Friday and Monday? Friday held so much promise, but this morning I feel as gloomy as the cold, foggy weather outside.
Help me look on the bright side this morning--someone did call me saying they'd found my wallet. But it's still Monday. I'm going to go get a chai latte and take some deep breaths. If I stay busy, maybe today will go quickly.
How do you fight the blahs?
Thursday, March 18, 2010
PRIZE PACK FOR WRITERS:Good luck to all who enter! And don't forget to congratulate Beth!
-A critique of your query letter and first three chapters
-A copy of Elana Johnson's super-amazing e-book, From the Query to the Call
-A HUGE bag of chocolate-covered expresso beans from my fav coffee shop, Village Coffee (cause we all know writers need chocolate and coffee)
-A copy of the Working Writer Day Planner, full of tons of helpful info for writers
-A really pretty journal
-Flag-it Post-it Notes that you can use to highlight and mark-up your manuscript as you revise
-A Laini's Ladies (the Muse of Writing one, of course!)
-A "Rolla" style notebook--it's like a binder and notebook in one, with the ablity to add, remove, and move around pages. I thought this would be perfect for organizing editing notes, or to take to a conference
-A sekkrit surprise
-A book-shaped locket. One of the themes in my novel, Across the Universe, is that of leaving home and standing on your own two feet (hence the original title that some of you probably remember: Long Way Home). The locket is shaped like a book with a bird's nest stamped on the front, and a bird flies away from the chain. This was custom made for me by The Enchanted Locket on etsy, and you and I will be the only two people with the original design!
PRIZE PACK FOR READERS
-A $30 gift certificate for Amazon (or other online book seller of your choice). That way you can get whatever books YOU most want to read RIGHT NOW. I've got plenty of good suggestions if you want any, though!
-A "Get Happy" tea set from the Tea Revolution: includes mug, tea, strainer, and top. I can't think of anything better than curling up with a good book and sipping hot tea. Unless, of course, there's chocolate involved. Hey...
-A package of Lindt chocolate truffles, the best chocolate in the world, imo
-A "booksling"--a bookmark that can also hold a pen or highlight for those days you want to read and take notes
-A fancy flower bookmark for those days you just want to read :)
-A sekkrit surprise
-A journal--hey, readers can write, too!
-A star necklace from Avon. I saw this necklace and flipped--it is full of pretty stars. As you guys know, Across the Universe is a science fiction, and stars play a pretty important role in the book.
...is the name of my good friend Abby Annis' YA sci-fi novel. And Embrol is in trouble. How, you ask? Well, you'll just have to read her opening that should be up soon at Fiction Groupie for today's installment of the Beta Club!
Okay, I'm lying, maybe her first 750 words aren't going to tell you anything about Embrol, but I piqued your interest, didn't I? ;) What is Embrol? Will Livy accept her destiny, which seems to be inextricably intertwined with that of Jack, the guy who accidentally killed her mother in a car accident?
The best way to find out the answers of these questions is to give Abby some feedback on her opening today, that oh-so-important opening that is the first impression we offer up to agents of our writing. Then maybe you'll be able to feel the embossed letters of EMBROL on the cover, crack open the spine, and read for yourself. Helping others get their stories told is why we're all here, right?
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
I know that quite a few of you are unplugging this week, but that doesn't mean you're not reading. You can't hide from me. So be sure to give the Beta Club a look-see today and Thursday this week. My Tell the Truth Tuesday is that I haven't even gotten around to today's submission. But hold me to this, blogosphere: I'm going to give that excerpt a thorough commenting once I do!
And I hope you will, too.
That is all. You can go back to your lurking now. ;)
Friday, March 12, 2010
There's just too much going on with work, my husband is trying to start up a new business, and I've got all this great feedback from yesterday's Beta Club crits to rework the opening of Strings. (That meant the world to me to be able to get that sort of honest feedback. Roni, you rule!)
So, here goes!
All I have to do is finish each sentence and then tag three bloggers.
- I like peppermint ice cream. Mmm. (I'm hungry, so I have a feeling a lot of this will wind up being food.)
- I like looking at art, which is the best part of my job.
- I like walking on beautiful sunny days like the one we're having today!
- I like feeling like I'm leaving behind a legacy with the documentation I've done for nearly the past five years since Katrina.
- I like Lent for all the awesome seafood options. Catfish plate, here I come!
- I like Saturdays when I have the day to myself to type. Which won't be tomorrow :(
- I like my new key-shaped earrings. They rock.
- I like blogging, so I'll miss it for the next week.
- I like awesome feedback on my novels--THANKS, Y'ALL!!
- I like knowing the fastest way to get somewhere.
- I like that my phone has GPS. (Maybe it's not really GPS, but it knows where I am when I'm lost and can tell me how to get back home.
- I like festival season!
- I love my husband. A cop-out answer, but it's the truth!
- Today was a little shaky st the start, my scooter stalled on me and I had some other problems, but I feel like the afternoon is shaping up to be far better. Too bad I have to come back here tomorrow. Yuck!
- I hate traffic caused by driver stupidity. Grrr.
- I hate improperly cleaned shellfish. Gross!
- I hate getting my teeth cleaned. In fact, I hate everything related to the dentist and dentistry.
- I hate having to leave my bed in the morning. Maybe someday I can work from bed... In my dreams! ;)
- I hate having to tell people they're doing something wrong.
- I hate when people at work don't put their dishes in the dishwasher. I mean, come on, people, are you expecting maintenance to do that for you? Just put it in the freaking dishwasher. It's not that difficult!
- I hate watching Lost right now. Can we dispense with the flash sideways bullcrap and check in on Sawyer? He's been missing for two whole episodes, y'all! I'm about to form a search party. Where's my flashlight and Dharma Initiative granola bars?
- I hate thoughtless people.
- I (secretly) like What Not To Wear. But my husband hates it and made me promise I don't watch it. But I still do. Shh...
- I love spring weather!
Who to tag? How about:
See ya on the flip side!
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Sorry for the horrible joke, but I start thinking in puns when I get nervous. ;)
Roni's Beta Club is back this Thursday with my own excerpt from STRINGS. I'm excited to see what she thinks, but as always, the more the merrier, lol!
This is the novel whose MC I referenced in yesterday's post, Mara. She can be hard to like, and that's putting it mildly. I'm hoping readers will see her more like a train wreck or some other accident they're unable to look away from. ;) Roni was sweet enough to dig up the above photo of a vardo like the one Mara lives in, which I hope will help clear up some initial confusion as to setting. She's awesome.
Roni's Beta Club has introduced me to a number of bloggers I'd never seen around before, and--of course--also introduced me to their characters. It's been really fun so far, reading the work of others and thinking critically about it in a way that makes me think about my own work, so I hope others are enjoying it as much as I am.
Julie Dao tagged me earlier this week with a meme, so stay tuned for that tomorrow!
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Some of us don't always show our more sensitive side, and yes, sometimes we can be a little self-centered. Doesn't mean we're not worth writing a book about. Of course, we no one will care about our story unless we give them a reason to.
My WiP, Strings, has a heroine who is the complete opposite of my last heroine, Evangeline. She's bold, brash, and naive--and those are her good qualities. She's also selfish and short-sighted and can hold a grudge like nobody's business. This being a maturation story, it's necessary to show how the character grows up, so her immaturity is a key element in the beginning.
So how do I make the reader care more about her?
I suppose I could go with a tried and true "Save the cat" type moment (I do like the examples used in this post). Make her likable by showing her best qualities. Which are what, again? ;) Her love for her dead father? Her love for the old horse that she regrets having to sell? Her vulnerability?
The problem is, I'm not sure if just one teary-eyed goodbye to an old gray horse is enough to make up for some of the mean things she does as the story progresses. I mean, I want to make her more sympathetic to the reader, but I don't want to turn her into this:
Has anyone else experienced this phenomenon before? Any advice on how to keep my mc's personality intact while increasing reader sympathy?
I'd love to hear your thoughts!
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Today's another installment of the Beta Club over at Fiction Groupie. Roni is awesome to offer her time and her blog to help the rest of us with our novels.
Maybe you're feeling a little shy to respond because you haven't done much critiquing in the past. Well, there's no time like the present.
Here are some resources for giving constructive feedback:
WEbook Guide to Feedback
And remember, the more you crit, the better you'll be able to turn that critical eye on your own writing! Don't be shy--whether you're a grammar Nazi, or have a good ear for dialogue--all feedback is welcome.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Forces are conspiring against me today.
Think I might have a case of the Mondays, too. Grr.
I'd much rather be blogging than trying to instruct people on why they shouldn't make new Portfolio catalogs when they could be simply making a new gallery. It's enough to make me switch to coffee this morning.
I'm being good for once, so I must make this quick in between frustrated phone calls.
Are you doing what you're supposed to be doing this morning? Or are you being bad? ;)
Friday, March 5, 2010
The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.
What's caught your attention lately?
When I walk to work (square in the middle of the French Quarter), I see some pretty weird things.
Yesterday I saw a female Michael Jackson impersonator do the moonwalk accompanied by a gorilla playing a drum-kit. Barely gave them a second glance. Lately, it's the more mundane things that make me stare, that make me think.
Sometimes I'll find myself staring, not at the historical architecture and decaying beauty to be found, but the junk accumulated overnight on the sidewalks.
This morning I stepped over a lost glove, a used condom, two broken guitar strings, a mangled baby stroller and a dog collar. Guess the weekend's coming. ;)
These simple, everyday (somewhat disgusting) items are part of a larger story, a number of greater stories that my brain is free to rewrite in any way I like. Now I'll have to go stare at some people until I find the right ones to interact with these items...
Found yourself staring lately?
Thursday, March 4, 2010
LOL. Usually I'm not in the best mood, since I'm on my way to work. It does provide me with forty minutes of reading or writing time, though, which is nice.
Here's what I was thinking: Most people might think Suzette's laptop truce is weird, the stuff of fiction--until they examine their own life. Everyone's got some idiosyncrasy.
I'll go first. Okay not only can I still... wait. *grunt* *stretch* *groan* Awwright. Yeah STILL touch my elbows together behind my back, I also have a weird knack for being under timed streetlights just when they go off. Like, noticeably often, so that various people have commented on it.
Which is why I always thought I was a witch.
I'm obviously not, so I guess that's why I like to live vicariously through my characters, like Evie. ;)
Stranger than fiction.
(Oh, don't forget to stop by Roni's at Fiction Groupie for another Beta Club crit!)
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
So I'm officially knee-deep in rewrites for EVANGELINE (and recovered from my cold just in time for a symphony chorus performance on Friday, lol) and finding it difficult to find time to write.
When I do sit down to do some plotting and typing--these are major plot changes, not just a line-edit I'm making myself crazy over--I get down a few hundred words before I'm second guessing myself, looking back over what I just wrote to make sure it's good enough. I keep having to remind myself that I'm not in full-on editing mode right now.
Technically, I'm drafting all new material for several whole chapters. So I need to treat it like the first draft dreck it is. ;) I need to stop sweating the words on the page and immerse myself in the world to the point where I just need to get the story out.
It's also been a little weird, turning my world upside-down like this, making these changes and acting like earlier versions don't exist. When the idea first came to me (on public transportation, which is where the best ideas seem to come from. Stuck for story ideas? Ride the bus sometime, lol), I wondered what it would be like if someone went back in time after finding a magic object on the streetcar.
In my desire to put certain plot elements into play sooner, I decided to nix the streetcar completely, having the main character go back in a different place. It's working pretty well so far for the story, but each little change is leading to more and more revisions.
The problem is... the streetcar seems to be taking it personally.
Every time I get on the streetcar lately, either something happens to my car, or the one in front of me, or the electricity goes off the line, or the seat I'm in is broken...
But I'm holding my own. Screw you, streetcar! I'm not putting you back in the novel.
Bring it on!
Anyone else fighting with any inanimate objects lately? ;)
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
...to crit a manuscript.
Okay, maybe not a whole village. But Roni over at Fiction Groupie has posted the first of what will hopefully be a series of excerpts for what she's calling "The Beta Club".
It's here! Today is the debut of the new critique feature here on Fiction Groupie. Every Tuesday and Thursday for the next few weeks, I will be posting a critique of a 750 word excerpt submitted to me by one of you generous (and brave) writers out there. To those of you who have already volunteered, thank you so much in advance. I hope everyone will find this to be a fun and helpful exercise to go through together.
Doesn't that sound like fun?
Of course it does! And the best part is, working out your critique muscles only makes you a better writer. And we could all use a little help in that department, am I right? ;) Support your colleagues and give them the feedback they've been craving.
So get on over to Roni's and check out Submission 1- The Dying Sun
Hope to see you there!
Monday, March 1, 2010
For a single hour this weekend, one of my favorite literary agents, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, held a query contest:
Doesn't she sound awesome? ;) I'd love to have queried her with one of my new stories after all the help she gave me on Evangeline, but... those novels aren't ready. I'd want to treat my next submission to Joanna as professionally as possible, and that means only querying her when my story is really, truly ready.
And none of them are.
I made the mistake of entering a submission contest for a manuscript that I didn't have complete faith in earlier this year. Nothing is worse than having someone express interest in a concept when the execution is not 100%! Fortunately, this blog has been a great tool to shame me into keeping the promises I make myself.
Hold me to this, blogosphere. I vow to never again give in to the lure of internet contests before my manuscript is clean enough to eat off of (you know what I mean. When I'm hungry I start using food metaphors).
Oh, but they are soooo tempting... I'm about to break into song, something from Sweeney Todd, perhaps, very appropriate.
Erm. Okay, venturing into stalker territory. I'll stop embarrassing myself now, but all I'm saying is, if you have a dream agent, make sure you're their dream client before you query!
(Now that song is going to be in my head all day.)