Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spotting the Flaws

I'm currently reading a novel by a favorite author (who shall remain nameless for reasons that will become apparent). Though I'm near the end of the book and have decided to finish it, I've been quite disappointed, overall. Things like awkward pacing, poor dialogue, overuse of adverbs (I counted five in one small paragraph!) have left me scratching my head. This is the author's sixth novel, so the quite-obvious flaws in it make me wonder if she was in a hurry to complete a deadline.

An example of something that (I thought) needed to be re-edited: In an attempt to create suspense, the author withheld key information from the reader for about a hundred pages, so that when the details did come to light, it felt like the author re-wrote history. Either that, or the author was purposely manipulating the reader to believe one thing, while an entirely different thing was actually true. Sometimes that technique works -- but in this case, for me, it did not.

Still, even through my disappointment of these "weak spots," I'm able to gain some value in them. Reading any work through a writer's eye can always be a positive experience. Being able to spot weaknesses actually makes me a better writer. Because hopefully, by recognizing flaws in someone else's work, I can learn to spot the weaknesses in my own.

In fact, reading is such a vital learning experience that, whenever I'm consumed with grading freshman essays and don't have the creative energy to write, I always make time to READ. Because as much as I learn from well-written work (I like to study the craft, to see how they "do it"), I can also learn from poorly-written work (what not to do, which is equally important to know).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Chipping Away

So, I was editing a scene yesterday and my gut told me it wasn't quite "there" yet. But I was feeling lazy and ignored the voice and kept reading.

But it bothered me enough today to take a second look. So, I decided to spend time working on two pages that just needed....work. They needed time and care and tweaking. I didn't change anything in a major way--in fact, I was simply tightening phrases or removing words that didn't belong. Nothing earth-shattering. But now that I read over those pages again, things are smoother, better.

Chipping away at your novel can be tedious, even pain-staking. But if you keep listening to your gut, that inner editor, all that chipping can result in a better piece of work. It's worth it!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Writing Meets Art

My 90-year-old grandmother is an artist (oil painter) and we often discuss the similarities between art and writing: hard work, grueling hours, people misunderstanding us, no guarantee of payment/publication -- as well as the benefits: entering another world of our creation, feeling free while doing so, both abandoning ourselves and finding ourselves through our work, etc.

Well, this Christmas, her art met my writing as she painted me this BEAUTIFUL rendition of a pub that's in one of my novels. Just, wow. What a treasure.



Friday, December 23, 2011

Be a Fan of Your Own Work

So, I'm sitting here editing a scene in my novel (yes, I'm "working" on Christmas break!), and I've just read through a scene I enjoyed. Like, really enjoyed. So much so that I nearly forgot I was the one writing it.

And it occurred to me that I would buy a book like this if I saw it on the shelf.

That's not as arrogant as it sounds--it just means that I've succeeded, at least in that scene, in meeting one of my writing goals: enjoying something I've written as a reader. That's a great litmus test for whether a scene is "working" or not. Take off your writing hat and put on your reader hat to see if a scene passes muster.

I think it's important that writers become fans of their own work. That they occasionally have the thought, "Hey - I would actually pay money to read that!"

Also, becoming a fan of a specific scene tells you whether you're on the right track. If you get so absorbed in the characters and the story that you "forget" to edit? Well, that's a pretty good sign that you're doing it right.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Querying Statistics

I found a really interesting blog entry (from writer Adam Heine) on query statistics. I love it when authors are kind enough (and bold enough) to share their real-life stats like this....



EDIT -- I've been reading several pages of Adam's blog, and enjoyed it so much that I've added it to my right-hand blog list! The blog is called "Author's Echo." Some really great stuff there.....

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Permission to Use a Thesaurus

I'm currently editing one of my novels, and I'm being picky, picky, picky with word choice. As someone once wisely said: "A word must earn its right to live on the page."

I couldn't agree more.

To that end, I occasionally use a thesaurus. And I still can't seem to shake the idea that it's a "crutch" that's frowned upon by good writers who don't "need" it. But I know that's not true. A thesaurus serves a specific purpose -- it spotlights a word that was already there, somewhere, floating around in my brain anyway. It's a tool, a device, and I think writers should use it boldly and proudly.

In fact, this past semester, I gave my students "permission" to use a thesaurus when they write. And half the class seemed grateful--as though perhaps they, too, had felt the same bit of ridiculous shame as I, when using one. Now sure, if a writer has to rely on a thesaurus for every other word, I do think it becomes a crutch. And, even more importantly, I think it squashes a writer's natural voice. Sometimes, a writer's initial instinct, his own personal wording, is the best wording of all. Because it is natural.

I do find myself using a thesaurus for those occasions where I'm repeating descriptions in a passage. When I need a new way to describe things like: "he smiled" or "she shrugged" or "she sipped her tea." If I'm constantly describing actions and using the same words, it becomes much too repetitive. That's where a thesaurus comes in handy.

Anyway, here, today, for anyone reading this entry, I hereby give you permission to use a thesaurus--proudly, and guilt-free. ;-)

Friday, December 16, 2011

"Date a Girl Who Reads"


Totally brilliant blog post by Rosemarie Urquico: Click here


Love this. Love, love, love.


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Backward?

First, a confession: I watch The Young and the Restless. I know, I know. It's cheesy/campy, melodramatic. But I've watched it since college, and it's a guilty pleasure I just can't quit.

Anyway--yesterday's episode was....unusual. And not in a good way. The writers tried to get all creative and have an entire episode written BACKWARD. Like, every scene was in reverse of the bigger picture. It started out with something shocking (Nikki marrying Deacon Sharpe!), and then kept reverting back - 20 minutes earlier....40 minutes earlier....4 hours earlier....to show, at the very end, what led up to that event.

On the surface, yes, it does seem creative. I understand the motive--to create suspense, interest. But as a viewer, I've always hated "backward" episodes. Seinfeld did it once, and even my favorite show, Thirtysomething (which was better written than any "backward" episodes I've ever seen).

Here's my beef with this kind of episode. It forces the viewer to work too hard. Now, don't get me wrong--I love to watch or read something that makes me think, makes me ponder. But watching an episode backward is like trying to fit in missing puzzle pieces that are being kept from us. We don't have all the information we need to form conclusions. And all that does is frustrate me.

I realize this is a personal choice, my loathing of backward episodes/stories. And some writers can clearly handle them better than others (again, the Thirtysomething episode was more than tolerable, though I still didn't enjoy it very much).

Maybe it's just a pet peeve I have, but I think stories should generally be told in the order in which events occurred. I mean, we don't live life backward, do we? So, it just feels unnatural to watch a story unfold that way. *shrug*

Ahh, FREEDOM

Well, I turned in my 1,300 (<--or thereabouts) grades yesterday and attended graduation in my cap and gown. Then I promptly slept 9 1/2 hours, lol. That's what grading for 2 weeks straight can do to a body, I guess.

So--Christmas Break is officially here! Which means something else for the writer in me. I get more time to WRITE! I have a month--in between the wrapping, baking, socializing, cleaning, Christmas-ing--to work on my book. And that thrills me to no end. I've missed it!

Isn't it interesting, how some people (non-writers, of course) would look at me and think I'm strange, for essentially using a break from work in order to....work?

But writing isn't work. Well, not the kind I dread or the kind that makes me cringe. It's the kind that fills me up with something no other job I've had does. I can't put my finger on it, really, why writing means so much to me, why I use precious breaks in my "real" job to toil on it.

Maybe it's better left a mystery. That makes it more fun. ;-)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Great Quote!

And so true!

"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen." ~John Steinbeck


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Food for Thought...

Here's an interesting blog entry on "Nine Pieces of Bad Writing Advice" - link here

I actually teach a few of these in my Creative Writing class (try to avoid cliches and passive voice, etc). But I do agree that, in the end, creative writing rules can be bent or even broken, and that not every rule will apply to every writer.

I think the key is about following your gut, in the end...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I Needed This Today...

"Listen to the mustn'ts, child. Listen to the don'ts. Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me... Anything can happen, child. Anything can be." ~Shel Silverstein



Be tenacious. Write, write, write. Try to get published, if that's your heart's desire.

Never. Lose. Hope. ;-)



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Paradox of Time

I was thinking about this today -- how, when I'm absorbed in my writing, time both slows down and rushes by at the exact same time.

It slows down in the sense that I don't feel pressured or hectic or frazzled when I write. It feels like there's this little space, this private window of time, where I can sit comfortably and not worry about the clock. Not worry about schedules or deadlines or to-do lists. It reminds me of this quote I so love:

"Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else." ~Gloria Steinem

But, ironically, time also rushes by when I write. Because when I finally look up from that space, when I wriggle my way out of it, back to the real world, I realize that hours have passed. That I've been consumed with writing, and life has gone on without me.

I've lost time, but I've also gained it, if that makes sense...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slump

Most of the time, my goal on this blog is to be positive, motivational, inspirational (both for myself, and for anyone who might be reading).

But sometimes, as writers, we hit a slump. A period of self-doubt mixed with frustration. Or, a period of non-productivity due to one thing: lack of time.

My little slump has been mostly from the latter, brought on by work--grading hundreds (literally!) of freshman essays over the past few weeks (hence, my lack of blog posts). Whether I like it or not, it's true: the grading takes time away from the writing. It's not that I have NO time to write--it's that, when I do, my brain is already fatigued from reading/editing other people's work. It just takes too much energy to create my own.

So, how do I get out of the "slump?" One way is that I remember my writing. Make it a priority again. Squeeze out the few precious moments I do have, to do...something. To write something. And when I do that, I remind myself what writing does for me--how it excites me, puts me in another world, lets me focus on that part of me that adores reading and writing. I also make a habit of reading (even for a few minutes a day) a really good novel. I study the craft, even when I'm not working on my own craft.

Finally, I look back. I take time to sift through my current project and read for awhile--remember what it was I had become so passionate about. It doesn't take long before I'm in there again--in that place, excited about the writing.

Slumps don't have to be a bad thing--in fact, sometimes, they're just necessary parts of the writing process. It can be healthy, to take a little break from writing and come back to it, "fresh." The trick is not letting the slump become a permanent hiatus...

What brings on your slump? And how do you get out of it? Any special tips or tricks? I'd love to hear from you in the comments...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

I Miss It

It's times like these, mid-semester, where I miss my writing. When other priorities push writing away - things like grading essays and mid-terms, doing lesson plans, attending mandatory meetings. They squeeze out my writing time, but never the desire to write.

Sure, I could bite the bullet and just visit my material for a few minutes, here or there. But I'm usually too (mentally) tired by the time I get those extra minutes.

This post isn't a complaint about my job, not really. It's just a sad resignation that I don't have the kind of time I want, to write. To step back into a world I've created and spend leisurely time there -- more than a few sporadic moments.

But I guess it's a good thing, missing my writing time, my characters. It shows that there's a pull there, a longing to be in that place again. And, surely, that longing is enough to lure me back. Even if it is only for a few precious minutes...

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Power of Words

I have to tell a cute story about a Creative Writing student. Today, we were talking about the new Edgar Allen Poe movie (*shudders*) and this student mentioned how much she LOVED Mr. Poe. Even though he's "scary."

She related the story of how she first read his work, a couple of years ago: "It was 'The Fall of the House of Usher,'" she said, "and I got to a certain part of the story and got SO scared, that I slammed the book shut!"

LOL! That image just tickled me. Because, what happens when we see a scary movie? We shut our eyes or put up or hands to filter the screen, or even mute the t.v. But when we're reading a book, we usually just skim the gory stuff if we're wimps (like me). So, it cracked me up, the idea of a student being so moved, so frightened by mere words on a page, that it resulted in a physical reaction, slamming a book shut.

Yep, words can be mighty powerful. ;-)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

400 posts? Really??

I didn't know I could be so verbose! lol

Thanks to those of you who've stuck with me through all 400 posts, and over the past two years. I'm so grateful that anyone reads this blog...

So as not to waste #400 with self-congratulation, I'll turn this into an actual post with actual thoughts about writing:

I watched a George Clooney interview the other day (on the Charlie Rose show). And he talked about the craft of being an actor, of making movies. He denounced the "fame" aspect of it (saying it was fleeting), and said that over the years as he's grown, he's learned something. I'm paraphrasing here, but essentially he's learned that the craft is bigger than the actor. And that a piece is a success when the actor loses his/her ego, and all elements come together (writing, directing, producing, acting) in order to serve the story.

That's so true of writing, isn't it? We're more successful when we stop being enamored with our own writer's voice - when we get out of our own way to serve the story, the characters.

I think that's why editing can be such a challenge. We've poured hours and hours into those words, and the thought of slicing them, erasing them with one click of a keyboard can be heartbreaking. But we have to ask ourselves one question -- does that act (of editing something out) ultimately serve the story/characters? If so, it's the right thing to do...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

LOVE this...

Apparently, elaborate paper sculptures have been mysteriously popping up all over Edinburgh's libraries -- here's the link.

"One day in March, staff at the Scottish Poetry Library came across a wonderful creation, left anonymously on a table in the library. Carved from paper, mounted on a book, with a tag reading: 'We know that a library is so much more than a building full of books… a book is so much more than pages full of words.… This is in support of libraries, books, words, ideas…' Nobody knows whether there are more to come and if so, where they might appear. "

How beautiful, that someone (or someoneS?) who loves books so much and wants to honor them, and honor libraries, would remain anonymous. These sculptures obviously took hours and hours to create, and would probably go for a lot of money. I just love stories like this...

Friday, September 30, 2011

It Only Takes Two Notes...

So, I'm watching the t.v. show, "X-Factor" (when there's time away from grading, of course ;-). And this week's auditions had a frumpy, non-descript, average-looking 30-year-old trying out. He slings burritos for a living and brought his mom to the audition. By all appearances, it seemed his audition would probably not go well.

But then, he opened his mouth to sing. And it literally only took two notes to convince the audience (and a doubtful Simon!) that he had the talent. He had the X-Factor. Out of this frumpy, unassuming frame came the most soulful, raw, earnest voice. Absolutely amazing.


And it made me think: isn't it the same with writing? Can't we, as readers, often tell whether we'll like a novel within the first two pages -- maybe even the first two paragraphs?

So, as writers, we must see the importance of beginnings. First impressions are vital. That's why you'll hear, over and over, advice about making that first chapter, that first page, POP. You want it to be memorable. Irresistible. You want to hook the reader. Of course, the rest of the book should have that high standard of quality, as well.

But the first few pages could either gain you a loyal audience, or help you lose them altogether.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Excellent Advice!

Here's a great blog entry on the pitfalls of social media, specifically geared toward writers. It's wonderful advice to keep in mind:


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Keep Practicing

I always love hearing writers, musicians, artists, talk about their craft.

Well, Tavis Smiley interviewed jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins last night. Mr. Rollins is now 81 years old, and he blew Tavis away when he said, "I still practice. Every single day. At least 2 hours, sometimes more." Tavis said, "Even now? After decades of success, you still feel like you need the practice?" Mr. Rollins said, "Oh, yes. I've always got to improve."

That's exactly what I tell my Creative Writers. I'll never reach a point where I'm 100% satisfied with my craft (and neither should they). But that's the beauty of writing, the excitement of it. For the rest of my life, I'll know that there's always something new I can learn - about the craft, about myself, about the process. How boring would it be, if we didn't need to practice? If we'd already reached our full potential?

I'm glad I'm an imperfect writer. And that there's still so much more for me to learn...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Can a Writer NOT Be a Reader??

I just read this wonderful GalleyCat entry - link here - and couldn't agree more with this part:

Buzz Poole points out that reading is often more enjoyable than writing: “While the moments of magic happen, writing, for me, is hard work and at times incredibly frustrating. Reading, on the other hand, is not a struggle. It is an utter pleasure. And it is in this pleasure where I first took up the challenge of writing, in trying to emulate the wordsmiths whose stories possessed me so completely that the rest of the world would fade away so long as I kept turning the pages and allowed their words to fuel my imagination.”

I feel the same way. I was an insatiable reader from the youngest possible age (thank you, Teacher Mom, for teaching me to LOVE reading). I was the goofy nerd who got incredibly excited, seeing the Book Club books that I'd ordered from the school catalog 6 weeks before, stacked up on my English teacher's desk. Then at age 12, during a little "Creative Writing" session, I started to realize that somebody -- some actual human being, some writer -- had created all those lovely books that I so cherished. I also realized I could become a writer and possibly give that same gift to a reader, that same rush I felt whenever I read a book.

Truly, READING is the reason I became a writer.

So, it always confuses me when writers claim they "don't like to read" or "never read." Huh?!? Really? Isn't a LOVE of language, of writing, the reason they write? How can they not enjoy reading? Color me confused...

I always tell my Creative Writing students about the importance of reading -- that we're "studying" the craft when we read other writers (especially ones from our genre). Faulkner says it so much better than I could:

Read, read, read. Read everything-- trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window.



*NOTE - this post is not a judgment against those rare writers who don't read -- but I just, for myself, couldn't imagine reading and writing NOT going hand-in-hand...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Art and Writing

I've always considered creative writing to BE art, so I loved this thought-provoking quote when I saw it today. From the master, himself:

"Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen." ~Leonardo da Vinci

Monday, September 12, 2011

Have You Been Bitten?

A Creative Writing student made my day this morning. She stopped by my office to tell me how much she was loving the class, especially the first-chapter-of-a-novel assignment. She's never written a novel before, and said she was recently flooded with ideas, and was "obsessed" with the characters. She even stayed up until 4AM working on it (the paper isn't due for another two weeks!).

Who else but a WRITER can have this much enthusiasm about writing? I saw myself in her at that age -- the sparkle in her eye, the awareness that she'd just discovered something greater than herself (the appeal of writing). She's caught the writing bug, no doubt.

And it made me think -- any writer who loves writing, who sees it as a passion, has at one time or another been bitten by this bug.

Symptoms may include:

* excited lilt in the voice and brightness of eye when talking about writing
* forgoing sleep in lieu of writing "just one more page...."
* dreaming about your characters
* eternal hope that yes, one day, you might be published
* being utterly baffled that NOT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD shares your passion about writing (how can that be???)
* no longer reading for pleasure, but reading with a "writer's eye" - studying/observing the craft, the dialogue, the technique of another writer
* experiencing something and immediately thinking, "That would make a great storyline!"
* eavesdropping on people -- making mental (or literal) notes about the way people converse, dress, interact, react -- all so you can put it into a story later...

There are many more symptoms, but these were the ones I've experienced the most.

So -- have you caught the bug??

Warning: There's no cure. And those who have the bug don't want a cure. ;-)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Power of Lyrics on 9/11

I've always considered song lyrics to be actual poetry. Someone wrote those words (which often contain rhyme), just as they might a poem. The only difference is, they've set them to music.

Since this weekend marks 10 years since 9/11, I thought I'd share an example of the power that song lyrics can hold. Sting wrote a song years ago called "Fragile," about (supposedly) the death of John Lennon. But when Sting was about to perform it in Italy on 9/11/01, he'd heard about the tragic events in the U.S. that very morning, and decided to sing "Fragile" as a tribute to those who'd just lost their lives.

It's shocking and poignant, how the lyrics meant for else actually fit this American tragedy so perfectly.



Sunday, September 4, 2011

Find Your Inner Awesome

A friend sent me this blog entry today. It's insightful, well-written, and it struck a chord with me, way deep down. The premise is basically that we, as children, were at one time NOT so deeply and so painfully self-aware. That we went about our days with joy, with confidence and excitement. And that, somewhere along the way (through someone's harsh words or the realization that we didn't "match up" to society's expectations), we lost much of that confidence. And that it takes effort and diligence to get it back.

Of course, I think this could be related to the writer's journey easily (especially a writer who's trying to get published). In the beginning, we're full of hope. We write our rough drafts of our very first novels and pat ourselves on the back for the ENORMOUS accomplishment of finishing it. Then, we polish it and....send it out. And get rejected. And rejected. We revise, polish again, send it out again.....and get rejected. Again. And soon, as the rejections pile up, we lose our confidence. We let the nagging doubts come: Is this good enough? Am I good enough? Those thoughts are, sadly, completely normal. But -- the danger is in letting them cripple us. Stop us from trying altogether.

So, today, I urge you to regain it -- that initial confidence. To find that hope, that excitement and giddiness that comes to a writer, pre-rejection. Because we should be proud of ourselves. We should feel enormous pride from just putting ourselves out there, for finishing that novel, for TRYING.

That's enough, by itself, to feel awesome!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Creative Encouragement

A good friend named Mary Lou wrote this for me, as an encouragement. She knew I needed it today. What a great (and clever, and creative) friend!!

Dream. Receive inspiration. Write. Doubt. Self-edit. Rewrite. Doubt some more. Rewrite again. Submit. Really doubt. Wait. Play "What If?" Nail bite. Wait. Doubt. Hope. Deep despair. Hope. Repair manicure. Doubt. Get an Agent/Publisher "nod." Rewrite per dangling carrot suggestion. Resubmit. More nail biting. Doubt. Hope. Doubt. Hope. Repair manicure. Add pedicure with massage chair. Doubt. Rewrite per second dangling carrot request. Resubmit. Wait. Doubt. "What if?" Doubt. Hope. Doubt.

Forever and a day later, receive publishing contract! Elation!!! Do "Happy Dance." Call and email Family and Friends. Repeat "Happy Dance." Squeal in delight. Over-consume favorite celebratory food. Throw up again. Grin. Remind self you're going to be published. Pinch self. Wait. Wait. Wait. Repeat approximately 18 months.

Book hits stores. Readers love it. Reprints ensue. Book soars to top of Best Sellers List. More celebration ensues. Whirl-wind book signing tour. Friends see you giving interviews on national TV. Friends and Family brag. Long lost friends and estranged Family members request free books and loans. More printings. More interviews. Media marvels at "overnight success." Literary works knows better.

Repeat process for every subsequent project. :-)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Following My Own Advice!

So, I often tell my Creative Writers that one way to tackle "writer's block" is this: simply open the document/novel you've been working on (whether it's from yesterday or a month ago) and READ. That's all. No pressure to add a single word to it. Just read the most recent piece/chapter/scene you've written.

And what inevitably happens most of the time is that you WILL WRITE. By reading what you've written, you're placing yourself back into that world, amongst those characters. And your brain starts to churn with ideas -- so that, by the time you reach the end of that segment, you're ready to write, to add to it. Without even realizing it.

That's exactly what happened to me this morning! I've neglected my writing the past two weeks, because of mandatory faculty meetings, hours of prep work, and classes starting. So, with one precious day off, I told myself that I'd simply GLANCE at my writing, at what I wrote two weeks ago. That's all. No pressure to continue or to write a single word.

And before I knew it, I'd added five new pages! Very cool.

Best of all, it reminds me of how much I LOVE to write. I really do. When I was finished with those pages, I felt a kind of satisfaction that not even a successful teaching session could provide. There's something so wonderful, so personal about writing. It's like placing a little bit of yourself onto that page. There's nothing else like it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Lenny Kravitz!

So, I was watching an interview with Lenny Kravitz yesterday, on the Tavis Smiley show. I always perk up when I hear an artist/musician/writer talk about the PROCESS of creativity. Where it comes from, how they channel it, etc. It fascinates me...

I'm paraphrasing here, but in talking about writing songs, Lenny said something like, "The music comes to me. I don't chase after it, or seek it out. It finds me."

James Taylor has said mostly the same thing - that a song will come to him out of "nowhere" and he just transcribes it.

I actually love that the creative process is SO mysterious. That we'll have a thought, a brainstorm, an idea, and will rush to the computer and write it down -- and that we really have no idea where it came from. Or why it came NOW, as opposed to any other time.

Lenny also said that he "dreams music." That he will literally wake up and a song will be there, waiting for him. Heh, I wish my novel ideas would visit me in dreams. They rarely do. Sure would make the process easier....

So, what's your process like? What does the act of creativity feel like to you? Is it mysterious, surreal? Or does it feel more concrete, with mostly hard work and elbow grease?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Great Quote!

Couldn't agree more -- it's partly why I read if I ever have "down" time as a writer:

"A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge."
-George R.R. Martin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Make a Complex Salad

"People aren't either wicked or noble. They're like chef's salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict." — Lemony Snicket (The Grim Grotto)

Such a true statement of fictional characters, too. Characters, like real people, should be complex. They should have flaws and contradictions and temptations. They shouldn't always be in a good mood or have perfect answers for every situation. They need to be confused sometimes. Torn. Scared. Overwhelmed.

In fact, the more real we can make our characters seem -- the more real-life traits we can give them -- the more invested readers will be in them. If we create layered characters, it will be more difficult for the readers to let them go when they turn that last page. For me, as a reader, that's the true test of a GOOD book - one I'm sad to leave when it's over (because of the characters).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The End

It's official. As of this Monday, my summer is over. The End. Back to work. Back to meetings and students and grading, grading, grading.




<---Darcy's not too thrilled about it, either, lol.




Don't get me wrong, I'm insanely grateful to have had a summer off, and equally grateful to have a good job. But I look back on the past three months and can't figure out where on earth the time went...

I did write 100 pages of the new novel, which is good. It's progress. But, my goal was an entire novel. (Thank you, in part, new Corgi puppy, for distracting me - cutest thing EVER, but a real handful...more time-consuming than I'd first realized).


In any case, summer's over, and it's time to get back to life, back to reality. However reluctantly....

Friday, August 12, 2011

Voices Silenced

I always think it's particularly sad when an author dies (or painter, or musician, etc). Because that person's work goes with them. When these creative people pass away, the world will never receive another word, another brushstroke, another note. Their voice, their talent, is silenced.

Thus, it's particularly wonderful when a deceased artist's lost work is...found!!

Condolences

I just read about the real-life tragedy of Debbie Macomber (mega-best-selling women's fiction author).

Link here

My thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this horrible time. I can't even imagine her heartache right now...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Traveling Through Books

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. ~Mason Cooley

So true. I've been sort of "stuck" at home this summer (good reason - raising an adorable Corgi puppy - click for larger size):














But staying home all this time has given me a bit of cabin fever. Especially when lots of my friends are taking grand vacations, to Alaska, to the northern states with cooler temps than the 110 the South is experiencing right now. *fans self*

Anyway, reading novels this summer has helped me travel in my mind! Mainly to Nantucket, where Elin Hilderbrand's books are based. It's been a lovely, soothing mental vacation that I look forward to taking, every time I crack open a book.

Don't you love how books take you places?? I do!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Never. Give. Up.

Excellent reminder for those of us waiting on agent/publisher responses - click here

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Beauty of Nonsense

‎"I like nonsense; it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living." ~Dr. Seuss

Crucial ingredients in the life of a writer: nonsense (not taking ourselves too seriously, having FUN with language) mixed with a few dashes of imagination and fantasy...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Google +

Have you heard about this yet, Google +? It's supposedly some sort of new social media, and writers have been encouraged to check it out, create a profile, and "advertise" themselves. I've avoided it so far because I don't quite understand it. Facebook, I get. Twitter, ehh, not so much. I've been waiting around, seeing how Google + pans out before I even think about joining. And now, I'm glad I waited...

Here's the first blog entry I've seen (link here) that blatantly tells writers to hold off using Google +, at least for now. Very informative.

Have any of y'all started using it yet? What was your experience?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Showing -- It's All in the Details

I've written a few blog entries on the Showing vs. Telling concept, and I spend quite a bit of time on it with my Creative Writing students. Mostly because it's so challenging to pinpoint. What IS "telling?" How can you avoid it? How do you correct it? I mean, it's not like a simple grammar error you can quickly recognize and correct--a misspelled word, a misplaced modifier, a run-on. Showing vs. Telling is much more complicated.

Well, last night while reading Elin Hilderbrand's wonderful novel, Silver Girl, I came across the perfect example of showing, rather than telling.

In a nutshell, the protagonist has experienced a traumatic event--her husband has been imprisoned for fraud, and everything she ever owned/bought has been stripped away. She's gone from being the wife of a billionaire to a poverty-stricken shell of a woman.

Instead of telling the reader that, instead of glossing over the details and giving the reader information "about" the situation, Ms. Hilderbrand takes a simple scene in which the protagonist has gone shopping with a friend, and turns it into "showing." We walk with the protagonist, through shop after shop, as she picks up something she likes (vivid descriptions of the items are given), then reminds herself she can't afford it. She puts it back.

In one fancy store, her friend looks at some crystal candlesticks and scoffs at the $400-apiece price tag. In a (sort-of) flashback, the protagonist remembers how, not even a few weeks ago, she could've bought those same candlesticks (by the dozen!) without even a second thought--how the purchase would've given her the 'rush' she needed whenever she bought something new, then how the candlesticks would have eventually sat on the shelf, unnoticed, having lost their initial appeal. Wasted.

Now, that is showing. It's all in the details, the descriptions. And the flashbacks. Instead of telling us ABOUT the protagonist's state, or making a general, vague commentary on her previous life versus this one, the author has walked us through a quick scene in which we're given detailed examples of what money used to mean to her, and what it means to her now. Ms. Hilderbrand lets her readers jump to the proper conclusion themselves, instead of forcing it on them by "telling." Brilliant.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Advice from Stephen King

If you haven't already purchased Stephen King's book, On Writing, do yourself a favor, and run, don't walk, to find and devour this book. I'm too squeamish for most of his novels and stories, but as a Creative Writing teacher, I find his advice "on writing" to be completely spot-on. And brilliant. And humorous.

So, to close my little author-interview series, I thought I'd present this link. It's not a King interview, but this link contains wonderful excerpts from On Writing (courtesy of GoodReads.com).

Enjoy!

Shared Experience

I've blogged before about the personal decision one makes, whether to publish or not to publish. Some writers adore the solitude and privacy of sharing their thoughts only with themselves. They want to protect what's theirs, not let anyone else see it. Which is completely fine, completely their choice. Others, though, have the desire to let others see their work, to let them read their ideas and thoughts, to share their characters and stories.

Along those lines, I must admit - I do want to see my work in print. It's about several things: wanting people's feedback, hoping readers gain some enjoyment/entertainment from my writing, even just seeing my words physically in print, in book form. It would be amazing!

Certainly, being published wouldn't change my stories, wouldn't make them more important or more valuable than when I first put them on paper. But -- for me -- they gain a new "life" when others read them. I can't even express the rush I feel whenever a friend or relative asks to read my work, then tells me how much they enjoyed it. Through that experience, we've shared something special. It's like they've taken a peek into a very personal corner of who I am, and have validated what they've seen.

Not that I crave that validation (though it is extremely fulfilling!). But, having my work read by someone is a unique and personal experience that I would love to have one day on a larger scale. No doubt.

I came across a quote today, and, for me, I think it's true:

"No matter how much I adore writing, no matter the pleasure my stories give me, it isn't until books are read that they really start to breathe."  ~Kate Morton

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Anne Tyler Interviews

So, continuing this little series where I'm offering author interviews, I've found a couple of great ones from Anne Tyler. She publishes women's literary fiction. Although I don't usually read literary fiction (I admire it, but find it too dense and heady for pleasure reading), I adore Anne Tyler's fiction. She has the gift of taking ordinary, even bland situations, and breathing life into them by her brilliant writing, alone. I love the way she crafts a sentence, the way her mind works, the way she describes the human condition. I never just "read" her works -- I always end up studying them.

Interestingly, she's quite well known for not giving interviews, so these are rare gems:

Link 1 (source: USA Today)

Link 2 (source: WritersDigest.com)

Enjoy!!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Berg Interview

Here's another author interview I've found, by a favorite author of mine: Elizabeth Berg. She writes women's fiction, and she's one of the few able to merge commercial and literary fiction effortlessly. Her plots and characters are entertaining and moving, while her detail and insights are deep and thought-provoking.

Link to the interview (source: A Life of Spice)

The interview is brief, but valuable, as she talks about the writing process. And, I think it's a nice little sneak peek into her book, Escaping Into the Open. In it, she discusses the writing process in great detail, talks about her own writing experiences, and offers wonderful creative exercises.

In fact, I find the book so valuable that I assign it in my Creative Writing classes. It's excellent. My students usually don't follow my weekly reading assignments (stretched out over the semester) -- instead, they gobble up Ms. Berg's book in a couple of days!

Mostly, the book feels like a lovely writer-to-writer conversation, and I think that's why it reaches writers (including myself) so successfully. The tone isn't intimidating or preachy. Ms. Berg somehow wraps up crucial information and tidbits about the writing process inside a format that's accessible and warm. I highly recommend it!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Gold Mine

So, I'm doing a little series on the blog this week, where I post links to author interviews. I find them fascinating and helpful--seeing what published authors' techniques and tricks and tips are, as well as finding out their background (how long it took to get published, whether they wanted to give up, etc).

Well, today I found a gold mine -- a link to several interviews, all on one page, of my favorite women's fiction author, Rosamunde Pilcher. She's a Scottish author (now in her 80's, and sadly, retired) who wrote The Shell Seekers and Coming Home, as well as dozens of other novels. She, perhaps more than any other author, has influenced my writing the most. She writes what I call "comfort" fiction--one of those books you want to curl up with on a cold winter's night by a roaring fireside. She has an amazing gift for detailed, vivid descriptions that put the reader right there inside the scenes.

Her son, Robin Pilcher, now writes in that same vein (and his style is extremely similar to his mother's). What a legacy!

Here's the link I found - click here. Granted, some of these interviews highlight more of Ms. Pilcher's personal life and her background than specific writing tips (although there are a couple of interviews where she does talk specifically about the writing process). But, I find even those personal details quite fascinating. I love seeing where an author came from. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

If Only My Muse Would Obey Me This Easily

Heh.

(And yes, this is partly an excuse to post another Darcy video -- she learned how to shake!!):


video

Friday, July 1, 2011

Author Interviews

Summer has gotten away from me (halfway through, really?!?!), and I find I'm blogging less often. So, to make up for it, I thought I'd spend a few entries posting author interviews. Authors, by nature, seem a bit reclusive (or, at least, they're not in the spotlight like other celebrities often are).

Thus, when I come across a detailed, insightful interview of an author, I'm always pleased. I love reading their thoughts, especially about their craft -- how they handle the process, what their tricks are, how creativity guides them, etc. I can learn a lot from reading these interviews.

To kick off my little series, here's an interview I found, from the author I've talked so much about recently, Elin Hilderbrand -- click here. (source: Bea's Book Nook)

My favorite quote from the interview (because I'm always preaching this to my students - it's so true!): I'm always reading; I consider it as much a part of my job as writing.

Another favorite (again, so true!): Once your book is finished, get an agent. And then let him worry about selling your book; you worry about writing your next novel.

Enjoy!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer of Elin Hilderbrand

So, I just finished reading The Island. Wonderful. Loved every minute of it. Ms. Hilderbrand chose to use four different POV's for her main characters, and it had a beautiful effect. I felt like I knew those characters inside and out because of that choice. In fact, I knew them better than they knew each other! Within their individual POV's, their diaries, their innermost thoughts, each character revealed secrets, fears, and details that the other characters--their relatives!--didn't even know. What a brilliant technique.

You know you REALLY enjoyed a book when the last page comes too soon. When you're actually sad that you won't be following those characters' lives anymore. *sigh*

She has another new novel out, and it arrived last week - yay! Can't wait to dive in! Her novels are a real blend of commercial and literary fiction. The plots are commercial -- accessible and relateable (<--okay, not a word, but it fits here, lol) to a wide audience. Yet, her language, her technique is mostly literary. Gorgeous prose without cliches or wordiness. And sometimes, incredibly poetic. I really love "studying" her style.

Speaking of "studying" style, does anybody else do this -- actually mark passages (I dog-ear the page) that are particularly brilliant or make me envious of the author's talent? I just can't help myself. When something is written so perfectly, I feel I have to mark it, acknowledge it. And yes, re-read it. ;-)

So, for me, this is the summer of Hilderbrand. What summer books are you reading right now?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Editing Process

I've read a lot of articles and books on the editing process. They were mostly fact-filled and, well, dry.

So, when I came across this video blog today by a children's writer, I was informed AND entertained. Fasten your seatbelts -- he talks REALLY fast, but has some brilliant (and hilarious) things to say.

Fast-forward to the 1:10 mark to hear the relevant editing stuff.

Arm Chair Traveling

My current series (women's fiction) is set in Britain. But I live in the States. I've been to Britain once, ages ago, on a three-week tour. It was amazing. I haven't had the chance yet to return, but someday I know I will.

In the meantime, though, besides my internet research on British culture, language, food, climate, etc -- I've also done a fair amount of arm chair traveling. One of my favorite things to do is watch travel shows (Samantha Brown and Rick Steves are the best). But, I always have to keep in mind, that's a tourist's view of England. Those shows rarely visit the locals, rarely frequent the pubs or homes of actual British citizens.

In addition to those shows, I love to watch British television (thank you, PBS and BBCAmerica!). Now, I realize that, every bit as much as "Dallas" or "Seinfeld" or "24" re-runs shown in England don't exactly offer up a true representation of all Americans, shows like "Keeping Up Appearances" or "The Vicar of Dibley" or "MI-5" don't necessarily give a true representation of Britons. But...I would like to think that British idioms, British culture, and British mentality are represented somewhere in there.

Even sitcoms can provide information I might've missed in my internet research. For instance, I never knew what an "Aga" was until I saw Judi Dench using one in an episode of "As Time Goes By." Similarly, I've picked up some British slang from watching series and movies of the brilliant Richard Curtis.

My series of novels are set in the Cotswolds, but are seen through an American's (my) eyes. The readership (<--hopefully, one day!) will likely be mostly Americans. Therefore, I feel I can take some liberties, that I can create the British world that we Americans think exists. Of course, if a true Brit read my novels, he/she would probably laugh his/her arse off at me. I realize I'm probably off base, when it comes to certain representations of British life. My Cotswold locations and characters, for instance, are admittedly romanticized versions of what probably really exists.

Still, I'd like to think that arm chair traveling has helped me a little, has at least given me some accurate sense of British culture that I can use in my novels. ;-)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Turn It Into a "Do"

In his blog this week, Nathan Bransford highlights "5 Openings to Avoid."


Any others you can think of?

One of my pet peeves is the "information dump," better known as telling rather than showing. Bo-ring. Especially as an opening scene!

I'm guilty of the info dump too, sometimes, but when I realize what I've done, I try to take that necessary background info and sprinkle it in later on. Or, I turn the "telling" into a flashback. For instance, instead of telling about a marriage being a bad one, and giving vague information, why not take the reader back to one pivotal moment in the marriage in a flashback - to a particular evening where the husband didn't come home until 2 a.m., and when he did, he made the wife feel like the bad guy. Was he drunk? Was she upset? Show, rather than tell, and that will let the reader know much more about the marriage. Also, with flashbacks, we involve the reader in a way that telling never does. They become flies on the wall, and can determine, themselves, how bad the marriage was.

Ultimately, once we recognize a "don't," it's always important to figure out how to turn it into a "do." ;-)

By the way, I dug up an old blog entry on this show-don't-tell topic: If interested, click here

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Keep 'Em Hooked

We all know how crucial the first paragraph of a novel is. It must draw the reader in, provide certain details about character or plot, be VERY well-written, etc. Some writers probably spend more time on that opening paragraph than on the rest of the novel. Okay, so that's a slight exaggeration, but you get my point...

Well, what about the first paragraph of new chapters later on in that novel? Aren't they pretty important, too? I've always thought so. I've always seen first paragraphs as a challenge to KEEP the reader. Hopefully, yes, my opening-chapter paragraph "hooked" them. But I think it's my responsibility to keep them on the line. And one way I like to do that is to try and make opening paragraphs of new chapters (or even new scenes) fresh and interesting. Creative. I try to work almost as hard on those other "first" paragraphs as I did on that first-chapter paragraph.

Plus, when I start out a chapter or scene in a fresh, exciting way, that makes me excited about the material, and I feel more energized. I try hard never to have a bland or mediocre "first" paragraph anywhere, in the hopes that I'll keep up the level of creativity in every chapter of the novel. Not easy, not always do-able, but it's always my goal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Get Into Their Head

I think one of the hardest parts about writing is the translation. Taking the images, thoughts, ideas in my head, and translating them to the page in an accurate, interesting way -- so that someone else can read them, and create their own images.

But sometimes, I forget that the readers don't automatically know what's in my head. When they pick up my book, they don't already know the characters or the upcoming plots. They only know what I tell them, when I tell them.

Sure, there's a lot to be said for dangling carrots, or keeping readers in suspense (not telling TOO much info right off the bat, to add a bit of mystery). But sometimes, the information we withhold can be vital. And without it, the reader will be confused.

So, how do we know what to include and what not to include? How do we know when to insert certain details and when to wait?

I think the key is stepping out of our own writers' heads, and getting into the readers' head. It's critical, at least now and then, to see the material strictly from the readers' point of view. To try and forget all that we know, all the brainstorming we've done, all the upcoming plots we're aware of, and start from scratch. To look at the novel from the beginning, just as the reader would see it.

Much easier said than done, of course. But I think it's a crucial step in the process. Otherwise, it's difficult for us to tell when/how to sprinkle certain details in certain places. However, if we start to view them through the readers' eyes, things become much clearer.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What's the Problem?

So, looking at the first couple of chapters of my new novel, I've had a lot of stops and starts these past few days. Some things just didn't "feel" right. So, instead of pressing on, continuing in the same direction, I made a decision. I paused the writing and went back to the drawing board, looked carefully at those chapters. And after much contemplation, I've discovered the main issues (at least, I hope I have):

* Wrong Age -- I originally had a flashback where the main characters met as teenagers, but something just wasn't working. They felt more like one-dimensional caricatures, and they had an immaturity I didn't want. So, I played around with it. I aged the characters, put them in a different "place" in their lives. It was better, but not "there" yet. So, I aged them again, put them in yet another place in their lives, and now, for some reason, it's working!

* Info Dumps - We all know that too much exposition (background detail) creates more "telling" than showing, which gives the reader a less-active reading experience. I knew that, but wasn't adhering to it. I had ALL this information that the reader just HAD to have the first few paragraphs. Umm, no. I re-read it through fresh eyes, and it came across as this battery of facts, like some sort of list I had to cram into the beginning. All "telling." Ick. So, instead, I re-wrote the section, deciding to sprinkle in the details. What does the reader need to know up front? What could wait a little longer, even a couple of pages' worth? I figured out where to sprinkle in those same bits of background info (none of it changed) in intervals, and now, it feels much more cohesive. And, much more interesting and active.

I think one of the hardest parts about writing/editing is identifying what's working and what's not. As authors, we're so close to our own material, that it's hard to see those things, even when they're right under our noses.

Then, of course, we have to figure out how to fix it. But you can't fix what you can't identify. So it's worth the time and effort to dig in, get your magnifying glass out, put on your Sherlock Holmes cap, and discover what the problem is. Only then can it can be fixable.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

For the Love of Reading!

I love reading. Always have. My mother was a teacher, and taught me how to read at a very young age. She instilled in me a true love for the written word, which later translated into a desire to write!

And even to this day, even inside a busy life, I still absorb novels, still enjoy escaping into other worlds when I open a book.

Here's a great quote I just found from GoodReads, that says it much better than I could:

"Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another's skin, another's voice, another's soul." ~Joyce Carol Oates

Monday, June 13, 2011

Corgi Research!

As y'all probably know from the last few posts, I've just gotten a new Corgi puppy. She's adorable (evidence right here):

video

I do plan to put a Corgi into my next novel, as a pet of a character. And now, after having observed her (Darcy) for just a few days, I can do this accurately: the Corgi bunny-hops, the laying on the back with stubby paws dangling, the little trot she does when she walks, the certain growls and noises and squeaks.

Research can be fun! ;-)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

I'm excited to be working on a new novel this summer. I'd started it last summer, and have been reading through it the past couple of weeks, making changes, editing, etc.

I thought I was going down the right path with the characters and storyline choices, but my mom (who is such a great help) has read the pages and pointed out a couple of things that don't ring true. And as much as I don't want to go back and revise it, I realized she's right. The story lacks a punch, and it needs to ring with more truth. Changes need to be made. Ugh.

So, back to the drawing board. The good news is that, since I've opened up my mind and agreed that the story needs changes, I've had a burst of new ideas. And I'm actually excited about them. Looking at the book through new eyes has rejuvenated me. I think that's the key -- once you realize something isn't working, be brave enough to accept it and try something else. Sometimes, many times, the new version is so much better than the original. And even though you feel like you've "wasted" all those hours on the old version, they really weren't wasted. Because they led you to create an even better story.

Anyway, I'm now rethinking everything -- making decisions about what scenes can stay, and what scenes can't. What helps is realizing that, in the end, it's not about me. It's not about those hours I spent on a version that will never see the light of day (frustrating, yes. But necessary). It's all about the book. Making it the best book it can be, even if that means some major revisions. Whatever it takes! ;-)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Puppy Haikus

Whew. So the past week has been an absolute whirlwind! Traveled to see my brand-new nephew (beautiful!), then to pick up my little "baby" (new Corgi puppy!). Though caring for a 6-week-old puppy isn't nearly as taxing as caring for an newborn baby, the similarities are there: lack of sleep, round-the-clock care, numerous feedings, the pressure of responsibility of caring for a living creature, etc. Add in puppy playtime and you've got one tired owner!

So, I wrote a few haikus about it:

New little creature
Chewing everything in sight,
Welcome to my life.



No sleep, little rest
Caring for your every need,
Worth every second.


Finally named you
After much contemplation,
Darcy it will be!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Name That Corgi!



So, looky what's been distracting me this past week! Can I get a round of "awwwwww's?" (click the picture for a major closeup).

This is my new baby Corgi. She's nearing 6 weeks old. I haven't met her yet - she'll be ready for pick up next week! Squeee!

What does this have to do with writing, you might ask? Well, two things come to mind:


1) Research! In my current "cottage" series, set in England, I like to have my characters own pets. Dogs, cats, even a cockatoo. Well, I haven't "written" a Corgi yet, shame on me! Its ancestry is Welsh, so it would fit in perfectly in these novels. Well, now, I have the chance to see one up close, study its bark, its mannerisms, its personality. And I'll be better-equipped to write about it!

2) What's in a Name? It's embarrassing, how difficult it's been to come up with the right name for this puppy so far. I'm a writer. Right? It shouldn't be this challenging. But then, I think of character names -- how important they are. How time-consuming it can be to find the right fit. And, how vital that we take our time, get to know our characters, and choose the perfect name. Whether symbolic or linguistically-beautiful, a name should "match" the character. It should fit. So, that's how I'm trying to approach this puppy-naming process.

At first, I wanted to stay true to her Welsh heritage, but I just couldn't see myself trying to pronounce something like "Amranwn," or "Ystwyth," lol. So, I'm sticking with something that rolls off the tongue a little better. I'll narrow these down over the next few days, then wait to meet the puppy and get to know her. And maybe, that way, I'll find the perfect name!

Here are my favorites so far, in no particular order. I'd love more suggestions! Please leave me some in the comments!

Brittany (<--I know, I know, too obviously "British," lol)
Darcy
Ginger
Savannah
Kasey
Lexi
Lucy
Callie
Sydney
Cheeky (<--yes, the British term for audacious, bold, saucy. I thought it would make for a unique puppy name).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

Does he have white-blonde hair or dirty-blonde hair? Does she keep her fingernails pristine and perfect, or does she chew on them? Is he hot-tempered, or merely brooding and misunderstood? Is she a confident Christian or does she struggle daily with the concept of God?

These are a few of the thousand questions I ask myself at this point in the brainstorming process (getting to know my characters, building them, fleshing them out). I both loathe and adore this vital part of the process. I loathe it because there are so many questions to ask and answer. Potentially thousands. It feels so limitless (and sometimes overwhelming!). I could spend years answering all the possible questions. But I don't have that kind of time, so I must pick and choose carefully. But I also adore this part of the process because there's so much freedom, so much potential. I can create any character I want, give them any personality, any quirk, any shady past. It's all in my hands.

Characterization is both a blessing and burden, but no matter what, it's absolutely necessary. We're essentially creating human beings that will tell our story for us. So, we must know them inside and out. And, much better than our readers. When students ask me how to create a character, I always tell them, "Ask questions." Ask yourself what color hair, eyes they have - what shade of white their teeth might be. Do they have tattoos? What's their romantic/dating history? On and on and on. I give them a character sketch to fill out - link here - and they add in more questions as part of the assignment. It's always fun, hearing their questions. They usually get very creative!

I've grappled with this characterization process more than once, as I look back over this blog and find a few entries that deal with it: Character Stew; What's in a Name?; Good Guys/Bad Guys; Casting Your Characters.

What are your tricks/suggestions/routines for fleshing out characters? I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Know Every Angle

The point of view for my current novel is third person limited (getting inside the mind of one character, using third person pronouns). However, as I'm starting to place my female protagonist in important scenes with the male character (he's another "main" character, but the story isn't told from his perspective), I'm feeling a little stumped. I realized this morning that, even though this is "her" story, I don't know the male lead well enough to show his reactions to situations accurately.

So, this morning, I turned the tables. I focused only on him (in the brainstorming process), and saw the entire plot from his perspective only. And when I did that, it opened up everything. I understood his motives, saw why he would react in ways he did. And I started seeing my female protagonist through his eyes. The story suddenly feels richer, brighter, stronger. Even though, in the story, I haven't changed the POV at all (it's still "her" story).

This situation reminds me very much of the not-published "sequel" to Twilight, called Midnight Sun (okay, all you Twilight-haters, bear with me a second, here...this post has less to do with Twilight and more to do with POV). ;-)

I read Twilight years ago, at the suggestion of a Creative Writing student. I thought the writing could've been stronger, but I liked it. I thought the concept was creative. But I hated Edward. Hated him. I did not understand why the world had fallen in love with him. I saw him only as manipulative, controlling, and even a bit misogynistic. But Twilight was all from Bella's perspective, never Edward's. Thus, we only saw him through her eyes. There were whole periods of the book where we didn't "see" Edward at all (because Bella wasn't in his presence). Therefore, much of his jerky behavior was a mystery to the reader.

Well, somebody told me to go forth and read Midnight Sun -- link here. It's a novel told from Edward's perspective. It's still the Twilight story (nothing changed, plot-wise, from that book), but it totally switches to Edward's POV. While reading his side of the story, his perspective, a strange thing happened. I started to like him. I could empathize with him. I finally understood why he did the things he did in Twilight. It all made perfect sense.

And though I don't plan to write a separate novel from my male character's point of view, it's still imperative that I know who he is, why he makes the decisions he makes, and what he's thinking when my female protagonist has a scene with him.

In the end, I think it's essential that we writers know every angle of the story we're telling, and that even includes the perspective of characters whose POV we're not highlighting. The story will be stronger and richer for it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Gem

I love watching movies (even mediocre ones) that contain something unexpectedly brilliant that pops out at me. Something literary or deep or perfectly-stated.

Well, I just finished watching a cute, quirky indie movie called Happythankyoumoreplease (<---even the title is quirky, no?). It's written, directed, and starred in by Josh Radnor (of "How I Met Your Mother").

Anyway, the film itself is sweetly charming, and a little off-beat. Just the way I like my movies. It has a few extremely well-written moments between characters, where something is described or told that feels clever and and "spot on."

My favorite part of the movie (writing-wise) was when one of the characters was trying to explain to her long-time boyfriend that she was falling out of love with him. I liked the way it was explained, because I think the analogy perfectly hits the nail on the head. (This is from memory, not word-for-word):

The character reminds her boyfriend of when she'd first become attracted to him, when she first "noticed" him. She'd gone to meet him at a bar and was clearly over-dressed and he'd joked, "Going to prom?"

After that reminder, she tells him, "You 'got' me. I knew then that you weren't going to let me get away with anything, unlike most people. And in that moment, you sort of came into focus. Like, 'THERE you are...'" Then she pauses, looks sad, and says, "But now, it seems like you're going out of focus again..."

I just loved the way this was described. Because it's so true -- some people, for whatever reason, sharpen into focus for awhile, and sometimes, for whatever reason, they fade back into "normal" view. They become fuzzy again, maybe become less important? It was a really unique way of describing it. Very creative. Wish I'd thought of it first, heh. ;-)

Anyway, it's fun when an unexpected line or notion hits me that way in a movie. As a writer, I always admire those little gems that present themselves. And, as with a well-written book, it makes me want to reach higher as a writer. And that's never a bad thing!


Edited to add: Score! I just found the clip at YouTube - link here!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Measure of Success

When it comes to success, I think there's something beyond raw talent that comes into play. What ultimately separates successful people from unsuccessful people is one important thing: tenacity.

It's that stubborn digging-in. That attitude of never, ever giving up. Even when the odds seem impossible, the goal unreachable. Because, really, how can you succeed if you stop trying?

Love this quote, just wanted to share:

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. ~William Feather

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"It's Subjective"

We writers have heard this a million times, about how subjective the publishing business is. And the reason we've heard it a million times is because, like it or not, it's true.

I was thinking about this yesterday -- how art, in general, is ridiculously subjective. A song, a painting, a novel, could be considered either beautiful or ugly according to one thing: the eye of the beholder. Because the beholder is the one who casts judgment on the piece. And because the beholder is the sum total of all his/her past experiences, beliefs, and individual tastes, then that judgment is entirely unique. And valid.

Case in point: I visited a modern museum of art a couple of years ago. And as I was viewing these enormous canvases on the wall (one with a huge line painted beside a large red circle), I marveled at how someone could look at this and call it "art." How someone could spend a hundred thousand dollars on something my five-year-old niece could do with her eyes closed. But the neat thing is, they can. That's their right, their prerogative to look at that painting and admire it. They have just as much right to say they adore that big splotchy circle as I have to say I don't.

When it comes to our writing, when it comes to our scouring the ends of the earth for an agent, and/or publisher, we always need to keep in mind how very subjective this business is. There will be those who read my work and see only a simple line with a red circle -- who will shrug their shoulders at it, or who won't "get" it, might not even like it. And, that's their right. But there might also be (*fingers crossed*) those who read my work and see something else. They'll see beauty there. They'll nod their heads, smile, and consider it "art."

Just like the pair-of-jeans analogy (link here), we writers cannot let ourselves take rejections or critical feedback to heart so much that it paralyzes us or fills us with doubt. Because what we do, what we write, is art. And the very nature of art is subjective.

When we realize that, I think we're better able to release our work into the world (whether it's into friends' hands, or those of agents/publisher), offer it up to them, and accept whatever opinion they hold of it. We don't have to agree with it, but we do need to realize it's theirs, it's valid, and most importantly, it's highly subjective.

Brilliant Post

I love Nathan Bransford's blog -- it's so insightful, so spot on. And he always manages to make me think. To make me look at something in a new way.

He's done it again with a recent post -- here's the link to his brilliant thoughts on "Reversals."

Sure, I've always known that we, as authors, must throw obstacles in our protagonist's way, must present challenges and problems for them -- or else we have no plot. No drama, no tension. But I'd never looked at that process in this particular way before (as "reversals" - essentially, creating highs and lows, ups and downs, backs and forths that keep the reader interested).

I adore the Star Wars example he gives. Again, he made me look at that movie (the plot) in a completely different way.

So, thank you, Mr. Bransford!

The Right "Fit"

I'm becoming convinced that the biggest criteria, the greatest factor in getting published is the right "fit." The right work fitting the right agent/publisher at the right time. It all sounds very cosmic, doesn't it? And maybe it is...

Sure, there are other things that matter: the work must be grammatically-correct, compelling, original, strong. But even so, if an agent/publisher doesn't handle your type of genre, then those things are suddenly and utterly moot.

It's like trying on a pair of jeans. Sometimes it takes dozens of "try-ons" before we KNOW - "This is the one! A perfect fit!" But here's the thing -- the ones we discard in the process might have been so close, but in the end, just weren't right. It doesn't even mean they were inferior. It might only mean they weren't THE ONE.

In some ways, this analogy is comforting. The notion that it's not the jeans' "fault" for not being selected. That it's more about the "fit," that it's out of the jeans' control, whether the fit is right or not. And -- that there's always the hope that if a pair of jeans is discarded on the shelf by one person, that the next person who picks them up to try them on could finally be "the one!"

I think if we see the publishing process in this light, we're a lot less likely to take things personally...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Just for a Giggle

Proof that canines can be artistic/creative, too! click here

(Thanks to my dad for the link! ;-)

Friday, May 20, 2011

POV Shifts: Proceed with Caution

As a writer (or even as a reader), I'm not a big fan of point-of-view shifts, hopping from one character's mind into another, back and forth. It can get complicated and choppy and confusing. I prefer to stick with one character (perhaps two) and get to know them better than any other character. Because when you spend a little time here with one character and a little time there with another, you feel like you know a few characters sort-of well, and none of them extremely well.

Also, POV shifts can feel incredibly jarring, if not handled deftly. One book I read years ago--I can't recall the title or author--placed the readers in the mind of one character for several chapters. We got relaxed, got comfortable, settled in to know her thoughts, the way her mind worked. Then, the phone rang. The character picked it up, and we watched her end of the conversation play out, as expected.

But when she hung up, WHAM! The reader was suddenly thrust into the mind the other character on the other end of the phone. Huh? Sure, that move could be considered uber-creative. But it was also uber-confusing. In fact, I had to re-read that shift about three times to make sure what had happened. Very jarring. In addition, I kept wondering how the other character--the one I'd gotten to know so well--was reacting at that moment. I'd invested a lot of time with her, and didn't care about this other character. I kept wanting to jump back into the other woman's POV again. I think I read the rest of that chapter and then quit reading altogether. I knew that if the author used that jarring technique once, he/she would probably use it again and again. Ick.

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule (not that this post is a "rule" - it's just my opinion, my...heh...point of view ;-).

One exception is the book I'm currently reading (and loving) - The Island, by Elin Hilderbrand. Ms. Hilderbrand starts off by allowing the reader to see one character's point of view. And just when we know the character (and like her), the POV shifts to another character. But--it's done so swiftly and smoothly that it feels natural. (A break in text is given, then the name of the upcoming character offered in big bold letters--we're prepared for the shift before it occurs. We know what we're in for. It's not a shock or surprise).

And by the time the author has shifted again (there are four characters whose POVs we see, and I'm only on page 80 right now), we not only understand the transition and are prepared for it, but more importantly, we feel we know each character thoroughly. And, this particular story couldn't be told any other way. We need to see into the minds of each character intimately to be able to know precisely what they're going through when they're together. This technique, used brilliantly, is effective and creative. Reading Ms. Hilderbrand's novel isn't just a pleasure--it's also a lesson. It gives the writer-reader a chance to see a technique executed extremely well.

Rosamunde Pilcher also handles POV shifts well (The Shellseekers has whole sections of the book entirely devoted to each character's POV, and the shift is clearly made by placing the character's name before that section).

What are your experiences with POV, both as a reader and writer? I'd love to hear them...