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):

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)
Cheeky (<--yes, the British term for audacious, bold, saucy. I thought it would make for a unique puppy name).