Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tips From the Master -- Tolkien

I just discovered this wonderful article, examining techniques of Tolkien, and how ALL writers can learn from them.

Here's the link.

Enjoy!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

"The Big Reveal"....Not Revealed

I was watching Young & the Restless today (don't laugh -- it's a habit from college days I can't break  :-).

Well, for months, a big secret has been kept, regarding one of the characters.  The audience has been aware of the secret, but many of the characters had not been.  This tension, regarding the secret, has been building and building.  And finally, when The Big Reveal came today?  We (the audience) didn't even get to SEE it.  That's right.  We weren't shown that scene at all.  It was entirely skipped over.  Instead, all we saw was the aftermath of the revelation.  Characters discussing the secret with each other after the fact.

The audience was completely deprived of that moment when the two main characters found out the secret.  We didn't get to witness their expressions, their shock, their dialogue, none of it.

How frustrating!  How anticlimactic!  I do think the writers had a purpose -- to be creative, to think outside the box, to move away from the predictable.  But in doing so, they deprived the audience of the pay-off.  Of MONTHS waiting to see.....this scene.  And we didn't get to see it.

As writers, I think it's great to be creative, to handle things in a new way.  But sometimes, the basics are necessary.  Sometimes, the expected is exactly what the audience wants.  What they've been waiting and waiting for.  And if it doesn't meet their expectations (or worse, it's not shown to them at all!), they will be disappointed.  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Jesus Painter

I rarely post about religious matters on this blog, mostly because this is a writing blog, and I try to focus on the writing.  But, this is also a blog dedicated to all forms of artistry -- writing, music, painting.  And so, I had to share this today.

My church holds this huge Christmas extravaganza each year, and it's always amazing.  Well, this year, they opted for something a little....different.  At the end of the concert, the house lights went down, and a single spotlight shone on a HUGE white canvas.  A guy showed up -- disheveled, wearing a paint-stained shirt -- and started to paint.  As he did, the choir sang.  And for the next 4 minutes, we watched him complete his masterpiece.  I'll never forget it as long as I live.

We all stood to our feet when he had finished.  Yes, because his incredible talents deserved applause.  But also because, in those 4 minutes, he'd reminded us of exactly why we were there to worship, to sing, to celebrate.  It was Jesus.

I found his video online.



Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Great Advice!

I came across this blog post which discusses first drafts of a novel, and whether they're worth keeping or should be thrown out altogether.

Link here


I especially liked this part -- how clever!

9) List all of the events in your book backwards, with "because" in between them. This is also a great revision technique. "The hero won BECAUSE she had the golden apple BECAUSE she spared a witch who gave it to her BECAUSE the hero felt sorry for the evil witch BECAUSE she herself had done some bad things BECAUSE she was misled into thinking a hero needs to be ruthless BECAUSE she was young and determined to prove herself." And so on. Do those "becauses" actually make any sense, when you run it like that? Do you care about that chain of cause and effect, as a basic skeleton? If any of those BECAUSE statements are like "because I, as the author, said so," can you fix that without the whole thing collapsing?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Identify the Problem

Often, I tell my Creative Writing students that reading/studying bad novels is as valuable as reading/studying good ones.  There's something to be said for being able to recognize the flaws in a piece of fiction.

Case in point:

I'm a sucker for these cheesy Hallmark/Lifetime Christmas movies each year.  I get out my hot chocolate and a cozy blanket, my Corgi at my feet, and hit the "PLAY" button.  Each time, I know I'll be disappointed in the quality of writing, but I don't care.  I like the Christmasy decorations, the predictable romance, the sweet storylines.  Even if they are cheesy.

Well, today, I watched one and was able - even more than usual - to spot the writing flaws.  The story had way too many subplots.  In fact, by the end of the movie, I really wasn't certain what the main plot had even been.  Was it the rebel teacher sparking creativity in his wayward students?  Or was it his coming to grips with a painful past?  Or -- was it the new potential love interest coming his way?  OR -- was it the troubled student just looking for attention?  Or was it the "wishing tree," (which brought the film its title, and was showcased at the beginning and end, like bookends, but served pretty much no purpose in the scheme of things).

I think the main problem was focus.  It didn't have one.  There wasn't a clear through-line, one main idea for the viewer to hang onto.  Instead, it was like a mash-up.  A mixed-up patchwork of stories that didn't work well together.  And I think all it would've taken was some tweaking.  Keep most of the subplots, but pick one and emphasize it as the main plot.

Studying writing -- even poor or flawed writing -- is so key for a writer.  Because the better able we are to identify flaws in someone else's work, the better chances we have at recognizing those flaws in our own.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Feeding the Artistic Soul

The act of writing, building worlds, forming characters -- that's what feeds my artistic soul more than anything else.  When I get into that zone, into that place, that space.  I feel like my best self, my most confident self there.

But sometimes, like now, there's not much time to write.  But there are still other ways to feed my soul.  Music is probably the best way, for me.  Closing my eyes, letting myself experience music like this:


Beautiful.

Now, I'm not arrogant enough to believe that only "artists" (writers, musicians, painters, et al) are the ones who get their souls fed through art.  But I have noticed that we seem to....need it more.  That we crave it in our lives:  books, paintings, music.  I have wonderful people in my life who, self-admittedly, never read books.  They never listen to music.  Never enjoy art.  Never.  It doesn't bother them, not to have those things in their lives on a daily basis, even in small form.  Granted, they have other pursuits, other passions.  But "the arts" just isn't one of them.  

Today, I sit here, grateful that even when I can't "create" through writing, I can still transport myself to that other world, through art.  Through music and color and even nature.  That I can watch the last of the autumn leaves dangling from a tree and see the beauty, the art in that.

There should be art, should be beauty, in every single day.  


Friday, October 26, 2012

First Sentences

We've all been told how vital those first few sentences of a novel are -- they have the power to entice the reader, bore the reader, or turn off the reader completely.  And so, we writers usually spend extraordinary amounts of time and care crafting our opening sentences/paragraphs.  I know I do!

There are so many choices.  Do we open with dialogue?  With description?  With action or danger or mystery?  The decisions can feel overwhelming.  That's why I usually experiment with my openings.  Rarely do I keep the first opening I write, from the original rough draft.  Instead, I like to play with it, test out other possibilities, try other avenues, until the right one "fits."

Just for fun, I thought I'd share the first couple of sentences of one of my novels.  I've edited this novel MANY times, so the first chapter has gone through several changes.  I've probably changed/tweaked/edited this opening at least five times.  And this was the final result....

(Feel free to share your own first sentences in the comments!)


Chapter One

She knew it was a paradox, loving something so beautiful and so dangerous.  Especially something that had tried to swallow her up ten years before.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

There is Such a Place as Fairyland....

I came across this beautiful quote by L.M. Montgomery, one of my favorite children's authors.  I actually never read her most-famous Anne of Green Gables series.  Instead, I read the Emily of New Moon series as a child (Emily dreamed of being a writer).  I adored that series and have such sweet memories of curling up with those books, being taken to another place, grinning as I read page after page, imagining that Emily and I were the best of friends.

I have no doubt that book had a huge influence over my own desire (and fulfillment of that desire), to be a writer someday.

Anyway, here's the quote:


“There is such a place as fairyland - but only children can find the way to it. And they do not know that it is fairyland until they have grown so old that they forget the way. One bitter day, when they seek it and cannot find it, they realize what they have lost; and that is the tragedy of life. On that day the gates of Eden are shut behind them and the age of gold is over. Henceforth they must dwell in the common light of common day. Only a few, who remain children at heart, can ever find that fair, lost path again; and blessed are they above mortals. They, and only they, can bring us tidings from that dear country where we once sojourned and from which we must evermore be exiles. The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and story-tellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland.”    L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl

Saturday, October 20, 2012

500 Posts? Wha...?

I just realized that this post, the one I'm typing now, makes 500 posts (over about 4 years' time).

I had no idea when I started this blog that I'd have anything much to say.  But I've found that it's not hard to record bits of inspiration along the way, or to share quotes by brilliant authors that inspire me.

Thanks to any readers out there who've stayed with me for this journey!

Readjusting Reality

Just saw a great interview with JK Rowling on Charlie Rose's show (link here ).

She talked a lot about the creative process, her new book, Harry Potter, etc.  This quote caught my ear more than anything, though.

When he asked about why she writes, Rowling said:  "I think the urge to write comes from a desire to re-adjust reality....our own reality."

I think she's spot on.


Thursday, October 18, 2012

Participating in Art

I believe "the Arts" are all connected:  dance, painting/drawing, photography, writing, music.  They all share the same creative foundation.  I also believe that, even if a person doesn't happen to be gifted in the creation of these arts, he/she can still enjoy them, be moved by them, feel connected to them.  And by doing so, that person participates in that art.

For instance, I feel an intense level of personal/creative satisfaction when I write.  I'm creating something, involved in the nuts-and-bolts process, from the ground up.  I feel comfortable writing, always have.  But -- I cannot dance.  And I cannot draw (well, maybe a passable stick figure).

However, I thoroughly enjoying watching other people create their art.  Watching someone like this be incredibly good at what they do moves me on an emotional level.  Or, watching my grandmother paint, noticing the intensity in her eyes, the knowing movement of her brushstrokes.

I may not be the one creating the art, but I'm still watching it, appreciating it.  Participating in it.

I guess I'm just grateful that, even if I'm not talented enough to create certain forms of "art," I can still enjoy it on a very satisfying level.  And be part of it, just by appreciating it.

Corgis

*waves*  Apologies for neglecting the blog lately!  It's been a crazy-busy semester, teaching 7 classes.  All I seem to do is grade, grade, grade.

But I wanted to pop by and post something totally non-writing related.  It's just too cute not to share.  And it made me smile (mostly because I have a Corgi, and I know how true this is):


40 Things That Make Corgis Happy


Friday, September 28, 2012

Teaching the Teacher

Just because I'm a Creative Writing teacher certainly doesn't mean I know it all, that I've stopped learning, that I'm unteachable.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I'm learning new things--about the process, about myself as a writer, about the craft--all the time.  As a teacher, I see my main roles as informing students of what I've been taught along the way, encouraging/inspiring them, and facilitating activities and exercises and assignments that will jump start their creativity.  I think of myself more as a coach than teacher.

Well, tonight, while watching "On Story" (a PBS program in which various filmmakers/screenwriters discuss the art and craft of writing and filmmaking), I was TAUGHT.  I listened to screenwriter Shane Black give some fascinating gems about the process, and I learned things I thought I knew, but in a totally new way.  Very inspiring.  Wanted to share...

Link to video here

Bio of Shane Black:  Thriller master writer/director Shane Black (KISS KISS BANG BANG, LETHAL WEAPON) discusses the critical elements of a taut, suspense-filled movie – raising stakes, unexpected reversals, and satisfying payoffs – using examples from such classics as ROCKY, THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, and LA FEMME NIKITA. Followed by the apocalyptic short film Blind Spot by writer/director Matthew Nayman.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

So True....

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” ~Anais Nin

Advent Calendars

I love finding good writing analogies from unexpected sources.  Today, I was watching a Tavis Smiley interview with the actor, Jeremy Irons.  He's promoting his new movie, "The Words" (which looks very interesting -- trailer here).

Tavis asked Mr. Irons about why he chooses characters who have secrets.  And Mr. Irons says that, just as in real life while getting to know people, he enjoys the "process of discovery" of a character.  He believes audiences should get to know a character little by little, not all at once.  Characters should have secrets, he says.

Then he told about being fascinated with advent calendars as a child.  Of the excitement of only being "allowed" to open one window per day, while the rest must remain closed.  And he compared that excitement to acting, to developing a character.  How characters need to have secrets that they only reveal a little at a time.

It reminded me of a Stephen King quote, that characters "shouldn't give up their secrets all at once."

Great advice!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Life Gets in the Way

School started this week (actually, last week, if you count the massive number of faculty meetings I had to attend).  I've essentially worked for 14 straight days without a break.  And have dealt with a wonky Mac that I'm trying to get repaired.  So, with all of that going on, I've had no time to write, or blog, or do anything mildly close to "fun."

But, isn't that a picture of real life, anyway?  The struggle to squeeze our writing, our hobbies, into our busy daily lives?  To try and work inside the small spaces that each day offers, in between family, jobs, real life?

Once things settle down a wee bit, I hope to return to it.  To writing.  To that which makes me happy.   :-)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Oh, the Irony

We can't control The Muse.  She has a mind of her own, flittering about, landing wherever she pleases, whenever she pleases, dropping ideas on us or leaving us dry.

Her timing always seems to be a bit "off."  I've talked to other writers about this phenomenon too, how the creative process seems to hit at inopportune times -- in the middle of work, in the middle of a meeting, in the middle of driving, etc.  Rarely does my Muse decide to visit when I'm begging her to-- when I've got all the time in the world (like a precious summer!) and I'm itching to write.  Sure, I always have bits and bobs of ideas floating around.  But I didn't have the flood of creativity this summer I was hoping for.

Technically, I'm at the end of my summer.  In fact, I have one week left before the first big faculty meeting.  Before the whirlwind of students and planning and papers and duties and obligations.

And so, naturally, what happens today of all days??  The Muse decides to hit.  Ideas are flowing, wheels are churning.  Yes, I'm grateful.  But I'm also frustrated.  Because I've been struggling with a new novel for several weeks now, but nothing's really gelled.  Sure, I've had some good brainstorming sessions.  And I have worked.  But it's been mostly hit-and-miss....until today.  Ugh.  I finally, FINALLY feel "in the groove" with this story.  I can see the characters more vividly, and I know what I want them to do.

But now?  Time is running out.  It's not that I can't or don't write during school semesters.  But it's harder to do that.  It takes more commitment, more energy, to squeeze in those creative moments between essay-grading and faculty meetings.

Oh, well.  Guess I should be grateful the Muse showed up at all.  But man, she has a wicked sense of irony.  ;-)

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Love this...

Open a book this minute and start reading. Don’t move until you’ve reached page fifty. Until you’ve buried your thoughts in print. Cover yourself with words. Wash yourself away. Dissolve. ~Carol Shields 


And this!


Books say: She did this because. Life says: She did this. Books are where things are explained to you; life is where things aren’t. I’m not surprised some people prefer books. Books make sense of life. The only problem is that the lives they make sense of are other people’s lives, never your own.  ~Julian Barnes 



source

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

EPIC ideas

I've been watching the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (DVD, director's cut) over the past few days.  I've seen them before, but had forgotten how intense they are.  And how wonderful.


Confession:  I've never read the books.  I know I should, and I might someday, but I really enjoy the movies.  And, I feel that movies are a form of writing.  Someone had to write that screenplay.  And in this case, from what I understand, the screenplay was quite true to the books.

But what I wanted to highlight in this particular post are the ideas of LOTR, the nuts-and-bolts.  The themes, the elements, the symbolism.  They're so rich and meaningful.  (I won't get too detailed, for those who haven't read the books or watched the movies).

First, the epic nature of the trilogy:  I love the immense scope of it -- all the different terrains and settings (forests, mountains, caves, swamps), the characters/races (dwarves, elves, kings, trolls, orcs, wizards, hobbits), the individual storylines (dozens of them!) that actually all meld together in the end.  It's a BIG, sweeping movie, and it feels....epic.  In fact, you feel rather exhausted after finishing it.  But in the best possible way.  You've escaped into another world, an epic world, and immersed yourself in it.

Then, there are the themes.  Friendship, loyalty, jealousy, sin, forgiveness, family relationships, war, honor, love (<----friendship, romantic, familial), sacrifice, good vs. evil.  Those are just a few I rattled off in seconds.  I'm sure there are many more.  Again, epic.

And the symbolism -- though there are many symbols, the ring is, of course, the primary one.  A tiny piece of metal.  It looks so harmless.  Beautiful, even.  But it symbolizes all that's evil and wrong with this world, and with humans.  When the bearer of the ring is affected by it, such a clever picture is painted, of what sin does, and how human nature is drawn to it.  I especially loved (and cringed over) the "evolution" of Gollum/Smeagol that begins the third movie.

Even though this is a "big" movie/trilogy, probably the most meaningful moments are the small moments within the epic.  The nuances of friendships, decisions made that seem insignificant at the time, but produce enormous outcomes with consequences.

Bravo, Tolkien.  And bravo Peter Jackson, and his entire team.  Both works - the books and the movies - are masterpieces.  Epic masterpieces.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Award!



I've been just been awarded this.  How cool is that?!?!
Many thanks to the clever blog/blogger at Single Writer Mom Rants for this.  She's a super-sweet, uber-witty gal, and she's got an equally-witty blog:  link here
So -- the rules for the award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to the awarding blog.
2. Answer 7 questions about yourself.
3. Provide 10 random factoids about yourself.
4. Hand the award to 7 deserving others.
Questions about myself:
1.  Favorite song?  "Slide" by Goo Goo Dolls
2.  Favorite dessert?  Sea-salted caramels.  Oh my.
3.  What do you do when you're upset?  Either shut down and close off from people, and/or vent about it by writing.
4.  Favorite pet?  Corgis!!  Here's my Darcy:


5.  White or whole wheat?  White.  Definitely.
6.  Biggest fear?  Losing a loved one unexpectedly.
7.  General attitude?  Generally pessimistic/realistic, but with a few sprinkles of hope on top.

10 Random Factoids:

1. I have a real weakness for donuts. I could eat 5 of them, easily, in one sitting.

2. I'm an Anglo-phile and would probably live in England if I wouldn't miss my family and friends so much.

3. Nothing makes me laugh more than slapstick. I love a good pratfall.

4. I hate it when I feel like a friendship/relationship is terribly lop-sided - when I'm doing most of the giving, and that other person is doing most of the taking.

5. I adore sarcasm, but don't like using it much, myself. I'm always too afraid the other person won't "get" it, and will be offended.

6. I know my love of Shakespeare came directly from my watching the 70's movie version of Romeo and Juliet. I was 13 years old and hadn't read the play yet, so I had no idea about the tragic ending. I got so absorbed in it that I think I might've even talked to the screen, to Romeo - "No - she's ALIVE. Don't kill yourself!" lol Alas, he didn't listen to me...

7. I wish people didn't feel the need to judge other people. We're all in the same boat, living this life. So why point fingers?

8. I'm guilty of being way too sensitive, of hurting too much when I get let down by someone.

9. I hate seafood. I know it's supposed to be good for me, but ick. Hate it.

10.  I'm a Christian and I'm not ashamed of it.  No, I don't push my beliefs on other people, but I do love having respectful conversations about different people's views.  My good friends all range from other Christians to Buddhists to atheists.  I believe in freedom of choice, that people are totally free to believe whatever they wish.  Do I wish they'd seek/choose Jesus, and discover the same peace I've found?  Absolutely.  But I still respect their decision not to.  :-)

Other deserving blogs to award:
The Sweet Life  http://www.beckybray.me/
Pensive Sarcasm   http://pensivesarcasm.blogspot.com/

Author's Echo  http://www.adamheine.com/

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"What If?"

There's a cartoon I found online that has two men, both digging through tunnels.  The first one, on top, is working hard, teeth gritted, determined to make it.  The other one, below him, has changed direction.  He's got his pickaxe over his slumped shoulders, and has given up, walking the other way.

If we look to the right of the cartoon, we see what the men were digging for: diamonds.  But more shocking than that, we see how close they were.  A mere inches away.  The man still digging WILL find those diamonds in a few more minutes.  But the one who gave up?  He never, ever will.

There's a quote that goes with this:  "If you give up too soon, you'll never know how close you were."  ~Unknown

That image and quote are so powerful.  And they perfectly embody how I feel about following your dreams.  To the end.  Even if they're years in the chasing, dreams are worth the pursuing.  Because the "what if" question is just too hard to bear. What if your dreams are right around the corner?  And what if you gave up on them moments too soon?

Friday, June 29, 2012

They're Not Stupid

It took me awhile to learn something, when I first experimented with writing novels.  Readers aren't stupid.  And my over-explaining, my telling-instead-of-showing, my overuse of adverbs, etc, was treating them like they were.  I just didn't realize it.

I found a great blog post today by Kristin Lamb, and I agree with 100% of it.  It's a must-read for new authors, as well as a good reminder for those of us who've been around the block awhile.  Link here

And here's a link to an earlier post of mine, talking about this Readers-Aren't-Stupid issue.  I think it's crucial that writers find the balance between offering information readers must have, but not hitting them over the head (treating them like they're stupid) with information they don't need.  It's tricky, but if we become aware of the pitfalls, we can avoid them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

RIP, Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron -- author/screenwriter of such mega-hits as Sleepless in Seattle, You've Got Mail, and Julie and Julia -- has passed away.

I always feel an extra sense of loss when a favorite author passes because her writing "voice" is forever silenced.

I remember watching my favorite Nora Ephron film, When Harry Met Sally, as an 18-year-old in the theater.  It was influential to me, the idea that these affable characters could be so witty, could have such important, smart dialogue coming out of their mouths.  It all seemed so natural, so effortless.  That movie changed the face of romantic comedies, in my opinion.  It showed that characters could talk about real things (fears, break-ups, sex), and it showed that a genuine friendship between a man and woman could lead to a solid relationship.  Combine that with Rob Reiner's direction and Harry Connick Jr's Sinatra-esque soundtrack, and you've got a sure-fire winner.  A classic.

So, here's to Nora Ephron.  Thanks for your influence, and for giving your characters such heart and wit.  And most of all, for your influence on me as a writer.

**edited to add:  in a beautifully-ironic twist, her final work (written just last year) is a collection of witty and poignant anecdotes about life, aging, etc:    link here

Monday, June 18, 2012

Shake Things Up

This morning, I was planning out a scene in my novel.  I knew what needed to happen in it, but as I started making decisions, I found myself......bored.  The scene's situation and the details and the timing all felt too predictable, within the story I'm trying to tell.

So, I decided to put the brainstorming on pause and do other things.  Then, I came back to it and decided to shake things up.  The core content needs to remain the same (the main character is having a fight with his father, crucial to the storyline).  But instead of having this done privately, with another main character overhearing, I'll stage the fight publicly -- in the pub, in front of the other villagers.  That way, the tension is ramped up, and embarrassment (on both sides) also becomes a factor.  Loyalties will have to be chosen, sides taken.

I always find that if I'm bored by a scene, the best way to improve it is to shake things up.  Change the atmosphere (time of day, location), change the situation (characters involved), etc.  It seems to add a freshness that was lacking before.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Comparison...


"Comparison is the thief of joy."  ~Unknown

I had to remind myself of this today, when I read that one of my favorite authors only queried ONE agent before getting signed.  That was 12 years ago, and she's written/published at least that many books since then.  Sure, I was hoping to hear some inspirational story, of her being in the Query Trenches for years, getting discouraged, then finally receiving a well-deserved "Yes!"  A story of triumph where she almost gave up several times, but kept plodding along.  But that's not what her story was.  And that's okay.

It's easy to compare our journey with another writer's journey and feel that we've come up short.  Or even to be jealous of his/her path to success.  But truly, I'm thankful for my own journey.  It's given me time to mature as a writer, to experience life, to hone my craft by studying my genre, to re-write, to get to know other writers, and mostly, to enjoy writing for the sake of writing (and not just for getting published).

Am I anxious to publish my series someday?  Absolutely.  Do I wish/hope/dream I could make a career out of it?  Absolutely!!  But whatever the future holds, it's okay if my journey doesn't match someone else's.  Our journeys are our own.  Maybe we just need to own them.  ;-)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Disappointed Again

I'm nearing the end of yet another novel that has disappointed me.  That didn't live up to its own hook.  The scenario on the flap sounded pretty amazing at first--the identity of Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" finally discovered, at great cost to those who discovered it (people dying left and right), all set against the romantic backdrop of the Italian countryside.

But, in the end, I found several flaws in the narrative that got in the way:  heavy-handed descriptions that slowed the pacing, over-explaining and repetitions that slowed the pacing, unnecessary detail about art/architecture/literature that completely diverted away from the plot (it felt like the writer was just "showing off") and slowed the pacing (see a trend, here?).  Nothing takes the steam out of a suspense novel faster than poor pacing.  Yikes.

As a writer, it's good for me to read fiction that's disappointing, because I can study it--realize what not to do in my own writing.  Even a disappointing novel is a beneficial one.

Still, I hope to break this trend and read two NEW books from my current favorite two authors (is there anything more glorious than cracking open a new book of a favorite author??  I think not!).

Here they are:

Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand
Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans


So, what are y'all reading this summer??

Friday, June 8, 2012

Claim it. Do it. Write it.

Came across this today.  Love it.

L.O.V.E.


A Wordplayer's Manifesto



*source - http://kmweiland.com/free.php#manifesto


Seriously - we writers should read this....SLOWLY....out loud....every single day.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Sleeping with the Enemy

This morning, I thought of another strong example of "beads" in writing (here's a definition of beads in a previous entry -- really, they're just symbols that pop up at certain times -- link here)

There's an older movie with Julia Roberts, called "Sleeping with the Enemy."  It's entertaining, creepy/scary, and sweet, all in one package.

Without giving too much away, the premise involves an abused wife who escapes her rich husband and finds a life on her own.  Well, at the beginning, the first "beads" show up.  We can see how "particular" the abusive husband is, when Julia's character frantically twists all the labels of cans inside the cupboard until they're all facing the same way, perfectly symmetrical.  Because he likes it that way.  She also does this later, with towels on the rack.  They must be even, perfectly aligned.  Because heaven forbid, if they're not...

When she finally starts her new life, sans abusive mate, her old habits come back, and as she's unpacking, she starts to twist all the cans, but then stops herself.  With a little smile, she turns them all out and around, lets them be imperfect.  She also does this with the towels.  A great symbol of her freedom, how she's let go of her abusive ex.

(Spoiler) - finally, at the end of the movie (the ex has been searching for her by now), she returns from a fun evening out with a friend, and is horrified to find....all the labels of the cans in her kitchen perfectly symmetrical.  The towels are perfect too, which tells her (and the audience) -- he's in the house!!

The ending is dramatic and tense, and it's truly, in part, due to those "beads."  In fact, if it weren't for the beads set up in the beginning, we (the audience) would not be quite so horrified at the end.  But with the careful placement of those beads beforehand, the audience was in on it.  We, like Julia's character, knew exactly what they meant -- those cans aligned, those towels aligned.  And when we see that bead for the final time, it sends chills up our spines.

Anyway, I think this is a perfect example of how to use "beads."  Not heavy-handed, but noticeable.  And, placed very carefully throughout the script.  So that, at the end, those beads pack a very specific  punch.  They make the audience think, "Ahhh.  I know what that is.  I know what that means."  It makes the audience feel smart.  With the beads, they're drawing their own conclusions.  The beads pull the audience into the piece, make them feel interactive.

Beads can be incredibly effective, if handled well.  I think the key is placement (not too many times, not too few) and subtlety (those cans/towels are not super-obvious the first two times they're shown, but wow, at the end, they have huge impact).

Can y'all think of any other movies/books where beads are used effectively?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Publishing - Worth the Effort?

I've always told my Creative Writing students that it's entirely their decision, to try and get published or not.  It's a personal one that each writer has to make on his/her own.

And lately, as I've been in the agent-query trenches once more, I've really grilled myself about this:  Is it (publication) worth the pain/time/energy/money/patience?  Is it?  

In the end, my answer to myself is still "yes."  And here's why:

Sure, I completely enjoy writing for the sake of writing -- the process of it.  Absolutely.  Nothing else gives me the rush that a burst of inspiration can do.  Nothing.  It's indescribable.  And I'll (hopefully) do that for the rest of my life, fingers dancing across the keyboard, creating new characters, new dilemmas for them.

But why did I start to write in the first place, years ago?  Because I was a reader first.  And when I saw the power of words, when I experienced the emotions as a reader, I knew I wanted to be on the other side of the curtain, producing new worlds and experiences for a reader.  I wanted to give someone else that same feeling -- of connecting to a character, of being moved by a story, of being transported to another world.  So, I suppose the source, the foundation of my desire to write, was actually because of reading.  Because I wanted to give someone else an experience I'd received.

Of course, by now, I'm well aware of the reality of publishing -- I've researched enough (and experienced enough) to know that publication is mostly business.  It's about money and decisions and trends and rejections and....more money.  And I realize that getting published won't give me nearly the same artistic/creative satisfaction that the actual writing does.  But--I still have a desire to see my work in print.  To come full circle and let someone else (hopefully) experience what I often do, as a reader.

I think there are good reasons and not-so-good reasons to seek publication.  And in the end, we have to ask ourselves if it's worth it.  In my case, at least right now, it still is.


Creating a World

Part of the allure of writing, I think, is to create a world of our own making.  One where we have ultimate control over what happens in it.  A world that's not perfect, surely (how boring would that be, for readers?), but just maybe, one in which justice ultimately prevails, the guy does get the girl, and people actually do learn and grow from their mistakes.

There's something satisfying about that.  And, freeing.  Leaving our own world behind, to enter a new one, entirely of our making.  Even if it's just for a couple of hours a day.

I came across a quote that I think embodies this notion.  Just wanted to share...

I think everybody needs a place to go when things become too much. A place where the world is the way you want it to be, and if you had a choice, it’s how you would have created it.   ~The Isabel Factor, a novel by Gayle Friesen  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

When Quirky is TOO Quirky

I love a good, quirky film.  You know, one of those low-budget indie movies that nobody's heard of.  The one with unpredictable plots and off-center characters.

But sometimes, a movie can be too quirky.  Like, bizarre.  Or completely unnatural.  And when that happens, it takes me out of the film.  Makes me think, "The writer is trying to be quirky here, and it really didn't work."  (I realize this is completely subjective -- some people DO love anything and everything quirky/bizarre, no matter what.  But I guess, for me, sometimes quirky can be too quirky).

Last night, I watched a road-trip film about two lost souls, two quirky characters (a guy and a girl) becoming friends and falling in love.  And I liked it.  Most of it.  But there were a couple of scenes/moments that just made me roll my eyes.  Parts that were too quirky.  Parts where I could see the writer trying too hard to be quirky.  For example, when the characters made a quick stop at the guy's parents' house, his 50-year-old mother was wearing.....her wedding dress.  For no apparent reason.  Just standing there in the kitchen, making eggs, wearing her wedding dress like this was a completely normal activity.  No explanation at all.  And the son didn't seem surprised or disturbed, which told me that this happened more than once.  Quirky?  Yes.  But did it make any sense?  Nope.

Here's an example of when quirky works.  House of D is a brilliant, quiet, coming-of-age film, written and directed by David Duchovny.  In it, David's character starts out by sketching (he's an artist) under a bed.  Like, his 6-foot-something frame is squeezed underneath a bed, with a tiny lamp, as he scribbles in a sketchpad.  Quirky?  Yes.  But did it make any sense?  YES.  It made perfect sense at the end of the movie.  There was a reason he liked to crawl underneath beds, and it had everything to do with how he grew up, with how he tried to be protective of his drug-using mother.  And even when we find out why he crawls under beds, that doesn't make it any less quirky.  It just makes it authentic.

So, for me, I guess I have to have my quirky with a wee dose of reality.  Or at least the quirk has to be semi-explained or make at least a grain of sense.  If a character does something totally quirky for no reason at all, it feels to me like he's being quirky just to be quirky.  It lacks authenticity.  And, it shows me that the writer was trying too hard.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Don't Force It

As a reader, I'm always irked when I can see a writer "trying" to make me feel something.  When they're working too hard to build up a scene, and when it's obvious their goal is to make the reader cry or be moved.  I usually end up having the opposite reaction.  And then I quit reading.

As writers, of course, we do want our readers to feel something, to make a connection with the plot, the characters.  But if we force it, the reader will feel manipulated.  They're smart.  They can sense when we're working too hard.  So, I think the best thing we can do as writers is to stay honest.  To write a scene because it serves the plot, challenges or reveals the characters--not because we think it will guarantee tears from our readers.

If we're authentic, if we tell the story naturally, let it unfold as it should, the reader will connect to it and yes, if moved, the reader may shed a couple of tears.  ;-)

I know this sounds odd, but my test is....myself.  (This works best if I've gained some distance from my work -- if I've set it aside for a few weeks or even months, so that I "forget" what I've written and can see it through fresh eyes).  If I read over a particularly emotional scene I wrote and I start to get tears or empathize with the characters, I know I've done something right.  But if I find myself neutral or even shrugging my shoulders at a scene that was meant to move, then it needs tweaking.  I need to roll up my sleeves, dig in, and let the scene unfold in a more natural way.

I found a blog post today at Kidlit that discusses this very thing (along the lines of forcing big, emotional scenes on your readers too quickly, before they even have the chance to connect with the characters).  Excellent advice:  link here

Monday, May 14, 2012

Tweak that Query!

Query letters can be such a challenge to write.  Especially the paragraph where you're trying to sum up a 400-page book in a brief and interesting way that will excite the reader, make her want to request the book.

I usually write the query letter as early in the novel-writing process as possible---when I've got a pretty firm idea of where the plot is headed.  That way, as I write the novel, I can continuously go back to the query letter and tweak, tweak, tweak.  Set it aside, read it again.  Set it aside, read it again.

That little synopsis/summary paragraph is VITAL.  In fact, it (and not the author bio or the cute little rhetorical-question opening of the letter) is probably the most important paragraph in a query.  I believe it's what "sells" your book idea.  In fact, it really should feel like the summary on a book jacket cover.  It should contain detail (not too much, not to little), mystery, and a "hook."  And, it should flow effortlessly, leaving the reader wanting more.

So, it's worth all the time and energy to get it right.  And usually, you'll know when you do.  When you can read it and not stumble over the words.  When you can picture yourself in a bookstore, picking up this particular book, and reading the jacket cover and thinking, "Hey - this is something I'd want to read."

Honestly, putting yourself in the reader's shoes is probably the best way to know if you've tweaked it enough to get it right.  But it sure does take a lot of time to get there.  ;-)


**edit - well, how's this for good timing?  I just read some great query advice on the Behler blog (she's a publisher):  link here

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Freedom!

I'm about three hours away from finishing up all my grades, from tying a big fat ribbon around this semester.  It's been a challenging one for various reasons, so I won't regret kissing it good-bye.  The only pinch of sadness I feel is that I had a FANTASTIC Creative Writing class this semester, and I wasn't quite ready to let those students go yet.  Their enthusiasm and dedication (and talent!) were an inspiration to me every week.

So.  Summer approaches.  Freedom.  And for me, that means one thing -- freedom and time to WRITE. I've spent the last two years, off and on, editing and polishing my women's fiction series.  Well, last summer, I started the seeds of brainstorming for another novel, but didn't have time to write it.  Now, I do.  And I can't wait!  I'm itching to start something new, to create all-new characters and find all-new conflicts for them to sort through.  

And, on another front, I'm curious to see how/whether things might advance, regarding my desire to publish said women's fiction series.  I've got some irons in the fire right now, and a long-term plan if those irons grow cold (weird metaphor, lol).  I'm curious to see what might happen...

Anyway, it's a huge relief to put the essay-grading aside and focus on MY work.  When I'm grading other people's essays, it's nearly impossible for me to salvage any creative mental energy of my own.  

But now, there's time.  Finally.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Character Advice

While reading Natalie Whipple's blog, Between Fact & Fiction, I came across some excellent advice, regarding character.

Wanted to pass it along:  link here

Sunday, May 6, 2012

What Really Matters

You know, sometimes in life, we get so caught up in things -- the busy-ness of errands and daily obligations;  the time-consuming duties of work (essay-grading!!!);  the little things or worries that can nag at us on a daily basis.  And yes, we can even get too caught up with our writing-- whether it's working out the kinks in a new plot, or even getting stuck inside the Waiting Game when trying to get published.

But last night, I was reminded of what REALLY matters.  Real life.  And family.

My grandparents celebrated their 90th birthdays last night, and we all gathered to celebrate:  three sons (and their spouses), eight grandchildren (and their spouses), fifteen great-grandchildren.  All in one room, for the first time in about 13 years.  And it was wonderful.  We left all that "stuff" outside the door, all the little things in life that get in the way, and just had fellowship:  swapping memories, catching up, singing, praying, laughing, even crying.  It reminded me of how blessed I am, to be part of a precious, supportive, intact, God-loving family.

Sometimes, as writers, as human beings, we forget to live.  To foster relationships and even to look back at who we once used to be.  To reflect on memories, to STOP and slow down and soak everything in.

And, you know, doing that -- living life -- will help make us better writers, anyway.  We'll have more to glean from, more to mine from, more to use in our stories.

So today, if you're caught up in the whirlwind of life "stuff," stop for a moment.  Email or call a family member you've been neglecting.  Look back, reflect on easier times.  Make plans for a future family reunion.  Go out to lunch with a special friend.

Drop everything and just.....LIVE.


Sunday, April 29, 2012

Disappointed, In the End

I love to read.  No matter how busy school keeps me (I'm grading for a 14-day stretch right now, until finals come, yeesh), I will always make time to read.  Even if it's a few precious minutes a day.

Because my time is so precious right now, it's particularly frustrating to invest time in a novel and be disappointed in the end.  I finished a novel last night and closed it with....a shrug.  Up to the last five pages, I'd adored this book, and had expected to close it with a triumphant smile, glad about the characters getting together (finally!) in the end.  And they did.  But the way it happened was....strange.  Unexpected.  And maybe that's what the author was going for.  Maybe she was trying to rattle expectations and keep the reader on her toes.  But, instead, it left me disappointed and confused.

So, does a disappointing ending cancel out the whole book?  Taint the whole reading experience of that novel?  Some people might think so.  I think it depends on how disappointing the end was.  The novel I just finished was only mildly disappointing, so I didn't regret reading the other three hundred and fifty pages before it.

Also, I think something else factors in, with writers.  We tend to close a book we've read, disappointed, and take it further:  "Man, if I'd written this book, I would've ended it this way or that way..."  (C'mon, I know you've done it).  And yes, those were my thoughts last night.  :-)

I guess the main lesson here is that we (as writers) can't please everyone all the time.  We can't expect to meet each reader's expectations.  Surely, the author of the book I finished last night didn't intend to disappoint.  I'm sure she thought her ending was creative and unique.  And, there might be some who loved it.  But I didn't.  And that's okay.  As a writer, I'll try to please my own sensibilities first, follow my own writing instincts, and then hope the reader is pleased, as well, to the very last page.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Walden...game??

So, there's a new video game in development - Thoreau's Walden.

I'm torn about this -- one part of me is intrigued, after seeing the video promo (link here).  I love the soothing music, the idea of hearing/seeing quotes from Walden in a new way.  But the other part of me is a bit horrified at the notion of entering a "fake" nature that's computerized.  I mean, isn't that completely defeating the purpose of Walden?  Sitting indoors, in our pajamas with a joystick, staring at a screen?  And not experiencing actual nature with our own senses, for ourselves?

Heh.  Wonder what Thoreau would think.

Sometimes Predictable is Good

Consider the action movie:  our hero battles the villain(s) for an hour and fifty minutes, but in the end?  We know he'll win.  That bullet he just took to the shoulder?  Nah.  Not gonna kill him.  That train speeding his way as he chases the bad guy?  Not gonna kill him.  We know that in the end, he'll survive and the bad guy will be violently killed by him.  Predictable.

Consider the romantic comedy:  two people meet, likely hate each other, but Fate continues to place them in each other's paths.  (There's also usually the sidekick guy and the sidekick girl, who put the "comedy" in romantic comedy).  After a long series of misunderstandings and obstacles, the air is finally cleared, and our couple will look dreamily into each other's eyes and kiss while the music swells.  Totally predictable.

Some people hate that kind of predictability and will avoid it at all cost.  But some of us actually like it.  There's an odd sort of comfort in predictability, I think.  Since we know the ending, we can sit back, relax, and watch the journey.  In fact, for me, the mark of a good romantic comedy is the journey---when it's unique or quirky or well-told.  Or when the couple has amazing chemistry.  Sure, I know they'll get together in the end.  But how will it happen?  That's what I'm interested in.  What will their journey be?

My most favorite examples are While You Were Sleeping (quirky, original, even silly "journey" to the predictable ending), When Harry Met Sally (smart, witty dialogue and great jazz music), and Return to Me (again, quirky/original plot and sweet chemistry between the leads).  I knew the outcomes of these movies the first time I saw them, but that didn't stop me from enjoying them.  Over and over again, in fact.  It's all about the journey.

So, when I write my women's fiction and am occasionally told the ending feels a little "predictable," I don't always see that as a bad thing.  Because, hopefully, I've given the reader an interesting journey along the way, with strong characters and good chemistry between the protagonists.  Some might like that kind of predictability, and some might not.  And that's okay with me.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Character Come to Life

Surely any writer has felt, at one time or another, a profound connection to a main character--to someone he/she has crafted, created.  When we spend time with these characters, they really can seem vivid in our minds.

Well, I found a new movie trailer that takes this concept to an adorable extreme--it's about an author with writer's block who gets a sudden burst of inspiration, and his character actually does come to life (a la Stranger Than Fiction).  

Looks cute!  Wanted to share...

Friday, April 20, 2012

Quote!

I love this one:

"You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads….may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world." ~Ray Bradbury


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Your Personal Best

It's easy to become intimidated by good writing--to open a book and see how fluid, how clever, how brilliant someone else is being. It's easy to compare yourself to another author and feel like you've come up short.

But I found this quote today, and it's a wonderful reminder. The only one we should be striving to out-do is....ourselves. Our own personal best is all we can ever hope to achieve, as writers. In fact, it's futile and sometimes harmful to wish we could be "the next" whoever. Instead, we should strive to reach and maintain our own personal best. Not that it's easy, of course....

“I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I only try to dance better than myself.” ~Michail Nikolaevi─Ź Bary┼ínikov



Sunday, April 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Leonardo

(Nope, not Dicaprio).

Just found a great quote by the master painter. I think it can apply to many things, including the "flight"/journey that writing can take us on...


"Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."
~Leonardo da Vinci

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Ripple Effects

So, I'm making some fairly minor changes to a previous novel, trying to "warm up" the main character. In the first chapter, I decided to give her a memory where she nearly drowned at age ten, and her father scooped her up and saved her, brought her to shore, sputtering. I then mention that this character is now afraid to go into the water.

Well, I discovered some ripple effects (no pun intended!) later on in the novel. There's a key scene halfway through, in which the character is a teenager, enjoying a swim in a lake. Of course, I wrote that long before this new change (with the near-drowning memory). It dawned on me tonight -- she's now afraid of the water! She shouldn't be going into the water at all (and if she does, I had better address her strong fears, or else the reader will see it as a major inconsistency).

The difficult thing is that I really don't want to move the lake setting to another dry-land location because I'm satisfied with that scene "as is" (it's an important one, in terms of what happens with her and another character in the water).

I've got a couple of options spinning around in my head, and I'll figure it out one way or another -- but it's amazing to me (and a bit unnerving) how just one small change in a plotline can have such far-reaching ripple effects in the rest of the story. That's why it's essential to carefully glean over the pages after the changes we make, in order to catch these types of inconsistencies.

Not easy, but certainly worth it!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Take Pride in Your Genre

I was talking to someone the other day about how my genre (women's fiction) isn't exactly "hot" at the moment, in the market. What's "hot" right now is YA/fantasy. Hunger Games, Twilight, et al.

And it got me thinking -- no matter if my genre is "hot" or not, I should still take pride in it. Should still feel confident writing it. I love women's fiction. I love reading it, and I love writing it. And that's not going to change anytime soon.

My particular genre is what I like to consider "cozy" women's fiction. You know -- grab a fleecy blanket, make a hot cup of something, curl up (preferably with a dog or cat at your feet) next to a fire, and crack open a book. My novels aren't suspenseful page-turners. They're not meant to be. They explore human nature, the intricacies of relationships, of life. And sure, inside of that, there is conflict. There is drama. But it's not as overt as, say, having vampires or zombies (<--that's not a dig at those books - that's just showing that there's a distinct, unique difference between genres).

And honestly, I'm sure that YA authors have insecurities to deal with, in their own genre. As hot as it is right now, the YA/fantasy genre has also gotten some flack (mostly for the inundation of titles flooding the market, many of which seem very similar). But, those books are popular for a reason. They're fast-moving, intriguing, and often deal with life-and-death urgency, which keeps the pages turning and keeps the fans buying.

I guess my point is, choose your genre based on what YOU like the best, and not what's necessarily popular at the moment. If you love YA, write YA. If you love women's fiction, write women's fiction. Even if it's not selling at the moment.

Because someday, maybe, it will again..... :-)

Friday, March 23, 2012

Be Brutal!

The editing process can be painful. Or, as a student of mine put it last week, "it sucks!"

It's a huge challenge to figure out what to cut out and what to leave in -- and it's perhaps a bigger challenge to remove something, once you decide it doesn't belong. I always tell my students, "A sentence must earn the right to live on the page." But that also applies to storylines and characters. In fact, it's a great test, asking yourself, "If I remove this (word/sentence/plotline/character) from the story, will it affect the story in a major way?" If the answer is clearly "no," then that element should likely be cut.

And next, I tell my students, "Be strong! Be brutal!" when it comes to eliminating something you know should be cut out. Because, in the end, it will make the story better, stronger. And the end result should always be to serve the story.

I saw a great article today by "Television Without Pity" (just like the name sounds, these articles drip with biting sarcasm). It lists the Top 10 Characters Whose Absence Would Greatly Improve Their Shows.

Granted, they seem to choose their criteria based on whether or not they simply like a character. And though that should be a factor for a writer, I think there's more at play in making that all-important "to stay or not to stay" decision. Things like how would his/her absence affect other characters? Or how would it affect plots and sub-plots? Would his/her absence make any difference at all?

Here's a good example: While editing my novel last year, I decided to "cut out" my protagonist's mother. She'd been an extremely minor character who didn't really serve the story in any way. And something happened when I "cut her out" (I actually killed her off): my protagonist became a little deeper. Now, instead of having an annoying, nagging mother whose phone calls she begrudgingly took once a week, my protagonist became a little lost, a little empty, because she'd lost her mother a few years before. There was a wound now that wasn't there before. And that made her even more interesting.

In the end, the decision is the writer's. But if we have a gut feeling about a character -- that he should be cut -- and we just can't bring ourselves let him go, I think the story will suffer. Perhaps not overtly, perhaps not terminally. But there will forever be something nagging at the reader (and the writer) when the story is read.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Age and Priorities

Last week, I gave my Creative Writers an exercise that went something like this:

Describe what was important to you at age: 5? 10? 15? Now? (My students are mostly right at 20 years old). (<--source, What If)

The purpose was for them to remember. To look back and see that we, as humans, change and grow and mature as years progress. That what was super-important to us as a child has been replaced by something else. And that our characters, too, at certain ages, have very specific needs/desires/wants.

The results were wonderful -- the students seemed to embrace the exercises and got quite detailed in their analysis.

So, I thought I'd do mine, here, just as an exercise (hee, I had to "spread out" the ages to make it fit):

What was important to me at age:

5 - impressing my kindergarten teacher; obeying my parents (I was a "good girl," yep); reading; my dog Tibby; learning to roller skate and hoola-hoop; making new friends; carting my little sister around in a red wagon.

15 - learning to drive(!); doing well in school; listening to music (Van Halen, Wham!, Restless Heart, Whitney Houston) and making music (solos in church, band and choir at school); making/keeping friends (hard to do in high school!); wearing 80's bright colors and poofy hair; church; wishing and praying that my biggest crush (he later turned into a full-fledged first love the following year) would like me the way I liked him. *sigh* Those were heartbreaking years...

25 - trying to keep my new-ish marriage afloat (this wasn't my first love, btw); moving to yet another city, trying to find yet another job, decorating yet another tiny apartment; trying to find new friends, another new church; fighting loneliness and depression over all these new changes, seemingly out of my control; writing (<---my solace, my comfort, my escape!)

NOW (40-something) - being the best teacher I can be; being the best doggie-mama I can be (2 dogs, Sheltie, Corgi); writing (and hoping to be published); finding happiness in day-to-day challenges; fighting off the occasional wee mid-life crisis; accepting myself, even when my life doesn't "look like" my friends' lives (aka, married w/ kids); being SO grateful for things like healthy grandparents and parents, niece and nephews, good health for myself, a secure job, health insurance, etc (all the practical things seem to matter more, now).


Really interesting, to see priorities change over the years -- usually from the materialistic to the realistic and more mature...

A Character's Age?

Over the years, I find that I write main characters in their late twenties or early thirties. That's not because it's popular (I assume that most main characters in adult fiction tend to range from late twenties to late forties?). Instead, it's probably because I enjoy writing characters closer to my age. And even though I'm now *cough*About-to-be-42*cough*, I don't feel my age. So, I tend to write characters a little younger. The age I really feel, inside. ;-)

Of course, I also write minor characters of all ages -- children, middle-aged, elderly. And they're all interesting to write. And, of course, MANY adult writers are penning young adult novels, where the main character's age is significantly younger. I wonder if, in those cases, those authors are using a niece/nephew or child as a guide (observing that generation close-up, like research).

But for me, for my core characters, at least right now, I like to feel their age, embody their age.

I wonder if that'll change, over time. If, when I'm sixty-something, I'll start to write fifty or sixty-something-aged main characters. Rosamunde Pilcher, now in her eighties, has seemed to write progressively older main characters as she's aged. And I wonder if it's because she can relate to them more--their time of life, their circumstances, etc.

What ages do you generally gravitate toward (depending on the type of fiction you write)?

Music = Art Without Words

So, I know this is a writing blog and that writing is all about WORDS. But, I like to consider writing, music, painting, any form of creativity as "art" - with or without words.

Music, especially, can be such a powerful art form. In fact, it can be even more powerful than words. Because sometimes, words for certain emotions just don't exist.

Here's a perfect example:


Every time I hear this gorgeous song, it sounds like "life" to me -- the paradoxes involved -- beauty, pain, joy, tragedy, all in one song. All without a single word. The chords flow and change, from major, uplifting, hopeful chords to dissonant minor, poignant melancholy chords. Heartbreakingly beautiful.

Just wanted to share a little piece of rich "art" today. Hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Wisdom of James Taylor

I've been a JT fan for decades, and have seen him in concert three times.

Here's a wonderful clip where he talks about the process, the "art" of writing a song. So interesting, to hear his take on what creativity is, where it comes from:

I Love a Good Spoof!

I recently finished Season 2 of Downton Abbey and found a hilarious, well-written spoof of it online.


I don't know why, but I never seem to get offended by people poking fun at my favorite shows. Maybe because there's always a hint of truth in the spoofs that can't be avoided. Or maybe it's just that I appreciate really good sarcasm.

Like in this spoof of Don Draper (from Mad Men): Link here

Or even these written jabs at my favorite t.v. show, Thirtysomething: Link here

When people take the time to write humorous dialogue or even dress up in costume to pay hilarious tribute to a beloved show -- and when they get it right -- well, it just might be the sincerest form of flattery.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Name Poll

So, I'm working on re-vamping a character in one of my novels. And the only way I know how to make a HUGE overhaul of this nature is to re-name her. Give her a fresh start, a new personality, a new name.

I've asked some friends and family members to give me their input (after awhile, the names start to run together for me - I've lost perspective). I've even put out a large poll to my Facebook friends.

Even though I realize that naming a character is partly about meaning (does it "fit" the character's personality, or even the region where he/she lives, or the time period, etc?) -- it's also about what looks good on the page. At least, as a reader, that's how I view the importance of names. So, here's what I asked my Facebook friends:

I've narrowed down the possible character names to a few, and was wondering which one "sounds/looks" best. Which name(s) would you not get tired of seeing over and over again in the pages of a book? (<---lol at my criteria for this!)

Here they are:

Shaylin (or Shay)
Taylor
Sydney
Rayann
Payton
Noelle
Lindsey
Jordan
Penny
Cassidy

Any favorites? (This is for a main character who's from California - she's shy and bookish and has a tomboyish streak, if that helps...)

I'll keep you posted on the results.
(I'd love to hear from any blog readers -- what's your preference??)
Update: I'm going to test "Noelle" (reading the first few chapters with that name, see how it feels/reads). If that doesn't work, the next choice is probably Jordan or Cassidy. Thanks so much for your input, everyone! (Umm, I have no idea why the spacing here is so wonky....lol).

Friday, March 2, 2012

Don't Let Them "See You Writing"

Have you ever watched a movie and cringed because the acting was bad? I mean, painfully bad? Squirm-in-your-seat bad? The actor's eyebrows are raised too far in surprise, the dialogue feels robotic, the mannerisms are forced and over-done. And in those cases, I always think to myself, "I can 'see' them acting." Because it's so unnatural and awkward. Maybe the bad acting comes from trying too hard (there's no subtlety, no nuance). Or, maybe it's from not having enough acting experience or education. Whatever the case, the worst part is that it takes me, the viewer, completely out of the movie.

Similarly, I think that if we writers are trying too hard (if our prose is too flowery or overdone), or if we're not experienced enough (perhaps we have poor grammar, mechanics, characterization, etc), then it's unnatural and awkward. And the reader can easily "see us writing." And, again, our readers will be taken out of our story.

Another factor is when a writer becomes, as Stephen King puts it, "enchanted with his powers of description." Too much unnecessary detail is another way the writer can be "seen" writing. If the writer is in love with his/her own descriptions, it gets in the way of the story:

So, how do we avoid being "seen" as we write?

Read, read, read (educate ourselves to recognize what good writing looks like). Remember to be subtle (treat your readers as "smart" - don't hit them over the head with obvious details). Practice good grammar and mechanics (those are the basics every writer should know).

And, in the end, just use your writers' instinct. Listen to your gut as you write. Let your voice come through. As long as it's natural, as long as you're being truthful with the emotion in the scene, you're less likely to be "seen" writing.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

What's in a Name?

One of the more challenging aspects of writing a story or novel is probably naming our characters. Several criteria can come into play:

Does the name mean something?
Does it reflect the character's personality?
Do other characters use a nickname for that character?
Do I, the author, like the name (can I live with it for the duration of the novel)?
Is the name too boring or common?

Some things I also like to consider are these:

* How the name looks on paper. Because most readers don't read aloud to themselves, I think the name has to "look right" on paper (whatever that means).

* Being aware of the name in relation to other character names. (This is only a personal preference) - I don't like character names to start with the same letter. As a reader, when I see Alan, Amy, Andrew, Adam, and Alyssa, I get confused. I tend to skim over names pretty quickly as I read, and if they all start with the same letter, it slows me down. I have to stare at the name, reflect on it. And it takes me OUT of the story.

* Watching out for names that conjure too-personal images. I can't use names that have a strong personal meaning for me--the name of my mother, sister, dog--those are pretty much off limits, because of the heavy association I have with them.


Most writers probably already know this trick -- scouring baby name sites for character names is such a great resource. You can sort by most popular, by country, by gender, etc. Really helpful.

What are some of your tricks or pet peeves, when it comes to naming your characters? I'd love to hear them....