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)

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

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.