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 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.


A Wordplayer's Manifesto

*source -

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?