Monday, November 29, 2010
My son asked me, “Mommy, wouldn’t it be cool to do that?”
How often do our characters speak to us? I decided last month I’d start a new project. I wanted it to be something unlike anything I’ve written so far. Well, my characters got very antsy, one in particular. I swear Carter, kept on me to write certain scenes and he couldn’t wait for me to get to act two of my story where he meets Esperanza.
We all know the rules on writing characters. To avoid stereotypes and clichés. One thing I learned from a UCI extension class I took with Louella Nelson is to sketch out my characters. I go through magazines and tear out photos of people I think would look like my characters though with my current project I went to iStock. Then I list down all their strengths, weaknesses, quirks, and a wound. For example in CROSSED OUT, Stephanie’s wound is she doesn’t trust authority.
Another big thing I learned is to flesh out the villain. Some of my favorite villains of all time include Spike from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Damon from VAMPIRE DIARIES, and yes, Rhett Butler from GONE WITH THE WIND. I try to show some weakness from my villains. It’s like someone once told me when I was writing my memoir on my life growing up with a bipolar father, that I needed to look for vulnerability. Yes, it was tough but doable.
What are some ways you bring your characters to life?
Sunday, November 28, 2010
This past weekend, we trekked on up to PhilCon (the speculative fiction convention which has been hosted by the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society for something like 60-70 years now. Over the last few years, the con is inexplicably relocated to Cherry Hill, New Jersey but it’s still called PhilCon.
“We” is myself and Demaris. Demaris and I used to work together at the Univ of Del Library until I retired. Demaris does not write but is an avid reader of both YA and speculative fiction literature. She has, I believe, five grandchildren.
Peter Beagle (“Last Unicorn) was the guest of honor, and a variety of authors and editors filled the panels. The musical (“filking”) track was organized by Roberta Rogow. Filk is the folk music of the Speculative Fiction community. For more about it, see Jordin Kare’s essay at http://www.interfilk.org/interfilk/singout.htm
Or go to Interfilk’s many links, at http://www.interfilk.org/interfilk/filk.htm .
The big focus for me was the chance of a reading Friday evening, hosted by PhilCon and by the Broad Universe professional writers group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/broaduniverse/
Demaris and I brought along 8 copies of Seabird and 4 sets of copies of Earthbow vols. 1&2, in the hopes of selling them at the reading or elsewhere during the con. The “BU Rapid Fire Reading” got off to a shaky start—when we arrived at our room (located on a standard hotel floor) we found the door locked. A quick call to the front desk did know good. Eventually—halfway through our readings right out in the hallway by the elevators—someone showed up from the ConComm at let us into our meeting room.
I read a scene from Earthbow Vol.1, in which a young fighter named Coris is trying to sneak into the keepmaster’s room to steal a medicine needed by a servant who is desperately ill. He finds the meds, but then hears someone approaching the room’s door. He hides in the room, risking his life so doing. As I approached the end of the scene, one of the people in the room approaches his hiding place in order to search for a scroll. Hopelessly, Coris prepares to fight. End of scene. J
The reading stirred up some interest in my books, and we just happened to have carried books with us. I had brought regular copies of books to sell at half price, plus a few uncorrected proof copies from 2 years ago when Seabird first came out. These we put on the freebie table—and watched them snatched up over the next few hours, practically before our eyes. I also offered one set of Seabird & the Earthbow volumes to a dealer in the vendor’s hall, for free, in the hopes that he would make a sale with them and eventually choose to buy more from my publisher. I have no idea what will come of that. Frankly, I’ve tried it in the past with a couple of bookstores, but it doesn’t seem to have worked.
After most of the book business was concluded for the con, we settled down to attending panels. Yes, I’m just old-fashioned enough to believe that con-going involves actually sitting through a variety of “industry-related” panels and occasionally trying to get a question in edgeways. To me, this is a great way to network with other writers, as well as publishers, reviewers and editors. I happen to do less well networking at con parties. I’m no wallflower, but I do have trouble trying to change subjects to something about books at those parties, so I don’t try any more.
Anyway, Demaris and I went to a variety of panels—sometimes together and sometimes splitting up. We also attended Peter Beagle’s address, which was great once he was given a microphone. Later he sang and played his own songs and others during the intermission at the masquerade.
One panel that should have particular interest here was “How Scary Can Young Adult Fiction Get? – What are the allowable limits in writing for young adults?” Moderated by J Andrew World, with panelists: Patricia M Cryan, Christine Norris, and Peter Prellwitz.
The areas discussed were 1) defining YA lit, (MC is “underage”); 2) How graphically do you show any violence? How do you tell it? 3) Does the child or teen become scared for the characters or do they feel personally at risk? 4) Losing souls in Golden Compass; the little girl in Poltergeist; 5) Different for each child. Decide for child but with their feedback. 6) Do the events in the story cause some children to draw from their own experiences and reinforce that it could happen to them?
I asked a question or two during the panel and was able to follow up with Patricia afterwards. Patricia and her husband have a shop in Worcester MA, which specializes in Children’s Lit and in Comics. She has other related interests in her area. We’re now friended on FB.
In another panel, I met Jay Wile, a chemist who just happens to have an interest in YA literature. He promised to come home and order my books on Amazon. (By then I was out of copies). The great thing is that Jay actually did so, and now we’re corresponding by email.
Other panels which I found interesting were: “The Roots of Steam Punk”; “The Shift Back to Small Presses”; “How to Get Rejected”; “Career Planning for Authors”; and one I didn’t attend because I felt I knew the answer: “Is the Full Time Novelist an endangered species?”.
I attended a variety of other panels that were not related to YA fiction, plus I spent several hours singing and listening to music in the filk room. I had a great but semi-exhausting time and—for a change—came home largely with books I had purchased rather than with my own copies.
If you have any questions about any of this—shoot them at me before I forget all of the details. Warning: my memory half-life isn’t what it used to be.
p.s. I hope that some of you will consider going back to my previous post, “Beginnings and Endings and Dingles”, and maybe offering advice on what I can do with my story fragment. See http://obscurekidlitauthors.blogspot.com/search/label/dingle
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Some ‘school-based’ YA novels have another division inbetween school and cliques. In the Harry Potter novels, it’s House. In the Percy Jackson series, in Camp Half-Blood (as in any summer camp story), it’s Cabin. What makes those two series a bit more interesting in the early bonding process is that people aren’t arbitrarily stuck into a house or cabin (as is done in real life) but are chosen – either by a Sorting Hat (which determines by the candidate’s temperament, psychological analysis, magical ability and the candidate’s own desire which House is best for the candidate) or by parent. What this means for the characters in those series is that they have an instant group of people with whom they have similar interests (hmm, this also fits with the recent Tinkerbell DVDs, too – the tinker fairies, the water fairies, etc.).
As a writer, it’s fascinating to observe this shortcut – you don’t need several chapters/pages explaining what drives each new character. Throw a bunch of mechanical parts in front of some tinker fairies or kids from Hephaestus’ Cabin and instantly their fingers are itching to create something. Students in Ravenclaw House are scholars. The teens in the vampire hall are bad guys (unless it’s a series where vampires are the good guys and the dryads are the ones you need to watch out for).
But, hang on, isn’t this encouraging stereotypes? Where’s the opportunity for individuality? For the equivalent of a ‘jock who writes poetry’ story or a ‘vampire who is actually a vegetarian/vegan’ story?
I say the opportunity is still there. It all depends on the writer. For every writer who locks the high school students into cliques (jock, cheerleader, smart students, bullied students) for the whole story there is a writer who starts off with the cliques and then shakes everything up.
But the community for those stories is the starting point. Will it be a community that supports the character, that stands behind him/her when there are problems, but also allows the character to grow and discover who she/he is? Will it be a community that locks the character into a role and that character spends the entire story fighting that role? Is the community just a background note that helps introduce the character but is never mentioned again?
Thanksgiving for me is a day of both family and community. I stop by my youngest sister’s house for Thanksgiving on my way to attend Chicago TARDIS, a Doctor Who convention. There’s a Doctor Who convention on that weekend because Doctor Who, the television show, first aired November 23, 1963 (the day after Kennedy was shot, but that’s something for another blog).
I’m a science fiction fan, which is one community, but within the science fiction community, I’m also a Doctor Who fan (a smaller community). I’ve been attending science fiction conventions since 1979, but the ones I most enjoy are the Doctor Who conventions. Not only because of the topic (the Doctor) and not only because these are the ones which have a greater concentration of friends I’ve known for years. But because of the combination of those factors, I also feel welcome. I know the language/jargon, I know the history, and I share a love of the program with everyone else who is attending. It's a community I've chosen to join.
In a story, the community the character chooses to join can be just as important as the family he/she was born into or where she/he grew up. What types of communities do you enjoy finding in books?
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
I'm LDS but no longer live in Utah. (Well, I haven't for the past twenty years.) There's a lot of us who are writers but people don't know this.
Here's the link:
The difference is immense.
Knowledge of a subject can help flesh out details and create a beleivable world. On the other hand, PASSSION for a subject will pop on the page. It will glitter and spark and touch the reader. Any book, play or film created by an artist with a deep love for the subject will rise far above others of similar theme.
Say, for instance, you work as a bee keeper and you know everything there is to know about bee mating rituals and honey and combs and buzzing? BUT it does not set your heart aglow. Then consider a passion of this bee loving person- perhaps wine. They can wax poetic on the memories of certain bottles or the moments when they sipped a special bottle whiles kissing their love one. Or celebrating a special date. There are deep emotional connections to aspects of this passion. This is the writing that will resonate. It is guided by a muse. The words are not written or type to the page as much as they are poured upon with tears or laughter.
It is the felt aspect of the writer that will pulse on the page. Write what you feel. Always and forever.
Monday, November 22, 2010
and a Fan Page
and My Space
So – please – follow me, friend me, like me, and link me. We are all judged now by our Facebook numbers.
How many of you find all this social networking overwhelming?
I see a lot of nodding heads and raised hands out there.
Oh, I’m not complaining. Or maybe I am.
I do remember the old days, before the internet, when writing was a truly lonely life. I would never want to go back to that. Not in a million years. As the popularity and presence of the internet expanded through the 90s, my career expanded, too. Through listservs, ezines, Inkspot, and Writing World, I connected with a world of writers. It was an exhilarating time – and still is. Although the internet has evolved.
Social networking is a whole different beast. A fast-paced time-eater. I do discipline myself with rules. Absolutely no games. Then I worry friends think I’m stuck up when I don’t respond to their game invitations. But it’s easy to see how I could become obsessed with Farmville, like a drug.
I keep my personal life out of it. Then I worry I might seem too aloof. But I have a stalker – and he lives in my neighborhood. So it’s complicated. I got a permanent restraining order to keep him away from me physically. I know he still stalks me online which has forced me to re-think my whole approach to blogging and social networking. I am much more cautious about sharing my personal activities. I’d have to be insane to do foursquare.
My biggest worry is that I don’t tweet or update my status daily. Does that mean I’m falling behind somehow? But I set aside a certain number of hours each day to write and I won’t give that up. Social networking is still pretty low on my priorities list. To come to terms with my conflicted feelings I’ve decided it’s a whole comfort zone thing. I do what feels comfortable for me.
I enjoy blogging. Social networking is fun. Writing is my true love. Everything else has to fall in line behind that.
Oh wait … someone just sent me a message on Facebook. Did you see that funny video? I should tweet that. And I better check and see how many fans I have today …
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx
Sunday, November 21, 2010
I know writers who can actually work on a new story while calling their main characters "A" and "B" or merely leaving blanks where the names should be. I have never been able to do that, so I don't understand that ability at all. I envy it and at the same time, I can't help being mildly shocked by it at the same time.
My stories always start with a named character. When I write a novel or a story, I usually have a pretty good sense of where it's going, what's going to happen, and whether my protagonist is male or female. But until I have that character's name, I'm in a bit of a bind. And not much gets written.
For me, meeting a character for the first time requires a proper introduction. And the introduction by definition requires a name. When I wrote Saving Jake, I already had the name "Jake" in my head. The rest of the characterization was so easy once I had the name that I usually tell people that Jake rang my doorbell as a fully developed person. I know exactly how he looked (long hair, sad brown eyes), exactly how he dressed (bottle-green trench coat from a second-hand shop and a pair of red high tops), and exactly who he was (sensitive, artistic, and rebellious). Until I had his name, though, the rest of those details were nonexistent.
In the manuscript I am currently sending out, Daniel Rhode appeared on my doorstep, told me I couldn't write the book without him, and proceeded to take over an entire subplot that I didn't know existed until he turned up. Like Jake, Daniel's personality came intact with his name and there was very little I didn't know about him.
I find that when I'm really struggling with a story, there's a pretty good chance I don't have the right name for my main character! As goofy as that sounds, I need to know who it is I'm writing about and until they come up and whisper their names into my ear, I haven't got a clue.
A rose by any other name may smell as sweet, but a character with the wrong name will never share his or her story with me no matter how I work at it. And having no name? That's just love's labors lost.
Friday, November 19, 2010
You have the power to help make them famous, but also the power to let the book go nowhere.
No, you heard right. You have the power to make or break a book or author.
“But isn’t just buying the darn thing and reading it enough?”
Unfortunately…not anymore. Not if you want to keep seeing more books by that same author. Buying and reading the novel definitely rank supreme in things a reader can do to support an author or book. Except nowadays things have become so much harder, authors pushed to do so much more to get readers, and with less support from the publishers, that they need all the help they can get more than ever before.
This is where you come in.
“But what can I do? I like to read, sure, but I’m not a marketer.”
Honestly, it’s all pretty easy. The real trick is that the more people that do it, the more it works. And most of these take little to no time at all. (But only do whatever you feel comfortable with, if anything! Of course! You have the POWER!)
1. Tell others! Aka – Word of Mouth. (Super easy. You liked the book or the style the author uses, tell people – like family, friends, enemies, everyone. BAM!)
2. Post a quick one liner on Twitter and/or Facebook if you’ve an account there. (Extra points if you also put in the url to the author’s website or to the book at Amazon or elsewhere!) BAM!
3. A quick liner on “What are you doing/feeling today?” on My Space, Yahoo, Linked-In, other. BAM!
4. If you super loved the book, you can add it to your profile on Facebook. This actually creates a page for the book and shows other people who’ve also added it to their profile. (Probably can add it to other profiles of other online places you have as well.) Here’s one that FB auto created for In the Service of Samurai. BAM!
5. Go to Amazon and give it a star rating. You don’t have to have bought it from there, if you have an account you can rate all the books you own. BAM!
6. If you have an account at Goodreads.com or Librarything.com, add the book to your bookshelf. They give you a chance to give it a star rating too! Double BAM!
7. Have a website? Have a page of links? Add your fave authors on there! Most have a webpage with info and sample chapters, but if they don’t, they surely have a blog or LJ. (I have a large link page on my site with a ton of authors and other fun bits if you want to see what I’m talking about. www.gloriaoliver.com/links.html)
8. Some authors have banners you can use on your different web places if you want. Same thing a lot of shows and movies do. (Haven’t figured out how to do a widget yet!) If the author or book doesn’t have a banner and you’re feeling artistic, make one! Let the author know, too! They might feature you on their website or blog! (I definitely would. Though lately I’ve been on a kick and have been making my own. Check ‘em out! www.gloriaoliver.com/banners.html ) But yours might still be better. Show me! BAM!
9. Are you an artist? Make drawings based on the book. Sell yourself by putting them up at Deviant Art then let the author know! BAM! (More of your stuff the author will flaunt at their website. Seriously!)
10. Want to go the extra mile? Write a review on your blog, Amazon, Goodreads, Librarything, My Space, LiveJournal, wherever! (If you do it at your blog/LJ/MS, make sure to send a quick email to the author with a link. You might get added to their reviews page! (You definitely would on mine!)) And since you went through the trouble, remember to Tweet/Facebook/etc the fact you did a write up and give people the url so they can read your thoughts! BAM! BAM! BAM!
Remember, YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANY OF THIS! Totally up to you. But you won’t be exercising your POWER positively if you don't! :P Honestly though, we’re just happy you’re reading! Like I said before, that is the SUPREME item on things you can do to help authors out. And that’s why you have the power. Make it VIRAL!
If you have any suggestions on other ways to help get the word out about your favorite books or authors, please share! I’m a reader too and try to share the love however I can. :)
Unveiling the Fantastic
P.S. Bonus BAM! Let your reader friends know how they can help by sending them a link to this post! BAM! :P
Thursday, November 18, 2010
When I began the Jewels stories, there were really only to be four main characters but then there were things that needed to be said or learned by the reader that the four main characters didn't know. Thus another character had to have a viewpoint. Never again I told myself. In the Jewels series I think there are finally a total of twelve characters who have a say. Never again I told myself.
Then I began the Henge Betrayed series and needed five viewpoint characters. I thought I could handle this and so I did. The second book began and suddenly I needed a sixth viewpoint. That one crept in. Not so bad. Book 3 was begun and suddenly a seventh character raised her head and screamed, let me in. There are things I have to say and things the readers will need to know before the series ends. No one else can do this. I am now on the fourth and final book of the series and there are nine viewpoint characters. I managed to head several -- somewhere between three and five others who thought they could add to the story. Several of these were removed because some of my characters can read the winds and thus hear the voices of other characters.
Will I ever do this again. I can't promise that since there are several ideas rolling around in my head that might mean another book, not with casts of thousands but probably more than I can imagine at this time.
How about you? Do you find characters creeping into your story and refusing to leave?
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
It turns out I've been doing something similar only had no idea it had a name. Shucks, and I thought I was original. When I start a new story, I scan magazines, catalogues, newspapers, and other sources to find my characters. I cut out the ones who resemble the image in my mind of what I want my characters to look like and paste them on poster board. Even though I do profile sheets and interviews, I still write their names, ages, etc. next to their pictures. This saves time when I forget the eye color or even the character's name. Yes, since I work on two or three stories at a time, I sometimes confuse my characters.
I also find pictures of houses, cars, other items that relate to my characters' goals or what they like. In one of my current WIP, I posted pictures of volcanoes found on the Internet. The walls of my writing room are plastered with poster boards. (That's also a good way to cover the walls so you don't have to paint them.)
So, anyway, this Saturday we'll be discussing what the teens read, why they read certain books, and why they want to write. We'll look at plotting, character development, and setting. They'll be given poster board, magazines to look through, and we'll start. They'll finish their Vision Boarding at home.
They will also be given blank books to write their story in for a contest the library will be having later. I'm excited, and a bit nervous, too. This is my first workshop.
How do you keep track of your characters, setting, plot? Do you do something similar or have your own method. Please share. Thank you.
Have a great Wednesday. Happy Writing.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Monday, November 15, 2010
Rachel stood next to her and whistled.
“Not really, but now that you mention it, maybe I should stay up here. I could hack into the new security cameras and—”
“Absolutely not. First of all, there’s no way you can skip this. Your dad would flip, and so would Professor Spencer.” She considered that for a moment, perhaps weighing the idea of seeing the headmisstress’ head spin off into space, then shook her head and dismissed the thought. “Second, you need a night like this. You know, to have fun. You remember fun? You’ve been kind of stressed out, in case you haven’t noticed.”
As soon as I have more details re: the release, I will post them!
Friday, November 12, 2010
Time. It slows, quickens, stalls out completely, runs out completely. Strange thing, that. When you're waiting for a much anticipated event, time seems to be at a standstill. It drags. It refuses to come, despite much coaxing. But when you're needing it to stay put, does it? Oh, no. Then it comes swooshing in, all feisty and demanding and full of itself. It cannot be pushed back, and simply either runs you over or swallows you whole.
That's where I am right now - being swallowed.
I am in between two craft fairs - desperately finishing up pieces - pricing, bagging, counting and gathering materials. Each show I change my focus just a little, to capture more of the audience. This time, I'm showcasing my picture books. Only they are not in print - they are electronic. The illustrations are gorgeous, but I need to show them. So, I made up samples - binders, with the pages all printed out and slipped into plastic sleeves. Customers can read the book and then purchase the CD. Hopefully. Printing out the books, putting them on CD, labeling, jacketing, etc, all takes some of that precious time.
I am also caring for my son's puppy. Only three days a week, but I have to be vigilant. The puppy is learning about the proper place to go potty - and it's not on my floor, although he seems to think that is ten times better than schlepping through the wet grass and driving rain that Mother Nature is tossing this way so that he can attend to mother nature in his own way. More time sucked up.
And, of course, there is the usual to be taken care of - cleaning, laundry, shopping - which is getting into full swing with Christmas approaching so quickly. Again, time is swooshing instead of stalling here. It seems that we were just getting done with Halloween and here it is almost time for St Nick.
The stores seem to be rushing everything these days,too. On one side of the aisle you see Thanksgiving, on the other side Christmas, with a few shelves reserved for leftover Halloween decorations. It's like Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas have all blurred into one long holiday. Time is getting all balled up in itself here, tumbling over and over like a dung beetles prize.
I remember when I was a kid, Christmas exploded on the scene the day after Thanksgiving, not before. Downtown would be transformed overnight into a winter wonderland, with the swags and lights and decorations. It was almost magical. Those workers must have been up all night to accomplish such a feat. Now? It's not surprising to see Christmas decorations lining the shelves BEFORE Halloween. For some reason, this destroys the whole magic of the season for me. Time has gone into overdrive, almost hyperspace, where I am seeing three realities at once.
Ah, time, you are a wicked one. When we are young, we can't wait to grow older, to get things accomplished, to gather material goods, to get "our place" in society. And, once we get to that coveted age that we so longed for, we look back and wish that maybe we could have projected forward a little better and let time do it's thing the way it's supposed to. Let it amble, instead of rush. Let it be without brakes or accelerator. Let time be timeless.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Monday, November 8, 2010
Sunday, November 7, 2010
So since this month is Nanowrimo, I decided this would be the perfect time to write that story.
What is Nanowrimo? It's National Write a Novel month. What's great about this site is you have a month to write a 50,000 word novel.
Hard you say?
What I'm doing is setting small goals. I'm also tying my internal critic to a chair and ignoring her rants that my story is one big ramble.
What's fun is I'm researching such topics as holograms, biosphere 2 experiment, chemistry, genetics, La Raza view points, and also watching the very cool TV show SCI FI SCIENCE.
My main character is Esperanza, one determined Latina who lives in a self contained world of the future.
Add Jorge and another love interest who right now is getting very impatient for me to get to that part of the story!
Here's my link to Nano:
Another fun feature of Nanowrimo is there's something for younger writers too. My own son is part of this. I downloaded the workbook, which has great helpful advice on writing that story. I love the part where younger readers 'draw' their internal critic, then put that picture away so that voice won't interrupt the writing process.
Now it's time to get back to my story!
I have trouble with both the beginnings and endings of stories but, fortunately, not at the same time. Beginnings of stories are the worst—except when endings are the worst.
We all know that we’re supposed to hook the reader immediately at the beginning of a novel. Depending on who you talk to, that hook had better happen by the 5th page (“The First Five Pages” by Noah Lukeman), somewhere in the first paragraph, or even in the first sentence. On FB, Polly Iyer writes, “Ah, the penchant for getting all the action up front. That's what everyone wants. Like everything else these days, no patience.” I’ve read that a hook should coincide with “where the story actually begins”, but where is that? I believe it’s different for different readers and authors.
Hooks are supposed to grab the reader by being interesting—to readers. I have an ongoing problem with this. To me, -characters- are pretty darn interesting, so I want to explore them a bit in the first couple of pages of my novels. Yes, I’ve learned this is a no-no, unless one is writing a literary novel. I do YA fantasy adventure.
Once “Seabird” was nearly completed, I inserted an action-packed Prologue as a hook for the reader. Since then, I’ve heard that many novel readers skip prologues. Oh well.
In “Earthbow”—the sequel to “Seabird”—I managed some serious tension, action, and a bit of a puzzle about a page into the novel’s first chapter. Chapters 2 & 3 have fragments of tension as well, mixed in with character development. “Earthbow” has no prologue. Did I get it right? I doubt it—after all, there’s no danger to life and limb until at least the eighth paragraph.
Right now, I’m beginning to revise the sequel to “Earthbow”, which is multi-volumed and is so long I frequently refer to it as “The Book That Intends to Eat Delaware.” In my first draft—surprise, surprise—all of my tension and action was in the second chapter while the first was largely characterization. I’m trying to figure out a way to reverse the two chapters, or alternate scenes from both.
I haven’t mentioned short stories so far and for a very good reason—I only rarely come up with an idea for one. Once I actually have an idea the chances are 50-50 that the resulting story will not be publishable quality. I suppose you could say that I have more trouble with the beginnings of short stories than I do with their endings, if by that we mean that I can’t get a new short story started, no matter how hard I stare at the screen or “free-write”. On the other hand, a short story that never comes into existence can hardly be faulted for having a bad beginning.
So, who here has troubles with writing the beginnings of novels or short stories? If you do, what kinds of difficulties present themselves? How have you overcome them? Any tips you can pass on to the rest of us?
Endings give me lots more trouble than beginnings. Part of this is the fault of National Novel Writing Month. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge to authors to write 50,000 words on any fiction project between November 1 and Nov 30.
I’ve participated and “won” five years since I started doing NaNo back in 2003. “Winning” in NaNo, as I said, is completing 50,000+ words before midnight on Nov. 30. The problem is what if you haven’t finished your first draft by then? What happens on Dec. 1? The correct answer should be that you continue writing but at a less frenetic pace. Er, not my answer. In my case, I take a long nap, and wake up the next Nov. 1. ;-P
Currently, I have five novels that are lacking their endings. Every one of them was involved in NaNo in some way—even the last part of “The Book That Intends To Eat Delaware.” If I stop writing a novel part of the way through, I have serious trouble picking up where I left off—even if I have a detailed outline for the rest of the book. Novel manuscripts to which you cannot guarantee complete endings do not attract publishers for some reason. I think I need professional help. Any ideas gratefully accepted!
So I sometimes have trouble writing the end of novels—do I have trouble writing the ends of short stories? Not often. On the rare occasion that I’m writing a short story I write the whole thing pretty much in one sitting. If I’m actually writing and completing a short story, you’ll know it—the sky turns a lovely shade of sky-blue-pink and you can see multi-colored stars during the day. Sometimes they sing but they’re too dignified to dance.
Is there anyone reading this who has trouble with unearthing the ends of their t/a/i/l/s/ tales? Has NaNoWriMo ever been involved? What else gave you trouble? What did you do to complete your story? Oh, it isn’t? Sorry! I’ve thought about finding a writing partner—has anyone tried that?
Well, that’s Beginnings and Endings. That brings us to Middles and Dingles.
“Dingle” is a work-in-progress short story that’s been without a middle or an ending for almost two decades.
I liked the beginning ever since it fooled me into writing it down. I wasn’t concerned when I started—after all “Dingle” was going to be a –short- -story- so, naturally, I would come up with the rest of it as I typed.
Not so much.
“Dingle” and I could use some help. Please read what’s below and see if you have any ideas about what will happen next. If you do, please consider adopting “Dingle”. What’s more if you can turn “Dingle” into a complete story, we’ll work out some kind of ownership thing which will probably amount to me giving you my section or what’s left of it after revision. In addition, I’ll send you a copy of one of my books as a thank you.
You can write short suggestions for finishing “Dingle” in the Comments if you like. Naturally, revisions of the current paragraphs are fair game. If you write the rest of the story, please send it to me at KhivasMommy AT gmail DOT com . When my next turn comes to blog here at YAAYNHO (in three weeks), I’ll report back on any suggestions, etc that I’ve received.
Please don’t leave a poor defenseless little story part on its own. Thank you!
Dingle (work in progress)
Critter scuffed his way across the bare, unvarnished floor, sneezing at the dust he’d stirred up. It was colder today than he’d expected. He wrapped his quilted robe tighter about him, and then retied the rope belt. If Magnus didn’t come soon, he’d have to light a brazier just to keep warm. And that would attract the Night Watchers. Not something you wanted to do, when it was nearly dusk.
He shuffled over to the one window and glared down at the path. Not a sign of Magnus, ...or of anyone else. Maybe, if he went outside and yanked hard on the chain, he could get that blasted shutter to close over the window. Then, it wouldn’t matter if he lit a fire in the brazier or not. The Watchers could do a lot, but they couldn’t see through wood. At least, not the last he’d read.
Blast Magnus! Icy air was seeping in the through the window, even though it was on the lee side of the cottage. Well, that was it. Might as well go and try to close the window.
Critter thrust his dagger and sheath under the ragged rope of his belt, and crept to the door. He stood a moment with the side of his head so close to the surface that his ear kept flicking. Not a sound, except the tiny ones of his held breath and the soft whoosh of his ear fur against the rough wood. Might as well try as not.
He took a great breath, and slipped through the door as noiselessly as he was able. It seemed a shade brighter outside than it had in, but the coming of sunset was undeniable. Shivering from nervousness as much as cold, Critter scuttled to the right front corner of the cabin and peeked around it. Nothing there but the larxs bushes, their stringy leaves black and rustling in the last light of the sun. He crept between the closest one and the side wall. Merhule, the shutter chain was high! Been so long since he’d tried to close the window, he’d near forgot...
A sudden, familiar scent tickled his nose. Critter scarcely began to turn, before he found clammy skin pressed over his nose passages, simultaneous with a strong blow to his midriff. The combined assaults made all the air in his lung burst from his mouth. He choked, unable for the moment to fight back.
The ghost of a giggle blew warmly into his right ear. The grip about his midriff loosened enough for him to pull away from the hand on his nose.
“Magnus! I’ll skin you for that...”
“Not Magnus, imp. Merhule! What are you doing? Oh, the shutter.”
Critter leaned against the wall and gasped in air, as the newcomer reached up and easily pulled the shutter down and closed. Briefly, while Dingle was occupied with the task, Critter considered darting off into the darkness. But, before the thought was more than half-formed, it was already too late.
Dingle had grasped his elbow and was guiding him back toward the door.
“Waiting for Magnus, what?” Dingle chuckled deep in his throat. “Might not be coming tonight, what. Might not. Might not, at that.” He shook his head, as he closed the door between them and the outside world.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Which got me thinking. How do we as authors chose among all the various choices our subconscious (the ocean of creative chaos) throws at us?
My closest older sister is a free-lance artist and so is my youngest sister (I'm right between them so in me the creativity ends up in word pictures rather than picture pictures). In high school and college I got very accustomed to hearing my younger sister's wails of "I can't decide!" in regard to color, placement, background, how many trees... you get the idea. Being a typical older sister and, after learning the hard way that any suggestions from me were wrong, wrong, and are you kidding?!, my reaction was usually the unhelpful "I don't know. What works for the picture?"
The same applies to writing. There are so many choices when writing a story. What do the characters look like? What is the planet/city like? What are the important parts of the culture (if one has to be created rather than using the default)?
And then there's what person do you write in?
It’s all Aunt Paige’s fault. At least, that’s what my Dad says. He’s her younger brother, though, and brothers always blame their sisters. I should know; my younger brother is an absolute pest.
I suppose you could say that exploring is in our blood. Grams was a Survey Scout. She found this planetary system and later signed up as a colonist. Her daughter, my aunt, is an explorer. She started off exploring this planet for the colony, looking for minerals or following up stories about odd animals. Nowadays she’s exploring the other planets of the system. Dad says it won’t be long before she heads out system, but I’m hoping she waits until I’m out of school and can go along. Aunt Paige always asks how I’m doing in school, so maybe she will wait.
First person is popular nowadays, especially in YA. But third person can be a fun choice, too.
“I’ve decided to study the meteor for my science fair project,” Akela announced at breakfast. She smiled brightly as she glanced around the room.
Her mother had her fork and eyebrows raised. Her father finished scooping the last of the eggs from the skillet onto his plate and moved to the table. “This is all Paige’s fault,” he sighed.
But first person has possibilities.
My dad has the most fantastic rock collection. Well, he would, seeing as how he’s the geologist for Caellora – the whole colony planet, not just the main settlement. But the part I love looking at the most are the rocks he got from Grams, the ones she kept from her Scout days, before she found Caellora and decided to settle down. There is dust from a moon of Strawberry II, obsidian from a volcano on Whoneedsyou, a bit of meteorite from a crater near a long-dead city on Lostdreams, and even a chunk of limestone from Earth. The limestone has a fossil fern in it.
Caellora has no limestone. It never had life before Grams found it. Then the prospectors and miners came out and after them the big terraforming ships.
Decisions, decisions. What works best? Will more than one point of view be needed for this story? If yes, then third person would be better. If no, then first person.
How to restrain and discipline (back to that one little hamster paw on the dividing line between the chaotic sea and water bottles) an overactive imagination or, even better, filter the choices down to "yes, that's it" or "nope, save that for another story"?
Deadlines are one big help. When I don't have time to indulge little sidetracks, I can focus on the main story very well. Beta readers are another valued aid. But sometimes all I can do is write that little sidetrack and see where it takes me. Perhaps it dwindles down into a tiny path that vanishes into a cliff face. But maybe it might instead open out into a bigger and better story.
What technique works for you?
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
I have no specific topic to write about. Or maybe I do.
I like being busy. I love having lots of irons in the fire. OK- now I am having trouble uploading this file to my server so I can let key people see my work. You are getting a real time look into my burnout. I am writing this blog- while trying to upload my files. Neither really getting anywhere. My FTP software says I am connected so why is it not uploading my files???
So this is what happens. You tackle numerous projects - have blog deadlines and toss a few moments of interest into ones civic duty and....my eyes are bleary. My wife is asleep. No- I cannot check Facebook despite the snarky comment by that reactionary...ok- no politics. This is a kids lit blog for $%$ sake- oops - for crying out loud was what I meant to type.
My connection was lost. Great. I cannot use YOUTUBE because my video uses a song that well- has copyright issues. So it would be theft of sorts. Hell- heck- I am a writer we all steal.
Time. Only so many hours in a day. I really need to stop procrastinating this blog. Odd because I am very disciplined as an artist. Ok- I am rambling and I have probably bored you by now. I know I am boring myself. I promise something more - focused - next time. Do I need a graphic image for this blog entry?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
As sort of a continuation of that well-thought blog, I'd like to offer this quickie on a non-assigned day:
Several fellow members of our local Written Remains Writers Guild (WRWG) plus a few writing colleagues from around the country, have decided to do our own miniature version of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. If you've never heard, NaNoWriMo participants pledge to try and write 50,000 new words on any one fiction project between Nov.1 and Nov. 30.
I've participated in most of the NaNoWriMos since 2003.
However, right now I have a total of -six- books that need revisions and additional chapters. Three of these six books are actually the three chunks or volumes which will make up the YA fantasy The Gryphon and the Basilisk. The remaining three manuscripts are stand-alones, but they are all fantasy and 2 out of 3 of them are also YA.
It would be ridiculous for me to beginning writing a new draft of something--like the WRWG people and most NaNoWriMo authors are doing this November, given all the revision work cut out for me. So, back in late October, I posted to the Written Remains Writers Guild that I intend to -revise- multiple pages of the Gryphon and the Basilisk. (Rather than creating a new 250 word page every day of this month as the Guild members are doing)
Let me explain a bit about the revision process I have before me. First off, G&B totals about 2 and 3/4 books as I said above. (I don't quite have an ending for the third volume.) Second, I wrote it in long-hand approximately 30 years ago. Eventually, I typed up those pages. And maybe almost 20 years ago, I scanned the typed pages into a file on my computer with a very buggy software scanning program.
The result? In places, the current version of the manuscript looks like I'm cursing at times. The scanning results are that bad. Many, if not most lower case l's came through as number 1's. And so on.
Even though my project doesn't align with the ongoing project of the Written Remains Writers Guild or with the rules of National Novel Writing Month, I've pledged to try to decipher and revise approximately 6 pages or 1750 words per day during the month of November.
My Mini-NaNoWriMo total for two days is 3578 words.
3578-1724 = 1854
(Nov. 1 1724 wds,which was 5 and a half pages) ... (1854 words for Nov. 2, or about 6 and a half pages today)
You can keep track of my progress--and maybe even cheer us all on--by going to Facebook and signing on the the group "How Many Pages Did You Write Today?, maintained by Ramona deFelice Long:
(which may or may not work in this format--please just search in FB for the group)
Go to "Scribblings" my personal blog, for updates about my humungous revision process of the Novel variously called The Gryphon and the Basilisk, or The Behemoth, or The YA novel that intends to eat Delaware:
Finally you might want to Google NaNoWriMo, to see how all of this started. I'm TreeLady on NaNo. I admit that this year I can't participate as NaNo directs, since I am revising and not creating new material. But, hey, I don't see any more half-finioshed manuscripts in "drawers". I think that 6 is my limit.
(This URL may work for NaNo: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/user/26133 )
Sherry Thompson, author of unfinished novels: G&B vols. 1,2,3; The Peace Bride; Marooned; Da Boid da Tree-Rat ;n da Loser.
Monday, November 1, 2010
Here are more quotations to bring home the point:
“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.” – James MichenerI agree with all of the above and Christine. I have written and re-written several novels over the years. I love revision. I would much rather sit down with a printed manuscript and a red pencil than stare at a blank page on the computer screen any day.
“Rewriting is like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush.” – Pete Murphy
“There are days when the result is so bad that no fewer than five revisions are required. In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired, only four revisions are needed.” – John Kenneth Galbraith
“Writing is rewriting ... If you fall in love with the vision you want of your work and not your words, the rewriting will become easier.” – Nora DeLoach
“To be a writer is to throw away a great deal, not to be satisfied, to type again, and then again and once more, and over and over.” – John Hersey
But I’m here to tell you, once in a blue moon, inspiration strikes and the story flows onto the page as though you – the writer – are taking dictation. As I mentioned in my post Unlocking the Mystery of Sarah, my soon-to-be released middle grade novel, Letters to Juniper came to me in the voice of Sarah. The writing was driven by inspiration, which is not to say I didn’t have to do research. I most certainly did. Nor did I sit down and write the book in a week. I wasn’t THAT inspired. When I wrote, the words flowed almost effortlessly. It only took six months, the shortest amount of time it has ever taken me to finish a manuscript.
My normal writing process is similar to what Dean Koontz described in a 2003 interview in The Writer magazine. The interviewer asked, “Do you revise as you go along or do you write the entire first draft and then revise?”
Koontz replied, “I cannot move on to Page 2 until Page 1 is as perfect as I can make it. On average I do 20 to 30 drafts of a page, occasionally many more, and then proceed to the next page. At the end of each chapter, I print out and pencil the text a few times, to catch problems I didn't see on the screen. I build a book much the way marine polyps build a coral reef through the accretion of millions of their calcareous skeletons: slowly.”
Oh yeah. That’s me all right – 99.99% of the time anyway. Letters to Juniper was different. Yes, I edited while I wrote, though not as meticulously as usual. I always hesitate to call anything a first draft because of all the editing I do during the writing down process, so I call it a finished draft. Once I have a finished draft, the real writing begins. Revising & Rewriting. For me it usually involves major reconstruction. Except with Letters to Juniper. I edited the manuscript, changed a few things here and there, added depth to scenes, rearranged words, etc. I had no desire to make any revisions. No chapters in the trash can, no new scenes, no deleted characters, nothing like that. I put the manuscript in a drawer for a couple months, then I read it again. I edited it some more, but had no urge to rewrite anything. It was an odd sensation.
The same voice that dictated the story, told me to trust the process. So I passed it around to a half dozen readers. Everyone said they loved it and I should leave it alone. I asked a few more people to read it. Same responses. Several times Letters to Juniper came close to netting me a contract with a major publisher. Little, Brown held onto it for nearly two years. The editors at a small publishing house thought the letters format was all wrong. She wanted me to rewrite it in 3rd person and expand on the FBI standoff.
I read and re-read the editor’s email. I re-read the manuscript. I twisted my brain in knots thinking about it. But it came down to the whole vision thing in the end. My readers had seen it, too. Those I asked didn’t think I should rewrite it. My daughter Ema said, “Don’t you dare change a thing.”
Once a story is written it can take on a life of its own. Letters to Juniper is one of those stories. It breathed on its own from the very beginning. My job was simply to write it down – and trust the process.
I dedicated the publication of Letters to Juniper to Ema.
Advice from a Caterpillar
From the Styx