Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Some time before my publication days, I was bemoaning the fact that my latest manuscript had been rejected.
A well-meaning friend discovered a "hot" market, bought me a book in that genre, and said, "Read this. You should write a book like it. These kinds of books are selling like crazy right now."
I took the book and stared at it, trying to find a way to explain to this person that I couldn't just up and write a book for a market for no other reason than the fact that lots of people are currently successful at it.
Trying to fit myself into a mold like that would suck out any life that my writing and story might have naturally. (I know; I tried once. That pathetic manuscript will forever gather dust.)
But at the same time, writing anything my muse fancied might not be the best plan, either. I had a stack of rejections (with lots of great feedback, but rejections nonetheless) that showed something wasn't working.
It's a fine line to walk between selling out (abandoning your passion, your voice, and who you are as a writer for the sake of a market) and being market savvy (tweaking your work to make it more marketable).
It's one thing to find in yourself a passion that happens to be something agents and editors are looking for, or to adapt something you love into something that is more likely to sell.
It's quite another to decide that since books about young wizards are selling like hotcakes that you should write one too--only make it a girl . . . and give her a birthmark instead of a scar . . . and . . . you get the idea.
Even if your hot idea isn't a copy of what's already out there, there's a very good chance that the huge trend on the bookshelves right now (today, think vampires) is over and done with in the publishing houses.
Taking a book from manuscript to press can take upwards of two years, so bookstore shelves are essentially two years behind what publishers are hungry for now. If you try to write something new to ride a trend, chances are, you've already missed the boat.
The upshot: Trying to twist your writing self into a pretzel to fit a mold is selling out.
So what does a writer do when there's still that marketability factor to contend with? First and foremost, be true to yourself. Don't write a supernatural-mystery-Victorian-romance just because you heard that several agents are looking for one.
On the other hand, if mysterious Victorian-romances happen to be your cup of tea, jump all over it. You can probably work supernatural elements into the genre you already love to give it the angle the agent is looking for.
That's being market savvy, not selling out.
The manuscript I mentioned earlier saw several rejections until I learned that the heroine was a few years too young for what the market's demographic expected. I aged her about five years, tweaking a few scenes as a result, and the piece sold.
Being market-savvy is important, but never lose contact with the more important element: your muse. The trick is finding a happy marriage between the two.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Recently, I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s an international bestseller that many of you are certainly familiar with. The novel is brief, filled with a thought-provoking story and peppered with insight. But what struck me the most was the author’s introduction at the beginning of the book.
He explains that each of us have our own personal legend, or personal calling. I’d like to relate it to the writers in each of us.
Coelho says that not all of us have to “courage to confront our own dream.”
He gives us four reasons or obstacles as to why this is the case. As you read through them, think about your own goals and reasons for writing:
1. “We are told from childhood onward that everything we want to do is impossible. We grow up with this idea . . . there comes a time when our personal calling is so deeply buried in our soul as to be invisible.”
2. “Love. We know what we want to do, but are afraid of hurting those around us by abandoning everything in order to pursue our dream.” Coelho points out that those who love us want us to be happy.
3. “Fear of the defeats we will meet on the path.” Defeats happen and we will suffer along the way. “Once we have overcome our defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence.”
4. “The fear of realizing the dream for which we fought all our lives.” Coehlo says the “mere possibility of getting what we want fills the soul of the ordinary person with guilt.” We forget about the challenges it took to reach our goals—“this is the most dangerous of the obstacles because it has a kind of saintly aura about it: renouncing joy and conquest.”
This rang true for me. I could see a definite pattern as I look at my writer-self. I’ve been told that getting published is nearly impossible. I’ve worried about those I love and the sacrifices it might take to follow my dream. I worry about giving it my all, only to come away as a failure. And finally, when I do have successes step by step, I wonder if I should renounce it since I don’t want others to feel like they couldn’t reach their dreams.
But I love Coelho's closing comment: " . . . if you believe yourself worthy of the thing you fought so hard to get, then you become an instrument of God . . . and you understand why you are here."
I believe that all of us are "worthy" to follow our dreams.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Where should you start your story?
That's the magic question so many writers wrestle with. I'm one of them; I usually rewrite my first chapter a dozen times before it's right, and often it'll end up as a different scene altogether, starting at a different moment in the story.
Regardless of how difficult the beginning is to spot and capture in your writing, doing so is critical. A reader (or, more importantly, an agent or editor) won't give you the benefit of the doubt and keep reading to page 63 where it really gets good.
You must hook the reader immediately and give them a solid reason to keep going. You have to earn the reader going on to the second sentence, the next paragraph, the next page.
In my editing experience, the most common mistake with beginnings is that the writer tries to tell too much of the back story too soon, as if we just have to know right away what got John to this point in his life.
When this happens, the reader doesn't get to the actual story without wading through the history, perhaps in flashbacks or large sections of "info dump." (Big hint here: if you're beginning your story with a flashback, you're starting in the wrong place.)
Your beginning should open at a time of change for the main character. By the end of the first chapter, their life has to be turned upside down.
And most importantly, something must be happening. Never, ever, have your first chapter filled with a character sitting on a mountaintop (or in the car, or by the beach, or in bed) recalling past events or what they need to do about them.
Remember "show don't tell"? Do it here. Show your character in a difficult situation. Show your character reacting to it, struggling to decide what to do next.
When past information is critical to include, drop a tidbit here and there, just enough to keep the reader informed while the story keeps moving forward. Avoid writing more than a couple of sentences of back story at any point; when you do that, you stall the story, no matter how fascinating the history is. Let us discover the past a piece at a time.
The majority of manuscripts I see with the problem of opening overload eventually find their beginnings. I can often spot it two or three (or more) pages into the piece. Sometimes I'll star that spot and say, "Start here. This is the real beginning."
What about everything before it? Hit the delete button. Really. It's all what David Fryxell from Writer's Digest calls "throat clearing," where you're just warming up and finally you reach the point you've been trying to make all along.
Reread your work with an eye out for any "throat clearing." You might just find you've already written a brilliant opening . . . on page 4.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Today I am in the middle of edits, and have no time to be clever or original. So I have taken something I wrote as a creative exercise several years back and am doing a reprint here:
You might be a writer if . . .
Your spouse refuses to take you to the movies anymore because you mutter editing advice on how to tighten the dialogue and strengthen the plot.
You read books with a red pen in hand.
You pass judgment before hitting the period of the first sentence in any novel on whether the author has any intelligence at all.
All major relationship decisions are based on whether the other person knows the difference between lay and lie.
You got kicked out of Sunday School for pointing out a place in the Songs of Solomon where you felt the author lacked vision.
You cry in bookstores when you see a new book published by the imprint that recently rejected you.
You get caught eavesdropping on conversations, but insist you're not being nosy, just doing research.
Anyone who ever wronged you back in high school is now either a victim or an incompetent villain in one of your novels.
You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the garbage disposal.
You know what a rejection letter sounds like as it swirls around in the toilet.
You've ever said, "Well they just didn't read it!" after getting a rejection letter.
You've ever believed you could pay off your house with your first royalty check. HAHAHAHAAAAAAA!!!!! And now that you know you can't, you find that it isn't really that funny.
Your children eat corn dogs and Happy Meals when you're on a deadline.
Your children eat a lot of corn dogs and Happy Meals.
You named your dog Victor, your fish Hugo and your two parakeets Jane and Austen.
You hear voices in your head conversing, arguing, falling in love . . . and somehow you're sure this doesn't mean your crazy,
merely a writer . . .
Wednesday, January 16, 2008
Humor in writing is tough to get right. It's all too easy for a joke to go just slightly off the mark and miss the laugh.
I think many writers do manage to be funny to a degree, but their problem is that they don't take it to the next level, the unexpected place where the laugh comes at you from the side so that you can't help but wipe away tears.
One great way of taking your humor to the next level is to analyze the laugh you're trying to make. What's the obvious joke (even if it's a funny one)?
Now, how can you take that joke one step (or even better, two steps) further?
In a recent essay I read, the author described a soul-sucking job and the manager she worked for. A good comparison (and a funny laugh) would have been to say her boss was a vampire, sucking the life out of her employees.
But this author took it a step further:
"[S]even years later, I voluntarily left a good-paying, soul-sucking, part time job as the records clerk for an office of remarkable neurosurgeons and one prickly office manager (who I am still convinced has no reflection in a mirror) to take a position at a veterinary hospital."
The reader deduces that she's a vampire without the writer ever saying so. It's a classic case of show-don't-tell.
Chandler from the sitcom Friends is another terrific example of taking the humor past the obvious. Take, for example, the time when he and Joey try to determine the identity of two babies, one of which belongs to Ross. One baby has clothing with ducks on it, and the other has clowns.
Joey decides to flip a coin about it, saying that the baby with ducks on its clothes will win if the coin lands on heads because ducks have heads.
It would have been funny enough had Chandler said, "What, and clowns don't have heads?"
But in a sense, that's what the audience is already thinking (and already laughing) about.
Chandler instead comes out with something that uses the first joke (clowns have heads too) and creates a second laugh by planting a comical image in our minds:
"What kind of freak clowns did you have at your birthday parties?"
Show-don't-tell is powerful no matter what kind of writing you're doing. Learn the skill well.
Then learn to take the humor past the obvious joke. Find out how far you can take it to create funny, fresh, and unexpected images.
It helps to read books, essays, and columns by some of the best funny men and women we have writing today. Also, watch comedians. Pay attention to how they craft their jokes, how the punch line flips the joke on its head and makes you laugh. Notice how jokes often come full circle later in the book/sketch/essay and take on new meaning the second time.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Critique Archive: 0016
THE WORLD THROUGH HER EYES is a mainstream love story with literary sensibilities that blends Indian cultural flavors of Diaspora writers with the emotional drama style of Nicholas Sparks and Mark Haddon's quirky character. Jennet and DC come from different cultures and have different values. Always attempting to score against each other they finally fall for each other, finally discovering the power of love to achieve and heal.
When Jennet, an eighteen year old American girl influenced by her Indian mother, visits India to learn Indian classical dance, she falls in love with a chemistry student DC, whom she meets at a college cultural festival. A gifted photographer suffering from social anxiety, DC has given up pursuing his passion because of parental pressures. Jen dreams of becoming a professional bharatnatyam dancer and urges DC pursue his as well by submitting his pictures in an Amateur Photography Contest. He does and is invited to Chicago to participate in the final round of the contest exhibition, but fails due to his fear of public speaking even though his photographs leave a mark. Upon his return, Jen and DC take a long drive to celebrate but experience an unfortunate accident. DC loses his eyesight, Jen slips into coma, their entire future lies shattered and yet life must go on...
My writing credentials include a non-fiction published book by a small publisher in India which enjoyed a moderate commercial success in theIndian market. Narayan Murthy of Infosys (NASDAQ:INFY) called it "stories narrated with skill and empathy," and Prabhu Chawla of India Today (India's largest largest-selling weekly English-language magazine) said "I am amazed at the passion of the project." I am an alumnus of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT); I was the editor of my college literary magazine, as well as a freelance writer for local newspapers. Currently I working on a stand alone sequel of the current novel and in my day job I write proposals for a top tier IT consulting company, some of which have won multi-million dollar contracts from Fortune 500 clients.
Your agency appeals to me because of its successful representation of cross-cultural themes and promotion of new talent like XYZ. The increasing popularity of India as a tourism destination, media attention which eye donation campaigns receive all over the world, a growing populace of IIT alumni and their extended family networks allover the world are key marketability indicators of the book. At 70,000 words, this throat catching tale is readily marketable to publishers. I would be happy to submit a synopsis and sample chapters on request. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Thursday, January 10, 2008
Since we've been blogging about how to find the right agent, I invited Wendy to tell us about her experience in finding an agent.
Hi Wendy, it seems that finding an agent is getting harder in this competitive market. Tell us the steps it took you to get that first contract.
I agree that it can be quite difficult to find an agent today, even for a published author. To get my first contract (which was with a different agency that I’m happily represented by today), I did my research. I used the internet, publishing books, and the resources made possible by RWA (Romance Writers of America), as well as attending writers’ conferences. Next, I made a list of those agents who represented my genre (which was chick lit at the time) had good reputations. Finally, I sent a query letter to those on my list, and whenever a rejection would come in, I’d send another one out. In the end, I had two offers for representation and I chose the one who happened to represent quite a few of my writer friends. Except for the part about having several friends who’d already signed with the agent, this is a pretty typical “getting an agent” story.
My second agent story is a bit different. A friend of mine knew an agent at one of New York’s most well respected agencies, and this agent asked her if she knew any YA authors. My friend told her about me, and the agent invited me to call her directly. So I called, we chatted, and she invited me to send my MSS. She was very enthusiastic about my little story about a teenage siren, and when she called to offer me representation, I could tell this was going to be a very successful partnership.
What are some challenges that you didn’t expect?
You might reach a point when you or your agent realizes that it’s just not working out. I had this happen with my first agent. It’s a bit difficult to make the break, because there’s the contract, the manuscript(s) he/she has been shopping, the editor contacts he/she has been making on your behalf, etc. It’s sort of like getting a divorce, and I was very lucky that my former agent was very classy and let me cut ties completely and move on with a clean slate. That’s not always the case.
What is your advice to writers who are looking for an agent?
This is going to sound harsh, but if you’ve done research on agents and your queries are receiving rejection after rejection, it might be time to reevaluate your MSS. Are the rejections form letters? Or do they have similar reasons for passing, such as a weak protagonist or a flimsy plot or a theme that’s too overdone? You might choose to put that MSS on the back burner and concentrate on another MSS.
Some writers don’t want to “share” their royalty with an agent. What would you say to these writers?
A good agent will get you a higher advance, percentage of royalty and film rights, number of books in the deal, etc. than the publisher’s boiler-point contract. He or she has the author’s interest in mind, and goes to bat for the author. I think it’s worth every penny to know my contract has been gone over with a fine tooth comb on my behalf, that I don’t have to be present at the negotiations, and that my projects will most likely take priority with editors over projects by unrepresented writers.
Tell us about your new book, and where it is available.
The Secret Life of a Teenage Siren is a young adult novel (ages 12 and up) about a band geek who turns into a siren on her sixteenth birthday. It’s a fantastical, funny, and romantic story that was born of my fascination with the sirens of Greek mythology. Simon Pulse (Simon & Schuster) is the publisher, and it’s available anywhere books are sold.
What's your next project?
My next book is called Miss Match, and it, too, is a Simon Pulse romantic comedy. It’s about a teenage matchmaker who is hired to fix a new guy up with her sister, only to discover that she’s crushing on him herself. I’m told it will be out Valentine’s Day 2009, and I’m very excited about that.
Thanks for sharing your insights, Wendy! Best of luck with your new release!
Wednesday, January 9, 2008
Right up there with what is probably the most touted rule about writing, "Show, don't tell" is another rule, one that pretty much drove me crazy when I was a young writer.
You'll remember this one: "Write what you know."
This is such an ingrained rule that my university creative writing professor even had us write down a list of 100 things we knew and could therefore write about.
My list had things like braces, camping, and growing up with three siblngs.
Oooooh. Exciting stuff.
Here I was, staring at my list as an aspiring writer, thinking that—crap—I didn't know enough of anything to write. I had a bit of panic as I looked over my list of 100 things. I had wanted to write since second grade. Maybe I just wasn't cut out for it, because, well, I lacked the interesting life, the angst, that came with being a writer.
I came from a family with two parents that were still married. I wasn't abused. No one I knew was drug-addicted or homeless or otherwise having a more "interesting" life.
What in the world could I write about when I knew about nothing?
Fortunately, I tossed my list into the trash just as soon as I could. That teacher, despite being a great writer himself, didn't have the slightest idea how to teach writing.
I've read far too many early novels from beginning writers that are nothing more than memoirs in disguise—all because they were trying to write what they "knew."
I've since learned to tweak that all-knowing rule. It should say:
Write what you're willing to learn about.
Isn't that freeing? Suddenly an entire new universe of writing possibilities opens up.
Writers are by nature a creative lot, which is in our best interest. We read up on weird things that may appear later in our work, or we seek out topics that we need to educate ourselves on so we can write about them.
Here are a few of many things I've written about that I didn't know before but researched so I could write about them:
- Profiling criminals
- The history of denim
- Horse illnesses
- Flora and Fauna in Arizona
- Boot styles in the late 1800s
- printing press history
- Early rock quarry tools
- Police procedure
- International laws on restraining orders
- and much more
What would have happened if I had decided that gee darn, oh well, but I can't write about a house burning down because I've never been in a burning house? I wouldn't have written what became my break-out novel in my market.
Toss out "Write what you know" and pick up "Write what you're willing to learn about."
You'll be a better writer for it. Your work will thank you.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
Of course you're hearing voices. You're an author . . . we can't help it. But that's totally beside the point.
I met an author who hasn't read a single book authored by another person since he got his first book published. His reasoning is that he doesn't want his literary "voice" tainted by someone else.
Not only is his attitude excessively narcissistic, but he has trapped himself into a limited world. His voice will never grow--never improve; his characters will never stretch or be different from the ones he's already created. He has written many books, and it's the sad old case of "if you've read one of them . . . you've read them all."
Most serious writers know that their first couple of books are practice. If you don't get them published, you'll be saved from lamenting over your shallow voice and two dimensional characters. If you do get them published, you'll have that lamentation, but you can laugh yourself all the way to the bank. So there is comfort in having your first books published. ;)
But how do you develop you voice so that you move beyond your first tentative steps as an author?
And don't be afraid to read outside your preset genre. Read everything. Read drama, literary stuff, comedy, romance, mystery, fantasy, science fiction. As you read, your own voice develops. Your brain subconsciously picks out what works for you in writing and what doesn't.
I read 39 books last year. That doesn't count the myriad blogs and articles I read. And that doesn't count the reading I had to do on my own books to get edits done.
There is no way around it. If you want to be a writer, you have to actually (gulp!) write. And you have to write a lot. Try your hand at writing everything that holds a spark of interest to you. I've written music lyrics, poetry (badly), short stories, novels, commercials for products (I once fantasized that I would grow to be a high powered advertising executive dressed in a black power pant-suit and riding the subways). I've written articles for both newspapers and magazines and, of course, I spend some time blogging (which I count for good practice, but don't count towards writing goals).
And after you've written quite a lot, go back over your writing and look for recurring themes. It took me several years to notice that I am primarily a young adult writer. I read mostly young adult literature and when I write, I can't stop myself from writing with a youth audience in mind. I didn't set out to write for this age group . . . it just worked out that way. Even when I wrote for adults, I ended up with a riot of teenager fans. I also find I gravitate towards the fantastic, the paranormal, the time travel, the space travel, the beliefs of fringe society.
Time spent on poetry, on a short story, and the full-on novel help you to stretch your voice. Play with all forms of writing. Have fun with it.
If you write about things that resonate to the marrow of your bones, you won't be able to help but write in your own voice. If you're passionate about your topic, your characters, your story, your voice will convey that passion. If you're from the deep south, you will have a different angle of resonance than someone from Ireland. Write in the language you know--the language you speak. I am a firm believer in increasing your vocabulary, but you want your book to resonate to others. By speaking plainly, you will achieve that.
most people are searching for themselves. Writers are searching for their voices. To help you on your quest, read, write, and resonate (I love alliteration). Have fun!
Monday, January 7, 2008
Critique Archive 0015:
Wind slapped my face. With sealed lips, I tapped my camera impatiently. From my early childhood, I somehow found all my ideas were always scrutinized. It led me to avenues which required minimal social interaction and hence most of my thoughts remained unspoken. Photographs offered me a treasured means of expression and an outlet for the passions pent up inside my twenty year old body.
The sun had nearly set over the Photography Hobby Institute of Kolkata, India. The rare absence of my parents, who had gone to visit my sick Auntie, provided an opportunity to stay out later than usual. Students letting out from the football practice I had skipped hung around in groups near the boundary of the dimly lit playground where I sat. A blade of newly cut grass stuck through my pants making me itch. Sharp edges of a stone beneath me bit hard into my thighs. I lowered my body to the ground hoping for a better angle and pointed the lens towards the horizon.
"Look at the geek lying on the field with his digital camera." Someone said behind me.
"Eh, we could use him for a goalpost." A football whistled past nearly grazing my ear. I heard ridicules and hoots of laughter coming from my classmates.
"Look at him. He's not even moving." Another round of howls echoed as the lingering light faded into dusk.
"Yeah, He acts like he's dead." I felt the tip of a shoe poke me.
"What does he think he's going to take pictures of in the dark anyway?" I recognized the voice of the class bully. "Hey DC what are you doing, shooting stars? Haaa haa." I drew a breath, burrowing deeper into the shell of my solitary lifeand ignored their bullying. The commotion quickly subsided as they drifted off in the directions of their homes. I didn't realize I had been holding my breath until I let it go. I badly wanted to get this shot right. For once I wanted to be good at something. I yearned to be able to share the way the world looked to me with others. Maybe then they would understand me better and not tease me as much.
The crescent of the new moon had just begun to rise. In another moment the balance of dark and light would be ideal. I held my breath, my finger poised. My photography instructor's words echoed in my mind. "Debraj, with a little more effort you could enter the institute level photography contest."
Waiting six long months for my turn I had borrowed the only camera available to students which had the capability to capture the images I sought. Perhaps I'd be able to win a prize and have a photograph of mine posted on the display board.
"Ouchhh." The legs of an insect prickled as it crept down the back of my neck reminding me presence of other unknown nocturnal creatures that might be awakening. I felt a prickly heat rash break out. I didn't dare move and risk missing just the right instant. A meteor shot across the sky into the frame of the D30 digital camera, Click. "Perfect." I whispered and quickly made a wish, "I want to become a professional photographer."
Thursday, January 3, 2008
10--I wish I'd known about the need to become a public speaker. It might have talked me out of it had I known how important this skill would be. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I went to Toastmasters for 6 months and I have never turned down an opportunity to speak out of fear. I've had some successes that I smiled about on the way home, and I've cried all the way home too, but I'm improving.
9--I wish I'd understood that putting something personal out into the world invites the need for people to advise you, whether they know butkus about what you do or not. HOW DID I SOLVE IT: I learned to stop arguing when people felt the need to teach me how to write or why what I wrote was all wrong. I also learned to keep copies of complements to fill my bucket when people unceremoniously dipped from my confidence stores.
8--I wish I'd realized that getting that first book published was the BIGGEST step, but not the last one. Rather it was struggling with a sticky lock and then throwing the door open to find another door, and opening that one to find another one, and another and another, some are easier to push open than others. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I realized I will never solve it. I just keep writing my best novel. When it's done I start writing my best one again.
7--I wish I'd realized that the writing would get harder. That the ease I had of putting those first gripping thoughts together would one day run dry and I'd have to dig for the stories. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I dig.
6--I wish I'd realized what a lonely endovor it can be when you're best freinds become fictional creations. It's depressing when I have to remind myself that I don't get to go shoppign with them, or talk on the phone and that I actually have to deal with real live people. HOW DID I SOLVE THIS: I got to know other writers and I came to realize that though not perfect (they are not fiction after all) other writers will understand me better than anyone else. We share the same disease. I've met wonderful people that have become my dearest freinds.
5--I wish I'd realized that holding a finished book in my hand was like a drug and at times that memory would be the only thing to drive me forward on my current work in progress. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep publishing books, and when I get a new one I take that first copy and write down the feeling of holding it my hands. I can then go back to those thoughts and remember that's one of the reasons I do this, for the rush of holding that finished product.
4--I wish I'd realized that I wouldn't make much money. I really thought I'd be making a good yearly salary, and I'm beginning to, but right now I have $62 in my 'book' account and just mailed off a bill for my writers digest bookclub for $26.32. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep writing and spend my royalties wisely (sorta). I am also very clear on the fact that I don't write for money, though one day I hope to.
3--I wish I'd kept all the articles and ads ever done on my book. It's been almost 9 years now and I started keeping mentions a couple years ago but I missed a few really cool reviews and articles that would have been a fun keepsake. Even though I'll have more, I'll never have those first ones again. HOW I SOLVED IT: I keep them now.
2--I wish I'd realized that great accomplishment aside (and I do consider it a great accomplishment) that I'm still me. I have my same weaknesses, my same obsessions (and some new ones, the same confidence issues and the same frustrations with not doing things the way I think I should do them. I believed that publishing my first book would change this, fill in the gaps, and I do think it's helped but it hasn't 'fixed' me. I guess it was silly to have ever thought it would, but I did and it didn't happen. I still have to work on me. HOW I SOLVED IT: Obviously, I haven't, but I'm learning to take things one step at a time and not expect one talent to suddenly take care of a dozen unrelated weaknesses.
1--I wish I'd realized that despite the drawbacks and unanticipated struggles, that writing would fulfill a part of me, a part of my reason for being here, in a way that nothing else did. It does not replace the role I play in the lives of others, it doesn't solve all my problems, but it has created a connection with Deity that I don't believe I'd have found any other way. It's challenged me in ways I never imagined and ultimately I know that I'm better for that and that here and there is a reader or two that in some small way is better for it as well. THIS one I've solved already. I found a place for myself, a place I have toiled and traveled through and because of it I am a better, smarter, and more content person that I would be otherwise. And in the dark moments, the hard times, I know that if I never wrote another word, if I never contrived another story, I would be at peace with what I have done, what I have already created. That peace makes it all a glorious journey.
In a recent manuscript, I came to a dead stop at a particular scene. But it was not just an ordinary scene—it was the climax of the entire novel.
In this scene, a man is burned to death for his religious beliefs. He is given the chance to recount his teachings, but refuses. Therefore, the punishment is death by fire.
I wondered if the scene would be stronger in the man’s point of view . . . or in the man’s wife’s point of view.
Would it be more compelling for us to know the thoughts of a man who’s taking his last breath and knowing he’s going to die? Is it more compelling to “feel” the pain of fire with him as he’s consumed?
OR is it more compelling to watch with his wife as her husband is brutally tortured? Do we want to know her intimate emotions, experience her undoubted grief and horror? To hear her thoughts of loss and anguish?
The way I answered this question was: Who has the most to lose?
Then I posted it on a blog and received excellent feedback. Everyone agreed. The wife had the most to lose. So the death scene should be in her POV.
When you are writing in multiple view points (3rd person in my case), the rule of thumb for selecting POV is to take a look at the character who experiences the most change, or is highly affected, or who has the most to lose in the scene.
Then you'll have your answer.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
As you begin a new year of writing, you might want to make making some writing-related resolutions.
First, take stock of what worked for you in 2007 and what didn't. Do daily word count goals fit your lifestyle? What about weekly ones? Do you work better by tracking chapters or pages rather than words? What system works best for you?
Second, set goals for yourself--goals that, while reachable do require you to stretch a little.
Last, decide on rewards for each goal you meet. It's amazing how a little incentive can help yourself plant your behind in the chair and your hands on the keyboard. Your inner writer is a child. Bribe it! (I find chocolate works well. And pedicures.)
Consider adding some of the following when making your list:
- Read. A lot. It helps me to keep a running log of all the books I've read in the year. I've done this every year for over a decade, and I try to at least match if not beat the number of titles from one year to the next. A good writer is a good reader. Be sure to include writing books in your list. And don't forget to read works in the genre you write in. Add one or two books that stretch you.
- Take regular outings to places that bring something new to your senses: try new foods, visit a museum, take long a walk through a strange neighborhood, go on vacation to a place you've never been before. Stimulation to the senses does marvels for creativity.
- Proof every query, cover letter, and manuscript you send out. Many times.
- To help you send out the cleanest material possible, learn your punctuation and grammar rules. (A funny and great place to start: Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, by Lynne Truss.)
- Get up the guts to show your work to someone other than family and friends . . . someone who will give you the honest truth. Consider hiring a professional. It's worth the cost.
- Make at least one big goal for yourself: I'll finally finish this book/I'll query 20 agents/I'll attend 2 writing conferences. And attach deadlines to each goal.
The biggest resolution? Don't give up in 2008. This may be your year.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
This is just some good old fashioned nuts and bolts writing information for today. I am writing this post mainly because I've done a lot of editing books for new authors, and because I've done a lot of reading of author's first books and think we could all benefit from a little refresher course.
There is a broadway musical called Urinetown. In the opening scene officer Lockstock explains the musical to the audience.
Little Sally comes along and asks, “Say, Officer Lockstock, is this where you’re going to tell them about the water shortage?”
To which Officer Lockstock replies, “Everything in its time, Little Sally. You’re too young to understand it now, but nothing can kill a show like too much exposition.”
Little Sally ponders this, and then replies, “How about bad subject matter? Or a bad title? That could kill a show pretty good.”
“Yes, yes, a bad title and too much exposition!” Since the subject matter of this musical is pretty bad, the title is outright horrible, and the fact that the whole first ten minutes was exposition and explaining why exposition is bad, it all worked as a marvelous parody and a downright funny scene.
In a new author's manuscript where he isn't trying to make a mockery of the scene, it's not funny.
You've all heard it--show don't tell. Exposition is where we find ourselves giving a summary of events and dialogue rather than putting it into real action and dialogue. Exposition reads like a laundry list of things the character did and said today. Readers don't want to be told a story. They want to be in the story.
Instead of TELLing your readers that Emma is depressed and frustrated, SHOW her taking a bite of her favorite cake and pushing the rest away.
Instead of TELLing your reader that Sam's car is a broken-down wreck, SHOW him twisting two bare wires together to get the headlights to come on.
Instead of TELLing your readers. “Amanda took one look at the hotel room and recoiled in disgust.” SHOW the cockroach crawling over the edge of the bathroom sink, crawling down the cabinet (hanging by a single hinge), scurrying across the threadbare carpet, and disappearing under the rusty bed that sags in the middle.
Instead of saying: My mom hated my new hair cut. Make it: Mom reached for my head, but her hand halted at the place where my long curls should have been as though she could still sense them there, as though she were one of those amputees who still felt phantom pain in a leg long gone. "What have you done to your hair?"
"I cut it."
"I can see that! Why would do such a stupid thing? You look like an army sergeant. You need to fix this!"
I snorted at that. "What do you want me to do? Should I go back to the salon and demand they glue it all back?"
My mom pulled her hand away and wiped it on the front of her skirt as though she'd touched something dirty.
The exposition was dry . . . part of a laundry list. But showing the scene creates tension and character development. Now you don't have to tell us that Anne and her mom don't always agree. You don't have to tell us that Anne is independent, and does what she wants in spite of other people's opinions. You don't have to tell us that Anne falls into sarcasm in an effort to win arguements. You don't have to tell us that Anne's mother is a more traditional person. You can sense that by the fact she disapproves of Anne's new hair style--by the fact that she's wearing a skirt.
One conversation of realistic dialogue and we know quite a bit about these characters. The exposition would have put us to sleep.
In your writing, avoid lengthy bouts of exposition. Avoid the laundry list of what your character did and said today. Put your reader in your story by making them feel as though they are living it.