Saturday, May 29, 2010

Like pushing a boulder up a hill

I think my last post is reflective of my writing right now. It's all a little choppy. Wish I had a famous editor as a best friend. I could crochet for her (I can crochet a mean set of booties) and she could edit my writing. Oh, and I also wish that my famous editor friend wouldn't know how to crochet and that the only thing in life she really wanted was a set of crocheted booties.
Hey, it's my fantasy, I can hope for what I want.

Friday, May 28, 2010


In a world where being free-spirited and thinking outside the box are constantly praised, where it's no longer hip to be square, or even hip to use the word hip, I have a shameful confession. I'm a square. It's true, I've always been somebody who likes to know and follow the rules. I was never the kid that worked at the movie theater and snuck her friends in, or the fast food employee who slipped people a free order of fries. In fact, when I was younger I worked for a dry-cleaner one summer. The official policy was that employees got 30% off the price of cleaning. However, the unofficial policy was that if you brought your own clothes in and cleaned them yourself, it was free. So all summer I brought in my clothes. But after a couple months, the guilt was too much for me. Right before the summer ended I went through everything I'd cleaned and totaled the bill and paid it. Of course, everybody thought I was crazy. But I just couldn't break the rules.

I think that's come in handy with writing however. The more novice writers (like myself) that I get to know, the more I realize that many are much more free-spirited than I am. Many of them chafe against being so restricted by writing tips and guidelines. But the more experienced writers seem to thrive on them. They are always studying the art of writing, always learning how to perfect the craft and follow the rules more effectively. The best ones even know when to break the rules-- which is a lot more difficult. Although I know that seems to go against common logic, it's true. The rules are basically tips for what works in writing, so breaking the rules means going against what works. You must be very good to do that effectively.

Having said all that, I have another good writing tip that one of my writing friends gave me. If you are struggling with pacing (which seems to be a problem for most novice writers like myself), then pick a book you really like and make a copy of 10 pages. Go through and highlight dialogue, internal thought, and action, so you can see how that author balances each of these elements. Then, take 10 pages of your story and do the same thing, so you can see if yours has the same proportions.

As you might imagine now that I've explained my penchant for rules, I've taken this idea and kind of gone crazy with it. Since I'm writing a fantasy for Middle Readers, I've collected a handful of my favorite books in that category. Now I'm going through each of them and highlighting not just what I mentioned above, but how often the authors refer to their villain (especially at first), how quickly the details of their magic worlds are unfolded, and how often their protagonist gets put in danger (among other things).

I feel this has been really helpful, so I thought I'd pass it along.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another Frustration

There are so many programs, classes, etc. on writing. And all of it costs MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. Seriously, you could spend THOUSANDS a year just trying to improve your manuscript. If I had thousands to spend, why wouldn't I just publish the darn manuscript myself?

A Master of the Art

Though I am far from mastering the art of writing, I believe I have mastered the art of criticizing other's writing. Wahoo, good for me. It's rather annoying, actually. Writing a manuscript has almost ruined reading for me (almost). I've studied sentence structure, form, plot, character development, etc. until I'm about to burst, and now all I can see are the mistakes that other authors make. I'll be reading a perfectly good story and then a sentence will come along like, "Her knowledge of cooking and sewing resulted in her invitation to the party." Uh, what? Isn't there an easier way to say that, like "She was invited to the party because she could cook and sew," or something? Do normal people say, "My good grades resulted in the scholarship," or "My feelings for him resulted in our marraige." Not unless your Yoda, "Filled with the Force, you are."

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Breakthrough

Okay, I figured out my bad guy. And it has brought in a whole new element of mythology and history that I hadn't anticipated. How exciting! Doesn't it sound like sometimes stories have a life of their own? Sometimes I read about authors who speak about their books like they are people-- unpredictable and erratic and disappointing at times. But they kind of do have a life of their own don't they? I can't always predict where my story will go. Occasionally I hit a wall and have to course correct. My story goes down a path I didn't expect.
Anyway, back to the topic-- I figured out my bad guy! Yay! There are still a few details to work out, but at least it's a beginning. I have heard many times about "world building," or working out the history of your story. Some authors have copious notes about what happens before the story even takes place-- or even what will happen after. Like Star Wars. Did George Lucas have the beginning three movies worked out before he produced the fourth movie first? I believe he did. He knew where his characters had come from, what made them who they were long before the audience was even introduced to them. I remember watching an interview with J.K. Rowling after her third Harry Potter book came out. She said she had the last chapter of the last book already written and stored away in a safety deposit box somewhere. She knew exactly where the story was headed and how it would end. Not that she didn't probably hit some of those detours I just talked about, but no doubt she knew the direction the story needed to go-- even if there were a few unexpected turns along the way.
I never totally appreciated the importance of this until I started writing myself. As I talked about this latest roadblock with my husband, he made a poignant observation (especially for someone who doesn't write, and really doesn't like to read fiction much either). He said, "the more you know about the past, the better your story will be." Funny that even people who don't know a lot about writing have great instincts when it comes to stories. Most readers do-- even if they can't put words to it. They can read a story and say, "That character doesn't seem real," or "I didn't like the ending," or whatever. They may not be able to say exactly why it's not their favorite (or, like with my husband, they can tell you exactly what it is missing), but most readers have the instinct to see that something isn't right. It's our job as writers to identify the problem, put a label on it, and then do what we can to remove it from our stories.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


So, this is going to sound funny, but I can't figure out my villain. I LOVE my recent story. Love the heroes, love how they save the day at the end (yes, I even have that figured out), but I just can't figure out WHY my villain does what he does. Kind of a problem, don't you think?
I had this problem with my last book too. My villain was a crazy mad-scientist type who was simply out to get anybody with more power than him. BORING. Somebody suggested to me (at a Writer's Conference-- another plug for those) that I write a short story about my villain to flesh him out. So I did, and suddenly I found out what his motivation was. He didn't start out bad, just very smart and very vain. But his lab assistant, someone who he disdained as weak and emotional because she had a crush on him, used her unique abilities to overpower him and turn him essentially into a slave for years. The experience humiliated him, robbed him of his free will, and his ability to rise to fame and fortune. He hardened (I'm a little vague with the details in case it ever does get published some day). His fate as a villain was sealed when he killed his captor and escaped, swearing vengeance against anyone who had the same abilities, and yet desperately longing for those abilities himself (there may be even better ideas out there, but this one was WAY better than what I started with).
Now I've come to a roadblock again. What is this villain's motivation? Power and control always seem to be what villains want, it's the WHY that matters I think. Why are they willing to do things that other people aren't in their pursuit of power? What happened to twist them, to make them unable to feel empathy or sorrow for their victims? Certainly they must be uniquely gifted. They must have some sort of special capacity that will draw people to them, give other bad guys a reason to follow them. They must be leaders. And there must also be a legitimate reason why the good guys haven't been able to overpower them. I hate stories when there's this super villain who through the whole story is causing all sorts of trouble, and yet in the end all it takes is one small thing to defeat them (I like the Wizard of Oz, but the ending always bothered me. Sorry for those of you who love it, but seriously, if the wicked witch could be killed with a splash of water, WHY would she leave buckets full of it just lying around her castle? And did she ever have to run to get out of the rain? Did she never bathe? What about sweat, or drinking water? A water allergy seems like a pretty huge impediment to super-villainy.)
Anyway, these are the things that I have to work out. How can I possibly have a story without having my bad guy already worked out? I can't. So until I think of something compelling, I've stopped working on my manuscript and started working more on the world my story takes place in. The story behind the story.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Airing My Dirty Laundry-- Literally

Okay, so I spent this last week gardening. It was hard work, and the inside of my house suffered from the lack of attention. A good friend asked to see something of my husband's and he led him into the dirtiest, most unkept room in the entire house, which also happened to be our bedroom. I was humiliated. Martha Stewart I am not, but I still like having things in order. And this room was anything but.

When my husband asked why I was so angry, I said, "Go run down the street naked, and then come ask me why I'm mad about being exposed like that." Maybe the analogy was a little bit of a stretch, but still...

So what on earth does this have to do with writing? Well, sometimes I feel like letting people read my manuscripts is exactly like showing somebody the messy room- or running down the street naked. It reveals a part of me, a part that can be personal, imperfect, and occasionally downright dirty.

I guess authors get used to being exposed. There's simply no way of keeping personal feelings and perceptions out of your writing. And if there was, would anybody want to write (or read) that stuff?

That's all I have to say. Nothing too profound-- just a little thought I had while wallowing in my humiliation.

I feel better already.