Wednesday, April 29, 2009
What is voice? Well, it is not only what you say, but also how you say it. Voice is your word order. It is your punctuation. Your paragraphing. It is what determines how the reader "hears" your words in their head.
When I was a teenager, I wrote mostly high fantasy. (I didn't finish said high fantasy novels, but that's a different story.) These grand adventure stories where all told from the third person point of view and often contained several view point characters. (Third person POV uses the pronouns 'He/She/It', for those readers who might be unfamiliar.) During my many years of crafting these tales, I never truly developed my voice. Oh, I'm sure I started, and every writing has 'voice' of some sort--it just isn't always pleasant to read.
In my early twenties, I switched from high fantasy to urban fantasy, and consequently from 3rd person to 1st with only one view point character. (1st person uses the pronoun 'I'.) This is when my voice started to emerge, and since then, my voice has become, well, what it is today. The way I write (hopefully) compliments what I write about, and fits with my characters and genre.
That leads me to today's issue. I am currently taking a one week break from the first draft of HB2 to work on a short story. This short is high fantasy--likely the only high fantasy I've written in the last five years--and while I am absolutely loving the story, I've been slightly worried that my voice isn't working for the story. I stepped back today and really looked at the words I had on the page, contemplating the idea that I perhaps couldn't write in the sub-genre anymore. Then I realized I was writing in first person (probably because I almost always write in first.) I switched to third, and while the voice in the story is still undeniably mine, it works better for the story. It is such a small change, but a change that makes me reexamine how I say things. It works. Reinvigorated, I hope to finish the story tonight, and if everything goes as planned, to have it shined up by the end of the week and ready to be sent out.
Have you ever written a story (or chapter/character/ect) and realized something was in discord with the work and your voice? What did you do?
Have you ever switched between first and third person POV just to see how it would change the writing? If you did, what did you discover?
Happy hump day everyone!
Monday, April 27, 2009
But other times silly things compete with your muse. In my experience, muses do not react well to being put on the back burner because it's a beautiful spring day and you just want to laze about in the backyard working on your tan. "Laptop lines and novelist's tans are all the rage these days!" she'd suggest sneakily. And you really don't want your laziness to be responsible for that kind of fashion trend, do you?
And still other times, emotional problems will compete with your writing. As novelists, we spend most of our time crafting and commenting on the human condition, but what we often forget is that we're doing that while having to be human ourselves. We have personal lives; we experience things. We would, realistically, be very poor artists did we not do those things, but sometimes it can feel like more of a hindrance than anything else. We like to be in the mood to write, and sometimes "the mood" has about as much chance of magically manifesting itself as my kittens have of sprouting wings so they can really chase those birds that have decided to nest in the hanging plant on my balcony.
Alas, at one time or another, we have all had that thought: I simply cannot write when I feel this way!
I'm sorry, I wish I could sugarcoat it for you, but the plain and simple truth is that you're wrong. You can write when you feel that way. In fact, you must! And it doesn't matter, for the sake of my argument, what way you're even feeling. Because "write what you know" is the ultimate piece of writing advice and creating realistic emotions is one of the greatest challenges in writing. Writing emotions while you're right there in the thick of them is something of a match made in heaven then, isn't it?
The trick, of course, is finding a way to make those emotions make sense in context. I am not suggesting that, after learning your boss is a two-faced jerk, your bitchy demon-stalking heroine should start complaining to henchmen #3 about how underappreciated she feels. When you have a fight with your spouse, you should not have the hero of your romance novel start waxing poetic about how glad he is to wash dishes for his girlfriend every now and again and how wrong his mother really is about the course of his life. Remember, it’s the emotion you want to grab. Not necessarily the context.
Let me give you an example. Sunday, my husband got some rather bad news about something at work and, on his behalf, I was a bit angry about it. As in the kind angry that made the hour long drive back from the weekly TriMu critique meeting go by in just 45 minutes because anger increases the weight of my right foot for some reason. And once I got done shouting at the empty space in the car, my first thought was "I could write Serah a kick ass scene right now!" Serah is the somewhat emotionally-unstable assassin in my epic fantasy trilogy. The rest of my -- admittedly brief -- drive home was spent planning out a great new scene that will have to work its way into the story somewhere. Once that was done, I took out all my residual aggression on processing my notes from said critique meeting and killing off be-verbs.
The results: I feel better. I have a great new scene. My rewrites went much faster than usual. And my husband's boss -- though blissfully unaware of this fact -- has some poor unfortunate be-verb's blood on his hands.
So the next time you start getting all fussy about how you're not in the mood to write, sit down in your chair and force all that emotional baggage onto your characters instead. They might not necessarily thank you for it, but your eventual readers will.
Friday, April 24, 2009
I've always wanted to be a writer.
Kindergarten: I wrote a small, bound (and illustrated...LOL) book about the day a dinosaur (from the pictures, it appeared to be a brontosaurus) appeared on my front step for a playdate.
2nd Grade: I handed in my natural science report on robins as written from the bird's perspective.
5th Grade: I decorated spelling tests with flash fiction scribbled on the back using one vocab word in every sentence.
10th Grade: I slammed through my history report, presenting it as written by a member of an archeological dig's team. Complete with photos and "ancient scrolls". Oh yeah.
I've always been a writer.
My brain frequently dabbles between short fiction, flash fiction, poetry, song lyrics, and random exercises in creative prancing. In 2006, I attempted my first novel, a complicated piece that was more self-challenge than thoughtful prose - something different. Sick, stressed, and distracted due to school, doctor visits, and work, I set it aside.
But I didn't stop scribbling.
The merry band of heroes and requisite universe of StarStones have been clanging in my head since 2002. I'd done dozens of short stories from their points of view, mini-adventures, before finally chronicling a more epic adventure - this time starring their younger selves - in 2007. Having finished the book, my very first wholly-complete deeply-flawed novel, I moved into edits and dragged it to a writing conference for some critique. By September of 2008, I had deleted and rewritten the ending.
In November of 2008, I completed my second full novel, set in a new place, in an unfamiliar genre. Yay!
By December of 2008, I had deleted the ending of StarStones again. Boo!
And somewhere in there, in the midst of life and living, I decided I could never NOT be a writer. Editing REbegan in earnest. Fellow Tri Mus accepted me into the ranks. Goals were hashed out, mashed out, and then made realistic. Research began on submission deadlines and formats, publishers, agents, editors, query letters -- all things publishing. Another writing conference was scheduled. StarStones now has yet another ending. And there are many, many more edits to follow. Many, many mistakes to make. Support from the hubby: immeasurable. I determined I could indeed write, write, write forever. Good or bad - it didn't matter.
Where I am on my journey is just past the starting blocks: Committed to my writing path. No longer close enough to home to run back and grab those few things I forgot on the desk before starting off again, but still tentative in uncharted territory. I shouldn't feel like I'm behind, rushed. I don't have an external deadline (save the tantalizing open submission dates for some spiffy short story anthologies).
These are the days for making amateur mistakes, taking small steps, shaking off doubts. These are the days for soaking up all the education I can on the writing process and publishing world. And these are the days to vow (in application!) never to stop learning, never to stop listening, never to stop watching, never to stop writing. This - THIS! - is the beginning.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Stallybrass's premise is that throughout history there have been two basic modes of reading -- the scroll and the book. The format of a scroll forced readers to follow the text from beginning to end. You had to scroll through it one inch at a time. There were no ways to bookmark a favorite passage in a scroll, or at least it was very difficult to do. And referencing related passages was impossible without a really good memory. Books, on the other hand, have historically allowed for more discontinuous reading. Marking passages, skipping chapters and bookmarking sections for easy reference were made simple by the book. The book also gave people the ability to index information. Tables of contents and indexes allowed readers to find the specific parts of the book they really wanted to read, what Stallybrass calls "indexical reading." The reader took control of what they read.
Many people fear that the computer is bringing about the death of the book, but Stallybrass suggests that the computer is actually an extension of the historical concept of the book. Like books, computers allow for discontinuous reading, bookmarking, and skipping unwanted information. What is Google if not one giant index? The computer is pushing indexical reading to its limits.
According to Stallybrass (but I'm not so sure about this, myself), the concept of reading a book straight though did not come into fashion until the advent of the modern novel. In fact, the early novels were criticized precisely because they took the control of information away from the reader and put it into the hands of the author. To be engrossed in a story, to be passively carried along wherever the author wanted to take you, was considered a dangerous thing. The novel, therefore, changed the way people read, not only fiction but almost everything else as well. For example, people used to read newspapers from cover to cover. In effect, the novel returned the world to reading scrolls.
Stallybrass calls the novel a "brilliantly perverse" interruption in indexical reading. Movies and TV have for many people replaced the novel as the their preferred scrolls, and people seem to be returning to the habits of indexical reading on their computers. As an audience member asked, are we witnessing not the death of the book but rather the death of the novel? I hope not. This brilliant perversion is what we writers of fiction hold dear. I, personally, cannot see novels dying, but as technology changes the novel will have to change with it.
Monday, April 20, 2009
It was a Secret Baby book. Yes, you heard me. A Secret Baby Book. I love Secret Baby books and I’m not alone. There are thousands of us. Maybe even millions of us Secret Baby lovers out there. I should be ashamed. I know this, but I’m not. The Secret Baby works.
What is the Secret Baby plot? Here’s the plot in a nutshell. Woman and man have an affair/short term marriage. Woman gets pregnant. Woman or man leaves. Woman does not tell man that she is pregnant and has the baby alone. Some indeterminate time later, man finds out woman has had his child. Chaos ensues. There are variations on this plot (usually involving siblings of the Secret Baby parents), but in general that is how it always starts.
This seems formulaic. It seems contrived, but romance readers (like me) are instantly drawn into the story. The Secret Baby involves a child. It’s a cheap trick but almost everyone loves a baby or a cute kid and almost everyone would agree that a child changes your life instantly. (Finding out that you are the parent of a rebellious adolescent can also be a big life change.) A character that in the past has only worried about themselves is now forced to consider another person – a person that is almost completely dependent on them. The Secret Baby provides an impetus for a character to change. As an added bonus, when the hero and heroine of the book are the Secret Baby’s biological parents, there is the past relationship that didn’t work to add intensity to the story.. The hero and heroine must overcome their shared past before finding their happily ever after. The Secret Baby is one way to add tension to the story and keep the pages of a book turning.
There are several “formulaic” (I hate that word.) plot devices. The Secret Baby. The Runaway Bride. The Reunion. The Takeover. The Vengeful Hero. The list goes on. Most have existed in one form or the other since people began telling stories and they continue to exist because they work. They are part of the tool kit that a romance writer can mix and match to craft his or her story. It is up to the writer to use them in an original and unique way.
Friday, April 17, 2009
All I wanted was transportation, a beast of burden whose back I could lay a crop across if it got ornery. Something to carry my gear, my food, and my small tent. Was that too much to ask? I wasn't asking to be carried myself by the mule, just my stuff.
However, it turns out that while I thought I was getting a four legged critter related to horses and probably opposums (if you have ever come across one of those in the crawlspace under your house, you know exactly what I'm talking about), what the guy was selling me was a bit less substiantial, heck, a bit less tangible, than that. I _knew_ I should have read the fine print on that contract.
In frank terms, that shyster sold me something that I already had, just couldn't find at the time.
How much gear do I really have? Paper, pens, ink, knives to keep the pens sharp. How much food do I really have? Dried fruit, meat, some odd dwarf bread that I hope I never have to try. My tent rolls up into a package that doesn't increase the weight on my backpack by more than half a pound.
Do I really need something external? Or do I need to internalize the fact that it's my work, and my desire, and my will-to-do?
...At least the coffee was good...
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Is this good news? Oh yes. But it is still rather startling.
Out of nowhere there are things to consider. There is a scramble to accomplish a lot all at once (because, of course, everything needs to be done now.) There are people to contact, decisions to make, and my heart seems to be one beat behind and struggling to catch up. By the middle of next week, I'm sure this will all be over. Even right now, there are waves in which I am bustling followed by what feels like a drawn out period in which I'm waiting. That's just the way it goes with publishing (in my experience.)
This is the hurry up and wait of publishing. Welcome to the ride.
(I promise I'll share more as soon as I can. Stay tuned!)
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
Sometimes this Truth is overt, a recurring line or even the title of the novel. It's out there, letting you know "Hey! This is what the story is really about!" Other times, it's more subtle, never said explicitly, but implied in a thousand different ways. Sometimes these more subtle Truths are ones that we take in as we read without noticing it; we accept them and learn them, but we don't actually become aware of them until we see them in a commentary or something.
Let me give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.
On the explicit end of the spectrum, I just finished reading the Black Jewels Trilogy by Anne Bishop. (Those are some marvelous books, by the way, if you're looking for something to read.) All throughout the story, there is one phrase repeated over and over again. "Everything has a price." It gets thrown back and forth throughout the dialogue. Characters think it with resigned sighs. It slips into the exposition. Every now and again, it appears as one of those single-line paragraphs, powerfully opening or closing a chapter. Over the course of those three novels, she must say "everything has a price" three or four thousand times.
Except that she doesn't say it three or four thousand times. She just weaves it into the story often enough that you begin hear it behind every thought, every feeling, every action of the story. Your brain starts automatically translating every single word -- even the mundane words like "a", "and", and "the" -- into "everything has a price" until it's running on a loop in your head. Everything has a price. Everything has a price. Everything has a price. You leave the Black Jewels world with that one phrase pounded into your head, a Truth, undisputed.
If you're looking for something a bit more subtle than that, let's take another fantasy trilogy: J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. (I really never expected to use LOTR as an example for subtlety!) The Truth we learn from journeying through Middle Earth is that everything, once touched by evil, diminishes. I don't think he ever explicitly states this, but you can't find a single character in the entire trilogy -- and there are a lot of them, aren't there? -- who, once touched by evil, hasn't lost something. Oh, they might be better off -- we would, in fact, hope that most of them would be better off, because otherwise why work so hard to defeat evil in the first place? -- but they all lose something. Nothing can ever be the same for them; they can never be as great, as beautiful, or as innocent as they once were. Everything, once touched by evil, diminishes.
When I wrote my Aundroma trilogy, I knew my Truth from the outset. And that helped me with my story building. I used that idea to set up everything, because I wanted it to be one of those subtle Truths, one that I never came out and said, but that was there, present in everything. The same idea applies to every aspect of the story, from the design of the binary star system, to the social structure of the races, to the relationship between my main character and his love interest, all the way down to the internal battles of my main character. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write about that Truth, and so I did, though I never actually wrote it down (not even here).
But with my new project, I'm not sure what Truth I'm writing about. The idea came upon me rather suddenly and I've just been writing it in true pantser style, with almost no planning or thinking beyond the scene I'm working on. But I'm getting to that point in the story where I should be coming up on turning points, where the plot should be taking shape, and I'm wondering to myself "what am I really writing about here?" I throw Truths that I already know into the room with my characters and see if they react to them, but nothing happens. So far, that's not stopped me writing -- I'm still pounding out about 1,000 words a day -- so I'm not too terribly concerned about it, but it still makes me wonder.
For the first time, I'm thinking that I might need to learn a new Truth myself, that my characters might have to throw one out at me.
Friday, April 10, 2009
There is no 80's montage.
Don't get me wrong, there are magical moments that occur between the pen and paper - when everything is perfect, never to be revised again - but these are few and far between. That is why they are called 'moments'. Truth: If we had it that easy all the time, they would be hardly magical. They would be normal. And we wouldn't appreciate them quite so much.
There is no sudden soundtrack of 80's pop music that will explode in your head while you are writing, somehow defeating time and space to bound through the task of writing 300 pages (in 2 seconds), selling your book for the quadruple-million figure book deal (in 5 seconds), watching your book fly off the shelves (in true omnipotent fashion), and finally, as the final notes of the montage taper off, panning in to see yourself from above, happy and relaxing, a job well done.
Cherish the moments, and cherish the toil.
The toil is what gets us to the endgame. The moments are the carrots along the way, reminding us that some good things happen within these pages. I wouldn't trade the effort and experience for the world. There's all of this cool stuff about my worlds and characters that only I know - and I learn a bit more about them every day. Discovery is part of the journey. Enjoy the moments you spend with your characters. Get to know them, get rid of the ones that annoy you (untimely deaths via ink are all the rage), and come to love them. There will come a time when you revise a scene and think "Woah. He would never say that." followed by "Instead, he would...". You have to spend the time getting to know them before you can make that call. It's like having dozens of friends - all inside a neat little package of gray matter.
Last week, I finished the second chapter of my science fiction novel for the seventh time. The first time, it was exciting. Verbose and clunky, but exciting. The second, third, and fourth drafts stripped out the bad stuff. And suddenly, the character was dull. Utterly lifeless on the page. He spent a good seven pages talking to himself and feeling sorry for the misfortune of others. Going back to my scraps, I found the good bits and put them back in for versions five and six. He still wasn't right, still thought too much. I added a new character, and that ember began to glow once more. My husband looked over my shoulder and made a tiny suggestion. I stared at him as if he had grown another pair of eyes. How in the world does he know my characters better than I do?
It was a solution that had been staring at me since I started revisions; I was merely fighting it. That's right: The magical moment was sitting there tapping its foot, yelling at me from time to time (this explains the recent headaches) and I only had to let it through to the page. Lesson: Stand aside and let those come through. Just because they are rare doesn't mean that you should ignore them when they come to the window.
I rewrote the whole chapter in a few evenings (not seconds!) without bothering with my previous material. The adventure was back! They were alive! And I was still able to go back and pull some of the old material forward when I was done. Now, it will be changed again over time. For now, however, I have a good draft of a chapter that stays true to my characters as they should be - exciting, insane, and raring for adventure. Wouldn't trade that time for the world.
Besides - don't you think being in the montage would make you really, really dizzy?
Monday, April 6, 2009
You see like most people, I present a façade to the world. I am a well-groomed woman of about thirty with a ready smile and intelligent eyes, but I’m more than that. I have a hot temper that is most easily provoked while I’m driving at Richard-Petty-before-restrictor-plates speed. I’m frequently plagued with self doubt and worry. I alternate between wanting to meet Mr. Right and being thankful for my single state. In other words, I’m more than what I want others to see.
***Note: Writers are prone to self analysis. My theory is that we think that if we understand ourselves we’ll be able to understand our characters. Kalayna has a much more interesting theory. Maybe we can talk her into sharing one day. ***
One of the tri mus was talking about some one she knew. “I keep thinking that there is more behind that shallow façade she says.” (There was more to the conversation, but we don’t need to go there.) With that comment my mind wandered to my characters. What type of façade are they presenting to the world? What is beneath the façades? Why do they choose the façade that they choose.
Therein lay my problem. With one of my characters from my WIP, it was easy. I rattled off answers in my head very quickly. With his love interest, not so much. I think she presents a tough girl façade, but that isn’t the picture I get of her in my WIP. I think she is hurting under the façade. She’s about to lose the last stable person in her life. I am torturing her by making her best friend and ex-boyfriend evil. She has to be hurting, but I’m not getting that picture. The character that is my head is not coming out on the page and that is making me crazy!
I plan on writing the climax scene this weekend. Hopefully, I am only a day or so away from finishing. But I see much re-writing, in my future. I must figure out what I see when I look at Mackenzie and how to make others see the same thing I see. It is no fun.
How do you capture the voice and essence of your characters?
Friday, April 3, 2009
Let's see now, mules have four legs and a tail. They have two floppy ears and a mouth only a mother could love, ditto on the teeth. And they've got a tough hide. So when you dig your heels into their sides, it takes a while for the impact to be felt. Mules are also stubborn, hence, the saying, but the stubborn can't always be seen.
Mules are like stories, stories are like mules. Stories have beginnings and endings and they also have middles. But these are the outsides, the ears, the teeth, the skin. The thing that can't be seen but that defines a story as such, can also be called the stubborn. Put it in italics if you wish.
The stubborn of stories are the many details that the writer never tells the reader but without which the story would never be written; it's almost the backstory, but more encompassing than that as it also includes things happening "off-stage" and things that will happen after the story ends. Without stubborn, I'd argue that a mule would lose a great deal of its mulishness. Without _stubborn_, the story loses much of its woven essence and ends up a pile of words jumbled together.
My mule still hasn't arrived, but I am done sitting here hoping that the mule will find me. I'm headed back to the village, and the guy who seemed so trustworthy had better have a convincing reason that the mule hasn't gotten here yet. If it is in the village, I will grab it by the nostrils and we shall begin again. If it isn't there, I will hunt it down. I'll get provisions if necessary, and I still have my plant book, so I'm in no danger of starvation.
There is land to be mapped; I will not be denied.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
As a whole, I believe in writing a first draft in a void. I like getting the story all on paper fast, and then going back and seeing what I have later (and fixing the massive issues that are likely to be there.) But, recently I’ve been stuck in a never ending scene. When I started writing the scene, I loved it. Then somewhere I lost hold of the scene and it spiraled out of control. I knew where it had to go, but the characters weren’t doing what I wanted—or anything productive, for that matter—and I was getting bogged down. My instinct in such a situation is to briefly summarize what needs to happen in the scene and move on. Doing so surely would have been better for my wordcount, but this particular scene was the first major turning point, and while the core of my story is planned out, many points hinged on how I handled this scene. So, I did something I’ve never done before—I sent 1k of the raw first draft to my fellow Tri Mus to get their take on it. My hope was that they could look through the mess of writing to help me figure out where the scene was falling apart. After a flurry of discussion, they helped me pinpoint where (and to whom) changes needed to be made, and (though not suddenly—I only wish that were true) the scene began to work once again. Oh I still struggled with it, but the scene did not fight back quite so hard.
There are lots of opinions out there about writer/critique groups. Critique partnership is a very special kind of relationship. Many people prefer to work with near strangers as there is a certain amount of detachment needed to evaluate a work honestly. Some people have trouble working with strangers as they have no idea how their critique will be received or they receive critiques they do not know how to take/interpret. There is sometimes a fear of critique partners eradicating a writer’s voice. I have heard of groups being torn a part by cruel critiques which make the writer feel stupid and give up hope. Or, in the reverse, groups turning stagnant because of too much ego stroking and not enough honest criticism.
The Modern Myth Makers started as strangers with a common goal, and grew to be friends through our writing. I think that we are, first and foremost, a group of writers gathered to support each other. When one member is procrastinating, we encourage her to write (or maybe we just badger her.) Blocked or stuck? We sit around as a think tank, talking it out. Having one of those “I suck and nothing I write should ever be seen by anyone with half a brain” days? We offer reassurances and an ego stroke. Sometimes the support needed is for the group to point out the big glaring logic jumps in a WIP that we might have been ignoring, or to give each other the hard truth during critique, and we do that too. This weekend what I needed was to sit down and talk out what was in my head (verse what was on my page) with people who had ‘fresh eyes’ as I had been staring at the words far too long.
It’s not easy to find a writing group, and it isn’t what everyone needs (either at this point in their writing journey, or possibly ever,) but if you feel like you need fresh eyes to take your writing on to the next level, I highly suggest looking for a critique partner/group. Not every fit will be perfect. I tried a couple groups, some in person, some online, and partnered with a couple other writers before the Tri Mu was formed. For various reasons, none of the first groups/partnerships worked out for me (though I made some wonderful writer friends during that time.) If you’ve read our history, you know the Tri Mu formed after several of us met during NaNoWriMo. So, if you are interested in finding a critique group, or just forming a support group of writers, go out and look for writers in your area. Or look online. Don’t be afraid to set up ‘tester’ type relationships, and don’t feel bad about backing out if it doesn’t work for you (but also don’t feel bad if your test CP backs out.) Take a chance. A little extra support is nice.