Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
A couple of weeks ago, a friend handed me a book and said I needed to read it. She said she just loved it, and if nothing else, I should read it just for the writing technique. I fully expected to read something that I couldn't put down. Sigh.
It didn't happen.
A week or so before she gave me that book, I picked up one published by Love Inspired. What is interesting about these two books, is that they both had the Amish as their subject matter. One -- the volume my friend gave me -- was a murder mystery in Amish country and how the culture deals with such things. The other -- the romance -- was how a young woman finds her roots in going to a community to be a Midwife.
On first glance one would have thought the romance book to be a sappy, little thought story that doesn't take any energy to read. To my surprise, I found it to be wonderful, and recommended it to my daughters. We have all taken to reading the Love Inspired books because they are clean -- no one is sleeping around and very little (if any) language. The majority of them are probably fluff -- but there are a few that are really well written.
Both books have a great deal of research and information on the Amish as a general community, though in slightly different ways. I'm sure there are different groups that practice things just slightly off from another -- but it was interesting to see the differences and learn more about the group of people who are a wonderful example of following your principles.
I feel bad about the book my friend suggested. I stuck with it and finished reading so I could tell her I'd read it, but I found myself having to skip several graphic parts. I didn't find the main character very likable, the writer switched view points from first person to third from chapter to chapter, which was a little disconcerting for me; and I didn't like how the story ended. It was a happy ending (which as everyone knows by now is a prerequisite for me) but I don't like the way she got there.
It occurred to me that it was basically a complete difference in viewpoint. The one book is written by an apparently well known author (I'd never heard of her before) who is nationally published and has several books out. The other is a little known writer who only writes for Love Inspired. I guess it's plain which one I liked the best.
What struck me is how, even though they contain similar subject matter, they are totally different books. Both contain romance, both are heavily involved with the Amish community, and both have happy endings. But that's not all there is to a book, is it? One was a more, shall we say, modern view of things and behaviors; the other had a more spiritual take on things and what we should be doing. Personal growth.
Have you found yourself comparing books you've read and how differently the authors covered the subject matter? Have you thought about it while writing? I don't think I've ever written more than one book on the same subject or plot, but perhaps if you're writing non-fiction that would be common.
So now I have to figure out how to tell my friend I hated the book without hurting her feelings. It's a good thing she's not the author.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
In case you’re wondering about my progress in cutting my manuscript down, I’m doing splendidly (what a lovely, terrible adverb!) It’s taken some good, objective looking to do it, because I’m not generally a wordy writer. In times past, I’ve even prided myself in my ability to keep my work tight.
Now that’s not to say I NEVER use dreaded useless adverbs. I think every writer uses a few. The tricky part is knowing when they are helpful and when they’re useless and distracting.
And it isn’t to say I never repeat words or phrases. Holy shmoly. I’m only about halfway through my manuscript, but I’ve lost count of how often I’ve caught myself using phrases like, “he stepped toward” or “she nodded” or “shrugged.”
But then, no one’s perfect. Not even me. (Contrary to popular belief…)
And so I’m cutting. And cutting, and cutting. I’m combining chapters and deleting entire scenes that don’t really matter—even though I thought they did. If it doesn’t move the plot forward or give serious insight into a character, it’s got to go. Every chapter must ask a question, which will be answered at the end of the chapter, and there are interconnecting questions that won’t be answered until the end. I’m following a formula.
So far, I’ve cut approximately thirteen thousand words. It’s a good lesson for me. No matter how tight you think your writing—how succinct or to the point—until you’ve polished that manuscript with a fine paintbrush, there is always more to cut.
For this reason, I have a hard time understanding why a publisher would have minimum word count requirements. Why would I want to add words to a story that’s already complete just to bulk it up? True, shorter books run the risk of being bare bones material. If that’s the case, either reject it or ask the author to add more. Longer books have a much higher risk of repetition and use of excessive unnecessary words.
How do we know if our writing is too bare or too wordy? Well, I’m thinking a good reliable writer’s group is a place to start. Or, barring that, find seven or eight readers you can trust will give you open and honest feedback. Not everyone will agree on each issue and not everyone’s comments will be the right thing. But if more than one person brings up the same point, it’s probably something that needs to be considered.
What else can we do to improve our personal writing abilities? Attend writer’s conferences and classes. Last week, I attended a local conference where I saw several friends I’ve made at previous conferences. It feels good to go to something like that and see familiar, friendly faces. One of my friends—who is fairly new to the conference scene—asked me, “Do you go to all the conferences around here?”
I answered, “As many as I can.”
Then she asked, “Isn’t it a lot of repetition? What do you get from attending so many?”
I had to think about it. For one thing, no matter how much I already know, there is always something new to learn. And writer’s conferences are inspiring to me. I leave each one itching to work on my current masterpiece in progress—or even start a new project. But most importantly, I get to network with other writers. These conferences are where I’ve met the people in my groups. Where I’ve had the opportunity to talk with editors, agents and successful authors. I’ve made some great friends, and I would never be where I am—would never have progressed to whatever stage I’m currently in—without the help of all these people.
So I’m cutting, and I’m fixing, and I’m rewriting, and loving every blooming minute of it. I only wish I could work faster…
On Friday, I attended panel discussions about writing romance, principles of suspense, writing for the young adult and middle grade market, and dialogue tag and speech patterns. I enjoyed each one of them and gained something from the opinions of the many panelists. I especially enjoyed listening to comments by Tracy Hickman. Most of the classes were very full so I’m sure many of you chose to listen to the same ones I attended.
I then went to a two-hour workshop taught by John Brown called, “Three Things You Must Learn to Write Killer Stories.” I don’t know what the rest of you thought, but I learned more there than I had imagined was possible. I hope it will change the way I write. I was finally able to understand what I need to do to make my stories better. As I look at the stories I’ve written, I can see the pattern there, but I can also see how I can improve.
For those of you who aren’t taking advantage of the learning tools offered in your community, I hope you will consider joining with the rest of the crowd and see what you are missing. I’m a firm believer that you can always learn something new, no matter how good you already are.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
It seems I cannot stop thinking about Bella and Edward. I suppose I can see why the books in which these characters have become so popular.
With regard to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, consider the following scripture from the Book of Mormon:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.” (Mosiah 3:19)
I have now finished book two of the Twilight series. I think Meyer's writing has gotten better in this book and I’m glad I’ve stuck with them. I’ve made it thus far because the stories have truly engaged my mind.
Over the years, I have found it interesting to read mainstream fiction written by LDS authors, as they always seem to add LDS content into their stories, whether intentional or not, and whether covertly or not. Without giving away too many details from the Twilight books for those who haven’t yet read book two yet, consider the following possible scenario:
A coven of “natural vampires” tricks a crowd of tourists into coming into their lair, where the blood of the tourists is unceremoniously consumed to quench the thirst—and thus sustain the lives—of the coven of vampires. The death of innocents may disturb us, but it’s the “natural thing” for the vampires to do.
Now consider a “vegetarian vampire”—or a vampire who only consumes the blood of animals, not humans. Also consider the extreme self-control a “normal” vampire must exercise to “put off the natural” tendencies of his kind and not destroy human life for his own selfish purposes (oh, and not kill all the kids he goes to school with every day).
To me, this is a very close parallel of the above scripture from Mosiah 3:19. If you change the scripture slightly, you might come up with this:
“For the natural vampire is an enemy to man, and has been from the beginning, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural vampire and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.”
Now, I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or anything with this minor scriptural editing, but it’s interesting to note that Edward is no longer a natural vampire, yet he still has natural tendencies, just like humans. But, like saints of the Church, he has to put off his natural tendencies to achieve a higher level of existence. This has not been easy for him, but he and his family have reaped the rewards of their alternate lifestyles.
I think the parallels of Stephanie Meyer’s vampires to members of the Church on earth are striking—whether or not these parallels were intended. I think it's also curious that we are cleansed from sin through the blood of Jesus Christ. The use of blood has always been a powerful symbol.
Edward fears the loss of his eternal soul because of who he is; however, perhaps his fears are not truly justified after all. Maybe his action of putting off the “natural vampire” will, in fact, save his soul, as does “putting off the natural man” has the power to save us humans.
Now, I’m not sure what happens beyond book number two, and I don’t know if this comparison of vampires to humans will hold up for the rest of the series, but It’s certainly been the source of thoughtful contemplation for me.
Now onto book number three. And by the way, did anyone ever happen to notice that Edward Cullen looks a lot like Cedric Diggory? I wonder if they might perhaps be cousins.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
It’s been six months since my mom passed away—six months of trying to figure out who I am and what I wanted to do with my life. I questioned everything. I wondered if I held my beliefs because of her. I wondered if I kept my hair the way I did for her. I even wondered if I had wanted to write because of her. It was a tough time for me. I felt completely lost and alone, set adrift in a sea of pain with no refuge in sight.
Desperate, I finally sought help for the depression that sucked the very life out of me and found my answer in the place I last expected to find it. My counselor told me to keep my relationship alive with my mother by writing letters to her.
I fought the suggestion for about a week before I finally got low enough to put it to the test. I sat one night after four in the morning, unable to sleep for the memories that circled through my mind, and finally poured out my soul on paper. I told her what I missed. I told her my regrets. I even told her I was a little angry with her and God for taking her home when I wasn’t ready. I spewed it all out on the page and when I was done I sat back and read it.
It was a thing of beauty. This purging, this vomit I had thrown onto the page to find some peace had done its job. The cleansing had begun. From that day forward the gnawing pain that had dragged me to the depths disappeared and in its place came a sense of understanding and acceptance. I couldn’t be happy she was gone, but finally understood that I could go on. I could still live even without her wisdom and support.
Writing, communicating with a dead woman through the written word brought me closer to her and helped me to understand myself for what I truly am.
I am a writer.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
There is an old song by The Mavelettes called Please Mr. Postman. A girl waits to hear from her boyfriend in a letter. She camps out on her own doorstep, ready to jump the postal carrier. She doesn’t believe there isn’t a letter.
Please Mister Postman, look and see (Oh yeah)
If there's a letter in your bag for me
(Please, Please Mister Postman)
Why's it takin' such a long time (Oh yeah)
For me to hear from that boy of mine
There must be some word today
From my boyfriend so far away
Please Mister Postman, look and see
If there's a letter, a letter for me
I've been standin' here waitin' Mister Postman
For just a card, or just a letter
Sayin' he's returnin' home to me
I feel a little like that girl, only I check my email every five minutes waiting to hear from a publisher. I know it hasn’t been long enough but my anxiousness has been turning into obsession. After all, what else do I have to do?
To be truthful I don’t check my email that much. I work on my new book and get carried away with it. So much, that I’ve begun to feel guilty for cheating on my other book.
Let me explain—I’m a writer. I spend hours plotting and building, visualizing my story and my characters. Characters begin to become real to me. Since, I’m the writer/creator I know the back-story. My character’s hopes and dreams are in my head. I know everything about them, perhaps more than I know about myself.
Once this information has been clearly established in my mind, It’s very hard to develop other characters and story lines. It’s not that a writer can’t come up with new things, they can. In fact it’s refreshing to start something new. It’s like moving to a new location, you get to find friends and learn new things.
But before long those old characters get your attention, and they wonder why you haven’t thought about them. "Because I’m working a new character." you answer. The old character, lets call her Mary, looks hurt. She turns away from you and you can hear a sniffle. "But Jane means nothing to me. She has a different story line. Besides, you will always be my first love."
Of course all of that is a lie. Yes, Jane means the world to you. She’s exciting and she gives you new experiences. Well, Mary isn’t convinced either. She storms out of the room and you are left feeling guilty. You can’t wait to get Mary published just to vindicate her, to make her feel worthwhile.
You catch up to her and let her down easy. "It’s over." you say. "I know I’m a pig, but I’ve moved on. I hope you can too." She cries and the guilt is stronger than ever. "I’ll write you into one more story," you say. "I’ll create a character who loves you. Then you can forget me."
Before you lock me up remember this, there are hundreds of sequels created everyday, and characters that continue to have new adventures. Odd Thomas, Harry Potter, and the Barrington family just to name three. I wonder if Agatha Christie had problems with inspector Poirot.
I’m speculating here, but did you think the writers brought Bobby Ewing back to life because of the fans? Oh no, Bobby invaded the writer’s dreams. He gave them nightmares, so the whole previous season turned out to be only a dream.
Well. I’ve managed to distract myself for a few minutes. I wonder if the mail is here yet.
Good luck with your writing—see you next week.
Friday, February 20, 2009
When I was a teenager, I used to read anything I could get my hands on. I'm serious; literally anything. I used to stop at the library on the way home from high school and pick up three to four books -- though I have to admit, most of them were romances -- and read them that night. (Okay, so I didn't have much of a social life.) The next day, I would take those books back and pick up some more.
When I moved to Utah and was in my senior year, I took an English class that turned out to be a feeder for the school newspaper, and a trial run of a speed-reading course. It was bizarre, and I didn't think much of the teacher. I was the fastest reader in the class. I could read something like 1800 words a minute with 80% comprehension. The teacher was thrilled, and gave me an award. It was the only award I ever got in high school, and I was totally embarrassed. I mean, no one else thought it was cool....
After I began college and started thinking about a mission, my reading changed a little. I discovered there were books written by LDS authors. Unfortunately, I wasn't very impressed with many of them, though I remember Shirley Sealy's books with fondness. I was also a letter writer during this time. I used to write anyone and everyone that wrote me. Once I went on my mission though, I was tired of writing letters, and started writing seriously.
After I got married and started having children, there was a period of time that I didn't do much besides read -- there wasn't much brain available for anything else. When ten years had passed, I felt myself starting to come to life -- my brain started to function again. I wanted to read things that had heart; I wanted to write and I wanted to paint. One thing that struck me: I had young girls growing up that were going to become readers and what were they going to be reading?
It was at that point that I realized it was important to be concerned about their reading material. It's a big thing to monitor what you put into your brain. Suddenly I felt a need to write the kind of books I would want my daughters to read. All of a sudden it was more important what I was writing. I had moved from an avid reader (although I still am -- just pickier) to writer.
The transition didn't happen over night, and it has taken a lot of work and dedication. Unfortunately, it's still more a hobby than craft. I'm working on it though, and things are getting better. It's great to have friends with common goals that help with suggestions, critique groups who help with editing and family that support and my family’s support.
While we are all writing with the goal of being published, and as I spoke about last week, the idea of reaching our audience -- we need to remember whom we are writing for. Who is your target audience? Your children? It kind of puts a little pressure on the subject matter, doesn't it?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
I think we’ve all established the importance of joining a critique group. There are so many benefits to having other people read and comment on your work—including finding repetitive words, dialogue that doesn’t ring authentic, and helping to identify what is wrong with—as well as what is good about—specific scenes.
Helpful criticism is the key to a good critique relationship. When giving a critique of someone else’s work, it is important to keep personal opinion on the back burner. Definitely point out technical problems, mention plot issues, and an overall assessment of the material, but try to do so in a respectful manner. It is not in anyone’s best interest to insult the author, or take personal jabs—even with the best intentions.
I am a member of three wonderful groups in which members are respectful of each other, our work, and our personal feelings. And as I hear horror stories from others, I am reminded more and more how lucky I am to be in such a beneficial situation. Two of my groups are online. Small numbers in membership allows me to know each person personally, and gain a relationship of trust so that when I send my work over the web I know my pages aren’t going to be posted on someone’s website or blog. (As a side note, I have also spent lots of time in the company of these people—so I know them face-to-face as well as online.) My in-person critique group is also a small group, and because we meet every week (yes, that is a lot—we’re very dedicated) we can’t help but know each other well. The bottom line is, these people are my friends, and I trust them. And their comments matter to me—even when I don’t agree with what they say.
Part of the reason my groups are so successful is that each member has a mutual respect for the others. Something I’ve discovered is not automatically present in other groups.
A friend of mine recently had some of her work critiqued by an author we both know and respect. Some of the critique was helpful, but the wording in other parts was downright insulting. Another friend has recently joined an in-person group where her personality has been insulted along with her work being ripped to shreds. These situations have not been helpful to the writers—but rather caused them to question their ability to produce quality writing—something at which they are both very good.
In another situation, an author stood in front of a class holding up a well known—and EXTREMELY successful—book pointing out in a derogatory voice all the things they thought were done wrong. In fact, that book was used as every example of what not to do. But the funny thing was, that particular book has been read and loved by millions of people all over the world. Not only did the teaching author appear bitterly jealous, but they seemed foolish for choosing to bash someone else so thoroughly during the course of a class.
So as I’m writing this blog, it occurs to me that it might be helpful to point out a few important rules to keep in mind when you’re reviewing someone’s work.
1. Never use the following phrases in your critiquing comments: “Good outline, now write the actual book.” “Do you actually know how to write?” “Where did you study writing?” “I totally gagged.” “You should take a class from me.” “I wanted to bang my head against the wall.” “I had to throw it on the ground and come back to it later.” “This is okay, but my book is the greatest book you’ll ever read.” (And my all time personal favorite—coming from the writer with NO kids to the writer with several) “You should go to a park and pay attention to how real kids actually talk.”
2. Always be sure to point out the things that are working for the piece, the good things they’ve done. For instance, “I love this phrase.” And “This is my favorite part.” Or “This is so well done.” And for love scenes, “Sigh. Happy face.”
3. Don’t forget that while you might do things one way, this book belongs solely to the author. Your opinion is not relevant except to give them things to think about. Do not—EVER—try to rewrite for them. It is one thing to suggest different wording for an awkward sentence, and another thing entirely to rewrite entire paragraphs of prose.
4. Never assume you know more about a genre or age category than someone else. The truth is, genre and grouping is a tricky thing. Every agent, editor, and author will give you a different opinion about what constitutes a chapter book, middle grade, YA novel, or adult. And then there are all the different types of books. It is the author’s responsibility to know where his or her book fits—not yours. (Unless they ask you specifically.)
5. Know when to take other people’s words lightly. You are the author and only you know what is best for your book—or article, or story, or blog…
Critique groups can be a wonderful, enjoyable experience as long as everyone treats each other with respect and the kindness that we all deserve. And never, ever forget to tell your critiquers thank you for their help.
Until next time…
A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Sometimes I don’t think I get much writing done. However, after attending a recent writing class, I decided that all my research time and the time I plot out my story is part of that writing time. Even though I don’t have much of a word count, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on my story.
This realization made me feel a lot better about the things I‘ve been doing this past month. I was actually starting to feel like a total failure as a writer because my word count had gone way down. I haven’t been working on any prior story. I’ve started something from scratch and that takes a lot of time.
I’m quite excited to try out some of the new techniques I learned. Things I’ve heard about, but never tried. Usually I just sit down and write. I’ve never written an outline for my story or a plot plan of any kind. It’s just things that pop into my head that my fingers type. Nothing thought out the way I learned I should be doing.
I can see some advantages to doing it this way, but also some disadvantages. I wonder if the story will flow as easily if I’m thinking about characterization. I’m wondering what the chapters will be like if they each have a beginning, middle and end. We’ll soon see.
My newest novel will have a lot more thought put into it because even though it will take longer, I’m going to try to follow the outline I’ve written. I’m also going to interview all my characters and get to know each of them better than I’ve ever done before. I already know them pretty well because they were in my last book. This time they are going to grow in ways you can’t begin to imagine.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
A title that doesn’t match a story can kill its chances for success. Unfortunately, new authors have very little control of the title that goes on their first book—but I believe we should still try our best.
Yesterday, my wife and I took our nine-year-old daughter to a movie and dinner for her birthday—along with the rest of our family. My daughter loves dogs. She loves anything and everything dog-related.
So, of course, we went to see Hotel for Dogs. I was not looking forward to going at all, but that was her movie choice and that’s what good dads do.
Well, surprise: I liked it! I wasn’t a great movie, but it wasn’t nearly as stupid as I was expecting—which was a cutesy little doggie movie, akin to Teletubbies or maybe Dora the Explorer. I actually found it to be a decent movie for kids—and of course my daughter loved it.
I’m not sure what there was about the title of Hotel for Dogs that turned me off, but it did. It’s not that the movie wasn’t about a hotel for dogs, either. Somehow the title just seemed like something targeted toward three-year-olds.
In my own writing, I try to create appealing titles for my stories. I like my titles to be true to the content and genre of the story. If a publisher accepts one of my stories, they are likely going to change the title anyway, but I still think it’s important to start with a good working title. Sometimes a good name comes to me before I begin writing and sometimes it doesn’t show itself until I’ve gone through the story many times.
The first words anybody will ever read of your story are the words of the title—even before the first page is read. In a market where it’s so hard to catch anybody’s attention, your title better do a good job.
Well, I have to get back to writing my story, The Martian Horse Fell on My Purple Pig. It’s about a little boy in New York City who finds a toad in the street and takes it home for a pet. I’m hoping to have the rough draft finished soon.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Nichole mentioned how the conversations we have with fellow writers sound strange to those who aren't writers. They should listen to what's going on inside our heads.
I realized this morning that I was editing the conversation I'd just had with my son. I'd put feeling words in it, I'd taken his name out. It was weird. It was like, “hey, if you were writing this in your story, you wouldn’t put it that way, you’d put it like this…”
This only happens when I'm really in the writing mode and having to interact with my family at the same time. It reminds me of Nano -- which, in case you don't remember, is when you are supposed to write 50,000 words in 30 days. There are many pep talks during that period of time, but the one I remember most is: Turn off your inner editor. That was a hard thing to do, and I still find it hard.
In our critique group last week, we were giving one of our members a bad time because she was rewriting her story when she hadn't finished it yet. That's like the big cardinal rule of NO-NO's: One does not start editing the story before one has finished it -- because you'll never finish. It will never end. You'll continue editing until you've forgotten what you originally intended to write.
She was frustrated, because she had already gotten into the rewrite mode. We assured her it would work much better, especially since she claimed there were only a couple of chapters left to write, so she committed to finishing the story. We all liked the new start she'd penned, but there was too much between that beginning and where we were in the story.
Editing is something that I hear most writers hate. I know I go in shifts. There are times when I procrastinate working on my story by editing it.
Many of the writers here have expressed how they'll have conversations going on in their heads by their characters. I don't usually have that issue; I have the whole editing thing in my head. I often think of a better way of saying something between characters, or how a scene would read better. It seems like the editor in my head is constantly going.
This habit only bothers me when it starts editing my conversations with family members. Doesn't it my private editor believe in privacy?
Thursday, February 12, 2009
In projects past, I always kept a good handle on word count. After each day of writing, I’d do a word count and figure out how many words I’d written for that day, and then the total for the manuscript. I thought I was being so smart when I decided to try something different when I started my current book. I saved my work by chapter.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, mind you. It’s easier to keep track of where you left off the last time, and helps you keep a grip on all the threads you’ve weaved through your storyline. Plus, writing a synopsis feels less overwhelming when you can start working on it chapter by chapter.
But there is one large, major, extreme problem with doing it this way. There is never a time when you can actually check the word count of the entire manuscript at once. This isn’t a new revelation or anything, just something I ignored until the other day. I don’t know what prompted me, but I got out a calculator and added up my words.
HOLY SHMOLY! My book was way, way too long. By a minimum of forty-thousand words. And before you ask (because lots of people have) it’s too long by industry standards—because, young adult books should never be a hundred and thirty thousand words—and also by my standards—because it’s just to stinking long.
So what do I do? Well, after fretting about it for an hour or so, I decided I’d figure it out in the morning and went to bed. As luck would have it, the next morning I was scheduled to attend an intermediate novel writing class.
During the class, I picked up a few tidbits of wisdom—mostly things I’d heard before, but needed to be reminded—that helped me know what I need to do. And the bottom line is, it’s time to get out my razor blade. And no, I’m not slashing my wrists. Although, my characters might think I’m slashing theirs. (Remember the scene from “Becoming Jane” where Jane Austen is cutting words out of her manuscript with a razor blade because there is no delete key on an ink well? Yeah, that’s me today.)
After reading really deeply, and considering the importance of every scene, description, idea, and sub-plot, I know I’ll be able to cut this considerably. And then, because the original was written with all these things and lots of emotion, I know what I leave in will be much better with the loss of what I’ve taken out. It will all be okay.
So, that crisis will be averted. Now, it’s time to get out the scissors.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Want to get rid of those winter blues. I do. I have to tell everyone how excited I am that it’s that time of year for some writing conferences. I can hardly wait for the day I’ll finally be learning something new and maybe relearning some things that I’ve forgotten. The winter gets long and drab without this sort of thing going on. I’ll get to see some of my old friends, and meet new people that’ll help me with my writing.
Later this month at the BYU Wilkinson Center, there will be the LTUE three-day conference. Last year the discussions were great. I enjoyed the speakers, and I’m looking forward to meeting new ones this year. Today I looked at the upcoming agenda and I can hardly wait for the day to arrive. Without knowing this is coming soon, I’d be extremely depressed. Winter is just too long.
No one is paying me to say this, but if you don’t plan to attend you‘ll miss some good information. Some of the classes I’m looking forward to attending are Dialogue Tags and Speech Patterns, Putting Romance into your Fantasy, the Principles of Suspense, and Following Through on Your Plot Promises. I almost forgot the one about Three Things You Must Learn to Write Killer Stories.
Maybe some of you writers don’t need to learn any of these things, but I do. I’m looking forward to attending and I know I’ll learn something to help me with my writing.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I have heard that many creative people have problems with depression. Well, I don’t know how creative I am, but I do sometimes have problems with the blues.
One of my favorite musical artists is Neal Diamond, not because I love his voice (though he does have an incredible voice!), but because I truly understand his songs. Many of them are sad, but strangely, they make me feel better.
In one of Neal Diamond’s songs, which is called Song Sung Blue, he says that if you sing a song “with a cry in your voice,” then the mere act of singing, which is contrary to being blue, will make you feel better. I like that. This advice from his song actually works, too, even if your song seems to be a lie when you begin.
I have found I become greatly edified when I write, especially if I don’t feel like writing. There’s just something divine about writing from your heart and from the deepest reaches of your mind. When you expose these parts of your soul to a piece of paper (or a computer), you can’t help but feel better.
Writing is my medicine. It makes me feel good. It is my therapy. It is my drug. I have written some things that I don’t care if anybody ever reads—some of it I don’t want anybody to ever read. These writings are for me.
I have often found that if I take something from my mind and put it onto paper, then it no longer troubles my mind—much like Professor Dumbledore’s pensive. Take out the thoughts, hide them away (if you need to), and then you can move on.
Song Sung Blue. Or, if you prefer, Writing Written Sadly. Try it. It works!
Saturday, February 07, 2009
Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make as an author. The outcome of your choice could bring about the end of life, as we know it. At least it might affect generations of our unborn children.
The conclusion I speak of, the verdict that must be reached? It is so important, perhaps we should speak about it in hushed tones. Of course you know it is … which pen will you use at book signings?
Just kidding. A few weeks ago, I told you about the new book I’m working on. I believe I mentioned the book is writing itself? Even through the rough patch I’ve been having, (and I’m happy to say I think it’s behind me now). Even through all that, the book continues to write itself. Some days it’s only a few sentences, but it wants to be written.
During the course of the new book, I’ve learned some things about myself, and the way I write. Perhaps you can glean something from my experience.
I learned that I draft faster if I use a pen and paper. I don’t stop to edit because my mistakes would keep me striking out everything. I also discovered when I transpose to the computer, I am able to cut more exposition and rearrange the narration to make it more readable. I can add stuff too. I’ve found brilliant conversations because my mind takes what I penned and adds to it, making the whole story better. I’m enjoying this new symbiosis of paper and computer. It’s currently working for me.
I also learned that even with all my best intention, I seem to be writing a romance. I didn’t know I had it in me. The entire concept of the book came to me while staying at a bed and breakfast, but I thought the story would play out differently, like a Dean Hughes saga. As I listened to the characters I discovered depth and even tears. This book will rip your heart out, then gently massage it. Lovingly place it back in your chest, and help you move on.
The point of this is simple. We all tend to climb into our private ruts. We do things the way we learned long ago. It worked then, why change? I discovered a better way for me. Not because I thought it might work, but because necessity forced me. My characters pointed out my book would be better as a romance, and they were right.
I don’t think I will be the next Nicholas Sparks, for one thing I don’t have the physique he has. I might not keep writing romance, but I’m writing a good story.
The real most important writing tool is realy two. Don’t be afraid to try new ways of writing, and listen to your characters. They often know better than you, how their story should go.
Good luck with your writing---see you next week.
Friday, February 06, 2009
My brother came over to help my sons with their fingerprinting merit badge the other day. He's a retired Deputy Sheriff and he was able to borrow the County's older set of fingerprinting supplies. The boys had fun, and he said the oldest of the two did pretty good for a first timer. He'd seen worse. I wondered if that meant anything, but my son has no interest in police work, so I guess not. (Unless he becomes good at having them taken...shudder)
While he was here, we had a short discussion about reading. I related to him how my children seem to hate reading until they are about to leave junior high, and then suddenly something switches and they love books -- they devour them. He went on to tell my son that there's something about a book that's written a certain way. He personally likes descriptive books, ones that are able to put you in the location or scene.
He said, "If you can feel the warped and worn wood under your feet on the wharf of San Fransisco, the worn railing on the sides, smell the diesel from the boats below and feel the salty breeze on your face, that's worth reading."
I thought it was interesting to hear his point of view. I would never have said my brother was a reader -- he's always been too busy working. Even now, after he's 'retired', he works two jobs; one as a security officer at a local chemicals plant that produces the rods for nuclear power plants (ugh!) and then as a volunteer fireman for his city. (They actually pay once a year, which I think is odd for volunteering. ..) But in that light, I can see where perhaps he is very selective about what he reads because he has so little time to do it.
So we have one man's perspective on what makes a good book.
My thoughts, on the other hand, are different. I want substance to the plot -- I want real characters and believable story. The location and scene are important, but that's not what I remember about what I've read.
I just finished a book that's mainly for the YA market, and I can understand why it's doing well. It is a good book, it's well written, and I think my younger children would really like it. On the other hand, it didn't have a lot of substance. Two of my older children finished it within an hour or so (it took me almost a week because I don't have a lot of spare reading time either) and my daughter said while she liked the book, she thought it was 'weak.'
I felt the same way she did. It didn't have substance in the core of the story. I mean it had a good story line, but it seemed almost formulaic. You pretty much knew that they were going to over come and things would work out in the end. You don't exactly know how, but you suspect. And while the characters go through several difficult times, most of them are just characters.. .no real depth to them.
So in one way, I guess I'm like my brother. I want richness in my reading. I hope that I give that to my readers. I know in some of my stories I don't because of the type of story they are -- but now I know what some of my audience is looking for, it helps me aim for it.
Thursday, February 05, 2009
Every so often, in celebration for a birthday or a book publication, my critique group goes to dinner. Of course, this requires going to a public restaurant, where the staff—and often the people at other tables—can hear our conversations. Granted, we don’t read pages in these places. It’s too hard to hear, and there are too many distractions. But we do discuss our books, characters, plot, setting…as well as those of books we’ve read. We also tend to discuss authors we know or whose work we like or don’t like, and why.
Those are the things writers’ talk about. But this past week, we had a discussion that went something like this:
Keith: “I have a question.”
Me: “Okay, ask.”
Keith: “Why didn’t Val tell the dragons that Abby was really Princess Raina?”
Me: “I’m not sure he’s positive that she is the Princess yet.”
Keith: “You’re not sure?”
Me: “No, I guess I’ll have to ask him.”
During the course of the conversation, it occurred to me to wonder what the waiter—and the people at the surrounding tables—were getting from our strange conversational turns. At some point, the subject moved on to other things.
Tristi: “When I went to dinner with another critique group, we were discussing this situation wondering if so-and-so actually lives here on Earth, or another planet. And another person was telling us about the hundred and eighty-year-old man who lives in her shower…”
Heather: “I’m trying to decide if I should focus my energy on Lily, who works all night stocking toys so she can pay the bills, or Laura and her mistaken identity issues which got her arrested.”
Tristi: “Does there have to be a real house in a canyon if my characters are fiction?”
Keith: “I don’t know of any houses in that area except above the lake.”
Me: “But if it’s fiction, you can always go back in time and hire builders to build a house in that canyon so it will be there when you need it thirty years later.”
Keith: “I can’t help it. I think I’m turning into a romance writer.” (I fear this comes from hanging out with all us women, Keith!)
Now, not to sound overly interesting or…not, but if you were a waiter, wouldn’t you wonder? And yet, the poor guy (whose very interesting name was Kimo—I’ve got to use that one somewhere…) kept a passive face as he continued to keep the water glasses full and my Dr. Pepper fresh.
Talk about doing your job. And yet, the writer in me can’t help but wonder what kind of discussions were going on in the kitchen every time he left our table.
Yeah, we writers are an interesting bunch. We can’t help it, though. Everything we see is fodder for new material. I love being a writer.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
I don't remember the headlines of yesterday, or last month, or even last year. When other people receive an award, I don't always remember what they got. As you may have guessed, my memory isn't the best.
Those who make a difference in my life are not famous people, but rather the ones that care about me. The things I do remember are the accomplishments of the people in my life.
I'm always excited to hear the news that one of my friends has a book accepted for publication. There's been lots of good news in our Authors Incognito group. I don't always acknowledge them when they toot their horn, but I'm happy for them. Some day I hope I'll be among them, but for now, I'm just happy that this great group is having so much success. So I'll say it now - Congratulations, to ALL of you. Keep up the good work.
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Since I mentioned attending the movie Twilight with my wife, as well as my interest in reading the books by Stephanie Meyer, I suppose you knew the moment would come when I would tell you if I liked her writing or not. I mean, isn’t that what other writers are supposed to do? Tear apart more successful writers and tell everybody why we’re better?