Monday, December 17, 2012

The Wrong Shall Fail, The Right Prevail

This is my last post until after the Christmas break, so see you all next year. I hope your holiday (whatever you may celebrate) is filled with warmth, joy, and light.

I went to see "The Hobbit" opening day, which was the same day I heard about the shooting in Newtown, CT. I felt bad, at first, for going out and having fun the same day such evil happened, but it turned out to be a very positive thing. There's a line in the movie where Gandalf is explaining why he chose Bilbo. He says, and this is paraphrase, that he believes the darkness is held back not by great shows of power but by small acts, small, everyday acts by small everyday people. I needed to hear this after hearing the terrible news that morning.

Over the past year, and specifically now, I've understood Longfellow's words in the Christmas song: "And in despair, I bowed my head. 'There is no peace on Earth,' I said. 'For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on Earth, good will to men." I have felt sympathetic with the fantasy characters I write and read, dealing with great evil. I feel that, lately, at least, the Dark is rising. It seems that every day I see more evil in the news and less good. It can be depressing and even terrifying.

It's so easy to write about characters fighting against insurmountable odds. That's fantasy, after all. Good and evil play out in human/creature forms, and good always wins. We envy the hero's strength and courage, we wish we could be more like that, but too often we dismiss it as a figment of a writer's imagination. They're just stories, we think. This isn't at all like real life.

But we forget, I think, that we are, each of us, the heroes of our own lives. We are the protagonists, we are the knights, the princesses, the unlikely children who grow to do great deeds. Sometimes I wonder how life might be different if we thought of ourselves that way, instead of, "Oh, I'm nobody special. My life is ordinary and I'll never shine." Perhaps we'd have more heroes, more people pushing back the Darkness, pinning it back with brightly shining stars. It doesn't have to be much; we don't all have to go out on knight-errant quests to save lives and fight monsters, clad in armor and carrying a sword. A small, everyday act may be exactly the heroism that is needed. A hug, a smile, a sincere compliment given at the right time, any moment where another's needs are placed above your own. That can be truly life-saving to the person who receives it, and the giver strikes one more blow against the Dark.

I believe we all have different talents given to us for the betterment of others. My friend is extremely kind and giving, and she uses her talents by teaching children and also by helping those around her feel better about themselves. I have other friends who give their time and talents to serve others. In my case, I have a talent for writing fantasy for young readers.

G.K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten." Oscar Wilde said, "It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it." I hope my stories, read for fun, tell youths that dragons can be beaten, and that they are the heroes with the power to fight back. I hope my readers grow up believing in hope and light and honor, and also that they are free to act to better the world, even in small ways. I don't want them to say, "The world is dark and evil, and there's nothing I can do about it, so I may as well join it." I want them to say, "There is much in the world that is dark and evil, but it doesn't have to be that way. There is also much good, and I will add to it."

As this Christmastime comes and goes, and after comes the time for new beginnings and promises to do better, I hope it will be a season of light, not darkness. I hope it will be, for you as well as for me, a time for giving of ourselves, for fighting the Dark, and for growing into the heroes we've always wanted to be. I wish you all the best this holiday season. See you next year.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My First School Visit!

Some notes to take care of now: this is going to be my second-to-last post until the new year. I'll post next week, but after that I'm on vacation. Also, I'm currently listening to the soundtrack for "The Hobbit" and I am getting very excited for this Friday. I have my ticket, I've finished my schoolwork, and I am ready for some geeky fun.

Yesterday I had my very first school visit as a writer. Basically, I went to an elementary school where my friend teaches sixth grade and talked to all the sixth graders (not just her's) about the writing process. And then, they asked me a bunch of questions and I answered as many of them as I could.

The drive to the school was snowy (of course. I couldn't have an easy first school visit, could I?), and I am not used to driving in the snow. So I was pretty much flustered by the time I got there. The students recognized me (I don't know how) and guided me to my friend. Then, I talked to all the students for 20-30 minutes.I mostly talked about revision and my personal process of writing. Their questions were a lot about what my favorite books and movies are. If you read this blog regularly, you have a sense of what those are. Some questions were really well-thought out, like what my favorite part of writing is and who my favorite fictional hero is. Others were silly, like how long I've known my friend, their teacher, and whether I like my school or our rival school better. I didn't answer that one.

I think it went well. I've heard positive things from my friend and her co-workers. One of the kids asked me to describe my book that's getting published, tell them what it's about in detail, so I did. I wished I had a book out already that they could ask me about or, more practically, I could display examples from when illustrating my points about the writing process. I tried to speak like the authors I've heard speak, allowing my personal voice and style to come through the presentation. As a writer, I have to sell myself as much as my stuff; if they like me, they may read my works.

But okay. I just had my fist school visit! This is what real writers do. (Enter squeee here). I guess that means I'm a real writer, or at least in the early stages of becoming one. I have another friend who wants me to speak at her school, as well, so there may be another school visit in the works. Until then, I'll keep writing and reading and revising, and sooner or later I'll have some cover art to show you. Finger crossed.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Rush is Almost Over...Then What?

I'm sorry this is so late. It's the final countdown now, so I'm spending all my time working on my novel. I have to turn in a revised first draft tomorrow. The insanity is building. But, I can now say that I have had at least one person read my whole draft and give me feedback (the death and reversal at the end works. It works! Mwahahaha!) I am optimistic for how this novel will end up, when I'm finally done with it.

I'm currently living on free food on campus and the high I get from making a mediocre passage awesome. But, after I turn this draft in, I want to take a break from this story. I need to clear it from my mind so I can return to it later with a better idea of where it is and what it needs. So, over the next few weeks, I can take a break and do something else. What about one of these....

- Revise my term paper (this is going to happen. This has to happen, or all is lost)
- Revise any of the short stories I wrote this semester
- Work on the novel I put on the back burner to work on Alder Torrance

Okay, that's still a lot of writing. Writing is my life right now, and I love it, but when I get back to school after Christmas I'm going to start writing again. Maybe it would be good for me to put the Word documents aside and live my life, refreshing my writing lobe and gathering life experiences to build on. So, here's a list of things I could be doing other than writing:

- Sleeping
- Eating
- Thinking about real things
- Walking in a winter wonderland
- Sleeping
- Forgetting the large vocabulary I need to write with
- Getting asked by other people what large vocabulary words mean
- Making fudge
- Explaining to people why the fudge didn't make it to the pan
- Actually traveling in real time and space
- Watching Doctor Who
- Flinching at shadows and stone angels
- Getting psychiatric help because I talk to people who aren't there (and flinch at shadows and stone    angels)
- Fully enjoying my insanity
- Hanging lights and loving every minute (see preceding item)
- Listening to lots of music
- Drag Racing
- Simply walking into Mordor
- Mocking the song "Christmas Shoes" for bad writing
- Eating a whole roll of Toll House Cookie Dough as fast as I can
- Quoting The Avengers
- Quoting Psych
- Volunteering for the Hunger Games
- Winning the Hunger Games
- Tracking down the owl that lost my letter to Hogwarts


- Spending time with friends and family, rather than fictional people

Well, that's quite the list. I'm sure I'll get to some of these over the break, but I'm sure writing will call me back before I can get to all of them. That's the writer's curse.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Review: "Rise of the Guardians"

I apologize for this being a day late, but I am now in my last few weeks of the semester and entering the time when I have more work than time or sanity. So, today, instead of pondering what makes good writing good, I'm going to review a movie I saw over the Thanksgiving holiday: Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians.

I feel like this isn't as lazy as it could have been, since the movie is based on a book series by William Joyce, who also helped make the movie. The books are good, and you all should read them, but I'm going to talk about the movie.

Short response: I thoroughly enjoyed it.

By now, you should know that I reward "awesomeness" highly, which might not be my best trait. The movie was awesome, kind of an Avengers for children. I also really enjoy mythology of all kinds, so it was interesting to me to see how the mythological figures of Santa, Sandman, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, and Jack Frost would interact, and what they would see as their purpose. Why deliver toys? Why take teeth and leave coins?

I was impressed by the depth they put into the protagonist, Jack Frost. From the trailers, it seems like Jack is not a central part of the story, that he's a wild, rebellious kid with no cares in the world, but that's not true. He has anxieties and fears that make him a fairly interesting character, and also allow for a fascinating (at least to me) parallel between him and the antagonist, Pitch. This film is actually a good example, I think, of the shadow: a character that is similar to the hero in many ways, but has fallen. A perfect example from the world of superheroes is Peter Parker/Spider-Man and Eddie Brock/Venom.

It makes it cooler to my English-major brain that the "shadow" in Rise of the Guardians is literally a shadow, namely, Pitch Black, the Nightmare King.

Other things I liked: the movie has a character who doesn't speak, who is still dynamic and compelling. I love characters who manage to have a strong presence without much dialogue. I also liked the bright colors, very imaginative and dreamlike, that sparked memories of childhood and the wonder, hope, and dreams that came with it. Also, I have never wanted to go ice skating or have a snowball fight so bad in my life.

Do I think it was as good as How to Train Your Dragon? No, I do not. The characters weren't as compelling, and the dialogue didn't sparkle as much. But I also think what we have here is a new story, with its own place in the world. It was a cute movie, and I would definitely see it again while it's still in theaters.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Gimmicks: Use and Abuse

Happy Thanksgiving, all! I hope you're spending time with friends and family and a great deal of food. First off, I want to mention my publisher's Kickstarter campaign. It ends November 26, so time's running out. Support us. Tell your friends.

There are a lot of awesome movies coming out this holiday season. Lots of great books, too. Some of them have some excellent ideas behind them, which I would even characterize under "awesome". However, I feel like these interesting ideas can hinder a story instead of help it. They become "gimmicky" and the story never is able to move past them.

What do I mean? Let's look at several children's movies. The first is Hotel Transylvania, a movie about a hotel where monsters can go to feel safe from humans. I thought it was a cute movie, but when I left, I said, "I wish they didn't use so many monster gags." I felt like the whole story was only a frame to hang jokes about ghosts, skeletons, Frankenstein, mummies, etc., on. The movie was a string of jokes and references, leaving plot and characters to be underdeveloped. I'm not saying they weren't there, but they didn't shine. Plot was simple and predictable, and characters felt flat and equally predictable. The idea was clever and the movie, riding on its gimmick, was okay. But it could have been more.

I want to compare this to films like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and the recent Disney movie Wreck-It Ralph. These three movies (note that 2 of them are Pixar) have unique and clever "gimmicks" as the frame for their stories: toys are alive and move around when you're not looking at them, monsters scare kids because it's their job and they're actually scared of children, and arcade game characters are doing a job and may not like what they've been programmed to do. These movies do make references and jokes about the gimmick, but what sets these movies apart is how compelling the characters are.

What it comes down to, what it always comes down to, is the characters and how they interact. The "gimmick" of the frame is clever and intriguing, but the story digs deeper. The story is no longer about the gimmick, but about the characters. The "gimmick" may be prevalent, but only as a way to display the characters and their motivations. For example, Toy Story is more about jealousy, shown by a favorite toy's (Woody) fall of popularity by a new, fancy toy (Buzz Lightyear), and friendship, as shown when Woody and Buzz get lost and have to find their way home.

The gimmick is not the focus of the story; the interactions are. I guess the rule of thumb here is: can the same story be told in a different setting, with a different frame, and still be interesting? If not, it's relying on a gimmick. Toy Story would still be interesting because the draw is the relationship between Woody and Buzz. The same goes for the other films.

What does this mean for writing? Come up with a fantastic idea, something unique and compelling. Something other people don't think of. We're writers; we're creative. This is our job. But don't stop there. Figure out how the compelling idea would mold compelling characters, and then tell their story. It will be much more interesting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


First off, there is a week left in my publisher's Kickstarter campaign. Show interest! Tell your friends! We'll all thank you if we can make our goal.

Second, I want to talk about awesomeness in writing. When I say "awesomeness" I mean a very specific trait. I don't mean what you, as the writer, like. I know a lot of people who geek out over Renaissance literature, and while writing that into a novel will be fine and dandy for them, I don't think it would count as awesomeness. So, what is awesomeness, and why should writers care about it?

The idea for this post comes courtesy of a classmate who brought this to class.

This is a clever list of elements that are generally considered awesome by the public. It's a little dated (mullet? really?), but a lot of these are still awesome.

Here's my definition of "awesomeness": it's the collection of ideas that make you, the writer, and the reader smile and go, "Ooh." These are the things we never quite grow out of being interested in. As a child, we like spectacle, magic, superpowers, royalty, epic battles, and time travel. Which is why I think Doctor Who is so popular. Try to imagine a child, teenager or young adult going to a movie. What are they going to talk about when they come out? Will it be the scintillating dialogue or the deep symbolism? Not likely. They're going to talk about the jokes, explosions, and ninjas.

I'm not advocating throwing literary writing to the wind in pursuit of what will sell. But that which is "awesome" does sell. It keeps readers interested in the story, which is not a bad thing. You can have the most symbolic, high-brow story every written, but what good does it do anyone if no one reads it? The Elements of Awesomeness are also valuable in that many of them introduce conflict or are signs of conflict that already exists. Stories thrive on conflict, especially certain genres.

Final point: when writing an adventure, fantasy, science fiction, thriller, etc., anything that is meant to raise the reader's heartbeat and keep them from putting down the book, add awesome. Keep the thrill ride going. For introspective stories that focus on the importance of the mundane, remove these from the story. You want the reader to find the meaning of small moments, and they can't do that if your hero is walking in slo-mo away from an exploding building.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Gut Reactions

Happy November, everyone! I hope everyone's having a good time with the new month, now that the horror posts of Halloween are over. I'm planning some posts about warm, happy stories, but sadly, today is not one of those days. I want to talk about what to do when, in writing a story, you have to describe a physical sensation your narrator is going through.

Personally, I think this is difficult. For one thing, when the narrator is looking at another character who, say, feels like he's going to throw up, he can describe what that person looks like, and it's relatively harmless to do that. Most of the time, when someone is sick, his face turns pale and he sags, right? However, when describing nausea from the narrator's view, you have to describe it more in depth: the illness, the pain, the constant worrying that she, the narrator, is going to lose it. You have to do this in the voice your narrator would use, and much of the time, you have to know how it feels. It greatly helps when writing about feeling sick if you've felt sick.

This is another snag I come up against when writing my narrator's reactions to things. Not just physical illness, but also emotional reactions. I live a very comfortable life. I don't remember breaking any bones, and I haven't been hurt or sick all that much. I haven't experienced crippling loss or mental illness. So, how on Earth can I write from the perspective of characters who have? I can't go out and break an arm every time I want to write about a character who gets injured in that way, and, obviously, I wouldn't want to.

I guess this all comes down to the whole "write what you know" thing. The question I raise is this: is it important to have experienced personally everything your characters go through? I don't think you can, especially when you write fantasy or adventure. Most writers live normal, boring lives, at least, outside their heads. Sometimes you have to bridge the gap between what you know and what your characters know.

So how to fix this? Well, there are some ways I use. Currently, I am writing from the perspective of a character who has panic attacks. I don't get panic attacks, so this is the first thing I do when writing from his viewpoint: I mentally go back to a class I took on psychology, where I learned the symptoms of a panic attack. A lot of writers, when they don't have the personal experience, do research. Interviews, fact sheets, anything they can use to make the writing seem true to what a real life experience would be like. The other thing I do is enhance the experience I do have. I may not know what a panic attack feels like, but I know what it's like to be afraid, and all the physical sensations that come with it.

Combining the two, I feel I can make an accurate portrayal of what a panic attack would feel like for someone experiencing it. This, like everything else on this blog, is just my opinion and personal style of writing. And, as always, I'd be interested to hear other views, so comment away and I'll see you again next week. Don't forget to check out my publisher's Kickstarter. My book, The Shifting, is one of the $25 pledge gifts.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Horror for Halloween

First off, if you haven't already, check out my publisher's Kickstarter campaign. The $25 dollar pledge gift is a printed, signed copy of one of TM Publishing's titles. My book, The Shifting, is one of them. I'm going to continue to post this message until the campaign is over.

And now, on to today's topic: horror. If you want an entertaining, video overview of the symbolic elements of horror, check out this Extra Creditz video on Youtube. They're talking specifically about using horror in video games, the the storytelling value is still there and this is a pretty good, simple explanation of the self, the uncanny, and the other.

And now for my explanation, more specifically tied to books and movies. Like the video, I'm going to focus on the ideas of the self, the uncanny, and the other. First off: horror is almost always tied to a basic human instinct, particularly the drive to survive. That's why people tend to die in horror stories. The drive to survive is a powerful, emotionally charged instinct, so, when something is tied to this instinct, it becomes a more powerful, emotionally charged form of horror.

The self is, quite simply, the self. This is a reflection of the character or the reader that hasn't been twisted, necessarily. The self includes elements of a person that we are not proud of and try to keep hidden. I think Edgar Allen Poe does a good job of using this in his stories. Think of the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart". That guy is nuts. An insane narrator should fall under uncanny (more about that later), but Poe's narrators don't because they make sense. Before the story is over, the reader can see things the narrator's way, and that is creepy to the reader, because Poe is bringing into the light a part of the readers they would rather keep in the dark. in "The Tell-Tale Heart" it's the disgust we feel for people who are different, and perhaps even the desire to cut the disgusting people out of our lives. I can't speak for everyone, but I believe many people may understand how the narrator feels, and because we are horrified by the murder this understandable drive leads to, we become horrified by ourselves.

The uncanny is when things are slightly off. Imagine coming home one day and noticing that all your photos are upside-down in their frames. Or that the radio is playing music backwards. Or that all the food in your refrigerator has gone bad, all at once. There is nothing unduly threatening about any of these situations, but I'm fairly sure that if you encountered one of these situations you'd feel unnerved. Horror films do this a lot to stir up feelings of unease and fear in the audience. One film I think does a good job of using the uncanny is Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. Birds flock in real life; they fly in large groups. It happens. But when all the birds become slightly off by banding together, regardless of species, and flying in swarms over the town, they become uncanny. Add to that the fear for one's life (the birds attack), and we have horror. The viewer is left with a sense of unease at the end when the uncanny behavior is never explained.

I feel that Ray Bradbury in Something Wicked This Way Comes also does a good job with the uncanny, given his portrayal of carnivals and particularly the carnival freaks. We already think carnival people are uncanny (see the Extra Creditz video for a description of why), and Bradbury adds the element of fear of survival with a sweet, frightening element of the other.

The other is the alien. This is something we do not and cannot understand. Bradbury has a man with hairy palms, a carousel that turns people young or old, and beings that feed on the prolonged pain of fallen souls. We don't have these, we don't understand them, and we don't like what we don't understand. H.P. Lovecraft, from what I've read of his work, does a good job with the other. Cthulhu is terrifying because it is unlike anything we know, and Lovecraft exploits that. He describes the monster as something so awful people are driven mad by it, something that is impossible for the human mind to comprehend. Add the fear for life, and the fact that we never get a good "look" at Cthulhu, and we are in the presence of the other.

One last word: sometimes when writing horror it's better to let the reader imagine. In Jaws, we lose fear of the giant man-eating, uncanny shark the moment we see it. Signs is similar, in that we fear the aliens more before we see them. The mind can create monsters more terrifying than anything set down in words can. With a little room to imagine, the reader will invent something based in the self, the uncanny, or the other, something that resonates with them personally.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Couple Book Reviews

This week I thought I would review a couple of books I've read recently. They're both fantasy, but one is more of a paranormal romance and the other a historical fantasy. They were fresh takes on both, so I decided I would talk about them and how they are unique stories.

The first one is Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. This is a paranormal romance. But before you scream and run away, I will say that this is a unique take on the genre. It's not as unique and fresh as it could be (it's a teen romance, for crying out loud. They're the definition of formulaic.), it's pretty good. The story is about a girl named Mel who lives in a city known for being a haven for vampires. Yes, vampires are well-exposed (though not to the sun), and everyone knows about them. Anyway, Mel's best friend Cathy falls in love with a vampire, and Mel is ardently against this. She plans to do everything in her power to stop her friend from choosing the undead life, and along the way meets her own rather odd heartthrob. Again, teenage romance.

I did enjoy this book because it is unapologetic in its reversal of typical paranormal romance. Check the title: Team Human. The characters are fun and the book is a pleasant, Halloween-y jaunt. I don't expect it to become a classic, but it's deeper than your average paranormal romance (there's a lot I wasn't able to put in the summary on life/death, what it means to be human, and how to be a true friend). And, it's fun. Sometimes it's okay to read a book just because it's fun.

The other book I'm talking about today is also fun, and also written by two authors: Sorcery and Cecilia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. If you've ever wanted to read a story told entirely through letters with a plot like Pride and Prejudice with magic added, this is your book. It takes place in England around the 1830s, so Jane Austen's time. The heroines, Kate and Cecy, tell the story through their letters to each other, as one is having a Season in London and the other is at home. They meet men they find odious at first, but fall in love with, and they both meddle too much (or just enough) in serious magical matters and get into quite a bit of trouble. But then, we wouldn't read a book without any trouble, would we?

This book was wonderful because the writers nailed the voice of Jane Austen and other writers of that time. The girls talk about calling on people, going to balls, local gossip - like an Austen book. It's a true historical fantasy, and Kate and Cecy are plucky, intelligent girls. Again, it's Austen plus magic, and it's done well. This book may someday be a classic; I know a lot of my fantasy-reading friends have read this and love it.

I realize now that both books I reviewed today are pretty clearly for girls. Sorry boys; I'll be sure to review a more macho book next time. Maybe The Pale Blue Eye by Louis Bayard.

Last word: the Kickstarter campaign for my publisher is still going. Tell your friends. Back us. Help however you can. Thank you!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion...And Dashed Expectations

Today I want to talk about when a story builds some expectations and then dashes them, and what effect that has on the reader. But first, some self-promotion. My publisher, TM Publishing, is having a Kickstarter campaign for their magazine. It started this morning. I mention this because 1) they're my publisher, and 2) the Advanced Reader Copy (signed) of my book The Shifting is one of the pledge prizes, starting at a pledge of $25. Here's the blurb about my book:

In a world where magical ability has become a science, Sarah Flinn and Thomas Carter are outcasts. But when a friend casts a spell that brings the human world into a dangerous collision with another, all three of them must journey across a wilder, more magical America than they have ever known -- to save two worlds from dying.

So, if you want a signed copy of my work, back TM Publishing. Click here to go the campaign page.

Also, I didn't mention in my last post some details about my friend Alyssa's book. You can download the ebook Lunula from Amazon here. It's free, so you should definitely check it out and see if it's something you're interested in. Here's the summary:

The witch knows he will hunt her.

If history repeats itself, as it always does, Wynn will have no choice but to cross paths with her feared counterpart, the warlock. If given the chance, he would kill Wynn, absorbing her aura and obtaining ultimate power. In a desperate attempt to outrun destiny, Wynn moves from place to place, hoping to stray from the map laid out by the Fates. But by chance, on an urgent errand for Queen Alexandria herself, Wynn finds she has fallen into the hands of the one man she so hopelessly fled from. Now his captive, Wynn must guard her secret and that of her kingdom, or risk bringing forth a dark age not seen in hundreds of years.

Now onto the topic: dashed expectations. When a story, especially a long one, begins, it sets up certain expectations in the reader. Sometimes this is by genre, like a heroic tale generally ends with the hero winning and going home. Think about this with fairy tales: when the hero has tried something twice and is going on his third try, you know he's going to succeed. Action movies do the same: we know from the start that there's going to be a lot of chase scenes and destruction, people will die, and then the action hero dominates everyone. We expect a specific kind of ending, specific tropes, based on the story we're reading. So, what happens when those expectations are dashed?

What I mean here is, what happens to the reader when the writer breaks the traditional stereotype for her genre? I have a professor who loves this, and thinks it gives the story a newness, a freshness, that the genre needs. I can see his point of view. If you are surprised by the ending, it could be a favorable thing. Sometimes the typical ending doesn't work. The anecdote story I posted was one of those; nothing I put in the bottles would be as satisfying to the reader as nothing.  And, sometimes the hero doesn't come back, and the fairy tale is a fractured one and needs seventeen tries to make it work. I kind of like the idea of an action movie where the hero is totally inept (and I think it's been made). Doing this adds something new to the story, when the story is lacking something.

But then again, sometimes the story does call for the traditional ending, and when that happens, dashing expectations frustrates the reader. Imagine Lord of the Rings, but the Ring isn't destroyed and Sauron wins. That would tick me off, because I know that in high fantasy genre goods triumph over evil, and I expect that when I pick up the book. To not see it would make me feel cheated. Another example would be a mystery book where the detective ends up shrugging his shoulders and saying, "I guess we'll never know whodunnit." And meaning it, not just lying to one of the other characters. Readers read mysteries to find out who the culprit is. I think I would throw the book across the room if I read it and came to that ending. It's almost as bad as, "Then she woke up and it was all a dream."

My overarching writing philosophy comes into play here: do what is necessary for the story. If you want to twist things to add humor or a new side to a old, tired genre, then dash those expectations. The readers will thank you for it. They don't care all that much that you follow the same old pattern. But there are some expectations that need to be honored because they're the driving reason some people have for picking up the book. See mystery story example above. And most of all, have fun being creative.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy Halloween

It's been a crazy weekend, so this is going to be kind of a cop-out post. First order of business: my friend Alyssa A. Auch has published a novel. It was released yesterday, October 8, and is titled Lunula. She is a good writer, and this is worth looking into.

Next: Halloween is coming up. I generally celebrate by reading books and watching movies that have to do with Halloween and Halloween themes. I know there are weeks to go, but books and movies take time to enjoy. If you want to start the celebrating now, here's my list to get you started in your spooky storytelling.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury - seriously creepy book about a creepy carnival. Very symbolic, and beautifully written.

The Witches by Roald Dahl - A kid gets turned into a mouse, and there is a hoard of child-murdering women on the loose. Remind me, is this really a children's book? In fact, all Roald Dahl books should be on this list. Willy Wonka's a sociopath.

Dracula by Bram Stoker - A classic. Valuable to read if you like the vampire genre.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - Another classic, though the prose is a bit flowery for a horror novel, in my opinion. Get ready for the intelligent, sympathetic monster.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson - Another classic, and my favorite of the three. It's a short, powerful read.

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka - Not as Halloweeny as the others, but still, it's weird and disturbing enough to make the list.

Any other books that feature monsters of any kind.

Hocus Pocus - A Halloween classic, at least in recent years. It's one of those kid's movies that I think is better enjoyed by adults. Also, gotta love those witches.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown - Enough said. What's not to love here?

Anything by Alfred Hitchcock. Anything. Namely Psycho and Vertigo, for me, anyway.

Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit - maybe it's just my love for British humor, but I think this is a rather clever and fun Halloween movie. Not the typical monster film.

Corpse Bride - This one is so well-told as a sympathetic horror. It fits in rather nicely with reading Dracula and Frankenstein. You know what, all Tim Burton films should be on this list. You know what you should do? Watch Tim Burton's version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and have a creepy double whammy.

So there's my list. Enjoy, and have a happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Writer's Block

So, I'm sorry this is a little late. The truth is, I had writer's block over this post and wasn't sure what to write about. That gave me an idea: let's talk about writer's block. How can a writer start creating again after running dry? I can say some of the things I do, but every writer has his or her own methods. I know of some writers who don't believe in writer's block. They're the lucky ones whose well of ideas never runs dry. But, I think, for most of us, there's a moment when we can't feel our way to the next idea.

When that happens for me, I start by going on a long walk. This helps because it gets me away from my computer and instead of focusing specifically on the part I'm writing, I can allow my mind to wander and think of the story as a whole. Sometimes I see things I've already invented (characters, subplots, antagonists, items) that could easily come back in to solve the problem. Long walks also let me free associate, which leads to ideas that straight thinking doesn't lead me to. By letting my mind wander, sometimes it stumbles on something I couldn't see when I was looking for it. It's like searching the house for your cell phone, and after you've used a friend's, finding it in the center of the kitchen table.

I also use music. I recently had some difficulty with my novel because I couldn't see how the story would end. I needed to get the plot moving in the direction of the ending, so I needed to know as soon as possible how my main character would end the story. Believe it or not, it came to me when I was listening to my iPod set on shuffle. The random selection of songs led my thoughts to grow in a way I couldn't plan, which brought together the ending I hadn't yet seen as possible. I will also build a playlist for my characters, so when I'm trying to get into that character's head and see how he will react in a situation, I listen to his list. I also have a soundtrack for the book I'm writing, with songs that set the overall tones for the character interactions, emotional feel of the story, etc. But I'm not saying what's on mine. It should be distinct for each story.

Basically, getting my mind to think in ways I haven't been is how I get over writer's block. I've heard other writers say just sitting down and freewriting is a good way to get out ideas you didn't see before, but that only works every so often for me. I guess the best rule of thumb for me is this: think about how you first came up with the idea for the story. What were you doing? How did that affect your thinking? And then, go back to that place. But then, that's the best rule of thumb for me.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Retreat and Forms

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go on a creative writing retreat for my department. If you think writers are insane when there's one of them, well then, you should see what happens when we all get together. We hike in rivers. My shoes were soaked, but hey, they were clean. We went on 3 hikes and visited a lookout point at a national park, and before each hike we would be given a writing prompt. We would walk and think about the prompt, and then when we rested we would write on that prompt. We also talked a lot, mostly about our varied writing projects.

We were supposed to write about nature. One prompt asked us to write about nature in a way other than we usually do, so if you consider nature this source of poetic wisdom, be cynical. And vice-versa. Another one asked use to ask questions about the location we were in and also to mentally peel back layers of time to think about how past people or future people might see the landscape. I don't usually write about nature, although I love it, so these prompts helped me find a way into parts of my mind I don't usually use.

Likewise, I'm currently in a class that is making me experiment with forms. I mean, I have to write 2 short fiction pieces every week that use a form other than the typical narrative style, with exposition and dialogue leading from beginning to end. The forms I've used so far include an index (using numbers to carry the story), lists (simply put, using long, varied lists to add to the story), fable (short, some kind of moral, simple characters), telling a story using only questions, and telling a story in the form of directions to someone. My directions story was titled "How To Be Batman", and is dedicated to one of my friends who shall remain nameless. But, I will say, she is super-awesome, like Batman.

This week I had to write an anecdote. That's a short story meant to be conversational and to make some kind of point. It also had to be fictional (not something I lived through) and interesting enough not to have to end with the phrase, "And then I found 5 dollars." I read my anecdote in class, and it got a good response, so now you get to read it. I'm sorry. That's the way my blog works. So, here it is:

The Bottle-Thrower

            A few years ago, my husband and I rented a house at Cape May in New Jersey. It wasn’t beachfront; that would have been too expensive, as we wanted the house during the busy summer months. When I wanted the ocean to inspire my writing, I would take my notebook and bike down to the beach in the early morning while Zack, my husband, was still asleep. I would find a flat area of sand and write ideas for new stories, poems, or whatever I felt like writing that day.
            On the first day I was there, I was in the middle of sketching out a plot for a fantasy novel when an elderly man rode up the boardwalk on his bicycle. He parked at the end of a long pier, threw down his bike, and raced to the end of the pier. When he reached the end, he pulled a brown glass bottle out of a bag slung around his shoulders and threw it into the ocean, as far out as he could fling it.
            The next day, the man did the same thing, in the early morning as the tide was going out. And the next day, and the next day, and the next. Every morning for two months it was the same thing: the old man would bike to the pier, run to the end, and hurl a bottle into the sea like it was a Molotov cocktail.
            One morning I went down to the beach and watched for the old man’s daily visit, but he didn’t come. He didn’t come the next day, either. When I came home and told Zack, he pulled out the paper and turned to obituaries. There he was. The old man’s name was George Manwell, and he was eighty-seven years old. He was unmarried and had no children that anyone knew of, and had been an investment banker in Trenton before retiring to Cape May. Apparently, he had a strong love of the sea. But nothing in the obit explained George’s mad dash to the sea every morning, bottle in hand.
            Zack and I, talking it over, decided it must have been his form of a will, a way to leave behind his legacy even after death. Each bottle probably had a life story or a photograph in it.
            That night a giant summer storm churned up the ocean. When I went down to the beach that morning to write, the sand was littered with brown glass bottles. I wandered the beach for what seemed like hours, picking up the bottles and examining them. Although the wax seal over the mouth of each one was tight and unbroken, every single bottle was completely empty.

That's an anecdote. I like writing in these different forms because 1) I feel like I'm learning new ways to ply my craft and 2) they are forcing me to get more creative with what I write. The next form is describing a scene, like a picture or screenshot. Not really a narrative, yet, but it can be based on how I direct the reader's eye around my described scene. It's creative writing weightlifting, as was the whole retreat weekend. I'm sore now, but I'm sure I'll be stronger for it.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Writing the Mystery

Again, sorry for the ambiguous title for this post. I'm not going to talk about writing mystery, whodunnit novels. I really like throwing you off, don't I? But in my defense, I want to talk about every kind of story is a mystery for the reader to figure out, and how writing an story with that mindset might lead to better, tighter writing.

I can't take credit for this idea. My YA novel professor is the one who taught me this idea. Here it is: basically, a story is a mystery to the reader. They are reading to figure out what happens at the end and how it gets that way. So, any genre from science fiction to romance is a mystery when the reader first opens the book or pops in the DVD. What this means for writers is this: dispense information like you would in a mystery.

It's hard to start writing a story, especially a sci-fi/fantasy, without feeling the need to start out with a bunch of exposition about the world and the characters. And while that kind of thing is necessary, to some degree, after a while the reader just wants to move on to the main action. So how does writing like a it's a mystery help this? Think about mysteries: do they tell you everything at the start? No! They leave parts out, imply bits, and have the hero find out details as they become important. Exposition to set up the flow of the story comes at the beginning, but readers don't have to know everything from the beginning. They can pick up on the fact that one character is kind and another cruel by how those characters act. The details in setting and plot may also reveal better to a reader things that might have also been said in early exposition, but in a far more entertaining way.

Another thing, I think, that writing as if the story is a mystery helps is how the writer sees the story. The reader solves the puzzle, yes, but only after the writer does. Personally, I feel more like a detective than a creator when I write. I come up with specific characters with values, strengths, and weaknesses, and I have to solve how they end up where they are. This means using what I've already written to solve problems, instead of inventing a new way out of trouble for my hero. I feel like I've been handed a bag of clues - details revealed in earlier writing - and I need to puzzle out how they come together to solve the problem.

For example, this week I was writing and hit a snag. I have two characters, teenage boys, who are working very hard to lie to each other about who they are and where they come from. They're guys; they're not going to confront each other unless it's life or death. So, here's what I had:

Alder: half-human, half-elf, but doesn't know it. Determined, defiant to the point of stupidity, and curious. From Earth, but is hiding that. Has panic attacks when his life will be threatened in the next couple of hours. Also, heals extraordinarily fast. Doesn't trust Berzen.

Berzen/Zed: fireperson with enhanced powers (large wings and the rogue ability to burn things with a touch), but hiding that. Wears gloves and a long coat. Street-smart, knows the history of Cartha where Alder doesn't. Good liar. Has redemption issues over an accident his powers caused.

So, here's what I came up with to reveal to both characters the identity of the other: Alder and Berzen (or, really, Zed) arrive in a town. Alder has a panic attack, but dismisses it. They get a room in an inn. Berzen takes off his coat and goes to bed before Alder comes in. Alder, seeing Berzen asleep, wonders about his companion and why he's always wearing gloves. He sneaks over and takes off Berzen's gloves, seeing a large scar on one hand. Berzen rolls over, and his bare hand sets the bed on fire. Alder freaks out, and Berzen jumps out of bed. His wings are out and obvious. The fire spreads. Because Berzen wants redemption for things in his past, he goes to save the other people in the inn. Alder, feeling like the whole thing is his fault, goes with him. Alder acts heroically and is burned while saving a life. After everyone escapes, Berzen tries to get Alder some medical help and the burns are completely healed.

Both boys have explaining to do.

Okay, so this example is kind of bare-boned and rough. But the point is, I didn't need to invent any more than what I already had. Everything already there about my characters and their situation allowed me to create a scene where Alder and Berzen's true identities are revealed. I held all the clues, and a little creative thinking allowed me to solve this mystery.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Let's Talk Politics!

Okay, okay. Not fair of me to scare you with a post title like that, not in an election year. While I believe voting is important, and something I will be doing come election time, this is a writing and storytelling blog, not a politics blog. I apologize to those readers who want a political debate between me and the second personality. I also apologize if this post turns out to be a little haphazard in organization and rationality; it's been a long day. No, I mean it: it's been a really long, long day. It ended with me watching The Englishman Who Went Up A Hill But Came Down A Mountain, which was a good way to unwind. If you want a good example of a story that has a very simple plot, made interesting by good characters, that's a film to see.

So, politics. Have you ever read a story where the main conflict is, of course, a character's personal dilemma, but politics plays a huge role? I see this a lot in the sci-fi and fantasy I read (think Dune and Eragon), but I've also seen it in thrillers, romances, spy novels, the list goes on and on. Honestly, I don't like politics because I think it's boring, but now that I'm writing a novel where my main character is about to get embroiled in the politics of three Kingdoms and a group of desert clans, I've been thinking about it a lot.

Politics, when used as a backdrop in a story, gives the story a sense of realism. Every kind of people have a way of governing themselves, so politics is as prevalent as death and taxes. It provides the feeling that there is more in this story than just Bob and Sue's current workplace tension that will erupt into romance or, maybe, violence. This is especially useful when worldbuilding for a science fiction or a fantasy. In fact, I think every writer who worldbuilds should take into consideration what the politics of that world are, even if they aren't referenced much in the story. Then again, they may be more than you realize. If your hero's a thief living in a settlement on a planet in the Andromeda Galaxy, wouldn't it be helpful to the reader to know what the laws are regarding theft, without going into unnecessary detail?

Some stories use politics as a major thread. This usually happens when a main character is someone of importance, like royalty or a dignitary. This kind of story gives the writer a chance to create a utopia or lampoon current politics. I advise against both; utopias are boring, and politics changes enough to make the story obsolete in a short time. However, I think exploring politics as a story is a good way to explore human nature, and how the lure of power (or the loss of it) affects different kinds of people. What will these people do to get what they want? Will they sacrifice their personal interests for the good of the people, or will they put their ambition above all else? Will they lie and manipulate? Will they rise above corruption or succumb to it? A good story is one that deals with the struggles of complex characters. Politics is a good way to show those struggles and that complexity.

Here's the warning label: using politics in stories can get big. It can get messy, and tangled, and snarled. It's probably best to use it in a novel or film, over a short story. But good writers can do whatever they want, as long as it works. Breaking the rules is one of the best parts of writing, I think, and like theft in the Andromeda Galaxy, it's not against the law.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Odds and Ends

I don't have much to say this week on the formation of good stories - my life is nuts. I am currently taking a class that requires a lot from me, and another that requires more, and for the other two...don't get me started. The good news is that my fiction class is teaching me how to use unusual forms of prose, such as index (telling a story with numbers), lists, letters, questions, footnotes (most of the story is in footnotes), etc. I feel like it will make me a better writer. My class on writing the YA novel is a little different.

You see, I know my professor doesn't like high fantasy and there is a possibility writing high fantasy will harm my grade. However, the novel I want to use is high fantasy, and I feel like using it will make me a better writer than if I used something else. For those who follow my fictional lives, it's down between the Alder Torrance/fantasy world of Cartha story or the Jeremy Wilderson story. Alder's story would help me grow in writing plot, characters, dialogue, prose descriptions, and, well, basically everything else, whereas I feel Jeremy's story will only help me write characters. Which is good, but I can do better.

The good news is, my professor knows me and knows I write fantasy. Also, Alder's story is not a conventional high fantasy. Yes, there is another world and yes, the names there are strange. But Alder is a typical fifteen-year-old from our world. It takes him a long time to accept the magic in Cartha, he doesn't get the fashion of cloaks and tunics, and he has a hard time pronouncing the names. I also plan on messing with the idea of magical translation (how Alder can understand what the people of Cartha say) by having some puns and idioms not land with Alder. I think this story will be okay when I workshop some of it next week.

In other storytelling news, I went to the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival this weekend for the first time. I highly recommend it for budding storytellers; the style and mastery of words that I saw there was amazing. It was inspiring for me, as I try to write a bunch of stories for my two classes. I learned there that anything can be a story, even a drive home with your kids, and that the best tool a storyteller has is the ability to see things in a different way than most people. Huh. I guess I did talk a little here about the art of story crafting.

Lastly, I think I'm beginning to be a real writer. One of my friends teaches sixth grade and she is currently teaching her students about the writing process. Somehow I came up in conversation and her students want to read my novel (that's hopefully coming out around Christmas). When she told her colleagues about this lesson, they said, "You should get your friend in here and have her give an assembly on writing." So, next semester, I may have a speaking gig at an elementary school. It feels weird. Who am I to be talking about writing, Brandon Sanderson? I'm no expert. But, I'd be lying if I don't giggle a little gleefully when I think about it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Song & Dance

Some brief things about my life before getting into the topic I really want to comment on: I started my graduate studies this week. It's going to waste me, it's so much work already. I have a job in addition to my studies, which are work-heavy this semester. I have a short story due every other day for one class, and in another I will complete a novel by the final. Not to mention that my classmates are stupendous writers, so I'll learn a lot but my grade will likely suffer when my professors compare me to them. Oh, well. I'm here to learn my craft as well as I can. As long as I pass.

On to lighter things. I wanted to talk about musicals today. I know I'm the story fanatic, and I generally deal with the verbal elements of storytelling like dialogue and plot, but I feel like something needs to be said in defense of using music to tell parts of a story. I hear way to many people call musicals "gay" or "lame" because the characters break into song and dance to express their emotions. I don't think that's fair; it's kind of like bashing a fantasy novel because dragons don't really riddle with hobbits.

No one really, truly, actually in real life starts singing and dancing in an elaborate musical number with a bunch of people who know the same song and choreography - here's a good example of that from Disney. I get that. I want to talk about why the writers would have chosen to include music and dance in their storytelling. First off, I'm sure a lot do it because it's entertaining. It's amusing to see people dancing on stage, and song is beautiful to human ears. It's not me saying this, it's generations of proof. We like rhythm, and we like spectacle.

However, music and dance can be powerful non-verbal means of showing emotion. I think of songs in musicals as soliloquies, often set apart from the movement of the plot and meant to allow the audience to see deeper into a character. The character has a problem. Does he view it with humor or concern? Well, is the song upbeat and bouncy, or is it heavy and in a minor key? The words can be exactly the same, but the two different tones can color our impression of who the character is. Imagine, for a moment, that in a scary part of a thriller movie the music wasn't the intense, suspense-building kind normally used but the optimistic, swelling strains of a romantic comedy. How would that change your impression of that scene?

Dance is the physical movement of emotions, in a musical. The same rules apply - are they leaping with happiness or trudging along?

I feel like allowing music to carry some of the weight of characterization frees musicals to not place as much emphasis on the words. I love words, don't get me wrong, but when 90% of human communication is non-verbal, maybe we get things more when we see and hear the story in other places than just the words.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Pros and Cons of Surprises

This week I want to discuss something that is surprisingly touchy for me: whether or not it is better to end a story with a shocking revelation. That is, a big surprise reveal that tells the reader he or she has been tricked the whole time, that the truth is not what it has seemed to be. This might not sound like a very controversial subject, but after reading On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, I have seen that one can argue quite extensively on this.

Gardner's view is that surprising the reader at the end is poor writing because it eliminates what makes fiction writing "good." That means, the character development, the difficult choices, and the internal strife that makes a story worth reading. In his opinion, the "victim story", a story told from the perspective of someone who eventually gets used or harmed in some way, is useless because the victim doesn't know that this is happening until the end, and cannot act on it. Think of a story written from the perspective of someone unknowingly being conned out of his life savings. Until the end, there is no conflict for him, no problems. Now imagine the same story, but either told from the perspective of the con artist (questions of morality, fear of getting caught) or the victim, but this time the victim knows he's being conned. In this second case, maybe he knows the con artist personally and has reasons for going along with it. What would they be? Why would it be preferable to lose all his money rather than turn in, or even just brush off, the con artist? Gardner's point is that a story where the character knows the problems and has to deal with them is a much more interesting story.

However, I think there are times when it's okay to shock the reader with surprises at the end. It worked for O. Henry of "The Gift of the Magi" fame. One can make the argument that mystery writers have no choice but to surprise the reader. Yet, I feel like I should add a qualification to this part. O. Henry's stories were short stories, and a reader didn't need much patience to get to the big reveal in the end. Holding out revealing something huge until the end in a novel requires lying to the reader; there's no other way to keep a secret for so long.

Mystery novels can have some kind of huge revelation at the end because the plot revolves around searching for the truth. The story is not about character development - well, some may be, but mostly that's not the case - it's about getting the bad guy and finding out how he did it. However, while the plot may end with a surprise, many mystery novels hide little clues along the way that let readers catch on, if they're observant.

So, what's my final opinion? Surprises have their place, but probably not in a long work like a novel unless it's a mystery novel. Even then, a writer has to be careful to let the story flow and not work to obscure the truth to the reader. That's never a good thing. Why is this touchy for me? I have written at least one story with a big, snappy reveal at the end, and now I have begun to question whether or not my story could be stronger if my characters knew more from the beginning. They would not be victims; they would have the power to act in their circumstances. And then, who knows what consequences they would set in motion?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Much of Madness

For those of you who thought that last week I would talk about the use of mental illness in writing, here you go. Today I'm actually going to talk about it. I took a class on mental illness in film and literature, so hopefully I sound like I know what I'm talking about.

Personally, I kind of enjoy the use of madness in literature, if only because it tends to complicate things a little. In my own writing, I like to use a facsimile of mental illness because it causes tension between characters. For example, a character may behave in an insane way but be sane, but the other characters see only the actions and none of the method. The sane character may have a method, or be just as confused as everyone else as to what is going on but still feels that he has not quite lost his mind. Not yet. It makes the characters develop in the way they interact with themselves and others, and makes for interesting writing.

Also, it is an interesting experiment for the writer when he or she tries to write from the perspective of someone with a mental illness. In my class we studied different kinds of mental illness and how they distort the way a person views the world. Everything, from depression to schizophrenia to dissociative identity disorder, change the way a person views the world and they are all different. When constructing a character, it's one thing to say "she's crazy" and it's another to say "she has bipolar depression". With a specific illness in mind, the writer can't make the character do anything he or she wants. The writer has to try to see the world as someone with that specific illness would.

But, like with all things, I think using mental illness in writing should be used as appropriate. Throwing in a crazy character simply because he is crazy is bad writing, only out for flash and amazement. Especially since, today, mental illness is a sensitive subject for many people. Research has to be done, and it has to be done well. As much as I like Poe and Lovecraft and all those Romantic writers with their swoons and brain fevers, their version of madness isn't usually that accurate nowadays, and it's definitely not politically correct. Care needs to be taken to make sure the story's use of mental illness is as appropriate and true-to-life as possible.

That, of course, is more important for realistic fiction. In science fiction and fantasy, the reader can assume something supernatural or not yet understood is at play, making characters lose their minds in ways we don't know anything about in our world. But still, it must be done as the story needs it. I believe that, as much as possible, all the elements of the story should contribute something. If it doesn't develop character, push the plot along, or worldbuild (or anything else I neglected to mention that makes the story grow), it doesn't need to be there.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

How to Quickly Lose Your Mind

If you got excited upon reading the title of this post, thinking that I was going to talk about using madness in writing, then I'm sorry. That's not happening this week. It's a great idea for a blog post topic, and I'm sure I'll hit it soon, but I have to admit I'm not mentally capable of writing something intellectual. I have learned how to go crazy in only a few days, and it will be a while before I recover.

Here it is: on Thursday my editor sent back my novel manuscript with 308 comments on it, not including in-text issues like comma placement and awkwardly phrased sentences. The publisher would like to get my book out relatively soon and I'm starting grad school in a few weeks. Thus, I feel pressure to finish making revision as soon as possible so the publisher can keep their schedule and I can focus on my writing for school and not fall behind in my classes. It is now Tuesday, and I am on comment 225. My head hurts.

Through this process I'm learning valuable lessons about myself and about how to revise with an editor. I am addicted to writing and have to set goals for myself, or I keep going until I can't think anymore. That sounds weird: setting goals so I can stop sooner. Right now the goal is revise 50 pages a day, which is more than manageable given my current empty schedule. But all that writing is removing me from the real world, which is making me act a little crazy. I'm excited by my writing, mentally fatigued, and crazy. Not a good combination for social functions. Or maybe it is - I guess it depends on what kind of social functions you enjoy.

As for writing with comments from an editor, it's interesting. I usually make the changes he suggests, because they really do make the book more awesome, but I am stubborn and always try to find a way to do it my way. Probably not the best mindset, but it keeps my voice in there. The worst part is when he suggests a change I don't want to make, but in trying to keep things the way they are and still make sense, I realize he is right and it should be changed. On the other hand, it's cool to see that he recognizes my characters are as cool as I think they are!

Sorry this post isn't more interesting. I just have a lot on my mind right now. I'll keep you posted on publishing details!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Banter is Fun!

Again, sorry this post is late. Sheesh, I'm really failing here, aren't I? I blame the summer and its pull toward procrastination. I also blame myself and not writing over the weekend, forcing me to catch up this week and put that ahead of posting something new on my blog. But, in any case, here it is. I'm not going to review a book I like this week, or really even talk about what I think makes writing good. I'm going to talk about what I've been doing with my time: writing banter.

I've mentioned a story I'm working on, a middle-grade novel about a sixth-grade thief (sorry, retrieval specialist) and how he bites off more than he can chew with a job and has to work with enemy, a sixth-grade girl detective who wants him caught. As I've been writing, I've realized the story is less about how they manage to make things right and more about the relationship between Jeremy (the thief) and Becca (the P.I.). Both these characters are outgoing, clever, and sarcastic, which has been making my job easy. Why? To show the relationship grow and change but still keep the elements of these two personalities, I get to write banter!

Jeremy and Becca are always trying to outsmart each other, and that doesn't stop when they team up. The fight continues with words so I got the chance to try my hand at witty jibes and insults. Here's a passage from my first draft so you can see what I mean, even if the material is still a little rougher than I'd like it to be:

The first thing Becca did when she opened the door was hold out her palm and say, “Hand it over.”
            “Hand what over?”
            “You know what. I can’t in good conscience allow you to keep it.”
            “Can we at least talk strategy first?”
            Becca hardened her jaw and practically shoved her hand in my face. I bet she was thinking about doing it literally.
            I sighed. “Fine.” Reaching into my pocket, I dug out the twenty dollar bill and tossed in her waiting hand. “That belongs to me as payment for my services. Who’s the thief now?”
            Becca smirked. “I don’t think taking it from a locker you broke into counts as legitimate payment. Come in; we have a lot to talk about.”
            I followed her inside to her kitchen table, where we first struck our deal. There was a plate of cookies, two glasses, and a gallon of milk waiting in the center of the table.
            I froze. “What is that?” I asked, pointing at the spread.
            “Snacks,” Becca said. “Don’t they have them where you come from?”
            “What did you do to them? Did you bake truth serum into the cookies? Is it in the milk?”
            Becca rolled her eyes. I was beginning to notice that she did that a lot. “We have a lot to plan, and I thought we’d want something to eat. And if you want to meet the devious, truth-serum-lacing chef, look right over there.” She pointed to a garbage can where an empty store-bought cookie package lay crumpled.
            “If it’s safe, you eat one.” I have to admit, I knew she hadn’t laced the cookies with anything. It was just too much fun to bug her about it.
            “Oh, for heaven’s sake,” Becca groaned. But she took a cookie and shoved it in her mouth.
            I did the same, after making a big show out of examining the chips and sniffing the overall dessert. The cookies were pretty good.
            “So, Phase One went pretty well,” Becca said.
            “I guess,” I said. “At least I didn’t get caught.”
“Did you find the key?”
            “Trust me–”
            “I never trust you, Wilderson.”
            “Will you let me finish my sentence? I was going to say, ‘Trust me, you would know if I found the key.’ You’d have it in your hand along with that twenty. Which belongs to me, by the way.”
            “Yeah. And I paid a down payment on the Taj Mahal. I don’t trust you not to lie and keep the master key if you found it.”
            “If that were the case, you’d know I had the key because I wouldn’t be here eating processed cookie. I’d be off breaking into your locker.”
Don't think this is a book full of talking, though. This scene takes place after I show - not tell - Jeremy breaking into a locker and almost getting caught.

I kind of can't wait to go back through and up the crazy through this story. Make the banter more clever and funny, maybe raise the stakes a little higher, and add details about Jeremy's friends. One of them, Case, is a forger/football buff who will never play the game because he doesn't want to damage his sensitive hands. As for the rest of the characters...I want them to all be as quirky.

I'm almost all the way through the first draft of this novel. Middle grade books tend to be from 20,000 to 40,000 words long, and I'm already in that range. There's not much left to say before the story is over and the world is set right for my characters.

That is, until they need each other again. (Hint, hint.)