Friday, July 31, 2009

Holy Reappearance Batman!

One day, whilst I was writing the beginning of The Thief Book, my MC decided to run off and join six people under a bridge for a few nights. Me, I wanted to beat my notebook against my head. I now had six characters I rather liked, each of whom I'd put some detail into, for whom I had no other plans for the rest of the book. (What can I say? They seemed like a good idea while the pen was on the paper.)

What was I to do with them? I mean, having spent all that time with them, it seemed rather wrong to abandon them entirely. It seemed to me that I'd created a situation in which the reader would expect them to come back. And then goodness knows what I ought to do with that. **mimes stabbing self with cheap, plastic pen**

After some reflection, I concluded that these new minor characters could be my sporadic pop-up characters. It seems to me that sometimes there are characters who show up from nowhere to deliver information or create momentary conflict, and then they disappear into nowhere. Now, I had six people I could use to fill those roles. And once they'd passed on the info or helped instigate trouble, they can go back to living "comfortably" under the bridge.

So, a happy praise to the reappearing, now useful character. I'm not sure what my psyche meant them for in the first place, but they seem to have a use now, anyway.

What do you do with randomly appearing characters? Are such characters better written out of the story altogether?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Oh No You Didn't

I'm still stuck in Chapter 3. Why? Because my characters just will not cooperate.

With what I had hoped to be the end of the chapter rapidly approaching, Character C is crying and Character A is comforting her. Everything was going according to plan. Then...

Me: Okay, A, here's your window to reveal your past, answer all of her questions, and clear this up.

A: But she's really sad. I didn't know she'd be this sad.

Me: Don't worry. If you say your lines comfortingly enough, she'll calm down.

C: **sniffles against A, oblivious to the whole conversation**

A: Yeah, I don't think that's going to work.

Me: Please, just say it.

A: But then I'll seem like a callous jerk. I don't want to be the callous jerk. That's Character F's job.

Me: Fine. We'll do this your way. What've you got.

A: Well, I was thinking we could just [yet another scene, though admittedly a fairly nice idea]

Me: Fine. I'll just resent you for five minutes and then do it.

(At this point, my sister, who reads things over my shoulder, says that talking to my characters makes me schizophrenic. In my defence, none of that was said out loud. If it had been, the nice person next to me on the flight might have demanded a change of seat.)

My characters don't often protest my ideas. When they do, I choose to succumb. It just seems to go so much easier that way.

For other good reading on the subject, click here.

What do you do with your wayward characters? Do you have internal conversations, too?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Poof and Gone

I'm about to pull a disappearing act.

Tomorrow, I intend to rise at an indecent hour to board a plane to Canada to attend my cousin's wedding. After that, my family and I are attending a theater festival in Canada. I love my family, especially my cousins, and I love theater, but I am a little sad that I will most likely miss all of the blogosphere whilst gone.

I don't love long flights, but there is a silver lining: Confined to an airplane seat, I will have almost no choice but to buckle down and catch up on my writing. :-)

See you all when I get back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Beating My Head Against a Wall

As a general rule, I enjoy deadlines. Yes, they do make a lovely whooshing sound as they fly by, but as a rule I tend to respond well to them. The only deadlines and requirements I can't seem to flourish under are my own. For The Thief Book, I told myself to write 1500 words a day. It was going rather well for a while, until my work ended up on my alpha reader's desk for about five days, eating through all of my leeway and putting me painfully behind.

As a rule, I despise playing catch-up. I can do it, but it takes a long time, and I hate doing it. Still, that's what I'm doing now, and it makes me whiny and annoying to others. I told myself I should finish chapter three today, except I wrote the number of pages I meant to write and still have not a) caught up or b) finished the chapter. And I just don't have it in me to finish the chapter tonight.

Yes, I know, if I'm behind, I should probably not be blogging right now. Except, it's either close the notebook for the night, or moan for about five minutes straight over a blank page and a diet coke. So, for the moment, good night.

Anyone else have moments/hours/days/light years like this?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good News

:D

Today, I received a request for a full on a query I sent out at the end of February. I'd written the letter off as a no-response. I'm not counting any chickens, but it did take a minute or two for my heart rate to return to normal.

Only one, obvious, tiny, little baby little hiccup: I don't have an author bio. There's nothing to say about me. I've been leaving it off the query letters. What does one say when one has no credentials? I have a feeling that, at this point, they might actually be expecting a paragraph.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Can You See It?

Recently, I saw a movie where I was all but screaming at one of the actors, "Oh for the love of God, get in the shot." His character belonged in that moment, but for some unknown reason, he was five feet away from everyone else. No one I asked could figure out why the actor did that, but we all noticed.

What does this have to do with books?

Well, when I'm reading a good book, I'm not seeing the words. Instead, I'm seeing pictures of the characters and the scenes play out behind my eyes like a movie. So, sometimes, I think of books like movies.

What is this character doing in that shot?

If someone is there, they should have a good reason for being there. If MC walks into the coffee shop and sees his girlfriend with another guy, then he can break up with her. But why did he go into the coffee shop? Maybe a sudden yen for cappuccino. And if a character isn't there, he should have a good reason not to be there. Maybe the MC's tag-along best friend won't go to the party, because her ex will be there. Sure, that might not be the reason the writer won't have her there (maybe if Best Friend is there, MC can't leave with Romantic Interest during the party), but if Best Friend would normally be there, there ought to be a reason she isn't.

What are they doing there?

An insecure character might follow a friend across the room so as not to stand alone. A nervous person might fiddle with, say, a ring. A gregarious person will smile at a newcomer. All in all, humans don't do nothing. I like to know what each character is doing while the moment is occurring. Every moment is a shot, and I like to know what's going on in all of it.

Where are the characters standing/sitting/doing yoga in that moment?

If one character can't stand cats, then he'll place himself farther from the cat than other characters would. If he secretly loves someone, he'd probably stand closer to that person or alter himself to be look more directly at that person.
Personal space would also be a matter. For the average American, personal space is 18-48 inches. Anyone inside those 18" qualifies as a close intimate. Spatial relations can have a lot of meanings. The actor I mentioned earlier played the best friend, so why couldn't he stand near the MC? A creepy person might stand a little too close. An uptight person or aggressive male might demand more space. In a visual, spacing can have deeper meaning; there as the writer, I need to know who looks like they're too far away and too close and why.

In some ways, a book is easier than a movie or a play. After all, a character can do a lot of things without the audience wondering why. All the writer has to do is not mention what that person is doing and the reader will never know. On the other hand, the reader can see anything you write down. And if you don't know the whole picture, how can they?

Do you like to visualize as you go? Do you see the picture before you write or after?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are You There God? It's Me, [Insert Name of Character]

I am not religious. It's a pity, but that's the way of it.

In general, most of my stories don't involve religion. I delete judeo-christian blasphemy (which is generally something I favor in spoken discourse). It often has no place in the world of the story. On the other hand, my two current projects both involve religion in some way. In The Epic Book, a lot of the back story and cultural basis for the characters involves a Shinto-istic
nature worship. In The Thief Book, most of the characters are Catholics.

Let me be frank (yes, you can be George). If I were religious, I wouldn't be Catholic.

But, it makes sense in the story. My favorite character is a thief and a very religious Catholic. It feeds her intense internal dichotomy. I decided to capitalize on that and make her not the only religious person. I break the cities down by parishes instead of counties or districts, and my MC wears a crucifix she got from her mother.

All in all, it's been an interesting learning experience. I didn't know much about the saints before I started, and I've been thinking more about the role of God in people's lives than I used to.

How much religion do you include, if any, in your stories? Are your characters often religious in the same way you are?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Soundtracks

Every now and then, I'll listen to a song and think, 'wow, there's a great story here.'

One thing I love is when I hear a song and think, 'Wow! This is just the emotion that I wanted for my character. This is exactly what I wanted to say.' I make note of the songs that make me think like this and form them into the soundtrack for that story. Then, whenever I feel like I'm running dry or I've lost the emotion of the story, I put on the music and let it flow back to me.

This is one place I know I'm not alone. One friend of mine actually has a slot in her notebook labeled Soundtrack with a list of all the music that's helped shape the story. Stephanie Meyer's acknowledgments include the names of bands who inspired her during her writing.

I think music can inspire whole scenes and dialogue. I heard one song -- an internal monologue -- that turned itself into a conversation between one character and her brother.

They will probably never sell the soundtracks of books in a store, but I think a lot of stories have them. For The Thief Book (placeholder title, I swear) I've found inspiration in "Stars" from Les Miserables, "Who Am I?" also Les Miserables, "Both Sides of a Coin" from The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan. (It occurs to as I think about this that a startling percentage of what I listen to is soundtracks and cast recordings.)

Do you use music in your writing? What songs or bands have you found particularly influential?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Midnight Movies

I find myself without a topic to blog about today. For lack of a better excuse, I'm going to blame going out to see Harry Potter 6 at midnight with my beset friend and my sister.

Having been seriously let down by these movies in the past (I don't tend to enjoy book-based movies that make a lot of changes), I didn't expect to get more out of this experience than a few good memories with friends and a few laughs at my sister's commentary (which should, by the way, be recorded and publicly distributed. She adds new layers of humor to the movie, and I feel bad for those who have to miss it.)

Instead, I LOVED it. I enjoyed the symbolism, the actors were still good -- Alan Rickman is wonderful -- and the treatment of the characters were good. They did wonderful things with Draco Malfoy's character, which made me very happy. The girl who plays Luna remains my favorite in terms of grasping the character from the book and bringing it to the screen, and she's in the movie a fair amount.

I was initially concerned about what they would have to cut
to make it run a reasonable time (and let's admit it, it was a long book, so there were going to be things cut), but nothing they cut from the books was something that you missed during the film, which in my mind shows a sign of good editing. Actually, some of the places where they joined multiple book scenes into one movie scene reminded me of advice I've heard on the blogosphere about making more interesting and compelling scenes.

I'd give the movie a definite recommendation. Yes, you will likely be tragically deprived of sarcastic commentary, but you can supply your own, and even without it, it's awesome. Kids will enjoy this.

(Cleanness, because people are concerned about that, is a perfect 10 out of 10. No problems.)

Have you ever gone to see a movie at midnight? Did you have fun?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Logophile and Proud

I love weird words. Words like napiform, omphaloskepsis, and embolalia make me smile. And I can admit that these words don't make it into the average lexicon, because let's face it, they serve a very minute use.

But does that mean I shouldn't use them in books? A beta reader once circled a word in a draft and wrote, "You can't use that word. No one will know what it means." I frowned and pouted over that note. It was the right word! They just don't make other words for that sort of thing. (In case your wondering, the word was embolalia. If you know a good synonym for that, please share it.)

Some of my favorite books have sent me reaching for a dictionary more than once. Even books that I'd consider easy reading aren't free from unfamiliar words. Does that mean the writer should have avoided them? I think, as the reader, it was within my responsibilities to grab a dictionary and look it up if I didn't know the word.

I still remember Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and the way the definitions were worked right into the text. "Count Olaf realized he could either come clean -- a phrase which here means admit he was really Count Olaf and desperately trying to steal the Baudelaire fortune -- or perpetuate his deception -- a phrase which here means lie, lie, lie." I laugh aloud the first time I read that. (Secretly, I give a little smile when I think of it. ^_^ )

I, personally, don't wish to ape Lemony Snicket's style, and I don't want my characters to sound like the are the illegitimate offspring of Roget's Thesaurus, but I like to be able to use the right word in the narration, no matter how syllables it is.

As Mark Twain once said, "Use the right word, not it's second cousin." As a devoted logophile, I know some weird ones, but when they're the right word, I think they should stay. Why settle for the dinky second cousin just because he's more recognizable?

Are you a word geek? Are you likely to drop a word because it is largely unknown? How unknown is too unknown, especially for younger readers?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Time Stamps

I am perfectly willing to acknowledge that I have unusual personality quirks that no one else shares and that sometimes I say, do, and believe things that no one else understands. This is one of those things: I don't like when people use dates in books and movies.

Now, I'm not talking about people saying, "It's Tuesday, Paolo," or "Isn't Canada so lovely in March?" because things like that are both unavoidable and necessary to establish setting or certain events. However, when I read, "the park will be completed in 2004" or "Happy 1996," I groan and worry about how dated this will be in the future.

(In my defense, this weirdness didn't develop on its own. Once, on the commentary for West Wing -- I miss that show! -- Aaron Sorkin mentioned that they tried never to mention any dates in the show, because they wanted it to remain timeless. That stuck.)

I like to think that someday my books will be published and in readers hands. And, hopefully, they'll still be in reader's hands five years later. And I'd really like it if the book didn't sound five years old when they read it.

While I can understand the importance of years in things like historical fiction, in anything contemporary, I prefer to drop the year. For me, it is no year in particular, and interesting things are happening.

Am I the only one who really thinks about this nonsense? How do you feel about dates and years in books and movies? Do you include them in your own writing?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mythos

In my version of the universe, I can put all of the weird aspects of my made up world into the book and no reader will ever be bored by it. In the universe as it actually exists, I know that is not so. That is why at least 50% of the mythology and such that I created for my fictional world in Supposedly Epic Book will never make it onto the page, not even in draft one. Why? Because, in my heart of hearts, even I know that most readers won't care.

However, I could not resist including at least some of it into the book. And I'm trying to convince myself it is important. After all, since I am devoting around 500 words to a mythological story, it should probably be entertaining as well as informative.

My MC is traveling to reclaim a stolen item, and when asked why it was stolen, she replied, "Well, they don't like us very much." When asked to explain that, she tells the story she was told as a child -- a myth. I want her to question the real cause of the wars, which none of them know. If she doesn't question the war, then no one's motivations are going to have many levels.

Does including the myths slow the story down too much? Gosh, I hope not. Otherwise, I'm going to have to find a way to make it go faster and more interesting while keeping it in the story. It's basically back back story. Bad form, maybe, but I want to keep it in. I loved mythology as a kid, so I have no problem reading it in a book. Others, I know, are not the same.

Does brief storytelling make things too slow? Is it too obvious as back story?

How much myth do you use in your writing? Do you ever make up the mythology for your characters?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Confidence

After hearing a lot about confidence in the blogosphere lately, I thought I'd mention my little confidence booster from today.

A friend and unfortunate beta reader of mine noticed an outline for yet another story and chided me that I spread myself out over too many projects. She says I'll never finish anything. Then she asked about the werewolf book.

Oh, the werewolf book. That unfortunate foray into storytelling enjoys an almost permanent spot on my shelf as I struggle to make it better than it is. (I secretly fear that I'd have to scrap half of it or more to make it anything.) I told her it was shelved because it needed editing.

"But it was my favorite so far," she told me.

Internally, I performed a dance of joy. 'Yay! Someone said something nice about it!' (Observe as my psyche skims over the potential negative spins of that sentence.)

She agreed to read it for me, much to my joy. She'll probably regret those foolish words when I drop the 62K words onto her lap, but c'est la vie.

For now, I smile. :D

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

That's So Hip!

"Radical."
"Bitchin."
"Cool."

We've all heard it. Slang. Everyone uses it. Basically, if you intend to communicate with a human, it can't be avoided. In fact, there are whole websites designed for the defining and perpetuation of slang.


As a writer, the question would be, how much slang can one slip into a text without risking it becoming dated at a moment's notice? If a book is full of slang, some day those words won't be used any more. And if that day is soon, it risks making the book seem out-dated like the words. For example, Song of Solomon is starts in 1931 and continues of several decades. There are countless references made and terms used with which people today are likely to be unfamiliar. (True, those words weren't dated slang from the publication in 1977, but they're still throwbacks to a previous time a lot of reader's didn't live though.) If the reader doesn't get the reference or the word, then they might miss something important.

There is, of course, another way to go. Do-it-yourself slang. In the Uglies Trilogy, Scott Westerfeld's characters use some slang that the writer created, such as 'kick' to describe something awesome or 'to kick' to mean to link over to something else, or resurrected from previous disuse, such as the millihelen as a means of method of measuring attractiveness. It's easy for the reader to get a hold on, fits well in a futuristic period, and isn't likely to become dated any time soon. (Unless we all start using it. Heck, I'm already using it sometimes, since I tend to absorb the diction of whatever I'm reading.)

Personally, I try to avoid being overly trendy with my word choice, because I'd prefer to retain a certain timeless quality to my work. Besides, who am I to say what kind of slang makes it into other worlds?

How much slang do you use? Does it ever irk you to see some slang in books?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Extras

This morning I remembered a review I'd seen for the Twilight movie. The guy said that he'd gone to see it, because he knew one of the extras. His words, which I am forced to paraphrase due to insufficient memory recall, were something to the effect of, "If you go see this movie, see it for the extras. I firmly believed all of them in their roles. The leads, not at all." I, personally, make no comment on this, though I will concur that I believe the extras in their roles, so kudos to them.

This got me thinking about the importance of extras and minor characters. In the book Breaking Dawn, I absolutely loved when Garrett, who just got zapped off his feet by the vampire Katie, says, "If I let you up, will you knock me down again, Katie?" (Maybe it's just me, but when I read that, I immediately reached for my copy of Taming of the Shrew. Oh, Petruchio.) As basically extras, they stole the show as far as I was concerned.

Do we need "extras" in stories? Of course. Do we need them to be really good extras, good characters in their own right? I think definitely. True, it probably doesn't help if they are terminally more awesome/interesting than your main characters, nor if they are much more believable, but that's where the balance comes in. You don't need to write a mini-character just to make them cool or witty. They only need to be there to serve whatever role you need them to play. They just have to be believable in that role.

There's no need to spend a paragraph on the life of the cashier checking the MC through as he buys a 6 pack of Sierra Mist, but flesh her out a bit. Maybe she has a nose piercing, the same hairstyle as his mother, or speaks with a Boston accent. There can be little details that make the filler character more believable as a human being. I just wrote a few extras for my WIP. One is a foreigner and two are brother and sister. Why? Mostly, because. Those seemed like nice details for characters whose personalities didn't matter overmuch to the whole story.

The only thing to be wary of is how much you flesh them out. As I once heard an author say, "If you just wrote 500 words about a tree, then something better happen with that tree." They were right. If you devote three paragraphs to the man your MC is standing next to in the elevator, he should be someone like the MC's girlfriend's husband, not just a random guy who happens to live in the building. Otherwise, you run the risk of the reader getting distracted wondering why you spent three paragraphs talking about the man.

Are extras important to a good book? Do you use a lot of extras in your writing or hardly any? How much time (in the book and out) do you devote to the extras?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

Character Flaws -- How Much Do We Need Them?

How important are character flaws? I'm not going to sit here and say that there is no reason to give your characters flaws. I couldn't take myself seriously if I did that. But let's face it, some people are good people, and though they have unattractive characteristics and moments of imperfection, they don't come with a whole host of flaws.

While I get bored with the unreality of the inexplicably perfect character like other people do, I do believe that there are some people who are good, nice, and without obvious flaws and that these people aren't necessarily uninteresting. I've met one person who is nigh perfect, and he is anything but boring.

One reader pointed out my main guy as being a little too perfect. She said he should have some flaws to round him out. I thought about that. When I thought of him, he was just a nice guy. He's patient, loyal, and honest. And I'd like him to stay a nice guy. Otherwise there'd be no reason for him to have friends, let alone get the girl. (Yeah, I know, jerks get the girl a lot in the real world, but I'd like to think my MC has better sense that to fall in love with a jerk.)

As far as I'm concerned, he is "flawed" is some respects. He is incapable of going for what he really wants. He's secretly in love with the MC, but instead of doing something about it, he just decides to watch things play out while she could be falling for another guy. That kind of behavior annoys the heck out of me in people, so why shouldn't it be his annoying quality? I don't want him to drink to excess, speak with an annoyingly nasal voice, or have a debilitating allergy to peanuts. I like him the way he is.

Is it enough for characters to have only one or two imperfections? What's really rounding a character out, and what's just making them flawed for the sake of trying to round them out? Are some people just without discernible flaws and is that boring?

(For other thoughts on the subject, click here.)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Guy Stories and Chick Flicks

I don't watch a lot of TV, but one of the few shows I do watch is NCIS. In an older episode, a suspect compares his relationship to the movie Bounce. I'm not too familiar with Bounce, but from the summary used in the show and on IMDB, I can comfortably agree with the character Gibbs when he dubs the movie a chick flick. In Gibb's analysis, in a guy flick you kill the guy after setting him up to take the fall for your robbery, take all the money, and marry the dead guy's wife. (His version was somehow pithier, even though I cut out the references to the show's plot.)

That's when I had an epiphany. Hamlet is a guy flick, at least according to the show's definition. I mean, (spoiler alert!) Claudius kills his brother, steals the kingdom, and marries his now dead brother's wife. Not to mention some sword fighting and ghosts, neither of which have been known to chase guys away from a movie.

I had a good laugh over that. I know a lot of guys who need to be dragged kicking and screaming into Shakespeare (apparently, all theater is by nature feminine and emasculating) but apparently, Shakespeare was writing some quintessential guy flick stuff all along. Maybe it's the iambic pentameter that's scaring folks off.

I think such a principal could be applied to books as well. What necessarily makes something a guy book or a girl book? For every stereotypically masculine book I've ever heard of, I've met female readers. And for a lot of feminine stories, I've met guys who enjoy them. I think even in more gender-specific genres, there's a way to make room for the other gender and make it good for them,too.

Are there any other hidden guy flicks out there? Are there such things as guy books and girl books? Any success stories in bridging the gender gap?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Jumping In

Sometimes I've worried that I have trouble getting into the meat of my story quick enough. I fear that what I deem necessary information is really some form of intellectual stalling before I hand the reader the true business of the tale.

I recently started WIP2, which has been in outline for a while. I wrote the beginning as I'd imagined it and realized something. I'd just slammed right into the story. The first page begins with the last two minutes of what has apparently been one fight too many for my MC. Less than five pages in, she decides to run away, which is when the fun gets to start.

I'm not so sure how I feel about this. Did I jump in too quickly? Am I throwing something at the reader and expecting them to understand too much from the beginning? Or is it better to just get right down to business? I am uncertain.

For the moment, I'm charging in head first, and I think I'm going to see how that works out. Who knows, it might get interesting.

How much does an author need to do before jumping into the meat of the story? Is there some magic formula to determine how much back story should go in up front and how much can be left for reveals later?

For other thoughts on this topic, try here. :-)