Friday, April 30, 2010

Found Only In Fiction: Exhale

Breathing is an involuntary function. We're not usually aware of it. But sometimes, when we're lying in bed, trying to fall asleep, doing yoga, or recovering after a strenuous activity, it becomes the focus of attention. Do you ever think: "Wow, I'm exhaling pretty hard?" I'm betting you don't.

When I'm reading, the word "exhale" always strikes me as medical, drawing attention to itself. Sometimes the phrase "breathed out" is used instead. Or characters "let out a long breath". In some stories, characters talk or think to themselves, "breathe" or "deep breath" in stressful situations. Any of these alternatives work better for me (though my panel of kid readers mentioned that the last one especially bugs them). My best solution is to try not to refer to breathing at all, unless absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Point of View: Handling a Temporary Change

My latest work-in-progress is written in a third person, subjective point of view. That is, I refer to my main character in the third person, e.g. “she”, “her”, but the story is told from her perspective, with her thoughts and feelings. However, as I write my latest chapter, I’m thinking about including a scene that doesn’t directly involve my main character. I’ve never done this before. I usually stick to one main character POV or alternating POVs of two main characters. But in this instance, I think the scene is needed:

a) to increase tension in the story

b) to add a complication to the circumstances my character is in

c) because my MC’s location is limited by her circumstances and she wouldn’t likely overhear or know about the conversation

The challenge is how to do this effectively. First, if it’s not my main character’s POV, then what POV do I use? An omniscient POV? Or do I choose a character that could come into the story again later (since I’m only at Chapter 7 of my first draft, this could happen, though it’s not my plan). Second, how do I transition to this scene to make it flow naturally?

I’m going to look for examples to see how authors have done this in MG novels. Maybe try it out a couple of different ways to see what works.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Thinking About the Reader

Ok, in my last post I said I don't think much about the reader while I'm writing, but it's not true. I'm actually learning to think more about the reader with each novel I write. Many of the decisions I make while I'm writing are influenced by:
  • whether I think the reader will be confused by what I've just written
  • what information I think the reader needs to know in a scene
  • leaving space for the reader to react and think about an event, without slamming them over the head with what the main character is thinking
  • questions the reader might have about what is happening and when to answer them
I don't always consciously think about the reader, but whether I'm aware of it or not, the reader's reaction does come into play.

I've read somewhere (many places!) that it's a good idea to have an ideal reader in mind when writing your book. I do have one or two of those, including myself--I have to write the kind of book I'd like to read.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Quick Writing Link: Plot, Structure and Creating an Experience for Your Readers

Today I came across three great posts at Laini Taylor's blog on plot, character motivation and conflict, and structuring a novel.

What I found especially helpful was a sidebar that included questions to ask yourself to help in creating an experience for your readers. I don't often think much about the reader when I'm writing, but perhaps I should.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Changing Up the Routine

It’s funny how a disruption to your routine can have such a huge impact. I can’t use my regular computer (a long story involving my dog, staples, and a staircase) so I’m working in a different place, on a different keyboard, with a few essential files on a memory stick. At first, I felt a bit lost. I read blogs, I surfed, I cursed the different computer, while writing down the names of files I needed to access and/or print at my main computer (a home network sounds good about now).

But once I got into my writing, none of that stuff mattered. It was all about my story. I really love it when stories just unfold as you write them. I’m going more slowly than I did for my last story, rewriting small sections as I go along, using my outline as a guide, and I’m really pleased with my progress, even if I'm not as far along as I want to be.

With this change to my routine, I’m not as distracted by the other "stuff" on my computer, because I don't have it on this one. Or maybe my brain is thinking differently because of the change of place. They say you can keep your brain sharp by trying new things. Hmm. Maybe I’ll have to change up my writing routine more often.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Week is Not Forever

Because of a combination of being sick and life events, I’ve been away from my writing for almost a week. It feels like forever. What I did manage to accomplish:

1) Decided I’m definitely sticking to Novel A, “Cooking story”, and leaving Novel B, “Bubble story”, for a later time. I’ll go crazy if I try to do too much.

2) Watched a T.V. show that gave me an idea for an early part of my story.

3) Worried about getting behind on my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of June.

4) Re-read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (because even when I’m sick, I read). Admired the writing once again.

Today I’m going to write something on my novel, no matter how small, no matter if I end up ripping it out later because it doesn't work. Building some momentum makes a huge difference for me, because once the writing is flowing, more great ideas follow.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Do You Write What You Like to Read?

In reading for my 100 book challenge, I’m finding out more about the kinds of books I like and don’t like to read. My most recent read, The Witch's Guide to Cooking with Children by Keith McGowan, was short and fast-paced, with several plot twists. I admired the cleverness of this retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, set in modern day, and the way the author created a believable relationship between the brother and sister. But it took me a long time to get through. The story just didn’t hold my attention. Someone else probably thinks differently, because this is a matter of personal preference.

This leads me to think about my personal preferences for writing. I have common themes or elements in my stories but I don’t always stick within the same genre. It’s funny, because even though I do write some fantasy based in reality, I don’t like reading a lot of fantasy books for kids (except Harry Potter). Do you write the kinds of books you’d like to read?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Thinking in Scenes

In parallel with reading lots of MG and YA books for my 100 book challenge (and making good progress on that, by the way), I'm also reading The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass. I occasionally worry that with each new novel, my writing technique won't show much change from the last one. So, picking up a book on writing technique from time to time helps me feel like I'm trying to apply something new in my writing (along with all the great tips I get from my critiquers).

Lately, I've been thinking about scenes. A key strategy Maass suggests is to make sure there is a goal for each scene, so it advances the plot. While I don't get too hung up on these kinds of things when I'm writing a first draft (maybe I should?), I do keep a separate file that gives a short summary of what happens in each scene, something like this example from Novel #2:

Chapter 1
1: Molly shows Kayla changes in their house

2:  Molly & Kayla speculate about cousins

More recently, I've been writing slightly more to describe what happens in each scene, including the key interactions between characters, ending up with a brief summary that other people besides me could actually understand. It helps me stay on track. But maybe I should be including the first and last lines as well? Any other ways to keep track of what's happening in your scenes?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Quick Writing Links: Writing Action, A Contest

Over at Musings of a Novelista, Karen Strong shares her thoughts on how The Hunger Games (one of my favourite books) provides great examples of strong action scenes. 

Dear Editor is having a contest for MG and YA authors. You could win a substantive edit of your manuscript - what an awesome prize!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

How Does Your Writing Challenge You?

I'm still working on my two novels, but I'm at different places in their progress. With Novel B, which I've been calling "Bubble Story", I'm still working out a rough plot outline. This might be the one that I come back to later. It has some exciting elements, but I still haven't worked out how the story will come together without being too predictable. It might be a story that I need to start writing before I can see the ending.

Novel A, "Cooking Story", is really tugging at my brain. I'm working on Chapter 2, and enjoying getting to know my main character. My progress is slow. I only write part of a chapter or scene each day, but it's hard to break away when my writing time is up. This one is completely outlined, including the ending, because I'm hoping to eliminate many major plot revisions. (Of course, I'm sure I'll still have some.)

Both of these stories are different from the other novels I've written, which is great because I like to be challenged. I think that's why my plots always get too complicated! As if writing a whole novel isn't challenging enough. Both novels involve a MC that is cut off from mainstream society in some way, and both are lacking something that creates an obstacle for them (maybe that's really me, missing something in my writing).

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Spring Cleaning

My file drawers were full to bursting with old drafts of stories, copies of rejection letters, scraps of paper or news clippings with story ideas, and still more old drafts of stories. I decided to take a big step and  weed through it.

I started with old drafts of published stories. If I have the published clip, I don’t need the 25 drafts that got me there. That was easy.

Old drafts of unpublished stories. Will I really look back and use something buried in a file? Not if I can’t remember it. I took several deep breaths and tossed out all but the most recent draft or two of my favourites. Then there was some stuff that prompted me to think, ‘I actually wrote that?’ Goodbye.

Copies of submission and rejection letters. If these were for something I'd already tossed, no sense in keeping them. More than a couple of years old? Adios. I have a few things I’ve kept for writing presentations at schools, but I don’t plan on ever wallpapering my office with rejections.

My folders of story ideas? I couldn’t face weeding through those, so they are back in my file drawer. Even so, when I was finished, I was thrilled. I could actually put things in the drawer! I felt so much lighter, like it was a new beginning to go along with my new project.