Monday, June 28, 2010

Hooray for Deadlines!

Only 3 days (counting today) until the day I wanted to be finished the first draft of my work-in-progress, and I’m doubtful that I’m going to make it. That’s because, in the process of getting my character to talk about her situation (thanks to Andrea V.  for your suggestion), my plot has expanded to create more interesting events than the ones I had originally planned. Yay!

I’m still going to attempt to meet my self-imposed deadline. I’ve found that it’s been a good motivator for me. Plus, it helps me remember that this is only a first draft. Polishing, rewriting, going back to fix things—that’s all going to come later. I have ideas for more novels and I don’t want to spend forever getting the story down (like the 2 or 3 years I spent on each of my first couple of novels), especially when I know I’ll be changing things during revisions. So, hooray for deadlines (but also for having the flexibility to be able to break them if necessary, so I won't be up 'til midnight Wednesday scrambling to finish my novel).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Keep 'Em Coming - The Ideas, That Is

People often ask, where do you get your ideas? I usually answer that they come from everyday life—things the kids do or talk about, things I notice, tidbits that make me stop and think when I’m reading the newspaper. But in reality, they're always around me, popping out of thin air when I'm doing anything. A few places where I’ve gotten ideas this week:

1. Watching my daughter's swimming lessons at the community pool

2. Out looking for snails (for my classroom) in the garden

3. In the middle of the night during a thunderstorm, when I'm trying to stop the dog from digging a hole in the hardwood floor under my bed

4. While I’m rushing around trying to do 101 things and I can’t find a scrap of paper or a pencil that isn’t broken

5. Writing in my book journal in the perspective of the character in my novel

Where's the weirdest place you've gotten a writing-related idea?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Aack! I'm Stuck!

It’s not writer’s block. My brain and fingers are raring to go. But I’ve written my main character into a dungeon tower and I’m not sure how to get her out. My outline (which I slaved over months ago) is a little vague on what’s supposed to happen now. Maybe I thought I’d come up with a good idea by this point? Some ideas that have crossed my mind:

1) She unwinds her long hair and…oops! Not my story. Anyway, her hair is messy and tangled and the window is too small.

2) Friends rescue her just in time and—wait! She’s the main character so that’s cheating. She needs to do something to get out by herself.

3) ???

Since I’m stuck on this part, I’m going to skip ahead. I usually write in sequence, so it will be challenging for me. (I'm looking at it as another chance to grow as a writer). I just hope I don’t end up with a big hole in my story later.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What Do You Want From a Story Ending?

Now that I’m getting close to writing the ending of my first draft, doubts are starting to get in the way of my writing. The ending is tricky. What do I want it to do?

1. Achieve something significant for the main character. As one of my MG readers pointed out, “The mystery should be solved.” Even if there isn’t a mystery, feelings of suspense and tension need to be released. Loose ends need to be wrapped up.

2. Make sense. The solution shouldn’t come entirely out of the blue. For me, this means the main character needs to have a key role in resolving the problem.

3. Include something unexpected. Even though I want the ending to follow logically from previous story events, I don’t want it to be predictable.

4. Leave the reader feeling positive. I don’t think MG readers like stories that end with too many unresolved issues. Readers in this age group like to have something good happen to the main character at the end.

What do you want from your ending?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Thanks, Dad

Father's Day has been a little sad for me for the past ten years, because my father is no longer with us. I wish he was, because I see in myself a lot of his determination and persistence, and I'd like to think he'd appreciate those qualities in me.

My father always encouraged me to think about the quality of my life. It's bittersweet that the end of his life is what really propelled me to think about what I wanted out of my own. When I feel down or discouraged about my writing, I think about Dad and how his life was cut short, and it inspires me to continue to work towards my dream.

Friday, June 18, 2010

What I Learned This Week

I love blogging because it helps me feel connected to the writing community. Even better is all the stuff I learn from reading blogs. A few things I learned this week:

1) Some mistakes that get in the way of establishing a strong POV in your writing (Kathryn Craft over at the Blood-Red Pencil )

2) Tips for writing a synopsis of your story in a query letter (thanks to Meganrebekah’s blog)

3)  Different approaches agents have and how they might affect your writing career (another great post by Rachelle Gardner)

4)  A recipe for a good coconut cookie (from CakeSpy)

I also read a great article about critique groups and how they benefit writers, though it’s not new to me, because I have an awesome critique group that does all these things (guest post by Maurissa Guibord over at Adventures in Children’s Publishing).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Pause/Stop: Time to Think

I’ve made it to Chapter 18 of my current work-in-progress, and I feel like I might actually accomplish my goal of finishing the first draft by the end of June. Now that I’m coming into the last third of the book, I’m excited to see how it’s going to end.

Yikes – did I just say that? I should already know how it will end, after all the outlining I did before I started. Except that since then, my characters have taken over the story in ways I didn’t expect. The specifics of the ending are changing. Yesterday, instead of writing, I did a lot of thinking about what’s going to come next. What I noticed:

1) Now that I know my characters better (and which minor characters have developed a stronger role), I have a better sense of what they’d do in a given situation.

2) I discovered some details that I need to weave in and/or bring out earlier in the story. Like in the part I’m writing now.

3) Some of the questions I had at the beginning of the story are starting to get answered, and some still need to be answered, but at least I know which ones.

4) Taking a mini thinking break gives me an energy boost.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Off Stage vs. On Stage: How Much Do You Show?

Lately, in working on my current novel, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time on subplot instead of the main plot events. I need to make decisions about which parts the reader needs to experience as the story moves along and which parts can be summarized through dialogue or a descriptive paragraph.

It’s not as easy as it seems. I want to experience all of it. While that’s perfectly reasonable for the first draft, I also don’t want to lose my focus on the main storyline. Some questions I'm asking myself:

1) Is the information in the scene critical to moving ahead the plot?

2) Am I getting so far from the main story that the reader will forget what’s happening?

3) Do I need to know what’s happening here? If so, I write the scene but mark it for possible summarizing later. Maybe I need to know, but the reader doesn't.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Are Your Characters Like You?

Do you ever notice that your characters contain bits and pieces of your own personality? If the real me was ever in a book, I’d probably make for quite an eccentric character.

You see that woman at the side of the pool, hunched over and scribbling in a sketchbook while the kids are having their swimming lesson? Or that crazy lady hunting for snails in her front yard while other people in the neighbourhood are sitting on their porches enjoying the evening? She actually rejects watching an episode of Glee to type stuff on the computer. And she drags home huge bags of books from the library every week. Weird.

Luckily, I’m creating the characters in my books, so I can put in a few non-eccentric qualities of my personality and exaggerate the traits I like. You know, like magic. Or super powers. Hmm. I definitely see the appeal of writing fantasy. Of course, sometimes parts of my personality emerge unintentionally. (I swear that mean character is nothing like the real me.)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hearing Character Voices

Sometimes I hear writers talking about how their characters tell them things. That hasn’t happened to me (yet), but it always makes me wonder how the character’s voices sound. You know how, when you record yourself speaking and play it back, it sounds different than you always thought?

I don’t often consciously think about what my character’s voices sound like. Are their voices high-pitched and squeaky or deep and gruff? It mostly doesn’t matter. I’ve noticed that when I read, I form my own mental soundtrack for a character’s dialogue, whether the writing describes it to me or not. I’ve always tried to avoid writing dialogue with accents or slang, again because of my reading preferences (too much is hard to read).

Lately, a few of my characters are developing accents when I hear their dialogue in my head. Weird, in a good way. Since it’s the first draft, I’m trying to record some of it, though I have no idea how to “write an accent”.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Writing Characters You Don't Like

I recently read The Thief by Meghan Whalen Turner. This story hooked me, even though during the first half of the book I didn’t particularly like the MC--he seemed to be always complaining. So what kept me reading? The story (especially the challenges the MC faced in trying to achieve his goal) and the interesting interplay of characters and personalities as the MC became friendly with his captors. The book was a satisfying read--and had an awesome, unexpected twist.

However, it made me think about the process of creating characters. For most of my characters, there’s something about them I like. For the ones I don’t, I tend to exaggerate what I perceive as “negative” qualities. I have a feeling that these more “negative” characters in my stories are not as fully realized as the others. Because I don’t like them, I find it harder to give them fully rounded personalities. Any thoughts or tips?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Moving Forward Inch by Inch

Yesterday was a perfect lazy Sunday—pancakes, games, working in the garden, mindless television. (I’m ignoring the part where I had to drive around looking for wax to melt for my daughter’s pseudo-ancient Greek artifact due later this week.) I thought of turning on my computer a couple of times but I stopped myself.

The result? Extra energy today. I’m eager to get back to my writing. My goal for this month is to finish the first draft of the novel I’m writing (now on Chapter 15). I find that “big picture” goals are better for keeping me motivated than short-term, daily goals, e.g. words or pages a day, which might just end up leaving me disappointed when other things get in the way.

If I keep in mind where I want to go, it doesn’t matter how I get there:  a lot of intense writing one day, a paragraph the next. As long as I’m moving towards my goal, that’s all that counts.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

What's Your Reading Style?

I’m normally a pretty fast reader. I gobble up books like some people go for chocolate or ice cream. I definitely don’t read every word. However, I slow down if a story really catches my interest, or if I really love the writing style or characters and I don’t want the book to end (e.g. most Jodi Picoult novels). Sometimes, I intentionally skim sections of a book that don’t catch my attention, because I just want to find out what happens. What I might skip over:

1) Backstory that doesn’t seem relevant to what’s happening
2) Sections following a subplot that doesn’t interest me
3) Long descriptions that (I think) get in the way of the story
4) Too much detail in explaining what a character is thinking

My reading style has an impact on my writing. When I write, I try to include only what’s relevant for the character’s situation at the moment. I tend not to use much description – I'll often have to go back and add some to create a more well-rounded picture. Does your reading style affect your writing?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

"I Made It to 50" Contest Winner

Thanks to everyone who checked out my blog and entered my “I Made It to 50 Celebration Contest”. I got some great suggestions for books to check out for my 100 book challenge.

After a random drawing, the winner is……..