Not a lot to say today other than I’ve cut back on the amount of blogging I’m doing over at the Seven Scribes. As a group, we decided to post less based on all our busy writer schedules.
My next Scribe post will be on February 20th. The site recently received a make-over. Take a gander, since yours truly did the actual change over (courtesy of WordPress and their new Twenty-fourteen theme).
I’m in the home stretch of Lachlan’s Curse, draft 1. Yes, someday I will finish this book. I hope to do that by month end. We’ll see.
I haven’t been idle. Just focused on other things. I took an RWA class this past week and I finished edits forMystic Hero and submitted it to my publisher (fingers crossed that they like it!)
I had a realization the other day. It’s 2014. Twenty-freakin’-fourteen! Well, duh. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that by now. And, despite my seeming disbelief, I know it too. But it did make think about how much my life has changed in the last few years. Ten years ago, in 2004, I had mostly given up writing. When I say mostly, what I mean is – I was not actually clacking away at a keyboard. Instead, I was berating myself for being a loser because I couldn’t complete a story. I had a few half-finished or sort of done, but awful, manuscripts hidden in binders under my bed (and yes, they were literally under there, collecting dust bunnies.) I was paralyzed with doubt and indecision. I was totally clueless about what to do. Should I start another book? No. Because I already had too many incomplete drafts. So, I did nothing and worried. Because that is always so much more productive (not really). My solution: teach myself to knit and crochet. Yup. Had nothing to do with writing but it was another life-long goal of mine. It all started when I six years old and my great aunts tried to teach me to crochet. Total disaster. I couldn’t hold the yarn right. Couldn’t make a chain, let allow an actual stitch. I just didn’t get it. No matter how hard they tried to implant their skills into my brain, I sucked at it. I was a loser/failure <cue sad trombone sound> I had another chance to learn crochet in Girl Scouts. Still a disaster but I did manage to make a curly worm bookmark (very lumpy and it didn’t twist properly). It’s now tucked away in my hope chest. For years and years, not knowing how to crochet ate away at my sub-conscience. Why couldn’t I figure it out? Is there something wrong with me? Ummm. Kind of like my ability to finish a book (that didn’t suck). I hate not being able to do things. The last straw: when I couldn’t finish drafting yet another novel to my satisfaction, I decided I was going to succeed at something. Damn it. 2004 was the year I went to Michael’s, bought a skein of Red Heart yarn (bright red) and two books – “I Taught Myself to Knit” and “I Taught Myself to Crochet” – and, by golly, that is exactly what I did. I learned!! I made stuff. It didn’t suck once I got the hang of it. As soon as I mastered the basics, I decided I was knitting in the round. I wanted gloves. So I made them (apparently most beginners don’t go for gloves, but whatever). Needless, to say, friends and family were inundated with crocheted and knitted “gifts” from me. Yet, the entire time, a little voice in my head nagged at me to get writing. Eventually, the little voice won out. But not for another five years. You know what? It doesn’t matter. In the end, I finished a book (Ascension), then another (Mystic Ink), then sold it. Then wrote more and sold more. I credit the little voice. But I also believe that by pushing my boundaries and trusting myself to learn a brand new skill, it gave me the confidence to consider myself a “real” writer and get busy. And, yes, I still knit and crochet. This is my latest sock:
Is there a lesson to be learned here? Yarn is magic. No, that’s probably not the answer. But listening to the little voices in your head, yeah, that must be it! Continue reading →
So here it is, the day before I’m scheduled to blog and I’m twiddling my thumbs. Normally, I’d be panicked. I like to get blogs done on Sunday night. But with Downton Abbey and Sherlock premiering in the US – what sane fan can think of blogging? Not me.
Blame the Monday holiday. Or maybe the fact that on Tuesday, hubby came home sick and promptly infected me. Thanks dear.
Or it could be that, while I’m in the final throes of Lachlan’s Curse (should be subtitled – Why, oh, Why Isn’t This Book Done Yet?) I can’t summon any ideas other than those related to the book. I did take comfort in reading Chuck Wendig’s blog post – It Takes the Time it Takes. Thank you, sir. I needed that!
Instead, I will leave you with my thoughts in pictures.
I am so glad you’re back. Don’t make me wait another two years.
Writers are often asked – “What inspires you?” In the past, I’ve shuddered at the question largely because, to non-writers, we seem to have some kind of magical powers. That the universe has blessed us with a special gift that enables us to come up with more ideas than everyone else.
Well, surprise. We don’t have magic powers or a special gift from the gods. Most of the writers I know don’t suffer from a lack of ideas. In fact, we often have too many ideas zipping around in our heads. Why is that? I’ll get to that in a second.
For me, I have loads of ideas for stories. Tons of them. Sadly, most will never see the light of day. There isn’t enough time to fully explore them all. And not all of the ideas are good ones. So, the stories that do get written are the ones that stay with me. The ones where the characters rap me on the noggin’ and say, “Tell my story. Or else.”
So back to the earlier question – why do writers seem more inspired than the average bear?
Here’s my theory – everyone, and I do mean, everyone, has ideas all the time. Most people are afflicted with “adulthood.” They’ve repressed their childlike sense of wonder. There are too many reasons to list why this happens (life happens: family, kids, work, or they have loads of doubt or maybe they don’t care – take your pick).
One of the things I had to learn was to not ignore ideas. To seize them no matter how crazy they sounded. To not over-think them or talk myself out pursuing the idea. Hey, it’s okay to let your imagination run herd. Just do it!!
With that said, while I have no problem with coming up with an overall plot, I can get stumped with actual circumstance (i.e. scenes). And I’m always worried that I might repeat myself and rehash the same ideas over and over. And, really, who wants to do that? Not me!
Then one day, Chuck Wendig (Terrible Minds) ran a blog post about Christmas gifts for writers. One of the gifts was Rory’s Story Cubes. Designed to be a game for kids, it’s basically a set of dice with pictures. You roll them, then make up a story. And the best part, anyone can play. Anyone (yes, even us jaded adults).
How fun does that sound??
I think it sounded pretty cool. So when I happened upon a set in Newbury Comics, I ponied up the $9.99 and brought them home. And if you don’t want to have physical dice, yes, there’s an app for that. Rory’s and other story dice apps are available at iTunes, Amazon and Google Play (just search under – story dice).
My plan is to use them whenever I find myself trying to spice up a scene or re-work a plot point. So, while writers don’t invoke magic powers, we can roll story dice and see what comes up.
Who wants to play?
I’m rolling four dice . . . and go! Tell a story that connects each dice, starting with Once Upon a Time or In a Land Faraway or whatever floats your boat. . .
(In case you can’t see the images – frowny face, bridge over water, sheep, alien).
Tropes are unavoidable in the world of genre fiction. In fact, readers expect a certain level of “tropiness” in storytelling. However, one could also argue that the reader doesn’t want to notice the trope. If it smacks them in the face, well, they might just toss the book across the room, labeling it derivative nonsense.
Not sure what a trope is? Trope = a common or overused theme or device.
Such as: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy wins girl back. Practically every romance novel or romantic comedy written in the twentieth century had a bit of this trope in it. Sure, it may vary. Girl loses boy instead or Girl tells boy to shove off, but the basis of all romance is providing the reader with their Happily Ever After.
One of the most common tropes EVER is the orphan child destined/thrust into greatness or, at the very least, part of an interesting event. With this one trope, I could be describing the hero or heroine from hundreds, if not thousands, of fantasy, middle grade, science fiction, literary fiction, comic books and a zillion movies.
Don’t believe me? The devil is in the details. And as a writer, the details and inner life you give the character is what is going to elevate your story beyond the usual cliches.
For argument’s sake, let’s make the orphan a boy. But, this isn’t enough. Let’s give him more, shall we?
Cruel relatives. If I give him a wand and send him to a wizard school – poof – Harry Potter. If he enters a giant magical peach – James and the Giant Peach. Or forget magic – his own sister (basically all the women around him) treat him badly and he comes into his fortune because he helped an escaped convict – Pip (Great Expectations)
Caring relatives. Raise him on a world with two suns and hand him a light saber – Luke Skywalker. Or, he’s an alien from outer space, his planet long dead and behold – Superman! Or his parents are gunned down in alley before his eyes. Bam! Batman! If he lives in a hole in the ground and is bequeathed a magic ring – Frodo Baggins
No relatives. Poor or living on his own, surviving with his wits – Oliver Twist, Huckleberry Finn, David Copperfield, James Bond.
Animal relatives.Throw in a jungle and some apes – Tarzan is born. Or, if you like historical myth, two orphans raised by a she-wolf – Romulus and Remus – founders of Rome. Oh, but wait, if the animals talk then it could be Mowgli from A Jungle Book.
And don’t think there aren’t any orphan girls. Let’s not forget: Cinderella, Heidi, Dorothy Gale, Snow White, Pollyanna, Jane Eyre, Anne Shirley, Little Orphan Annie.
Oh my! The list goes on and on!
One thing these characters have in common besides their orphan status – these are all considered classic characters either in film or literature (sometimes both). The trope was merely the stepping off point to their greatness. Their creators went beyond the cliché. Made us care about these characters and turn that page (or watch the movie again and again).
So, a word to the wise. Go beyond the trope. Really, your readers will thank you for it.
Newbie writers often receive this bit of wisdom – You have to know the rules before you can break them.
I’ve heard this before. I thought I understood it, and at some level, I do. But it took an artist to drive the lesson home. Being a visual person, I often stare at paintings before I start writing. Something about the images, the colors, bring me to a happy place. I especially enjoy trees.
This is a painting of trees in autumn. Pretty straightforward, right? Clearly, this artist can realistically render a forest.
Recently, I purchased a Kindle App – Impressionism HD because I love impressionist paintings. What most people don’t always understand is that artistic endeavours don’t happen by magic. Often years of study, practice and knowing the rules are required to produce “art”. And, even then, like the Impressionists, that art may not be appreciated in that person’s lifetime.
The Impressionists broke “da rules” twisting light and colors into surrealistic landscapes and images. At the time, I imagine, the art “experts” concluded that these people weren’t any good at all. Many of them were unappreciated in their lifetime.
The same is true with writing. We have to know the rules of grammar and storytelling before we can do our own thing. Which brings me back to the forest above. Go ahead, take another look. I think it’s lovely and pleasant to look at.
Won’t you be surprised when I tell you the artist’s name?
Vincent Van Gogh. Yup. He could paint “correct” trees. Van Gogh knew the “rules” of painting.
Writers get asked a lot of interesting questions . One of the more popular ones is – “where do you find the time?” Often followed by comments like “I would write, if I had the time.”
Well, guess what? People do have the time, they just aren’t using it to write. Sugar Jamison covered this topic on Monday (over at the 7 Scribes site), so I am not going to elaborate on finding time. See her excellent post here.
Instead, I’m going to share my twenty years experience as a work at home employee of a large national company. These tips and tricks can apply to writers as well as anyone.
1. Get up in the morning, like you would on a work day for an outside employer and bathe. Yes. Get out of your pajamas and wash yourself. Go to your designated work space and report for duty.
2. Remember to eat breakfast. Again, in case you haven’t heard this before: it’s the most important meal of the day.
3. Develop a mindset that this is a job. Create the same mental head space/attitude you would if an employer was paying you. Writers – if you are under contract – yes, you have an employer who is paying you. If you are aspiring to publication, best develop a solid work ethic now. It will serve you well when you land that contract.
4. Have a schedule. For example, I will write from the hours of 9:00 – 12:00. Or midnight to four am. Whatever fits. And during this time, I am working. No social media, no television, no phone calls, etc.
5. Tell yourself – “I do NOT have all day to get it done.” See # 3 & #4. You don’t have all day. I know it seems that way, but if you want to work at home (doing any job, not just writing) you have to be professional and get your work done during scheduled hours.
6. Dirt doesn’t matter. Leave the dishes, killer dust bunnies and monster laundry piles alone. Believe me, they aren’t going anywhere. You can deal with them later. Like you would if you went to a day job outside of your home. If you are bothered by these things, sorry, but you have to get over it. Or find a place to work outside of the home.
7. Take a lunch break. See #2. Eating in important to the body and brain’s function.
8. Drink lots of water. Why? So you don’t sit in your chair until your muscles atrophy. Every time you take a bio break, drink some more liquid.
9. Exercise. Especially important if you are staring at a blank screen or hating your job. Take 10 to 30 minutes and walk (or whatever exercise does it for you – lifting your arm to aim a remote doesn’t count).
10. If you aren’t writing a story, you should be plotting your next one. Use every minute allotted to writing time to advance yourself.
11. Fake it till you make it – if your day’s writing is crappy – who cares! It can all be fixed later. That’s what editing is for.
12. Schedule down time. All work and no play, make a writer grumpy and not very good at their job. Granted, if you have a full-time job (like many of us do), then allow yourself a day of rest (or even a few hours). I did this recently – see here.
13. Have fun. Remember, you’re doing this because you wanted to be a writer!
I’m happy to report that Mystic Hero finally crossed the 60,000 word mark. That means the end of the first draft is in sight! Unlike the previous books in the series, Devlin’s story is a bit different.
He’s got issues. Big ones. And just like in real life – everything that can go wrong, does. We Scribes have mentioned a few times the importance of being mean. And I totally agree with that. The most satisfying tales always involve some emotional pain and the eventual triumph over that pain.
Normal people generally steer clear of conflict. And most people don’t enjoy watching others suffer. At least not in real life (and I know the glut of reality shows probably says otherwise), but I think the big exception is in entertainment. Movies, TV, books – they would all be booooring if there wasn’t some kind of challenge to conquer.
And really, in fiction, we have to be extra tough on our characters. One of the things I realized so far about Devlin’s journey is that I wasn’t being hard enough on him emotionally.
Sure, it was easy to throw bad guys his way. Since I write paranormal, they are often extra weird or super creepy. But I also realized that I was shying away from his substantial internal demons. And that is short-changing the reader. I know when I pick up a romance I want to go on an emotional ride with the hero and heroine.
How does one overcome this problem?
1. Don’t let your characters have what they want. At least not until the very end. Dangle the prize in front of them and take it away a few times. Again, think emotional stakes. What will they lose if they don’t change?
2. Make them earn the payoff in the end. This means, the character has to suffer. They have to doubt themselves, question their choices and reach a low point (or two or three) before they can transform.
3. Bring them to their darkest place and throw in their worst fear in for good measure. And I don’t mean lock them in a dark room. Not unless your hero or heroine has a phobia of the dark and the only way to save the day is to overcome that fear.
4. If you get stuck – ask yourself again – how can I make things worse for this character? Never better. At least not until the very end
One caution – There’s a fine line between being too sappy or preachy (no one wants to read an ABC After School Special – at least I know I don’t!) and creating an emotionally satisfying and believable experience.
What are your tips for character “bashing”? And what books do a great job of torturing the poor hero and heroine?