Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rewriting Is A Party

Don't believe me, do you?

I am currently in the middle of a major series rewrite. After writing one and a half novels with one MC, but fighting to keep the spotlight off a secondary character the whole way, my muse finally slapped me to my senses. Secondary character is now my MC, and MC is now secondary, along with a POV change. (Limited third to close first)

Which means both the finished and nearly finished novel are nothing more than junkyard piles with a few useful pieces of scrap metal that maybe will go into the new version. Likely not.

Scrapping entire novels is like pulling my own fingernails with broken teeth, while bathing in lemon juice.

This is neither my first rewrite, nor will it certainly be my last. There are times when I'd like to strangle family, friends, or my character(s) during a rewrite. But there is more to a rewrite than the hair-pulling, teeth-grinding misery of redoing all the hard work poured into the project.

Here is where the party comes in. Every time someone has thrown me a surprise birthday-graduation-goodbye-welcome-etc party, I've enjoyed it. It was fun, it was unexpected and new, and whatever manipulation had managed to get me to the right place at the right time was okay now. Ends justified the means, as it were.

During a rewrite, your muse is manipulating you. He/She is guiding you through the nitty-gritty misery of rearranging scenes, erasing favorite phrases or lines, sacrificing whole chapters on the altar of plot and pacing. For a reason. Your muse wants to throw you a surprise party.

That is, in any rewrite, invariably you will learn more about your characters, your world, your people, your own self perhaps. You will be surprised. It's inevitable.

My new MC has already proven to me many things I did not know about him, his race, or even his background that I thought I did. Never would have known it without the rewrite.

There is the joy of first discovery during a rough draft, and then there's the surprising joy of rewritten material. The joy of something unexpected.

The next time you settle in for a dreary rewrite, relax. Your muse will be leaping out to shout, "Surprise!" at any moment.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Guest Post Alert--And News

Just popping in to let everyone know about my guest post over on The Sharp Angle. My favorite CP (critique partner) and bestie-writer friend Lydia Sharp graciously allowed me to babble about love triangles on her blog. Go on over there and say hello.

In other news, as you can see, it's been a while since I posted. I actually have a good excuse. Yes, I do.

See, I got offered a chance for some cultural and language exchange in....China.

Photo taken from MSNBC

I've been there since the end of September, which has been wild and crazy. I am loving learning all about the culture, seeing the sights, and learning the language. Though the latter is probably the hardest.

I'm setting a new novel in China for the fun of it, so it's all good. And I have way more time to work on my writing, which is also awesome. The downside is the internet, and Blogger, are often down. So, the gaps that happen....happen.

But hey, it's worth it to hear about stuff here. Their New Year's Festival is coming up. Now THAT I want to see and talk about. I'll be posting some pictures than, if I can get my camera to behave. It is snowing here in the city I'm staying at, which is cool.

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Writer's "Just Desserts"

My apologies if anyone gained ten pounds looking at that picture like I just did. Today's topic is not going to be about the pros and cons of choosing a good dessert--though that is one of the most important meals of the day. 
In my personal opinion, every writer has a voice, a way they present their prose and stories that is distinctive to them. This "voice" is developed over years. Years. But that's a topic for another day all its own. 

What many writers do not realize is what makes up a voice. It's not a one-source product. A voice is typically a combination of aspects. This can include lifestyle experience, personality, reading preference, genre niche, and the writer's own personal flair or style. 

The latter is the most important, the building blocks for all the rest. So far in my reading and personal writing, I have found three styles that writers tend to lean toward.  I'd love to give you some technical terms, but I'd much rather have you remember them. Hence desserts. 

The first style is Cheesecake style. 

Cheesecake is simple elegance. Though some may be swirled with chocolate or topped with fruit, the cheesecake is still a relatively straightforward dessert. Nothing too dramatic added, nothing extravagant used to "dress it up", this dessert is delicious just as it is. 

This is the "minimalist" style. Writers in this mode write crisp, concise prose with a minimum of description, both of characters and of settings. Not that there's a lack of description, but each word and phrase is chosen with great care and rarely slips into "purple prose". Motivations are clear and sharp.  

A great deal of literary fiction would fall into this category. The author that comes to mind as the epitome of such would be Ernest Hemingway and his famous 6-word story on baby shoes.

Second style would be Tiramisu. 

This dessert works in layers. Each layer of chocolate, coffee-soaked lady fingers, whipped topping, and creamy filling work together as a whole. This is richer than cheesecake, but not overpowering. And best appreciated in slow but steady bites. 

This is the main component of my voice. This style of writing involves layers. Descriptions are more vivid and detailed than with cheesecake, but not overwhelming.  Prose is more likely to flow gently along, leading the reader forward step by step. Motivations and plot may feel slightly mingled, but clarify into distinct layers as one pushes forward. 

Mystery is one genre that lends well to this style, though many other genres fit into this category as well. A famous author that is a tiramisu writer is Patrick Rothfuss with his Kingkiller Chronicles.

Last is the style of Death by Chocolate. 

This dessert is by its own name, a work of decadence. Rich chocolate, creamy whipped topping, fluffy coffee cake, and crunchy toffee bars together make this dish a work of art. This would be something you might eat during an anniversary or perhaps during a date, or perhaps because of a lack of a date...

This is the lavish writing style. These are writers who use "purple prose" but to perfection. Descriptions are heavily detailed and given large attention, down to the very food a main character eats or the brand of shoes they wear. Prose is devoted more to making a world and character come alive than to the plot, many times. The plot itself winds in complex ways, with rich character interaction and an extravagant approach to emotions and events. 

Most genres can fit into this category, but I see the most of this in speculative fiction, as well as somewhat in horror and thriller/suspense. I consider Dean Koontz to be an epitome of such prose. 
Each of these personal styles will influence your voice and your way of presenting a story. However, just because you are a cheesecake writer doesn't mean you cannot interject a little tiramisu layers. Nor should a death by chocolate writer lament the luxurious world they've created as being too much. A good writer should mix elements of all three styles into their work. 

The best thing is to be aware what style you prefer, to know where your strength is, and where you might be weak and need to incorporate more of the other "desserts" into your prose.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flogging Friday

As has been mentioned in my fellow writer friend (and regular friend) on her blog, Sharp Angle -- today at the Writer's Digest forum we have a special guest.

The editor, Ray Rhemey, of the website Flogging the Quill. He is going to be answering questions about writing, publishing, and everything in between. Also, he is going to be flogging (that is critiquing as he does on his regular website) the first 16 lines of various openings.

It's open to anyone, so come on down. The only restriction is that you must have an account with WD. This is just to protect the works of the writers who have put blood, sweat, tears, and lots of coffee into their openings. But the account is free and takes less than a minute to set up. So, what are you waiting for?

If you need further instructions on how to create an account, please check out the link to Lydia Sharp's blog, as she gives a very detailed step-by-step guideline. See you there.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mind of Babes

I and many of my fellow writers are afflicted with a terrible disorder:  writer-side-stuck-onia. That is, the inability to shut off the writer half of their brain in any situation--be it serious like a funeral or mundane like a hard day at work. 

Raise your hand if you've ever caught yourself dissecting a book's plot, a movie's plausibility, someone's conversation as inappropriately-worded dialogue. Go on, raise your hands.

Yep. I'm sorry, but most of you are already terminal.

In that train of thought, about a week ago, I was babysitting a toddler boy around three years old. We had played a few games already with bubbles, Play-Doh and the like. I ran out of games, of course. Mostly because I was bored, not the boy. 

One of his playsets is a castle, with multiple doors, gates, and trapdoors. Since this child loves peek-a-boo, I put my hands at the back of the castle, scratched at the doors, and then poked my fingers out of the opening with fake growling sounds. The boy squealed of course as any child abruptly "booed" and then grinned. He liked being scared, as most of us do.

No, this is not a foray into Family Files. I'm going somewhere with this. Promise.

Since I have writer-side-stuck-onia, I of course thought of this situation with my writer's side murmuring.

My fingers were not scary, per say. In the situation, the boy was perfectly safe and in no danger. Why did it startle him? The actual "monster" was nothing at all, but the tension built before the monster appeared with my scratching (foreshadow) and the anticipation (suspense) of my fingers' reappearance.

Hmm. Looks like a writer formula for success.  If you warn the reader of impending doom/danger for the character, and then mingle it with the villain/monster/obstacle's arrival, you create tension.  Using it in scenes that need tension should then allow each scene to draw the reader forward. Breaking it down:

Foreshadow + Suspense = Tension.

And any good formula can be tested. Let's see:

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship

Foreshadow: Gandalf warns of Black Rider arrival +
Suspense:  Black Rider appears on the path =
Tension:   Race to the dock with Black Riders chasing. (My  heart was pounding)

Firefly: Bushwacked

Foreshadow: Wander through derelict ship, everything left behind +
Suspense:  Find a host of dead bodies =
Tension:  Someone/something jumps out at one of the characters. (I nearly screamed)

This formula seems to work for me. Check out your favorite books or movies, and the scenes that left you feeling bound up in knots of dread and fear. Dissect them. I'll bet you can find the same formula. 

Prove me wrong.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Timing Is Everything

This topic has been ruminating in my mind recently after attempting to read a book by a normally good author. It was also brought up in the writer's forum I frequent as an annoyance by other readers.

Namely, the way an author introduces graphic content, or topics of more sensitive nature. This could and likely would include torture, rape, child abuse, experimentation of any kind, gore, severe violence, and the list could go on forever.

Many authors seem to think that putting such things on the first chapter, first page, even first sentence, is a good way to hook a reader. In some ways, this could be true. It does create instant sympathy for the victim, or instant hatred for the perpetrator. But it's more of a Russian roulette. Chances are very high that doing so creates an opposite effect. It is a very bad idea to alienate your audience.

Commercial break: One rule of thumb that applies to anything a writer does... if it turns off the reader(s), don't do it. Period.

Now let me be very clear. I am not saying to avoid writing on such topics. On the contrary, if a story demands less than pleasant situations in order to drive your characters to their best, so be it.

But learn to use good timing.

Let me explain by comparing two books which deal with nearly the same situation. I've read the book "Hunter of Worlds" by C.J. Cherryth and attempted "Stewards of the Flame" by Syliva Engdahl.

Both of these books have an MC who is abruptly taken by a group in power, and various alterations, indignities, and implants are done to them. Unwilling.  (this may not bother some people, but it does me)  Both authors deal with the same somewhat uncomfortable topic, but I only managed to finish one book--Cherryth's book; the other filled me with nausea.

Why the difference?   How the author handled it. Cherryth timed her revelation of the unpleasant situations carefully, in a manner that gave me (the reader) the ability to handle and finish the book. Engdahl, though one of my favorite YA writers, did not, in my opinion.

Here's three things I've noticed. I consider them general guidelines, at least in my experience as a reader and a writer.

1.  Do not start with the uncomfortable/frightening/graphic topic.  Not in the first paragraph, not on the first page. I'll go so far as to say, not even in the first chapter.

Once you create a knee-jerk reaction, it is extremely difficult to overcome a reader's "eww" response. Books tend to end up back on bookstore shelves.

      In Cherryth's book, the alterations and etc are performed in the third chapter. Engdahl's work has it within the first five pages or so.

2.  Foreshadowing is your friend. If you are going to introduce a hard-to-swallow topic, make sure you give the reader ample preparation. It is easier to handle something that I'm prepared for than to have it thrust upon me. 

Being prepared for a flu shot...being jabbed unexpectedly by a needle. Big difference between the two, isn't there?

Both books do possess foreshadowing, hints of things to come, but the pacing is all wrong. Engdahl has only a handful of hints before the dreaded events begin. Since there is very little time for the foreshadowing to unfold, I was more appalled, shocked, and disgusted than anything else.

Three chapters in the other book gives a great deal of room. By the time it happened, though I didn't enjoy it per say, I was more saddened and concerned for the character.

3. Build a relationship between character(s) and reader.  If all a reader has is a name, maybe a general face, and then abruptly that character is running from a rapist, it is very hard for me to continue reading, to put myself through that rough/painful scene for a character I don't even know. 

On the other hand, if I've seen this character be kind to a young child, seen some of his/her hopes and dreams, care for an elderly relative, etc, and now they're running from a rapist--now I care, I want to read to see how the character escapes. 

Make me care about the character and I'll be willing to follow wherever the story leads.

To sum up, check out this video.  This circus act only works because of one thing.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Rave: Wise Man's Fear

I've been awaiting--eagerly awaiting--this second book in the series called the Kingkiller Chronicles. Some of you may remember my guest book review of the first book, Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, here

The day the second one, Wise Man's Fear, was released, I bought it. And believe me, I do not do that easily. And I was not disappointed.

The second book delivers just as good, if not better, then the first one. Kvothe continues to reveal more of his life story. The young version of himself is charming and bold, headstrong and often foolish, but he's maturing too. And learning amazing skills.

While the older version continues to spin out secrets and strange things that don't seem to "quite" connect with who he used to be. The two together work very well to keep this reader continually guessing and wondering, rather than solving the mystery quickly (as seems to happen to me in most fantasy novels)

Just as I mentioned in the first one, Rothfuss reveals a talent in balancing many different viewpoints, all in the same book. He sticks to a traditional/conventional storyline, but this is what makes this story shine. I much prefer a story that unfolds in a typical way, but then throws me for a loop here and there, then one that is so strange and outlandish I could never keep it straight.

The characters are awesome. Some characters faded into the background, somewhat, such as Ambrose and Aureli, while others took prominent center stage. Such as Bast. I am honestly finding Bast to be "sometimes" more interesting than Kvothe. Especially after the last scene in the book. Which I won't share.

The world-building here is excellent as well. My favorite is the Ademic culture, with the dramatic pauses and hand language that sets them apart. The traditions behind iron, silver, gold, bone, and etc rings in another locale is just as fascinating, and fits together nicely. 

This is an exceptional, five-star fantasy. If you don't have it already, go out and get it and the first book. It's worth the money and the time to read.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Dragon Day

Today has been a hectic day for me, and I've got several stories yearning for my attention. So, rather than give detailed reviews today (though I will later on this week)  I'm going to list a handful of my favorite books.

More specifically, those centered around the theme or featuring my favorite fantasy creature. Dragons.

And check out the awesome cover art. 

Dragon's Blood:  Book 1 of Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen. (This was my first introduction to dragons as a young person. It's classified as YA, but believe me, it works for adults too. Still re-read these.)

His Majesty's Dragon:  Book 1 of Tremaire Series by Naomi Novik. (Excellent alternate history. What if the Napoleonic era including dragons as the main air force for the Brits? History professor/teacher writes them. A little on the lecture side at times, but loved the wit and intelligence of the dragons)

Dragon Champion: Book 1 of Age of Fire series by E. E. Knight (It's pretty much a description of the coming-of-age of three dragon siblings. It stands above the rest, IMHO, for its originality -- the dwarves have glowing beards for example--and for the unique viewpoint through the dragon's eyes. The way it's handled is quite...different.)

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Rave: Shadows and Light Anthology II

Taking a break from the "Sargas Chronicles" to applaud some hard work by Pill Hill Press.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with anthologies. Typically, in my experience, an anthology combines a plethora of bad to terrible stories, intermixed with a scant few good stories. I'm happy to say this anthology was the reverse.

When a writer friend of mine, Lydia Sharp, suggested I try it and mentioned her story was included in the collection, (Spread Your Wings And Die) I gulped and took the plunge with my Kindle. And was happily surprised. (Since I already have a pile of Noble-prize nomination anthologies in my "to-be-hurled-against-wall" stack)

Out of thirteen stories, I only found one that I disliked, and even that one was put together flawlessly, I just didn't like how it ended, as a reader. The anthology had a nice, slick look to it in the digital edition. Even though I missed out on the fancier font I've been told is in the print edition, the collection is so good that I'll likely purchase that one as well.

I am proud to say this anthology is the first book I've read this year to receive a 5-star rating from me. I actually had to make myself put it away before I didn't get any writing done for the day.

Definitely going to be looking for digital versions of the other anthologies by Pill Hill Press.
And here's some jazzy links if you want to try a sample.

Kindle Edition
Print Edition

Monday, January 17, 2011

Avoid This Contest and Publishing House

I'm not even going to compose much of a post, as Janet Reid states much more eloquently than I can all the wrong things going on with First One Publishing's new contest.

Other blogs, such as Enigma Inklings, have also mentioned it. Please, spread it around and post it if possible where other aspiring writers might be lurking. This contest is nothing more than a way to rip-off money and ALL publishing rights from new writers. (Oh yes, they ask for ALL rights, for eternity. Seriously bad contest)  Oh, and did I mention the $150, non-refundable fee just for entering?

Check out this POST

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sargas Chronicles: Part 3

The Pay-Off

As has been discussed in previous posts on this blog, the creation of your villain is as important as the creation of your main character/hero. And, just as your hero should have his finale, your villain should have the pay-off.

Once you've created a suitable villain, allowed him to rampage through the book/story, and nearly defeat your hero, it's time to unveil his ultimate defeat. But first you must ensure that this defeat connects sufficiently with your reader's automatic sense of justice. 

No one likes to feel cheated. But especially so in a good story. A note to the wise:

The last thing a reader remembers is the end. 

If your end lacks the punch and pizazz that you've built up throughout your story, a reader tends to feel cheated, deflated, and with a bad taste in their mouth. This also holds for the "end" of a character arc, including your villains' own.

Here's an example.The movie Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

How would you feel if the leader of the cult, rather than falling to his death among the crocodiles, climbed up the ladder and was taken away by local police? Would you feel cheated?


Because after the build-up of how awful and terrible that villain was, you want him to die, and you want him to die in a way that is equal to the pain and suffering he has caused.

That's because of most people's inborn sense of justice. When most people were toddlers, and someone took your toy, you took it back. When they bit you, you bit back.

Equal punishment.

Though we know that's not true in real life, in books, most people wish to see equal or even greater punishment fall on those who have done wrong.

Making your villain truly despicable, someone your readers can hate with as much vehemence as they love your hero, is always a good idea. Just remember that when the end comes, when you finally have your villain face his/her defeat, that the pay-off is just as terrible as the build-up you've created.