Monthly Archives: September 2009

This is a post…

…to say that there will be no post today. Instead I’ll share my sob story: I had a paper due yesterday. Today I have a brutal test and then solid class/work from 10-6. Then I have a paper due tomorrow, and on top of that I have two back-to-back tests after I turn the paper in. Poor me. I have no life.

But. I did somehow randomly start the sequel to THE INBETWEEN yesterday (and no, I wasn’t procrastinating or anything, it was just a ten-minute study break). It made me happy.

Goodbye.

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Fleshing out? Flushing out?

I don’t remember which it is. But whatever it is, it’s something you do to your characters before (or maybe while) you draft your book. Briefly, let’s look at a couple ways to make your characters flesh and blood — breathing and thinking and living human beings.

1. Know his story: So during your novel, your character solves a bank robbery and falls for the bank robber. But what happens before the story? Don’t just go for the general, like the name of their hometown and highschool sweetheart. Know detailed scenes. Know their thoughts. Know their lives. Sophie, the main character of THE INBETWEEN, doesn’t just show up in Morrow, Oregon and plunge right into a new life. She carries a story: a life defined by playing the violin and performing with her brother. I don’t use all the details I know about her life in the book, but they still add depth to her character.

2. See the world through her eyes: Spend some time walking around town, going through the grocery store, or just doing daily things while thinking of your character. How would he or she describe your day to his/her friend? What details would they highlight? Leave out? Laugh about? What kinds of similes and metaphors would they use? In one of my earlier novels, Patricia (the main character) was a cook. She saw everything through a cooking lens, so she used food imagery. Sophie plays the violin, so she sees and hears music everywhere.

3. (This one might be weird to some of you. So prepare yourself. I promise I’m not crazy; a thousand other writers will vouch for me) … Talk to them: Yep. For the longest time I thought people who had ‘conversations’ with their characters were kind of bonkers, at least until I got to that level myself. It took about two years of writing, but I finally reached the spot where I knew my characters so well that they really, really felt real to me, as real as if they might walk into my room and say hi. Then they started saying things. Arguing. Short example: Patricia the cook was supposed to like her friend Ben and get together with him by the end of the book. But her other friend Reed would not settle for sidekick-status. He was so insistent that I did major surgery on the book and let him have his way. It’s actually a better draft. So listen to your characters. They often know what they’re talking about.

Mostly, although you do want to know your characters inside and out, don’t be afraid of being surprised. Characters might not do what you want them to and might not become the people you want them to become, but that’s okay. It’s kind of exciting, actually, because someone like Reed (whom I had characterized as slightly-nerdy-sidekick) will completely blow your mind by turning out to be the slightly-nerdy-boyfriend instead. Cool.

I also use this character chart sometimes when I’m first fleshing/flushing out (I think it’s fleshing, actually) a character. It’s a good tool, but don’t let it become a prison. Let your characters stretch its boundaries as you write.

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Teaser Tuesday: Imitation

Listen to the tunes of speech, the intonation patterns we use to connect our thoughts in conversation. The next step is using those patterns as the skeleton of thinking: Find a voice, then think.” (Dona Hickey, Developing a Written Voice)

No INBETWEEN today. Instead, I’d like to tease you with a writing prompt. It’s basically what I did for part of a style/grammar class assignment this week. My¬† professor related it to trying on clothes: Style is like clothing. Writers can try on all sorts of styles, maybe collect a vintage wardrobe and mix in a few chic accessories — or stick with stuff that’s more Vogue and modern. Mary Oliver, as you’ll find if you click through to the following link, has a distinct voice and style. My class had to imitate her voice, wear her clothes, try on her style, and so will you if you try out this prompt.

Click through to this link. It’s an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s Blue Pastures. I’d paste it here, but it was pub’d in 1995 and I’m uncertain of copyright rules. So just scroll to page 19, the paragraph beginning “When the great horned…” Just read that paragraph; it’s not too long. Gorgeous writing. I’m obsessed.

Now list a couple qualities of Oliver’s writing. I got:

  • sentence length moves from long at the beginning of the paragraph to short at the end
  • hard alliteration
  • LOTS of piled adjectives

So, for the assignment, I wrote this little 150 word paragraph in an attempt to imitate Mary Oliver.

On foggy fall mornings when I trudge out to the car, ice clings to the leaves on our Japanese maple and turns them into red crystals that sparkle when the sun comes out to melt the ice into condensation. All through the day, condensation drips onto the dewy grass or steams into the softening air until the crisp coming of evening freezes up the leaves again. Almost always the changing fall air burns the Japanese maple more brilliantly red by the day until veins of flame-colored orange streak through their centers and sear their crinkly edges brownish-burgundy. Then I pluck the leaves from creaky branches or scoop them off frozen soil, and press them flat inside fat phone directories. When all the leaves I leave on the maple are plastered to the pavement by deluges or rain or piled around the storm drain, I peel back the pages of the phone books. Suspended in time are my September leaves. Fresh fall fire fills my house.

Will I get 100%? Yeah? What would you do differently or similarly? Give it a try. It’s fun to try on new clothes.

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The Analogy Machine: Not Like Riding Rollercoasters

viper

Yep, be jealous. I went to Magic Mountain this weekend. Highlights: almost blacking out on Goliath because of the insane G forces…sprinting to X2 right when the park opened so we only had to wait 20 minutes in line…floating through spirals and corkscrews while laughing my head off on Tatsu… Lowlights: looooong lines and expeeeensive food (what a rip-off!).

My ever-present writer brain tagged along, too, and told me that writing a novel is not like riding a rollercoaster.

Riding a rollercoaster is:

  • all about waiting in long lines
  • all about wondering how much longer the lines are going to last
  • all about wanting to just get on the ride

Writing a novel is:

  • (all about waiting, wondering, and wanting, yes, okay)
  • BUT it’s not about wishing away the waiting, wondering, and wanting
  • NOR is it all and only about the ride at the end of the line

As my friends and I played our way through our tenth game of “Never Have I Ever” and sweated buckets while waiting to get on Riddler’s Revenge, I was helpfully reminded that unlike riding roller coasters — (where it’s all about the destination and the end of the line) — writing is about enjoying the journey.

Sure, the “ride” at the “end” (getting an agent, getting published, going on tour, and whatever else your wild dreams would like to insert here) is super cool, full of adrenaline rushes and moments where your stomach drops out of your body… But the process (the writing, the editing, the querying, the waiting) is super cool, too. Maybe cooler.

Often we (okay, often I) get so fixated on the idea of getting an agent, getting an agent, getting out of this in-between stage — that we (I) forget why we (I) started writing in the first place. The rides at Magic Mountain have these handy signs that say: expected wait from this point: 1000 hours… but life doesn’t. So enjoy the journey.

sunset

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Star tipping

This is kind of like a blog challenge. (To that my rhetoric prof would say: is it a blog challenge, or is it not a blog challenge? So scratch the “kind of like”. It’s a blog challenge.)

The next time you can see the stars — not just a few stars that poke through the haze of city lights but STARS, millions of them that make the sky look like glitter — find yourself a big field. The bigger, the better. Then find yourself some friends.

Right, this is not a star, but use your imagination. I had no star pictures.

Right, this is not a star, but use your imagination. I had no star pictures.

Everyone takes turns. When it’s your turn, stand in the middle of the field and focus on one star. Then start spinning really fast, as fast as you can, and keep looking at the star.

Your friends will be holding a flashlight. They’ll count as you spin, maybe to ten or just until you’re so dizzy you can barely stand up. Then they’ll shine the flashlight right in your face.

Get ready for your world to explode… literally. It is the strangest experience. I still feel kind of dizzy, and we did it two hours ago (as in, I’m typing this post at midnight, not 9 a.m. like it says). One second I’d be spinning and the next I’d be crashing into the wet grass with no idea where I was, and then the stars would twirl above my head for a while…

Trippy. This is the blog challenge. Go do it.

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Distance

I know Wednesdays are supposed to be Cover Girl days, but that’s not going to happen this time. Next week — promise.

Today I’d like to ramble about distance. Everyone over at AW (a super cool place that you should check out sometime) recommends the same thing about distance: it’s NECESSARY

For example, when you finish the rough draft of your novel, you should wait at least a week, preferably longer, before beginning edits. And then, when you think the novel is done, set it aside for another week or two before coming back to it with fresh eyes.

I disagreed with that for a long time. Mostly I’m just obsessive, and I never wanted to wait a week or two because I was too excited to edit. So I’d plunge into new drafts with excited eyes, but not fresh eyes.

With THE INBETWEEN, I took a break. Well, lots of breaks because it took me a year and a half to finish. But the biggest break was from the middle of August (when I finished) until yesterday, September 15th. Almost a month. Granted, that was because I have no life anymore and no time to write. But it completely convinced me that distance is necessary.

As I was skimming the manuscript before sending it off to agent #2, I fell in love with distance. I was so close to the story in August that I had every sentence almost memorized, and my mind would supply words that weren’t there, automatically fix the typos in my head. Bad. But yesterday, since I had forgotten most of the sentences, I saw everything. There were so many embarrassing typos. So many missing words.

Distance is good.

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Teaser Tuesday

Agent update: agent #1 (who requested the exclusive partial) said no. So I’m sending to agent #2 (who requested the full). Somehow I wasn’t disappointed when I saw the email today. I’m getting better and better at not taking rejection personally, which is essential to this query process. If agent #1 wasn’t excited enough, agent #1 wouldn’t have been a good fit for me. Maybe agent #2 will be? We’ll see.

Also: that article about me comes out today… If anyone clicked through the link and is here for the first time, welcome! Cruise around and get acquainted with this place and my book, which is called THE INBETWEEN. You can read more about it here or read more about me here.

[Teaser snipped]

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