Thursday, September 29, 2011

Can You Really Force a Character To Do What You Want?

I have a problem. Well a hypothetical one anyway. I get to know my characters. I get inside their heads. I can answer pretty much any question as that character. This is supposed to be good, right? *nods* BUT what if there's a problem with the character or the way his or her actions play out in the book? What if your critiquers say "No! I don't like her enough. She can't do that." or something of the like? 
And suppose I know her so well that I'm convinced it wouldn't be true to her character to do what's necessary to make her likable or do what should be done plot wise. 

What happens then? Do we squeeze a square peg in a round hole?
Here's the answer that seems obvious to me though I know it's hard to swallow:

CHANGE THE CHARACTER. Is it a fundamental change? Sounds like it. But you know what? Maybe they weren't the right character for the situation. Maybe you need someone else. 
I've said before that you need the absolute wrong character for the situation. The one who will have the most difficulty therefore creating the most tension and conflict. It sounds like in the above situation I haven't found that perfectly wrong person yet. 

And it may hurt. It's worse than killing your darling words. It's a person you've gotten to know. If it helps,  rename the character. Change the physical description. Anything to differentiate between the two. BUT do what's right for the book.

The character has to be true to herself, but if that truth doesn't work, change the truth.

Just a note - because of the holiday I will probably be late visiting you guys, but know that I WILL catch up and read every single one carefully. 
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Monday, September 26, 2011

My Very UnFairy Tale Life

I'm super-excited to be able to tell you all about a very special book. I'm part of the unofficial blog tour for Anna Staniszewski's MY VERY UNFAIRY TALE LIFE! I don't read as many MG books as YA, so before I give you my own opinion, I have a couple of guests here who happen to be experts. Well, not so much experts on MG as much as experts on Fairy Tales and such. Please welcome my friends, Gary the Gnome and Sparkles the Unicorn!
GARY: Hey everybody! I have to tell you all that I loved reading a book about gnomes for a change-
ME: Wait a second. Did you actually READ the book, Gary? Because it really isn't about gnomes.
GARY: Typical human. You see what you want to see. The hero was clearly the gnome. Right, Sparkles?
SPARKLES: Neeeeeiiiiiggggghhh.
GARY: See?
ME: Um, all he said was neigh. 
GARY: *headpalm* Can't you even speak unicorn? Sheesh.
ME: *shifts uncomfortably* Uh... No I guess not.
SPARKLES: Neeeeeeiiiiggggghhhh. *rears*
ME: Sorry.
GARY: Anyhow, read the book. It's good, even if you're human and can't stand to admit it's really about the heroism of a brave young gnome. 
ME: Seriously, Gary, you haven't read it, have you?

Wow. Well, next time I promise to make sure my guests have actually read the book....and speak English. But if you're wondering what I thought? I was sold after reading the first paragraph. I plan on buying a copy for my own daughter as well because I have the feeling she's going to LOVE it. The characters are so much fun, and Anna's creativity was a-maz-ing. Warning though - I found the villain seriously creepy (in a good way). *shudders* 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

How Our Relationship With Our Characters Is Like Dating a Vampire

Take a look at these 6 similarities between dating a vampire and our relationship with our characters.

  1. He can do no wrong. You know that he's full of flaws, but you ignore them because you're just so in love. You better not though! Those flaws are what makes him special enough to love in the first place. Dangerous, but far more interesting than Mr. Perfect.
  2. You never know how he's going to react. Sure you think for the most part you have him figured out, but then comes that unexpected moment when he does something you weren't ready for. It's exciting and disconcerting at the same time.
  3. Your relationship is so intense that you can't seem to think about anything else. 'Nough said.
  4. Now that you've gotten yourself into this, there's only one way out. To become undead and join him? Or to finish the book?
  5. You're desperate to convince others that there's so much more to him then it seems. It isn't easy to do, but you're determined to succeed.
  6. Being with him is both thrilling and frightening but you're drawn to his side by powers beyond your control.
Photo Credit 

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tragic Monsters

My favorite kind of monster is a tragic one. 

We already know about the villain who doesn't see himself as evil. This character feels justified in his actions, whether from a skewed sense of right and wrong or because he's been wronged by others. There are many wonderful examples, including Valentine, President Snow, and Lord Voldemort. "There is no good and evil. There is only power and those too weak to seek it." - Voldemort

But one of my favorite characters is the almost villain. The one who believes he is evil and fights his nature, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. Typically, this is a paranormal being (vampire, werewolf, etc.) Often the character manifests as a "bad boy", but these traits certainly aren't necessary. 

But why? Why am I such a sucker for the monster? Because if it's well written, I will root for the underdog. I will see his inner struggle and feel that much more horror when he gives in to it and that much more relief when he doesn't. 

So who are some of these characters? Patch from Hush Hush might have been one of the best as I really didn't know until the very end whether he was "good" or "bad". But I can tell you that I was invested and hoping the good would win out. Other good examples? Cole from Linger, Ridley from Beautiful Creatures, and (yeah you knew I'd bring him in here somewhere) Damon

Have you ever tried writing one of these sympathetic monsters? Was it difficult or easier than others? Who is your favorite? I'd love to know your thoughts. 
photo credit

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Secret of Spruce Knoll: An Interview With Luke

Heather McCorkle was one of the first people I connected with when I started this blog. She's an awesome person, a supportive friend, and a talented writer. Her first book, The Secret of Spruce Knoll just released and I've already gobbled it up (yum). So today I have a treat for you! Heather has agreed to allow one of her characters, Luke, to come and visit. She's included the pic below, saying this actor would be the perfect Luke. Enjoy!

1. Luke, in your own words can you tell us what the Secret of Spruce Knoll is about?
Me of course, and my attempts to help keep the existence of our kind a secret. Well, that and this completely frustrating mixed blood girl who drops in out of nowhere and turns our world upside down. 

2. If you had to describe yourself for our readers, what three words would you use?
Powerful, charismatic, hot. But really, I don't have to tell you that. Just look at all this...

3. I hear you are proud of your lineage. Can you explain a little about that? I'd love to Lisa. Do you mind if I call you Lisa? It's such a pretty name, I like saying it, the way it slides off my tongue. My family are Hunters, people who protect our kind from others and from exposure. We descended from the very line of Hunters who helped Vlad Tepes protect Wallachia from invaders. 

4. Um, let’s stick to Mrs. Green. *clears throat* What's your family like?
My family is unmatched in both political and fighting prowess. We're ruthless when it comes to protecting our kind and aren't afraid to do what it takes.

5. If you could send a message to Heather regarding the sequel, what would it be?
You'd better drop in more chapters about me and less about Aiden in book 2. You know it's all about me anyway. And let's get to the good stuff between Eren and I already, you know it's unavoidable. 

Intrigued? Then clicky-clicky on the link above to buy a copy for your very own. I hear Heather's already hard at work on the sequel. And *checks to be sure Luke is gone* Aidan is seriously hot! Also I'm doing a guest post today over at the new blog Reel YA, so please stop in and let me know what you think of my wacky vampire idea!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Backstory: Where and How Much?

Ahh, the elusive backstory. We spend countless hours filling in the holes in our characters lives so that they become multi-dimensional, and then we go to write the book and are told not to put that information in. It's true though - how do you like reading info dumps? 

So how do you know when it's time to put the info in? And how do you know how far to go?

I'd say the answer is deceptively simple. Put in only the information necessary in order to fully appreciate the story you are telling. And do it when the information is needed in order to go any further. 

If you withhold the backstory until the last moment, you are creating tension. But if you withhold it to the point where things are unclear and frustrating for the reader, instead of an intriguing mystery, you've withheld too much for too long. 

Example time! We must go with Harry Potter for this one. (I will focus on one part in particular, but the wonderful blogger SP Sipal had a fantastic post on JKR and how she handled the backstory of this portion of HP if you want to read more on this) 

In the beginning of book one we learn that Hagrid has borrowed the flying motorcycle from young Sirius Black. We need this info to understand how it is that Hagrid arrives as he does on Privet Drive with baby Harry. But JKR doesn't fill us in with all the details of who Sirius is, or why he would have been at the crime scene. And in fact, we don't give it a second thought, do we? We are far too concerned with the enchanting trio of Dumbledore, Hagrid, and McGonagall, who Harry Potter is, why he is special, and what on earth it has to do with these horrible Dursleys. 

But come the third book we meet Sirius again. And throughout the book, at the right moments, JKR reveals the story to Harry, and vicariously, to us. Throughout the series, we learn enough to be satisfied, and yet, just like Harry, don't have all the important information until the end. In fact, as much as we learn, we never know everything JKR does. And that magical balance is precisely what we have to aim for in our own work. 
photo credit

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Read Like a Writer

I've read many times on the blogosphere about writers who read like they're studying a text book. Interpreting for structure and character - even dissecting it word by word, searching for adverbs and such. There's nothing wrong with doing this. In fact, it's probably the smart thing to do if you want to learn craft by studying those who've made it where you want to be. 


Yeah, you knew that was coming, right? The big fat but. But that's not the way the books were meant to be read. See the thing is, I'm an avid reader. Always have been. There's little I enjoy more than curling up with a good book and devouring it from cover to cover, often in a day or two. I love that feeling of being so wrapped up in a wonderful story that I only want to see what happens. As a writer, don't you wish for readers that feel like that? 

I'm stubborn. I just feel like stopping to pick the novel apart would kill the magic. Not that I don't notice certain things while I'm reading. The more I learn, the more I recognize in some part of my brain. But I don't want to lose that guilty pleasure just because I've decided to pursue my writing. 

Some of you will argue that we can read the book more than once. Sure! I agree. But to be honest there are precious few that I actually do this with. One's that I feel have something REALLY special. Books like The Hunger Games for example. Or Harry Potter (all of them). But that one on my nightstand? The honest truth is as much as I enjoy it, probably not. 

What do you think? Are there certain books you study as a writer and others that you just soak up as a reader? Do you read things more than once in different ways? Or do you prefer to study all your books from the moment you open the cover? I'd love to hear your view!
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Monday, September 5, 2011

Did You Miss One?

I know! Not the clearest title in the world. But here's the deal: I receive many blog awards, and though I appreciate each one (no lie), I don't often participate anymore because it's usually just info about me, which I worry will bore you to death. And I can't have any deaths on my hands unless they are fictional characters. Ahem. But THIS TIME I thought it was a cool subject and might give a little focus to some posts that you may have missed and would be interested in revisiting. 

K.C. Wolf graciously passed me the 7X7 link award. Here's how it works:

Hightlight my older posts in the following categories:

  • Most Beautiful
  • Most Helpful
  • Most Popular
  • Most Controversial
  • Most Surprisingly Successful
  • Most Underrated
  • Most Prideworthy
So here goes:
  1. Most Beautiful: That's tough. But I'll go with DON'T LOSE THE MAGIC. I love the pic and the message.
  2. Most Helpful: Oooh boy. Based on feedback and visits, I'd have to say FILTERING THROUGH CHARACTER was the most unique craft post I've ever done.
  3. Most Popular: My most popular post of all time was my first guest post from Lisa Desrochers! My post on BLOGGING ETIQUETTE comes in at a close second.
  4. Most Controversial: It's funny. When I think posts will be controversial, they end up NOT. Probably because we all think so much alike. But if I had to guess, I suppose it would be YA SAVES!
  5. Most Surprisingly Successful: I guess it's not THAT surprising that craft posts tend to do well. But I'd still say WHEN YOUR CHARACTER DOESN'T ACT LIKE HERSELF.   
  6. Most Underrated: THE ELUSIVE VOICE but probably because I've had quite a few followers since then...
  7. Most Prideworthy: This one is actually easy. AVOID THE POISON APPLE. Why? Because I firmly believe in encouragement and the power of words.
Okay - now to pass this on to 7 other bloggers? That's ALWAYS hard to do because I love you all! So why don't I just cheat (he he he) and say, if you want to do this on your own blog - GO FOR IT!! I'm passing the award to YOU.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Revision - It's the Little Things

Are you ever overwhelmed at the start of a revision? When you look at the mountain of notes/critiques/edits piled to your side and wonder how you'll ever manage it? I've mentioned before that it often feels like I have my MS on the operating table, parts spread all over the place while I'm doing a revision. 

Obviously it's important to be methodical here and organize yourself in whatever way works best for you. In my case it's usually doing a single pass for each major component, e.g., character, pacing, world, etc. But sometimes even within those categories, it can feel intimidating. 

The thing I want to point out here is that it doesn't always take a major rewrite to do the trick. Of course, if it's what's called for that's fine. But sometimes just reworking one sentence - even a single word - can do wonders. I'm reminded of Mark Twain's quote: "The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

Words are our medium as artists. The order, the punctuation and the choice of the word itself can have an enormous impact on what we actually convey to the reader. Now I'm not suggesting you drive yourself insane over every word, but I AM suggesting that you look at what you want and need to say and see if you can identify any spot(s) in your MS that you are unclear and try to rework that part. 

Confused? Let's try an example. We haven't used a vampire in a while, so...

Mary sat up in bed and looked around the room. She'd sensed movement. Moonlight spilled across the floor, revealing a branch that scraped against the open window while the curtains billowed in the summer breeze like restless ghosts. Satisfied that it had only been a dream, she settled back to find herself in the cold, hard arms of the monster. 

But what if I wanted to make Mary's panic more evident. Do I have to rewrite the scene? I don't think so. I think the problem is the lack of urgency in the first sentence. So let's try this...

Mary sprung upright, wrestling the covers away from her sweat soaked skin. Her eyes darted left then right, searching for the source of the disturbance. She'd sensed movement. Moonlight spilled across the floor, revealing a branch that scraped against the open window while the curtains billowed in the summer breeze like restless ghosts. Satisfied that it had only been a dream, she settled back to find herself in the cold, hard arms of the monster. 

Are there other problems? Yeah, probably. I did just make it up! But, I think I solved the problem I'd intended in this pass. What do you think?

Sometimes it's less about rewriting and more about identifying the part/sentence/line that doesn't work and understanding why.
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