Friday, December 31, 2010

Delicious Beginnings

I've been watching lots of lovely films lately and the latest has been Miss Potter.  The scenery, those gorgeous pictures of animals, the amazing costumes and the delectable Mr Ewan McGregor (who could resist a man with THAT moustache?).

But the thing I love most about the film is the opening (and closing) line.

"There's something delicious about writing the first words of a story.  You can never quite tell where they'll take you."

And although my current wip has already been started, I'm applying the essence of those lines to the upcoming New Year.  There is definitely something delicious about a New Year.  It is a new beginning.  Packed to the brim with possibility and promise - like a firework, ready to light.

I agree with Kate Walker (in her post over at The Pink Heart Society) when she said she didn't agree with the whole 'Brand New Me' thing.  I don't want a brand new me. I like the me I am.  That's not to say 'me' couldn't do with a few tweaks.  So I'm going for a 'Better Me' approach to my resolutions.  I'm going to:
  • appreciate things and people more
  • share more of myself
  • take the time to breath deep
  • treat every day as a special day
  • forgive more and forget the stuff that doesn't matter
  • believe
  • never, never, never give up

So get ready world!  I've struck my match and come midnight I'm lighting that magnificent cracker and my 2011 is going to erupt in a shower of magic and romance and delight.
Happy New Year everyone!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

I've Been A Good Girl!

Well I must have been.  Look what Santa left in my stocking.........

Now that's a seriously sexy pair of heels, my friends.  On New Year's Eve a few minutes before midnight, I'll be standing on a large tiled balcony.  Only the moon and the stars, winking at themselves in the placid waters of Lake Como provide any light. And my insides will be doing their own impersonation of those bungee dancers from Cirque du Soleil because any minute now HE will walk out - drawn to me.  Because of those shoes.

You heard it first here, folks.  These are my Kissin' George shoes!

That's him - practising his puckering up approach.  Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No Mary-Sue, Thank You!

Ever heard of the Mary-Sue concept?  I hadn't.  Not until I started doing some research about what makes a heroine likeable.  Wikipedia have a detailed explanation of what a Mary-Sue is which you can read here.  But this quote just about sums it all up:
     "A a fictional character with overly idealised and hackneyed
     mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as a
     wish-fulfilment fantasy for the author or reader."

I stumbled upon a Mary-Sue litmus test (apparently there are a few different versions) and in my usual 'what-the-hell' way I took the test.  Luckily my heroine escaped the dreaded label.  However, after more research I found that the term has been bandied around by a lot of critics and it has been suggested that its very existance may have stopped some writers from writing out of the (real or otherwise) fear that they had created 'just another' Mary-Sue character.

So go on, take the test.  You can do the Univerisal Mary-Sue Litmus Test or the Original Fiction Mary-Sue Litmus Test.  You can use it to test one of your characters or someone else's or even yourself.  One test claims Bono from U2 is a Mary-Sue.  ?  Go figure.

Apparently Bella Swan from the Twilight series is currently holding the title of Queen Mary-Sue but what about other Mary-Sues (Lara Croft from Tomb Raider comes to mind, Elizabeth Swann from Pirates of the Caribbean, Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter transforms into a Mary-Sue and James Bond would have to be the Emperor of Gary-Stus - the male equivalent of a Mary-Sue). 

Just remember there is a lot of discussion about what makes a Mary-Sue and the test being flawed.  The main gist of it is that your female protagonist can't be better than perfect or you run the risk of alienating the reader.  We have to be able to relate to the protagonist and who amongst us can claim perfection?

Aside from Mr Clooney, of course!

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 2010

Oh my Lordy me!  What a Christmas!  And it's been over a week since I posted and I feel like I've been starved of chocolate for the whole time.

Well I hope no one else had a Christmas like our family get together.  We had our BIG family meal scheduled for Christmas Eve (all of our family meals are big but this one is usually HUGE).  By HUGE I mean the food to people ratio.  Honestly.  We normally have enough to feed a small nation but it means most people get enough to take home and use over the coming days when the idea of cooking is just so beyond you that it's akin to dragging yourself through putrid crocodile infested gloopy mud *shudders at the thought*.  But my poor old Dad wasn't feeling well because of what he said was a pulled muscle.  Later on he developed a high fever and we were all a bit worried about him.  When he refused dessert we knew something was seriously wrong.

Christmas morning my brother drove Dad to the doctor who sent him to hospital for scans.  Those scans showed not only did my darling Daddy have pleurisy but also a clot in his right lung.  So he's been admitted into hospital and is on treatment but he's not a happy camper.  He hates hospital and everyone making a fuss of him and asking him "personal" questions and (God forbid) touching him!!!

So our Christmas has been the weirdest one yet (and trust me that's saying something).  But it has had it's highs as well.  I had several long delicious cuddles of my newest great niece (my niece and I are quite close in age) and her youngest baby is so cute I could just eat her.

My great-grandmother's pudding (that I made by myself for the first time this year) turned out perfectly, except I forgot the threepences to put in it before we cut it up.

I certainly hope that your Christmas was less 'exciting' than ours.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Writing is Like.....

Writing is like cooking - you get an idea and then you go off and maybe you research lots of other recipes or you visit cooking blogs or you talk to people who have cooked (or tried cooking) and you tell them about your idea and they in turn give you their opinion about your ingredients, methodology, equipment etc and eventually you bite the bullet and you do it and then you taste it.  It might be too sweet.  Too sour.  Not quite cooked all the way through.  It may even give you food poisoning but it's a starting point and from there you can either choose to cook more or quit forever.  Even if you found the perfect recipe book and followed it to the letter, there are so many variables (your oven, your produce, your timer, your taste buds) that there is still no guarantee of perfection.  But if it tastes good and it doesn't choke, burn, sicken or kill you then you can call yourself a cook.

Apparently lots of people have written similes to do with writing.  Here are some I found trawling the net (please note none of these are my work and I have attributed the work to the author where possible):

"Writing is like lemons" (cute article read here) by Amy Schultz.
"Writing is like Mountain Climbing" (quote) by Jonathan Lethem.
"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money."  Moliere
"Writing is like sex" (fresh and frisky article) by Terreece M Clarke.
"Writing is like a Parasitic Catfish" (a somewhat uncomfortable article) by Jeremy Luke Hill.
"Writing a novel is like Man Flu" (a very funny and accurate article) by Julie Cohen.
"Writing is like dropping feathers down a well.  Any echo is appreciated." John D. MacDonald
"Writing is like taking a s**t - sometimes it comes out easy, other times it takes patience, and it's painful."  Comment on this blog by Farmboy.
"Writing is like making love.  Don't worry about the orgasm, just concentrate on the process." Quote by Isabel Allende (the quote starts this interesting post) by Andrea on her blog.
"Writing is like dancing" (a motivational post) by Lulu.
"Writing is like driving at night in the fog.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." E.L. Doctorow.
"Writing is like good sex.  You get caught up in the moment and afterwards, with a few glistening beads of the good kind of sweat, you sit back and smugly say to yourself - Woo Hoo!" (on this blog)
"Writing is like driving.  Many know how to do it, but it doesn't mean they should.  And only the professionals can break the rules and get handsomely rewarded for it." (same blog as above).
"Writing is like a baby.  It calls to you at inopportune times and is selfishly driven.  Some days it doesn't matter what you put into it, all that comes out is crap."  (same blog as above).
And while it's not a pure simile this post How Writing Can Be Like Great Sex is very good reading as well.

So there you have it - to sum up: Writing is Like Great Sex While Driving, Dancing and Dropping Feathers (and S**t) Down a Well With Man Flu Before Becoming a Prostitute and Climbing Mountains Holding Lemons and Dealing With Parasitic Catfish.

No wonder we love it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Few Things I've Learned About Dialogue

- Use any other tag other than 'said'.  Well okay every now and then you can throw in a 'replied' or 'asked' but make sure it's only sparingly.  Kind of like that book about the boy who ignores the vet's advice about feeding his fish "just a pinch and no more" and ends up with a fish bigger than Moby Dick........soooooo unless you want your ms harpooned, follow the advice above.
- Add any -ly words after the dialogue tag 'said'.  You're writing a novel, not a screenplay so you don't need to tell your actors how to say the line.  So no 'said adoringly'.  No 'said grumpily'.  No 'said quietly'.  Not even 'said slowly'.  Nothing.  Just 'said'.  Apparently the human brain just skips over the word 'said' without really registering it but if you add an adverb then it makes the brain stumble.  Here is where you go off and read more about showing not telling..........

Back again?  Great.

- Find your primary school teacher who taught you to find 65 different ways of saying 'said' because "repeating 'said' over and over again would just be boring" and "make sure to include lots of adverbs because they make a story much more interesting" and repeated that advice so many times that it became an ingrained habit that is almost impossible to break and when you find that teacher, slap them.
- Resist the above urge if that same teacher was the one to teach you how to write the mechanics of dialogue correctly.  That is, using " " instead of ' ' and knowing when to use a comma, a full stop (period), and other punctuation marks correctly.  Instead, kiss them.  Knowing how to punctuate properly is a skill to be rightfully proud of.  If it's something that you have to learn.......well then I think you should be able to slap your teacher twice.
- Make sure your dialogue is realistic.  There are lots of exercises you can do: like transcribing a small segment of dialogue from a sitcom you've taped. (I say sitcom because they always have lots of dialogue but you could use any show really).  Look at the pauses, the interruptions, the hanging endings, the language etc.  Analyse a scene containing dialogue in a book that you think works really well.  Why does it work?  What parts of it stand out to you?  Did you notice anything during a second or third reading that you didn't notice the first time?  Do the same for a scene you think stinks.
- Read your dialogue out loud (or if you're much braver than me, ask some friends to do it in front of you).  How does it sound?  Is it realistic?  Is it stilted?  Does it flow smoothly?  Is the language appropriate for the age/gender/background of your character?

These are just a few pearls of wisdom from the oyster I call my brain.  Not a definitive list, you understand, just a selection for your enjoyment.  An amuse bouche, if you will :)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Writer's Christmas Wish List

Dear Santa,
I've been really, really good this year.  I actually finished a whole book this year!  I wrote a beginning, a middle and an end.  What's more it had conflict, emotional tension, fantastic sex scenes, a black moment that was truly masterful and a happy ending that made me whoop with joy!!  I got off my butt and entered my book in a ginormous writing competition and when I didn't win OR named in the top ten OR included in the list of writers the publishers wanted to hear more from - did I rant or rave or even throw a teensy weensy tanty?  I did not.  I sat down and started to write a new book.  A single title book.  A romance.  It's beautiful.

So because I've been SUCH a good girl* I think it only fair that my Christmas Wish List reflects that by being somewhat on the large-ish side.

For Christmas I would like:
  • More time in the day - now before you tug your beard three times and whisper magic Santa words I just want to clarify something: I want more time in the day for me to write.  Not for housework or phone calls or visitors or grocery shopping or other mundane, low-priority stuff.  Just more writing time.  Uninterrupted, undisturbed, undistracted writing time.
  • A magic keyboard.  It has to have flashing lights and a speaker system and everytime I commit one of the squillion writing sins I've been reading about while procrastinating researching for my book, my magic keyboard will let me know and then in George Clooney's voice tell me how fabulously sexy I look and offer a brilliant solution to my literary blooper.
  • Lots of followers for my blog.  I know this request is shamelessly selfish but I love being liked and it would make me so happy to have lots and lots of people leave comments on my blog boosting my ego and wanting to be my cyber friend.  Besides all the agents who read writer's blogs keep saying that already having a solid following is great as far as publicity goes so it's not just for me - it's for my agent too (whoever that ends up being).
  • Either to no longer like chocolate OR the ability to eat truckloads of the stuff without it contributing to my writer's butt (please see the point below).
  • No more writer's butt.  I would like to wake up on Christmas morning and have the butt of a sixteen year old track and field star and because I know how ridiculous that would look alongside the rest of me, you may as well just give me the rest of the track and field star's body as well.  But I don't want to have to do any hard work to keep it looking that good.  I don't have time (please see the first point).
  • A real, actual working internal switch for my inner editor so I can turn her off once and for all (until I need her and then she can't hold a grudge and do something nasty like purposefully overlook all the adjectives I've added to my dialogue tags).
  • A muse that turns up when needed.  That does not mean making an appearance when I'm in the middle of a story that I'm really quite enjoying writing and start whispering about this super-shiny new idea that I should probably start writing like, right away and just forget about that other one for a while.  Nor does it mean leaving me stranded when I'm in the saggy middle of my story and need something uber cool to transform my droopy midriff into a wordy sixpack (like literary liposuction).  It means that as soon as I start foundering for the perfect word, or wondering what my heroine should do next, or if my hero suddenly develops vampire tendencies, tells the heroine he's actually a fallen angel and has travelled back in time to save her then I want my Muse to step in and gently steer me back onto the right path - preferably with some seriously clever suggestions.
  • I'd like my Muse to look like George Clooney.
  • The world's most perfect agent just waiting for me - without applying any pressure - to finish this book and then to treat it (and me) like their favourite child and to lead us through the minefield of publishing and making us feel like it was a visit to an amusement park.  Then they will secure me deal after seven figure deal - again without any pressure - for whatever I choose to write next.
  • The world to decide that while e-books were sorta cool for a brief moment there (like hypercolour t-shirts or acid wash jeans or legwarmers) now they're just passe and books are the new black.  (Tip: It wouldn't hurt if a few glamazons were seen at red carpet events carrying or even wearing a book - if Lady Gaga can wear meat, then Heidi Klum can wear a book).
  • Feedback.  For every writing competition I enter (and if you do your bit then I promise to enter lots more of them next year) I get lots of helpful constructive feedback.  An email would be okay, a long letter even better, a phone call would be great but a personal visit with a detailed dossier in a sexy faux-leather bound folder that I can refer back to later on would be amazingly fab.
  • George Clooney (what they hey - might as well ask).
And of course if there's anything else you think I might like, that's fine by me.
Yours sincerely
Elissa G

*For the purposes of this Wish List, the term 'good' is understood by both parties to be a subjective measurement and is a comparison to past behaviour of the first party and is not to be confused by comparing the first parties' behaviour to other parties like Mother Theresa or work colleagues or fictional characters or really anyone else.  Okay?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Saint Alexandra Sokoloff and My Sucky First Draft

Now I know that I usually do an alert for a great article on Wednesdays (and lately that's been a little off by a day or two) but I'm running early this week.

Alexandra Sokoloff is an amazing writer whose blog provides 'Screenwriting Tricks For Authors' which is just perfect for me as I totally get the whole scene and act analogies because of my own theatre background but also because of how I visualise my book.  Anywho, I've been busy and only just got around to visiting Alexandra's blog again - she's been busy promoting her new book, running a workshop, starting a new book and as a result didn't blog in November.  But now she's done this fabulous post about the things she covered and new things she learned from the online course she ran.

Of course there's a goldmine of advice but right at this point in time the thing that jumped out at me was number 14: Your First Draft Is Always Going To Suck.  I'll let you read the entry because it's so motivating that she 'gets' it when you get stuck and her advice is no-pulled-punches and in your face but I like that.  And best of all, there's advice for what to do to make your ms not so sucky after you've written that first draft.

But the line I took away from the article that I think I will write on a post it and stick to my monitor was actually in the comments.  In response to a commenter, St Alexandra replied: "IMO, the only thing a first draft needs to be is done".  Simple.  Insightful.  Beautiful.

It's so nice to be given so much hope from a writer who has crossed over (not in the dead sense but in the published sense) and is now plopped gracefully on a fluffy white cloud, draped in blindingly white robes, harp in one hand while the other taps out mercifully glorious advice. 

At the moment I feel like if I complete my ms it will be a miracle but if it does then I'll be contacting the Vatican to have Alexandra canonised - she could be the patron saint of Blocked Writers. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Well Worth a Read Wednesday

Yes I know today is Thursday but I'm choosing to ignore that fact for the moment.

So I'm jumping on the bandwagon.  If you haven't heard about the Emotional Thesaurus yet then let me give you the skinny.  You're writing away and realise your characters are using the same old boring emotions over and over again and, worse still, you keep using the same words.  And that inner editor whispers: you're telling not showing.  Eeeeek!!!  So how do you write something new and fresh that's show-ey instead of tell-y?  The answer is located at The Bookshelf Muse.

Go and have a sticky - I promise it will be worth your while.  And check out the other thesauruses as well: colours and textures, settings, and symbolism.  No longer will you be confined to stock standard "sky blue eyes"  now your heroine can eyes the colour of curacao or frostbite.  Too fabulous!