Monday, January 31, 2011

I Prefer A Real Book

Please remember that the following opinion is just that - my opinion and I very well could be wrong.  Doesn't happen often but there has to be a first time for everything...... :)

Kindles and eBooks - wanna know what my immediate reaction to them are?

Yuck.  As in - no thanks.  As in - get that thing away from me before I do something nasty to it.

I'm not a luddite.  I just don't like electronic readers.  I know the word on the street is that they will replace real books and to people who spout that belief I say: piffle.  Wanna know why?
  • Because books are part of our culture - real books, the ones made out paper with a cover and a spine.  History marks a huge turning point in our evolution when the printing press was invented and information (that glorious ethereal substance) became available to the masses.  Power, in the form of the written word, was available to the everyday man where once he was completely at the mercy of the ruling classes and religious figures.  Women now had the opportunity to form their own opinions, even to express their own. And you can't tell me that an electronic reader is going to help the inhabitants of third world countries improve their lot in life - but a shipment of books? now that's a different story.
  • Ask anyone who loves (and I mean really loves) books what they think of libraries and bookstores and there's another HUGE reason why an eBook will never replace a real book. 
  • Funnily enough the research is showing that students HATE electronic readers.  Yay for them!!
  • Be honest, how many times have you seen someone at the airport, on a train, waiting for a bus, during their lunch hour reading a book and snuck a peek at what they were reading and then formed an opinion (even just a sketchy one) about them?  Knowing what someone is reading is like them giving you a piece of information about themselves without saying a word.  As a writer that's priceless.  It's impossible to tell what someone is reading on a Kindle unless you ask them - and who wants to do that?
  • Kindles break easily, are not satisfying for tactile people like moi and they don't format poetry properly.
I know the majority of people who like/love Kindles do so because they're lightweight and convenient.  If I had a dollar for every time I read how they make life easier, I'd retire now.  But you know what, maybe life shouldn't just be about the quest to make everything easier.  As a race we are now becoming so sedentary that we are plagued by obesity and early death because it's easier to eat take away than to cook healthy food, it's easier to drive everywhere than to walk, it's easier to pick up the phone to talk to your neighbour than to go next door.  Now it's easier to download a book from the convenience of your home than to take a trip to a bookstore or library.  It's easier to carry around something that weighs next to nothing and can hold 3000 books than to carry a proper book.

It might be easier.  But it isn't right.

In the words of Dr Ian Malcom from Jurassic Park:
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Torn Between Two Covers

Well not the covers really.  More what's on the inside.  But that doesn't really remind you of the song and that's kinda what I was going for.

What am I talking about?

Well ever since we got the results back from the New Voices competition last year I have been banging away on a single title manuscript and while it's going okay I sorta got stuck.

And I know that getting stuck, or writer's block, or whatever you like to call it can mean one or so of several things:
  • You've gone down the wrong path and this is your psyche's way of telling you that you've taken a wrong turn; or
  • You're trying to make your characters do things they just wouldn't do; or
  • You haven't planned enough, plotting enough or you suck as a pantser; or
  • You need a break to weigh up which of the above is the correct answer and decide what to do about it.
Me, I think it's a case of the last one.  I'm not sure what I've done wrong but at the moment it's like wading through old jelly (you know the stuff that's been in the fridge for about 3-4 days and parts of it are going hard like garishly coloured leather?) well you get the idea - it's not fun.

And it used to be fun.  And I want it to be fun again.

I still like my story.  I still love the characters.  And I still believe that it's appealing and so worth writing.  I'm just stuck.

So aside from moaning about it, what am I going to do?  Well this is where the torn between two covers reference becomes clearer: I've started writing another category.  I'm plotting at the moment but I have written the opening scene.

I had to because the imagery just wouldn't leave me alone.  It plagued me like the memory of some nefarious act I had committed while under the influence of something noxious and hammered my resistance with seductive whisperings and flirty images. 

And anyone who knows me knows that I'm no good at resisting temptation.

So I caved and started writing.  And now I'm in love with two other characters.  I'm so fickle!

But I'm having fun again.  And right now (can you believe I almost typed 'write now'?  Whoa!  Freudian or what?) anyway right now I need to be able to just let 'er rip and write myself into happiness and then once firmly ensconced in that state I will then tackle the big question of What Is Wrong With My Manuscript.

Sounds like a plan to me.  So let me introduce you to my new word counter.  Ladies and gentlemen, please meet Evan and Leila.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Being a Passive Aggressive Writer

Not the kind that "accidently-on-purpose" forgets to write with aim of punishing crit partners, beta readers or agents......although it does sound like an interesting secondary character now doesn't it?  I mean by and large most writers are a little batty but what about one that was really batty?  (Note to Self: File this idea for later use).

No I mean the SuperWriter.  The Champion of Chapters.  The Guardian of Gramma.  The Scurge of Soggy Middles.  The Purger of Passive Voice!

Writing passive sentences is a mistake common to new writers but it's a stylistic error - not a grammatical one.  I do it all the time and I'm constantly re-reading my work and doing the old palm to forehead thing.   Surprisingly, a passive sentence is quite easy to spot (once you know what to look for) but when you're typing at a squagillion miles a minute, desperately trying to get down that scene or conversation or setting, it's easy for a few passive villains to sneak in.  Their aim is to weaken your writing, infiltrating it from the inside and steal your opportunity to write something powerful and strong.

I thought about going into all the intricacies and casually tossing about words like past participle, and subject and object and other hugely impressive words but I think I should leave that to the professionals.  So try this handout from the University of North Carolina and this post from the wizards over at edittorrent (a blog well worth bookmarking if you ask me).  They ought to set you on the right path.

The worst outcome of writing passively is that your work ends up being a monument to 'telling' as opposed to showing.  Now that could mean that your baby ends up on university english course lists across the country - for all the wrong reasons!  I mean who wants some erudite English Professor holding up your book and proclaiming "This is the finest example of what NOT to write ever written!"? 

Politics is one of those things I decided not to get into on this (or any) blog but it is interesting to note that most political speeches contain a lot of passive voice eg "things must be done" and "it can be achieved" etc.

I'm off to seek and destroy all the useless passive sentences in my ms.  I'd post a piccie of me with my undies on the outside and a tea towel around my shoulders and a capital P on my front but I think you'd probably lose your lunch. 0_0

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Deep POV

At first I thought it was some new yoga/pilates move. 

"Now we will move from Downward Dog into Deep POV."

And then I thought I was being completely clueless again and it was some new sexual reference.  Perhaps it's some new hip description of really really really poor people?  I even thought it may be some new gadget that one attached to ones 4WD SUV like ABS or EFI.

But no.  It's actually a writing term and I'm not the only one out here that had to look it up.  After half an hour of research I came to the conclusion that it had the potential to be the Universal Panacea For Writers.  Well what else would you call something that, if used according to the directions, will work to Show not Tell, minimise use of dialogue tags and enable a reader to really get inside the character's head?

Sounds fabulous doesn't it?  Well don't get too excited because it takes time to perfect the dose and dosage.  Too much too often and you end up waffling on about nothing else but thoughts and feelings and anyone who wants to read that would be better off picking up a self-help book.  Or poetry.  Not enough and you'll end up with a so-so manuscript that fails to grab the reader.  Death by Shallow POV.  Ahhh!  Code Red!  Code Blue!

So what is Deep POV?  In short it's getting right inside the head of your character and describing how they feel, what they see, smell, hear, taste etc.  There is more focus on body language being used to show reactions and emotions.  Instead of ACTION --> EMOTION --> REACTION --> DIALOGUE they are all layered on top of each other providing a much richer reading experience.  Here's the part where I do an example:

BAD: Catherine paused uncertainly at the post box.  She wondered, not for the first time, if she should post the letter.  Maybe, she thought, I should just hold on to it for a bit longer. 

BETTER: Catherine stood quite close to the post box, holding the letter to William in her right hand.  It was heavy, the paper carrying not only her words but so much emotion.  Would it fit through the slot in his door or would it stick there, choking the door like some overly greedy animal only to be hacked up and spat out into the cold where it would try and limp home to her but ultimately be consigned to a gutter where a homeless person would find it and burn it for five seconds of warmth?  Catherine clutched the letter even tighter, pressing it against her stomach as she chewed her lip.  Her left arm ached from the grip she still had on the post box handle but to let go without posting the letter was as good as shouting "Coward!" but all the reasons for not posting it had equally loud, pushy and irritating voices.

You'll notice I didn't use the headings BAD and GOOD because the second example is far from good (I'm still in medical school here).  But if you google Deep POV I'm sure you'll find some of the sterling examples I found and you'll have your aha moment (and no I don't mean the Norwegian boy band).

One piece of advice that I found extremely useful was to imagine yourself as your Deep POV character.  Immerse yourself in that character by whatever means necessary: music, smells, clothing, food, wine, scenery.  When you've captured the essence, start thinking like the character in the situation/scene you're writing.  Two points here:
1) You will probably notice all sorts of things that you hadn't before because you're "in character".  Things like how you react to things, what you're thinking/dreaming of, perhaps even memories (backstory).  These things will help to flesh out your character and make them so much more real; and
2) When you (as the character) think about things take note of the fact you don't use tags or superfluous information eg I can't believe, I thought shakily, what I'm seeing with my large cornflower blue eyes.  Yes, that is over doing it somewhat but I hope you get my point.  With the experience fresh in your mind just get it all down on paper and then edit it later.

Actors use this process when preparing for a role, and I've even done it myself in a version called Teacher In Role where you "become" a character from a book and then the students ask you questions.  It worked quite well actually and got more than one kid to take another look at Shakespeare. 

Of course none of the sites I looked at were able to say exactly how much Deep POV was the precisely perfect amount - but who can say that about any crafting tool?  It all depends on your story.  

Go well.  Go Deep.

                                                             ***   ***   ***

Addendum: I did promise the bubbly and sassy ABSOLUTELY*KATE a new pair of teal heels.  Hope you like them Miss Kate.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Point Of View

Or POV as all us hip-with-the-writer-lingo call it *guffaws at calling herself a writer in a public arena*.

Once upon a time a very famous comedian made the observation that in nature films, we tend to cheer for which ever of the animals is the focus of the film.  For example if the film is about lions and we see a lion chasing an antelope then we're all like "Go Lion!  Catch that antelope!  You can do it!  Yay the Lion caught the antelope and now the Lion will live!"  but if the film is about the antelope we're like "Run Antelope!  Duck.  Dive.  Run faster damn you!  Don't let him catch you!  Oh, you let him catch you!  You horrible lion.  We hate you lion!"

That, my friends is the power of POV.

The extremely clever K M Weiland from over at Wordplay put it very succinctly in her post about how many POVs are too many when she gave the tip that
"POV is most affective when assigned to the character who has the most at stake in any given scene".

When I heard that it was like hearing something you kind of instinctively knew but really needed it to be affirmed by a higher authority before actually believing it. 

But you have to be careful not to spread the love too thinly.  Too many POVs and the reader runs the risk of not investing enough in your main characters because your minor characters have had too much to say and the main characters not enough.

How have you handle POV in your work?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Unconscious Writing

I won't bore you all with my interpretation of what unconscious writing is when so many brighter and more competent writers can explain it much better.  If you don't know what it is then this post will help. 

Okay so now you're back (or you're just roolly roolly clever and didn't need to read the explanation) here's the rest of my post.

I love knitting.  Right now I guess you're thinking: "oh the poor dear she's pasted in part of another blog and not realised it" but work with me here.  It will all make sense in the end.  Or close enough.  Anyway, back to knitting.  I find it extremely cathartic to rhythmically put knots in wool (or acrylic, or bamboo) in a specific pattern and in the end it turns out to be A THING (sometimes attractive, sometimes cute, sometimes even recognisable).  But it's what happens to my brain while I'm doing it that's relevant to writing.

Imagine, if you will, having a complex problem to sort out at exactly the same time that you need to cook dinner.  What if some wonderful helpful person came along and said, let me sort out this problem while you whip up some culinary masterpiece?  That's what my unconscious does for me (except it doesn't talk like that although I wish it did).  If I'm stuck at a certain point in my WIP or thinking about plot points or character backgrounds, I pick up my knitting and while my conscious mind is following the pattern, my unconscious mind is working on the problem I set it and after a while - voila! I have the answer.

And the good thing is that it works with all sorts of activities, not just knitting.  It works with doing the dishes, vacuuming, grocery shopping, cooking and even gardening.  Of course it's not the be all and end all of helpful writing tips - just because I come up with an answer to a problem doesn't mean it's the perfect answer.  Or even the right one.  But it's something.  And when you're stuck, something is always better than nothing.

At least that's what my unconscious tells me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Modern Romances Are Hard To Write

A few nights ago I watched a film called From Weepies to Chick Flicks and I thought it was very, very, VERY interesting.  They showed some clips from films in Golden Age (the 30s and 40s) which were lovely - all those soft lens shots of glamorous movie maidens.  Then Delia Ephron, screenwriter and producer, started talking about how hard it was to make a modern romance movie.

"In the past it was easier to be romantic.  In Jane Austen movies....if you weren't the right class you couldn't be together; if you lived millions of miles away from each other you couldn't be together; you weren't allowed to say certain things that weren't appropriate.  Now there's nothing that's inappropriate to say.  So it's so much harder now to create a sense of romance."

Then she goes on to talk about conflict.

"The most important thing in a romance movie is what keeps two people apart.  That has to be a good reason."

She cites the movie An Affair to Remember when the heroine (Deborah Kerr) is hit by a car and doesn't end up meeting the hero (Cary Grant) on top of the Empire State Building and adds that now...
"He'd probably have her email; he'd just like Google her or something.  That's not very romantic."

And she's right.  Communication certainly has brought people closer - too close in some cases.  Now instead of penning swoon-worthy romantic letters detailing the length and breadth of their love, people just tweet or text each other (or worse still - use those little emoticons) instead of real words.  Don't get me wrong, I use :) and 8( or ;P all the time to express the facial expressions I would normally make if I were talking face to face with someone but I'd throw a fit worthy of an award if a beau of mine only ever sent me smileys!

So what, in today's day and age, where so very little is taboo (eg class, race, gender, age etc) keeps two people apart?

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Crafting Likeable Female Characters

The WIP stalled for a little over the Christmas period for all the obvious reasons but I'm ready to wade back into the process but I have been thinking about my protagonist.  I quite like her but she needs fleshing out a little more so I've been doing some research on what makes a female character likeable.

Essentially it all boils down to two very simple things: she has to be flawed and she has to grow/change.  Her flaws ought to be something that the reader can identify with.  There's no point in expecting a heroine whose one and only flaw is that she prefers Cristal to Krug to appeal to an wide audience.  She needs to make the same sort of mistakes that most women make: love, men, child rearing, work, family, mother/daughter etc.  And the changes she undergoes and the growth she achieves must make the reader forgive her her flaws or allow the flaws to be seen as the means by which the character became new and/or better.

To illustrate my theory I looked at the best loved literary heroines and the mistakes they made/make:

Elizabeth Bennet: Probably the best known female character in literature but for all her wit and wisdom she doesn't always get it right when it comes to men - she misjudges both Mr Darcy and Mr Wickham but at least she refuses Mr Collins for all the right reasons.  But her relationship with her best friend, Charlotte, suffers when Charlotte accepts Mr Collins.  Elizabeth can't understand how a woman could possibly settle for a man like Mr Collins but that in itself is a flaw because in refusing Mr Collins' proposal she is very likely condemning herself, her mother and sisters to a homeless existance because of the inheritance laws.  In that light, Elizabeth could be viewed as somewhat selfish.  So to sum up Lizzie is quick to judge others, is outspoken, selfish and a bit of a rebel.  But of course all of that is tempered by her fire and her intelligence and her belief in herself which we love and makes Elizabeth Bennet an extremely likeable character.

Scarlett O'Hara:  A controversial gal that people either love or hate.  Why is she hated?  Let's see.  She's spoiled, conniving, manipulative, self-serving, thought poor people were trash, kept slaves (and hit them) and can't decide between two men.  But again the reasons she's loved (brave, intelligent, confident, passionate and able to do what she must to save what she loves) are what mitigate most (note I say most) of her flaws.

Hester Prynne: The female protagonist from Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel the Scarlet Letter, Hester's flaw is that she committed adultery.  While it's not exactly unheard of these days, it still manages to shock and disgust because of the pain it can inflict on the innocent parties.  Back in Hester's day though it was enough to condemn a woman for the rest of her life and colour the way everyone thought of, and dealt with, the adultress.  Hester possesses other flaws but minor ones - eg the lack of discipline in her raising of her daughter Pearl impacts upon the child (and later upon her).  But ultimately Hester's strength and her ability to love and forgive change the way her community see her. 

Bridget Jones:  Anyone not familiar with Helen Fielding's adorable heroine must have been living under a rock.  And I suppose as Bridget is a rehash of Elizabeth Bennet, I am technically cheating but as a modern female character that caused such a uprising of support, I thought she was well worth looking at.  Bridget's flaws include drinking too much, eating too much, not exercising enough, extremely poor taste in men (up to a point), obsessed with her love life in addition to misjudging people as per her Lizzie tendencies.  But she's so honest and her ability to laugh at herself is lovely.  Bridget's growth is more obvious than Lizzie's because Bridget herself tells us all about it but that aside, it's through her own endeavours that she achieves her happy ever after and what's not to like about that?

So a likeable female character is not the perfect Mary-Sue or even the near perfect ones.  It's the endearingly less than perfect ones that we can most relate to.  The ones we root for.  The ones we side with.  The ones we'd like to slap but completely understand.  They are the ones we like the most.

So that is what I need to write.  Wish me luck!