Behind the Scenes

Below is an excerpt of my inner monologue. Don’t judge me.

 

AUTHOR: Jeremy, come back in the room. We aren’t done working on this chapter.

PROTAGONIST: No. I’m not talking to you.

AUTHOR: Seriously? You can’t leave the story without a resolution. Come back here. You are making me look bad.

PROTAGONIST: No.

AUTHOR: I’ll let you kiss Svetlina . . .

PROTAGONIST: Promise?

AUTHOR: Yes. I will totally let you make out with her. And she won’t try to kill you this time.

PROTAGONIST: You said that last time.

AUTHOR: I know, but this time I mean it.

PROTAGONIST: Do I get a cool sword?

AUTHOR: Totally.

PROTAGONIST: Why do I feel like there is a catch?

AUTHOR: Um. . .

PROTAGONIST: I KNEW IT! You are going to fuck up my life some more, aren’t you?

AUTHOR: Only for a little while. It gets better, I swear.

PROTAGONIST: I hate you.

AUTHOR: I know.

PROTAGONIST: You know you are insane, right?

AUTHOR: Probably.

PROTAGONIST: Okay. Fine. I will get back in this chapter, but you better make my sword badass. And no more making me look like an idiot.

AUTHOR: Riiight…. You will totally not look like a moron swing a sword wildly as the wolves converge on you. . .

PROTAGONIST: Goddamn it. I knew I shouldn’t trust you.

 

 

“I’m a writer. Therfore. I am not sane.”

– Edgar Allan Poe

 

What I Am Up To

I know, I know, it is really late in the day and I should have posted much sooner. But wait until you hear about what I spent my day doing (then you might forgive my flakeyness). Since it is summertime, my good pal Kristin Swartfager is out of school (she works at a preschool), at which point she switches hats from teaching young-ins to illustrating and arting up the place.

Curoius?

 

I knew you would be. Here is a taste:

Yarn for title page

Yup. It’s a ball of yarn. This is one of many adorably irresistible images that will appear in our first collaboration, Timmy Tommy Tum. It is a picture book with a rhyming story about a human-like kitten who refuses to go to sleep. Yes, it is for children.

The reason (and my excuse) for being so un-bloggy today is because Kristin and I spent the day refining our work. You will see the results of our cooperation very soon.  Until then, bask in the cuteness of the characters she drew to represent us in all of the books (yes, there will be several more to come) we do together specifically for kids.

KS&AL (1)In other news, my webpage got an update. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out here: authoralsant.com

I will give you updates as our happy partnership produces more awesomeness. Until then, Happy reading!

 

Plot Decisions

love triangle copy

 

 

Ah, to romance, or not to romance? That is the question I have been presented with this week.

You see, I was aiming at a urban fantasy without any lovey dovey stuff. Partly because I was afraid my attempt at literary smootchy-smootchy would end up super cheesy, but also because I wanted to focus on Jeremy-my leading fellow- and not who he is kissing. I have invented a politically unstable world, and thus far I have focused heavily on that. But as you may know, writers invent characters, and then those characters seem to do whatever the heck they want to do, regardless of your original intentions. So now I find myself battling the seemingly natural progression of a budding relationship between two of my people.

I took the issue to several of my writing buddies, and a funny thing happened. None of them had an issue with an underlying romance. Nobody thought it was cheesy. Most of them didn’t know why I was even asking, thinking I’d done it on purpose. Do you know what did happen? I got pretty divided camps on who Jeremy should end up with.

Huh.

As it it turns out, I have written myself a bit of a love triangle, without realizing I had done it. So I had a choice. Let it work itself out as I go along, or try and snuff it out. When I talked to my hubby about destroying the bit of romance, he protested. Loudly. I got a stern, “what does it matter if there is romance in it?” lecture. Oh, and he tried to say he didn’t care which girl Jeremy ended up with, but he had a lot more positive things to say about the witch. . .

Sooooo. . .

Apparently the romance stays. But I am going to blow some stuff up. You know, just to compensate. =)

 

 

 

Opinions, and Where to Put Them.

As you know, I live off in my own world, full of fairies, monsters, and creatures of my own invention. I like living this way, and I have no intentions of my work reflecting anything that isn’t me.  I’m weird, and I’m aware of it. It showed through in Tilted Tales, and it will shine equally as bright in Fayling (my pending novel).

Now, when I share my work for critique, I get lots of great advice and encouragement from my fellow group members. But I sometimes get critics who just don’t like my genre. They question a characters abilities, and try to enforce real-world physics into my book. “that’s not possible,” one person will say “a character cannot be all powerful” another will say. Yes, because being able to move walls means nothing can ever harm you. It’s an ability, my friend. Not all mighty perfection. Magic is supposed to be unexpected, and put the super  in supernatural. Their problem is not with my style, by the subject matter. And that is just fine; clearly they are not my target demographic.

Thank god J.K. Rowling didn’t listen to any such advice.

Feeling the way I did about the review of my current chapters, something occurred to me. I am always encouraging other writers to seek out and listen to the advice of other writers. I may have left an important tidbit of advice out of that sentiment:

Don’t stifle your own voice because someone doesn’t like your theme. Listen to the grammar corrections, and the honest concerns about your plot. But take the opinions of the people who don’t like the subject matter (and judge the work accordingly) and place their opinion on the shelf, where it belongs. Your writing is yours. Don’t let anyone try to change that.

Interesting Character = Interesting Story

Nobody is 100% good or 100% evil. Your characters shouldn’t be either.

As a writer, you’ve probably thought out your plot and have begun writing a character. We all know that heroes have to have at least one flaw. Superman has kryptonite. Harry Potter’s Scar burned-also he’s a teenager and a bit moody. Katniss doesn’t connect well with people. Bilbo Baggins often underestimates himself.

One thing you may want to think extra carefully about is you supporting characters. Often the most interesting stories have a really bad bad-guy. But there are other characters that are either not labeled, or initially presented as bad or good, and later reveal complicated qualities. Find the human element in every character, and you have found a believable motivation for his/her actions. For example in Lord of the Rings, Sauron is a total jerk-face, but Gollum was partly misunderstood. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Dobby the house-elf works for a horrid family, and keeps trying to maim Harry, and yet he helps Harry in the end. It isn’t until we understand Dobby’s story that we understand his motivations, and come to love him.

What would you do in your characters shoes? What sort of life have they lived? It never hurts to create a back-story even for support characters. I like to keep post-it notes or a spreadsheet on the characteristics of key characters in my story. Even if you only include hints at the back-story in the body of your work, understanding the character yourself will help you to make more realistic and believable people. Someone that your reader can understand, if not relate to.

Decision Making for My Characters

I hit a pause button on my novel while I was finishing up my summer poetry project (a collection of poems by myself and several other poets from my writing group, publication pending.) And my children’s novel took center stage while I was trying to figure out what to do with the artwork. I knew that while these other projects were going on, my novel would suffer if I attempted to write while so distracted. As I’m sure you noticed, I had to put a pause on my blog as well.

But now my poetry project is all but done, and the fall session of my two writing groups will be recommencing this week, so I am un-pausing on both my blog and my novel.

As I re-read what I was working on with my novel, I remembered why it was so easy to pause in the first place.

I have a choice to make for my characters, and for the content of my story. I’m struggling with what feels like a natural development between two of my main characters. My story revolved around a male character named Jeremy. There are two other characters who tell parts of the story that Jeremy is not present for, both female. One is entirely too noble and old to be a love interest. The other works very closely with Jeremy, and is young and interesting enough to develop a romance with. The recipe for love, or at the very least lust, is already there, but honestly the story does not need it. It might be interesting to explore, but it would not impact the story one bit if the two characters never envisioned one another naked. It would be complete if they were simply friends.

But it still begs the question. Would it be a benefit to the story to add a love interest for Jeremy? Does it really expand the story? Is it too cliché?  It would certainly add another layer of conflict to the story being that she is human and he is not.

I hesitate to add romance because it seems very commercial. There is a boy and a girl, and they are in love. YAY! I want to be taken seriously as a writer, and I don’t want the love story element to overpower the storyline I originally came up with. But as a serious writer, and on the advice of many other writers I know, I want to let the characters take their own course. So I suppose the real dilemma I am faced with is how I want my characters perceived by the reader. Will making my leading lady a love interest make her feel ditzy and frivolous? Will it take away from her independent personality? Will it take my story from being in the sci-fi/Fantasy genre and place it firmly in the romance section?

Feel free to tell me what you think in the comments section below.

Feedback

I have been singing about writer’s groups for a while now, encouraging writers to expand their ability and reach out for valuable feedback. Recently, I have been invited to moderate just such a group, beginning in September. I have experience with two other writers groups I attend every week, and I plan to pull from that experience to establish a procedure for my new group.

So the topic at the front of my mind lately is feedback. How to give it, how to accept it, and how to use it to your benefit.

Giving feedback can be delicate. You don’t want to be mean, but your fellow writer’s latest chapter is very confusing, and you can’t figure out what he/she is trying to say with this piece. Not telling the writer about the confusion is a disservice. Chances are, if you are confused other readers will be too. And if a reader is confused, they may not finish reading. The best way to approach this is to ask the writer questions about the portion that you can’t follow. Try not to phrase things in a confrontational way, and be detailed with your criticism. If you don’t understand a character’s reaction to something, ask why the character feels that way. If the author has an answer for you, then tell them to include that in the story. Let them know it would make more sense with the explanation. Feel free to share ideas and suggestions. The other members of your writers group will probably start piping up with more suggestions and comments once you do, which will help the writer improve his/her piece. Don’t be afraid to be the person breaking the ice. Everyone benefits from an open discussion on plot, characters, themes, settings, etc. Catching a flaw in someone else’s work will also help you catch those same mistakes in your own work.

Giving feedback only works if the person getting the feedback is open to it. It is no easy thing to hear something negative about work you put your heart into. It’s hard not to get defensive, and feel attacked. Just remember that you asked for the feedback (why else would you attend a group?) and listen very carefully to what your fellow writer is saying. If they are confused about something, it is because you did not give the reader all of the story. Remember that the reader is not in your head, so you have to give the details of your idea within your piece. And if you didn’t, and the reader is asking questions, then you need a re-write. Sometimes a re-write can inspire even more details that were not in your first draft, so there are a multitude of benefits from other people’s input.

So you get home, and you have three pages of notes from 30 people on your latest chapter. You’ve been given multiple different conflicting ideas. Now what? This is your piece, so ultimately what you do with it from here is 100%your choice. You already listened and took note of the helpful tips from your group. Take the spelling and grammar tips and fix those (goodness knows I always have to) to get them out of the way. Then you can focus on the storyline and character development ideas. Be careful not to lose your voice in the voices of others. If someone suggested a word change that is a synonym  to the one already there, be sure it’s something you like, and a word you would actually use yourself. Pick the ideas that work with your story, and make it clearer and easier to read. Use the ideas that help move your story along.

Re-writing a re-write for the third time is part of the process. With the help of your peers you will get it where you want it to go, and hopefully on to being published.

Happy writing!

 

The Evolution of my Style

I have been a little stuck on my novel writing lately, and I have been struggling to understand why. I have the events of the novel in place both in my mind and in my notes. I have several different writing exercises I use to get un-stuck, and indeed I have written a few pages off that. But I keep coming back to the beginning of my most recent chapter stumped. Upon some reflection, and an HBO Game of Thrones marathon, I came to the conclusion that I am fighting myself on which POV I should be writing in.

This has been a problem from the very first paragraph of my very first draft all the way back in 2008. I started writing the story in a first person narrative. I don’t mind that style, in fact there are several authors that write that way who are very talented. An example would be Janet Evanovitch, author of the Stephanie Plum mysteries. The problem I ran into was that my leading fellow is a bit clueless about what is really going on around him- and if he is clueless then he can’t exactly inform the reader, can he?

So in my third or fourth rewrite I decided to switch to third person. This was going well. I could use small clues to let the reader know my main character missed something, but then there was still the issue of him not always being where the action was.

Enter my latest rewrite.

I have included the POV of two other character to briefly include scenes that the main character is not a part of, but that effect him. Then I even included a very brief prologue that includes imps and changelings that I plan to weave into the rest of the story going forward (you can read that in a previous post).

I thought I had solved my problem; for a while I wrote blissfully un-blocked. But now my over active, day dreaming mind  has created a new problem. I am getting invested in another character, who keeps giving me awesome ideas to expand upon my original story- bits of story that are part of the same world but do not necessarily revolve around the one main character anymore. Thus my current re-block, and my habitual retreat into the living room to watch Television and pout. As it turned out this distraction actually got me thinking.

While watching Game of Thrones I considered how many different people we follow throughout the series, and I found myself wondering if I was limiting myself too much by trying to focus on only one leading character.

The way I figure it, I can go ahead and write the additional chapters with the other characters. When I’m done with all of it I can reorganize it, and/or trim out any pieces that don’t really contribute to the story. That way, I’m not holding myself back, and I can still write the best version of my novel.

 

You’re Not Crazy, You’re a Writer.

Anyone who has people in their head talking to them must be crazy right?

Probably.

But aside from having a few screws loose, Writers sometimes describe the characters they imagine as if they are real, making their own decisions.

Your story’s hero telling you what happens next is a subject that often comes up in my writers group, particularly from one  writer I greatly admire named John. I admit it sounds pretty bonkers, but the more I write, the more firmly I believe he has a point.

John explained that he began his fantasy novel from the POV (that’s point of view for anyone who does not yet know) of a male character. A young girl, intended only as a supporting character, slowly began to impact the tale more and more. As thought she had a mind of her own, she shoved everyone else into supporting roles and took center stage. Having read large portions of John’s work, I can’t imagine the story working from anyone else’s POV. He will say she told him to boot the other guys so she could tell it how it really is.

Fantasy writers are a special breed of people who spend their lives with their heads in the clouds, myself among them. I catch myself staring off into space sometimes, a picture of some far off world that doesn’t exist dancing through my daydreams. Political intrigue, murder, magical spells, a stolen throne…

Good thing I am my own boss, or I would have been fired ages ago.

I think mental attachment to the characters in your story will serve you in the end. Let the characters go where it feels natural, and breathe your own life into them-even the bad guys. Understand their motivations, imagine how you would feel in the situation you have set for them. When you are dealing with the fantastical and unbelievable, how else are you going to make your characters relatable, or believable? You can’t really step through a portal and find yourself in a world full of pixies, unicorns, and cotton candy clouds. In order for a reader to be able to take that journey with you, the writer, you have to be able to put some human element into your character-even if he or she (or it) is not human.

Look at Anne Rice. In Interview with the Vampire, Lestat is this monster with no redeeming qualities. He steals life, and he uses people. A detestable, but more importantly, believable individual.  But behold the next book in the series, titled The Vampire Lestat. You see Lestat’s origins and begin to understand what makes the monster tick. Not far into that novel my heart was grieving for the character I was condemning one short book ago. I don’t know Anne Rice (how cool would it be if I did?) but I’d be willing to bet she had some idea of where Lestat came from when she was writing Interview with a Vampire. Without that depth, Lestat’s character would have been just a boring thing that went bump in the night, and nobody would have bothered to read it.

So my point is this: Let your characters talk to you. Listen to what they tell you. Understand where all of them are coming from. Tell the story they want to tell.

And if doing that makes us a little crazy, well, I’m okay with that.