Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More WIFYR Notes--Martine Leavitt Part One--Questions to Ask Yourself as You Write

Martine is the author of amazing, terrific books such as Heck Superhero Tom Finder and Keturah and Lord Death. She's also an instructor for a children's writing MFA program, so it's not wonder she's an incredible WIFYR workshop teacher.

I'm going to divide this into two parts because I have so many good notes to cover. Character Motivation Essentials: Martine gave us a series of questions to ask yourself about your main character or MC.

What does my MC want (emotional, concrete)?

Why can’t MC have what she wants?

What will happen if MC does not get what she wants? (stakes)

How does your MC struggle?

What additional hardships does the MC face?

When is it hopeless?

How does the story end?

How is your character changed?

What is surprising about the ending?

Going along with straightening out my crooked picture frames (see last post) in writing, taking the time to make sure we address these questions as we write is essential. Then, as we review our draft [I love Ann Cannon's method of printing it out and putting it in a 3-ring binder] ask those questions again.

If you don't know the answer to those questions, consider Martine's idea of doing some preliminary writing. To give you some idea of the effort that goes into her work, she says she does lots of early drafts—discovery draft, experimental draft, THEN first draft. I know I often feel a little too married to what I write. I have done a little of this since then, however, and find a 'junk draft an easier way to pull out the parts I like and dump the rest.

Are You Using Too Many Cliches? My eyes widened and I gasped at the thought of how many cliche phrases I use. Here's her list: heart pounding, throat constricting, fist, teeth or stomach clenching, swallowing, widening eyes, gasping, all manner of breathing, tears, trembling, freezing, frozen. I'm not saying you can never use these, but it's food for thought. And yes, my cliches are intentional.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Crooked frames and writing

Hanging pictures is a two-person job (at least.) Ideally, two people should hold the ends of a tape measure to locate the center spot where it's supposed to go. Then one person should hold the frame in place while the other person steps back to see if it's at the right height. Person one then holds her finger in the spot while person two moves the frame and gets the picture hanger and nail ready. I know this because when my dad used to visit, he'd help me hang all the pictures that had been sitting on my floor for months.

My husband is useful, brilliant and kind, but would prefer simple, blank walls. So he's no help. But I got tired of the pictures that had been sitting on the floor for so long that I almost started thinking they didn't belong there. My aim and hammer approach often means I have to hang things two or three times before I get the right spot, resulting in a lot of nail holes.

When I tried to write alone, it's much like standing nose-to-glass with a painting. It may take me a lot longer to correct my errors. I need someone who has the perspective of distance to help me see where my novel is veering way off course. I'm grateful for my critique group, and for writing conferences like Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers. I'm also excited about critiquing based on whole novel trades.

I can deal with slightly-crooked picture frames. But since I really want my writing spot-on, I'm seeking education, good critiques, and whatever other help I can get.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Holly Black--Magic Has a Price

I'm not a hard-core fantasy writer, although I do have some magical elements in my last two manuscripts. Everyone at WIFYR, however, told me that I had to go to Holly Black's class whether I wrote fantasy or not. I'm glad I did. She puts a lot of thought and effort into her books, and I really enjoyed thinking about creating a magical world as she set it up for us.

There are two types of magical worlds: 1) Open, where everyone knows magic exists, and 2) Closed world: where very few know
1. Who has it? Small number, magic requires sacrifice or training
2. What does it do? Limit scope, protective, defensive
3. How do you make it happen? Action, ceremony, e.g. bare hands touching bare skin effects result. Make it complicated, lengthy ceremony, difficult somehow
4. How is user affected? Drain on energy, premature aging, must obey magical organization's rules, pain, madness
5. How is world affected? World in danger, magic causes blights, disrupts machines.
6. How are magic users grouped or perceived? Users of magic thought to be immoral/evil/inhuman—taking it up means limiting self in society.

All magic has to have a price
When Kathleen Dewey wrote Skin Hunger – price of magic school is that only student lives, rest of them die from the lessons.

What are the limits of magic? It needs to be calibrated. Can’t give them so much magic that they can do everything and get out of every situation. Limit effectiveness.

Laying cards on table about the mystery: they need to see the map [how it works] before they have to use it. Better to be clear than fancy. the best thing is to let the reader know. It is the character’s need, how high the stakes are, rather than the not-knowing, that will keep them reading. A character with deep need and higher stakes will buy the author a little more time to reveal things.

Ally Condie and Cupcakes to celebrate

Ally was the keynote speaker at WIFYR. If you ever get a chance to hear her speak, don't miss it. She has some interesting stories (house mom for a sorority?) and my daughter can hardly wait for the sequel to Matched to come out. I didn't take the book, so she signed a bookmark for my daughter. Really nice!

My notes are short, but significant: Put in the work to write!Figure out what works for you in writing and cling to it. Your writing will feel important as you put forth the little part of you that is true.

Mark the little successes—decide what they are for you (beyond just getting published) and celebrate them. Do what makes you happy.

Aren't we doing this because we want to write? Really? There are plenty of easier ways to make ourselves miserable. So go buy a cupcake, put a candle in it, and after you write for your one hour today, celebrate the fact that while other people are thinking about it, you actually sat down at the computer and wrote (or edited) something concrete. Save me some frosting.

My Guest Blog Spot


I've been working on submitting some things (yes, actually, finally) along with getting kids back in school, attacking the overgrown bushes that I've decided are actually tress (at least they think they are) and the like. So my blog has gone woefully unnoticed. I did, at least, write for Carol Williams and Ann Dee Ellis' blog, which, BTW, is always current and wonderful, with contests and some excellent writing tips.

So go read their blog, and meanwhile, I'll finish updating mine. I promise to finally include my WIFYR notes.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book Reviews: Wake and The Indigo Notebook

I just finished reading Wake by Lisa McMann. It wasn’t quite what I expected. I read some reviews of it, and found some pretty divergent views. What I agreed with: the book is well-written. It isn’t suitable for younger readers. After being alerted to sexual content in the dreams (one reviewer objected to the idea that every teen either has sexual dreams or falling ones) and a fair amount of the F-word, I felt that given that premise, there was less than there could have been. I found the swearing felt odd, like it had been put in for effect rather than dialogue necessity.

Still, I loved the concept, and I liked the main character. I liked her best friend even better--the friend that's sometimes a lot nicer than the mc deserves. And the skater-boy turned hottie? Well, I can see why it was a NY Times bestseller.

I also read The Indigo Notebook by Laura Raceau. I found the writing beautiful, some absolutely beautiful and fresh descriptions. That said, I found the ending pretty predictable. The theme really was about letting people be who they are. Zia changes, as a mc should, but wished the mother could have given Zia a little more stability. That probably says a lot about why I'm living in suburbia instead of traveling the world teaching English and learning new languages. I do understand getting so involved in a project that you forget about, say, cooking dinner. As I'm at the computer, my kids often have to say, "Hello? Mom? Are you in there?"