Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Weird Dreams and Details that Define Our Characters

I've had some kind of bug today, and spent the morning having the weirdest dreams. I kept dreaming that people I knew were walking in to my room and talking to me. All this despite knowing  very well that I was home alone. A bit freaky.

One person that walked in was my husband. He sat in a chair near my bed like he used to do, although we no longer have furniture there. I remember the chair, and also the crunch of crackers he ate as he talked to me. At one point I tried to wake up, and everything paused. But when I slipped back in the dream, there my husband sat, talk, talk, crunch, crunch.

My husband eats crackers that way in real life, too.

Then my mom. She was outside, intending to walk into my room and help me, but hadn't yet. I heard the calm sound of her voice, saw the purposeful energy of the walk she always has. My mom was on the phone, talking to someone in the voice she developed from years as a therapist--compassionate yet succinct.

Aside from the freak factor, I found it interesting how much certain characteristics define people to the point where these features accompany them even into our dreams.

I've been reading a book where the characterizations are very good, and I know the book will be memorable, in part, simply for that reason.

It has me wanting to make sure that the characters I write have distinct, recognizable characteristics. These don't have to be anything terribly extraordinary. They can be simple and humorous, like an unusual style of eating crackers or defining, like a distinctly energetic walk. Unique details can help make our characters lifelike, and thus memorable, to the reader.

P.S. My daughter has been reading one of my books. Every night she begs for more chapters. It's pretty gratifying, honestly. It makes me wonder if I should pull this one out and finish the revisions I started. (This is draft 15.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

Editing a Novel and Burying Your Lead

It's been slow this week, but I'm still editing. I've revised that scene that was so very wrong.

But in this revision I noticed another  mistake that goes along well with my last post about the important parts of your story.

In my scene, the main character looks over and sees the school bully. In the next sentence, he gives a description of what the bully and his friends are wearing. Soccer clothes
Yes, I needed a detail to make it obvious that the bully isn't where he's supposed to be. Still, [hangs head in shame] I glossed right over the important part.The main character's rapping on the computer screen, complaining. "Hello? I never got a chance to say anything. And I don't care about soccer clothes."

This made me remember how Alane Ferguson, an absolutely wonderful person, writer, and WIFYR instructor, always calling that "burying your lead."

I had an important moment in the story, and ignored it to describe soccer clothes instead.

Alane always said we have to watch for those important moments in the story, make sure they don't get lost in trivia.

Time for me to get back to writing, and  unearth my main character's reaction that I buried under an pile of words about shin guards and soccer jerseys.

As you edit, can you look for places where you might have missed, or glossed over, a key point or emotion?

Friday, January 11, 2013

Writing Chapter 1, or What Do You Want Your Book to Be

I hate rewriting. I hate, hate, hate rewriting.

I went to critique group yesterday, and my great critique partners reminded me of something. After revising my first and second chapters, the second chapter now isn't working.

I revised to follow the classic plot structure described in 1863 by German Plot Theorist Freytag and known as Freytag's Triangle or Pyramid. According to this, classic plot structure should be begin with an inciting incident. I had inciting action now. It just wasn't the right one.

When writers (me included) think they have to start their books with some kind of big action, I see two main reasons:
1. We think it will interest the reader (agent, publisher) more.
2. We are trying to get the action moving forward, or make an inciting event.

But if that action is contrived and not true to the character and heart of the book, it will seem contrived.

My chapter two had a bully being really mean to the main character. However, as my critique partners so kindly and gently reminded me, my efforts to move things along had taken me far from the core elements of my story. It wasn't the bully my m/c feared as much as the whole setting I'd put him in. And I'd been totally ignoring how everything around him should be affecting him, changing his character to make him react to the bully the way I thought he should.

I still need an inciting incident. But today I sat down and wrote what I wanted those first chapters to show. Tomorrow I want to review what I love about the story. I can't let those important elements get lost.

Rules, outlines, guidelines for writing are all important. I want to not only follow them, but learn to follow them better. But if when we lose our story under a pile of shoulds, then it's time to step back and reevaluate.

Consider writing down what you really want your character to be, what you want to show her doing, what you want him to accomplish.

Print off that page and keep it somewhere close.
Stories that follow rules can be good.
Books that use rules to reach into the story's heart can be great.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Plot Revision: Do Just One Thing

SCBWI asked us not to publish all or any part of Cheryl Klein's talk transcript online or in our blogs. I haven't done that, and my intent is to give homage to this workshop and talk about how I'm working to apply it. To further give her appropriate credit, I recommend you check out Cheryl Klein's book, SECOND SIGHT, AN EDITOR TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING, & PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS.
 I've learned a lot with these plot revision exercises. I realize that while I'd rather edit than, say, see a slasher movie (not a horror fan) I still fear it. I've caught myself continuing to write ideas and new scenes. This is good, but it's become a way to delay my actual revision work.
 Like any writing, revising children's fiction can feel intimidating. Instead of trying to tackle subplots and story arc and theme and pacing at once, I've decided to focus on one area each day. 
Here's my list written January 1rst:
January 2: Add my new scenes that I've been rewriting. Revise my scene outline to incorporate those new scenes, especially the ones at the end which I need to change so that the character is acting, not just reacting, to other characters' behavior.  
January 3:Go through my notes of things to fix for my book, and highlight important things to do. Use a different highlighter for important theme elements.
January 4: Go through my book outline and identify an obstacle for each scene.
There is still something missing in the end of this book. So even though I love this book, I'm feeling like a loser because I still can't identify how to fix the ending. 
And I confess, I still haven't finished the Jan. 2 goal. I did, however, do the other two. There's something good about being able to say I did what I said I did instead of focusing on that "L on my forehead" and mourning over all I still haven't finished.
If there's something in your writing life you're dreading, can you break it into smaller tasks? 
Start today. 
Just do One Thing.