Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blog Tour--What, Why and How I'm Writing

I met Stephanie Kelley at WIFYR last summer, when we were both part of an amazing workshop with Martine Leavitt.

She's been kind enough to let me join her blog tour. For some great photos and details about her work in progress: http://stephik.blogspot.com/.

Yes, I admit I didn't follow directions. I eat dessert first and run with scissors, too. Yesterday I answered question 3 of the list she gave us, "Why do you write what you do?"

Here are the rest of the questions.

1. What are you presently working on?

My "Lawnmower" book. I have a child with Asperger's Syndrome, and wanted to write something from the point of view of a boy with those kinds of limitations.

My MC's lawnmower isn't quite this elaborate, but it's a great picture, isn't it? Love that helmet.*

#2, How does your book differ from other books in this genre?
Several years ago, I had the idea for a story about a boy who converts garbage into mower fuel, then takes his riding mower on a long-distance adventure. That story never made it past the first chapter, but I liked the lawnmower idea.

After I wrote my first draft, I read other books with characters on the spectrum, including MOCKINGBIRD, ARTURO IN THE REAL WORLD, and THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF A BOY AND A DOG.

As for my story, I never wanted a "problem novel" about ASD. What I've striven for is a story about normal things like fear, friendship, and not fitting in, with a dash of getting chased by cops and thieves. From the MC's unique perspective,even ordinary events can be terrifying. So, why would a boy who hates leaving his house decide to drive 300 miles on a riding mower?

I hope sometime you'll have the chance to read the book and find out.

#4, What is your writing process? This is something that's evolved over my 14+ years of writing. I used to be a pantser [writing by the seat of my pants], but learned that as fun as that can be, it's not the best approach for someone like me who doesn't enjoy editing. Now I outline, and re-outline. And even though my outlines tend to be long-winded exercises where I ask myself, "Where is this going?", it's worth doing.

I've also begun making story maps with details of each scene. This helps me make sure I have the right elements in each, and that my scenes have their own mini-story arc.

Incidentally, these approaches have helped me hate editing a little less, because I have a specific focus. Speaking of which, I've suddenly spent a lot of time blogging when I should be editing. Maybe this is a better procrastination method than online shopping, but it's time to get back to work.

* photo, http://www.forkparty.com/21852/23-tricked-out-lawnmowers-pics/11-39

Monday, October 28, 2013

Pain and Plotting: What Makes Writing Resonate?

I didn't get invited to a neighborhood Halloween Party. By someone I thought was my friend.

So what? My teen years are so far in my rear view mirror I shouldn't even be able to wave at them. I'm a mom, then kind always telling my kids not to assume negative intent in others.

I'm sure she didn't mean to hurt me.

But even at my ripe old parental age, I'm still hurt.

Sorry, I don't want this to be a pit post. (Catchy. I like it.) Instead, I want to explore why we write, and why we read certain books.

Sure, I write kid lit  because I still like cupcakes and ironing fall leaves between wax paper. On a deeper level, it's also a cathartic exercise. My way of still waving back at years that I still remember, and perhaps need to work through. Like sixth grade. That year I purposely got hit in dodge ball to avoid having to play with the mean kids. Someone told my one friend that she could increase her popularity by un-friending me (no, that wasn't a word at the time, and it didn't involve online networking). That year didn't last forever, but in truth good things can come even from being the class pariah.

As we began our WIFYR workshop class last summer, Martine Leavitt quoted Katherine Patterson. "If I had known the debt I would owe to all those mean girls, I would have thanked them then."

How's that?

"Use it all," Martine told us. The pain of not getting invited, the sense of never fitting in, the girl who teased you so much you plotted to put a thumb tack on her chair.

Good writing resonates with these deeper feelings. It's good to create a likeable character. It's better, even essential, to create one who suffers. Not in a whiny, martyr syndrome way, but in a way we care about, one that makes us identify with their pain as well as their determination.

Fiction is valuable because it is truth wrapped up in story. What truth? For one, life isn't always parties and prom queens and getting picked first at kick ball. And when the character throws her own party or ends up as campaign manager for the thumb tack bully, we close the book somehow feel ready to face life again.

And just for fun, here's my Halloween Costume (for Dance Trance, not the party I've been whining about). It's supposed to be Lady Death from the Hispanic Day of the Dead celebration. I'm really into Sugar Skull face painting right now. Still trying to figure out why everything posts sideways!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Preparing for NaNoWriMo: Are All Word Counts Created Equal?

I just spent an hour and 35 minutes working on a scene that just needed some attention. 

One scene.


If I'm focusing on my edited page count alone, I have reason to feel discouraged. However, it's a good edit, and the elements I added did three things. First, the character now acts instead of waiting for the danger to leave. Second, he doesn't get out of the conflict in the slick way I wrote into earlier drafts. Third, the threat in this scene now continues to plague him and influence his actions in later scenes. These are important changes. It's a good scene (in my opinion, of course).

So it doesn't matter. 

Except to the part of me that is dying to get this draft done.

But anyway, editing is the time for spending 95 minutes on one scene. 

What about when you're writing?

When you are crafting your first draft,your goal should be to write without letting the editor in your head take too much control. A quick write for something like NaNoWriMo is a good way to get past the paralyzing need to get it perfect and instead just get your story on paper.
For me, this can me I worry less about what author Louise Plummer calls "Precious" prose and more about the plot. It's a great exercise, and the story I'm working on now came out of a November NaNo. 

Still, sometimes you just need to get a scene right. Maybe there's a picture in your head you need to capture now, or something your character needs to experience before the book can progress. 

If this happens, savor what you write. Even if it's only a couple hundred words. Since NaNoWriMo lasts for a whole month, you'll have plenty of days to recapture your desired word count.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Plotting Characters: Climb Rather Than Fly

There's one essential rule for plot: by the end of the book, the main character must undergo a recognizable change.

However, this change has to flow naturally in a way that's true to the protagonist's nature. Conflict is another essential plot element, and the events of the story should push the character into difficult situations that act as a catalyst for change. However, the character's reaction to difficulty shouldn't represent a dramatic departure from weakness to sudden strength. If she's used to crawling, for example, she shouldn't suddenly fly.

 For example, if a shy outsider is forced to speak in front of a school auditorium full of his peers, this can't be an easy experience. If his speech has the polish of a presidential address. Otherwise, there's no conflict or believability.

As an article in the January 2013 Writer's Digest puts it, "Characters who demonstrate instant skill or comfort with something they've never tried before resides largely in the realm of shlock. The less familiar the behavior, the clumsier and more uncomfortable it should be."*

That same awkward teen should have an experience similar to a moutain climber's difficult ascent. As he stumbles and stutters through his speech, the scene tension instantly increases, as does reader empathy.*  Then, when he succeeds in rallying the student body, his victory will feel earned rather than forced.

"Push Your Characters to Their Limits," David Corbett, Writers Digest, January 2013, p. 32.

Monday, October 14, 2013

An Unexpected Win!

I've been doing a bit too much ordering by mail lately. Nothing too big, just printer ink, mailing labels, a jacket or two . . .
Perhaps I'm distracting myself from the stresses of life right now, including getting this novel rewritten. It's coming, really. But sometimes online shopping is just so much easier. (Do I sound whiny? I should.)

Anyway, as I opened a manila envelope that arrived in the mail, I wondered, "What did I order this time?"

I didn't order anything.

I entered a contest.

Thanks to the encouragement of our local League of Utah Writers chapter, who set a goal for our group to have a good showing in the statewide writing contest, I entered the first part of my latest novel. (Yes, the same one I was just whining about.)

And it won!

I got first place in the League of Utah Writers Middle Grade Fiction Category!

I had a conflict I couldn't change on the day of the banquet, so I didn't even know.

Until the certificate showed up in my mailbox.

Sometimes a little boost like that helps me keep writing.
 I had to tell someone, so thanks for letting me brag just a little.