Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesday: Know When to Fold 'Em

I thought I was going to have to post an IOU for today, because things are so crazy at my house this week (Last week of school! Dance recitals! Birthday Parties!) that I couldn't even think of a blog topic.

Then I realized that in deciding to pack up the internet for the remainder of the week, I had my blog topic. Don't you love it when that happens?

Sometimes, you have to take a step back from writing or blogging because life just gets too busy, and you either don't have the time to put into it, or you don't have the mental resources to spend on working through it.

It's hard to put a manuscript in a drawer. I've done it. It sucks. It feels like giving up. But sometimes, when you've taken it as far as it can go, when you just don't have any more mental resources to put into it, that's what you have to do. And it isn't giving up; it's realizing that this one isn't the one, and that the next one might be.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Writing Craft: Rounding Out Your Characters, Part Four

First, sorry for the lack-of-post last Friday. No computer = no blogging. But - hooray! - ol' Lenny is back from the shop, which means I am back on the blog!

We've covered a few ways to round out your characters: giving them specific interests, giving them global problems, and giving them distinctive speech patterns or verbal tics. But there are a few we haven't talked about yet. One oft-promoted way to make your characters more three-dimensional and believable is what I think of as the "C" word of the literary world. CONFLICT.

But what does that mean exactly?

Well, there's the conflict that you get when screaming yellow aliens threaten to coat your planet with purple goo and your hero has been locked in a dungeon by a fire-breathing dragon and has to figure out how to save the day, but that's external conflict, and that's not what I'm talking about here. That's more of a plot thing than a character-development thing.

I'm talking about internal conflict. What you get when you give your character a desire that is at odds with who they see themselves to be as a person, or with the type of person they want to be. Like Edward in TWILIGHT: he's a vampire and he wants to eat Bella for lunch, but he's also got a conscience that tells him that it's wrong to kill people. And that was before he even figured out he loved her! Talk about conflict. Whatever you may say about TWILIGHT, whether you loved it or hated it (and please let's not bash it here), you have to give Stephanie Meyer credit for creating characters who were brimming with internal conflict.

Another example is Teresa Toten's BETTER THAN BLONDE, the sequel to ME AND THE BLONDES. In it, Sophie finds herself tempted by her high-school crush...who is newly married. He says he loves her, and (she thinks) she loves him too, but she knows that fooling around with someone else's guy is a no-no. But then again, his new wife practically stole him from her. But then again...adultery. See what I mean? Major conflict!

The important thing to remember here is that the struggle has to be fully realized. You can't have your character mull it over for a page or two and then, easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, they decide and that's the end. Let them really be tempted by both options. Let them stew. Let them decide, then change their minds. Torture them a little. Because that's what life is: struggle over choices, regret, sacrifice, and doing better next time. And your characters need to live to be believable.

What books have you read lately that had characters who had to deal with some serious internal conflict?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesdays: Copying the Experts

The more conferences I go to and the more paid critiques I get from editors and agents, the more I see how the type of critique you get from a pro is just so different from what you get from most critique groups.

Not that critique partners won't give you valuable feedback - not at all! My critique partners are invaluable. I could never put a price on them or on their feedback. They keep me grounded, and they keep me focused. They keep me pointed in the right direction. They are my rocks in a roiling sea of uncertainty, and I would be lost without each and every one of them. I need them.

But I encourage you to get a paid critique from an editor. Not only will you get a different level of feedback, but you'll learn a ton about how to give good critique. It won't just make your manuscript better; it will make you a better writer overall, and a better critique partner.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Writing Craft: Rounding Out Your Characters, Part Three

We've all heard those complaints about female protagonists who are so bland, they aren't really anybody. And the general wisdom, espacially when it comes to girls in kidlit, is that Bland = Bad.

We've also heard about the importance of making your protagonist relatable to as broad an audience as possible.

And sometimes those seem like two contradictory statements.

Fortunately, I read a book lately that is a great example of a female protagonist who is simultaneously relatable, and multi-faceted and specific in her interests and goals. (And I'm sorry for not having a picture; my computer is still in the shop. It might be able to be revived, and we're pacing anxiously while we wait to hear the news. In the meantime, I've got an adequate but subpar stand-in that won't let me do URL picture links. Apologies.)

Carolyn Mackler's THE EARTH, MY BUTT, AND OTHER BIG ROUND THINGS introduces us to Virginia Shreves, an overweight, insecure, cynical teenager who feels out of place everywhere, but nowhere more than at home with her family.

I picked this book up because of the title (which is AWESOME, isn't it?), and because of the shiny silver sticker on it that says "Printz Honor Book." Yup, you read that right. How could it not be good? But within the first few pages, I thought, "Hmm. I don't think I can relate to this girl." Her problems, at first glance, were not my problems, and her interests were not my interests. In fact, I found myself identifying with her family, the ones she felt she didn't fit in with: I like learning languages and getting exercise and watching artsy films. So I was worried. I thought this was an example of "too specific."

But it had the sticker, and I loved the voice, and I believe in giving a book more than the first chapter to reel me in. By chapter four, I was completely sold on this book, and the more I read, the more I loved it.

Here's why:

Virginia's problems were not with her body, or with her family having different interests. They were with how people spoke to her and treated her, and how she viewed those people, and how she let that influence how she viewed herself.

Her personality was specific, and that made her interesting and believable. But her problem was global, and that is what makes her so relatable.

You can have a specific, well-rounded character (pardon the pun) who is also someone everyone can relate to. And these make some of the best books.

Go read this book! Study it. It's a keeper.

Do you have any other examples of books with specific characters who face global problems?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Special: WIN a copy of Elana Johnson's POSSESSION!

Just popping into the blogosphere for an extra-special post to direct you to Literary Rambles, where natalie Aguirre is giving away not one, not two, but THREE copies of Elana Johnson's YA debut POSSESSION! I picked up my own copy yesterday, and guys, you do not want to miss this!

Three copies = three winners.

Go! Enter! And spread the word...

P.S. I am close-ish to getting 200 followers. When I get there, watch this space for a giveaway of my own design... Bwa-ha-ha-ha-haaa!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday Favorites: COMPUTERS!

My computer died sometime overnight on Monday. It worked - albeit grudgingly, moaning and groaning and generally acting like the crotchety 5-years-ancient thing that it was - Monday evening, but when we tried to turn it on Tuesday morning, nothing.

So: I need a new one. And as we have already established, I am a Twenty-First Century Caveperson.

So, A SURVEY! Because you guys are the best, and because you all probably know way more about this stuff than I do. Also, the Hubster and the F-i-L know lots, but they also have to spend hours and hours tinkering and tweaking, and I do not want to do that, so do I really want to trust them? Hmmm. I think not.

First: Mac or PC? If PC, what make/brand/whatever? Intel i3, or dual-core processor?

Second: Hate it, Like it, Love it?

Third: Best thing about your computer?

Fourth: Worst thing about your computer?

That's it! four little qustions. (Okay, that first one was a doozy. Sorry about that. But it was all necesary.) Can you guys help a gal out? Pretty please?

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesday: Listening

I've been getting a lot of critique lately along the lines of:

-This is good, but it's quiet.

-This is good, but it's awfully short.

-This is good, but the MC should be more/less defined.


I spent a lot of time thinking, "Yeah, but I wanted to write a quiet book. So that means I'm done!"

Or, "Yeah, but I was aiming for short, so there would be lots of white space - more room for illustrations is good, right? So that means I'm done!"

Or, "Well, I made that MC purposefully vague/detailed, and you said it was good otherwise, so... Party time! I'm done!"

Um... No.

This week I've come to realize that what my amazing, wonderful, patient critters (because my CPs must be among the most patient in the world, because they deal with me and my detailed crits so well) were really saying was:

This is good for the type of book you're writing. But I don't think the market wants this type of book. In order to make this marketable, you need to make it into a different book.

Sometimes, in order to become great writers, we must first learn to be great listeners.

And a few incredible critique partners probably helps too.

What have your critters been telling you lately that you need to listen to?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

I'm putting my Writing Craft posts on hold until next week so I can celebrate Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with Shannon Whitney Messenger, Shannon O'Donnell, and all the other lovely bloggers who take the time to review a Middle Grade book every Monday - because MG really does deserve more attention!

So, to see what marvelous Middle Grade book I'm reviewing, go HERE to my post from last Friday, where I talk about a really moving book that I read last week.

And then go to all the other blogs (linked from the Shannons' blogs) celebrating MMGM and see what they're talking about this week!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wisdom on Wednesday: Less is More

I can be wordy. My blog posts will attest to that. But as this post will show, I've been working on that, both on my blog and in my manuscripts.

Don't use a paragraph when a sentence will do.

Less is more.

Happy June!