Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Avoided Moments

Years ago I heard Richard Peck say, “You learn the most from the experience you would have avoided if you could.” In the same keynote address I also heard him say, “You are only as good as your opening line”. Although the second quote is one of my favorite, that will have to be a discussion for another post.

Think about the experience you would have avoided if you could. We all have things in our lives that fit this description. What emotion is connected to that experience? What would you have done to avoid it if we had known it was coming? Who would you be now, if that experience had not existed in your life?

Your character needs an experience like that. They need to be faced with something so terrible or terrifying that they would have avoided it at all cost. Maybe they are trying to avoid it. Perhaps they know, and understand what is at stake.

How do we help our character find that experience? Is it something we have experienced in our own lives and know about? Not always. Maybe you are experiencing this situation for the first time through your character and are trying to understand the emotions connected to this experience.

I’ve been trying to create a character that is dominating and has an entire community under his thumb. He would have to be so controlling and scary that nobody dared cross him. The problem is, fortunately, I’ve never experienced such dominion. However, as I’ve struggled with this character, I realized that there are moments in my life when I was terrified of a situation or person. Especially as a child. I’ve examined those experiences and the emotions that go with them and tried to transfer them to this fictional character that plays such a critical role in my novel.
Transferring these emotions does not mean transferring the exact experience. But the emotions can help you to create this character and give him real traits. You will better know how the characters around him will react as you pull from these emotions and then interview your characters. All your characters. How are they feeling? What are they thinking? How will that cause them to react to the particular rough spot where you have led them?

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Getting Ready for NaNoWriMo

Lots of talk about NaNoWriMo going around. Are you planning to write a novel in November?

What is the best way to prepare for that? Many suggest that you make sure the family is on board and you have all the big things in life taken care of when November arrives. Sounds good. Not a perfect plan with four busy kids, but I think they'll work with me to make it happen.

What about the novel itself though? How do you plan to write 50,000 words in one month?

Last year I found a book that helped me think through the process of writing a novel. Book in a Month gives daily exercises that help with plotting and character development. I've wondered about doing some of the excercises now though so I'm even more ready to dig in and start writing on  November 1.

Book in a Month really encourages you to have some kind of an outline. Many writers say they don't write that way, but I'm realizing that having a basic direction works well for me.

Dan Well's offers suggestions for plotting out your basic ideas as well. His 7-point system leads you through hooks, resolutions, midpoint and pinches. With a basic idea on where your story is headed, you will be ready to jump in with both feet and write, write, write.

I know there are some other great methods for plotting out a story. What method do you use to plot out a novel? What do you do to get ready for NaNo?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Picture the Details

Details that bring a novel to life can be tricky to write when you aren’t sure of the setting. Sometimes we as writers may know the general setting, but are still fuzzy on the bits and pieces; the heavy oak door that takes a child’s two hands to push it open because it is so heavy or the slimy moss that gets stuck between the characters toes when they wade into the pond.

I recently read Matthew J. Kirby’s Clockwork Three and was impressed with what I could visualize in the pages of the story and feel of the character's plights. I wouldn’t have noticed the words themselves if I hadn’t been paying attention because they were crafted so well. But the details sucked me into that world and let me see it, as the action reeled me forward through the book.

How do you create those kinds of details?

One scene in my novel involves two boys traveling down a cave-like tunnel. They climb over a boulder, wade through an underground river and make a story-changing discovery. It’s an exciting scene and the details were mostly formed from information researched about caves and underground rivers.

A couple weeks ago I walked through Timpanogos Cave for the first time in my life and realized how much I was missing in my scene with these two boys. Bending and twisting around cave formations to get to the next open area, I couldn’t help but picture these two boys on their own adventure. We heard stories and observed crevices and tunnels that had my mind reeling with ideas for how to make my character’s exploration even more exciting.

It doesn’t make research any less important. But finding a way to see a situation, or experience it, can open your mind to the possibilities. Re-writing my scene will bring details that will intensify the situation I was trying to create with these boys. They will be dodging more stalagmites and wondering about the small tunnel they can't quite fit into. Experiencing Timpanogos will make this scene stronger in the end. Maybe we as writers cannot experience everything our characters do, but it’s worth looking for the opportunity to experience what we can.

We may still have to make up the rest.

What tricks do you have for experiencing life as your character sees it

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Standing Out

Ruth Katcher, Editor at Egmont USA, told one of the WIFYR classes today about recieving a live lobster with a submission. Can you imagine? She never really told us what she did with the lobster, but it must have been a shock when it arrived.

What are editors and agents looking for? Not lobsters or any other exotic gift. Something much more subtle and obvious. A well-crafted submission.

John Cusick, Agent at S©ott Treimel, NY added to this idea in a later session today, by saying, "You stand out by being good and by being yourself."

But how do you polish a manuscript to that point of "being good by being yourself"?  Listed below are some favorite answers to this question.

  • Read, read and read some more
  • Write, write and ...you get the idea...write some more.
  • Finish the novel. I can't tell you how many times I've heard that in the past two days at WIFYR. sometimes we get stuck on the first few chapters and never finish.
  • Find a critique group. Critique groups give you the opportunity to improve your own work, as well as developing editorial skills in a friendly environment.
  • Put it aside and come back to it later. You'll see it more clearly.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Lost Generation is Finished

It's finished.

Like a wonderful puzzle that I've poured my soul into, the pieces have all fit together into a novel.

Lost Generation is finished.

I never anticipated what it would be like to say those words.

Ann Dee Ellis compared writing a novel to running a marathon at WIFYR two years ago. I've never run a marathon, but it sounds like a good comparirison to me. I picture training, day in and day out for the big race and then it arrives. You run. You finish. Then what?

You get ready for another race.

I guess writing is like that, because the thing I want to do most is start a new novel.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Writer's Boot Camp

Two years ago at the WIFYR conference I was lucky enough to have signed up for Ann Dee Ellis' morning workshop. I didn't realize what an intense, emotional, amazing week it would be. Ann Dee knows how to inspire you to do more. She was determined to get us through two rounds in of critiques that week. And we did. I didn't sleep much, but I critiqued and wrote more than I ever have in a week.

The amazing thing about having an experience like that, is realizing you can do more than you knew. You learn that that it's alright to admit you are a writer and be okay with it. You learn that it's alright to embrace it. Because really it only requires deciding. As James Owen states "If you really want to do something, no one can stop you; but if you really don't want to do something, no one can help you." If you haven't read his book "Drawing out the Dragons" where he tells his inspiring story of struggle and success, you've missed out.

When I realized Ann Dee is teaching the Boot Camp class at the WIFYR conference this year, it made sense. Even though our class wasn't labeled "Boot Camp" it was kind of like that. There is only one spot left though, so if you are interested in an experience like this you'll have to jump fast. It won't last long.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

WIFYR Registration Open

Registration is open for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers 2012.

They have a great lineup  of workshop faculty and other presenters this year.

Carol Lynch Williams is teaching one of the advanced classes this year. Carol is a great mentor and I've learned so much from her at conferences and such. Those who are lucky enough to be in that class will have a great experience.

But they probably all will. Ann Dee Ellis is doing the Writer's Boot Camp and I know that will be amazing, having been in her workshop two years ago.

It seems like they've done great job of covering alot ground. They have morning workshops for  middle grade fiction, fantasy, paranormal, science fiction, picture books and more. As always, they have a morning workshop for illustrators.

If you have never attended these morning workshops, attending is one of the most amazing experiences you will ever have as a writer. It's a great way to "Lift Your Craft", the motto listed on the WIFYR website. You can learn more at their website.  http://www.wifyr.com

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why I Love WIFYR

Attending WIFYR (Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers) is an amazing experience. Every writer should have this opportunity at least once. The lineup this year is pretty exciting. But what does a writer get out of this conference? These are some reasons why I love it.

  • In your morning workshop you meet a group of people that end up becoming a wonderful support network through that week, and sometimes beyond. You laugh and sometimes cry with them, sharing your work with them and opening yourself to growth.
  • Meeting and working with a published author in the morning workshops always opens new doors in my mind. You realize that they are real people. The feedback on your own work helps you to know what to work on and how to make your work marketable.
  • Morning worshops help stregnthen your skills as a writer. They help you realize your potential and find ways to further develop your skills.
  • We always hear from editors and agents. In the morning workshop they visit each group, giving you a chance to ask your really great questions.
  • This year there are two editors and two agents. Although if you count Kirk Shaw, who is teaching one of the morning workshops, there are really three editors.
  • Sometimes other agents show up, or you meet local editors in workshops and classes.
  • There is always more information presented than you can absorb. Choosing specific questions to get answered during the conference helps insure that you go home with what you need.
  • Going to WIFYR makes you want to work hard and achieve your writing dreams.
Do you have a favorite writing conference? What great things have you learned at conferences? How do they help you?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Developing Interesting Characters

I'm trying to develop interesting characters. Is it happening in the story I'm working on? I hope so. Because I've been focused on this I checked an entire stack of books out of the library about bringing characters to life and so forth. There has to be something interesting in one of them. Right?

Some of the books talk about dialogue and making it real which I guess helps bring them to life. I can see that. But sometimes I find myself in the middle of too much dialogue and not enough action. Something needs to happen and surely through their actions and reactions I can help them come to life.

I realized something while walking one day.

Years ago I read The Color Code by Hartman Taylor. I've used what I learned in this book for years now to understand my children and their different personalities. We have all the colors in our family. With six children we're bound to have variety. Right? We have quiet peacemakers, to flamboyant performers to children who can't stand it when they are not in control.

I realized that my characters are like my children. They have personalities that fall somewhere into the color code. Once I decide where they fit I can better know how they react to a certain situation.  Maybe I don't always need to stop as I'm writing and decide how a blue or a white or a red would react to this situation. But when I get stuck it has made it easier to remember that because my mc is very yellow, he's not going to think real hard about the situation before he jumps in. But his sister who is a combination of blue and white is going to hesitate while worrying about the safety of her brother and begging him not to do it.

I've found other books that try to analyze personalities in great detail, but I like the simplicity of the Color Code. Probably because I already understand it.

What tools or exercises do you use to bring your characters to life? How do you decide how they will react?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I Learned from NaNoWriMo

Let me say right up front that I didn't meet the goal of 50,000 words. But I wrote about 20,000 words more than I would have written otherwise.

I learned to push myself to a new level. The greatest thing I discovered was the idea of doing 20 minutes sprints. I can focus really well for about that long. If I know I'm racing the timer I find that I do pretty well at keeping at it. When I got stuck  and didn't know what to write, but was still racing the timer I created a box right in the middle of my manuscript and started interviewing one of the characters. I asked them every question I could think of about that particular situation. I eventually found something that triggered in my head and got me back to writing the real story again. I love the boxes, because I can go back to them now as I'm looking through it again and know right away that it is an interview that may help me finish developing that section.

About halfway through the month one of the interviews led me to realize I had put a character in the wrong place from the beginning. Ouch! What a painful realization. But the cool thing is, once I accepted the facts, I just kept writing forward with that character trapped where she needed to be and didn't really have to start over at that moment. As I am rewriting from the beginning and editing all the chapters that changed because of this major factor, I'm pretty excited to see things happening that couldn't happen without this character in the right place.

What about next year? I'm doing it again. This time I'll be really prepared and I'll write all 50,000 words. I was just warming up this year.