Monday, March 26, 2012

Max Out Your Book's Potential Audience

El Conquistador Resort. Where the Tire-Pros play!

I had lots of time to think last week on our little trip to Puerto Rico, what with the plane, the beach chair, the snorkeling, especially since Nathan had meetings about tires almost every day. (And to force myself to be creative, I didn't bring any books, though I did end up reading the one my hubby brought, a pirate/spy thriller.) And a quick tip if you get the chance to go snorkeling- when you reapply sunscreen, don't forget the backs of your legs!

My hotel desk. The sound of the waves, the aquamarine water (the water in this picture is really disappointing),
the island (it's up in the palm fronds)4 8 15 16 23 42 ...we have to go back to The Island!

Last year at Dave Farland's writers camp, I was given some advice that I haven't been able to ignore, hard as I tried. My fellow workshoppers read the opening to "Book of Breathings" and the outline (a pregnant teenage girl participates in an Egyptian ceremony for a school project and is possessed by the spirit of an Egyptian queen, who wants the girl's baby to replace the child she lost.) They had some very nice things to say about the voice and the archeology bits, but several people wished aloud that the outline had more Indiana Jones to it, more action. Which brings Braveheart to my mind.

I don't watch rated R movies any more, but I have seen Braveheart. The first half features stolen kisses and a thistle-embroidered handkerchief and a secret wedding. The second half, which begins with the new bride being slaughtered and ends with William Wallace calling out "Freedom" as he is tortured to death. Guess which part I favored? (Hint- my husband was happy once the broadswords and blue paint came out.)

Both parts of the story are good, but they're more effective storytelling together. How powerful would their love be if her death wasn't so traumatic for him that he started a war and laid down his life to try to change things? How sympathetic would we be to the warriors if they weren't fighting (and dying) for a darn good reason? Not very.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it always makes a story better to have this kind of layering.

Movies like Avatar (Blue people, not the Last Airbender), which have equal doses of romance and adventure, humor and depth, are rare, but it's doable, and that's what I want to do. If you haven't thought much about what your audience is looking for emotionally in a book, I suggest you sign up for Dave Farland's Daily Writing Kick. Here's a link to one on movie marketing, and there are other links at the bottom of that that.) Very good stuff, and it hasn't hurt the many writers he's taught.

I had too much depth, not enough adventure, so I tweeked the story. Now the Queen doesn't just want to have Rhys' baby to house the spirit of her own lost child, but she also wants to take over the world and establish ma'at, the traditional peace and order that the pharoahs claimed as their responsibility and right, and the justification for making war and subduing their enemies. It gives Rhys' friends and society a conflict to engage in as well, so it's not just Rhys agonizing over what to do and people thinking she's crazy, but her friends are right there with her, fighting to save their world.

The bonus is that it's expanding the story, not rerouting it, so I can keep most of the 60k I've written.

I love time to think. Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Joy of Printing

So, I'm going on a little airplane trip tomorrow and I usually take a printout of my WIP to work on edits. This is the first time I've printed a chunk of Book of Breathings- all 60k words of it so far, and in glancing through it, I realize I've got a lot of work to do. I've done some substantial edits on the first 90 pages, hoping to get to the back half this week and start writing from my deliciously ego-myopic villianess's pov.

But this glancing reminded me that the MC's dad is missing, whereas once he was an entymologist who went away to do research every summer. Once the MC leapt off her own personal bridge about a hundred pages in, now that happens on page one and she's dealing with it the rest of the book. In other words, there are tons of inconsistencies to fix. I think I'll pack two red pens in case the first one runs out:)

Still, I love love love to hold a stack of paper crammed with words and know that the words, however inconsistent and needy for editing, are mine. It's exciting.

Happy editing!

PS- I apologize for missing my regular Mon./Thurs. blogs this week. Would you understand if I told you my mom surprised us with a visit and we stayed up WAY too late talking, which I only recovered from today by sleeping half the day? This week may be dodgy as well since I'll be out of town...
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein

Galax-Arena is: Hunger Games marries Cirque Du Soliel and they have a baby. That baby grows up and meets Enders Game and they have a baby. Except the grandbaby was published way back in 1993! Feels really fresh--it fits in so nicely with all of the Hunger Games spin offs that it makes me wonder if Suzanne Collins was inspired by it!

Joella and her brother Peter and her sister Liane are kidnapped and shipped across the universe to live as acrobatic performers for the Vexa, an alien race who get their kicks watching them and the other child performers defy death on the trapeze over and over...except when death isn't defied at all. That's what the Vexa live for.

All of them want to escape, but there's no where to escape to. The atmosphere is poisonous to humans, and Hythe, the Vexa's hired hand, is always there, ready to bend their hearts by praise or their knees by punishment. Throw in a psychic power, some deep observations about the power of information, and a serious twist, and you've got it. If there wasn't a real adult with a job (my husband!) living in our house, I would have stayed up last night and finished it.

Content-wise, there is some language, including the "B-word," the S-word, and at least one GD. There isn't any sexuality. The kids are involved in some serious power struggles, but it's not as violent throughout as Ender's Game, though there are several deaths and one mob-attack murder. It's not a light read, in other words, but in the thematic context (that people lose something more valuable than life itself when they only think about their own survival,) I didn't have a problem with it. I haven't decided yet if I will let my 11 yo son read it. Yeah, I think I will.

One more thing worth noting is that the performers didn't have a language in common, so they speak a pidgin language, similiar to "Clockwork Orange," but there's a glossary in the front and I enjoyed that aspect. I did have to say a few words outloud to figure out what was meant. Just thought it worth mentioning...

Anybody else read this? It seems to have gotten good reviews, won some big awards in Australia (where the author lives), but none of my goodreads friends have read it. I'm shocked, honestly. All you dystopian sci-fi people will love it!

Happy reading!

View all my reviews
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Harold and the Hero

In his pop psychology bestseller "Blink," Malcolm Gladwell talked about a few things that relate to how writers make decisions for their characters. The book is about the way our brains thin-splice the available information to help us make decisions better, in some cases, than if we spent hours or days gathering info and doing tests. He basically says, based on various studies (and they are varied- he goes from police shootings to art forgery to the Pepsi Challenge.) that people's brains make judgements behind closed doors. It's normal, but we should be aware of when those processes are likely to get us into trouble and what we can do to be more reliable in our snap decisions. You have to know what the really inmportant info is to make the particular decision. And practice can help. (I think there's some relevance to the Outline Vs. Pantser debate, and it gives some credibility to the Pantsers!)

A specific example: Improv groups will perform a skit called a Harold, where the actors get up on stage without lines or a setting or even a conflict, and based on a prompt from the audience, just start acting. (It reminds me of one of my favorite shows from back in the day, "Whose Line is it Anyway?")

Gladwell explains that the improv shows are often insighful, funny, and while not seamless, much more coherent than one would think. To explain why, Gladwell compares the actors to a basketball team. They've practised together so much that they understand and anticipate what will happen. They have a feel for the game and they follow rules. (Even improv has rules!) From "Blink-"

"A very simple way to create a story--or humor--is to have characters accept everything that happens to them. As Keith Johnstone, one of the founders of improv theater, writes: 'If you'll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn't want to happen to you or to someone you love, then you'll have thought of something worth staging or filming...In life, most of us are highly skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is reverse this skill and he creates very 'gifted' improvisers. Bad improvisers block action, often with a very high degree of skill. Good improvisers develop action.'"

Very interesting book, loved it, as I have loved all of Malcolm Gladwell's books that I've read.

I think this is why (as Dave Farland pointed out in his writing seminar) a hero never acts in self-preservation. A normal person, at some point in the story, would block action. (Think of Captain Kirk in the recent Star Trek.)

I think most of us have heard the tip "get your character up in a tree and throw stones at him until the last page" but this says that the hero is also the kind of person taunting the stone-throwers, and he might even moon them, metaphorically speaking. He throws gasoline on the fire by being who he is.

Does this fit any other heroes you can think of? I think of Eugenides in the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner, and many others.

Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Introductions Are in Order

Welcome to Shelley, my 100th follower! (Although networked blogs and other subcription services make that number a bit fuzzy.)

I'll tell you all a bit about myself since I didn't get around to that in January.

There are two gummy insects on my living room ceiling, one green, one red. They've been there since Thanksgiving, which was when we got out the ladder and got three gummy insects off the ceiling. The kids threw two back up after company left.)

My perfect day would go like this:

I would read a really amazing fantasy, something romantic and a little scary that would keep me guessing. Then I would take a walk around my beautiful garden in full bloom (someone in this perfect world would remember to water it since I won't!), maybe pick some raspberries with my kids or some mint to make into a tea. I'd have a brilliant idea, then go inside and write, and it would come out just as I'd imagined it. The kids- all four of them- would respect this time and not interrupt me except on the half hour (see how generous I am? lol) I'd make a few last edits (editing is so much more enjoyable than pounding out that first draft) and print it out (I love printing a completed book). Happy sigh.

Then my husband would make some grilled chicken, kids would help out with a salad full of good stuff- cranberries and cherry tomatoes and cucumbers and no celery- and we'd eat out on the porch. Friends would come over for games and we'd play for a few hours- I'd win, but just barely, everyone would be in the running until my last brilliant move, the one I'd been planning all along. The kids would play happily with their friends and no one would jump into each other on the trampoline and knock their teeth out with their knee or say anything mean, and I wouldn't have to remind anyone "that's not how we treat our friends."

Then we'd eat warm chocolate melting cake with chocolate brownie ice cream, and the kids would do dishes without any whining (ha!). Maybe we'd have a fire outside, make s'mores, then sing the best ballads of the 70's until today, accompanied by my husband on guitar. I would have finally figured out how to play something cool on harmonica, something better than "Oh my Darling Clementine." Fade to black.

A bit more: I dabble in a lot of artsy things, and because my mom is an amazing art teacher, I've learned how to do stained glass, silk screening, batik, ceramics, glass fusing and lampworking, upholstery, sewing. One of my earliest memories is "helping" my dad build a wooden seat to go over the extra gas tank in his fishing boat for me and my sisters to sit on. They taught me that you can make or  rebuild anything. We didn't have a lot of money for clothes and such, but we were experience rich-fishing on the Gulf, lobstering, scalloping, spear fishing, scuba diving, canoing, camping. I know what it is to be miles from shore, a tiny speck in the water. It's how I imagine astronauts feel looking out into space.

And lest I seem to have a big head...I procrastinate. I avoid unpleasant things, however necessary (paperwork of any kind).  I am not terribly organized, unless piling counts. I am reserved and self-conscious, to the point that when I was on the high school swim team and they passed out awards at the end of the year, I was "Mute 2." (My cousin was "Mute 1." I've since learned how to talk to people, but it's not my natural inclination) The bathing suit never bothered me, it was the feeling of being vulnerable to others, fear that people would think I'm boring or just not get what I was talking about. I am easily distracted, yet also easily sucked into books. My husband gets irritated with me regularly for not responding when I'm reading. Now that I have a son who does the same, I realize how annoying it is.

I love history and mythologies and mysteries and religions, kids and babies and my husband, who is my best friend and biggest supporter. I feel a deep gratitude to God for my life and for the experiences, both pleasant and difficult, that have made me who I am today.

I think that's quite enough, don't you?! If we don't know each other well, please tell me a bit about yourself or if you have done a recent bio post, post a link. Thanks and Happy Writing!
Glutton for Punishment?