Thursday, October 30, 2008

The missing month

I can't believe it is the day before Halloween already. I swear I missed the rest of October somehow--maybe most of September too. I have been busy with two different writing projects plus hosting the first several events for NaNoWriMo. (A massive writing endeavor which begins in less than 48 hours. *gulp*)I'm not ready--there is still so much left to do before I say goodbye to October. Anyone know how to slow time (preferably while I'm NOT at work. ^_~)

Have a productive day everyone.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Excerpt Posted

I'm thrilled to say I now have an excerpt of Once Bitten posted on my site. If you would like to read the first few pages of the book, check it out here!

Happy Reading!

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Needle in the Haystack: Research

(Craft post X-posted from the Tri Mu blog.)

From the title, you probably think I'm going talk about searching out elusive information. Maybe even where I like to look or my favorite resources. Well, I hate to disappoint, but I'm not talking about finding the needle in the haystack. I'm talking about hiding the needle.

Okay, just to be clear, in this instance, the haystack is a manuscript, and the research is the needle. Why in the world would we hide our research?

Well, quite simply, writers learn everything they possibly can about a subject (especially if they have a tendency to get hooked on research--and it is a great procrastination tool if you are not careful) but the reader does not want the story to stop as the writer informs them of all the cool stuff learned during research. They want to absorb the necessary bits and move on.

So why the needle metaphor? Surely the reader needs to know more than that?

Sometimes, yes. Many times, no.

For instance, in Once Bitten the main character can pick locks. When I started writing this book I knew only the obvious about locks: that the ridges on the keys matched up with something inside the lock. Not so helpful. I spent many, many hours online reading wikis and "how to" guides about locks and lock picking. I learned about the pins inside locks (the average house lock has a double row of 6.) I learned about different picks, the obligatory tension wrench, and different methods for manipulating pins. I've never held lock picks, but, in theory, I have a pretty firm idea how to go about picking a lock. (I'm obviously hitting only general points here because well...this is not a paper on lockpicking. ^_^)

What happened to the information I gathered from my hours of research? I used it in about three lines of the manuscript. That's it. Just enough to establish credibility and be clear to the reader.

How much is too much, too little? That is a tough one, and one of the values of critique partners. If they get confused, you need more. If the scene drags, it's time to cut. After all, you don't want to throw an anvil in your haystack--an info dump will blend in about that well. So, dig in and do your research. Then refine it to the finest, sharpest needle, and hide it nice and deep in your manuscript. Your reader will thank you.

Have a good weekend everyone!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ANNOUNCEMENT: Release Postponed

Well, I found out the other day the release of Once Bitten is being postponed by a month. I'm not exactly shocked by this news--my publisher planned to break speed records to get the book out this season, but the process takes time (and a second set of revisions slowed things down.)

So, it will be a couple more weeks before the book hits the shelf. (Which means more weeks for me to be jittery and stressed.) I'll post the official date as soon as I have it. Be on the lookout!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

First NaNo event come and gone

October is slipping away (far too quickly in my opinion) so my Co-ML and I hosted our very first Pre-NaNoWriMo event last night. We decided to do three pre-nano events this year: Noveling 101, a Plotting Bash, and a Creativity Kicker. Last night’s event was meant to be an informal discussion over dinner, so both my co-ml and I typed up hand outs that were supposed to just be general stuff to help guide the talk. Vikki wrote a short concise little hand out which, if you are interested, you can find here.

I, on the other hand, got a little carried away, and a little long winded. (This will not surprise any long time blog readers.) Since I typed it up, I thought I would share it here on the blog. So, enjoy! (or skip it, as it is long.)

Noveling 101

A General Overview of What to Consider When Writing a Novel

Before being writers, we are readers, and as readers we absorb a lot of the necessary components for writing a novel. We know a good story when we read one, and, since we are all here to write, we probably all have a good story to tell. The trick is to take that idea for a story and translate it into words on a page. I think that, as readers, we intrinsically understand many of the ‘rules’ of storytelling, so my goal with this handout is to help bring these rules/components to the front of your brain. Then, I want you to ignore all of it and just write freely through NaNo. Come December you might be surprised to discover how many of these ‘rules’ you followed without concentrating on them.>
The Basic Story Components of a Novel:
  • A beginning, a middle, and an end (Typically in that order, but not always.)

  • A problem or obstacle that must be overcome

  • Characters who are forced to grow and change by the conflicts presented by that obstacle

  • A place/world/time for this action to happen and your characters to interact in

The Basic Technical Components of a Novel:
  • Scenes

  • POV

  • Tense

Okay, those are very basic lists, and there is a little overlap, but I think this is a good spring board to start from.

If you already have a story idea, you probably have at least a general notion of who you’re writing about (character) the world that character will be in (setting) and what your character will be doing (plot) but lets explore these components in a little more depth.

PLOT is all of the action and progression of your story. Your main plot is the big goal/problem/obstacle of your story. Conflict should drive the plot and must challenge the character(s) so he/she is forced to progress through stages to be overcome (if your character overcomes) the issue. [If you are writing a mystery, the main plot is the detective’s journey to discover ‘who-dunnit’. In a romance, the main plot is the evolution of the relationship between the hero and heroine. In a fantasy, the main plot might be the steps of the character’s quest to XX. ect.] Plots should arc, starting with the inciting incident, leading to rising tension that keeps growing up to the black moment and climax and then tapers down into the resolution. (More on this at the plotting bash)

CHARACTERS are the people on your written stage. You will likely have only a couple main characters (or only one) and several supporting characters. How do you decide who are your main characters? Well, ‘screen time’ will be a major indicator, but also your main character(s) is the person whose story you are telling. Your plot and character should be so intertwined, that the conflict drives him to move, to act (and act he does. A character should be proactive, not only reactive, to the events of the plot.) Characters need to be properly motivated to move through the plot and the stakes must be big/personal enough that he can’t just walk away from it.

SETTING is where and when your story is set. For this general discussion, it is also the rules of the world your characters are interacting in. You might be thinking this only matters to fantasy writers, but do give thought to your setting. A small town verses a big city effects everything from how your character gets around to how many people she passes on the street she knows. Also your characters perceptions of what are around them can create great characterization while setting your world solidly in your readers mind. Also, setting can set the tone, mood of your story.

On to the more technical parts of story…

SCENES are the building block of your plot. Think of them as snapshots of the story. Each scene is like a mini story and should contain change. If something about your character, their goals, or their knowledge base hasn’t changed, the scene hasn’t accomplished anything. Good scenes should grip the reader and hold on forcing the character on with new goals or leave them with only bad choices that have to be made. That said, good pacing includes a releasing and tightening of that tension periodically throughout the story. (Think of your reader as a rubber band, you can only pull them so far before they snap, and you don’t want that snap to occur until the black moment/climax, so you give them a little slack here and there) There is no ‘perfect’ pacing technique or trick to learn it. Certain things will help slow down or speed up pacing: (and this is not a complete list, just things I remember from classes I’ve taken)

To slow down pacing use:

-Humor. It breaks tension and thus will slow down pacing

-introspection or long passages of description

-longer sentences.

To speed up pacing use:

-shorter sentences. This will create a fast rhythm to your writing.

-More white space on the page. Pages will literally turn faster.

-Less description and less introspection.

POV is probably one of the most discussed and debated topics in the writing loops I belong to. POV, which stands for Point of View, refers to who the story is filtered through.

- With 1st person pov the story is told completely inside the head of the character using the pronoun ‘I’. This is a very immediate POV, but the reader can only see/know what the view point character knows.

- 2nd person pov is not in common use currently, but think choose your own adventures in which the reader is addressed directly. This can be a very jarring POV.

- 3rd is probably one of the most common POVs. It uses the pronouns he/she and think of it as a camera lens, zooming in and out. It can hover around one character’s head, making it her POV despite using ‘she’, and occasionally dipping into her head for a deep POV. Or the camera can be pulled very far back, giving us and omniscient POV.

If you are writing from multiple characters’ POV, it is a good idea to use only one POV per scene (point of contention) to avoid head hopping and jarring the reader. If you are trying to decide which character the scene needs to be written from, try to figure out who has the most at stake, the most to lose, in the scene—that will typically be your guy.

TENSE is simply whether you are writing in present or past tense. This has to do with your choice of verbs. (He ran to the store. Vs He runs to the store.) Speaking of verbs, watch out for passive verbs, and for weak verbs like forms of ‘to be’ (which can’t be completely avoided, but 3 our of 5 times it is better to say “He sat” than “He was sitting”.)

Okay, this is getting very, very long, so I will wrap this up by repeating that this is all very general information, and now that you’ve thought about it—don’t worry about it. At least not in your first draft. Nano is about writing with abandon. If you have any questions, feel free to email me. Best of luck in your first draft!

(**Note. There are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure we can all name books that don’t conform to anything in this handout. Think of these rules as the pirates’ code—as in more guidelines than rules. Some rules are made to be broken, but make sure you break them intentionally and not from a lack of understanding.)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Moonlight and Magnolias--the highlights.

I'm back from Moonlight and Magnolias, and wow, I had a spectacular time. I'm definitely going back next year.

What made it absolutely amazing? Well, there was the fact I learned a lot, at times, a whole lot. Margie Lawson's workshop on the deep EDITS system was a mind blower. I purchased the class packet several months ago, but I learned even more during the workshop. I also attended classes on setting, back story, and the hero’s journey which were highly valuable. I'm currently trying to apply what I learned in the hero’s journey class to my current WIP.

The value of this conference was more than just what I learned (also more than the bag of signed/free books I totted home, though you know, I’d never look down on that.) What made last weekend memorable was hanging out with so many other writers. At Dragon*con there were 40k people, but only a handful were writers, and me being the social wallflower I am, I didn't talk to too many of them. At M&M, there were probably 300 or so people, but writing tied everyone together. I also didn’t get the chance to hide in a seat and blend into the anonymous crowd like at Dragon, at least, not all the time. There were lots of social events, so I ended up meeting people at meals, sitting at round tables talking before workshops, discussing pitches with other writers, and then there was the dance. I saw writers from my home chapter, met several people in person for the first time from online chapters, and met new people I hope I’ll manage to keep contact with.

I wish I could list everyone I hung out with, but I’m horrid with names so I’m still working on tracking people down. To highlight just a few (but by far not all) I spent a lot of time with the talented Dana Lyons. Dana is a CRW chapter-mate I don’t see too often, so it was great seeing her at several events! I also ran into (read ‘was jumped by’ ^_~) the lovely Marcia Colette from my online elements chapter. It was tons of fun hanging out with Marcia, and I found out we have a lot in common. We belong to sister chapters that are not to far apart, so I foresee a daytrip in my future. Chudney, I met at M&M for the first time and I’m trying to find on facebook or myspace because I don’t think we share any chapters. Another elements member I ran into was Petrina. She was in my group at the pitch workshop, and her pitch was stellar. I except we’ll see her book in print soon. There were so many others, and everyone was friendly and great. I wish I could write a shout out to everyone, but I’m going to cut the list here.

Oh, before I wrap this up, one other big thing. Another highlight from the conference: I pitched (and garnered a request) from one of my dream agents! This was the first one on one pitch I’ve ever had and nervous is a major understatement of what I felt walking in there. I can only hope I didn’t make a total fool of myself, but she was super nice. I’m polishing up my submission now. Wish me luck!

Another weekend is upon us (and will hopefully be a productive time for me) so everyone have a great one!

[ETA: Tori, who I went with, has posted to the Tri Mu blog about M&M, and she actually has a slideshow of pictures!]

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Over Packed

Moonlight and Magnolia begins tomorrow, and fellow Tri-Mu Tori and I will be driving to Atlanta together shortly. I'm (over)packed, everything is loaded in the car, and I am now half an hour from my house and sitting in Tori's living room. And, besides blogging, what am I doing? I'm worrying about what I might have forgotten.

Over packing is not a trait common to me. I have a personal rule that I will only pack as much as I can carry in one trip, and I don't like being bogged down. I'm a master of rolling clothing, don't need a lot of accessories or upkeep products, like all purpose footwear, and my bulkiest items are typically my laptop and a stuffed tiger I sleep with.

That isn't the case for this trip.

I've never been to an RWA conference, and everyone I've talked to has reiterated the need to be professional every time I step out of the hotel room. I'm not sure how professional, so I packed my suits (which means a garment bag so they don't wrinkle--this had to be borrowed.) But what if a suit is over the top? I also packed business casual clothing. Oh and then there is the awards banquet, which means a cocktail dress.

My poor husband had to play fashion consultant with me as I packed. I'm not on top of fashion. I don't wear tennis shoes with dresses or anything, but I do wear a pair of beat up timberland boots with everything. Hey they are black and pant legs cover the laces--they look professional, right? Apparently not. My husband went through my box of (forgotten) shoes and matched them with outfits. This means I'm bringing four pairs of shoes for a three day conference.

Four. I didn't even know I owned four pairs of dress shoes.

I'm pushing the limit of what I can carry, luckily one bag is on wheels. I can only hope this over packing thing doesn't become chronic, and that in the mess of over packing, I didn't forget anything important.

Well, I'm beyond being able to double check. Time to stop worrying and get going.

Have a great weekend everyone! I'll post an update on the conference when I come back.