Friday, January 30, 2009

What's Your Question???

What are you writing? If you’re going long, do you know you need a question? Is one churning in your mind, itching to get out and take readers on a curvy rollercoaster ride or a linear stroll? Does your work promise to deliver? Are you conscious of that thing you will eventually answer? Why should we read? Why should we care? Are you able to pull us from A to Z? Have you figured out your game plan yet? What will you use to entice and entrap us?

Can you imagine books without questions? How would fiction exist without them? Can the band of Rebels defeat the Evil Empire? Is the hobbit capable of destroying the ring? Will Odysseys ever make it home? Can a vampire and a mere mortal be together and enjoy their love? Will he escape from his prison? Who is the killer? Where is the treasure? See what I mean about questions?

Where will you take me? And how? Will you bring me to tears, leave me in stitches or both? Should I cancel my manicure? Can you keep me riveted and make it impossible for me to put the book down? Why not seize me by building up the importance of that question and withholding the answer until the end? Have you figured out what it is yet? If you don’t have one, can you thread one in? Don’t you want me to care and invest and follow along? So why not discover your question? Don't you know that's your hook? Why not bait and reel readers in with something that keeps them turning pages? Why not start with a question?

What's your question?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Yearly Resolution & Goals

Every year people make resolutions for things they'd like to change, overcome or adopt. I haven't really made any resolutions this year. I have no vices or ails that need fixin, and even if I did, any half-hearted attempts to try would probably lose steam by Valentine's Day, as most resolutions fade to such a fate.

I did however, make some writing goals. It's important for me to have a game plan of things I want to accomplish this year, in terms of my writing career.

Here's my to-do list for 2009:

1. Finish Sapphire Reign, my sequel to Kings & Queens, easier said than done.

2. Begin another book. (I'm not as quick with ideas as my friend the Jedi Princess.)

3. Keep up with my blog.

4. Polish K&Q with one more round of edits after all critiques are in.

5. Polish up my submission pieces.

6. Begin submitting to agents. Hopefully, I'll be signed for representation by the end of the year, so my family members will stop rolling their eyes.

7. Cut down on sports so I can get more work done. hahahahaha. Not! (1992 flashback.)

I yearn for the prize of publication, and I can't accomplish that without setting out a course of action. My critique group is nearly done with my novel, K&Q, so I'm a few months away from stuffing envelopes with SASEs and printouts of my winning query. What are you hoping to accomplish this year?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My Weird But Totally True Story

Nearly everyone has a funny, embarrassing, wacked out jaw-dropping or amazing story to share with the masses. On one of my writing forums, someone put forth an invitation to tell a true life tale starting with the great writing prompt...So, there I was...

Well, here is my wicked bizarre, honest-to-goodness, true life, so-there-I was tale:

♦ ♦ ♦

So, there I was coming back to Mass from vacation in Hershey, Pennsylvania with my family. I was twelve, my sister, five.

My dad stopped to get gas and struck up a conversation with this old man standing outside the convenience store. The guy had a Bible on him, and he and my dad started talking about the Lord. My dad, being the friendly guy that he is, and a Christian, said he’d drive him to the Shoney’s he wanted to go to since we were going exactly in that direction. We'd eaten there on the way down actually so my dad knew right where it was.

He sat in front with my dad, and my mom hopped in back with my sister and me.

My dad had never, ever picked up a stranger, and by her tension, I could tell my mom was furious with my dad's sudden burst of kindness and caution-to-the-wind attitude about the whole thing.

As we’re driving, he and my dad continued to converse about the Lord and the Bible, and my mom eventually relaxed and chimed in too.

Out of the blue, the man said, “My name is in your car."

The three of us in back looked at each other with scrunched faces. We’re all like, “What?"

He repeated, “My name is in your car...See?" He lifted up the bunch maps my dad had in front between the seats, which were covered the whole time, and pulled out a stuffed mouse, wearing a Hershey bar T-shirt. He said, “That's me. Name’s Hershey like this guy, the chocolate king. He was a nice fellow with ambition and heart. Created tons of jobs for people."

My mom and I exchanged wide-eyed glances.

He continued on, talking about God, family and love…and a little bit about chocolate. When we got to the Shoney’s he oddly asked to be dropped off across the street instead of in the parking lot. I assumed he didn't want my dad to have to make a U-turn.

So my dad obliged and let Hershey out where he requested. As soon as he got out of the car, we all started clamoring about the whole Twilight Zone feel of that. We majorly freaked out about the mouse thing because there's no way he could have seen it. Plus, we had just come from Hershey and picked him up at least two hours away from that chocolate heaven. i mean, what are the odds?

I watched him walk towards the restaurant. And he never got there. I gasped.

When my sister shouted with alarm, "Where'd he go?" I knew we'd both seen the same thing.

He had totally just disappeared.

♦ ♦ ♦

Hmmm. Entertaining angels unaware? Perhaps. Methinks. We all came to that conclusion. So, now that you've heard one of my jaw-droppers, share your own tale of oddness. Spill the beans on your outlandish, weird, hilarious true life experience. I'm curious. Do tell.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Make Good on Your Promise...Go Visceral

If two people enter a white room and sit at a booth to have a discussion without food in front of them, without other people around, without interruption, background clamor, color or scents, how thrilling would it be to read about, unless it's in The Matrix? How realistic is that? Not very. It's pretty sparse and empty in fact, right? But it’s done often. Too often. When a reader is invited into the world you’ve created, you’ve made a promise to them that you're going to give them an entertaining and/or thrilling ride. You’re shortchanging readers if you have naked, blank-faced blokes in barely there spaces.

When readers enter a scene with those characters talking, if you don’t have anything to ground them in the setting, then all they’re getting is TV snow. I’m not talking about adding buttloads of description, but just a few details to set the stage to show where the characters are, a few impressions to help them experience what your MC does.

If I’m not paying attention to my own work, I can be so focused on getting the dialogue right and advancing the plot, that I forget to include a little bit of spatial content or a character’s sensory observation. I’m so grateful to have critters who find these kinds of noids and voids.

If you take those two same characters, put them in a booth in a 50’s diner with a checkerboard floor, a tune playing on the jukebox, red covered chrome stools with a busy lunch crowd with greasy smells in the air, patrons yelling for things. Which one is more lively, more captivating, more realistic? The second. Readers' senses need to be tickled to get them to not only get a feel for the scene but develop a closer, more identifying bond with your characters as well. The little extras make your story come alive.

Yeah, everyone knows there are five senses. But if you think about it, there are more and various shades and blends of senses and physical and emotional triggers and experiences. So dig a little deeper.

You can have a heightened sense of awareness or dead-on intuition. People can have chemical surges, drunkenness or acid trips which alter and exaggerate senses. One can have a spiritual sensitivity to an external nudger: a guardian angel, a spirit guide, a dead grandpa or God. Some people experience spiritual sight, a higher level of consciousness or frequent epiphanies, like a thousand words flooding into the mind at once. There’s déjà vu, which I get all the time, or gut instinct. Some people can predict the weather based on what their knees tell them or the intensity of a migraine.

And there’s me, with my crazy super power. In the split second I see someone, and every time, I detect this texture in a person’s soul that triggers an instant yet momentary emotional response. Some are dull, others vibrant. Like whenever my husband walks into the room, I get a peace that’s so soft, like a dryer-fresh towel, all smelling nice and feeling warm. My best friend from college = a teddy-bear warmth. Another friend = a zippy jolt. She loves to travel and is always on the go. It can be linked to personality, interests, what a person’s going through at the time I first see or meet them or how they’ll make me feel in the future. It’s a weird sense, it’s unique and hard to pinpoint and describe even, but it’s mine.

In fiction, you can create senses people don’t normally have. In Eighteen Seconds, by George D. Shuman, a blind character can experience the last eighteen seconds of a person’s life if she touches a corpse. In Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr, the MC can see faeries walking among mere mortals. Characters can have normal senses or strange ones. You can use your imagination. That’s what’s so cool about fiction. You just have to make it believable. Think of ways beyond the five senses by which you can bring your work to a new height and a deeper dimension. You can find your entire plot in an invented or blended sense. And when you include sensory details, familiar and not, don’t write, he smelled, she saw, but rather lace them into the narrative.

One of the ways to get the attention of an agent, as mentioned on Anne Mini’s blog, is to have scensory impressions at the beginning of your manuscript, beyond seeing and hearing. So I wrote an intro that included many impressions. Here are some examples of sensory input from my novel Kings & Queens.

Ignoring the call of fresh-baked banana bread, she turned to slink up the stairs, but her mother met her at the door, which made her grouse.

Majesty bit her banana, sugary with ripeness, and followed Alec and Aislyn with her gaze as they headed toward the exit with Snapples in hand.

With her mouth gagged, the taste of dirt laced her tongue. She wrestled the bonds wrapping her wrists and ankles to a chair and let out a muffled scream.

He cut pieces of apple with a knife and fed them to her, and the tart Granny Smith pleased her palate.

Wind delighted her, caressing her face and tickling her sense of smell as it braided with the aroma of lilacs and apple blossoms.

I’m not a writer or reader who’s enthralled with tons of description. I’ve read some works that have turned me off with an overabundance of detail, like a whole paragraph devoted to an outfit a woman was wearing. In my sequel, I’m experimenting with way more description and sensory impressions than I need for some plume stretching, but when I edit, I will burn away and cut off anything extraneous.

In the correct scheme of things, balance is key. Give enough so readers don’t feel like your characters are walking, talking and living in vacuums yet don’t smother them with detail either. With sensory imagery and description you can set tone, establish setting, paint contrast, give some uniqueness to your characters. Grounding your work with some description and sensory impressions will bring your story and characters to life. You made a promise to tell a good tale. Now you just need to fulfill it.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Going On and On and On About Dialogue

Conversations go on all around us. We take part in them too. Hundreds a day in fact. Little pieces here. Never-ending arguments there. We discuss sports, TV shows, news, gossip, that annoying ooey, gooey, kissy baby talk the neighbors exchange every morning in the driveway. Every morning! In the driveway! Dialogue should look and sound and feel nothing like this…real conversation that is. Not just the ooey, gooey blah, blah, blah, yada, yada, yada crud either. But, you think, if my dialogue matches phone chatter, chatting, texting and regular speaking, it must be good and effective and believable because that’s what’s most natural. Nope. Not true. Here are things to keep in mind regarding dialogue.
Dialogue isn't even a cousin of real speech. It’s an entirely different beast. Great dialogue is what we imagine real conversation to be. Real speech contains too many pauses, drop-offs, superfluous detail, meaningless fluff. You could never write an entire YA book in the way real teens talk… "and he was like…and she was like…oh my god...can you believe it...that is so wrong..." because it would take ten pages to learn that Cody dumped Marissa at the senior dance right when she was crowned queen. Dialogue is the edited, digitally enhanced, version of genuine conversation.
This fantastical creature called dialogue is powerful but can be quite unwieldy if you don’t grasp it’s most important function. Thrust. Dialogue must propel your story forward. If yours doesn’t move the story places, it’s too weak. It should drive and enhance the plot.
Verbal conflicts can take rollercoaster trips with ups and downs and twists but they can't be on an endless loop. They must stop eventually, lead somewhere, with one character not winning the battle of wits and words. Conflict is great, so have it, lots of it, but give it a point and a direction.
All your main/significant characters should have their own way of speaking: inflections, owned phrases, tone, etc. If a reader were to skip ahead after reading the first ten chapters, they should be able to tell which of your main characters is speaking without dialogue tags. That’s how identifying your dialogue needs to be.
Dialogue should reveal characterization and personality. It’s not as strong as action, but it’s the second best way to show who your characters are.
You can and should convey unknown details to readers, here and there, but dialogue should never be used as an info dump. For instance, if you set your book in the future, don’t try to relay the blessings and curses of that society by having characters discuss things everyone in that time and place knows. There’s nothing natural about this. Show that world. Pull, readers into the middle of it. That’s it. Don’t explain one thing. Telling is author intrusion. Readers can figure out what’s what with effective showing.
Dialogue can be used to control pacing and set tone.
Only use as many dialogue tags as necessary to avoid confusion. Cut off all the extras. And mostly used said or asked.
It’s okay to lie. Dialogue can be deceptive to both the reader and other characters. A character can say one thing and be thinking and/or meaning an entirely different thing.
Try not to overuse dialect, as in words misspelled and millions of contractions. It’s okay in places to establish voice, but try to use phrasing to convey it overall. A book that’s thick with crazy spellings, especially for a main character, is difficult to get through. Why make your readers suffer?
When fashioned well, dialogue can captivate a reader. Make sure it moves the story forward, reveals character, unfurls conflict and sounds like what we perceive to be reality. Make it pertinent, focused, important. Make it rock solid and shiny, another sparkling facet of your great writing ability.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.