Thursday, April 16, 2009

Make Your Prose Sing & Zing

Words are not just symbolic constructions put on paper. They breathe with sound and resonance from their syntax and phonetical tone. When strung together, they can create music. Sometimes it can be a chaotic mess, sometimes a concerto. Here are some things you can do to help your give your prose more zing.

Find your true voice. That is probably one of the most difficult things for writers to get right, but it is a necessary process if you want to be successful.

Voice is a combination of your unique way of expression, your vocabulary, your inflections and your poured out perspective. It is the way you relay things most naturally and vividly. No matter what the tone of your work, once you publish, readers will eventually come to know your work by your voice. It is part of your brand. You can broaden and sharpen your diction of pen by building your vocabulary and learning proper grammar, but you can't really hone it. Voice must flow out from the depths of your soul. Sometimes it takes a bit of practice and sometimes you have to block out other sources, but keep working and you will find it. You will be writing one day, and it will just click in place. It will emerge.

Vary your sentence length. Many short sentences can make for a choppy read. And many long-winded ones can become exhausting to read. Mix it up. This will give your prose a great rhythm and meter to follow.

Drive in some undertones. Secret currents flowing within your work can come from symbolic imagery, metaphors, parallel nuances that drive home the themes. My novel has a chess theme but it doesn't really have anything to do with chess. It's more a live representation of chess. There's a struggle to outwit and defeat opposition, to overcome conflict and ones weaknesses, to win. Hints of chess are everywhere from my character's name being Majesty to some sort of mind game going on, and then its move-for-move action and references to kings, queens and pawns and a project called Checkmate. Satanism and Wicca have very small roles and my deliberate word choices in both narrative and dialogue reflect this: as if by magic, enchantment, bedazzled, wicked game, swallowed up by darkness. I tie many links to chess and evil that are closer to subliminal cues than overtly drawn points.

Sorry to let the secret out, but writing is all about manipulation and undercurrents help steer your readers into making assumptions. That's why twists are so much fun.

Ignore that compulsion to let it all out at the onset. It's better if you spill details a little at a time. In the first chapter of Kings & Queens, I mention a girl disappearing years ago, then in the second chapter, I use word choices to convey that an alienated character once received condolences. Later on, I reveal in dialogue that it was his sister who disappeared. And three-quarters of the way through, I finally reveal what really happened to her and why. This is a very minor point in my book, a detail I used to bring some history to the town. I could have just given this all in a paragraph of exposition in chapter one, but it's much more fun for readers to uncover this info bit by bit. I have many instances where I hint at something and then give more pieces later. Using a varying degree of reveal for even the small things creates an overall good tempo and helps readers to stay engaged and interested.

Let your inner poet dance on your pages once in a while. Poetic devices like alliteration—the repetition of initial consonant sounds, assonancethe repetition of vowel sounds, personificationendowing animals, ideas, or inanimate objects with human traits or abilities, and hyperboleintentional exaggeration, can all give your prose a more interesting ring.

Experiment with phraseology. Changing up words can give your work an entirely different feel. I had to work at some scenes and write them several different ways before I struck the perfect chords. Different words can alter the tone and texture dramatically. I love words, so this is my favorite exercise. Twist things up and use words in creative ways.

There are many things you can go do make your prose come alive and sound zingy and fresh. Don't just write a book. When you're going through to edit, make sure your work gets molded into an artistic treasure, a literary song, bursting with enticing sounds and intonations. Make it not just a reading pleasure but a listening pleasure as well. It will make your work stand out from the slush and readers may not even understand why.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Avoiding Space Invaders

I find it incredibly difficult to work if people are hovering too close or looking over my shoulder. I've always been this way when trying to spin words or sketch out a design project.
The other day, my husband was just sitting in a recliner by me and I couldn't type one word. My thoughts were paralyzed. Yeah, partly because of his cuteness, but even if he were an ugly, unfamiliar, bug-eyed pauper with five layers of filthy clothes and a stench that even the angels can smell, I still would have been unable to pen words.

I just like having space and room to breathe and make mistakes. When people invade my creative zone, I'm too obsessed with being perfect and getting things dead-on right. Even my manic pad that I sketch everything out in is kept under lock and key. My handwriting's messy. My spelling errors would "illicit" laughter from the youngest of grammar school children. My scenes are out of context. Everything's rough and unpolished. I don't want anyone seeing that. I can't bear for people to see my scraps and trial sections. It's the finished quilt, cake, song, masterpiece that matters.

I am going out of my comfort zone a bit by posting my sequel in its raw state at theNextBigWriter for critique. I usually never pass my work before the eyes of others before I've edited my first draft. It's a new stretch for me.

Am I weird in guarding my creative process and needing some elbow room? I think so. But I'm okay with that. That's why I'm a freak.

Do you need space and privacy or does it not matter?
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Totally Addicted to Complexity

I have this slight problem when plotting a novel: I'm never satisfied with a simple premise. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, it's usually a good thing, in terms of creativity. When I wait for other pieces to come to me and expand my idea, my work is always stronger for it. But this also keeps me moving slowly at times, which isn't a good thing.

In Kings & Queens, the novel I'm close to shopping, I first had an idea for a love triangle, so I let the characters tumble around in my brain for a while. Soon, a dream gave me the suspenseful element I needed for my love triangle to be more than just...a love triangle.

In the sequel I'm working on, I had a basic premise of children with weird abilities. Then I found inspiration for a new novel in another dream about a serial killer psychically linked to a child. But I realized this new concept fit perfectly with the book I was working on. They had some similar weird threads so I decided to merge the two works.

I can't seem to just stick with one main drive like obsession, revenge, love, triumph, even though these types of stories have established audiences. I have story ideas for all of these things, but I can't stop wanting to expand them into greater concepts...bolder, scarier, weirder ones.

Maybe someday I'll be able to keep things small and deliver a tightly plotted, linear work with one main goal and plenty of opposition, but then maybe not. There's a method to my madness and simplicity just doesn't seem to be "me".

How do you work? Do you favor simplicity or complexity?

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

My ABNA...What???

I was curious to hear reviews for my ABNA entry, so here they are. Not bad actually, but they leave me a little annoyed about how things are rated in the contest. I mean, why on earth would they give a YA or suspense novel to someone who doesn't even like the genre?

* * *

After a spate of school shootings, the story, while fictional, seems terribly real. A mercilessly bullied boy is about to execute his plan to get revenge on his fellow students. Majesty--with a mother broken and unavailable -- "the love of her life snuffed out"--knows that she has cried wolf one too many times. And she has to hide, so what can she do to prevent this horror from happening?

I found myself feeling Majesty's intense alarm in the pit of my own stomach. But, although the author manages to hit me in the gut, I'm not at all a fan of this type of fiction. If I were, I would have given it a higher rating.

* * *

That's an excellent review IMO. In my short excerpt, the reader felt my character's alarm in the pit of her stomach and my story rang as real. That's awesome and encouraging feedback! Couldn't ask for better than that. Though the genre wasn't her thing, I loved what she had to say. She also summarized my excerpt well in detail before her commentary there.

* * *

I didn't like how the author switched tone in each character's head and this myatery was to gothic in spots. Never found out what is was alla bout.

* * *

[Typos above are not mine. Hmmm.] And that's not a bad review either. In my novel, I made Warren's scenes darker with a richer vocabulary to reflect his conflicted mentality and intelligence. He is Goth, so I'm glad his scenes came across as Gothic. I was hoping for that. I'm sorry he/she didn't like the switches in tone, but I think it's one of the things that will make my work stand out from the slush pile. And it's pretty clear what the story's about. The other reviewer got it perfectly.

On the whole though, I just think reviewers should rate a work based on the writing itself and not what genres they do or don't like. Just sayin'. I'm happy with these reviews, mostly, minus the flubby fingers. I get flubby fingers a lot so I can't talk. I know alla bout that. ;) Red Bull does wonders or those Dunkin Donuts Mocha Swirl Lattes. Seriously. I totally do run on Dunkin. Perks me right up. Mmm. Later.

~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sucky Synopsis Sludge

Why is it that I can spin 100,000+ words into a cohesive and entertaining work but when someone asks me what said work is about, the best I can say is, "Uh. I don't know. A church shooting...kinda sorta." ?
This doesn't at all tell what my book is about and I have such a difficult time reducing the story's complexity into a sound bite. After writing various versions of synopsis sludge, I think/hope I have a decent a page and a half. I focused on the main plot of suspense and laced in some mentions of the romance.
Present tense.
Main characters.

Story question.

Main goal.


Final resolution.

Now that I have it done, I want to get smaller. Some agents—none that I'm submitting to but still—want a ten-word hook . So, I've been shrinking my synopsis down to a microblurb for exercise. Tougher than I thought. Do I go for the main goal, concept, story question, the vague deeper meaning behind everything or can I pick a little teaser? I'm not sure.
Some context: Kings & Queens is about a seventeen-year-old who overhears a plot for mass murder in the woods. Unsure if police believe her, she aims to stop the would-be-killers before they act, but they have an agenda far bigger than she ever assumed. Violence rocks her town, leaving residents reeling and pulling her into the middle it all. With danger always pressing, police seemingly getting nowhere and those closest to her looking guilty, she takes matters into her own hands, but the truth and her actions threaten to haunt her forever, especially since she's left with blood on her hands, the blood of someone she loves.
These are my experimental ten-worders.
A teenage girl challenges bloodthirsty killers in a deadly game.
Only ONE can reign, but winning could still cost everything.
When a King chooses his Queen, all bets are off.
In order to get deeper into what my story is truly about, most of my hooks end up looking pretty vague. Do any of them strike your fancy? The first one sounds too YA. I like the second one. It's so hard to pick out the most interesting parts and true meaning of the novel while not giving away the whole plot. Have you worked on a ten-word hook for your long work? Try it if you haven't. It's more of a headache than it is fun, but it's worth the effort.
Hopefully, I can come up with a better face-to-face summary. I'm terrible at it. Cocoa is calling me and so is my manuscript.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.

Ending With a Bang

I've been hearing a lot of newbies on various sites talking about their manuscripts being way too long, so they then split those behemoths into two or more books.

Uh, well, the main issue with this is, if your first book doesn't sell well, why would a publisher roll out the next one? Would you really like your readers to be stuck with an ending that's no more satisfying than cotton candy?

And also, when readers begin your book, you've invited them into a world that poses questions in their mind. You are obligated to answer them. You can leave threads to be picked up in another book, sure, but you must wrap up the story you're telling in some tidy, satisfactory way. If you're planning two or more books during your writing process, the whole structure of each novel will be different than if you split one and magically make two. Each book needs to have its own arc, main question, character goal(s), ultimate conflict and resolution.

If you're an established author, you can have a more dangling end, but a new writer has a difficult time getting away with it. The publishing industry is competitive enough. Why shoot yourself in the foot before you jump into the race?

Once you finish your project, work on something else in that same genre or vein. Yes, that same one, just be more terse at your next go. When it's finished and edited, many times over, seek representation for it. Once you sign with an agent, he or she will generally get a first read of your VERY polished duology/trilogy. You'll have a foot in the door plus some respect for your writing ability, and it won't look so much like you have diarrhea of the pen. Perhaps, you can then get a three-book deal. If you show you can write well and entertain the market you're after, it will benefit you greatly.

Every writer should strive to create a satisfactory ending. It doesn't have to be happy. It just has to answer the questions you posed at the onset in the most dynamic way possible. Sometimes there's a twist, tragedy and tears, or blissful kisses. Let your ending resonate. Avoid a dead ending that lands in the grave. End with a bang, something more than what readers expect. The conflict and story arc must lead to the perfect resolution to make readers just a little bit sad that they've reached THE END. Then they'll be salivating for your next book.
~ Signing off and sending out cyber hugs.