Tuesday, November 30, 2010

And Now A Word from Our Sponsers

Just kidding. Rachelle Gardner really isn't my sponsor. She's an agent who has a fabulous blog geared towards publishing and writers. Her advice is sagely no matter if you're just starting to think about maybe writing a book, or you've been in the game for years.

I was trying to think of a really great way to say that every writer is different, and you should figure out what is the best course of action for you, but then I read Ms. Gardner's blog post today, and it seems she's already said it for me, only better. ;)

So, go forth and read her post. It really resonated with me today, and it might help you too.

Monday, November 29, 2010


I am pretty sure after Thanksgiving, no one wants to talk about food. But since I am sitting here thinking about food, I thought I would make a post about the wonders of food. 

If you're anything like me, you love food. I enjoy food in most forms, and there's very little that I don't like. Even food I don't care for I could eat if I had to. And I am not talking about "I am starving and I don't want to turn into a soccer team stuck in the Andes" if I had to. I mean, if it was polite, or that's what was prepared. I actually lived with some roommates who had radically different ideas on what constituted as food than I did, and I survived (for example, hotdogs cut up into macaroni and cheese is not something I would voluntarily eat, but if that's what was made for dinner, I choked it down).

If you think about it, people have very different ideas about what sort of food they should be eating. Lucky for my writing, I've lived with several different types of eaters, from the "I will eat anything that doesn't run away fast enough" to "I will only eat these five meals, and that's it." While it can be annoying to deal with these people in real life, in fiction this is a golden opportunity. You can tell us so much about the setting, the character, and connect the reader to the character with the simple mention of food.

You don't have to make the entire book about the character's quest for chocolate (or a Twinkie, like in Zombieland) but food is a really great way to sneak some worldbuilding in. Especially for fantasy and science fiction writers, the sort of food the character eats tells us about the setting without you having the character make awkward conversation like, "Boy, I sure am glad that we live in a subtropical climate!" 

Instead, you mention the character eating mangoes, coconuts, kiwi, and using banana leaves for a plate.  Sure, those fruits can be imported, but if you're writing a low-tec setting it's obvious between the food and the mention of balmy weather the character is living somewhere tropical. Even if they aren't imported, if you make that type of cuisine part of the character's normal diet, it will be assumed that's what's readily available.

It's not that readers have the exact origin of every food memorized, but people have certain connotations with food. Like smell, taste is directly connected to your limbic system. Your limbic system is why you associate taste and smell with certain memories and people. If Grandma spent her days making cookies in the kitchen, then you normally associate the scent of baking with happier, childhood times. 

Everyone's memories of food and smell are different, so you're not guaranteed to make the reader feel at home just because you mention the kitchen smelled like warm cookies, or the character took a bite out of a warm, gooey chocolate chip cookie. Maybe one of the reader's Grandma was a terror, so now they break out into cold sweats every time they smell chocolate chip cookies. 

But by paying attention to the type of food your character is eating, you can strike a very visceral connection between your main character and the reader. You shouldn't flood your pages with detailed instruction on how to make pie, or mention every morsel that passes through the lips of your character, but a reference here and there of what they are eating can be a very subtle, yet effective way to bring the reader into the character's head.

One piece of pie at a time.   

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tired Yet Content

I am still alive, and now I am moved into my new apartment. Huzzah!

My husband came home at five in the morning on Thanksgiving and we've been going non-stop to family dinners and to the store for all the little things you forget you need until you need them.

I literally have been running around every day this past week. I moved on Sunday, and then spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday unpacking and getting groceries. I have this thing about bare shelves. It makes me panicky, and I always feel like I am about to starve. Which is not true, of course, but my brain doesn't seem to comprehend. So I made sure to stock up food on Monday. Three hours in the grocery store the week of Thanksgiving=lots of cranky people.  Today is the first day I could really slow done and catch my breath, and I am about to go back to work.

In short, I am tired. Mentally and physically. It takes a lot to move a household, however small, and then we had two different family dinners to attend, plus going to the store for stuff. My writing has suffered as a consequence, but this is one of those instances where you really have to look at your priorities. And family time on Thanksgiving is one of the few things that trumps my writing time. I'm really lucky to have such a great husband and apartment, but I will be SO glad when our lives slow down to something like a routine. Tomorrow should kick our routine off, since my husband starts his new job. 

So I thought I would drop you all a line, and let you know that my blogging will now return to it's normal schedule as of this week. 

How was everyone's holiday? Did you all travel, or stay home?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Critical Writing Skills: Check Your Gut

Today, amidst the panic of Week Two for NaNo, I am going to blog about a topic that is important to all writers.

I usually refer to it as a "gut feeling" but I've heard it called listening to your Muse, or following your intuition. Whatever you call it, every writer has it.

Your gut feeling is there from the entire process of having an idea to editing. You just "know" things about your book, that can't be explained. Certain things just seem right and wrong. If someone were to tell you to make your main character a squid, you would feel in your gut that your main character isn't supposed to be a squid; she's a human girl.

Sometimes the choices you make for your book are logical ones. The setting is often a logical choice depending on your conflict. If you want to write a high seas adventure, then writing aboard a ship on the ocean is a logical choice.

But sometimes we make choices for our novel that are neither logical nor based on novel-intuition. They are just assumptions we make when we develop the idea. Sometimes these assumptions are fine, but if you haven't sufficiently thought through these assumptions they can cause real problems, the very least of which becoming parts of your book that sort of bore you.

I was in that place two days ago. I was feeling restless and bored. My gut was telling me something was seriously off. Not a good place while trying to write. In the past, I just wrote past those feelings, and had some serious issues to work through in revision. Normally those feelings crop up when I have something fundamental off about the book. So despite the pressure to continue, I stopped and took inventory of what I had so far. 

Taking inventory really isn't such a bad thing while writing a novel. Sometimes mid-novel your idea of the characters or plot or setting changes. You can either panic and run around the room (did that) or you can sit down and brainstorm all the elements of the novel you love, and how to incorporate them into your novel better (did that). My gut was telling me something was off. It was my job to figure out what.

How did I do that?

I questioned everything. Not just half halfheartedly going through the characters, plot, and setting, assuming everything is okay. You can't expect the problem to just jump out at you. If it was that obvious you would have fixed it already, right? 

Your problem will normally be something you didn't stop to consider when you were plotting your novel (or just threw out there, for you pantsers). 

I even went so far as to consider throwing out my conflict. Yes, ladies and gentleman, 21,ooo thousand words in and I actually considered throwing out my conflict. I just wasn't sure anymore that the conflict fit what I really wanted to write. When I first thought of the book idea I am writing now, the characters and plot were much different. Sometimes it's hard to let go of how things used to be. So I sat there, with my list of notes of elements that I loved about my book, and figured out how to best showcase that.

Turns out the conflict is still the best choice. But if I had thought of a better one I would have changed it in a New York Minute. I just needed to refocus the conflict so I am writing the scenes I actually care about, and not where the conflict was taking me initially.

Next I checked my characters. I talked with my friend Lena, and discovered while there was plenty of interaction between my two female main characters and their possible love interests, there was little to none between the two main characters. It gave the story a disjointed feeling, like I was writing two mini books. This fix was pretty easy. I didn't have to change the characters, just add some history in their backstory. 

This time around I lucked out, and most of the fixes I made were minor in nature. My plot, setting, and characters are still mostly intact, only now I am writing scenes with life in them.

Learning to listen to your novel-intuition is not for the faint-hearted. You have to be very careful--and confident--that it's actually your gut feeling telling you something is off about the novel, and it's not your self-doubt trying to sabotage you. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices when you realize what the problem is. If I had realized the conflict didn't fit the story I wanted to tell, I would have had a lot of work ahead of me.

For those of you who haven't made a radical change in your story mid-novel before, the technique is called Pretend You Got It Right the First Time. For example, I wrote a book where a villain threatened to release a DVD of people who were pretending to be normal humans changing into werewolves. I never actually planned on him releasing the DVD (I know, rookie mistake) but I got to the point in the novel where I realize there was no good reason (other than it totally destroyed the rest of my plot) that he WOULDN'T release the DVD. So he did. In this case, you DON'T throw away what you've already written and start over. You'll never finish a book that way. You just keep writing as though this is how it's been all along. Then in revision, you make the necessary changes to the earlier scenes.

Sometimes you DO have to chuck what you've already written. If I had decided the main characters needs a complete overhaul, the setting had to go, and the conflict was crappy, I might have tossed what I had already written. But you should make sure that's what you HAVE to do, and not your self-doubt talking. Your job as a writer is to finish this book, come hell or high water. 

Learning to listen to what your gut is telling you is, I believe, a vital skill as a writer. It's what will tell you during revision what is important to you, and what you can toss. It will tell you mid-novel that something is rotten in the state of Denmark, and then help you figure out what is stinking up your novel so you can go back to being brilliant. Before making any radical changes though, I suggest you talk with some trusted writer friends who have experiences similar to yours, and for the love of all that is holy, back up your current WIP just in case your self-doubt sucker punches you. 

You all might think I am raving mad, talking about listening to your gut. I just know it's been an invaluable tool for me. And in this case, it saved my novel.

I hope everyone is doing okay during NaNo. Slow and steady wins the race!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

How's It Going?

Excellent, thanks for asking. But I really mean all of you. How are you doing? A lack of relabable Internet connection has prevented me from blogging or even surfing the Internet lately.

I hear all of you gasp in horror. I know, I know. It's been like living in the Stone Ages or something. I wondered if I rubbed two wires together, that the Internets would come back (btw, it didn't work). 

But never fear, they cannot keep me down! I will spread my cheer and love for writing and books even if I have to hold up a McDonald's just to use their WiFi. I feel sorry for my co-workers, since I've been talking to THEM about what I usually blog about. They are not amused by such conversations:

"Did you know that Nathan Bransford retired as an agent??? I know, the travesty!"

"Keeping your chapters around 2,000 words makes your pacing even."

"How do you balance your other priorities without letting your writing suffer?"

And so on. 

Meanwhile, the WIP is coming very slowly. I have to remind myself to be patient. I am used to writing much more quickly, but in an effect to avoid over planning, there are still lots of things I don't know about the book. It's a little like jumping into shark-infested waters with only a knife, but I am still alive so far.

In other awesome news, I will be moving in two weeks. My husband will be back from training, and we will have an apartment together. I am virtually bouncing with excitement. 

Yep, November's turning out to be a busy month.

What do you when there's other priorities that get in the way of your writing? How do you carve out the time? Threats or bribes?

How is everyone doing in NaNo land? It's still the first week, so spirits should still be high.