Friday, February 25, 2011

Premise Novels are Evil

Alright my loyal minions, one of my clients decided to share her sinus infection with me (seriously people, if you're sick, don't get a massage. Just reschedule. We don't mind. Honest.) so if today's post makes no sense, I shall stick to my previous claims of "the NyQuil did it".

Anyway, today I wanted to tell you why premise novels are evil. I shall first explain what I mean by "premise." You also hear them called high concept. As the wiki link tells you, a premise or high concept novel is where you can easily explain the story in a few sentences, and it usually manages to imply a lot about characters, theme, and plot.

It's why the high concept idea is sought after like a mystical unicorn in the woods. So often we struggle to explain our stories in a few sentences or less, while simultaneously conveying the richness and depth of the story and characters. Having a high concept (What if there was a psychiatrist who helped a little boy who saw ghosts--but the psychiatrist was actually a ghost?) seems like it would solve all those problems, right? Gone are the long hours you spend coming up with a catchy way to sum up your book. Gone is the hair-pulling, mind numbingly hard attempts of taking your entire plot and boiling it down into the most important few sentences.  

When the first idea you have for a novel is the premise, you feel like you won the lottery. At least, that's how I felt. I had this really amazing what if premise, and could see all the possibilities the novel could take. Because the first idea *was* the premise, I was also able to easily write a mock query letter, and figure out what my plot was about. I thought it would be easier to write a novel starting with a premise, than starting with two characters and a vague feel for their relationship, with nary a plot in sight (which is how I normally have book ideas).

I was sorely mistaken. This book has been one of the most difficult stories I've written, and I am convinced that it's partially because I started with a premise first.

Your experience might be different, but I would like to warn you about the troubles I faced with my high concept idea. I think some of these warnings will also serve you well if you usually get ideas for characters first, but it just so happens you get a plot-related idea for a novel that you'd like to run with. But again, this is just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.

1. Having a high concept doesn't mean you actually have a story or characters. 

Let's use The Sixth Sense as an example. I have no idea how M. Night Shyamalan came up with the idea for The Sixth Sense, but let's pretend it was the premise. What if a psychiatrist tried to help a boy who saw dead people, and what if he was also dead?

At first glance, you'd think I've fallen victim to the NyQuil. "There are so characters in that idea, and even the suggestion of a plot."

This is true--there is the suggestion of characters and plot. The problem lies in the assumption that you already have the idea for the characters. You mentally check off that you've thought of who should be in the story and you move on.

The same thing happens with the plot. In coming up with the story all at once, you don't spend the same sort of time trying to think of what your characters could be doing in the story, or why they are even there. You skip some really important experimentation phases in story development.

Sometimes you realize this in the middle of writing the story, that you don't have the right characters in the right place (which is what happened to me) and other times you get all the way to the end, propelled on the strength of your high concept, and realize while a bunch of cool stuff happens, it's not exactly a story (which happens in a lot of M. Night Shyamalan's movies. He has this really great idea, but fails to properly flesh out the characters and plot until the story implodes onto itself). 

2. You feel married to the premise.

I didn't particularly have this problem, but I've heard horror stories. You have such a cool premise, it's hard to give it up if the story doesn't want to come together. It's really tempting to go with the "oh cool!" idea for the wrong reasons. It will be easier to pitch to agents and editors. It will make writing a query letter slightly less painful. After awhile you feel like having a cool premise is the end all-be all of writing the book, instead of the other way around. 

Don't fall into this trap. Your story should make sense--both in the characters and plot. If that somehow breaks your cool premise, it's okay. Sometimes the cool premise is the springboard you use to get to an even better plot. 

The main point the NyQuil and I are trying to make is that while it's really great to have a premise idea, don't fail victim to it's trap like I did. Just because you have this great high concept doesn't mean you don't still have to spend lots of time fleshing out the characters and plot. 

What about you? Have ever had a cool premise idea, but stalled out trying to make it into a story?

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's the End of the World As We Know It (I Feel Fine)

Go ahead and play that R.E.M. song up's an excellent anthem, especially for a Friday. So after a long, gruelling morning wrestling with my current work in progress, I have officially come to the conclusion that I am done with the first draft.

I know, it sounds odd to not really know if I am done with the first draft yet or not. But this book has been...shall we say, a problem child. I've had three false starts, and one major stall in the middle. The book is now a Frankenstein book, where there are tangents that need to be cut, scenes that are missing, and a whole lot of steps in the middle that I had to skip out of necessity. Confused yet? I was this morning!

I was going to write some of those missing scenes, but in order to know the context (Is this before or after she discovered the secret plot? After she found out the Big Secret?), I would have to know exactly what happened in the beginning. The beginning of the book is where some of the biggest changes were made, and I have lost all manner of objectivity with this first draft. So I decided that this will be a good place to stop tinkering with the first draft, and just call it done. I will have plenty of time to find my plot holes in revision. It feels really anticlimactic to write a book like this. There's no clear "Okay, I wrote the end. Now I am done, huzzah!" to it. But I am come as far as I can with this first draft. The next step would be to start tearing the book apart and figuring out what to cut and what to keep.

Hey guys, anyone want to do "Swan Lake"?
And that is very clearly revision. So hence my decision to call it done.

I am tired, too. I've been working hard on this book since December, and working hard on first drafts since October. Before that, I was working hard with developing these two projects. In between my own work, I'd also beta read four plus books. So yeah, tired.

Playing Guitar Hero with my twin brother yesterday, and reading the awesome comments on the post really put some things into perspective for me. When all you do is go to the day job and write, with very few things in between, writing can feel like an all consuming task. You loose some perspective on it, because it's all you're doing. A rejection feels like the end of the world. A stalled scene feels like utter failure.

But it's not. It's business as usual. Sure, this first draft is a hot mess, but that's no big deal. I can fix it, it's not completely broken. I have as long as I need to make it the best book I know it can be. So do you.

So after a week of hard posts, let's all take a collective sigh. It's going to be okay--really it is. It feels like a world changing problem, but it's not.

Do something fun this weekend! Shake things up! Paint the dog! Bathe the cat! Get lost on purpose!

And then come tell us about the fun you had.

What do you like to do for fun? 

I would so go walking there if I could right now.

*thank you, Free Digital Pictures for making this post prettier.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Hero Is Born

Exhibit A
 It's finally happened.

After literally years of telling my twin brother how awesome Guitar Hero is, and listening to him give me snark about the games, I've converted him. Above is the photo evidence. 

It took a while, and it wasn't easy. My husband bought me the new Warriors of Rock game (among other things) for Christmas. 

Pretend you're a rock know you want to.
See that sweet looking guitar? Yeah, it's mine. It also lured my twin with her siren song. Every time he came over, he would eye the guitar. The second time I caught him oggling my guitar, I picked it up. "Sweet guitar, huh?"

"Yeah, it actually looks pretty bad a**."

I nodded. We all know my guitar rocks. I handed it over to him. He held the guitar in his hands, and I could tell he wanted to play the game. But it was too soon. He didn't want it badly enough to eat his snarky words of so many years. 

So I waited. The next time he came over, I mentioned which games I had collected. I was able to pick up Guitar Hero II, III, World Tour, and GH: Aerosmith in addition to Warriors of Rock which came with my sweet, sweet guitar. I causally mentioned how they even had a Guitar Hero: Metallica. His interest perked up again. He mentioned he was actually considering playing. I was close.

Finally today, he came over for a few hours before work. We chatted. I oh so causally asked him if he wanted to play a video game or watch a movie. His eyes darted over to my guitar and he said, "You talked about teaching me how to play."

I grinned. I started him off easy, with Guitar Hero II. The game has a steep learning curve, so the songs on Easy are still harder to play on the more recent games, than the older ones like GH II.

Turns out, he's a prodigy! My twin is a gamer, so he picked up on it really quickly and only failed out on one song (Bodies, by Drowning Pool). By the time he had to leave for work he was playing Warriors of Rock, kicking butt and taking names.

*sniff* It's a beautiful day!

I'm doing this as hard as I can. Rwarrrrrrrr!
P.S. In hindsight, I realize I probably should have mentioned this post was going to be nothing but me being a nerd. My apologies to those who were bored by the post. I simply had to blog about my triumphs, however small they may be.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What if My Book is Wrecked?

First, let's all take a deep breath.

Chances are, your book is not wrecked. It just feels that way because you can't make that scene work, or character turn into someone you don't expect, or the setting falls apart. There are a lot of different things that can skew and go off kilter in a book that will make you feel like you're doomed and you should just become a snake milker.

But it is possible to have a first draft veer so off course that it becomes "wrecked". By "wrecked" I mean this draft is nigh unsalavagable, or there's so much wrong with the plot, characters, and setting it becomes impossible to move on with the story. You did something so badly wrong this book has turned into something you didn't mean to write, and is nothing like what you wanted. 

Now, sometimes you think you're writing about an action hero, and you throw in a secondary sidekick for him, but by the middle of the book you're more interested in the sidekick. There's nothing wrong with that. Books are different on paper then they are in your head. That's a normal part of the process.

And almost every writer I know gets middle draft blues. We've talked about why before, and the importance of continuing on. But what if you continue on with the book, like a good writer, and it still sucks? The writing never gets better, and you never feel the joy of creation you felt at the beginning?

Only you can know the warning signs to your book being wrecked--it's slightly different for everyone--but it would be wise to pay attention to these signs if they persist. Because sometimes you have to stop and take assessment of your book, and ask yourself some hard questions. 

Questions like:

*Do I hate my main character and want him/her to die?
*Do I hate my plot, and think it's the most trite piece of crap ever?
*Do I have such big holes and leaps of logic in the plot I could drive a tractor trailer through them?
*Does my book smell vaguely of anchovies? (don't ask)

If you answered yes to any of these questions, on a consistent basis (remember, we went through the last post to clear up any middle draft snags you might experience. So this is assuming you've already done all of those little exercises) you might need to stop and think some Hard Thoughts about the book. 

Your book might be wrecked. It might not be though. If you're under a lot of stress, good or bad, if life has just thrown some curve balls at you, if you're just tired in general, all of this can make you feel like your book is wrecked. 

The time to assess your book's viability isn't late at night after a bender and crying fit. You want to be alert, relatively sane, and in good health. I suggest walking away from the book for a day or two. Look at the book carefully, and figure out what's wrong with it.

Sounds harder than it is. Hopefully with time away the culprit will jump out at you. The secondary characters took over the main plot, and that doesn't add to the story. You changed the tone of the book. You started a tangent that's taken over the entire novel. Something isn't working, and it's your job to figure out what. 

Next, figure out what is still working. Main character still intact? Stretch of scenes that work really well to advance the plot? Make a note of that.

Figure out where you went wrong. Don't be like me, start over, and hit another problem 10,000 words in. In order to keep yourself from having similar problems you need to figure out what went wrong, and how you're going to fix it. If your secondary characters took over, make a note "Bob, Jim, and Sally are all spotlight hogs. Why did I let them take over?" Were you bored with the main character? Did you just not know what to do in that scene so they took advantage of your weakness?

Go through the book and make a note of each problem you find. Write a solution to each problem. If you don't know what's wrong, you can't fix it. If you haven't figured out now how to fix the problems, you won't be any better off when you start over. 

Now comes more decisions. How much of your book is salvageable? If a good chunk of it is still worth keeping, I would set that aside. Start your book over, and work in the salvaged stuff as you can. If most of it isn't worth keeping, just start over. 

I know. It's hard, but sometimes it's necessary. This is the most drastic step to take. Most of the time you won't have to start over. Most of the time, you can make some fixes and push on. But sometimes you need to start over. Make sure you're not being too hasty and keep your chin up.

Also, take this advice with a hefty grain of salt. Writers have a wide and various process for writing, that even changes from book to book. Listen to your instincts and don't be hasty. I am by no means an expert. I am just trying to pass along some stuff I have figured out the hard way.

How do you know when a book isn't working? What do you do when that happens?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day!

So it's that holiday again. The one that people either love because they are in a relationship, or they hate because it reminds them they are single. 

Since this is the first Valentine's Day I've spent with my husband, I can't help but feel a little smug. I know that from now on, I'm guaranteed to be with my husband on Valentine's Day. Not to rub it in for the single people out there, of course. When I was single, I had fun too.

I asked in my last post, but I wanted to give this some more official attention. I have reached 50 followers! I cannot tell you how happy this makes me. I appreciate each and every one of you. In that spirit, I would like to do something cool to commemorate this event. But I am short on ideas. So go! Comment on this post and suggest something fun I can do to celebrate hitting fifty followers. Should I hold a contest? Another blogfest? Do something completely different?

Have a Happy Valentine's Day!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Writing in the Spirit of Discovery

Continuing the theme of finishing your first draft, let's talk about writing in the spirit of discovery. 

It's an idea that Laini Taylor, a super cool awesome writer came up with. You can read her post about it here.  Basically (for those too lazy to click on the link/enthralled with my post to leave) Laini talks about writing being a process of discovery. You're writing to find the story.

I think that's amazing, but hard to remember that while you're writing the book. I read this post a year ago, but I'd since forgotten about it. It's easy to think that you're going to sit down with your novel and write from Point A to Point B, and each scene is going to roll off your fingertips like water from a duck. I think there's almost an expectation for that to happen. Sure, we expect to spruce up the scenes during revision, but we assume that we know all the scenes that need to be in the book to make it work. Or that while you're writing by the seat of your pants (like I am now) all of the scenes you need will just magically come to you. Or that since you wrote the scene, it's vital to the story.

I love the idea of just sitting down and writing scenes for the fun of it. To see what happens between your characters. I don't know about you, but I used to just sit down and write whatever made me passionate. I would love to get back to that place, where the scene exists not just to get the characters from Point A to Point B, but because the ideas and settings set my imagination on fire. 

This brings me to another concept that Laini talks about, and I have mentioned in the past: Exploratory Drafts. I love this idea. Instead of saying first draft, it's just you experimenting with your story idea. You're allowed to write scenes that probably won't make the final cut. You might write out of order, or experiment with writing a type of scene you usually don't, like a really spicy sex scene, or a really action packed scene. By telling yourself that this draft is just an experiment, a dress rehearsal, you take the pressure of yourself to get it perfect the first time.

Ahhh perfectionism. That is something I battle with. I like things to be just so. First drafts are hard for me, because I expect everything to be perfect, and it's not. Or at least, first drafts are their own brand of perfect. As like Jane Smiley says, "Every first draft is perfect, because all it has to do is exist."

It's easy to feel like the book your writing is terrible because the scenes aren't flowing the way you imagined, but that's not true. Let's allow ourselves the joy and madness of imperfect first drafts, of exploratory drafts where we trek around places unknown. Ask yourself what if your character meet early in the story, and write that out. You might discover something wonderful in your process of playing around with the characters and plot.

So go now. Give yourself permission to write in the spirit of discovery. Write an exploratory draft. Have fun with it, and finish your novel. 

What do you do to loosen yourself up for a first draft?

P.S. I have fifty followers! Huzzah! Welcome to my blog, wonderfully awesome new followers!
What do you guys think I should do to commemorate the occasion?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Common First Draft Misfires

Remember when I posted about finishing your book?

I am back today with gusto. Because I really want all of you to finish your books. Myself included.

Despite what your muse/creativity might tell you, jumping from book to book to book like stones in a river is NOT the way to a career in writing. As I alluded to in my last post, I used to play this book hop-skip-jumping in high school all the time. And guess what? I never finished a single book ever. This was before I spent time on the Internet, so I didn't know better.

The logic is that you will return to your half finished manuscript when your interest returns. But that almost never happens. Really. You get so caught up in this new idea you forget about the old one. Plus, even if you miraculously figure out how to jump start your half finished manuscript, going back is hard. The characters feel between slightly foreign to complete strangers depending on the amount of time you spent away. You can't quite remember where you were going with the plot. If you didn't take any notes, it might be impossible to remember why you even started the book in the first place.

Your Muse is out to lunch today. Tomorrow's not looking too good either.
It's tempting to jump ship with the waters get rough. I know. I am half way through the rough draft, and it's soooooo hard to keep going. I have no idea why it's hard, and it's really annoying. I logically know the only way to finish a book is to...keep writing it. But for some reason the book feels old, it feels like a big pile of steaming garbage, it feels like the worst thing ever written in the history of ever (yes, my muse likes to be really dramatic).

But guess what? Even though in the middle of the book you feel like it's awful, it's not. I mean sure, it's still a rough draft, and depending on how messy your drafts turn out the book could be covered in warts and have three heads (*coughcough*like mine for example). But there is still something there. Something worth keeping. I know this for a fact because I started writing a book a few months ago, and I started to hate it. It might have been the timing--holidays and moving--but I was utterly convinced this book needed to be kicked to the curb.

Except the other night I read the 20,000 words I had on it already, and I was happy to find it doesn't suck. It's still rough, but I even made myself laugh a few times (that probably sounds really narcissistic, but if I am not laughing the readers certainly aren't). I was disappointed when I got to the end of what I had written. Best of all, I want to continue, so that's what I am writing after this WIP (after a short break). This is empirical proof that despite your anxiety, your book isn't totally worthless.

Writing isn't always sunshine and rainbows, but if you try the first solution to the writing doldrums (Just keep writing and push through it) and you still want to set your book on fire and dance on the ashes, you might have another problem at hand, and this malaise is your muse's way of letting you know. 

Most of the time this is what starting a book feels like.
Common First Draft Misfires:

*Your main character is underdeveloped. You haven't thought too much beyond age, name, and physical description for your character. Now you've run out of steam and feel uncertain about what your character would do next. 

The remedy for this is to develop your character a little bit. I said a little! Don't dash off and fill out three bajillion character sheets. Just ask a few important questions. I like Holly Lisle's Create a Character Clinic for this reason. It has a series of questions to ask your character rather than a laundry list of traits. Important things like "What is the one thing in the world you regret most, and what have you done to prevent that from happening again?" Just do enough to get your creativity flowing again, and go back to writing.

*Your main character is too developed. You've come up with a brilliant idea that could change everything, but the character you built before you wrote the book wouldn't do that. Now you're fighting with the character you want them to be versus the character the book needs.

The remedy to this is painful: forget about the ten pages of information on the character you already have. Be flexible with the character and allow them to grow with the story. Your plot will thank you for it.

*Your main character made the wrong choice. This is hard to explain, but go with me on this one. Back up to the place where the writing started to feel like you were trying to suck your eyeballs out of your head via straw. You might have to back up further than that, depending on how much you pay attention to your writerly intuition. In one of these scenes, someone did something out of character. The spunky heroine dropped a line of acid.  The villain let the hero live, because you couldn't figure out how to get your hero out of trouble, and it wasn't time for him to die yet. 

It could be something small. It could be something big. Either way, your story zigged where it should have zagged. Another way of diagnosing the problem is look for when you took the easy way of out of scene. Back to the gun example: Your villain has your hero backed up into a corner with a gun in his face. Your villain is the type who would just shoot the guy. We've seen this in movies so many times, I think we're brainwashed into thinking it's OK for the villain to pause for the three minutes it takes for backup to arrive. Or for the villain to let the hero off with a warning. 

While the rest of us at home are screaming, "Just shoot him!" Well, I am. I don't know about you. The problem is you put the hero into a corner and you couldn't immediately think of a way to get him out, so you just let the villain let him go. If you find a scene where you were lazy, and bent the laws of plot logic, that's probably your culprit. 

(And now I feel like a hypocrite because in the current WIP I actually have a scene where the villain has the heroine at his mercy, and he lets her go. But I actually showed that it's in the villain's character to do such a thing because of their shared back story. Hopefully this makes sense. If not, my beta readers are going to nail me to the wall.)

*Worldbuilding: You've hit a wall in your personal knowledge. Your character has to do something in an area you know nothing about, like diffuse a bomb. It happens. Writing a scene about something you know nothing about is grueling. If it's a one time deal, you can often skip the technical details, and move on with the story ("George doesn't explode, and heads home." End scene). Later, during revision, you do your research and insert the proper details into the scene.
Insert Tab A into Slot B...that's how you diffuse a bomb, right?
However, if the problem pops up again and again, you might not know your setting well enough. Fantasy and Science Fiction authors especially have problems with this, since we're making worlds up from scratch, but the rest of you aren't immune. You might be restricting your scenes to only the places you feel the most comfortable with. Or you might be flubbing the magic system because you haven't developed the details yet. 

 If this is the case, research/make up the details you need to move forward and NOTHING ELSE. Seriously, I will come kick your butt if you abuse this power. :D The object is to get enough information to write the scene and move on. Yes, move on. Do not get on the Wikipedia carousel for the entire day telling yourself it's research. It's not research at this point, but procrastination.  

It is a many splendored carousel indeed.
*Your plot is overdeveloped: A similar malady to having over developed characters. You know absolutely everything that is about to happen. The very thought of writing these scenes bores you to tears. Your muse is thinking "I already know what happens. I'm out."

This is especially problematic if you're writing something highly structured, like a mystery or police procedural. For those of you who aren't writing something like that, I say hide your note cards and forget about what is supposed to happen next. Brainstorm what could happen next based on what has already happened. Force yourself to get creative again, and who knows what awesome ideas you could have? Repeat after me: I am not chained to my outline.

But what if you are? What if you are writing a mystery where you know Alfred did it, because he was sick of cleaning up after Bruce Wayne's weekly benders? You've already laid out all of the clues and foreshadowing to signal the ending, you can't just change things mid course.

But you can! You're the writer, by golly, and the creator of the book. Give yourself the freedom to let the murderer be whoever you might come up with. You've (hopefully) come up with several plausible suspects. What if one of them actually did it? And framed poor Alfred? Remember, you don't have to get this right the first time around. You can decide Robin killed Bruce in a fit of rage because his tight pants cut off his circulation half way through the book, and write the end as though this is how it's always been. In revision you simply go back and make the clues match up with Robin, not Alfred. No one ever has to know you changed it. 

No one ever has to know what happens under the cover of darkness.
*Your plot is underdeveloped. Again, related to not knowing enough about your world or characters. Making stuff up as you go along is super fun, but I always seem to lose steam and interest half way through. Not to step on the toes of the pansters--carry on as your process tells you--but maybe now's the time to start figuring out where this train is heading. Even if you just plan out the next scene or two, it does wonders to your creativity if you have a goal to hit. 

Or you did plot things out, but you left big, fuzzy, I-will-worry-about-that-when-I-get-there places. That's fine too. But now is the time to sit down and figure out how the character is getting from Point A to Point Z. Again, the point is to not take days plotting the rest of the book out, but just enough to renew your interest again. 

*Pressure: While deadlines, self imposed or otherwise, are find and dandy, you might be pressuring yourself too much. You might feel like you have to finishthisbookrightnow. That sort of pressure isn't the best for writing. If it's a self imposed deadline, cut yourself some slack. Slash your word count goals in half. Extend your deadline. Whatever it takes so you don't feel like you have to be done with the book three days ago.

If the deadline isn't self imposed, then try to give yourself some breathing room. If you haven't already, figure out how much you need to write, and by when. Forcing yourself to churn out 12,000 words each day is going to burn you out, quick. Even if it feels like a waste of time, make sure you give yourself some mental space. Take a walk. Watch a movie. Do something to give your brain a break.

Your brain will thank you.
Whatever the problem is, the point is to diagnose the issue and then treat until effective. You don't take antibiotics while you're perfectly healthy, and you shouldn't be researching and worldbuilding and plotting when you're excited about your book again. You should be writing it.

The last ditch method I have is a powerful one, so I don't recommend using it unless you have gone through the rest of the items on this list without luck. No, really. Go through the list, don't just tell yourself your worldbuilding is fine. Think of this as the "In Case of Emergency, Break Glass" tool.

*Time Off. Yes, it's very scary. Do not use this tool unless you really have no other choice. Remember how I told you I hated my last WIP? I wasn't exaggerating. I was so fed up with the characters, the world, the wasn't just insecurity and anxiety. I really thought I would have to do a total rewrite on that book to get it to where it needed to be. 

Even though I am adamantly, wholeheartedly telling you to NOT bounce from story to story, there might still come a time where you need to give yourself some space. Start small, with a day or two.  If that doesn't fix the problem, go to the Compromise, or as I like to think of it, "Tricking Your Muse".

Look at your schedule for your current WIP. Let's say like me, you write every day before work (actually, I am one of those obsessive types where I spend most of my free time writing, especially now that I am actively working on a book).  Allot yourself one day to work on something else, guilt free. I read about the idea for the Busman's Holiday here, and tried it when I was really stuck on a novel. 

Surprisingly, it worked. Something about allowing myself to write what I really wanted to, and not chaining myself to a sinking ship reopened my creativity. I also find that when I allow myself to work on another project, my interest in the current WIP is renewed. Most of the time I don't actually start writing another book, but merely do some worldbuilding or developing that shiny new idea before my interest in the current work in progress returns. I also don't stick to the Busman's Holiday religiously if my interest in the current project is still going strong.

Again, the caveat here is you are still working on your WIP. We WANT to finish our books. Give yourself one day to work on something else, but then get back to work on your current project. This is not an excuse to bounce to another idea and allow it to take up more time then it's allowed to. I find starting a second book is just too much temptation to abandon ship on the current book, so I usually restrict the Busman's Holiday to fleshing out shiny new ideas and worldbuilding for future projects. It's like a mini-vacation from my current book. 

Your last ditch effort is take a break from your book. This is time off, only more than a day or two. Again, don't use this option unless you've tried everything else. It's really easy to think that if you just leave the book alone for a few weeks you'll think of something clever, but you won't. We've ALL been seduced by chasing Shiny New Ideas. We've all thought it would be the best use of our time to just work on what was actively engaging at the time. 

But it's not. Writers write books. It's what we do. A half finished manuscript isn't a book, it's just half done. You wouldn't serve your party guests a half baked cake and call it cake. Before you can do anything meaningful with your book--revise it, query agents, sell it to publishers--it has to be finished. 

So go forth and finish your book!

Friday, February 4, 2011

This Just In: Writers Write!

Ahhhhhh, scenery.

Look at that beautiful photograph. Go ahead, gaze at it's beauty.

Okay, now get back to work.

No, seriously, you need to work on your book. I don't know why it's so hard for writers to finish what they start. And I don't know why halfway through the book is when it feels like the best place to give up.

I know, because I am there. I am halfway done with the first draft of my novel, and the gremlin in the corner keeps telling me to stop. That the first half of the book is so terrible I should give up and start again. That I have several more ideas that are way more interesting than this one. The thrill is gone. The book is work; hard work. 

I should stop and orangutan wrangler. A penguin herder. Something else, so long as it's not a writer. You know what's really weird about this point in the book? Almost every writer I talk to, it occurs somewhere in the middle. Sure, you get nagging doubts and urges to stop in the beginning, but nearly every writer I've talked to it's the same: the middle of the book seems like the best place to abandon all hope. 

This is like a marathon runner training and preparing for weeks, but half way through the race he decides he doesn't feel like it anymore. He'd rather start another, a different, more interesting race. Or a mechanic losing interest half way through fixing your car. "I couldn't finish the job, I got mechanic's block. Maybe if I take a break from repairs, something will come to me."

It feels counter-intuitive, but it's what happens. Why does it seem like such a good idea to quit when you're halfway through the book? No matter what I do to inspire myself (look at the pictures I have collected for the book, listen to music, do a dance in the snow covered in honey), my interest still isn't biting. It seems easier to just give up and start something new. 

My friend Lena and I were talking about how when we were younger, we used to do that. As a teenager, I must have started half a dozen novels. I would write and write and invariably, I would get a new idea and go chase that. And then I would get another new idea, and abandon the current project for the new idea. Strangely enough, I never finished a novel that way. It's like chasing the will-o-the-wisp in a swamp, only instead of drowning horribly, you just never have a finished manuscript.

Well, here's a news flash for us all (yes, I am talking to myself. Aren't you paying attention? It's halftime for my book and it seems like a great time to do anything else but finish): Writers write.

It's shockingly easy to forget that sometimes. Yes, you need to study the craft, and you need to study publishing, and don't forget to read widely in your genre, and network on Fawitter, and promote yourself...

But first and foremost, you write. You sit your butt in that chair, and you write. Whatever comes to mind. Find your passion and stick with it. All of that Twittbooking and reading isn't' going to matter if you don't write.

Writers writer. It's in the name, after all. You sit down, and you write a book. You finish that book. You don't quit when it gets hard. You figure out what the problem is with the manuscript, you fix it, and move on. Or don't if it requires a complete rewrite. Pretend you got it right the first time, and finish your book.

Repeat after me: we are writers and writing is what we do.

So go: finish your book. Myself included.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Shiver with Anticipation

Whenever I think about suspense, I think about Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Anticipation of what happens next, otherwise known as suspense, is what keeps your readers glued to your book. 

I've read books before with amazing characters. The prose was well written, and the plot was interesting. But it was boring. Without anticipation of coming events, I didn't feel compelled to find out what happened to those characters.

Some writers think that suspense is just for thriller, mystery, and horror writers. After all, the suspense of whether or not Jack Baur can diffuse the bomb/terrorist cell, if the detective can find the serial killer in time, or whether shambling horror is going to snack on the main character is a huge part that drives the story. 

But there's also the suspense of whether or not the lovers will overcome their differences and come together in Romance, if the human and alien races can live together in harmony in Science Fiction, and if the farm boy can reclaim his rightful throne in Fantasy. Obviously I am using genre tropes, but the point remains the same. There is a big question in every book--it's called your plot. Readers want to find out what happens to the main character in the circumstances you have put him in. There are also a lot of smaller questions, questions that work as your main plot points to get your character from Point A to B, and then from B to C. Is the main character going to the party, and will her rival be there? Will the girl win the spelling bee? What will the young boy's first day at school be like?

Suspense comes in many different forms. It can be small enough to propel the reader to the next chapter (okay, so what's going to happen at the wedding? Are the space colonists going to find fresh water?) or large enough to propel the reader through half the book (Who killed Mr. Body?).

You job as the writer is to keep them guessing. Make the reader sweat over not just the big plot question, but the smaller stuff too. 

A common mistake is to diffuse the tension after you introduce it. Instead of letting the space colonists travel around for a while before finding clean water, you just have them find a big pond. By dragging out a story event that deeply matters to the main character, you increase the suspense. Suddenly, the reader has to know if the space colonists will find water. Let them stew on it for a little while before resolving the question.

Oh, and the reason why suspense makes me think about Rocky Horror Picture Show? Because of this scene in the movie. I think it's hilarious, and also a great visual example of creating suspense.

To further point you in the right direction, here are some articles I've found helpful:

Keep them Reading by Tina Morgan. I especially like this article because she gives you a practical example of how to make a boring situation more interesting.  The caution I would give you though, is be careful about building up mundane events like this article shows you. This doesn't mean rampage through your manuscript, and every time the character does something mundane (make coffee, go to sleep, etc) you spice it up. You should only spend this much time with events that matter. If you build up the suspense of whether or not the character gets to work on time, and he does and nothing happens, the readers are going to feel let down. 

12 Ways to Create Suspense by Ingrid Sundberg. This shows you the multitude of different ways you can create suspense.

So, how do you create anticipation of events in your writing?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Earthquakes and Inspiration

I really wanted to write a poignant and insightful blog post today. Honestly. 

When I opened up Blogger though, I found that there were earthquakes moving around in the blogging world.

First, Sarah Zarr's keynote speech. You might have seen it mentioned before, and thought you would click on the link later. And then forgot. I know I did. But I read it this morning, and it touched my heart. So go read her speech.

Second, Natalie Whipple has a great post today about finding herself as a writer, and taking advice or leaving it, and other Eye Opening Things.

Lastly, big news from the Rejectionist. Go on, read. I will wait.


Wow. I mean, it takes guts to quit your day job to start writing. I feel so inspired. It makes me want to write my book with newfound glory.

I think I will.

Have a great day everyone.