Friday, April 29, 2011

Friday Fabulosities--Writing in the coffee shop

I am definitely going to add Andrew McAleer's book to my home writing library (the copy I'm using now is from the actual county library.) It's a great dip-in-for-inspiration kinda book.

This week, I'm featuring a quote from YA Fantasy author, Cinda Williams Chima:
A fiction writer is never entirely alone. Her characters are constantly whispering in her ear. Writing is not a social endeavor. It requires solitude--a meeting between you and your characters on their turf. Some of us can find solitude in a crowded cafe or the local mall. And none at home.

I'm with Cinda on the constant whispering. (To my wife: That's why you sometimes think I'm not listening to you, honey.) It's not spooky psychotic or anything. It's just when you are creating, you are always thinking about what your characters might be doing or saying now. You sort of get lost in your own (and the characters') world.
(N.B. Kind people call this FLOW.)

And yes, it can happen amid the bustle of a coffee shop. Actually, there's something about the bustle and conversation of strangers that sends me into Flow fast. (Perhaps my new psychologist friend, Sarah Fine, can tell me if there's a reason for this--or if it's just my imagination.)

I can work at home. But the laundry tends to cry out, the weeds in the garden taunt me, and the kids wheedle until the babysitter (a.k.a. television) gets switched on. [See, I told you I was surrounded by voices.]

Where do you write? Does it have to be quieter than a pin-drop quiet, or can you burnish your brilliant sentences to the backdrop of a brass band (or any other racket?)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: April 2011--The Character Arc in Plot

This is our last week with James Scott Bell's Plot and Structure. But fear not, Bell has another brilliant book in this series, called Revision and Self-Editing, which we're all going to need sooner or later, right? Since he's my new hero and all, you could probably clean out a large casino by betting that I'll be featuring him as a Craft Book writer again soon.

So what is a character arc? Bell does the best job I've ever read of explaining it.
The character arc is a description of what happens to the inside of a character over the course of the story. He begins as one sort of person... things happen to and around him, gradually moving him in an "arc" that ends when the story is over.
Your lead character should be a different person at the other end of the arc.
The character Bell uses as an example is Ebeneezer Scrooge from Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shortest Post Ever

Excitement city. You can find me today on Paula Kay McLaughlin's Write Now blog, learn which are the eight countries I've lived in, and finally uncover the mystery of whether I'm an alumni of Hogwarts...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monday Musings: You tell Mike: "Twit or Tweet"

I had a great Easter weekend, watching the kiddos hunt for eggs and then OD on chocolate. Also, my incredibly thoughtful wife gave me "Shakespeare in a Box: King Lear," in honor of my man Will's (probable) birthday on April 23rd.

(The box had a pair of plastic eyes in it, doubtless because of the blinding of poor Gloucester in the play, and a theatrical dagger which had a contractable plastic blade. The two youngest kept stabbing themselves with cries of "Farewell, cruel world." If those two don't join their elder brother on the stage, I'll be a monkey's uncle.)

Anyway, back to the writing biz. A whole bunch of people gave good advice on my query over at Matthew MacNish's QQQE blog, and a whole bunch became followers of this blog. (Massive thanks.)

Blogs are funny babies, aren't they?

Some Funny Baby Blogs

Over at agent Rachelle Gardner's blog last week, she asked her readers what they were sick of reading on blogs.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Friday Fabulosities--Natural Born Storytellers

O what a week it's been! I've sent off a short story to a contest, had my query posted on Matthew MacNish's The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment, posted my first post on my new blog, Middle Grade Mafioso, and suddenly have a whole bunch of new friends into the bargain. For all those who became followers this week: A HUGE THANK YOU. I hope you'll drop in often.

(If you're wondering about Matt's critique of my query, he posted earlier today that he was ill. I sent him to bed with some chicken soup--so I hope that will do the trick and he'll be right as rain again soon.)

Here's today's fabulosity from best-selling romance writer, JoAnn Ross. (It's originally from Andrew McAleers's 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists. Do yourselves a favor and get a copy. Full of inspiration!)
I believe we're all born storytellers. If you watch infants babble to themselves and toddlers having conversations with their stuffed animals, you can see the wealth of creativity humans are born with.
Then, about the time children start going to school, they start to color inside the lines--that the sky is blue, the grass is green, and no, you can't have a separate desk for your imaginary best friend. Little by little, that storytelling ability drifts away. Most of the writers I know have somehow managed to stay in touch with that inner child who's never heard of such a thing as an internal editor.

 (Well, unfortunately, I have heard of the internal editor. He knocks my knuckles with a ruler. Frequently. And he can't stand my imaginary best friend. I'd love to ditch the I.E., preferably on a dirt track in Alaska with some hungry bears closing in. Anybody have any idea how to do that?)

Have a good weekend, everyone. Those of you who celebrate Easter, may it be a reminder of the opportunity of rebirth for all of us, in our lives and in our creative endeavors. See you on Monday!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday's Thought: What makes a successful blog?

I don't usually post on Thursdays, but I am breaking with tradition because my query is up for review today at Matthew MacNish's The Quintessentially Questionable Query Experiment. So I want to say "hi" and give a warm welcome to anyone who pops over from Matt's to check out my blog furniture and see if there's anything good to eat.

Well, whadda ya know! Help yourself.

Mmm. Just licking a frosted flower from my fingers. Gosh, those are delicious!

Which leads me to my question of the day: what do you think makes a deliciously successful blog?

Right off the top of my head, I'd say:
  • Personality: You get a sense that the blogger's an interesting person (and, for me, the addition is "nice" person. Trainwreck types can be "interesting," but I've only got so much patience for neuroses.)
  • Writing Style: Someone who has a way with words and who knows the value of writing concisely.
  • Content: Pretty self-explanatory. I'll probably be interested in a blogger who blogs about the endlessly fascinating subject of writing. But the wonderful thing about the blogosphere is that there's something for everyone. There's probably even a blog in which someone's Aunt Nellie lavishes her attention on the breeding of Afghan hounds. So if Afghan hounds are your thing, Aunt Nellie's your woman.
  • Frequency of posting: Once I go all starry-eyed over a blog, I need my insatiable hunger to be fed. So, if my new blog-crush only posts when the moon is blue, I'm going to lose interest--and probably wave a sad goodbye.
Anything else I've missed? If you want to see all the blogs I swoon over (three of them are by my wonderful and talented wife, Every Day is A Miracle, Marie's Book Garden, and One Year to an Organized Life), they're on my sidebar.

The QQQE is definitely another swoon-worthy one. Matt is all-of-the-above-awesome, as well as being one of the most supportive people in the whole wide world.

Thanks for stopping by! Another cupcake before you go?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: James Scott Bell says you should be HIP to your scenes

In Chapter 7 of Plot and Structure, James Scott Bell describes an "unforgettable scene" as having "something surprising, and emotionally intense. It has characters we care about doing things that we must watch." He describes what he calls the "Four chords of a scene"--(they are action, reaction, set-up, and deepening."

And then he shows us how to get HIP to our scenes.

HIP stands for hook, intensity, and prompt. (And yes, I love acronyms!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Tidings: The Mattel Green Lantern Blog Tour

So there I was, minding my own blogging business, when my wife called out "How would you like to be part of a blog tour?"

See, my wife's done blog tours as part of a group called Mom Central Consulting and now the moms have a counterpart: Dad Central. Well, I like blogs and I like tours, and my kids love toys, so that's how, just for today, the name of this blog is Playtime. [The tenuous link to writing is that the hero of the blog tour is a famous comic book--today we call them "graphic novels"--character. And now I get to write about him.]

Massive excitement. That was the emotion, at least among the junior members of the clan, when a huge cardboard box arrived the other day. We sliced through the tape. We pawed through the piles of brown paper. Until we came to...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Musings: What's this blob say to you?

The blob
 (a.k.a. Rorschach Ink Blot)

I've mentioned Sarah Fine before. She writes the intriguing blog, The Strangest Situation. She's a YA writer as well as a child psychologist and does fascinating blog posts on the relationship between writing and psychology.

She's also running a blog contest. All you have to do is comment and say what the first thing was that came into your head when you saw the above Rorschach Inkblot (made by Sarah and her son.)

She's got some awesome prizes: (The following is in Sarah's own words--i.e. she's giving the fabulous critique, not me!)
  • A $30 Amazon gift card
  • A 3-chapter crit from yours truly (if you're wondering what that might entail, check out this post)
  • A psychologisty reading pack: A Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D., and 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Conceptions About Human Behavior by Scott Lilienfeld and colleagues. [Both of these books present a wealth of information that will 1) make you look like a super-smartypants and 2) help you avoid common mistakes if you're writing about anything related to psychology or psychological disorders]
So hurry on over to The Strangest Situation and comment. Who knows, you could be a winner and become a super-smartypants!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Friday Fabulosities--Don't compare yourself to others

Browsing in my local library, I came across this book packed with quotes. In my new "Friday Fabulosities" series, I plan to share some of the inspirational quotes within, and perhaps add a little reflection of my own.

Today's quote comes from Carrie Vaughn, author of the critically acclaimed werewolf series, Kitty Takes a Holiday, Kitty Goes to Washington, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, and Kitty and the Silver Bullett.
"Don't compare yourself to others. There will always be someone who writes faster, or slower, or gets a bigger advance, or better advertising. Everyone's career and writing process is a little different. Follow your own path."
Years ago, I read a book by Bonnie Friedman. That book was Writing Past Dark: envy, fear, distraction, and other dilemmas in the writer's life. Unfortunately, I don't have it on my shelves, and the library's one copy is out on loan. But I can still recall that "aha" I had at Friedman's honesty. Is there a writer alive who hasn't been, at one time or another, envious of the another writer's success? I've envied famous writers, as well as members of my critique group. I've imagined what it would be like to have adulation and acclaim--or even just a publishing contract.

Envy is a drag. It's a sin against belief in an abundant universe. It is exquisitely toxic and can drive you mad. But, if you follow Carrie Vaughn's advice to "follow your own path," and use envy not as a scourge but as a spur, you can do the one thing that all writers must do: work harder.

Envy ("invidia") is one of the Catholic church's Seven Deadly Sins. Its opposite virtue is kindness. If you find yourself feeling envious, perhaps the best thing is to be kind to yourself. We are all on different paths.

What do you do to combat "writer's envy?" I'd love to hear your strategies.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: April 2011--Plot and Structure

Week 2: The Three Act Structure

Most writers probably have some inkling about Aristotle and three acts and the rule of three. (And the three musketeers, three little pigs, and three blind mice--I could go on.) What I like about James Scott Bell's take is the way he explains the three acts, and the pretty diagrams he uses to reinforce things.

Bell: "Say we are confronted with a problem. We react. That's Act I. We spend the greater part of our time figuring out how to solve the problem: Act II. After all of that wrestling, hopefully, we get the insight and answer--the resolution of Act III."

Bell goes on to explain, in his usual cogent fashion, what makes a beginning, middle, and end. (If you combine him with Nancy Kress, you have a winner!). He talks about mythic structure a la Joseph Campbell. But what seems purely Bellian is his talk of "a disturbance," (he prefers this term instead of plot point and inciting incident) "and two doorways."

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Musings: How about them short stories?

In a previous post, I mentioned the writing frenzy I got into while enjoying Spring Break at the coast. As well as working on my novel, I beavered away at a couple of short stories.

Short stories are an art unto themselves, an art of which I claim no mastery and limited knowledge. However, one of my beach-inspired shorts has received much encouragement from my critique groups. As a result, I plan to enter it in one (or all!) of the following contests:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Craft Book of the Month: April 2011--Plot and Structure

Guys, it's official. I have a new writing hero. James Scott Bell is pretty dang awesome and this book opened my eyes in many ways.

When an idea flashes into my mind, it's usually a character, a title, or a first line. Plot is the thing with feathers (sorry, Emily D.) that I struggle with.

See, I'm a bit of a "pantser," so I usually dive into a first draft with gusto (by the seat of my pants). I think I know what's going to happen, then Whoa! Swerve round that p(l)othole! and Yikes! Who saw that coming!? I think you get my drift.

Plot & Structure, part of the Write Great Fiction series from Writer's Digest Books, is going to put a stop to all this crazy driving. James Scott Bell has done a great job of simplifying things so that even a total right-brainer like me can get the hang of structure.

Bell starts his book with a "simple set of foundational principles called the LOCK system."

Monday, April 4, 2011

Monday Musings

April already?! My, doesn't the time fly when you're having fun? March was a mite manic, but April is going to be absolutely astounding. (Pardon all the alliteration, but it seems to be the thing on blogs nowadays, with the A-Z blogfest going on here and here)

My big news for April is the resumption of Craft Book of the Month. I have a doozy, and a new writing hero to boot--so stay tuned for Wednesday, when all will be revealed.

I've also recently come across a couple of new blogs I'd like to give a shout out to. First, Sarah Fine is a practicing child psychologist who writes "unapologetically fantastical" YA. Her blog, The Strangest Situation, has book reviews and other posts on writing seen through her psychologist's lens. (I'm not doing it justice here, so you'll have to check it out for yourselves. As for me, I find it fascinating--and she writes about it really well, too.)

The second blog is Paula Kay McLaughlin's Write Now. Paula came up with the brilliant idea (wish I'd had it!) to give "unagented, pre-published uber awesome writers... another venue in which to showcase themselves, their manuscript(s), and their writing styles." Her inaugural Writer Spotlight, with Faith Elizabeth Hough, was posted today. I loved getting to know them both, and I got on the blower (as they would say in England, if I'd actually telephoned Paula instead of e-mailed her) and now have my own Writer Spotlight booked for later in the month. Whew, exciting stuff!

Finally, Beyonders appeared in my mailbox today. Holy hotdogs, Batman! It looks great--and there's even a bookmark within, signed by Brandon Mull. Now, how on earth did Shannon Messenger know I collect bookmarks?!

I'll see you all on Wednesday for Craft Book, when I'm really going to RAVE. Till then, happy writing!