One of the problems with regular blogging is that you sometimes feel like every single post should be breathtaking, new, insightful, and most of all exciting. But, truly, none of us has anything new or exciting to say. Maybe different ways to say the same thing. Or new-to-us insights into the same old material. Disclaimer: this is one of those mundane posts that may not have anything new to say, but perhaps it at least offers a new twist on the same old stuff.
Random Thought #1: Strategies for first draft writing come in all different sizes. Some like outlines, some prefer complete plot diagrams, some are pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants). I'm usually a pantser. I frequently know where I'm starting and where I'd like to end up, and maybe a few scenes in the middle, but beyond that, my first drafts are where I discover how I'm going to get from start to finish. I have a lot of fun with rough drafts, even though it's agonizing to create something out of nothing. Here's one thing I've discovered that helps me keep the momentum going--I stop writing before the scene or chapter is over. I send the character into the midst of the problem of the moment, build the tension, and then leave the character there while I go make dinner or whatever. A lot of my writing takes place in the synapses of my brain while I'm doing other stuff, so I let the character be in trouble for a day or two or three and when I come back to the writing, often the character has figured out a great maneuver or solution. I can write that scene, which moves me into the next one, and then I leave the character hanging off the edge of the cliff for a while again.
Random Thought #2: Things not to say to writers. Most of you reading this are writers, so if you'd like to cut and paste this section into an email to all your family and friends, you have my blessing.
"That's cute." No, cute isn't what I was going for. I don't do cute. So "cute" to me just means you're not getting what I'm writing. Or else you're illiterate and have no idea what you read. Or maybe you didn't really read it at all. Typically for me, the people who describe what I've written as cute are, in this order: 1) my mother, and 2) any of my mother's friends. So I don't show them my writing anymore. It is now my policy that anyone who calls my writing "cute" will never again have the privilege of reading it.
"How's your great American novel coming?" I hate this for several reasons. First, it implies that I am ignorant of the publishing industry and I think my novel is the ONE and ONLY important piece of literature of my age. Second, it assumes that I have only one novel in me, ignoring the many others I have already written. Also, it suggests that I'm never really going to finish this thing (despite the fact that I have already completed others), because I'm not really working at it, nor do I really have any serious intent of writing professionally.
"I like it." Okay, I know, we all like to hear this--once the thing is published and public. But until then, if I'm sharing my writing with you, it's because I want your feedback, your critique. When you have nothing useful to say, I know you aren't a helpful critiquer, which means, again, that I probably won't be sharing with you anymore. I need critique, by golly, not admiration. I'll call you when the book is for sale, since I know you'll "like it."
Random Thought #3: Why do others want characters to act consistently? People aren't consistent, are we? Nobody I know is consistent. Sure, someone might highly value honesty, say, but they sometimes fudge the truth or tell a "white lie," rationalizing it by saying it spares the feelings of others. I know some people who are definitely one persona when out in public and quite another when they're at home. I think the secret of writing characters who aren't consistent is to make sure the inconsistency doesn't appear just at the moment of highest tension or just jump up when it suits the situation. You have to build the character's inconsistency into the persona and voice of that character from the beginning of the book, so that when the moment comes for that inconsistency to rear its ugly head, it is not a surprise to the reader. Plus, most of us here are children's writers, and kids are constantly changing--sometimes for the better, but not always. So the characters in kid lit should be, I think, inconsistent too. It's a way for them to learn about themselves, see ways that the characters grow, and contemplate their own path.
There you have it--all the wisdom floating around in my brain today. Well, I do have lots of other wisdom about all kinds of other things, but I don't think you want to here that right now.
Recently, I've posted about how to make your protagonist and antagonist interesting. Today I'm going to write about a character who never gets as much attention as those two, the sidekick.
First of all, your story might have multiple sidekicks. Both the antagonist and the protagonist might have a sidekick, and they might even have a different sidekick in different scenes. I'm going to focus on the hero's sidekick, his bestie, but what I say applies just as much to other sidekicks.
Have you ever read a story where the sidekick is just an extension of the hero, a helper character who sees the world in much the same way as the protagonist? Of course you have. It happens a lot. But to write a sidekick that way is to rob a ton of potential from the story.
A sidekick, like the protagonist and the antagonist, is her own person. Like all people, she has her own objectives and perspectives. She might be helping the protagonist win the day, but she's doing it for her own reasons. Sure, a big part of it might be loyalty to her best friend, but that loyalty only goes so far. As a person with her own views and needs and wants, she does everything to further her own agenda. Remember, every character has an agenda, and those agendas create conflict.
Just because two characters are best friends and are helping each other doesn't mean they always agree. The best sidekicks are an additional source of conflict. Think of Frodo and Sam, two characters whose affection for each other is almost sickening. They both want to get to Mt. Doom at all costs. And yet, there's conflict between them. As Frodo sinks into ring-induced paranoia, he no longer trusts Sam, and this causes trouble and, more importantly, enhances the plot.
The same is true of Luke and Leia, Harriet and Sport, and many other characters. In fact, the sidekick often seems much like another antagonist.
The sidekick provides help and shows the protagonist other ways of thinking, but at the same time, the relationship is often strained by conflicting goals and differing views. In many stories, the protagonist and sidekick aren't even friends. They might not even like each other. They might be reluctantly traveling the same road.
Remember, stories depend on conflict. There shouldn't be anything in the story, including your hero's sidekick, that does not add more conflict and peril. There is probably no other character who gives you more opportunity to add emotion and heartbreak as the sidekick.
As the hero's life goes out of control, she needs to be steadied by her sidekick. But the sidekick has his own ideas, and is sometimes unable to offer the support. He might even oppose the hero's goals and actions. Best friends, siblings, and spouses all oppose each other sometimes.
One of the most important things to remember as you write is that every character is a person, and every person has his or her own story. That the stories intersect in the one you are telling doesn't mean their individual paths are any less distinct. This is true whether characters appear to ultimately be on the same side or not.
Writers' conferences are so valuable. Some of the best Utah
Valley ones are coming up in the next several months.
I just finished registering for the LDS Storymakers conference
that’s going to be in Provo in May. I entered the drawing for a manuscript
consultation with an editor, kind of assuming there was no way I would get it
since I never “win” anything. To my surprise, I found out this weekend that I
did get lucky this time, and I need to have 10 pages of my newly-finished
manuscript perfectly polished by the beginning of March so that an editor from
a publishing company can look it over and critique it.
Probably I should do my best to have my whole manuscript
polished by May just for the tiny chance this editor will ask to see it. This doesn’t
help my panic.
But in the end, this will be great because it forces me to
really get my MS edited and consult with the experts that are available to me
and force down my pride and my fear and fix those dang things that need fixing.
The value of writers' conferences in general is often that
they kick me back into gear. When I’m feeling myself in a lull or when I’m even
a little bit ready to just give up, writers' conferences get me excited again. In
this case, it’s even giving me a deadline to work for with my manuscript. That
alone will be so helpful.
So, I’m excited. This writers' conference is already doing
During the month of November, I was a writing fool. For the last two weeks,there’s been a rebellion.
It was an exciting month, watching a story develop under my fingers on the keyboard. If I had a solid direction for where the story was going, I could put down 600-800 words per hour and could find three or more hours a day to write. The month ended before the story did, and after 50,000 words had been reached. So exciting was this story, I figured another week or two was all it would take to finish.
Then December hit. Admittedly, there were a few items around the house, neglected for thirty days, that needed attention. People included. Yet for some reason I seem to be fighting myself to get back into writing. It’s not writer’s block or anything. It is more like writer’s enough-is-enough, or writer’s take-a-break.
It is worrisome to me, this lack of motivation. I had a coupe of stories in various stages and with NaNo, now there’s one more. I almost skipped the November writing marathon, just to keep moving on the other two projects. I even found a writing craft book on characterization last month that I became excited about. Now none of them holds my enthusiasm.
I think we writers need to back off every once in a while. I’m trying to give myself permission to let up and take a break, but it is hard.
On the other hand, Carol Lynch Williams talks about acting like a writer, and writers write. Thus to act like a writer, one should plant themselves down at a computer and plunk out words.
So easy to say. Sometimes so hard to do.
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)
I keep hearing people talk about descriptive narrative as though it's something different from internal dialogue. I suppose if you're writing some kind of literary fiction from an omniscient POV, it might be. But for the most part--especially in children's and YA fiction--it is the same thing.
Interiority and description are the same. It's all in the POV voice. It's all about what the POV character is thinking. Sometimes they're thinking about their feelings and motivations, sometimes they're thinking about what they're seeing/hearing etc.
All of it needs to be written from the mindset of the POV character.
Remember this poem by Wordsworth?
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
This is good practice to think about description in your own writing. Imagine a huge field of daffodils. Now ask yourself, how would a lonely or depressed person see that field verses an angry person, a betrayed person, or a happy-go-lucky person. Then write the description through their eyes and in their voice.
It's easy to try too hard to write a snarky narrative voice, but then when it comes time for description, wax into an eloquent Dickensesque voice.
It should be all the same voice.
All writers struggle with this, so practice and always keep it in mind.
It’s over. The annual November writing marathon is a thing of the past. We’re done.
Almost, at least for me.
I hit 50K words but I’m not yet done. It was more of a Na3/4NoWriMo thing for me, with a quarter more to go. The final few chapters are done. To muddle through the murky middle melancholy, I jumped ahead, knowing how it was to end, and wrote the ending. Then I doubled back, filling in the story with short summary chapters that helped march the story toward the end. Once the general direction had been established, I went back and expanded on the individual chapter summaries. I’ve still got about ten or so chapters to flesh out.
The question is what to do with it now, other than to finish it? Once it’s complete, then what?
I suppose there are varying strategies. These imaginary characters have been a major part of my life for the last five weeks. They and their issues are on the brain and I’m very aware of what kind of things need to be resolved. I’m in a groove, the keyboard is tapping, the story is flowing and I’m not sure I want to let that go. Plus, I want to workshop it this summer at WIFYR and it’s not ready for that.
On the other hand, forgetting about the whole thing for a few months is not a bad option, either. Hide it away on a flash drive and let it stew in the subconscious and view it later with fresh eyes and a refreshed head.
I’ve ignored the story somewhat this week. I was steady with it and dedicated up through November 30. Once December hit, the urge to keep up with it wasn’t as strong, and other obligations have been ignored for a while. I’ve been more sociable with loved ones this last week. And reading. I didn’t get much of that done in November and have been enjoying that again.
So, what is your strategy? Make December NaNoRevMo - National Novel Revision Month, or give yourself a break?
(This article also posted at http://writetimeluck.blogspot.com)