31.7.13

What Makes You Read About Someone Else's Life?

What with the birth of the newest UK royal, I've been thinking about what it is about the royals that fascinates people on a whole. Why do we still have monarchies in developed countries? Why are people willing to admire someone else simply for their genealogy or because they are in a position of power? But more so, why do people want to follow these people online via blogs, newspapers, pictures, etc?

Take Princess Catherine for example. She's beautiful, she's common, she's the girl-next-door turned biggest fashion icon of the decade. The media buzz around her as bees around flowers. She's got that je ne sais quoi.

What all this media hype really got me thinking about is how many novels center around royalty and fame. Many historical authors are famous for chronicling not normal people's lives, but royal lives. Today, it seems that celebrities are the royalty of the world. I'm not going to lie, I enjoy a bit of celebrity gossip every now and then, even though I don't care to meet any of these people. But there's a certain disconnect from the "glamor" of their lives and the mundane of mine. It's that very disconnect which makes me interested in them. I cannot imagine existing in that lifestyle--and I don't--so I'll read about it instead.

There are many actors that I will read an article about and be fascinated with. Despite my mild interest in their lives, I may not care for what I know about that person's character, and I have a feeling I would despise them if I knew them personally. (No, I won't name names, that's not my point.) But this leads me to the question: would I be willing to read a book about a character like them? Probably.

People like to read about lives different than theirs. What is more different than celebrities or royals? Essentially, those are real people put into a completely foreign way of life. People read in order to experience those other lives. Every book I read puts me in the life of a new person. I want that person to be quite different from me. I need to connect with them, but I do want their lives to surprise me, to be different from "the norm." I don't want to read about someone going to work unless they uncover their boss committing a crime, or they are madly in love with their engaged coworker, etc., etc. If all they do is go to work, clock in, work, clock out and go home--why am I reading? Why would I want to read about a life that isn't very different from my own?

This leads me to my WIP, of course, because nearly everything in my life makes me think of fiction (more specifically how I can improve my fiction). One of my more recent WIPs has a main character with famous parents. By default, she has a certain amount of fame. Now, I'm not naive enough to think that's enough of a hook for a reader. However, it can add certain amounts of complications. And those complications are of much greater weight if the entire world is watching. Fame throws a wrench into many plans, especially if the plan involves a secret. And that is a recipe rife for disaster. And aren't disaster and conflict the reasons we read? 

So while I am content to read about famous people, perhaps a famous character or two in my WIPs add opportunity for conflict that will keep the reader reading.

~I.E.



26.7.13

24.7.13

Using Character Bios to Deepen Your Writing

Often when I'm completely stuck in revising a novel, or when I'm in the depths of NaNoWriMo hell and have no words left in me, yet I have to pump out another 10K in order to "win," I will turn to character bios to help me flesh out my work-in-progress.

Usually I use these for my minor characters (mC), a non-lead, because those are the ones whom I am unsure about. Those are the characters I haven't spent enough time developing, and so I need to go the extra mile with them and make them real. I can't do that if I continue to ignore them to focus on my main character (MC). So a character bio is an invaluable tool for me.

What is a character bio?

I define a character bio as the protagonist's story from a mC's point-of-view. This may not be the "best" or the "correct" way to define it, but in keeping this definition in my mind, I can approach the mC as I need to. Although a mC's backstory will obviously influence them as much as a MC's backstory influences the MC, their story only concerns me in so much as it concerns the MC.

So with that definition in mind, I sit down to write my mC's bio. I'll begin where the MC begins--the beginning of the novel. I'll tell the story, trying to keep it brief, from the mC's POV, without worrying about whether I'm telling or showing or if this is coming out right. I'm only concerned with how this mC sees things. So I don't stop until I get to the end. This usually comes out as a far abbreviated version of the overall story--the mC can only tell the story as much as he/she knows it, and as he/she is a minor character, that's usually not much.

However, this tactic really allows me to make those minor characters much more real to myself and (hopefully) to the reader.

I always feel that a novel is at its most powerful when the mCs live and breathe as strongly as the MCs.

~I.E.

How do you make your minor characters come alive?



19.7.13

Writing Quote Friday #7


“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” 

Robert Frost


Revelation by Robert Frost

We make ourselves a place apart
Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated hear
Till someone really find us out.

'Tis pity if the case require
(Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
At hid-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
Must speak and tell us where they are.




17.7.13

The Peaks and Valleys of the Writing Life--What Brings You Down? What Buoys You Up?

I find more often than ever, my life is marked by peaks and valleys. I would like to say that I'm a steady worker, one who rarely gets discouraged and simply plugs away no matter the circumstances.

That would be a lie. 

I am absolutely like most other people in the world: affected by life's circumstances. 

The thing is, I'm one of those lucky few writers who doesn't work. I don't have a day job. I don't freelance, I don't have deadlines. I'm one of those lucky aspiring writers who has all day to write. So why don't I?

Some days, I do spend the majority of my day pounding away on the keyboard. But to be honest, most days I don't. I do attempt to write every day--and if I don't, I feel guilty. But some days, I am my own worst enemy. There are inexplicable days where I want to burn all my WIPs and say "good riddance" to them forever. Those are the days where my perfectionist streak really grabs ahold of me and controls my writing life. Then there are other days where I think I know exactly what is happening in my WIP and I can't wait to get to my laptop and fill the white space with words that I'm certain are magical.

This week, I knew I had to prepare a blog for today. I procrastinated both days until last night, when I said, "I'll just do it in the morning." This morning, I had no brilliant stroke of inspiration. I had no desire to write a blog post. This, I tell myself, is why I do not freelance. Too much pressure to be brilliant. And when you're a struggling perfectionist, how can you constantly deliver brilliance? (And let's be honest--a perfectionist doesn't want mere brilliance, but glistening perfection.)

But this day has led me to think what it is about certain days and circumstances that buoy me up and tug me down. 

Downers: 
perfectionism
overwhelming/overlarge goals
unattainable goals (in regards to how much I can do by a certain time or how good I expect my work to be without thinking of my limitations, whether time or talent or knowledge)
unrealistic expectations (and disappointment when I fail)
bad critiques and arrogant critiquers
bad habits
laziness

Uppers:
a good critique
having a stroke of brilliance that I think will solve all my plot problems
reading a well written book
my husband's confidence in me (however ill-placed)
solitude and silence
small, attainable goals
attaining said goals
daily writing
new writing software
new writing friends
reading encouraging Twitter posts from writers with my same struggles

None of these uppers are a magic bullet for overcoming distraction and getting my writing done. No, there's no easy path to self-discipline. But on a day like this, I choose to focus on the positive, on the peaks, instead of on the valleys. And that can refocus my mind onto something worth pursuing, instead of giving me a lifetime of regrets.

~I.E.


So what about you? What creates a good writing day for you? What makes it a bad writing day?


Share in the comments section below--I love hearing from readers!

~~~ 


If you've found this useful, please give it a share!

Follow me on Twitter @amor_scribendi, or like me on Facebook!



12.7.13

Writing Quote Friday #6



“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”


Sylvia Plath

10.7.13

Five Rules for Using Pronouns in Fiction Writing (Part II of II)

A few weeks ago, I threw out some reasons for and against using pronouns in fiction. This week, I'd like to explain a bit about how these are pros and cons.

If you'll recall, there are five reasons I came up with to use or not use pronouns in fiction writing. This post will discuss them in a bit more detail (although there are links for each pro and con in last week's post).



1. Don't confuse the antecedent.

Typically, "he" or "she" refers to the person last mentioned.

Joni gulped from her cup. She lowered it and stared at Kim.

"Her" and "she" both refer to Joni.

If we rewrite the sentence to say:

Joni and Kim sipped their drinks. She put it down.

Then we get confusion. Who is "she?" Is it Joni? Kim? Neither? In a situation like this, reuse their name. Or, preferably, rephrase the sentence(s) to clarify.


2. Don't overuse "I" in first person POV.

In first person point-of-view, the page can be a minefield of "I." Not only does it make the book seem unreasonably self-centered on the protagonist, it can be distracting from even the best plot.

Consider the example below, taken from one of my recent WIPs, which I've referred to throughout my blog as "StM."



In retrospect, I was lucky I'd held on to my phone so I could dig out Mother's address from the depths of my contacts list. I hoped, as I begged directions from a stranger on the street, that she'd not moved in the two years since I'd seen her.

This is a rough draft of a scene where my main character is lost in London and has just been pick-pocketed. She's finally decided to seek out her estranged mother. But while the focus is on the main character, it could be written better. 

A revision trying to minimize "I":
In retrospect, holding onto my phone was a lucky break. In the dusty layers of my contact list lay Mother's phone and address. After accosting a stranger on the street for directions, I headed north, hoping Mother hadn't moved in the past two years.

This shows how many "I's" you can eliminate if you try. I got it down from six to one.



3. Make sure you know how to use pronouns correctly.

This is one of those cons which can be corrected by grammar lessons.

Remember: the pronoun should agree in number and person with its antecedent noun, as well as clearly refer to the prior noun(s).

E.g.

Incorrect:
She grabbed the violin off the stand and raised them to her shoulder.

Correct:
She grabbed the violin and bow off the stand and raised them to her shoulder.

Or:
She grabbed the violin off the stand and raised it to her shoulder.


E.g.
Correct:
The airlines had assigned Adrienne a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

The Adrienne's is not "her" because it would create ambiguity to use "her."

Incorrect:
The airlines had assigned Adrienne a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on her left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

Whose left am I talking about in the incorrect version? Adrienne's or the woman with perfume?

I'm not even going to get into the grammar lesson aspect of this, but here are some great websites if you are confused about pronouns.

Grammar: Proper Pronoun Usage 101
Grammar Girl: How to Use "Myself" and Other Reflexive Pronouns
Purdue Owl: Pronouns, Using Pronouns Clearly
Purdue Owl: Using Appropriate Pronouns, Appropriate Pronoun Usage



Pros

Intimacy:

Only reflexive pronouns used--

The airlines had assigned Adrienne Talbot a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant Adrienne was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness.

Sighing, Adrienne strapped herself into Adrienne's own personal ninth circle of Hell and winced at the screech of an infant behind Adrienne. Adrienne leaned Adrienne's head against the leather headrest, feeling the press of the woman next to Adrienne and the lech's broad shoulders on Adrienne's other side, reducing Adrienne's seat to the size of a postage stamp. These types of plane rides were the worst for people like Adrienne, who had personal bubbles the size of Alaska.


Yikes! Does anyone else's blood pressure rise at the second paragraph? Every repetition of her name grates on my nerves--I don't even want to repeat it here! Let's check out the example using pronouns properly.

Using pronouns--

The airlines had assigned Adrienne Talbot a middle seat—in cattle class. Which meant she was directly in the center of the aircraft, smashed between a generously proportioned woman who seemed to have poured a perfume bottle all over herself before the flight, and two boisterous talkers on Adrienne's left—one of whom was a middle-aged, lecherous flirt with a propensity for airsickness. 

Sighing, Adrienne strapped herself into her own personal ninth circle of Hell and winced at the screech of an infant behind her. She leaned her head against the leather headrest, feeling the press of the woman next to her and the lech's broad shoulders on her other side, reducing Adrienne's seat to the size of a postage stamp. These types of plane rides were the worst for people like her, who had personal bubbles the size of Alaska.




Aids suspension of disbelief:


According to Dictionary.com, the suspension of disbelief is: "a willingness to suspend one's critical faculties and believe the unbelievable; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment." Similar to intimacy, when proper nouns are used repetitively in a passage, the reader is distracted from the story and removed from it. Like "said," "he," and "she" are nearly invisible. The reader's eye skims over them, and they can often be omitted from the story entirely. This is why the current fiction trend is to replace a tag (he/she said) with an action (E.g. "I've been waiting for this." He slid his finger under the flap of the envelope.)



The Verdict:

Pronouns go a long ways in creating intimacy between reader and protagonist. However, the danger is in creating ambiguity in the antecedent. 


~I.E.


I hope this has helped explain why pronouns are the better choice. If you've found this useful, please give it a share!

Follow me on Twitter @amor_scribendi, or like me on Facebook!

5.7.13

Writing Quote Friday #5

"Substitute 'damn' every time you're inclined to write 'very'; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be."


Mark Twain

3.7.13

IWSG July: What Do Others Think of My Writing?

Today's post is for the Insecure Writers' Support Group. Check out Alex J. Cavanaugh's blog for more information.




___


The more I consider my insecurities, the more I am convinced they all stem from being concerned with what others think of me. (Isn't that what an insecurity is anyways?)

As an introvert, I rarely confide in others about personal things. Writing, as most of us writers know, is probably as personal as one could get. As a writer we fear what others think of us and our writing.

Like most people, I want to be admired (well, maybe "admired" is too strong a word, but at least have my craft appreciated). Because my writing matters greatly to me, I approach it with a greater desire to have my writing admired than any of my other talents.

Of course, this comes with a myriad of challenges. I feel apprehensive about sharing my writing because I'm too worried about what other people will think of it. It's not because I think I'm not good enough. Although there's much I have left to learn, I know I'm better than some writers out there, and worse than others. No, I'm fearful of how it might change a friend's perception of me. 

Some of my friends know that I write. Others don't. Most of my friends haven't read a word I've written. Many strangers have.

Is this wrong? Should I be concerned with what others think? Should I ignore their thoughts of me?

To some extent, I think fear of others' opinions is a good thing. It keeps me from being rude or from acting callously. It makes me strive to become a better writer. But it can easily become crippling. If I gave in to this fear, I would never share my writing with anyone. If I become too afraid to share my writing, then what do I gain from my writing? 

I love writing, and I do it without the expectation of getting paid. Yes, that would be great if I were, and that's my current goal, but right now I'm focused on honing my craft. Because I'm a perfectionist, I want to make sure that when I do get published, I won't be absolutely horrified by my first novel. I think a little bit of time spent honing my craft now and gaining confidence through critique groups will pay off in obvious ways for the future.


How about you, fellow writers? What's your insecurity this month?



~I.E.