Happy Halloween...

Oct 31, 2011

...from my Cyberman pumpkin.

You're welcome, Doctor Who fans. :)

How to Write a Character's Voice-- Attempting to Define the Undefinable

Oct 27, 2011

Alrighty, folks, I seem to be back from the world of the internet-less. To celebrate, I'm doing a post I've been putting off for a while, 'cause it's a tough one.

It's one of those undefinable, hard-to-give-five-easy-steps sort of concepts in writing: voice. Not author voice, but character voice. You know, that thing that everybody says they want in a book but no one can say exactly what it is. I'm going to attempt to define the undefinable today, and attempt to give a few tips.

To me, voice is the character's worldview as expressed through their language

Yeah. And what exactly does THAT mean?

Everyone has a unique take on the world. Our experiences and inborn traits shape our perception of everything around us. Voice is how a character expresses that unique view. It can come out in the tiny things like word choice and sentence structure. But voice is about more than words and tone.

Yes, those are important parts of it, and sometimes I do a full draft just tweaking those things for my character's voice. But equally important is your character's thought process. When something happens, how does your character process it? What do they think about it? What do they connect it to-- something in their past? Something else in the world around them? SomeONE in the world around them?

Because a character's voice is shaped so much by their traits and backstory, it's important to know those things about your character. Take time to get to know your character. This means different things for different people. For me, it means an extensive character worksheet and spending pre-writing time trying to view MY world from the character's head. It also means discovering them through the story, so the voice often changes in subsequent drafts.

I am always asking myself WHY and HOW. Why is this character sarcastic/sweet/bubbly? How does her love of X,Y, or Z affect the way she sees the world? How do certain character traits (optimism/pessimism, dry sense of humor, impatience, etc.) come out in her voice? This helps me take a particular character's voice into a more definable realm, so I can purposely execute their voice instead of letting it be all over the place.

Here's a silly example. My son is in love with Winnie the Pooh. Each of those characters has a different "voice." They have their physical voice, of course-- what they sound like-- but if we just read words on the page from each of them, we'd know who they were without the sound. Pooh would likely be relating something to honey, because that's what he loves. Rabbit would be worried/irritated about something, because he's wound very tightly. Tigger would be excited, self-centered, and relate everything to bouncing, because that's his personality and love. Owl would tell a long-winded story relating the conversation back to his past, because that's what's important to him.

Of course, sometimes a character voice comes to you out of the blue. I have a character for my new WIP idea that is coming in loud and strong, and I hardly know anything about her. Which, of course, is where the "undefinable" part comes in. If that happens to you, run with it! But don't be afraid to expand and fine-tune it as you go.

So, my friends, don't be afraid to take "voice" beyond sarcasm and snark. And do tell-- how do you define the ambiguous term of voice? How do you pull it off? Do you have any tips that help you execute it?

image source

When life makes change necessary

Oct 21, 2011

So this week, I made a special purchase at Wal-Mart.

Little boy underwear.

The Kiddo has been showing signs of being close to potty-training ready, so I decided it was time to give it a shot. He was thrilled to death to have Mater from Cars on his butt, and wanted to wear the underwear right away. I explained the rules of going potty on his potty chair and asked him every 15 minutes if he needed to go.

I went in to make dinner, and heard him behind me. "Oh no!" he cried. "Water!"

Well. At least he peed on the kitchen floor.

The thing is, he didn't get that HE had been the one who made the "water" on the floor, so he's not quite as ready as I thought. We're still sitting on the potty chair a few times a day, but the underwear has been put away for a bit longer.

What the heck does this have to do with anything?

Sometimes, plans change. You start doing things one way, but life comes along and you have to make some changes. So as of next week, it's time for some blog changes.

At least until the end of the year, I'll be blogging twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'll still be posting the same types of posts-- writing helps, Teen Tales, etc--just twice a week instead of three times. I'm also changing how I respond to comments. I love replying personally to your comments, but I also love going to your blogs, and it's hard to find time for both right now. So while I'll still respond by email to questions or comments that specifically need response, I'll mostly be responding to you by visiting your own blogs. I'll still be reading comments, of course, and I still love to get them.

So, my friends, I have some questions for you now. Anything you'd like to see more or less of on here (Teen Tales, writing helps, personal stuff, writing progress)? Any writing questions I can address in a future post? Would you prefer an email response to your comments, or a visit to your blog?

The difference between rewriting and editing

Oct 19, 2011

Rewrites are like zombies-- they eat your brains.

Or at least that's what it feels like. I'm buried in rewrites for TUGL, and with my bit of leftover brainpower, I've been thinking about the difference between rewriting and editing.

After I finish my first draft, it feels overwhelming to look at it and know what to do with it. It's such a mess, where do I start? While it's tempting to play with sentence structure and tweak a certain scene and rewrite that awkward description, I leave those alone. At first.

Because here's the thing about rewrites: they're BIG. Even with the fairly extensive outlining and character building I did before I started TUGL, I have changed a lot of the structure of the book in rewrites. I cut over 5,000 words in my last rewrite alone, including entire scenes. I added new words as well, fleshing out a character arc that was practically non-existent. I'm planning on completely changing a scene near the end, and adding another one. On the whole, I've changed probably 30% of my book since the first draft.

Do you guys ever watch Extreme Home Makeover? Most of the time, they just do interior decorating. But sometimes, they add a wing, or knock down walls. I saw one where the house was such a disaster, they knocked it down and rebuilt the entire house.

Big rewrites are like that. You have to look back at your goals and refocus the story around them. You have to rebuild the entire book so it all points in one direction, instead of splatting on the page.

When I think of editing, that's  more like doing interior decorating after you build the house. Do I need to tweak this scene so it has more tension? Reword and shorten sentence and paragraph structure? That comes AFTER I make changes on what the character's goal is in this scene, and how they reach it. 

I used to think rewriting meant purely interior decorating. I hardly touched characterization after the first draft. My scenes stayed in the exact same order, and I rarely chopped or added to them. I had lovely painted walls, but it was the most sprawling, weak structure you'd ever see. The basic big picture stayed the same, and nearly 99% of the time, that big picture is going to be flawed in your first draft.

Author Aprilynne Pike once said that while you're working on your craft and trying to get published, one of the best things to do is dedicate SIX MONTHS to rewriting your book. If it's going to take six months, it's going to take big changes. And small ones, too. If you want someone to buy a house, interior decorating is important-- but you don't want the house to fall down around them, either. 

So, my friends, how do you approach rewrites and editing? Can you make bigger changes to build your dream-book? How do you know what things need to change?

This is why shiny new ideas are so hard to let go

Oct 14, 2011

So I sort of maybe kinda had a new story idea I've been working on for a few days. I'm still doing revisions on TUGL, but this new story is so. freakin'. cool. And I just haven't had the willpower to do anything but start planning it. It's tentatively titled Fixer, and because I always like to have a face for my ideas, here's the mock cover:

[image removed]

It wasn't that long ago (while finishing the first draft of TUGL) that I had another shiny new idea called Perception. But Fixer is going to take precedence at the moment. The characters, storyline, and setting are flowing so much more clearly for that one. I'm not giving up on Perception, but it's going to need some more time to percolate.

Here's what I love best about shiny new ideas: they're shiny. And new. They haven't been spoiled yet by my failed attempts to try to tell the story. It's taken four drafts and will probably take several more to get TUGL to the place where I want it to be. But with a shiny new idea, I still have the big, vague, beautiful picture that hasn't gotten tangled up with details yet. I can see exactly what it can be, and what I want it to be.

I do love the writing and rewriting of the story, because I love hammering out the story so I can make it what I first dreamed of with that shiny new idea. But it's always exciting to be in that place where the story is exciting and new and perfect because it hasn't been written yet.

So, my friends, have you had any shiny new ideas lately? Do you love them or hate them? How do you deal with them?

Teen Tales: Liar, Liar

Oct 10, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature that connects the YA experience with YA literature.

I was 19 and in college. I had hilarious roommates-- and a pet frog that needed a supply of live crickets every week. The closest pet shop was a tiny, privately-owned place. After a while, I started to dread going there.

And the dread was my own dang fault.

See, the first time I ever went, my roomies and I were in a giggly sort of mood. The kind that makes you do stupid things. For example, when we walked into the store, I pretended to have an English accent. Apparently it was fairly convincing, because the clerk asked where I was from.

I lied.

I made up this whole story about how I was from Darbyshire (why, no, I wasn't at all obsessed with Pride and Prejudice) and had come here to go to college. Not a far-fetched story, as I actually had a friend from England who was here for school.

But here's the problem with lying in a place you intend to frequent: the same people work there all the time. That same clerk was there almost every time I went back, and more employees got to know me as the British girl who came for a weekly cricket supply. Because of course the best thing to do was to KEEP lying and put on the accent, instead of just admitting it was a joke.

I got sick of it. After a few weeks, I went to a different pet store. Relieved I could use my own voice again, I walked in and asked the clerk for crickets. He paused and gave me a strange look, then bagged them up for me. After a minute, he said,

"You know, I used to work for another pet store. I remember you."

Oh no.

"But the thing is, I remember that you had an English accent."

Totally and completely busted. He was the first clerk I had met, the one I told all the biggest lies to. I gave a nervous laugh and a stammering explanation about it being a joke, paid for my crickets, and ran. Of course, my roomies all had a good laugh.

99% of the time, lying comes back to bite you in the butt. And that's why it can be such a great tool in YA books. Teens lie as jokes, they lie to make themselves look better, they lie to get out of trouble, they lie to get out and have fun. (Well, adults do too, but let's focus on YA here.) While in real life you can occasionally get away with a lie, in books your character should nearly always get caught somewhere along the way.

See, a lie is sort of a Chekov's gun-- you don't usually put it in the book unless you're planning on blowing it up in the character's face. It can be a great tool for having the character's world entirely crushed. (We writers are mean like that.) It's a very realistic and humanizing thing to have a character lie and be caught, and can add to the stakes, the climax, and the characterization of your book.

So, my friends, what's the worst (or funniest) lie you've ever told? Did you get caught? Have you ever written a character that lies? Did they get caught?

A Few Little Things to Announce

Oct 7, 2011

My friend and fellow writer Darren Hansen has launched a new website called inkPageant! If you're looking for a place to share your blog posts, and enjoy blog posts from other writers, this is the place for you. It's a great gathering place for blogging writers. And there's even a contest going on! Who could say no to Amazon gift cards?

In other news, I started a YouTube channel! The goal of the channel is to share videos on writing aids, meditations for creativity, YA book trailers, general funny/awesome stuff, and have playlists for my WIPs. If you're interested, feel free to check it out.

And that's all I've got today, folks. Grocery shopping is calling my name. Blech.

Something's Gotta Give: How to Decide what to Cut from your Novel

Oct 5, 2011

I'm in the cut-obscene-amounts-of-unnecessary-crap stage of my rewrites. In the last two days, I've cut around 2,000 words from the first 100 pages of TUGL (and added just a tad too, so it flows cleanly). You'd think it'd feel horrible to cut out so many of my hard-earned words, but it actually feels really refreshing to cut out the dross and find the story underneath.

Cutting is a necessary part of rewrites, but the real question is, how do you know what to cut? I sometimes agonize for days/weeks about whether a certain scene or paragraph or line needs to go. Here are a few tips on deciding whether or not to chop.

Read the section you're concerned about and ask yourself, does it do more than one thing?
Every single line-- possibly ever single word-- in your book needs to have more than one purpose. So does every scene and chapter. Does it add characterization and move the plot forward? Does it set up the setting while building tension? Does it give us voice in the midst of action? Great! But if you've got sections that do only one thing, it needs to go. Or maybe it can stay, but it needs another element added to it. That's up to you.

Take it out. Literally cut it out of the document and paste it in another one.
I do this one quite frequently. When the section is actually GONE from the book, it's a lot easier to look at what's left and ask yourself  if anything is really missing. If the story can go on without that section-- keep it out. If you think you do need it, look hard at WHAT you need. What particular element is essential to the plot? To understanding the character? To being grounded in the world? Then ask yourself if you can lift that element and put it somewhere else. You'll find your pacing can improve quite dramatically if you do that.

"But I love this part!" is never, ever, ever, ever a reason to keep it.
That doesn't mean you have to cut out everything you love. But if the scene is only there because you think it's hilarious or dramatic or amazing, and it doesn't really add to the story as a whole, it needs to go. This is "killing your darlings." It's possible, as just mentioned, that you can take some of the elements you love and put them elsewhere. But you might just have to chop the whole thing. Take comfort in the idea you can always add a "deleted scenes" section to your website for future readers someday. :)

When I have to cut, I always ask myself one thing: is this serving the bigger purpose of the story, or holding me back from what I really want to say? When all else fails, this question can solve the problem.

So, my friends, how do you decide what to cut from your WIPs? Do you like cutting, or do you find it emotionally wrenching?

Teen Tales: Pranks-- the funny and the not-so-funny

Oct 3, 2011

Teen Tales is a weekly feature connecting the YA experience with YA literature.

I'm going to go out on  limb here and guess that I'm not the only one who played pranks on people as a teen.

The best prank I ever played was actually in college, but I did some other silly ones in high school. Usually, these were in connection with school dances. See, where I come from, you can't just ask someone to a dance face to face. You have to be all cutsey about it.

One of my girl friends wanted to ask another friend of ours to Preference, and she came up with a diabolical plan. With his mother's permission, we sneaked into his bedroom while he was at football practice. We had four rolls of toilet paper. He had a small room. It was significantly more awesome than this picture.

Why we thought toilet-papering a guy's room was a hilarious way to ask him out, I'll never know. But it was, at the time. That's the fun about pranks-- while you're doing them, they're the funniest thing in the world.

Unless, of course, you're on the other end of the prank.

For example, my extended family once had a family reunion at a lake. My grandpa had a "water buoy," which was basically a motor on an inner-tube that pumped oxygen down a thin hose and into a scuba mask. It was so much better than snorkeling.

I was enjoying a dive, held under the surface by a weighted belt, when my oxygen suddenly cut off mid-inhale. I barely had any air in my lungs, and I was about fifteen feet under. In absolute panic, I forgot to pull the lever to drop my weighted belt as I struggled toward the surface. Finally, I broke the surface and ripped off my mask.

My cousin floated next to the water buoy, my air hose in her hand. Kinked.

Not. Funny.

Teasing and pranking can have a good place in YA lit. Not only is it something we can all connect to, but it can be a great way to portray characters and their psychology. What does the character find funny? Do the other characters get a kick out of it too, or do they get upset? Why does the character pull a prank on another-- is it just a joke, or is it meant to be cruel or embarrassing? How does a character react to a prank being played on them? Character relationships and psychology can be illustrated brilliantly through a simple prank.

So, my friends, have you ever played a prank on someone? Have you had a prank played on you? Have you ever used it in your writing? Does the word "prank" no longer sound like a word because I've used it so much in this post?


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