Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Because I'm an editor who writes, people frequently ask whether I edit my own work and if so, how.

Like most of you, I believe every writer should do some self-editing to ensure a piece is the best you can make it before seeking feedback from others. (I also believe that other eyes are essential, and that self-editing alone will generally not result in a manuscript that it is the best it can be. But that's a topic for another post.)

And like most of you, I also lean on expertise when I'm unsure of a rule: "when in doubt, look it up" is a core motto for editors everywhere. Below are a few favorite resources that I regularly turn to for help with micro issues--sentence-level editing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


I sometimes call this book by Renni Browne and Dave King "a portable MFA." It offers some of the best insights I've come across to make your work not simply clean, but also polished and sophisticated. In fact, one of the most helpful chapters is titled "Sophistication." In it, Browne and King identify a handful of small changes that can make passages sound far more professional: avoiding "as" and "-ing" constructions (which place action at a remove from your reader), ferreting out weak verbs, paring back exclamation points and italics for emphasis, placing literary devices appropriately, and removing unnecessary repetition.

Their insights on proportion--giving actions, characters, devices, scenes only as much page time as is justified--are extremely helpful, especially when you're approaching revision and not sure where to start. When it comes to honing your narrative voice, the authors not only show how to improve, but also explain why some techniques are so effective. If you've always wanted to do deeper point-of-view writing but aren't quite sure how to pull it off, Browne and King's chapters on "Point of View," "Interior Monologue," "See How It Sounds," and "Characterization and Exposition" will guide you expertly.

Browne and King also cover some core revision concerns including show/tell balance, consistent point of view, and well paced dialogue.


Woe Is I


Subtitled "A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," Patricia O'Conner's guide to basic grammar rules is, well, a lot more fun than you ever dreamed grammar could be. Her pun-filled chapter titles, like "Plurals Before Swine" and "Comma Sutra," lead chapters of no-nonsense advice full of funny examples and witty word play. Her special section called "mixed doubles" on homophones and other commonly switched pairings inspired my "Phonics Friday" series on homophone helps (which I hope are even a fraction as funny as O'Conner's chapter).

The material is grouped topically, though there's an excellent index if you need to find guidance on a particular grammar bugaboo. In addition to covering all the basics, from pronoun use, plurals, and possessives to verb tenses, modifiers, and punctuation, the book has several helpful chapters on frequently misused words and outdated grammar rules that need to be buried with that persnickety snob John Dryden and his ilk. And she clearly knows the sources of every outdated rule and why it needs to die--evidence aplenty to silence your uptight uncle who refuses to watch Star Trek because each episode opens with  Capt. Kirk saying "to boldly go" rather than "boldly to go" (the bogus split infinitive rule).

If you are a grammarphobe, this is one grammar book that will leave you giggling, not whimpering.



What resources have you found helpful for sentence-level editing?
5:39 PM Laurel Garver
Because I'm an editor who writes, people frequently ask whether I edit my own work and if so, how.

Like most of you, I believe every writer should do some self-editing to ensure a piece is the best you can make it before seeking feedback from others. (I also believe that other eyes are essential, and that self-editing alone will generally not result in a manuscript that it is the best it can be. But that's a topic for another post.)

And like most of you, I also lean on expertise when I'm unsure of a rule: "when in doubt, look it up" is a core motto for editors everywhere. Below are a few favorite resources that I regularly turn to for help with micro issues--sentence-level editing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers


I sometimes call this book by Renni Browne and Dave King "a portable MFA." It offers some of the best insights I've come across to make your work not simply clean, but also polished and sophisticated. In fact, one of the most helpful chapters is titled "Sophistication." In it, Browne and King identify a handful of small changes that can make passages sound far more professional: avoiding "as" and "-ing" constructions (which place action at a remove from your reader), ferreting out weak verbs, paring back exclamation points and italics for emphasis, placing literary devices appropriately, and removing unnecessary repetition.

Their insights on proportion--giving actions, characters, devices, scenes only as much page time as is justified--are extremely helpful, especially when you're approaching revision and not sure where to start. When it comes to honing your narrative voice, the authors not only show how to improve, but also explain why some techniques are so effective. If you've always wanted to do deeper point-of-view writing but aren't quite sure how to pull it off, Browne and King's chapters on "Point of View," "Interior Monologue," "See How It Sounds," and "Characterization and Exposition" will guide you expertly.

Browne and King also cover some core revision concerns including show/tell balance, consistent point of view, and well paced dialogue.


Woe Is I


Subtitled "A Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English," Patricia O'Conner's guide to basic grammar rules is, well, a lot more fun than you ever dreamed grammar could be. Her pun-filled chapter titles, like "Plurals Before Swine" and "Comma Sutra," lead chapters of no-nonsense advice full of funny examples and witty word play. Her special section called "mixed doubles" on homophones and other commonly switched pairings inspired my "Phonics Friday" series on homophone helps (which I hope are even a fraction as funny as O'Conner's chapter).

The material is grouped topically, though there's an excellent index if you need to find guidance on a particular grammar bugaboo. In addition to covering all the basics, from pronoun use, plurals, and possessives to verb tenses, modifiers, and punctuation, the book has several helpful chapters on frequently misused words and outdated grammar rules that need to be buried with that persnickety snob John Dryden and his ilk. And she clearly knows the sources of every outdated rule and why it needs to die--evidence aplenty to silence your uptight uncle who refuses to watch Star Trek because each episode opens with  Capt. Kirk saying "to boldly go" rather than "boldly to go" (the bogus split infinitive rule).

If you are a grammarphobe, this is one grammar book that will leave you giggling, not whimpering.



What resources have you found helpful for sentence-level editing?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Name: Laurel Garver


Fiction or nonfiction? 

Mostly fiction, but I'm branching out into nonfiction (writing resources)


What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry and, as I already mentioned, writing resources.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are  HERE. I also have a free, romantic flash-fiction story on Wattpad, "Sketchbook Rapunzel," a prequel to Never Gone.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience, and I'm taking new clients. My specialty is line editing: ensuring everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. I also can help non-US writers who write American characters to Americanize not only spelling and punctuation but also vocabulary and usage.

Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Tell us a little about yourself

This is how I look on Twitter. 

I grew up rural, but have lived my whole adult life in a city and love it. I’ve had a weird love affair with magazines since I was quite young and pursed magazine editing as a career. I currently work on a scholarly journal--a magazine for academics with literary criticism of modernist era literature by Beckett, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and Woolf (and lots of others you might not have read unless you were an English major). 

I met my husband, a philosophy professor, through a book club at our church, so I have C.S. Lewis to thank for meeting the love of my life. We’ve raised our twelve-year-old daughter in our geeky image of loving Dr. Who, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. 

Last summer we spent 16 days in the UK, 11 of them in a cottage on a sheep farm in Gloucestershire, taking day trips to castles, museums, ancient barrows and stone circles, Roman ruins, and a coal mine. Our favorite sites were Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, The Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff and the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. This summer we stayed closer to home, traveling to the Hudson Valley and Catskills, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish dance feis. 


What are you reading right now?

As part of my 2014 "read outside my genre" challenge, I recently picked up a short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's literary fiction that explores the Dominican immigrant experience. 

Which authors influenced you the most?

Madeleine L'Engle's books most made me want to write, and I fell hard for funny narrators from Paula Danzinger's early works for teens like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? But my biggest influence is Susan Howatch, especially her Starbridge series. She writes deeply psychological, edgy stories with spiritual themes that feature complex, flawed characters. She does redemptive fiction better than anyone I know—fast paced, intriguing, never predictable or cloying. Her stories don’t shy away from the darker aspects of life, and because of that, the faith expressed is more profound because of its willingness to get dirty. I emulate Howatch most, though with a heart for the teen experience with touches of humor.

Where can people connect with you?

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Do you have a newsletter? 

Not currently. Social media keeps me busy enough

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

I welcome guest posts here, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG through adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay).

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...
6:00 AM Laurel Garver
Today I'm taking part in the week-long Follow Fest, hosted by Melissa Maygrove. It's not too late to join the fun! Swing on by Melissa's blog to sign up. Melissa gave us a handful of questions to help us get to know one another, so without further ado, here's all about me:

Name: Laurel Garver


Fiction or nonfiction? 

Mostly fiction, but I'm branching out into nonfiction (writing resources)


What genres do you write?

I write young adult (YA) literary fiction with Christian themes: stories about the places where life and beliefs collide. I also write poetry and, as I already mentioned, writing resources.

Are you published?

Yes: Never Gone, a novel, and Muddy-Fingered Midnights, a poetry collection. Descriptions and links are  HERE. I also have a free, romantic flash-fiction story on Wattpad, "Sketchbook Rapunzel," a prequel to Never Gone.

Do you do anything in addition to writing?

I'm a professional editor with 20+ years experience, and I'm taking new clients. My specialty is line editing: ensuring everything is correct at the sentence level, including grammar, spelling, punctuation, word choice, and idiomatic usage. I also can help non-US writers who write American characters to Americanize not only spelling and punctuation but also vocabulary and usage.

Contact me at laurels (dot) leaves (at) gmail (dot) com to discuss your project.

Tell us a little about yourself

This is how I look on Twitter. 

I grew up rural, but have lived my whole adult life in a city and love it. I’ve had a weird love affair with magazines since I was quite young and pursed magazine editing as a career. I currently work on a scholarly journal--a magazine for academics with literary criticism of modernist era literature by Beckett, Eliot, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Pound, and Woolf (and lots of others you might not have read unless you were an English major). 

I met my husband, a philosophy professor, through a book club at our church, so I have C.S. Lewis to thank for meeting the love of my life. We’ve raised our twelve-year-old daughter in our geeky image of loving Dr. Who, Middle Earth, and Hogwarts. 

Last summer we spent 16 days in the UK, 11 of them in a cottage on a sheep farm in Gloucestershire, taking day trips to castles, museums, ancient barrows and stone circles, Roman ruins, and a coal mine. Our favorite sites were Puzzlewood in the Forest of Dean, The Dr. Who Experience in Cardiff and the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. This summer we stayed closer to home, traveling to the Hudson Valley and Catskills, in part for my daughter to compete in an Irish dance feis. 


What are you reading right now?

As part of my 2014 "read outside my genre" challenge, I recently picked up a short story collection, This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz. It's literary fiction that explores the Dominican immigrant experience. 

Which authors influenced you the most?

Madeleine L'Engle's books most made me want to write, and I fell hard for funny narrators from Paula Danzinger's early works for teens like The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? But my biggest influence is Susan Howatch, especially her Starbridge series. She writes deeply psychological, edgy stories with spiritual themes that feature complex, flawed characters. She does redemptive fiction better than anyone I know—fast paced, intriguing, never predictable or cloying. Her stories don’t shy away from the darker aspects of life, and because of that, the faith expressed is more profound because of its willingness to get dirty. I emulate Howatch most, though with a heart for the teen experience with touches of humor.

Where can people connect with you?

Blog
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn

Author pages:
Goodreads
Amazon
BN.com
Smashwords

Do you have a newsletter? 

Not currently. Social media keeps me busy enough

Is there anything else you'd like us to know?

I welcome guest posts here, especially those on writing / publishing tips (tie-ins with new releases are fine). I'll happily host giveaways for contemporary fiction (MG through adult) that would earn a film rating of PG-13 or below (moderately edgy and emotionally hard-hitting is okay).

Welcome, new friends! Tell me a little about yourself...

Monday, September 22, 2014

Thanks to our host Alex Cavanaugh for coming up with this fun fest theme, "Underrated Treasure," in which we share a favorite movie, band/artist, TV show, or book (any or all categories). As my bio blurb over to the right says, I'm an indie film enthusiast, so I thought I'd talk about my very favorite indie film that I suspect many of you haven't heard of.

Film - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Available for streaming or on DVD

A young man purchases a life-sized, anatomically-correct doll off the Internet and is convinced she is real.

Sounds like a set up for a hilarious romp involving sexual deviancy, right? Prepare to be surprised, because from this bizarre premise comes one of the most touching, insightful, profound films about love and community I've ever seen. More accurately, I'd blurb it as "A small-town community rallies to help a man suffering from a delusion." But I guess that's not as sexy.

What I love most about this film is the psychological puzzle at its core. WHY does Lars suddenly develop a delusion? How have his past and present circumstances conspired to make him need this kind of extreme coping mechanism? Little by little we're given clues, beginning from the very first scene when Lars's pregnant sister-in-law invites him to breakfast, and he answers the door wearing a baby blanket like a scarf. The visual motif of the color pink is tied to the psychological puzzle. In true indie film fashion, we get all the information we need, bit by bit, until the cause of Lars's psychological issues becomes abundantly clear without the screenwriter ever resorting to a Hollywood-style bash-you-over-the-head pronouncement.

I also love what this film teaches about how communities could (and should) act when someone is hurting--by taking the humble path of getting down into the ditch with that hurting person. The local Lutheran church, full of very ordinary, no-frills Midwestern folk are at the center, asking, "how can we help?" and, with absolutely no irony, "what would Jesus do?"

Here's the trailer:




Have you seen this underrated treasure? Have I convinced you to give it a try?
6:30 AM Laurel Garver
Thanks to our host Alex Cavanaugh for coming up with this fun fest theme, "Underrated Treasure," in which we share a favorite movie, band/artist, TV show, or book (any or all categories). As my bio blurb over to the right says, I'm an indie film enthusiast, so I thought I'd talk about my very favorite indie film that I suspect many of you haven't heard of.

Film - Lars and the Real Girl (2007)

Available for streaming or on DVD

A young man purchases a life-sized, anatomically-correct doll off the Internet and is convinced she is real.

Sounds like a set up for a hilarious romp involving sexual deviancy, right? Prepare to be surprised, because from this bizarre premise comes one of the most touching, insightful, profound films about love and community I've ever seen. More accurately, I'd blurb it as "A small-town community rallies to help a man suffering from a delusion." But I guess that's not as sexy.

What I love most about this film is the psychological puzzle at its core. WHY does Lars suddenly develop a delusion? How have his past and present circumstances conspired to make him need this kind of extreme coping mechanism? Little by little we're given clues, beginning from the very first scene when Lars's pregnant sister-in-law invites him to breakfast, and he answers the door wearing a baby blanket like a scarf. The visual motif of the color pink is tied to the psychological puzzle. In true indie film fashion, we get all the information we need, bit by bit, until the cause of Lars's psychological issues becomes abundantly clear without the screenwriter ever resorting to a Hollywood-style bash-you-over-the-head pronouncement.

I also love what this film teaches about how communities could (and should) act when someone is hurting--by taking the humble path of getting down into the ditch with that hurting person. The local Lutheran church, full of very ordinary, no-frills Midwestern folk are at the center, asking, "how can we help?" and, with absolutely no irony, "what would Jesus do?"

Here's the trailer:




Have you seen this underrated treasure? Have I convinced you to give it a try?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
For a change of pace, I thought I'd share a snippet from my work in progress. It's a YA contemporary that picks up roughly 18 months after my debut, Never Gone.

My protagonist, Danielle, is a lifetime New Yorker who is spending a few weeks in central Pennsylvania (or so she hopes) when her grandfather is hospitalized after a bad fall.

===

Photo credit: arien from morguefile.com 
I step out to the back patio to check on Rhys. The chain tethered to the patio railing is tightly looped around a small birch with no dog attached. What the heck? I jog over to the tree and find the clasp bent wide open. He must’ve seen a squirrel and broken free.

“Rhys? Reeee-sss!”

Nothing but chirping birds and the air conditioner’s hum.

How could I lose him my second day here? I kick the tree in frustration and a flock of sparrows bursts out of the leaves, twittering at me. I check tall shrubs around the house; no dog. The garage now has a coffin in one of the parking bays, but no Rhys. The garden shed holds nothing but dusty tools and ancient sacks of peat moss. I search the grove of trees behind the house and the mysterious outbuilding as well, but still no sign of my dog.

I guess this means Rhys took off through the woods. Right. I can do this. It’s just trees. Songbirds. Chirpy little crickets. Spiders…rattlesnakes…black bears…pumas. What chance does Rhys have against a puma? God, help me. I’ve got to save my poor dog before he ends up disemboweled on a rock, left for vultures to pick apart.

I run back to the garage, grab a splintered baseball bat and dive into the thicket. Brambles scratch my bare arms. Dandelions spill silken seeds that flutter into my face and tickle my nose. Burrs hitch a ride on my shorts and socks as I kick deeper through the undergrowth.
“Rhys! Reee-sss!”

I swat away the gnats buzzing around my head. I’d rather roam the Met when it’s wall-to-wall sweaty tourists than be out in all this creepy nature.

Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

I stumble, nearly dropping the bat. What was that? The rapid tapping repeats. It can’t be a rattlesnake, can it?

“Woof!” Rhys’s distant bark rings through the trees. I turn around and around trying to guess his direction. If there are poisonous snakes in these woods, we’re both dead.

A flash of red catches my eye as a mid-sized bird swoops past. It lands on a dead tree and cocks its head. I stand stock-still and stare at its black body, skunk-striped face, funny red hat of a crest. It’s such a beautiful creature, I instinctively pat my back pockets for a sketch pad and pencil. The bird squawks, turns, and rapidly pecks the tree trunk. Tat-dat-dat-dat-dat.

That’s what I’ve been scared of? A harmless woodpecker? Jeez.

More distant barks pull my attention to the deep woods. No more of these stupid fears. I stand tall, tighten my grip on the bat, and follow.

Past the low shrubs and brambles, the woods are soft and cool. Ferns and moss make a pungent carpet across the forest floor. Light shivers among the breeze-bent branches. An earthy scent lingers among the trees. I close my eyes, suck in lungfuls of it, strange as it tastes to my city-girl tongue. Breaths come like prayer.

Behind me, branches snap and swish. My eyes flash open and I see a guy on a big, black horse circling me. He has a hunting rifle in his right hand, pointed at the sky for the moment. One false move, though, and he might just turn its sights on me.

===

What are you working on these days?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

Photo credit: ManicMorFF from morguefile.com 
What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he should do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling.

The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing her hands when she doesn't immediately understand something--she'll make use of all the intellectual tools at her disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. A ten-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would s/he really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? These lines of questioning can open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

How might "maximum capacity" make your plots more compelling? In what circumstances do you think Frey's "rule" might not be the best way to go?
7:00 AM Laurel Garver
In How to Write a Damn Good Novel, James N. Frey says many plots lack integrity because the author doesn't have her characters acting at their maximum capacity.

Photo credit: ManicMorFF from morguefile.com 
What does he mean exactly? When a character hits a problem, some roadblock keeping him from his goal, he should do everything in his power to reach the goal. Characters who become easily stymied by their problems lose readers' sympathies and their desires and drives won't seem particularly compelling.

The Harvard-educated investigator, for example, won't just sit around wringing her hands when she doesn't immediately understand something--she'll make use of all the intellectual tools at her disposal to research and probe. Likewise, even the "cannon fodder" expendable characters should go to a lot of trouble to avoid dying, unless the author has characterized them as suicidal or deeply stupid or proven some motivation for a death wish. "Maximum capacity" will, of course, vary from character to character. A ten-year-old protagonist in a middle grade adventure will have fewer resources than the Navy SEAL/brain surgeon in a techno-thriller. The trick is to know one's characters thoroughly.

In every scene, Frey says your character's actions and reactions have to pass the "would s/he really ____ ?" test. Does the action/reaction fit her personality? Is he making full use of his personal resources, know-how, experiences? These lines of questioning can open up plot to intriguing new possibilities.

How might "maximum capacity" make your plots more compelling? In what circumstances do you think Frey's "rule" might not be the best way to go?

Friday, September 05, 2014

In the lead up to a new school year beginning, I've gotten out of the blogging habit, sadly. Today I thought I'd "get back in the saddle" so to speak with a quick review of a book everyone's been talking about this summer.

Fan art from Tumblr
What surprised me most about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is the light touch gallows humor and wry narrative voice. This book had me laughing far more often than I'd expected for an ostensibly weepy kind of story. That was a big plus.

I also loved that Green shows how living with a life threatening illness influences personality in a way that struck me as wise and insightful: the ever-present threat of death would quite reasonably make a kid into an "old soul" who tries to think big thoughts and be someone special in a very condensed lifetime. He even does a good job of showing the tremendous tedium of watching someone die.

Where I wasn't as deeply gripped was the romance part of the story. There's an extent to which Hazel is trying to protect her own heart and Gus's. But when she does decide to love, I didn't quite feel the shift as much as I'd hoped. It remained still a very intellectual kind of love.

The story's most fascinating character was, to my mind, the antagonist Peter Van Houten, a misanthropic alcoholic author whose first novel is a favorite of the teen characters. This once eloquent, wise soul has become wonderfully horrid in a way only truly broken people can be. His response to personal loss is what Hazel most fears her illness will incite in others (she once refers to herself as a grenade that will explode, leaving casualties).  Van Houten's bad behavior has surprising consequences; it incites Hazel to at last show she has developed a backbone and a strong voice in the midst of loss.

Whether Van Houten ultimately leaves behind his wallowing and changes for the better remains an open question, like the unwritten sequel to An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten either is or isn't redeemable. Hazel and Gus ignite change in him or don't. It's the kind of ending that, like suffering, exposes rather than changes one's views of human brokenness.

As a window into a very, very underrepresented minority in literature--disability and illness are pushed to the margins even more than race or poverty--I'd recommend this book. I finished with a tremendous appreciation for my health and a renewed sense that we need to do more as a culture to love those with physical differences, whether chronic or acute.

What are your thoughts about this best-seller? If you haven't picked it up, would you? What have you been reading lately?
12:16 PM Laurel Garver
In the lead up to a new school year beginning, I've gotten out of the blogging habit, sadly. Today I thought I'd "get back in the saddle" so to speak with a quick review of a book everyone's been talking about this summer.

Fan art from Tumblr
What surprised me most about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is the light touch gallows humor and wry narrative voice. This book had me laughing far more often than I'd expected for an ostensibly weepy kind of story. That was a big plus.

I also loved that Green shows how living with a life threatening illness influences personality in a way that struck me as wise and insightful: the ever-present threat of death would quite reasonably make a kid into an "old soul" who tries to think big thoughts and be someone special in a very condensed lifetime. He even does a good job of showing the tremendous tedium of watching someone die.

Where I wasn't as deeply gripped was the romance part of the story. There's an extent to which Hazel is trying to protect her own heart and Gus's. But when she does decide to love, I didn't quite feel the shift as much as I'd hoped. It remained still a very intellectual kind of love.

The story's most fascinating character was, to my mind, the antagonist Peter Van Houten, a misanthropic alcoholic author whose first novel is a favorite of the teen characters. This once eloquent, wise soul has become wonderfully horrid in a way only truly broken people can be. His response to personal loss is what Hazel most fears her illness will incite in others (she once refers to herself as a grenade that will explode, leaving casualties).  Van Houten's bad behavior has surprising consequences; it incites Hazel to at last show she has developed a backbone and a strong voice in the midst of loss.

Whether Van Houten ultimately leaves behind his wallowing and changes for the better remains an open question, like the unwritten sequel to An Imperial Affliction. Van Houten either is or isn't redeemable. Hazel and Gus ignite change in him or don't. It's the kind of ending that, like suffering, exposes rather than changes one's views of human brokenness.

As a window into a very, very underrepresented minority in literature--disability and illness are pushed to the margins even more than race or poverty--I'd recommend this book. I finished with a tremendous appreciation for my health and a renewed sense that we need to do more as a culture to love those with physical differences, whether chronic or acute.

What are your thoughts about this best-seller? If you haven't picked it up, would you? What have you been reading lately?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Photo credit: RoganJosh from morguefile.com 
How often are you going happily along in your routines when—BAM!—some misfortune or difficulty derails you? One's natural instinct is to get through, get out, get away from the hardship as soon as possible, looking neither to the left or the right.

But there’s another way to think about life’s rough patches—as opportunity.  This perspective is something I’ve been raised with, but didn’t always appreciate. A mishap with the plumbing in our hundred-year-old urban rowhouse was a poignant refresher course.

In early August 2009, I had a harrowing night when our third floor toilet’s water line broke. The problem went unnoticed for about 20 minutes, until the water started raining into the second floor through a light fixture and continued downward into the first floor and basement. The next few hours were eaten up with bailing, mopping, tamping down towels, laundering towels, running fans. The next morning, as I stumbled around, fatigued and worried a ceiling might still collapse, I couldn’t help but remember what my mother always says about these sorts of disasters: “it will make a good story later.”

If my life is a story, then it’s the messes, mishaps, and failures that actually make it interesting. Not that I seek these things out, but when disaster does occur, it carries with it the promise of bringing something ultimately transformative, maybe even redemptive. “It will make a good story later” makes me notice things I otherwise wouldn’t, from the shape of stains on the ceiling to the way my husband’s shoulders slump as he contemplates them.

Watching Mom over the years ferret away details in the midst of turmoil then transform them into captivating comic stories has been quite an education. Not only have I learned to see the humor potential in all things (and to never take myself too seriously), I’ve also gained a habit of attentiveness when life goes awry—a valuable skill in any writer’s toolbox.

As you come to grips with the possibilities of  “it will make a good story later,” you can begin to develop both a habit of attentiveness and a new perspective on what makes you truly the writer you are, with stories only you can tell.

Life’s interruptions to routine can be a creative gift to you. They put you in new places with access to new relationships and experiences. They force you to understand suffering, fear, frustration, anger, sorrow, and all other shades of negative emotion necessary to create deeply real characters that readers connect with.

Don’t panic when life interrupts your writing routine. Pay attention. It will make a good story later.

What hardships have made you the writer you are? What storytelling mentor has shaped your approach and how?
12:10 PM Laurel Garver
Photo credit: RoganJosh from morguefile.com 
How often are you going happily along in your routines when—BAM!—some misfortune or difficulty derails you? One's natural instinct is to get through, get out, get away from the hardship as soon as possible, looking neither to the left or the right.

But there’s another way to think about life’s rough patches—as opportunity.  This perspective is something I’ve been raised with, but didn’t always appreciate. A mishap with the plumbing in our hundred-year-old urban rowhouse was a poignant refresher course.

In early August 2009, I had a harrowing night when our third floor toilet’s water line broke. The problem went unnoticed for about 20 minutes, until the water started raining into the second floor through a light fixture and continued downward into the first floor and basement. The next few hours were eaten up with bailing, mopping, tamping down towels, laundering towels, running fans. The next morning, as I stumbled around, fatigued and worried a ceiling might still collapse, I couldn’t help but remember what my mother always says about these sorts of disasters: “it will make a good story later.”

If my life is a story, then it’s the messes, mishaps, and failures that actually make it interesting. Not that I seek these things out, but when disaster does occur, it carries with it the promise of bringing something ultimately transformative, maybe even redemptive. “It will make a good story later” makes me notice things I otherwise wouldn’t, from the shape of stains on the ceiling to the way my husband’s shoulders slump as he contemplates them.

Watching Mom over the years ferret away details in the midst of turmoil then transform them into captivating comic stories has been quite an education. Not only have I learned to see the humor potential in all things (and to never take myself too seriously), I’ve also gained a habit of attentiveness when life goes awry—a valuable skill in any writer’s toolbox.

As you come to grips with the possibilities of  “it will make a good story later,” you can begin to develop both a habit of attentiveness and a new perspective on what makes you truly the writer you are, with stories only you can tell.

Life’s interruptions to routine can be a creative gift to you. They put you in new places with access to new relationships and experiences. They force you to understand suffering, fear, frustration, anger, sorrow, and all other shades of negative emotion necessary to create deeply real characters that readers connect with.

Don’t panic when life interrupts your writing routine. Pay attention. It will make a good story later.

What hardships have made you the writer you are? What storytelling mentor has shaped your approach and how?