Thursday, July 29, 2010

Nearly two weeks ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. (Yes, it's still there if you're wondering.) We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection. That one small change ripples out. It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?

====

And it's award time!

Some time ago, I received the One Lovely Blog award from Christine at Christine's Journey and Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword . Thanks, friends!
I pass this one along to the following lovely blogs:

Connie at A Merry Heart
Victoria at Ron Empress
Go forth and visit these very worthwhile blogs. You'll thank me later. :-)
Thursday, July 29, 2010 Laurel Garver
Nearly two weeks ago, my hubby got into a low-speed collision that sent our car to the body shop. (Yes, it's still there if you're wondering.) We are a one-car family, so this altered our routine significantly the few days we waited for rental car coverage to be approved. Even though we live a half mile from a transportation hub served by a dozen bus lines, we felt like our wings were clipped. Our usual five-minute drive to the pool suddenly turned into a 40-minute, two-bus trip, with a mile of walking thrown in. A quick cool-off became a major journey.

This got me thinking about plot complications. Some of my favorite books have gripping plots that start with a small inconvenience or missed connection. That one small change ripples out. It might delay or halt movement. It might place the characters at an out-of-routine place at an out-of-routine time. It might weaken them. Place them in greater danger.

Think about your daily routine, and what it might mean to change one thing. A middle-of-the-night, two-minute power outage might make your alarm clock reset itself. When morning comes and you oversleep, suddenly your very livelihood is at stake.

Here are some other contemporary setting ideas:
~No running water because of a system shut-down
~Street is blocked by fallen trees
~Car won't start
~Cell phone battery won't recharge anymore
~Transit union strike
~Computer virus

For you historic fic and fantasy writers:
~Horse is lamed or has colic
~Can't find dry firewood
~Canteen leaks
~Guard dog ate half the rations
~Tiny battle wound gets infected
~Fleas or bedbugs infest your clothes
~Servant has the flu

The possibilities are endless to jack up the tension in your story, starting from the very smallest inconvenience.

Have you ever tried the "change one thing" approach? What worked? What didn't?

====

And it's award time!

Some time ago, I received the One Lovely Blog award from Christine at Christine's Journey and Lola at Sharp Pen/Dull Sword . Thanks, friends!
I pass this one along to the following lovely blogs:

Connie at A Merry Heart
Victoria at Ron Empress
Go forth and visit these very worthwhile blogs. You'll thank me later. :-)

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Ah, it's that wonderful time of year--when school supplies are abundant and dirt cheap. I loves me a nice, thick stack of junky spiral notebooks that cost less than a pack of gum.

I know some of you friends handwrite only in leather-bound journals with artist-quality paper. Such a lovely thing calls you to lofty heights of imagination, you say. But don't you feel a certain performance pressure with that beautiful, costly journal in your lap?

Frankly, I seize up at the sight of a richly-textured page. It seems like hallowed ground where only the best of my best deserves to reside. I don't dare freewrite my garbled garbage and let it compost between covers that cost some poor cow its hide. The very niceness of a journal makes it a poor tool for me--it calls forth not my true creativity, but preciousness. You know, those affected sorts of words that sing in your brain on moonlit nights at a lakeside. The stuff of corny, cringe-worthy poetry.

Preciousness is to me an enemy of productivity. I need to be free to make an utter mess and not feel I've desecrated something in the process. So give me a stack of 6 for a $1 spiral notebooks and let me play.

What writing tools help you? Hinder you?

I'm trying out a Tuesday/Thursday posting schedule for the summer. How's that working for you, dear readers?
Tuesday, July 27, 2010 Laurel Garver
Ah, it's that wonderful time of year--when school supplies are abundant and dirt cheap. I loves me a nice, thick stack of junky spiral notebooks that cost less than a pack of gum.

I know some of you friends handwrite only in leather-bound journals with artist-quality paper. Such a lovely thing calls you to lofty heights of imagination, you say. But don't you feel a certain performance pressure with that beautiful, costly journal in your lap?

Frankly, I seize up at the sight of a richly-textured page. It seems like hallowed ground where only the best of my best deserves to reside. I don't dare freewrite my garbled garbage and let it compost between covers that cost some poor cow its hide. The very niceness of a journal makes it a poor tool for me--it calls forth not my true creativity, but preciousness. You know, those affected sorts of words that sing in your brain on moonlit nights at a lakeside. The stuff of corny, cringe-worthy poetry.

Preciousness is to me an enemy of productivity. I need to be free to make an utter mess and not feel I've desecrated something in the process. So give me a stack of 6 for a $1 spiral notebooks and let me play.

What writing tools help you? Hinder you?

I'm trying out a Tuesday/Thursday posting schedule for the summer. How's that working for you, dear readers?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I just finished Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca last week and really loved it. One aspect I especially liked was the way she develops non-romantic friendships between the teen guys and the girls who "invade" their once-all-boys school that goes co-ed.

Perhaps it's because my nearest sibling is a brother that I had loads of guy friends all through school. Boys brought something cool and interesting to the table that many girls didn't.

In grade school, it was the boys who eagerly went along with my imaginative play ideas. If I said the monkeybars were a spaceship, Duane would say, "Yeah, and I'm gonna run the lasers!" Jen, on the other hand, would stand there with her arms crossed over her chest and tell us we're dumb. Then she'd go play hopscotch or some other boringly conventional game.

In our monkeybar spaceship games, I often chose to play the comms or navs officer or the doctor. Soon other girls created roles they liked and would join our crew. We ran some pretty kickin' missions. There was something magical about mixing our different strengths. Our "soft" and "rough" ways of approaching the world balanced each other.

Those fun times of childhood carried on into junior high, high school and college when I got involved in band, choir and theater and started playing D&D. Mixed groups were what I preferred. Occasionally romances would develop. But most of the time, we just enjoyed each other. Had fun. Had amazing conversations. Challenged one another. Offered support, listening ears and advice.

Sadly, guys and girls being great friends not a dynamic I see as often as I'd like in YA. Romantic attachments, flirting and mind-games is the predominant way guys and girls relate in books for teens. The romances that develop are often about surface attraction--the characters have no common interests, traits or goals. I'd love to see more "book teens" enjoying the benefits of cross-gender friendships, like Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna and Neville do.

What's your take on guy-girl friendships? Know of any YA books that represent healthy cross-gender friendships well?
Thursday, July 22, 2010 Laurel Garver
I just finished Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca last week and really loved it. One aspect I especially liked was the way she develops non-romantic friendships between the teen guys and the girls who "invade" their once-all-boys school that goes co-ed.

Perhaps it's because my nearest sibling is a brother that I had loads of guy friends all through school. Boys brought something cool and interesting to the table that many girls didn't.

In grade school, it was the boys who eagerly went along with my imaginative play ideas. If I said the monkeybars were a spaceship, Duane would say, "Yeah, and I'm gonna run the lasers!" Jen, on the other hand, would stand there with her arms crossed over her chest and tell us we're dumb. Then she'd go play hopscotch or some other boringly conventional game.

In our monkeybar spaceship games, I often chose to play the comms or navs officer or the doctor. Soon other girls created roles they liked and would join our crew. We ran some pretty kickin' missions. There was something magical about mixing our different strengths. Our "soft" and "rough" ways of approaching the world balanced each other.

Those fun times of childhood carried on into junior high, high school and college when I got involved in band, choir and theater and started playing D&D. Mixed groups were what I preferred. Occasionally romances would develop. But most of the time, we just enjoyed each other. Had fun. Had amazing conversations. Challenged one another. Offered support, listening ears and advice.

Sadly, guys and girls being great friends not a dynamic I see as often as I'd like in YA. Romantic attachments, flirting and mind-games is the predominant way guys and girls relate in books for teens. The romances that develop are often about surface attraction--the characters have no common interests, traits or goals. I'd love to see more "book teens" enjoying the benefits of cross-gender friendships, like Harry, Ron, Hermione, Luna and Neville do.

What's your take on guy-girl friendships? Know of any YA books that represent healthy cross-gender friendships well?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Revising scenes that occur on another continent in another season requires an extra dose of imagination. I'm finding that having a few helpful objects and images in my writing space can take me there--to rural northeast England in winter.

This mug is one of my favorite "take me there" objects (Dunoon Ceramics, Scotland). Can't you just hear those sheep bleating and smell the rain, the mud, the wet wool? All I have to do is sip some tea from this (coffee is just too American) and I forget all about the 95 degree heat and tank-top clad coeds outside my office window.

Do you have any special objects or images that pull your imagination into your fictional world?
Tuesday, July 20, 2010 Laurel Garver
Revising scenes that occur on another continent in another season requires an extra dose of imagination. I'm finding that having a few helpful objects and images in my writing space can take me there--to rural northeast England in winter.

This mug is one of my favorite "take me there" objects (Dunoon Ceramics, Scotland). Can't you just hear those sheep bleating and smell the rain, the mud, the wet wool? All I have to do is sip some tea from this (coffee is just too American) and I forget all about the 95 degree heat and tank-top clad coeds outside my office window.

Do you have any special objects or images that pull your imagination into your fictional world?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Are you familiar with the term "jumping conflict"? It means your characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation (see this post and this one) or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?

Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another, perhaps. Or have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait. Establish a pattern prior to the fight scene--repeatedly provoke a character so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. Or establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge. Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

One of the scenes I plan to revise today has bugged me for a while. My CPs said it felt "off" when I asked them about it. I now realize jumping conflict is the issue. So, I'm off to lengthen the fuse of my MC's uncle, and let his complex emotions come to the page.

Have you struggled with jumping conflict? How did you know? How did or will you repair it?
Friday, July 16, 2010 Laurel Garver
Are you familiar with the term "jumping conflict"? It means your characters are calm or simpatico one moment, then inexplicably shouting at each other the next.

Granted, there are some people with extremely short fuses. They're perpetually angry and fly into a rage with little provocation. But those types are usually pretty easy to spot. They exhibit signs of being short fused in how they carry themselves and their tone of voice. If such a character exists in your fictional world, be sure to make those warning signs clear. Otherwise, his fits of rage will seem simply melodramatic, and he'll be a caricature rather than a character.

Most characters have longer fuses. They shift from calm to angry in gradual stages--slow burn. Negotiation (see this post and this one) or conflict avoidance should be more common than out-and-out fights. And when those fights do occur, they need to be appropriately paced. How?

Have the characters in conflict chip away at one another, perhaps. Or have one try to back off or refuse to rise to the bait. Establish a pattern prior to the fight scene--repeatedly provoke a character so that she's ripe to burst with a little more pressure. Or establish a trait such as worry or paranoia, so that his response to this trigger seems reasonable.

Most of all, try to think creatively about complex emotional responses. Straight-up anger is easy to write, and we can get lazy. In most conflicts, several emotions are at war. The mom who has to pick up her drunk teenager from a party can be as much worried and afraid as angry. The bullied nerd desires acceptance as much as revenge. Explore those layers of emotion, and conflicts will become more interesting and more tense.

One of the scenes I plan to revise today has bugged me for a while. My CPs said it felt "off" when I asked them about it. I now realize jumping conflict is the issue. So, I'm off to lengthen the fuse of my MC's uncle, and let his complex emotions come to the page.

Have you struggled with jumping conflict? How did you know? How did or will you repair it?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Museum trips, board games, long meals--these have eaten up my available writing time the past 10 days while family was visiting. Re-entry into my writing life feels very clumsy at the moment. I've tried to visit a few blogs to get back in the swing. Christine over at the Writer's Hole has a fun link I played with. You insert text samples and the algorithm matches your style to that of famous authors. I consistently got either James Joyce or Chuck Palanhnuik. :-D

Re-entry also meant re-reading critiques on these last chapters I need to revise. I've already made needed cuts two weeks ago, and it was pretty painless. My current to-do list includes expanding two dialogue scenes that are too fast paced. I'm finding this quite a weird challenge. I tend to overwrite in draft, then cut repeatedly in revision. I've gone back to earlier drafts of these scenes and found very little worth re-introducing. I guess it's time to pull out the el-cheapo spiral notebook and freewrite a bunch of new material, then revise it down to something useful.

What's your process for expanding a thin scene? Does plumping in revision come naturally? Or do you, like me, need to treat it more like "back to the drawing board"?
Wednesday, July 14, 2010 Laurel Garver
Museum trips, board games, long meals--these have eaten up my available writing time the past 10 days while family was visiting. Re-entry into my writing life feels very clumsy at the moment. I've tried to visit a few blogs to get back in the swing. Christine over at the Writer's Hole has a fun link I played with. You insert text samples and the algorithm matches your style to that of famous authors. I consistently got either James Joyce or Chuck Palanhnuik. :-D

Re-entry also meant re-reading critiques on these last chapters I need to revise. I've already made needed cuts two weeks ago, and it was pretty painless. My current to-do list includes expanding two dialogue scenes that are too fast paced. I'm finding this quite a weird challenge. I tend to overwrite in draft, then cut repeatedly in revision. I've gone back to earlier drafts of these scenes and found very little worth re-introducing. I guess it's time to pull out the el-cheapo spiral notebook and freewrite a bunch of new material, then revise it down to something useful.

What's your process for expanding a thin scene? Does plumping in revision come naturally? Or do you, like me, need to treat it more like "back to the drawing board"?

Friday, July 09, 2010

How do your characters feel in their own skin? Self-conscious? Cocky? Healthy? Despairing? Blissfully carefree?

Hang out at a pool for any length of time, and you'll soon notice a wide variety of embodied responses to being nearly naked in public. The pool is a great venue to observe how body image plays out in behavior. Some love to flaunt their assets (or their perception thereof). Others cringe and hide. Some step out tentatively and watch always for reactions. Others are too distracted to care how they look. Some drag their bodies around as if wearing flesh were a tiresome ordeal. Others joyfully skip from here to there, glad to be alive. Some relish the cool water. Others prefer baking in the sun or ducking into the shade to read.

Here's an exercise for thinking through character body image: Imagine your character at the pool. How does she behave? What sort of swimsuit does he choose? How readily does she let herself been seen, and by whom? Whose attention does he hope to win? Who does she feel judges her?

Would this exercise help your characterization? What did you learn from it?
Friday, July 09, 2010 Laurel Garver
How do your characters feel in their own skin? Self-conscious? Cocky? Healthy? Despairing? Blissfully carefree?

Hang out at a pool for any length of time, and you'll soon notice a wide variety of embodied responses to being nearly naked in public. The pool is a great venue to observe how body image plays out in behavior. Some love to flaunt their assets (or their perception thereof). Others cringe and hide. Some step out tentatively and watch always for reactions. Others are too distracted to care how they look. Some drag their bodies around as if wearing flesh were a tiresome ordeal. Others joyfully skip from here to there, glad to be alive. Some relish the cool water. Others prefer baking in the sun or ducking into the shade to read.

Here's an exercise for thinking through character body image: Imagine your character at the pool. How does she behave? What sort of swimsuit does he choose? How readily does she let herself been seen, and by whom? Whose attention does he hope to win? Who does she feel judges her?

Would this exercise help your characterization? What did you learn from it?

Monday, July 05, 2010

While I was watching fireworks with my family last night, ideas for my next book unfolded like those lights blossoming into the night sky. Unlike my first book, which takes place in late December-early January and has a very compressed timeline, this next book takes place in summer and covers several months of story time. My story-hungry mind will keep me alert to scene ideas and summer sensations during the next week when I won't be able to spend time at a computer.

Brainstorming and planning is such an essential part of my drafting process. Many of these early ideas will not hold up over time. Some will need time to cook. Some will merely lead me to the path where my best ideas are hiding. But I've never been one to draft from nothing headed toward who-knows-where. I need these early months of generating notebooks full of half-baked ideas to get me started.

I started my second book last year and set it aside to rewrite the first. Thus, I already have the main story arc planned. Idea time now involves developing the details of how I'll get from here to there. For me, this is the most fun part of the process--when any and every idea is on the table to be tried and tested.

How do you handle non-writing weeks? Are you able to write drafts from nothing, or do you, like me, spend time at the front end brainstorming and planning?
Monday, July 05, 2010 Laurel Garver
While I was watching fireworks with my family last night, ideas for my next book unfolded like those lights blossoming into the night sky. Unlike my first book, which takes place in late December-early January and has a very compressed timeline, this next book takes place in summer and covers several months of story time. My story-hungry mind will keep me alert to scene ideas and summer sensations during the next week when I won't be able to spend time at a computer.

Brainstorming and planning is such an essential part of my drafting process. Many of these early ideas will not hold up over time. Some will need time to cook. Some will merely lead me to the path where my best ideas are hiding. But I've never been one to draft from nothing headed toward who-knows-where. I need these early months of generating notebooks full of half-baked ideas to get me started.

I started my second book last year and set it aside to rewrite the first. Thus, I already have the main story arc planned. Idea time now involves developing the details of how I'll get from here to there. For me, this is the most fun part of the process--when any and every idea is on the table to be tried and tested.

How do you handle non-writing weeks? Are you able to write drafts from nothing, or do you, like me, spend time at the front end brainstorming and planning?

Friday, July 02, 2010

As I've been collecting final critiques on my novel and incorporating changes, I've noticed something strange. I feel like I've hit the wall runners talk about. Like lactic acid is building up in my muscles and I want to flop down on the road and quit, just feet from the finish line.

I'm seriously a day or two of edits away from submittable and I'm falling apart. Stomach ache. Not sleeping well. Picking fights with my hubby. Distancing myself from friends.

Is this normal? Help!
Friday, July 02, 2010 Laurel Garver
As I've been collecting final critiques on my novel and incorporating changes, I've noticed something strange. I feel like I've hit the wall runners talk about. Like lactic acid is building up in my muscles and I want to flop down on the road and quit, just feet from the finish line.

I'm seriously a day or two of edits away from submittable and I'm falling apart. Stomach ache. Not sleeping well. Picking fights with my hubby. Distancing myself from friends.

Is this normal? Help!