Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Speaker Tags: Like the Plague

Semi-recently, I stumbled upon the first draft I'd ever written.  I'll spare you the shameful and wince-worthy details, since there are some things you just shouldn't put people through, but among all its issues, my speaker tags were rampant.

    I'm not just talking about using tags other than "said" -- that's another post, and it has a lot of different facets.  (Though I had that problem, too.  When you use the word "queried" instead of ask in the attempt to change things up, you know things are bad.  But it's all in the past, right?)

   Nah, I'm talking about attaching speaking tags in general.  Especially when there's already an action tag in place.  Suzanne Collins is pretty much the queen of this -- I love The Hunger Games and its trilogy, I've made it painfully obvious and redundant in the past, but yeah.  She'll set an action tag, lay down the dialogue, and then -- no, no no.  A speaker tag.  And usually "I say" at that.  Eek.  Talk about pet peeves.

    But hey, like I said.  Suzanne Collins can do -- well, some wrong, but not a whole lot. 

    Besides avoiding my annoyance, cutting all unnecessary tags has another shining benefit: slashing the word count.  And if you're anything like me, Word Count is the enemy.  (Otherwise, you're lucky.  Word-by-word editing is a major pain.)

    Here are a couple examples of speaker tags not only done right, but kept at the barest minimum:

            Her horse was panicking; he took a deep breath and ran from cover, grabbing it by the bridle.  "Get down!"
    She jumped, and they both fell.  Then they were squirming into the bushes, lying flat, breathless.  Around them the forest roared with rain.
    "No.  You?"
    "Bruised.  Nothing serious."
    Claudia dragged soaked hair from her eyes.  "I can't believe this.  Sia would never order it.  Where are they?"

    This is from Sapphique, by Catherine Fisher.  I think it's excellent -- there's no tag at all from the first line to the last, and even then, it's action-tagging.  She doesn't spell out who says what, and she doesn't have to -- as a reader, it really isn't rocket science to figure out. 

    Here's one more example, from A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L'Engle --

    Sandy paused, a handful of forks in his hand, to grin at their mother.  "Thanksgiving dinner is practically the only meal Mother cooks in the kitchen --"
    "--instead of out in the lab on her Bunsen burner," Dennys concluded.
    "After all, those Bunsen-burner stews did lead directly to the Nobel Prize.  We're really proud of you, Mother, although you and Father give us a heck of a lot to live up to."
    "Keeps our standards high." 

    Sure, this one uses more tags, but I still felt like it was a good example.  I'm not exactly loving the phrase "a handful of forks in his hand," but I still love how the twins are always interrupting each other, so I'll let it slide. 

    Okay, there it is.  Speaker tagging -- something better left in small doses.  What's your opinion?  Speaker tags or action tags?  I think a good mix of both is important to keep a natural-sounding balance; do you?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

You Know What This Means?

    Yeah.  Fresh battery.  I got it last night.

    The laptop's alive again. 

    Pure.  Happiness. 

    Meh.  I'll make a real post later.  I'm too deeply rooted in laptop world right now to do anything else, so this'll have to do for now.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Sad news.  My laptop battery's dead.  Like, dead dead, as in This thing won't charge even if I plug it in, and I am officially going to die.
[Photo credit link]
    Scratch that.  It's been like this for about a week now -- we couldn't order my new battery while everybody was at Falls Creek, so it got pushed off.  I'm pretty sure it's been ordered,  but by now I'm half-dead.  It's like some natural extension of my hands has been lopped off, you know?

    Okay, so I probably seem a little . . . I hesitate to say "dramatic," but sure, something like that.  Really, though, this is a majorly bad situation.  I write with my laptop.  Blog with it.  That's where all the pictures I've taken go (I take a lot of photos), and I can't upload more and clear out my camera's memory card until the laptop's back. 

    Basically, everything revolves around the laptop. 

    So all this woe's got me thinking.  I used to do everything by hand, before I got my computer.  I could've used the house computer, and I occasionally used the desktop that used to be in my room -- but I usually chose to do things by hand.

    On one hand, that makes some sense.  I wasn't committed to a single story concept back then, so I never really typed things to print them out.  Obviously, notebooks are a heck of a lot more portable than desktop computers, so there's that.  And I was only writing for myself at that point -- no one else ever read my stuff, which I'm thankful for now --, so there was no reason to type it up to print.  (Not to mention the issue of trying to blog with a notebook.  Let me know how that one works out, all right?)

    But now I simply can't function without computers.  Instead of scribbling out whole lines of handwriting, I say hello the the Backspace button.  Copying, pasting, spellcheck.  Emailing the document, and not having to type it all out again later on after writing it in my notebook.  I can type faster than I can write things out, and there's always the plethora of fonts out there to choose from.  I'm a total font nerd, so that makes most of the decision for me.

    I've heard that writing by hand gets your creative juices flowing better than typing, but that doesn't hold any weight for me.  Maybe it's because I'm used to all things digital, but things just seem smoother with typing.  It's easier, less of a hassle.  Especially on laptop keys -- my fingers are a lot more prone to stumble when I'm using a regular keyboard.  And while I really don't care about it, I'm sure I make tree-hugging hippes proud of the paper I save.

    Until I print it all out, of course.  

    Of course, I'm not saying I don't like doing things by paper.  I always print my manuscript out for editing -- I catch a lot more mistakes that way --, and if I'm writing poetry, I actually prefer paper.  (Not sure why, but whatever.)

    But everyone's different.  What do you prefer -- keyboard, or notebook? 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who Doesn't Love a Giveaway?

That's what I want to know.  I mean, hello, free stuff.  Please and thank you, right?

    I'm not hosting the giveaway -- I guess I should mention that.  It's hosted by Margaret Free at her blog, Hello, World.

    She's giving a Moleskine notebook and pens away, so if I were you, I'd check it out.

    Not to sound like a certain stuttering pig or anything, but that's all for now.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Well, I'm still at camp, so I don't have another character analysis mapped out yet. (I know, excuses, excuses. Sorry.) But I brought Uglies with me and was rereading it today for the umpteenth time, when I thought of something.

Sometimes, authors take capitalizing too far.

I'm not saying Uglies does. In fact, I consider it one of those books you should consult to see something done right -- in this case, capitalization. Usually, when a writer designs a new world or culture she/he designs new terms and "inventions" -- for lack of a better, more inclusive word -- to go along with that world. And all too often, authors capitalize way too many of those words they coin. An example of this? Magyk by Angie Sage. (She also deliberately misspells "magic" words and puts them in bold, which I'm not exactly crazy about, but hey, that's a different rant altogether.) Then again, one of the main characters in that series is named Jenna, so I can't pick on the book too much.

There are some other examples of capitalization gone right besides Uglies, of course. Harry Potter does a great job of it. The Hunger Games series doesn't offend of that front either, though there aren't as many opportunities to over-capitalize there.

So maybe we should all take a cue from e. e. cummings and go easy on capitalizing made-up terms. Agree? Disagree?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Character Analysis: Keiro

Okay, so last week I said something about analyzing characteristics of the Greats (characters who've made my All-Time Favorites list, which is pretty exclusive). I'm still going to be doing that, but I'm at both yearbook camp and Falls Creek through Saturday, so we'll see how that goes.

I do have an analysis for you today, though -- the character Keiro from *Incarceron*. (Sorry. I'm doing this from my phone, and the whole "Italics" concept seems to be freaking it out, so I have to stick with asterixs) by Catherine Fisher.

One of the things I love about how Fisher handled Keiro's characterization is all the layers she gave him. On the outside, Keiro was cold and self-serving, fierce and arrogant. And on some part of the inside, he was -- well, he was still like that. But deep, deep inside -- we're talking waaay down inside, mind you --, he was actually, you know, *human*: insecure, uncertain, even a little *caring*.

Of course, this mix of traits isn't exactly rare in characters in general. From the description I gave above, I'm sure you could name a handful of characters with those same qualities. To me, that only reinforces the ever-mentioned technique of showing-versus-telling. I mean, that list of traits is *okay*. Maybe a little bland, even verging on "stock character" syndrome, but still fine.

Really, though, all of that's just the recipe for a character. If you had all the necessary for a batch of brownies, that still won't cut it if you bungle a step in the process -- say, the amount of time in the oven, or cracking the eggs before adding eggs to the brownie mix itself. Will it? Uh, no. Because you didn't follow through with the right particulars -- you did everything, but maybe not in the right way --, the brownies didn't turn out quite right. Didn't "rise to their potential" or whatever. (Plus, no one's going to eat your brownies. Just warning you.)

*You had all the right components, but the execution just wasn't there.*

I think it's the same principle with characters. You have to pull them off just right, or you'll miss the mark completely.

The execution of Keiro's characterization -- well, this might sound kind of strange, but it's beautiful. The development, reveal, building up -- it's the Goldilocks scenario, "just right," spot-on.

This was partly due to the recipe, sure, but the brilliance was in the execution. Fisher, for the most part, is a master of show-versus-tell in *Incarceron* and its sequel, drawing on Keiro's relationship with his oathbrother, Finn, to convey his character more fully. Sure, Keiro mocked Finn, ripped him off, occasionally used him. But whenever Finn needed help, reassurance, or a confidence boost, guess who was there for him? Yeah. Cold, hard little Keiro. My favorite. The character whose motives I couldn't figure out, the one who I couldn't tell if he was good or bad. (He made the list either way.)

And you know what the kicker is? Keiro isn't even a main character. Not a *main*-main one. He's definitely a supportive character, and he's in most of the book, but you never get to see inside his head. Which is what makes the use if showing-versus-telling so important, right?

So. You go read *Incarceron* -- which I've been meaning to review -- while I'm in camp mode. (You know . . . if you want to and all. It's an amazing book, I promise.) In the meantime, have you ever read about a character with the same general "recipe" as Keiro's? Did it work out, or no?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What Makes Characters Special? And the Big 3 of Rules

I can sum up my favorite thing about books in one word:


    It doesn't matter where they take place -- New Pretty Town, Middle Earth, Hogwarts, Panem --, it's always the characters that stand out to me, no matter how cool any setting is.  So I always ponder what makes those characters special.

    And the truth is, I don't really know.  Probably no one does.  There's just too much in a great character to really express -- kind of like you can't sum up a person with words.  You can try, you can get close, but there's some sort of residual essence you just can't translate into print.  Since I think of characters as people, I figure it's that same principle that keeps me from completely taking the characters apart and seeing what's so great.  Circumstances and backgrounds play a pretty big part in them, I'm sure. 

    What I can do, though, is go through and analyze traits of the Greats that contribute to their characters, their personalities.  Of course, since favorite characters and "good" qualities are really subjective -- I know some people who don't even have favorites, which my brain just can't fathom --, we're not all going to agree.  And that's okay.

    For today, though, here are some main rules that I figure everyone can agree with:

    1)  Your characters can't be all good.  Really, they shouldn't come close, either.  Nobody likes a Goody Two-Shoes in real life, and that trait doesn't come across so well in print, either.  (That's probably one of the biggest reasons I can't stand the character Eragon.  Again, personal opinion.)

    2)  On the flipside, your character can't be all bad.  Sure, an evil character might not be as annoying as a perfect character, but s/he'll still be really flat, boring.  Some of the best books have the best villains -- I'd name some, but that sounds like another post to me.  Shades of grey need to be included in all characters, but this is especially neglected in villains. 

    3)  Your characters need to have weaknesses.  Probably kind of obvious, but the above two weren't exactly top-secret, either. 

    Actually, this post is getting sort of long, so I'll leave it at that for now.  Up next?  The character analyses, or whatever you want to call them.

    What about you?  Do you pick favorites -- and if so, what qualities seem to stand out in them?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blog Award and Blogs to Check Out

First off, I want to thank Jenna Cooper for the Irresistably Sweet Blog Award!  You should go check out her blog if you haven't already.  Like, right now.  I'd wanted to write this post over the weekend, but my Internet went mysteriously out.  Anyway, it's mysteriously back on again, which brings you this post.

Ooh. Strawberries.
    Here are The Official Rules:

    1)  Thank the person who gave you the award and link back to their blog.  Which you should do anyway, really.
    2)  Include seven random tidbits about you in your blog post.
    3)  Link to 15 other blogs.
    4) Let those 15 other bloggers know that you've awarded them.  So you can keep the chain going, you know?

    Okay, so here are seven completely random things about me you didn't know, and probably never wanted to, either:

    1)  I switch favorite songs all the time, but I always love 80's music.  Currently, my favorite song is "People Are Strange" by The Doors.
    2)  I'm somewhat addicted to the show "Angry Beavers".  It aired when I was little, in the 90's, but thanks to Netflix, I have instant access.  (When, you know, my Internet is working.)
    3)  I'm insanely jealous that I didn't come up with the X-Men.  Especially "X-Men: The Animated Series" -- again, a 90's cartoon.  (I'm able to watch this one with the help of YouTube.  Bless you, people who make videos of old cartoons that don't air anymore and post them.)
    4)  I'm going into the eleventh grade.  (Thank goodness for summer.)
    5)  My favorite poet is definitely Edgar Allan Poe.  My favorite poem?  "Alone," by said favorite poet.
    6)  I'm incredibly clumsy.  (Scarily clumsy, I guess I should say.)
    7)  For my birthday in April, I got a Sheltie puppy.  I named him Dax -- which means he gets called Daxter, Daximus, and for some reason, Daxy -- and he's also incredibly clumsy.  We make quite a pair.

    Okay.  With that out of the way, I can link to some helpful blogs out there.  You might already know some of them, but that's okay.  In no particular order --
    So there it is.  I really need to let those blogs know -- but that's probably something for tomorrow. 



Friday, June 3, 2011

When a Movie Becomes a Book...

What with all the buzz about the movie adaptation for The Hunger Games being underway, I've been wondering -- how do authors react when they learn their book's being adapted?  Sure, in one way, it'd be great, as a measure of success and a way to attract more readers and all.  But what about when the movie doesn't live up to the book?

    Usually, when a book's converted into a movie, you get a group of people happy with it, and a mob of disgruntled readers.  I've been one of those readers several times over (They gave Annabeth dark hair?  There's no unicorn in Inkheart!), as I'm sure most every has.  So for the author, it makes sense to assume that it'd be much worse. 

    I really think that it's all about how you handle it, though.  If you go into things, deciding beforehand that it's going to be different from the book -- maybe something else entirely -- then you'll probably fare much better.  And have more hair when it's all through.  This is someone else's interpretation of your darling -- isn't that cool in its own right?  Seeing something through someone else's eyes, seeing how your words, your worlds, characters, inspired someone and took shape in their head? 

    Once I read an interview with an author -- I think it was Cornelia Funke, but it was several years ago, I can't find the interview now, and I've slept since then, so I can't be 100% sure -- and a question came up about a movie based on the book the author had written.  (Again, I'm fairly certain it was for the Inkheart movie.)  The question was about how different the movie had been from the book, and the author said something to the effect of not really minding, because, "The movie isn't mine.  It's the director's project, so I just view it as something else completely."

    Even though I can't link to the interview, though I can't promise if the author was Cornelia Funke, and I don't have a direct quote -- it's the same basic principle, isn't it?  The movie isn't yours.  Distance yourself from it. 

    Anyway, you can worry about all that after you've finished the book, gotten it published, hit it big, and gotten a movie in the works.  And for most people, that's still far enough away to have plenty of time to worry about it later.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Spy Kids 4 and Slightly-Related Book Series

Maybe you've all heard -- maybe you haven't -- maybe I'm the only one who cares.

    But there's going to be a Spy Kids 4.

    Okay, I love those movies.  Always have.  I was probably in kindergarten or first grade when the first one came out, and everything about it -- the gadgets, the missions, the fact that the kids were spies -- fascinated me. 

    Also, the thumb-people and the guy with too many heads really freaked me out. 

    I really don't know about this fourth movie, though.  Carmen and Juni are adults now, and according to a Yahoo! article (which is how I found out about the movie in the first place), they're "still with the OSS and give the new kids -- Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard) and Cecil (Mason Cook) -- some pointers and much needed spy gadgets in their battle against the fiendish Timekeeper".

    All this kind of reminds me of what they do in books sometimes -- finish a series, then start a new, slightly related one, usually with an original character's kid as the new main character.  I hate it when they do that, so I figure I won't like this movie, if I even convince myself to watch it. 

    So really, in a small way, this has to do with writing.  Granted, the connection is pretty slim.  And sort of tacked onto the end, almost like an afterthought. 

    But mostly, it wasn't.