Saturday, July 30, 2011

Liebster Blog Award

First off, here's a huge thanks to Jenna Cooper!  If you haven't already, go follow her blog.

    Here's all the Liebster stuff:

"The goal of the award is to spotlight up and coming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. The rules of the award are:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!"

    Got that?  Good.  Let's go. 

    Here are the five blogs I'm passing it on to:

     The Story Queen


    Hello, World

    Amaranthine Forever 

    Scribbles and Ink Stains 

    Granted, I think I was technically supposed to write up a short line about each blog, and I honestly tried.  But I make a horrible salespitch, and they all sounded forced and robotic, so...I know there aren't descriptions, but don't take it out on them!  Go visit and comment and follow, agreed?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The First Sentence -- Hook, Please

First off, if you saw the title of this and thought it'd be remotely helpful . . . yeah, sorry about that.

    It won't be.

    But it's amusing, and in my book, amusing is always a plus.

    Apparently, there's a contest every year -- called the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest -- to see who can write the worst opening sentence for an fake novel.  (Anyway, I hope these are fake. Eek.)

    The 2011 grand prize winner is Sue Fondrie, a professor from Wisconsin.  This is her entry:

        "Cheryl's mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories."

    Pretty bad, eh? 

    There are different divisions within the contest -- you can read a few of them, and the original article where I learned all this brain-enriching stuff, here

    Really, I don't do morals of stories, but I guess the main lesson is this:

    If you're having trouble nailing the opening sentence of your novel, be sure to keep all the attempts -- the more laughable, the better.

    You could always enter next year's contest.

    So now I have to ask:  What's the worst opening sentence you've ever read?  What made it so bad -- or is it wince-inducing and self-explanatory?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Only Constant in Life is Change, or Something Cheesy Like That

"Only the extremely ignorant or the extremely wise can resist change." -- Socrates

    If we've heard it once -- and we've all heard it once -- we've heard it one-point-three million times: 

    Characters need to face significant growth by the end of a novel.

    Well, sure.  I'm not denying that.  After all, if Scrooge had been a total cad at the end of A Christmas Carol and let Tiny Tim ("God blesh us, ev'ry one!") die, the story probably wouldn't make such a warm, fuzzy Christmas movie/play. 


    Not all characters are Scrooge, you know what I'm saying?

    Characters need to change.  Like Socrates said, only morons and brilliant people resist change -- and a lot of main characters don't fully fit into either category.  Practically everything that makes characters themselves are their personalities, actions, reactions, quirks.  And if you remove all of those traits from the equation, what's left? 

    A boring imposter-of-the-original character that, quite frankly, I don't want to read about. 

    Example time -- and that means if you haven't read the books about the bolded characters, I don't know if you'll want to read their paragraphs.  I'm not spoiling plot events, exactly, but I do go through the character growth in the books.

    Artemis Fowl changed throughout his series, making friend and becoming less cold and ruthless.  But he's still sly and calculating, and unafraid of lying or manipulation.  If he'd become a total softie throughout the books, I wouldn't like his character anymore (because really, he's really more interesting when he's being cold and ruthless). 

    Maximum Ride became softer throughout her series, too.  Sometimes against her will, she became warmer, friendlier, and more emotional.  She isn't always exactly happy about these developments, but her character has changed -- grown -- so she deals.  I don't always like Max's weaker side -- slightly annoying, if you catch my drift.  I'm the tough one, I don't know why I'm crying, I can count the times I've cried in front of these kids on one hand, blah, blah, blah.  But it's usually fine. 

    Tally Youngblood (Uglies series) -- okay, this one's kind of a doozy, and it's not even completely Tally's fault.  (This one actually has spoilers.  Close your eyes if necessary.)  In Uglies, thanks to society standards, Tally considered herself worthless and hideous, but knew she'd be amazing once she got the pretty-making operation for her sixteenth birthday.  By the end of the book, after a nice little visit with some rebels, she decides she doesn't need any operation and that real is beautiful.  However, she also volunteers to be turned pretty so she can test a cure -- and thanks to the surgery, forgets all about her whole "natural beauty/brainwashing is bad" epiphany.  She's a vapid, self-absorbed pretty now.  Once she gets the cure -- cough -- she's back to her pre-surgery, post-Smoke self again.  Then she gets turned into a Special, and she's arrogant, ruthless, and cold, determined to keep everything under the city's control.  She cures herself from being Special and finally finds her own way of thinking, free from any surgery or city-manufactured thinking.  Major growth-rollercoaster there.  Three- steps-forward-four-steps back-five-steps-forward kind of thing, yes?  Even though I halfway hate Tally for what she inadverently did to Zane (who's one of my listed Favorites), I still like her and her growth arc okay. 

    Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) used to be a happy little girl.  Then her dad got blown up and her mom turned worthless.  It was up to Katniss to ensure her and her little sister's survival, and she ended up cold and hard, a total survivor.  (Spoilers coming from here on out.)  She ended up softening a tad around Peeta, then slightly insane after her sister's death, and back to her normal, less-distant self again.  One could definitely say her growth arc is more of a wave, though not as erratic as Tally's.

    Dustfinger (Inkheart) was a roaming fire-eater in his own world.  He had a wife, two daughters, and a stellar way with flames -- and then Mo read him out of his world.  To get back home, Dustfinger's willing to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate, and generally throw morals out the window.  But he's only doing it to get to his family again, and he tries to fix the problems his double-crossing starts.  Basically, he's good if you're helping him, bad if you're not, a character with flexible morals and a generally good heart.  (He's a Favorite, too.)

    Characters usually change in their stories -- sometimes drastically, sometimes subtly -- but not too much.  Because if they do, they lose what makes them them.  I'm not saying your Twihard-axe-murderer protagonist should still be going around chopping people up at the end of the book(s) -- certainly that first bit needs to change.  But maybe your jewelry thief should still have a weakness for emeralds; maybe your MC still chews other characters out.  (Lame examples there, I know.  Oh well.)

    Do you agree with this, or are you for the characters being reformed by the end of the story? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

You Heard the Man

          "They say, best men are moulded out of faults,
           And, for the most, become much more the better
           For being a little bad."
            -- William Shakespeare, "Measure for Measure", Act 5 Scene 1

    Today, I think we'll take it from an expert. 

    All of my favorite characters on the All-Exclusive All-Time list are definitely flawed.  (Peeta's on that list, which almost dashes the continuity there, but I think Snow and a certain venom took care of that.)  Maybe that's just a personal preference of mine, but I think it raises a point.  We all know that no one likes perfect characters, and most normal people don't like purely awful characters either.  Society tends to frown upon that -- but then again, I frown on society, so who knows.

    All of my Favorites have some sort of quirk that makes them interesting -- and not necessarily nice -- and influences the story line.

   A great example of this is Artemis Fowl.  He's not one of my Favorites -- I mean, he's a great character and all, but he's not on The List --, but he's quite flawed, thank you very much.  He can be ruthless, manipulative, completely full of himself.  (The fact that he's the biggest supergenius out there doesn't exactly hurt matters, either.)  He ends up showing gradual growth -- peachy -- but he doesn't completely lose his flaws in the process.

    What about you?  Is there a common thread between all your favorites -- or do you even pick favorites?  (The notion is completely foreign to me, but my mom actually doesn't pick favorites . . . except for Peeta, that is.) 

    And what scale should the characters be on -- way flawed or, in the words of Shakespeare, "a little bad"?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Do Everyone a Favor -- Skip the Lecture

For me, there are several things a writer can do to ruin a book:

    1)  Mention a vampire

    2)  Mention a werewolf

    (Thank you, Twitlight.  But that's beside the point.)

    3)  Turn the book into a preaching platform

    There we go -- today's topic. 

    Really, people don't read fiction to hear the author's opinion on anything other than what pertains to the story.  It's annoying, it's something that everyone can't agree with, and it totally interrupts the plot.  I don't read to learn anyone's stand on global warming or environmental awareness (ahem, The Final Warning and MAX: A Maximum Ride Novel, both by James Patterson.  Max is still great, though), politics, the economy, etc. -- unless it directly relates to the story.

    That said, I think it's amazing when books teach us about important life issues -- when it's done right.  Some of my favorites do this, without ever outright saying "War is bad" or "Be true to yourself".  Not only are these stereotypes (not all wars are bad; being yourself is great and all, unless you happen to be an axe-murderer or cannibal or Twihard), they need to be handled with more subtlety.  Here are a few of those favorites, in no particular order:

  • A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  Of course, being slightly biased, I consider all my favorite books amazing, but this one is especially so.  That's mainly because of my favorite character, Phineas, but the book also touches on deeper subjects, especially the darker side of the human nature.  (Really, we aren't so nice.)  While it takes place at a boy's school during World War II, the focus is more on internal war.  And while I would've judged the book by the cover (and synopsis and setting) and expected it to be boring, probably not even giving it a chance, it's now my favorite.  I'm primarily a fantasy reader, so that's definitely saying something.
  • The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.  Most people have read this one, so I don't have to go into as much detail -- but the way she handles themes like war, violence, and freedom seems so effortless, so smoothly integrated, it never ceases to amaze me.  Okay, the gushing is over.
  • Uglies trilogy/series (I guess it depends on your opinion, and whether or not you include Extras) by Scott Westerfeld.  It hits a whole range of themes, from self-acceptance to society's place and influence to, again, freedom.  Even with all that going on, it doesn't seem too busy, and the world-building's fabulous.
  • Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  Again, this is an obvious pick, which is part of why I couldn't leave it out.  Good and evil, fighting over power (of the ruling and magic variety) -- it's all there.
    Of course, there are countless other out there, and you can find morals or symbolism to almost anything, if you try -- but what are some of your favorites?  What themes/lessons do they express?  Do you think it's okay to preach in books, or do you also feel like it's a no-no?

    This lecture on lectures was presented in blog form, so I decided to ignore the irony and go with it. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Rewriting: It's Kind of a Love/Hate Situation

Well, I'm still very much in the clutches of rewrites.  

    Yeah, I have been for a while now.  And to be honest, I haven't been working on them as much as I should've for most of June. 

    But it's July now.

    So I'm pulling myself out of this whole "writer's drought" issue and getting the rewrites done.  I've actually got most of the drudge work done, and now it's actually entering it all into my computer and then bridging the scenes together.  Since I've done a ton of rewriting on this book (it's changed a lot throughout its almost-three-year-lifespan), I've pretty much got my method down.  It goes something like this:

    First, I printed the manuscript out.  Slasher -- my neon-pink editing pen, which miraculously hasn't run out of ink -- and I got to spend lots of bonding time, since I need to cut at least 27,000 words from the book.  Ideally, I'll cut more (which looks like it's going to be easy enough) so I can go back and bridge the scenes.  More on that below. 

    When I'm cutting words for an overhaul on this scale, I have to look at each individual word, the sentence it goes with, and the paragraph it's part of.  If it doesn't have to be there
-- if it doesn't bring something incredibly important to the story -- it bites the dust. 

    In some chapters, there's more to be scrapped than there is to save.  When that's the case, I go through and highlight anything worth keeping.  I'll type up all the rest of the edits directly into a document -- there's not enough of the original document left to bother with --, but I'll completely rewrite any chapter I used the highlighting method with.  Since I had to pick out threads of paragraphs that could stay, there won't be enough left to salvage anyway.

    After I arrange all the chapters in the right places, including the rewrites, I can go through and bridge everything together.  I'd cut out plenty of extra words in the first stage, so now I can go through and add some, making transitions smoother and reinserting some of my details.  I can't go crazy, of course, but the bridge work makes the writing seem natural again, taking away the stilted sound that the bare-bones version has. 

    The biggest thing in cutting out words, for me, is that "What does it add to the story?" question.  In this way, I find that lots of things, from words to paragraphs and even whole scenes, can be removed.  For example, towards the middle, my MC gets generally broken.  Another character heals her, but the main thing is that MC gets broken, then healed.  By establishing that, I can go back and cut out chunks of details about the healing process, probably even have my MC unconscious or something for most of it.  I actually had lots of little moments like this, where I'd written in unimportant pieces instead of just hitting the main idea. 

    After it's all "done," I can make a draft specifically targeting speaker tags.  Like I've mentioned before, I used to have a huge problem with tags other than "said," and I'm still working on that.  I'll go through and check all the tags and beats.  I'll read through it one more time to see if I can catch anything else, make sure it makes sense, and then I'll have people proof-read it for me. 

    For general editing, I listed some tips here.  Have you ever had to completely rewrite something?  If so, any method you'd like to share? 

Friday, July 1, 2011

-Cue Shakespeare's Cliche Rose Quote-

Yeah, I'm totally not going there.  I can barely stomach Romeo and Juliet as it is.  (More of a Julius Caesar girl, see?)  But as I'm considering names today, that was the natural allusion to make. 

    So.  Names.  Incredibly, ridiculously important, right?  Socially acceptable or not, whether we admit or even realize it or not, we all judge books by covers -- and people by names

    Some authors like to pick names with meanings that connect with their characters -- J. K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins are two popular authors who do this.  J.K. employs this, especially with Latin, more than any author I've ever read.  (Here's a list of character names and meanings behind them -- it doesn't have all the characters, but a lot of them, and it probably does a better job handling it all than I could.)  And in Collins' case, Katniss was mentioned in the book as a plant that the character was named after, but "Katniss" also means "belonging to an arrow" in Latin.  Peeta's name sounds just like "pita" bread -- fitting, since he comes from a family of bakers.

    Of course, there are other authors who pick names specifically for the meanings -- and tons who don't.  In my current project, I just went with random names I liked.  But if I can find a name that I like the sound/look of and applies to the story, I'd definitely be open to doing that in the future. 

    Just for fun, I looked up a few name meanings.  My first two names -- Jenna and Blake -- mean "light" and "dark" (depending on which language/search engine or website you're consulting).  My MC's named Mallory, which apparently means "ill-fated" and "unlucky".  Kind of makes me wonder . . . .

    Anyway, how do you pick your characters' names?  Have you ever looked up their names
-- or yours?