Writing perspective as mother-of-the-bride

Karalee’s Post #120

wedding dressI’ve been away from my computer for awhile although emails to friends has kept me writing and documenting my adventures that have ranged from getting ready in Mexico for our daughter’s wedding to pounding the waves in an open zodiac up in Haida Gwaii.

To say the least, life has been interesting and FUN!

This was the situation two days before our daughter’s wedding:

Place: The Galindo Hotel

Scenerio:

Over the years that my daughter has dated her Mexican beau, I’ve come to understand that Mexican Time is like Island Time here on the West Coast of Canada. Everything gets done when it gets done – and it will sometime!

As the bride’s mother arriving a week ahead of the wedding from out-of-country with the groom’s family in charge of looking after the arrangements, I started to ask myself a few questions 48 hours ahead of the big event.

  1. Is there going to be a rehearsal? A: Don’t know.
  2. Is there a rehearsal dinner? A: Don’t know.
  3. What time is hair appointments the day of? A: Don’t know.
  4. What time/where is everyone getting dressed the day of? A: Don’t know!
  5. What is the actual time of wedding and where in the hotel? A: Don’t know!!

As a writer, the mother-of-the-bride could react in many ways:

  1. Catatonic and shut herself in the closet.
  2. Hysterical and march down the hallways banging on doors and demanding answers.
  3. Call 911 with heart attack symptoms.
  4. Tell off the future in-law family members and regret it later – or not.
  5. Laugh as though it doesn’t matter and then burst into tears because it does.
  6. Get drunk at the pool and make a scene.
  7. Jump on a plane and go back home.
  8. Be patient and see what happens.

Each scenario would play out differently in a story, right? And each scenario would show something about the character, right?

Like Joe suggested in his last post, when stuck, interview anything you want in your story. The city, the cat, the mail person, the fallen tree, etc. This can be said of your characters in any situation too. Play out different reactions and see which one tilts your story in a way you hadn’t anticipated. It may be in a direction you want to go – or not. The process though, will always show you something about the story in a different light.

And for me, that’s a great fun factor. Be open to be surprised!

Now I bet you want to know how I, the “real mother-of-the-bride” reacted? 🙂

I laughed and waited, and had a couple of glasses of wine. And visited with the wonderful friends and family that had arrived. In reality (not as the writer) I know my daughter and her fiance enough to not sweat the “small stuff,” and what will happen will happen. And it will happen!

Little did I know what the real wedding day had in store! Now here’s the REAL STORY!

  • no arrangement was made for flowers for the bride or bridesmaids. In Mexico it’s not custom to have flowers at a civil wedding, only in church apparently. I learned this as my daughter was getting ready and one of her bridesmaids asked, “Where’s the flowers?” A scramble ensued, aka lots of texts, to find out there weren’t any!
  • a monsoon rainstorm erupted an hour before the wedding. The MC was seen with 50 towels in hand racing towards the outdoor undercover wedding spot that had become flooded by the wind blowing rain onto the chairs. There were NO Plan B arrangements!
  • the set time for the wedding was 7 p.m. (I did find this out 48 hours ahead), and the outdoor photos that were planned for before the wedding now became indoor photos.
  • 50 towels didn’t help dry the outdoor area, so the MC scrambled to find another room.
  • the wedding group, including bride and groom, were seen running behind the photographer down hallways and stairs throughout the hotel  to find a “good photo spot” – all the while dodging guests that were being directed towards their new location in the lounge area.
  • the interpreter( from Spanish to English) cancelled two hours before the event.
  • the judge was late – stuck on the freeway behind an accident.
  • over 30 guests were also stuck behind the accident.

So, how did it go? What did the real mother-of-the-bride do?

Well, I followed the wedding party around the hotel during the picture-taking, watched the guests march from one end of the hotel to the other, stayed neutral when all the other information came to light AND was very aware of watching how my daughter and her fiance dealt with the stress.

wedding party They were AMAZING! They took it all in stride, dealing with each news item in turn as it happened with no strong or loud and obnoxious words to each other or to their friends/family. They smiled in their photos. They laughed in their photos, and let the MC make all the new arrangements without interfering.

And during the ceremony all that mattered were each other!

As the mother-of-the-bride, I couldn’t have been happier or more proud at the way they handled the day with grace and respect! They will both look after each other. That is comforting to me.

That is what really matters.

So I smiled and enjoyed the experience! And partied the night away to American and Mexican music, fireworks, entertainers on stilts, food, Mariachi band, and more food! Oh, and a couple of glasses of wine too!

What fun!

Achievements:

  • My daughter’s wedding! She chose a great soul-mate. Love to you both!
  • Family time with all our children and their significant others. Everyone likes everyone. Gotta love that!
  • Staying positive! Life is great.

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Continuing to work on self-development.
  • Practicing mindfulness. What a wedding for it!
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. Love email!
  • sent in my submission. Yeah!
  • meditating and exercising. Mostly stretching and walks.

Perspective Photos:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

Writers cannot hide in a room

Joe’s Post #145

Taking the Blindfold Off

homers headAs writers, we live in our heads a lot. I think I may have said this once or twice. We often sit in dark rooms, alone, gulping cold coffee and creating worlds filled with all manner of characters or monsters or fluffy bunnies.

But every so often, writers are forced into the real world. Into the big city.

It’s a scary place. There’s light and the smell of hot dogs and lots of people. There’s the ear-splitting sound of jackhammers, gritty air that makes your eyelids feel like sandpaper and even more people … everywhere … in cars, on the sidewalk, in malls, wandering into traffic, or shouting at imaginary demons …

In such a chaotic environment, though, is writing gold.

If you’re willing to observe it.

I watched an old Chinese couple navigate the Skytrain with only nods to each other. An unspoken language that only they understood, but understood completely.

I sat a seat away from an Aboriginal man who bobbed with the rhythm of the train, reading his bible and mouthing the words to himself.

I laughed as three young men, not even 20, gave each other advice on how to attract women. Apparently the secret is the right cologne.

And that’s just from a Skytrain run.

In the real world, there are more details, more ideas for characters, and more character traits to be mined than being in a room by yourself.

A balding man with a ring of hair, all well-combed, well maintained, except for the very back which stood up as if he’d been electrocuted. But it was the one place he couldn’t see, or had no one else at home who’d tell him.

A woman changes out of her high heels to ride the Seabus, wearing simple flipflops with her expensive suit until the Seabus had landed on the other side.

A gruff construction worker complains to his friend about aspheticides that killed pests with a lethal combination containing lead and arse-ianic. Personally, I think he’d sniffed a bit too much of that arse-ianic.

But there’s so much to see. To smell. To hear, taste or touch.

Or to imagine.

Opening line – “22 people sat beside the dead man and before someone noticed the blood.”

Or – “When Rebecca arrived at the airport, she realized she’d forgotten three things: the book she’d almost finished reading, her lucky jogging socks and her boyfriend. Well, she would miss two of those things.”

I honestly wished I’d brought a pen and paper to make notes, but I was on a different mission. Fun with the family. So I didn’t record all that I should have recorded, but the whole adventure did remind me that, to be good writer, you can’t just sit in the dark and make shit up.

Unless you’re Stephen King.

all work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Writing for Novels

And maybe acting isn't even important

And maybe acting isn’t even important

Ok, I had one of those rare clarity moments the other day.

You know the type. You suddenly realize that eating a box of cookies doesn’t help your diet at all. You realize that Hollywood will never celebrate good writers as much as they do handsome actors or beautiful actresses (even though no matter how great an actor is, a bad script makes the movie suck). Or you realize you’ll never be really able to keep up with the derpy sus that has become the new kidspeak.

But in this case, it was making location matter more in my book and tying that into my own travel experiences. Oh, I know, duh, right? It’s almost like I have to learn a lesson a good dozen times before it sinks in. Like just because I have a good camera doesn’t mean I can take good pictures.

So, yeah, there I was, lost in my novel, working on driving the plot forward, staying true to my character, blah, blah, blah, when it suddenly occurred to me that my settings were bland. Vanilla. Boring. Oh, I think my details were ok, you know, kind of all detailie, but the settings themselves, boy could they be kicked up a notch.

What do you see in this picture?

What do you see in this picture?

It’s should be part of the fun of writing a story set in another city. Or country. Or universe. Now, while I’ve not been to Outpost Omega-Epsilon-Wanker, I have been to Holland. And Amsterdam.

So why not use those memories, those pictures, those settings? My fellow writer Helga did this brilliantly in the story she wrote set in Europe during the coldest part of the cold war. My other Fivers have used their life experiences, their travels and adventures to enrich their novels. So why had I forgotten about this?

Truth is, I am a bear with very little brain and too much stuff bothers me. For me to write, I can only keep a few things in mind. If I have to think, oh yeah, add brilliant sensory detail from my travels to this scene and don’t forget to have conflict and, wait, is there movement in the scene and is my character acting in character and… well, it all bungs up like me trying to go the bathroom after I’d eaten three plates of cheese.

Mmmm. Cheese.

I know one of my writing friends, Sheila, has this incredible ability to see it all in her head like a movie. So for her, those setting details come easy. For me, it’s going to have to be enough to know I need to add them on the 2nd draft.

However, for locations, why settle on a meeting on a street when you can set it in the rijksmuseum?  Why have a fight in a bar when you could have it in the flower market? Why have a chase through the alleys, when I have a city full of canals?

One of the masters of setting IMHO

One of the masters of setting IMHO

Dorothy Dunnett was a master of this. She’d set a story in a great location, like Florence, then have that place become a character with a variety of clever details and sensory elements, BUT then she’d make use of the special aspects of the city, having a chase across the red tiled roofs. Not a chase on the streets, on the roofs.

Anyway, I think I’ll have to save the details for the 2nd draft, but the larger locations, boy those can change immediately. It’s not too taxing on my brain to ask myself, self, can I set this in a better location? Can I bring out a unique aspect of that location? Can I make that location active in some way.

Damn, I sound like Don Maass. But that’s not a bad thing. And it’s even kind of fun. Hmmmm… Amsterdam, 1940… I can’t use the Anne Frank house, she’s hasn’t been murdered by the Nazis, yet, so, yeah, what else can I use????

*****

Best show last week – Game of Thrones, best show ever? For all time? Yup.

Book that I’m reading at the moment –  Reading Sean Sommerville’s latest book. The Unforgiven. Man that guy can write.

Pages written on new book  4 weeks now and I have hit my goal of 10 pages a week. I’m finding more time and, more importantly, finding my groove, again. Can I increase this for next week?

Social media update – Derpy sus, people. Derpy sus.

Best thing last week  epic trip to Science World. Oh, I’m sure I’m going to blog about that!

timeWorst thing  I’d like to buy more time, please, Alex. Honestly, there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to get everything done. Luckily, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that happens to.

 

 

Cruising Sunny’s turf

Bell Harbor Marina, Seattle (Silk Questo photo)

Bell Harbor Marina, Seattle (Silk Questo photo)

Silk’s Post #95 — Our summer cruise down the Puget Sound to Seattle this year is immersing me in the setting of the book I plan to finish over the next few months. Re-visiting the haunts of my heroine, Sunny Laine, is plunging me back into the story I started in our 5 Writers challenge in 2012, but never finished. After nearly a year in the bottom drawer, Catch and Release (working title) is back on my desktop.

A couple of days ago, we sailed the sinuous length of Whidbey Island’s west shore, past the beaches Sunny loves to stroll, past the bluffs where she goes to watch the sunset, past the community where her crazy family lives, past the bridge where … but let’s not give away too much here.

I do have to keep a few surprises to myself, for now.

Tomorrow we begin a 5-day stay at the Bell Harbor Marina, just three blocks from Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market. It’s about as close to a major city downtown district as a yacht harbour can get. There, I’ll be scouting locations for the book’s scenes. Capitol Hill, where Sunny lives. Washington University, where she studies law. Belltown, where she hunts for … but I’m getting ahead of myself again.

I’m looking forward to soaking up as much of Sunny’s world as I can (without turning our whole summer vacation into a fact-finding mission), knowing I’ll need to come back in late fall when the book’s action takes place. Seattle in late November will be a different world from Seattle in high summer. A much darker world, as befits the plot.

When it comes to writing an authentic setting, there’s nothing quite like being there. (Living there is even better.) When you read James Lee Burke’s New Orleans, or Michael Connelly’s Los Angeles, is there any doubt that the writer has the setting deep in his bones? These living, breathing settings are not simply backgrounds against which action takes place. They are more like characters in the story, with a heartbeat all their own.

Yet fantastic settings have been created by authors who never set foot in the place they’re writing about. Obviously, historical novels are set in places and times that can never be experienced again, except through research and the imagination. Fantasy and sci-fi stories often are set in places that exist only in the mind – worlds that the author literally has to build. I marvel at the skill of writers like Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte who transport us to vivid historical settings. I’m in awe of fantasy masters like J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin and J.K. Rowling who have imagined worlds so vast and detailed that they take on a life of their own. And even readers who don’t delve deeply into the sci-fi genre are transfixed by greats like Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, who invented their own cosmos.

I’m starting with a more modest goal: to see and feel real places through the eyes of a made-up character who’s different in age, temperament, background, experience, wants and challenges than myself. That seems like a pretty tall order already.

And then I’ll be looking for some beta readers who really do know the settings intimately. What gaffes might a reader who lives in the actual setting find? Will there be local expressions and shorthand names for local landmarks that I’m blissfully unaware of? Did I get the food right? The weather? The character of the neighbourhoods? Ethnic mix? Local transportation habits? Dress codes? How about longstanding local tensions, or points of pride? It only takes one tone-deaf sentence to reveal to a reader who really knows a place that the writer … doesn’t.

Real “local knowledge” shines through (even if the place is imaginary). When you read a book whose setting rings with authenticity, it’s a transporting experience. You’re there. You can see, hear, smell, taste and feel it.

Now, there’s no shortage of advice for writers on the subject of settings. Plenty of how-to books and articles and workshops. But for me, the most important thing about a great, authentic setting is that it’s not just a place. It’s a whole culture. A world that’s specific and unique, and at the same time full of the diversity that makes the real world … real.

Some writers are terrific researchers. Others are blessed with soaring imaginations. Creating a memorable setting takes both skills in spades. It’s a challenge I’m looking forward to with enthusiasm – and not a little trepidation.

And I’m open to suggestions! How do you research, conceive, imagine and polish your settings?

Masked emotions

Karalee’s Post #73

Last week I visited the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver with my family. Exhibits from cultures around the world filled every room and it struck me that most cultures had ceremonial masks as part of their celebrations.

It also struck me that a multitude of emotions were expressed through this medium. Everyday life is research for a writer and I started snapping pictures as references for describing emotions in my writing.

I’ve included a few pictures and hope you have fun deciding what emotion is being depicted in each. You may want to take a few moments to reflect on what different facial expressions lead you to draw your conclusions.

Who knows, something in one of them may inspire you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy writing!

 

 

Breadcrumb trails to the heart

Silk’s Post # 68 — In my December 30th post, “The top 10 most overlooked emotions,” I listed what I thought were some interesting emotional shadings, like Schadenfreude, that could add complexity to a character. Then I closed with this:

“And yes, I’ve completely skipped the really hard challenge regarding characters and emotions here: how to convey their feelings through actions, rather than spending endless, brutally boring, pages inside their heads. Maybe that’ll be my next list?”

How does a writer plant clues for the reader about the emotional state of a character, without falling back on exposition? Let’s face it: “She felt dreadful after getting the heartbreaking news,” is about as emotionally engaging as reading the ingredients on a box of cereal.

I believe readers can only feel something if they’re active participants in the world of the story and the lives of its characters. They crave “aha!” moments. So how can we leave an enticing trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to follow into the depths of a character’s heart?

characters kressI started researching for a list of “Top 10 ways to convey characters’ emotions” in an effort to unlock the secrets of emotionally moving storytelling. A quixotic quest, you might think. An attempt to quantify magic, to capture light in a jar.

There is plenty of “how-to” advice out there, and some of it is certainly worth mining, such as Characters, Emotion & Viewpoint by Nancy Kress. You’ll find 200 plus pages on craft and psychology: character types, points of view, basic techniques like dialogue and thoughts, and some more artful approaches like metaphor and sensory details used to convey feelings.

Not what I was hoping for, exactly. I wanted both a wider-angle picture, and a more intimate one, of emotional expression. I trashed the glib “Top 10” format I started with and went beachcombing through books, articles and memory, looking for gems. I chose only three treasures. These seem, to me, like basic storytelling wisdom inspired by real life, rather than craft techniques. But you be the judge.

1. Actions Speak Louder …

This isn’t exactly a surprise, rather it’s an old chestnut of the writer’s trade. But it’s easy to brush off as an obvious truth, and not so easy to actually execute.

Sometimes if you want to find a truth, it’s useful to seek out clichés. They usually got to be clichés for a reason. A little bit of googling a half-remembered phrase landed me back in the book of Matthew, same place I dredged up The Beatitudes in my December 23rd post. Matthew boils character down to its essence in a few quick strokes:

“Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”

Morality lesson aside, it’s a pretty basic truth in fiction (as in life) that what characters do tells the story of who they are. If a character behaves selfishly, readers are entitled to believe she’s selfish. Even if the author tells us that she’s really a sweetheart, she was just having a bad hair day.

The fundamental character of a character is the Rosetta Stone by which readers interpret that character’s emotions in a given circumstance. In previous 5writers posts, we’ve discussed how (for some of us at least) it seems easier to clearly define a secondary character than a complex protagonist, leaving the reader confused about exactly what kind of fruit is growing on the main character’s “tree”.

Past actions also set up expectations for future actions. An interesting twist is when a character acts out of character. Did we previously misinterpret who she really is inside? Or has she fundamentally changed? Or is she faking it for some reason? Or is the author just confused about human nature?

2. Are You Looking at Me?

taxi-driver-mirrorOne of the most memorable scenes in the Martin Scorsese classic, Taxi Driver, had to be Robert DeNiro talking to himself in the mirror. Alone with his craziness, he brilliantly invented a second “self” to have a conversation with and react to. This tense, emotional piece of theatre opened the door into Travis Bickle’s mind and let the audience glimpse his pain, loneliness, confusion and frightening instability.

Seeing a character through another character’s eyes is a different trail of breadcrumbs to their emotional state.

The perennial advice to “put another person in the scene” is given for good reason. A pas de deux shows readers a rich array of emotional detail … not only in the characters’ actions and words, but also their reactions to each other. The increase in emotional content can be exponential.

3. Speaking in Body Language

The tales our bodies tell about how we feel, often without our express permission, are pure gold to a writer. Micro-expressions, tics and sweats, darting eyes and throbbing veins all give us away. These “tells” come from the limbic brain, where emotion rules. They are raw, unfiltered by the cortex.

How much more powerful than “telling” is showing the reader a character’s interior feelings through the way he sits stiff with tension, or squirms with impatience, or slumps with grief. You can even delete most of the unneeded explanatory words. If a person is waiting for something to happen and is squirming in a chair, we know he’s impatient.

After all, most of the word “emotion” is made up of “motion”.

emotion thesaurusThanks to a book recommendation from my wonderful long-time friend Della, another survivor of the marketing communications profession who is now writing for herself, I found the biggest gem of my quest for a breadcrumb trail to the heart. The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi is a crash course in body language. It takes a long list of feelings, from Adoration to Worry, and provides physical signals, internal sensations, mental responses and other cues for each emotion. It’s a great resource, unique among the books for writers that I’ve seen.

Here’s an example of an emotion I had on my top 10 list: Embarrassment, which the book defines as “a lack of composure due to self-conscious discomfort.” A random sampling of physical signals from their long list:

  • A flush that creeps across the cheeks
  • The body freezing in place
  • Grimacing or swallowing
  • A bent spine
  • The chest caving
  • Covering oneself (crossing the arms, closing a jacket)
  • Flinching away from touches
  • A weakened voice
  • Knees pulling together
  • Looking down, unable to meet someone’e eyes
  • Shoving hands in pockets
  • A walk that accelerates into a sprint
  • Glancing about for help, an exit, or escape
  • (And my favourite) … Hiding behind a book

May your writing be amply laced with breadcrumb trails that go straight to the heart of your characters’ emotions!

Let your characters grow

Karalee’s Post #49

Fiction writers make up their characters, using both personal experience and their imagination. Many writers document their character’s traits and what significant experiences they had from their childhood onward into adulthood, experiences that have molded them to think and act the way they do.

I do this as well, but one of the most exciting parts of my writing is when my characters take on their own life and forward the plot in unintended directions, creating themselves and their world through my fingertips despite my outlining their lives scene-by-scene. Often this isn’t the most efficient or intelligent thing to do despite it feeling so good at the time if I allow my characters to behave uncharacteristically.

This stream-of-consciousness writing can easily become a major rewrite pain when in fact it doesn’t have to if I wrote with a bit more controlled intention.

I’ve never had a problem empty nesting and I don’t have separation anxiety as my children strive to find their own independence. But in my writing I need to be more of a nagging mother.

Actually the title of this post really should be ‘Control the growth of your characters.’      

Characters should and need to express themselves, but like helping to train my daughter’s dog, I need to maintain consistent traits that elicit specific behaviors, yet allow each character to play and explore and express individuality and grow through their experiences.

If I allow my characters’ traits to shift all over the place they will be unbelievable, which in turn will make my story unbelievable and have my 5Writer friends mark up my manuscript  like blood spurting from a cut artery.

The best scenario would be to know my characters as well as I know myself and then I could ask, “If I were so-and-so, what would I do or how would I react in that situation?”

Not until I’m really in the head of my characters can I make them behave the way I want, and to change the way I need them to. For me, this is where I need to focus my attention in my rewrite.

Happy writing.

 

5 things I learned from Game of Thrones

grr got

Joe’s Post #38 — A few of the people on this planet have not watched HBO’s “Game of Thrones”. To my mind, it is the best show on TV, an epic, character-driven story set in GRR Martin’s fantasy world. It’s made me laugh. It’s certainly made me cry. It’s made me miss supper and believe me, that’s a big one!

And that got me thinking.

How has it affected the way I write? So, 5 things I’ve learned.

1) Do not be afraid to kill off your characters. Oh, I will go back to my own novel with a knife, now. Watch out cute bears! Be warned handsome hunters wooing my protagonist. I’m coming for you. (It’s far too easy to fall in love with your creations. Hey, you’ve birthed them, spent time with them, struggled with them, but sometimes they have to die.)

Many with disagree with what was done on the second to last episode of season 3. Some are even very angry. But here’s my thinking. It got everyone talking. Has anyone given up watching that show based on the last episode? Probably not. But oh momma, has it ever fired up the viewers. Who could not want to find out what happens next?

What more could a writer want?

2) Setting: Gloriously shown on TV, the settings breathe life into the story. The bleak and frozen land beyond the wall. The stark throne room in King’s Landing, complete with a throne made out of swords. The haunted ruins of Harrenhall.

The settings are so well done, both in the books and on-screen, that they become characters unto themselves. When I go to do my rewrite, I will look at kicking up all my settings. I will make them sing. I will make them shine. I will make a world that is both grand in scope and glorious in its details.

3)  How to make a villain likeable 101: Oh my goodness does this show do that in spades. The transformation of Jamie Lannister from ‘oh I want that guy dead and dead now’ to ‘oh isn’t he heroic?’ is nothing short of a masterpiece of writing. And here’s the kicker … he’s the same guy he was in the beginning as the man we hated as he is when he becomes a man we like. That’s the genius of the writing.

When you’re watching the show for the 9th time, take a look at how it’s done, at how the layers are peeled back to reveal not a two dimensional douche but a man who loves, perhaps not wisely, but passionately, a man who’s had to make some very hard choices and a man who is in serious need of a good PR department.

I know my villain’s backstory and why he so desperately desires to bugger up my heroes’ lives. I do. But I need more of that in my story. I need to flesh him out. Dig him out of his hole. Expose him to light. And, who knows, maybe like JL, you’ll find him a little more compelling.

4) Details matter: From the crests of all the houses, from the harpy above the free cities, from the curved swords of the Dothraki, it’s not enough to have grand settings, the little things matter, too.

I’ve got a few cool details in my world but what if I had more? What if I looked at every character, every scene, every moment in the story and asked, how could I make this better?

grr books5) There are no rules for writing: That second to last episode proved that, but look at the story as a whole. He wrote a fantasy story, a brave choice in and of itself. (I mean, who wants to walk into a party and explain that you do THAT for a living!) He has a bazillion characters we follow. He’s not afraid to kill people we love. He’s got a HUGE story that may very well take a hundred books/shows to finish and yet with all the rules that he breaks, we simply HAVE to watch the show, have to find out what happens next.

It’s because George Martin knows how to tell a good story and damn the rules. Not damn all the rules, you understand, but damn those that get in the way of him telling a great story.

He knows how to inspire the readers/audience, but he also inspires me.

He inspires me to do better. To write that amazing story that everyone will want to read.

That’s the most important lesson we can all learn as beginning writers. Write the story you want to tell. Write that story that everyone will love.

Now, back to my critiquing. Only one novel left.

Thoughts about POV

Karalee’s Post #34

I was walking my dogs on Jericho Beach in Vancouver last weekend and a yellow kayak was pulled up onto the rocks and sand, its owner somewhere on land.

kayak1

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At first it almost blended in with the scenery.

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kayak2

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Then it was a definite part of the scenery.

kayak4

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And closer up, it became a major part of the scenery.

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kayak5

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Even closer, it is the scenery.

***

Of course this made me think about writing and what we have our characters actually focus on in the scenes we write.

In general, the less intense the scene is the more of the surrounding world (as opposed to the close-up view) our character can be aware of. That said, if a sniper is on a building a block away, a long-shot view can be very intense indeed.

No matter the focal point, the world is seen through the eyes of the point-of-view-character. I’m blessed with the ability to envision that perspective with vivid imagery in my head. My tendency is to be too precise, too focused, and not bring in the outside world enough to capture the sounds and smells and all the other senses of where my character is.

For some reason this walk on the beach drew my attention to how the world really does look different at a distance versus closer up and all the in-between stages. Now, take two characters in your book on the same walk and they would each see their world differently. To me that is the essence of developing our characters; how they view their world depends not only on their physical characteristics, but also through their past experiences and how they have dealt with them.

Of course I already knew this, but don’t we all have those “aha” moments when the obvious becomes, well, obvious? It’s fun too, to look at the world and know that you know how to describe it from various points-of-view. Every one of them will be right, but only one will be the right one  for the scene we’re writing.

Now that is where the skill of a writer lies.

I read a blog http://www.livewritethrive.com and the author addresses the topic of Shoot Your Novel. It’s a good read. Topics the author includes are :

Sometimes just taking a walk with no expectations (other than to enjoy the beautiful sunshine and watch my dogs have fun) allows the mind to wander and notice things a bit differently. Now I can use that yellow kayak in my mind’s eye as a vivid reminder of who is focusing on what in my writing. Then, as a more experienced writer, I will ask myself if that point-of-view is the right one for the scene or is there a better one?

Happy writing.

How to get rejected in 5 easy pages

rejection-lottery

Silk’s Post #31 — Are you ready to face your greatest fear? The monster under the bed? The thing that makes you break out in a cold sweat?

Okay. Let’s talk about rejection. You’ll feel better, I promise.

When the 5 writers convene our retreat to do our whole-book critiques (which I’ve taken to calling “5 writers critter week”), we will be commenting on all aspects of each other’s books. Characters. Setting. Plot and structure. Style. Ending.

But one of the most important things we’ll be talking about – from the perspective of as-yet unpublished writers who need to (literally) break into the business – is the beginning of each book. Those first few pages that an agent or editor will evaluate to determine whether to immediately discard the manuscript … or read on.

To give the most useful feedback possible on the magic first five pages, we will have to put ourselves in the shoes of an agent or editor. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. We 5 writers care about each other, and about each other’s books. The agent or editor does not.

Imagine slogging through dozens, hundreds, thousands of manuscripts. One after another after another. Looking for that rarest of prizes: the potential bestseller written by somebody that no one’s ever heard of. This is what agents and editors do every day. It must be like sifting through a bale of hay … or a whole barn full of hay … searching for a diamond ring. One thing you’d quickly learn is that you can vastly increase your chances of finding that diamond if you can sift through more hay faster.

first-5-pagesIt’s that mindset we writers have to understand. Fortunately, there are a number of good references to help us do that – agents’ websites that give great query tips, hints from successful authors, and books by agents that are rich with advice. One of the most useful of these is The First Five Pages by New York literary agent Noah Lukeman. Here’s what he says about the gatekeepers’ mindset:

“Agents and editors don’t read manuscripts to enjoy them; they read solely with the goal of getting through the pile, solely with an eye to dismiss a manuscript – and believe me, they’ll look for any reason they can, down to the last letter.”

It’s that simple, and that brutal. Yikes.

To someone who’s struggled through the process of writing – and rewriting, and re-rewriting  – a 400-page novel, it may seem unfair that it will be judged worthy or unworthy on the basis of just the first one percent of those pages. It makes the process seem like a lottery. Yet Lukeman insists that it is “not a wild assumption” to conclude that:

“… if you find one line of extraneous dialogue on page 1, you will likely find one line of extraneous dialogue on each page to come.”

Isn’t this like getting flunked on a technicality? What about our incredibly engaging plot? Our vivid, complex characters? Our haunting, unforgettable setting? Surely these things can’t be assessed on the basis of the first five pages. No. They can’t. That’s exactly the point. These strengths we think our book possesses will never be discovered if we can’t convince the agent or editor to turn to page 6.

But before you give up and switch from writing to something easier, like brain surgery or rocket science, consider that these gatekeepers’ “snap” judgements may not be as arbitrary and petty as they sound. Lukeman says:

“… I’ve read thousands of manuscripts, all, unbelievably, with the exact same types of mistakes. From Texas to Oklahoma to California to England to Japan, writers are doing the exact same things wrong.”

So the key, according to him, is to avoid early and obvious errors that give the agent or editor an excuse to stop reading before they get to the good part.

But what exactly are these errors? After studying the advice of Lukeman and others, I have been inspired to follow in the tradition of literary advice-givers by preparing a list of rules. I offer the following helpful prescription for failure, which I urge you not to follow.

Silk’s “Sweet 16” Rules for Almost Guaranteed Rejection

  1. When submitting a query, don’t follow presentation and submission guidelines exactly. Do you really want your manuscript to seem like every other manuscript? Make it stand out and show your individuality and creativity by breaking a few rules.
  2. In your presentation, be sure to impress the agent or editor with your mastery of big words and clever use of foreign phrases. This makes you seem smart and worldly. Extra points if you can force the agent to consult a dictionary.
  3. Pay no mind to the old wives’ tales about clichés. Clichés are the spice of life. Make sure to work some into the first five pages.
  4. Don’t forget to make liberal use of adverbs and adjectives. These clearly and engagingly make your writing all the richer and more enticingly, deliciously entertaining. Remember, every plain verb or noun is just crying out for colourful, descriptive decoration.
  5. Be sure to include sufficient backstory early in the book. You might as well get the painfully boring part over with as quickly as possible, like pulling off a Band-Aid. A few paragraphs of straight narrative is one efficient way to get the reader up to speed. Or stick it in a Prologue.
  6. Nothing makes a first impression more dramatically than an opening scene with lots of blood and gore, blue language and explicit sex. If you can work all these into the first five pages, you’ve hit the Trifecta! Why save the exciting parts for later?
  7. If you want the reader to really pay attention to a sentence, be sure to end it with an exclamation point! Or two!! How are they supposed to know you’re telling them something important?!
  8. Want to introduce doubt, mystery and intrigue into your story right from the beginning? Writers often wonder about this? Here’s a simple and effective way to do it: insert lots of question marks. This really makes readers think.
  9. Don’t waste your time, fussing with punctuation nor spelling; and other archaic grammer rules; as their probably all just going to get changed by some editor after you get you’re book contract, anyway so let the editor’s do there jobs!
  10. An apt metaphor is a sparkling diamond lying supine in the belly button of your novel. A novel without enough metaphors and similes is like a cold, empty Walmart warehouse where the golden links of the supply chain have tragically broken and the shelves are bereft of toys and rubber flip flops.
  11. It’s your book and you should make the reader aware of your presence as a writer right from the get go. This is your place to show off your talent, so indulge yourself and don’t let the story get in the way of your creativity with words. You want your special “voice” to be noticed, so don’t be shy about drawing attention to yourself.
  12. Don’t take the risk of an important concept or plot point getting lost. Make sure the reader “gets” it by saying it several times in slightly different words.
  13. Creative use of dialogue is one of the easiest ways to impress an agent or editor. Several pages of uninterrupted, rapid-fire dialogue, using short sentences and fragments, for instance, is sure to be noticed, especially in the first five pages.
  14. When using attributors in dialogue, choose a variety of verbs and evocative adverbs – such as “she tearfully exclaimed” or “he angrily ejaculated” – in preference to the dull volley of “he said-she said.”
  15. Dialogue is an entertaining way to deliver large chunks of backstory, or tell other facts that are hard to “show.” By disguising the information as “natural” conversation, you can cleverly use your characters to speak for you by proxy.
  16. Use of dialect and slang in dialogue adds spice and authenticity. “Thass cane, innit? A and B the C of D!” is far more colourful, for example, than “That’s excessive, don’t you think? Above and beyond the call of duty!” This kind of dialogue keeps readers and agents right where you want them: guessing.

I wish you the best of luck in boosting your approval ratings by not doing any of this!