Thursday, September 29, 2011

Embracing the Embarrassing

I was cleaning my bookshelf the other day and I found something.

Something embarrassing.

And you know you all have one.

A book that’s missing it’s cover and all of chapter nineteen.

Because you’ve read it so many times.

And it’s not War and Peace we’re talking about.

It’s the book that embarrasses you. That trashy novel sandwiched amongst the Jane Eyre’s, the tomes of Dostoevsky, the Herman Melville. You placed it there in the hopes of great literature elevating the commercialism of the tiny paperback squished in between them.

Okay, not really. It’s hidden there because not one person has touched that collection of Shakespeare since sophomore year of college.

So no one will notice it.

The embarrassing book.

I found mine last week and immediately sat on my rump and started reading. I thought this experience might be different. I thought I would have a different perspective. A more mature perspective. I’m so different from the person who once loved this book.

I read it in one sitting.

I can tell you it’s not long, and it really is missing all of chapter nineteen, but those are excuses for why I really couldn’t put it down. The real answer lies in what I did after I finished the last sentence. I closed the worn out paperback pages and sighed. It was every bit as good as I remembered. As trashy and fantastic and romantic, as I remembered. Then I wondered.

What does reading (and don’t forget enjoying) this book say about me?

I’m thirty plus years old now. I have three kids. I aspire to read better things. Enlightening, open my eyes to the world, make myself a better person, things.

I recently read a great article about reading what you write here.

Did you click the link? I never click the link, so instead I’ll sum it up for you. Basically Julie Cross makes the argument for reading the genre you’re writing for. It was great and I completely agree with her. I read a lot of Young Adult. Not simply because I write Young Adult, but because I LOVE Young Adult. My embarrassing book is a Young Adult novel. It transports me to a place in my life that was full of possibilities. I had so many adventures, and fresh eyes that greeted each day with excitement. The whole world was opening up to me with endless decisions, and angst, and ideas. When I read my embarrassing book, it’s like reclaiming a little bit of myself back. It’s remembering that the sometimes drudgery of being a mother is only temporary. It's remembering deep inside me there is this fun loving, every moment life living, person still existing. This isn’t saying I would want to go back to my late teens, or early twenties. I love being a mom, and I love how the experiences of my teens and twenties have influenced the person I am today. But I love writing the Young Adult genre. I love being reminded of who I once was, and what is still within me.

So I moved my embarrassing book to a place where it would feel more comfortable, nestled between the Ally Condie's and the Shannon Hale's. I won’t be embarrassed by it anymore, because I was that person. I am that person.

And I can own it.


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Day 14: Shortcut to Scene

This is the post I've eagerly anticipated writing since I started the 30 day challenge.  Why?  Because the "Shortcut to Scene" strategy by Laura Whitcomb is such simple advice (so much so that you question why you never thought of it yourself), but still so brilliant.  In Whitcomb's own words,
"When I started using this method I found I was not only writing better first drafts of scenes, but I was doing it about three times faster."
Three times faster.  That might be useful when trying to write a novel in 30 days, no?  So let's do it!

Step 1:  The Scene Outline
In order to outline your scene you need to understand a few things about the purpose of a scene.  First, that each one is a little story in which there is a beginning, a middle, and an end.  The beginning will present some sort of goal (either for the character or for the plot), the middle will ratchet up the conflict, and the end ought to leave readers hanging, dangling on your untied strings and eager for the next portion of the story.  Second, your scene must simultaneously have an objective and move the action along at a steady pace.  The objective may be as simple as "introduce character," but knowing the scene's purpose should help you focus on where you intend to take it.

When writing your scene outline you do not need to go into much detail.  A paragraph summary should be enough to cover the essential points of your scene: goal, conflict, and what is left unresolved.  Your summary can (and probably should) include the emotional events of the scene as well as the physical ones.  For example "John rips up the love note" would be physical, but equally worth mentioning would be Sarah's emotional response, "Sarah's heart is broken."  To see some more specific examples of scene outlining as well as the following principles I highly suggest getting a copy of Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts.

Step Two:  The Dialogue
In this portion of the exercise you will be typing out what type of conversation you think your characters will have in the scene.  The dialogue does not need to be perfect, (the perfection will come in step four when we work on "distillation"), but it should convey all that generally needs to be communicated in the scene.  To move through this quickly use only the character's initials to specify who is talking.  Avoid using quotation marks and "he said, she said" as well, as those will only serve to slow down your creative flow.

Step Three:  The Heartstorm
I'm going to be honest, I'm not a big fan of the term "heartstorm," but since I didn't come up with it I don't get to name it.  So, what is a "heartstorm"?  Much like a brainstorm you will be using ten minutes to ponder over the scene and spew out everything (literally everything, no censoring) that comes to mind.  Unlike a brainstorm these ten minutes should be focused on the imagery and poetry of the scene.  This little baby right here is the reason I LOVE the "Shortcut to Scene" method.  I'm a very straightforward writer, often eschewing the beauty of prose for the utility of it, but the heartstorm opened up a new avenue of creativity for me.  For ten minutes I envisioned my scene in colors and moods and symbols instead of actions and dialogue and when I used the heartstorm in my first draft it was much more brilliant and alive than any scenes before it.

Step Four:  Putting it all Together
To more easily differentiate the three sections of the exercise Whitcomb suggests using different font for each: for section one regular font, section two bolded font, and section three italicized font.  Review each section adding ideas or making small edits where necessary.  In section two focus on taking the lines of dialogue and "distilling" them to be more concise.  To give a wonderful example from Novel Shortcuts, the before:
"Boss:  I have a job for you.  Take this package to Stephano's.
Henchman:  What is it?
Boss:  Why?  You getting particular?  Did you grow a conscience all of a sudden?
Henchman:  I didn't say I wouldn't do it.
Boss:  You make a thousand a week for a couple hours' work.  You got a problem with that?
Henchman:  I'm not complaining.
Boss:  You didn't used to care what you were delivering.
Henchman:  Gimme the package.  I'll do it.  Gotta pay my wife's credit card bills."
The After:
"Boss:  Take this package to Stephano's.  What?  You got a problem making money now?
Henchman:  Baby always needs a new pair of shoes."
In this example Whitcomb has taken a long, wordy passage and made it tighter and more interesting to read.  Instead of getting lost in the endless back and forth of dialogue we see a quick exchange that conveys the same message and with just as much character.

Now review section three, bolding any specific phrases or descriptions that particularly stand out to you.  Once you've finished, print off the page and set it beside you as you type out your first draft.  Refer to it much as you would a menu, selecting segments from each section to create a delectible scene.

MY DAY 14:  Having divided out my days and scenes I knew how many scenes I had to accomplish per day in order to complete the manuscript on time.  Unfortunately I only completed one scene on this day with high hopes to do more in the next week and make up for lost scenes on the weekends.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Set Yourself Up To Succeed

In case someone has told you otherwise, let's make it clear now. Writing a 50k word novel in 30 days isn't easy. However, it's definitely not impossible. Especially if you do a couple things to set yourself up to succeed.

One- Have an idea! And don't wait until Halloween. Give yourself time to mull over the idea and see if you can get 50k words out of it. I have some favorite places to get ideas. The "Stuff You Missed In History Class" podcast, for one. They have lots of podcasts on random events in history they can really get your imagination going. That's where I got mine this year! Definitely think out of the box. Cast well known history characters in strange places! Women's suffrage in space; Prohibition in a dystopian future. The Writer's Digest is also a great place to find prompts. Listen to music, watch people in the mall, read the news. There's a million places to find an idea.

Two- Have at least a rough outline. How do you normally write? If you usually have a detailed outline to work from, make sure you write it out ahead of time. Even if you're a "pantser" like me or you aren't totally sure yet where the characters are going to take the story, at least jot out something. I would suggest at least four points: The beginning or setup, 2 middle points, and the end. I think the end is one of the most important, even if it's vague. Give yourself something to shoot for so your story doesn't wander off and run out of gas at 30k words!

If you can, finish your outline in the first couple weeks of October; again to give you time to mull it over or add points that come to you. If a scene pops into your head, outline it so you don't forget. November is going to be full of enough stuff without you having to recall stuff you thought of in October. (And in case you're wondering, yeah, my outline is done ...)

Along these same lines, if you have research to do, gather it ahead of time as well. You don't want to waste precious writing time scouring the Internet for information on Victorian bathrooms. (Let me save you some serious hunting- check out Victoriana.)

One of the best things about NaNo is just letting your writing go, but if you don't prepare a little, stress can get in the way of the fun. Get rid of potential road blocks now so you can really get out there and race!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Bucket List

This list came to me from a good friend.  Bucket lists are fun because you can write down something you've always wanted to do before leaving this earth and it becomes a goal for the future.  It can even give meaning to your life. So here is mine. The items not marked are some of the things I would like to do, especially the traveling ones, but have not done yet.  I have never stepped a foot outside this country and would like to visit other places.  I've traveled from one end of the country to the other but not outside.  Food for thought!!!!

(X ) shot a gun 
X) gone on a blind date
( X )skipped school  
X) watched someone die
 ) served on a Jury  
 X ) been lost  
 X ) traveled to the opposite side of the country

  X ) visited Washington , DC 
( X )  visited New York City  
  )  visited Canada 
 (  ) visited Hawaii 
( )   visited Cuba    
 ) visited Europe 
  )  visited South America 
 X ) visited Las Vegas      
   )  visited Mexico    
 X ) visited Florida
(  )  visited Australia
( )  visited Jerusalem
( ) 
visited Egypt
(  )  visited Alaska  
 X visited the Grand Canyon
( )  visited Mediterranean
( ) 
visited Far East
( )  lived in a foreign country (longer than a month) 

( X)  swam in the Ocean 
(X)  cried yourself to sleep 
X)  played Cops and Robbers 
(X )  played Cowboys and Indians 
( X)  recently colored with crayons  
 )   sang Karaoke
(X) Sang for a prophet (Harold B. Lee)

( )  Sold a piece of your own artwork 
( )  won a ribbon at a county or state fair
(X) Published a book (4)
X) paid for a meal with coins only 
( X) made prank phone calls  

( X) laughed until some beverage came out of your nose   
( X ) caught a snowflake on your tongue
(X)  sneaked into a theatre, movie, or ticketed event
(X)  participated in a “Chinese fire drill”
( X )  had children 
X) had grandchildren
(  ) been married longer than 30 years (not quite)
(X)  been married more than once

( X ) had a pet    
(X )  been skinny-dipping outdoors 
 X ) been fishing  
 X ) been boating

 (  ) been deep sea-diving 
( x)  been water-skiing
(X)  dove off the high dive board
(X ) swung from a rope into swimming-hole

(x ) been Downhill Skiing

(  )  been cross country skiing
(  ) been parasailing
(X) skated on a frozen lake
(x) been snow-mobiling
(  ) been hooky bobbing (on an innertube, towed by car –snow)

(  )  been ice-fishing
( X ) been Hiking 
(X) been Back Packing

( X ) been camping in a trailer/RV 
 X) been camping in a tent
(X) Camped in the desert
(X ) flown in a small or private 4-seater airplane  
( )flown in a two-seater plane

(  ) flown in a glider  
 ) flown in a helicopter 
   ) flown in a hot air balloon
( ) been on a cruise ship
   ) walked on a glacier 
 x ) driven a Motorcycle  (rode on one)  
(  ) been bungee-jumping   
 X ) gone to a drive-in movie  

(X ) done something that could have killed you 
 X ) done something that you will regret (feel sad about)  
(x)   Rode a horse
(X )  rode an elephant  
(x)  eaten just cookies for dinner
 or cake 
X)  been on T.V.
(X)  Been on the Radio 
( )  talked on a ham radio

( ) stolen any traffic signs   

(x) been in a car accident  
 )donated blood (plasma)
(  ) bailed out of Helicopter/Plane 
(X)  Published a paper or book (4)

 (  )  gone without food & or beverages for longer than 48 hours
  X )  been Hiking 

(X)   been Back Packing
( X ) been camping in a trailer/RV 
 X)  been camping in a tent 
(X )  flown in a small or private 4-seater airplane  
(  )   flown in a two-seater plane

(  )   flown in a glider  
 )   flown in a helicopter 
   )  flown in a hot air balloon
( )   been on a cruise ship
   )   walked on a glacier 
 X)  driven a Motorcycle  (rode on one)  
(  )   been bungee-jumping   
 X ) gone to a drive-in movie  

 Favorite Drink : water
 Have Piercings--yes (each ear only)
 Have tattoo--no
 Do you drive a 4-door vehicle?  yes
 Favorite number: 6
 Favorite Movie: Ever After
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?:   Living
       in an old remodeled Hotel and traveling a lot

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Celebrating Moments of Mediocrity

I’ve been pooped on a time or two.

My youngest daughter has now ventured into the world of potty training. I’ve psyched myself up for success! Something better than failure! I speak in lots of exclamation points!

Each time I think it’s going to get easier (if you’re wondering. . .it doesn’t). Kids will still have accidents. They will still shed their diaper in the middle of the hallway and cop a squat.

On purpose.

But every time she makes it to the bathroom,

and poops on the potty,

and manages to wipe herself properly,

and it ends up in the toilet bowl,

and then earns her potty sticker-

I do a little victory dance. Shuffle my feet, and wave my hands in the air. One step closer. One more tiny movement in the way to a successfully potty trained child. Pun intended.

I’ve been thinking about discouragement this last week. How we can allow our thoughts of inadequacy to overwhelm our overall purpose. How it’s important to celebrate our successes as we move forward- no matter how minor they may be.

I don’t have to sell a million copies of my book to feel successful.

I only have to write another thousand words. I only have to write my three emails for the day. I only have to sell one more copy of my book.

I am already successful for accomplishing that much.

Mommy writers make great writers, and I think it’s because we see the momentary setbacks in our writing process, aren’t a factor in our overall success. We don’t allow the occasional “crappy” day to damage our self worth as a parent, or as a writer.

So write today, and then do a little potty dance. I guarantee you’ll feel better.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Day 13: Deciding on Device

When reading through Laura Whitcomb's book Novel Shortcuts: Ten Techniques that Ensure a Great First Draft I was thrilled to learn about the little gem she calls Device.  She was working on her second novel, The Fetch, and had decided to tell it through the lens of a knightly quest, but she found herself struggling to explain her intention to her writing buddies.  This new "lens" clearly couldn't be described as the point of view; she'd known for a while who would tell the story.  It wasn't style because her actual sentence structure would remain true to how she usually wrote.  It was obviously not the tone because the novel's mood hadn't changed.  After a while of discussion she and her friends came to realize she was speaking about the story's device.  The device is not the tone, the voice, or the point of view of your novel, though it affects all three.
"The... device is a contrivance, a way to present your novel in an iconic form so the readers will have a deeper experience of the story," (Whitcomb, Novel Shortcuts, pg 63).
Are you with me so far?  To confess the truth I was still pretty lost until reading through Whitcomb's following list of device examples:
  • The Epistolary Novel - telling the story through a host of medium such as journal entries, letters, newspaper clippings, or doctors' notes.  Perhaps the most famous use of such a device is Bram Stoker's Dracula.
  • The Confession - a guilt-ridden narrator reveals former sins or mistakes to another character or the reader.  In Peter Shaffer's play Amadeus we learn of the extreme lengths the narrator, Salieri, went through to frustrate his rival Mozart.
  • The Fairy Tale - stories in which good and evil are in stark contrast, and where good always triumphs.  Do I really need to provide a specific story for this one?  I mean, Disney did a pretty good job making us aware of the whole good vs. evil fairy tale thing.   
  • The Knight's Tale - because I cited this example above I couldn't leave it unexplained.  Told with a language that hearkens back to the romance and chivalry of the knightly era, Laura Whitcomb's novel The Fetch also employs props such as vows, legends, psalms, and the passing of a key.
The exciting part about deciding on devices is that you get to choose how overt or concealed you want that device to be.  Take into consideration Bridget Jones's Diary.  With date headings and detailed recordings of her current weight, and cigarette and alcohol consumption, Helen Fielding used the journal as an obvious and effective device.  We literally feel we are peeking into Bridget's diary and the narration reflects the same frank, in-depth language that one would expect in an actual journal.

Perhaps you'd prefer to go with a more subtle device.  In my own WIP (an historical version of a fairy tale) I've decided on the Gothic device.  Employing dark colors in the language, night scenes, live burial, claustrophobia, old castle-like fortresses, and a Byronic hero I've moved from the typical "good vs. evil" and into the greyer areas of heroes and villains.  I've changed the joyful singing for little enchanted creatures and twisted it to screams of terror at being entombed alive.  Nowhere in the book will I step outside of the narration to point out the Gothic elements; instead they will be the subtle shading that paints a darker version of a familiar tale.

Not every story uses such devices.  Have you ever used one in yours?  Has this article sparked an idea for adding that richer element to your storytelling?

MY DAY 13:  After such a productive weekend I was certain I'd somehow bypassed all the other struggling writers and found my muse with ease.  Unfortunately I felt worn out and uninspired.  But being a real writer means taking the job seriously.  If my husband has to go to work even though he's tired and might not feel like it, then I certainly should too.  (If only I could follow my own advice.... sigh).