Friday, October 8, 2010
As usual, I'm going to rant about myself for a few sentences before I get to the important stuff.
So, what's up in my life? Well, this weekend I am going college-visiting! Yay! I feel so grown up.
Next weekend I'm going to the Boston Book Festival; a ton of authors are going to be there (and some agents, too) so that shall be quite exciting and I will post about it. :) If you live in the Boston area you should definitely check it out. (It's free!) http://www.bostonbookfest.org/
Now, on to the fun part of this post.
So, a long long time ago, when this blog was a wee little baby, I wrote this rather long and annoying post called Sooo How Do I Write a Book, Anyway??!! which was probably way too long and rambling and confusing for anyone to want to read. So I thought I'd write another long––but more organized––post on the same basic idea, using a little something my Writing teacher showed us in class the other day.
Frequently people ask me: How do you write a book? Seems like a simple enough question, but a great number of aspiring writers have a problem with pulling together a novel. Luckily, author John Dufresne wrote the simple but useful Ten Commandments of Writing, in which he basically says a lot of the things I said in that annoying earlier post, only in a more concise way. So I'm going to post each of his Commandments and add my personal interpretation/notes to each of them, and hopefully that will be useful.
If you are uber-religious and this offends you … sorry. But then again, I didn't write it. :) Also, the first one has a very mild swear in it. Just warning ya. So here goes.
1. Sit your ass in a chair.
I apologize for the mild profanity. However, it certainly gets the idea across. And it's true. If you want to write a book … you've got to sit down and physically write it. It's easy enough to walk around with ideas floating around in your head, but it takes real dedication to actually sit down and write. It might seem like "No, DUH!" but it's not as simple as it sounds. We all procrastinate. Just give yourself at least a few minutes a day to write. If you have difficulty getting the words out, try out a site like Write or Die. Getting out those few words a day can make a bigger difference than you may realize.
2. Thou shalt not bore the reader.
True that. I know I've said this a billion times before, but DON'T BE BORING–-especially when you get into the later drafts. Sure, it's inevitable that the first draft will be at least a little dull. The first time you write something, there will probably be a lot of needless descriptions, dialogues, inner monologues, etc. and the pacing will be a little awkward since you haven't seen the story clearly as a whole, yet. But once you start editing, you have to let some of those things go. Oh yes, that's a lovely description of a teapot––but I'm sorry sweetheart, it doesn't add much to the story.
For me, this is a very difficult part. I admit, I am often afraid of letting things go. To cope with this … a) Save the original draft, just to make yourself feel better. b) Have someone else (someone trustworthy!), who is not emotionally attached to the writing, chop out words for you. and/or c) While you're editing, thoroughly consider every single word/sentence/paragraph/chapter. On a small scale, does that word actually add to the sentence? On a larger scale, does that chapter actually add to the story? Try to find the important parts and make them stand out.
3. Remember to keep holy your writing time.
You have to be dedicated. If it's really a struggle for you, just write for five minutes every day. Write something––a sentence, a paragraph, an outline, a random description, a journal entry, a blog post. You can always write something, even if it's not necessarily your book. There is inspiration in everything you write.
4. Honor the lives of your characters.
Yes yes yes. This is very important. This may be a matter of opinion, but I think good characters are the most essential part of a book. I've never felt drawn to a story unless I sympathized with the characters. Note: that does not mean, necessarily, that the reader has to relate to the characters. Sure, your main character can be an axe-murderer, but somehow you've got to make the reader understand the character's motivations.
Now, some authors will argue that characters are your tools, and that you can boss them around and control them like puppets. Others will say that you have to be, like, BFFLs with your characters and have long heartfelt conversations with them to the point where you get very emotionally attached. I would say, you have to balance the two. For me, I feel like I have a very distant kind of friendship with my characters. They walk into my mind one day, they pour out their stories to me, and then they leave. They're like … foreign exchange students. They come and visit for a bit, then they return to wherever they came from and I never see them again. It was long enough for me to get to like them, but not long enough that I feel devastated when they go.
So yes, I do think you should have some "conversations" with your characters. Get to know them. Fill out character inventories––even the tiny little details that might not seem to matter. You'll probably find out a lot about your characters that you didn't know before, and that will inspire you with new story ideas. Really, if you just go and Google "Character Outlines" I assure you that you will find something useful.
5. Thou shalt not be obscure.
Aaah … I suppose this one could be interpreted in a number of ways. The way I see it is, writing fiction is not the time to show off your wonderful knowledge and/or vocabulary. It's about telling a story and getting your idea across. If the reader doesn't understand the words or historical references you're using, they're not going to be interested and they'll walk away. So try to keep it simple. No thesaurus-raping allowed; the first word that comes to your mind is (usually) the right one to use!
6. Thou shalt show and not tell.
Oh, joy. I'm sure you've heard this one a million times. I know I have. And I probably have screamed it at you before. And I probably have already said that it's something I struggle with. But anyway … SHOW, DON'T TELL. Three simple words, yet it is one of the hardest parts of writing. Don't tell me "I was scared", "He was confused", "The tree looked creepy" … Think of unique ways to describe these things. If you just say what the character is experiencing, the reader can't really relate. What does "scared" feel like? What does "creepy" look like? Be specific! Get into the details!
7. Thou shalt steal.
Wait … what? JOHN, ARE YOU TELLING ME TO PLAGIARIZE? No no no. "Stealing", in this case, is different from plagiarizing. The point is to try out different styles. Try to imitate the voices of your favorite authors. It may sound strange, but in exploring the techniques of other writers, you will hopefully find a voice that makes you feel the most like … well, like YOU.
I remember reading a quote by Phillip Pullman once that I really liked, where he said that authors are like bees. The books we read are like flowers. The bee takes pollen from each flower and uses it to make its own honey. The writer takes something away from every book he/she reads and reflects in it his/her own writing. :)
8. Thou shalt rewrite and rewrite again. And again.
… And again, and again, and again. AGH. Yes, I know. It's frustrating. But nothing is ever perfect the first time. In fact, no story will ever be perfect. But if you keep rewriting, at least you'll eventually find what feels right to you.
9. Thou shalt confront the human condition.
Well, this one's a bit tricky. I'd say, you might not even want to think about this until after you're done writing the first draft. Every story has a purpose. Yes, your story does have a purpose, even if you don't realize it. There is some reason that you felt compelled to write it. Something nudged at your conscience that made you itch to write down those words. Maybe it was a story in the news that made you particularly angry/depressed/shocked. Maybe it started with a simple "What if … ?" question. Whatever it is, it should give you some idea of a theme.
In my opinion, this is the part of the story that you shouldn't plan in advance. The plot and characters make up the story itself, but the theme at the heart of the story can only emerge when you actually write it. Sure, you might have a vague idea of a theme throughout, but if you decide too early on about it, you might end up being a little too preachy and forcing it out of the story. Let the story speak for itself, and eventually you will find out what you are trying to say about humanity.
10. Be sure that every death in a story means something.
I could rant about this for an hour. I could probably write an entire post on it. (Maybe I will, someday.) Frankly, character deaths tend to piss me off. Once in a while, they really get to me and I can actually see the purpose behind them. But so many authors––from published authors to unpublished teen writers––seem to think that the only way to end a story is to kill someone. Why? I dunno … Just because they can!
Look. Killing off a character does not automatically make your book deep and meaningful. In fact, it can do the opposite; it can really bring out the weakness in your writing. If a character dies, it has to be heavy. It has to affect the entire story. It can't just be, "Oh, he died. I am sad." And then ten pages later: "By the way, I am still sad that so-and-so died." I mean, you have to think about all the stages of grief––the denial, the anger, the acceptance, etc. And if you haven't experienced grief, this is a really really hard thing to pull off realistically. Grief never completely goes away and it changes who you are entirely. So if you're not willing to make some major changes in your characters, and if you're planning to kill off a character "just because", you might want to reconsider. Often, killing a character (or characters) is taking the easy way out––instead of coming up with something more creative and/or realistic.
When my Writing teacher explained this point to us, he said "You should equate the decision to kill a character with the decision to kill a real person." It may sound intense (and yes, a bit exaggerated), but it's true. You have to be really REALLY sure that killing off that character is something you really must and really want to do. Think long and hard about it.
Hopefully these Ten Commandments illuminated something for you. As always, if there's any confusion ask away in the comments! :)
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Well, I guess since my last teaser was from Edge, I will now post a snippet from its sequel, Jump. It might not make perfect sense in context, but I think you'll get the gist. As always, if there are any questions about it you can ask in the comments. :) And just to clarify (since no one seemed to understand this from the Edge excerpt) the main character, Max, IS A BOY. I guess I'm just not very good at being boy-ish? Or everyone assumed that I only write from female point of views? Well, I don't know. But here it is! Enjoy! :D
“Max,” Lacey said. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I answered, but I couldn't look up at her. For some reason, I didn't want to see the sympathy on her face. “Why?”
“I don't know. Something seems … off.”
“Yeah, well … Everything is pretty screwed up right now.”
Lacey was quiet, like she didn't know how to respond. Finally she said, “I'm sorry about, you know, your portal thing.”
I didn't answer.
“What are you going to do?”
I sighed, feeling the headache pound deep in my skull again. “I don't know. I'll have to find another way back.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Lacey fiddling with her hands, knotting her fingers together and releasing them again. “How soon will you have to go back?”
Oh, no. This was what I had been dreading. I finally looked in her direction, but now she was the one who refused to make eye contact.
I took a deep breath. “Soon,” I said. “I––I don't know when. But soon.”
Lacey continued to stare down at her lap. Her voice became even softer, almost a whisper. “Do you really have to go, Max?”
I tried not to wince. “I'm sorry. I mean, I wish I could stay longer. But, there are so many things I have to do, people I left behind. This is just … a transition, sort of. You're …” I stopped, feeling like I wanted to punch myself in the face. “This is coming out all wrong.”
“It's okay,” Lacey said, before I could continue. “Really. I get it.”
She finally looked up at me, and I couldn't deny that there was a wounded expression in her eyes––something so deep and so sad that it almost physically hurt just to see it. Yet, she was still trying to smile.
“I do,” she said. “I mean, I've known all along that you weren't going to stay forever. Of course I know that. It's just …” She trailed off, blinking, like she was trying not to cry.
“It's just … what?”
“Forget it,” Lacey said, looking across the water again. “It's nothing. I'm being dumb.”
“No, you're not.”
“Max, you don't even know what I was going to say.” There was an edge to her voice now, almost like a threat. Then she sighed, like she could hear the hostility and was trying to make it go away. She laughed, but there was nothing happy in it. “Even I don't know what I'm saying.”
“You can tell me,” I said, without thinking. As soon as the words came out, they just hung there, waiting to be acknowledged.
Lacey ran a hand through her hair, only glancing at me briefly. “I …” She spoke the one word and then stopped, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes. “I don't know. I'm just really confused, right now.”
Well, that made two of us.
“I know I complain way too much,” Lacey went on. “I mean, compared to most people in the world, my life really isn't all that hard. But it's just been … empty, you know? It's like, I feel like I've worked so hard for everything I have, but what I have is still … nothing. I've always wanted something out of life. I've always wanted to find some kind of happiness, and I just can't.”
She fell silent again. I kept watching her, waiting for her to continue. I didn't know what else to do, whether to say something, whether to try to comfort her. I felt like it wasn't the time for me to talk yet. She still had more to say.
“I really thought I'd found something,” Lacey whispered, “with Garrett.”
I stiffened upon hearing the name. “Garrett?”
“I know. It's stupid. But I thought that would be the turning point, that I'd actually found that joy I'd been searching for. I mean, he was nice at first, but when he got more serious …” She swallowed, closed her eyes. “You know, I––I lied to you about it, about how bad it was. He wasn't just pushy or anything. He was … cruel.”
Lacey bent over, covering her face with her hands like remembering it was suddenly too much. Silently, I put an arm around her, and she leaned against me.
“I've never told anyone this, how bad it really was.” Her voice was shaking. “He talked down to me, made me feel like dirt. He got drunk. He'd … He'd hit me. More than once, he tried to …” She stopped, as if choking on the words.
It was at least a minute before she continued. I waited patiently, just holding her, watching the calm water in front of us.
“Every day, it was like a nightmare,” Lacey said at last. She seemed to have collected herself a little more, her voice steadier. “I was always terrified, not knowing what he was going to do next.” She paused, took a deep breath. “And yet, I stayed with him. I thought maybe it was my fault, for not loving him enough or something. I just had to try harder. I really thought I could change him. But, it's like I said before … People don't change.”
The words still scared me a little, but I nodded.
“Once I realized that,” Lacey went on, “it was like I … I sort of lost hope for the world. It was the point where I thought nothing was ever going to get better. I've spent so long, thinking that way.” She lifted her head again, pulling away from me and still avoiding eye contact.
I looked at her, and it was like I was seeing her for the first time, for who she really was. She'd always worn such a brave face, but especially after what she'd just told me, it was becoming clearer to me that she wasn't as confident as she appeared. She was beaten, she was scarred … in places that couldn't heal, that couldn't fade with time. There was no way I could imagine what it was like, to go through the things she'd endured, but in that moment I felt as if I carried all her pain. I felt the enormous, overwhelming weight of it all, and I knew I didn't have the power to lift it.
“I'm sorry,” I said.
Lacey finally looked at me, probably out of surprise. “For what?”
“I––I don't know. For everything. For how hard it must be … And the way Garrett treated you …” I couldn't even think of words to express the rage I felt. I'd hated Garrett to begin with, and this just made it worse. Why had I ever felt guilty about beating up that guy?
“Max, you don't have to apologize,” Lacey said, taking hold of my hand. “That's what I'm trying to say. I'm saying that you … you're different.”
“Different?” It was the only thing I could say.
Lacey smiled. “Not in a bad way. And I don't mean just all the superpowers and whatever. I mean you, as a person.” She shook her head, her face becoming serious again. “I know, this is all pretty ridiculous. It's like you said before … I don't even know you, not really. Or, not in the way you normally know people. But somehow, I feel like I––like I'm actually worth something. And no one has made me feel that way since … ever.”
She let go of my hand, touched my shoulder. A strange feeling seemed to pour through me, tingling inside my veins, and I wasn't sure whether it was a good feeling or not. It was just unexpected. I stared at Lacey, surprised, and I found that I couldn't look away from her. It was something about her eyes, how they held a world of feelings, of so many things that I wondered how she could contain it all. And, I realized, she was saying that she felt all these things … because of me?
“I know it can never happen,” Lacey said quietly. “But I just don't want it to end. I don't want you to go away.”
Her hand slid up to rest against the side of my face. I didn't move, didn't react, even though there was a storm of clashing emotions inside me. I suddenly didn't know what I wanted or what I'd expected. The panic started to settle in. What could I do? I tried to say something, anything. But I couldn't find the words, because I didn't even know what I was thinking or what I was feeling.
“Max,” Lacey said. “You're the best thing that's ever happened to me. And I can't … I can't lose that.” She leaned forward, resting her forehead against mine, and I stiffened. I could feel her hand shaking. “Please,” she whispered. “Stay.”
Saturday, October 2, 2010
First of all, I changed the blog (again). I was getting tired of the old one. Ooh, pretty picture of me with FAIRY WINGS -->
Yeah, I know I've skipped like two Tuesday teasers in a row. That is because I haven't really written anything and I'm in a "all my writing sucks" mood so I don't want to post anything old, either. And I'm still working on the cliché-post thing. Sorry to disappoint my thousands of adoring fans! *crickets chirp* Well, you know. More or less.
So, news for today.
Not much has gone down (or up, or sideways) in the publishing world. I still need to revise Walking Shadow and send it out again. :/ Meh. BUT … I did win second place in literary agent Natalie Fischer's "Hilariously Horrendous Query Contest", and she is going to critique my query, synopsis, and first ten pages. *dies of happiness* This will be great. :) You can read my entry and all her great advice on her blog! I shall inform you of more happenings … when they happen.
More importantly …
I TURNED 18 YESTERDAY! YESSS. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!!! I am now a legal adult. So I can buy cigarettes and lottery tickets and go to jail … which coincidentally are all things I don't want to do (well, lottery tickets maybe) so I guess it doesn't really matter. Guess I should change my blog to "My Life as an Adult Novelist"? Nah, doesn't have a good ring to it. :P
Now for THE ACTUAL TOPIC OF THIS POST WHICH IS …
NOW THERE IS ONLY A MONTH UNTIL NANOWRIMO. HOLY TALKING MUSHROOMS.
I assume I've talked about NaNo before, right? Well, if you are an ignorant fool, NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month––an annual challenge to write at least 50,000 words of a novel between November 1st and November 30th. More details on the NaNoWriMo website.
So that means … there is less than a month until NaNo begins. O_O !!! Oh crap. I need to plan. A lot. So far, this is what I have …
My novel is called Zenith (which is pronounced "ZEE-nith", btw. I just found this out since I started taking Astronomy heh heh). It's one of those futuristic/dystopia/sci-fi things and it should be a lot of fun.
I have a cover for it. But I don't own the image so I suppose I can't post it. I assure you, though, that it is awesome. Really.
Um. I need to create some kind of polished synopsis. But here is a glimpse of what it's about:
The Great Incineration: a devastating explosion with an unknown cause.
Project Regenerate: a scientific feat that saved thousands of people from the Incineration by replacing their organs with machinery.
Autohumans: a new race of people that forms from the victims of the Incineration––viewed as a miracle by some and an abomination by others.
Zenith: a mysterious gang of Autos who cause chaos and destruction wherever they go.
Michael Lewis: a 16-year-old boy torn between two worlds, constantly struggling with a single question: Is he still human … or is he a machine?
I am rather excited to write this. I hope it doesn't blow up in my face. Wish me luck! :)
So, anyone else doing NaNoWriMo? If so, add me as a buddy! Here is my profile. :D