Saturday, February 26, 2011
1. How do you deal with the times when you just want to give up, crawl into bed and eat Cheetos because you won't ever finish this novel/project? Have this ever happened to you? If not, how did you stop it from happening, or was it just by chance that you never experienced this?
Hmm ... I don't think I've ever entirely lost faith in a novel. That is, even if I'm extremely frustrated with something, I figure I'm just not ready to write it and I'll move on and get back to it later. But sure, I've been in many writing slumps where I moped around going, "My book sucks ... It'll never be any good ... I'm going to bang my head against a wall ... Blaaahhh." But there's always something you can do to get yourself out of this slump.
My first suggestion would be––as hard as it is––force yourself to write. Just start with one sentence, and see what happens. A lot of the time, I discover that the only reason I was "stuck" was because I was being lazy and not trying. But if you absolutely can't think of anything, try doing something else. Make an outline, do character inventories, etc. Even move on to another project if you have to! Just because you set something aside temporarily doesn't mean you're giving up. Sometimes you can't help it, and you need to wait for inspiration to strike!
2. I've been working on this novel idea but a new one just sprung into my head. It's not as developed as my original idea, but I'm really excited about it. How do you get out of the cycle of this happening again and again?
Actually ... I don't. According to my "STUFF I'M WRITING" folder, I'm juggling 8 stories right now––and that's not counting all the ideas I have but haven't started yet. Granted, I haven't touched most of those stories in a long time, but that doesn't mean I won't go back to them.
There's nothing wrong with writing more than one story at once. If you have an idea––by all means, start writing it! I know how tempting new ideas are. They're all big and shiny, and not tainted with plot holes yet ... *sighs dreamily* It doesn't hurt to write a first chapter or two. But make sure that you don't have a thousand first chapters and no complete stories. Personally, I like to outline all my stories so I have an idea of where they're going; that way I have a reminder that yes, cool things will happen in this story so I shouldn't abandon it! You have to remember to finish what you start––but it could take months or years, and there could be other stories in between. For example, this is what my past year in writing has looked like:
1. Finished Walking Shadow
2. Edited Walking Shadow
3. Started Unraveling and Rage at about the same time
4. Continued writing Jump after about a 6-month break ... Wrote more of Unraveling and the occasional chapter of Rage
5. Edited Walking Shadow again
6. Kept writing Jump ... Also wrote the first chapters of Sky-Fall and Spill
7. Finished writing Jump
8. Didn't write much for a few months ... Maybe wrote a few chapters of Unraveling
9. Started writing Zenith and kept writing it for half of November ... Then halfway through November switched over to Unraveling, which I kept writing until the end of November
10. Edited Edge
11. Went back to Unraveling and finally finished it
12. And now I'm trying to decide between writing Rage or Sky-Fall while also outlining a bunch of things, and thinking about editing Walking Shadow yet again.
*Whew* So as you can see ... There are 8 stories mentioned in there, and I still managed to finish three of them! You just have to remember to go back to things you've started, even if it takes a while.
3. If you talk to parents/teachers/friends about writing novels, have you ever experienced the "Oh, good for you!" kind of reaction, when it's plain in their faces that they don't believe you're any good, based on your age? You're older by now, but did you deal with this when you were young?
Hmm. I don't remember ever getting a reaction like that––at least, I've never interpreted it that way. Usually I keep quiet about my writing, especially around adults ... but if it comes up, usually people seem pretty impressed and enthusiastic. Honestly, I don't think adults care about the quality of teenagers' writing; it's kind of a given that teen writing isn't perfect. But we all have to start off somewhere, and adults know that. If you tell an adult that you're a writer, he/she will probably just be impressed that you take the time to write in the first place. After all, it takes a lot of dedication.
And even if they do think, "Oh, she's probably no good" ... then so what? You can't control what other people think. But you know how much you love writing, and you know how good you are. So, isn't that all that matters?
Thanks for the questions, Cora! If anyone else has questions, feel free to ask :)
Friday, February 25, 2011
So, I have two great pieces of news.
1) I finished writing Unraveling on Wednesday night. Woot woot! It's my shortest novel so far––a little under 70,000 words. But my ninja-writers love it, and I'm pretty happy with it. So, it's taken me 18 years and 8 novels, but I've finally written a realistic fiction book. IT'S A MIRACLE!
2) The second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest was announced yesterday. And I made the top 1000 in the Young Adult category with my novel Edge! *releases a long breath* So, I got through round one––in which my pitch was judged. Next comes the excerpt round, which I'm more nervous about. This is what happens, according to the rules:
Between February 24, 2011 and March 13, 2011, our expert reviewers, including Amazon editors and at least one Amazon Top Reviewer, will review and judge the Excerpts of each second round Entry. The expert reviewers rate each Excerpt on a scale of 1 to 5 on each of the following criteria:
a) Overall Strength of Excerpt
d) Originality of Idea
*bites nails* Well, last year I made it through this round (and the round after it), but this is a totally different story so ... we'll see! Wish me luck!
As a random side-note that's not very exciting at all ... I've actually started to use my Twitter account. So if you have one, let me know! (I'm @BrigidRose)
The Quarterfinals of ABNA are announced on March 22nd, so I'll update then! In the meantime I'll have to choose some other project to work on. Luckily I have a bunch of unfinished stories to choose from. Urgh. And I'll probably do some other posts, although I'll have to come up with ideas ... Any suggestions? :)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
First of all ... I'm almost done writing Unraveling! *gasp* I hope to finish it this week, in fact. Which means I have to race through this blog post and then get back to writing, because I still have a bit of work to do before it's done. Wish me luck!
Secondly, I did a guest post on my friend Ally's blog, Novel Ideas Life of a Teen Writer, which you fellow writers out there MUST check out––not just because of my post, but because the blog is amazing and Ally gives excellent writing advice! (My guest post is on the topic of fantasy writing, by the way.) So if you have the time, I would be ever so happy if you'd stop by and take a look!
Thirdly, Round 2 of ABNA is announced on Thursday! I will be sure to update then ...
And now for the teaser! I know I posted one from Unraveling last week but ... I'M GOING TO DO IT AGAIN, because it's the only thing I've been writing lately, anyway. :) So here it is ... In Which We Find Out Emily's Middle Name. Huzzah!
I didn't know your middle name until we were about ten years old. I knew almost everything else about you––the scars that hid under your sleeves, the pain and the fear that hid beneath your smile. But I'd never known the secret name that hid between Emily and Lawrence. Maybe it seems like something insignificant, but once I knew it I felt as if I had some new level of power.
You told me late one night, when we were having a sleepover at my house. We were closed away in my room, like we were sealed from the rest of the world. I was painting your toenails bright red, one by one. We talked as I did this––or, it was more like you were doing the talking while I was concentrating.
I don't even remember how the subject came up. I just remember the small details––how that stinging smell of nail polish seemed to rush up my nose and burn between my eyes, how my hand shook slightly as I struggled not to make a single mistake, how that perfect shade of red reminded me of so many things. Like strawberries. Or blood.
Although I don't know how the seed was planted, somehow the question sprouted from my mouth. “What's your middle name, anyway?”
You were oddly silent. “What's yours?”
I don't know what it is with people and their middle names. Everyone is so guarded about them, like they're trying to protect some hidden identity. In elementary school, kids swap them like secrets, whisper them into each other's eager ears. They compete for worst place, seeing whose parents managed to come up with the most hideous one. Personally, I never had much of a problem with mine, and I almost felt like there was something wrong with me because I didn't.
So when you asked me, I went through all the steps I'd seen the other kids do, like it was choreography: the dramatic pause, the wrinkling of the nose in disgust, the quick shake of the head.
“Come on,” you said. “Tell me.”
I finished painting your nails, and I carefully avoided your gaze as I screwed the cap back onto the bottle. You wiggled your freshly red-tipped toes and chanted “Tell me, tell me, tell me” until it became a single word––“Tellmetellmetellme”.
“It's Ashley,” I said, finally.
“Ash-ley,” you repeated, dissecting it. “Mia Ashley Wise.”
“Okay. I told you mine. Now it's your turn.”
You kept your mouth shut and shook your head.
“Come on. It's only fair.”
“No I didn't.”
You gave the signaling sigh of defeat, which I knew meant I had won.
“Fine,” you said, and closed your eyes for a second. “My middle name is George.”
I waited for the twitch of a smile, something to betray the joke.
Your face went red, almost the same color as the nail polish on your toes.
“Your middle name is George,” I said, trying to process this. I would have laughed, but there was something in your face that stopped me––an unusual hardness in your eyes.
You looked away, resting your chin on your drawn-up knees. “It was my dad's name.”
As always, a dark feeling stirred inside of me at the mention of your dad. When we were younger, it had felt too strange to talk about. It was too difficult for me to imagine growing up without a father. And for you, you didn't know what it was like to have a dad. Yet, you had accepted that empty aspect of your life for what it was.
Now that we were older, it was difficult in a new way. You were old enough to start questioning what your drunken mother had told you. Sometimes you asked me, What if she's lying? What if he's not really dead? But then the thought of him being alive brought you other fears, like, If he's still alive, then where is he? Did he leave because of me?
And then there were even more questions that neither of us dared to voice out loud. Did your mom beat you because of him? Did she look into your eyes and see someone she had once loved, someone who had betrayed her? Left her?
So, I didn't laugh at your middle name. I just held it inside, felt it burn away at the inside of my stomach. Emily George Lawrence.
“Anyway,” you said. “George can be a girl's name, too. There's some writer or something named George, and she's a girl.”
I shrugged, not wanting to argue with you. “Okay.”
But I couldn't get rid of the strange, rushing feeling. I finally knew something about you that wasn't beautiful.
It was like that Greek myth we read that year in school. You probably remember it. Everyone kept laughing because it had the word “ass” in it, even though the teacher kept desperately explaining to us that, in this contest, ass meant donkey.
Anyway, in the story there's this king, Midas. And he does something rude that results in a curse that causes him to grow a big pair of donkey ears. He wears fancy hats and whatnot to cover up these ears, but one day his barber comes to cut his hair and sees them. King Midas tells the barber not to tell anyone, and the guy doesn't. But keeping the secret inside is killing him, so he goes around whispering to plants, “King Midas has an ass's ears!” And the wind takes the secret and spreads it all over town until everybody knows.
So, I didn't tell anyone. But the truth was always bursting to come out. When no one was around, I could whisper it to the walls, to the ceiling, to the darkness. “Emily's middle name is George.” Maybe the words are still caught in the wind somewhere.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
The house feels haunted. As soon as I step inside, the screen door swings closed behind me. I jump, my heartbeat accelerating wildly. Then I remember that the screen door always closed that loudly. Funny, I wouldn't have remembered that if I'd never come back here. I'll probably forget it as soon as I leave.
It's sad how our minds erase the little details like that––the sound the doors make when they close, which steps on the staircase creak the most, the way you have to jiggle the handle on the toilet just the right way in order to make it flush. You always find yourself adjusting to a new place, forgetting all the rituals that kept you alive in your old habitat.
I walk in a slow circle around the abandoned living room. My sneakers squeak against the wooden floor. I look out the window, and the sight outside is so familiar and yet so alien. It makes my chest ache. I try to picture the room furnished again––couch here, coffee table over there. But I can't picture it right, no matter how I try. No, no. Maybe the couch was over here. I don't know. Maybe we moved the couch a few times.
I sit down in the middle of the floor. Shivers shoot up my spine. “This is mad creepy,” I mutter to myself. My voice sounds strange in the stillness. Immediately, I feel like the shadows are closing in around me, strangling me, hissing at me.
You shouldn't be here. You shouldn't speak here.
I eventually get up, and I make my way through the other rooms, a ghost in my own old home. I run my fingers over the peeling wallpaper. I crouch on the floor and draw swirls in the dust with my fingertips. The living room, the dining room, the kitchen. They all throw memories at me in all directions. Every scrap of my history comes back, thrown together in a pile. I'm not sure where all the pieces fit––whether they're real, or whether someone told me a story about my childhood so many times that I believed it to be true. I hastily sew together the truths and the untruths and the maybe-truths, and in the end I'm left with a messy quilt.
I decide that it's time to go upstairs. I hesitate at the bottom, gazing up into the darkness. Something rattles inside my chest––like a penny bouncing around inside a tin can, trying to find somewhere to rest in the hollow area, clanking against the thin barriers surrounding it. The stairway is a tunnel, and it seems to go up and up for miles.
I begin to climb. The steps creak, and I cringe each time I hear the noise. I glance over my shoulder, more than once, to make sure there is no one there to hear. I still feel like I'm not alone, like the ghosts are following me everywhere.
At the top of the stairs, I stop. It's dark, even darker than it was on the first floor. I know where the hallway's light switch is. I could reach out now, flick it on. But it probably wouldn't work. There wouldn't be any power, right? And anyway, it feels wrong. The shadows belong here. Here they have stayed for the past two years, and I have no right to take away their kingdom. I'm an intruder.
I move through the dark hall, and I swear I can hear the sound of my heartbeats, bouncing off the walls. My breathing becomes shallow as I reach my bedroom door. I place a hand against it, and my fingers are trembling. My knees are weak. I want to slide down to the floor.
But I stay upright. I put some pressure into my hand, push against the door …
No, I can't do it. I can't look. I've made it through the rest of the house, but this is different. As soon as I see my bedroom, dead and empty, it will really hit me. I can't do this to myself. But what if I don't look? I know that if I don't look, then I'll always wonder. I'll always regret that I had one last chance to take a look, and I wasted it.
“Fine,” I mutter to myself. I wince, and I open the door.
As I predicted, it's a painful sight. Right away, I recognize the shape of the room––the four walls, the window on one wall, the other window on the other wall, the way part of the ceiling is slanted because it's right beneath the roof. It used to seem smaller, but I guess that's because my furniture took up the space. There's a darker square in the wood where my dresser used to sit, and another similar dark rectangle where my bed used to be. I walk over to the bed-rectangle, and I stand at its center. I turn around, drawing in my breath, blinking away the sting in my eyes.
I walk over to the closest wall, and I reach out slowly. I imagine my fingers passing through it. I'll realize that I'm a ghost. I'm not real. None of this is real. But the wall I touch is solid. It doesn't give way under my fingers. I press my palm against it. It is cold, hard, dead.
I rest the side of my head against the wall. I used to do this often, when I was a kid. I don't know why, but I found it comforting. I could hear everything––the strange hum, the sound of my parents' voices. It was like the whole house was alive and breathing. But now there is only silence. It's like trying to listen to a grave.
I return to the bed-rectangle. I sit down. I remember the way my mattress used to feel underneath me––springy but firm, always there to support me. I remember my guitar in my arms, how I held it like it was a friend who could protect me. I remember the way it sang to me and drove out all the unwanted noises.
I remember you. I remember you sitting next to me, sitting across from me, sitting by the window looking out at the stars. I bend over, press my hands against the floor, like I'm searching for something. But all that's left is dust.
I close my eyes and I lie down on the ground, right where the bed used to be. The floor is hard underneath me, unwelcoming.
I'm the only living thing in the house, the only heart beating.
It's true. I am an outcast. This house, this whole town, all of it … None of it is a part of me anymore. It's like I've died, this world is dead. If anyone else saw this room, they would never know that it belonged to me. They would never know that it was a part of my life, or that I was a part of its life.
That's the weird thing. We move through phases of our lives so quickly, and we don't hesitate about leaving each of those phases behind. Places fade away, and we leave them to rot and dust over like they never meant anything special. And what's strangest of all is, we don't realize those places are special until after they're gone. By the time we realize how much they mean to us, it's too late to get them back to the way they used to be.
I keep my eyes shut, watching the shapes move and twirl, emerge and evaporate as quickly as the years pass … until there is nothing left but the darkness, and it swallows me whole.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
So, if you haven't guessed it already, this post is going to be about story beginnings: a) because it's an important subject that I haven't addressed yet, and b) it ties together my adventures at the Boston Book Festival (which I've been meaning to write about for AGES) and all the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award chaos that is currently going on (because I am frantically editing and re-editing my excerpt).
So, let's start with the "what I learned at Boston Book Festival" part. In case you've forgotten (or I never bothered to explain, possibly), BBF is an annual festival in Boston with a bunch of different events, mostly authors speaking and such. I got to hear several authors speak––Dennis Lehane, Tom Perrota, Kathryn Lasky, Noni Carter, Francisco Stork, and OMG KRISTIN CASHORE. (Did you know she writes her books by hand? Craziness! ... and yes, I'm a little bit obsessed.) So, that was an inspiring experience.
But before I went to any of the author speeches, I attended an event called Writer Idol. The gist of the idea: You bring the first page of your manuscript and put it in a box. A professional actor picks pages out of the box at random, and reads them to a panel of four literary agents. The literary agents each raised their hands at the point where they would stop reading and reject the author. Once two agents raised their hands, the actor would stop reading and the agents would explain why they lost interest ... and they weren't afraid to be painfully honest. And this was in front of a rather large audience of people.
In other words: my worst nightmare come true.
I was convinced to do this without really knowing what I was getting into ... and when I understood what was going on I pretty much had a heart attack. But, there was no going back now, so I sat there and listened to the agents criticize the first few pages. Then––because fate hates me––the actor picked out the first page of Walking Shadow. Luckily the whole thing was done anonymously, but I'm pretty sure the people around me knew it was mine since I said "SH**!" rather loudly and tried to hide under the seat in front of me.
To begin with ... I hate hearing other people read my work out loud. It's one of those things––like how I hate looking at pictures of myself or hearing a recording of my voice. It makes me all self-conscious, so I hear every single flaw. And if that wasn't bad enough, there was a panel of agents sitting there, ready to rip it apart.
The rest happened a blurry nightmarish kind of way. On the bright side, one of the agents said it had a strong voice. The rest ... Well. They didn't like it. They said it was too ambiguous––"It could be narrated by a DOG for all we know!"––and one guy said it reminded him of "Mean Girls" ... but, you know, not in a good way. I guess because Cassandra hates everyone?
They seemed to have the same reaction for all the ambiguous-type beginnings. So, anything that started off all mysteriously was dead meat. Apparently when agents read the first page of your manuscript they want to get a general idea of who the main character is and where the setting is. That doesn't mean you have to start with something obvious like "Once upon a time there was a guy named Joe Shmoe. He was 23 years old and 6'2" tall and he was sitting in a cardboard box ..." But, you know, you want to include something concrete. I'd say, after the first page the reader should at least understand the main character's general age and gender, and something a bit about his/her personality. The setting doesn't have to be described in detail on the first page––in fact, that's boring ... don't do it. But if you, say, mention something about washing machines the reader will know we're in a laundromat or something.
Point is, you want to get right into the action. Set up the plot. Start out with a scene that's original and attention-grabbing.
Beginnings to avoid:
1. The "average life" beginning. I can't tell you how many times I've come across this beginning ... Please don't start a story with someone getting out of bed in the morning, choosing an outfit, brushing his/her teeth, etc. We all do these things every day. IT'S BORING. Start with something unusual.
2. A long description of the setting (as I mentioned before). Yes, descriptions might create clear images, but they tend to bore the reader. Focus more on introducing characters and a conflict.
3. White Room Syndrome: "A clear and common sign of the failure of the author’s imagination, most often seen at the beginning of a story ... “She awoke in a white room.” The ‘white room’ is a featureless set for which details have yet to be invented — a failure of invention by the author. The character 'wakes' in order to begin a fresh train of thought — again, just like the author. This ‘white room’ opening is generally followed by much earnest pondering of circumstances and useless exposition; all of which can be cut, painlessly.
It remains to be seen whether the 'white room' cliché will fade from use now that most authors confront glowing screens rather than blank white paper."
Haha ... I must admit, I am guilty of this one––because it's how Edge starts. I didn't know this kind of beginning was supposedly a failure and a cliché. It makes sense, though ... that since you start with a blank white piece of paper, the first thing that comes to your mind is a blank white room. What I find hilarious is that last sentence ... since I write on my computer, and I started off with a glowing white room. So I guess the cliché will never die, after all. I'd change the idea if I could think of something better ... although I'm not sure if there's another way. Plus the white room comes back into the story a bunch of times. Hrrrrm. Well, uh, point is––try to avoid this beginning.
4. The textbook beginning. A lot of fantasy/sci-fi stories are guilty of this. Avoid prologues that give the entire history of the world; important information should be scattered throughout the story.
5. The "WTF is going on?!" beginning. Yes, it's good to start with some action, but not so far into the action that you fail to ever introduce the setting and characters. You want the reader to feel intrigued, not completely lost.
6. The "dream sequence" beginning ... in which you start off with something totally weird and/or intense happening, and then at the end of the chapter: "And it was all a dreaaam!" It's a fake beginning, in a way, because––well––it didn't really happen. Same thing goes for flashbacks. Try to avoid them.
Now, of course there are exceptions to all of these "rules". Yes, in some cases any of these beginnings could work. So if you've started a story one of these ways, you shouldn't necessarily be freaking out. Just keep in mind, you should try to avoid such beginnings in the future.
And thus ends my rant. Back to editing.