Friday, April 30, 2010

Flabby Middles

I've been busy rewriting, and it's going slower than I thought, and round about page 150 I started thinking - FLABBY!

It was very frustrating, because I couldn't figure out why everything on the page just laid there. I know, that's what words do on a page, right? But it shouldn't feel like that's what they're doing. They should zoom along and sweep you away and race along, and other speedy turns of phrase.

So I went through the whole book and as I did, wrote down an outline of what happens. I was looking for stuff to cut, but I was also trying to figure out why the middle felt so floppy, flacid, full of hot gas.

Thank goodness my brain seems to work these things out on its own because I think I finally got it. I found a few scenes and lots of words to cut, but I also realized that my main character spends a large section of the middle just reacting to stuff. In the beginning and end of the book she is very driven and motivated, but in the middle? Not so much.

Not good! Protagonists must have goals - external and internal, sometimes mistaken goals, sometimes glorious goals, but goals goals goals!

I think I figured it out - the goal she needs to have in the middle. I'm still inserting it in, working it around, giving it a massage, so we'll see. But don't forget the goal, guys. Once your protag starts sitting around going "oh hey, that's cool," and "wow, I learned a lot today," it's time to reset their priorities and make them a tad more driven. A LOT more driven.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Inspiration from Meg Cabot

I just saw writer Meg Cabot speak at the LA Times Festival of Books. I love her more than ever now!

Meg is a terrific public speaker - funny, smart, self deprecating, and best of all, inspirational. Today she talked about where she gets her ideas, making us all laugh with stories of how an abandoned dog named Jack Bauer showed up on her porch. It turned out he was owned by an evil man who looked like a vampire... hence the idea for her new book Insatiable - about an evil man who IS a vampire, and the woman who takes him down.

Meg's all about girl power, whether it's in her novels for tweens, teens, or adults. She kept telling us we could make our dreams come true, if we just persist. For me, as a writer, it was particularly wonderful (in a weird way) to hear her say that she'd gotten thousands of rejections over the course of years before she landed her agent. 25 books, a few movies, and millions of dollars later, she still remembers how hard those years of rejection were. BUT - persistence paid off.

She wants us all to believe in ourselves. She, after a difficult childhood with an alcoholic father, managed to do it, so we can too.

I so want to read her books now. This whole book tour thing is most enlightening. Once you get to like the author personally, you really want to keep her around by having her books in your hand and in your head. Genius!

If you get a chance to see Meg speak, I highly recommend it. Meanwhile - keep believing in yourself, keep working hard, and your dreams can come true.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Setting as Character

Saw the first two eps TREME on HBO last night, and it's an excellent lesson in how a setting can become the main character in a piece. In this case, the city of New Orleans, three months after Katrina.

The first shots of the show are all close ups - a man's lips near a saxaphone reed, feathers, a kid's face, shoes dancing... then we widen to see men in a darkened room discussing the first "second line" to take place after the storm. (Turns out the "second line" is a type of parade.) Pretty soon, men in suits are warming up their trumpets and banging on drums, a man climbs to the roof of a car to dance, sipping on a cold drink as he does so... and in that sea of faces, in the beat of the music, we feel the heartbeat of New Orleans.

Note the technique - start with colorful details, then pull back for a larger picture. This can really work in writing a novel too. They key is to pick out details that really evoke the uniqueness of your setting. Be as specific as possible.

My only caveat is - don't rely solely on the depth and richness of the setting to carry your piece. In TREME, we also get a lot of humor and depth of character in the people we meet. We're so busy getting to know these people and this fascinating place that we don't mind the slowness of the early plotting. If it's anything like THE WIRE (same writer/producers) the plot will pick up soon, and we'll know the characters and setting so well, that we will be utterly invested in the outcome.

I'm already researching cool bars in New Orleans, food, and visiting the sites of musicians featured on the show. A great setting can be a gift to your readers, as long as it's appropriate for your writerly intentions.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rewriting Woes

Been trying to do some rewriting while I've been sick with a cold these past five days, and it ain't easy.

The toughest part, aside from the cold, is remembering all the different facets of the work that need to be rewritten. For example, I need to cut a lot out of my first draft to get the word count down to a reasonable number. I also need to sharpen the narrator's voice, make the boy in it hot and fun, liven up the dialogue, make sure the plot makes sense, make my villain more three dimensional, and rework several supporting characters. That's just what I can think of off the top of my head and doesn't include proofreading, grammar check, and just generally trying to make the writing sing.

I had a thought about something the mentor character should say to the heroine near the end of the book - but I'm not there on the rewrite yet! Nonetheless, I got out of bed (that's where I had my thought) and turned on my computer and stuck a paragraph in near the end that did what I wanted. It's not perfect. It'll need to be rewritten, but at least it's there. Meanwhile, chapter 8 needs me to cut it down more.

So much rewriting to do! Novels are long, baby. They're complex and involve so many dang words. I'm trying to be systematic about it, but my brain keeps jumping to some seemingly unrelated thing that also needs fixing.

This'll take a little while. But I can feel the thing getting better. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Home sick = no writing

So frustrating to have all this time at home thanks to a head cold and yet not have the energy to write a word. Well, except in this blog, apparently.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Me. With all my original teeth.

And now, a brief pause to reflect on the inexorable passage of time... Dad just sent this to me today, via family friend Tommy Davis. I think I'm about seven here, at my friend Beth Davis's birthday. I'd like to say this was when we went to Istanbul to stay with the Davis family, but I can't be sure that's true.

I don't think I've worn yellow since then. It's really not half bad.