Sunday, October 31, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo DAY SEVEN! (Evolution of a Manuscript)

Happy Halloween!  And...

Holy crap!  Holy crap!  Anyone else seeing a massive to-do list flying before their eyes right now, and wondering how on earth they'll manage to accomplish everything before tomorrow morning?  Anyone else wondering why the devil they didn't take care of all these things last week?  Anyone else suddenly doubting their ability to compose a coherent sentence, much less a 50,000 word novel--despite having done both many times before?

Yeah.  We'll get over it.  You know why?  Because NaNoWriMo is FUN.  And even if it is a major tax on that thing we like to call Spare Time, it's totally worth it.  It's like a kid being told to eat all the cookies on the pan as fast as possible: It seems like it shouldn't be allowed, and you know it will make you at least a little sick... but it's so opposite of what you normally do, you simply can't resist the outrageous fun of it.

Okay.  Let's get on with it.  Today's workshop highlights are from editor/publisher Stephen Roxburgh (see his other workshop here), and it's all about the Evolution of a Manuscript.  And from someone who's had lot's of experience watching a manuscript develop (Mr. Roxburgh has worked with many authors, including Roald Dahl and Madeleine L'Engle), I think this information is golden.

The Stages of Novel Writing:
o       Replace the concept of DRAFT with that of a PILE.
o       In the imagining stage, let go any sense of structure.  Don’t cling to anything.  Don’t let the technical questions hamper you down.  JUST WRITE.  As long as your imagination is giving you things, write them down! 
o       Words on paper may be rubbish or discordant, but at least they are more than just a thought.
o       Give yourself the freedom and opportunity at this stage to Just Write.
o       Don’t put it on the clock!  Don’t try and put a time limit on a project. [UNLESS YOU'RE WRITING FOR NANOWRIMO. :) ]
o       It is not a test of will.  Wrestling a project to the ground doesn’t work.  This kind of work does not lend itself to full-frontal assault.  Your story doesn’t want to be forced out.
o       In this stage, just let yourself write.
o       “Writer’s Block” comes from setting the bar way too high.
o       The things that happen when you let yourself go and loosen up are marvelous.
o       You can interrupt the process at any time to add, etc.
o       You have to know so much more than your reader, and the only way to know is to write it.  So write down all your backstory and character webbing, even if you know you'll never use it in the story.
o       Under-imagined characters don’t bring anything to the book.  Always write it out, even if only for yourself.  Give yourself the time.
o       We’re already disposed to be hypercritical of ourselves.  Don’t do that at this stage.

o       Revision requires distance: objective, critical viewing of the story.  Stand up above it and see if it has a recognizable shape.
o       People tend to revise by going back to the beginning and reading to the end—doing the same thing over and over—merely tweaking and polishing.  Not Re-Visioning.  (You can’t polish a turnip.  You can only rub it.)
o       They also try to track too many things at once.  Juggling too many things at one time is NOT productive.  Look at only ONE thing at a time.  Don’t get sucked in to polishing.  Look at the big picture first.
o       Take the Heart of your story and examine every scene that encompasses it.  See if it is all moving the way you want it to. 
o       View your work analytically. 
o       Only look at one piece at a time.  Focus.  Does each scene move the plot?  Does it accomplish what I want it to? 
o       Flag the things you want to come back to.
o       Flag the places that slow things down.
o       If two encounters do effectively the same thing, lose one.

-          Crude, and startlingly effective Revision Tips:
o       Have in your mind to see clearly.
o       It is an endless cycle of refinement
*         Put the MS away for one year.
*         Try to work on something else anyway.
*         Take the time to get away from it, and distance yourself.
*        Reset the font, margins, and line spacing.  This will force you to have fresh eyes.
*        Don’t start on page one.  Shuffle pages, and read them one at a time, out of order.  This is very good for refining.  You’re not caught up in the story.

o       Looking at every word, every encounter, and making it the best possible word/sentence to notch it up and intensify it.
o       Your language should burn with a hard, gem-like flame.
o       Ask yourself: how do I want my reader to feel right now?  Is there anything at all I can do to intensify or enhance that?
o       Revision is seeing something anew, in another way.

-          Some Other Notes
o       You have to be consistent.  The last word in a Manuscript after it is published IS THE MANUSCRIPT—not anything the author might say about it.
o       If you don’t know what should  be happening in your book, there is a problem.
o       “Maybe they won’t notice…?  Maybe this will slip by them and they’ll give me the Newbery anyway…?”  NO.  If there’s a problem with your manuscript, you’d better fix it.
o       The Mushy Middle is the hardest part.  If you can tighten it and get the pacing right, you’re doing well.
o       Most people submit prematurely.  They don’t hold on too long, they let go too early.  That can dig your grave, because most professionals won’t give you a second chance with the same book.

Any thoughts on all this?  Personally, I found it to be a very useful way of looking at the whole process--from brainstorming to polishing--all from an editor's perspective.  Mr. Roxburgh's advice is good for NaNoWriMo, but it carries us well beyond November.  Anyone have any thoughts or opinions (or experiences) to add?  

Happy NaNo-ing!  Come back tomorrow morning before you start for a wave farewell and a NaNo share-fest!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Six: Fantasy

Welp. It's Saturday. Two days to go. No preamble today. If you haven't been with us on the countdown this week, click here.

Today's post is possibly my favorite of the workshops I attended at Chautauqua.  Of course, I'm a fantasy junkie at heart, but this workshop was magical.  Editor/author Patricia Lee Gauch gave it, and she talked all about Fantasy writing, and what makes it so great.  If you're as big a nerd as I am, you'll love these notes.

Fantasy is a place where trees walk, rocks talk, giants exist, owls deliver our mail, where our own shadow faces us… It is through the looking glass, and nothing is expected.  Everything is unexpected.  It is slightly dangerous terrain... and you’ve elected to be here.

-          It is supernatural, archetypal, magical.  The basis is Mythic, and that is what makes it go so far.  Freud and Jung: these myths live in us.  They are a part of us.
-          Monomyths… these are not patterns.  They are not things to try on for side.  It lives in us.  It will come up.  And that’s why, in a fantasy, the characters are outsized.  They are nightmarish and dreamish, and they are not held back by the boundaries of reality.  That is what you want to get to. 
-          You must use your mind, but so much of it comes from inside you.
-          Starts in this profound place we can barely understand.  Projections of the unconscious.  Almost like Jack and the Beanstalk, reaching for the stars, uniting two parts.

-          Light and dark
-          The unindividuated hero (Bilbo-type; Pinnochio), Just a piece of wood, reluctant hero.  Gets a call to adventure from Somewhere. 
-          There is some kind of a sign, and a decision to be made.  The threshold guardian is ambiguous, not sure if he’s good or bad.
-          But that hero is ready, and off he goes.  And what he faces in the uncharted territory is chaos, tests.  The world turns upside-down.  Nothing is familiar.  (The Odyssey.)
-          Some of the tests are:
o       The ID (Yourself, the wild parts of your own nature.  Or, Animal, not civilized.)
o       The Anima (The Blue Fairy; seductress, or mother-type, or ambiguous… Projection that the hero must figure out.)
o       The Animus (The father-figure the heroine must deal with.)  Or the Jiminy Cricket figure. 
o       There is always a turning point before the cliff.  And when you go off the cliff into the Land of Darkness, you are alone with yourself.  Once you have overcome that womb-like place of darkness, you are ready to join society.  It is the Belly of the Whale, your place to be reborn.
(Webbing is a good way to brainstorm events, and let your subconscious have a chance.)
-          When the hero returns, he brings something back to the community.
-          This format works with Star Wars
-          What’s happening is profound.  When you go to the center of you to tell a fantasy, something magical happens.  

-          THE HOBBIT 
            o There is something warm, and something humorous about MOST fantasies.
o       You access your primary world by the STUFF of the secondary world.  Ie., the coat-pegs on Bilbo’s hall walls. 
o       The house is all about the word COMFORT.  Bilbo doesn’t want to go anywhere.  The Bagginses don’t do anything unexpected or have any adventures. 
o       Narrator: your choice.  Tolkien’s narration is very prominent.
o       Fantasies love Two Sides.  (Ie, Tooks Vs. Bagginses)  New writers tend to understate.  Don’t be afraid to come right out and say something.  Don’t be afraid to overwrite.
o       Bilbo’s wooly toes neatly-brushed are another thing that grounds the reader to the story.  Specifics.
o       “I have no time to blow smoke rings,” said Gandalf.  “I am very busy trying to find someone to take part in an adventure I am arranging.”
o       Analogies from This World root the fantasy world in something that feels familiar to the reader.  “Selling buttons at the door.” 
o       The Hobbit is a great model.  Starting in a hole.  Going on an adventure.
o       The terrain is important in fantasy ALMOST ALWAYS.  It is a character.  It is accessible. 
o       “He thought of himself frying bacon and eggs in his own kitchen at home…”  “After some time, he felt for his pipe.”  He’s still who he is.  He’s still linked to comfort, though he’s in the darkest pockets of the world.  And with the comfort of his elvish blade, he is able to get up and go forward.
o       Unconscious narrative
o       Steeped in a history of the story, of the place.  It feels authentic.
o       Gollum: “They had a feeling that something unpleasant was lurking down there.”
o       If you want to introduce a character, you have to take time to do it.  And you need a good name.  Not just an interesting one, but a good one that fits, that rolls off the tongue.
o       Don’t be afraid of "suddenly," if it’s done right.

o       J.K. Rowling thought and thought… and eventually let go to what she conceived.
o       Jo is so bold in the first chapter.  She isn't afraid to be ironic.  “…the dull, grey Tuesday our story starts…”
o       “None of them noticed the tawny owl that fluttered past the window…”
o       Jerks back to the ordinary are signposts in a story.  McGonagall and her map on the corner are signposts.  “Drills were driven out of his mind by something else.”  Storytelling.  Transitions back and forth from the ordinary to the extraordinary slowly pull readers into the story with the promise of something wonderful.
o       Mr. Dursley’s refusal to acknowledge the strange things around him are just like Bilbo’s refusal to be taken in by Gandalf.  They build tension.
o       Buying a bun from the bakery is another anchor back to reality.  Juxtapositions from our world to theirs are what entice us.
o       Jo inserts her narrator again after Mr. Dursley is hugged around the middle and called a Muggle.  “which he had never hoped before, because he didn’t approve of imagination.”
o       Build up to unusual things at the end of almost every paragraph.  In and out of ordinary… she doesn’t go too fast.  Getting that other stuff in—the ordinary stuff—is what makes it authentic.
o       When you accept the call to adventure, you enter chaos.  Things that were natural are now unnatural.  The ordinary things are on hold.  As long as your world is consistent in its unnaturalness.

A final thought from Patti Gauch: When you go through the darkness, over the sea that turns to land, and face your own shadow, you’ll get it.  When you see a book to write, write it.

What do you think?  Anyone writing Fantasy?  Anyone connect to this kind of storytelling?  Do share!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Five: Plot

Well, hello there!  Welcome to Friday!  As it happens, this is a very special Friday, because it is the last one of October, and it opens the door to the final weekend before NaNoWriMo starts.  Are you excited?  Yeah, me too.

And speaking of which!  If you haven’t been around the last few days, you won’t know that we’ve been brushing up on our novel-writing craft this week, with a little help from the workshop notes I brought home from Chautauqua, NY this past July.  If you’d like to read the posts from Monday (Creativity & Inspiration), Tuesday (Writing Novels for Young Adults), Wednesday (POV Character), and Thursday (Characterization), feel free to click on the links and join in those discussions as well.

Today’s notes are from a workshop called “Plot: Its Making and Breaking” by editor and publisher Stephen Roxburgh.  Mr. Roxburgh had some great advice to share—and I’ll actually be recapping another of his workshops on Sunday to propel us into NaNo World.  Enjoy!

  • The difference between Story and Plot is summed up in these two sentences: “The cat sat on the mat” vs. “The cat sat on the dog’s mat.”  Story talks about a sequence of actions, while plot adds a WHY and makes it all cohere.
  • (From ON POETICS by Aristotle) A story must have a beginning, a middle, and an end:
    • Beginning: that which nothing needs to precede, and which something must follow.
    • Middle: that which something needs to precede, and which something must follow.
    • End: that which something must precede, but nothing needs follow.
  • Necessity is the crucial element here.  It binds the whole formula together.
  • Every story starts with an imbalance, or an injustice.  The end is inevitable. You will never know the beginning of a story until you know the end.  Learn to not fret about the beginning, until you reach the end.
  • Most novels have between ten and twelve major scenes, which click together.  Often the pieces are out of order, need to be put together.
  • You can never see your work objectively—which is exactly how editors and agents will see it.  You’ve got to stop seeing your book the way you wrote it.  Think of it in these structural terms, and that will help you to step outside it.  You need to see the whole arc of the story to see how the little things work within it.
  1. Plot of Character: Protagonist who starts in one state, and changes.  At the end of the plot, there has been a fundamental change of character.  In YA, it is usually a character moving from innocence to experience.  It is also what most YA novels are.  Often start with a character who is in some way immature; there is some imbalance.  At the end, the character is somehow reconciled or redeemed.
  2. Plot of Action: What changes is not the character; it’s the circumstances.  It’s about the fate, the fates or surroundings that change.  James Bond and Indiana Jones: you are always watching how the character gets out of his scrapes.  Picaresque novels.  Don Quixote.  Charlotte’s Web.  “Romance” is Robert Louis Stevenson’s word for plot of action.  A reader hunts after incident like a pig after truffles.  The first thing you have to do in a book is to kill off the parents.  If you don’t lose the parents, how are the kids ever going to do anything?
  3. Plot of Thought: It isn’t the thought of the character that changes, it’s the thought of the reader.  Essentially political communication or nonfiction.  Another word for Plot of Thought is didacticism—intentionally teaching something through the work.
EACH story/MS is essentially one or the other.  But they’ve all got bits of the others in them.  Action always seems to trump character in reader interest.  Plot if thought displays the urge to tell rather than show: which shows a lack of confidence in both yourself and your reader—because you don’t believe your story can convey it on its own.

But the competing influence between character and action has to not kill each other off.  They have to work together.  Remember that necessity has to drive your plot.

You have to step WAY away from your book and determine whether it is a plot of character or of action?  What is my central plot?  Where is my MC at the end?  And is that different from where he was at the beginning?

Modes of Representation:
1.)    As it is: Mimetic, an imitation of life.
2.)    Better than it is: the Disney version of life.  The Utopian vision.  (Nowhere.)
3.)    Present things as worse than they are.  Dystopia.
Most YA novels are Mimetic.  Even fantasy can be mimetic.  People can identify with it.  Prior to the 70s, literature for kids tended to be strictly Utopian.  The YA novel, when it officially came along, started to represent the realities of adolescence.  But there’s a fine line between representing reality and showing a reality that utterly and wholly sucks.  The thing is to be intentional, to be deliberate, no matter what you are doing. 

-          The most important question you can ask yourself is: How do you want the reader to feel right now?  The challenge of literature isn’t to affect your reader, but to affect them precisely as you wish.
-          Manipulate their feelings deliberately, incrementally. 
-          The ending has to be inevitable.  Necessary.

Authors tend not to cut themselves any slack.  They try to do them all at once. 

Several ways to gain perspective:
-          Put the MS away for a few months/years.
-          Work on something else
-          Give it to a trusted reader
-          Try to think about your book with some distance.

You should be able to articulate succinctly the heart of your story.  Begin to look at each of your episodes, and see how each moves the reader along the story arc toward the heart of your story.  Try to look at your story with some objectivity.

Any thoughts?  

And a random question because I'm curious: How many of you write with a clear intent of craft inside your head the whole time?  In other words, are you able to write--actually WRITE, not edit--with clearheaded motives and editorial goals, or does some other part of you take over like a vehicle driving itself and keep you from being intentional until you're either away from the MS or approaching it with a red pen? 

Just curious.  I'm the unmanned vehicle, in case you couldn't tell. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Four: Characterization

BREAKING NEWS: It's Thursday. There are now only four days of sanity October remaining. Before we continue with this post, I think we should do a quick exercise.

On the count of three, I want you to raise your arms and interlace your fingers behind your head. If you're sitting in a chair, I want you to lean back and relax your neck. Now take a very deep breath, close your eyes, and think of precisely NOTHING for ten seconds. Give yourself a moment to enjoy the calm. Maybe even spend a whole minute this way. Try not to think about the fact that in four days you won't have any minutes to spend in such a blissfully wasteful fashion.

Now then. If you've been following this train of blog posts (the most consecutive posts I've ever written in my life, by the way), then you have already brushed up on creativity and inspiration, YA fiction writing techniques, and point of view characters. (If not, you're probably desperately confused, and should click on this link.)

Regardless, I'm sure you're here because you heard that today's post was a recap of a workshop given by award-winning author Donna Jo Napoli (BREATH, THE WAGER) which was all about characterization in YA.

Tuck in.

Things to Know About a Character

o What is your character afraid of? If you know all about your character, they will act coherently through all the scenes.
o Reader wants a coherent personality, even though humans are not consistent and coherent people.

Family Relationships
o People are surrounded by other people, and that becomes a part of who you are.
o Offer information that hooks the reader to the MC’s family and surroundings

o Inspires the way a character responds to things
o Child should have a variety of temperaments. Kids go every different direction, but don’t use reality for a reason for something to happen in your story. We have to totally believe what happens in your story, therefore things that occur in fiction MUST HAPPEN. Nothing can be simply coincidence, or arbitrary, as in life.
o Give characters variety.

Physical Characteristics
o Kids always want to know this FIRST. Boy or girl? Tall or short? Heavy or skinny? Helps kids visualize.
o Nationality and language.
o Hair matters. It shows how you see yourself and affects the way others see you.
o Find out what is important to your character.
o It isn’t what YOU think is important to your character, it is what your character thinks is important.
o Physical characteristics that will change might actually be more of a hindrance.

o The older the character is, the more interests affect their friendships.
o You don’t have to do a lot with this, but the fact that it is there in the background helps enrich and define your character.

o Plays a major role in how the MC views the world. How they respond to situations, and see in the world is determined by what culture has taught them.
o WHEN and WHERE are very crucial to a story.
o If you’re creating a world, it must be MORE solid than a historical place in time. They physical laws must make sense—everything must work. (Just like the use of magic.)

o Kids want to know this as well. Not everyone develops at the same rate, and two kids at the same age might be entirely different, and at entirely different stages.
o Find out the curriculum of the age you are writing about.
o Gain the trust of your reader.
o Children may not have experience, but they have smarts.
o Make sure your reader can’t—with the same amount of information—work out something in the plot before the MC does. Unless you’re trying to make a point about that character.

Some other thoughts:
- Don’t let facts shackle your story. Truth is not equal to fact.
- You must ask yourself: Why do I want to write this story? That answer is the truth of your story.
- Children want to be caught up in the plot by the end of Page 1. Establish something that Is the Problem, Leads to the Problem, or Takes us Into the Problem. Editors and kids need a reason to turn to Page 2.
- Your story begins when your problem shows up. Whatever thing will cause that huge emotion is what you should begin with.

Any comments? What measures do you take to develop and get to know your characters before you start writing? I personally like to spend time filling out character worksheets. Here are some good ones, if you've never tried that approach: Jody Hedlund's Character Worksheet, Character Creation Sheet, Character Development Form.

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Three: POV Character

Happy Wednesday!  Welcome to my impromptu countdown to NaNoWriMo, which you can read more about here and here.  To celebrate/prepare for the month of madness, I'm recapping some of the workshops I attended at the Highlights Foundation Writer's Workshop at Chautauqua, NY in July, because they were full of gold nuggets and wonderful bits of wisdom.  (Yanno, the kind of wisdom that comes in handy when you're writing 50,000 words in 30 days...)

Pressing on.

Today's gold nuggets are from a workshop by author Sandy Asher, titled "Who's story is this?  And why?  And are you sure?"  In other words... all about your Point of View Character.


All characters need at least one of these crucial items:
1.      Safety/Security
2.      Acceptance/Belonging
3.      Love
4.      Independence
5.      Recognition/Esteem
6.      Empowerment
7.      Self-actualization  

You have to decide who of your characters has the greatest need, and thus, who is driving the story forward.  It is crucial to know why characters are in your story at all, and what they are trying to accomplish there.

Needs 1-3 are good for very young readers. (Early childhood.)  4-6 are good for adolescents.
- Getting these needs met, plus maintaining the first three, keep us busy for a lifetime.  Safety, security, and trust are much more complicated to a high school student than to a young child; thus creating a more complex situation.  (“I wish someone cared where I was at midnight.”  Rules are a comfort to older kids.)

- With teenagers, needs begin to conflict with one another.  You want to belong, even as you want to assert your independence.  To become an adult, a teenager has to become more like his/her parents.  To become an individual, a teenager must become LESS like his/her parents.

- These needs are constantly in play, constantly interacting with one another.  And as they crash against each other, conflict arises, creating STORY.
- Every time a character enters a scene, he knows what he needs, or he wouldn’t enter the scene in the first place. 

- The underlying need not only affects why we do the things we do, but also HOW we do them.  Determines the level of desperation, as well as the tolerance for failure.

- What your character wants may be exactly the WRONG thing to get him what he needs.  He may get what he wants, and still not get what he needs.

- When a story is too thin, or a character lacks dimension, it is often because you present what HAPPENS without presenting the WHY.  This is an opportunity to travel deep inside a character.

- Real, basic human needs in stories keep readers coming back again and again for more.  It keeps the same story fresh and significant.  We instinctively understand that need.  Every person acts instinctively out of his or her needs.  And the people around them react.  It is an action driven from inside.  SO it behooves you to know why and how your characters are acting in a particular scene.  If you can’t figure it out, perhaps there is no need for the scene?  Or perhaps that is not, in fact, your main character.

Ultimately: the main character is the one whose needs and wants are so strong, they drive every scene and every chapter irresistibly forward.

Any thoughts?  How do you decide on your protagonist?  Does your main character have clear needs and wants, or is that something you can tweak before you begin?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Countdown to NaNoWriMo Day Two: Writing YA

I said I'd do it.  Here, look at me!  I'm doing it.  Blog post.  Two days in a row.  Five more coming, so stay tuned, Dear Reader.  If you don't have a clue what the heck I'm talking about, you can visit this link, and it will tell you all you need to know.

Today I'm cutting straight to the chase.  The gold nuggets for today are the highlights from a workshop called "Writing Novels For and About Young Adults" by author Helen Hemphill (LONG GONE DADDY, RUNAROUND).

8 Traits that Define YA
  1. Teen protagonist
  2. 200-250 pages
  3. Marginal adult characters and limited amount of secondary characters
  4. Brief times span, and a universal and familiar setting
  5. Few subplots
  6. Current teen language, slang, expressions
  7. A positive resolution to the crisis at hand, although never moralistic or In Your Face
  8. Focus on the experiences and the growth of one MC with problems specific to teens, and the journey into adulthood.
In the last 10-15 years, the resurgence of the YA novel has come up in pure entertainment. 

Decidedly teen problems don’t necessarily exist anymore.

Imaginative plots, characters who are more than they seem, and complete creation of a world are all things readers want.

* Conflict: Writing is about creating story.  At its most basic, story IS conflict.  No matter what the idea, something has to happen in the story.  Hint from page 1.  Choices, actions, and reactions must define and drive the conflict.  Characters must be forced to make choices.  They must be tested.
* The plot of your novel can’t sag.  It can’t be loose or lacking tension and conflict at every turn.  Conflict must be at the center of your story.
* Believability: the story must work.  It must seem as if it is true.  You want your readers to be so immersed that they forget they are reading a book.
* Do a proper set-up.  If something unusual happens in chapter 15, you have to set it up in chapter 2.

* Coincidence: don’t use it.  You get one per novel.  It upsets the balance of reader expectations.
* Avoid cliché.  You don’t want to be predictable.  Be surprising.
* Resolution: Satisfying ending. You want a definitive change or outcome.  It must be in the here and now of the story’s resolution.

o Round characters have the quirks, the insecurities, etc.  They are the real ones.
o But in today’s YA, readers want more than just round characters.  They need a defining role, trait, or association.  They can’t just be normal or ordinary.  (Bella, Edward, Katniss, etc.)
o POV is the qualifying factor in a YA novel.  The hub.  Most YAs are in first person, but that is rather limiting.  3rd person threatens to be too distant, but it can be managed.  Action must move forward with each voice.  Narrative voice should ring true to life.  They should fit the characters.  Their dialogue should reflect their personality.
o Super-round characters come from observation combined with imagination.
o “As a writer, you don’t have to live an exciting life; you just have to have friends who do.”
o You are telling a story.  Great plots, characters we care deeply about, and places that enthrall us.
o The best book of all is the one which takes us by surprise… because it refreshes what we already know… borrowed and uniquely imagined.”

Any thoughts?  Do you write YA, and if not, do you think Ms. Hemphill's advice can translate into other genres?  And what about those who do write YA: do you agree or disagree with these gold nuggets, or have other things to add?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Holy Fast-Flying Time!

I don't know about you, but for me October has gone by in a flurry of leaves and acorns.  Even now, as I sit with an only partially obstructed view of my calendar (the best I can hope for, I'm afraid) I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that November 1 is only one week away.

We all know what November 1 means.

In honor of the upcoming frenzy that is NaNoWriMo, I have prepared something rather special.  Remember back in July, when I went to the Highlights Foundation's writers workshop at Chautauqua?  And remember how I came back with a sack full of gold nuggets (aka, brilliant bits of wisdom from esteemed industry folk) I promised to shareWell, that time has now come.

What better time to read bits of writing wisdom than the week before NaNoWriMo?  I know I could use a few mind stretches myself.  So, this week I'm going to do something COMPLETELY ABNORMAL for me.  I'm going to post on this blog Every. Single. Day.

Yeah, I said it.

And because I said it, I'll bloody well have to do it.  So.  If you are like me, and you need a little tune-up to prepare for 50,000 words in 30 days, please come back every day this week.  I'm planning to share my 7 favorite workshops from my time at Chautauqua.

(Photo by James P. Blair

So, without further ado, here's your first gold nugget: a workshop on creativity and inspiration by author and poet Rebecca Kai Dolitch.

She began with this quote by Neil Gaiman: "Often ideas come from two things coming together that haven't come together before. ('If a person bitten by a werewolf turns into a wolf what would happen if a goldfish was bitten by a werewolf? What would happen if a chair was bitten by a werewolf?')"

Creativity, says Dolitch, is merely thinking of the possibilities. WHAT IF...?

"When you create something, it enters the world.  It has never been there before.  There is no right and wrong.  It’s yours.  It’s imagination, and there is nothing better than imagination.  And that comes from brainstorming.  Imagine the What Ifs."

"Remember when you were a child?  And you doodled, and you played, and you just did and had fun?  You didn’t know where it was going, and you didn’t care."

"Creativity is more of a lifestyle.  You have to make it a habit."

::Here are some ways to flex your creative muscles and loosen up the ideas inside your head::
- Write down new, cool words. (Free paint samples in paint stores are a great place for strange words.)
- Go on a treasure hunt for THINGS that inspire your creativity.  Keep a treasure box.  (Is that just STUFF, or is it a treasure you want to keep?)  Find things that make you think, and be creative.  Save them.
- Read nonfiction articles about inventors.  What inspired them to come up with inventions?
- ALWAYS think in metaphors.  Train yourself to constantly compare one thing to another.  Think about old letters from the ancient past.  Children think naturally in metaphors.  They also think the way Neil Gaiman does…
- Journal with words you love.  Find those words, keep those words.  Write down things that make you feel creative.  Play with words: take one and think of all the shapes of it, all the colors of it, all the ways you might combine them.
- Quotes from movies, from songs… write them down.  Write all you can, write it all down.  Every day, write in one.  Keep one with you.
- Maps can be greatly inspiring.  They can be the physical thing that gets you out of your head and wakes you up from yourself.
- Google random things and start to read, see if anything inspires you.
- Write from art.  See if something inspires you in that piece.  Take illustrations from storybooks and block out the words.  Take art.  Paintings.  Drawings.  Save the things you find.
- Take things that catch your attention and make you want to know more.  And then, investigate them.  Find out about them.  And write about them.  
- Think about if you had a magic wand and could wish for one thing.  What would it be?  A small little detail, as if you were a child.
- If you were morning, and morning could speak, what would you say?
- Think about kindergartners.  Think about what was important.
- Think of being a teenager.  Think of what was important to you.  Not the abstract things… the little things, the details.  Make lists and lists of those details.
- Make a list of favorite things, and things that make you feel creative.

For more on this subject, check out Neil Gaiman's post on ideas.  (It's wonderful.)

What about you, Dear Reader?  How do you find inspiration?  Do ideas assail you like hailstones every day of the week, or do you have to go out hunting for them with a butterfly net and a taser gun?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes Gypsies Wear Motley

by William Bliss Carman

THERE is something in the autumn that is native to my blood—
Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,

With the yellow and the purple and the crimson keeping time.

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry
Of bugles going by.

And my lonely spirit thrills

To see the frosty asters like a smoke upon the hills.

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,
When from every hill of flame

She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

Since it is October, I think it's high time for an ode to gypsies. In my life I have wanted to be a gypsy more than anything else, except possibly a writer--or a mermaid. Gypsies have all the fun, as you can see.

If you are a gypsy, you can do things that ordinary people only dream about. For example:
- You can keep a monkey as a pet.
- You can wear long, swirly skirts and lots of bangles.
- You can dance in public to a banjo and a fiddle and a tambourine.
- You can have your own horse.
- You can eat your meals around a campfire while laughing and singing with all your friends and family.
- Your clothes can clash horrifically, and no one will judge you.
- You can go barefoot all the time.
- Your hair can be in snarls, and people will think it's pretty.
- And best of all... you can live in one of these wagons, (also called Vardos):

For more photos like these, you can visit this flickr link, and become drunk on love for gypsy life.

The more I think about this fascination, the more I see how it has trickled down from childhood and affected my life now. The way I dress, the way I write, the way I hope. My character is as influenced by the things I loved as a child as it is by the things I love today. Sometimes I think I haven't grown up much at all, I've only piled knowledge and experience onto my childhood self. That underneath this mask of twenty-something, ambitious, mature (ha!) young woman, I'm actually just a little girl who loves gypsies and mermaids and puppies.

Your turn! What has been alluring to you all your life? The adventurous gypsy life? The cutthroat high seas? The fairy tale world of castles and knights and princesses? Have those tastes carried over into your adult life and continued to shape the person you are today?

If you could spend a month living any other kind of life, what would it be?

Monday, October 4, 2010

You're Weird: Motley Monday

Once upon a time, I read an interview on Rachelle Gardner's blog with author Matt Mikalatos which was all about embracing your inner weird.  (You can read that full post here.  And I'd highly recommend it.  It's great.)  At the time, I was feeling ultra-serious about whatever it was I was writing, and thinking things like, Oh gosh this had better be so-so-so good or I'll never ever get published, and, I've got to buckle down and be serious and write in the way that people will want to read because I'll be doomed otherwise and no one will ever read my... blah blah blah.

And I remember this interview being a turning-point for me.  You see, it's always the exceedingly simple things that rattle my brains and club me upside the head with epiphanies.  I'm never boggled by the complex things; usually my little mind embraces those without flinching.  But the simple ones?  No, the simple ones tend to leave me dizzy for days.  And this was one such.

The essence of the interview was this: don't be afraid of the weird things that make you you.  And don't be afraid to saturate your writing with them.  Because it is that side of yourself, those oddities which truly make you unique, that will set your writing apart.

Now, some people are naturally more weird than others.  And that's just fine.  But whatever level of quirk you have inside you, don't be afraid to let it show.  Because, as it turns out, the world doesn't really want normal.  The world wants weird, and the world wants you. 

Take this quote (a new favorite of mine), and post it by your writing desk:

"Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness." -Allen Ginsberg

And then cross-stitch this one on a pillow, and sleep on it every night:


You tell me: do you let yourself into the things you write naturally?  Or is it a struggle for you sometimes?  What methods do you use to turn off that critical inner editor and allow your true weird self to shine through in your writing?