Tuesday, June 28, 2011

How Much Is Too Much?

Writers love words, that is why we write.  So, it follows that one of the writer's most difficult tasks is to learn how to apply the "less is more" theory.  It is so easy to get caught up in language. I create what I consider a clever phrase and fall madly in love with it.  It is difficult to cut it, even when it becomes painfully obvious the phrase does not match the story's tone, voice, or it simply isn't necessary.

I heard author Clint Johnson at LTUE talk about streamlining fiction. He said,
"Authors tend to be self-indulgent; we get wrapped up in our own supposed brilliance. If you want to be paid for being read, you must not make people wade through your own showing off to get to the story."

Kathleen Duey at WIFYR 2011 called it "every little blade of grass". Inexperienced writers will describe every detail until their readers are so encumbered with unimportant business that the story drags.  Editors do not have time to wade through such writing indulgence, and they won't.

This is good advice but difficult to apply when those precious words are your own.  I can easily spot such word indulgence--using two words to say sort of what I want instead of using one word to say exactly what I mean or the use of modifiers because I didn't use the right verb or noun to begin with.  This is micro-streamlining.  But macro-streamlining, the plot-related kind in which entire scenes need to be re-evaluated for their necessity, is more painful.  Does every scene move the story forward?  Can two scenes that serve the same purpose be combined?  Is this scene self-indulgent or is it crucial to move me inexorably toward my climax?

My secret to macro-streamlining is in the re-write.  I have revised many times and I have found it difficult to identify with total honesty those unnecessary sub-plots and indulgent scenes.  Since I have decided to re-write my fantasy novel in the first person, the necessary scenes have come into sharp focus and the unnecessary ones have fallen to the background. Trimming the excess has only made it stronger. 

I am off to re-write another chapter.    

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Characters Who Want Things

What do you do when your character is too resigned or weak?  She may want things, but she doesn't want them enough.  Readers don't want to read in the head of someone who does not want something.  Wanting chocolate enough to complain about it doesn't count, unless the character is traveling to the world of the damned to trade her soul for the alchemist's ring, granting her the skill to turn anything she wants into chocolate.  I know, that was terrible.

Sol Stein suggests an imagined scene--played out in the head of the author--in which the resigned character, the one who doesn't want things, sits calmly in the room as the door slams open.  Imagine another character storming into the room. She looks like the first character, they have the same name, but that is where the similarities end.  The new character tells the resigned one to take her sorry self out of the story and orders the author, "Listen up!  I have something to tell you!"  This new character is in charge.  She wants things with a passion of which the old character never dreamed.  She will find a way to get what she wants and she'll tell the author all about it, if the author will listen.  Good fiction is not passive.  To write good fiction, we must rid ourselves of characters who de-energize the work.

Another way to write a character who will drive the story is to discover what she wants through dialogue.  Interview her and ask her questions about herself, her family, her friends, her greatest fear, and her greatest desires.  What does she want more than anything else and what is she willing to do to get it?

Stein also suggests composing a letter--from the new character to the author.  A letter that is candid, bold, and a touch eccentric.  In the letter, the character should reveal to the author something the author doesn't already know.  As odd as it sounds to write yourself a letter, as your character, it is a surprising and powerful writing exercise.  One that may answer questions about your plot.

How do you flesh out the personalities and wants of your characters?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

WIFYR 2011

I just finished an intense week of critiquing, writing, participating in a fantasy class with author Holly Black, networking, and hilarity!  A week in which I got no sleep.  The Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers conference was everything I hoped it would be.  I will now write a text-heavy post detailing all the knowledge gems I acquired. Naaah! Kidding! To make it interesting, here it is in the style of my middle-grade protagonist.

Things I Learned At WIFYR 2011:
  1. Holly Black wears awesome shoes.
  2. I was using a lot more passive verbs than I was thinking and I was horrified when they were circled all over my manuscript.  Baaah!  I know better!!
  3. Editors and agents may tell hilarious stories from the publishing world if invited to sit on a faerie picnic blanket and have a cupcake.
  4. Revising means rewriting.
  5. Rewriting a 356 page novel into the first person narrative does not make me crazy! It does not make me crazy, it does not make me crazy...okay, shut up.
  6. The nine non-commandments of The Church of Satan can actually improve my understanding of how to write antagonists (umm...you'll have to ask me about that one later).
  7. Other people love to write as much as I do.
  8. Writing a great plot doesn't make you qualified to explain it in person to an editor.  "And then this happens, and then this happens, oh yeah, but before that she meets..."  It's like trying to tell someone what a car is by saying,"Well, there are some wheels, and a fan, and it comes in lots of colors, and you can sit in it, oh yeah, and you pour gasoline into it..." (Rick Walton and I perfected that one in the hallway.)
  9. Critiquing other authors' manuscripts is the best way to learn how to critique my own.
  10. Seeing a sample cover of my own novel is enough to make me giddy with get-back-to-work glee.
  11. Magic systems and world building are much more complicated than I thought--but I get it now.
  12. Writing skill is no respecter of age--this is something I already knew, but it was fun to meet a successful author who is younger than my sisters.
  13. Such a conference is worth its weight in gold.
And I will end on that with lovely number thirteen.