Monday, April 30, 2012

Z is for... zealous

I thought of something fantastic to write about for my Z post the other day, but can I remember it now?  No, of course not.  But here we are.  At Z.  I'm kind of amazed I made it all the way to the end, but I did, without having written anything in advance or planning anything in advance.  Yeah, I'm a pantser through and through.  There's no point in denying it any more.

Which brings me to the point of today's post.  I'm starting a new book tonight.  It's not any of the three ideas I was toying with before, but something that just grabbed me last weekend while I was watching a documentary about a musician I knew a long time ago.  Someone said something and the whole story just flew in my face like some kind of manic cream pie.  I've been holding out all week, trying to give myself room to breathe and think the plot through, but I have to give up on that now.  

This story wants to be written.

I'm plunging into it zealously, without an outline, without anything but a feeling in my gut that's part excitement and part terror.  The words feel like they're sitting there, ripe fruit waiting to be plucked.  This is a story that's very close to me and I feel a huge weight of responsibility to tell it well.  It's dark and messy and passionate and full, oh full of music.

So I'm going to go write now.  I hope the story flows the way I expect it to, and takes twists and turns I don't.  I'm going to keep this post close by, so when things get hard, I can come back and remember the zeal with which I began the project.

Wish me luck...

How do you feel when you start a new project?  Excited? Petrified?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Y is for... Yes!

Yes.  Such a small word.  Three little letters.  But what an important word it is.  As a writer, yes is a word I rarely hear, so when I get an email with a 'yes, we will read your MS' or 'yes, we do like your story enough to publish it', it is like a shot of adrenaline.  Suddenly all those no's that have piled up in the 'rejections' folder fade into insignificance.  Those three letters have power, baby!

Yes is an important word for everyone to embrace.  Often when things are new and challenging, our automatic instinct is to say no.  But unless we open ourselves to new experiences, we can get stuck in a rut and become staid and inflexible.  I try, wherever possible to say yes.  Not to the extreme that Jim Carrey did in that film Yes Man, but whenever I feel like saying no, I question it before saying the word.  Am I saying no out of fear of change, or terror of being pushed outside my comfort zone?  If that is the case, I will often say yes just to force myself to get outside my box.

Do you find yourself saying yes or no more often?  Do you want to change that?

Friday, April 27, 2012

X is for...Xenon

Xenon is a gas.  It has many uses, but in my world, it's used to project film on screen.  You see, the lamp inside a film projector is a xenon arc lamp.  The light created by the arcing xenon is equivalent to midday sun, so easily bright enough to shine through celluloid and throw whatever image is printed on it onto a screen many meters away.

While xenon projectors are a whole lot safer than the earlier, carbon arc projectors (I'm old enough that I used carbon arcs in one of my early projection jobs.  Scary things.  Never want to do that again), there is still a risk of the lamps exploding.  Usually this only occurs if the lamp is handled badly or inserted incorrectly, but I have seen xenon lamps blow up for no particular reason.  It makes a huge mess inside the projector, and more often than not, shatters the mirror that focuses the light in the correct position.  It costs a lot to repair this kind of carnage, believe me...

With digital projection becoming the industry standard, the exploding xenon will become a thing of the past, much like the carbon arc projector and the super flammable nitrate film that was used in the early days of cinema.  While it is a relief not to have to deal with some of these hazards, I can't help feel sad about the demise of film and film projection as an art.

The cinema I run still runs its film through two projectors, switching between the two at the end of each reel.  The projectionist needs to know what they are doing and projection is both an art and a skill.  Projectionists at fully digital cinemas need to be computer geeks more than anything else, and projection is no more a skill than pushing buttons on a microwave.

There are definite benefits to digital.  It's cheaper to transport the films around the globe for one thing, and this has made it possible for studios to release films worldwide on the same day in every location which cuts down on piracy (supposedly).  Digital prints can't get those horrible green emulsion scratches flickering through them.  But there's something about film...  Real film, 35mm celluloid traveling past the xenon at 24 frames a second, that can't be replicated by digital.  It's a warmth, a depth of color and focus, a feel you just don't get on digital.  It may be the way of the future, but I'll always love film.

Do you have any thoughts about the 35mm vs digital revolution?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

W is for... Words

As writers, words are our tools.  They are also the building blocks, mortar and cement that construct our stories.  Choosing the right word at the right time is often difficult because there are so many different shades of meaning associated with single words.  

When I read truly great writing, I'm not conscious of the word choices because the language flows together so seamlessly.  Sometimes though, I read books where a single word or phrase stops me in my tracks because it's so obvious, so glaringly wrong or just out of place in that specific position.  

I hate that.  It pulls me out of the story and makes me aware I'm reading.  I can often take a while to find my way back in again afterward.

Every now and then I read a book where the word choices are so bold and startling, they pull me out of the story for an entirely different reason.  The image or emotion they evoke is so crystal clear, I have to dig out my notebook and write it down in case I forget it.  The writer has found the perfect combination of words for the situation and I just have to seethe with envy because I didn't think of them.

Do words used beautifully excite you?  Do words being brutalized drive you to distraction?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

V is for... violence

I've talked about sex in YA books here before, so now it's the turn of violence.

While I'm not at all into violence, it is a part of life, and a lot of teens deal with it on a daily basis.  Bullying, domestic violence, sports violence and road rage are things kids have to face.  So how much can we show in our books for teens?

It's a question I've been considering the past couple of weeks because the new book I'm working on has, as a big part of it, a band who are known for inciting riots at its center.  I need to be able to give a sense of  how volatile the atmosphere at their gigs is, and how the crowd anticipate the first punch or kick being thrown.  Violence is central to the performance and I need to convey this to make the rest of the book work.  But how far can I go?  Nose breaking from the stage?  A few well thrown punches?  Blood?  Broken bones?

I guess all violence is about context.  If it's integral to the story, I don't think you need to shy away from presenting violence in all its raw, messy forms.  Where things get ooky is where it's there purely to provoke or because whoever is presenting it gets off on the savagery.

Some of the most popular books are riddled with acts of violence.  The Hunger Games is entirely based on a violent premise.  Even Twilight is filled with battles, and when you think about it, even the acts of passion are violent in that they involve  biting people and sucking out their blood.

What worries me is that violence seems to be far more widely accepted than sex.  Violence hurts and even kills people.  Sex, for the most part (let's forget rape which is violent sex) is an act of love and brings life into the world.  So why are people squeamish about presenting sex in YA books, but completely okay with kids killing people as a public spectacle?

What are your thoughts on violence in YA literature?

U is for... Universal

This morning one of my critique partners mentioned her distress at discovering her book, which she thought was unique, creative and fresh sounded very like another published book when she broke it down and wrote the blurb in the same format as that book.  Now, I've read various drafts of this story and have to agree with her that it is unique and fresh, but the plot did fit neatly into that 'mad-lib' blurb.

It got me thinking.

The stories that touch us most, that really grip the heart do so because they strike an emotional chord.  And why do they strike that chord?  Because they are universal stories, stories that ring true because they deal with emotions and situations we all recognize and understand.  Sure, maybe the action has been moved to Mars in 2089, but if we're looking at a man and a woman falling in love, or someone dealing with the death of a parent, or a person trying to make a significant change to his life, we're going to recognize it.  We've all been there.  These are universal experiences and regardless of the setting, we're going to respond to them.

Someone said once that there are only 7 stories, and we all just go around re-telling them, adding our own flavor and touches to them.  I believe it.  There are only so many stories that can be told because there are only so many things we can experience as human beings.  What makes each writers' work unique is their way of telling the story.  It may be the simplest story in the world, but a great writer can use words in such a way that the story feels like something you've never heard before.

Other writers may not have such command of words, and their way of making the story their own is to place it in a setting we've never seen before.  Perhaps it's an imaginary world, or our own world, but at a time we've never had the chance to experience.

How do you use universal stories?  What makes yours different from anyone else's?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

T is for...The

The.  It's a very simple word, but one that is used millions of time every day.    In the first page of my MS, I use the word 'the' 13 times.

Yet it is a word that is almost invisible.  It's so prevalent, used so often, and has so little in the way of meaning, it barely exists.

But try writing anything without it.

It is the first word of the title of many books and movies and I'm curious about that.  I mean, it's the first word of the title of my new book, The Boyfriend Plague.  Would the title have the same meaning if I lost 'the' and just called it Boyfriend Plague?  Or A Boyfriend Plague?  I think so.  In this case 'the' gives the phrase a grounding it doesn't have without it, makes it specific.

Have you ever thought about the word 'the'?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

S is for...Sequels

These days, it seems like every YA book you see is part of a series.  There seem to be very few books that just stand alone.  Yet I've never had any desire to write a sequel.  I love my characters, but when I leave them at the end of a book, I'm finished with them.  I've got them through whatever traumas I wanted them to deal with, and that's that.

I can understand the desire to write sequels, especially if you've designed and created an elaborate fantasy world.  And sticking with characters whose voices you already know as well as your own is probably easier than having to birth new ones.  And maybe the story you wanted to tell was bigger than could fit into a single book.

I can understand the reasons behind sequels and series, both as a writer and a reader.  I just have no desire to go that way myself.

Do you like sequels?  Why?

Friday, April 20, 2012

R is for... Reading

I love to read. My love of books and reading is what led me to write. And as a writer, it's the idea of people reading my work that keeps me going. I read widely too. While I do love YA contemporary, and I read a lot of it, my tastes are far broader than that. I like mysteries, thrillers, literary fiction, women's fiction, some sci-fi and horror and every now and then, a juicy romance is just what I need.

 My budget restrains me from buying all the books I want to read, and since I don't have an e-reader (yet..I do have a birthday coming up *hint, hint*) I can't take advantage of the low-price books available digitally. So I'm a library goer. A frequent library goer. I tend to take four or five books at a time because with all the beta reading and critiquing I do, that's about all I'll get through in the four weeks I'm allowed to have them.

 I try to get a variety of books too, and limit myself to only two YA titles per visit. Reading outside the genre I write is inspirational. Language is used differently, and stories are structured and told in a variety of ways. By reading broadly, I absorb all these techniques and styles, holding them in the back of my brain until at some point I may use them. 

 Years and years ago I was impressed by a book in which the story was told from the POV of someone other than the central character. The book was all about this one guy, but told from the POV of his brother. This stuck in my head and now, as I struggle with ideas for my next book, that shifting of perception is haunting me. I have no idea if I'm a good enough writer to carry it off, but it's an intriguing idea. 

 Every now and then I come across someone who says they don't read and I find this alien. Especially when it's another writer who says it. I can't imagine not having a book handy. How could I ride the bus without one? Eat dinner alone? Wait for a perpetually late friend at a cafe? Take a bath? 

 Some of my friends have pledged to keep track of all the books they read in 2012. One of them pledged a figure of 86. That didn't feel like a lot to me, so I figured I'd note down how many I read too, not as part of any particular challenge, but because I'm interested. As of today, I'm sitting on 31, so I figure I can make to 100 before December 31st without trying too hard. 

 How much do you read? What do you read? Anyone want to recommend something I should read?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Q is for... Quitting

I'm not going to tell you anything you don't already know: writing is hard. Getting an agent is harder. Getting published, even with an agent is tough too. You have to really love what you do, really want to make it to keep on doing it. As the rejections pile up and your confidence sinks to low ebbs, it's really easy to think about quitting.

And a lot of writers do quit. They write one book, query it, get nowhere and decide writing isn't for them.

Others don't quit. They keep going, even when the entire process is like bashing your head against a wall. I know; I'm one of them. I've written six complete books. I've queried three of them with no success and have just started querying a fourth. I have seven pages of rejections in a specially named 'rejections' folder in my email. Not all of them are for my novels; I geared up to querying my novels by submitting short stories to various anthologies and publications.

Yes, rejection gets me down. Yes, sometimes I feel like everything I write is a pile of poop and I might just as well quit because every other writer out there is more talented than me.

But I don't quit. I love writing. Putting together stories and finding new and unique ways to put words together is a part of me. I love the journey I take with my characters, even when I put them through hell (which I tend to do a lot). And the rejections just make the acceptances sweeter. I get such a surge of excitement when I see an request for a full or a partial in my in-box. And there is nothing like coming home to find the package in the mailbox with a book or magazine inside. A book with my words between the covers. So no, I'm not quitting any time soon.

Do you ever want to quit? What makes you keep going?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

P is for... Polite

One thing I've noticed recently is how much less polite the world has become. Please and thank you are still part of the language, but I find they are used much less frequently than they probably should. And with all the new technology vying for our attention, there are whole new ways to be rude.

For example, I think it's really rude when someone goes the counter in a cafe or store while talking on the phone. Trying to make an order or pay for something while our attention is on something different is rude. Especially when the transaction may need some back and forward. I work in a movie theatre and people constantly walk up to the counter while on the phone. It makes it difficult for me to complete the transaction because I need the customer to tell me what film they want to see, whether they want ice-cream or wine or coffee as well as the ticket, and I need to tell them which cinema to go to and what time the doors will be open.

And you can guarantee if they go to the wrong theatre, I'll hear about...

I see it at restaurants and cafes too. People have their phones out on the tables and text away while having a conversation with someone else. That's not polite. Surely if you're having coffee or dinner with someone, you can focus your attention on that person or people for that short period of time?

Maybe I'm getting old and fogeyish, but it doesn't take much effort to be polite, and it makes everyone feel that much better.

Have you noticed this trend too?

Monday, April 16, 2012

O is for...Olives

Olives have always intrigued me. They grow on trees and taste absolutely disgusting when you pick them off and eat them. Yet cured, they're delicious. Pressed into oil they're amazing. How did anyone ever figure that out?

Was it because people were so desperate for food, they were willing to eat the foul tasting things because they didn't kill them? And once they realized they were safe to eat, albeit gross, they had to figure out a way to make them palatable?

I don't know... But I do know there's nothing quite as delicious as Kalamata olives marinated with lemon zest and chili.

Do any of you know the history behind the eating of olives?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

N is for...Numbnuts

I love discovering new insults and ways to refer to people who do stupid things. I especially love it when one of my favorite new words gets used in public. This happened to me this week when the film reviewer for our daily newspaper (who happens to be a very good friend of mine) used my current favorite insult, ass-hat (or in his case, arse-hat). I mean, isn't that a great term? The image it conjures up is just...wrong.

I have many other insults I like using. Numbnuts is good for guys, while dickwad is good for pretty much anyone. I especially like using that one for bad drivers. Moron is okay, but doesn't quite have the same ring to it. There's something about adding a little bit of mild profanity to an insult that makes it more satisfying.

Muppet is a good one too, but I prefer to use that in a more affectionate way, the same way I'd use doofus or dingbat.

And the other ones I like to use are perhaps too rude to share in such a public forum.

But I'd like some new ones to let loose on the world (and maybe get published in the paper). What's your favorite insult?

M is for... Movies

It had to be done, right? I run a movie theatre and write film reviews so it was pretty much inevitable that one of my posts would be about movies.

To me, movies are the ultimate art form. They encompass every other art, using visual images, music, acting and written scripts to create something that can be incredibly powerful. Unfortunately the finished product can also be incredibly...well... shit too. But let's not dwell on the bad films. There are so many wonderful movies, ranging from huge blockbusters to tiny documentaries with a niche audience of about five.

I have to admit, my taste leans more towards those niche movies, but that's not to say I can't watch a mega-budget blockbuster and get swept away by it. Occasionally, anyway.

I'm a huge fan of documentaries. These are films that have the power to change perceptions, ideals and open closed minds. They can also engineer huge change. Just look at what Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's Paradise Lost documentaries did for the West Memphis Three. Or what Errol Morris's Thin Blue Line did. These documentaries got men off death row. That's the power of movie-making.

But those are extreme examples. Most movies are not going to change the world. Most movies offer a couple of hours escape into another world, or another life. Whether it's life on another planet, in the future, the past or just in another city, seeing lives played out on screen that differ to your own is an escape from the reality. Or it can be a new perspective on the reality you live in.

My favorite movies are always the character driven ones. I'm not that interested in films with a lot of CGI effects, explosions or car chases. My taste in movies is very similar to my taste in books. I like to see the way real people react to extraordinary circumstances. I love films like Winter's Bone, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Frozen River, The Edge of Heaven and The Sweet Hereafter.

What are your favorite movies? Why?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

L is for.. language

Language is what humans use to communicate (among other things) and there are numerous different languages each of us use on a daily basis. There's body language of course, which often contrasts with what is being said. You can lie with your mouth much easier than you lie with your body.

There's spoken language, and of course they differ around the world as do written languages. I love that every language has similarities in the things that are said, even if the actual words are pronounced in completely different ways. For example, in English when someone crashes straight into situations or places we say they're like a bull in a china shop. An evocative image, right? Well in German, the saying is similar, but different. In German you say they're like a monkey in a glass factory. Same kind of image right, but slight difference.

Then there are the specific languages within your own tongue that you use on a daily basis. There is a lot of technical language and jargon that is used in my job, which may not be understandable to people outside the industry, yet I converse in this language easily. And that's quite different to the language I use to talk to my kids or with other mothers.

Spoken and written language is quite different too. When I write, I definitely don't write the way I speak, yet both are my own voice.

So yeah. I'm multi lingual. Are you? What languages do you speak?

K is for...Kate

Okay, so this is an obvious one. K for Kate. But seriously, other than the 2 line bio on the side of this bar, what do any of you know about me, Kate? So here's the chance to find out the A-Z of me!

A is for my favorite veggies: avocado, asparagus and artichokes.
B is for Beijing, the city I lived in for 3 years between the ages of 9 and 12.
C is for cinema which is my career and one of my passions.
D is for diet, something I'm always on and never works.
E is for eating, which I love to do far too much to diet successfully.
F is for fiction, what I read and write far too much of, leaving me in a dreamworld about 90% of the time.
G is for glassblowing, the hobby I wish I had the means to take up.
H is for house and home, a place I spent more time than I actually ever do,
I is for ice-cream, which I adore. Especially affogato flavored, or lemon meringue pie, or triple chocolate or mint choc-chip...
J is for Jane and John, my sister and my father. My sister's husband fits there too since his name is Jim.
K is for kickboxing, one of the exercise options I do sometimes and enjoy far more than I should.
L is for lie-in, something I do on Sunday mornings and look forward to every week.
M is for mother, something I'm always afraid I'm not good enough at.
N is for novels, what I try to write two of a year.
O is for Orson my youngest son. The older one is Elias.
P is for poetry, something I totally suck at and actually find kind of boring (shhh.. don't tell anyone).
Q is for quips. My partner is great at these and makes me laugh constantly with them.
R is for reading, of course, because you can't write if you don't read. I just wish I had more time for it.
S is for Samoa, another place I lived when I was a kid.
T is for Tokelau, yep, another place I used to live. I was a diplo-brat, okay?
U is for unpublished and unagented... at the moment. I hope this will change in the not too distant future.
V is for violet which is my favorite color.
W is for wine which I like more than I probably should. Especially big, complex reds.
X is for Xavier, a name I love because how many names start with X? And it sounds so cool too.
Y is for youth, which I wish I had back to do over. Not that I'd change much, but it would be nice to re-do a few parts.
Z is for Zealand, because I live in New Zealand at the moment.

So there you are. The A - Z of K for Kate. You can wake up now....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

J is for... Just

Okay, so here's the point in the A-Z challenge where the whole pantsing it as I go fails. I haven't planned any posts this year, assuming something would come to me each day that fit with each word. But has it worked today? Nope. I should have planned at least the tricky letters...

The word 'just' has a couple of different meanings. It is used to mean right or honorable, as in 'it was the just decision'. It can mean 'merely' - which is probably its most common usage, This is the one I want to talk about here, because 'just' is one of those words I see thrown into a lot of peoples' writing far too often. Including my own.

It's a crutch word, but at the same time, it adds authenticity to a voice because it is a word people use a lot in conversation. I don't know how many times a day I'd use it, but I can guarantee it would be over ten. Well over.

So I hesitate when editing and I've come across multiple uses of 'just' in a single paragraph. Yes, it's overused and repetitive, but by taking them all out, am I dulling down my character's voice? Am I making the voice less honest by taking out something that may be a personal quirk?

In the end, I tend to remove uses of 'just' in narration, and leave it in dialogue for certain characters. Not all of them, because the last thing you want is for all your people to talk the same and share the same turn of phrase.

Is 'just' one of your crutch words? How do you deal with it and keeping your character voice honest?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I is for...Ideas

I'm struggling at the moment with the number of ideas I have for new books. How do I pick one when I have three equally compelling ideas crowding my skull? Not to mention the fact I also have 14K written already on a new book that was meant to be my follow-up to The Boyfriend Plague.

Ideas are interesting things. People always ask you as a writer where you get your ideas from, and it's never an easy question to answer. Sometimes I feel like I just grab them out of the ether, but other times I can say with certainty where a certain idea came from. A line in a movie, maybe. A character in a book I read. Even an article in the newspaper. Ideas fly at me from every direction, but focusing them into a coherent story is another matter.

And that's where I'm hitting a wall right now.

I have one story that is almost science-fiction, set in a post-apocalyptic world where most of the population as been relocated to another planet. I'm excited by this idea because I've never written anything speculative like this before (apart from the short story this idea sprang from).

I have another which I need to find a POV for because I can't tell the story from the POV of the girl whose journey it is. She'll come off as a victim and weak if I try and tell it through her eyes, but maybe if I try and tell it through her best friend's eyes? Or the ex-boyfriend she just dumped?

My last idea is an old story, one I've written several unconnected parts of, but never finished. I know how to write it now, where it needs to go and the idea is sitting right there behind my eyes, waiting to spill out onto the page.

So how do I choose? Throw darts? Start writing all three and see which one sticks?

How do you find the right idea to work on?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

H is for... Hungry

To make it as a writer, or indeed as anything, you need to be hungry for it. You need to be prepared to sacrifice, work and scrabble to get what you want. That golden apple is there, close enough to see, and you have to be willing to do pretty much anything in order to get it.

For me, I already know I sacrifice to get my writing time. I'm a busy person, what with a full time job and two young kids, but I'm determined to make a career out of writing in the end, so I get up at 5:30am in order to get that extra hour and a half of writing time. it means I often only get 5 hours sleep, but it's worth it.

I also don't go out much. Luckily my work is quite social so I don't find I miss it all that much. I don't watch TV often either. Once the kids are in bed, I might spend an hour or so sitting around with my partner, watching TV or chatting, but once 8.30 rolls around, it's writing time again.

What have you sacrificed for your dream? Are you hungry for success?

G is for... Ginger

Ginger is one of those really fascinating words in that it has so many different meanings. Perhaps this is because ginger, the plant, has so many different uses. When you use ginger in baking, it is a sweet spice, like cinnamon or nutmeg. But in Thai or Malaysian cuisine, it's a savory flavor.

Red haired people are often called gingers, which has always confused me a little because ginger isn't red or orange. My own son is a little ginger.

When you move with caution or care, you move gingerly. Again, I'm not sure why. Is it because ginger is a spice, and you need to take care of spice?

One of my favorite cookies is the Gingernut. They're really spicy and as hard as rock. But if you dunk them in a cup of tea, they soften up nicely and are totally delicious.

What's your favorite use of ginger? The word or the spice....

Thursday, April 5, 2012

F is for... Feedback

One of the most critical steps in a piece of writing's journey is getting feedback. By the time a writer has finished a piece, be it a short story, poem or novel, we know it so intimately it's impossible to see the flaws. To find out if it works, you need a fresh set of eyes on it.

But writing is a very personal thing. I always feel like I've opened my soul, naked and bleeding, onto every page. Letting anyone see that, get that close to me, is daunting.

It's important to find the right people to give you feedback. Your family and friends are fine if you want nothing but praise, but if you want real, helpful feedback that will force you to reassess and possibly rewrite your book, you need to go outside that safety net. But at the same time, you need to feel comfortable with the people you hand your baby off to.

Yeah. It's hard.

There are numerous websites for writers out there, and most of them have critique groups or forums in which writers can find readers for their work. Personally, I'm a member of and have two different critique groups there. I've made some fantastic friends in these groups, and my life - and my writing - has benefitted greatly as a result.

I've also found readers through bloghops and online contests. You often have to post a section of your MS for people to read and comment on, and I've been approached several times by people who liked my snippet and wanted to read more. Some of these people have become readers for me, and I've become a reader for them.

But the most important part of getting feedback is how you take it. Often it hurts. When someone tells you something you've worked hard on needs fixing, it's difficult not to get mad about it. I tend to go through all notes several times, over a number of days to get the most out of them. The first read-through is always the hardest and it's the one where I get indignant and scream at the screen. I don't do anything with the MS at that point, just read.

Then I leave it for a while and often find that certain comments ring true. Some don't, and those I ignore, but the ones that feel genuine, I go back to. Those are the changes I'll make, although often not in quite the way the critiquer might have expected.

Who do you go to for feedback? And how do you handle it?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

E is for... Ellipses

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know I love ellipses. They are the perfect piece of punctuation for when you want a thought to trail off and just hang there. And I often want that effect.

I find I have to go through my manuscripts with a fine toothed comb to weed out rampant ellipses abuse. And I still find there are a lot in the finished product. Sigh....

I just noticed I've hit 200 followers here, so I guess there are a bunch of people who don't mind my flagrant overuse of ellipses. Thanks everyone! I can't believe I have 200 people interested enough to read these rambles.

So, tell me, is there anything you use way too much in your work? Have you tried to train yourself out of it? Did it work?

D is for... Disappointment

One thing I've learned about writing is that disappointment is a given. Every query we send off, every short story to a publication, every contest entry has our hopes and dreams tacked onto it. Yet most of these missives come back carrying rejections. Disappointment and hurt follow in short order.

The trick is not to let the disappointment lead to discouragement. Yes, it hurts when our work is rejected. In fact, it hurts more when it's not our work but some half-page letter introducing our work. "What? I'm not even interesting enough for them to want to look at this book I've just spent XXX years working on? Not even one lousy chapter?"

It's okay to feel bad. Let yourself. Then shake it off and move on. Send another query or story. Write something else. It's not worth wallowing in. So, somebody didn't like it. The next person may love it with a mad passion. That's what we all hope for.

How do you deal with disappointment? Ice-cream and cookies? A strong gin? A brisk walk around the block?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

C is for... Characterization

Characters. Without them no work of fiction, cinema or theatre would exist. But how do we choose who to put into our stories, and what makes us choose them?

People in general are fascinating. Everyone is different due to a variety of factors, environmental and genetic. It's important to remember that when creating imaginary people to populate the worlds we create in out heads. Even within single families you can find a range of different temperaments and personalities. As writers, we need to be able to paint these differences, use them to create conflict and dynamic in our work.

It is important to give every character flaws, big or small. Nobody in real life is perfect - seriously, can anyone tell me they've met a perfect person? And besides, perfect is boring. Flaws are beautiful in their uniqueness and the various perspectives they can give on the world. Without flaws, our characters will have nothing to overcome and will not learn anything over the course of their journey. Because yes, to satisfy an audience, by the end of the story, characters do need to have changed, even if the change is subtle.

In order to create real, rounded characters, it's important to focus on small details to breathe life into them. Give them quirks, habits or mannerisms that show who they are. It's not enough to tell the reader a character is shy. Show it by having them shake their hair over their face whenever they're around people, or tug their sleeves down over their knuckles to hide the fists they've clenched in discomfort.

I spend a lot of time watching people. I love to sit in public places and study the way people act and move and react. I store details in the back of my head so when I need an specific quirk or reaction, I have something authentic to put in place.

What do you do to ensure your characterization is realistic?

Monday, April 2, 2012

B is for...Blogging

I had to really think about what I wanted to blog about for the letter B. Then it came to me: Blogging. I mean, it's what we are all doing here, right?

I was resistant to the idea of starting a blog. I'm a busy person. I work up to 60 hours a week, write two books a year and have two young sons to take care of. And I'm in a couple of very active critique groups and do beta reads for other writers on top of that. Did I really have time to start a blog as well?

Actually, no. But I made time. And after almost two years of blogging, I love it. I've made so many wonderful friends through my blog, not to mention finding some fantastic beta readers! It's also a really good way for me to untie knots in my thinking, or to get advice and ideas from a wide pool of people. My blog has become a place I come to for comfort, solace and inspiration.

I love entering blogfests where I get to read other writers' work and get feedback on my own. I enjoy the sense of community I get from reading other blogs, especially the ones where I discover something I never knew existed. I feel like I have hundreds of pen-pals, all posting regular messages about everything under the sun. And I don't even have to hang out by the mailbox waiting to see if they've written this week.

What do you love about blogging? And why did you start your blog?