Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today's struggle: openings

Today's struggle: writing backwards and filling in the missing opening scene of the manuscript.

See, I thought I'd try to get around my writer's block by writing the scene AFTER the opener, so as to alleviate the block I always have for the first page of a story. And yes, I was able to write, but now that I'm going back...

Can I just say how much I hate writing the first five pages? It's so intimidating. We all know that we need the perfect opening hook, line, paragraph, lede, lead.... I mean, entire writing books are devoted to the subject ("Hooked" and "The First Five Pages" come to mind, and yes, I own both books).

Here's the list of the do's and don't's that I've culled over my many years of reading writing books and now, agent blogs:

Tips for writing the First Page:
  • You can't start with a character waking up.
  • You can't start with a slow description about the weather - unless it's all foreshadow-y and moody, and you've published before. (Or you've cheated with an exciting prologue, but that's playing with fire too)
  • You can't start with a slow description about the setting (unless you're a 19th century author, or previously published with legions of followers).
  • You could start with dialogue, but some people hate dialogue openings. I'm one of them.
  • You could start with action, but not too much action or you'll confuse the reader and fail to connect.
  • You want to have a character with voice, but too much and it looks like you're trying to hard.
  • Or you're too gimmicky.
  • You could start with description of another character... but not too much. See the above on the dangers of too much description.
  • Avoid prologues. Like the plague. People hate them. No, really. They really do.
  • And the list goes on.
So, is it any wonder I'm all paralyzed over here? I've got a legion of books and agents and others jumping up and down in my subconscious saying, Don't! Nope! Wrong!

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad they pointed out all those overused, or problematic first line openers. I just wish I could forget it long enough to let the story flow.

But dagnabbit. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Prologue or no Prologue, that is the question

Prologues and Zombies, oh my!

ZOMBIE KILLER by *zhuzhu on deviantART

Everyone has an opinion about prologues in stories these days, and lots of confusion surrounding the subject. Many agents are blogging that they don't want to see prologues leading off stories in the slush pile, and yet, books are still being published with prologues on the first page.

I haven't really understood the anti-prologue stance. If done well, they work just fine. That's the problem -- they have to be kick ass, especially if you're going to give up that vital real estate, the all important first page, to them.

Seth Fishman of Sterling Lord Literistic was recently interviewed in the Guide to Literary Agents blog, and he had some of the best advice I've seen yet on the subject.

"This is very personal, as some problems aren’t problems, they are clearly preference. But often a prologue is a problem. It usually means that there is something shoved into the beginning of the novel to add excitement. (Yes, Twilight has a prologue, but you tell me if it adds anything to the book – I’d say sloppy writing, but I suppose this is a perfect example of how subjective the industry is). Letters, people awakening in the first scene, really dramatic flashbacks/flash-forwards are often turnoffs, not because the writing is bad or you can’t do that as a writer, but to me, it is familiar, and feels uninventive. Again, there is nothing wrong with doing anything you want to start a book, but if you do the same thing everyone else is doing, you better make it stand out."
I'd argue his stance that adding excitement by using a prologue is sloppy writing, but I do agree that if you're using a prologue or opening that agents have seen a million times before, it better be the absolute best opening ever, and so crucial to the story you couldn't imagine the book without it.

Also, I was glad to see that he preferred vampires to zombies. What is it with zombie fiction, anyway? I don't like zombies in my movies and I don't like them in books. They are just too yucky. Really. YUCK.

Okay, wait, I do have to say that I like how Laurell K. Hamilton uses zombies in her Anita Blake books, but that's because Anita is a necromancer, so it's raising the dead is her job. But it's just something she does, just one aspect of a world filled with all kinds of supernatural critters.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Rejection. Not just for writers

Think only writers have to deal with rejection? Not so! And there's a new book out by Bill Shapiro featuring 'some of the most infamous, and meanest,' rejections out there.

Can't see the video above? Check it out here...

Here's a link to the book if you're interested:

(And in the spirit of full disclosure, yes, that is an Amazon affiliate link, so I'd get a commission if you bought the book through the above link.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

900 words & Koontz Video Interview on his Writing Process

Daily Word Goal: 500
Yesterday's Total: 900 or so

My weekly night out writing & coffee date at B&N was fruitful last night. I managed about 900 new words and made it through the climax of the scene that had been such a struggle for the last several days. Go me!

Of course, I cringe at how bad it stinks, but I'm trying to follow the advice of one of my writing pals who's mantra is, "F*** it, I'll fix it in rewrites."

I am trying to live this mantra but it's suuuuuppperrrr hard for me. I don't know if it's because I'm a perfectionist (I am) or whether it's the writer's equivalent of body dysmorphic disorder

Or maybe I'm just like Dean Koontz, who can't let a draft alone either. Koontz says:

I don't write a quick draft and then revise; instead, I work slowly page by page, revising and polishing.

In fact, he's so meticulous, check out this video; about halfway through he talks about how he 'inches through' novels, revising each page until it's perfect:

However, since I'm NOT Dean Koontz, I think I might need to figure out an easier way to get through my first drafts, or else I'll never finish anything--novel length anything that is.

This weekend is devoted to art commissions, and I have a big delivery of beads and beading supplies arriving. Hopefully I can fit writing in as well.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Baby steps & I Write Like

Current WIP:
I've got some art commissions that are eating up my spare time right now, so I've only been able to tack on a couple hundred words to the current WIP, and I have a couple hand written pages of scrawled scene action, but things are moving slow over here. Plus there's been shower repairs and other domestic issues that have been pulling my focus away from creative endeavors.

I Write Like...

Some writer friends were posting this amusing site on Facebook today. It's called I Write Like and you basically put your manuscript text in, and it analyzes your writing and tells you what famous author your work is most comparable to. My result? Stephen King. Must be because of all the swear words. :D

I write like
Stephen King
I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I don't know what it would say if you tried a rhyming picture book... hopefully one of my SCBWI mates will have a go and let me know.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Onto something?

Daily Word Goal: 500
Today's Count: 768

So, I've switched gears yet again, trying to find the story that is right for me to tell at this point in my hectic life, and I'm just working on a scene from my paranormal/urban fantasy that's sort of at the beginning of the book. I'm not worrying about starting on chapter one, page one. Just writing, trying to feel out the character and her world.

I've already managed to get 768 words out on e-paper today, which is more than I've done on any other project (in one day) in the last several months. Not only did I exceed the goal, I feel like I can KEEP writing, instead of it being torture.

I'm hoping it's a sign that I'm finally on the right track and my muse and I are on the same e-page.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Secrets and lies

Today I'm working on a character bible and some notes for one of my stories. Specifically on the minor characters that my MC will interact with on a daily basis. Because they are minor characters, I'm trying to boil them down into just a few details - short descriptions, what they do for a living, what they like, what their goals are and what they fear. But lastly, I'm including a category that's called "Secrets."

I can't remember where I heard this - or read it - but there's this bit of advice on character creation that is sticking in my brain. I think it was from Joss Whedon, from when I was watching the "Buffy" DVDs and geeking out on the extra bonus material.

The gist is, when creating your characters, you should give them a secret goal, weakness, or secret trouble from the past. That way, if an actor leaves the show and you need to kill them off, or you need a new plot line filled with angst and mayhem, you've got it already built into your characters.

For example, in Season one, Giles wasn't always the upright Watcher that he seemed to be on Buffy. When he was a young man he dabbled in the occult, and was a bit of a bad boy. His past comes back to bite him in the butt when a demon possesses his girlfriend, Jenny Calendar (the computer science teacher). And Miss Calendar had a secret of her own - she was secretly sent to watch Angel, because her clan was responsible for cursing him decades ago.

Just look at any of the characters in Buffy, and you'll see a weakness or secret that Whedon and his writers were able to mine for TV gold. Spike always was a romantic. Buffy's boyfriend Riley wasn't just a college student - he was a secret government agent. Anya could never get over her hatred and distrust of men. Wesley was always fighting the shadow of his father. When Cordelia's family lost all their money she'd rather die than let anyone know it.

I'm sure you could pick out other examples. Perhaps you don't like genre fiction or TV and find these examples broad or corny. But the principal is sound. Especially if your goal is to write a series. Plot arising from character is always a great way to write.

So, back to my character bible. This particular story (an urban fantasy type thing)  is standalone, but I'm layering in details now that won't necessarily be revealed in this book -- juuuuuuust in case this one book turns into three or more. :D

photo: James Marsters as 70s-era Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 

And here's some Spike and Buffy love, because you know you want to see it. Oh, how I love Spike!