Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Write Something Every Day

     This is one of those very few bits of advice given by and to every writer. And the general idea is to write something; anything. I'm sure that does do all the good things it's supposed to, exercising the creative muscles and whatever, but does it do enough?
     I have been sick for over a week. (Getting old sucks. I used to just work through whatever illness, never miss a day, eventually get over it. Now I totally crash for 4 or 5 days and still don't get well.) While I have not felt well enough to take on my current WIP - which is actually just (hopefully the last) revisions of my next book - I have made myself do some kind of writing and or writing related work: blogging, critiquing, emails, etc.
     When I finally got back to my revisions, which had been rolling along quite smoothly, I felt lost. As we all know happens, if you take a few days away from your work, you have to spend days reacquainting yourself with the world and the characters and the story. I KNOW THIS. So why do I let it happen?
     The answer is simple: I felt so lousy I didn't care if I had to start reading from chapter one again to get back into my work. I thought, "It's just one day, one more day, a few days, how much can it matter?" But now I'm healthy...and frustrated.
     Will I ever learn? Probably not. So, what to do about it? Start reading from chapter one to get my momentum back. And keep going. Again.


Monday, January 30, 2012

Knowing When To Stop

     As I've mentioned before, I have many favorite authors whose new books I wait for anxiously and buy and read immediately.  There have been a few over the years whom I have stopped reading, simply because I moved on to other books and authors.  Most of these are series writers and books, because I'm a huge fan of series. There have been a few I stopped reading simply because I got tired of the characters or the storylines deteriorated and the books just weren't as good.
     This has recently happened to one of my favorite writers. Her last release was a huge disappointment and the very latest one is even more so. And it shouldn't be that she's run out of plot ideas or storylines. Her characters and their world are so well developed and multifaceted that she could take them in dozens of facinating directions. But she hasn't and isn't. I'm curious as to why.
     I have one favorite author, and know of another, who is quite popular (although I am not a fan), whose series books are fabulous. This author's stand-alone books are simply cookie cutter stories with slightly different settings, but essentially the same plot. Even the main and secondary characters have all the same traits; only the names and physical descriptions are different.
      This tells me that no one is immune. Even great writers run out of new ideas or have series with great potential that simply run down.   Some of my favorite authors have discontinued (after nicely wrapping up the storylines) certain series that I would love to read more of.  Presumably the latter knew what was happening and decided to quit while they were ahead.
     I write two seperate series; one a series of books and one is a series of short stories. I hope that when one begins to -or is even in danger of -deteriorating, that I will know and have the sense to wind it up. But will I?
     Maybe I won't need to. I take heart from my other favorites whose series are still going strong even after almost 20 books. I would love to think mine could be the same, but if not, I want to be aware of it and move on to something new before I disappoint my readers.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Last Visit To Character Vs. Plot

Even I'm now bored with flogging this dead pony, but I wanted to take a look at whether (as I read in another writers blog) certain genres can be generally called character driven while other genres are plot driven. According to aforementioned blog post, Fantasy and Historical were plot driven while Romance was character driven. My question is: Is it that simple and where do the other genres fall?

I am now looking at different genres according to whether they feature extraordinary characters in ordinary situations or vice versa, rather than whether the plot or action drives the characters or if the characters actions drive the plot. Depending on the story in question this may be the same as looking at them in terms of whether the action drives the character or vice versa.

I would agree that Fantasy and Sci-Fi can be seen as plot driven, because the setting or situation is what causes unique problems for the characters. I also agree that much but not all pure romance is character driven, because basic romance really has only one plot. However, there are romance books that have very unique premises and that does drive the character to act certain ways.

So, what about mystery? Depending on the book or story, it could be either. Horror? Same thing. I feel literary fiction is more character driven, because while the plot may be unusual, it is most often caused by the actions of people.

I feel like Paranormal and Urban Fantasy should go under plot driven, but again, it depends on the book. Many of these stories focus on the supernatural elements and how they affect the characters. My novels, and the Southern Vampires Series is the only other one like this that I am familiar with, have a totally mundane setting. In fact, I consider my books to be mysteries, but because there are paranormal elements I am told they are classed as urban fantasy. My books do feature supernatural characters, but they are not neccesarily central to the plot.

So, would this be a case of extraordinary people or extraordinary situation? Most of my characters are mundane and my plots feature mundane occurances, but there are a few extraordinary people involved.
(Note: this is not true of many of my short stories, which center on the characters in my book, but often have supernatural issues as the plot).

I'm afraid I'm going to have to stick with my theory that however mundane or extraordinary a plot or characters may be, the actions of the characters in any situation are what move the story. Ordinary, predictable people who act or react in predictable ways can sabotage even the most facinating plot.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

More Thoughts On Character Vs. Plot Driven Fiction

I just finished reading Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars and I'm one of those people who always reads the acknowlegements, dedications and forwards/afterwords. (This is especially fun when you like the writer and such things are written in the author's style or voice.) I've mentioned I am a huge fan of SK and think he is an amazingly talented writer but I can't read a lot of his work because I am squeamish.

In his afterword of Full Dark, No Stars he said something that got my attention. "I have no quarrel with Literary Fiction, which usually concerns itself with extraordinary people in ordinary situations, but as both a reader and a writer, I am much more interested by ordinary people in extraordinary situations." This statement doesn't mention the words "plot" or "character", but is certainly a comment about which of them drives a story.

I am not a fan of literary fiction on the grounds that it is very realistic and therefore depressing. If I want to read about people in difficult, unfair or hopeless situations, I can read the newspaper. Where I disagree with SK is that I feel literary fiction concerns itself with ordinary people in ordinary situations; or while not everyday, common situations, ones that could easily exist . This is not uninteresting - even ordinary people are facinating in the ways they act, think and feel in many circumstances.

 Even with that difference in opinion about the types of characters in literary fiction, SK and I would both agree that literary fiction is character driven and that his work is plot driven. I find that interesting and now want to explore the idea in relation to other genres, particularly Urban Fantasy and Paranormal, in my next post.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Character Profiles

...are a wonderful thing; an enormously useful writer's tool. Many writers, several in the LWC, advocate creating character profiles. While I have not yet ever done this, I think it's a great idea.
     I feel I can get into the head of any of my characters and I have many (sometimes vague) ideas about most of their backgrounds and personality traits. But I am fully and painfully aware that I am scattered and forgetful and prone to general mental confusion.
     So character profiles are something I need to do and plan to do...sometime soon. When I do embark on this project, I have the perfect resource to help me: Noah Lukeman's book, The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways To Bring Fiction To Life. This book offers a lot of great information, but almost half of it is on character development.
     Much of this is in the form of questions and hypothetical situations. It encourages writers to consider things from a character's upbringing (family attitudes on religion, childhood pets, early school experiences, etc.) to the geography of where they live and how such things might affect how they live and what they are familiar with. The book also describes different situations to help writers think about how various characters would behave, think or feel under certain circumstances.
     This is only a shred of the many ways Lukeman's book helps you look at the many facets of your main and secondary characters. The ideas generated by this book are almost overwhelming, but invaluable for a WIP or just learning and practicing how to create characters. I am looking forward to using it for creating character profiles - when I get to it. Because Lukeman's book is so inspiring, I know I will be starting on that project sooner than I would otherwise.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Benefit Of Doing Things The 'Wrong' Way

     The dozen or so short stories I have written that tie into my book series cause me confusion by
a) introducing some characters that don't appear until later books, and b) making it hard for me to remember what has or hasn't yet happened in the books I'm working on (but may have happened in a story).
     In addition to these difficulties, I have realized a great benefit to writing these stories. Through them I have a much stronger understanding of my characters.
     There are at least two reasons for this. One is that the plots of short stories can be a little more unusual than one I could use as a subplot in a novel. And in more bizarre or intense situations, you get to see sides of your characters you might not otherwise encounter.
     The other reason might be particular to me. I write my Daylight novels from the first person perspective of the protagonist, Helen. Some of my short stories are also written from Helen's first person POV.  However, a few of the stories are written from the first person POV of different characters and some are written in the third person POV of other characters.
     This may be an unusual way to write a series of short stories and I don't know why I do it. I don't consciously think, "This would be more interesting if I used this or that POV." The stories just presented themselves to me that way. And that aspect of my story crafting falls under my philosophy, "Write in the way that works (best) for you."


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Lesson On What (Possibly) Not To Do

     My goal for 2011 was to epublish my first book by the end of the year, a deadline I missed by a couple of hours. (Never mind that it was New Year's weekend and my novel wasn't processed and available to download until the following Tuesday). Still, my novel, Daylight's End, is now available on Nook and Kindle and I have already sold a few copies.
     Daylight's End is the first in the Daylight Series and I am now working on revising book two, Before Daylight. In earlier posts I've mentioned my difficulties in writing both books, having used a different process for each and still not having established one that works well for me.
     I was anxious to get book one out so I can get book two out and I'm anxious to get book two done so I can get to books three and four.  This is probably normal for any writer working on a series of books, but my motivation may be a little different.
    Here's where we come to something I might recommend not doing.  While writing books one and two (and the start of three and the outline for book four), I wrote several - over a dozen - of what I call the Daylight Stories. These are stories featuring the characters, settings and other aspects of the books. I feel like most of them are really good and lots of fun and I have already epublished a few. (See daylightsend.weebly.com) The problem is most of these stories I have not yet published because they involve characters that are not introduced until books three and four and so I feel I can't publish those stories until book three and four are finished and available.
      This might be unreasonable on my part and I may decide to publish a couple more stories before books three and four are out. Otherwise, I have several great (my opinion) stories that I can't share yet, even though they are ready. But that's only part of the problem.
     The other part is that I'm having difficulty, while working on the novels, remembering that some of the things that I know happen in the stories have not happened yet in the books. It's possible, even likely, that other writers don't have the mental organizational deficiencies that I do, so a situation like this might not be a problem for them.
      These two issues don't make me wish I hadn't written those stories when I did, but they are something to think about - and share. In spite of the difficulties they cause me, there was a huge benefit to writing those stories that I will share in a future post.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

One Example of Contradictory Writing Advice

     One often repeated tip for those working on a first draft: Just write the whole thing; don't revise at all until it's done.  This makes sense to me. Many writers get hung up on the first chapter, page or paragraph, thinking they can't go on until they get it just right. Which it never really is, and that keeps the writer from moving forward with the story.
     The flip side of this is the many writers that say the first thing they do at every writing session is to re-read the last chapter, page or paragraph they wrote to get them back into the story. (And who can re-read without editing just a little?)
     This also makes sense to me and I personally recommend this practice to others. It really does help you remember where you were and where you were going. But if you find any big problems with what's already written, instead of stopping your momentum to fix it, make a note and continue with the narrative.
     Like all advice on writing, whether it's about style, plotting, characterization, process - whatever - do what works best for you. If you come across something that might work for you, try it and see.

(For the one bit of writerly advice that I have rarely heard refuted, see my post "To Write Or Not.")


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Managing Writing Time

     I am NOT a person who needs to be commenting on this, except from the how-not-to-do-it point of view. I have no self-discipline and am as distractable and procrastinating as any writer, possibly more than most. If you check back, you will see that I actually wrote a post on using solitaire as a writing tool.
     Recently a writer friend posted a link on our writers' group facebook page to a site called Writer Unboxed ("The Secret To Finding Time to Write").  One of the quotes we liked best in this article on writing time management was the advice to stop reading writing advice. While that seems oxymoronish in general, the author did elaborate on why and when you might want to forego seeking information about writing. The idea is to seek out advice and information about writing when you need specific help or inspriation, not a(nother) source of procrastination.
     So while the statement "stop reading writing advice" in an article of writing advice seems contradictory, it really isn't. I have noticed that, at least on the surface, much general writing advice is contradictory. I have found a few recommendations about writing that don't have an opposite and equally valid suggestion from somewhere and I mean to explore them.  I also plan to investigate both sides of other bits of advice writers share that go directly against the guidance and opinions of other writers and writing instructors.
     I am certain that in the process, I will learn something. Hopefully, a lot of things.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Review Of Writing Books

I recently checked out Noble's Book of Writing Blunders (and how to avoid them) by William Noble.   It's a fairly small book with very basic pointers on writing for beginning writers. I felt a lot of the information could have been covered in a short list with one or two sentence explanation, but Noble dedicated an entire chapter to each and included examples of what to do or not do. The chapters cover topics like "Don't Overuse the Thesaurus", "Don't Underuse the Dictionary", don't write the way you learned in elementary school, go easy on adjectives and adverbs, use proper punctuation. This is all quite useful for someone just starting to write, but not for writers with a fair amount of experience. Noble also writes in a very easy to read style and presents the information in an interesting way, so it's not dull in spite of the straightforward content.

Another book I've acquired is The Writer's Idea Book, by Jack Heffron. It is both more and less than I expected. I thougth it would just be a book of random writing prompts, but it is organized into sections of various kinds of prompts: prompts to help you develop a writing routine, explore your personal style, organize your thoughts or story ideas and dozens of others. Many serve as excercises to practice skills like creating characters, using description and humor, or exploring analogies and metaphors. The book doesn't just give ideas, it shows the writer how to use the prompts to work through difficulties and improve their writing in general. Its usefulness is increased by the way it is organized, allowing the user to ignore what they don't feel they need and find help they are looking for a particular area.  This book is a valuable resource for any writer.