Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Work In Progress Wednesday #15

Finally, finally, finally I have some actual writing progress to report!

Yea me! Yes, I am cheering and clapping for myself just like my two-year-old son does for himself when he does something good.

So these are my amazing, stupendous, and all-around awesome accomplishments from the past week. Prepare to be impressed.

1. Did extensive rewrites on Chapter 1.

This includes adding an entirely new beginning, and reordering events so they all happen in chronological order (Yes, chronological order, it's so straight-forward. Who knew? Not that it was previously like my own version of Memento, but I did find myself doing quite a bit of doubling back to explain everything that was going on, so I started at a slightly earlier point in the narrative, and voila! order was achieved.)

2. Put together a Word document with all the basic info. on my story and characters.

Since my WIP is Urban Fantasy I found myself having some trouble keeping track of all the rules of my world.

I also needed a place to write down all my characters names, I have a terrible habit of forgetting the names of minor characters, and then when they make a reappearance in the story 50 or 100 pages later instead of going back to remember the name I originally gave them, I'll just give them another name so I don't have to interrupt my flow. As you might imagine, this can get confusing.

I also listed all the changes I needed to make from fixing indiscrepancies in my timeline to adding more world-building details to clarifying the motivations for different characters. There was at least fifteen of them when I was done, and for next week my goal is to start going through them one by one.

3. Wrote a new query letter.

Having decided that my previous attempt at a query letter was pretty feeble, I tossed it out and started from scratch. Like anyone with any kind of sense at all I consider writing query letters to be a special kind of torture, second only to writing synopses. *shudders* Oh, I really hate synopses.

What I really needed to make the whole process easier was a guide, something that would break the whole thing down for me step-by-step. As luck would have it, such a thing exists at the blog. Written by Elana, (who also happens to be one of the best query letter writers around) her soon to be patented technique, took me from the beginning hook all the way through to everything else you need to do in a query - like those pesky bio paragraphs.

There are actually five parts to this series in all, (sorry, I was too lazy to link to all of them) and what I did was start right at the beginning with the hook and write that part of the letter, and then I followed the helpful link at the end of that entry onto the next one where I then wrote that part of the letter, and on and on until I was done.

I'm not going to say that it was easy, but I did not at any point feel the need to grab hold of head and scream at the ceiling, "WWWHHYYY??" And most importantly, at the end of it I had what I think is a halfway decent query letter.

So those are my three big accomplishments from the past week, and as I've previously mentioned I am darn proud of them.

How about you? Are you feeling proud of your progress from this past week?

And if you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

Friday, May 22, 2009

What I Like About You

Time for another spin on ye olde blog chain, and the question chosen by Michelle is not only good, but also extremely relevant to my current WIP.

In your reading and writing, which do you prefer – a main character that is intriguing, or one that is likeable? Who are the characters that you love the most? And who are the ones that you love to hate?

I think that what this question is really talking about are main characters that one would define as "antiheroes." According to this Wikipedia page listing fictional anti-heroes from books, movies, TV, comic books, and video games, there are several characteristics we can expect:
  • imperfections that separate them from typically "heroic" characters (selfishness, ignorance, bigotry, etc.);
  • lack of positive qualities such as "courage, physical prowess, and fortitude," and "generally feel helpless in a world over which they have no control";
  • qualities normally belonging to villains (amorality, greed, violent tendencies, etc.) that may be tempered with more human, identifiable traits (confusion, self-hatred, etc.);
  • noble motives pursued by bending or breaking the law in the belief that "the ends justify the means."
Personally, I tend to love these types of characters, and often find more suppsedly "likeable" characters (poor Bella from Twilight has taken quite a beating in this chain, and yet I can't help but bring her up once more as a character who is about as interesting as plain oatmeal.) to be completely unbearable.

However, looking at this question from the writing instead of the reading end of the spectrum is quite different. I think that most writers tend to love the characters they create. I have a terrible habit of even loving my villains, and am always wanting them to find some kind of redemption in the end. The way I see it, they're not bad - just misunderstood.

In my current WIP my main character definitely falls on the anti end of the hero spectrum. Again and again she exhibits many of the traits listed by that Wikepedia entry, and yet I always kind of thought that these were the best things about her.

But then the crits came back from some of my beta readers. And I started seeing that "L" word from the question: "likeable." Except it was proceeded by a "UN".

I wasn't totally surprised, I knew my MC had a hard side that might turn some people off, but I had also tried to demonstrate that she also had a - although very well-hidden - softer side.

But then another one of my beta readers (my husband actually, whose critting skills I've mentioned previously) said that he loved the character and not to change a thing (Don't worry he balanced it out with lots of things he didn't like about the other characters and many other things.). I ended up discussing with him that some of my other beta readers felt my MC could be more sympathetic, and he wondered aloud if the character had been written as a man instead of a woman would they have felt the same way? Now what we expect from our male and female characters is probably a question for another blog chain, but it did make me think - especially since most of the popular anti-heroes that I can think of (and most of those on Wikipedia's list) are men.

Anyway, I am now in the tricky position of trying to make my MC a little more sympathetic while not comprimising who she is or watering her down too much. It's a thin line.

Back on the reading side of things I find that what helps me understand any character is when their motivations are clear. This is why when a character does something for no reason, or just to advance the plot (*cough cough* Entire last two seasons of Heroes. Yes, I know that's TV, not reading, but have you seen how bad it was? I think I've actually picked on it in a previous post, because I was so actually angry at what they did to those characters that I had to stop watching.) it can really turn me off.

There are also times when characters will just cross a line that I will not follow them, no matter what their motivations.

Does that answer the question? I think so. Except I can't really think of any examples of any anti-heroes I really enjoy except for House and that's TV.

Somebody help me out. Do you like anti-heroes? Who are some of your favorites (extra points if it's a woman, since they seem to be rare)? And are there any heroes or anti-heroes who you just found too anti to enjoy?

And to follow this entire blog chain you can find Carolyn before me and Mary will be immediately after.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday #14

Oh crap.

Those are the words that have been following me for the past few days as Wednesday has loomed closer, and my progress has remained stuck at nothing accomplished.

If I think for too long and too hard about how much I want to get done (more blog posts, rewrites, a breakdown of the rules of the world in my novel so I stop contradicting myself) I get very discouraged and then very tired. Then I go take a nap, which as you might imagine, doesn't help much at all.

Even though I've already taken my nap for today, I am still tired so instead of focusing on the negatives of what I haven't done and what needs to be done, I am now going to discuss what I actually have accomplished.

These are not writing related things, but rather life related things. However, as somehow and somewhere down the road my life things often turn into my writing things, I'm not going to call it a complete loss.

The first accomplishment is one that I discussed working towards last week - making a Cookie Monster cake for my son's second birthday.

Taking the advice of some of my commenters, I ended up going to Michael's for the food coloring, and while I was there I also found some "edible" glitter that worked great for giving Cookie Monster a furry look (Note to anyone thinking of using this - "edible" does not mean the same thing as "tastes great". I was expecting the glitter to taste like sugary sprinkles, but no - they just kind of tasted like something I wanted to scrape off my frosting.).

My inspiration for the design came from this Coolest Cake's site. Basically, all I did was make two cupcakes and then two 9-inch rounds cakes from this Too Much Chocolate Cake recipe (subbing applesauce for the oil cause I'm just all health conscious like that. Yeah, it's kind of like going to McDonald's and getting a Diet Coke with your Supersized meal. It's meaningless, but it makes you feel better.) and topping it with Best Buttercream Frosting in shades of blue, white, and black.

The results are below.

And then there was the child's reaction to having Mommy say, "Jamie, look it's Cookie Monster. Cookie Monster, Jamie. It's your friend, Cookie Monster."

And then I put a flaming candle into his face, before carving it into slices.

Yeah, that's what we call the Boo Boo face. I think it's fair to say that he was a little overwhelmed. Seconds after that picture was snapped the tears started for real (you know those big fat round ones that just roll down their little cheeks) and it wasn't until the next night that Jamie ended up actually eating any of his Cookie Monster birthday cake.

So, there was that.

My other big accomplishment is actually a work in progress that I've been secretly working on for several weeks now.

For anyone who hasn't seen one of these fuzzy grey pictures before that's an ultrasound of my Jamie's soon-to-be baby brother or sister at about 9 1/2 weeks. He/She is still in the fuzzy blob stage, but those with sharp eyes might be able to make out the head, an arm, and the body.

Anyway, my due date is December 11th, and I am working through the last few weeks of my first trimester which has been Tough. Yes, with a capital T. Most days at just about the point where I have time to sit in front of the computer to get some work done, I get this feeling like I've been hit with a horse tranquilizer dart. My brain grows fuzzy making thinking impossible, which is just as well because the focus needed to read from a computer screen causes a pounding headache after thirty minutes anyway. Thus the napping mentioned above.

So, those are my not really writing related works in progress for this week. Next week though I am determined to get something related to my writing WIP accomplished even if I have to drink a gallon of coffee to make it happen.

Okay, so please cheer me up by telling me about your progress so that I know the whole world has not come to a grinding halt. I hope you all have come closer to meeting your writing related goals than I have. And if you have any tips or ideas or how to work through unbearable tiredness and other pregnancy related maladies bring it on!

And if you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday #13

Another week, another Work in Progress Wednesday.

This past week has been one of those where I feel like nothing has been accomplished, but then when I look back and really reflect on it, I realize that some important steps have been taken.

The biggest of those steps is that I've gotten crits back from three of my beta readers. Their feedback has already given me a lot to think about, or as Elana would call it some "major stewage".

Now I need to switch gears and start putting those ideas to paper, because when my fingers hit the keyboard the thoughts never come out quite the same as they did in my head - so that is the true test.

As far as concrete work accomplished, one of my beta readers suggested that I start my story at a slightly earlier point in the action. My problem with beginnings is that I always want to start at the latest possible point in the story (this applies to beginnings of chapters and scenes as well), but this often puts me in a position where I need to backtrack and flashback to fill in gaps.

Of course, as all you writers out there know, beginnings are a BIG HUGE DEAL. To state the obvious it is where your readers (whether they be a potential agent, publisher, or average book buyer) will start your book. More importantly, if your beginning doesn't grab them - it is where they will stop reading your book as well.

But no pressure. Right?

Yeah, right. So, I'm working on that.

There are a few other big things that need changing on my list, but right now for the coming week my big focus is working on the beginning. I'll report back next week on how that ends up going.

Finally, my last big Work in Progress is designing and executing a Cookie Monster cake for my son's birthday tomorrow. He'll be two and he absolutely loves Cookie Monster (I have a terrible feeling this might have been influenced by some of my food choices while he was in the womb.). I will update (with pictures!) and report back on that as well.

So how is your week progressing? Any major stewage going on? Have you been stumped by your beginnings? And for any cake decorators out there - should I go to Michael's for the blue food coloring, or just go with the stuff they sell at the grocery store?

And if you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

Monday, May 11, 2009

It's Here!

Why do I have a picture of Woman's World magazine at the top of my blog?

Because this is a picture of the very issue that the short story I sold to them is in!

The issue came out on Friday, and will be on newsstands for the rest of the week. I actually didn't get around to picking up some copies until last night. It was a strange feeling reading something I wrote printed right there in a magazine, and I have to admit there were a few points where I wished I could tweak just one or two words. I guess it is hard to turn the internal editor off sometimes.

The best part though was at the end, and seeing my name printed there.

Okay, now back to editing the WIP, but this was definitely a nice pick me up!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday #12

Do you know that every time I type the word "Wednesday" (and I've been typing it a lot lately for these posts) to make sure that I spell it correctly I have to say it in my head as "Wed-ness-day", instead of the way I say it out-loud, which is: "Wendsday".

This is turn makes me think about the Final Jeopardy question from Monday night (it also just so happened to be the first night of the College Tournament aka my third favorite tournament. My first two being Celebrity and Champions) which was: The state that made a law (or proclamation, or something. I don't remember the exact wording) stating that the spelling of it's name would be different from it's pronunciation. Do you know? I'll put the answer at the end of this post. And don't forget to give your answer in the form of a question.

Okay, so onto the actual WIP part of this post. I was actually kind of stalling because I am still in the waiting for beta reads stage, and despite all my optimistic plans about being productive during this time writing short stories and working on my query letter - I have instead done a whole lot of nothing.

However, on a brighter note, I have been carefully tracking the progress of one of my favorite beta readers also known as my husband, Andy, and he is very close to finishing!

Now, I know the whole thing about not having friends and family crit your work, and I think that really it just depends on the family member or friend. And in the case of Andy he is especially great because we actually began our relationship working together on creative projects when we went to film school together. We were both enrolled in the Film and Television Production emphasis at Chapman University, which for the most part focused on writing and directing. Although Andy is much more into movies than books (in fact pretty much everything I write, I know that he's mentally casting it and deciding which scenes won't make it into the movie) the basics of storytelling are the same.

Even though as writers we have very different aesthetics I know that Andy is as much of fan of my style of writing, as I am of his. He has a definite Indie drama vibe, while I lean more towards comedic, character driven material. While all parts of writing is subjective (I touched on this a bit in my last post when I talked about The Godfather and Lord of the Rings), humor might be one of the most subjective. For example, while I would say that American Pie is mildly amusing, I find the scene in Bridget Jones' Diary where she is drunk and singing "All By Myself" to be the totally hysterical.

Andy though, gets my sense of humor. You could even go so far as to say it is what made him fall in love with me. You see, usually when people ask how we met, we tell them that Andy was the TA for one of my classes, or that he was the DP (guy who handles camera and lighting) for my first film (and all my subsequent ones too). And while this is all true - it is how we met and got to know one another better, it is not what first led to us being together.

The truth is that I had a crush on Andy from almost the first moment we met. It was just like, BAM - "I really like this guy." Meanwhile, for him, the first time he saw me his first thought was, "That girl dresses kind of weird." (For the record I do not believe that I dressed weird, and on that particular day I was wearing a very cute little sundress over jeans, and I quite possibly also paired it with a very cool knit scarf that I was very into at the time.)

So what was it that made my husband stop seeing me as a girl who dressed weird, and as a girl who he might potentially marry and have children with one day? Well, after he agreed to be the DP for my movie (which I was very freaked out about since it was my classes first real shooting on actual film movie) I sent him an email expressing some of my anxiety and also sent along my script.

According to Andy (btw, if you are wondering how I know all this, I obviously grilled him endlessly after we started dating in the hopes of hearing a Some Enchanted Evening, love at first sight, story from him. Clearly, I was disappointed in this.) it was that email that made him laugh and for the first time think I was not only funny, but also a cool and interesting person. He also liked my script, which certainly helped.

Of course, not knowing any of this at the time I ended up buying new cute clothes and getting blonde highlights in my hair, (incidentally those highlights were done by a hairdresser who the whole time he was foiling and cutting my hair entertained me with stories about the porn stars that he usually did hair for - so that was interesting.) when I could have just saved my time and money, and just sent some more emails instead.

At any rate, to have my first beta read come from Andy is actually pretty great, because not only is he a tough critic, but he also always comes up with tons of ideas to fix the problems that he found. Already we've started to discuss some of the different ideas he's had and some of the things he's really liked and disliked. In some ways it's more of an ongoing dialogue rather than a straight-on crit, and being able to talk things out like this just helps me get things out of my head and understand them better.

So, that's my WIP week. Less about my week in progress, and more about my life in progress, I guess. But enough about me - how has your week been? And do you have a beta reader who you find particularly helpful in critting your work?

And if you want to participate in WIP Wednesday, simply post your own WIP Wednesday entry on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments below. Or if you don't have a blog, feel free to report your progress directly into the comments box.

For more detailed information concerning what all this nonsense is about please consult the original Work in Progress Wednesday posting.

Feel free to also make use of the lovely little WIP Wednesday logo as well!

And don't worry I didn't forget. The Jeopardy Answer: What is Arkansas.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Keeping It Fresh

Today it's my turn to post in the blog chain. Archetype started this chain with a great question:

How do you keep from telling the same story over and over? What are your tips and tricks for finding fresh ideas and adding new twists to your work?

I think what's interesting about this question is that there are certain types of stories that we are always going to be drawn towards, whether that means something we are writing ourselves, or a story that we are reading in a book, watching on television, or in a movie.

For example, the stories that I find myself drawn towards time and time again, are ones featuring strong smart female protagonists, that have a mix of both action and romance. Humor is always nice too. I also love coming of age stories.

On the other hand I have a strong bias against stories set against the background of the mob. The Sopranos never did it for me. And in film school I had a friend who literally could not comprehend my words, when in response to him asking me if I wanted to watch The Godfather trilogy with him and some friends, I told him that I, "Had no interest in seeing those movies." He acted like I had announced that I liked to comb my hair with peanut butter - my words just made no sense to him. We've also had words about The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he has watched more times than he can count, and I... fell asleep in the movie theater during the first movie, and after that decided not to pay ten dollars a ticket for nap time.

To this day he insists I need to watch The Godfather, and to this day I just don't see any reason to fit it into my already busy schedule - especially when their are so many movies out there that I actually do want to watch.

I guess what I am saying here is that a little repetition in the stories we choose to tell might be inevitable. This isn't to say that we should write formulaic stories to the point where if someone read one of our books, they would instantly know how every other one of them ends. However, I do think we expect a little consistency from authors, and that then goes back to the whole idea of branding yourself as an author, etc. etc. etc.

Okay, so accepting the idea that to a certain extent we'll tell or be drawn to the same types of stories, how do we keep ourselves from becoming predictable, repetitive, and - dare I even say it - redundant? How do we keep things fresh?

My answer is to simply open yourself to new experiences and ideas. Some of this is going to happen naturally. I know that since having my baby, my ideas about motherhood have changed.

At other times though, it might come from just pushing ourselves outside of our natural comfort zone, like maybe one of these days I will break down, watch The Godfather, and perhaps even come away from it with new storytelling ideas.

My other answer comes from a quote that was in a weekly screenwriting email I receive.
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it."
– C.S. Lewis
This quote says better, and in fewer words, what I've spent this whole post trying to express, so I think I'll end things here.

What about you? Are there certain types of stories that you are drawn towards? And how do you keep you stories fresh?

And don't forget - to keep following the responses from the other blog chainers, head on over to Mary's blog.