Monday, August 27, 2012

Inspiration Exercise

Margo asked: "What writing exercise do you find most valuable for inspiration/originality?"

Yet another great question! You guys are awesome.

Sometimes creativity comes in unusual ways. My inspirations usually come from What If questions. So for example, I might try to come up with a what if and then take that one and twist it somehow. A good exercise is to come up with something that doesn't have to be original, but then change one element of it. Keep going until you have a bunch of alternatives. For example, start with: 

  • Girl falls in love with werewolf. 
  • Boy falls in love with werewolf.
  • Vampire falls in love with werewolf.
  • Boy hates werewolf and is jealous of popularity.
Keep going until you have some crazy ones. Chances are there won't even be a werewolf when you're done. ;D 

Another exercise I like is writing a scene in first person from a different character's POV. 

What are some other exercises you like? Share with each other in the comments!

Monday, August 20, 2012

When To Stop Fine Tuning

Jemi Fraser asked when to stop fine tuning and send the manuscript out! What a great question. If it's too soon you risk looking unprofessional and putting off the agent or editor before they realize what a wonderful book they're holding. If you're like most of us and you're paralyzed by the fear that's exactly what will happen... Well, that can be bad too! How about a checklist to make you feel more comfortable? Because the truth is, no book is ever perfect. Most authors will tell you they can re-read their own work on the shelf a year later and cringe wanting to change something. So if you're waiting for perfection, you better get comfy!

Now for that checklist:

  • Have you thoroughly revised? Meaning not just read it over again, but gone through your own revision checklist and done passes for character, plot, pacing, extraneous scenes, adverbs and other extra words, sentence structure, etc.? Sound like a lot? Yep it is. That's what makes the difference though.
  • Have you had other eyes than yours on it? And not just the opening pages. I mean the whole darned thing. Yes that opening is vital, but I've seen books that start off AMAZING only to fall flat. If you're too nervous to have a beta reader look at it, how do you expect an editor to want to sell it to the general public? Be open to criticism. Ask yourself what was catching the reader and revise.
  • Have you put it away for a while and re-read? The impatient person's nightmare, but guess what? It's soooooo important. Take it from someone who learned that the hard way! Work on something new while you wait.
  • Do you find yourself changing tiny words here and there? That's usually a sign to me that I've about had it. Especially if the tiny tweaks really convey nothing different. :D
  • Do you have a query letter ready? That can be tougher than writing the novel!
  • Are you terrified? 
If you answered YES to most of these questions (or all) you are probably ready to send out a first batch of queries. My advice is to thoroughly research agents/editors who represent your type of manuscript and target those. I would send between five and ten queries at once and wait for feedback. No bites? take another look at the letter and or sample pages and see if you've been lucky enough to get any feedback. Then tweak and try again. It's tough out there, even when you do it right. So hang in there and remember to commiserate with your fellow writers while you wait (only nice words please - no negative talk about particular people EVER). Perseverance is key. Don't give up if you truly love it! Keep trying. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

When Critique Partners Disagree: Guest Post by Julie Musil and Leslie Rose

Barbara Watson asked: "Who do trust with writing advice when your CPs views differ greatly?"

I thought it would be a good idea to go to my own CPs for this one to see what they do in this situation. So I'd like you to welcome my guests, Leslie Rose and Julie Musil

Julie's answer:

Great question, Barbara! If Lisa and Leslie's views differ greatly, I first say this, "One, two, three, four, I declare a thumb war." Whoever is the victor, that's whose opinion wins. Great, right?

Just kidding. If only it were that easy. 

My advice would be to trust yourself, because reading and writing tastes are totally subjective. I might read a paragraph and love it, and someone else might read it and crinkle their nose. When I'm reading my CP's manuscripts, I just try to let them know what was in my head when I read it. If our other partner disagrees, I totally respect that. It's then up to the author to decide how to handle it. She can go with my opinion, the other partner's, or she can leave it alone. Same when they read my work...I weigh the comments from both partners carefully, and then go with my gut. When we critique our partners' work, all we can do is be kind, fair, and honest, and then let the author decide how to process that information.

Leslie's answer:
When I get differing opinions I use a four prong approach. First, I will try out both suggestions in a revision and see which one hits closer to the target I originally intended. Second, I may just side with the person whose comment is closer to my gut instinct. Third, I will seek a new opinion and see where it falls. Fourth, I will scrap the portion in question completely, go a whole new way with it and send it back to my CPs. Bottom line: I trust my partners deeply so if something popped out enough for one of them to comment on it then I know I need to address it.

Well there you have it! I love my CPs. Any other opinions out there? Share with each other in the comments. Personally, I like the thumb war... KIDDING!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Backstory - An Evil Necessity

"When do you show backstory and which character do you use to do it most effectively?" - Vicki 

First off some of you may be wondering why the heck backstory is so evil. It's deceptive really. Backstory can be fascinating and very important to the story. The problem is THE story that you are telling has to be the primary story. The more active and gripping that story is, the better! So when you get sucked into flashbacks and backstory to set up current situations, you are not actively involved in the story. In addition, you can fall into the trap of "telling" vs. "Showing". It's tough to show backstory.

SO, how do we do it? And who do we do it through? Well, the who really depends on the story and the perspective you're using. Obviously the easy way out is if your MC happens to be new to the world/situation herself and we the readers find out along with her. That's not always the case, however, and if it's used as a device, we can usually tell. 

You can't eliminate it all and surprise the reader with secrets about the MC because the reader will feel cheated. But you can't just throw everything out there either. 

Confused yet?

Glad I could help! LOL - JUST KIDDING! Seriously the best advice I've heard is to drip, drip, drip it in. Slow is best. A well placed comment here and there can do wonders. Go through and decide what info has to be revealed by what point in order for the reader to have what he needs. Then inject it. 

Showing? Interaction with the world can show A LOT. For example, THE HUNGER GAMES. Recall how the first page mentions A. They all share the same space. and B. The comical cat? That's brilliance. It shows not only Katniss' character, but how bad the food situation is where she lives. Backstory shown without throwing it in our face. 

One thing NOT to do? Please don't insert dialogue where people discuss things they should already know for the sake of the reader. That doesn't work. 

Back to who. I'm not sure that matters as much as how. In fact, in the example above, I'd say it's the world itself that shows us best. But again, each story and situation is different, so that's a tough question!

What have I missed? What advice can you add? Share so we can help Vicki and each other!