Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Reader's Survey

I'm not even going to try to explain why it has been so long since I've posted.  Just be glad I'm on now.  And I'll try to do better in the future.

This survey was shared with me, and since they say you have to read voraciously in order to write well, I thought it would be a good survey to share.  I'll follow up one of these days with a similar survey geared toward writing.  Wouldn't it be interesting (though not necessarily surprising) if the two aligned fairly closely?

  • What are at least 2 of your favorite genres? Young adult (YA) and mystery
  • What is your least favorite genre? Western
  • What is your all-time favorite book? Way too many to choose from
  • What is the first book you remember reading? A children's book called something like The Good Witch
  • Do you prefer books or audio books? Books (haven't tried audio much)
  • Who are your favorite authors? Stephanie Meyer (I know, I know; not "classics" but totally engaging); Rachel Ann Nunes
  • How many books do you read in a year? At least 15-20
  • Do you buy books or borrow them from the library? Both
  • How many books do you own? 3 bookcases full
  • What is your most prized book? Probably Black Like Me
  • What are the worst books you have ever read (or tried to read)? Most recently The Lost Boys
  • Have you read any modern day sequels you liked? Twilight; The 13th Reality (Go James!; check out thedashnerdude.blogspot.com); Emeralds and Espionage (Lynn Gardner); Tennis Shoes (Chris Heimerdinger)
  • What is your favorite quote from a book? "The Heart has its reasons that reason knows nothing of."  The Heart Has Its Reasons by I don't remember
  • Who is your all-time favorite male character? No idea
  • Who is your all-time favorite female character? No clue
  • What highly recommended book have you not liked? The Lost Boys
  • A character you love to hate? Can't think of one off the top of my head
  • Do you belong to a book club? No
  • What was the last book you purchased? For myself, The 13th Reality by James Dashner
  • What are you reading now? Potty Training in One Day, and about to start Speak
  • What book made you cry the hardest? Can't think of one
  • What book made you laugh the most? Too many to name
  • What is your favorite children's book (one you would choose to read to your kids)? The Other Side (among others)
  • If you were to choose a book to give as a gift, what would it be? Completely depends on whom it's going to
  • List 5 books you have read more than once? Black Like Me, In My Hands, all scriptures, several others
  • What is your favorite book made into a movie? Often I read the book after, so not a fair question to answer
  • Did you like the book or movie better? Book
  • What book would you like to see made into a movie? In My Hands by Irene Gut Opdyke
  • Do you prefer hardcover or softcopy? Soft
  • Do you leave the dustcover on while you are reading a book? Yes
  • Where do you usually read? Anywhere, but frequently at home
  • When do you usually read? Anytime I can
  • Do you keep a TBR (to-be-read) list? Yes, and it continues to grow rather than shrink
  • Do you usually have more than one book that you are reading at a time? No, but I finish them quickly, so I move from one to another quickly
  • Do you remember how you developed a love for reading? Constant reading; I often had to put off reading until long weekends or I would read rather than do my homework.
I hope you enjoyed learning a little more about my reading habits. I'd love to hear about some of yours in the comments.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Driving Force of Conflict

I must start by apologizing that I have not blogged before now. But you are not the only ones I let slide this week. I have not been very good at writing my novel, or my daily journal of my son. My blog is just one more thing in a long list that I slacked on...

But on a more positive note, I did attend my monthly writing group meeting this last week. So at least I did something for my writing. We had a speaker this month named Clint Johnson (clintjohnsonwrites.com). I'm sure we've all heard all the things that a successful novel "has to have" - the essentials to any story. Most of the time I have heard the primary necessity as being your characters, but Clint presented a workshop on conflict. It is through conflict, he said, that your character is forced to act outside his/her comfort zone, and therefore be understandable and relatable to your reader.

Interesting perspective. As he defined it more as the night progressed, I admit it made sense. It was still based around the characters like I've always heard, but you can only get to know those characters through forced reaction to conflict (or the decision not to react - it all depends on the character).

He gave us a couple of writing exercises that he prefaced with not choosing something we are currently working heavily on unless we want to re-write our entire novel. I've already re-written once on this novel; I don't want to do it again. So I picked an idea that wasn't even really an idea at this point. It was one short, tiny scene from a dream I had. But it was interesting, so I had it stored it away as a "maybe-someday-I'll-explore-this-more" idea.

The first exercise was to determine the character's single, overpowering need that drives the entire novel. Then figure out the very first thing that conflicts with that need and how the character would react to it. Finally, let your mind experiment with how the stakes could be raised by either deepening them (usually personal effects) or broadening them (usually public effects). Totally let lose and consider all possibilities.  This is only brainstorming anyway. After all of this starts to unfold, then you can start really writing a compelling story.

After going through these exercises, my sliver of an idea did start to formulate into some potential possibilities (though they are still so tremulous I'm not ready to share them yet).

But I also thought of another way this technique could be used. As I'm probably sure you've already figured out from reading this blog, I am verbose. I'll admit it - I'm wordy. So my novel keeps growing and growing and growing. I think the story is logical and makes sense and flows well, but admittedly I am biased because it is all coming out of my own brain. So once everything is down on paper, I am going to use this technique to revise my novel.

I've decided that, for myself, the best way to determine what is actually good, and what is useless to the story is to use an objective gauge. I can look at each of my scenes and determine if it adds to the conflict with my main character's primary needs (in this case to be accepted as she is, and to take care of her family), and if it deepens or broadens the stakes. If the scene doesn't do that, it's out of there.

Now I realize saying that and actually doing it are two completely different things. But this at least gives me some way to work with my text that works for me. Maybe it will work for you too. (Thanks, Clint!)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Contest Entry

I decided to enter a contest on another blog to write the best rejection letter in the universe.  Click here to read my entry.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dead-lines

I have to apologize because I have not posted for a while because I have been trying to meet a deadline. Granted, it was a self-appointed deadline, but it still ate up all my time.  I was trying to get a revision to my review committee, and I was working on a certain part of my story that I wanted to be in the revision. I finally got the revision to them late last night.

I worked frantically the last several days to meet my deadline yesterday. And it's not because I put it off to the last minute; I have been working on it consistently. But I guess I have the same problem my husband does when he does home improvement projects: I don't plan enough time.

Whenever he tells me that a certain project will take X amount of time, I have learned to anticipate about 3X amount of time. And it's mostly just because he hasn't done that project before, or it's been a long time, so he has to teach himself as he goes. And then there are always unanticipated complications. Which all takes time. 

I remember one time we were replacing an outside door, only he forgot we didn't actually have that door because we were waiting for a different color to come in. But he started without me, so I could not remind him of that fact until I saw the door missing, the frame knocked out, and the cemented posts sawed off at stoop-level. Obviously, since it was an outside door, we could not leave it unfinished like that.  He had started the project in the mid-afternoon figuring it would only take him a couple of hours. At about 3:00 in the morning we were finally able to leave and go get dinner at Village Inn because they were the only place open that late.

I do the same thing with my writing. I think, "Oh, this isn't very much to do.  I'll have it done in X amount of time." I work on it a little at a time...until the deadline approaches. Then I work frantically to try to finish it in time for the due date/deadline. It's rare when I finish a writing project early, but it's not for lack of trying. I just need to start planning 3X amount of time. I guess I should have figured that out when an author told me he could get an entire first draft down in about 3 months spending two hours a day on it. Then he spends the same amount of daily time for the next year revising it.

Which all makes me think, why do they call them deadlines anyway? Is it because you kill yourself trying to meet them? Or maybe because when you finally reach them, you are so exhausted you can't do anything else? Which is why I'm posting this morning rather than working on my novel. I can't stand to look at it today.

Monday, October 26, 2009

eBooks vs. Physical Books

So there is a lot of hype out there about the value or detriment of ebooks. And there are as many conflicting views as there are people. 

There are some who say that ebooks will destroy the publishing industry because it will prevent customers from entering bookstores and not every book is available as an ebook. (Stephen King has even taken this approach in his decision to delay the ebook edition of his new novel to help generate traffic into bookstores - because of course, he holds all power. Okay, okay, so he does.) You also have to consider that although the ebook price is generally lower, there are still many of the same costs - editing, the author's cut, the agent's cut, formatting, etc., etc. The only real difference in costs are the physical published pages. But consumers generally only see the published pages - which an ebook lacks - so they believe that an ebook price should be significantly cheaper. And when the publishing industry is only make 3% - 5% profit (ridiculously low when compared to every other industry), they just can't afford to drop their prices.

There are others who say ebooks will save the industry because the convenience of the Kindle (and its other oddly-named competitors) will replace multiple books. And with the rest of the world going digital, it was only a matter of time before mainstream books did so as well. Many people think that ebooks increase readership because it actually pulls in new customers; a physical book purchaser is not going to buy the e-version, and vice versa. Meaning that ebooks are only going to boost the sales, not reduce the sales. At the very least, others think that ebooks will be the "in" thing for a few years, then it will lose its popularity and decrease in use. 

I don't really know what I think. I don't personally like ebooks, but I think that is mostly because I'm a physical-book type of person. I'm contemplating the aspect of two different consumers because it kind of seems to make sense (but I haven't totally decided yet). I would never buy an ebook because I can't really curl up with a hunk of plastic. But my husband, who reads voraciously on the internet but can't stand to finish a novel, is thrilled with the idea. 

Perhaps the answer is to offer both formats with maybe an extra perk in one or the other format to increase sales that direction.

What do you think?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tossing What I Love

So I'm in the part of writing in my novel that is one of the most difficult parts. Yes, I'm revising (as I'm sure many of you figured out by the first sentence), but it's the type of revision right now that is so hard for me.

I am using my current novel as a master's project as well, and I met with my committee about the first chunk of writing. Right now the main character, Anna, has a best friend named William. They have been friends for years, and my first draft had him basically as her mentor-friend.

My committee suggested I capitalize on this friendship and add a love triangle to my story. They suggested that Anna did not have to feel any differently toward William, but that William could actually be in love with Anna and complicate her other relationship. I had never even recognized that as a possibility in my novel, and I recognized their advice would make a stronger novel, so I decided to do it.

Now, here's the hard part: revising the big stuff. The actual work is not necessarily difficult, but the emotional detachment is hard. I really liked how I had it before with William giving her advice about her other beau (nope, you don't get the name because it's a big surprise in the book), but if William's in love with her, he's not going to tell Anna to give the other guy a chance.

And he's not going to be totally supportive of her decision. And now there has to be a specific reason why she chooses the other guy over her best friend. And then that decision changes the ending of the book. And...and...and...

See what I mean? That one decision to alter their relationship changes everything about the story. Not only do I have to go back through every single piece and change the lines of dialog to match the new direction, but I also have to write new scenes and edit old ones to fit this new complication. I even have to write new characters because the advice William gives Anna in the first draft has to be there, it just cannot come from William in the second draft. And no one knows Anna as well as William, so it cannot be just one character giving her the advice - it has to be several characters giving her pieces of advice to make a complete whole.

Whew! Now do you see why I hate this part of writing? It's hard for me to give up, chop up, or split up the scenes I fell in love with and are so crucial to the story and my character. I just hope that when all is said and done, I like the final draft as well as I did the first draft.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Language of Writing

So my two-year-old is at the point in his development where he is connecting different concepts together as he learns to speak. I am constantly amazed at what connections he makes. 

Like last night, we were driving in the car, and he was repeating phrases from the song that was playing. So he sang things like, "new day" after the line ended. Of course he only picks out the words he really knows and understands. One line ended with the word "change." So my sweet little two-year-old sang "Change." Then he tried it again connecting it with the only way he understands the word "change": "Change diaper!" in his little sing-songy voice. Talk about hysterical!

So what does my son singing a song have to do with writing? Surprisingly, a lot. When we write, we are learning a new language, much like my two-year-old. We start out kind of slowly, doing a lot of observing and occasionally trying to mimic what we see. Then we start mimicking a lot more, trying to figure out what works and what doesn't. More importantly, we try to figure out why something works. As we get a little more confident in our writing, we start trying things out on our own, start making connections. Sometimes those connections are clear and logical, sometimes they are simply hysterical. But either way we are still trying to learn the intricacies of this new language we have adopted. (And I use "new language" purposely; you ever noticed how you cannot write the way you speak?) Eventually, if we keep working at it, we reach the point where we have mastered the basics and can start learning the details. If we continue to apply ourselves, we'll reach the point where we have mastered the entire language (like, about the time we die).

So good luck to all of you struggling to make the connections. I feel like I am finally starting to get to the point where some of those connections are working, but only in certain areas (for example, my review committee pointed out something totally lacking that I did not even realize wasn't there, but that's for another blog). But I still have a long way to go. I'm maybe a five- or six-year-old right now, but I rely on a lot of 20- or 30-year-olds to help me learn this language. Eventually, I will be one of those seasoned writers...I hope...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Thinking Like a Writer

I met a gentleman a few weeks ago who gave me a great definition of a writer vs. an author. He said an author is a writer who has been published. Under that definition we are all writers. We all write, whether it is emails, grocery lists, blogs, poetry, novels, memos, etc.

But we don't all consider ourselves writers. I have dabbled in poetry and a few other things for many of my growing-up years. But I have only recently begun to consider myself a writer (see my short essay "i am a writer"). So what made the difference? I did!

When talking to my husband the other day, I realized the difference between most of us and those who consider themselves writers: it is all about how we think...literally. The difference for me occurred when I started thinking about my writing.

I used to write for assignments mostly, but not for myself very often. I started really writing for myself with my first novel, Market Murder. I started trying to figure out how to make things work. But this novel I'm working on right now is definitely for myself (and hopefully others in the future). And that is when the difference really happened.

I can't stop thinking about my novel! When I'm cleaning the house, when I'm driving down the road, when I'm trying to have a conversation with my husband, I'm still thinking about my novel. What should I do here? How do I make this scene work?  This part of my story is coming up...how do I set it up? Everything I see or do seems to somehow relate back to my novel.

For example, I was driving down the road with my husband the other day and saw a billboard for a Renaissance festival. My mind automatically shifted to my story. I had been describing a dress, and the best research I could find were costume websites who claimed to be authentic enough that fair/festival goers purchased their products. I literally had a flashback to my own writing, and it was several minutes before I came back to the conversation with my husband.

So that's what thinking like a writer means. When you can't stop thinking about you're writing, then you realize you really are a writer.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Titles...My Greatest Weakness

Titles are amazing elements of writing. They are intended to tell a reader the basic idea of your entire piece of writing in a few short words or phrases. But they are also profound, witty, catchy, or otherwise memorable.

Which is why they are so exceptionally difficult for me. I'm always searching for those few perfect words that will cause someone to want to read my piece (whether essay, novel, poem, or anything else), as well as be something they will remember when they are telling their friends about it. And those few perfect words always seem to elude me. I can recognize a perfect title; it's full meaning is usually embedded in a line or phrase somewhere within the writing itself that seems to perfectly sum up the theme or main point of the writing. But maybe I'm not an experienced enough writer to find those perfect words in my own writing. Or maybe I just don't recognize them because I'm too close to the piece of writing. Regardless of the reason, I usually end up relying on allusions to other titles or famous phrases, or using an absolutely awful working title (like my current novel, Anna's Story. Terrible!).

Which is where I come to my blog. Right now it is titled "Heidi's Writing Blog." Well, my title is clear enough, but talk about BORING! I want something witty or catchy, something that all you readers will always remember when telling a new friend that they just have to check out my blog.

In short, I need your help. Titles are my weakness. So help me out. Give me some suggestions for a better title for this blog. Just remember that if you don't want me to use it, don't post it. But I would appreciate any help I can get. And maybe, just maybe, someday your assistance will help me turn my weakness into a strength. That's when I'll know I have "arrived."