Friday, February 28, 2014

Protagonist's Misconception used for Conflict

Most writing courses teach the plot outline. Part of this outline is to identify the conflict. The classes go on to state that conflict can be man against man, man against nature, or man against himself. For me, when I think about a conflict of a man against man, I think of a good versus evil battle, especially in fantasy and paranormal. There are the good vampires (who drink animal blood) and the bad vampires (who prey on humans). To make it easy to identify, most show a different eye color. There are the good sorcerers and the bad ones. In YA, typically there are the teens and the adults. Classes will teach that the two have different goals and motivations. These differences cause conflict that drives the novel. 

I’m currently reading a novel by the author duo pen named “Ilona Andrews.” I’m only four books into their Kate Daniels series. What struck me about this series is that the major conflict is typically good versus evil. But, there is a minor conflict that enhances the dynamics of the plot. It comes between her and the leader of a pack of shape shifters. Throughout most of the books, she judges his reactions to the point of “knowing” his motivations. He’s a “jerk” in her eyes and therefore his motivations have selfish value. She also will predict what he will do and for what reasons. What I love is that while she leads the reader in her viewpoint on the matter, it slowly becomes evident that the man is probably more complex than what she is judging. In other words, she doesn’t know him as well as she thinks she does. She sometimes judges him rashly and therefore discounts his actions without seeing their true meaning. Of course, by book 4 she is starting to catch on, but is still driven by emotions that neglect to see the “true” picture. 

This is so true to real life. I think the mistake authors sometimes make is combining the information we know about all characters with the informations/perceptions our main characters should know. Think about it. When was the last time you accurately predicted what someone will do/say? Sure, I can get pretty good at guessing, but it is that, a guess. People surprise me. They constantly have me redefining their character because I can’t hear what’s in their head and I don’t have their life experience to measure their motivations.

I think we miss out on a lot of possibilities if we neglect this conflict. Imagine, two people fighting for a common goal (neither good nor bad) but conflicting due to methods and motivations. That simple conflict opens the novel up to so much more possibilities. Protagonists shouldn’t be able to manipulate everyone. They should stumble over their own mouth. They should make rash judgments and discover they were wrong. Because they shouldn’t know the world as well as the author does. That’s when the fun can happen.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Does an Author's Looks Affect Sales?

It seems like recently my Facebook feed has been flooded with personality quizzes. The trouble is…they are very addicting. What character are you from this book or that movie? What is your undiscovered talent? What job should you have? I have tried to limit myself to only one every few days, but I can’t help spending time answering silly questions. What is even crazier is that these questions pop out a description that is pretty close to my personality. 

I started wondering how much of my personality affected what genre I decided to write. Looking at writer photos I determined it probably had more to do with the decision than I had originally thought. YA paranormal writers tend to be women with long, straight hair. Adult mystery, sometimes suspense, writers who are women tend to be older with short cuts. Men in this genre are typically clean cut and pose with their arms crossed. Then, jump over to fantasy and things really get funny.  Both male and female authors have long, bushy hair. 

Coincidence? I met a fantasy writer when he was first starting out. He had a typical clean-cut hair style with a very short beard. I saw him at a book festival a few years later. His hair hung loose down to his shoulders. At that same festival, we noticed a huge line starting to form around someone we didn’t recognize. He had the long hair along with a long beard and his book looked like it could double as a doorstop. I proclaimed he had to be a fantasy author…which he was. 

When I began writing, I wanted to write suspense. I read mainly suspense and mystery and had basically skipped the YA genre completely. When I wrote The Curse of Atlantis, it kind of jumped out of nowhere proclaiming to the world that I was a fantasy writer. Now I love both that and the paranormal genre and many say it fits nicely as YA as well. I tended to be pretty geeky (I’m putting that past tense for self-preservation but those who know me would probably question it). I used to have straight hair but have been trying desperately to make it shorter and curlier. I wonder if I “fit in” to the stereotypical writer in either of these genres. I think my problem is that I have always proclaimed myself to be a nerd and yet tried to avoid “looking” like one.

But, does the look of an author help determine success. In other words, do readers judge the book based on whether the author looks the part? I know it’s weird to consider. Most don’t know who authors are unless they do a ton of interviews. But they do go to a lot of places where their readers hang out. Maybe, on some level, they are trying to look the part to buy more credibility when selling books. So maybe I should grow my hair out and let it hang all fuzzy. That would certainly save time in the morning. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

Monday's Quote: S.E. Hinton

“I lie to myself all the time, but I never believe me.”  S.E. Hinton

This is my favorite quote from last week. The reason is that it is kind of sarcastic, which goes right up my alley. But, it think it also speaks to something a little more. Part of my existence is lying to myself. A good example…when I do yoga. Without a mirror, I am getting into the poses. I’m stretching and in the moment. And, in my mind, I am looking exactly like those Yoga magazine covers. I am awesome. The downside is in my gym there is a huge mirror in the yoga room. The mirror provides evidence to the contrary. No one would want to take my picture, no matter how much my mind tells me otherwise. 

To a certain extent, I think we should lie to ourselves. Otherwise, we are just tearing ourselves down. I see so many writers who don’t write because they see all the flaws (and over exaggerate others). We should overlook some flaws. The trouble comes when we start to believe the blatant lies and behave as if they were true…like me demanding my photo be placed on the cover of a magazine. 

Have a fantastic week!

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Friday, February 21, 2014

The Olympian Sacrifice...Is It Worth It?

So, the Olympics are currently running and my family is big on sports. In fact, one of my earliest memories is on a soccer field while my brother played and my dad coached. When I left the house, I stopped watching all of the events, but for some reason, the Olympics has always been one that I still watch religiously. I think it is because it involves sports we don’t get to see that often. They’re around, just not widely broadcast. 

What impresses me the most about the events are the competitors themselves. They ruthlessly train for four years for an event that typically is shorter than the average song. These individuals dedicate their lives to the sport. Time and time again, I hear the competitor was home schooled. Well, of course, because they spend six hours a day training. Blizzard outside? Get out of bed and go train. Birthday? Better train. They prioritize everything below this one shot at glory. 

In some ways, the writing field has become like this. You have to really want it. Sure, I meet a lot of people who say they are writers. And they are right because all it takes is a desire to create. But, being “successful” takes a lot more. That takes “Olympian” dedication. It takes staying home when others are going out. It takes writing even when we “don’t feel like it.” It takes making the business a priority. But, just like the girl who missed out on 3rd place by four hundredths of a second, sometimes we can do all this and still not “make it.”

I mentioned Wednesday that I read a blog that listed the successful characteristics of writers. The one that stuck with me the most (mainly because I hadn’t heard of it before) is that writers are dedicated. They schedule the time and they are determined to stick to the schedule. I fit this characteristic about half of the year. Then the winter hits and I have to battle with myself more. We have to be dedicated. I think the question we need to ask is how much do we want to write? Do we want to just write and share it with friends? Do we want to do book signings? Are we okay being the locally known writer? Or do we want more? And if we do want more, how much are we willing to sacrifice to obtain it? 

But, I think the most important question is: are you willing to sacrifice? And, the even scarier question is, if you were that girl who got pushed off the podium by four hundredths of a second, would you still think it was worth it? For me, I am not ready to be an “Olympian.” Does that mean I won’t hit the NY Times Bestseller. Maybe. But it also means I am okay with that reality. For me, it’s better than sacrificing and never achieving. Set priorities, push it, but have a life. Just my thoughts.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Having a Creative Outlet

In my house, I have a “scrapbook room.” It’s really just a den that I put a table and my scrapbooking stuff into, but it is a designated room for creativity. The trouble is, over the years, this room has turned into a place where I scatter printed photos and memorabilia into organized piles on the floor. Scrapbooking appealed to me, I think, because of the creative aspect of the action. I loved cropping pictures—sometimes into shapes—and designing a page. It gave me a diluted version of the same joy I get while writing. 

Looking back, I have always had a “creative” outlet. During high school, it was my art class. My grandest achievements was building the thrones of the Olympian Gods as well as reconstructing a mini model of King Tut’s Tomb. The thrones actually helped me in writing because I was plotting The Curse of Atlantis at the time. 

I was thinking about this as I looked my “scrapbook” slash “photo pile” room and started wondering a few things. First, I am curious if writers all have creative outlets. The whole point of writing is to create worlds and images with words. Surely, writers would therefore be attracted to other forms like crafts and scrapbook. I wonder if that is common amongst writers. The second thing I wondered is if this outlet is a good thing.

The number one reason people use to excuse why they can’t finish their novel is the amount of time in the day. I know I am currently in this rut and desperately screaming at myself to get out of it. There is not a lot of time. So, should I add one more thing like scrapbooking to the list? Does it then become a good excuse to fill my time and not finish the novel? I think it does. But, I don’t’ think creative outlets should be discarded completely. I know there was one story where I had a complete writer’s block. The duration started to become scary. I started to wonder if I had finally peaked. I had used all of the unknown supply of creativity and was finished with my writing career (that sort of pressure probably didn’t help things). Then I sat down to scrapbook. It took two days (I was in college and had way more time than I do now), but eventually an idea popped out of the mass of construction paper and stickers. 

I think the summation goes back to balance. I read a blog post last week that discussed successful traits. One is that writers are disciplined to write, even if they don’t feel like it. I will extend this to say successful writers make writing a priority. But creativity is the same no matter the form it comes in. So, go ahead and do the “off task” creativity as long as it doesn’t take away from writing. Writing is first, but all the rest can only enhance the experience when prioritized correctly.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Monday's Quote: William Shakespeare

"Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none."~ William Shakespeare

This was by far the most popular quote of last week. I tried to make all of my quotes love related last week with the holiday and stumbled across this one from “Alls Well that Ends Well.” I think this simple sentence sums up the meaning of life, so to speak. We are here to love one another. But, while the second idea can border paranoia, I think there is some truth to it. Trust no one. In other words, don’t be taken advantage of. Don’t assume people have your best intentions at heart. Be cautious, maybe, is a better way of saying it.
And the last, to do no wrong. Such a simple concept and yet something that is difficult sometimes. But, really, it goes back to the first. Just to love one another. There have been countless songs proclaiming this anthem. It is a strong desire to strive for, at the very least.
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Friday, February 14, 2014

My List of Favorite Books with Romance

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I decided to put together a list of my favorite books with romance in them.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer: Okay, hear me out. I read this book before the movies came out and before the last book was even published. I have since grown weary of the whole vampire love story, but there are a few reasons why the first book captured me, even as I grew irritated throughout the series: the love story. I think it goes back to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Except in that story there was no fear that the Beast would eat Bell. That “danger” was ever present as their relationship grew. But, the second thing I loved about the love story was the development. Again, due to the whole vampire danger thing, their relationship grew slow. Even the slightest touch felt like so much more. Say what you will about the series, Meyer knew how to wrap the reader up in the emotion of these two individuals and that is what propelled the story to rock star fame.

Hold Tight by Harlan Coben: This is not a love story in the traditional sense…I think Mr. Coben would actually take offense to me saying it has “romance” in it. But, this book is about a dad who risks his life to save his son, who has gotten wrapped up in a mysterious danger. That relationship captured me. This father went through physical and mental torment as he tried to find and save his son. His plight and dedication helped Coben do what he does best, create a suspenseful mystery.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt: Most who know me would not be surprised to find this on the list. I am in love with this book. It is the shortest book I’ve ever read and yet it is my absolute favorite. This book is about childhood love. It shows the unrealistic expectations, the illusion of love despite all odds, but it also has that fantasy element of immortality…without the walking dead thing mentioned above. The movie created a few years ago touched on the magic of this book, but it didn’t capture the innocence and the intensity. I especially love the ending, which finally brings reality into the fantasy world.

In all fairness, I’d like to say there is one Romance series that I loved. I read it when I was in the seventh grade. However, as I tried to search for the name of it, I found that there are a thousand different romance genre books about an orphaned girl who goes to live with a few cowboy brothers. The first book marries her off (I think to a lawyer who came looking for this orphan) and then the subsequent series marries them off. All I remember definitively is that one of the brother’s names was Colt. The fact all that information was not enough to find the name of this book is the number one reason why I no longer read the genre.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Can a Book Exist Without Romance?

With it being Valentine’s Day week…teaching high school, these holidays tend to last an entire week…I started thinking about the books I have been reading. I know many complain that there are not a lot of female leads. And, if there are, that there is always a male lead right along with them. What I started to wonder is not the feminist argument about this, but if I could think of a book where there was not some sort of romance hidden inside the plots. I thought back on all the books I read in 2013, which ranged from fantasy/scifi to YA to suspense to character pieces. I can say that all of them aside from one had some sort of romance. Granted, the YA had more romance involved than the others, I was still shocked to see it in some.

“The Great Gatsby” is a complete love story, and maybe a practical discussion on the romantic notion of love versus the reality. The Divergent series…well, that series captured me because of the love story. But that is a YA, which tend to be all about the love that will never die. So, let’s move to suspense. Surely that won’t have romance. Harlan Coban’s “Six Years”….you guessed it, is about a love lost (well that is probably an oversimplification) and ultimately regained. Okay, let’s do spy/espionage with David Baldacci’s bestseller “The Hit.” Sorry to disappoint, but this, too has a love interest in the form of an FBI cop. Is it minor? Yes in that the character recognizes the attraction and chooses to do nothing about it…you know, because he is too busy assassinating people. The only book with no love interest: “Ender’s Game,” unless you consider his love for his sister. Oh, and “Death Comes to Pemberly” by P.D. James, a mystery. I would have thought this one would be full of romance considering it is revisiting Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth while they are married. Not a lot is spent on developing their love, but they are married so maybe that counts. Even “The Book Thief” had childhood romance in it.

This brings the question, can a book survive with a male and female lead without having the presence of romance? Or, does the reading population demand it? I was going to say it is perhaps because the reading demographic is mostly female, but I’m not sure that is the case. However, call me a math nerd, but I would love to see the breakdown of female/male readers in each genre. I wonder if the level of romance present would reflect the population. So, that brings me back, do we require romance? 

It seems the answer is a tentative yes. I think the reason is that romance provides an easy way to hook the reader. We start caring about our protagonists and the ones they love. There’s more room to play with reader’s emotions. At least they are not all the “cookie cutter” approach to the romance genre…maybe.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Monday's Quote: Kurt Vonnegut

"We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down."~ Kurt Vonnegut

I like this quote because it really describes the writing process. I remember when I was just starting out in the business, I used to wish I could talk with someone who knew the way. I wanted a set procedure, a certain degree and "entry level" job that would lead me to writing full time. Looking back, I probably could have taken different paths; some may be worse, others may be better. Yet, in the writing least for novel writing...there is no set path. It is sort of make it up as we go along.

There is an element of this truth in the quote. Most things in life, I feel, is not set on a plan of action. People can achieve their dreams in multiple ways. So, it is a learn-as-we-go world. The point is to jump and develop as we travel. Notice, that may involve falling a little before we soar. And I think that's okay. It's all part of the process. The point is that we eventually learn to soar...preferably before we hit the ground. It takes courage to jump, and the journey may be rough, but hopefully it is worth it in the end.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Is Romance in Books Doing a Disservice?

I guess I am in that stage of my life where I am thinking about family, significant others, etc…you know, that there is more to live than just working and writing. I don’t know about you, but that realization was a little shocking to me. Anyway, I began looking at my expectations regarding relationships. I then thought about the high divorce rate and couldn’t help but wonder if books and movies had a hand in this. 

I think I mentioned this before, but one of the comments I remember from my college English classes was an instructor saying Jane Eyre had an unrealistic expectation of life because she spent most of her childhood interacting only with books. There was a good reason for that. She lived with an Aunt who didn’t like her all that much. However, she expected her love life to be like a book. In fact, I contend that she fell for Mr. Rochester as quickly as she did because of her romanticism of how people fall in love. I know I’m using a book to demonstrate my point, but I can’t help it. 

I think books do us a disservice. I used to honestly think that if a boy likes me then he would make a fool of himself proclaiming his love in front of the entire school. After all, don’t they always make a fool of themselves in some way in books and movies? I think there is a push recently for movies to show “reality,” examples being “he’s just not that into you” and “that awkward moment.” But, I think even these “real glimpses” are still romanticized. I used to think if there wasn’t an instantaneous “spark,” then something was wrong. I mean, if there is no camera slowing down as the love-interest walks into the room, then it must not be love. 

Besides the “spark,” I think movies/books also provide a disservice when viewing the true aspect of relationships. I know Ben Affleck was mocked after his Oscar acceptance speech last year when he proclaimed his marriage was hard work, but worth it. That’s something I don’t see in books/movies. Couples fight. Typically fights are depicted as the “sexual tension” at the beginning of a relationship that goes away once they accept their love. Or they are shown as the beginning of the end. I think this leads most to believe if they are fighting then there is a problem. I love the show “Everybody Loves Raymond” because they show how irritated the grandparents could be with one another, but then there are moments that confirm that these two truly love each other. 

I know the balance of reality in books is tough. I don’t want to read about real life, I want to escape it. But I think we can get too “fairy tale” as well. The trouble is when everything starts to depict that as the norm.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Have The Goals Failed Already?

January is always known as the month of New Year Resolutions. I heard a statistic that the majority of them…I want to say eighty percent…will fail by February. I said in January that I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. They are too absolute. Instead, I like to do goal setting. Most “experts” say the only way to achieve something is to continually set realistic goals. January is a perfect time. Plus, I revisit my previous year’s goals, following up on what I accomplished and looking toward where I want to go. I like this change in goals. Resolutions are too absolute. What if I decide a few months down the road to change course? Have I failed my “resolution”? Or have I found a goal that suits my purposes more? 

As we entered February…I don’t know about you but it was quite a shock to me…I started thinking: am I where I should be? I think this started because I had made a personal reading goal of 20 books this year. It appears daunting at the moment, as all goals do when starting out. And…I’m pretty sure I’m falling behind pacing. That doesn’t mean I can’t catch up later, but I’m pretty sure I need to accelerate my reading. Of course, this got me to thinking about some of my other goals. 

Where are we on our progress toward our goals? I have set into motion finding a new editor, but that really doesn’t need to happen until the end of the year. I have also set into motion of finding a formatter to help get my books ready for publication on the different forms available. I have started thinking about what marketing things I want to do on Facebook and Twitter, but I haven’t really “done” much yet. When I was evaluating my progress, I thought of that phrase “slow and steady wins the race.” But, having taught high school children, I realize that they may use this phrase but are actually just slacking off. So is it slow and steady or can I be doing more? 

It seems like I always ask myself that question. Is there more I can do? Are there more activities I can squeeze out of one hour? I have found the result is a life that is jam packed with “work” related activities. It certainly isn’t restful. But is this the sacrifice it takes to achieve goals? 

I think I’ve mentioned it before, but there has to be a balance. I think the key is that I am making progress. Is it as fast as I want? No, but I tend to be impatient so most things don’t go at my desired speed. But I have to be okay with that. So, where am I after a month? Still plugging along. And, in the end, that is all that matters. Here’s hoping your goals are going just as well as we enter month two. Don’t be a statistic, that’s my motto.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Monday's Quote: Winston Churchill

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”~ Winston Churchill

When I found this quote last week, I instantly fell in love with it...although, I think most can agree that one can't go wrong with quoting Churchill. Anyway, I think I like this post mainly because of a misconception I had starting out my writing career. I always thought that the moment a book of mine was published that would be it. I had been successful and my job was finished. In my innocence, I expected the art of selling books would be someone else's job. And my books would sell millions, of course, because my world was small and my grasp on reality limited. But, I think I also fell victim to the idea that publishing a book would accomplish my goal. I would have succeeded. After all, once we finish a race, we grab our medal and are done...right? Well, what about people who win multiple races? What about the athletes who have won gold medals at the Olympics and have returned this year? They certainly were successful 4 years ago.

We are never done. There are always successes to be had. We can always go further. But I also like the idea that if we fail, it is not the end. I'm in an Olympic state of mind, so let me go back to that. If someone didn't get on the podium the last time, they try out again. Why? Because they could possibly get on it this year. And some do. So the end is not what matters. It is the journey. It is that we continue. I like that thought.

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