Saturday, February 23, 2008

Novel Writing: Character

Today I'm going to focus on character development. The more you know about your characters the better. I keep many notes on each character in a story. I also keep a file of scrap that includes elements of the physical appearance of each character. This practice keeps the descriptions consistent throughout the book. I keep notes on the history and future of each character. It's useful to think about where a character has come from and then extrapolate out to where they are going. This kind of exploration brings authenticity to world building. This link will take you to a site that offers many links with hours of advice on how to build characters.

Some of the common pitfalls:

*characters that are too similar (Rx: You need to do the back-story work.)
*characters that don't suffer enough (Rx: Look for someone close to the character that must die tragically. Loss is a great way to make a character suffer.)
*characters that lack dimensionality. (Rx: This is usually a love/hate problem. What does the character love? Hate?)
*too many characters (Rx: Combine some of the characters into one.)
*characters that we don't care about (Rx: You need to add nuances of complexity to the characters' thoughts and speech. Work on understanding the uncertainty of each character. What are the characters unsure about?)

Hopefully something here has sparked your drive to create a meaningful novel.

This is the time of year that I work on a novel push. I'm writing Profit and have about 37000 words currently. I'm past the halfway mark.

Life is not a journey to the grave with intentions of arriving safely in a pretty well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming ... WOW! What a ride!


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Novel Writing Tips

I'm back to posting about novel writing. My current work in progress is a sci-fi space opera with all the buzzes and whistles. You have to invent the setting too when working in this genre so even more work. Yay.

I'm going to talk about plotting for a bit. It's a good plan to be able to lay out your story with just one or two lines and then get put out the bones of the story. For me, I call this the chapter flow.

If you have not had some serious complication in the first 20 pages, you need to throw a monkey wrench into the works. Something baaaddd needs to happen or no one reading will care.

I like to break up the plot like a screenplay, mainly because it makes handling a huge novel more manageable. This is some kind of slogging work. You have to sit in that chair and drive out handfuls of plot points. Solid plot points will take pain out the slog. This is the part of writing that I affectionately call "The Plan". This includes a balanced first act, second act, and third act. Click here to get the summary outline of hero's journey.

BIG TIP: Take some time and really run several stories through this matrix until you get the feel for it. Make sure you can easily narrate back your personal journey. Be sure you understand.

I use a few tools to help me set up the structure of a novel. I try not to reinvent the wheel. I find books that look like the length of the book I want to write. I look inside these books until I see one that has a similar chapter breakdown as I had in mind. I set up a document map that is similar to the book I've investigated. Then I take my carefully constructed story and divided it evenly into my chapter breakdown. I also create a One Note file with all my character bios, setting notes, maps, etc., so that I might easily access to that information as I move forward.

Remember this is hard, technical work. You will have to keep slogging at it for many months and possibly years. Enjoy the journey.

To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.

Chinese Proverb

Monday, February 11, 2008

New York, New York!

Oooh, interrupting novel writing notes to chat about the 2008 SCBWI Winter Conference. What a lovely experience.

The conference began with children's kid-lit drink night in a little bar east of the hotel. Lots of fun -- writers, illustrators, librarians and editors shouting at one another at the top of their lungs over the throbbing music.

The next morning, this poor Woodinviller rolled out of bed with bleary eyes and headed downstairs to the opening of the conference. First up was the wonderful Nikki Grimes. She dazzled us all with a glimpse into the many voices that populate her wonderful poetry. Next up was one of my favorite author/illustrators, visual storyteller extraordinaire Mr. David Wiesner. The glimpse into his revision process was priceless. My takeaway? Sometimes we may go at a problem from dozens of angles but the result is well worth the journey.

After the breakout, we moved into editor sessions. Editor Molly O Neill offered a tantalizing look at Bowen Press's new list. My take, this list is a mix of visually stunning graphic work, fresh, distinctive voices and extensions of beloved classic books with an interesting eco-friendly twist.

My next breakout was equally provocative -- Executive Editor Caitlyn Dlouhy. She seems to connect very deeply with that elusive thing -- voice. She loves a story that develops a sense of a fully realized world.

A good conference. I love NY.

A last few odds and ends, my friend Janet Lee Carey's book Wenny Has Wings has been made into a movie! Click here to check out the trailer. But be warned, you don't want to do it without a box of tissues handy.

I read the arc of Gail Carson Levine's Ever! Fantabufreakinlouswundval! I needed a really expansive adjective. You must wait till May, waahahaha.

Hey, big shoutout for my friend Chris Eboch and kudos to Editor Mark McVeigh for acquiring her new middle grade series for his imprint Aladdin!

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

~e.e. cummings,

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Novel Writing

I'm taking a few posts to discuss novel writing.

Here is a deep truth. You do have to sit in a chair at some point and begin to plow forward. I don't think there is a "correct" method of doing this. As long as the pages appear, you are on the right track.

Here is a random list of hints to help you do the complex work of novel crafting:

Creating a document map as you go helps. Keeps you from getting lost.

Novel writing makes you navigate vast waters that will eventually call you to throw every management skill you can muster into play.

I think keeping a "real, live, actual" calendar helps keep the logic of the story in place.

If your novel's story arc last about three months, and you spend the first 8 chapters on 2 days of real time, you need to work on the pacing. 49 page chapters are also problem.

Do you truly understand each and every one of your characters? If you don't, I guarantee you will end up confusing them with each other as you write.

You don't have to do everything now. If you want to just write "then something stupid happens" and move on to the next chapter, give yourself that permission.

I hope one of these hints resonates with you and gets you on track for novel creation. Remember novel writing is about quality and quantity.

Now on a side note: I watched Satoshi Kon's Paprika this week. That was a tripping tale that explores the depths of subconscious and dreams. I found the storytelling a little disjointed for my taste, but visually, yi, yi, yi, stunning. I walked away from this movie stunned by its brilliant visionary assault.

Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.

Harriet Tubman