Saturday, February 26, 2011

Golden Advice: Polish, Polish, Polish

This month my Golden Advice series has focused on the craft of writing. To wrap up the series, I'm going to talk about finishing the work. This is analogous to fine-hand stitching to finish off a garment. To make your works rise to the top, it's all about the details, folks.

There is nothing quite like printing out a manuscript and holding it in your hands. It's gives you a warm-fuzzy feeling. I'm sure it's the same feeling that a picture book artist feels when they have made a dummy.

Once you have a good story and fine characters. All the hard work is done. You've put your book out for first reads from trusted colleagues and you've followed their sage advice. You are breathing easier. Let the good feeling of success fill you, but don't send it out yet.

At this stage it time to polish your work like a silver tea set. I go through my manuscript and mark every line that I'm not sure about grammar-wise, and I look up the rules and revise accordingly. I read the manuscript for pure logic.

Does a character have red hair on page 80 and grey hair on page 170 with no evil magician casting aging spells? I fix that stuff. I also cut any bits that just don't move the story forward. It's just space-stuffing filler. I take it out.

My manuscript get thin, lean, and awesome! I've also got a list of possible word abuse and I cover that. I check commonly misused words they're, their and there and the ilk. I basically fix any problem I can possibly think of.

My advice this week is simple. Don't neglect the detail work. Tuck in the fine touches. Make the work sing. Seize the day.

This week's doodle: "Orange Boy".

Quote for the week:

A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching. Sivananda

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Golden Advice: Make Imaginary Friends

Hi folks, this week may be a little tongue in cheek, but it's some of the truest advice you'll every get. Writing is about making imaginary friends. It really is. A youngish writer I know mentioned to me that he thought he was going a little crazy because he was worrying about his character. He was feeling guilty that he was putting his character through such hell. He also could see the great necessity of making his character go through said hell and that it was unavoidable.

I said, "YAY! Your work is popping."

A good litmus test to know if you will find success with your current work is this: Are you worried about your characters? I mean, I go into stores and think somebody I know would like that top, and then I remember the somebody I know, is somebody I made up. Oh, yes, I have had friends match-making for their character at coffee shops. "That guy who just served us our venti-sized mocha valencias, he'd be a great hookup for my character." We writers are a fanciful bunch, full of stories, and, yes, we are grown-ups with imaginary friends who we basically treat like crap. That is our job.

I hope you work on building those friendships this week. I hope you make your friends suffer. This is the job of writers. Amazing, weird, and wonderful.

This week's doodle comes from my thirteen year old son Jack. I am related to some creative folks, and I think that this means that artists take real things and make them imaginary. He calls this "Self Portrait".

Using the device of an imaginary world allows me in some strange way to go to the central issues - it's one of many ways to express feelings about real people, about real human relationships.

Lloyd Alexander

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Golden Advice: Close to the Bone of Your Characters

Hi, folks, I'm continuing my month long series on craft. This week I'm going to focus on authentic characters. I do believe that this is one of the hardest things to do. Mainly because it requires digging into the life of the most important character in your story, yourself.

You might have noticed by now that writers usually have a personal story lurking in the background of their work. Your own story shapes what you write whether you like it or not. I think a good way to figure out how to shake out the deepest secrets of your characters is to shake out your own.

This week involves a little writing exercise. Get a sheet of paper (yes, I know, old school) and write your list of burning secrets, yes, the stuff you have never told anyone. (You might want to torch this sheet when you are finished with the exercise.) One more task to complete. After writing your secrets, think about how you feel. Now write about that.

Now let's try the same thing with a character. Sink into the fullness of that character in your thoughts. Now write that characters deepest secrets from their point of view. Honesty and bravery will bring you close to the bone.

I don't want to neglect the artists that read this blog. Here's a little thought to take with you, too. Creative work is all about our choices. One of the biggest choices you can make to take the interior pain you have known and to turn it out as something bright and beautiful.

Take the emotional content of a negative experience in your life and let it transform your work. Get your mind around the complete feeling of how your felt in one of your worst moments. Now, go to the happiest moment in your current work and let that energy fuel the work.

Exactly how is this really supposed to go? Lean into a light airy palette though you are full of dark browns, blacks and purples. Reshaping the negative into the positive will bring you close to the bone of your art.

Hope something here helps. I hope you seize the day. See you next week for more of the golden advice series.

I call this week's doodle, "Figure in the Light."

This week's quote:
What is uttered from the heart alone, will win the hearts of others to your own. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Golden Advice: Create a Great Start to Your Novel

Hi Folks, I've been running a series of writing advice every February for the last few years, and I've thought to continue it. To start out I'm going to offer tips to create your strongest first chapter.

The first big step is determining if you have the right start. You need some spare eyes for this one. Find a trusted reader or two and ask them to read until they are interested in your story. This reader needs to be coming cold to your work for good feedback. Another thing to do: look at or write chapter titles for the first five chapters. Which one jumps out to you? That might be chapter one. You need to have moxie. I just tossed the first five chapters of a work because I asked myself where did I get interested in my story and that was chapter six. Pull some bold out of your pocket and begin your story in the right spot.

Next up, is get rid of the chump stuff. No waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, getting on school buses, getting ready for work, nothing mundane here. Think about the normal world of your character. Say the character plays baseball, the oboe, is a talented gymnast, etc, etc. -- get inside one of those activites. The gist here is to start out in the middle of an interesting action in your character's normal world. This move garners reader interest and brings a sense of originality to your character. (Remember any advice here is just a guideline; sometimes there is a reason to start in the mundane -- usually in comic novels trying set a dead-pan tone.)

A good start is important. Consider trying to murder or murdering someone in your first chapter. Murder can be a great way to start a story. Neil Gaiman did it in THE GRAVEYARD BOOK. E.B. White did it in CHARLOTTE'S WEB. UH, BAMBI, Libby Bray's GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, the list goes on and one. Murder really is a strong way to begin and lots of folks use it. Action starts are good too -- throw your main character out of airplane, into shark infested water or into the middle of a battlefield. This will grab readers attention. Embarrassment can be good -- a character could pee in their pants, vomit on the cute guy, run naked across the high school campus. This offers good interest to plumb off of. Some character blather on about how they feel and this can be a strong start, but this one is tough. Your character must be powerfully charismatic; you need to really have a good handle on this if you want it to work.

Another job of the first chapter is to make sure your main character pops off the page. This is about digging into the soul of your character and making sure their soul is on the page. You need to understand fully how they feel about everything from the get go. A good way to know if you are getting to the heart of this one is if you've had some sleepless nights struggling to understand what motivates your character. If the exploration into the motivation of your main character has become excruciatingly painful, you are on the right track.

You can capture readers with high concepts. You might want to rewrite the rules of the world to give rise to possibilities. Here are some examples: the atom bomb has wasted the planet and your main character is left alone, the aliens have arrived and made us all slaves, space travel is possible and you're on the wagon train to the stars , vampires lurk everywhere (don't do it - spoiler - over saturated market!). Do you need to shift the paradigm of your book to make it come alive?

Yes, writing is hard work. Good luck on your journey to an awesome first chapter. Happy work! See you next week!

This week's doodle is called: "Pondering."

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, Begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it, Begin it now.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe