Hey...as long as Angelique keeps asking me, I'll keep giving my "fashion" tips....see this week's guest post:
Do any of you remember the analytical portion of the GREs? My friend Tracy described it as “the test where seven kids wear red and seven wear blue, so you need to identify how many love Shakespeare.” I loved that portion, because it’s exactly the kind of problem-solving we all need on a daily basis. If you have to drop one child at gymnastics at 3, make a phone call between 2 and 4, pick up groceries (including milk), drop off cookies (from the grocery store) at church, and pick the child back up at 4, in what order do you accomplish these tasks? Remember: no phone calls while driving, the milk will start to turn in 30 minutes of the Texas heat, and the child needs to be absent or have a cookie to be quiet during the phone call.
The problem with being good at problem-solving is that fiction is largely about problem-creating. If things go well for your main character, you aren’t writing an exciting novel. Dennis Lehane said in an interview with the Drood Review: “I mean, poor Patrick, his worst enemy isn’t himself or some deranged murderer, it’s me.” http://www.droodreview.com/features/lehane.htm
So how to solve the problem of solving your characters’ problems too easily? I’m approaching the end of a novel and the analytical portion of my brain is working overtime to make everything run smoothly. So before I write a scene I stop and jot down notes. What do my characters want most of all? What scares them? I want my characters to be terrified…because then they make reckless, exciting choices that throw a wrench into the natural order of events.
Sample Question from www.lsac.org (answers to come in post later this week)
Seven piano students — T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z — are to give a recital, and their instructor is deciding the order in which they will perform. Each student will play exactly one piece, a piano solo. In deciding the order of performance, the instructor must observe the following restrictions:
- X cannot play first or second.
- W cannot play until X has played.
- Neither T nor Y can play seventh.
- Either Y or Z must play immediately after W plays.
- V must play either immediately after or immediately before U plays.
If V plays first, which one of the following must be true?
- T plays sixth.
- X plays third.
- Z plays seventh.
- T plays immediately after Y.
- W plays immediately after X.
If U plays third, what is the latest position in which Y can play?
Have you ever started something, estimated how long it would take (a hour or so) and realized later that you’d been working on it for over a week? I walked into this scene in my novel with a clear idea of who, where, when, what, and even why…Jamie in the police department the next day interrogates a suspect in the shooting that opened the novel and gets a message from his CO that sends him off to City Hall so he can a) get a little forward momentum on both cases and b) have the real job and the undercover one intersect briefly. But writing the scene in the interrogation room has been slow, slow, slow. I put a place holder in (literally “They have an exchange”) and jumped ahead…and have come back, and back, and back. Is it because I, like Jamie, have come to rely on Coal, his brash and shady partner to move the action forward? I do think Jamie’s got some changin’ to do over the course of this novel. His partner and his love interest can’t be the impetus for the action any more.
If I say I’m going to finish this scene by the end of the morning, am I kidding myself?
What do you do when you’re stuck in an endless scene?
Earlier this week the mystery writer Sara Paretsky posted on Facebook about a “anti-fan” letter she’d received and I just heard from another friend that she’d gotten static back from a contest that she judged. I’m not much for self-help philosophies, but there are two things I do when someone out there does something rotten that brings me down.
1. Take a page from the book “You Can Be Happy No Matter What” (by R. Carlson of “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”) and try to remember that each person has their own world view that has very little to do with me. I didn’t inspire it and I can’t change it.
2. Make a donation to Doctors Without Borders (or another cause for good in the world). If the thing made me feel really rotten, I may dig through my house for stuff to donate to Goodwill or the food bank.
It’s always easier for some people to write a letter of complaint than a letter of compliment. I’m trying hard not to be that kind of person and not to let the negativity drag me down. (Although I’m not afraid to write a reasonable letter of complaint, I’m trying to balance each one with a letter of praise to someone who deserves it.)
What do you do when people suck?
or more correctly “How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack” by the editor of Writers Digest, Chuck Sambuchino. My kids aren’t afraid of garden gnomes (yet) so I picked up this book at the Writers Conference. Language a little over their heads…but I’ve picked up valuable pieces of information including: “A gnome will use his decided size advantage to impale and immobilize you while the others attack en masse from nearby shrubbery.” I’m a little nervous about the gnome Tim gave me for my birthday…is he an advance scout?
In other book-related news, reading a great new book on story craft. Strictly speaking, it’s on screenwriting, but it’s extremely useful for novelists and (I think) would be entertaining for people who are interested in movies in general…why they work and why they don’t. “Save the Cat” by Blake Snyder. Available on Kindle, because that’s how I’m reading it.
Just returned from the Houston Writers Guild Conference.
1. Meeting the talented Nikki Loftin in person. I had the honor of reading her entry “Gingerbread” in the novel contest last year. I’m relieved to say I gave it a perfect score…as it will be coming out under the title “The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy.” From Publishers Marketplace “Nikki Loftin’s debut novel THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, pitched as Coraline meets Hansel and Gretel, about a young girl whose seemingly delightful new school hides frightening secrets, to Laura Arnold at Razorbill, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2012, by Suzie Townsend at Fineprint Literary Management (World).”
I look forward to reading more than the first ten pages!
2. Hearing Chuck Sambuchino speak…and answer questions. Great blog about agents/finding one/what they want/etc at http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/
Fortunately, I have an agent that I love, but Chuck still had excellent advice I need to take to heart. “Throw away your remote control.” I’ve got to stop worrying that “this novel is taking too long” and start spending more time on it so it ultimately will take less time. More hours per day=less days overall.
3. Chris Rodgers gave an inspiring nuts and bolts look at the Writer’s Toolkit. My takeaway? In every scene have your character chasing the ball, catching the ball or dodging the ball.
4. Being around inspiring, interesting writers, editors, and agents. I enjoyed speaking with Sarah Cortez, the writer, poet, editor of anthologies, and cop, Nina Godiwalla, author of the new memoir “Suits on Wall Street,” hearing Rodney Walther, author of the novel “Broken Laces” lay open the world of self-publishing, and getting an inside look at traditional publishing from Terri Bischoff, editor at Midnight Ink. Also heard an excellent talk on the perfect pitch from Katherine Sands, author of (my bible this time last year) “Making the Perfect Pitch.” My fellow Writers Ink member, Trakena Prevost must have made some excellent pitches, as she got several manuscript requests at this conference, too!
Once again, Roger Paulding put together an impressive line-up. Hopefully I can convince Stacey Keith my co-judge from this year’s writing contest to do a little guest blogging…while we’re both still fired up.
WOW! (Women on Writing) interviewed me on their blog: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/
Reading back over it, I think my answer to “the idea behind the story” is a little garbled. Probably why my idea file is full of notations like “Old Man and a Train!!!” Had great significance when I wrote the note, had to reach for the story, ended up with a story that reads like two stories had a terrible accident and the carnage may not be able to be separated.
I had a writing teacher who said, “All stories sound stupid when you say what they’re about.” I think this may go double for story ideas. Which is sad, because it’s the thing most people are really, really interested in. I’m always interested in where my favorite authors got the idea for their work. Sue Grafton has made some of her journals and rough drafts available, and they’re a great way to get an inside look at the process…but I think I have a hard time after the fact saying what actually happened to get from an image or small idea to a complete (if not finished) story.
And (because I love to reference Joss Whedon’s work whenever possible) for your viewing/listening pleasure:
So…where do you get your ideas? And what’s the biggest leap between idea & execution you’ve ever accomplished? Are your “notes to self” more helpful than mine are to me?