Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Madness, Part 5--The Players Must Play

So, the coach got his team into the tournament. He gave them clearly defined goals and powerful motivations, and their opponent keeps them on their toes. Now, it's up to them to act. They have to play the game. They can't just stand there and do nothing. Of course, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes, during a close game, when time is running out, the players of the leading team won't pass or shoot in order to prevent a steal or rebound that could give the other team a chance. Instead, they simply let the clock run out. In this case, their inaction is actually action. Readers prefer characters who do something about their situation. They want the protagonist to fight for their cause instead of just hoping that fate will smile upon them. If you want a character's inaction to qualify as action, you better make sure he/she has a darn good reason for doing nothing. Otherwise, he/she will come across as weak and not worth rooting for. What do you think about inaction? Does it qualify as action if done correctly?

Monday, March 29, 2010

March Madness, Part 4--This Could Be A Problem

We've talked about player goals and motivation for achieving those goals. Now, let's talk conflict. I have to admit that I would have been thrilled if Bulter had rolled over and let K-State win instead of stomping on them, but the NCAA tournament wouldn't be much fun to watch if the team you are rooting for doesn't face some formidable opponents. In fact, if the stakes don't escalate after each round and draw you in game after game, you might skip the whole thing and wait to hear about the outcome on the news. Besides that, players might get lazy and think winning the championship will be easy. I'd even bet that the coach builds up the opponent just to keep his players on their toes. As authors, we have to do the same thing with our characters. We have to give them formidable forces that stand in the way of their goals. We have to raise the stakes and escalate the conflict, chapter after chapter, until we take them all the way. The plot of my manuscript has inherent conflict, but that wasn't enough. This is another area I've spent a lot of time on during rewrites. I had to build up my antagonist to an in-your-face level so that my protagonist wouldn't get lazy. To be honest, I'm not sure I'm satisfied yet. As I finalize my revisions, I plan on beefing this up even more. Do you keep your characters on their toes by constantly raising the stakes? If so good for you. Your audience will love you for it. Join me here on Wednesday for a discussion about inaction vs. action.

Friday, March 26, 2010

March Madness, Part 3--Motivating The Players

Sorry for the picture repeat, but I was far too busy watching K-State battle their way into the Elite Eight last night to search for a new one. On Wednesday, I discussed the internal and external goals of the players and how important both are to them winning the game. The same holds true for their motivation. Obviously, the coach is an example of an external motivator, especially Frank Martin. But what really drives the players to give it their best effort comes from inside. It might be a desire for success after years of losing. Or, it might be jealousy of a rival team. Whatever it is, it must be strong enough to push them through round after round. As authors, we have to give our characters strong and believable motivations to keep fighting toward their goal for three hundred or so pages. I failed at this in my first draft. Just ask my beta readers. My protagonist makes some decisions that most people wouldn't make. What I thought was a strong and believable enough motivation for her to do so, wasn't. My beta readers didn't buy it. If our readers don't believe in our characters motivations, they won't root for them. In fact, they won't even care about them, and we certainly don't want that, do we? What motivates your characters? Is it enough to carry them through to the end? Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Madness, Part 2--Keeping An Eye On The Prize

On Monday, I discussed the importance of a coach staying in control of his players. Let's say he's managed to do so, and he's led his team right into the NCAA tournament. Now what? The coach must keep his players focused on achieving their goals. They have come into the tournament with the clearly defined external goal of winning the National Championship, right? My guess is, though, that they also each have their own set of internal goals. It's these goals that make them stronger players. As authors, we have to give our characters both external and internal goals. In my opinion, the external goals are easy. You put your characters in a story with a solid premise, and you already have the external goal. The internal goals, on the other hand, are much more difficult to develop. I spent a great deal of time during my rewrites strengthening my protagonist's internal goals. They weren't non-existent before, but they were weak and lacked depth. I think my time was well worth it. Have you spent as much time developing your characters' internal goals as you have the external ones? Yes, you say? I thought I had too, but I was wrong. Take another look. It can't hurt. In fact, it might make the difference in getting your team to the next round. Stop back by Friday for a discussion on another part of the character formula: motivation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

March Madness--Getting Into The Game

Yes, I've used this picture before, but it was in regards to my son playing basketball. This time, I'm using it because of College Basketball, to which I seem to have become addicted. I've spent the last four days watching the NCAA tournament instead of working on my manuscript. I have skillfully mastered the art of procrastination, but I'm putting my foot down. No more basketball. Well, at least not until Thursday when the tournament resumes. Hey, give me a break. The K-State Wildcats are in the Sweet Sixteen. Go Cats! Okay, so back to the topic of writing. I thought I'd have my own version of March Madness here on my blog. For the next few posts, I'll be discussing my revision game plan for helping my manuscript go all the way. For the purpose of these discussions, let's look at it from a coach's perspective. The first step to going anywhere in the NCAA tournament is getting into it in the first place. Not just any team makes it, and it's up to the coach to get his team there. It helps to have raw talent, but that talent must be nurtured and directed. The same holds true for an author trying to break into the publishing industry. A great cast of characters is extremely important, but it doesn't mean much if they aren't developed and guided through the story. This is the first mistake I made, and the first I fixed during my rewrites. I've read time and time again of other authors making this same mistake. We are a creative lot, and because of that, we tend to let our characters, or our muse, or whatever else you want to call it, take over our story. Would a coach allow his players to take over? He might grant them a little leeway, but he'd remain in control. The first thing I did when I began my rewrites was to take my story back from my characters. I regained control, and I redirected them to where they needed to go. I can't help but wonder if this wouldn't have been necessary if I'd worked from an outline. That's neither here nor there because I didn't, but I certainly will in the future. It might save me a great deal of time on my next project. What about you? Have you ever let your team take over? Or do you remain the always-in-charge coach you should be? For all you pantsters out there, have you ever wished you'd worked from an outline? I know I have. Join me Wednesday when I discuss getting past the first round.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Blogger Ate My Post!

I posted yesterday, but it seems to have disappeared. Interesting... At any rate, let's try this again. As for Friday's scenarios, #2 is true. I sang the ditty for a radio station commercial. There is a twist to this story, though. It was the adverstisement for Kansas City's Worst Singer Contest. They used my version of Honesty by Billy Joel for the commercial. I may love music, but I have zero, and I mean zero, talent in that area. So, now for the winner of the i-tunes gift card. Congratulations to Bridgette Chicoine! I'll be in touch. I'm unplugging this week due to Spring Break, but I'll be back next Monday. Have a great week!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Music Inspires

I've kept no secrets around here about my love for music, but what I may not have told you about is my active involvement in the industry. Which of the following statements do you think is true? Answer correctly and your name will be entered into the drawing for the i-tunes gift card. #1: I was the lead singer and songwriter for a band my friends and I put together in high school. We called ourselves The Flying Penguins. (Lame, I know.) Our first paid gig was at an 18 and under club during our senior year. Everything that could go wrong that night did. I would give you all the details, but it would take you a week to read this post. Suffice it to say, no one ever hired us again, and we all went our separate ways. #2: I sang a little ditty for a local radio station commercial when I was in my early twenties. For two weeks straight, people asked me to sing it for them everywhere I went. After that, it was completely forgotten. My moment of fame was over, and I never sang professionally again. Okay, about yesterday's wedding ring scenarios... Apparently, my lying skills are regressing because most of you guessed correctly. My wedding ring wasn't stolen. I lost it. I wish the first scenario was true because then I'd have a wedding ring and a much happier ending. This brings me to an important point, though. As I near the end of my rewrites, I'm torn between two endings. The original one is the heart-warming, feel-good, happily-ever-after ending that teenage readers adore. The other is not so happy but more believable. My daughter is begging me for the happy ending, and she is a part of my target audience, but I'm more drawn to the other. Do I dare risk disappointing my readers? How important do you think a happy ending is compared to plausibility, especially in regards to teenage readers? I'll be back Monday to reveal the truth about today's statements and to announce the winner of the drawing. Be sure to leave a comment before noon on Sunday. Until then, have a great weekend with a very happy ending!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

That's Some Serious Bling!

Don't ever buy me any jewelry. I'll either lose it, or it will get stolen. It's inevitable. Now, it's up to you to decide what happened to my wedding ring. Guess correctly and your name will be entered into a drawing for an I-Tunes gift card. (Yes, I finally decided on the prize.) So, here are the scenarios: #1: My wedding ring was stolen from a Dallas hotel room when my husband and I were there for the Cotton Bowl. I thought I'd never see the thing again, but much to my surprise, the maid who stole it returned it the next day. She hardly spoke any English, but from what I gathered, she was terribly sorry and begged us not to report her to authorities. My husband insisted that we should, but I talked him out of it. I have a pretty strong power of persuasion when it comes to him. Besides, the poor girl must have had a darn good reason for taking it, and she did apologize, right? #2: I'm not real sure what happened to my wedding ring. I think I inadvertently gave it to Goodwill just six weeks after my husband had a new diamond put in it. I've never seen it again, and my husband's never bought me a new one. Seriously, you'd think he'd get over it by now. But no! He insists on bringing it up about every other day. "What kind of a person loses a wedding ring?" he says. The cad! Leave your guess for which one is true in the comments. Now, for yesterday's statements. About half of you guessed correctly. I was not, nor will I ever be, a hand model. If you could only see my hands, you'd know why. My parents paid for my college, and I graduated with a degree in Accounting. Shortly after I passed the CPA exam, I found out I was pregnant with my third child. My priorities changed, and I became a stay at home mom. I did some contract Accounting work from home, but other than that, I've never used the degree. I wonder these days if I'd have been better off pursuing my passion for writing back then. Would a writing-related degree help me out in my journey to publication? What do you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Forget The Shoes. Let's Talk Hands.

Before I reveal which of my statements from yesterday is true, I'm going to give you today's statements. Do you know which one is true? Guess correctly and your name will be entered into a drawing which will take place this weekend. The winner will be announced on Monday. Okay, so here they are: #1. I payed my way through college with money I earned as a hand model for Hallmark Cards. I had no idea that one of the cards my hands appeared on was still in circulation until this past Valentine's Day. I kid you not--my husband bought it for me without having a clue it was my hand. #2. My parents payed my way through college which took over six years and five different schools. I finally graduated but with a degree I no longer use. My parents are about to kill me. Who could blame them? Now it's time to tell you which statement from yesterday is true. Apparently, I'm a much better liar than I thought. Only a handful of you guessed correctly. Yes, friends, I really did win an award for skydiving when I was twelve. I never said I actually jumped out of an airplane. (Although, I would have given the chance.) Here's what happened: In my sleep, I walked off the top bunk at summer camp and landed right on my head. As a joke, my fellow campers bestowed upon me The Skydiving Award. I still have the certificate to this day. There is some truth to the other statement. I am terrified of heights, but I haven't been my whole life, and I've flown several times. I'm not sure when the fear developed, but it does keep me from doing a lot of great things. I don't want this to happen in my writing. I don't want my fears to hold me back. If I do, I might miss out on something really fantastic. I've recently decided that I have a fear of completing my revisions. I think this is why they are taking me so long. Once they're finished, my novel will be put to the test. What if it's still not good enough? I guess what I'm afraid of is finding out that all of my hard work and countless hours of revisions were a waste of time. Well, today, I'm letting go of this fear. I'm making a commitment to finish this darn thing. And who knows? Maybe someday I'll let go of my fear of heights and really jump from an airplane. Do you have any fears in regards to writing? Leave your guess as to which of today's statements is true in the comments. Good luck figuring it out!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Feet Would Never Be In The Air Like This!

Or, would they? You be the judge. So, today is the day that I'm forced to lie. We'll see how good I am at it, but first, I want to talk about blogging for a minute. I spent the last two weeks stressing over not blogging. How crazy is that? When I returned to the blogosphere yesterday, I read a couple of posts that made me feel better. Jody's post, Kristen's post, and Rae's post all made me stop and think. Blogging is part of having an on-line presence, but it should be fun, and our posts should be meaningful. When it quits being those things, it's okay to take a break. To all of my fellow bloggers, I'd like to say this: If you need a break, take it. Everyone will still be here when you come back, and you'll be better off in the long run. Okay, now on to my one truth/one lie. Guess correctly which one is which, and you are entered into a prize drawing which will take place this weekend. The winner will be announced on Monday. (The prize is still in question, but I'll let you know as soon as I narrow it down.) So here goes: #1: I won an award for skydiving when I was twelve years old, but now, I'm terrified of heights. I don't know what happened to me. Back then, it was so exhilarating to try new things. Now, I'm just a big wimp. Oh well! I guess aging does that to a person. #2: I've always been afraid of heights and have never even been on an airplane, let alone floating through the air with nothing but a piece of fabric keeping me from falling. What kind of a crazy person would enjoy such a thing? Not me. I can tell you that. Which one do you think is the lie? I'd love to know the reason for your assumptions too. I'll reveal the answer tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hey, Honey, I'm Home!

Yes, I'm back this week. I can't wait to catch up with my blog friends. I hope you've all been well. I've been working hard on my rewrites. In fact, I'm almost finished. I considered taking one more week off from blogging to wrap things up, but then I realized that next week is Spring Break, and I'll be taking it off. I'll finish up the series on The Fire In Fiction then. While I was gone, I got tagged by K.M. Walton and Dawn Simon with this: I've never been any good at following directions, so I'm going to change things up with this. Instead of posting 6 outrageous lies and 1 outrageous truth about myself all at the same time, I'm going to spread it out over the week. Every day this week (starting tomorrow), I'll post one truth and one lie. You can decide which one is true and which one is a lie. At the end of the week, I'll pull a name from all the correct guesses. The winner will receive a prize (yet to be determined). You get one entry for each correct guess. So, how have you been?

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Tornado Effect (RE-POST)

Growing up in Oklahoma and Kansas allowed me to witness the effect tornadoes have first hand. Whether it passes over you, touches down briefly, or barrels through relentlessly, it has an impact on every single person who experiences it. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass, talks about the importance of 'big' events in a novel. He indicates that many of the manuscripts he's read over the years lack a big event. So, what makes for a big event? Well, Maass describes it as one that causes a tornado effect. A big event is one that impacts multiple characters like a tornado affects many residents of the town it plows through. To make a big event meaningful, though, the author must portray the changes it causes in everyone in its path. Do you have a big event in your novel? Have you portrayed its effect on everyone involved? As you ponder that, go buy the book, and have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

These Shoes Draw Attention... (RE-POST)

...coming and going. The leopard print toe is odd enough, but the heel with the fish in it? Really? We all know that the first and last lines of our manuscripts (even of our chapters) are important. They should leave a lasting effect on the reader, and unlike these shoes, it should be a good one. In The Fire In Fiction, Donald Maass points out that the first and last lines of each and every scene are just as important. A good first line should create anticipation (tension) in the reader, and a good last line should not only close out the scene, but it should also leave the reader wondering what will happen next. I've tried to make the first and last lines of each chapter memorable (some attempts more successful than others), but what about every scene? This is another area I'm focusing on during my revisions. How much attention have you paid to the first and last lines of each and every scene?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

These Shoes Are Going Somewhere (RE-POST)

They may be going toward something, or away from something, but they are going somewhere. This is how our scenes should be. One of my favorite quotes in The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass is this: "Most instruction in writing scenes begins with the sound advice, send your character into the scene with a goal. Well, duh." Of course we all know this, but do we always apply it? According to Mr. Maass, many manuscripts fall short here, especially in the middle. So, why does this happen? If I understand Maass correctly, it is because we fail to define what it is that our POV character wants out of the scene, and, thus, our readers don't go into it with any expectations or hope for the outcome. In other words, something has to be on the line for our character, or the reader isn't going to care. Bottom line is, we need to clearly define what our character's wants are for each and every scene, and the outcome should either advance he/she toward that goal or push he/she further away from that goal. But there has to be movement in some direction. Have you looked closely at your character's wants? Is each scene a step forward or a step back in satisfying those wants? I don't know about you, but this is something I will be paying close attention to.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Inner and Outer Appeal (RE-POST)

These shoes have both. I know. I know. I've already used this picture before, but it's perfect for today's post, and I thought you were all forgiving people. These shoes look good on the outside and are so comfy on the inside. How many shoes can you say that about? According to Donald Maass in The Fire In Fiction, our middle scenes should have both outer and inner turning points. In other words, each scene should cause two things: an outer change that everyone can see, and a change within the POV character. Maass thinks this can make the difference between a scene that can be cut and one that must stay. He suggests that we break each scene down and pinpoint the exact outer turning point, and then match it with an inner turning point. It makes sense, doesn't it? Especially when you have these scenes in the middle that are only there to advance the plot. You can breathe fire into them by revealing how the POV character is changed by the scene, thus giving it a whole new purpose. I have many scenes in my middle that are necessary to advance the plot or shed light on the situation at hand, but they are bland. In looking at them, if I take this advice to heart, they could become crucial, unforgettable scenes. What about you? Are your scenes loaded with both outer and inner appeal?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Shoes I Must Keep (RE-POST)

Do you remember my series of posts about organizing my shoe shelf and how it reminded me of revisions? If not you can read them here, here, here, here, and here. Anyway, this picture is the result. (Well, partial result. I couldn't get the whole shelf in the picture, but you get the idea.) Every single pair of shoes that I kept had to stay. They each served a purpose. This is how the scenes in our writing should be. Each one should serve a purpose. In The Fire in Fiction, Donald Maass discusses this at length and points out that authors often fail at this, especially in the middle parts of the book. It is drilled into our heads how important beginnings and endings are, so we tend to focus on these areas. But aren't our middles just as important? Maass gives us tips for making our middle scenes just as unforgettable as our beginnings and endings, and I'll be discussing this topic for the rest of the week. According to Maass, dialogue is a powerful tool during our middle scenes. It can help define the purpose of the scene; it can help build tension; and it can pump fire into otherwise forgettable scenes. Yes, it can do all of this, if it is strong and taut. So, how do we accomplish that? Well, Maass suggests stripping our dialogue down, and then pumping it back up. In other words, get rid of all incidental action and any unnecessary attributives. If the action doesn't tell the reader something, and the attributive isn't needed for clarification, it only bogs down the scene. Are your middle scenes as pumped up as your beginnings and endings, or could they use a little work? Have you tried tightening up the dialogue?