Monday, June 30, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Writing Tip #14 - Characters Who Have, uh, Character

Why do we sometimes say that a person we know is "quite a character"? You know the type I'm talking about. This person is distinctive, amusing, mystical, humorous, larger than life,etc. In a word Interesting.

Characters in a book can't be run of the mill. They need to be interesting, so that your readers will want to hang out with them for the course of the book.  No one wants to be exiled to yawnsville when they start reading.

So, how do you make your characters interesting? It's all in the details.

For instance, I wrote a Middle Grade that was based on a story I'd written when I first started writing.  The MC is forced to visit his grandfather who lives in a small town. This is the scene where he meets up with a couple kids down the street. The original reads like this:
  "Hi Tim. It's me Nathan." He didn't say anything.  "I'm here for the summer."
Tim kept silent, narrowed his eyes and glared at me. He finally said, "Nice hair-do" in that sarcastic way where you know he doesn't mean it. What's wrong with my hair? I wondered. My hand instantly went to my head. I had just been to the barber. Then I noticed that Tim hadn't had a haircut in a while. At least not a good one.  
  "Where's Mikki?" I said. Tim stood up. I noted he was tall for eleven, about the same height as me. Then he just walked away. I was flustered at this cool reception and started kicking small rocks in the street, trying to figure out what to do next. Just as I was about to leave, Mikki walked around the corner with two little girls following behind her. 
What's wrong with it?  Well, besides being boring.....oh, that's enough, it's boring!  Who'd want to hang with these people for a whole book?
This is the current version, from IT'S A LITTLE HAYWIRE. You'll notice name changes, a change in the MC's voice and perspective, as well as in the secondary characters. Notice also, the details sprinkled in. 
        I can't breathe. I rest my hands on my knees, feeling stupid. Why didn’t I stop to catch my breath before I rounded the corner looking like a feeble dweeb?        
       Mikki and Mason don’t say a word, just stare at me, eyes narrow and searching.      
       "Hi Mikki. Hi Mason,” I say once I can inhale and exhale again like a normal human being.    
        “Well, if it ain’t Owen True.” Mikki's voice is stretched and thin, like she’s forcing herself to be friendly.       
      Mason's lips turn up in a smirk. “Nice hair-do.”  My hand automatically brushes across the top of my head. My Mom made me get my hair buzzed for the wedding. Mason snorts then gets up and goes inside. Two little girls come out at the same time, skipping down the steps.   
          “Oh crickets,” Mikki says. “Opal and Ruby, you two need to clean up this mess. What do you think this is? A pig pen?” I’m glad she hadn’t asked me. I'd be forced to lie.
            Mikki stands up as if to supervise. She props her hands on her waist and her pointy elbows stick out on either side. The triangular spaces remind me of space shuttle wings. I bet she’d like to just fly off if she could. Get outta Haywire. I feel a little sorry for her then.  Even though I’m stuck here for the whole of August, at least I get to leave when it’s over.
I'm hoping this example explains what I'm trying to say, better than my trying to describe the difference. To form interesting characters you need character arc, felt need, distinctive character voice and details.  How about you? Do you have anything to add? What do you do to give your characters character?
We'll talk more about the need for details in the next post.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #13 - Look Who's Talking - What is Voice?

When it comes to writing there are two kinds of "voice": the author's voice and character voice. 

Trying to teach someone how to write Author's voice is like trying to teach someone how to hold onto a slippery amphibian--it's a hard concept to grab onto. Author's voice is the feel of a book, what make's it distinctively one writer's story over another. It's the choice of words and flow; it's the cadence and style.  The elements of voice are hard to pinpoint. Think about John Grisham or Stephen King, Danielle Steele or Helen Fielding (or for YA examples, Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling, John Green, etc)--all great writers, but completely different in style. You know when you're reading a John Grisham book, just what kind of book to expect. Not because of branding, but because of how he writes.

How do you find your voice? By writing. I remember the moment when I realized, Hey, This is my voice! It happened after I had written a lot of different stuff. In fact, I'll admit it happened while writing CLOCKWISE. Everything I wrote before that lack a certain something. Mostly I was copying other writers that I admired. My work sounded a lot like whatever author I'd been reading at the time. Then suddenly, my work started sounding like me.

This doesn't mean a writer can only write in one genre. Once you've found your voice it'll follow you, no matter the genre.

For Character voice,  we're talking about something different. We're talking about what each and every one of your characters talk and act like.  Beginning writers often default to the character voice they know best, their own. They have a very strong tendency to give all their characters their own personality. They all say whatever is said, the way the author herself would say them. Do you know what I mean? Have you done this? 

So when writing character voice, you need to know your characters a little bit before starting. Do they have a chip on their shoulder? Are they depressed? Are they in love? Are they fighters? Or givers?  You need to know something that will shape how your characters speak. See the chapter on Felt Need for more on this.

I just finished a light paranormal YA novel where the main character starts off the story overly self-confident. Of course this attribute is shaken up as the story progresses, but it shapes how she sees the world and it comes through in her voice, whether it's inner dialogue or spoken word.

What I sometimes do in second to final drafts, and what I did with this ms, is go through each main and secondary character's conversations from start to finish, by putting their name in FIND. You should be able to identify each speaker by how they talk, and not just by the dialogue tag.

For instance, in this ms I had three characters vying for the protag's attention (for differing reasons). One character was the boy next door, the guy the MC grew up with. He spoke with a lot of slang like gonna, wanna, and modern vernacular. The main love interest was more formal with his behavior and speech and the one who turned out to be the antagonist was very forward and brash in his encounters with the MC.

As I searched for each of their names, I checked to make sure that each one had his own speech pattern. I had to make some adjustments at this point. It's interesting to note that I wasn't aware of these distinctives as I started the first draft--their characters defined themselves in the writing. I honed in on their differences in the revision process.

 How do you define voice?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #12 - The Problem with Pacing

I'm a "tight" writer. I rarely have the problem of having over-written and therefore must go back to a bloated manuscript and cut thousands of words.

This can be a good thing, to be able write with an economy of words...but there is such a thing as too tight.

Which is why I often call my first draft an elaborate outline.

I identified my problem. PACING.

I'm jumping from exciting plot point to exciting plot point, with no room to breath in between. Sometimes this technique is good--it keeps you on the edge of your seat. But in my case I know that I'm not establishing key elements like setting or emotional conflict as well as I could.

I decided I needed to see how other writers were dealing with pacing so I picked a book off my shelf that was on the thicker side, one of our example books, TWILIGHT.  I wanted to see how she handled pacing.

First, it's easy to recall her main plot points: Bella spotting Edward in the Cafeteria; Bella and Edwards first encounter in Biology; Edward saving Bella from getting crushed; the sparkle reveal; the ball game; encounter with James and the beginning of the hunt; the escape with Alice and Jasper; James contacting Bella; her escape at the airport; the dance room scene; the rescue; the hospital; the prom.

If I had written Twilight it would've only been half as long, even while keeping all those scenes.  (And yeah, maybe Twilight could have used a bit of  thinning.)

So what did I notice?

Ms Meyers wasn't in a big rush to get Bella and Edward to meet. Bella arrives at Forks, we meet her dad, see her house, go through a day of school, meet her friends, sure she sees Edward and we find out a bit about him through her friends Jessica's eyes, but we don't actually MEET him until his unusual reaction to Bella in Biology.

My instinct would've been to open with that scene.

Ms Meyers didn't worry about giving us too much detail about setting. Sometimes we'd get two or three paragraphs detailing a room or forest. I tend to worry if I spend too much time describing setting, the reader will fall asleep, but actually it helps a reader to get rooted in a story if they can really see where they are and what's going on. Of course you can go overboard with description, but in my case, I can see that I tend to error on the side of too little.

Her emotional descriptions were generous as well. We understood how Bella and her father were alike, and why it worked for them to live together, we understood her obsession with Edward, and even though we could've probably lived with fewer descriptions of Edward's eyes and the wide swath of emotion that oozed from them, we were left in no doubt about the speed and intensity at which their love affair grew.

She also didn't have a problem with a large cast. There are the kids at school, the Cullen family and a brief encounter with the reservation tribe. They all needed fair description and stage time over the course of the book.

The villain didn't arrive until the last act. That was kind of surprising. I suppose that was part of the twist, although if you paid attention to the prologue, you knew she was going to get hunted.

Speaking of prologue: it was super short. The best kind.

Knowing that Twilight was the first book of a series, I also watched for how she planted clues for book two, since I never know if there will be a book two or a book three.  I wonder how much she really knew in advance about how the story with Jacob and the Quileutes tribe would evolve. Jacob Black plays a really small role in book one, with only his ominous message from his father to Bella at the prom to hint at more conflict to come.

What do you think? Do you struggle with pacing? Either too slow or too fast like me?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Sea & Ocean Love - Can the Garbage Patches be Cleaned Up?

There are five large garbage patches in our oceans - the largest one is in the Pacific and is TWICE the size of Texas!

Though it's wonderful to look at lovely ocean pictures like this:

We can't ignore this:

If you haven't heard, my book SEAWEED is part of a boxed set  called OCEANS DEEP, a project with the goal of bringing ocean awareness and conservation to water lovers everywhere. All proceeds go to

A bargain at 3.99. Get your copy now!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

LOVE the Ocean? Support World Oceans While Reading bestselling YA Sea themed books!

★✩★ Sunday, June 8, is #WorldOceansDay! ★✩★

Want to help Raise Money to support the care and conservation of our Oceans?

On Sale JUNE 8 - JULY 8


Support World Oceans Day!

This boxed set has 12 full-length young adult novels (2500 pages!) by ten best-selling authors to celebrate the sun and sea! They're full of mermaids and surfers, lifeguards and dolphins, sand and waves. These books span a variety of genres including science fiction, fantasy, contemporary and mythology, but they all have one thing in common: they leave readers more in love with the ocean than they were before.

I'm  excited to announce that my book SEAWEED is part of this set.  

There's a scene in the book where the garbage patch is discussed with much sadness. Help to bring awareness and support clean-up efforts by picking up this fantastic boxed set.

The other fab authors are Leigh T. Moore, Karen Amanda Hooper, Cheri Lasota, Heather Allen, Amy Evens, Kristen Day, Nikki Godwin, Lani Wendt Young, Amber Garr.

A bargain at 3.99!

It's an entire summer's worth of beach reads for $3.99 and all profits will go to TheOceanProject to further the mission of environmental education and ocean conservation. 

The theme of this years event is together we have the power to protect the ocean. The OceansDeep collection does that one word, one page, one story at a time. Because while facts may change people's minds, fiction can change their hearts.   

► JOIN the Authors and designers Sunday & Monday June 8th & 9th evenings, 7-10:30 pm EST! for a Facebook Event

***Exclusive Excerpts, Fun teasers, and of course #GIVEAWAYS!!!*** 

  Enter the rafflecopter to win more books and other prizes too, and please help spread the word about OceansDeep. 

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Crafting Your Best Story - Tip #11 - Plots and Subplots

What is plot?
For some reason plot is not easily defined, and yet if plot is missing in a book or movie we know it. How? We find ourselves shaking our heads saying, I don’t get it, and What is this story about? 
Plot is closely related to structure, in fact, the major structure plot points should reflect the plot.
There must be a problem or a quest. There must be obstacles that get in the way of solving the problem or continuing the quest. There must be a solution to the problem or a completion of the quest.
The plot problem in CLOCKWISE is the situation Casey finds herself in when she accidentally brings a boy she hardly knows, though is crushing on hard, back to the past.
In TWILIGHT the plot problem is a mortal girl falls in love with a vampire boy who could kill her even though he loves her.
HARRY POTTER is an example of a quest. He has to find a way to stop Voldemort from succeeding with his evil plans, a quest that continues through all seven books.
Most novel length books need more than just the plot to propel the story along. The plot is assisted with subplots. While the story can be told without subplots, subplots alone are not the story.
In CLOCKWISE one subplot involves Casey who is suddenly faced with the attentions of a wealthy suitor, an egotistical man who doesn’t know how to take a hint. In the present the subplots revolve around her family dynamics and the tension her trips with Nate cause with her best friend. Then there’s the SPOILER subplot that must not be named! =)
In TWILIGHT the main story revolves around Bella’s growing relationship with a vampire. The subplots include her friendship with Jacob and the secrets of his family, and her growing but awkward relationship with her father.
Can you pick out the subplots in HARRY POTTER?
Some people like to look at sub-plotting as braiding.  

Imagine the center strand as the main plot line and the outside strands are subplots. As you structure your story, the subplots twist around the plot creating a braid—a well developed novel.
You can have more than two subplots, of course, though not all books require it. Use whatever your story needs to build the plot, just remember that you have to tie up all the loose ends by the end of your story, including all subplots.
One important thing to remember while plotting is to keep your main character active. Though sometimes things will happen to him, you want your protagonist to be actively engaged. For instance, even though Casey traveled through time with Nate (something happened to her), her response to that is a series of things that she does.
Next post we'll look at pacing.