The tree may still be up, but all the wrappings are cleared and the gifts are stowed, cherished or perhaps in the trunk headed to the returns department. No matter, the holiday of gift-giving is behind us, and now we can set our thoughts on the new year. With it come thoughts for change. Or not.
Whether you're a writer, reader or simply a dreamer, you certainly have considered changes you'd like to make to your routine. I have. However, there are some things I will not alter.
Here are five resolutions I will not make.
1. Add more adjectives to my writing. In fact, I should do the opposite. Using adjectives defeats the effort to "show don't tell". Every word in your story needs to matter.
Susan stepped over the broken glass.
Nouns tells us what is in the scene - glass
Verbs tell us what the character is doing - stepped
Adjectives describe the items - broken
Sometimes these adjectives are necessary. There is a reason for broken glass on the ground. Something caused it to break. The fact that the character must step over broken glass moves the plot forward. The reader wants to know what happened.
However, the word "broken" is the only adjective necessary. Any other adjective would not move the story forward. Does it help to know it's sharp? No. colored? jagged? old? pretty? No.
If you are going to add adjectives to your writing, add those that serve a purpose, that reveal character or plot.
2. Write longer sentences. Unless you are the next Hemingway, I suggest you keep those sentences trim and tidy. Readers can get lost in lengthy verbiage. Try artful compound sentences. Constructed well, they can add poetry to your scenes. As long as each clause itself is simple. It really depends on the mood you are going for.
Jeffrey stood in the doorway. The rain pelted the window.
These separate clauses create tension. If that's what you're after, leave them. Maybe, though, you want mood - dramatic mood. This is better:
Jeffrey stood in the doorway, and the rain pelted the window.
I think that creates more tension. It ties the two actions together. The fact that the rain is pelting means there's a storm outside. Perhaps placing that information in the same sentence with Jeffrey standing in the doorway suggests there is a storm brewing in Jeffrey as well.
Know the mood you are after, and remember - variety is key.
3. Create flawless characters. No one I know in real life is perfect. Perfectly evil or perfectly perfect. We all have flaws. Our characters should as well. Add an imperfection to your character by considering 'what if'.
The Hero - caring, selfless, smart. What if she's afraid of the dark? scared of heights? clumsy? nearsighted? farsighted? Like her admirable qualities, her flaws should add to her transformation or the story's resolution. If Dorothy wasn't so selfish - as teens will be - she wouldn't have fled home or ended up in the problem she did; yet it was her selflessness that helped her get home. Her selfishness transformed.
The Villain - egotistical, aloof, impatient. What if he feeds stray cats or has a grandmother he must check on. This can be his achilles heal that trips him up and allows the hero to prevent him from succeeding. We need to care about them, have sympathy. Bad guys usually have something in their past that caused them to stray. Read through any comic, every villain has a backstory.
4. Judge my writing. Ugh. If you were to write me into a story, this might be my flaw (one of many, alas). Of course, it's good to be critical of our art. After all, picking over lines and paragraphs and pages helps us weed out unnecessary words; this keeps our story tight and in line. But slow down on the judgment, fellow author. I'm guessing others of you might share my hypocritical flaw.
Start by simply writing. Don't nitpick, don't delete, don't search the thesaurus or stop to re-read that scene in Moby Dick that you want to mirror as your character tries to drown himself in the bathtub.
Edit with love. I can't remember who may have told me this, but someone once suggested to me that when I start revising or rewriting, that I do so as a gardener pruning a rosebush. Set the long-handled shears down. Pick up the delicate narrow scissors. Trim. Don't chop. Step back to admire the blooms. Step in closely to trim the narrow bits of dead growth along those few leaves. You don't want a bald rosebush, and you don't want a story devoid of depth.
Move on to my last not-going-to-be-a-resolution.
5. Write less often. Really. That ain't happening, sister. In fact, in the past two years, I've developed a solid regime for my writing.
I write every day. Every. Day. And I work full-time. (Can't quit the day job, yet.) And I have one kid still at home. The thing is, I'm not always writing scenes. I keep a journal where I write down ideas, backstory, research notes, questions, etc. That's writing. I think about my characters and my plot all the time. Seriously. In the shower. Driving. During breaks at work. On the treadmill. My current work-in-progress is always close to my thoughts.
I set goals. The weekend is my real writing time. Any day I am not up at 6:30 for work, I am up to write. Since I'm a teacher, that means fall break, winter break, and spring break allow extra days to write. Summer vacation is when I feel like a real full-time writer. On those days, I set a goal of 1,000 words. I can usually meet that goal because I've been working on my #4 not-a-resolution (arrow points up).
No matter how you ring in your new year, may it be followed by doing the things you love, surrounded by those you love, and filled with beauty, joy and peace. (And lots of words!)
When taking a stroll in the woods, most choose a well-worn path. Few wander off into the untamed foliage. First of all, there's poison oak. Secondly, there's critters and the risk of getting lost. As writers, we must create safe paths for our readers to journey along. We don't want them to get lost.
At one point, however, we need to step into the wildness, but we can't do that until they trust us.
How do you create that trust so that your readers are willing to get a little lost in your story and still find their way home?
Well, hikers don't get lost if they have some skills, are familiar with their trail, and can see a bit ahead where the trees break, a bird flies, the light escapes. You, the writer, must provide those skills, familiarity and signposts to the exit.
Besides a problem or plot to your story, you must supply three pieces of equipment that will help your reader navigate through the wild and out into the light of day.
1. A trusty narrator. Whatever the POV, your narrator must assure her reader that she knows what she's doing. She must be trustworthy, believable, authentic, and consistent. Great youth first-person narration to study: Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee; Holden, Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. Great third-person narration: the omniscient narrator, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.
2. Someone to care about. Your hero/heroine doesn't need to be perfectly lovable, but she does need to have a story that makes the reader care about what happens to her; or at the very least, the hero needs a compelling story that makes the reader want to KNOW what happens to him. Worthy protagonists: Scout, Holden and Elizabeth Bennett from above; Pony Boy Curtis, The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton; Charlie Gordon, Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes; Melinda, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.
3. A place that lives. Readers want to know where they are in time and space. Is this story happening now? in the past? in the future? Let them know immediately, so they can begin to picture it all in their mind. This creates comfort and safety. Well-developed settings in YA: Hogwarts and Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter series; Middle Earth, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy; the uninhabited island in Lord of the Flies by William Golding.
I'd love to hear more about the stories that inspire you to write. What are your favorite narrators, heroes, and settings? Share them here.
When you reach a certain age, your seasonal gift list changes. Instead of the laundry list of big and small items (something electronic and techie, something warm and fuzzy), you might simply wish for peace and quiet, good health for your growing kids and aging parents, and maybe something chocolate.
I hear ya. Me, too.
However, now that my own kids are old enough to work and drive, they've actually asked me (me, Mom me) for a list of what I want. Whwhwhat? Me? Hmm. The trick is the list can't be too long nor the items too expensive.
Here is one writer's wish list of nine musts and wants (with links for you):
First, the essentials:
1. "Revival" by Stephen King. I typically buy myself the man's newest release anyway.
2. Some new notebooks. Moleskin is cool and hip, but I prefer old school with lines.
3. A set of good pens.
4. New Age or Classical music CD. This one is easy for the kids because they can go to a re-use music shop and pick up some packaged music for cheap. (No downloads.) I'm getting bored of my usual writing background music.
5. The latest copy of Writer's Digest Magazine.
Now for some fun stuff:
6. Good friendly chocolate.
7. Good friendly coffee.
8. Warm toes.
9. Stylish hat to keep warm on those inspirational walks to break writer's block.
What's on your wish list? Share yours with us.
I've noticed something as I journey along this writer's road. It's getting harder. I thought it would get easier. Writing. But it's kind of like the old 'the more you know, the less you know' adage.
My first novel poured out of me like water. Not flavored or bubbly. Plain water. It was a story that had sat inside my soul since childhood, and I just needed to get it out, so I could make room for new ideas. I completed it, published it, and now I adore it.
I worried if I'd ever write another. Where would the ideas come from? How would I know which ones were worthy?
This was not a problem. New ideas flooded in. One spoke to me more than others, and I chose it and wrote it. Now the floodgates burst open wide. In the middle of working on "Birds on a Wire", other story ideas and characters started butting in. At first, I thought they belonged in my current work, but later I figured out that they didn't.
They were plot crashers, and I needed to kick them out. Trouble was, they were interesting. Still, they weren't invited; I needed to schedule them for a future date.
I started keeping more journals, using more writing apps, buying more post-its.
I have about half a dozen story ideas and a myriad of characters waiting to be immortalized. I don't worry that I'll forget about them because I have them written down (somewhere).
Some of those ideas and characters found their way into my third novel (now with my editor).
My problem remains: what's the best way to recognize characters and ideas that belong from those that don't?
Here are three exercises for deciding whether or not a character or idea belongs.
1. Friend or foe: Place the interloping character in a scene, and let her talk with your MC. What comes up? Do they have something in common? Does the party crasher push your MC's buttons? Do they click? The crucial question is: does this new character move your plot forward or help your MC transform? (Consider how an irritating workmate pushes you to want to be better than them.) Think about the myriad of minor characters in a Harry Potter novel and what they bring into the story.
2. Truth or dare: Take your idea and write it out. Does it reveal a truth to your story, your plot, your character's journey? Does it put your character in a scene that tests her in some way? Sometimes, you need a scene that's not so much part of the plot but does place your character in a situation that transitions the plot where it needs to go. Think about the minor moments in a Sherlock Holmes mystery and how a previous incident plays a part in the plot's development.
3. Comma or period: When you are examining a new character, scene or event, consider if it pauses action with purpose; gives the reader a moment to put together previously important action or prepares him for a major plot reveal or climax. In contrast, perhaps these party crashes stop action all together. Do they give away too much too soon or even take the reader down a completely different path? Think about The Hunger Games when Rue dies. It pauses action enough to let Katniss reconnect to what's important. Her death is crucial to Katniss' own journey.
Good luck exploring your party crashers. Share your experiences here with all of us.