Sunday, December 12, 2010

Suspending Disbelief?

I love when my new Writer's Digest comes in the mail. I always find something that helps with what I am working on at the time. This time, in an article by Steven James, 3 Secrets to Great Storytelling, I had a lightbulb moment on secret number 2. The other secrets were good, too, but this one really brought home something I had been missing.

James says that readers aren't really suspending their disbelief when they pick up a story, they "approach stories wanting to believe them." [emphasis in original] He says it's our job as writers to give the reader a reason to keep believing. To do it, he asks, "What would this character naturally do in this situation?" Any time your characters are doing something that doesn't answer this question, the reader will notice, and James says you'd better give them a reason why.

When it's all spelled out like that, it sounds completely logical, like it shouldn't have to be a lightbulb moment. I've been fumbling about trying to outline a plot and still keep my characters "in character." This question makes it so much easier to line the two things up. Rather than keeping the readers' disbelief going, I'm trying to maintain their belief in my characters. That's so much easier to figure out. If it's not logical in the story, then it goes.

What about you? Do you think readers are suspending disbelief, or do they want to believe? Ever have an "aha!" moment over something that seems like just common sense once you figure it out?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Weddings, and NaNo, and Books, Oh My!

This month was the month I left my sanity behind. We've always had a shaky relationship, but this month we had the big break. I'm hoping we can reconcile soon.

My sister got married this month (Congratulations, Beth!) and I still thought it was a good idea to start National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). 30 days, 50,000 words, and a wedding? What was I thinking? The wedding went off well, but the novel won't be finished by the 30th.

I got a good start on it, though. I have two main characters who alternate telling the story. One character tells her story in first person, the other uses third person. I wasn't sure about it, because I know having multiple points of view in a story can be confusing. So far it seems to be working out pretty well.

I like reading stories where you get to hear from more than one character. I like to know what everyone (important) is thinking and feeling. One thing that always throws me is when the shifts aren't clearly marked, or if the characters all have similar voices. I think having the difference in the narration (first vs. third person) helps keep the characters' voices distinct. It's easier to remember to be aloof and distant in third person with Jolie narrating, then switch to first person narration in Tessa's chapters where she feels things more keenly.

What do you think? How do you feel about multiple characters telling a story? Do you like it, or would you rather stick with just one?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

She said, She said

I'm trying to get character sketches and an outline done for next month's project. I am doing National Novel Writing Month again, and I want to go in with more preparation this year. Last year I sat down with little more than an idea. I ended up with a rough draft, but it's really rough. As in it needs several edits before it can be critiqued to edit, rough.

This year I want to plan more. I want to see if that will help me as I work through the novel. My idea is to have two main characters, alternating sections of the book in each one's POV. They're both girls, so I have to be very careful to give each one a distinctive voice. I don't want to lose the reader mid-novel because they can't tell the difference between my characters.

I have the basic ideas about the characters, but I need to flesh them out. I have seen lists of questions to ask the characters, and other things similar to that. For you writers out there, what's your favorite way of filling out a character which isn't totally defined? Do you ask them questions? Journal about them? What's your method?

Most characters come to me more or less full bodied. This is the first writing project for me that came from a plot idea, rather than a character idea. Maybe I'll try asking questions. If Jolie and Tessa talk as much as I do, they'll be fleshed out by tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Love, Loathing, and Indifference

I loved Paper Towns, by John Green, from page 232 to page 284. Fifty pages of awesomeness; one sixth of the book. I didn’t hate it before that (or after) – I was mostly just indifferent. As a reader, that is.

As a writer, I as captivated by the whole book. I loved the idea of exploring character through the perceptions of everyone around her. (Of course I did, I have a blog about character.)

When Margo Roth Spiegelman disappears, Quentin starts his own hunt to find clues to her disappearance. She’s disappeared before. Usually she shows up a few weeks later with a new unbelievable, but true, story. Searching through Margo’s clues makes Quentin sure he is the one who must find her. These clues are personal.

Along the way he learns all sorts of things about Margo, and none of them are what he expected. Every person she came in contact with had another concept of Margo. Quentin has to piece them all together to find the girl behind the one he thought he knew.

As a character study, this book was fascinating. So why was I so indifferent to it? For the first two-thirds of the book, I just wanted Quentin to get up and DO something. He was searching, but in a lackadaisical way. He let his life interfere too many times to keep me spellbound as a reader. Things perked up on page 232.

For the next fifty pages, things were great from this reader’s standpoint. Green kept the beautiful character study going, revealing bits of Margo (and Quentin and the gang) as Quentin and his friends headed out to rescue her. Then they found her.

Let me just say, John Green does a fabulous job of creating characters. I had real feelings about them all through the book. Through the course of the book, all of those little pieces added up to a flawed individual. Usually I like that. Unfortunately, I discovered at the end that I loathe Margo Roth Spiegelman. I wasn’t indifferent to her. That means Green did his job extremely well.

That is my goal. I want to be able to evoke feeling in my readers. If that means they hate my character, well, bring it on, I guess. Just don’t put down the book. Love me, hate me, but please keep reading.

What do you think? Where is the line drawn between beautiful characterization and a book you end up putting down for good?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Duff

I mentioned in an earlier post that I "attended" WriteOnCon in August. There was a lot of buzz about The Duff, a new book by Kody Keplinger. I have been (im)patiently waiting for the kindle version to be available and then for an Amazon gc with which to order it. On the day I finally have both, I find out there's a contest to win it! So here's step 2 of my entry. You can enter, too, at Coffey. Tea. And Literary - as long as you do it before midnight tonight.

I think it may be midnight Pacific, so you've got a bit longer than I thought to enter. Good luck!

David vs. Melinda

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson, is a novel about a girl who draws into herself and stops speaking after a traumatic experience. (I don’t want to give it away! Read the book!) Melinda speaks only as much as she has to, to keep parents and other adults from having her committed. Melinda’s character is rich and well-drawn, so that I can’t do it justice in a short blog post.

But don’t you just love a book where the secondary characters are fleshed out and well-written? David Petrakis was my favorite character in Speak. Even more than Melinda.

David is Melinda’s bio lab partner, and he really only makes a few appearances in the book. Those appearances, though, are beautiful. I was impressed with Anderson's ability to convey his character so well in such brief snippets.

He stands up to an autocratic teacher, then helps Melinda stand up to him as well. When Melinda complains that she still got a poor grade, David tells her, honestly, that she deserved it.

I have friends like that, and I love them best in all the world. They stand up with me against a foe, then stand up to me because I was wrong. I may not agree at first (neither did Melinda), but we’re better friends because of it.

David was quietly there for Melinda throughout the book. He never pressured her, but he was supportive and made it clear that he liked her, despite her problems. I was rooting for him throughout the book.

I wish there were a sequel about David. I’d read it in a heartbeat.

I am reading John Green’s Paper Towns, now. I just got several new books on writing, so I can satisfy my nonfiction cravings, too.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


I haven't posted anything for a while because I've been working on a story. That sounds like a good thing. Writer, story, good. Yeah, not so much.

A story with fewer than 1500 words shouldn't take me a week to do. Yes, there are other things I have worked on, but the majority of my writing time this week was spent on one short story. Argh!

The problem is the main character - she doesn’t talk much. She’s more of a listener than a talker. That’s great except when she does talk, she’s picky and stubborn. She stopped talking to me sometime this weekend and absolutely refused to tell me more of her story until I got it just the way she wanted.

Out went the outline. I didn’t stop writing, but it was rough going. One sentence at a time rough. Those parts will need a lot of revision, because the character’s voice isn’t very strong there.

Eventually, though, I figured out what she wanted, and the story is moving along. Her voice is stronger in these parts. Once this story is done, I hope to write a proper blog post. I read lots this week, but didn’t really analyze the characters as much as I would have liked.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Farewell to Alex

I attended WriteOnCon (a free online conference for kidlit authors) last week – if you can call not leaving the house for three days attending something. There was a TON of great information about virtually every subject. The workshops on characters and revision got me thinking about the novel I am revising.

I had been looking for plot holes and places the plot needs to be strengthened, and fixing them as I went along. When I thought about it, most of the “plot problems” I have found are more like character problems.

I have a cast of characters I really like. There’s one in particular, though, that makes everything too easy. Just by being there, he takes away the protagonist’s motivation. They do things, but there’s really no need to do anything. Katya doesn’t need to find out answers, Alex is there – and between the two of them, they can figure out anything he doesn’t already know. They’re both smart and funny, and they work well together. Too well.

Katya’s too happy. Things happen to them, but if Katya and Alex are together, they’re both happy. They figure out a plan of action and go for it. That sounds like a good thing, I know. In real life it is, but it’s not very exciting to read.

Katya needs to be shaken up a little bit. She needs to get out of her comfort zone and really have to work for what she wants. She’ll be a stronger character for it, and I love strong characters.

So, I’ll have to say, “Goodbye, Alex. Kat loved you well.”  He won’t be missed, though. Not really.

What are you reading?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Like Lucy

I just finished reading If I Have a Wicked Stepmother, Where’s My Prince?, by Melissa Kantor. Unlike my usual fare, this one had no vampires, no werewolves, no magic – nothing paranormal going on.

Except it did have magic. Not spell casting or wand waving, but a quieter, happy-place kind of magic. The characters were well-drawn, so I wanted to read on, even though the plot and setting weren’t what I would normally choose. I liked them, all of them.

Lucy Norton is the new girl in school - for the third time in three years. This time her father has gotten remarried and moved her across country. He still works on one coast, while Lucy is stuck on the other coast with her stepmom and stepsisters.

When they’re being nice, they ignore her. Otherwise they are flat out rude to her. Her life at school seems better – when she’s not grounded.

About halfway through the book I almost put it down. I was indignant, horrified that Lucy’s father would leave her with such horrible people. When I thought about it, though, that was Lucy’s indignation, not mine. I thought Lucy was being a brat – but I still liked her.

I kept reading, and I am glad I did. She made dumb choices, but they were true to her character. People started changing, doing things Lucy didn’t expect. Really, though, it was Lucy who changed. It was subtle. She didn’t notice (or the change would ring false); she just started reacting differently. She made better choices, and those were true to her character, too. She grew as a person, and I liked her better for it.

Her character made me keep reading. I didn’t care that she wasn’t saving the world from evil or have any magic powers. I liked Lucy, period. She spoke to me as a reader, and I cared about what happened to her.

What are you reading?