Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year!

Around this time of year, many people set writing resolutions and goals for themselves. If you have any you, please share them in the comments.

My goals for the year include getting two novels edited and at least one of them out to agents, submitting one novella and one novelette (different markets), reoutlining my 2007 NaNo so I can work at editing it, and writing a new novel for NaNo in 2009. There's probably some short story work going to happen, but my focus for the year is on the longer works.

What about you?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gathering of Giveaways

Everybody likes gifts and free stuff, right? So in the spirit of the holidays, I bring you my list of places I look for book giveaways and other neat stuff.

First: sites that give reviews, interviews, and other news, as well as book giveaways.
Fantasy Book Critic

Patrick's Fantasy Hot List

The Book Swede


Second: author blogs that also do giveaways sometimes.
Paperback Writer (You should be reading this anyway!)

Alison Kent: Blah Blog (Currently running 12 days of Christmas giveaway--hurry! She chooses winners on December 29th.)

Third: Just book giveaways.
Great American Book Giveaway Enter every week!

Access Romance contests (The rest of the site has other stuff, too--blogs, newsletters, reviews. But this page is *just* contests.)

Fourth: Just giveaways.
Giveaway of the Day (Generally Windows software)

If I've missed any of your favorites, be sure to let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 19, 2008

On being a hack

Just a short post today because I was listening to a podcast and heard something that raised my hackles. Or would have, if that weren't a cliche.

The comment in question was that including eye color in fiction makes one a hack.

One of the first things I learned about Scarlett O'Hara in middle school is that she has green eyes. Am I going to call Margaret Mitchell a hack? Not on your life (another cliché! kill it!).

As with anything, eye color can be over-used. If you find that it's the first thing you turn to when you're writing a character description, maybe you need to think about your technique a little more. But some people do notice eye color, and some people do have noticeable eye color. And that should be reflected in your writing.

I don't think a single thing can make you a hack, not even using -ly adverbs. Elmore Leonard had a character in one of his books where every single dialogue tag had an adverb attached. Perhaps he was being ironic; perhaps it was a joke; perhaps he wanted to see whether anyone would notice. Two things to note: it was ONE character, and it worked.

Making guidelines for yourself is fine. Knowing when to break guidelines others have created is better. However, don't make a guideline for an arbitrary reason and expect everyone else to follow it. They're not hacks just because they don't follow a rule you just made up.

In the comments, list any signs you can think of that point to being a hack. Or tell me what rules you think are applied too broadly and need to be checked.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Elusive allusions

No podcast review today, but I'll post one later this week. Today, I want to talk about using allusions in writing.

I like using allusions -- indirect references to other stories -- to add resonance to my writing. When the reader understands the allusion, depth is added: all the emotional complications from the original story are brought to mind and linked with the current story.

However, that "when" is actually an "if" because the reader may not get what seems to the writer to be the most obvious of references.

Case in point: I was listening to Christmas carols the other day, and "The most wonderful time of the year" came up. A line in there has always bugged me. "There will be scary ghost stories." Why? Ghost stories are for Halloween. I didn't know anyone who sat around telling ghost stories for Christmas. This weekend, however, it finally hit me--Scrooge, with his ghostly visitors in [i]A Christmas Carol.[/i]

In retrospect, that seems obvious, but it took me years to draw the connection. (And it's possible that I'm wrong, that in fact, the song writer was talking about people sitting around talking about ghostly hitchhikers and the like. That's the other side of allusions -- people reading things into your work that you never intended to be there. My friend Margaret refers to this as the "reader 50%.")

Another example: When I was working for a couple of years between college and graduate school, I made an off-the-cuff remark about Daniel in the lion's den. The person I was talking to had never heard of Daniel, never read the Bible, and wouldn't get anything but the broadest references to anything contained therein. "Wrestling with an angel" wouldn't mean any more than the obvious to her, and if she heard a friendship described as being like that of David and Jonathan, she wouldn't know who was being discussed.

Does that mean we shouldn't use allusions?

No. If we have more layers in our mind as we write, some of that may spill onto the page, adding complexity. And even if all of our readers don't get the allusions, those who do will find the story deeper.

What it does mean is that if we rely on an allusion for understanding of the story or explication of plot, we are limiting our audience, which is fine as long as you understand that going in. Of course, this is true of any tool we use as writers -- we need to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the tool and the way we're using it.

How have you used allusions in your writing? Or are there other tools that you have found work great when they work but can't be guaranteed to reach all your readers? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 3: Spoken Alexandria Project

The Spoken Alexandria Project, in their own words, "is creating a free Creative Commons library of spoken word recordings, consisting of classics in the public domain and modern works (with permission). AAC, Ogg Vorbis, and MP3 audiobooks available for free download and redistribution."

That means you can listen to everything from Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis to Bulfinch's Mythology to a booklet from the National Institute of Mental Health on Men and Depression. If you want to read more widely but you don't have time (or you don't want to spend a lot of money on audiobooks for your commute), the Spoken Alexandria Project is a good step in that direction.

My favorite work on this podcast (and one I've re-listened to again just this past week) is the six-part series by Tobias Buckell, "Getting Past Joe Blow Neopro." This is his effort to describe what it takes, as a genre writer, to move beyond those few semipro acceptances and become a true professional author. I especially recommend part 6, on planning your career, including the use of visions and milestones. Go check it out. (And hey, if you haven't read at least one of his books yet, do!)

In fact, even if you don't subscribe to this podcast and listen faithfully to everything they produce (and to be honest, although I *am* subscribed, I don't necessarily listen faithfully), you should at the very least download Tobias Buckell's contribution and listen to it. That alone is enough to make this one of the best podcasts for writers. (Though contributions from Kafka, Twain, and Franklin don't hurt.)

Saturday, December 06, 2008

characters and motivation

I got a rejection e-mail the other day from Scott Andrews at Beneath Ceaseless Skies for "Falling Knight." A couple of phrases stood out in his comments: "couldn't figure out enough . . . to know why he wanted to" and "made his motives seem hidden to me." I went back to the previous e-mail I'd received from Mr. Andrews (for "Blood Brother"), and found similar ideas: "never got a sense for what Augan's burning goal was" and "wasn't sure what stakes were hanging over his head." Granted, you can draw a straight line between any two points, but his concerns with these stories were consistent enough that before I sent off another one to him (I'd like to send "Maskèd Panama."), I figured it was worth the time to look at characterization and whether motivation came through clearly.

I also spent a lot of time with Bonnie in chat, discussing layers, character depth, and motivation. Then I dug into my shelves of writing books, and I'm rereading all the significant material I found there, beginning with Noah Lukeman's The Plot Thickens--specifically, chapters 2 and 3 ("Characterization: The Inner Life" and "Applied Characterization"). Lots of material to think about there.

I'll admit, though, that part of me was recalcitrant. I was thinking such things as, "Doesn't the fact that he does plot against his leader evidence that he is motivated to do so? Shouldn't we draw conclusions about his motivations from his actions?"

Then last night, waiting for the baby to fall asleep (around 1 a.m., finally), the husband and I were watching Parents on (Hulu link, IMDB link) And all became clear to me. If you want to watch this movie, be warned, there are spoilers below.

The plot revolves around a family of cannibals--the parents knowingly, the kid just suspecting the truth. But he starts the movie with this utter revulsion to the meat he's being served, with no apparent reason, and he's having nightmares, and he's afraid of his parents . . . and all of that makes sense *after* he discovers it's humans they're eating. But before that? Not so much.

I couldn't see any reason for him not to want to eat what he'd been eating his entire life.

I told the husband that it was amusing that what bugged me about the movie was that I couldn't understand why the kid wouldn't want to be a cannibal. The movie needed a precipitating incident--even if it wasn't clearly shown to the audience so the audience might think the kid was imagining things, with the truth only slowly dawning. Otherwise, the kid's actions make no sense in context.

Which is when I realized that action alone is not sufficient to show motivation.

So now I need to practice actually showing the character motivation. It's not easy. I mean, I could tell the readers, "Oh, Michael is plotting in 'Falling Knight' because he blames his boss for his brother's death." I know that's his rationale. I thought I'd put it in the story. Mr. Andrews didn't think it that clear, however, so it won't hurt me to go back and take another look at it before I send it to another market.

As for the next story I'd like to send him? Yes, it needs another edit pass. Motivation could be sharpened, but there's also a horribly unresolved character arc and a flagrant violation of Sanderson's First Law. But those are things I know how to fix, now that I've seen they are there.

By the way, if you haven't submitted anything yet to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, I highly recommend that you do. He's looking for secondary world fantasy up to 10k, and he gives excellent feedback with his rejections. And read them, too. Excellent stuff!

(cross-posted to my LJ)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Best podcasts for writers, part 2: The Kissy Bits

A terrific podcast if you're writing romance -- or even just have a romance subplot is The Kissy Bits. Sadly, the podcast stopped being updated in 2007. In fact, the last entry is Thursday, February 1, 2007, claiming that the podcast would be back after Chinese New Year. It didn't happen. Although Kiki maintains a WordPress blog, Kiki Fu, she doesn't mention the podcast (at least not in an entry tagged "Kissy Bits") after that date, either. She's obviously quite busy, and her novel Enter the Parrot will be released in June, according to her most recent entry on Kiki Fu.

All of that simply means that this is a podcast it's possible to listen to in its entirety, beginning to end, to learn more about how to write romance. Kiki discusses how to characterize a hero and a heroine, how to write the first kiss, coming up with titles, and all the more prosaic writing topics such as emotional honesty, whether and how to include real people in your writing, making writing resolutions, and dealing with feedback.

She's witty -- her podcast on types of chick lit is very funny, for example -- and she really understands how to communicate emotions.

Listen to the podcasts from #1 to #17. It won't take that long -- a couple of hours a day for a week. Check out her show notes and the links. Then, if you like make a note to pick up her book come June. Or look for her adult romance novels. But definitely listen to the podcast.