Thursday, June 30, 2011

In the Throes of Thursday--What I've Learned About Writing Novels_8

Setting can't take the back seat in your story. It's as important as the characters and the plot, and it can lend so much to both. When you're developing your story, pay attention to where it takes place, then use all of the sense to transform a room or a beach or wherever from a lifeless ho hum backdrop to a vibrant, integral part of  your story.

Here are some examples of how that's done by some writers. Notice how many senses they employ to bring the setting to life.

From The Veldt, by Ray Bradbury

The nursery was silent. It was as empty as a glade at hot high noon . . . . Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede in crystalline distance, . . . .

Here, Bradbury lets us hear and feel the futuristic nursery, a hot high room that produces an eerie purr to create exactly the setting for a machine-controlled world about to overtake it's inhabitants.

From The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

Even after the Forest was shut off, one last gasp at sequestering the infection and containing the Mudo, the carousel kept turning, the coasters kept rumbling, the teacups kept spinning.

The true horror is the contrast between this carnival setting that we see and hear and the threat of the  Mudo with their bite of death out there in the forest.

From The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

Violet Abrose wandered away from the safety of her father as she listened to the harmony of sounds weaving delicately around her. The rustling of the leaves mingled gently with the restless calls of birds and the far-off rushing waters of the icy river that lay beyond the trees. 

What's lovely about this setting is not only the appeal to the sense of sound and the feeling we get of the icy water out there unseen, but the use of alliteration inside the description: rustling, restless, rushing. That very poetic device pulls the reader into hearing and feeling where the character is and possible danger or horror that lurks.

Aren't there times when the smell of a place recalls vivid memories? Smell is a power sense to establish a setting.

From an untitled short story by C. Lee McKenzie

Like a cat in strange territory, he lifted his nose and sniffed the metallic scent of the bronze figures arranged around the chapel. The vase by the alter was filled with white lilies, their honeyed sweet scent almost masking the gloom.

I loved using metallic as a smell, especially when I got to contrast it with the scent of lilies. I think of churches and museum with these two smells mingling.

And then there's the sense of taste. It shouldn't be neglected. It's one of our very important senses. Here's how I used taste to describe a room in my short story.

The entry had welcomed them with warm, creamy yellows, and beyond where they stood in this middle room, was a leather cushioned den, its dark wood floors strewn with Turkish carpets. They paused in this room between, a room that was meant to be savored like a sorbet on the tongue between two fine courses--bland in beige, but perfect in contrast.

This was fun to use something a bit unexpected: comparing a neutral room to sorbet.

Send me more--either what you've written or something from a book that really established the setting and made the book zing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Wednesday Interview Special with Sarah Ockler & Links to Deborah Halverson!

SARAH OCKLER'S TWENTY BOY SUMMER arrived in 2009 and it's still hot--a perfect book for summer reading.

So what's this  delicious story about? Read on.

While on vacation in California, sixteen-year-old best girlfriends Anna and Frankie conspire to find a boy for Anna’s first summer romance, but Anna harbors a painful secret that threatens their lighthearted plan and their friendship.

TWENTY BOY SUMMER was Sarah's a debut YA novel that explores what it truly means to love someone, what it means to grieve, and ultimately, how to make the most of every single moment this world has to offer.

Her 2010 release, Fixing Delilah. is a powerful story of family, love, and self-discovery.

Let's find out about this author.

Sarah Ockler wrote and illustrated her first book at age six—an adaptation of Steven Spielberg's E.T. Still recovering from her own adolescence, Sarah now writes for young adults. After several years of wandering between New York City and Denver, she and her husband Alex now live in Upstate New York with lots of books and an ever-expanding collection of sea glass. Twenty Boy Summer is Sarah's first novel. Visit her online.

When she stopped by for a visit I had a chance to know more about Sarah. Here are some of the things we talked about.

I know we are influenced by the books we read, but how about those we read and then say, "Oh, I wish I'd written that one." Of all your favorite books, which one do you wish you had written?

Jellicoe Road, by Malina Marchetta. It was so complex and multi-layered, and in reading it I think I felt the entire range of human emotion. The characters stayed with me long after I closed the book, and I still think of them even now, wondering what happened after their time in that particular story and what their lives are like now. I would love to write a book that affects and lingers the way Jellicoe Road has with me.

I can't believe it! I just read that book last month and loved it. You've picked one lovely piece of writing, Sarah.

You say you still think about Marchetta's characters and wonder what they're doing now--after the story has ended. Fictional characters that have that kind of effect on a reader are testimony to truly talented writers. Is there another fictional character that resonates so strongly that you wish you could be them?

I think I'd like to be Sophie from Laura Resau's Red Glass. She's so shy and fearful of so many things -- including close relationships. But over the course of her journey in the book, she comes to love and trust and depend on other people. She also faces extremely dangerous and intense circumstances that force her to find her own strength and fight. I really like that aspect of her character. Sometimes, that's what it takes -- a real shake-up, life-changing experience to get us to look within and figure things out.

And all that good stuff aside, Sophie gets to take a road trip through Central America with Angel, a really cute boy who is super intense and mysterious and sweet and yeah, totally in love with her. :-)

Okay, now on to the really important insider information. After chocolate what do you eat to make the writer-block pain go away?

Home made guacamole and Smartfood white cheddar popcorn. And coffee, of course! I make it so strong that you almost have to chew it rather than drink it! :-)

Every writer who has appeared on The Write Game is a food junkie! I love it. Thanks for the interview.

Thanks, Lee!

This has been my pleasure,Sarah. Continued good luck on your books.

Visit Sarah at her Author Web Site

Be sure to buy TWENTY BOY SUMMER and FIXING DELILAH at your local Independent Bookstore OR Barnes & Noble

Two more great interviews: Check out Guest TeachingAuthor and Book Giveaway with Deborah Halverson by Carmela Martino.  
AND Trent Reedy on Writing With a Broken Tusk by Uma Krishnaswami


Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Miscellany

Big news: If I seal myself inside my writing cave most of today and all day tomorrow I just might make my FIRST DRAFT on my WIP goal. Wish me luck ROW80 people. Give me a push fellow YALitChat writing buddies. Sheri Larson, Susan Kaye Quinn and Margo Berendsen.

Here's a new book to look for WRITING YOUNG ADULT FICTION FOR DUMMIES by Deborah Halverson hits stores July 5.

From JUNE 29-JULY 5 on her Writers' Advice website, she's featuring daily "Free First Chapter Critique" giveaways, free downloads, excerpts from the book, and profiles of the 13 amazing authors, editors, and agents who so generously contributed sidebars to the book (M.T. Anderson, Karen Cushman, Jane Yolen, Jennifer Donnelly, to name a few). As a grand finale, she's giving away a "Free Full Manuscript Edit" on the final day of the launch.

Don't miss this. It's a great opportunity to win, win, win!

Don't miss my Throes of Thursday--What I've Learned About Writing Novels, 8. I'll be going into more detail about Setting.

Friday, June 24, 2011

In the Throes of Thursday--What I've Learned About Writing Novels_7

So I usually take care of these miscellany on Monday, but I totally undid my system this week because of my jaunt to Amsterdam, so I have to take care of some business before moving on to my usual Thursday post.

ROW80 here I come. By next Wednesday I will have the first completed draft of this WIP. Cross my heart. I'd cross my fingers too, but I need them to type.

And here's a special boost to my ROW80 writing buds Sheri Larson, Susan Kaye Quinn, Margo Berendsen They are cranking out the good prose and should get some kind of award for all their hard work.
Now, what in the heck have I learned about writing novels that I haven't already shared? HA! This series could continue forever on this blog because I've learned so much and I continue to learn daily, hourly, each minute. . . Okay, that's enough.

I've learned how important setting is to the tone, the character development, the plot, the whole darned story. I don't mean you have to write pages of "description," and make the reader plod through that to get to the story. I mean you have to carefully choose the place where the action happens, where the people live and interact. You have to let the reader see the characters interact with the settings they inhabit.

So first, nailing the setting without slowing the pace.
Let's say you are writing a story about a girl who is very privileged and then suddenly has almost nothing. That would be my second book, The Princess of Las Pulgas. Sorry, I know this is kind of a shameless plug, but it's a story I know pretty well and in which setting plays an important role.

Here's something about Channing. The rich side of town. I needed to make this town especially attractive because when my MC leaves, I wanted it to be wrenching. But how much description did I need? Here's one bit about her home and another about her high school.

     I point toward the two-story house across the street, home for as long as I can remember. The wide path winds to the main entrance, and the leaded glass panels in the door glow from the entry lights Mom leaves on until we’re all home. Inside, the vaulted ceilings cast soft shadows in the living room and at the back, I see someone, probably Mom, in the kitchen. 

Heading into the cafeteria, I spot Nicolas in the Bistro section. 

Is that enough? Did I capture the Channing house and the high school by letting the character see those places?  For the school, I thought Bistro was all I needed to establish Channing's cafeteria as upscale. Also I didn't really use description here; I let the character move inside the setting and reveal it from her pov. Was I right? 

Now for the contrast. Here's the Las Pulgas apartment and high school.

An hour later we’re inside the Las Pulgas apartment, but I’m seeing, catacombs. The dark rooms with a narrow connecting hall remind me of pictures in a National Geographic article about the early Christian burials under Rome. When I open the door to my room I expect to find bones stacked inside crevices.

      He gazes at the chain link fence that separates school property from the sidewalk.

Again, there isn't much in description, but I chose what I thought would capture the feeling of a school without a lot of donated time and money. What do you think? Enough to let the reader "see" the setting?

I think adding significant details like vaulted ceilings, Bistro for Channingthen chain link fence and catacombs for Las Pulgas brought the setting to life without hitting the reader over the head. Of course, I love beautifully written description. I have a tendency to indulge myself once in a while and try to capture the place my characters live in. 

And now for nailing the setting with a bit more prose and a hint of what's to come in the story. This is from The Mermaid's Mirror, by my friend, L.K. Madigan.

Lena made her way down to the edge of the water, where the sand was rippled from having been under water a few hours ago. The tide was out but she could feel the urgency of the sea . . . soon the tide would sweep back in and cover the sand where she stood. The waves pounded as if hungry for the shore.

If you know the story, Madigan did a great job in making the sea almost a character. It wants Lena. Lena wants it, but she doesn't yet know why.

The key points I've picked up about the setting are these:

*Don't forget you have 5 senses and use them when developing your setting. See it, feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it. (Next week I'm going to focus on how to use all of your senses in developing the setting.)
*Have your characters interact in their setting. Don't rely on simply describing where they are.
*Make your setting special--a place that's like no other. A lot of that is done by making a vivid impression with the details you choose. It's not a small room, it's claustrophobic; it's not cold, it's an icy tomb. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Wednesday Special

I don't usually blog on Wednesdays, but today I have some special news that I have to share. Twenty-five 2009 Debs have banded together to produce an anthology of super fine Young Adult short stories and here's the cover. Tell me what you think. And then be sure to have your Kindle at the ready for this great eBook when it's available.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday Miscellany--Kicking off Summer

I kicked off summer with a quick trip to Amsterdam. I needed a break. Amsterdam needed another tourist.

Besides inhaling great quantities of "legal" marijuana as I passed the Seed Stores, I made all the tourist stops I could. I walked most of the city, enjoying the canals and the beauty of a culture that doesn't believe in tearing down it's cultural heritage to make room for progress. Look at the angle on these houses--a death defying tilt that made me move slightly faster as their shadow fell over me.

Amsterdam's built on a bog and some of the houses date from the 1500's. They may tilt, but they're still there on wooden pilings that were rammed into the sand and peat centuries ago.

The biggest danger for a tourist is to step into a bike lane by accident. Amsterdam has over 400, 000 registered bikes; that's more than half the population of the city.

Rembrandt and Van Gogh museums take your breath away--at least they did mine. In their relatively short lives these artists gave the world some of the finest paintings it will ever have.

Below is just a glimpse of the Rijksmuseum. It's under construction right now, so only a part is open. And just as well. It's huge, with over a million pieces art and other objects under the roof.

It's a vibrant city with liberal attitudes brushing up against conservative, traditions of church.

Below, left: I loved this sign ( the blue letters across the top) in English on the right and Dutch on the left. It reads, "Jesus Loves You. The building stands at the beginning of Amsterdam's famous Red Light District. Off to the left, you can see the two spires of the Church of St. Nicholas. It summed up the city for me.

I stumbled onto a ribbon cutting for a new bar and waited to see what all the excitement was about. A carriage arrived with this fine person who sang, then cut the ribbon and entered as the first customer.

I made notes about all kinds of things: my feelings being inside the Ann Frank House, listening to the bell tower chime out the hour and thinking that these were the same bells Ann heard while she hid with her family from the Nazis, watching the canal boats float by with passengers from all over the world, standing in front of sunflowers that Van Gogh had loved and brought to life on canvass. So much to feel and so much to remember.

As we head into summer, I'm starting a new Monday Miscellany (MM) and In the Throes of Thursday (TT) series that I hope you'll like. I've invited several authors to stop in and share their MM and TT. Cheryl Rainfield, LM Preston, Jo Ramsey are a few. Hope you'll stop in and say to them when their posts go up. Happy Summer! Also on Thursday of this week I have a surprise. Stop in and tell me what you think.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Miscellany

The biggest Miscellany this Monday is that I'm leaving for Amsterdam this afternoon, and this will be my only post for a couple of weeks--unless something spectacular happens in Amsterdam and I can't wait to tell you. I'll be back to my regular Monday-Thursday posts by the 27th. Enshala.

But there's more. I have to keep up with my ROW80 writers who are truly spectacular. Please join the effort or go over the Linky and find those hard working people. Give them a boost and a hug--cyber is fine. Also don't forget my special YALitChat ROW80 writers. Drop in and say hi and tell them they will make their goals. Everyone needs a bit of encouragement Sheri LarsonSusan Kaye Quinn, and Margo Berendsen.

My goals for this week are to Enjoy, Enjoy. Enjoy. Read. Read. Read.

My last Miscellany is about last week's edgy YA clash with Megan Cox Gurdon when she wrote this  article for the Wall Street Journal  Here's the link if you happened to miss it. Rebuttals poured in and I'm sure there are more than the ones I'm listing here, but these were the early responses.

I didn't respond with an article, but I did chime in on the #YASaves Tweets. My view is that parents, teachers and librarians should read any book they're prepared to hand over to a young reader. If it's offensive, they have a right to say so, but I think they need to check out the real world that their teens inhabit. Some of these books are tame by comparison to reality.

Writers should be able to write what they want but never lose sight of the power these books have with teens. This is a huge responsibility and I take it seriously when I'm writing. I don't think my books will ever be banned, and I don't want that to happen. I want them to be read. I want the stories to create awareness of these social issues among readers, especially those parents, teachers and librarians who might be in a position to help a troubled teen.

I didn't write about cutting and suicide to encourage destructive behavior. I wrote about it because I hate that kids cut themselves. I hate that teens even think about suicide, but the fact is they do and some "succeed" in taking their own lives. I find that horrifying, and so I  crafted a story that shows "It only gets better."  At least, that's what I hoped readers would find.

Now on to my vacation. I'm taking a break from angsty books and heading out. 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In The Throes of Thursday--What I've Learned About Writing Novels_6

What's in a name? 

That question is pretty famous, and I often think of it when I'm trying to find a name for one of my stories. What I soon discovered was that I was really bad at titles. I knew I needed help, so I started by looking at books that were on the shelves and, most importantly, either selling well or enjoying the status of a classic.

Here are a few from own bookshelves--some new, some the classics we love.

The Secret Life of Bees
The Body Finder
Al Capone Does My Shirts
The Devil's Arithmetic
Catcher in the Rye
To Kill a Mockingbird
Red Badge of Courage
A Moveable Feast

So what made these titles stand out, grab the reader? Why did they work? What did I learn from them?

Each one immediately made me curious. I wanted to know who was insatiable and about what; secrets  instantly intrigue me and who on earth would WANT to find bodies? Al Capone doing laundry--that's something I had to find out about, and anything about the devil gets my attention, especially since I have to know what kind of math this dude could possibly do. You get what I'm saying. Each of these titles made me want to find out what was inside that cover.

A couple of these were metaphors and those always capture the imagination. I mean, how do grapes and wrath have anything to do with each other? And a feast that moves? What's that about?

What I learned from this little bit of research is that if a title isn't compelling, the book has a major strike against it.

Here are some books that started with one title and ended with another. Can you guess what they were published as?

The Mute ...................................................................The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Private Flemming, His Various Battles......................The Red Badge of Courage
To Climb the Wall.....................................................The Blackboard Jungle
Hurray for the Red, White and Blue..........................The Great Gatsby

How do you choose your titles when you write? How important are titles to you when you're buying a book?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Miscellany

My Monday Miscellany is becoming more and more miscellaneous. I guess that's the point.

So here I am, showing up and still not showing up. Very funny moment captured by CAPTAINSTUPENDOUS.

Have to add that the Wall Street Journal just bashed the edgy YA writers. You get the Raspberry Award from an edgy YA writer who thinks these books help teens. They can help parents and teachers too. Does the WSJ have it's head in the sand?

As to my ROW80 this week, I'm beginning to get the hang of this goal setting; now I have to get the hang of meeting those goals. Last Weeks Goals weren't too tough, but I still fell a tad short.

1. Finish the short story for 2009 Debs Ebook anthology.

2. Write at least 1,000 words on my WIP.

3. Find the top of my desk.

4. Find that pair of Sexy Butt Jeans that Kait Nolan, another ROW80 blogger, just reminded me I should be wearing.


To join this highly motivated ROW80 group, click here and add your blog to the LinkyTool.  Also be sure to stop in and say high to those who have already joined, especially my YALitChat ROWERS who are writing like crazy. Sheri Larson, Susan Kaye Quinn, Margo Berendsen 

New Goals for this Week:
1. Edit the 41,000+ words.
2. Add another 1,000 words.
3. Return the sexy butt jeans.
4. Find a title for my WIP that works.

Coming Soon: Some guests with things to say about writing and their books. Look for Cheryl Rainfield, Jo Ramsey, Kelly Hashaway and her wonderful dog, Dash. Quite a variety. Should be fun.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In the Throes of Thursday--What I've Learned About Writing Novels_5

At a Fast Pace or how to keep people reading your story.

1. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.

One way to step up the pace is with short sentences in dialogue. Here's a very short conversation between two of Pam Bachorz's characters in Drought.

     "Does it work?" he asks, glancing at the tree.
     Relief, sweet and cold, unties my mouth. He's not discovered
my blood's secret, not really.
     "It works," I answer.
     "I hate seeing you hurt." He bends, slightly, and drops the
faintest kiss on the scratch.
     "I'll heal," I tell him. Gently I slide my arm away. I rub
the spot where he kissed it--it's still tingling.
     "Look. I have an idea," Ford says. I can smell him: the metal-
lic gtang of sweat, but that clean smell too, the one that makes me
want to bury my face in his shirt.
     "This can't happen," I tell him.
     "Just give me five minutes. Two minutes, even," he begs.
     "Just . . . just one," I say. He's so hard for me to resist.
"Run away with me. Please. I can get you far away from here," Ford says.

This is a great, fast-paced fight scene from Insatiable by Meg Cabot. Check out the way the author uses just very short sentences and a lot of paragraphing to make the scene race to the end.

      Lucien's glance shifted away from his brother and toward her.
     And when their gazes me, Meena felt something like an explosive
charge go off inside her head.
     She could see in his eyes how much he loved her.
     And how hard it was for him not to kill his brother then and there,
with his bare hands, for what Dimitri had done to her.
     But he couldn't. Not yet.

2. A lot of times I find myself overwriting, giving too much information when I want the story to MOVE. I get as much down as I can, and then go back and take out anything that I don't need.

I'm so bored with this book.
     Starting at the rail station, Hitchcock retraced his steps, head down, searching. The coin had to be along the path he'd traveled from the post office, across the square and down Railroad Avenue. It has only been minutes since he'd discovered his good luck piece missing. He had to find it and he was sure to  if he was careful and thorough.

     Hitchcock, head down, searching retraced his steps. He'd find his good luck piece; he had to.

3. Some scenes just don't have to be in the story. When you find one that you can let your reader imagine, take it out. That will pick up the pace.

     One man stepped into the pool of light that came from a bare bulb next to the alley door.; then another. This one held a knife and circled around him, slicing the air. He backed away, feeling for the bricks so no others could come at him from behind.
     "Okay," Murphy said, wrapping his coat around one arm ready to take them on. "Let's get this over."

     Charlotte glanced at her watch. Late again, she thought. Why did she stay in this relationship with Murphy Cocoran. If he stood her up one more time . . . .

The missing scene leaves the reader in suspense, wanting to know if Murphy will whip those two thugs and keep his date with Charlotte or not. The fight scene isn't as important as the increased pace generated by skipping it is. Depending on what you decide about Murphy's fate, you can fill in whatever details are necessary without showing that scene.

4. Think movies and use what they do to keep the story jetting across the screen.

Let's say a sailor is about to be Shanghaied. You see him sitting at a seedy bar near the docks, hanging out with some unsavory characters. (Okay, so I'm out of original ideas.) The next scene is him waking up below decks of a ship, on his way to wherever. That's a jump all right, but one that the audience understands and one that moves the story ahead real fast.

Here's how it would look in my not so original novel.

Murphy (poor guy) tossed back the last of his pint and swiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "See you, mates," he said, staggering toward the door.
The three sailors looked at each other, nodded and followed Murphy out.

Murphy sat up, his head throbbing. "Where in the hell . . . ."
"Welcome aboard, mate."

As always if I've left out something or if you think I don't know what the heck I'm talking about, let me know. This is the last week of my series, What I've Learned About Writing. I'm trying to think of another series to start next week. Scratches head and pours wine. Idea are appreciated.