Friday, May 18, 2012

Winners - One and All

What makes one editor turn down a manuscript and another accept it? We all know everyone has their own likes and dislikes, so we really shouldn't be surprised at rejections. Yet, with each rejection, we feel wounded, discouraged, and confused. Moreover, we're left with the unanswered question - why.

We're supposed to be bolstered up by the fact that all writers are rejected - and most writers - often.  But, seriously, it gives no solace!

Sometimes we're lucky and get a line or two about why that particular editor didn't think our baby was right for them. But, most of the time it's just a form letter - sterile, cold, and impersonal. And that letter leaves us not only asking the universe 'Why?'; it leaves us questioning our own self-worth.

I've seen several responses to another blog about this. And yes, I've done it all: the angry rant to no one; had tears streaming down my face, and the thoughts that maybe I should just take up knitting (or whatever).

But, this is where we separate ourselves from so many people who 'write'. Because we pick ourselves up and regroup. Some of us eat pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and others get a good bottle of single malt Scotch. We tell ourselves 'They'll be sorry . . .' and then, with a plaintive sigh and a deep breath, we start all over again.

Here's the thing to remember: We are all winners - because we've put ourselves out there. My mother used to write poetry. She must have been pretty good, because she got a scholarship to the University of Mexico City for a summer semester.

Why am I boring you with this? Because, of what she said to me last autumn. If you’ve read some of my earlier blogs (say Thanksgiving to Christmas), you know that for a while it didn't look like Gail and I were going to reach an agreement. I was very upset at the thought that I would come so close - and still never get published. That I would never succeed.

However, Mom insisted that I had already succeeded, because I had done what she could never bring herself to do - submit herself to the possibility rejection. And, by doing that - or not doing that - she had never given herself the possibility to succeed.

So, the next time you get a rejection, eat a pan of brownies, treat yourself to a mani-pedi, and start all over again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The View From Here

The task of maintaining a consistent POV (point of view) can be a challenging one. It can be a vague, non-tangible object; and to handle it can often be like grabbing hold of smoke. Even seasoned writers with a name and following lose hold of it at times. Don't believe me? Pick up a copy of Larry McMurtry's 'Lonesome Dove'. In one of the opening paragraphs - the one where they're sitting around the table eating breakfast - McMurtry hops from one character's head to the other; working his way around the table.

Anyway, maintaining POV was a concept I'd think I had 'gotten'; and then poof! I'd lost it. I got more and more frustrated. And then I came up with my 'brilliant idea'. (Hey! It's been known to happen.)

I chose a scene with four characters in it, and then I wrote it four times - one from each character's perspective. It wasn't easy. Not only did it take time and effort, but if forced me to manipulate the scene to maintain that character's POV and still cover everything I still needed to happen. But it was worth it! After that, things just kind of .clicked' into place.

Now, do I have the odd slip? Yes, without a doubt. But they are few and far between; and usually, they are very minor.

And if I ever do have a total brain-freeze (which, since my sixtieth birthday last month, seems to be happening more and more) I have those four versions of the scene safely tucked away to use as a refresher course.

Happy Writing!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Fact or Fiction

I'm sure anyone who has ever done research on any subject - for a personal interest, a college paper, or for a book you're working on - has come across bias information. And, I'm sure you've found it as frustrating as I do.

As fiction writers, we expect to put our own 'spin' on the information we dig up. It's what we do. It's call writing 'fiction'! What I'm having a problem is reference material supposedly written by journalists, but tainted by the authors own prejudices.

There is a distinct difference between reporting information and editorializing about it. At least there should be. Unfortunately, in this age of video magazines, electronic journalism and YouTube, the line - which has been eroding over the last several decades - seems to have evaporated completely.

A journalist's job is to report the facts. They are not supposed to comment on them. They aren't supposed to include undocumented things. Equally, they aren't supposed to leave out facts.

It's what Joe Friday said in Dragnet, 'All we want is the facts, ma'am.'

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Plotter, Pantster or Both?

There's been lots of chatter on the Desert Breeze Authors' site this weekend about whether our members are 'Plotters' - those that carefully plan out there plots in detailed outlines; or 'Pantsters' - those that start with an idea and run with it - therefore, writing by the seat of their pants, ergo 'Pantsters'. There is also a group that uses a combination of both techniques, called 'Plotsters'.

Now, on occasion I've used them all. In fact, I bet we all have. The one year I participated in NaNo (NaNo is the nickname for National Novel Month. Each November, people all around the world accept the challenge of writing a a fifty-thousand word novel in the thirty days of November.) I did use a detailed outline. It proved to be an absolute life-saver, because I was away the first five days of November; my brother died unexpectedly, so I was busy filing papers for custody of my nephew and my computer refused to boot. But even with all that, I finished.

In all honesty, I am using a skeleton outline for a new series I'm ruminating on. However, it truly is a bare-bones thing. I've made a beginning premise, and then listed out the main character's names and where they'll end up - but that’s all.

The thing is I'm not at all sure that my method actually qualifies as the traditional 'Pantster' technique - or even the blended 'Plotster' way. My favorite procedure is one I refer to as 'Anarchy'. You see, I let my characters develop on their own.

I block out the two or three main characters - age, height, weight, hair and eye color, etc.; and then I let them stew. Along the way, secondary characters will emerged and defined themselves, as well. It is true that often, the name I choose for the characters helps shape their personalities - sometimes it might even 'point' them in a certain plot direction. After giving them some time to mature, I kind of interview them.

There are people who recommend for us to actually interview each of our character. You can find several lists of suggested interview questions on the internet. However, I do a bullet list. I just think about them and list what comes to mind. If a questions pops into my head, I will usually find I know how that character will answer.

Now, I'm not talking about basic questions like you'd find on a survey. I'm talking about personal and sometimes silly questions. For example: What was their favorite subject in grammar school? What food won't they eat? What are their secret fears and/or desires? How do they drink their coffee? How much sleep do they need?

As foolish as it may sound, if you think about these things, the answers will just be there for you. All you need to do is to note them down for future reference. As this information accumulates the character's personality forms. It will tell you how they speak, dress and interact with others. It will reveal their personal ideologies, ethics and values.

But wait . . . that's not the anarchy part.

Here is comes . . .

Then I ask them what they want to do. Remember that old Microsoft Windows ad - 'Where do you want to go today?' That's what I ask my characters. Then I let do it. That's how I do the first draft. I just let them run amuck. That's the anarchy!

The really funny and interesting thing is it's led to some very unexpected and fabulous plot twists. Even when things need revising to smooth them out, it makes for a better plot. And that can only make for a better book.