Monday, March 29, 2010

Know your characters

Okay, now that I have your attention--(Isn't this a great pic? :))Down to business, computer troubles kept me from blogging last week. But did not keep me from judging contest entries and I was struck by a few things that I often see in contest and critique entries: stilted dialogue, odd robotic action, misplaced action/reaction and incomplete scene setting. In my opinion these can all be solved by doing one thing--getting to know your characters.
Now I don't mean simply making a list of hair color, eye color, height, weight and build. Or even writing down their goal motivation and conflict, although these things help. I mean getting to know them as you would a friend. How do you do that?
There are many, many ways. Some people interview their characters asking them odd questions to see how they react and what they would say. (Think interviewing for a local newspaper article or blog.) You can interview them for a job and ask them what they perceive their strengths and weaknesses are--and how they think they can add to your story. What makes them the best character for the story or the scene. Some people work up astrology charts for their characters. Think Aquarian meets Scorpio and things don't go so well, etc.  Spend time with them while you do your regular chores. Picking up the kids from school? Imagine your characters in the car seat next to you. How would they react? What would they think? Jogging or riding your stationary bike? Imagine your characters jogging with you or riding beside you. Would they complain? Would they get competitive? Would they tell you they'd rather show up in your shower? Eat, breathe and live with your characters for a full week without writing anything on your story. Spend time with them as you would a new friend or a date. After seven days, sit down, open the story and Ask them to tell you what they see, where they want to go, what they feel, touch, smell, taste and think. Let them talk in your head and take notes. You'll find that your story may not always go where you want it to go, and your characters may not be who you want them to be, but I promise your dialogue will improve, your action/reaction will improve and your characters and scenes will come to life.
Try it for seven days-then write. Let me know what happens. cheers~

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The most important ingredient for becoming published

They are remaking the movie The Karate Kid. I saw the previews and have high hopes for it. To begin with it is set in China with sweeping vistas and wonderful exotic culture. Next Jackie Chan stars. I love Jackie Chan for his sense of humor and his physical acting. Finally Jaden Smith, Will Smith's son is the boy. I love that they picked him for the film. The visual in the previews is gorgeous. Instead of "wax on, wax off." If is now "jacket on, jacket off."
How does this relate to writing and what is the most important ingredient necessary to becoming published? Patience.
Remember the wax on, wax off scene was about the student's impatience with the mundane. Why, he wanted to know did he have to do this? What did it have to do with learning karate?
To create a publishable work you have to have patience. The patience to practice. The patience to edit. The patience to wait for the right story. The right story must have heart. It must touch the reader on a personal level. But it also must be clean. Think of editing and craft as the boring wax on, wax off part of writing. To be a good writer you have to have the patience to revise and practice craft until it becomes part of the muscle memory. In order to create muscle memory, you have to practice every day. That's why they say butt in chair will get it done. Long years of practice and patience will get you published. When you finish one book start another, and another. My 15th 500-page manuscript was the first one published and then only after it was cut from 500 down to 250 pages. Wax on...wax off.
I saw this great status on Facebook the other day- I regret that I didn't write down who wrote it. If you know, please let me know. Here it is:
A student asked a great sensei, "How long does it take to become a Kung Fu master?" The Sensei thought for a moment and answered, "With great patience and practice ten years." The student frowned. "Ten years! That is too long. I will immerse myself in Kung Fu. I will practice 14 hours a day. I will live, eat and sleep it. I will focus my whole being. I swear--non-stop. Now how long will it take me to become a Kung Fu master?" The sensei sipped his tea and let the silence surround them for a long moment then answered. "Twenty years."
What is the difference? Patience. I'm often asked, "Nancy, I've written a book, how can I get it published and in bookstores?" The answer is with patience and practice and the best of luck. Cheers~

Monday, March 8, 2010

Show us who you are as an artist.

Do you watch American Idol? It's a televised singing competition. It can be boring at times, annoying at times and I always record it so I can fast forward through the endless "breaks" and commercial messages. Still I watch it every year because I love music and every now and then something magical happens on the stage that takes your breath away.
I was thinking about how this show mirrors a writer's life. Millions show up to audition-each with a dream to become a pop star. Tens of thousands are whittled down to the thousand or so we actually get to see in the judges chambers. Some can't sing at all. They are let through for "entertainment" purposes. Still they believe they can sing and their conviction is so strong they try over and over. But these people don't listen to the critique. They don't watch their audition video with a judicuos eye. They don't seek lessons and vocal coaches. They think all they have to do it open their mouths. These people will never make it.
Then there are the thousands who can sing. They have lovely voices. They clearly have spent years perfecting their craft. BUT- they all sound the same. They sound exactly like the current pop star. They are such good mimics that some even do precise imitations, 99 percent of these people are sent home. Yes, they can sing. Yes, they can learn, but they don't stand out among the thousand or so sound-a-likes.
You also have the singer songwriters-gifted individuals who are cool and quirky but don't play the game of pop star. They aren't any good at singing pop songs. They are indies and American Idol is not their venue. You have to be able to appeal to middle America.
Finally there are those who are different enough, talented enough and able to play the game who make it to the top 24. But only one gets through to the top slot. Only one person will have the recording contract and all the money and PR that goes behind it. So what do they tell their top 24? "Show us who you are as an artist." Be consistent. No matter what pop category we ask you to sing, make it your own.
This is also sound advice for writers. Millions want to write a book some day. Thousands sit down and actually write one. Of those half will have the ability to be objective, to learn, to grow and keep going through determination. Of these a thousand can pop out the current market trend and make a career off of mimicking a publisher's brand. While others will be indie writers working their whole lives for small presses reaching their small market. (There is nothing wrong or "less" about either of these.) Finally a few will stand out enough to make it into the big publisher's doors where they will be asked, "Show us who you are as an artist." And that artistic persona will not be able to be a writer they already have-(i.e., I write just like Stephen King or Nora Roberts. Guess what, those slots are taken by Nora and Stephen.)-or so different that marketing won't buy them. (I have a civil war/roller derby book.) That persona will have to hit just the right note to get the publisher behind them and to make it to the top of the bestseller lists. Now, take a look at your writing and try to figure out where you are in the process. Then finally ask yourself, "What kind of artist am I?"