Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Revising: an eye for repetition

I am such an odd duck. I love to revise my books. Mostly I love to revise a book when I'm supposed to be writing another book. But then I love to write a brand new book when I'm supposed to be revising. There is some sort of twisted logic in that I suppose. If you believe in a muse and an internal editor, I have one on each shoulder. They are very competitive and don't like to be ignored while I work with the other. Yes, that probably sounds crazy, but I'm an artist. I get to be nuts.
Let's talk about revisions, most importantly repetition in the work. Part one is the easiest. Keep a personal list of common repeated words. We all have them. Here are a few examples from my list: just, glance, some, that, look, fine, so. Others to look for are began, was, then.
If you haven't already made a list or copied someone else's list, start one now. You will need it later. Even after nearly 20 years of writing, I still have favorite words. I've managed to get rid of felt and began, but others pop up to replace them. Use this list. It's as easy as using the find and replace tool in your word processing program.
Unfortunately, repetitive words are only the beginning of ways in which a writer can repeat themselves in a manuscript.
Part two is harder to spot and may take an second pair of eyes such as a beta reader or critique partner. Revise for repetition in action, thought, feeling and dialog.
I tend to do this in my first drafts. I will write an action or thought in one paragraph and repeat it in the next paragraph using different words. It's as if my creative brain is trying to figure out which way is best to say it. I don't know I'm doing it when I tell the story. It's something I have to catch in revision once the book is done. Sadly the only way to catch this is to break the book down into scenes- I like to do them out of order so that I don't get caught up in the story. Read each scene with a critical eye, looking for places where you hit the reader over the head with how the characters feel or think. It comes down to trusting the reader. Fiction is NOT an essay where you have to tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. This method is fine for exposition papers but tends to slow fiction down.
Next pay attention to dialog. You might like the back and forth of two characters- but keep an eye out for going on too long. I know I tend to have so much fun that I over do. (I am an over the top kind of writer, but revisions help me rein that in and narrow it down so that it stays punchy and fun and does not become well, repetitive.)
There are other things you must do when revising but these two steps can get you started thinking like an editor much to your muse's dismay. Try it next time you are revising and let me know how it worked for you. Cheers~

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Movie Review ~ The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

I love stories. I am fascinated by movies, books, plays, skits~anything that tells a story. I'm talking story more than visual effects, although really good visuals can tell a story on their own.
We recently rented The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Below is the plot synopsis:
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus is a fantastical morality tale, set in the present day. It tells the story of Dr Parnassus and his extraordinary 'Imaginarium', a travelling show where members of the audience get an irresistible opportunity to choose between light and joy or darkness and gloom. Blessed with the extraordinary gift of guiding the imaginations of others, Dr Parnassus is cursed with a dark secret. Long ago he made a bet with the devil, Mr Nick, in which he won immortality. Many centuries later, on meeting his one true love, Dr Parnassus made another deal with the devil, trading his immortality for youth, on condition that when his first-born reached its 16th birthday he or she would become the property of Mr Nick. Valentina is now rapidly approaching this 'coming of age' milestone and Dr Parnassus is desperate to protect her from her impending fate. Mr Nick arrives to collect but, always keen to make a bet, renegotiates the wager. Now the winner of Valentina will be determined by whoever seduces the first five souls. Enlisting a series of wild, comical and compelling characters in his journey, Dr Parnassus promises his daughter's hand in marriage to the man that helps him win. In this captivating, explosive and wonderfully imaginative race against time, Dr Parnassus must fight to save his daughter in a never-ending landscape of surreal obstacles - and undo the mistakes of his past once and for all... "~

This imaginative tale is as visually effective as the latest version of Alice in Wonderland. Where they had me was in the first third of the movie when the doctor is telling his daughter the tale of how he met the devil. It seems in the beginning he was a monk in a monastery where they told the story of the world. Without constant storytelling, they believed the universe would fall apart. The devil, intent on showing him how silly that idea is, waves his hand and closes the mouths of all the monks. Horrified in the silence, they wait for the universe to fall apart.
"See?" The devil says with a glint in his eye. "Nothing happened."
But the Doctor simply smiles. "All it means is that somewhere, someone else is telling the story, keeping us all alive."
And I was hooked!
Visually stunning, dreamlike and at times confusing, there is much to fall in love with in this story. But I do warn you that you have to keep an open mind and simply let the story flow without trying to make sense of it all. To top it all off there are wonderful performances by Christopher Plummer, Heath Ledger, Johnny Depp, Colin Farrell and Jude Law. (Okay, seriously, do you need any further reason to watch this film?) This was Heath Ledger's last film and after his death they creatively used Johnny, Colin and Jude to finish the role.
The characters are all incredibly flawed-in the best literary sense- leaving the viewer uncertain as to how the movie will end and who is the right person to champion: devil, dreamer or monk.
This is a movie of moments not plot so if you don't like a film that is more dream than reality you won't like it. But if you are up for eye candy and a story that is something different, pop some corn, grab some junior mints and enjoy.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hanging on when life gets in the way

May starts the busy social time of the year. From now until August, there are graduations, first communions, confirmations, end of school banquets, anniversaries, weddings, retirement parties, birthdays, picnics, barbecues the list goes on and on. Not to mention conferences and conventions, marathons, concerts, I think I made my point.
Sometimes you have a situation like someone who recently said to me, "I volunteered to do X but my life suddenly fell apart." Life happens. Divorce, job loss, family illnesses, selling a house, moving, are we supposed to keep writing through that? Really? How does a writer stay on track when the world suddenly takes over?
"It is by sitting down to write every morning that one becomes a writer." ~ Gerald Brenan, "Writing," Thoughts in a Dry Season: A Miscellany, 1978
While this is true, oh, my goodness the freaking pressure of that thought when life takes over or falls apart. Perhaps this is more true for female writers as we feel the social pressure to volunteer and contribute more. Guys, am I correct? The question for today is how do you do it? How do you stay out on the writing ledge when the whole world seems to be pushing you off?
There are tricks. No, really, there are, but they take work and commitment. So the first question to ask yourself is: How important is writing in my life right now? Is it a source of income? Am I a closet or hobby writer, working on stuff no one is allowed to see? Is writing what I cling to when everything else goes south?
If writing is not bringing you money or keeping you sane then it's lower on your list. Give yourself permission to take a sabbatical. Seriously no one is judging you here. So what if your best friend just sold and you "feel" farther behind on your goals. Trust me no one is keeping score. They are not going to put on your headstone, "here lies what could have been a famous best-selling writer if they only tried."
If writing is your business, treat it like any other job. No matter what. Give it 20 to 40 hours a week. If illness or moving or divorce take over, how would you handle them with a different job? Take a sick day. Take a vacation. But, you say, I am not as creative when I'm filled with worry. If you have a deadline, do your best. Plow through. You might surprise yourself. Some people work better under pressure. Even if it's not your best work you have editors and agents to help you. Use them.
If you aren't making money on your writing, yet, but writing keeps you sane the last thing you need in a high-pressure busy time is to give up the one thing keeping you alive. Find the time to write even if it is in the car on the way to an event, write or speak into a recorder. Squeeze out five minutes here, five minutes there. Write on envelopes, scraps of paper, your hand. Give yourself permission to daydream-that counts as writing. Take notes, create scene outlines, have conversations with your characters, allow your creativity to live in the small spaces of your life. Think of it as a life preserver in rough seas. Cling to it. Give yourself permission to not have super big goals, like hitting the NY Times List or selling to your dream agent/publisher. Instead create small goals, a scene, a sentence, a critique or contest. Be proud of what you are doing. Do it for yourself. Don't worry about what others are doing. The fastest way to madness is to compare your life to others.
Most importantly don't beat yourself up over not winning the brass ring someone you know just grabbed. They have their own obstacles to face. Life is not a race. Writing is not a contest. Trust that when things settle down you will be able to have larger goals and meet them. Or at least have fun trying.
Writing is like running a marathon with no finish line. It is a mental game with yourself based on your talent and your willingness to learn, to fall and to get back up. Give yourself permission to walk when you need to, and run when you can. Be proud of what you do no matter how you do it. Because you did it your way. The very truth of the matter is no two people's journeys are the same. So, figure out how to enjoy the journey you are living and forget the rest. It is the only true way to live the life you want.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Reading in Genre

Most writers write in the genre they enjoy the most. In other words, if you love romance and happy endings, admire writers like Nora Roberts and Julie Garwood, then you will begin writing romance. If you love Stephen King and Clive Barker, then you will most likely create stories in the horror genre, etc. We read what is trending now. What we find in books stores. But most books hitting shelves today were written two years or more ago. So the present is the past. If you write a book in the style of what hits the shelves today, by the time the book is written and queried that trend will be over. Editors have said as much on their blogs. They have said their guess is the next big trend will be X, but don't write one because by the time it hits their desk it will be too late. Trust me, chasing trends is the fastest way toward madness in this business.
So, how does a writer predict what type of story will not be "too late?"
Some writers say, write the book of your heart. It will eventually come into popularity and you will enjoy every moment of writing it. I say, that writing what makes you happy is always good and never a waste of time, but be prepared to put that book of your heart away until the trend it reflects resurfaces, which could be years.
Well, then what? Hire a personal market researcher to predict the next trend? They do that for corporations you know, research and predict what the next "hot item" will be two years down the road. That suggestion is an extreme and expensive solution that is no more exact a predictor than writing the book of your heart.
What is a writer to do?
I've been thinking about this and--while reading a critical work on genre fiction for my MFA--I realized that perhaps predicting trends may not be outside our reach. What?! How?!
We love to read, right? We love to read our genre. It's what gets us started wanting to write. What if we, as writers, take the time to read the classics in our genre. Do a little research-ask questions of older readers. Who were the authors that got them started? Or was it a certain publisher? A certain type of book? Dig those books up. Read them. Read a few long time best sellers first books-don't think about the quality because the rules were different then. Think about the story line. Go into the past, then the now, then read the debut authors on shelves today (those bought two years ago) and you will begin to see cycles in story lines. Think about what was happening in the world at the time. Compare it to what is happening now. Genre fiction, like fashion, has trends that come and go and reflect the past with what they hope is a twist of the future. A solid understanding of the history of your genre can help you to predict and start the next trend.
Does this sound like a lot of work?! Are you aghast at the thought? I mean, all we want to do is write and get published, right? We're busy enough with writing and marketing, etc. What if you do all that work and still don't catch the next wave?
I say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If you do some deep reading in your genre you'll see that nothing is unpredictable. You'll see the trends. And, if nothing else, you'll have a good time reading and remembering why you love this genre in the first place. Just a thought. Cheers~