Thursday, January 15, 2009

Finding Inspiration

Today I'm over at Writer Unboxed talking about lifting my reading ban while writing in hopes of uncovering inspiration. (Though the good news is that since I wrote that blog post, I've reread what I've written of HAPPIEST DAYS and am quite pleased, which has lit the spark for me to keep writing - yay!)

Check it out!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Links You'll Love

Two quick shout-outs today...first, congrats to friend and author Brenda Janowitz, whose essay on high-concept books graces the very prestigous pages of Publishers Weekly this week!

Find it here for her thoughts (and a lovely shout-out to yours truly) here:

Second, I know we've talked about firing your agent before, and here, author and pal Amie Stuart shares her thoughts and experiences. Check it out:

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Trimming the Fat

Question of the day: if you have a scene that's sagging a little (or a lot!) into exposition or could make a reader bored, do you chop it or do you beef it up/combine it with something more interesting? When is it worth saving?

I think one really easy fix that turns telling into showing (or takes an internal dialogue into an external one) is to literally add dialogue. All of the stuff that your character is saying in her head can literally be said out loud with another character, and you can have them moving through a scene (with some sort of action) in doing so. Alternatively, there are physical ways to transform exposition. Say your character is telling readers how angry she is over a situation. Don't have her say it, have her show it physically. A cliche is to have her throw something (again, that's a cliche), but it's an example nevertheless. In Time of My Life, when Jillian was having an internal struggle, I often sent her out on a run. Jogging for her, was a sign to readers, that she was going through some emotional upheaval. But I didn't have her sit on her couch and say, "I'm going through emotional upheaval." Instead, she pounded the pavement until she felt relief.

Does that make sense?

How do you know when to cut it? Well, for me, I do my revisions in chunks. I think it's hard to gain perspective on what you've written until you can step away from it for a bit and then read it in conjunction with other pages/chapters. So I tend to revise about every 50 pages or so. When you do this (or read the entire me - however the revision process works for you), I think these moments of exposition really will stand out. And then, the key is to really ask yourself - and this is NOT an easy process because we can get very, very tied to every word we write - is this scene necessary? Is it honestly telling the readers something new? If I cut it, will the ms lose anything? Is there a more concise way to transmit this information? I think that often times, new fiction writers take a paragraph - or an entire scene - to connote what can be told in one or two sentences. Not that everything should be pared down, of course not. But those expository scene, well, yes. Trim them down to something more concise, and you usually won't lose fact, you'll probably beef up the scene by trimming the fat.

Just my opinion, of course! How do you guys out there go about whittling down exposition?

Monday, January 12, 2009

How Many is Too Many

Question of the day: About how many different plot lines do you feel you can juggle before a story gets tangled? Do you think these plot lines need to be clearly related to each other?

Continuing with exploring scenes and chapter structure, I pulled this question from the comments section because it's a great place to start. The answer, for me, is that I don't know that I have a concrete number, but let's talk through it and see where we come up...

I think there is a very fine line between having too few things going on and thus boring the reader and having too much going on, such that the reader is thinking, "Seriously? This is TOO dramatic; this sort of craziness doesn't have one ounce of reality in it." I remember reading a book this summer, by an author whom I love (but shall go nameless), and there were just too many things going on. It seemed totally implausible that every character would have such complete and total drama in his or her life, and as a reader, it was a little bit exhausting. I kept thinking, "Really? Can't one thing go right for someone??" At the same time, of course, we've all read books on the flip side: without enough drama, there simply isn't enough momentum to keep us flipping the pages. much is enough without going overboard? Well, when I think about TOML (not that this is a perfect example, and just to be clear, I never want anyone to think that I'm ever saying that my writing is without flaws!), there were four or five MAIN plot lines going on. 1) the arc of her going back in time; 2) her attempts to reconcile with her old boyfriend (and forget her old husband); 3) her friend's infertility; 4) her mother's reappearance in her life; 5) her various issues at work leading to a promotion. Then there were subplots (and actually, maybe #3 above is a subplot, though it did shape a lot of Jillian's behavior): her bosses marriage, her boyfriend's novel, a few others here and there. I think, in considering my first novel, there were also a similar amount of main plot lines: work, family, health, love, friendship. For me, this is about all I can juggle.

In fact, right now, I'm about 60 pages into HAPPIEST DAYS, and I actually think I might have too much going on. I'll reassess once I've written the complete draft, but a good way for me to gauge this is that, because I keep so much of my novel in my head, I sometimes lose track of a plot...I actually forget that I need to weave it in. And if I'm dropping plots, it's likely that there is one too many in the air. (Forgive the extended juggling metaphor.)

Do all the plots have to be tied to each other? I think, in some way, yes. Even if it's tangential, but if not, you're almost telling short stories that happen to be in a novel together, right? (This is just my opinion, and I'm definitely game to hear from people who disagree.) But when you write a novel, it's important to remember that you're asking readers to follow an arc: your characters start one place and end up another. And if you're going to throw in a plot line that has nothing to do with a character's evolution (even in a remote, tangential way), what's the point for the reader? I dunno, just my opinion.

So guys, I'm curious to hear how many plots you juggle when many is too many?