Wednesday, November 21, 2012

It's TOTALLY the little things

I'm currently about 35K words into the draft of my sequel. Truthfully, I'd hoped to make more progress this month. But I've caught myself stumbling around. Not on the big things. On the littlest of things. My main character needs to make a small movement. Something simple. Routine. For example, say Tanzy needs to move from one room, down a hall, and into another...

45 minutes pass

...Tanzy still needs to move from one room, down a hall, and into another. By now I've pulled out an unhealthy amount of hair, gone to the kitchen for some cookie dough, made hot chocolate, stared at my empty photo frame for inspiration, tried to get inside Tanzy's head (how does she FEEL about going down said hallway?! What color is it? What does she notice? What is she thinking about?) And then my head does somthing like this:

I can't get her down the damn hallway and in the next scene she's supposed to storm the castle/stop an anstroid from striking earth/save a basket of puppies adrift in shark infested waters?!

And then I get psyched out to the point of paralysis and Tanzy's feet root to the proverbial floor, which turns into quicksand and sucks us both under. And then my brain goes something like this: what the heck am I doing? I'm not a writer. The plot has gone to hell in a handbasket. I have no idea what I'm doing. The astroid hits, the princess is toast, the sharks are full.

Then, before I completely self destruct, I remember a helpful hint I got from my editor when she polished Tanzy's first adventure in preparation for publication: why not just let her walk down the hallway?


"Try this," she says. "I walk down the hallway."

I walk down the hallway.

Simple. Tidy. Perfect.

As writers, we know how important it is to develop our characters emotionally. We also know how important it is to paint a whole picture. When done correctly, we allow our readers to live in our stories. It's a beautiful thing. You know what else is beautiful? Our readers are smart. We don't have to fill every sentence with physical description and emotional reactions. Too much, and our writing becomes so bloated that the story gets lost in the flab. And that's what most people want in a book: a good story.

So if you have a moment when you can't get your character from point A to point B, remember what they taught you in geometry: the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Can you vague that up for me? A quick lesson from my favorite little person.

I have a twenty month old daughter. Among her favorite current activities: coloring, collecting acorns, and - for better and for worse - repeating everything I say. My husband and I have learned a lot about ourselves as she demonstrates new skills: while she pretends to talk into the remote control like a cell phone, she paces in tight ovals and throws her other hand in the air. That's when she's mimicking my husband. We know when she's mimicking me when she hastily concludes with: "kay, bye!" and tosses her makeshift phone on the closest available surface.

She's also shown me that I've been a little lazy in the word department. Several months ago, she started pointing at objects when she wanted them. And apparently, I responded by asking: this? this? So now, when she wants something, no matter how big or small, no matter how many knick-knacks and doodads surround the desired object, she points and cries: "this! this!" Her little cheeks flush and she makes fantastically pudgy fists as I helplessly touch one object after another. This? No. This?!

The problem is obvious: instead of using descriptive, decisive words early on, "this" became the assigned word for anything my daughter wants. Oiy. Then it dawned on me: "this" can also happen in my writing.

I catch myself doing "this" from time to time, vague sentences that limp the bridge from the sentence before it to the sentence after. Or, on a larger scale, vague and "this-y" transitions that adhere two scenes together with little more than bubblegum. Unfortunately, guilt by association can apply, and those "this" moments often weaken the writing that directly surround them.

If you have a "this" moment in your writing, I have a feeling you know exactly what I'm talking about, and exactly where it is. That page or chapter you've been avoiding. Don't let it psych you out! As my editor said about a stumbling "this" sentence, pick an action and own it. Believe that it's not just the best thing to do - it's the only thing to do.

I want to stand up and cry "objection!" against myself for just a moment, as I am now in day 17 of NaNo. First drafts can be chock full of "this." But the first draft is simply the map that shows your characters how to get from the first word to the last. Once they learn where they're going, they'll show you how they want to get there.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Riding a dead horse - the hard truth

Gory title, I know. I'm referencing a tongue in cheek comment I made in a previous post about word count. But here's the difference between beating a dead horse and riding one: you could beat a dead horse for all kinds of crazy reasons: anger issues, severe mental breakdown, or maybe you have an odd way of coping with grief. But to hop aboard and think that the poor lifeless creature is actually going to take you somewhere - anywhere - that's a different story all together.

Ok, time to cut the metaphor and get down to brass tacks (hehe.) The hard truth is this: sometimes your first book - or your fifth - or your twentieth - is just a practice run. But let's focus on that first book, because it's like a first love. It matters in a way that you've never felt about anything else before. You doodle about it when you daydream, talk about it until people start turning the other way whenever they see you coming, cover your wall with pictures of it, stop spending time with friends and family because this first true love consumes you on a soul level. And that kind of love is blinding you to its faults.

I want to interject here and say that I'm not writing this post because I've never ridden a dead horse. Boy howdy have I. The first book I wrote dove deep down into the bleakest recesses of my heart and dredged up all kinds of feelings. I poured them out onto page and page, bleeding words like a stuck pig. It was my truth. My story. So it had to mean something to someone else. Right? I shopped that story all over the place. I even went so far as to print the whole thing out and mail it to a professional connection I'd made at a women's magazine. This is ALL of what she ever said about it: thanks for the notepad (a gift I'd included in the package.) Ouch.

I had to admit to myself that the book, worn out and floundering, had run its race and come up short. But I still won. I learned so much about arc and pacing as I toiled over that first love. I learned about developing my characters and letting them have minds of their own. The hardest lesson of all: I realized that 99.9% of the time, my manuscript is not nearly as ready to run as I would like to think. Patience is a virtue - and one I still have to chase down with a stick from time to time.

That first book was my first true education as a writer. I penned a first word, and made it all the way to the last. I wouldn't trade a thing for all the mistakes I made between them. But I also no longer expect it to get up and run. I've stopped trying to edit and rewrite it into something that will sell. It is my teacher, plain and simple. And at last I've let it retire to a lush, green pasture. Its work here is done.

p.s. As soon as I get my house unpacked, I'm going to jump into the NaNoWriMo universe! So I probably won't have a chance to blog much this month. I will definitely do a little diddy at the end of the month to let you know how my first NaNo attempt turns out. I'm already starting a week behind... but I work best under pressure.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Happy Release Day to "New Pride" by Laura Diamond

I am so excited to host my very first guest post! Laura Diamond is dropping by Tanzy Hightower's stomping ground to tell us all about her new Novella, "New Pride," which releases TODAY! Happy release day, Laura! Tell us about New Pride.

New town, new love, new terror... It’s here! My prequel novelette, NEW PRIDE, releases today. I’m SO stoked for it to run wild in the world.
NEW PRIDE was born from my upcoming novel, SHIFTING PRIDE (coming December 7, 2012!). In SHIFTING PRIDE, the main character, Nickie, searches for her missing father, Richard…and NEW PRIDE is all about Richard’s journey to independence and new love.

NEW PRIDE Blurb: A shape-shifter without a pride, Richard Leone strikes a tenuous friendship with power hungry, Derek, from an unstable, rogue group. On a hunt in the forest, they encounter a gorgeous brunette, Molly, partying with friends around a campfire. Derek tells the rogue pride and they bristle at humans trespassing on their territory. Richard risks life and tail to protect his secret and the humans—especially Molly—while simultaneously trying to win her heart. When Molly is kidnapped, he faces taking on the rogue pride alone, but quickly finds he has to put his trust in Derek, not only to rescue his new love, but to ensure the rogue pride doesn’t wreak havoc on his new town.

Author Laura Diamond: Laura Diamond is a board certified psychiatrist and author of all things young adult paranormal, dystopian, horror, and middle grade. Her short story, City of Lights and Stone, is in the Day of Demons anthology by Anachron Press (April 2012) and her apocalyptic short story, Begging Death is in the Carnage: Life After the End anthology by Sirens Call Publication (coming late 2012). Her debut young adult paranormal romance, SHIFTING PRIDE, is coming December 2012 by Etopia Press. When she's not writing, she is working at the hospital, blogging at Author Laura Diamond--Lucid Dreamer , and renovating her 225+ year old fixer-upper mansion. She is also full-time staff member for her four cats and a Pembroke Corgi named Katie. 

How to find Laura Diamond on the web:

YouTube interview: In The DM Zone—Talking about SHIFTING PRIDE

*GROUP HUG* Thank you, everyone, for taking the time to celebrate with me and for helping me spread the word. This wouldn’t be happening without you. Yes, you! Without you, I’d have given up a long time ago. ;)
I hope you enjoy NEW PRIDE and SHIFTING PRIDE.