Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Turning Your MC into a Hero

In Donald Maass' Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook, step one in deepening character development is to turn your protagonist into a hero. I didn't know where to start with Mop, the main character in my wip, FIND ME. I don't really even like the word hero. It sounds so grandiose, so comic book cliched that I have trouble seeing my main character as a hero. I often start writing my books about regular people, people like me, that I can identify with. I know, without having to think about it what a capital-H-Hero is - and it's not me. Hero is for soldiers, for mothers who throw themselves in front of speeding cars to save their kids, for fireman.

So how do I make my protagonist into a hero (especially when she's 17, living in the Bronx with an agoraphobic mother and isolated by a strange, unwelcome talent?) The first thing Maass says to do is to think of someone who is a hero to you. It might be your mother, or your best friend or a public person you admire. Don't be like me and get mired in thinking about it too much (yeah, he's okay, but he's like not perfect) You're not looking for perfection, you're looking for someone who you think did something heroic. I finally got mine (no, not telling you - too personal.) Then Maass says to come up with the one quality that makes that person a hero. That was a little easier: Courage.

But how do I find courage in a 17 year old girl who has not saved babies from burning buildings, or over come a crack addiction or survived a horrific incident? I won't lie, it was hard. I started with what I think is a Chekhov quote: "Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out."

How much courage would it take for a girl to lose her father, lose her ability to read and gain an disturbing talent - all at the age of twelve? Then, for the next five years, she would become a sort of surrogate for her mother, having to do everything for her mother, who could not leave the apartment. To me, that's heroic-sized courage.

Then I went back to the first few chapters and picked out areas where I could increase the examples of Mop's courage (again, small-c-courage, not save-babies-from-fire-courage.) I was surprised how easy it was. The opportunities were there, it was like I just had to turn up the volume. And by heightening those elements I could actually see how Mop became even more rounded, real. Damn this book is good.

How do you turn your protagonist into a hero?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Learning New Tricks

I have a really clear memory from high school which begins with me panicking minutes away from the bell ringing for second period English class. All at once, like a douse of cold water,  I remember a) I didn't do my vocabulary homework and b) I didn't do my vocabulary homework so the test I'm taking in 3 minutes will be an excruciating fail.

Like the heroine I usually am in my own mind, I grabbed my friend Joyce's homework, copied the words (kids, don't try this at home. It is CHEATING.) into my book and at the same time committed those words to memory. I aced the vocab test. And ever since, procrastination and last minute inspiration has been my modus operendi much more often then it should.

I write the same way. Pantser. No outlining. No editing during the first draft. Going where my story takes me. I guess you could say I do well under pressure. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad I can problem solve, turn on a dime, find a replacement staffer a half hour before show time, pull out a plot twist seemingly from thin air.


I'm not sure it's completely working for me. While I was traveling last week, I ran in to some trouble with a scene I was writing. It was stalling. Just kind of sitting there, looking pretty but not going anywhere. I decided to do something I've never done before - write out of sequence. (I wrote about it here on my writing group blog.) I know lots of people do this ALL THE TIME. I know lots of writers who can't even conceive of writing in order and who look at me like I'm certifiable when they hear how I write. But for me it was revelatory.

I don't think the scenes I wrote, which were far down the road in my book, will remain. But they were excellent for taking me out of the very narrow confines which I'd barricaded myself into and giving me distance. I saw that I was meandering. I was word painting. I was effing around, if you must know.

So what's my solution? Do more uncomfortable stuff.

Even though I'm only about a third of the way through this book I'm going to stop drafting and start thinking. My plan is to use Donald Maass for all he's worth (I hear that's quite a lot.)

For the next few weeks I'm going to subject FIND ME to The Break Out Novel Workbook. It's going to be carnage. And it's going to make me slow down and think. I may have to (gasp) outline. I will absolutely have to do some work on my characters before hand, instead of discovering who they are at the end of the book. There will definitely be blood - or ink - spilled. But I'm feeling a little reckless. Like a change is a good thing. And I'll share my experiences with you starting on Thursday with Adding Heroic Qualities.

So, how do you learn new tricks?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Hiatus - Costa Rica Edition

I know you'll weep for me at the onerous undertaking I have to endure. On mother's day I'll be leaving for Costa Rica to hang with my two best friends in celebration of turing 30...again.

Hope you all have a wonderful mother's day!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What I Know About Being On Submission

Not much. I've been on submission two weeks. I know that I'm not supposed to think about it. I'm supposed to be working hard on my next book and ignoring the fact that editors, somewhere out in the ether, are considering my work.

It would be easy (no, it IS easy) to careen off the rails and obsessively think, they hate it. they love it. they are using my ms to wrap their fish. Which is ridiculous, because I don't think people wrap their fish in manuscripts anymore, that's very last century.

There is SO much information on the querying and writing process, so much so that a newbie writer can become pretty sophisticated fast. But what happens between getting an agent and getting a book sold is a little murky.

It's almost a blessing that there isn't that much information on the submission process out there. It means that there's less to revisit and analyze compulsively. So I'm trying to change the way I think about being on submission. I'm trying not to think of it as a step - one that I'm hanging on to, precariously, praying that I make it to the next step. I'm trying to think of being on submission as a state of being, like being 40. (Crap. let that cat out of the bag) It's just what I am right now, and I have to get used to it and move on.

Having said that, I've included some links below on submission. I remember reading Natalie Whipple's post particularly and it helped me a) admire her more and b) understand the process more.

Agent Query
What to Expect When You're Submitting 
And Natalie's amazing post on being on submission for a long time.
Nathan Bransford's How Long it Takes to Sell a Book

The biggest thing that's helped me so far? Talking to other writers in the same situation. You can cheer each other on and cry when it goes horribly pear-shaped. You can #sendsubmissionvibes. That's what's helped me the most get back to concentrating on my WIP.

When you get to Publisherland, there are a different set of challenges (which I'm completely ignoring for now.) For really great insight on what happens when you're working with your publisher's editor, check out Stephanie Knipper's recent blog series on what she's learned in the editing process. Really insightful

So, how do you deal with the writerly unknown?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Comfort Reads

For the last two weeks I've been laid a bit low - first a mini flu that, while not as bad as Influenza, sucked non the less. Then, just when I'd hit the goal of running for 20 minute straight (training for a 5k with my daughter) my back went out. Like way, way out. I had to go to a chiropractor two towns away to find my back again. Had to have x-rays. Had to wear a brace. All yucky stuff.

Now, I read a LOT. I read several books at once and I feel naked if I get on any public transportation without a book or two on my person. I read every night for at least an hour before bed. But when I'm sick (or hopped up on goofballs, as the case may be) I need comfort books to read.

These are books I've read before. (Side Question: Are you the kind of person that does read books again, or do you never go back to terrain you've already covered?) It might be The Chronicles of Narnia (I'm usually pretty ill and longing for childhood when that happens.) Or the Garth Nix Abhorsen trilogy.

More often than not it's golden age mysteries. Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh.

This last time I re-read the Dorothy Sayers books with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. For mystery books written in the 1930's the feminist and social progressive quotient is pretty high. And I do have a t-shirt that says 'What Would Harriet Vane Do?" Because I often wonder about that.

It's funny that golden age mysteries are my comfort re-read - since, duh, I already know whodunit. But I find them immensely soothing and I don't have to worry about figuring it out the mystery. I can linger in the drawing rooms of landed gentry and in the back alleys with sly bolsheviks. What could be more conducive to recovery than a pack of bolsheviks, I ask you?

What's your literary equivalent to homemade mac n cheese?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

IWSG - The Platform Under Your Feet

I started blogging as a sort of exercise in  'whistling in the dark.' Not knowing anything about writing - not knowing any writers - I threw myself out there and started something out of nothing. When you think of it, that's what writing is all about. You can't learn how to write until you do it. There's no other way.

Just like there's no way to build an author platform other then getting out there and making connections. CJ Lyons, at last year's Pennwriter's Conference sent a shock around the room when she said that an author platform is not a blog or twitter or facebook pages or any other material thing. An author platform is your audience. It's people. And it takes time and nurturing to build those relationships.

But it's even less mercenary than that. I have a writer friend in Missouri, a lovely state I have never visited. I have another writer friend (who recently had a possum problem in her bathroom) in Australia. Another friend is a killer gardener as well as an awesome writer, living in Kentucky (where I also haven't been - I need to get out more.) These people are cool and smart and funny and dangerously talented. And I would never have found them if I hadn't started whistling.

So, THANK YOU, fellow Insecure Writers. You don't know how vital you are.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

I See Your Pups and Raise You BUNNIES...


Beat that, Knipper.

Yes, dear friends, you can file this post under - Charming Ways to Procrastinate Writing your WIP or Doing Laundry. #CUTENESSWARS

Plus, my own cute bunnies:

If you need to take a Benedryl after all this insane cuteness, I understand.
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