Monday, March 26, 2012

Know thy characters

So I just finished the novel I've been cowriting with Caleb Warnock. He invited me on board his project for two reasons.
One: He's insanely busy being a bestselling author an all.
Two: He was having major trouble with his main character- a female.

As I delved into the meat of his manuscript, the problem became clear. He didn't know his main character. The voices of every other POV character and side character rang true. But for some reason, Hallie's voice was stilted and awkward. I believe my exact words were that she sounded like an 80 year old tea maven. So my job was to rewrite her point of view so she could be heard.

It took some work, but I did it by following one of my ten writing commandments: Know thy character.

It's the same process I use in any story I write. Before I go spinning yarns into chapters, I sit down and have a chat with each character. Even though the little details will likely never make it into the book, I want to know this character's whole life story. I want to know their first memory. If clowns scare them. If they have any odd or quirky habits. Who beat them up in high school. Or maybe they were the one doing the bullying.

This serves a two-fold purpose. Characters are memorable when they are interesting and have depth and feelings. And secondly, if I know my character, it is easier to correctly portray their thoughts and reactions. The rest of the story often writes itself because I can see what they will do, just like a movie in my head.  

So now that I am done with Hallie's story, I am off to start a new one. My new main character is Bertha Jenkins. She's adopted, sat on a bully in third grade, her house has a roof the dips down in the middle, and she may or may not have gotten married on elephant-back in India. (she's still working out the legalities) She enjoys religion hopping and is currently working her way through Taoism.

I'm sure there's more, and Bertha will have to tell me all about it.

Friday, March 23, 2012


So right now I'm chained to my computer. I can literally feel it chafing against my ankle. It's either that, or tweaked from running.
 The reason I am stuck here is a little thing called a deadline. As in my Work in Progress needs to be submitted to my editor by Tuesday. I started 2 weeks ago. Sound crazy?

It's actually someone else's book that was finished, but needed a whole lot of work. But his life is crazy and he needed some help to meet the deadline set by his publisher- which coincidentally is my publisher. So he asked me to co-author it with him. It needed some voicing fixes, plot fixes, and  brand spanking new ending. I am currently in the middle of said ending.

But while I am plotting of how to get Cynhtia (my character) out of the mess I stuck her in, in the back of my mind is the LIST.

There seems to be so much to do and not enough time to do it.  I need to meet my deadline, but I worry that the mountain of laundry might tip over and smother my 2 1/2 yr old. I've got three blogs to keep up with. Mormon Mommy Writers and Finished being Fat both have Saturday updates due. The kids are crying to go the park. Oh, and my marathon training says Saturday is a 14 mile day.

And that's the shortened list. The longer list includes all the things I need to do before the years up. I'm going back to college. My father in law is getting remarried. All the edits and marketing work for the two books coming out in early 2013. The June marathon and 3 other half marathons I signed up for.

By this point in my worrying, I'm having chest pains. The underside of my blanket is starting to look really good.
The point of this post is to remind myself that I can only worry about one thing, one mile, one race, and one chapter at a time. Anything else is counter productive. I need to make a plan, then trust that plan will work as I follow through. I'll let you know when I manage to stop sweating the details.

Friday, March 16, 2012

En-Title-ment Issues

Here's a word of advice for you aspiring authors. Do not get attached to your title. Because there is a decent chance you won't get to keep it. What I mean is, you are working hard on your manuscript and it grows on you. Either like a fungus or a baby. Depends on how well its going at the time.  So you give it a name or a title in your head and you fall in love. Then you submit it to agents or publishers and someone picks it up. Then their marketing team gets a hold of it. That's when you and your beloved title might break up.
It is the marketing team's job to make your book the most attractive package it can. That means a stellar title and cover. But hey, I thought my title was pretty catchy. Maybe to me it was, but the team seemed to differ. Right here is where you can be in trouble. If you are very attached to your newborn book, it can be hard to accept any other name than the one you've blessed it with.

This is my current dilemna. I had named my manuscript the Philosophy of Finishing. Cedar Fort said, "Ehh" to that name. They batted around a few options for the next two weeks, but nothing else sounded good to me. Then they picked a title and subtitle that I was not fond of.  I was wondering "Oh no, did my book die? Will anyone want to pick it up." I argued back and they put it to a vote on FaceBook.  We have yet to see the results.

fingers-c...At this point I think I need to trust in the experts. Its true that no one will love and know your book like you do. But your marketing team should hopeful have years of experience knowing exactly how to reach your audience and bookstore buyers. I'm hoping mine does at least. So at this point I'm going to let go and let the experts. I will post soon with the results of the survey. Cross your fingers that it's something good.

But in the meantime, for your work in progress, realize that it's the publisher that sets the title not you. And it's in their best interest to makeup a good one. After all they are investing in you and your book. They need it to sell too. :)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Value of Critique Groups

Today I want to talk about the best two parts of my weekend-- the PEG Live Critique Workshop and The Lorax. Specifically that everyone needs to see that movie, and all writers should participate in some kind of critique group.

So this Saturday I went to a Critique Workshop. It was in the American Fork Library, hosted by Precision Editing Group. Otherwise known as the awesome supergroup of the following ladies:  (left to right) Luann Staheli, Heather Moore,  Julie Wright, Annette Lyon, Josi Kilpack
PEG senior editors

I'm not gonna lie. I had a little bit of a fan geek moment when put in the same room as the superauthors. They are all beautiful talented amazing women and award winning authors. Basically they're what I want to be when I grow up. (although I'm pretty sure a few of them are younger than me)

There were about 20 or so of us students. I had no idea what to expect. I had brought the first two chapters of my fiction work in progress. (more details to come) I wasn't sure what other kinds of writers would be there. Imagine my surprise to come across M.L. Forman. He's the author of one of my fave new series Adventurers Wanted. I geeked out again. My brain and tongue froze and I'm sure I said something really stupid. He was there as a student. Not an instructor. He sells like a gagillion books and he needs help too?
Talk about humbling.

And then the red pen comes out. Having been a musician first, I have had my fair share of constructive criticism. I'll give you a hint, the more you get ... doesn't get easier.  It's still heart palpitating nerves and chattering teeth for me.  Getting peer reviews and feedback can be scary. You're vulnerable. Here you are, handing over some precious piece of your soul over to someone else to literally rip apart.  What if they think I suck? What if they don't like me? What if they take one look at what I've written and secretly scoff and wonder how on earth I managed to get published?

This is where the other part of the weekend comes it: The Lorax. Great movie. It loved it. I love one line in particular and want to share it because it applies perfectly.

   "It's not about what it is, it's about what it can become."

If we never allow our manuscripts to be deconstructed a bit, they will remain as seeds -- never growing to their full potential.  I can take each slash of red pen, bleeding on my white paper, as an injury or mark against my abilities as a writer. Or I can see each stroke as proof that my book can become even stronger and better than I ever thought it could be.

Yes, it can be scary. It might sound better to tuck your life's work in a drawer so it will never have to face the harsh light of day. Heck I feel that way about my kids sometimes. But in both cases, without the light, there is no opportunity for growth. 

 So find a lorax, or a group you can share with. Form a critique group or see if you can join one already in progress. Talk to your writer buds on Facebook. Do it by email if no one lives close to you. But don't keep your writing to yourself because of fear that it's not perfect as it is. Grab insight from others so you can catch a glimpse of what it can become.