Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who Is Telling the Story?

The author, obviously -- if you want to get technical and point out the name on the cover. That's not what I'm asking though. Between the front and back covers, between the acknowledgments and the thank you's, who is telling the story?

The main character, or the all seeing narrator?

These discussions go on and on all the time. Which point of view is "right." Which one "should you use?"

The answer is always the same -- whichever feels right.

For me, it was always third person, with a little bit of omniscient in there. For me, it's because I hate to be tied down by only what my character experiences. To me, it's like playing with an unreliable narrator all the time. Also, I feel like my character is narcissistic every time they have to tell a story about themselves. In third person, I just imagine this all seeing eye as thinking this character was interesting, and wanted to tell the reader about him or her.

As for the omniscient part, that's because I am easily distracted, and I love to delve into other character's backgrounds. I like to get into their heads for a little bit. It might take away a little bit of the mystery, but at the same time, it can add to the dramatic irony.

Lately though, I've been thinking if that's right for me. Does it always work? I've heard that sometimes, no, it doesn't work. Sometimes, the point of view needs to change for the story to work. That seems like such a big deal. If you start out writing something in third person, then change your mind, you have to go through with a fine tooth come and turn every "I" into "he" or "she" or the character's name. "My" turns into "his" or "hers." Or the whole thing goes the opposite way. Seems like a lot of work, but sometimes necessary.

And also lately, I've been interested in trying to really get invested in the character. More often than not, a reader gets invested in a character when the story is told in first person, rather than third. (All I can think about there though is that with first person narrative, it's a risk to delve into other characters.)

So I pose this question to you. Nothing about "right or wrong" or "what should I do?" I simply ask for an opinion: What tense do you prefer to read? How about right? Why?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer Goal Wrap Up

I'm still trying to get over The Lock Artist. I just thought I'd let you know that. I've become way too attached the main character. (But we all have those every now and then right? I just finally found mine.)

Anyway, I thought that since Summer comes to an official end at 10:49am this coming Saturday, I should go over the goals I had set for myself this Summer and see where I ended up. (By the way, yes, I am very happy that Fall is beginning... thus the reason I know the exact moment that the season changes.)

Let's recap, shall we?

  1. Blog more
    This... I did not do. Not really. I have five posts in the entire time between setting my goals, and this post. Sure, I didn't slack on my tumblr, but that's all Boondock Saints, Walking Dead, and me being immature. I try to keep a level of quality on this blog, and for that, there is significantly less.
  2. Write... something.
    On some levels this is a success, but on most it's probably a failure. I did manage to write... something. Just not nearly as much as I would have liked. I don't think it would have been out of reach to write one manuscript this summer. Quality would be lacking, yes, but I'd have words that I could at least work with. My results? About a chapter and a half, and a whole lot of self doubt.

    Gee, I sure do sound inspiring right now, don't I?
  3. Ignore any urge to quit Jiu-Jitsu
    Now this one was a success, because I'm still at it. And I'm still getting bruised, and hyper-extending limbs, and pulling muscles. But I'm also getting people trapped in arm bars and choke holds, and being told I'm actually pretty strong and have surprisingly flexible shoulders. (Something to which I attribute four years of marching band, holding a flute parallel to the sidelines, while my shoulders also stay parallel, and my feet face the end zone. Ever try it? Yeah, you'll need flexible shoulders for that one.)
    Anyway, it's fun, and I'm still training.
  4. Finish editing Echo
    I got a few more chapters done, but only because there was a contest I tried entering. Obviously I didn't make the contest.
  5. Try to finish reading Harry Potter
    Well, there's always next time. On the plus side, I did manage to read about two chapters.
So, I think I'm going to try to set goals for the remainder of the year. I might as well add them to the bottom of this post.

  1. NaNoWriMo
    This starts in November. This was the only reason I ever wrote Echo. This is something I need to win again. Just once. For now. It'd be nice.
  2. Finish editing Echo
    Can't hurt to try, after all.
  3. Do some more writing for me
    I know all writing should originally be for me, but I mean the kind that won't be shared with anybody, ever. Guilty pleasure writing. I did this all the time in high school, and I loved some of what I wrote. My only regret is that I lost all of it to the Great Flash Drive Destruction of 2011. (I still can't believe I broke it in half.)
  4. Harry Potter
    Yeah, it's still on the list. But I'm going to be a bit more realistic and say that I want to finish book four by the end of the year.
  5. Get a life.
    Okay, now I just must be kidding myself.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Lock Artist - a book review

It's books like this one that remind me why I love reading. It's also books like these that make me curl up in a ball in the darkest corner of the house, wrapped in a blanket, clutching the book and crying because I know that I will never be able to write something as good as what I just read.

Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating just a little bit. And no, I did not actually seek out the darkest corner of the house and wrap myself in a blanket and cry. My point is, though, that I really, really, really loved this book.

The Lock Artist, by Steve Hamilton. He's a fairly well known author, from what I understand, as I've never heard of him before I stumbled upon this book. (And I'm not even sure how I did.) He apparently wrote this book as he took a break from his main series.

"I was the Miracle Boy, once upon a time. Later on, the Milford Mute. The Golden Boy. The Young Ghost. The Kid. The Boxman. The Lock Artist. That was all me.
But you can call me Mike."
-Page 3, The Lock Artist

The book is about a young man named Michael who has come to be known as "The Miracle Boy." It was not a name he asked for, it was just one given to him after a traumatizing experience when he was nine years old. He doesn't like to talk about what happened, partly because it was traumatizing, and partly because he can't. It's not that the experience left him physically incapable of speaking, but he just has not uttered a single word since that day in June of 1990.

If this were not enough to make Michael interesting, he also has a special talent -- he can unlock anything. Whether it's a regular lock to someone's back door, a padlock hanging on a gym locker, or a safe containing millions of dollars, Michael can open it. An "unforgivable talent" as he puts it -- one that gets him caught up with the wrong people.

What's interesting about this story (as though it's not already interesting) is the way it's told. The first chapter starts off almost ten years after the events of his story. He's in prison, still unable to speak, but recounting his tale for the reader. After that, the story splits into two timelines. It starts in September of 1999, as Michael is on his way to a job where his special skills are needed. The next chapter starts by telling his childhood, but only after that tragic day. He still can't talk about it... not yet.

And so it goes on, back and forth from chapter to chapter. As one timeline progresses towards the end of the story, the other tells mostly of Mike's life in the summer of 1999, just before the other timeline began... eventually leading into how it began, before the novel comes to an inevitable end.

I really do think it's a great book. I would be lying if I didn't say I had to put it down a few times to think, to calm down, to take a moment before I could get back to it. When I was done, I put the book down and looked at it. Then I re-read a few passages that suddenly made so much more sense when it was over.

Needless to say, I loved Michael as a character. I rooted for him from the beginning, even though I knew he was a criminal who had been in jail for ten years. For most of the story, he's a typical kid. He's 17, he's mute, he's tormented by something he can't talk about, and even if he could, he wouldn't. There's only one person who can even come close, Amelia, the little bit of romance that does not take away from the suspense at all.

Clearly I might be a little biased here. I'm raving about a book as though everyone will automatically love it. I've seen mixed feelings about the ending, but I thought it was done right, and I thought it made sense for the characters involved. I read the last quarter of the book in one sitting, and I currently can't get the book out of my head. The writing was beautiful, and painted some amazing imagery in some scenes.

The only real critique I had? There is one instance where the word "road" is used instead of "rode," and to me it was painfully obvious.

In conclusion, I loved this book. If human were allowed to marry book, this book would be it. Yes, I'm aware of how weird that sounds, but you should all know I'm anything but normal.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Waving the White Flag

Maybe if I just admit defeat my muse will come back to me. Maybe if I start swinging that metaphorical white flag, I'll find myself able to write again.

This is just a post to vent my feelings -- writing related feelings, of course.

I'm sure every writer goes through it... writer's block, frustration, procrastination, fear... whatever one may call it. That feeling of wanting to write, but not wanting to write, because it will never be good.

I think I may be putting this out here to ask for advice. Not just to vent. Because I'm pretty sure this has been a problem for me for a while. At times it feels like I'm a one and done author. I wrote one book and now I can't write another. Nothing I write can live up to that, even if that one manuscript isn't even finished yet. (As in, in the editing stage, pre-querying.)

I believe this can be referred to as a sophomore slump?

How does one write their second book? I hear it's the hardest one to accomplish. For me personally, I've ruined every attempt by thinking too hard about it. I put too much backstory into the characters and struggled to get that to show rather than explore the characters as I write them. (And yet I can't stop, because I love exploring my characters. Just in the wrong stage of the writing process.)

The one attempt at writing without backstory is currently five handwritten pages in a notebook in my purse.

Two years ago, a chapter a day was a considerably easy feat. I could write whatever I wanted, and not care about how it flowed, or how it might be recieved by others.

Today, anything I write feels like it's running into a brick wall -- repeatedly.

I once wrote a novel in a month. Now it took me thirteen days to write one chapter.

How did this happen?

Reading more, writing regardless of what's coming out, finding a beta... all things I know need to happen (although the latter is much harder than I thought.)

I think what sucks the most is that I'm in the middle of a story right now that I would love to finish, but that brick wall keeps getting in the way.

So my question(s) to you, fellow writers, is have you ever hit a block like this? How did it affect you? How did you overcome it?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sharing our Shelves

What does your bookshelf say about you? That was the question posed by YA Highway, and I decided to answer it with a photo of my own bookshelf.



So you see my problem? There aren't nearly enough books here. I thought for a time, I was running out of room, but alas, there's still room that I can even put all my movies and television shows on the bottom shelf.

But let's be honest, I haven't even gotten to reading half of these. (coughcoughbookmarkinthemiddleofharrypottercough).

And yes, my high school diploma is dividing my books from my movies. (Probably not where it should be.) My book is up there (as a "never to be seen by human eyes" proof copy that is severely outdated. If you can pick it out you win a prize. Not really, but it's fun to pretend.) And there is a book I bought from an internet writer, who doesn't advertise it out of fear, so don't expect to find it on shelves anywhere.

My shelves range from comic books to Sylvia Plath. John Green, J.K. Rowling, Lois Duncan, and Chicken Soup for the Soul. I have a German print edition of Looking for Alaska, and I also have a book about screenwriting. I think YA dominates my shelves. There's a few classics, and a few little gems. And The Book of Awesome. Because it's awesome.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Backstory, and what to do with it

I really need to work on updating this blog more often. I know I say that, but the actual act of doing so, that's an entirely different story. Also, please bare with me for this post, it's midnight, and I know that if I don't write this now, I never will.

The point of this post though, is to discuss something I've run into as I work on my latest manuscript. (Any guesses as to what number attempt this one is? Hint: I don't even know.)

And this current issue is -- characters: the ones who have known each other forever, and the ones who have just met.

Is it just me, or do they both present their own challenges?

While characters who have known each other have pre-existing relationships, there's the problem of having to convincingly give backstory to the readers. As for the characters who have just met, it's easy to provide backstory as the characters get to know each other. With them, however, there's the needed effort of building a convincing relationship. (Whether it be romantic, platonic, or full of hate.)

As I've been writing, I've found that my weakness here is providing backstory for characters who already know each other. What I've noticed is that if Bob and Jim are just getting to know each other, they can tell each other about themselves, and in turn, tell the reader. Not so if Bob and Jim have known each other forever. Honestly, do you go up to your best friend and remind them of the number of siblings you have and how they have affected your personality? Most likely not.

So this is the point where we, as writers, must come up with creative ways to reveal Jim and Bob's backgrounds to the reader without taking advantage of the dreaded "info-dump." (Makes you sick just thinking about it, doesn't it?) There are surely countless possibilities, but it's mostly a matter of figuring out what they are, and which ones fit into the story.

Add a little bit of information explaining a relationship a character has with an object or location? Doable, I think, or at least I'm pretty sure I've employed this method successfully in my previous manuscript. How about, bringing in the side character who needs to be brought up to speed? Sometimes considered a cop out, but I think could be executed well. Or my new personal favorite, which I'm sure I can only pull off once, is to have a character tell his story under the guise of a bedtime story. I came up with that one in the shower, and given the plot, I think it will work.

But why is this necessary? Why must we have backstory? Why can't we get right to the action? The here and now. The story arc that will make the reader pick up the book and shell out the cash to buy it in the store.

Because we want to believe these characters are real. That has got to be such an important point. If we, as readers, don't believe that the characters are real, how can we relate to it? How can we, even for the briefest moment, convince ourselves that this story could have happened somewhere to someone at some point? Real people have histories. Real, well-rounded characters have histories. They are what shape Bob and Jim, and every person they have ever come into contact with.

So to conclude this post, I bring up the methods of bringing in the backstory once again. I think if we remember why it's important, maybe it will be easier. There's just a few things to remember, such as that no one wants to read a long, boring, word-heavy info-dump. Especially the ones that make no sense. (Remember how Bob already knows how many sibling Jim has, and doesn't need Jim to remind him over coffee the next day. Unless, of course, for emphasis to a point Jim is making... hey, there's another method right there!)

No info dumping.
Subtlety.
Creative.
Natural.
What are your suggestions?