Monday, January 31, 2011

The Unexpected Scene

I'm currently revising an old story of mine. As I was reading along, I came to a place that I felt was more telling than showing, so I decided to expand it into a scene. I'm a pantser by nature, but even though I should be used to improvising scenes, it's still difficult to write one when you're not sure where it's going. (Just like it's difficult to write a blog post when you don't know where it's going.) Here are a few thoughts about what to do with unexpected scenes:

Add Worldbuilding Details: New scenes can give you the opportunity to take the story to different settings or expand on what you've already shown.

Show Character: One of the reasons I wanted to add a scene to my old story was to show more of the relationship between my heroine and her mother. Before, my heroine contacted her sick mother over e-mail, but given some of the feedback I received on another story, I thought readers might think that wouldn't be enough. So I had my heroine visit her mother before going off on her quest. This contrasts with how she interacts with her father, since their relationship isn't as good at the start of the story. I think it will be interesting to see how my heroine's feelings towards her parents change over the course of the story.

Take the Plot in a New Direction: This is something I'm still thinking about for this particular scene. It does add some conflict between my main character and her mother (I also added more conflict to the following scene). I think it will add some emotional resonance to the end of the story if I revisit this setting.

So, what have you done with your unexpected scenes?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A-Z Blogging Challenge

If you follow Arlee Bird, then you already know that yesterday he announced the return of the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. The idea is that each day in April (excluding Sundays), bloggers will use a letter of the alphabet as inspiration for their daily posts. It starts with A on April 1st and ends with Z on the 30th. (This means I have to blog about X on my birthday, but luckily I already have a topic in mind.) If you're interested in joining this challenge, please sign up on Arlee's blog. This year, he's also asked three other bloggers (Alex J. Cavanaugh, Jen Daiker, and Talli Roland) to help him organize the event. I'm already getting organized by setting up a table in Word so I can easily see which letter I'm blogging about on which day and brainstorm topics for each letter. It never hurts to start early.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Science and the Language of Love

I read ScienceBlog to get new ideas for worldbuilding and plots, but I never thought it could help me write dialogue.

In a recent study, psychologists studied couples on speed dates. Specifically, they looked at their language styles to see how well they matched. The couples whose styles matched most closely were more likely to want additional contact with each other. A second study showed that couples whose writing style matched in online chats were more likely to be together three months later. From the article on ScienceBlog, it appears that as two people who are attracted to each other talk, they unconsciously synchronize their language, just as people may establish bonds with others by mirroring their body language.

As a writer, I immediately thought of ways to apply this to writing. If you want to indicate attraction between two characters, you could come up with ways to make their speech patterns similar, at least when they're talking to each other. However, it might be tricky to do this without making it too obvious. This could also be used within a love triangle to offer a subtle clue as to who winds up with whom.

Finally, if you have copies of e-mails or IM transcripts between you and your sweetie (or between your two characters), you can try matching language styles here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My Thoughts on the Hunger Games Trilogy

About ten days ago, the Kindle Lending Club went live. This is a website where you can list Kindle books you have to lend and borrow books from other users. You don't have to have a Kindle to participate, as you can use one of the Kindle apps for other devices. Although I love buying books and supporting other authors, I can easily speed through a book every two or three days with my Kindle, so it's better for my budget to borrow some books. It also gives me the opportunity to read some books that I might not have otherwise.

The first three books I borrowed were the ones in the Hunger Games trilogy (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay.) I read them all in less than a week. Talk about intense! Here are some of my thoughts about the series:

1. As I was reading the first book, I kept thinking of myself as a parent in this society. I'll probably feel like Katniss; who'd want to raise children only to face the possibility of having them reaped? But if you did go ahead and have children, how would you prepare them for the Hunger Games? Would you raise them like a Career? Would you even have the resources and energy to give a child special training while trying to scrape out a subsistence living in this society?

2. I was Team Peeta from the start. I thought he was perhaps the most three-dimensional character in the series. Gale seemed flat in comparison to me. Perhaps some of this is due to seeing more of Peeta than Gale and seeing Peeta twice in the arena. I wonder how Gale and Katniss would have done if they'd been paired together in the Games. However, I honestly can't see him devoting himself to protecting Katniss the way Peeta did; Gale and Katniss would be allies for a while, but ultimately I think Gale would be willing to turn on her in the end.

3. Sometimes winning can still be losing.

4. The final book was the toughest read. I understand what Collins was doing in making it an anti-war novel, but after a while, all the deaths and suffering just numbed me. I think it was especially hard having read the other two book so soon before starting this one. I did think it was realistic showing Katniss spending much of her time recovering from her physical and psychic wounds. It's too bad there wasn't another narrator who could take over while she recuperated. One Hunger Games can be traumatizing enough, let alone having to endure two in a year. But it was disappointing that District 13 wasn't much better than the rest of Panem. I don't necessarily agree with everything that happened in the end, but I think the ending did what it needed to do.

5. I was annoyed that Katniss explained "The Hanging Tree" song; it seemed clear enough to me.

6. I wonder what role, if any, religion plays in a dystopia like this. Would it make life more bearable? What if tributes were assumed to go to Heaven automatically?

7. Present tense worked well for this story and helped keep the tension high.

8. It was a good, well-written story, and I'm glad I read it. However, I definitely needed a light, fun read afterward.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Biggest Fear

This round, Christine challenges us to get to know our characters more deeply with the following question:

What is the main character of you current WiP MOST afraid of, and why? Don't use a previously finished work. This is all about discovering the inner motivations of your current characters - the ones you don't know that well yet.

I'm not sure what approach to take with this question, as I'm currently revising two finished stories and researching another idea that's so new I only have a couple ideas of what the MC will be like. At this point, all I know is that my heroine's name will probably be Lillian, she's an artist living in a small Midwestern town at the turn of the century, and she fears losing her freedom in marriage. All of the preceding is subject to change without notice. Perhaps it would be best to return to my NaNoWriMo project, even though that's a sequel to a finished story and uses the same MC at a different point in his life. In Catalyst in the Crucible, Paul is most afraid of losing the ones he loves. He lost his mother in Across Two Universes and still occasionally blames himself for her death. Now, some of his actions in Across Two Universes have triggered events that threaten everyone. I don't think I can say much more without going into spoilers.

Check out what Kat said before me and what Kate has to add!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ta-Ta to the Tevatron

The Tevatron is a four-mile-long particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, IL. Physicists use particle accelerators to study subatomic particles by bringing them to high speeds and smashing them into each other. By studying the results, they can deduce (and sometimes prove) the existence of other particles, such as the top quark (a quark is the smallest known unit of matter; it takes three of them to make a proton) and learn what the universe was like at the time of the Big Bang. I was lucky enough to take a field trip to Fermilab when I was in high school, although we spent more time on the bus than on the grounds. (We were coming from southern Wisconsin.) I do remember seeing all the computers and the equipment, which was mostly very long rectangles.

Yesterday I read this article in the NY Times saying that despite efforts from scientists to obtain funding, the Tevatron will be shut down permanently this September. (Fermilab will remain open and run other projects.) This isn't a surprise, as the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva is much larger and more powerful, and efforts to build another particle accelerator in Texas came to nothing. What is disappointing is that our country is canceling some of the big science projects while Europe and Asia are catching up to us in science. What does it mean for our country in the long run if we don't run large-scale experiments like the Tevatron? Will that affect our ability to perform basic research and train new scientists? Will the general public lose interest in science and science fiction?

If you were going to propose one big research project for our country, what would it be? Would you suggest something that had many real-world applications, or would you try to find something that was also inspirational?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Six Impossible Things

As I was reading Black Swan Rising last week, a book that includes both vampires and fairies, I thought about how the combination reminded me of the Stookie Stackhouse books. It seems like an odd combination, but both books come up with a different way to have the different supernaturals interact. Certainly, having more than one type of supernatural creature in a story presents possibilities for more conflict and different types of magic. But does it ask too much of the reader to throw several supernaturals from different myths into the same story? What factors make it work, and when doesn't it?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Random Thoughts

1. Remember the contest I told you about last week where you had a chance to win a free book cover design? Well, I was one of the winners. I'm pretty excited about it, but now I have to decide which book to use. I originally planned to use Across Two Universes, but now I think the prequel to that story would be a better choice. Good thing I have a year to decide.

2. Lately, I'm having a hard time deciding what book to read next on my Kindle. I'll start a sample, lose interest, then try another one. I wonder if having so many choices (I'm now up to 82 books in my "To Read" collection) is making me pickier than usual.

3. I could choose one of my paper books to read, only I already have two non-fiction books I'm working on. If I add a novel to that, i know I'll choose the fun read over the research ones.

Anyone else have some random thoughts to add?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Win a Manuscript Critique!

How would you like to have a published author critique not just your first five pages, your first chapter, or your first five chapters, but your entire manuscript? Doesn't that sound like something that would really help you improve your book? Well, head on over and visit my friend Maria Zannini. Follow her blog or friend her on Facebook between now and January 26 to enter her contest. Please see this post for the complete rules. Good luck!

Monday, January 10, 2011

"I've Got a Little List" and "Lady Novelists"

On Sunday, Eugene and I spent an afternoon at the opera. We saw The Mikado at the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I've seen a film version and heard the songs before; Eugene wasn't familiar with it at all. It was a good production; we enjoyed some of the little touches (for example, the stage had a fountain in the first act, and jets of water were timed to spout up at key moments) and the reference to "Skokie," one of the Chicago suburbs, as a faraway land where the prince had gone.

Since I knew the songs, I was listening hard to see what they did with the song, "As Some Day If Should Happen..." This is the song in which Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, talks about the "little list" he keeps "of society offenders who might well be underground" in case he actually needs to execute someone. One of the people on this list is a lady novelist. Sometimes the lyrics of this song are changed to reflect more contemporary types of society offenders. I wanted to see if this particular line was changed or not. This production stuck to the original lyrics and kept the line. I shook my finger at the stage in mock protest.

The reason Gilbert and Sullivan included this line (besides the rhyme it provided) was to mock women authors who wrote light-hearted romances. In fact, George Eliot used a male pseudonym to escape this stereotype. Obviously, women write in many genres these days. Do you feel there are still stereotypes about women writers these days? If so, what are they?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Locus Goes Digital

I found out this weekend through Charles Stross's blog that Locus, the magazine of the science fiction/fantasy field, is now available in digital format. (Of course, the paper version is still available too.) I used to subscribe to it, but when Alex was born, I didn't have enough time to read it and let my subscription lapse. Now that I have my Kindle, I can find more reading time. I decided to give the digital version a trial run and signed up for a six-month digital subscription for $27.00. It became active later that day; I got an e-mail with the information I needed to download the first issue to my computer. Unfortunately, I can't get the Kindle app on my laptop to sync up with my Kindle, so I connected them with the USB cord and copied the issue over. (It's not too hard if a, you know where the magazine is stored on your computer and b, you remember to place it into the right folder on your Kindle.)

There are still pictures in the digital version; if you read on your computer, the pictures are in color. There are also ads, though some of them are small and hard to read on the Kindle. The pictures do make for some odd page breaks, and sometimes there's just one line of text beneath the ad or picture. It looks like there are hyperlinks in the table of contents and in other parts of the magazine as well. I'm about 60% of the way through. I think it'll be a couple more months until I'm ready to decide if the digital version is better than the paper version. Still, it's better than not reading Locus at all.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Two Cool Contests

A couple of cool contests just started yesterday, so I thought I'd help spread the news.

First, Tessa, Marieke, and Rachael are teaming up to give away a trilogy of fantastic prizes, such as books, critiques, and gift cards. You have to follow all three ladies, and if you follow their blogs before January 11, you get extra entries. Check out any of their blogs for more details.

Second, Derico Photography is giving away a custom book cover design. If you're thinking of self-publishing your book or just want an image to make a proof copy, this is a great opportunity. You can see examples of their work on Michelle Davidson Argyle's blog. To enter, become a fan of Derico Photography on Facebook and leave a comment on the discussion or events page. You can find more details here.

Good luck to all who enter!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Back on the Blog Chain: Know Thyself

I have the privilege of starting the first Blog Chain for 2011, so let's get right to it. Here's the topic:

What do you think your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are? Did you have to develop your strengths, or did they come naturally to you? How are you trying to overcome your weaknesses?

Yes, everyone, after a festive holiday season, we have to look at the man or woman in the mirror:

Here are what I think are some of my writing strengths:

Good command of grammar--I was such a bookworm I read English textbooks as a kid, but I took a grammar class for my Master's degree. I also copy-edited for a newspaper briefly and still read grammar books on my own.
Good understanding of basic science (for writing SF)--I've studied science in school and on my own.
Can come up with interesting worldbuilding details--I get a lot of ideas from reading science and news articles.
Can create cliffhanger chapter endings--I developed this through reading novels and books on writing.

I should point out that even though I feel I do have some genetic talent for writing (I got it from my biological mother), all the things I count as strengths are ones I developed through study and practice.

And here are some of the things I feel I still need to work on:

Adding more sensory details to scenes--I admit I'm timid about adding details for fear of getting them wrong. I also tend to focus more on plot and dialogue in first drafts, so description is something I have to add to the story instead of including it from the start. I've tried some writing exercises to help me focus on description, and during NaNoWriMo, I deliberately made myself include some description. Description is much better for word count than unnecessary adverbs!
Making main characters more likable at the start of the story--To show how my characters grow over the course of the story, I sometimes make too much of their faults in the beginning. My reviewers let me know when this is a problem. I've tried to address this by showing more of my characters' emotions and motivations.
Making teenage characters sound their age, not younger--To address this, I should study more teenagers in their natural habitat, no matter how scary that is. ;)

I'm sure there are more things I need to work on, but those are the most important ones, or at least the ones that come to mind right away.

Kate will share her strengths and weaknesses with us next. What do you feel are your writing strengths and weaknesses?

Sunday, January 02, 2011

My 100-Word Sentence

Welcome to my first post of 2011! I'm in the middle of redesigning my blog. I've picked a new template to have access to some of Blogger's features, but I still need to find some new images to personalize the background.

Last month, Elana Solodow set up a blogfest challenging people to write 100-word sentences for a cash prize. I figured an epic sentence of that length required an epic topic. Fortunately, I had some inspiration from an epic reading project. Here's my sentence about reading all of Shakespeare's poems and plays; it comes in at exactly 100 words.

I have spent about six weeks reading the complete works of William Shakespeare on my Kindle, and while I haven’t understood every archaic term, I’ve reminisced about performances I’ve watched, revisited old friends, discovered new villains, seen Greco-Roman and English history come to life, shared favorite passages and sonnets on Facebook, traveled to a fantastic island and the moors of Scotland, learned about human nature, marveled at Shakespeare’s command of blank verse and figurative language, and wondered what the total death count is; although I’ve read several books since finishing my project, even the best ones can’t match the Bard.

The contest runs through the end of this month, so there's plenty of time to write your own 100-word sentence and post it on your blog, Facebook profile, or Twitter account. Remember, the more people who enter, the higher the prize will be!

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