Wednesday, August 27, 2014

So I Got Some Writing Advice From Author Holly Black

I recently got to sit down and talk to the amazing, best selling author Holly Black. It was a truly wonderful experience. Unfortunately, just by touching her sphere of amazing, I didn't automatically turn into a princess, a pixie, or a celebrated author, but I did get some good writing advice.

And since I've got this blog about writing, I figured I'd share some of that advice in hopes it helps some of you too.

I couldn't find any good pictures of Holly on the Creative Commons, but she has a great book titled White Cat, so I went with a picture of a white cat instead:

Photo credit to olavgg

Set The Scene With Description

Pull back and describe the scene before plowing headlong into the action or conversation. This description gives the reader her footing. Use this description to set the mood for the action that is about to happen.

Ex. Is this an ominous scene? If so, emphasize the shadows and the towering buildings or reaching branches.

Photo credit to Jyrki Salmi

Describe Through the Eyes of Your MC

Use description to show what is important to your character and what her station in life is. How your character sees the world can tell a reader a lot about her.

Ex. Is your character obsessed with clothes? Well, then she'll notice them. If she doesn't have the clothes she wants (maybe b/c her family doesn't have the money for them) she'll notice this and bemoan her fate.

Photo credit to Solarbotics

Follow The "Want Line"

Your main character (and, really, every character) should always have something she wants. It should be evident in almost everything she says/does. If everything your character does is aimed toward achieving her goals (even if those goals change), you amp up the tension and the reader wants to keep reading. Also, when the character does NOT get what she wants, it makes the scenes more interesting and builds sympathy.

Ex. (Sorry, this gets a little long, but it's a fun example.) Say your character's main goal is to have a sleepover at her house. For whatever reason, this hasn't happened, but now it's on the verge of happening, and she is SO EXCITED! The character's initial goal is to host this sleepover, which is sure to be the best sleepover ever. But then the book's plot gets in the way, everything goes to hell, and the sleepover's off. Her goals shift, but if you can later echo back to that goal, it adds a lot of interest. Maybe later everything is only getting worse, but it just so happens that she's having a sleepover with a friend while they plan to escape this hellish nightmare that they've landed in. And on some level she's actually still a little excited about finally getting to have that sleepover. That's payoff.

Not sure why, but I love this photo.
Photo credit to Tim (and Julie) Wilson

The Big Reveal

It's always nifty if you can add a Big Reveal.

Ex. "Luke, I am your father."

Photo credit to Stéfan

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Editing My Painting

So, last week, I posted my Dead Leaves Painting (much more accurately titled Autumnal Leaf In A Forest, but that's just far too long). And then I pretended to pull writing advice out of the painting process b/c this is meant to be a writing blog. Well, this week I'm leaving the writing inferences up to you.

I finished my painting! Now it's titled "Dead Leaves and Live Cats." I didn't want any mistakes about whether or not "dead" also described the cats. Ugh. That sort of painting would NOT make a great wedding present for my doctor friend (or most anyone else).

I figured it might be fun to see the middle stage and the finished (edited) stage side by side. To be perfectly honest, it's fun for ME to see them side by side, so that's what we're gonna do.

Stage I:

Analysis: too flat, too much white space, too unfinished looking. It really just needs a little more work to feel finished. (The poor lightning may confusing things, but anything that's not brown, black, orange, or gray is pure white).

Stage II:

Analysis: Done!

I added some black/gray into the background to make it look like a foggy forest, and it really did give the little wavy tree shapes in the background more depth. And, of course, I added in the two cats.

The doctor who the painting is for really loves her cats. She may or may not have hired a pet therapist to council her and her fiancé's cats into getting along better. Hey, she's a doctor. She can afford it.

All I really needed was a little more atmo and a little more paint to make it look finished. The cats are just pure bonus. There are definitely still things I'm not happy about with the painting, but I now think it's Wedding Gift worthy.

I'm sure there's writing lessons there. I'm just too busy staring contentedly at my painting to pull them out.

And, Camilla, another bonus is that the cats add scale and make it seem much less likely that the rocks/sticks are piles of poo! Although I did love that you were critical of my husband's (helpful) criticism and then go one to tell me about the poo problem. I swear, the people I surround myself with just cannot help but mock me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Painting Dead Leaves

Did you know it's actually rather hard to find a cool picture of a skeletal oak leaf? Specifically one that's decayed away into a skeletal version of itself but still shows the overall shape of the leaf.

Because that's what I intended to paint, but then I couldn't find any really good pictures (I really would have liked one still attached to a branch), so I went with a more autumnal leaf instead: 

I was painting this last night when I should have been writing my post for this morning. Consequently you did not get a post this morning.

(Side note: "consequently" is a rather awesome word, isn't it?)

The purpose of this particular painting is to have a nice, personalized wedding gift for a doctor who can afford to buy anything she really wants. I've been consulting with my husband, and I don't think this painting is really quite to "Wedding Gift" status yet. As my husband says, "Too much white space." I concur.

So now I've got to figure out how to add a lovely background without mucking up the foreground. And, because this is a writing blog, let's pretend like I've actually been talking about writing the whole time:
You can come up with a very pretty picture, but sometimes you need to put in that extra time and effort and comb over your work to improve it in just the right places.

Unfortunately, with a painting, if you screw it up, you can't just press "undo" and start over. Well, you can start over, but it's a rather annoying form of starting over that involves sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper.

Thus concludes my Philosophical Musings On A Dead Leaf. Tune in next week for more random jibber jabber.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Have I mentioned that I finally said to myself "Dammit, I AM going to Italy!"? And then I booked my flight.

I've been getting so freaking excited about it, and this week, just to tantalize myself, I've just decided to post pictures of some of the things I'd like to see:


The Pantheon!
(Photo curtesy of Moyan Brenn)

The Colloseum, of course.
(Photo curtesy of Moyan Brenn)


(Photo Curtesy of Dimit®i)


El Duomo and all.
(Photo Curtesy of Martin Sojka)


(Photo curtesy of Tobi Gaulke)

And, the FOOD:
(Photo from fs999)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stephen King Tells Me How to Write Description

Subtitle: Sometimes the Voices in My Head Are Helpful

Stephen King at a USO event.
(Photo credit to The USO)

This week I did some critiquing for a wonderful fantasy story, and reading her descriptions got me wondering about the Essence of Description.

Doing all this critiquing, writing, and analyzing description may have driven me just a smideony bit crazy. My brain felt like it was going to implode. Or explode. I think it could have gone either way, really.

(Photo credit to Shaheen Lakhan)

I struggle with description. I use too little. In my opinion, this story I was critiquing had a little too much but that might just be my personal preferences at play. It was some really good description, whether it needed to be trimmed down or not.

So while I was racking my brain for some good guidelines on description, I remembered that Stephen King had some advice in his book On Writing. On Writing is one of those books you hear about over and over again if you’re a writer, and for good reason. It’s entertaining. It’s got great advice, and that advice is coming from Stephen freaking King. The man’s sold millions of books. He’s obviously doing something right.

Can you believe these? They're from a 16th century medical text on brain surgery!
(Photo credit to Shaheen Lakhan)

And, so, with my brain on the verge of, uh, self-combustion (let's go with that), it decided to do a little interview with Mr. Stephen King himself. (All quotes are from On Writing. Bibliography below.)

Me: So, what does description mean to you, Mr. Stephen King, writer of great acclaim and yet tangible figment of my imagination?

Description is what makes the reader a sensory participant in the story. Good description is a learned skill, one of the prime reasons why you cannot succeed unless you read a lot and write a lot.

(Photo credit to Skamelone)

Me: Okay, well, that’s good to know, but can I get a little more detail?

Thin description leaves the reader feeling bewildered and nearsighted. Over description buries him or her in details and images. The trick is to find a happy medium.

Me: Yeah, some trick. Wish I knew it. Got anything else, Mr. King?

I’m not particularly keen on writing which exhaustively describes the physical characteristics of the people in the story and what they’re wearing (I find wardrobe inventory particularly irritating; if I want to read descriptions of clothes, I can always get a J. Crew catalogue).

Me: Got it. No J. Crew catalogues. I’m guessing the Gap’s out too. Good. I hate writing description anyway. But what should I include?

I think locale and texture are much more important to the reader’s sense of actually being in the story than any physical description of the players. Nor do I think that physical description should be a shortcut to character. So spare me, if you please, the hero’s sharply intelligent blue eyes and outthrust determined chin.

Me: Sure. Locale and texture. Yeah. That’s not actually all that helpful. I’m not sure you’re understanding the question, Mr. King. What should I include?

… good description usually consists of a few well chosen details that will stand for everything else. In most cases, these details will be the first ones that come to mind.

Me: Cool. That’s a start. Can you give an example?

One of my favorite restaurants in New York is the steakhouse Palm Too on Second Avenue. . . . Before beginning to write, I’ll take a moment to call up an image of the place, drawing from my memory and filling my mind’s eye . . . The first four things which come to my mind when I think of Palm Too are:
(a) the darkness of the bar and the contrasting brightness of the backbar mirror, which catches and reflects light from the street;
(b) the sawdust on the floor;
(c) the funky cartoon caricatures on the walls;
(d) the smells of cooking steak and fish.
The Palm Restaurant, NYC
(Photo credit to Jennifer Martinez)
And a link to Palm Too's site.

Me: Those are some pretty cool details. I think you might have a talent for this, Mr. King. Can you show me how that’d work in a story?

King: Sure. Just let me whip something together as we speak because I am a masterful writer and you are but a mere peon.

Me: What the hell?

King: I didn’t say anything.

Me: Oh, never mind. It must have been the voices in my head. Carry on. You were going to give us an example paragraph.

     The cab pulled up in front of Palm Too at quarter to four on a bright summer afternoon. Billy paid the driver, stepped out onto the sidewalk, and took a quick look around for Martin. Not in sight. Satisfied, Billy went inside.
     After the hot clarity of Second Avenue, Palm Too was as dark as a cave. The backbar mirror picked up some of the street-glare and glimmered in the gloom like a mirage. For a moment it was all Billy could see, and then his eyes began to adjust. There were a few solitary drinkers at the bar. Beyond them, the maître d’, his tie undone and his shirt cuffs rolled back to show his hairy wrists, was talking with the bartender. There was still sawdust sprinkled on the floor, Billy noted, as if this were a twenties speakeasy instead of a millennium eatery where you couldn’t smoke, let alone spit a gob of tobacco between your feet. And the cartoons dancing across the walls—gossip-column caricatures of downtown political hustlers, newsmen who had long since retired or drunk themselves to death, celebrities you couldn’t quite recognize—still gambolled all the way to the ceiling. The air was redolent of steak and fried onions. All of it the same as it ever was.
     The maître d’ stepped forward. “Can I help you, sir? We don’t open for dinner until six, but the bar—”
     “I’m looking for Richie Martin,” Billy said.

Me: Damn, you are good at this. That’s a great description, and it’s woven into the plot seamlessly. You didn’t take a break from your book to describe the bar. You wove it right into the character’s actions. That’s amazing!

King: Yeah. I know.
(Note: I’m pretty sure this was the Mr. King in my head, and not the real, live Stephen King.)

Just because its a little creepy and a little cool.
(Photo credit to Monsieur J.)

Bibliography (b/c that's how I roll)

King, Stephen. On Writing. New York: Scribner, 2000.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Slytherin Scarf Devours Husband

Once upon a Tuesday night
A bleary blogger yawned and said,
"I am too tired to to be witty. I will crochet a second Slytherin scarf instead."

And so her Wednesday blog post withered into a pitiful poem
And a picture of a Slytherin scarf devouring her devious husband
(Don't let the hat hoodwink you. Her husband is deceptive indeed.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour: More Fun Than It Sounds, I Promise

The beautiful and talented Jenny Kaczorowski (I like to suck up to people who are nice to me; she's also the author of fun YA Contemporary The Art of Falling) tagged me for the Writing Process Blog Tour, which sounds rather clinical and not very fun, but I enjoyed reading her post, so it's obviously much more fun than it sounds (as per my title).

This is me.
Once upon a time, I took a whole series of weird photos and am using them for my blog.
They entertain me, and I like to think others mildly enjoy them as well.
Please, don't disillusion me.

1) What am I working on?

I'm writing the first(ish) draft of a YA sci-fi that I am desperately trying to pull back from the Dystopian pitfall (b/c I love Dystopian and there's something very fascinating about a society on the verge of collapse, but as Authoress pointed out, they're a hard sell in publishing these days. So I figure anything I can do to make my novel a little different will help it in the long run.)

(Photo credit to Don)

It's setting is a sort of sci-fi Narnia with robotic talking animals and mutant type forest dwellers. Although right now most of the action takes place in the military run city (which is modeled on the Dredd-esque mega cities).

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

(Photo credit to Andreas Levers)

Ugh. I hate comparing my work to others. Plus, it's really hard because you always have some commonalities (you know, like things that make you part of a genre) but somewhere deep down you want to think of your own work as uniquely yours.

This is also the hardest part of a query letter for me. I write desperate emails to my CP's asking what on earth they think I can compare my work to (without sounding like a pretentious little twerp.)

I like to think my works are different because I consciously use a variety of influences, include diversity, and avoid stereotypes (at least those are my goals).

(Photo credit to Antonio Cinotti)

Some of my influences include older sci-fi books. For example, in a MG book I wrote, one character's powers were based on the Reverend Mothers of Dune.

And did you know that people make "movies" that record the entire storyline of video games? Here's Bioshock Infinite - if you wanna spend 3.5 hrs. I was watching some of these before starting work on my latest book.

I try to keep my influences varied to make something that's just a little bit different.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write YA (and MG) partially because it's what I love to read. And, like Jenny said, the teenage years (and childhood years) play a huge role in determining the adult you will become. You make a lot of choices and learn a lot in those years, and because of that, characters of the YA/MG age are just fascinating to write about.

(Photo credit to cishore)

Honestly, typical adults are boring. Kids are the ones with the active imaginations who believe that anything is possible.

And I write fantasy/sci-fi because in those worlds, anything truly is possible. If I can imagine it, I can write it.

4) How does my writing process work?

Lately it's been a pain in the butt!

For some reason, with brain storming, I like the act of physically writing stuff down. My house has pieces of paper filled with my writing scattered throughout it (I'm not the neatest person). I write down ideas I have about the characters and the world and the plot.

Once I've gotten enough ideas gathered together, I start outlining something. My outlining skills aren't the greatest because for the last two books, I wrote a half a first draft (say 30,000 words). At that point, I thought to myself, "This is kinda boring. I'm not doing my ideas any justice." Then I abandoned the project. A few months later, with the idea still nagging at my brain, I wrote a new (and much better) outline and then I started writing the book again from scratch.

This is not a very efficient way of writing, but it does help pare things down to essential plot.

The Tagging Part

Now I'm supposed to tag other writers to take part in this blog tour, but I'm limited in writerly friends, and the ones I have are rather busy, so I make no promises. But here are thevery enjoyable blogs of two of these writerly types:

Jillian Karger - Her Blog is titled "Velocirapter Hands" which is pretty darn cool. And perhaps a little frightening if you're XKCD. (He actually has a large number of Velociraptor-fearing comics, but I linked to a nice, simple starter point). And now for her bio:

Jillian Karger majored in English and minored in Dramatic Literature: a silly and wonderful mishmash of acting, film, and theater history. She once wrote a persuasive essay about the fact (yes, fact) that Fight Club is the best movie in all existence. Jillian has been writing novels since she was fourteen and is sure she'll keep doing it whether someone pays her for them or not. But the money part would be nice.

This is Abe Lincoln on a Velociraptor!
(Photo credit to Andrew Becraft)

Miriam Joy - a multi-talented British writer, who also happens to actually fit into the YA demographic due to age (not that this has stopped any of the rest of us from reading YA)

She's actually from London, where I would like to visit one day.
(Photo credit to Doug Wheller)