Tuesday, September 28, 2010
What Makes Middle Grade?
Friday, September 24, 2010
Writing Like an Actor
I once saw an interview with Ian Holm (think Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring) where he described this approach to his film roles: for each take of a scene, he would adopt a fresh angle.
The lines were the same.
The setting was the same.
But he always tweaked his delivery, just to see how it could be different. The end result was that he thoroughly explored his character and gave the director a whole slew of different options for the final film.
Are you stuck on a scene? Do your characters feel wooden? Or maybe something’s just not right, but you can’t put your finger on it.
Try writing from a fresh angle. Play around with your characters. Give them a stance, a voice, or a motivation you haven’t seen before. Make adjustments to the setting. What would change if the scene took place in the middle of the night? During a busy workday? First thing in the morning?
Or pick a side character – maybe someone who merely passes through a scene – and explore her backstory. Tweak her delivery, just to see how it could be different. You may be surprised by the end result.
Some writing friends I know have done this as a group. Everyone hands off a chunk of a current work in progress to someone else in the group. Then they each write the next scene of their partner’s work. It’s a challenging exercise for a writer.
On the one hand, you must try to enter into another author’s world and continue the story. Writing in an unfamiliar voice, exploring a different genre, tackling the type of writing you might never do on your own – all of this is great practice.
And, on the receiving end, you get fresh insight into your own work. Perhaps your partner will take the story in an unpredictable and interesting direction. Perhaps these new ideas will reveal the weak spots in your plot or setting. If nothing else, the combined effort should get your creative juices flowing.
As writers, we can often be so motivated to print off that fat draft of our manuscript that we focus primarily on productivity. Of course, this is important, or we’d be stuck in endless cycles of revisions.
But sometimes it’s worth it to playfully rewrite our work in progress, even if it doesn’t seem very productive at the time. What are some things you do to bring new energy to a project? What has (or hasn't!) worked for you?
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Every picture sells a story
Thursday, September 16, 2010
Star Wars Lesson - Adding Humor When Writing Life or Death Stories
I’m a huge movie fan, and movies both influence and inspire my writing. Since I’m writing adventure stories where bad things happen, people and animals get hurt, and not everyone may make it out alive, I needed to find a way to keep readers from getting so depressed, they put the book down. I don’t like depressing books myself, and I’m sure most middle grade readers don’t either.
One of my main inspirations for WILDFIRE RUN are the original three Star Wars movies. I've watched them many times (what can I say, I’ve always been a geek), and I’ve tried to figure out all the reasons they worked so well. To me, one of the reasons comes from the bits of humor thrown in. The movies are just basically fun to watch. I saw another sci fi movie recently, called SERENITY, and while interesting, it was almost unrelentingly grim. I enjoyed, but I’m not going to watch it again.
The humor in STAR WARS comes partly from the secondary characters and partly from the dialogue of some of the main characters. The droid, C3PO, with his absurd British butler aspects instantly adds fun, but since it’s difficult to work an over-the-top sidekick character into most stories, I looked at other aspects.
One of those is not making the characters perfect heroes. I’ve heard the original draft of the Star Wars screenplay had the Han Solo character as a very serious, humorless man. I can’t even imagine that. Here’s just one example of how a touch of light-heartedness makes a scene memorable, and gets the viewer to root for the characters.
The scene is where Luke and Han Solo are trying to rescue Princess Leia on the Death Star. They’re in the control room. Han’s confusion over what to do adds some humor as he talks on the intercom trying to pretend he is an officer.
HAN(sounding official): Everything is under control. Situation normal.
INTERCOM VOICE: What happened?
HAN (getting nervous):Uh... had a slight weapons malfunction. But, uh, everything's perfectly all right now. We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?
INTERCOM VOICE: We're sending a squad up.
HAN: Uh, uh, negative. We had a reactor leak here now. Give us a few minutes to lock it down. Large leak... very dangerous.
INTERCOM VOICE: Who is this? What's your operating number?
Han blasts the comlink and it explodes.
That scene could have been written to showcase the heroes, with Han been in complete control and able to sound like a perfect military man. It is a life or death situation, so it would make sense to write it that way, but if it had been, it probably wouldn’t be something that remained in anyone’s memory. The little addition of, “We're fine. We're all fine here, now, thank you. How are you?” is funny and makes the scene.
So adding in bits of lighter dialogue will keep a story something a reader may want to go back to or recommend to their friends. Adding in too much will dilute the tension and make the characters too unbelievable, but a little goes a long way. In WILDFIRE RUN I tried to incorporate some humor in a serious adventure. For example, there’s one scene where Luke, the President’s son, is trying to figure out how to capture a snake that’s blocking a door they need to open. He’s got a LEGO MIndstorms robot he’s planning to use. Callie, his always practical friend, is fed up with some of his crazier ideas. So instead of them just having a serious discussion of whether or not the plan will work, here’s how the dialogue goes:
Luke put the robot down about five feet from the snake. “Everyone back up in case the snake gets mad.”
“You can bet he’s going to get mad. If you had a plastic pincher toy making beeping noises and coming at you, you’d be mad too,” Callie said.
It’s just a very small addition to the story, but to me it lightens it up enough to keep the scene fun.
In honor of Star Wars, I’m giving away a choice of either the Yoda at the top of the post, or this odd R2D2 pepper grinder. You know you’ve always wanted one of these. All you have to do is leave a comment by September 21st. I’d love to hear about movies you all enjoy.
And because I love my book trailer, my own version of a mini-movie, I’m including it again.
Who Won the Signed Copy of Ivy's Ever After?? Drum roll, please!
|Korgott gets to take me home!!! Hooray!! ;)|
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Finding Your Niche
I used to read a book and love it so much, I would think, “that’s how I want to write. I want to write a heartbreaking tale that sucks readers in too.” I never wrote more than a few pages. The same thing happened when I tried to write a mystery, and so on. There were so many fabulous books out there and I wanted more than anything to write a fabulous book too.
|I happily found (and embraced) my |
niche & it will be released on 01-11-11.
More importantly, why was I fighting it?
I was pushing back the real voice that wanted to come out the entire time. And the voice was always younger than actual age I gave the character. It was as if I had my mind made up on who the character would be, not who the character should be. I did this many times, hardly noticing. Little by little, I let that side come out. Was it really funny or was it trying to destroy my good ideas? Was this the reason agents were signing me?
Then last year I had a great idea for story. I was more than excited about the concept. I was ecstatic! I had never in my life been so thrilled and I immediately began writing (by hand) and drawing little cartoons to go with it. Sure, I liked to draw when I was kid, but that was the extent of it. I finished the book in two weeks. I laughed the entire time writing it. It was so funny, to me anyways. But I couldn’t help wondering in the back of my mind, is it really funny or am I the only one who thinks so?
I immediately nabbed an agent with the first query, Rosemary Stimola, and about two months later Random House bought the book. And the best part, I’m an illustrator now too! I would’ve never in a million years have thought that door would’ve open for me as well. But here’s the thing. I love writing humor, I embrace it now. That’s what I do. But I love drawing illus with it. It makes the story much funnier. I’m working on a new project that has illus and it really adds to the humor. I found myself going backwards and saying, “but what if I can’t really write? What if I can only do MG books with text AND illus?”
Um, was J.K. Rowling complaining that she only wrote Harry Potter? Or Jeff Kinney complaining that he only Diary of Wimpy Kid, which BTW is only text and illus too?
It’s great to eventually branch out, push your boundries, and even writiing across genres at some point. But starting out, it’s best to find your footing, discover who you are and what your writing is. Find your niche and perfect it. Make it distinct and suitable to you. Whether it’s cutting-edge, warm and friendly, feminine, authoritive, or high-energy, find the best way to describe your writing style and own it.
To get info on more on Rose's upcoming books and to view her art and illustrations, visit her website at http://www.rose-cooper.com/.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
Talking the Good Talk—My Tips on Dialogue
I learn best through observation and examples, so I made a point of reading lots in the realm of middle-grade (which you should be doing anyway, duh). When I came across a book with particularly great dialogue, I’d read those sections over again. I’d try to pinpoint what about these characters’ voices made them so enticing, and how I could apply these methods to my own writing. I checked audio books out of the library and listened to them while I commuted to work, made long drives to visit friends out of town, and did boring stuff around the house like scrubbing the kitchen floor. There was something about hearing dialogue performed out loud that really helped the nuances sink in. (This is one of the reasons, by the way, that I always read everything I’ve written out loud. But I think it’s especially important for dialogue. You’ll be able to hear if it sounds unnatural or just doesn’t flow.)
During this time, someone at a writing conference passed along her favorite tip for dialogue. You should, she told me, be able to take any line of dialogue out of context and be able to tell which character said it—their speech styles should be that distinctive. This was great advice, but not advice I agreed with in its entirety. I mean, come on, if your character says something like, “No,” or “I’d like a glass of water,” do you really need to go out of your way to make that super-duper distinctive (“Nay, forsooth, my friends,” “Gimme a glass of water or I’ll smash your face, punk.”)? I think if you get carried away with this, your dialogue can start sounding over-the-top, and you’ll just end up annoying your readers. But, in general, this has been a useful tip for me. I certainly think you should be able to identify large chucks of dialogue or any especially significant dialogue using this method.
Most helpfully, I made a list of my major characters and what I thought their speech style should be like given their background and personality. Did they talk fast or slow? Were the thoughts expressed in a scattered or orderly fashion? Did they use a lot of expressions and if so, what kind? Did they have a speech impediment? Stutter or slur their words?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Ivy’s Ever After, it’s a fractured fairy tale about a princess and a dragon who team up against a (not-so-nice) handsome prince. (You can read Chapter 1 at my website, http://www.ivyseverafter.com/.) Here’s how I tried to distinguish the speech styles of several characters:
- Ivy, my princess, is far from a proper lady. She’s sassy, opinionated, bold—and her dialogue shows it. She doesn’t stand on formality, so she often uses colloquialisms or speaks in sentence fragments. She doesn’t hide emotion, as a proper princess would—when she gets angry or excited, the exclamation points start coming out! Sometimes she interrupts other characters if she doesn’t like what they have to say. (Oh, how I love this feisty princess—but no one said she had the best manners in the world.)
- Elridge, my dragon, is not your typical dragon. He’s timid rather than ferocious. He stutters when he gets nervous. He uses the expression, “Dear me,” a lot, often uttered at faint-hearted moments, sort of the way Piglet was always muttering, “Oh d-d-dear,” in those Winnie the Pooh cartoons I loved when I was a kid.
- Ivy’s father, the king, speaks formally, as you would expect of a royal monarch. He tends to use complete sentences and proper sentence structure, and his vocabulary is a little more sophisticated than that of the other characters.
- Ivy’s fairy godmother, Drusilla, is overly excitable. She tends to get caught up in a single train of thought and ramble on and on. . . . Can you say run-on sentence?
- The trolls in Ivy’s world live in large underground caverns. I wanted them to sound different than their human counterparts—they live a very different subterranean existence, after all—so I peppered their dialogue with a lot of rock- and cave-related insults and expressions: “Boulder-brain!” “Dripstone!” “Feldspar fungus!”
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
"Bark," said the dog. Really?
Friday, September 3, 2010
When Good Books Go Very, VERY BAD!
|I think I worked for her at some point...|
I'm one of those people who always veers toward the scoundrels of my favorite stories, finding something redeeming about them OR something so deliciously horrible, I'm driven to cheer them on.
As a writer, villains are one of my favorite characters to create and when my editor told me I had a knack for the bad guys, I got goose bumps for weeks! Is there something wrong with me? Probably, but that's another post and lots of dollars towards therapy! In Nightshade City, Billycan is the wicked of wickedest rats, maybe that's why he's my favorite character to write about. He's cunning and duplicitous and looks as rotten on the outside, as he is on the inside! Tall and bony, with shifting red eyes and a thick black scar running across his muzzle! Oh, and he has a penchant for collecting tongues! Grrr! Okay, sorry, going way overboard--but I LOVE the bad guys! I'm sure many of you have a thing for them too.
|Oh, but he looks so cuddly...|
Here is my top five most villainous of villains in order of villainy!
5. Miss Trunchbull from Matilda
4. Goth from the Silverwing Series
3. Shere Khan from the The Jungle Book
2. The White Witch from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
1. The Grand High Witch from The Witches
|What is in that there pot...errr...ladies?|
Oh, and if we want to talk villains of the newer variety, as in newer books, I simply have to mention The Man Jack from The Graveyard Book, undeniably chilling!
So, who tops your list? Who sends shivers up and down your quivering spine?
By Hilary Wagner
Author of Nightshade City, in stores now & Kings of Trillium (Oct. 2011, Holiday House)