When you first started writing, what form did you use–short stories, poetry, memoir, or a novel?
In middle school, I chose short stories and I still like to write them. Next I wrote a few novels, and then poetry. In the afternoon writing class I teach, we are writing a Haiku twice a month based on a photo members take turns bringing to class.
My preferences for short stories and poetry affect my novel writing. The shorter forms make it necessary to be aware of exactly the right words to use and to eliminate too much detail. I’ve discovered that when building character in a novel, choosing the right words is more complicated. One has to think about interspersing physical description, feelings, thoughts, and how to show a deeper, rather than a superficial character.
In my novel, Norman in the Painting, I think I’ve created minor characters that have more personality than the protagonist. I’ve written a post-a-note to remind myself to deepen Jill. She’s the center of the action, readers learn about her values by her dialogue and by the decisions she makes. However I sense she’s hiding something or resisting a close relationship with the reader. I’ll have to figure out why.
What is your favorite form to write?
A Good Day’s Work — Grandma Moses
I look back on my life like a good day’s work, it was done and I feel satisfied with it. I was happy and contented, I knew nothing better and made the best out of what life offered. And life is what we make it, always has been, always will be.
Thanks to Ann Winfred for posting this quote on her blog: http://comingofagecroneicles.com/voices/
And for giving me permission to post it too.
A reader, editor, or agent often gives a first page three or four seconds before closing the book or tossing the submitted page onto the notorious slush pile. What do we have to squeeze into those few seconds?
- We have to grab the reader’s interest immediately, usually with writing something active not passive.
- Ground the reader in the setting, i.e. when and where the story is taking place preferably with specific sensory details. Brief and succinct, not too many details regardless how well-written–remember we only have a few seconds and we have to cover more than setting.
- An interesting character who makes the reader care about him or her is necessary. Show the character’s public and personal persona. Let the reader learn about him/her by the character’s actions, thoughts, or feelings.
- Show the promise of the story. Is there a puzzle or mystery to solve? Is there a love interest that is blocked? What does the character want? What is preventing him or her from getting it?
- No backstory on the first page until much later. Donald Maass, in Writing the Breakout Novel, suggests saving a flashback or important snippet of backstory until after page 100.
The first couple pages and the ending will make or break your chances for acceptance by an editor or agent. Feedback from a critique group or fellow writer can clarify what’s working and what isn’t.
The following link has several first lines of published fiction. How many make you want to read the book?
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
I know Eisenhower was referring to preparing for battle, but to me, it works for writing as well.
For plotters his quote could be interpreted as the plot that was planned might be useless, i.,e. doesn’t work, but the planning was important to know what will work and what won’t. Planning can be similar to a trial run that opens up new ideas leading to an outstanding piece of work.
For pantzers, we writers who don’t plot but sit down and write what comes to us, in other words, we write by the seat of our pants, I have found Eisenhower’s quote works for me as well. Writing out a plot is useless, discouraging, and leaves me with a feeling the story is already written so I give up and go on to some other story idea. However, in my recent WIP, Norman in the Painting, I sit down and write, but I’ve planned a brief idea of what the action will be in that chapter. No outline, no note cards, nothing in writing, just a brief sentence in mind such as Arctarius tells Jill how Norman travels from his world to hers. I had to research multidimensions, parallel universes, and other details in order to have the correct terminology for Arctarius but after that, the chapter was up to him. I maintained the ability for surprises to occur, and they did, he didn’t let me down.
What is your process?
Neal Sofman of Bookshop West Portal sets up tables at the SFWC to sell books written by the presenters, attendees, and volunteers. This table is one of three at the Mark Hopkins Hotel where the conference is held every year.
https://www.bookshopwestportal.com Photo credit for Coach Teresa LeYung-Ryan http://writingcoachTeresa.com
Teresa LeYung-Ryan’s book Love Made of Heart is on the right at the top with the girl whose eyes are closed.
My anthology, Written Across the Genres is on the left,
Below my book are DVDs by Maryjean Ballner who wrote Cat Massage: A Whiskers-To-Tail Guide to Your Cat’s Ultimate Petting Experience and Dog Massage, both books were published by St. Martin’s Press. She has been on the David Letterman Show and “Live With Regis and Kelly.” She presents workshops in Japan and the U.S. http://www.catmassage.com
I’m forever grateful to Maryjean for introducing me to the SF Writers Conference in 2006.
My previous post told about the three panelists at one of the San Francisco Writers Conference sessions I attended this year.The authors spoke about “Heroes & Villains: Building Compelling Characters for Crime Fiction.” The following are some notes I wrote from what each of them and the moderator, Kate Chynoweth, said.
Penny Warner said she gives the protagonist and antagonist equal weight and shows their strengths and weaknesses. She gives both an obstacle they have to overcome.
Laurie King is not an outliner. She writes a 300 page rough draft to find her way through the story and then revises.
Cara Black uses a particular section in Paris where the murder happens in the beginning, writes why the protagonist, Amy Leduc, would be in that area, and how Amy overcomes the unusual obstacles. Each book takes place in a different arrondissement (administrative district) in Paris and that setting becomes a character as well as the people. Cara also said that the villain is right in his/her own mind and then he/she has to continue with his belief to cover up what was done. Often the villain is smarter than the protagonist.
Kate Chynoweth pointed out that the villain can’t be completely villainous. Show something good about them or a fear they have. “Even a villain can be afraid of spiders.” For example: Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs liked classical music, particularly Goldberg Variations by Johann Sebastian Bach.
During Q & A, the authors were asked what time frames they have to write their next book. Penny Warner writes one every six months. Cara Black writes one a year. Laurie King says a goal of an average of 3000 words a day could lead to a rough draft of a novel a month. It takes her 3-4 months to write the draft and then 5 months to revise.
I have to admit it has taken me 6 years to revise my fourth novel, Hada’s Fog. It’s still not polished the way I want it to be. Granted, I’ve been working only part time on it, but I had to put Hada aside for a while in order to write something fresh. I’m determined to finish Norman in The Painting in a year. I have these authors for inspiration.
How long has it taken you to write a book?
One of the sessions I attended at the San Francisco Writers Conference was called “Heroes & Villains: Building Compelling Characters for Crime Fiction.” Kate Chynoweth, who is the head of the self-publishing division at Girl Friday Productions where she is executive editor, was the moderator for the panel. Three well-known authors on the panel included Cara Black, Laurie King, and Penny Warner.
Cara Black is the New York Times Bestselling Author of the Aimee Leduc Mystery Thriller Series of 14 novels set in Paris, France. She frequently travels to Paris for research. ” On each visit she entrenches herself in a different part of the city, learning its secret history. She has posed as a journalist to sneak into closed areas, trained at a firing range with real Paris flics, gotten locked in a bathroom at the Victor Hugo museum, and—just like Aimée—gone down into the sewers with the rats (she can never pass up an opportunity to see something new, even when the timing isn’t ideal…” information from her website: http://carablack.com/bio/ Her newest book is called Murder on the Champ de Mars available March 3, 2015 on Amazon.
Laurie R. King is the New York Times bestselling author of 22 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories (see my post on February 15, 2015 for more information or her website: http://www.laurierking.com/the-author
Dreaming Spies is the title of her most recent book released February 17, 2015, available on Amazon.
Penny Warner is a prolific writer of 60 published books for both adults and children. Her recent book is Her awards include
Dead Body Language
- Winner! – Macavity Award for Best First Mystery
- Nominated! – Agatha Award for Best First Mystery
Mystery of the Haunted Caves
- Winner! – Agatha Award for Best Juvenile Mystery
- Winner! – Anthony Award for Best Juvenile Mystery
The Official Nancy Drew Handbook
- Nominated! – Agatha Award for Best Non-Fiction
Her recent books are called The Death of a Crabby Cook: A Food Festival Mystery and Death of a Chocolate Cheater: A Food Festival Mystery. Her website is: http://pennywarner.com/aboutme.html
Penny Warner is a columnist for VALLEY TIMES AND HERALD, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS. Her recent post about missing Valentines Day with her husband because she was at the SF Writers Conference is an example of her humor. It’s called “GRAB A BOX OF CHOCOLATES AND GET INSPIRED” Thursday, February 19, 2015.
My next post will be a writing tip from each of the panelists that I wrote in my notes.