Confidence: where do you get it?

It’s odd yakking about my books, because book 3 hasn’t even come out yet, but right now, I’m busy working on book 5 of my Mill Pond romances.  My brain is full of Miriam and Joel, but no one’s met them, and no one will meet them for a long time.  And when they do?  I’ll be working on something else.  So in my head, I have a whole community of couples who you have and have not met yet.  Yes, I have plans for almost every character I’ve given some pages to in different books.  And I’m fond of every single one of them.  Each one of them intrigued me in one way or another.

When I wrote book four–which won’t be out until spring 2017–I combined a guy, who had enough self-esteem and confidence to flatten any obstacle that got in his way with a girl, who barely believed in herself.  Tyne’s parents loved themselves much more than they ever loved their two sons, so the boys learned to be strong and self-sufficent.  They supported each other.  Daphne was the only child of parents who loved and sheltered her, as long as she met their expectations.  She’s a gentle soul who owns a stained-glass shop. She’s pretty and succeeds at everything she does,   but has no confidence in herself.

I could really relate to Daphne.  My parents didn’t coddle me.  They did love me.  I have two sisters, and we’re still great friends.  I was pretty much a straight A student, but I had no social skills.  None.  And I always felt like the odd man out.  No one’s fault but my own. Kids at school were nice to me.  They invited me to things.  I didn’t have to eat at the no-man’s table in the lunchroom.  The trouble?  Me.  Everyone thought I was decent but me.

I went to college, got braver, met my John, and graduated.  I loved teaching, married my John, taught six more years, then had my daughter.  Two plus years later, I had my second daughter, and life was good.  I’d grown into myself.  My husband, bless him, believes I can do anything.  His confidence in me gave me confidence.  But guess what?  Our older daughter had lower self-esteem than Eeyore.  And both of our girls had it all.  Gorgeous–yes, I’m prejudiced, but most people agree with me.  Smart.  Funny.  And so damned good at so many things.  But daughter #1 didn’t see it.  I read books about building confidence.  Give a child chores, and when she succeeds, praise her.  So we did that, and #1 succeeded, and we gave real praise for jobs well done. (Never fake praise.  She’d spot that in a minute.)  Sign a child up for activities she might be good at.  #1 won ribbon after ribbon on the swim team.  She excelled at gymnastics.  She sucked at ballet, but hey, you can’t do everything.  She scored off the chart on her SAT tests.  None of it mattered.  That’s when it occurred to me that I don’t really know how to build confidence in a person who doesn’t have any.  #1 finally grew into herself, just like I did. But it took a while and some serious jostling before she was strong and tough enough to meet Life head-on.  And that’s how my character, Daphne, in book 4, came to be.  She cowers at life until she meets Tyne, who challenges her every fear–just like my John–who has self-esteem to spare–did to me.

Of course, everything in fiction is dramatized to make a point.  But the basis for the story rang true to me, so I liked the characters even more.  That’s the fun thing about writing romance.  I can take characters that I can really relate to and throw them together for a happy ending.  How great is that?

Happy Writing!  Judy

 

BTW, chapters 6 & 7 are up on website:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Author Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudiLynnwrites/

Twitter:  @judypost

 

 

Time to pee in a cup

I wanted to share this snippet earlier, but when I sat in front of my computer (and yes, this is a brain fart moment), I couldn’t remember which scene I was looking for in OPPOSITES DISTRACT.  (Carl Grody–not a word!)  But tonight, when I was thinking of something else, it came to me.  Brody’s brother, Ian, has been worried about his wife (and Harmony’s best friend) Tessa.  She hasn’t felt up to par for a while.  This scene’s a game changer.  It shifts how everything works, so far, in the story.  The snippet sums it up:

Tessa greeted them.  “Ian’s grilling steaks on the back patio.  Supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

Harmony studied her as she led them into the kitchen.  Her frizzy, copper hair was flat.  A no shower day, for sure.  Her creamy complexion looked pale.  “Are you okay?”

Right then, Ian came in the back door, teeth chattering.  His nose and cheeks glowed like Rudolph’s.  He held a platter with four steaks, tented in foil.

Tessa looked embarrassed.  “I baked with Grandma all morning.  I felt great.  I wanted to make bouillabaisse, but the smells bothered me.  I kept getting nauseous.”

“Oh, shit.”  Brody shook his head.

Ian frowned at him.

“You need to go see a doctor,” Brody said.

“What do you think is wrong with her?”  Ian sounded concerned.

“I don’t think I’m sick,” Tessa said.  “Or contagious.”

“Neither do I.”  Brody went to the refrigerator to fetch two beers.  “I think you’d better start taking prenatal vitamins.”

Ian stared.  So did Tessa and Harmony.

Tessa asked, “What do you mean?”

Brody raised an eyebrow.  “I think you’d better pee in a cup.”

http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/33110

 

 

Things Can Always Get Worse

I like to think of myself as a nice person.  True, I don’t mind killing people in my stories, but most of them deserve to die, and that’s part of tension and conflict, right?  We’ve all heard over and over again that things must always get worse for our poor protagonist.  If his victories come too easily, readers yawn.  Hell, newspapers are filled with dire events.  Fiction has to have more drama than fact, doesn’t it?  At least, we have to feel it more.

But I have to admit, I’m a little surprised at myself.  I’ve been working on the Mill Pond romance series.  The first book, because I wasn’t sure if I could write romance, has a healthy dose of humor.  It made me more comfortable with the boy/girl stuff.  I sort of fell in love with Harmony and Brody in the second romance, and I wanted Brody to be the brooding, not-so-silent type.  He has a way of saying what no girl wants to hear.  You have to remember, I fell madly in love with Natty Bumppo in middle school.   While my friends read romances, I read about pioneers.  These guys were a little overly reticent, way too practical.  They weren’t in touch with their feelings.  They’d rather keep their scalps.  Brody brought back memories of the strong, silent type who managed to say the wrong thing when they did finally open their lips.  A little too outspoken.

In the third romance, I wanted to push the envelope a little and have a heroine who wasn’t the standard pretty girl.  Paula’s a chef with tattoos, a stud, and two kids.  She’s smart, practical, but has terrible taste in men.  I tried to show how hard it is to juggle a career with motherhood and find time to meet Mr. Right.  Of course, with Paula, first, she falls for Mr. Why-in-the-world Would You Go There?  Not only did she need to meet somebody wonderful–which Chase is, she needed a true, honest friend to steer her in the right direction.  And that’s where Tyne came in.  He’s her hot fellow chef who has no problem speaking his mind and still charming you.  In my plot points, Tyne is a minor character, but when I wrote him, he leapt off the page for me.  It was as if he was born whole, like Athena, who stepped out of Zeus’s head in full armor.  I fell instantly in love with Tyne.  So do most women.  He has to fight them off.

So, why, in book four, do I give one of my all-time, favorite characters such a hard time?  That wasn’t my intention.  I started his book all happy and upbeat.  The thing about Tyne, though, is that he feels so REAL to me that when he hits the skids on his way to his big, black moment, I felt it.  And since I suffered for him, unfortunately for him, he felt it even more.  So did my poor husband.  When Tyne was unhappy, that made me unhappy, and you know the saying—happy wife, happy life.  For poor John, when I hit my gloomy chapters, the saying switched to unhappy wife, unhappy life.  That darn Tyne actually affected my moods.  That’s when  John goes to the hardware store:)

I’d like to say that when Daphne became so depressed, she couldn’t eat, the same happened to me.  I might lose weight that way.  But instead, I overcompensated and ate enough for both of us.  Don’t ask.  Anyway, I was a bit taken aback when I beat up one of my favorite characters more than I do most.  But no fear.  I’m writing romance.  A happy-ever-after is soon in the offing…after Tyne and Daphne suffer enough.

webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

twitter:  @judypost

 

The Thing About Urban Fantasy

Okay, I did it!  I promised to post one chapter a week for a short urban fantasy novel until it was finished.  And I made it.  I posted the last chapter on Friday.  Once it was up, I spent the rest of the day, putting all of the images and chapters together into one book, and I’d written over 48,000 words.  Not bad.

River City Rumble is the last story, so far, in a series of novellas that I’ve been writing for a long time.  When I’m wading deep in middle muddles of other books, I turn to Babet and Prosper to re-energize me, to pull me out of the muck.  And they always come through.  That’s why I decided they deserved a novel of their own instead of a week or two of my attention in short spurts.  They’d earned their own novel.

The thing is, urban fantasy writers–at least, the ones I read–tend to use a big cast of characters, and those characters grow in number with each book they write.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I loved writing about all of the people I’d introduced in previous novellas, but it’s hard to keep track of them all in one book.  Before, in shorter works, I picked and chose who I wanted to highlight.  In this book, I decided to go bigger and better.  I wanted someone or something that threatened everyone in River City, so that they’d all have to work together to defeat him/it.  The trick was to try to bring each person in and then not forget him when the next person joined the team.

Hatchet and Colleen had to be part of the struggle.  Hatchet is Prosper’s partner on River City’s supernatural detective force, and Colleen’s his vampire/wife.  If Hatchet’s walking into danger, she’d be beside him.  Babet’s mom and Hennie had to help, too, because they’re all part of River City’s coven.  And since the villain/antagonist who instigates all of the trouble is a vampire who controls a huge seethe, every vampire in River City will band together to battle him.  And those characters are just for starters.  By the end of the book, the voodoo community and the shape shifters all joined in, too.  But you know what they say–the more, the merrier.  So we all just teamed together and did our thing.

The second decision I made while posting my weekly chapters was to include an image with each one of them.  I’ve done that with some of the short stories I post on my webpage (all available in its left column, if you’re interested).  But I don’t do it on any regular basis.  This time, I had to come up with an image every single week.  And to my surprise, I found ones that fit my idea of what suited each scene.  One of my readers–and I so appreciate this–complimented me on them.  That meant so much to me, coming from her.  My biggest challenge, though, came when I started to write the last chapter.

Urban fantasies–at least, my favorites–are a string of small battles that lead to a big, final battle, usually to the death.  That meant I had to wrap up every small subplot before I stepped onto the battlefield.  I’d created an antagonist–and I’m proud of this–whom many people loathed.  She wasn’t the main villain, but more than a few readers said they hoped she got what she deserved before the book ended.  I hope I satisfied them.  Then, I was clear to send almost every supernatural in River City out to meet Zanor.  This couldn’t be just any battle, though.  The good guys couldn’t win too easily.  They had to face near death to overcome their enemies.  And everyone had to have a part.  That’s when things got tricky.  And that’s when I had to bring in more evil reinforcements so that Zanor’s forces gave as good as they got.

My protagonists survived, and so did I.  But I really sweated that chapter.  Fingers crossed that it satisfies.  Now, it’s time for me to move on and concentrate on my fourth Mill Pond romance.  A complete change of style.  And that’s a good thing for me.  I’m a Libra.  It helps keep me balanced.   Hope you find balance in your writing this week!  Hit those keys.

My webpage: http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author’s Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/?ref=bookmarks

Twitter:  @judypost

And FYI:  If you’re a fan of epic fantasy, my friend, M. L. Rigdon’s PROPHECY DENIED is FREE thru March 7: http://www.amazon.com/PROPHECY-DENIED-Seasons-Time-Book-ebook/dp/B004S7EQ92/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1457193638&sr=1-1&keywords=m+l+rigdon

 

 

 

Plot to Story

I blogged about how I rewrite last week and mentioned that I use plot points to keep  myself on track.  A fellow writer asked how I turn an outline into a finished draft.  I might make a muddle of this, and it might take me longer than usual to describe, but here’s what works for me.

1. My books always start with an idea, something that snags my interest and won’t let go.  For the romance I’m working on now, I wanted a protagonist who makes a habit of falling for the wrong guy, the guy who won’t be good for her.  I wanted her to work with a hot guy who doesn’t rev her hormones at all, and they become friends.  And finally, I wanted her to meet Mr. Right, but not realize it because he’s interested in someone else.

2.  Once I have an idea, I populate it with characters who’ll make it work.  Paula is a widow who lost her husband on tour in the military.  She has two kids.  And she’s a chef.  She moved to Mill Pond for a slower pace, but the resort she cooks for has grown so popular, she’s swamped, so Ian hires Tyne–Mr. Hottie, her assistant chef.  Jason delivers supplies from the area’s regions to her kitchen everyday.  And Chase owns the bar on the edge of town.

3.  Now, I can start writing.  First, there’s the hook–the event that shows the protagonist and draws the reader in.  The first chapter always makes me crazy.  It has to introduce the main character and some important minor characters.  It has to tell us the book’s big problem and the internal struggle the protagonist has to solve.  It has to ground the readers in a setting, to let them see the protagonist’s world and how it affects her.  And if there’s a romance, this is a good time to hint at it.  I rewrite first chapters over and over again.  So, in my romance:

Hook: Paula walks her kids to the school bus and waves them off.

Okay, this isn’t plunging the reader into drama, but it shows the reader what’s important to Paula–juggling a career and being there for her kids, even if it leaves her frazzled and alone after her husband’s death.  To bring the scene to life:  What does Paula look like?  How can I show her when I’m in her POV?  How old are her kids?  Use dialogue to “hear” them, to show what their personalities are like.  Why does she walk them to the bus?  What time of year is it?  What does the setting look like?  How does Paula shift from Mommy to chef every day?

Scene 2:  Paula hurries to Ian’s office (the man who owns the resort) to meet her new assistant chef.  Ian let her help choose him.

To bring the scene to life:  What kind of a boss is Ian?  What’s the resort like?  Describe Tyne.  Why did Paula choose him as her assistant?  Does she have any reservations? What’s he like?  Why did he want this job?  How is he qualified for it?  Let me “hear” the three people and see what they’re like.  Let me hear Paula’s thoughts and feel her emotions.

Okay, you get the idea.  A plot point is just that–an event that happens in the story. When I sit down to write, I have to bring that scene to life.  I usually write the first three chapters in my book before I try to work on any more plot points.  Why?  I need to hear my characters and see how they react to things before they become real to me.  I still don’t know them that well, but I have a feeling for them.  Then I work on character wheels to round out their personalities and histories, their strengths and weaknesses.  Characters need to be consistent.  That’s how we decide how they’ll react to things.  And finally, I start filling in the signposts (plot points) along the way from the beginning of the book to the end.  I always know my book’s ending, or how else can I aim for it?

So,  I know the book’s beginning:  the hook, the big problem, the internal problem, and the inciting incident.  I know the setting.  In the first fourth of the book, the protagonist reacts to the changes around her.  She tries to find her balance and make everything work. I usually introduce at least two subplots that mirror the protagonist’s struggles.  By the end of the first fourth, she comes up with an idea to meet her goal.  That’s a turning point, and that’s the plot point I aim for at the end of the first quarter of my story.  The thing to remember is that the character doesn’t just react to what’s happening to her.  She struggles to survive it, to move forward, and to reach her goal.  Plot points aren’t about what people do TO your protagonist.  They’re about what the protagonist does to reach her goal.  It won’t turn out the way she wants it to until the end of the book, but she doesn’t stop trying, (if you’re writing a happy ending).  At the end of the book, she saves herself. The hero/love interest might stand beside her, but she flexes her new muscles and fights her own battles.

 

This blog is getting long, so I’ll write more about plotting and bringing your plot to life next week.  If you have any specific questions, let me know in the comments.  And if you have something that works for you, please share.  More later…

Writing: My Experiment

I’ve put up 12 free chapters on my webpage for Babet & Prosper’s short novel RIVER CITY RUMBLE.  I have at least nine more chapters plotted.  It might go longer.  And I have to say, this has been an interesting experiment.  What have I learned?

  1.  As far as marketing, I’ve read on other blogs that offering free stories on your webpage helps increase sales.  I thought that if readers liked the chapters and free Babet and Prosper stories in the side column, they might spring for some of the bundles on Amazon.  I’ve gotten the occasional hit, but I’ve had better luck paying for advertising than offering free stories on my webpage.  I’ve had a lot more visitors, but that hasn’t translated into sales.  For now, I’m just happy I have more visitors and reach more people, so I’m okay with that.  But as a marketing tool, advertising seems to work better.
  2. As for writing, telling a story as a weekly serial has made me really concentrate on what I put in each chapter.
    1.  Have I kept the characters interesting and alive in the reader’s mind?  It’s been a week since they’ve thought about them.  Do they remember Viviane, Jacinta, or Hennie?  Have I made them distinctive enough?  How do I jump start their personalities again?
    2. Something significant has to happen in every chapter.  There are no “down” chapters that link from one event to the next.  Whatever happens has to be important enough to hold the reader for another week.
    3. Is there enough variety?  Yes, a chapter has to be significant, but I can’t write a battle for each of them.  Yet I want an event that’s significant, that makes the reader feel satisfied that it’s going to impact the final outcome.
    4. Have I offered the reader a variety of emotions?  Have I made the characters complex enough that they care about them?  Worry when they’re in trouble?  Be surprised about how they react?  Have I offered some laughter or amusement to buffer the tense moments?  Some warm or poignant moments to touch the heart?
    5. I try to permeate the feel of River City into the story.  I hope to show the bond between the protagonists who live there, so that each character is part of the whole.  The series is long enough, the cast of characters has grown, and it’s hard to give them each a part and let him/her shine.
    6. Am I cranking up the conflict and tension, so that things just keep getting worse, so that the final showdown will be big and bad enough to satisfy the reader?  Zanor won’t go down easily.  Defeating him has to test the protagonists past anything they’ve done before.

I’ve written other serial stories, but they’ve been short–four or five chapters, and I like them because they challenge me.  This is the first time I’ve tried a serial novel, something longer with more characters and events.  And it’s challenged me, too.  But I’m enjoying it.  Whatever you’re working on, I hope it stretches your writing muscles AND brings you joy.  Happy Writing!

 

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy/

Rewrites as you go: wrong? Not for me!

I just finished rewrites on the first fourth of my WIP. I’ve heard all of the advice: “Don’t edit as you go.” “Let the words and ideas flow.” “Write while you’re drunk; edit while you’re sober.” Those don’t work for me. They don’t work for Les Edgerton either, and here’s why: http://danaking.blogspot.com/2013/12/twenty-questions-with-les-edgerton.html Les’s writing blog, in general, is worth checking out. It’s chockfull of good advice: http://lesedgertononwriting.blogspot.com/

Now, I have a few writer friends who HAVE to take this advice, because they border on the perfectionist side. They could spend YEARS rewriting the beginnings of their books. I’m talking about you, Kathy Palm, among others. (Kathy has a great writers’ blog, too, that I highly recommend: https://findingfaeries.wordpress.com/. And yes, she does believe in magic, but she’s also a fan of horror. One of her short stories is in the upcoming anthology Halloween Night: Trick or Treat–https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25673465-halloween-night). If you’re like Kathy, you have to MAKE yourself let go of your writing, or you could spend a lifetime perfecting one book. (Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).

I’m not a perfectionist. I have no such patience. AND, I strongly believe in rewrites when your story feels “off.” I’ve mentioned that I start each writing day reworking the pages I wrote the day before. One, that gets me back into the story. Two, after sleeping on my words, they don’t look as brilliant. I can add, tweak, clarify. I’m not sure I’d take the time to look at those pages so closely when I work through the entire manuscript. (I did say I’m not patient. Now maybe you’ll believe me).

The thing is, when your story’s “off,” you know it. You know something’s not working. Your gut sends a memo to your brain, and even if you try to ignore it, you can’t. You’d think that me–a plotter–could avoid this problem. Yes, I know my characters. Yes, I know nearly every single plot point. Does that guarantee I’ll get it right? Hell, no. It just means the basics will work–period. I plugged through 78 pages on my new novel, and I knew everything was in place, but did it work? Not for me. Something was missing.

Guess what? It’s hard to plot for emotional impact, for depth, for internal turmoil. Those come from your characters, not your brilliant planning. And those are the REAL things that drive a story. Plotting just keeps you on track. Your characters have to bring every single one of those plot points to life–and that means, your characters have to live and breathe and worry and cuss and drink a beer and eat a slice of torte when they want to lose weight, then be angry at themselves for succumbing to empty calories. Plotting won’t bring your characters to life. Only you, the writer, can make them real. But plotting can make them move from point A to point Z with few or no pages you have to pitch. It makes sure they start their journey from New York and end up in Indiana, where they belong. (Indiana’s my home state, and it gets bashed enough, so I’m defending it).

When I read through my first 78 pages, I realized I was hitting every plot point, but I hadn’t included enough of the characters’ motivations, hang-ups, and feelings. I knew how Paula (the protagonist) would react to what was going on around her. But she wasn’t hitting the right emotional notes. And that’s important. Emotional notes are what bring the character to life, what steers them through the story. I’ll follow a character I love through a mediocre novel, but I won’t follow a character I don’t care about through a brilliant novel. Something to consider. I can go back in my next set of rewrites to fill in more depth, more details IF I get the motivations right the first time around, but if they’re off? I’m in trouble, and my gut knows it. If I force it and keep writing ahead, I’d be going in the wrong direction. My scenes would focus on the wrong things. Now that I’ve identified the problem, I can forge ahead, knowing I’m on the right path.

Here’s one more good writers’ link for you to consider: https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/. Readers view the world you’ve created through your characters’ eyes, mostly your protagonist’s. We often react the way the protagonist reacts. If the protagonist isn’t worried, happy..something, neither are we. We read to FEEL, to live through someone else for a brief period of time. Make your characters stir us.

P.S. I put a snippet from Voodoo and Panthers on my webpage, if you’re interested:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

My author facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/JudithPostsurbanfantasy

Follow me on twitter: @judypost

Rewrites–Oh, the joy!

I’ve stepped away from my novel long enough to be able to look at my critique partners’ comments and plunge into rewrites. I’m no longer as fond of my words, my chapters, my “babies.” I’m ready to dig in and make my manuscript better.

When I’m in writing mode, I have to be passionate about my characters and story. I “hear” them and I’m excited about what they’re doing and why. Sometimes, they endear themselves to me a little too much. When I go back to edit, they weren’t always as witty as I thought they were, and the time they spent bonding together in the car gets a little long and dreary. If I were a reader, I’d be saying “When will we get there?” If a scene doesn’t have enough tension, if it doesn’t move the plot forward enough, I need to be objective and cut it. More especially for me–since I tend to write lean–I need to fill in more internal dialogue and description so that the reader can hear the same character inner thoughts that I’ve been listening to since I started the book. I try to remind myself, during edits, that readers turn pages because of tension and emotional impact. Plot’s great. It drives the story, but it’s not enough. Have I delivered? Did I make my characters believable and real? Would a reader care about them enough to follow them through a second book, if I’m writing a series? Will the readers miss them when the story’s over?

A fellow blogger whom I read has developed a novel approach to editing. The linear, from start to finish approach, isn’t enough for her anymore. She has some great tips on editing, ways to make the middle of your story stronger. https://suebahr.wordpress.com/2015/07/13/a-rebel-with-a-cause/. Rewrites, for me, are about honing a novel until I’ve made it as good as I know how to. It’s when I look at the foundation of the story, as well as the fine points.

Did I start with a great hook? It can be in your face or subtle, as long as it grabs you.
Did I deliver the set-up soon enough? Anymore, lots of books state the protagonist’s big problem in the first paragraph or by the end of the first page. It tells me what this book is about.
Did I create the perfect setting? Will it flavor every nuance of the story?
Did I create protagonists the reader will care about? Are the stakes high enough? Does my main character have to struggle and change to achieve his goal?
Did I people the story with minor characters who have goals/problems of their own? Are they distinct? Memorable? (I read a post on Writeonsisters.com that gave great advice on creating characters. I like it for more than just POV: http://writeonsisters.com/writing-craft/5-tests-for-writing-multiple-povs/)
Did I add enough sub-plots to keep the story afloat? For a novel, I like to have at least two sub-plots, more if the book’s really long.
Did I add enough tension in EVERY scene to keep the pacing tight?
Were the plot points strong enough to keep the story afloat? Did I have an inciting incident, then two twists, and finally a final showdown and wrapup?

I’ve talked about all of these things on this blog before, but I’m in rewrite mode. All of the above is floating around in my head. And those are just the foundation pilings. Grammar, language, and imagery all come into play, too. That’s why rewrites take time. And that’s why they’re so wonderful. Rewrites help you tweak your tale from the basics to the “much, much better” and, if you’re lucky and persistent, topnotch.

(I’m still playing with my writing experiment on my webpage, and I’m still having fun with it:
http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/)

Writing: the elusive tease

I just finished reading The Awakening: Book One of the Judas Curse, by Angella Graff. The book mixes Mark and Judas from the Bible with Greek gods–an intriguing idea, at least to someone like me, who loves myths and legends. Graff went one step further and wrote Ben, a protagonist, as a detective who rejected all things religious and faith-based. His sister Abby, however, chased down miracles and stigmata. Their opposing approaches proved interesting until they felt contrived. The brother and sister rarely discussed their views or the WHY of how they chose them. They just fought about them, over and over again. The repetition felt stuck in for the plot, but didn’t contribute to character development. A missed opportunity. Yet this book had some original, offbeat slants that I enjoyed.

My main problem with the book was that the author kept teasing us with information that she’d almost tell us, but then withhold. She wanted us to hang in there to find the answers. That only works for me for so long, and then I get frustrated, and then I don’t care. My opinion? This technique doesn’t work. My big complaint, though, is that she NEVER told us why Mark and Judas were cursed and who cursed them. I’d have been able to identify with the characters’ struggles a lot more if I understood their history and burdens more. I’m not even sure what the curses actually were. Graff hints that Judas’s curse is that he can heal. Okay, I can buy into that maybe. Not totally. People would mob him and some would want to use him, but Mark’s curse was even more vague to me. Mark kept saying that he brought death and wars, but I never really understood why. The hints just didn’t cut it. Graff introduced enough interesting, odd events for me to hang in there to the end of the book, but the withholding of information began to feel like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. And the donkey, this time, was me.

I’ve seen other writers use this technique to keep readers turning pages. Hell, when I first started writing, I used it until an editor dashed off a quick note that informed me that I’d build more tension if I just spelled things out. “This is what the protagonist wants and what he’s dealing with. This is who the antagonist is and what he’s doing. Watch them collide and see what the protagonist does to achieve success.” At first, that seemed so simple to me. Too simple. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I didn’t give the reader all the information he needed? If he had to add things up? But no, the editor was right. The readers weren’t intrigued. They were frustrated. I was cheating, withholding information from them that they needed. I’m not saying that a writer can’t create characters readers aren’t sure are trustworthy or a plot that looks like it’s going in one direction and then takes a surprise twist (that’s been foreshadowed, but we didn’t expect). I’m just saying that a writer has to play fair. We give readers vital information and THEN we try to trick them. Agatha Christie excelled at this. She gave us the significant clue, but tricked us into looking at something else. Or, in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling makes Snape look like a villain, but he’s actually trying to protect Harry. But the information was there, on the page. She gave it to us and let us decide. She didn’t try to play hide-and-seek with it.

Angella Graff created an interesting, unusual premise for a series. She came up with one thing after another that I didn’t expect, but her book would have been stronger–for me–if she’d trusted her own writing more. She didn’t need to tease me into turning pages. Her characters and plot were enough to make me do that.

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Writing: What motivates your character? Does it work?

First off, I have a summer cold, so if ideas don’t always blend together in this blog, my head’s a little fuzzy. But here goes:

I just finished reading a book that I loved, but sometimes, I had to MAKE myself keep turning the pages. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? It was, and I had mixed feelings about it. I loved every scene, every character. The villains were deliciously complicated, and sometimes, I actually felt sympathetic to them–the sign of a good writer. But sometimes, the decisions the main character made felt forced. They worked for the plot and led to tension and battles, but I kept thinking there might have been a better way to handle the situation, and that the character was smart enough to think about something less dangerous. True, the bad guy is forcing her hand, but the story felt like she was reacting to one threat after another without ever saying, “Hey, what if…..?” But then that might be just me. I usually think first, act later. My daughter read the same book and said it was her favorite in the entire series. But then my daughter has no fear. Just goes to show you. But my reaction to the story made me think.

A character’s motivations have to feel REAL. He has to want something enough that he’ll take risks to get it or achieve it. But the risks have to make sense. It’s hard for me to follow a hero who doesn’t care, who’s so blase’, he just goes through the motions to see what happens. I have just as much trouble following a hero who takes risks he doesn’t need to, someone who puts himself and his friends in trouble when there’s a better way to solve the problem. Conflicted motivations are really hard to pull off, and that’s where I ran into trouble in the book I read. People are complicated, and I like that. But when a character is so complicated that I can’t decide what he’s trying to achieve, I waffle.

The other thing that slowed me down in this book was the nonstop action. After three fight scenes back to back, I just got tired. I had to put the book down to take a break. Don’t get me wrong. These were some of the best fight scenes I’ve ever read. But there were a LOT of them. Books need tension, and that tension has to build and build and build. But sometimes, I need to catch my breath.

Did I love this book? Yes, but not as much as the last one. Will I read the next book in the series? A big yes. Did this book make me think about writing and what works for me and what doesn’t? A resounding yes, because I kept asking myself, How can each scene be so good, and I need to put the book down for a minute?

Reading other writers, really good writers, are such great learning experiences. Hope you find authors who push you to be a better writer.