Category: About my writing


Words: My Fair-weather Friends

 

The high tech word cloud is by Lance Shield. click the picture for more of his interesting art.

 

I used to part of an on-line writing community.  In some ways it was great.  There were published authors available to give writing advice and a place to post snippets of your manuscript.  All kinds of people lingered on this message board: spiritualists, atheists, lawyers, scientists, musicians, and even one sailor if I remember correctly.  There was a place to post your query letter for critique and places for publishing advice.  Most of us were trying to turn out one brilliant piece of writing.  Since I hadn’t found my writing group yet, this was a perfect alternative.

One of the best things about this community was that it gave me a huge amount of exposure to amateur writing.  Plenty of people would find this site, post the first page (or sometimes chapter) of their work in progress and ask for a critique.  For a while, my goal was to write three critiques a day.  Reading other people’s critiques and doing analysis of my own really helped me to sharpen my writing skills.

The first amateur mistake that really started to stick out was wordiness.

Amateur writers often want to strong-arm their readers into seeing their exact vision.  They use too many words to describe a scene and then repeat themselves just to make sure the message was driven home.  Really masterful writers give details that launch the writer’s imagination.  Consider this paragraph from one of my early manuscripts:

Megan threw a hurried look over her shoulder and continued swiftly on.  Not running.  Everyone knew that the worst thing to do when you were being chased was to run.  Speed walking.  She glanced over her shoulder again.  Those eyes, she thought.  Red eyes.  Adrenaline surged through her body like electricity, leaving her fingers stinging, and she looked for refuge.  She hadn’t exactly seen her pursuers, save the eyes, but she heard their menacing calls.  A high-pitched, terrifying, inhuman scream that seemed to summon more of them.  There had been at least six sets of the glowing red eyes when last she had spied them over her shoulder and, judging from the sound of it, at least double that was behind her now.

Can you feel how forced it is? Megan is in a hurry.  If you didn’t get that from the two clues in the first sentence, you might have figured it out in the clues in sentence three, four, and five.  That’s me, trying too hard to set a scene.  In doing so, I take a paragraph that should be fast-paced and manage to slow the progress to a crawl.

The things chasing Megan are forced, too.  As a writer, I’m being mysterious and if done delicately, this can work.  Just eyes and howling.  But, what I do here isn’t delicate.  I mention the eyes three times and their color twice.  I belabor the howl in the same way.  I want for the reader to hear the horrible sound I’ve conjured in my own mind so I pile the adjectives: high-pitched, terrifying, inhuman followed by the noun scream.  Screams are high-pitched; I don’t need both words.  “Terrifying” should be the impression the reader gets without being prompted.  What I have left is “inhuman scream” which, if you think about it, does the job just fine,

These days, I’m better at reading my own writing with an eye for extra words.  Even when I’m reading published books, I find myself wanting to yank a work here and there because I feel like a sentence would be stronger without it.

So what about you? Is there some early lesson that really struck a chord with you?  Do you like to write wordy or are you a sparse writer?  Do you think writing should launch the imagination or fill in all of the details?

I hope everyone has a quick Friday and a great weekend!

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Let’s get Physical!

This great image is by graur codrin. I found it on freedigitalphotos.net. click the picture for more fantastic work by this artist.

I break my writing education into two pieces: before the beta read and after the beta read.  I’ve been writing forever.  Usually my stories were what I fondly call “soap opera style”.  Characters do shocking things with shocking results, and then they do more shocking things with even more shocking results.  This goes on until I can’t dream up anything new or I’m sick of the story.  A manuscript like this isn’t designed to end…thus the soap opera analogy.

Then, one day I picked up one of these rambling stories, saw a potential ending and wrote with that in mind.  Inside of two months, I had a finished manuscript.

At this point, I felt like I had a fairly good vocabulary.  My grammar was usually good.  I had some interesting ideas and images.  I didn’t really know what else a writer needed.  So I went to the internet and found that I was supposed to get a reader.  Or a whole bunch of them.  Preferably, someone who had a writing background.  I had one writer friend who offered to read my manuscript and I took him up on it.

The whole experience was one light bulb moment after another.

One of the first lessons that I learned was that the physical movement of the character has to make logical sense.  I, like so many other writers, wrote awkward fight scenes because I wasn’t sure how a body would move in this situation.  I would lose track of my setting during a chase.  Would the antagonist be able to see the protagonist from where he was standing?  Does the protagonist need to jump over the box that fell earlier in the scene?  I didn’t even ask these questions before my beta read.  My scenes lost authenticity because of the lack of detail.

So, how did I rectify this problem?

  • I drew pictures.  I drew a floor plan of the building where the character was located.  And then I drew a diagram of the room.  Let me stress this point.  I AM NO ARTIST!  J.K. Rowling may be able to sketch out a great image of a character but I can’t. Still, laying out the space my characters move through really helped to add authenticity to the scenes.
  • Act it out.  I’ve already mentioned my sad acting of a scene where my very confused dog stood in for a monster and my best friend played a ten year old boy.  Since then, I’ve walked through dozens of scenes making sure that the character is moving in a natural way.  That’s double-true for fight scenes.
  • I got an artist’s dummy.  They have authentic movable joints and you can see if a position you have in your head is feasible for the human body.
  • Get some realistic props.  Does your character shoot a gun?  Try to find a way to shoot a gun.  How heavy is it really?  What does “kick” really feel like?  If you have a chance to drive a car like one your character drive, do it.  So much of writing is in the details.

So, what do you do to make sure a scene plays out authentically?  Is physicality a weakness in your writing or do you have some other are where you have to go to lengths to achieve realism?

Isn't this a beautiful photograph? It's by D Sharon Pruitt at Pink Sherbet Photography. Click the photo for more of her work.

OK, before I even get started, I’m sorry Mom.

This post is inspired by two fantastic posts and an even better discussion on literary agent Mary Kole’s blog (here and here).  On the blog, Mary made the argument that, like all other words in a manuscript, swearing is a choice.  If it fits the character and the situation, she won’t bat an eye at a few four-letter choices.

The flip side of this argument was the teachers/librarians/parents who are trying to protect the children they care for.  They argued that every time a swear word is chosen, there is another word, just as appropriate, that could have been used.  Children should be filling their heads with good, constructive stories, which necessarily does not include swearing.

I understand both sides of this argument. Honestly, I do.  I happen to fall on the pro-swearing side of this argument.  In my last manuscript, my main character was a tough little thing whose parents kept her on a short leash.  The only defiance that she could indulge in was bad language.  She didn’t drip the F-bomb but a very frustrated adult character did.

I stand by this choice.  I think that self-censorship is really distracting in a book or on television.  When a writer makes up a swear word, I think it puts the emphasis on the word, rather than the situation. (I’m looking at you, Battlestar Galactica.  Neither Frack nor Frak are real swears, no matter how much feeling you put behind it.)  Only slightly better is when the characters swear in another language.  In Firefly (also television) Joss Whedon made the decision to have the characters swear in Chinese.  I understand that these are television shows and subject to different standards.  However, even in the HOUSE OF NIGHT series, the main character makes a little speech about how much she dislikes swearing, limiting her four-letter vocabulary to “hell”.  This, from a book where the sexual overtones are so blatant, even I gave up the series after book three!

The only option that remains is to create characters that would not swear.  My main character in my next book is one such character.  Don’t breathe easy, though.  Her friend is a malcontent with a number of “colorful metaphors” in her repertoire.  I just can’t seem to leave it out.  When I was a teen, I swore (Sorry again Mom).  Almost all of my friends did too.  The ones that didn’t were hardly shocked at our language.

The reason I’m writing this blog is because I never realized that there was a whole segment of the population who might not let their kids read my book (should it ever get published) based on the language alone. It makes me question each swear word I use now.  My target audience is the fifteen years up crowd.  Kids of that age (and their parents) should be able to handle a little adult language, right?

So, I’ll pass this one on to you.  What do you think?  Would you allow your child to read a book with a moderate amount of swearing?  Is it harder for you to swallow than a moderate amount of sex or a moderate amount of violence?  What if you’re a writer?  Do you avoid swearing in our books because of potential audience objection?

Writing Indulgences

Let me just say YUM! This delicious photo is by Rob Qld and I found it on Flickr. Click the picture for more of this artists' work.

Writing is hard.  We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it because there are a million other less frustrating things that we could be doing with our time.  Have you ever thought about taking up knitting?  Learning another language?  Mastering a new instrument?  I’ve thought of doing all of these things but what holds me back is the amount of time it would take from my writing. In fact, I delayed starting this blog for months because I didn’t want it to take away from my other writing.

Besides the effort and sacrifice it takes, it’s a severely underappreciated endeavor.  People who don’t write think that there’s nothing more to it than sitting down in front of the computer for a few hours and spewing out literary genius.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard people bemoan the fact that they didn’t think of an idea like HARRY POTTER themselves.  I want to ask them, “What if you had?  Do you have the literary talent to execute a good idea?”  I’m not sure I do yet and I’ve been actually studying writing for years now.

So, given the fact that we sacrifice our time to write, pull our hair out trying to find that perfect word, and endure the misconception that writing is all easy-peasy, I’m a firm believer that you simply have to reward yourself for a job well done.  I have a few favorite writing indulgences:

1. The vacation day from work.  Yup, I’ve been known to do it.  I fit writing in where ever I can: lunch hour, evenings, and weekends.  Sometimes I still get up early to write.  Every once in a while I’ll get to a part of my story that I’m looking forward to writing.  I don’t want to write it in fragments during my spare time, so I’ll indulge myself in a vacation day.  I’ll get up like I’m going to work but instead go to a coffee shop or restaurant where I can write all day.  It almost always leaves me in a great mood.

2. Writing gizmos. I never in my life thought I would admit this, but I’m a bit of a technology whore.  I love computers and phones and readers and MP3 players.  At the suggestion of my writing buddy, I tried a little Jornada for writing on my way to work.  Later, I indulged in a little HP Mini that I call Emily.  Even though I’ve had her more than a year, she’s still a lot of fun and I’ve never been sorry I got her.

3. Food. I try never to reward myself with food anymore.  Lately, my personal reward for making it through stuff at work or a good week of dieting is nail polish.  However, I’ll make exceptions when I finish a work in progress.  Sometimes I’ll indulge in one of those four-dollar coffees that are more dessert than coffee.  Mmmm.

4. Time off to read a new book. As you can probably tell from this blog, I don’t read much when I’m in the middle of a project.  My time is very limited.  Besides, I’ve been known to unconsciously steal phrases from books that I like if I read them while I’m writing.  When I finish a project and send it off to my beta reader, I take the time to read a book or two before I do my first edits.  Honestly, reading someone else’s writing is the only thing that will take my mind off of my own.

How do you reward yourself for being a good writer?  Do you have any special rituals for when you finish a new book?  Or, for you is writing its own reward?

What’s Your Point of View?

I'm the sixth person from the left--Just Kidding. This fabulous image is by James Cridland and I found it on Flickr. Click the image for more of his work.

First of all: Do not adjust your computer.  I was playing with the blog’s appearance.  Let me know how you like the new look!

Now, down to business: They say that every part of the book you write is a choice.  Each word choice sets the tone.  The setting helps to create a mood.  Even the title draws a reader in.  So how do you go about choosing what point of view to use?

My choices are narrowed down to two.  I don’t write in the second person, where the reader is considered the main character in a book.  Good examples of this are those CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books.  And in this case it serves a purpose.  The reader makes decisions in each book and decides where the story is going to go.  Second person is a logical choice.  I also don’t use the omniscient point of view.  I would like to say that I don’t use it because I don’t like the distance it creates between the reader and the characters.  The reality is that it’s hard for me to achieve without being confusing.  You can be in anyone’s head at any time.  Masters, like Charles Dickens can make it work in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, but I, unfortunately, haven’t figured it out yet.

This leaves the first and third person limited points of view.  I’ve dabbled in both.

The first book that I wrote, the one that still sits lonely in a drawer (and on my hard drive) was written in the third person.  I had the hardest time with this manuscript.  It didn’t seem to have any voice.  The narration was flat.  I tried playing with point of view shifts.  That made it worse and I couldn’t figure out why.

In my second manuscript, the one that got a little bit of play with agents was written in the first person.  The first several drafts of the first chapter were written in the third person.  I just couldn’t make it work.  It was the same problem: no voice, no flair, too flat.  So, after a whole bunch of frustration, I started writing from the point of view of my main character, Eve.

It wasn’t supposed to be more than a writing exercise but I got writing magic.

The voice popped.  I knew it the second I started putting Eve’s words on the page.  It was worth foregoing point of view shifts (I don’t really like it when the first person point of view shifts, even though Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyers have done it in highly successful books) to get the rock-solid voice.  Plus, when I look back on it, it made logical sense.  The story was Eve’s; it really shouldn’t leave her point of view.

For six months after I finished this manuscript, the successful first person point of view ruined me.  I had trouble writing any other way and I had serious trouble leaving Eve’s voice behind.  I was beginning to wonder if I had any other voice in me.  Therefore, recently (as in, this month), I decided to try third person again.

Ta-dah !

I found a third person voice.  It’s completely different from the Eve-voice and again makes sense for the story I’m trying to tell.  This story is darker.  It’s creepy.  I want there to be a level of uncertainty about whether or not my main character will make it to the end of the book.  If the voice holds up through the end of the book, I’ll call it more writing magic.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

So, how about you?  What type of point of view do you favor?  Have you tried more than one?  Do you have any tips or hints for people struggling with choosing a point of view or making a specific one work?

Writing at Your Worst

This isn't me, but it COULD be most days. This photo is by makelessnoise and I found it on Flickr!

Like I mentioned in my bio, I was an English and biology double major in college.  There was one upper level English class that formed the basis for my writing critique style.  It was an Analytical Poetry class.  I don’t mind admitting that this class kicked my butt. The professor was this Insane Poet Lady who cried over poems that were virtually incomprehensible to me.  She also wrote, and has since published, a collection of her own poems, many of which I also thought were total gibberish.

One interesting thing about this class was that it was three hours long.  Six o’clock until nine o’clock one night a week.  By the third hour, brain exhaustion took over.  Gibberish started to have at least a little bit of meaning and some of the oddest stuff just flew out of my mouth.  The professor said that she loved teaching three hour classes for just that reason.

Recently, I remembered the madness of the three hour poetry class and it led me to question the time of day that I work on my book.  I mentioned in an earlier post that I liked to get up early and write in the morning before I go to work.  It’s my freshest time and I feel like I’m giving my best to my writing.  But then I thought, maybe a little exhaustion would change the way my writing sounds and feels.  Maybe, if I was punchy it would give my writing a little more punch.

So, I gave it a try.

Wow.  Just wow.  I was a little stuck in my manuscript and trying to put off working on it until I had a bit of energy.  I gave up on that idea.  I purposely sat down in front of my computer at the end of an extra long work day when I was sleep deprived and just let myself write.  The next morning, after correcting the spelling errors, abysmal grammar, and a couple of really funny logical errors, I realized that I liked what I had written.  It was more honest and raw.  There was less self-censorship.  It had a completely different feel.

So I offer this as a writing challenge.  Try writing when you’re at your worst–particularly if you’re at a bumpy place in your work in progress.  See if it doesn’t open up some subconscious well of creativity you didn’t even know you had.  And let me know how it works for you!

P.S.  I will always love Insane Poet Lady because she introduced me to Mark Strand.  I’m pretty picky about my poetry but this stuff is just strange enough to be interesting.

Add a Little Culture

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I’m happily writing on my next book.  This is really good news, actually.  For a while there I was having trouble settling on one project.  I actually have three that I’ve been playing with and I haven’t been able to commit to one.  I’ve found that there’s absolutely no way for me to finish a big project unless I seriously commit.  So splitting my attention three ways is not a recipe for success.

The bad news is that I’m reading less.  To be honest, when I’m on a role with the writing, I don’t like to derail myself.  Forcing myself to read when I would rather be writing feels like self-sabotage.  The book I am currently reading, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ by Fanny Flagg, has been in my bag for over a week.  It usually takes me no more than a day and a half to finish a book.  Plus, I never intended to blog that book anyway.

So what does this mean for the blog?

I have a whole stack of books that I’m just itching read.  I am going to get to them and pass my deconstruction on to you.  However, while I’m deeply into my writing, I think I’m going to blog about writing for a little while.  I hope nobody minds.

So, in the spirit of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (which, by the way, I love) I’d like to talk about creating dialect in writing.  As you may know, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is a book steeped in southern culture split between the story of Idgie and Ruth (starting in the 1930’s) and Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode (Set in the mid 1980’s).  One of the things I noticed as I was reading this book was that Ms. Flagg manages to create a distinctive southern voice without too much folksy spelling.

This is a real talent.  I tried to create a character with a German accent and I cut the guy in revisions.  He was just too cartoonish and I didn’t know how to be more subtle.  Yet, books like FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, THE COLOR PURPLE, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, manage to infuse easy-to-read writing with a flavor of another culture.  Here are the tips I have picked up:

1. Minimize spelling out things to sound like the accent of a particular culture.  Sure, Ms. Flagg spells out a few commonly used words like “cain’t” and “Miz” but for the most part she relies on word choices and cadence to ground us in the setting.

2. Use your turns of phrase wisely.  In FRIED GREEN TOMATOES Idgie is described as being wrapped around Ruth’s finger like red around a barber’s pole.  What a wonderful image!  In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, things are often described in terms of astrology.  It really grounds you in Asian mysticism and superstition.

3. Making reference to the culture adds in a way that all the creative spelling in the world can’t.  Southern cooking and southern traditions help to imply an accent so you don’t have to be so explicit in the writing.  Southern cooking is one commonly used reference.  MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was like an educational course in Asian culture.

So what works for you?  Have you tried to create a character from a different culture?  Have you ever tried to work an accent into your writing?  Do you have any tips to share?  I’d love to hear from you!

A Taste of my Writing

So, I didn’t plan to do this, but I’ve had some e-mails asking to see a sample of my writing.  So, instead of starting on the next book, I thought I would post a short story that I’m not shopping to any markets.  I think I should mention that if you publish your writing to the internet, many editors won’t look at it. You’ve already given it away for free, so why should they pay you for it?  So be cautious when posting whole, completed work to the internet.

This is the humorous story I referenced in Friday’s post.  I hope it doesn’t ruin my credibility.  🙂  Comments of any variety are, of course, always welcome.

The photo of the sugerholic vamp is by kairin and I found it on Flickr!

Is There A Support Group For This?

Raymond knew he was in trouble when his ear fell off.  The earlier symptoms were easy to ignore: the sluggishness, the increased thirst, and the blurry vision.  But when he held his ear in his hand, he experienced a queer sensation of nausea that he hadn’t known for a century.  Humans lost ears sometimes.  But not vampires.  Never vampires.

It took him over an hour to sew the ear back on and, without the benefit of a mirror, he had no idea what it looked like.  A week later, when it fell off again, he tucked it away in an orange Tupperware.  A few days later, his pinkie finger joined the ear in the plastic container.  Then, a toe.

Raymond Leo was in deep denial, but even he couldn’t ignore the fact that he was falling apart, bit by bit.

It took something truly drastic, a wobble to one of his fangs, to convince Raymond that he needed to seek help.  Breaking a fang would make it harder to eat and eating was Raymond’s primary concern.  It always had been, even when he was mortal.

So, he took his Tupperware and made his way to the Undead Clinic.  Immortality wasn’t insurance against injury so a good physician to the undead was precious.  A wrinkled, sharp-faced immortal, who called himself Dr. Jack, ran the clinic.  Everyone knew him.  The doctor became a vampire at the age of sixty-three.  In life, he ran a private medical practice.  Vampirism hadn’t changed anything for him but his business hours and his diet.

Raymond visited the clinic once before, decades ago, when a feisty human got him in the shoulder with a wooden stake.  And again, about four years back, to get his fangs sharpened.  Raymond walked into Dr. Jack’s waiting room stinking like rotting fruit.  He made the air in that closed-up, overheated, little space as thick as syrup.

Dr. Jack opened the door to the waiting room and looked at Raymond.  “Underweight,” he muttered to no one in particular.  “Cataracts.  Bad color.”  The doctor sniffed the air, grimaced, and crossed the room to open a window.  “Guess you should come on back.”  Raymond nodded once and followed him into the exam room.  “Lost an ear, did you?” the doctor observed.

“And a finger and a toe.”  Raymond peeled back the plastic lid and held up the grizzly display.  The sweet, syrupy odor grew stronger.

The doctor peered at the wound on the side of Raymond’s head.  “Tried to sew it back on?”

“Yes.”

“But it didn’t heal?”

“Obviously not.”

Dr. Jack prodded Raymond’s wound with a crooked finger.  “Looks like the skin around this wound dried out instead of healing,” Dr. Jack said.  “It’s brown and curled like jerky.”  Raymond would have been quite happy not to know that.  “Really, it’s rather fascinating,” the doctor added.

“I’m glad you think so.”

The doctor pursed his lips and his voice became all business.  “When did you fist start noticing a change in health?”

“About a month ago,” Raymond said.

“Are you sleeping normally?  Waking at sunset?”

“I’ve been over-sleeping, actually.”

“And your diet,” The doctor asked, eyeing Raymond’s sunken form.  “Do you feed regularly?”

“Twice a week.”

“Men?  Women?”

“Children, mostly.”  Raymond looked away from the doctor.  He wasn’t sure how much he wanted to say.

Dr. Jack didn’t miss much.  “Why children?” Raymond didn’t answer but the doctor didn’t give up.  “Any specific type of child?”

Raymond fidgeted in his seat.  “They have to smell right,” Raymond finally muttered.

“Right?  Like how?  Clean?  Healthy–”

“No,” Raymond interrupted, the mental image of his wound making him confess.  “Sweet.”

“I don’t know what you mean by that.”

“Sweet,” Raymond said again, this time impatiently. “They smell sweet.”  The memory was enough to make Raymond ache.  “Children are the best.  Sometimes I go after a pregnant female.  And if worst comes to worst, I can usually find one of the fat ones.”

“I see,” Dr. Jack said.  “By sweet, you mean diabetic. Diabetic kids.  Pregnant women with gestational diabetes.  Obese–”

“Whatever,” Raymond interrupted.

“Is that all you eat?”

Raymond shrugged again.

Dr. Jack leveled a stern look at Raymond.  “I think you already know the problem.  All that sugary blood is rotting your tissue.”  Raymond glared at him but the doctor kept lecturing anyway.  “You’re going to have to change your diet if you want to see any improvement.”

“I can’t.”

“Of course you can.  Hunt by health clubs and look for humans with bright eyes and good muscle tone.  Eventually you’ll want to work your way up to vegetarians–”

“I don’t want healthy humans,” Raymond snarled.

The doctor’s tone grew cool.  “What utter nonsense.  You’d better figure out a way to get some low-sugar, low-fat athletes into your diet or next time you come in here you’re going to be carrying more than just fingers and toes in that Tupperware.”  The doctor’s eyes flickered pointedly to Raymond’s crotch and the vampire felt colder than usual.

Raymond bit his lip and took a deep breath.  “Isn’t there something…anything, you could give me?” he asked slowly.

“Like what?”

“Medicine,” Raymond said.  “Treatment.  You’re not going to let me leave like this, are you?  I thought that you were a doctor.”

Dr. Jack’s heavy eyebrows drew together.  He looked more than a little offended.  Then, his face cleared and he seemed to be thinking.  “Stay here,” he said.  He left the waiting room and returned a moment later, handing a vial and a syringe to Raymond.  “It’s insulin.  Take a few units before you feed.  It might help.”

Raymond sniffed the vial and made a face.

“You don’t drink it,” the doctor said, nodding towards the syringe.

Raymond scowled, but he put the vial in his pocket along with the syringe and turned to leave.

“For God’s sake, take your bits,” said Dr. Jack, handing him the plastic container.  Raymond snatched it out of his hands.

The vampire left the clinic and leaned against the pole of a streetlamp.  He thought about what the doctor had said.  If he wanted to slow the rot, he had to change his eating habits.  Switch from sweet, tasty, diabetics to tough, tasteless health-nuts.  It had been a very long time since Raymond had tried to change anything.

A scent wafted on the air.  Raymond lifted his nose and inhaled.  Something sweetly promising made his mouth water.  This part of the city held a couple of hospitals.  They were always good hunting spots for the sweet ones.  He sniffed again.  His body ached for the rush of sugar.

A pounding rhythm distracted the vampire.  Raymond looked up.  A block away, there was a jogger.  Probably a human nurse getting in a little exercise before her shift.  Raymond moved away from the streetlamp, into the shadows.  The jogger was lean, muscular…scent-less.

Raymond watched the jogger.  Her eyes were fixed ahead of her.  She had some sort of MP3 player strapped to her arm, trailing cords to her ears.  If Raymond grabbed her now, the jogger would never hear her coming.

The wind picked up and the sweet, mouthwatering odor tickled his nose again.  He inhaled deeply.  Surely, just one more diabetic wouldn’t kill him.  Raymond let the jogger go by.  Then, he slipped out of the shadows and walked casually towards the sugary scent.  Just one more.  Perhaps the insulin would help.  And if it didn’t, well, nobody lived forever.

I love this photo by retrogamer4ever and I found it on Flicker!

I’ll admit it.  I’m not the type of person that will laugh at just anything.  In fact, I’m pretty picky about the type of comedy I’ll even try.  I won’t even try if it looks like bathroom humor.  If you’re going to hit me with slapstick, you better have a pretty gifted comedian trying to pull it off.  I think humor in a book is even harder.  There’s no facial expression to hammer a comedic point home.  No physicality.  No timing.

That being said, everyone loves to laugh.  Kids especially.  I’ve been told from editors in small markets and agents working with full-length manuscripts that if you have effective humor, your writing will go right to the top of the reading pile.  But what makes effective humor?  And how do you deliver it in a way that works?

Now, I’m certainly not the queen of comedy here, but I have a few thoughts.  If you have anything to add, please feel free.

  1. Try to come up with a funny concept.  I wrote a short story that’s gotten some positive feedback on the humor.  The concept was that a vampire becomes addicted to diabetics and suffers from a sugar addiction.  I usually get a snicker when I just pitch the idea.  After that, I didn’t need to crack too many jokes in the short story.  The idea itself was ridiculous enough.
  2. Stick your humor in the dialog.  If you have one goofy, clownish character, they could say outrageous things.  Other people’s observations of their outrageousness can also be amusing.  Think of the Weasley Twins in HARRY POTTER.  They do funny things and they say funny things.  And when, on occasion, they get serious, doesn’t it pack one heck of a wallop?
  3. Internal thought is your friend.  I love to write in the first person because you get all of the inner workings as they happen.  And some of the inner workings can be pretty funny.  SPEAK was a great example of this.  Inside her own head, Melinda was pretty darn amusing.  That’s what made the serious nature of the book bearable. Has anyone seen that movie CLUELESS from 1995?  Cher is having some pretty deep internal thoughts when she’s distracted by a cute dress.  Gets me every time.

I think that writing humor is one area where you definitely need a reader–actually a couple.  Writers might be too close to their work to know if it reads well or if it’s realistic.  We are absolutely too close to our own work to know if it’s funny.  And since humor is so subjective, I like to get my (hopefully) funny writing to as many readers as possible and take a consensus of their opinions.

Have you ever tried to write humor?  Do you instill humor into your writing?  What’s your best writing tip for capturing good humor?

Cheers to a good laugh on a Friday!

Ninja Kitty is a photo by ocsen_009 and I found it on Flickr.

Pick a Genre..Any Genre

I’ve mentioned in here more than once (and you would have probably guessed anyway from my book selection) that I write young adult manuscripts.  Most of the time, they’re young adult fantasy, though my work-in-progress is very light on the fantasy.   I didn’t really think about it much when I started writing.  Young adulthood is such a pivotal time of life.  In your late teens, you’re still trying to figure out who you are and at the same time, you’re making decisions that will affect the rest of your life.  College or military or career?  Stay in your home town or move away?  Celibacy or sex?  Having a young adult protagonist gives a writer endless options.

But, what about the rest of the shelves in the bookstore?  Mystery?  Romance? Sci-Fi?  Mainstream fiction?  Historical romance?  There are a whole library of ideas out there.  What makes a writer pick and stick with a genre?

Personally, I think it has a lot to do with what you like to read.  And that’s a good thing.  You need an idea of what’s out there before you can contribute to the literary pool (at least that’s my theory). It was one of the reasons that I started this blog.  I wanted to make sure I was staying up-to-date with young adult publications.

I also think the  plot that serves as your inspiration also limits you.  HARRY POTTER couldn’t have been anything else but a young adult book.  The protagonist needed to be a young person for the plot to work.  MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and THE DA VINCI CODE have to be mainstream adult books.  They needed to include older characters and mature themes.  I also think this is why so many authors have trouble defining their genre.  They started with an idea and didn’t worry about fitting it into a genre until they started the query process.

Finally, I think that the genre we choose is based on the authors that have inspired us.  My favorite book of all time is CHARLOTTE’S WEB and I think E.B. White is amazing.  My other favorites?  Roald Dahl, Frances Hodgson Burnett, L.M. Montgomery, and J.K. Rowling.  Of course, there are other authors from other genres.  Oscar Wilde, H.P. Lovecraft, and Jane Austen have given me hours of delight.  But the vast majority of the authors I admire are young adult authors.  In some small way, my writing is a tribute to them.

So what about you?  How did you pick your genre?  Do you ever try other genres?

That great pile o’ books is by felixco.inc and I found it on freedigitalphotos.net.