Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Turn it up Tuesday - Together Forever by Emblem3

All we'll need is love
We can take our time

As writers, and adults, we might be a little scared of having our characters believe they've found "the one." Here's something that this song tells me that we aren't recognizing:
1. She might have actually found the one. The chances are slim for a sixteen-year-old to find the person that she really is going to live the rest of her life with but possible.
2. This song sets us directly in a young adult's mind set. Who cares if she is right or wrong. When a teen experiences new, young love, he/she believes that it is the "the one." Because it feels so right / deep / intense. These aren't reasonable assumptions to make as a teen, but guess what. Teens aren't always reasonable. If you have your teens overly reasonable when it comes to love, you've missed the mark. Somewhat reasonable makes your character likable, overly reasonable makes your character unrelatable to other teens.

So take it from these kids in Emblem3 as they're definitely in the right age range. It's okay for teens to believe they've found Mr or Ms. Right.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Before we were writers, we were readers.

So what do we read? What makes us choose that book? The summary on the back cover, reviews on blogs or Goodreads? Or perhaps it was written by an author you've already read and felt like it was a sure thing. It could even be the first page or first chapter that you quickly scanned that made you take the leap and head to the bookstore checkout, library counter or push the purchase button. What did the trick for you?

So, you've read the book now and enjoyed it. What made you enjoy it? Is it because it made you cry? The characters sucked you in to their life, the plot was unique and riveting, the twists were shocking....
And now you're probably asking: Why so many questions for the writers, Lisa?

Sometimes writers forget how important reading is in keeping in touch with what we love. It's also important to keep in touch with our reader selves in order to know how important that first page is, those first five pages, the first chapter. Of course reading should still be a pleasure, but it doesn't hurt to ask ourselves these questions afterward. So, writers, answer us below. You never know...it might get your brain refocused.

Readers, tell us what made you choose the book you most recently began. About the last book you really enjoyed: what made you like it so much? What sucked you in and made you invest your precious hours on the story?
I'm also curious to see if our answers match. Are readers-only more enthralled with twisting plots while writers are mostly enthused by fully-fleshed, relatable characters?

Caitlin:  I find books a number of ways. I'll read books I might originally feel meh about for my book club (because I love talking to other people about the same book and often books can surprise you). I also listen to friend recommendations (Right now I'm reading a Harlan Coben book, HOLD TIGHT, because my sister and a writers group friend insisted I MUST read him. :) ) Other times I'm looking for a specific type of book, like a romance with a political backdrop or a young adult book with FBI elements...just cause, well, I can get picky in my reading choices. I also read books by some of the authors I follow on twitter or who I've run into in online forums because it's fun to read books by authors I "know." And I'll check out books that people mention in blogs and on twitter. So, basically, there are a lot of ways that I find my way to my next book. :)

Dan: I'm glad you asked this question, Lisa! Understanding how readers find books, and choose which ones to read, is increasingly important for authors. For me (talking as a reader now) it's usually the author that draws me to a book: if it's someone I've read before, or heard about, I go for it. Often I'll get personal recommendations from a friend, co-worker, or family member. I try to read books that win awards or draw acclaim in my genre, too, which is why I'm currently reading Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice. Sadly, I've never chosen to read a book based on Twitter, Facebook, or other social media.

When it comes to choosing between books, I do consider reviews like those found on Amazon or Goodreads. Availability is also a factor: if I can get the Kindle book through Overdrive, I'm more likely to read that book first.

Karlie: I love to be surprised - as in, shocked out of my mind. As long as everything adds up correctly, those big twists make me very happy.You guys probably have this problem, too - when you read constantly, predictability is a major problem.
I also love cop thrillers, anything involving the FBI, firefighter stories…but if it has an intriguing blurb, it had better follow through, or that author is off my read list. And like both Caitlin and Dan, if I really love an author, I'll try pretty much anything by him/her.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How and Why to Make Your Characters Fail

Make characters fail in writing
It's Dan today, and I want to talk about failure in fiction. I don't mean failure on the author's part -- failure to finish a book, make it good, get an agent, get a book deal -- we all know those failures pretty well. I'm talking about when characters try to accomplish something and don't succeed.

I wrote a short story recently about a con man in a secondary (fantasy) world. Kind of like Ocean's Eleven in King Arthur's court. He was witty, charming, devious -- everything that your ideal con man should be. I wrote up one of his heists as a flash piece, and sent it to my online workshop. A few of of my fellow writers remarked that while this guy made for a strong character, he was too strong. There wasn't a problem I threw at him that he couldn't handle. 

I loved that about my character, but it was also a problem, because there was no drama. I'd forgotten Pixar's first rule of storytelling:

1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

It's the opposite of a character that's too flawed: a character that's not flawed at all. Basically, I needed my character to fail at something.

Having my characters try and fail doesn't come naturally, at least not yet. Maybe that's because (like many writers), I often base my characters on romanticized versions of real people. More capable and more successful = better, right? 

Then I started thinking about The Incredibles, one of my favorite Pixar movies. It's about a family of superheroes, all of whom were pretty much born awesome. The problem is that their purpose isn't to fight crime and stuff, it's to re-integrate themselves as normal members of society. Which, as superhero-type people, they really have trouble doing. I won't ruin the movie for you, but I'll say that when they achieve their goals at the end of the movie, I appreciate it much more, because I saw how hard it was for them. 

And that's why I'm trying to make my characters fail more than they succeed. What about you? Do you have trouble having your characters fail at things?

Caitlin This is definitely a problem I continue to struggle with. The MC of my first completed novel is telekinetic and can remote view. Great, right! But my writers group pointed out that she could deftly handle anything I threw at her. Like you, Dan, I thought at first, yeah, isn't she great! But I realized it made for a pretty boring novel. I gave her powers some challenges (she loses her vision when she uses telekinesis and grows weak when she remote views) and also increased some challenges within her personality to make her struggle more. It was hard, at first, but ultimately I like her as a character even more now that she fails at things (and certainly relate to her better!).

Lisa: What an interesting post. I can't say that I've conciously had my characters fail to make them more realistic or relatable. I've had them fail for the sake of the plot, etc., but thanks to you I'm going to consider those things more. Because you're totally right - if they continue being successful, then there's less tension, less will he or won't he...succeed. We can also relate to someone who doesn't do things perfectly every time. Afterall, we're only human. Thanks for this, Dan.

Karlie: Sometimes I worry my characters fail too much. I tend to hurt the ones I love the most (Lisa can probably relate to this, *cough White Star cough*). But sometimes I get lazy - it would be so much easier to just give them their way this time, instead of writing out the whole process of everything going wrong and back again. However, I usually end up going back and redoing it anyway - so I might as well go ahead and go the extra mile the first time around. Great post, Dan!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bounded in a Nutshell: An Interview

Hi, it's Karlie! First of all, it's Day 6 of November! If you are participating in NaNoWriMo, kudos  to you! I hope you're keeping up with that word goal, and hopefully you have plenty of chocolate and caffeine on hand. Drop by and let us know about your NaNoWriMo experiences and happenings. :)

 Anyway, I'm doing something a little different today. Instead of asking a question, I'm posting an interview. A friend of mine, Dr. David Lowery, recently published his first book, Bounded in a Nutshell. A collection of poetry, it was released in July 2014, and he agreed to answer some questions for me. Dr. Lowery is an English instructor at Jones County Junior College (Ellisville, MS).Without further ado, here it is!

Karlie: Bounded in a Nutshell is your first published work, right?

Dr. Lowery: Yes, that's correct. It was part of a "year of challenges" I set up with my wife - we decided to do one thing each month we didn't think we could do. This resulted from the artistic challenge. The month of April is National Poetry Month, and I made myself write a poem every day. When I was finished, I decided I wanted to do more with them. I had done so much academic writing over the last few years, I just wanted to pursue something creative.

Karlie: Walk me through the publishing process. How did you go about getting your book out there?

Dr. Lowery: I did a lot of research online first, looking at a variety of publishers until I found one that would give me control over the publishing process. This was very important to me. I eventually settled on Xlibris, because they gave me freedom with the cover and formatting, down to little things like font.

Karlie: What did you do to promote the book?

Dr. Lowery: The publishing company sent promotional book posters and bookmarks, and I took those around to various bookstores. I also continue to promote it on Facebook and Twitter. As a matter of face, I'm having a book signing on November 13th at the Laurel library, from 4-6 PM.

Karlie: Where can people get a copy of your book?

Dr. Lowery: It's available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Xlibris.com. You can also get a copy of it from the bookstore at both JCJC and William Carey University.

Karlie: Thank you for sharing this with us! Everyone, you should check this book out, and if you're anywhere near Laurel, MS, come to the book signing!

Dr. Lowery has been teaching for twenty-two years, and he has received numerous awards for his achievements, including Humanities Teacher of the Year.