Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Hint of Things To Come; or ... Foreshadowing

Last week, I did something disconcerting.

I threw Celia, the main character in my work-in-progress, off of her airship while it was in flight.

Don't worry, she's fine. She was wearing a harness and had a rope tied to it. Of course, Nicholas Fletcher, her love interest, was pretty upset about it anyway, because he wasn't expecting it.

He should have been, though, because I foreshadowed it a couple of times earlier in the story. I mentioned a couple of times how, when Celia was younger, her father used to have to tie a rope around her so that when she fell -- or perhaps jumped -- over the edge, he could haul her back in again. And after I'd mentioned that a couple of times, I pretty much had to have a scene where Celia went over the edge of the gondola, didn't I?

I have to admit that my foreshadowing doesn't always work out that well. Quite often, I have to go back after the fact and say, "Hmm, how can I foreshadow this major plot point earlier on in the story?" Sometimes I can find a way to tuck hints in seamlessly, but sometimes it doesn't work out so well. That's why it's so satisfying to me when I can put the foreshadowing in, well, ahead of time.

Then, of course, there's the question of how much foreshadowing you should do, and how much is enough, and how much is too much. As a reader, I like there to be surprises; I don't like everything to be laid out too clearly ahead of time. And I certainly don't like to be hit over the head repeatedly by the author, who is determined that I not miss what's coming because I just wasn't paying attention.

So I don't foreshadow everything. I don't even do all the major plot points. But I do like to throw in a few hints, just to see who's paying attention.

How much foreshadowing do other folks do? What are some of the best and worst examples you've read (or written)?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bad Habits

We all have our bad habits when it comes to our own writing (I'm a comma-phobic). But a bad habit that a lot of us suffer from, at least in our early drafts, is the unnecessary words. Our writing may be lazy because of these words.

Here are some examples:

Just very

Nearly almost

'ly' words



any word you overuse

Now, of course, there are always exceptions. The word you chose might be the just fine and there's no need to change it. But when you're revising make sure you always select the strongest word possible.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Let Your Enthusiasm Show; or Play That Air Guitar!

Watching the Olympics tonight, I saw snowboarder Shaun White take the podium for the gold medal in half-pipe. I know there are stuffy, old-fashioned sorts who would have preferred that he stand respectfully while the national anthem was played, but Mr. White chose instead to play along on the air guitar for a few seconds. I was charmed. He wasn't afraid to let his enthusiasm show.

When you love what you're doing, it's really hard not to let it show.

One of my favorite recordings is of Gene Kelly, "Singin' In The Rain". The song is okay. Mr. Kelly's voice is fine, but not extraordinary. What makes this recording special to me is that you can hear him smiling as he sings. Here, have a listen and you'll see (or rather, hear?) what I mean.

When I'm enthusiastic about what I'm writing, I think it shows, too. Phrases fall neatly into place; words flow effortlessly from my fingers onto the keyboard. Writing is tight, clean, energetic. The characters and settings sparkle. The action doesn't just flow, it dances.

And when I'm not enthusiastic ... it's more like wading through wet cement. Wearing lead weights chained to my ankles.

Now all I need to figure out is how to maintain the enthusiasm. I know that part of the secret is that if I'm not enthusiastic about the section I'm writing, it's usually because I'm either starting the scene in the wrong place, or I'm writing a scene that doesn't need to be included at all.

What are some tricks other people use to maintain enthusiasm for their writing?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Short Linky Post

I'm in the middle of tons of stuff at work today and really can't devote much time to a full post - but rather than skip yet another week I thought I'd share with everyone a really great blog post. It's from Angie James who is the new acquiring editor at Carina Press (the new e-book arm of Harlequin) - it's actual statements of why her editors rejected works (next week she'll be posting what worked for her editors and I'll share that here) - I think this is a very important post to read, regardless of the genre you write as these things are very much universal:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Cliffhangers; or Did It Just Get Angsty In Here?

Cliffhangers. When done well, they draw your reader into your story.

It's easy to see them in action. All you have to do is turn on your television set.

Every week, when I tune in to watch my show -- Supernatural -- I inevitably catch the last few minutes of The Vampyre Diaries. And every week, at the end of The Vampyre Diaries, there's angst aplenty. Teenagers being sucked dry by vampires, teenagers' hearts breaking due to unrequited love, teenagers betraying one another, all set to dramatic music, embellished with special effects.

And all designed to make sure the mostly-teenaged audience is back next week, tuned in and dying to find out how the crisis resolves itself.

Cliffhangers aren't anything new, of course. Scheherezade figured it out when the sultan was piling up his body count. The original Buck Rodgers left 'em hangin' once a week back in 1939. And does anyone remember what a fuss it caused when, on the last Dallas episode of the season, someone shot J.R. Ewing?

So as authors, how can we more effectively use cliffhangers to keep our readers reading?

A lot of people suggest that every chapter should end on a minor cliffhanger. I still haven't quite gotten the hang of this, however. I can certainly recognize it on the rare occasion when I do it, but I don't know how to make it happen every time. I'm not even sure I want it to happen every time. I'm firmly in the school of thought that says that giving your reader a chance to run to the bathroom or to even close the book and come back later is not a bad idea. The trick is in making sure they come back. And that trick is one I'm not sure I've mastered yet.

Do other folks try to end chapters on cliffhangers? Or do you just stick in a chapter break when it seems like there's a logical pause in the action?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Character Traits

Over the weekend my fellow Melt-Ink Potter, Colleen, and I had a chance to attend a plotting workshop put on by Mark Buckham. If you have a chance to ever attend her workshops - do it. Or pick up her book, Break Into Fiction.

One of the exercises we did in the workshop was to list character traits and then to look at them in different ways. We were asked if a person was X, what else might that mean.

For example, if your character is punctual - what might that mean? Rigid, obsessive, controlling? Or could also say that means they're considerate, driven, task-oriented.

We participated in an exercise where we wrote down characteristics for at least two characters in a project (she asked people to write down at least 3 characteristics for each). The papers were collected and redistributed. The person that now had your list, needed to do the exercise above and say what that characteristic might mean about that person.

I had listed 'driven' for a character. The response I received back - scared.

Wow! I had never even considered that my character was scared. But then it made other things click into place. Unfortunately I don't have my notes with me or I'd give you more examples (another post perhaps...). The exercise certainly challenged us to look at traits in different ways, both positive and negative

Thursday, February 4, 2010

When Inspiration Fails To Strike; or, Technical Difficulties

I've known this moment was coming since the beginning of November, and I really hoped that when it got here, I'd have the answer I needed, but I don't. Inspiration has failed to strike, and I'm stuck.

I've reached the point in my current Work In Progress, The Daughters of August Winterbourne, where I need to describe a bit of technical gadgetry. Dr. Winterbourne has designed a small weapon that can be made up of parts from four ordinary-looking items. And he has given one of the items to each of his four daughters.

The weapon is a small gun that fires poisonous darts using compressed air. That much I know. I also know that three of the four items Dr. Winterbourne gave the girls are:
  • A circular slide rule (looks like an oversized pocket watch, but when you open it, it's a slide rule. Such things do actually exist, although they weren't invented for at least sixty years after my story's time. But it's an alternate universe, so I'm cheating and using it anyway.) I think that it doesn't actually get used as part of the weapon, but rather serves as a place to hide the instructions for assembly.
  • A very nice, top-of-the-line fountain pen. I'm figuring this is the barrel of the gun, and it might also serve to compress a small amount of air into a chamber.
  • A brooch that uses the poison darts as design elements that look like stylized flower petals.

But I'm stuck as to what the fourth item should be, and how it could fit into the weapon. All I know is that it needs to be something a female university student could carry or wear on a daily basis without exciting comment. It should be the kind of thing that (to use a modern analogy) you could take through airport security without getting pulled out of line and strip-searched. But I have no idea what the item could be.

So now what do I do?

Perhaps it's time to consult The Oracle (a.k.a. my friends on the Internet) once again. They were certainly helpful in the matter of Mr. Fletcher's name.

In the meantime, I'm not sure how to proceed. I'd really like to know what Mystery Item #4 is before I write the next section, but failing that, I might just have to put up [[And A Miracle Happens Here]] signs in the manuscript and come back to them later. I hate doing that -- when I've done it in the past, when I go back to fill stuff in, I always end up having to change more than I expected -- but it may be my only choice.

What do other people do when technical inspiration fails to strike?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Holding Pattern

Just a quick post to say that my computer has been ultra-wonky as of late and in fact, is with a computer repair person right now, so my ability to post here has been greatly hampered. I'm being slightly naughty and posting this from work because I wanted to let you know I haven't forgotten about this place. I have lots of entries in my head: hopefully I'll soon have my laptop back so that I can write them!