Monday, October 22, 2012

What Are You Most Afraid Of?

It's one of the first questions I ask when I'm building a character. What has this character's history given him in terms of fears and unresolved issues? And how are those going to shape his personality and his reactions to the events of the story? Because I like to make my main characters dig deep and work hard, that often means bringing them face to face with their mortal dreads. Whatever those might be.

Maybe that's part of why I like writing about men. In our society, it's perfectly okay for a woman to be afraid. But a man? Not so much. Or—maybe it's okay for him to be afraid, but he probably shouldn't admit it in company. Which means instead of giving in to his fears, he's got to either man up and face them, or he's got to find a way to avoid them.

Which is okay if he's afraid of alligators or hippopotami, or heights, which he can generally avoid if he needs to, with either a bit of slick talk or a well-timed case of the trots.

But what if he's afraid of something that's a lot harder to avoid? Or something he might have to confront in order to get what he wants? Like... commitment... or disapproval... or failure... or a pit filled with rabid ferrets?

That's when it gets fun.

Fears give me so much interesting stuff to play with (the visual here is the critter in the attic with the dull scissors and the purple construction paper, cutting out really horrific shapes to chuck into the story...). Whether he's trying to confront his fears or avoid them, fear can be used to manipulate him into a reaction that will serve the story, drive the plot, or build character.

Which probably has a lot to do with why I never get invited when the hot guys in my head decide to throw a party... even when I promise to make Death By Chocolate Brownies...

Friday, October 12, 2012

Social Media

So when I decided to start taking this writing thing seriously, I started looking at what other authors were doing, and discovered that a lot of them had something called "blogs" (which sounds like a rather unpleasant bowel complaint, or maybe something that comes out of your nose when you sneeze really big, but okay, whatever).  I realized, from reading these "blogs", that I was going to have to participate in something called Social Media, because apparently that is The Way These Things Are Done. 

Social Media?  WTF?  Is that, like, communal art supplies or something?  Because that could be a big problem... I was always a bit of a failure at the Plays Well With Others skillset.

I was, understandably, Pale With Fright.

Further investigation revealed that participating in Social Media meant establishing something called an Online Presence.  So instead of sharing my crayons, I was going to have to "tweet" and "post" and "blog" (which actually sounds like something I would want to do in the privacy of my own bathroom, but apparently the definition of "privacy" has changed somewhat since I learned what it meant).

I'm still not sure what's wrong with writing up a pack of lies that the publisher can paste on the back of the book flap.  Something along the line of Jaye McKenna is an antisocial recluse who hasn't actually been seen in public for years and is rather attached to a ratty old bath towel, or Jaye McKenna lives in a tumbledown shack on the edge of a peat bog with a Rottweiler named Josephine and a pack of rabid budgies...

Apparently that's not good enough anymore.  Apparently, nowadays, The World wants to be informed of what I eat for lunch (not eggs... they're kind of gross), what I'm wearing today (polka-dotted underwear and a plaid bathrobe, if you must know), and whether or not my bowel movements are regular (check out my bathroom, dudes, plenty of tweeting, blogging, and posting going on there!). 

Personally, I think The World needs to get a life. 

So I decided that rather than try to learn a bunch of Mysterious Technical Witchcraft, the rules of which will change just when I get the hang of it (sort of like the way just when I figure out MS Word, they change it and I lose weeks and weeks of productivity while I whine and moan and beg Husband Beast to figure out how to make the new thing look like the old thing so that I can use it again), I am going to just do one new thing—the blogging. 

And since it doesn't involve sharing my crayons, I have high hopes that I will do it well.  Or at least somewhat regularly.  (Because regular bowel movements are important, you know...)

And if you want to see me tweet, you're going to have to get in line outside my bathroom window with the rest of The World.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Favorite Resources

I'm pretty sure most writers who've been writing for a while have some old favorites on their bookshelves, books they turn to time and again, either for comfort or for information.  I've had a lot of favorites over the years, but the following are the ones that I reach for the most often:

Character Names
The Writer's Digest Character-Naming Source Book by Sherrilyn Kenyon
Gary Gygax's Extraordinary Book of Names by Malcolm Bowers (Volume IV of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series)

Writing Reference
The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
Plot by Anson Dibell
Revision by Kit Reed
Man, Oh Man by Josh Lanyon
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

Mythic Structure
The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

Useful Information
Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page, M.D.
Deadly Doses: A Writer's Guide to Poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner
Malicious Intent: A Writer's Guide to How Murderers, Robbers, Rapists, and Other Criminals Think by Sean Mactire
Writing Fight Scenes by Rayne Hall

Comfort and Support
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
For Writers Only by Sophy Burnham
Walking on Alligators by Susan Shaughnessy

Note: yeah, I know, I should do that magic clicky-linky thing for y'all, and in a perfect world, I would be all like, Oh, yeah, magic clicky-linky things, no problem!  But as it is, I can't even always figure out how to get to the blog from the dashboard thingy, so instead, we have me being all nervous and shivery, like If I try to make the magic clicky-linky things, I'll probably break the blog and that would be a Bad Thing because I might never be able to fix it.  And then I will spend the entire day moaning and wailing and wringing my hands... Which would be another Bad Thing, because there is always so much to do.

Besides, right now?  Right now, my two favorite guys that I'm writing about (whichever two guys I'm writing about at the moment, they are my two favorites—I'm nothing if not loyal) are perched in the too-slender top branches of a very tall tree.  They have no paddle, no flashlight, and no clean underwear.  And they are surrounded by alligators, and a big storm is blowing in and there is a man-eating chihuahua circling the tree in a hang-glider...

Yeah.  It's like that.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On Attitude

I'm rapidly coming to the conclusion that the most important thing I can bring to the table in this writing adventure of mine is attitude. 

Up until the last couple of years, I never really had any sort of plan regarding the writing.  I wrote when I felt like it (which meant when I had an idea that was burning to get out), and if I didn't feel like it, I didn't write.  So stuff got done, but in spurts.  I'd draft a novel in a string of frenzied, dawn-to-midnight obsessive work sessions, and then it would languish in a drawer, because once the first draft magic was done, where was the fun?  Or I'd start a first draft, full of fire and energy, and then I'd realize that my characters were up a tree surrounded by alligators, and I had no idea how to get them out, so I'd let it slide because it was too hard to sit down and figure it out.

In a nutshell, when the going got tough, the tough slunk off to find something else to do.

Since making the commitment to myself to look at this writing thing as a job instead of a hobby, I find that my attitude has changed in ways that are making me a lot more productive, and it doesn't seem like the quality of my work is suffering. 

Now I'm writing regularly and I'm consistently producing 1000 to 2000 words a day.  Stuff is getting done, and it's getting done because I'm sitting down every day and doing it.  When I get my characters up a tree, instead of giving up on them, I write it out—I grab a notebook and start brainstorming possible solutions.  And what's interesting is that a solution does come, sometimes fairly quickly, sometimes after a good night's sleep, but I'm finding that if I stick with the story, things seem to have a way of working out. 

The other thing I've noticed now that I'm writing every day whether I feel like it or not is that I'm not seeing a whole lot of difference in the quality of the work, whether I slog through 500 words that I really don't feel like doing, or breeze through 3000 words and feel like I could keep going all night. 

So, yeah.  Attitude.

Wish it hadn't taken me so long to figure that out.