Saturday, September 27, 2008

Things in stories that I love to see:

1. A beginning with an action scene that seems unrelated to the main plot, but in the end you realize is.

2. A beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the book, whether by incident, setting, or character mood.

3. Extreme detail in world building so I feel like I'm actually in the place and care about that world.

4. Carefully placed adjectives, metaphors, and similes. And I especially love when these are unexpected but fit perfectly, ones that make you alter your thinking of the description because they are so not the normal, over-used ones. (The Book Thief by Markus Zusak seemed to have a lot of awesome ones, though some were just strange and pulled me out of the story and made me focus on why he said that.)

5. Relatable characters. Need I say more? Okay, I will: I love a character who has at least one trait I can sympathize with.

6. An action-filled middle. But not gratuitous action--scenes that really feel pertinent to the main plot.

7. A twist in the end that I think I've figured out until the author gives me a surprise head-fake. I love that because it leaves me wanting to immediately go back and reread the book to look for the clues I might have missed.

For the rare person who reads this blog, what are your favorite author devices? :)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Good Beginnings or Best Beginnings?

I'm doing a crazy amount of rewriting right now. Sometimes it feels like time well spent, others... not so much. I know editing has a big learning curve, but sometimes I wish I was preprogramed to know what effective rewriting was. And I suppose like 99.9% of us, the only way to know is to keep at it. Over and over again.

Anyway, with all the rewriting--especially working on the first few chapters--I've been thinking; what makes a great beginning?

I was at my local Barnes and Noble the other day buying a book for a friend when I began reading the design on the shopping bag. Now some of you will know that they are quotes from famous books, but for those of you that have never read them, this is what I saw:

"All children, except one, grow up."
"Call me Ishmael."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
"Happy familes are all alike."
"My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly."
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

There are others printed on it of course, and though not all these quotes are at the exact first of the book, they have something in common. They are the first statement that set up the reader expectation. Perhaps some will not agree, but I think these sentences are the lights that direct the eye to the center stage. They let us know where the book is going and provide something to draw us into the main plot. And these sentences do it so well that it's hard to think of them being expressed any other way.

Now my problem: come up with my own stage spotlight in my rewrites. I have good ones now, but I'm looking for something unforgettable and inevitable, just as these are.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hold on for one more day...

Anyone for Wilson Phillips? No, not me. And of course I didn't like such music way back into 1990. Not one bit--I was too cool for that. Even at thirteen.

...But if I did, what of it? I would not be ashamed to admit that. Sort of....

Anyway, the title is applicable because... (Drum roll, please.)

Tomorrow I will be finished with The Many Adventures of Courtesy and Patience!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm so excited. (Can't you tell?) I've been really happy with it so far. I know there are huge flaws in the writing (which is why you won't be seeing it anytime soon) but the storyline and plots are perfect right now. Really, I don't think many scenes will need tweaking at this point. At least not until I send it out to reader friends. Then I'll use their suggestions and my own intuition. But as it is the story is tight, funny, daring, and... well, I'll shut up because it sounds like bragging. Besides, give it a few weeks and I'll be so-so on my enthusiasm with it. That's how editing goes for me--almost like a high school boyfriend break up.

Yet I'm enjoying my current euphoria!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Finding Something Magical: Characters Part II

Last night, as I put my five year old daughter down for bed, she said, “Mom, there’s something magic about me you should know: I can sleep with my eyes open.”

(She's so afraid to miss anything that she waits until her poor body shuts down and she's forced to close her eyes and sleep.)

Anyway, I wanted to laugh, but I didn't because it would have offended her. And then what she said made me think. She had something there about fantasy and magic. And I wondered, why are readers drawn to the genre (whether it be Robert Jordan, JK Rowling, Lewis Carroll, or anyone else)?

I've decided it's because we want to feel that connection, that there’s something special or magical about the character, and by extension, ourselves. Harry Potter? He was the plain boy who lived and then became the Chosen One. Alice? She was the ordinary girl who fell through the rabbit hole and experienced life large, life small, and then returned to remember the adventure. And Rand Al Thor? The ordinary farm boy who would become the Dragon and break the world. And in my books, Cierra. The normal girl who has the talents and ability to become something more. My daughter? Ordinary but confident enough to think she can do something extrodinary.

Perhaps it's bad that all these characters are seemingly cliché, but as a reader, I find the ordinary protagonist with hidden potential so endearing that I can’t help but embrace a connection I feel towards them. So yes, my daughter, there is something magical about you, but it’s definitely not sleeping with your eyes open! :)