• Craft

    Animals are characters too!

    I’ve always loved reading books where the hero or heroine has a pet. Robert Dugani’s Tracy Crosswhite series where a secondary character (and love interest) is a pair of dogs and I just loved them. They really added to the story as well helped developed the hero’s personality. I loved it so much that I decided I needed a book with pet.

    Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows they have their own distinct personality. I’ve owned three dogs and they were each very different. One was just crazy. Every time you let her out of the house, she ran around the house ten times like wild animal. She’d stop to pee and poop, then do it again. It was like she was chasing her tail…around the house. Tucker was just a spaz. Shasta was kind of like Tucker because Shasta was pretty high strung. Hyper. Even as a grown ass dog, she was like a big puppy. But she listened. Tucker never listened. And there was our nervous nilly Casey. Smart dog, but afraid of her own shadow. But her fear didn’t come out in cowering away, no, she barked and growled and made for a great watch dog. She was pretty mellow and often got annoyed by Shasta’s need to play all the time.

    The first time I used a pet as a character was in TO PROTECT HIS OWN. My hero has a horse named Boots. Only my hero, Jake, left the farm ten years ago, and left his beloved horse behind.

    Boots didn’t take that too well and became a moody horse. The heroine was left to tend to the Boots, who often acted like a child, pouting, or acting out, or being stubborn. Surprisingly, I received a lot of emails from fans who LOVED Boots. I got more feedback on that horse than I did anything else regarding the book.

    But Boots never had a point-of-view. I showed his personality through his actions when around people, which was fun to write. So when one of my best friends, Laura Benedict, recommended me to join the wonderful world of the great cat detective, Trouble.

    Besides the Trouble series being a cozy mystery (something I’ve never written before), Trouble has to participate in solving the mystery. He has his own Point-of-View. I thought that would make it easier to write him. I thought the only challenge would be make sure his voice matched all the other books in the series. Ha! Wrong!

    It took a few tries of writing Trouble to get his voice right. He’s a black cat who watches a lot of Sherlock Holmes. Trouble is a tad pretentious, a bit full of himself, and he sort thinks he’s British…AND he truly believes he’s pretty much the best detective around. That part was easy. I too watched a lot of Sherlock Holmes. I had no problem dropping myself into that character. I got his voice down quickly. What became a struggle was his actions. I mean, I had to show him in the bushes, basking in the sun, or slinking around looking for clues. It was the cat action I had trouble with. I think it was because I don’t have a cat. My only real experience with cats was when I was a teenager and my dad had three cats. I’ve had a few friends with cats, but they weren’t my pet of choice.

    Now, you ask how is this different from writing a horse (I’ve never owned a horse) and writing a cat? The difference was mixing the voice with the actions. Boots didn’t have a voice. He wasn’t talking to the audience. While he occasionally reacted to situations to help clue in my heroine or hero on approaching danger, he wasn’t doing things to solve the mystery. He was just reacting to snakes on the side of the barn! Any horse would freak out.

    As a writer, I believe it’s important to stretch our skills. Stepping out of our comfort zone can only make us better writers. I often do writing prompts that are so far from my writing style or genre. Doing this has made me a better writer. It makes us focusing on learning new things. It helps us keep things fresh, new, and exciting. It’s easy to get into ruts.

    I strongly suggest every writer try writing a different genre. Not necessarily for publication. Not even writing anything more than a couple of pages. But take some time and write different. Take a writing prompt and instead of going in the direction you normally would, take it to the complete opposite. Try it. It’s a lot of fun. I dare you!

  • Writer's Life,  Writing Process

    My mind is a dark place…I’m not sure you want to go there!

    Sometimes, when I look back over my life, I think I got more done when I was running around with my head cut off like a chicken managing 3 kids in travel hockey, 2 on the golf team, 1 doing dance competition while working two part-time jobs and volunteering for the local hockey association and the PTA.

    I am woman hear me roar!

    That seems like a life time ago. Back then, I’d sneak in 500 words between putting kids on the bus 3 different schools, each bus coming about an hour after the other) before doing dishes, morning chores, and heading off to one of my part-time jobs. I’d then sneak in as many words as I could sitting, usually from 4pm – 10pm at the hockey rink. My kids at sandwiches, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cucumbers that I packed most nights so they didn’t eat chicken fingers and french fries every night (though there were some of those nights). I stayed up late cleaning and doing laundry, then started the cycle all over again. Weekends were just as bad as my family split up because one kid had games in Canada, the other in Boston, and the other in Buffalo. Yeah, see how that works. But I’d sneak in my words sitting at rinks before the game started and sitting in hotel rooms.

    Back then I was considered a fast writer.

    Not sure I felt like I was, but I was an effective writer.

    I still am. Only I get to write a lot more and it’s often uninterrupted writing (unless one of the 3 kids has returned for a visit). Even when our middle boy moved back home for a year, I wasn’t running the rat race. Oh. I’m still busy. Just doing other things.

    So, what is my day like now?

    It’s different every day. But what has remained the same, is I have a calendar, with deadlines, goals, and appointments. I spend Sunday planning out my week. That includes finding out if the man is going to be home and if he’s going to need to be fed. It includes planning time for my walks, bike rides, grocery store trips, and anything else that might need to be done that week (also based on weather). At the end of every day, I carry over what wasn’t done the day before, and rearrange my schedule as necessary.

    When I was busy being a hockey mom, I kept my sanity by having a color coded calendar. Now that I’m in a different phase of my life, I keep busy by having a color coded calendar. Ha!

    Honestly, one of the reasons why I think it’s good to do a day in the life…in your life…is to see where you’re not using your time effectively and efficiently. I do laundry while watching my shows. That way I’m folding while I catch up. If I have to go out for an appointment, I get everything else that needs doing outside of the house on that day. When I make my grocery list, I make it in the order in which the items are shelved. I hate it when my grocery store changes the isles up!

    It’s not really about multitasking, as it is planning.

    Hi. I’m a planner. I like organization, structure, and please don’t change my well laid plans with a snap of your finger. That really stresses me out. Seriously. If my calendar says that I’m going to Costco on Wednesday, and something happens, I’m like, shit. That fucks up my whole day! Not really, but then I have to regroup. And I can, but it takes me a minute or two.

    It’s worse when something like my printer isn’t working and I spend all day figuring that out and at the end of the day, I feel like I lost a day. Or when I’m sick. That sucks.

    But my point is, as a planner, I can see what I’m actually getting done, and how my day really works. My mind is always playing tricks on me, like telling my body I’m still 25 and can do a cartwheel. Yeah. Not really a good idea.

    Understanding self is one of the major keys to success. But if you don’t spend at least a full week writing down everything you do as you do it, you won’t really see where you’re either spinning your wheels, or where if you just things up a little bit, you’d have more energy. After that, I think its important to re-evaluate every so often. To me, this is like looking at a map before you get in a car and taking a long trip.

    Or writing some kind of outline, synopsis, and/or character sheet, for your book. You pantsers are cringing right now, but you have your own ways of keeping track of story…and keeping your day on track. That’s what this is all about. Setting goals, and setting yourself up for success.

     

  • Critique

    Show your pretty to your readers, your ugly to your critique partner, and always learn from both!

    There is a bit of controversy out there in writer critique land if you should be giving your critique partner your best work or your first draft. The answer to that is not whether one is right or wrong, but what one is looking for in a critique, what one wants to give in a critique, and what one believes will best serve them. I also think, the answer come in where you are in your writing career and the development of your craft (which is always getting better). Casey and I will cover that in another topic soon.

    When Casey and I first met. We both came at this critique thing with each other wearing protective gloves. This is because we both had bad past experiences. Those experiences helped us shape the critique process we have now. Neither of us wanted a line edit. We didn’t want proofreading, although we’d say, if you see, feel like fixing it, go for it! We also didn’t want smoke blown up our skirts. We wanted honest and real.

    Last week Casey talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent as a critique partner.

    Every time I get a critique back from Casey I get excited about finding out all the things she found wrong, or that could be better, or that I missed an opportunity, where I can amp up the tension, make a reader care, whatever. If I ever got a crit back from her that had a comment or two, a few fixed typos, and tells me I did a good job.

    She’d be fired.

    No joke.

    Of course, the few times (okay, maybe once in the last, I don’t know, two years) I’ve gotten a critique that had very few critical comments. I immediately picked up the phone and said, “WTF? There has to be something wrong with this bad boy.” To which she replied, “It was a real shocker to me too, but other than that one area, I thought, damn girl, you rock.”

    Trust me, the next one that came back, I saw so much red I cried tears of JOY! See, I like editing and rewriting. It’s my favorite part of writing. I’m that weirdo that HATES drafts, except first chapters, but I digress. I’ve never thought I’ve gotten anything “right” on the first try. I shine in second and third draft. I layer in second and third draft. Though, because I focus on action and dialogue, I often miss little opportunities, which is why I need Casey to constantly show me where I can amp up the tension and emotion. Without her, I think my books would be a bit flat.

    Her post last week talked about taking care of what you have and not becoming complacent. Now let’s look at what Casey does…one thing she has a tendency to do is give me way too much information in a short period of time. I’m overwhelmed. The reader might be overwhelmed. She might have a reason for doing it, but if I don’t keep pointing out when I’m bored, or she’s beating me over the head with something, or I’m lost in the detail and not the story, or I’m starting to skim, not carrying much about what she’s writing, then she might not know where she’s mucking up. Thing is, almost every time I tell her this, she’s like, well this person or this thing is important because of XYZ. Okay, but there is NO NUGGET that makes me care. You have not planted that SEED. Give that to me! And she always finds it usually by doing two things. Tightening where she can, giving the reader only what they need in that moment, and finding that one little bomb that says, you need to know this. But poor Casey is stuck with me giving her comments like this.

    Or, I often toss a bunch of questions at her about what I’m reading. I don’t have to have the answers because you have to remember, she might want me as a reader to be thinking all this stuff. Or it just might be, okay, I don’t HAVE to give the reader all this right now and it goes back to what does the READER HAVE TO KNOW RIGHT NOW.

    Now, some of you might be thinking, God, Jen, you’re mean. Or geez, Jen, why are you airing CASEY’s dirty underwear out there. And I want to make this clear. The reason why I’m giving you examples of my critique of Casey is to show how I’ve come to know her as a partner and how I help her make her writing better. Basically, calling her on her shit. And her calling me on mine. Not only do you have understand your partner’s voice in draft mode, but you have to understand how you critique. It’s essential that you’re working on their writing, not projecting your own into.

    Another thing to consider is to be assertive in what you need. There have been times when I’ve said to Casey that I really need you to look for certain specific things. It’s not because she’s not doing it, but it’s good to restate your needs.

    Also, when writing something that is a little out of my comfort zone, I will ask her to focus say emotion or character development.

    And here is another thing to consider, sometimes we focus on what WE do in our writing and not what THEY do.

    If I’m told often enough that I have a specific bad habit, I will start to notice it in everyone else. It’s part of learning who you are as a writer.

    I think Critiquing in DRAFT MODE is an important concept because too often we focus on the mechanics. The Oxford comma. The word WAS. We’re not line editing. We’re not really even being developmental editors. We’re doing a stream of conscious commentary on a writer’s draft. Understand, that the draft may go under many edits after that. I’m just seeing Casey with her pants down.