Saturday, March 29, 2008

Dreams and stories

I woke up at 4am this morning from the strangest dream I've had in a long time (in general, vivid strangeness haunts my dreams...always has).

In my dream, I was stuck with this group of people in a house that wasn't mine. And these people I was with really freaked me out. They tried to tell me how to do everything under the sun: chores, meals to cook, what I should and should not be wearing, how to speak, even how I should be raising my kids. I finally lost my temper and yelled at them to mind their own business, then I woke up.

I blinked a bit, confused as to where the heck this dream came from. It was almost like a Reality TV show, and I don't watch any Reality TV. I was just settling back to sleep when I bolted upright, wide awake, thinking "those people are perfect for a story I want to write!" So I got up, scribbled some notes, thought some more, scribbled some more, and so on. And I never did get back to sleep.

I'm sure I'm not the only person who's gotten story ideas from a dream, which makes me wonder what goes on in other people's brains. And what the heck kind of wiring do our brains have that gives us these wacky dreams? It's probably something I'll never know, but it's fun to think about.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Children's Choice Awards finalists

Children's Book Week is coming up in May (12-18), and it's time to vote for the winners of the Children's Choice Awards. The finalists have been announced, and kids can vote for their favorite books either online or at participating libraries, schools, and bookstores.

So, all you children's writers out there, get a child to vote for his/her favorite book!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

How do you know if you're good?

This question has probably haunted writers since the beginning of time. Well, maybe not that long...but it probably feels like it. So what's the answer? Heck if I know. But I came across Nadia Cornier's blog entry that made me smile and nod because it made so much sense. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It's funny, what you know

Last week, I posted about writing what you know, and it's funny how the things you know can crop up without you knowing it. :)

I read through some of my YA novel yesterday, and discovered something about the parents of my main character (Rose). Their relationship is exactly like the relationship my parents had when I was growing up. Rose's mom is nothing like my mom, and Rose's dad is not like my dad. But the way her mom and dad interact with each other is very similar to how my parents interacted when I was growing up.

So, I took a piece of my childhood, something I know very, very well, and unconsciously put it into my story. I'm sure I'm not the first person to have done this, so it makes me think that we all know more than we think we know. :)

Friday, March 07, 2008

What Do You Know?

One of the most common pieces of advice for writers (that I've heard, anyway) is "Write What You Know." But, what does that mean?

I know that 6x4=24. I also know the sky is blue. And if I didn't know these things, I could easily learn them.

So is that what it means to write what I know? I'm not so sure. I think it means something deeper: Write What You Know In Your Heart.

But what does that mean? Simply put, it's what you know that can only be learned through experience. For example, my parents divorced when I was three, and neither remarried. So I know what it's like to be raised by a single mom. Conversely, I don't know what it's like to be raised by a two-parent family. I can do research on this and make an educated guess, but I'll never truly know because I didn't experience it growing up.

Another example. When I first learned I was going to have a baby, I was thrilled. I love kids, and spent my high school years babysitting. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I still did lots of research so I'd be well prepared. After my son was born, I learned that no amount of research could have prepared me for this experience. It's baffling, frustrating, and rewarding - all at the same time. I had no idea how much it would change me and my view of the world. And I wouldn't give it up for anything. But it's something I had to experience in order to really know.

I think that we, as writers, can take our experiences, expand them with research, and then put them on the page. I also think it works the other way - expand the research with experiences. In either case, I think it will give us something truly amazing.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

It just keeps growing!

I don't know why, but every story I write is always bigger than my initial plan. The characters develop and start to include their own stories in mine, they do things that were never in my plan, and I find that many more things need to happen in order to avoid that rush-to-the-end feeling. So, by the time I'm writing those last few chapters, I'm asking myself "am I ever going to finish?" The answer is, of course, yes. :) But It surely doesn't feel like it at the time.

I've been reading some truly great books lately, one of which is Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr. I couldn't put it down, dreamed about it, thought I saw fey everywhere I looked, etc. :) It's a fantastic read, which I highly recommend. I wrote a little something summarizing my thoughts on Shelfari. Feel free to read it if you like. Melissa Marr has another book coming out in April, something of a sequel to Wicked Lovely, which I've already pre-ordered.

I've just picked up A Curse Dark As Gold by Elizabeth Bunce. Based on what I've heard, I'm expecting it to be just as good.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Filtering Language

I've been reading a lot lately, and have noticed a trend in writing style. I don't know if it's just the style of the times, or maybe it seems natural when writing in first person. Still, I think it puts a barrier between the reader and the story. My ICL instructor called it filtering, and it's also one of the top reasons editors reject manuscripts. Here are some examples:

1) Jim noticed the flowers on the ground.
2) Ella watched the bird fly away.
3) Jeremy saw his mom cross the street.
4) Sally thought her mom was being unreasonable.
5) Tim realized he was late for school.
6) Jamie wondered why everything is supposed to taste like chicken.
7) Alfie considered running away, but he had nowhere to go.
8) Mary hoped she would become Prom Queen.

Each of these sentences take us outside the character's head. The author is telling us about the characters, not letting the reader experience the characters' thoughts and actions for himself. Let's rephrase each sentence such that the filtering is removed.

1) Jim knelt on the ground. The leaves of the wilting violets fluttered in the wind.
2) The bird spread her wings and flew away. Ella smiled.
3) Jeremy's mom looked both ways, twice, then crossed the street.
4) Sally snorted. Mom was being completely unreasonable!
5) Tim scrambled out of bed. He was late for school again!
6) "Just try it, Jamie. You'll like it. It tastes like chicken." Dad stabbed the snake meat with his fork and shoved it into his mouth. Jamie sighed. How can everything taste like chicken?
7) Alfie threw some clothes in a suitcase. He had to get out of here. He zipped the bag closed, then froze. Where could he go? Who would take him in after what he'd done?
8) Mary hugged her chest. "Please let me win. It's my last chance to be Prom Queen."

These revised sentences put us directly into the characters' heads. We see what they see, feel what they feel, think what they think. We experience the story first-hand, instead of being told by someone else.

I think filtering is a form of telling - the author tells us what the characters are thinking/feeling/etc instead of letting us experience it for ourselves. Writing without filtering is very difficult, and I've banged my head against the wall on more than occasion. But once I find the right words, I'm ten times more satisfied with the end result.