Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reading: Many Genres, One Craft (Part 2)


Sharon Mignerey’s article “Character and Dialogue”: I need to spend some one-on-one time with Rhea

Rhea is the name of my protagonist in the book I’m writing, entitled The Aborted, and after reading Sharon’s article, I realized that I had a lot of catching up to do with her in order to make her work as a main character.  Mignerey writes, “The major character of the story,  we’re told, must be empathetic- that I, to be recognizable enough that we might think as he thinks, act as he acts, if we were in his shoes” (64). She then goes on to talk about the Milieu  of the character, which really got me thinking… who is Rhea Harmon? Does she like where she’s at in life or can she not wait to get out of where she’s at? What’s her background story? Does she get along with her parents or have any siblings? What’s her financial situation? Is she a wallflower or a social lite? Those are just some of the questions that I asked myself after reading the article, and I’ll tell you what – I revised the beginning of my story three times already, and it has progressively gotten better each time because of what I learned about the setting influencing the character.

Randall Silvis’s article “Tough Love: Make Your Protagonist Suffer” : I’m an evil little SOB.

In my sophomore year as an undergraduate, Dr. Michael Arnzen told me something that I’ll never forget – only conflict is interesting. No one wants to hear about good things happening to your character while he continues to live happily ever after! Heck no, they want to see him suffer and bleed a little in order to get what he wants, and in Silvis’s article, that is exactly what he reiterates.  He writes, “If you want the reader to love your protagonist as much as you do, place her at risk, whether physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, or any combination thereof” (71). That there, my friends,  is my adopted mantra for writing horror – put em’ through hell. Needless to say, I’ll be printing out this quote, and putting it above my desk because everyone… deep down inside… wants to see a little bloodshed in their stories.

Barbara J. Miller’s article “Empowering Female Characters”:  Burn your bras folks – Rhea’s kick ass and will stop at nothing until she feels like she gets what she deserves

This article hit the spot for me since I’m dealing with a very strong female character in my manuscript, while at the same time her mental competency is being disputed throughout the entire piece. I was really curious how I was going to make her appear strong while others worried that she was too weak, and then I read this- “Even when the character starts unempowered you must give you female lead at least one quality that will help her succeed, at least one this she is good at” (79).  That’s when it hit me. As long as Rhea is determined enough to do what she thinks needs to be done...then she’ll come off as strong no matter what her position is in the plotline. Miller also talks above giving her a flaw (which she has plenty of, trust me!) and then showing her fail because of it. This will show how she deals with other people, as well as giving readers a glimpse into how she deals with defeat (which is KEY in my story).

KJ Howe’s article “Give Your Reader Whiplash: Pacing in Fiction”:

This article helped me shape my beginning into a delightfully creepy scene that I’ve grown very proud of…when at first it did nothing but give me a headache. I really wanted to do a kick start, in your face, can’t-put-down-the-book-already introduction, and I had to face that what I first had…was just crap. But hey, I gave myself permission to write a really shitty first draft just as long as something got down on the paper… but then I read this, and it was like a light bulb went off in my head. Howe talked about giving that extra UMPH through harsh words (staccato rhythm), sentence fragments, dialogue, and tunnel vision and when I applied that to Rhea’s opening scene, the words just started to flow, and the best part of it was that Howe also talked about how to slow it down, which I applied directly after this scene so that the transition between chapters was smooth, yet not forced.  The main thing that I learned from this was that baby steps are good. Sometimes you need to play and make mistakes before you really know what you need to do and how you need to do it.

Next time I’ll be picking up with Ron Edison’s article, “Put a Little Love in Your Life: The Perks and Perils of Romantic Subplots”  which is good considering that Rhea might be running into a problem soon where she was to deal with the perils of a slighted romance.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Reading: Many Genres, One Craft (Part 1)

Before I went to my first writing residency at Seton Hill University (per the Writing Popular Fiction program), I bought Michael A. Arnzen's and Hedi Ruby Miller’s book entitled, Many Genres, One Craft. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this new release, know that it is basically a writer’s workshop in print that was compiled from past/present students, mentors, professors, etc. from SHU’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction.  Now when I was an undergraduate at the university, I heard a great deal about this new writer’s guide that aimed to help all genre writer's with different areas of their craft from dealing with perfectionism, building tension, to the basic repetitive words that annoy the hell out of editors. 

So now that I have officially enrolled into the program and have been working my way through the book,  I want to share with my followers my process in writing and how the book has been helping me, as a writer. I know that in the past I have shared updates about how books such as On Writing Horror and Writers Workshop of Horror have helped me, but so far this book has been very unlike anything that I have experienced—in a good way.

Right now, I’m about 60 pages into the guide and I’ve already caught myself in several major BAD habits that I’m consciously working to avoid, but beyond that, I’ve found that I’ve discovered an inner peace within myself knowing that other people struggle with the same things that I do. Sometimes knowing that you’re not alone is the biggest relief of them all. Trust me.

So here’s what I’ve learned so far:

From Michael A. Arnzen’s article “Putting our Heads Together: An Introduction to Many Genres, One Craft”: Cross genre learning will drastically improve your writing.

Now most of you know by now that I write horror, live horror, breathe horror, wish I was a vampire etc., and so it might surprise some of you to know that I’m studying ROMANCE this term. Naturally, I’ve taken all of the horror classes already, but one piece of advice that I’ve recently taken to heart really humbled me: you can always learn how to improve your genre by reading outside of it as well as within it.  And I mean, honestly folks, who doesn’t love a juicy romance scene between the sexy vampire and his mortal infatuation that’s he’s really trying hard not to drain, or seeing the Wolfman not rip out Gwen’s throat because his human side is still in love with her? Well guess what?! Those are all romance elements, and seeing that I’ve only been studying and writing the throat ripping parts, I’m not quite sure how to make that into a semi-romantic scene—hence my new focus this term.

From Gary A. Braunbeck’s article “You Have to Start with SOMETHING, So it Might as well be Something like this” : Opening lines are crucial

I love that assaulting first line in a book that just rips open my eyes and forces me to keep reading. For instance, if a story opens up with a murder, an amputation, someone having a conversation with the devil… I’m so not putting it down. Now if it opens with “It was a bright and sunny day and I reached for my glass of lemonade thinking about how perfect my life was…” unless there is a bloody eye floating around near the ice cubes, I’m probably going to chuck it out the window.

From Timons Esaias’s article “Don’t be a Bobble-Head and Other Bits of Guidance: I’m annoying as fuck when I write!!

Now I love Tim’s approach to writing and editing because he’s never been one to sugar coat what I’m doing wrong and always tells me like it is…which I love! So I thought that it was pretty funny when I sat down to read his article and I still felt like I was watching him roll his eyes at my sentences and slap me on the wrist when I was doing something annoying. And as always…I’ve become a better writer because of it (silent prayer of thanks for Tim Esaias!). First off, I learned that I say some and all its evil cognates WAY too much!! I went back and counted them up in my first three pages that I wrote of my manuscript and about had a heart attack when I saw the number (which will be kept a secret for your own sake).  I also learned that I need to break myself of some really bad TV writing habits…which now that they’ve been brought to my attention, I feel like I can fix (turning, nods, the twitches, and my worst habit describing my character’s face when they can’t see it). I’m also a really bad sigh-er when it comes to writing so I’m limiting myself to only a few sighs throughout my entire manuscript.


Maria V. Snyder’s article “Dumping the Info Dump” : I tend to molest my readers with stuff that they don’t really care about.

“I believe in the Rule of Three when writing descriptions or including information.  No more than three relevant descriptors or facts are allowed at one time.  If a new character is introduced, I’ll give the reader up to three physical traits and then get back to the story action.”

3.  That’s it. Don’t be a rapist with description folks.

Then for some subtle things I’ve picked up:
1.       Drop those ugly LY words, and for the love of GOD… do I need to stop using bloated phrases such as ‘due to the fact that’ or ‘despite the fact that.’ If this is starting to drive me crazy, I can only imagine the horrible things that Scott Johnson is going to do to me when he reads them… mwhahahaha.
2.       It’s ok to write a really shitty first draft as long as the story gets down.
3.       Get rid of your inner editor by closing your eyes or turning down the computer screen so you can’t catch all of your mistakes.
4.       And most importantly… I’m not the only one with perfectionist syndrome when I write --- Anne Harris, you’re a Goddess for letting me know I’m not alone and that the problem can be fixed with practice.

Oh and something else that I've learned from reading this book -- if you're a writer.. go buy it. You won't be sorry.