Thursday, July 30, 2009

From Where I Stand, or Head Hopping

One of the earliest lessons I learned in writing fiction is to pay careful attention to POV: that important position from which a story is told. Stick closely to the Point-Of-View you've chosen; don't switch nilly-willy from third to first and definitely do not jump from head to head. It confuses the reader, who wants to identify with the person who's telling the story.

It's true that head jumping is disorienting, and I get irritable when an author tells me things that the POV person shouldn't know, and it seems like a lazy thing to do.

But when can rules be broken? When did Picasso start deviating from drawing people as they looked to the rest of the world, and deciding that things seen from multiple perspectives are more interesting? Perhaps after he's mastered the basic "rules" of his art form?

Roxana Robinson has a masterful grasp of language (although it's pompous for me to pronouce that; like a violin student telling Joshua Bell he has a masterful grasp of his art form.) In her book, Cost, she shifts POV frequently. In chapter four, for example, we see the scene from the viewpoints of Edward; his wife, Katherine; their daughter, Julia; and Julia's grown son, Steven. The transitions were smooth; I never had any doubt whose head I was in; and no hint of irribility is detected anywhere within my reader/writer brain.

Rules are meant to be broken: when the rule breaker has mastered the rule and can break the rule without violating the idea/spirit behind said rule.

Agree? Not? Vehemently?

Tomorrow I'll ask some follow-up questions, such as:
What rules do you find you violate, but with justification?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why do you read?

I read to engage.
I read to learn.

I read so I can say, "No way, that is not possible."
I read so I can exclaim, "That's It! That's exactly it!"
I read to escape.

I read to understand.
I read so I have an excuse to cry tears I
can't cry in real life.
I read so I can laugh out loud

I read so I can nudge my husband, saying, "Hey, listen to this."
I read to sort, to order, to classify.
I read to revel in the beauty of language.
I read to receive the authors' out-reached hands they extend through their books.

I read to assure myself I'm not the only one.

Why do you read?

[Mendis pondering his fate by; Reading by paulbence; reaching out by alfarman. All pictures found at Flickr Commons.]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just take my word for it

Years ago when I was a performing pianist, I took part in a concert that featured concerti. There were five soloists, including me. The reviewer wrote quirky comments that made me go "huh" a lot, including this one about another pianist: "It's as if he fell off a truck and discovered a Liszt concerto in his fingers and decided to perform it."

Now I think I understand what he was trying to say. That's the way I feel about John Green's writing. It is so smooth, so easy, so effortless that reading his work is a pleasure.

Paper Town is about the main character, Quentin, chasing after a girl he's loved all his life, from clues she's left. The first part is devoted to a night in which she convinces him to join him in a revenge-driven pranks, the second has Q trying to figure out where she is, and the third is a classic road-trip story of Q and his buddies to find her.

It was fun and exciting to go along for the ride in parts 1 and 3. Having always been the good girl, I could live a wacky life vicariously through these fearless teens. Part 2, however, didn't work so well for me. Q came to quite a few conclusions based on his gut feeling. Now I know that gut feelings often give good advice, for whatever reason--it's been collecting information subliminally, it combines the intuitive and the analytical parts of us--but in a book, I want to partake more in the mystery-solving. Not having much access to Q's gut. it takes a mighty leap of faith for me to go along with his discoveries and conclusions, especially when there are more than one or two of such instances.

What do I mean by gut-feeling reactions? For example, when someone kisses a girl and knows from the kiss that they would never meet again. I can understand that these things do happen, and I know that it's hard to explain what about the kiss allows the person to come to the conclusion. But not being the one involved in the kiss, I am basically being told that it happened and I have to just take his word for it. Again, no problems if there were just one or two instances of this sort, but more than that, I start to lost interest in trying to participate in the story because I'm just going to be told what to conclude.

I mentioned in an earlier post I wanted to have a good talking-to with Q, to yell at him not to be so foolish. I hoped he'd do some growing over the course of the book, and he did, and I am proud of him. If he were my son or brother or good friend, I'd want more, but as a reader, I'm satisfied enough.

I'll have to say that John Green writes friendships really well. For me, the most touching parts come from Q's friends unwavering support for him. I am glad Q is not oblivious to that.

I am interested in finding out what other stories he finds in his fingertips when he wakes up next. (Yes, yes, yes, I know it takes tons of work to sound effortless.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

If you blog about books, you may want to check out this site.

If you read blogs about books, you may want to check out this site to nominate your favorite book blogs

Don't forget to scroll down for all the different categories.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Cut 'em some slack

It matters a lot to me that I like the main character in a book. If I can't find something about the person I can relate to, or if I can't imagine spending time with such a character, I lose interest.

So why am I still reading a book in which the narrator is so in love with this vindictive, self-centered , and marginally psycho girl that he tosses all common sense and self-respect out his Chrysler minivan?

The author is John Green for one. He has a reputation of delivering. And psycho girl isn't the main character, the boy who's in love with her is. He may be a knucklehead, but he is a likable knucklehead. Also, I have a soft spot for the girl-who-loves-and-tries-to-reform-a-broken-love-of-her-life, so I'm willing to go for a ride with a boy like that. In other words, I'm cutting the book some slack because of the writing/the author's previous works, a trust that he will handle the story in a satisfying manner; and because of some quirky personal preferences.

I'm not quite at the stage where I want to yell at the character yet (do you yell at TV screens or books?) but I had better find out soon just how this lovable love-sick puppy is going to deal with what happens next. And he'd better deal with it in a non-stupid, non-lame way.

As a writer, I wonder how much time I can spend in showing a character's flaws before my readers lose interest. Too little time, and the character's growth seems negligible. Too much and readers start wondering why they should care.

All these dumb, unclear, and ever-changing lines.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Why is the last stretch always the longest?

My primary writing goal this summer was to revise my MG novel once more so I can send out the full. But so far, I've started and completed a short story from scratch within 10 days for a contest and written new scenes for my Work In Progress, a YA novel.

The MG revision is moving v-e-r-y slowly, mainly because the few things that must be changed are things that span the whole novel. I can't just revise two chapters; have to revise those chapters and follow the threads that they impact to make sure everything flows. And every time I write fresh passages, I have to oil and polish them and hide the seams. (Like my metaphors?) before they fit in smoothly with passages that have been re-read and revised many times.

They say the first step is the hardest. I don't know. Ending is at least as hard.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gardens and writing

Ray Rhamey at Writer Unboxed wrote a great post today that involves pumpkins and squash. Since I received so many insightful and funny comments from my gardening post yesterday, I thought I'd direct you over there, to read about how we can learn to receive criticisms and rejections from gardening as well.

[pumpkins in the rain by Muffet]

This might be the only post that weaves together writing and gardening and elephants.

[Elephant by digitalART2]

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Everything I need to know about writing I learned from gardening

Actually, probably not everything. Grammar, for one.

Most of my yard is filled with perennials but there are a few spots I leave for annuals. This year I'm so late that I just put in some gazanias this morning.

The work wasn't too bad. Those places have been turned every year for my annuals, and are mostly filled with top soil and those little white spots that come with the potted plants. But the pots this year are of a different size, wider and not as deep, so I had to dig wider, into the clay parts of the ground.

So of course, I thought of writing, about how much easier it is to do things that I've done on a regular basis (dig through dirt that had been dug regularly) but those parts that are left to their own (densely packed and very stubborn clay) are a lot more difficult to tackle.

Then I dug another hole and found some fairly thick roots running through it, and I wondered which plants they belonged to, and whether it would be okay for me to pull them out or if I should dig around them, in which case I'd have to reposition the drip holes. It's not a big deal, just
a bit of a pain.

So, of course, I thought about writing, about how surprises often pop up and we have to go through these different decision-making processes.

Then my shovel bent between the handle and the working part. This is the second time it's happened. I thought I'd bought a much sturdier shovel when the last one bit the dust (is this a pun?) and it looks like it may do the very same thing.

So, of course, I thought about writing...

Maybe this is when you chime in and tell me what you learn from your experiences doing yard work and such: roots and foundation, and sweat and weed, shade and part-shade, spades and trimming.

Love to hear your gardening lessons.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

From "Cost" by Roxana Robinson

I just started reading Cost by Roxana Robinson, and am thoroughly enjoying the slower pace, after my recent bout of MG adventure books. It feels so luxurious to pay attention to whatever the author brings to the fore: the setting, (if you knew me as a reader and writer, you'd know I am not a big setting person) the ruminations and yes, even back story.

Anyway, I am only at the beginning and plan to take my time savoring the experience, but here is a sentence that I wish I'd written. It's from the point of view of Edward, an 80+ year-old man.

Hearing about other people's lives was either tedious or frustrating; they made so many mistakes.

Doesn't that just tell you a million things about his character?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Judge not, lest ye be judged

So, okay, I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but can't I judge a person by the book she loves? Say, a full grown woman who swoons over a YA book featuring a luminous boy? I know, this says more about my being judgmental and snobbish than the other person's anything besides her tastes in books.

Do you? Judge people by the books they rave about?

And what books do you love that you're afraid to admit to? Or books you're supposed to like but don't?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Too much succulence

I just read Suzanne Collins's Gregor the Overlander books 3 and 4 back to back. Writing, characters, stories: all wonderful.

But now I feel as if I've eaten a bowl of shrimp scampi. I've enjoyed every last bite of these succulent delights but I need to wait a little before I eat more. Food this rich and yummy demands re-living. Or maybe I just need to cleanse my palate.

Time to find the equivalent of lime sorbet, followed by some Vietnamese noodle soup, or potatoes
roasted in peanut oil, or pear tarts with a square of dark chocolate in the middle.

Friday, July 3, 2009

A trend in kids' movies?

Took the kids to see Up in 3D this afternoon. The second thought I had afterward, is that there seems to be a trend in making popular kids' books, particularly pictures books, into movies.

(All right, for you who are curious: the first question is why I paid extra $2.50 X 3 for a pair of dorky glasses that give me a headache for a story in which the 3D-ness isn't even important?)

The much heralded Where the Wild Things Are looks to be a big-budget undertaking, and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatball inserts a back-story and protagonist to explain why
the weather brings food in Chewandswallow.

To make full-length, or even almost full-length movies from a picture book, the core story has to be padded with subplots or back story. In Night At the Museum, there is the whole divorced-family-with-kid plot line as well as the- disgruntled-employees-cooking-up-a-crime plot line. I mentioned the backstory in Cloudy and I can imagine what they can do with Max and the Wild Things.

But what will they do to Goodnight Moon?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Length of long-hand sessions?

Yesterday I found myself with another unexpected chunk of time "trapped" somewhere with a college-ruled notebook and a working pen. So I wrote. Seven pages later, my mind told me it was time to stop.

I wonder if there is such a thing as an optimum amount of writing I can do at one go, specifically for the writing of the initial draft, the kind of writing that is in equal parts putting into words what's in my mind and finding out how the story goes; that scary, delightful, surprising, hazy type of writing. My last two unexpected gifts of a couple of uninterrupted hours have both yielded seven pages.

Do you find any patterns in your writing time span? Does it change if you type or write?