Monday, February 28, 2011
Friday, February 25, 2011
I completed a rough draft on Monday, and I am currently in the arduous phrase of “taking a break” from the manuscript. I say arduous because the only thing I want to do is open it and start working, but I believe there is value in pausing after completion of a rough draft. Not only does it give me a more objective perspective when beginning to edit, but it also makes me stop and celebrate the fact that I finished a first draft.
Besides quelling the desire to work on the draft, the other thing I struggle with is how long of a break to take. I haven’t yet found the sweet spot—that place where I am more objective about the text and yet still passionate about the story. For my rough draft of The Last Crane, I have been on break for about five months. For me, five months is too long—I’ve moved on, invested myself in other stories and characters, and I don’t have much of a desire to return to the manuscript.
Some of my author friends have a set amount of time they wait—be it one week or six months. A few write the first draft for another novel before returning to the first. Some don’t wait at all. Regardless, the amount of time spent “on a break” seems to vary widely by not only the writer but also the project.
Do you pause between drafts? If so, how do you decide how long of a break to take?
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
Monday, February 21, 2011
Friday, February 18, 2011
When teaching Romeo and Juliet, I would always hand out a text from Shakespeare’s era that has not been updated to reflect current grammar and spelling standards. Things have changed a little in the past 400 years. For example, the letter f was used where we frequently use s today. I would challenge the students to write a short paragraph in un-updated Shakespearean. They quickly figure out that the word suck used to be spelled fuck. As you can imagine this is endlessly amusing to a group of fourteen-year-olds. And, yes, the word suck did exist in Shakespeare’s day.
The in the Elizabethan Era grammar rules were not rules at all—but guidelines. Grammar was thought of as a tool. If the reader understands what you have written, then it is written correctly. There were no discussions over dependent and independent clauses or whether the period goes inside the quotation marks. Instead the great leveler was: can the reader easily make sense of the writing?
Fast forward 400 years and now everyone gets all in a quandary over comma placement. And some of us (you know who you are—admit it) just love knowing the grammar rule and living by the grammar rule and getting annoyed with people who don’t use the grammar rule. Why have we become so rigid?
English is a living, breathing, changing language. Our grammar rules should be living and breathing too. So what if I punctuate a little differently than you do?
I enjoyed reading The Hunger Games, and I understood all the sentences—even though Collins “broke” a grammar rule over and over. That’s right, she would combine two independent clauses with a conjunction and….wait for it….not use a comma. The world did not come to a grinding halt. The English language did not topple over and writhe on the ground before going limp.
If you read this blog (all three of you), then you are welcome to give me a little flack because I discuss grammar rules weekly. Yes—I admit there is some hypocrisy there, but I’m not scared of change, and I don’t have the need to hold onto archaic traditions “just because”. If the rules change, so be it. I’ll change too. Texting and email are not destroying our language. Trust me, the English language will continue to live on long after you and I are gone. Younger generations will figure out different ways of punctuating—who is to say they are wrong?
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Novel: Robin Wasserman, Skinned series
Theme often gets lost in novels. The author can define the theme, but can the reader? Many times I don’t even think about theme when I am reading. If I enjoy the story and the characters are complex, then my brain has enough to contemplate.
But after reading Robin Wasserman’s Skinned series, theme is something I don’t want to live without.
In the Skinned novels, Lia Kahn is killed in an automobile accident and installed in a “mech”—a mechanical body created in the image of humans.
The theme that Wasserman tackles is identity, and she carries this theme though all three novels beautifully.
As a teacher, I always thought about theme as a sentence (answer in complete sentences please is an English teacher mantra). But these novels made me look at theme as more of an idea bubble. Identity is at the core—and then Wasserman continues to rotate Lia around that bubble in different sub-themes that all deal with identity. For example, Lia questions if she is the same person she was before the accident because she cannot physically feel like she did before. Later when Lia discovers that there are other copies of her brain in the database, she again questions her identity. What makes this successful is that Wasserman keeps throwing new things at Lia, but every time it comes back to the theme of identity—even if only for a few brief words.
The problem with my writing is that I often get so fragmented on theme because I want to tackle separate themes. It isn’t enough for me just to explore identity, I also want to explore loyalty, forgiveness, faith, etc, etc etc. Wasserman’s trilogy has many of these complex ideas, but the main focus on identity never wavered. If other themes were addressed, it still came back to identity as the main bubble.
An example is Riley’s fierce loyalty to Jude. I would be tempted to focus on that loyalty, but Wasserman looked at it though the lens of identity. Is Riley’s loyalty a result of his identity? If Riley defines himself as “a person loyal to Jude”, then is Riley the same person if he decides to go against Jude? Does Riley feel compelled to redefine his identity if this loyalty is no longer part of his character?
I wonder how Wasserman was able to create this. I think it would be almost impossible in a first draft—that it would be take a large amount of refining in later edits. Regardless, her achievement in this area really floored me and completely changed the way I look at theme. Don’t you love it when that happens?
Monday, February 14, 2011
Friday, February 11, 2011
If I could, I would steal Oscar Wilde’s sense of humor. My writing would be beautifully sarcastic and witty—oh, and it would provide much needed social commentary too.
I would also steal Laurie Halse Anderson’s ability to craft an unexpected simile. Virginia Wolfe’s ability to create a sentence so well written it makes the reader stop and re-read it, just to enjoy the combination of words. M.T. Anderson’s ability to create a character’s voice so authentic that you forget that it is Anderson—and not the character—who wrote the novel.
But my writing isn’t sarcastic and witty. My similes are often chunky and predictable. My sentences are—at times—awkward messes, and occasionally all my characters sound the same.
This isn’t a pity party.
This is a rough draft.
Sometimes I have to step back and remember that all authors write first drafts. That Feed didn’t always exist—Anderson had to sit down and write it, and it started as a first draft.
I wish that I could read a first draft for Speak or Mrs. Dalloway. A real first draft—one that hasn’t been edited or altered in any way. Would an author ever be willing to share such a thing? I think most of us are too proud to be that vulnerable—to share our faults and let others see how much we struggle at times. But imagine how enlightening it would be to read some first drafts that developed into stellar novels.
I wonder if I could expose myself in that way. Even with my critique partners I rarely send out something that I haven’t edited at least two or three times. We grow by extending ourselves, so I’ll make a promise that I might later regret. When I publish a novel (think positively!), I’ll post a chapter or two of the rough draft for other writers to see—no editing, no covering—just raw I haven’t even bothered to spell check writing.
Oscar Wilde wrote first drafts too, and I’m betting that he wrote a few craptastic jokes along the way. Instead of feeling down about my rough draft, I need to remember that Wilde had to work at it too. That writing is a process for all authors, experienced and novice. And that ability is developed—one edit at a time.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I like to pride myself on writing “strong” female MCs. Recently, it was brought to my attention that one of my MCs is “weak”. This was a surprise to me.
At what point have we decided that a girl who has insecurities is not a strong character? Sometimes I think it is the strongest characters who are insecure—characters who are willing to do whatever needs to be done knowing that they might fail—knowing that they might be hurt by what others think of them. Characters who aren’t entire sure about themselves, but are still willing to act.
A girl doesn’t need to kick butt to be strong. She doesn’t need to speak her mind or show no fear. Sometimes she just needs to survive.
The character in question has this kind of strength. As others fall around her, she will quietly live on. She will adapt. And she will keep breathing, keep living. She is a survivor. She may be the strongest character I have ever written.