In Which Spring is a Thing

Geese at Liberty Park

Photo by Lisa Asanuma

And by Spring, of course I mean Summer (almost) but here in Utah the two seem to disappear into each other quickly.

In any case, the last I noticed cognitively, it was mid-December. The last I blogged it was latter-February. So, something has gone wrong here.

And that thing is: shame.

Oh, Lisa, you have tried so hard not to let this thing get to you, but then here you see it has been lurking in the corners for the past few months, without so much as letting you know.

It has been nearly a month since I opened my WIP. My second-draft, bringing-it-so-much-closer-to-awesome-this-time-around WIP. And the thing that has keeping it shut on my computer, more than my busy schedule or my attempting to spend down time with my husband…. is shame.

I had not realized it while it was happening, but shame was slowly overtaking me, creeping into my mind and heart ever-so-slowly that I didn’t realize it was there.

Because. Well, I’ve been in this game for a long time. And while I know that most first novels are ‘put it in a drawer and try again’ awful…. this isn’t really my first novel, and it is (as claimed by others, not just me!) NOT unsalvageably awful. I even have a plan to get it done and make it really good—or at least good enough to get a yes, so far as I can imagine, and that will have to do. I can get to the point where I admit that it is good ENOUGH.

So why the shame? Largely, I admit, it is because of the casual naysayers. I don’t tell most people in my life that I’m working on a novel, or that I have a completed draft, largely because this novel is SO much more complex than all of the other stories that I’ve worked on, and yet I want THIS one to be my debut, so I’ve put others on hold, and because of this, when I do say that I have a completed first draft of a novel, people assume that I’m close to getting it published.

Pssh. As if this is a thing you can just go and do. (Okay, if you’re going the Indie Route, sure, you can… but that has never been my particular dream).

So when people at work casually tease me with “So when can I buy your novel?” or “So when are you doing to publish that book?” I bristle and freeze.

And it makes me not want to work on the book. I’ve been reading, but not blogging, and ultimately, not writing. I’ve been letting other people’s dismissal of my dreams get to me. Which is utterly shameful.

So instead I take pictures of geese and ducks and their babies. Not a bad venture, by half, but…. not my dream. (Disclaimer: this is not actually a full-time venture)

And I’m not ready to let this dream go. So I’m hoping to rouse my spirits and get my focus back on. Yes, I’m busy, but I can’t ever get any writing done if I don’t make time for it. I can’t bring this fantastic adventure to life and into the minds and hearts of readers without finishing, finishing, finishing.

And in the meanwhile… perhaps a Tales From the Hollow Tree story. I have been desperately wanting to get back to writing shorts. Definitely, definitely no more hiding from my blog or WIP, though.

And if you have any tips for channeling a baddie when you are really a very nice person (you know, depending on who’s asking)… please send them along!

Let the Cat Die Already

bastet

Statue of Bastet, Egyptian cat goddess via http://www.egyptpast.com

It’s halfway into the first week of NaNo, and even though I’m only half-participating this year (editing and overhauling my MS), I thought I’d do a blog post on writing. More specifically, on killing the cat.

I know, I know, everybody likes cats. LOL or Grumpy or big or small, everybody likes them. The Egyptians worshipped them, and all.

But guys, the cat must die.

Have you noticed how lately at the movies—especially the big, blockbuster type movies—that while you may enjoy it for the various jokes or shenanigans, overall the plot just leaves you kind of.. eh?

Like, you’ve seen that movie before, and you already know who’s going to come out on top of every scene before it happens?

I have to say, I have felt a lot of this. I went with my family to see Pacific Rim on opening night, and don’t get me wrong, I loved that movie. It is fun, fun, fun, especially if you’re a fan of Guillermo del Toro’s other work. (Which you should be!)

But we went to the midnight showing—or maybe 10 pm showing—and I was tired. For the first time since I was a kid, I fell asleep in the movie theater. But when I told my husband and my brother that, they laughed at me, because I fell asleep during the fight scenes.

Ridiculous, right? That’s where the action is!

Except…

I knew exactly how each of those battles was going to go as soon as they started. Sometimes I’d rouse myself mid-battle and nod and let myself close my eyes for another minute, because the fight was following the pattern I was expecting and so I didn’t really need to be paying attention. Somehow my subconscious knew that, and knew when I did need to pay attention—like looking just in time to see the Newton’s Cradle bit.

Everything new and wonderful about that movie was the jokes and the effects and the character back story that leaked out bit by bit. Which yes, I admit, still made for a fun movie. But the plot turns did not do anything like surprise me. This is the same reason why so many people were bored with Iron Man 3 and why it’s only been the recent, funny Thor commercials that have gotten you excited (that’s not just me, right?).

The culprit behind all of this is the widely-hailed book on screenwriting (that has been used to inspire lots of book-writing, too), Save the Cat, by  Blake Snyder. The book is subtitled “The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need,” and gives pointers on exactly (in the terms of screenwriting, down to the minute) plot points and downturns and… well, everything you need for a plot, needs to go.

And this is great. It really has helped a LOT of people write books. Or movies. Or whatever.

But it also means that people, whether consciously or not, are getting used to the pattern, and getting bored of it.

This is why things like The Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead are so popular right now. Because they subvert the expectations that people have—no one is safe, and no one is immune. Anyone could die. And that keeps readers on their toes.

Now, I don’t have stories where people are dying all of the time, and most stories don’t. But the principals are the same.

So the gist of this post? Okay, take advice where you want to. But don’t follow the advice to the letter if that’s not what’s going to work for your story. Yes, stories need high and low points. Yes, your character needs upswings and downswings. But sometimes something out of left field is what is really going to be remembered. Sometimes, you have to kill the cat.

Why the Hunger Games is More than Short Sentences.

This morning I read an article by Jeff Goins entitled “Why The Hunger Games is the Future of Writing.” His first argument is that it caters to an easily-distracted audience with a big font and short sentences, and that if you are an author looking to get published, you should do this too.

I have to say that I disagree, however.

There are those who, in the comments of Goins’ article argue that Suzanne Collins’ writing is just plain bad, and that it’s the story, not the writing itself that sold these books. Again, I can’t quite agree with that either.

Yes, Suzanne Collins’ prose is short, quick, and to the point. And yes, some of the sentences are poorly constructed. I had a slightly different look at reading this, because I was reading it out loud so that The Mr. and I could enjoy it together. (We’re still reading, almost halfway through Catching Fire.) Reading the book aloud, it is almost impossible to deny that some of the sentences are garbled and confusing. I’ve stumbled over a good many of them.

All of these arguments are missing the point as to what is really going on here. And what is going on here is pacing.

The pacing in The Hunger Games is superb. It is probably the best case of pacing I have seen anywhere. The end of each and every chapter has a punch-you-in-the-gut “Did-that-just-really-happen?” moment.

A moment that makes you want to race on to find out why or what or how something just occurred.

The pacing in The Hunger Games is so good, you don’t really care that the sentences possibly could have been edited a little more. To be honest, I think they could have. I think this is a case where the editors were so drawn in by the writing that some things slipped by. It happens.

The series is a sprint. It takes off running, hits hard and keeps going, because the characters don’t have the choice of stopping, so neither does the reader. Short sentences may make an impact stylistically, but we’ve always known concision is the key to good writing. Some of Goins’ commenters lamented that short-sentences would lead to a world without Shakespeare, but Shakespeare himself wrote that “brevity is the soul of wit,” and was possibly the first master of pacing with his scenes of comic relief in intense plays.

In any case, I don’t think that short sentences is the answer. The answer is precision, and pacing. If simple sentences were the only key to a bestseller, how do you explain Maggie Stiefvater, author of the New York Times bestselling Wolves of Mercy Falls series and the critically acclaimed Scorpio Races? Stiefvater’s writing is lyrical and complex, with—I dare say—much more attention to the value of each and every word. Her books are doing just as well as Collins’ did before the movie hype, and there is a lot of promise of movie hype headed her way.

But you know what Collins’ and Stiefvater’s works have in common? Impeccable pacing. End of chapter punches to the gut.

Don’t shorten your sentences just to write like Suzanne Collins. Pay attention to the ends of your chapters, though. Make things happen there. Make your readers want more, each and every time. That’s the future of writing.