Friday, October 23, 2009

Crazy November

Next month is probably the craziest month of my year. There's Thanksgiving, both of my daughters' birthdays, the end of soccer season for one girl (which means a party), the end of baseball season (which doesn't really have a party but we tend to do something informal) and the beginning of basketball season for my older daughter. Plus there are a couple of big school functions and the usual things like homework and projects to go along with it. And then there's NaNo. National Novel Writing Month is an event which runs the entire month of November where writers try to write 50,000 words in thirty days. It gets insane. All levels of writers participate and I know a bunch of you are religious about the experience. I've done it a couple of times, I won in '06. It was the only time I have won and I think I understand why.

So I'm sure some of you are wondering why and how I'm going to do this. As to the why, I have several reasons and not all of them are writing related. First, I want to get this book done. My prediction is that I will hit at least 40K by the end of October on my WIP. If I'm focused, I should be able to finish it in November. Second, I give myself permission to put my writing top in my attention. And third, because of how hectic my November is, I need the escape of my writing. I'm not one to relax in a bathtub or take a "me" day. My novel is where I find my vacation. But NaNo requires a commitment of about 1500 words a day which is less than relaxing. So I have to plan it.

I created a November binder. I printed out calendar pages for each day of the month and put them in my binder. I've got a pad of sticky notes and a pencil ready to jot down any notes I need. Next week I'll go through and write in the times I have obligations and work around there for everything else. It means I need to schedule my writing. I need to be able to look at a day and find the time I'm going to write and make that a commitment.

I also decided I need to make time for exercise. Honestly, I don't like working out. I'll do it because I find my brain works better if I've got my blood pumping. Also, I'll have a boatload of Halloween candy around me so I'll need to work it off.

I have the advantage in that I'm a stay-at-home. Its also a disadvantage because I have a hard time saying the word "no" when asked to help. Did I mention I'm also the chairman of the food committee for the 8th grade party this year?

Are any of you planning on doing NaNo? If you are, have you mapped out any strategies to help you succeed in your goal? I'm organizing a small group of fellow mom-writers who want to do NaNo so I'm hoping that will help keep me motivated. I'm thinking of finding a reward for myself. I think I bought myself a video game when I won last year. Any thoughts? Oh, and my NaNo handle is Renered1 if you want to buddy me.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Darker the Better

I’m not a cruel person although I’m sure my children would disagree.  But I adore nothing more than torturing my characters.  I kick them when they are down.  My heroine in my current WIP has been through hell.  Her life is in shambles.  So now its time to kick her in the ribs.  And I smile as I do it.

Am I sadistic?  Not really.  But tough situations show off the mettle of a character.  If your character can live through the difficulties you throw at them, then they are well-drawn. 

Its a good test of your characterization.  If you can put your character in an impossible situation and write them back out, the character is solid.  I find writers tend to back off when the going is really bad and let off the suffering.  I think it relates to a fear of what the character might do and how much it will change them.  I just finished a book this morning where nothing really bad happened.  At the end the heroine was kidnapped and nearly raped.  Well, not really, because the hero’s brother was right there to rescue her.  Would this situation do anything to disrupt the relationship? Nope.  And at this point, the hero and heroine were already engaged.  Would the heroine  be so traumatized by her experience it would cause her to withdraw from her lover?  Nah.  Would the hero be so disheartened because he was unable to protect the heroine he would pull away?  Of course not.  After a lovey dovey scene, things were alright.  How boring. 

I like my characters to pull themselves out, to find wells of strength they never knew they had.  Black moments are the best way to do it.  These horrendous situations strengthen characters, add dimension and give the writer more to work with, making the story more compelling.  I think sometimes writers don’t want to go down the path of cruelty for fear of what they may find within themselves.  How can a person create such vicious and cruel situations and not be unscathed themselves?  Or maybe the situation will make the character do something sinister to survive.  I think sometimes writers shy away from scenes that may require their hero or heroine to do something wicked. 

I finished another book where the hero is constantly thrown into horrible situations with no foreseeable way out.  And yes, he does end up doing things which are not nice.  And yes, it does change his character, but it makes him more compelling and more sympathetic.

Black moments both physical and emotional are chances for a writer to shine.  They are tough, require focus but are, in the end, rewarding and add depth.  Embrace the darkness.  You’ll be happy you did.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Body Image

Once a year or so the media gets onto an images kick. Usually it is from some event. This time around it was Glamour's use of a plus-sized models. On top of that was the Ralph Lauren debacle. Everyone is demanding regular sized women should be featured. Girl's self-images are being distorted by the pictures they see in magazines.


If a young woman is basing her self-esteem on an image of a model in a magazine, there is a lot more going on.

When I was first in college, Jean Kilbourne lectured about the images of women in the media. Not just weight but also the need for perfection in every way. I took it to heart. She made some brilliant points and I think there was a lot of truth to what she said. That was over twenty years ago and honestly, I haven't seen any change.

I'm not saying that the images of women in magazines are okay, I'm saying that these images only hold the power we give them. Women have been seduced by fashion since the beginning of time. We love pretty clothes, awesome shoes and glittering jewelry. We like to be attractive. Its natural. But our exteriors are the least of our personas. They can change with our choices. They change with age. True beauty really is what is inside of us.

Yeah, a platitude which seems empty. But I'm not talking about sweetness and light. I'm not saying we need to be Mother Theresa's inside. But I do thing we need to encourage our daughters to develop themselves in as many ways possible. Sports, art, music, academics, all of these areas are based on our own abilities, our own efforts. Models are born models. They are the result of genetics. For the most part, they've had very little to do with their own persona. And with airbrushing and photoshopping, the women who pose in those pictures are not the women displayed in the magazine.

Truly, I don't think it is Vogue's or Glamour's or any of the other magazines job to build up self-esteem. They are in the business of selling ad space. I don't think most readers of the fashion magazines have any pretentions of wearing the clothes they see. Even if we were all a size 0, how many of us are willing to spend $500 on a pair of jeans?

The photos aren't going to change. Despite the protestations, women are still buying magazines. Women are still buying the items advertised. It doesn't mean they are obsessed with the images they see. It doesn't mean they want to be just like the girls in the magazine. They like the pretty clothes, the awesome shoes and the glittery jewelry. And if they can't have them, they like to look at them.

Yes, there women who are influenced by the images. There are women who suffer with dieting so they can fit in those clothes. And I'm not confusing this with eating disorders. Girls I knew who had eating disorders had much bigger problems than pictures in magazines. But I do think we have a society which does tell us to focus on ourselves. Women who can afford the designer clothes which are being shown in these magazines need to find a hobby which takes them out of themselves. They focus on their image because (I say this cynically)they have nothing else to worry about.

My point is we should worry less about what the media says we should be worrying about. Your body image is only going to be what you let it. No one can tell you what to think about yourself. Looking to a magazine for negative and positive images is a pointless exercise. So what? Glamour is showing "real" girls. Still, they have little impact on me. My self-image is what I see in the mirror. I'm not looking for a Vogue model, I'm only looking for a person I am comfortable living with.

OHHH...I almost forgot!

I have a new post on my other blog. Check out my book review for Soulless at Ainsley Park.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Character Assasination

The other day I was trying to find information about a person whose name was in the news. Who it was isn't important but what was interesting was what I found out. Or rather what I didn't find out.

Everything I read either demonized or lionized the person. They were either a minion sent from Hell to drag down the pillars of society or they were a beacon of goodness, a lighthouse of virtue illuminating the word in warm wisdom. Nothing in the middle. After awhile I grew bored.

Extremes are boring. I know, in our high concept, punchy entertainment world, we are flooded with extremes. But nothing is ever pure evil or pure good. The world is imperfect. That doesn't stop us from making categorizing things as either good or evil, our news media, which should be objective, is pandering to public excitement. Its dangerous and does nothing to help situations. And its boring.

Fiction is riddled with extremes. Too often writers think if their hero or heroine isn't all good, the readers will dislike them. I find the opposite to be true. If they have no moral conflicts, they are two dimensional. I have no interest. And not just a moment of rudeness, it needs to be something more. And a reader may not like it, but they will keep reading to see what happens. Same goes for villains. A villain who is evil for evil's sake is dull and not particularly frightening. Its like one of those rubber Halloween decorations which moves if you walk by it. Startling the first moment but quickly grows boring then annoying. Psychotic behavior is fine for a 90 minute slasher movie but stales in a novel.

It isn't an easy line to tread for a writer. Right now I'm in the midst of a scene between a villain and the heroine. I want my readers to hate the guy, but I also want them to understand why he is the way he is and that he does have a reason behind his actions. I want the reader to like my heroine, but I also want them to realize the reason she is in this situation is due in part to her short-sightedness and an arrogant dismissal of the truth of her world.

Dialogue has been my best friend in this situation. While there has been some physical violence, my villain's words are what are the most chilling, particularly since they make sense. Inner dialogue on my heroine's part has helped as well. She processes what he says and it terrifies her. He has ripped away her illusions and shown her just how ugly things will get. She is broken and hopeless now, almost to the acme of the black moment. Part of the darkness of that moment is that she put herself in the situation, giving the villain all the ammo he needed without his having to do a whole lot.

I think this ambiguity with villains and heroes is why urban fantasy is so big. Vampires, the scourge of folklore, are given new dimensions by writers, showing them in unorthodox lights, giving them shreds of humanity. Heroines who make their living killing things and yet are still the good guys. Lots of moral conflict.

Pay attention to the light and dark in your stories. Its easy to make everything good and evil, but its dull. Moral complications are far more interesting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Has it Been That Long?

I didn't plan on taking a hiatus from ye olde blog, it just kind of happened. I won't bore anyone with details, nothing of any import happened in the last month. But the beginning of fall is a crazy time around my house. With both of my girls in sports, I find mos of my day tied up in trying to get stuff done before practice. My hubby coaches my daughter's soccer team and her baseball team. I am the team mom for both of my girls' soccer teams. Our weekends are spent out on the fields. And while I enjoy the activities, it also sucks the life out of me. I'm tired. Those of you with young children who think the hard part is when they are babies, hate to break the news.... My life is so much busier now that the kids are older.

Anyway, boring, boring, boring. I have found out something intersting, however. If I'm not blogging, I'm probably not writing either. I went a month without working on my WIP. Not good considering how fast I came blazing out of the gate. So October 1 I joined into a Novel Push Initiative. Its simple, I shoot for 250 words a day. If I know that's all I have to do, it makes it easier to accomplish. Most of the time I manage more although the weekends I'm lucky to get anything done at all. But it is a start. I'm full of plans to participate in NaNoWriMo this year so I want to get my writing muscles in shape.

Hopefully I will be back to daily blogging. My brain is finally starting to function again and I'm able to put thoughts down on the computer.