Just the Facts, Ma'am
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Mark Twain famously said that writers should replace the word "very" in their manuscripts with the word "damn" instead. Then, editors would remove the word and all would be as it should. It gets really easy to stick extra words into manuscripts, and it doesn't stop at "very." Have you learned the art of brevity yet?
Just the Facts, Ma'am
Extra words are just one problem that keeps you from mastering brevity. I don't have a big issue with very, but I do have a problem with just. My characters are always just going to do this and just thinking about that, until the word has completely lost all meaning. Once you know you use certain extra words, it's easier to spot them and rout them out of your manuscripts.
Monday, March 10, 2014
Many authors write books about authors, because that's what they know. And I've learned that watching another writer struggle can be very beneficial to actual authors who may also be having trouble finding the right words. At least, it's helpful to me. So today I'm going to share my favorite movies about authors with all the other indie authors out there.
Stories Within the Story
It happens in Stephen King adaptations all the time. The main character or the main narrator of the film, or both, is an author. Or a writer. Maybe a poet. Even a screenwriter. They've all been the subject of film, books and anecdotes the world over. But some have the power to make you feel a lot better about your own writing. At least, that's what happens for me when I watch them.
Saturday, March 8, 2014
I only recently learned that one of my all-time favorite movies was actually based on a book. It's not my fault for not knowing this; the book is French, and it was written in 1848. But the story itself is timeless.
Alexandre Dumas, more famously known for The Three Musketeers, wrote The Lady of the Camellias in 1848, before the United States ever waged its Civil War. The story is so popular, it became a stage adaptation almost immediately. Many film adaptions would follow. The book also inspired the opera La Traviata and a popular Broadway play. According to legend, the main character in the book was based on the real-life lover of Dumas, Marie Duplessis.
That character is Marguerite Gautier, a courtesan. In other words, she lives off the kindness of stranger like so many great heroines (think Holly Golightly, in a far different time and place). She is known as the lady of the camellias because she wears white camellias when she is available to her lovers. When the red camellia is donned instead, she cannot entertain.
By chance one night, she meets Armand Duval. They fall in love, and all is well until Armand's father intervenes. It all leads up to a heart-wrenching ending that you have to experience for yourself. The character of Marguerite Gautier has become one of the most coveted roles of all time. On stage, Sarah Bernhardt played her in London, Paris and on Broadway.
There are almost too many adaptations of this story to count. Across multiple countries, at least 20 different films have been made. But among them, I have one particular favorite: Camille.
It was made in 1936, and it stars Greta Garbo in the title role. She's sensational as the flirty woman of the evening, who entertains friends lavishly and does exactly as she pleases. She plays with heartstrings until she finally meets a man who can touch hers. Camille is truly one of the most romantic movies ever made.
This particular version was directed by George Cukor, so you know it's good. Robert Taylor stars as Armand and Lionel Barrymore does a strong turn as his father. If you've seen Annie, you know Camille. It's the movie they watch together in the empty theater. It's every bit as good as it looks and too amazing to spoil, so go watch it for yourself already!
Thursday, March 6, 2014
If you want to write a book, it's helpful if you understand the basic mechanics of creating a story. It's sort of like learning do-re-mi. Once you've got the fundamentals down, you're ready to start working on true wordcraft.
Dissecting a Story
It's true that every story should be unique, but all the good ones are built around the same basic structure. Use this foundation to construct your books. As long as the basic story elements are in place, you can write whatever you like around them.
- Exhibition: Introduce your main characters and your setting. You've got to set up the story. Some authors take longer with the exhibition phase of storytelling than others. This may go on for several chapters, or occur in a few brief paragraphs. The way you write it depends on how quickly you want to get to the next phase, and on how much information you need to share.
- Action: When stuff starts to happen, the plot unfolds. It's not enough to create a world and populate it. Something needs to occur, and your characters need to move around and interact with each other. Otherwise, what the hell am I reading?
- Conflict: All the best stories contain conflict, so yours ought to have some as well. Introduce a villain or an obstacle, or several of each, and make your characters attempt to overcome this challenge. Every story needs a challenge. You can do this however you like. Some characters are their own biggest enemies, and they create internal conflict. Other stories contain overt villains who are clearly opposed to the main character.
- Resolution: All good things must come to an end, and that includes your story. You need to resolve conflicts and obstacles in order to finish the tale. The only exception is the cliffhanger ending, which is really only appropriate if you plan on crafting a sequel.
Write around the basic elements of a story, and write a better one.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
People want to know what it's like to be a wordsmith by trade. My answer? It's a war. And if you want to be a writer, you'd better be prepared to be a soldier.
Behind Enemy Lines
"Oh, really? That sounds interesting!"
This is invariably the response I get when I tell people that I'm a writer. I can tell you, with no humility whatsoever, that it is not. There is nothing at all interesting about me sitting in front of a screen for up to 12 hours at a time. I am told I often make faces, and I'm completely incapable of hearing anyone who speaks to me while I'm in the middle of typing something. So basically it's me pulling faces, grunting, ignoring people. Interested yet?
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I haven't made a secret of the fact that I got stuck on my current manuscript, lodged somewhere between two chapters and a time gap. None of my normal tricks and techniques were working, and the other day I realized why. I've got a different kind of writer's block...and I think lots of other writers have it, too.
Being an author is both a blessing and a curse in many different ways, and in a way I'm cursed by blessings. I started working on my newest manuscript even before my latest novel (Hope's Rebellion) was published. It's been on my "idea" list for quite a while, inspired by something I saw on Jeopardy! like two years ago. The point is, I've been very excited about writing this story. So why have I been stuck on it?
Monday, March 3, 2014
As a female writer, I'm proud to participate in the Women's Lit Event over at Lost in Books and I'll be happy to remind you all that March is Women's History Month!
Women have been voting in the United States for 95 years, as of 2014. They've only been wearing pants with no shame for about 60 years. And they still don't make as much money per hour as men who perform the exact same job. But it can be argued that female authors have truly mastered the written word. Check out my guest post at Lost in Books -- and read all about it!
I'll go toe-to-toe with any editor over words like "a lot" and "for ever," and I have, but there's one battle I'm never going to fight: ain't. This battle was lost long, long ago. So all writers are now obligated to wave the white flag...and use it in their novels.
A Lesson in Speaking History
The writers who hate the word ain't should turn to embrace it immediately -- because it was an author who originally popularized the word. Maybe if Charles Dickens had been a bit less successful, today's blog post would be about me baking cookies instead.