Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Heroine's Journey

An author friend received a comment from a contest judge, “Cops don’t cry.” (There was a scene, in which her female cop heroine had an emotional moment,) this is a misconception. Cops do cry. It’s how they keep the demons at bay…

After that, the author considered rewriting the weak moment. I wanted her to keep it, because it's apart of the over all journey for the heroine. Not to shed a tear is a greater sign of weakness, than to suck it up.

As writers and readers, we love our strong, resourceful, independent, kick the butt of any bad guy who gets in her way, heroine. Buffy is a good example. And she is a good example of a individual with devastatingly, world crushing weaknesses. Those weaknesses gives her dimension and depth.

Her greatest weakness of course is Angel the Vampire, with a bunch of demons of his own, literally and figuratively.

As much as we love these impossibly strong heroines, we must allow them their moments in the dark places of the soul. It’s what makes them human to jump off the pages.

No, you don’t want them too stupid to live. But just give them a little dent in the armor, its moves the story forward, it keeps the pages turning. It adds interest, as they take the journey around corners, up and down hills, into deep dark valleys, only to come out the other side stronger.

I just finished a beautifully written book, The Witch of Cologne. The heroine was a midwife accused of witchcraft. Her captivity was hard to read, it was intense, but through it all, the heroine’s intelligence was her form of kick buttness. Another, I just started, The Religion. The heroine who in the first pages came across weak, but when she weaves a web of deception around a 16th century mercenary to get him to do what she wants, not once does she flinch, or bat a eye lash, I was impressed. Now there is a kick butt, woman. She earned my respect. So did the author, who by the way is male.

It’s just not the hero’s journey anymore. It’s the heroines too, even more so, in the world of kick butt women.

Different situations for women, also brings out a variety of interesting strengths and weaknesses. A well rounded character has to have their vulnerabilities, because we all do in life.

It’s just a part of the journey.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Can I really do this?

I wonder if I have what it takes to become a writer. I know I want it, but do I want it bad enough to make the sacrifices to achieve it? Are my writing dreams unachievable and hopeless?

Do I have the discipline to sit in that chair, to write; to tell my characters story. If I do write that story, will it be any good? Do I have the stomach to hear critiques of what I have put my soul into, not only from my friends, family, critique partners, contest judges but also agents and editors?

Today was one of those days as I sat down and compared my writing to others. Do I measure up? I haven’t written too much yet, haven’t even finished a book yet. I know I am not going to be Nora but do I have what it takes? What will others think of my writing, will it stink? Okay maybe it won’t stink and I have a lot to learn so now at this moment it may stink a little.

I am going to need a thick skin, determination and be willing to do lot of hard work. I am going to need the guts to accept the feed back and know when it will help and when to toss it out. Can I really do this? I don’t know that answer, but my heart tells me to keep at it, to keep trying. I am not a quitter, I may be negative at times but I will not give up. Every step in this journey will help me learn to build a thick skin and remember business is business and you shouldn’t take it personal.

Dreams are achievable, but in order for a dream to be achieved you have to go after it. Dreams don’t happen without a lot of hard work. I think it’s about time I really sat in that chair and started to climb that mountain towards my dream. So far I have only be walking in the valley not really making my dream a goal with measurable achievements that I need to hold myself accountable too.

Okay, so maybe I can do this, but it’s not going to happen overnight and I need to make a plan. It is going to take a lot of hard work and sacrifice. I could be as successful as Nora someday; and my first goal will be to complete my first manuscript and learn from it so I can write the second one. I will need to learn that it is okay to doubt yourself and have a few failures along the way, just as long as you never give up. Guess I will never really know if I can do this if I don’t try.

Lyn Emerson, Vice President
Black Diamonds RWA Chapter #206

Monday, May 14, 2007

Families and Writing

A laptop to produce your literary masterpiece: $1200.00
Membership to Romance Writers of America: $75.00
Support for your writing from your family: priceless

The biggest difference between writers who make it and those that don't is family support. I've heard horror stories of women struggling to balance home, work, and their dreams of writing, while getting zip from their families. Or worse, significant others who undermine their efforts to discover if they can do this, this dream.

If your family supports your writing, support them. Step away from the laptop from time to time. Make a nice meal, clean the house, take the kids to the park for an afternoon. You are not only writing for yourself, but for them. When they show some appreciation of your hard work, some them some appreciation too. Let them know they were wonderful to eat canned chili and hot dogs all week while you were on deadline. Now, give them a nice meal.

If your family understands what you're doing, and why, you are in the minority. Let them know how wonderful they are for helping you build your dream.

Support is definitely a two-way street. When the rugrats don't interrupt your writing hour and you find them getting along with no blood or damaged body parts, thank them. Next time they might give you an hour and a half. You never know, miracles can happen!

Jill James, president

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Are You a "Pantser" or a Planner?

Probably second only to "what's your sign?" (asked on a bad date), the subject question is one that eventually haunts the lives of writers everywhere. Everyone from Gore Vidal to Al Gore has been asked the question and the answers, as you can imagine, range from the imaginative to the outright nutty.

What it means, in the simplest terms, is: are you one who sits at the computer and lets fly with the ideas, allowing your fertile brain to take you wherever it will until you have a story you are content with -- or do you sit down and carefully plan out your novel down to the most minute detail?

As a writer I confess I always felt a bit process-challenged, because -- after a few disastrous seat-of-the-pants stories (that's the "pantser" approach, get it?) that started with great energy and imagination and then stalled somewhere in a literary forest with no evident way out -- I found myself needing to plan right from the initial idea. In fact, I felt as if my plan might be a kind of crutch that I needed because I couldn't just sit and let fly.

I guess I finally became less self critical (always a good thing) when I came to RWA and realized that all plots are plans of one sort or another, and that having to write down a plan in some detail is part of the process. Just how detailed it all is depends only on the complexity of your work-in-progress. Like a lot of other writers, I have sat through plotting sessions at various RWA chapter meetings, learning an immense amount even as I had fun, and always admired those who seemed to be so naturally gifted at it. I felt burdened by a sense of guilt that I couldn't just let fly that way: I had to go home and think about it.

All I knew for certain was that I did not seem to have that same, effortless natural gift. I needed to write down all the steps on the road to my book's end in the kind of detail so that I always knew where I was and where I was going. Furthermore, I couldn't seem to function without such a plan. I was feeling like a kind of literary American-with-Disabilities because my plans always seemed to be so very detailed and extensive. What would begin as a fairly straightforward synopsis would end up being an extremely detailed map of who-did-what and when, where and how. And I didn't seem able to let go of the necessity of doing these detailed plans.

In short, I was not feeling good about myself as a writer. This is, of course, all too common a feeling among writers. One day, we write something, a part of a larger work, and we think -- "Damn! That's good." The next day, we reread what we wrote the day before and conclude it's the worst piece of trash the world has ever seen.

As I read craft books, however, I slowly came to the conclusion that perhaps I wasn't such a cripple after all. People whose work I very much admired were self-confessed Planners, and proud of it. One was Elizabeth George, she of the wonderfully complex Inspector Lynley mysteries, some of which have been dramatized on PBS-TV. Another was Jeffrey Deaver, whose main character, forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme, went to the big screen in "The Bone Collector," starring Denzel Washington. Please note that both of these writers write complex, multi dimensional characters and specialize in plots that twist and turn in a quite Gordian Knot fashion.

But the one that pushed me into a true realization that I was "OK" rather than "Not OK" (apologies to Wayne Dyer) was J.K. Rowling. I am a self confessed Harry Potter fan. I am not what you'd call a fanatic, but I am thoroughly enchanted (pun intended) by JKR's writing. She is a true literary wonder, and better people than I have likened her to both J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. When asked in an interview if she were a "pantser" or a planner, she said she was/is definitely a planner. In fact, she defined her planning as "meticulous."

Whew! Redeemed! Thought I. Now I don't want you to think I have the gall to put myself in the ranks with her or Deaver or George. Yes, I write science fiction and fantasy romance, and there are elements of mystery in my works. But I don't kid myself that I am in any league but a definitely junior one. And I don't expect to reach such stellar status as these three authors. But they pointed out to me that the process I engage in (I do have a tendency to write big and complex novels) is natural, even necessary, to the type of book that I write.

I am never going to write a spare, Hemingwayesque 50,000-word novel. My brain is just not wired that way. And that's OK. In fact, I have it on the best authority that it is OK. And I can't tell you what an enormous relief that is!

So, in the final analysis, the teentsy piece of wisdom I am trying to pass along to you this week is: if you are a planner -- or a "pantser" -- enjoy the process. In fact, revel in it. It's your process, after all.