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Entries in writers (51)

Monday
Jul142014

Happily Drowning in Words

 

Sculpture: Overflow by Jaime Plensa -- Photo by Roni Loren

This is a sculpture I saw at the New Orleans Museum of Art's Sculpture Garden. And it totally represents how I feel right now while I'm writing Pike's book and working on edits for THREE other books. Oh, and getting ready for RWA Nationals next week. Words, words, everywhere. 

How is your week looking?

 

Monday
Jun022014

Must Read Monday: Finally, a Writing Book for Pantsers!

 

*I put a sticky tab on any page with a point I wanted to type into my notes. Look at that rainbow, people.

I know I usually tackle fiction when doing a Must Read Monday, but I read a writing craft book this weekend that was just so fabulous that I wanted to pass it along to those of you who are writers.

As most of you know, I'm a bit addicted to reading books about the craft of writing. (Yes, I'm an unrepentant nerd.) But most of the time, those books are all about different ways to plot your book. And I like learning those techniques because I'm a pantser with plotter envy. Writing without an outline can be an anxiety-ridden process, writer's block can pop up often, and the unknown is freaking scary (especially when you're writing under a deadline.) But no matter how hard I've tried to alter my process, I can't seem to get away from my pantsing (writing by the seat of my pants) ways.

And a little part of me has always been afraid that if I was successful at plotting ahead and outlining that I would lose some of the "magic" of my writing process. Like two weeks ago, this happened when I was happily writing a story. I had a general direction in mind and then got hit with a big twist that I had never ever considered or planned. It changes what the rest of the book will look like, but I think it's the correct (and much more interesting) way to go. If I had been writing to an outline, would that had ever come to me? And if it had, would I have been willing to ditch the whole second half of the outline to go in this new direction?

That kind of "a-ha" discovery happens with every book. The big twist in Crash Into You that most people have told me they never saw coming? That was because *I* didn't know it was coming until I was 70% of the way through writing the book. The big thing that happens in Kade's backstory in Need You Tonight that explains so much about who he is now? I didn't know about it until I was halfway through the book and it hit me--wait, THAT'S what happened!

So let me tell you, it was hella refreshing to finally come across a book that doesn't just tolerate pantsing as a way for people to write but actually recommends it. AND gives tips on how to overcome some of the struggles, anxieties and pitfalls of writing without an outline. Because, Lord, I would love to be less neurotic during my writing process.

So here's the book and my review from Goodreads. Pantsers, go forth and enjoy!

Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules by Steven James

 

My Review from Goodreads:

Finally, a book for pantsers! And not just one that mentions pantsing but validates the process as a legitimate (he even ventures to say superior) process of writing. I have long been a pantser with plotter envy because it seems like every book on writing I read talks about "organic" writing as the immature/impatient process and plotting as the panacea, the "professional" way. Of course, that always makes plotting sound like this lovely method that is going to take away the constant anxiety of working in the unknown and the pitfalls that come along with that (writer's block, chasing bunny trails, rereading your previous pages constantly to get back into the mindset, etc.). But after reading this, I feel like I can take a deep breath and find a place of acceptance with my pantsing ways. Yes, my method causes me anxiety, but it's also been a successful one for me, so why am I always trying to change it?

And with this book, there are methods that may even help with the anxiety involved in "flying into the mist" when writing. There are questions to ask when you get stuck or come across a plot problem. There are guidelines on what needs to be clear in each scene and how to keep the tension up. There are pointers on how to include twists. And some of the character stuff--questions to ask about their secrets, shame, fears, etc--was brilliant.

I have five pages of notes from the book and put sticky flags on way too many pages because there was too much great stuff to hold in my head all at once. I'm kind of a junkie when it comes to book on writing and can be hard to please, but I have no qualms giving this one five stars. I know I'll be referencing it often.


*I was not asked to give this review. I bought this book on my own.

Thursday
May082014

A Writer's Block Breaker: 30 Songs For 30 Chapters 

As most of you know, I'm slightly obsessed with books on the writing craft. And a few weeks ago, I was poking around in Barnes and Noble (as you do) and picked up the book Now Write! Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror: Speculative Genre Exercises from Today's Best Writers and Teachers  (Edited by Laurie Lawson) to flip through.

Now, I write romance, so you may be wondering what would make me pick up a book about speculative fiction, but I like to expand my horizons. And there are things to be learned from other genres. Plus, I love horror and may one day pen something with some scary stuff.

Anyway, this book is filled with short essays (1-2 pages) on different topics: World Building, Plotting, Creativity, etc. and at the end of each essay are writing exercises. (Hence the title Now Write!)

And I've only read a handful of them thus far, but it's turned out to be a great book already. And one of the exercises I read last night got me moving in all kinds of creative directions. This exercise was by Diego Valenzuela in an essay titled "The Constant Writer: How To Plot An Entire Story In Minutes and Never Run Out of Ideas"

I won't go into the whole essay because you should buy the book. But the exercise he suggests is so much fun and oddly effective at sparking ideas. So here it is:

Put your playlist on shuffle. Write the numbers 1-30 for your 30 chapters and then label each chapter with the song title that comes up. Then use those titles to help plot/spark ideas for your story.

I read it and was like--sounds interesting but how could that work? So, of course, I tried it.

Here's what I got with my own playlist:

Pretty cool, yeah? Especially that near the "black moment" time in a book I have Live and Let Die, Don't Know What You Got Till It's Gone, and Walk Away. And then the last chapter is a song about goodbyes. 

But these are my songs that I'm already familiar with, so I decided to try a variation. I put on Spotify's Coffee House station and did the first 30 songs of that. And look, I ended up with a road trip book! And I kind of got a story idea from it. How awesome is that?

Then I was chatting with my friend Julie Cross and she did it. And when I looked at her list, I thought--hey she has a sci-fi space novel! Daylight, Extraordinary, Come Fly With Me, Defying Gravity, Radioactive, 93 Million Miles...

 

So yeah, you've just lost the next hour of your life because I bet you can't resist. ;-)  If you do one, feel free to post it in the comments. I love seeing other people's lists.


Wednesday
Jan152014

On Horror Writing: Stephen King's Danse Macabre

Y'all know I'm a writing book junkie. I can't seem to get enough. And typically, I gravitate toward books on structure because I'm always trying to convince my pantser self into being a plotter. However, this time I decided to pick up something a little different. 

I saw Stephen King's Danse Macabre mentioned somewhere on the interwebs and realized it wasn't a novel, but King's thoughts on horror. I needed to have it. See, I have a love of the horror genre, as that's a lot of what I grew up reading when I graduated to "grown up" books. And though I'm a big chicken in real life, I love being scared in fiction or through movies. Also, I haven't ruled out penning a horror tale--maybe even with some romance mixed in--one of these days. So I wanted to read this book.

Now, my thoughts...

King wrote this back in 1981 so it's dated and feels it. However, there is a fantastic 2010 forenote called "What's Scary" where King gives his thoughts on more recent trends in horror and lists the movies he thinks got it right. That was a great read and gave me a list of new movies to watch. 

If you've read On Writing--which is one of the best writing books out there--don't expect this to be that. This is not so much a book about how to write as it is a history of horror from King's perspective. This is a long book that goes off on a lot of tangents that feel a bit aimless at times. Someone on Goodreads described it as sitting down in a bar late one night and getting drunk with King as he riffs about the history of horror. That's exactly what it comes across like. So yes, there are nuggets of greatness in this book, but there's a lot of other stuff to sift through and it took me a while to read. Often too much time was spent on topics and examples that could've been wrapped up in many less pages.

So, if you're looking for Stephen King's advice on how to write, get On Writing and enjoy the greatness. Danse Macabre is probably more for die hard King fans and for those who grew up in his era and want to reminisce about horror movies and TV shows from the past.

However, like I said, there were some great nuggets in the book, and in the end, I'm glad I read it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

On imagination in adulthood: "...whenever I run into someone who expresses a feeling along the lines of, "I don't read fantasy or go to any of those movies; none of it's real," I feel a kind of sympathy. They simply can't lift the weight of fantasy. The muscles of the imagination have grown too weak." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the duty of literature: "...the primary duty of literature--to tell us the truth about ourselves by telling us lies about people who never existed." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the definition of "gothic" literature (which I appreciated because the definition is often hard to pin down for me): "They are all books where the past eventually becomes more important than the present." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On horror involving homes/houses: "...horror fiction is a cold touch in the midst of the familiar, and good horror fiction applies this cold touch with sudden, unexpected pressure. When we go home and shoot the bolt on the door, we like to think we're locking trouble out. The good horror story about the Bad Place whispers that we are not locking the world out; we are locking ourselves in...with them." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On the role of power in fantasy fiction: "...all fantasy fiction is essentially about the concept of power; great fantasy fiction is about people who find it at great cost or lose it tragically; mediocre fantasy fiction is about people who have it and never lose it but simply wield it." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

On Writers: "The novelist is, after all, God's liar, and if he does his job well, keeps his head and courage, he can sometimes find the truth that lives at the center of the lie." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Our job as writers (he specifies writers of fantasy but I think this can apply to all fiction): "The imagination is an eye, a marvelous third eye that floats free. As children, that eye sees with 20/20 clarity. As we grow older, its vision begins to dim...The job of the fantasy writer, or the horror writer, is to bust the walk of that tunnel vision wide for a little while; to provide a single powerful spectacle for the third eye. The job of the fantasy-horror writer is to make you, for a little while, a child again." --Stephen King, Danse Macabre

Good stuff, yeah?

Has anyone else read this one? Any other horror lovers out there?

Monday
Nov182013

My Promise When I Review or Recommend Books

Photo via chicagogeek (Flickr CC)Mondays are usually reserved for Must-Read Mondays, but today I wanted to talk a little bit about a related topic. There was a post last week on Dear Author called When the Personal Becomes the Professional and was about how authors approach giving negative reviews of other books. Some argue that it's professional courtesy not to tear down another author's book. Others feel that authors should be able to review like readers do and that the author on the receiving end of the feedback shouldn't get personally offended.

I'm of the school that anyone has the right to review my book and have an opinion about it. If another author posts a negative review about my book, I'm not going to think that author is being unprofessional. I can take it. However, having said that, I don't post negative reviews or talk bad about books publicly. Why? Well, frankly, it's not worth the drama--having an author take it personally, seeing them at the next conference and it being awkward, looking like you're being jealous or spiteful by panning a book in your genre, or offending readers who thought that book was the best book ever.

But, there's also this thought out there that if someone only does positive reviews, that their opinion is somehow not valid because they "like everything." But I disagree with that. I don't like everything--believe me. If I don't like something or have neutral feelings on it, you'll just never hear about. The books I recommend on Must-Read Monday or rate highly on Goodreads are books I honestly loved. I'm not going to "be nice" and give something a high rating or recommendation because I know the author or whatever. There are authors who I really like as people but I just don't connect with their writing. I'm not going to pretend I do just to be friendly.

So I'm saying all this because I want you to know that when you see me talking up a book, that means one thing--I, Roni the reader, loved the damn thing. I looked back at Must-Read Monday posts for this year. Almost all were books by authors I've never met or interacted with. None of them were given to me for review. They are just books I bought as a reader and enjoyed. Just because I don't post about the ones I didn't like doesn't make that any less valid. So you can feel confident in knowing I'm not blowing smoke or trying to sell you something on a friend's behalf. If I say I loved it, it means I loved it. : )

I'm curious, how do you view authors reviewing or recommending other authors' books? Do you assume they are just helping their friends if it's positive? If you're a writer, how do you feel about the debate on whether or not to post negative reviews?