7 Reasons to Keep Reading

Seeing as last week I looked at 7 reasons I abandon books, I thought this week I’d look at 7 reasons I fall in love with an author. And believe me, from the over-loaded bookshelves in my library and the length of my TBR (to be read) list, I like to fall in love with new authors. 🙂

  1. Great characters. Unusual is fine, but I also like to return to more familiar “types,” too, just so long as the author has really fleshed out the character, gave it a strong voice and passion.
  2. Fascinating premise and world-building. I mention this one because it can sucker me into a book and even a series, but it does have limits. For example, if the premise doesn’t live up to expectation, or the focus is too strongly on premise and world-building.
  3. A touch of humor. What can I say? I like a touch of humor in my reading, no matter the genre, and no matter how dark or serious it can delve.
  4. Emotional depth. If an author can make me actually cry, then I’m probably already envious at how fantastic they are. 🙂
  5. Skilled handling of plot elements without being obvious about it. I’ve read very well-plotted books that were good, but seemed a bit like an exercise in plotting. And I’ve read wonderful books which handled all the elements skillfully – so skillfully, you forgot they were there and what they were doing.
  6. A story or lesson that sticks with me. Maybe this is one scene, maybe the theme, a character, but something that resonates and sticks, long after the title of the book is forgotten.
  7. An author who continues to grow and improve in their craft. To me, there is nothing better than reading an early book from an author and thinking it was quite good. Then reading a later, and finding it better. And then reading a later book still and being blown out of the water. For me, this is the kind of author – and the kind of person – I want to be. Someone who never stops growing, never stops striving for improvement.

So, what about you? What are some of the reasons you fall in love with a book, a series, or an author? What makes you hungry for the next book and impatient for the next read?

Thanks for reading, and wishing you all a great week. Happy Halloween! 🙂

Just Keep Swimming: Finding Encouragement Everywhere

As the parent of a small child, my husband and I have found that a larger and larger percentage of our movies start with a rather distinctive castle. And we tend to watch the same movies over and over and over again.

But as a writer – and one who’s been feeling a bit down these past few weeks – I’ve also enjoyed dissecting these same movies and finding both really clever plotting and character development, along with personal encouragement.

Take Finding Nemo (one of the kidlet’s current favorites), where one of the repeated and thematic lines is “Just Keep Swimming.”

You know how I interpret the line:

  • Just keep swimming when things are dark. When you’re scared. And when you have no idea what else you can or should do.
  • Just keep swimming when the world around you seem to be falling in, nothing is going right, and frankly, doom could well be around the next corner.
  • Just keep swimming because it’s the only thing you can do. And it’s the only thing YOU can absolutely control, even as the rest of the world spirals away in free-fall.
  • Just keep swimming when you don’t know where you’re going. When you don’t know where you are, or if anything you do makes any difference.

In a writing career – and in life overall – things aren’t always easy, and sometimes you’re left alone in the darkness, in the bottom of a pit you carved out without noticing. All the decisions you make seem to be wrong, or they don’t seem to be getting you where you want to be.

All you can do is keep going. Believe in the fact that this is just one dark spot, and if you keep moving forward – keep swimming – you’ll find your way out. Things will get better. You can’t control what happens in the world around you, but you can control your own actions: if you don’t give up, don’t surrender, keep moving forward, of course you’ll get where you need to be, right?

Or at the very least, you’ll no longer be where you were.

Whether it means you’re thigh-stuck in revision-gook, in a low-spot personally, or just feeling a bit stuck in a rut, keep moving forward. You’ll get there.

What do you think? Or have I just been watching WAY too many kids movies? 😉

Thanks for reading. Have a great week. 🙂

No, You Aren’t Perfect: Or, Are You Open To Critique and Criticism?

Let’s start off by stating the obvious (or what should be obvious): YOU ARE NOT PERFECT.

Okay. I got that out of my system. Thanks. So here’s the thing: if you’re human, you’re imperfect. Thus, what you create is likely to be imperfect, too. This does not mean it’s without value. It is still worth trying, always worth trying – rather, we must try ever harder to obtain the closest thing to perfection, all the while recognizing it will get better, but it will never actually attain perfection.

Now, I get that as a writer or a creative person – or anyone who has created anything – that your creation is kind of like your child, if you will. It came out of your ideas, plans, and may have actually been shaped by your two hands. But your hands – being imperfect – and your mind – ditto – it could probably stand some improvement. Sometimes, as mere mortals, we may not be able to see the need for improvement, or the creation may have reached it’s highest zenith, but for the most part, it takes awhile to get there, and quite a few edits and revisions before it did.

So, are you open to those suggestions? Are you willing to see that your project isn’t perfect, but that with some work, it will get better?

I hope so. Because personally, I believe the greatest artists and creators are those who are willing to have a clear vision and idea of what they want, but are also open to the idea of improvement – whether it springs out of their own self-criticism, or out of the constructive critiques of others. Let me state that again in case I was unclear: your vision of the perfection of the project, where you wanted it to go / be, is always extremely important and central … but, sometimes the actual realization of said project still has a distance to go.

This is something that frustrates me because I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor, and working with fellow writers, I know that some of them are more open than others to actual constructive criticism (ie, please read: some don’t want any kind of criticism at all, only blind praise). Indeed, there is a balance: you can’t always take everything someone else suggests to heart and change everything – if it’s not true to you or your original vision, only you will know that. And a critique should include both positive comments and suggestions for change. However, sometimes we get so close to our projects we can’t see them clearly any more and we need outside, clearer eyes.

I am a writer who craves a good critique. As a critique partner, I think I’m probably pretty strong-minded, and if I have an opinion, I will share it – but always with the proviso that it’s to be taken or discarded as the original author sees fit. Maybe that makes me a bad critique partner, I don’t know. But I only give what I’d love to receive: an honest opinion and a detailed critique that took time and care to prepare. All I want is to help / improve whatever I’m critiquing, knowing full well it is only my opinion.

Whatever the case, I know how hard it can be to realize that what you thought was perfect is not (okay, I may have some trouble with that … I critique my own work very harshly to try and keep improving it, and never see perfection). And I also know that it can be hard to know which opinions to take, which to ignore. Sometimes someone can be on such a different wave-length that you would never see eye-to-eye, and this may not be the best opinion for your to take … or it may be just what your story needs. Only you, “your gut,” and the inner vision you must retain for the project will ever know that.

So, are you open to critique and criticism, or is your “baby” too precious for that?

Thanks for reading, have a great week, and I’ll step off my soapbox now. 🙂

What Do You Write Best? Is that What You Should be Focusing on?

In our writing, we all have strengths and weaknesses. Some of us are terrific at description. For others, dialogue, or maybe action. Sometimes we can become so good at one thing or another that we end up helping others with it, and placing a heavier emphasis on it in our writing and works in progress.

On the other hand, what areas do you avoid? What kind of scenes do you dread writing because they never turn out right? Do you avoid putting them in your writing whatsoever, just so you can avoid them?

If we want our writing to resonate with readers, it needs to be balanced, and that means even if we’re not good at one kind writing or another, we have to keep working at it. I know description has never been my strongest suit, and it’s something I need to remain keenly aware of, even if it means I flesh out the description during revisions so my reader can understand my world better.

The thing is, focusing on something you’re not good at, or that you’ve somehow decided you’re not good at, can be really exciting and add a new element to your writing. What if you write a scene without dialogue? How do characters communicate? What can still be communicated just with description alone? How can you make a scene with dialogue more lively or intriguing with action and description? The best part of trying to explore things you’re not good at is play. And your writing is always better in play. No, maybe not in the first draft, but overall, since it makes you a more versatile writer, it keeps you learning and exploring, stretching and expanding your talents instead of stagnating with what you’re “good at.”

So, have you found yourself avoiding some types of writing? Some kinds of scenes? First, you identify your strengths and weaknesses. Next, you’re going to work on your weaknesses, and I have a few exercises I hope might help with description, dialogue, and action scenes.

  • If your weakness is description (like mine):

Pause, or go back in revisions, and try to experience the scene through your character, using all five senses. Not only what does it look like, consider smell, taste, feel, temperature, sounds. Another suggestion I’ve found is use your character’s eyes like a quick video pan-over, which helps to situate both the character and scene, but also your reader.

  • If your weakness is dialogue:

Take a bus ride. Visit the mall. Go somewhere filled with people talking. Your job here is to eavesdrop (politely, of course) on conversations. How do people talk? Not just the patterns of speech (using contractions, incomplete clauses, sentence fragments, speech “twitches”, etc), but how does their body language impact on the conversation and convey meaning? Next, go back to your own writing and read your dialogue aloud. Are you tripping over wordiness? Are you getting bored? Does this seem like a way people would talk? What does it convey about plot, character – that is, what is the purpose of this dialogue? Dialogue can be fantastic, helping to convey character, plot, description, so much, if used well. But it can also be stilted, confusing, and over-used, especially boring conversation which is best left out of the scene.

  • If your weakness is action:

Watch a movie or something very exhilarating and tense, like a car chase, a fight, etc. Now try to write out that scene yourself – or a version thereof – and try not to lose any of the excitement. Sentences are often short. Choppy. They let you jump from one action to the next with no break, leaving the reader breathless. In this kind of scene, you’ll need to pull in skill with dialogue and description too. After you’re done, re-read, and decide if you’ve lost some of the excitement. Have someone else read it. If they weren’t as excited, find out what slows it down – sometimes excessive description and dialogue, long wordy sentences.

For much more interesting exercises than my own, I highly recommend checking out:

What if? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter

What if? was one of my first writing books, and is a help in keeping your skills sharp, and making you think about your writing and your style, and hoe you can continue to keep learning and evolving. There are exercises on different story elements, dialogue, characterization, mechanics, etc. It helps to remind you to keep the playful question “what if” in all of your writing. (click on the title for a link to the HarperCollins page and their description.)

Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass

A lot newer than the other, Maass’ book includes sections on Character Development, Plot Development, and General Story Techniques that specifically let you work through troublesome scenes of your novel. As well as suggestions, it likewise includes includes exercises and as mentioned earlier, is a lot like a workshop in a book. (link is to Donald Maass agency page where they talk about the books.)

Well, that’s all for this week. What do you write best? Why do you think so? What do you need to work on? Thanks for reading, and have a great week.