Tuesday, May 29, 2012

3 Day Novel Contest

You may have heard of it. The 3-Day Novel Contest based out of Vancouver. Since 1977 this contest has challenged writers to produce a novel over the Labour Day weekend. Just 72 hours. Impossible? Most would say yes. Of course the novel doesn't have to be the best it can possibly be. Because that would be impossible. But to put 50,000 plus words on page, well it is a feat, but probably not impossible.

I think I may finally give it a try.

A few years ago a friend of mine did it. And though he went 3 days, unshaven, unshowered and quite possibly on the brink of neurosis, he did it. And ended up making their long list.

So do you think you're up to the challenge? Why not? What's the worst that could happen? You don't finish? But you have the makings of a really great story that can be finished later? Seems like win-win to me.

Don't think you can do it alone? Grab a buddy. Collaborative novels are also accepted.

Looking forward to the challenge.

Story Alive

One of the most common problems I find with new writers is not making the story come alive on the page for the reader.The words are there but they fall flat. It's something pounded into us from the beginning. Show, don't tell. Scene vs. Summary.

Think of it this way: when you're watching a movie you have the scene. It's full of action, the characters show emotions based on how they react to things. They cry and you cry with them. They scream and you feel their fear. This is what pulls you into the story and keeps you watching for the standard 2 hours. Now imagine, instead of the action, you had to watch a black screen with a voice somewhere telling you the car blew up, the man screamed. He was in pain. You would not watch for very long because you can't see or feel or relate to what's going on.

The same applies in writing.

If you read a story that goes along, she did this and then did this and then felt tired and then did this, you're not going to be very invested in the story. The reader is kept at a distance and is being told what happens.

If instead you write, she scrubbed the floor with a cloth, the dirt clogging her nails. With her arm, she wiped away the sweat beading on her brow. She sat back on her knees and stared at the ceiling, then tossed the cloth into the grimy, lemon-scented water. Gripping the edge of the countertop, she pulled herself to her feet, her legs shook, felt like rubber as she straggled to the living room. She curled up on the couch and closed her eyes.

It's not perfect but hopefully you see the difference.

Now that doesn't mean you can't use summary, but there needs to be a balance. If there is something you want to impart to the reader but it's not important enough to create a scene around it, then by all means summarize.

Janie held her breath as she pulled into the driveway of her childhood home. (scene, the character is doing something.) Her mother had always been hard on her. Judgemental. Never liked the way she dressed or did her hair. (summary, telling the reader something about the past that's not crucial to the overall story.)

Emotions are something else the writer needs to make clear. It's not enough to say, she felt anxious, or she was angry. Every person has a different interpretation of those emotions. The writer needs to show the emotion in a way the reader can feel it and see it. Can relate.

For example, she felt angry. So what? Now if she clenches her jaw, picks up the keys and throws them at his head, that is showing anger.

You can't simply say, he was sad. Think of it this way...imagine three people at a funeral. It's obvious it's going to be a sad occasion, but not everyone reacts the same way. One might be crying and sobbing uncontrollably while the other is keeping their sadness bottled inside them and then the third, may have no emotions whatsoever. Maybe they're trying to hide a smile of satisfaction. The point is, everyone is different. There is no one way to react to an emotion. So it has to be clear how your character acts in the face of certain situations. Because again, no two characters are the same.

Ultimately, your reader wants to be invested in the story, they want to feel like they are part of the story. They want to see and feel everything as the protagonist is seeing and feeling it.

Make the story come alive. Your reader will thank you for it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pick A Story...Stick With It

I'm a procrastinator.

I've had almost two weeks of peace and quiet while my husband and daughter are enjoying the sights of Holland, and here I sit, having accomplished next to nothing since they've been gone. I can't say I haven't been productive at all, but all the things I had been planning for the last few months, all the things I was going to do while they were gone, have been tossed into the wind.

It's been too quiet. Who knew that quiet can be distracting? There was a time when I loved the quiet. Could sit for hours reading or just being, in the moment. Listening to the sounds of the world around me that we are often too busy to notice. Like the curious buzzing of that annoying bee that keeps forcing me from the patio. Like the birds chattering to one another, or the squirrels snickering as they bury their peanuts. All this, I used to enjoy. Now, after more than three years of never being alone, that silence feels like it's going to swallow me whole.

Well that was the first week.

We're into the second week of them being gone and it's getting a little easier. I've read. I've gone to the library, and then read some more. I've started writing a whole new story. Only a couple of pages but it's a start. And that is where the problem lies.

I have too many unfinished projects on the go and instead of sitting and finishing them, I start on something new.

Other writers have advised time and again, finish what you start. And I've tried. Adhereing to that philosophy, I have finished a few short stories. But it's the bigger projects I keep hiding from. And rather than buckle down and get 'er done, I start something new.

What am I afraid of? The projects themselves are daunting, but I know are doable. Am I afraid of actually finishing them? That could be it. I've heard writers say that, too. But what is it in me that makes me afraid to finish something I started.

Doubt maybe? That I am going to invest all this time into something and no one is ever going to want to read it? Or am I just sick of the project. So much time already invested and the story isn't going where I want it to?

Maybe I'm not so different from every other writer out there. We write, we get sick of it or critical of ourselves so we file it away for another day and go on to something else. Only to get sick of that project and the cycle continues until there is a stack of unfinished manuscripts so high you can't see over it and then you're overwhelmed.

But all that said, I haven't been entirely unproductive. I've been researching. A new project yes. But one that I know will take a long time to complete. So while the searching continues I really need to work on something else.

So today, I think I'll go get a haircut.