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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's behind Door #3? sub-plots

Ah, sub-plot, one of my favorite friends. I absolutely love reading a book and getting hooked into a sub-plot; especially when it goes on for a series. When I'm writing, I want to capture that essence, that depth that sub-plot offers a book. After all, isn't sub-plot just a layer of story that lends credibility and realism to your characters? We all have sub-plot in our life. The trick in writing, is finding the right balance- not too much, but not too little.

We all have those friends- the ones when asked, 'so, how are you doing?' can go on for hours about everything in their life- right down to their feelings on second cousin Mavis' best friend from high school who may or may not have had a giant mole removed from her left buttock. Obviously, MORE sub-plot than we want or even need to know about right? The we have the silent ones- who answer 'fine'; then, a week later punch out their sister in the middle of a fancy restaurant because she caught her cheating on her fabulously hot husband a year ago and just can't take the guilt of knowing anymore. Probably could have used a teeny bit more sub-plot with that friend. Anyway, I give you these examples of real life- or what could be real life, to illustrate a point. Your characters need sub-plot to be interesting. I don't know about you, but I would have loved to have the guilt rolling around in the character's thoughts about what to do with the knowledge of the sins of the sister. It makes her real, and we, the readers, ache to make it all better. We know what she should do, and silently urge her to speak to her sister, then, when it blows up a the restaurant, we share in her pain- and the instant guilt of airing such dirty laundry in a very public place. It adds depth and substance to our story.

So, you say, of course I want my characters to have depth and my readers to feel a connection- but how do I create this feeling- and how do I know if I have too much or too little??

So, let me address the second question first- and I'll say, I'm a poor judge of this normally. I will, unfortunately, or fortunately for some of my friends, sit and listen until the cows come home about all sorts of weird crap and odd relatives. I find it fascinating. However, I know I'm the minority. So, for the question of too much or too little- I rely on beta readers- aka, my friends and my cronies in the Writer's Asylum . They will tell me with all honestly- where they stopped caring and started thinking about what to make for dinner- but even more so, where they wanted to know more. I also can tell most often, since I've trained myself, to look for the more/less factor when I'm proof reading. It can be tricky, but definitely doable.

As for the first question- you may already have this nailed, but if you find your character's lacking, here are a few tricks.

1. Create a diagram of the main characters and their relationships. Build some friction from those relationships. I love me some white/wipe- board action. Storyboarding with circles and bubbles is the bomb!

2. Interview some characters. Along the way, you'll find out something interesting. Maybe your leading lady has an intense fear of spiders and somewhere in the story she has to go into a creepy basement, full of the nasty little arachnids. And, maybe she has to go down there with someone who she doesn't want to know about her fear- say a hot crime fighting partner who might find it a weak attribute or maybe her arch-nemesis from college who will blog it all over the Internet. Use this one characteristic to build a sub-plot into your story.

3. Use a plot generator. Depending on your story type, and what you have going on, it can be fun to use a quirky plot generator for some odd sub-plots. I really enjoy using these during NaNoWriMo as well. You can find them all over the Internet- and there are some posted links here on the side of my blog.

Happy Plotting!!!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Genre Surfing

Genre are sort of like warm blankies. You may have several, lying around your house, but there is that one special blankie that makes you feel all warm and snugglie inside. That's how it is for me and book genres. Whether I'm writing or reading, I'm really most comfortable with mystery, and occasionally I'll venture into romance or even a little science fiction- say if my mystery blankie is in the wash.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read a new genre- steampunk. To be completely honest, I had to look it up to find out what it even was! I review books for Tracy Riva ( and the book I received to review was out of my normal 'blankie bounds'. So, just like a new blanket, I tried it out. Low and behold, I think I like it! Now, I can't say that for this genre on a whole, but, I really did enjoy this particular book. It mixes steam-era living, think Old West or Victorian era- with something futuristic- in this case, purposeful genetic mutation. What is created is a very interesting world. (The book is 'The Converted' by C.R. Hindmarsh.) And of course, now it's got me thinking. Would I enjoy writing something akin to this story? It's an interesting thought, taking two very different technologies and juxtaposing them in a story. It's quite a liberating thought, really.

This leads me to my second question this morning- Do you write in more than one genre? There are several big name authors that do- James Patterson, for one. Many authors write under different names for their different genres- take Nora Roberts/ J.D. Robb. If you do write in more than one genre, do you write under different names? I find it interesting, just as a social question as well. Personally, I think I would (will?) write under a different name for different genres. As a reader, it can be confusing to pick up a book (not to name names) called 'The Lake House' and instead of a romance, get a strange mystery/thriller involving winged creatures. (Don't get me wrong- I loved the book! Just wasn't what I was expecting!)

Here's a thought for NaNo- instead of wrapping up in that same tattered blankie- try a brand new blankie out! I think I will- this one may be a little stiff at first, but you never know, it might get soft and snuggly the more I use it!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NaNo! NaNo! NaNo!

It's almost here! One of my favorite (non-holiday or food related) times of the year! National Novel Writing Month- the birthplace of Tansy Taylor, and some other less successful stories. So what are you writing for NaNo this year? Don't worry, we still have 27 days, 11 hours and some change before we have to write that first word. If you're like me though, you may already be making lists, writing ideas on receipts, napkin scraps or the odd piece of toilet paper (you work with what you've got) to find the perfect NaNo idea.

This year I'm struggling. I'm deep into Tansy 2 and wondering if I should be sparing the time from my WIP to go off on a NaNo lark. But, then I think, what am I saying? Of COURSE I'll do NaNo. I've been such a major procrastinator lately that even though my schedule is packed to the hilt with work, book reviews, school activities and the evil WIP, I will make the time. If you've never done NaNo, you may not understand this intense need to challenge yourself to this insane creative call to write fifty THOUSAND words in thirty days, but let me say- it's sort of like an annual addiction.  It's the chance to lose yourself in writing; to be able to say no when people pester you to do things you normally feel guilty about saying no to; and to come out on the other end of November with something that could quite conceviably become your next great book.

One of my favorite things about NaNo (for those of us who are pale hermit-like writers who rarely leave home) is the opportunity to get out and meet other writers in our area. Wrimos are a varied group- in my own area I've met people who only write during NaNoWriMo and others who are veteran daily scribes. There are teenagers, retirees, techies,homemakers, men, women, pansters and planners. People obsessed with other worlds, mythical creatures, historical romances, tradgedy, true crime, and so much more come to meet and simply write (and maybe enjoy some tasty pasteries and java).

And, did I mention the perks? NaNoWriMo has a TON of great deals for those of us persistant enough to get our 50K in. (One of my favorites is the 50% off for Scrivener that I'll be able to use once my free Windows beta version is over and the real deal is for sale). There are several writing software offers out there this year- a great chance to try out a different format style, if you dare to try something different.

Bottom line, NaNoWriMo is a great (and safe) way to create a new story with a fun deadline looming over your head. Beleive me, once you start you'll keep on until you cross that finish line!

Check out this year's site so far and find your region!

Happy writing!!