Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Write Wednesday: What to Leave Out

Welcome back to Write Wednesday!

I've been thinking about some specific writing advice lately as I prepare to edit my NaNoWriMo from last fall.  Have you ever heard the phrase, "Show, don't tell"?  I find it frustrating.

First of all, what precisely does it mean?  Does it mean to *only* show and *never* tell?  Show what?  Tell what?

This phrase became clearer to me while reading the Chaos Walking trilogy (...I might not ever shut up about this is that great).  In it, the characters don't "smile fondly" or "laugh cheerily" or "yell angrily".  (Don't pepper your manuscripts with adverbs.  Please.  As a reader, I find it irritating.)  Although I'm guilty of including "-ly" words too much, as well.  How else are you supposed to let the reader know what's going on?

In The Chaos Walking Trilogy, Patrick Ness doesn't take time to explain every detail of the characters' feelings.  He brings the readers' imaginations into the story and they create a picture themselves, which I think is brilliant.

Todd may yell, and depending on the dialogue that's happened before, we know whether it's from surprise or anger.  Being able to write without putting in every excruciating detail about the character's facial expressions or by-the-second emotion is freeing.  It allows you to concentrate on the action and dialogue, which will help the reader imagine what is going on for themselves.  It's more intimate, in a way.

I think every time you include a "she smiled cheerfully" the reader stops and has to imagine that detail before going on, and it's going to get tedious.  They might even put the book down if she smiles cheerfully too much (I almost did that with a book once).

So, instead of saying "he reacted angrily," show what he did.  How did he react?  Did he punch someone?  Did he throw a bottle that shattered on the wall?  Did he sock someone in the nose?  Did he tackle the person who pushed him to react?  If we set up the scene by having two characters engage in a bit of dialogue, the later action will make sense.   Readers aren't dumb.  We can grasp more than you think we can.  We can track with you, even when you don't include a description that lets us know the character is frowning petulantly.

 Another thought: I think a person who writes too many -ly words is trying to control the story.  Every tiny little detail.  Nothing is left up to the reader's imagination, and when that happens, stories die.  Stories are fluid, they mean different things to different people, and no matter how hard you try to make sure nothing is left to the end, stories are meant to live on their own.  They become real, living things that impact people for hundreds of years (hopefully).  Sometimes we control it without meaning to or realizing it, and sometimes people are just control freaks (but those stories sometimes break down and rust because the author has created a mechanical thing, not a living one).

I think more authors are the "use-adverbs-without-realizing-it" types, but there is probably someone who stresses about the possibility that we won't know their character is feeling a certain way if they don't include an adverb.

What have I gathered from all of this?  To not worry so much about communicating the precise, minute-by-minute details of human emotion or expression.  Instead, concentrate on building strong dialogue (leading to action) and realistic, convincing action (based on the dialogue you just wrote).  Although occasionally, the use of an adverb is permissible.  J.K. Rowling uses them but sparingly enough that we don't really notice.

I hope this was helpful, and I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter!  What does "Show, don't tell" mean to you?  Have you incorporated this advice into your own work?

See you on Friday for First Lines.  Keep reading!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

YA Giveaway Blog Hop

I'm blog hopping again today in hopes of winning more great books!

Last year I won:

Two signed Eli Monpress books (one was the Omnibus so I have 4 of the 5 books in the series!)
An audio book of Burn for Burn (which I am hoping to listen to ASAP)
A signed copy (with bookmarks!) of Hallowed by Cynthia Hand (which I am currently reading and intrigued by!)'s hoping I win a few more good things this year.

Join me, if you like, by starting here: YA Giveaway Blog Hop

See you tomorrow for Write Wednesday!

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness

I finished reading the Chaos Walking trilogy today.  I kept putting the book down after only a chapter or two the last few weeks and then it occurred to me why I wasn't finishing it up as quickly as the other ones.  I didn't want to say goodbye.

This series has opened my eyes to the possibilities of science fiction -- most older sci-fi is dry, dusty, high ideals and ideas with little personal investment.

The Chaos Walking trilogy, while full of ideas, is also filled to the brim with personal investment.

For starters, it is told in first person with two (then three) POV's.  The emotional investment is heightened because we are *in* the characters' heads instead of watching from the outside.  Everything that happens to them gets experienced by you second hand, instead of from a distance.  It's real.  Personal.  Intimate.

Next, the book speaks to several issues we deal with today -- overload of information, terrorism, racism/sexism, and the horrors of war.  All of this is wrapped up in a story about a boy and girl who find each other and will do anything to protect the other.

Yes -- amidst all the horror in this story, the deepest part of the story is love -- romantic, paternal/maternal, friendship, etc.  Everything links back to what we'll do for the ones we love and how strong their love makes us.

I don't know that I can properly sort out for you everything I think is wonderful about these books.  I'm not quite distanced enough yet to see the entire story (I'm still crying about the penultimate chapter) but I'll give it a shot.

One thing I really, really appreciate is the character of Todd Hewitt.  The story focuses on Todd and the difference between him and the Mayor.  The difference between a good man and a man.  The choices Todd makes, the mistakes he regrets making...he regrets, he tries to do better.  Only a good man learns from his mistakes and calls them by that name.  He strives to do better.  He is redeemable.

I also appreciate the main female character, Viola.  She's strong, independent, and willing to risk everything for the man she loves.  And then realizes what happens when you make war personal.  She is brought to a world where people are living apart, in fear, and as the world crumbles around her, she grits her teeth and does what she can to prevent the entire world from falling into chaos.

They suffer through so much, together and apart.  They're always there for each other, even if they're separated by distance.  They struggle together to come to terms with the changes of the world around them and to find their places in it.  They're heroic without trying to be, fully aware of their brokenness.

Another thing I really appreciated was that through all of the horror of the series (terrorist attacks, enslavement, betrayal, beloved characters' deaths, civil war, etc.), the ending concludes with hope.  The hope that we can do better, the hope that peace is still attainable, even after everything that's happened.  Oftentimes if you're reading a war story, the hopelessness drags you down into the muck and there's no escape.  Fortunately, Chaos Walking ends with a hopeful message about the strength it takes to find peace, to forgive and work together for a better life.  Hope for the future.

It's such a thrilling, terrifying, electrifying ride to see the characters change and be changed, make choices, choices they have to make to survive...I wonder if we would have done any better?

What I think this series really boils down to is the choices we make and the reasons behind them.

“That's the thing I'm learning about being thrown out on yer own. Nobody does nothing for you. If you don't change it, it don't get changed.” -- The Knife of Never Letting Go  

“We are the choices we make. And have to make. We aren’t anything else.”  -- The Ask and the Answer

“Choices may be unbelievably hard but they're never impossible. To say you have no choice is to release yourself from responsibility and that's not how a person with integrity acts.” -- Monsters of Men

I'm really sad to see the end of this only consolation is that my library has a standalone novel by Patrick Ness that I'm going to read next weekend.

What are your thoughts on the Chaos Walking Trilogy?  I'd love to hear them.

Friday, January 25, 2013

First Line Friday No. 23

A Morning in Vermillion Males are to wear dress-code #6 during intercollective travel.  Hats are encouraged, but not mandatory.

It began with my father not wanting to see the Last Rabbit, and ended up with me being eaten by a carnivorous plant.  It wasn't really what I'd planned for myself.  I'd hoped to marry into the Oxbloods and join their dynastic string empire.  But that was four days ago, before I met Jane, retrieved the Carvaggio or explored High Saffron.  So instead of enjoying aspirations of Chromatic advancement, I was wholly immersed within the digestive soup of a yateveo tree.  It was all frightfully inconvenient.

But it wasn't all bad, and for the following reasons: First, I was lucky to have landed upside down.  I would drown in under a minute, which is far, far preferable to being dissolved alive over the space of a few weeks.  Second and more important, I wasn't going to die ignorant.  I had discovered something that no amount of merits can buy you: the truth.  Not the whole truth, but a pretty big part of it.  And that's why this was all frightfully inconvenient.  I wouldn't get to do anything with it.  And this truth was too big and too terrible to ignore.  Still, at least I'd held it in my hands for a full hour, and understood what it meant.

-- from Shades of Grey: A Novel by Jasper Fforde

I've never read Jasper Fforde's books, but I'm quickly becoming convinced I'd love them.  If you remember, we did a First Lines a few weeks ago about Fforde's newest book, The Last Dragonslayer.  From reading the first lines of these two books, I feel as if Fforde is what would happen if Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) wrote fantasy.  With a little more order thrown in, perhaps.  It also recalls to mind P.G. Wodehouse (Jeeves & Wooster) and just a tad of Oscar Wilde.  A winning mix if I ever saw one.

Here's why I'd keep reading this book:

1. What/who is the Last Rabbit?
2.  Are we reading this story after the main character's death, or does he escape?
3.  Who is Jane?
4.  How did he 'retrieve' a Carvaggio, and from whom?  Why?
5.  What is the truth that he discovered?

I found out this book was available as a Kindle book through my library, so when I go away next weekend (visiting some friends for Superbowl weekend!), I'm hoping to take a copy with me.  (Although I'll have to read it away from everyone else because if I laugh too loudly during the game I might get booted out!)

What do you think of Jasper Fforde's writing?  Have you read anything by him?  Would you?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Write Wednesday: Dialogue

Welcome to Write Wednesday!

I've been watching lots of TV lately (discovering some new things, finishing up some things I should have seen years ago, trying to keep up with new stuff, etc.) and have been amazed at the variety of dialogue.

It's difficult to pinpoint what makes good dialogue, but it's very easy to tell good dialogue from laughingly bad.  It's tricky, because you want 'real-world' dialogue, but if you write all the 'y'knows,' 'yeah's', and 'huh's', it's just going to be...blah.

I love Joss Whedon's dialogue (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse, and most recently The Avengers) -- you can always tell Whedon dialogue by its hilarious choice of monikers (re-naming something or someone with an apt description -- like Capsicle), its use of "y" on ends of words that don't call for it (writery, demony, etc.) and basically all his characters are hilarious (either self-deprecating, sarcastic or just able to pull one-liners out of nowhere).  People aren't like that in real life.  Real life dialogue is tedious and boring (or at least mine tends to be).

There's also a difference between dialogue written in the U.S. and dialogue written in the U.K.  I'm watching one U.S. show right now and the characters do a little re-naming, but they're not witty.  Occasionally they'll have a line worth repeating but most of it is solid, story-building dialogue.  There isn't an economy of words, necessarily, but there's...there's a lack of sprucing up the wordage.

In the U.K., I choose to believe everyone's witty naturally.  It's my favorite sense of humor (as evidenced by my love of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde) and writers in the U.K. use it in everything.  Doctor Who, Sherlock, etc.  Dialogue is more flowery, it's much quicker, and they have a knack for using inappropriate words or phrases in the best (and worst) places.  They also don't stop for a laugh.

I think dialogue needs vary based on the type of story you're telling.  It seems like westerns and crime novels skimp on description (because we can all imagine the basics of a western landscape or a dirty city) while people like L.M. Montgomery use their descriptions of scenery to impact the characters in the novels (how many times has Anne rapturously exclaimed over The Bridge of Shining Water or trees?).  I invariably wish I was a wittier person so I could write wittier people, but I think that can be amended by watching a certain amount of television and theatre and reading books like the one you're least it will help somewhat (isn't it dreadful to think that some characters are smarter than you?)

I also think dialogue takes careful, attentive listening.  How on earth will you ever learn to write a certain type of character unless you listen to someone like them?  (Mechanics, nurses, librarians, and even more complicated situations like fish out of water)  Some of this can, of course, be done in your own home, but to get your own impressions of dialogue and setting, it's best to visit as many places as you can.  (Carry a notebook with you)

Theme can also be tied up in here as well -- I was thinking today about a certain story I've been trying to write and all of a sudden, it hit me.  Finding a theme can be so much easier when you think about it as a question.  What question is driving the main character?  What answer are they seeking?  The answer can be good or bad or a mix, but this question will drive them in everything they do, every choice they make, every interaction, every bit of dialogue.  What is the one question your character wants an answer to?  Dialogue becomes narrower, more specific, and the more bland, boring, general dialogue fades away as we concentrate on the all-important answer.

So how can I incorporate what I've been learning about dialogue?

1. I can take notes.  When there's an episode with particularly good dialogue, or a line in a book I fall in love with, I write it down.  These can be studied, kept for inspiration, held up as examples.  Pay attention and think about why you love a particular bit of dialogue.

2.  I can experiment.  A good writing exercise might be to spend some time with one character and write some monologues for them.  That way their voice is strengthened and with a bit of luck it might be easier for a later reader to pick out who's speaking.

3.  I can test dialogue out on other people -- someone might have a better ear then you (or be wittier) and more able to help you tighten up a bit of dialogue.  Just don't bother them overmuch.  :)

What do you think?  Is dialogue one of your strengths or something you could work on?  What are some of your favorite dialogues/monologues? 

See you Friday for First Lines!  Keep reading!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Chaos Walking Trilogy

So, was not able to finish the last book of the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness.  I wanted to review the trilogy as a whole.  I'm going to talk a little bit about it and review the entire thing next week.

I found these books through Goodreads.  I thought the first one, The Knife of Never Letting Go, was a standalone book about angsty modern teens (which I'd written about in an earlier post).  I was delighted to discover that it was in fact a sci-fi novel about the difference between men and good men.  It was brilliant, breathtaking, unique from any other sci-fi I'd ever read.

I read the book, gasping, squealing, shouting, crying.  I was a mess.  And book one did nothing to avert my agony.  The ending was the most cliff hangery of endings and I immediately dove into book two.  Again, high emotion, depth, thought provoking twists and turns.  And darn it, another cliffhanger.

I'm about halfway through book three and it is even more confusing and tangled (in a good way) than the last two.  The world is crumbling around these two main characters and honestly, I don't know how they're going to survive.

If you enjoy high stakes, political, theological, racial discussions, exploring gender and role expectations, or want a good frontier sci-fi that'll make you really need to read these.

I'll be more technical and specific in my review next week, but now you know just how much I've enjoyed these books.  You can find the prequel short on Amazon for free if you're interested.

See you tomorrow for Write Wednesday, in which I discuss dialogue!

Review Up Sometime Later Today

Sorry about yesterday -- I was helping a friend move!

The review will be up later today.

Again, apologies!

Friday, January 18, 2013

First Line Friday No. 22

Welcome to First Lines!

There aren't many authors that I'm willing to read anything from.  There are several who have written fantastic books and then written some that either I just can't get through or that don't appeal to me, or whatever the reason may be, I don't read them.

Anne Rice has written several books that don't appeal to me, but the books that I have read...I've never read anything like them.  Her writing style is very distinct, and the depths she plumbs to create these tales astonishes me.

So today I'm giving you a peek into one of the books she's written that I love.  I hope you enjoy it.

"There were omens from the beginning.

First off, I didn't want to do a job at the Mission Inn.  Anywhere in the country, I would have been willing, but not the Mission Inn.  And in the bridal suite, that very room, my room.  Bad luck and beyond, I thought to myself.

Of course my boss, The Right Man, had no way of knowing when he gave me this assignment that the Mission Inn was where I went when I didn't want to be Lucky the Fox, when I didn't want to be his assassin."

--from Angel Time by Anne Rice

Isn't that intriguing? 

1. What were the omens?
2. What is the job he has to do at the Mission Inn?
3.  Why does he always stay in a particular room?
4.  Who is The Right Man?
5.  How did this guy become an assassin? (And why the moniker Lucky the Fox?)

The story unfolds into a beautiful tale of grace, redemption, and healing.  It's mind-bending, thought-provoking and sympathetic.  I won't say any more.  I hope this piques your interest enough for you to read it, and I'd love to hear your thoughts afterwards!

See you Monday -- I'll be reviewing The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness (!!!).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

No Strings Attached

I'm hopping through a number of blogs today in hopes of winning more books!  (Or gift cards.  I'd be happy with either since the end product will be the same!)

If you'd like to join me, enter HERE and get the full list.

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Write Wednesday: Community

Welcome to Write Wednesday!

Today I'm going to be writing about something I think is one of the most important things about writing, but almost everyone forgets about it.

I'm talking about community.

There are some famous authors who got together and spent time discussing their writing -- The Inklings, for one, and I know a few other authors who are part of a group -- either a critique group or writer's group where they can offer suggestions on a tricky spot, encourage each other to keep going, and talk about things like theme, characters, plotting, etc.

But most of us have the image in our head of a solitary writer who sits at the typewriter or computer all day sweating words out.

Sounds kind of miserable, doesn't it?

I used to be the kind of person who wrote alone.  I didn't know there was any other way to write.  And then someone introduced me to television shows that had more than one writer (I'm thinking particularly of Leverage and SNL) and suddenly the world opened up and I saw that it was possible to write with others.

My mind caught onto that idea and I've chased it for the last few years.  The thrill of being creative with others excites me like nothing else.  Telling stories with other people to even more people is the best thing in the world (to me).

I've participated in NaNoWriMo for the last few years (this will be year five for me) and our local group is active throughout the year.  I don't get to spend as much time with them as I would like, but just knowing they're around and that I'll see them especially during the NaNo months makes me want to be more creative.  I love swapping story ideas, character traits and just listening to people spill a story. 

I've said before that being creative in a vacuum is nigh impossible, and I firmly believe that.  If you only have yourself for inspiration, you just won't be as invested in your art.  There's no one to tell you when it's good, or bad, or could use some work.  There's no one to bounce story ideas off of, there's no commiseration when you reach a sad part in your story (and no cheering when you reach the most epic part).  We need other people, specifically other people in our creative field.  We feed off of each other.  Creativity spawns creativity and the more around you, the more you are able to use.

So why do we all think of writing as a solitary exercise?

I think the 'classic literature' image in our brains has been ingrained because we don't really study writers.  We study the sad parts of their lives (F. Scott Fitzgerald, for instance...Emily Dickinson, Flannery O'Connor), but only *their* lives.  Not the lives of their friends and family and how those interactions created the stories and poems and plays we read today.

Do we really have to be solitary? 

I really, really, really don't think so.  You just have to find a venue that works for you.  Are there a lot of writers in your area?  Maybe try out a critique group.  Start a book club.  Have an outing at the local library and see if there are any good books on writing.  Take part in NaNoWriMo (now offered 3x a year).  Or, if you don't have a lot of writers in your area (professional or amateur), join an online group.  There are forums, communities, blogs, and Pinterest boards for writers.  Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, you name it.  Writers are out there.  Go find some you like and see how much it changes your writing -- the process, the brainstorming, the connecting parts, etc.  There is so much to learn from observing and talking to other writers.

For example -- I was lucky enough to marry another writer.  Although we tend to write dramatically different things (he tends to write dramatic sci-fi while I tend toward kooky fantasy), we're always brainstorming and talking about the craft, sharing books and videos that have helped us and gathering the other's experience.

I was stumped with a screenplay the other night. I knew it needed something more but I couldn't put my finger on it.  We went out to dinner to talk about it (Cookout is becoming our writing hangout -- which I am totally cool with.  Where else can you get a corn dog as a side??  But I digress...) and I shared the parts of the story I had down.

He thought about it and said, "It would be really cool if..." and basically gave me my ending.  It was brilliant. Why hadn't I thought of it??  He knows story intrinsically.  I'm still learning all the ins and outs of a good plot.  We started brainstorming and now I have a really solid storyline (just trying to come up with the best raise-the-stakes scenario) and a much, much better story.  Thanks to another writer who was willing to listen and share their experience.

I cannot begin to comprehend or explain the value of having other writers in your life, but if you are a writer (of any kind -- whatever you write, at whatever level), I must stress the importance of having at least one other someone that you trust that sparks your creativity.

You and your stories will be better off -- and since it's a two-way street, you're helping them out as well.

I'm extremely interested in your thoughts on this -- leave me a comment below.

See you on Friday for First Lines!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Gunn's Golden Rules by Tim Gunn (with Ada Calhoun)

I have long been an admirer of Tim Gunn, mentor of the fabulous fashion reality show Project Runway.  He is always dressed to the nines, he's objective, and he's nice.  Which is a rare combination to find in the fashion industry.

Tim has inspired me to stick to my guns when it comes to good manners.  I was raised with a higher etiquette than I needed, I think, but most of the rules I still believe in (but I don't serve dinner with three forks, although I know which ones to use should an opportunity arise).

This is Tim's second book (his first is an excellent look at creating your own style -- Tim Gunn's Guide to Quality, Taste & Style) and might be my favorite because it's like sitting down with Tim for a little chat about people, fashion, and some life lessons about 'making it work'.

This is quintessential Tim -- amused at his own quirkiness (and others'), practical, somewhat fatherly advice about the hard lessons you need to learn, and sharing just enough about his life to make you curious.

Some of my favorite advice: "The World Owes You...Nothing".  Work for what you want.  And 'make it work'.  The sense of entitlement these last few generations have is...rather mind boggling.  Most of them think they're going to be famous (!!).  And a lot of people, in general, don't take the time to think about others.  Wouldn't the world be a much nicer place if we took care to have good manners, be kind, and take the high road?

Although there are some gossipy bits in this book (they're mostly a tongue-in-cheek poke at the fashion industry), the overall outlook is one of "Aren't we silly?  Let's do better" instead of a raking through the coals.

Thank goodness for people like Tim who still believe in the niceties of life.

If you've ever wondered about Tim's background, the craziness of the fashion industry, or what happens behind the scenes at Project Runway (or if you feel, like Tim, that more people could be better), you should read this book.

See you all on Wednesday!

Friday, January 11, 2013

First Line Friday No. 21

Welcome back to First Line Friday!

I wrote a review a while ago about a book most people have pooh-poohed that I thought was wonderful.  It's a re-imagining of a beloved classic and while I had my doubts, at first, I quickly realized the genius of revisiting and combining the old story with new hilarity.

I'm talking about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.  My concern was that it would just be P&P with zombies pasted in.  Boy, was I wrong.

Here, for your entertainment, is the first page of Austen's beautiful work, with added ridiculousness by S.G-S.:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.  Never was this truth more plain than during the recent attacks at Netherfield Park, in which a household of eighteen was slaughtered and consumed by a horde of the living dead.

"My dear Mr. Bennet," said his lady to him one day, "have you heard that Netherfield Park is occupied again?"  Mr. Bennet replied that he had not and went about his morning business of dagger sharpening and musket polishing--for attacks by the unmentionables had grown alarmingly frequent in recent weeks.

"But it is," returned she.

Mr. Bennet made no answer.

"Do you not want to know who has taken it?" cried the wife impatiently.

"Woman, I am attending to my musket.  Prattle on if you must, but leave me to the defense of my estate!"

This was invitation enough.

"Why, My dear, Mrs. Long says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune; that he escaped London in a chaise-and-four just as the strange plague broke through the Manchester line."

"What is his name?"

"Bingley.  A single man of four or five thousand a year.  What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so?  Can he train them in the ways of swordsmanship and musketry?"

"How can you be so tiresome?  You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.""

--From Pride & Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

The genius behind this story is that it is funniest when you've read Pride and Prejudice AND have a love of zombies.  So the reader who will enjoy this re-imaging has read the classics, like Austen, but is also a bit more geeky in their love of fantasy/sci-fi.  I can't imagine a better combination.

The brilliant additions by Seth Grahame-Smith aren't copy/paste zombie gore, either.  There are actual story lines altered through the introduction of the "unmentionables."  

I am delighted to be reading Sense & Sensibility And Sea Monsters, which is proving just as funny, and if you haven't given these books a least read the first chapter.  See if you can stop yourself from laughing.

See you on Monday for a review!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Write Wednesday: Writing for the Screen vs. Writing Novels


I greet you in French because it's a happy word.  Just say it.  You can't help but smile.  :)

Today I'm going to be writing about some big differences in various types of writing -- writing for the silver screen and small screen or writing novels (or novellas, short stories...stories that will stay on the page).

I'm trying to figure out what my strengths are as a writer.  I read a lot, watch a lot of good TV and movies, and honestly, I'm not sure which type of writing I'm best suited for (my preference?  Spend time in a writing room with other writers and write for TV -- but that's just because I love TV and community so much, not because I enjoy writing screenplays more than writing novels).

Even if I decide I'm going to try both before making a decision (that might end up changing, who knows?  Suzanne Collins wrote episodes of Nickelodeon's Little Bear before writing The Hunger Games trilogy), it might all boil down to which way is more fun for me to write.

Because at the end of the day, all I want to do is tell stories...with other people.  Granted, if I wrote novels, I'd have Beta readers, an editor, an agent, fans, etc. (hopefully!)  So both have one thing in common: an audience.

But the nitty-gritty, boil-it-down-to-its-smallest-components, technical side of things is vastly different.

1.  Writing a screenplay involves more technical work (at the start up) than a novel.  You need to know the format, the correct vocabulary, and the basic setup of screenplay pages.  This scared me for a long time until I took part in a ScriptFrenzy and wrote a few TV episodes.  It takes some getting used to and requires a different sort of thinking (what's the day/time/place?  Is there a voiceover?  Which characters are in this scene?) than writing for novels -- less description, more action.  Bare is a word I would use to describe screenplays.  Tolkien could never write a script. 

Novels have a different set up -- but you still have to know your stuff when it comes to writing stories this way.  Do you know how to format paragraphs?  End chapters (with something that keeps the reader reading)?  Structure a novel (beginning, middle, climax, end is one way...)?

Either way requires study, dedication/determination, and lots of practice.

2.  Writing a screenplay also involves putting more trust into the team you're working with -- after all, if someone buys your script, unless you come with it as a package deal (sometimes as the director), they're going to do their own thing with it, even hire another writer to 'doctor' it (Joss Whedon doctored Toy Story, among other movies).  If you want this story told, you're going to have to rely on the actors to bring out the emotion behind your words, the director and produces to share your vision, and the crew to make sure it looks good. 

Lots more people are involved (usually -- unless you're doing short films/indie movies/a web series).  It's tempting to put emotion (or description of it) in the screenplay, but you can't.  You have to state the character's name and put the emotion into the economy of words or in the situation without forcing the character to be a certain way.  It sometimes comes down to being concise and crystal clear in your intentions from the beginning.

With a novel, your agent or editor may suggest changes, but you have more power than a screenwriter (from what I understand) at this point.  You may not have a say in the cover or if there's a page for dedications, but your words, once finalized with the editor, will stay the same -- forever.  There won't be anyone to interpret them but the readers.

3.  Less words in screenplays than novels.  People are happy reading 800 page tomes (Order of the Phoenix, anyone?), but sit them down for five hours and they'll fall asleep in the middle.  Writing film or TV is all about cramming emotion and action into the fewest words possible that are still coherent for the viewer.  (Usually 80-120 pages)

With novels, the usual range is 70-90k which can be up to 300-350 pages.  That's a chunk more than a screenplay, which does allow for more time in the descriptions, character development/backstory, and the plot pacing (which is why some novels tend to drag in the middle).

I think those are the main differences -- have I left anything else (big) out?

If you write, which do you prefer?  Would you ever try a screenplay?

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

Sorry the review arrives so late today...

I was working a wedding with my husband today (video).  :D

I always try to read everything Gail Carson Levine writes because:

a) she writes strong heroines
b) she infuses her story with magic
c) and she always includes a surprise

(If you haven't read her, she's written such brilliant re-tellings as Ella Enchanted and Fairest, as well as a fantastic book on writing called Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly)

A Tale of Two Castles is about a young girl journeying to a new land in hopes of being a 'mansioner' (actor).  She arrives and through several misfortunes, loses her opportunity to apprentice to a troupe.  Instead, she's given an opportunity to work with a rather large and formidable employee -- what she doesn't know is that this will lead to the greatest acting challenge of her career...if she doesn't die first.

Ms. Levine is a fantastic author because she understands the need for conflict, especially internally.  She builds it up slowly, smoothly, seamlessly, and then WHAM! A finale with gain and loss (bittersweet endings are the best, I believe) and a new perspective.

I really appreciate the amount of work she's put out (a funny series of absurdist re-tellings, interesting takes on old stories, etc.) and this book, while still retaining the flavor of a Gail Carson Levine book, is her own fairytale.

The story of a girl who knows what she wants and tries her best to reach out for it, in a world where people looked down on her because of who they thought she recalls to mind the great fairytales -- Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty.

Also, you know what a sucker I am for beautiful illustrations, and the front cover is just...spectacular.

Have you read anything by Gail Carson Levine?  Did you enjoy it?

See you on Wednesday -- we'll be discussing the differences between writing screenplays and novels!

Friday, January 4, 2013

First Line Friday No. 20

I have returned!  I know you all were just dying to read more of my garbledygook.

Hence, I have brought some awesomesauce words (from someone else) and present them here for you as a belated holiday present.


"I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison.  The days were all the same, except that as each one passed, I was dirtier than before.  Every morning the light in the cell changed from the wavering orange of the lamp in the sconce outside my door to the dim but even glow of the sun falling into the prison's central courtyard.  In the evening, as the sunlight faded, I reassured myself that I was one day closer to getting out.  To pass time, I concentrated on pleasant memories, laying them out in order and examining them carefully.  I reviewed over and over the plans that had seemed so straightforward before I arrived in jail, and I swore to myself and to every god I knew that if I got out alive, I would never never never take any risks that were so abysmally stupid again."

-- From The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief is one of my all time favorite books.  I didn't care as much about the rest of the series (it was a superb standalone novel) but this book turned me on my head and taught me a thing or two about how to tell a good yarn.

Reasons to keep reading:

1.  Who is our mysterious narrator?
2.  Why is the narrator even semi-sure about the chance of getting out of prison?
3.  What did the narrator do?
4.  What are the narrator's pleasant memories?
5.  Who are these gods the narrator is talking about?

This book got its inspiration from the sunny lands of Italy and Greece, the rolling hills full of olive trees, the dusty roads full of travelers, the simple food, the old pantheons, and the stories we tell ourselves and others that might be true or might be...embellished (or bereft of helpful information).

The story of Gen is one I return to time and again, even though I've read it dozens of times.  The surprises are shocking (I mean, you have no idea and then BOOM!  Something you NEVER EVEN CONSIDERED happens!), the action jarring, the mystery astonishing, the characters (some of them) endearing.  You feel as if you're a comrade by the end of it, sharing in this tale of adventure.

There's something legendary about this belongs with the old tales, when faith and magic and mystery were all shrouded together. 

You should read it.

See you on Monday for a review!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Awesome Blog Hop Giveaway Tour

In case you're manic about entering contests in which the prizes are books (like me), you might be interested in the following giveaway:

2013 Blog Hop Giveaway of Awesome

There are almost TWO HUNDRED blogs doing awesome giveaways, from their own books to ebooks to Amazon certificates so you can choose your own prize.  I've entered about 50 myself and I can't wait to see if I win!

Fingers crossed!

(Contest closes 9pm, January 7th)

ALSO: There are some contests that are open internationally!  (Listed by link)

Good luck!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


Too ill to post Monday or today.  Will return on Friday with First Lines.

Sorry for the delay.