Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Novel Ideas: When Should You Start?

Today I’m going to do something a little different: Instead of talking at you, I’m going to humbly ask for your advice, anecdotes, and similar worries. Here’s the thing. One aspect of being a writer that I have never had trouble with is making up fun and interesting ideas for novels. I always have several rattling around in my brain at any one time. Right now, despite the fact that I’m working on two novels already, I have three others planned for the future, not to mention the sequels to the draft I just finished and the one I’m 25,000 words into right now. That’s a lot of mind-clutter.

I never bite off more than I can chew. Two works-in-progress is enough (if not more than enough) to keep me occupied. But I do think about the other ideas. I can't help it. I imagine scenes, fashion dialogue, lay out plot points, etc., and I write these things down and save them until I finish my current project. As a result, by the time I begin working on a novel, I’ve usually already been mulling it over for several years.

My question is this: Is that a bad thing? Would it be better for the work if I just sat down and started writing the moment the lightbulb appeared over my head? Sometimes I become bored with whatever I’m working on, and I worry that this is because I’ve already spent so long with those characters and that story. Then again, I firmly believe in the value of long-term plot planning and getting under your characters’ skins before you do much writing about them. 

Are you a plotter (someone who plans things out, like me) or a pantser (someone who just goes with the flow)? Check out this post about it if you’re not sure. More importantly, to me at least, how long do you let an idea simmer before you tackle it? Is it better to jump right in while the idea is fresh and shiny, or to break it in a little, like a new pair of shoes? Maybe it's one of those things that varies from writer to writer, but still, I'd really appreciate your thoughts!

Friday, June 14, 2013

What Makes Your Work Unique?

Standing out in the slush pile is easier said than done. What makes your work fresh and one-of-a-kind? If you’re searching for a way to spice up your writing, I’ve found it’s helpful to think about what makes you unique. Are you an ambulance driver? Do you have a huge family? Have you battled a rare disease? Are you left-handed? Whether it’s big or little, anything that makes you extraordinary can hook your reader, because it provides a window into an unfamiliar world. A trait or experience that seems insignificant to you could be intriguing to someone else (consider reality shows, if you don't believe me). This may sound like more of a nonfiction trick, but oftentimes, our fictional characters carry little pieces of ourselves as well. Here are some basic categories to get you thinking:

Personal Experiences
Write down all the jobs you’ve had or the places you’ve visited or the things you’ve crossed off your bucket list. There’s probably something that other people would like to hear about! Your memories are a cornucopia of great material. For example, when I was 18, I was a passenger in a car accident. The Neon we were in flipped 3-4 times-- very scary! But now I feel as though I can write about the fear and chaos and physical effects of an accident authentically, and I had a fun time including one in my most recent manuscript. Even something as commonplace as a car wreck can really add depth to your work when you are writing from personal experience.

H.C.'s good old Carnegie library, a place where I
spent much of my youth.
Think about your family, your hometown, your childhood friends, or the places you frequented, like a church or school or restaurant. What makes your history different from someone else's? Is there anything about your growing-up years that was particularly significant or uncommon? I can dig around here quite a bit. I grew up poor in the country outside a small midwestern town, an only child, bookish and nerdy in a family that was anything but, and those are just the “big picture” facts. No one has a story like yours-- don’t be afraid to tell it!

Physical Characteristics
This might seem like a strange one, but the way we look and the condition of our bodies has a definite effect on how we live our lives and how we are treated by those around us. What do people notice when they first meet you? What makes you stand out? It can be something obvious or not-so-obvious. Me, I think I’m pretty average-looking in every way except one: I’m a 6’ tall woman. My height has affected everything from who I choose to date to what clothes I’m able to wear. If you give your character an unusual trait like that, making note of how it colors their experiences will add a layer of believability to your work.

Personality Traits
How do you act? What’s your Myers-Briggs type? (ISTJ FTW!) What do people say they like or dislike about you? Inject your vices and virtues into characters. Whether you’re hot-tempered or softhearted or a party animal, adding those traits to characters in your work helps round them out. And since you already know all about it, it’s not even hard! As for me, I have a tendency to write quiet/shy protagonists, because that’s how I am. On the other hand, one of my earliest characters was a girl who was exceedingly outgoing and charming, which was a great exercise as well!

Have you used your personal experiences and attributes in your writing? What makes you (and your work) unique? 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Attack of the Vlog!

Am I the only one who thinks "vlog" sounds like either a B-movie monster (“Beware the wrath of Vlog!”) or something socially unacceptable (“Oh my God, who vlogged?!”)? Anyway, here’s my first clumsy-but-fun attempt at a vlog, in which I talk about my internship at the Midwest Writers Workshop and the agent I'll be assisting, Brooks Sherman of FinePrint Literary. Enjoy!