Happy Holidays!

funny pictures - Goggies Alwayz Hab teh Worst Ideers

 

Happy Holidays, may you find peace and joy and some holiday cheer!! 

I will be taking the week off until Jan 2. 

My struggles with interior monologue

Recently, I’ve had critiquers and Beta readers tell me that I’m relying too much on rhetorical questions in my character’s interior monologue. That it’s the equivalent to the old cartoon announcer saying “Will Batman find the Joker? Is Gotham City safe?

Yikes! Can’t have that! Yet, I’ve seen well written examples of writers using this device, so it must be that I’m over-using it. I’m still struggling with this new writer piece of advice and so I thought, Hey self, maybe others are too. Let’s write a blog post! Then a writer friend of mine on critiquecircle.com shared that she’s getting feedback that her characters seem flat. She shies away from internal monologue because it’s a form of telling.

And it is.

But when used right it’s a form of “good” telling. So I thought we might be good examples of two ends of the spectrum and explore how we can get to a nice middle.

For interior monologue, I look on it as a spice that needs to be used wisely, as I’ve definitely read some published books where there are paragraphs and paragraphs (uninterrupted by any action or dialogue) of internal thought and it just saps the momentum and mystery right out of the characters and the scene. (Alright, already, I get that he lusts after her!)

But when used right, it helps illuminate the motivations of our POV character that we otherwise could not get across effectively through action or dialogue. It might reflect things our character can’t say aloud or can even contradict what she says and does. It helps readers connect with our POV character and not have them be like actors on a stage — we allow the reader into their heads.

But like a spice in cooking, it can be overused. My problem is I’m overspicing with that fun little spice called the rhetorical question. Especially when, as a devotee of Deep POV, I want to avoid using the distancing phrase “She wondered.” I can’t find much advice on the blogs. I wrote to another writer friend of mine about it and got some good feedback. But I still don’t feel like I’m wrapping my mind around how to change it into a statement or even when I should leave it out altogether. So I thought I’d write this post and see if anyone had some advice.

Here’s what I’ve been told by the ones that told me I overused it: that I should let the reader ask the question in their own minds. But then I had one say that in one spot I was doing it correctly but didn’t tell me why, argh! I think it has to do with character illumination. The area where she said it was okay, revealed an aspect of the character that couldn’t be shown through action or dialogue. I think where I need to work on cutting it back is where I question what’s happening? Maybe? I still don’t know… I thought I had an a-ha moment when revising a scene where the POV character has fallen asleep and then wakes up (she’s time-travelled). Here’s the original:

Isabelle snuffled and sat up quickly. She must have dozed off for a few minutes. Had she imagined the whole thing? Frantic now, she looked to where she had left her purse on the nightstand.

And I changed it to:

Isabelle snuffled and sat up, rubbing her eyes. Frantic, she whipped around to see if her purse lay on the nightstand.

Ah-ha, I thought, this is what they mean. By taking the question out and tweaking the action a little more, this might make the reader ask this question themselves. So I wrote to a writer friend and she wisely pointed out that I’d forgotten the motivation for the action in the second sentence. (And that I’d let slip in a ‘to’ verb that Janice Hardy had recently blogged about.) She gave some examples of how to do it, which helped a lot.

When still learning new tools, it’s sometimes hard to keep all of them in your head at once until you can get them ingrained.

The only blog post I found that was cautioning against it had some concrete examples (which I crave) but it was totally unsatisfying because she completely changed the character’s personality. She changed the interior question to having the character mouth off something smart via dialog and then give the guy a finger. Whoa! The character went from being introverted to this raging whatever. What if the character doesn’t act out these things? What then?

What’s your advice? Anyone have concrete examples for my feeble brain?

Here’s some articles I found:

Six Sentence Sunday – 12/18/11

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP. I currently have this out to Beta readers for feedback and hope to be in a position to query for agents in the new year. Here’s my working query hook for it: Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams. There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century. 

Isabelle, the heroine, is trying to step her new friend, Ada Lovelace, through the events of the previous evening. She needs to convince Ada that she’s from the future. (You can see the other entries here.)

“All right, so we’ve established I’m from America. And this is unusual enough in your life that you would’ve heard of, say, a relative or daughter of a diplomat arriving in your social world. I also didn’t conform to etiquette and wait to be introduced to you. Can you think back to last night and remember anything else I did that struck you as unusual?”

“Besides not being able to understand the majority of your speech?” A smile quirked Ada’s lips.

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. Other participants who write time travel are Gayle Ramage, Ryan Derham and Jasmine Aherne.

Have a great Sunday!

Weekend Grab Bag – From Writing Tips to Jane Austen to Klingon Monopoly

Writing:

Authors sharing some personal adventures:

Romancelandia:

  • An awesome video about why the Romance genre is scorned. Is it a revolutionary act?

Ada Lovelace:

Browncoats:

Jane Austen:

In Geekdom:

Adding Truth to Fiction Might Cause Hair Loss

demotivational posters - THE DIFFERENCE

Truly. How many times have you woven in cool tidbits from your research only to be slammed by your beta readers or agents/editors that it doesn’t sound believable?

And you splutter, “But… but… that really happened!”

We’ve all heard that truth is stranger than fiction, and that’s, well, that’s true. The problem is when you want to weave in those bits you’ve picked up, or even base your whole plot around a real life incident.

For instance, if you read about Victorian women dueling with swords while topless in a novel, would you scoff? Read on…

(How’s that for a teaser?)

But first, let’s back up a bit. Monday, author Amy Corwin wrote a post called Truth is Too Far-fetched for Fiction. In it she talks about how she got the inspiration for her book, The Bricklayer’s Daughter, from a real figure in history, Catherine Wilson, who chose to dress as a man. When she wanted to have her character marry, her editor drew the line and said it wouldn’t be believable. The irony was that Miss Wilson actually did marry to keep her identity secret.

Her post dovetailed with a draft I’ve had sitting in my blog dashboard on just this topic, so I decided to flesh it out for today’s post. Last month, I participated in a hashtag chat on writing historical fiction, and historical romance writer Isobel Carr brought up an interesting fact that would be hard to make believable in fiction, topless Victorian women dueling. But it really happened. I circled back with Isobel for this post and she said, “I do think that real history that doesn’t fit modern ‘beliefs’ about the past can be hard to pull off in books… Of course, I can’t help trying anyway…”

I’ve run into this issue too. Critique partners or beta readers marked parts of my WIP as not being plausible or flat out unbelievable. And nine times out of ten, it’s an actual historical fact. A lot of times it’s because readers improperly assign the sensibilities of the Victorian era to the Georgian era. I was able to get around this sometimes because I’m writing about a modern woman going back in time, so she acts as a surrogate for the modern reader. So when I got flack from critiquers about her riding alone in a carriage in 1834 with a man, I had her wonder the same and then remember that Jane Austen had a character do just that, etc. and have her reflect several times that things wouldn’t start getting prudish until later.

I’ve also heard people think everyone was short or that people didn’t live on average past 30 or something. They’ll see a statement like this in their textbooks in school:  life expectancy at birth in Medieval Britain was 30, and jump to the conclusion that people died on average around the age of 30. The problem with the last assumption is that it’s based on statistical averages from time of birth. Why is that significant? Because infant mortality rates were much higher back in the day and if you factored in all those deaths, yes, it brought the average life expectancy waaaay down. But if you lived past five, you had a decent shot of living into your 60s or 70s.  Now that infant mortality rates have dropped in some parts of the world, and sweeping epidemics like the Black Plague aren’t wiping out huge swaths of adults, the statistical average has risen.  I don’t want to turn this post into a rant on this specific topic, so I’ll cut this short. The point is, what you think you may know about history might not be true.

Another anecdote: I have a cousin who published a literary novel set in the past. It was well received, but the one bad review I remember well because the reviewer was hung up on the fact that some of the events described were just too unbelievable to swallow. The book was based in the South, the reviewer was a Northerner, and the things he objected to were actual incidents in our family. We’re wacky down here like that…

As a writer of historical fiction, it’s enough to make you want to tear your hair out, or bang your head against a wall until it bleeds. Especially if you get ripped by a reviewer who doesn’t know better. While you can have a dialog with your critiquers and tell them it’s true, you don’t have that luxury with a reader/reviewer. But yet you want to do your part to weave in some historical facts.

So, what to do? I don’t really have the magic answer as I’m not experienced enough of a writer. I’m going to share some ideas and then leave the floor to commenters…

1. Work extra hard with motivations.

One thing I did read from a writing book though has stuck with me: that when you weave in real life events (whether they’re incidents from your own life or historical tidbits) you have to work extra hard to setup the motivations of the characters in order to make the reader believe it.

Why is this? It seems to run counter to logic. But what happens is that in your mind, you know it’s true, so you inadvertently skip the steps you’d normally take in your writing of setting up the motivations for your characters. You don’t set it up as diligently as you would something you imagined, because after all, it really happened. I am so guilty of this. Right now I’m still having readers find it hard to believe that Ada Lovelace as a child never saw a portrait of her famous father Lord Byron. According to my sources, it was covered by a large swatch of cloth, so I added that little bit. However, beta readers and critiquers are marking it, saying this didn’t sound believable– wouldn’t she have tried to peek? Apparently she didn’t in real life. However, I need to come up with some kind of explanation for this to make this believable.

Another temptation for skipping motivation is because in real life it happened randomly so as a writer, you have it happen that way too. But in fiction, everything has a purpose and a reason to be there, and so it has to tie into that. It needs to be grounded in your plot and be a realistic action on the part of the character. Remember your motivation reaction units (MRUs) and ensure that this new event has a firm basis in motivation.

2. Perhaps take some world-building tips from paranormal and fantasy writers?

By definition, these folks are asking readers to believe in things that are fantastical. How do they do it? Recently, paranormal author Jami Gold explored how to make readers believe and she touched upon how romance novels are perceived as unrealistic. She countered with:

The romance novels I’ve found to be the least believable were those where the author didn’t do enough with motivations and/or actions to show why the hero and heroine were perfect for each other.

This corresponds with the advice I’d read about weaving in real life events. She lists some other solutions to help keep a reader believing and I think this can apply to historical oddities you’d like to include. A great discussion followed in the comments as well.

3. Make your character believe

One point I brought up in Jami’s comments was making your character believe. I used this tactic when I had early readers say it was too unbelievable to have two female mathematicians in that time period, but both of the characters were real historical figures (Ada Byron Lovelace and Mary Somerville). So I had my main character express her own surprise and acceptance, etc. We’ll see if that works…

What about you? What are some historical assumptions that drive you crazy as a writer? How do you weave them in/make them believable?

Six Sentence Sunday – 12/11/11

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP. I currently have this out to Beta readers for feedback and hope to be in a position to query for agents in the new year. Here’s my working query hook for it: Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams. There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century. 

This is in the first chapter and she’s at a reenactment ball, but everyone’s starting to be a little too into it. She’s just met the hero (this occurs a couple of paragraphs before last week’s six. You can see the other entries here):

My God, what gorgeous hair! His long, black, wavy hair caressed his shirt collar, making her want to rummage her fingers through it, frolic in it, actually.

Like Ada, this guy had gotten into it, too.

And, really, he seemed to be in his element. He’d grown sideburns and his prominent chin had that little indentation she always found sexy. Could she nibble on it?

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here. Other participants who write time travel are Gayle Ramage, Ryan Derham and Jasmine Aherne.

Have a great Sunday!

Time Travel Roundup – From Fiction (Q, Gilliam & more) to the latest on those FTL neutrinos (oh, and a really cool 2012 calendar)

I’ve been collecting some posts about time travel over the last month or so, and figured it was time to share them!

In the world of fiction

In real-life science news:

And just plain cool/funny:

  • A 2012 Time Travel Calendar. The calendar collects time travel events from films, comics, TV shows and videogames and puts them on a single timeline that plays out over the year. You’re getting about 2.6 billion years of time travel in 12 months.
  • Google Maps and Time Travel portals, where we “see” Air Force one emerging from a time-travel portal (not really, but it’s funny)

And if you have any time travel news I missed, please feel free to leave it in the comments. Are you writing time travel stories? Share!

Six Sentence Sunday – 12/4/11

Today is #sixsunday where writers share six sentences from their work. I’ll share a snippet from my time-travel romance WIP. I currently have this out to Beta readers for feedback and hope to be in a position to query for agents in the new year. Here’s my working query hook for it: Isabelle Rochon has met the man of her dreams. There’s only one problem: he lives in a different century. 

This is in the first chapter and she’s at a reenactment ball, but everyone’s starting to be a little too into it. She’s just met the hero who is asking for the honor of an introduction:

May I have the honor? Really? Isabelle was starting to like the whole reenactment thing, but this seemed a tad over the top. So he was handsome. Well, okay, drool-worthy. Maybe she would cut him some slack on the over-acting bit then.

She ends up nicknaming him Lord Drool-Worthy shortly after this, which I’m seriously thinking of making the title…

To see snippets from others who are participating or to sign up yourself, visit here.

Have a great Sunday!

Eric and Sookie – Why So Steamy? Writing Sexual Tension…

Sorry, no Firefly post today!* Instead I’m going to take an excerpt from True Blood to illustrate/discuss writing sexual tension and the stages of intimacy. Monday I featured Alexander Skarsgård as the Monday Hunk Who Reads, and I’ve had today’s post in mind for a while now, so I thought I would round off the week with True Blood to stick with the Skarsgård theme.

One of the greatest tools I found for anyone writing romance, either as the main plot or as a subplot in a non-romance book, is the 12 Stages to Physical Intimacy developed by Linda Howard from Desmond Morris’ book Intimate Behavior: A Zoologist’s Classic Study of Human Intimacy. I first heard about this in an online class this past summer, “From Slow Burn to Fast Sizzle: Making Sexual Tension Work For You,” from the Fantasy, Futuristic & Paranormal Chapter of RWA given by romance writers Kira Sinclair and Lynn Raye Harris (thank you!)

In a nutshell, in order to make the sexual tension between two people believable, a writer should show the characters progressing through these 12 steps:

  1. Eye to body
  2. Eye to eye
  3. Voice to voice
  4. Hand to hand (or arm)
  5. Arm to shoulder
  6. Arm to waist, or back
  7. Mouth to mouth
  8. Hand to head
  9. Hand to body
  10. Mouth to breast
  11. Hand to genitals
  12. Genitals to genitals

To learn more details about these steps, and how to use them and switch them up, see Jenny Hansen’s post Using The 12 Stages of Physical Intimacy To Build Tension In Your Novel and Terry Odell’s 12 Steps to Intimacy.

Okay, studied up? Let’s see it in action! For non-fans of True Blood, this kiss scene between Viking vampire Eric Northman and Sookie Stackhouse had been a long time coming. They’d kissed before, but never initiated by Sookie and always through some kind of trick or manipulation by Eric. This is the first kiss initiated by Sookie. Up until now, there’d been a lot of stage 1 through 3, especially 1 & 2 by Eric. He can’t get enough of looking at Sookie and I wonder if that’s what makes him so sexy, is the way he looks at her?

Alexander’s Skarsgård’s character Eric has just basically told Anna Paquin’s character that he doesn’t dare be around her any more since all he does is cause trouble for her and he doesn’t dare risk hurting her or getting her killed. He’s walking away. So here, let’s see how many stages we see (don’t worry if you’re at work, it only goes up to 9):

Okay, confession time for me. When I first saw this I literally had chills running up and down my whole body. Yes, even to my toes! I kid you not! After I had this very physical response (I think I also said “Whoa” out loud), the writer in me had to ask WHY? Certainly I don’t have this reaction anytime I see people kiss on screen. Especially when Alexander Skarsgård’s character here is looking so dorky in gym clothes. (Though he IS certainly adorkable here!) I’ve seen some great actors give me chills and then other times, not a one (for the same actor). And it’s not because “they’re hot” as I’ve seen some dull kisses from actors that I find “hot.”

WHAT about this scene did this for me? I don’t really know the answer, but I wondered if it was because of these stages? Do you know why? I’ve always wondered about chemistry between actors and how and why that translates onto the screen… Watch it again (go ahead, you know you want to). Here’s what I observed on rewatching.

  1. Notice his eyes when he first hears her calling his name. They snap up and track around to stare at her. (Chills are already starting again. Or maybe I just need to get Central Heat?) Anyway, it’s dang sexy…
  2. Camera switches back to her and more eye to eye contact. Intense eye to eye contact. And then her confession.
  3. His slow walk back maintaining constant eye contact. I think the constant part of this is essential here.
  4. Her arms go out for some hand to arm and hand to shoulder action. Her arms outstretched also symbolize her acceptance of him
  5. Then, oh then, frames 1:30 to 1:35. One hand draws in her hair on the back of her head. The the other hand does the sexy back-of-the-fingers swipe to the nape of her neck. They’ve skipped a couple of stages with him touching her this way (step 8: hand to head). This is a very intimate move and they haven’t even kissed yet. Look closely at these frames and see the emotions play across his face as he does this move. He almost winces and I think even just being this close to her is more than he’d ever hoped for. Also, this is a very vulnerable position for her since he’s a vampire. She’s trusting him. Having his mouth near her neck like that is very intimate/sensual, even if he wasn’t a vampire. I think it’s implied that he’s drawing in her scent here too.
  6. Her eyes open and she brushes by his ear
  7. He holds back, letting her initiate
  8. She looks him in the eye and they maintain eye contact
  9. She kisses him, but frames his face first in her hands, while maintaining eye contact
  10. He responds (le sigh)
  11. And the kiss escalates from there with his hands moving in her hair, etc.

The musical score was perfect for this scene too, but we can’t rely on music in our novel writing…

I’ve been really trying to figure out what makes some scenes in books so intense and others not so much, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that eye contact is the key. Or maybe it’s that the flat ones skipped some steps and it felt forced? I’ll have to study some more (dang)…

All kidding aside, there are reasons why some scenes where all they do is look at each other

(or just touch hands)

are loaded with tons more tension than a full-on sex scene. And I think it’s the same reasons why one sex scene can be sexy as hell and another is a yawner. Stepping your reader through the stages will help, as well as making sure you’ve laid the emotional foundation.

What else did you notice from the clip? Are you a True Blood fan? What did you think when you first saw this scene? What are some elements that help make scenes in books or movies sizzle? Why do some things fall flat?

*Normally on Fridays I take a writing lesson and illustrate it with clips from the TV show Firefly. I think I’m going to only do this when I come up with a good example instead of religiously doing one every Friday. If you have an idea for a Firefly Friday and would like to guest post, let me know!