Changing Mediums

I’ve written on similar topics in the past, about how learning to write for the stage and the screen can sharpen your novel writing skills (and vice versa). I really can’t stress enough how well-rounded it can make you, forcing you to acknowledge setting and action in a new way.

I know as a primarily novel writer, I tend to become complacent with my fictional elements. I think I know all there is to know to establish a scene, enhance the tension, insert more writer-y lingo here. But whenever I feel like my head is getting too big for my story (or if I get incredibly stuck on a particular scene and can’t figure out the best way to play it out), I realize it’s time for a medium change.

pexels-photo-27008And that change in medium is to write it like a movie.

There are some great sites out there that can teach you how to write a screenplay (Adobe Story is one of them). That’s not what this blog is for. This is really to explain the process your mind goes through as you transfer your readers from their imagination to yours.

When you write a screenplay, your action is direct. The actor needs to know exactly how you see them in this scene – crossing to the door, dropping a plate, laughing uncontrollably.

Sometimes as writers we can get lost in the literary clutter. We try too hard sometimes to make things sound fancy when they really just need to be clear. Stripping down your work to the bare bones gives you that chance to find the skeleton of your story. Once you’re there and you know what you want your audience to see then you can spice it up.

Now the dialogue. That’s the hard part in writing a script for me. There’s not really direction tagged with the dialogue in a script, so your writing needs to make it clear to your actor how the character is feeling. They should be able to pick up on the cues of how to act through what you’re having them do.

The same should be true when you write a novel.

Gasping, crying, laughing, shrieking, murmuring – they’re all wonderful words to describe your characters voices. But are you overusing them in place of expressing those same words through other actions? What if instead of crying out, your character clenched her fists in fear? What if instead of smiling, your character felt the warm bubble in his gut that made his words drip like honey?

This is a lesson I’m learning heavily now as I edit Part 1 of my MG novel and begin writing Part 2. My writing had become stale in the last few chapters. Rather than create a detailed work of art, I had created a sketch, a rendering, of what I wanted my audience to see.

That’s not good enough for me.

Practically, I’ve just transferred my work from a Word Doc into Scrivener by scene. As much as it pains me to do, I’m going to go back, scene by scene, and mentally write my story into a script. Break it down to build it back up.

It’s going to be a painful process, and honestly, I’m going to hate most of it – does anyone really love editing? – but if it produces a better story in the end, I believe it will be worth it.

~Taylor

Croissant, Coffee, and a Cafe

Is that too much to ask for? I mean, really.

I’m going to be blatantly honest with you guys for a minute, so please, don’t laugh. I recently downloaded the app Disney Enchanted. You know, the one where you build your own fairy tales on a quilt. Of course I chose to build Belle’s story first. What book nerd wouldn’t? Your little characters can do actions and my bookkeeper can dine in the cafe for an hour. Did you hear that? AN HOUR!

And the sad part is, I’m jealous of him.

A good coffee shop is my writing paradise. Starbucks is okay, but there are too many giggling girls talking about their boy drama for me to stay there for longer than thirty minutes. I prefer the locals. There was one I was obsessed with in college. It had a back room for us quiet studiers that had a ratty old couch, which of course I always sat on. I practically slept there one week when I was between apartments. I literally wrote my name under the cushion in permanent marker. That’s how often I was there. That’s how far I’d fallen from normal society.

Anyway, I’m craving that kind of home again. My best writing usually happens at a coffee shop, with a warm chai tea (I know I know, I go there and I don’t even drink the coffee…I like the smell, just not the taste) and nondescript music playing in the background. The occasional yelling of a customer’s name. It’s like I’m really there.

Except I’m not. Right now all I can hear is my AC turning on, my dog snoring in the living room, and the crunch of chips and salsa.

But home has its own kind of beauty, too. I may not get my best work done here, but I get some work done here. Nearly all of my work this past term, anyway. People may scoff at this, but you can develop a relationship with a place. Certain places will bring back intense feelings within me. For that reason, there are some places I refuse to return to, and others I can’t wait to revisit.

It’s the same with books. A book is more than just words on some pages. It’s a place you go to. It’s a place you feel you belong. It’s a place that draws out your honesty.

Now that I’ve gone on sentimental on you, where’s the place you belong? It is n a book, in a coffee shop writing, or sitting between library shelves perusing your options? Is it all three?

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Shadow and Bone | Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardugo

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I’m squishing both of these books into one post because I can’t just do a review on the second book in a series. That would be completely irresponsible, right? (Ps. meet Sock Bun, my creepy sock bunny my mom bought me forever ago. He is now the guardian of my books.)

So I’ll be honest, I really liked the first book while I was reading it, but then after I was just like, okay, that wasn’t bad. I wasn’t quite blown away by the plot or the world. It seemed kind of been there, done that. But I still liked it enough to read the second one, and even though the second book is largely a setup for the third, it was when I realized that Leigh Bardugo is a dang good writer.

What do I mean by that? I just said the first book was okay. How can she suddenly be so great?

Honestly, it was during the second book that I realized how flawless her narration was. Her characters still drove me nuts sometimes – I’m just not a huge fan of love triangles – but her execution? Superb.

So without further ado, my thoughts:

Characterization

So I hinted at this above, but some of the characters kind of made my eyes twitch. They can be a little moody and woe is me at times. BUT, and this is a big but, Leigh introduces some new characters in Siege and Storm that I really really love. So if you’re like me and kind of want to punch a few people in the face during Shadow and Bone, just hang tight! It gets better. Promise.

Plot/Narrative Arc

The second novel is mostly setting up for *drumroll please* a siege. But you get a really good look into how Alina’s world works and the politics behind the war. I was surprised at how into it I was. Leigh sets up for multiple possibilities in her third novel, so I’m interested to see where she goes with it.

Believability

So believable. So so believable. Leigh really creates an airtight world, and she includes some Russian culture into it, which is totally respectable. I don’t know a lot about Russian culture, but I’ve been wanting to do the same thing with Polish culture – no, not a Holocaust novel, more like Water for Elephants – so I totally give her props. I do wish we had a better understanding of where magic comes from or how Mal is such a good tracker. To me, his tracking skills seem even more magical than some of the actual Grisha.

Creativity/Originality

The idea of people with special powers in a war torn country isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but making the setting a fictional version of a real world country is on the newer side. The more the story progressed, the more original things became, though the family dynamic did remind me a bit of Victoria Aveyard’s royal family. Not so torn but definitely dysfunctional.

Cohesiveness

Like I said, Leigh is a brilliant writer. She weaves together realistic dialogue with an engaging story in a dynamic setting to create a seamless story. The more I think about her second book, the more impressed I am with her abilities. Now I just need to get my hands on the third one…

Overall result: yes! Go read these books.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Writing Characters: Give them Problems

Conflict is what makes a story worth reading. Why? Maybe we’re all sick people who like watching others suffer. Or maybe we enjoy the feeling that someone else’s life is worse than ours. Or maybe, just maybe, perfection is boring.

For those of us not in jail, I think it might be the latter (or I hope anyway). These conflicts can come in two forms: internal and external.

Now, I know you know all this, and I would hate to waste your time. So I’m going to cut to the nitty gritty: how do you develop and show these problems?

The conflict is essentially your plot. As your plot progresses, your character should make contact with the antagonist, realize the depth of their situation, stumble their way through, and finally fight their way out and (potentially) overcome. Now, that is NOT a legitimate plot outline. I will discuss plot in depth in the future, but if I’ve said it once I’ve said it a million times, just go buy Larry Brooks’ books on plot. Best books on how to write ever. Did you get that?

E.V.E.R.

Okay, back to conflict (can you believe I wasn’t even paid for that awesome plug up there^^^?). Your character NEEDS a major internal conflict and a major external conflict.

Your internal conflict is going to be what drives your character externally. Let’s take Harry Potter from his first book (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for those of you living under a rock). He’s a young wizard with no parents who has to live up to this “boy who lived” reputation on multiple levels. Externally, Harry is trying to find the sorcerer’s stone and stop Snape from stealing it. Internally, Harry is being driven by the desire to feel accepted.

How do I know this, you ask?

Well, aside from the fact JK and I are besties (JK), we know several key things about Harry that point us this way:

  • His aunt and uncle shunned him his whole life: see whole first chapter.
  • He does anything he can to be the hero (though I don’t think his 11 year old brain thinks of it in these terms): see remembrall scene, troll scene, and any scene with a snitch involved.
  • He wants people to like him: see sorting hat scene, see introducing new friends to Hagrid and vice versa, see parents in mirror scene.

Harry wants to feel accepted into the wizarding world after being kept from it so long. Who can blame him?

These feelings drive Harry to find the sorcerer’s stone more than his desire to keep it from Snape. What’s it to Harry if Snape has the stone? The stone means nothing to Harry without the idea that saving the stone equals being accepted in Harry’s mind.

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So when you write your characters, what internal conflict does your character struggle with, and how can you use it to impact the external conflict of your plot?

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

 

Believable Surprises

One of the first things that will make me stop reading a book is disbelief. Now, I realize that in reading you must suspend your disbelief and all that fancy jargon, but what I don’t have to suspend, and what I shouldn’t suspend, is my B.S.-o-meter. B.S. stands for Believable Surprises, by the way. (And I really really really wish I had done that on purpose.)

Believable surprises are those events that occur where you as the reader say, “Oh, I totally didn’t see that coming, but now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense.” It’s when your characters make decisions that aren’t predictable, but are still within character. Nothing will get me to shut a book faster than characters who don’t have a developed personality that informs their actions.

Maybe your character is a daredevil. Maybe they live life on the edge and are willing to take risks and do whatever it takes. Okay, but if that’s the case, there better be some realistic repercussions for their attitude. And on the topic of realistic, you can’t tell me that this character has never learned to curb their attitude under any circumstance? Yup, that ringing sound in the background is my B.S.-o-meter going crazy.

I mean, even Deadpool isn’t like that and he’s probably the most I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want character there is.

When you’re writing, take care that your character stays believable. He/she can change of course, but that rarely happens overnight.

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The best way to achieve that surprise for both you and the reader is to create a well-rounded character that is capable of making decisions that continually enhance aspects of their already developed personality. Sounds like a handful, but I know you’re up to the challenge!

Who’s your favorite character when it comes to believable surprises?

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This Friday begins my weekly book review post. Woohoo! Wild Friday night, right?

Who am I kidding? We’re all book nerds here. Heck yea that’s a wild Friday night.

Anywho, I’ve decided that for my debut review I would tackle The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’ve come up with five criteria to rate the book on and will give it an ultimate pass or fail grade, because really, what are stars and numbers to just a simple “read it” or “don’t bother.” Plus, I couldn’t come to a consensus on a system, so this seemed like the best way for now.

So without further ado, my review:

  1. Characterization:
    This is a HUGE one for me, because if I don’t care about the characters, I won’t care about the book. Lev creates some really real characters. I mean really real. Like, crap that was me in high school and I kind of hate myself real. Now, I’ll be honest, I hated almost every character at first. They were all punks or too cool or overly sexual. But then I realized, who wasn’t like that in high school going into college. We were all a little out there. Plus they get better. And then worse. And then better again. So major score on this part for Grossman, even though a small part of me was dying inside.
  2. Plot/Narrative Arc:
    I mean, a book without a plot is just some words on a page, amiright? Okay, now that’s out of the way, I found the plot to be kind of confusing. Grossman has a way of writing where he looks at a normal timeline of events and then throws it out the window. One minute you’re here, another you’re there, and he doesn’t forewarn you before it happens. It takes some getting used to, but you do get used to it. It was one of those novels where I was trying to figure out how everything connected until the very end when it did. Made for a slightly frustrating read, but now that I’m done, I get it.
  3. Believability:
    It’s all about magic, so either a) the magical people are all having a good laugh at us mundanes reading their biographies or b) suspension of disbelief. What I had a hard time with in this novel was how unpredictable the magic was. It seemed like it had no rules, or it had so many rules that you could explain anything away by just making one up and saying, oh, that’s why that happened. The characters really helped with this aspect, because they even called b.s. on some of what was happening, which made me feel better about my sanity as a reader.
  4. Creativity/Originality:
    Here’s where I had my biggest issue. The land of Fillory (and this isn’t really a spoiler…I think) seems like Narnia. You get there a similar way, it’s a series of children’s books, magical land, kings and queens, etc. Even though there are obvious differences, part of me couldn’t quite get past that. But, Grossman is not C.S. Lewis, so the similarities pretty much end there. Some people call this the adult Harry Potter, but Harry Potter is for all ages unless you hate life, so I don’t quite agree with that statement. The Magicians is like a new adult fantasy story about magic and growing up. The characters and situations are unique, even if the setting seems a little familiar.
  5. Cohesiveness:
    This category is for how I feel the book blended the above attributes (and the ones not listed) as a whole. I would say that Grossman excels at this, especially since he loves hopping around the timeline and twining people’s stories together. There are a lot of satisfying aha! moments that I rarely caught and found very readerishly (yes, that’s a word) satisfying.

Overall, I give this book a big fat PASS. And each book in the series only gets better, honestly. My husband tells me the TV show is also excellent and gives more backstory.

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~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

Giveaway Announcement!

For my five followers out there (just kidding, I think there might be ten of you), my friend over at inesninous.wordpress.com found this AWESOME giveaway. (Side note: go follow them right now! Excellent book reviews.)

If you like books and Amazon and happiness then click here: http://urbanepics.com/giveaways/signed-books-giveaway-for-ya-fans/?lucky=24789

If you like being sad and having a mundane day, then just ignore this post.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Twitter and Insta.