Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Zombie Apocalypse? Problem Solved!

Song of the Day: "Zombie" ~the Cranberries

I don't know what the big deal is. I solved the problem to the zombie apocalypse this morning while I was taking my morning nap.

Here's the plan:

1. Put bars on all windows and doors except one main entrance per edifice. (Families with small children may want to board up the windows because smashing glass and reaching zombie hands can be disturbing to some youngsters.)

2. Install high-powered lasers across the single entrance which, when triggered, will immediately decapitate, slice up, and basically dismember anything that tries to pass through.

3. Install a high-tech bioscanner that scans your eye to verify that you are a living, breathing, blood-pumping human and not one of the undead. If you pass verification, you step unharmed through the deadly lasers.


You are now safe at home, school and work!

Of course, you'll have to leave the safety of indoors to get to your home, school and work, exposing yourself to a possible attack en route. But, if everyone buys an armored car and brushes up on their combat skills, we should be fine. They're just zombies after all, not rocket scientists.

Granted they may have once been rocket scientists before they died and came back to life, but that doesn't mean they can outsmart us. No matter how many corpses un-die, humans will always be the dominant species.

"What about the deadly virus?" you ask. Cake. If we can create vaccines against drug addiction, it's only a matter of time before we have one for Solanum.

In the mean time, it's not a bad idea to have a gas mask for going out, and an anti-viral circulation chamber installed in your home or apartment building's ventilation system.

There. Now you can all rest easy. Brave people are working as we speak preparing to equip every structure and dwelling with the appropriate defensive mechanisms.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

If Life Were Like Queries

Currently Reading: Wildefire by Karsten Knight

This is so funny I had to re-post it on my own blog. I found it at BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency, posted by Jessica.

If life were like queries:
  • All children would be orphans
  • All husbands are keeping a marriage-destroying secret from their wives
  • Small towns would have an impossibly high murder rate
  • At the age of 16, 17, or 18 we would all learn the secret our parents have been keeping from us (and it's always some super-cool paranormal power)
  • Returning home always means falling in love with the hunky man (or gorgeous gal) we left behind

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Life in the Balance

Quote of the Day: "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why they call it the present." ~Kung Fu Panda

Life is full of a gazillion things that I have to do, and another gazillion things I want to do. And everything I don't get done that I think I should get done only adds to the pile of guilt. I want to be a good mom, but I also need time to write. I want to be a caring, attentive wife, but I also need time to write. I want to volunteer at the school, but I also need time to write. And so on. It seems like writing cuts into every aspect of life.

According to time management guru Stephen R. Covey, it's a matter of prioritizing. So here's how I prioritized my time. Keep in mind that this is what works for me, and every writer's process is an individual thing. For one thing, I don't work outside the home so that is a huge plus when it comes to finding time to write.

A while ago my kids started complaining about how I'm always upstairs in my room--where my home office work space is. That nagged at me until I realized I didn't want my children looking back on their childhood and saying, "I remember how mom used to sit for hours typing at her computer." I want them to remember me playing games with them, helping them with their science fair projects, riding bikes to the candy store.

In the evening I had some quiet time when the kids were in bed. But soon I noticed my husband being subtly bugged that I seemed to care more about writing my story than interacting with him. Although he's possibly the most supportive husband on the planet when it comes to me and my writing, I didn't want him to feel second place. I didn't want my writing to become a wedge that slowly split us apart.

Priority Number One: Family First

For me, family really is the most important and most gratifying endeavor I've ever worked on. I made a rule to put my writing aside the moment the kids get home from school. Also, I never write in the evenings. I use that time to be with my husband. (Exception to this is, of course, NaNoWriMo because then every waking moment must be spent on writing!)

Priority Number Two: My Spirituality

I refuse to shirk my church responsibilities or spiritual welfare by using that time to write. I complete my church obligations first, then work on my writing. Also, I never write on Sundays. You can read more about my faith here:

Priority Number Three: My Writing

In a workshop with Martine Leavitt, she advised us that if we want to be real authors we can't have any other hobbies. I don't scrapbook. I don't shop. I don't play in the local orchestra. Those are all things I gave up to make time for writing.

Priority Number Four: Personal and Home Upkeep

You may think this should be above writing, but I'm sad to say, it's not. During the regular school year, I get up with my kids at 6:30 and get them off to school. Then I clean and tidy the house and run my errands. Two or three times a week I exercise--a 12 to 20 mile bike ride.

But at 11:30, I put everything aside, done or not, and write. I can usually get a good three hours in before the kids come home at 2:30. It's not much, and sometimes I have to start earlier and leave the laundry undone, but that's ok. Sometimes an appointment or lunch with my mother cuts into my writing time and I get less than an hour. But it's a good, regular time for me, and it's what works.

After this, everything else is filler. I spend a lot of time reading and critiquing the writing of others, such as my critique group. And a lot of time reading books.

Here are some other blogs I noticed recently that offer good advice about balancing the writing life and real life:

Agent Rachelle Gardiners 90/10 rule for building a web presence. 

Balancing mom, work, and writing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Lost in the Maze: Buried Plots

Song of the Day: "Is There Nothing We Could Do" by Badly Drawn Boy

As a reader, I've recently found myself lost in the maze of words in some writing. I'll be reading a book or manuscript and find that I have no idea what story thread I'm supposed to cling to as the main plot. Sometimes the main plot points are eclipsed by sub-plots or fancy wording and I don't know when to give particular events sufficient significance. Suddenly I find myself wondering what I missed. I don't know which parts of the story are important and which are secondary. I'm lost.

As a writer, I need to avoid that so my readers don't get frustrated or bored.

The problem is, I don't think I have all the answers to this problem. It's not always easy to spot a buried plot and fixing it can take a lot of work. But here are a few thoughts that may help:

Change the wording and sentence structure. If you normally write with long, flowing sentences throw in a few short ones that are heavy on action or emotion. If you use a lot of metaphorical language, be blunt and straightforward. Or if you rarely use metaphors, use a single powerful one to make your point stronger.

Use shorter paragraphs to give importance to whats happening. Make the event stand out on the page.

Cut down on the number of sup-plots. I think this is a big one. Too many minor threads makes the reader loose track of what's really important. Especially in YA and children's writing, the story should stick to the main character's objects of desire. A reader has to be able to recognize (at least subconsciously) the inciting incident and the main plot points that lead to the climax and conclusion or the story won't make sense to them.

Use an objective correlative that can add significance to certain events, dialogue or thoughts. See my post here for more on objective correlatives.

Add some direct thought rather than just narrative thought. This is sometimes easier to do in third person POV because first person is already direct thought. But if you can make it work it might help set the important situations apart from the other fluff.

That's what I was able to come up with in the few minutes I've been typing this post. Any other suggestions are welcome!

Monday, August 1, 2011

When Weather Turns Bad

Weather Check: Warm and muggy. Hopefully we'll get some thunderstorms this morning.

I've been noticing a terrible trend in weather lately. It seems to be turning against people--mostly main characters. As I read some YA literature and especially manuscripts, I keep coming across phrases like, "She opened the door and the heat assaulted her."

Now I'm all for personification, but I am starting to wonder why weather has become so vengeful against main characters.

So let me just say a few things about weather.

Don't let your weather become cliche. If you take the time to mention weather in your writing, it better be for a reason. Why does it matter if it is the third day in a row of 100 degree heat? What is important about the fog settling over the village? What does the first rain of the season symbolize? How does the bone-chilling cold affect what happens next?

Take rain. Why make it rain in your book? Well, here are a few reasons: Atmospherics, rain can be mysterious, isolating, depressing, confusing.... Rain can symbolize a cleansing, a rebirth. Rain can be a plot device to force the main character into certain situations. Rain is a great equalizer, it falls on both the just and the unjust, the dead and the living. Rain can restore life. Rain can also bring flood, destruction, exposure and death.

Above all, how does your POV character feel about it? Every description has to be told as it relates to your main character. A character who just moved from Arizona to North Dakota will feel differently about the winter snow and cold than a local.

Sometimes I think writing tips have been so drilled into our minds that as writers we go out of our way to say something the hard way instead of the simple way. I believe that often phrases such as "The heat assaulted her" and "the cold swallowed him" are ways to avoid using the word "was" and not deliberate attempts at personification for literary purposes.

Such wording often feels awkward and forced, especially when the next sentence doesn't relate to the weather at all. It makes one wonder why the heat is so angry at her. And if there is no reason for the heat's unwarranted attack, why phrase it like that?

It's okay to use the word "was" occasionally: "It was so cold my fingers were immediately numb and I couldn't manage the zipper on my coat." Even better is if the the love interest has to move in close to help with the zipper and the cool vapors of their breath mix together. See?! Now the weather relates to the main character, moves the plot forward, and carries symbolic meaning.

So try to remember, weather is never just weather.