- body slumping, losing its stiff posture
- shaky laughter
- a slow smile
- falling back into a chair
- asking/demanding someone to repeat good news
- asking a redundant question to assure that the moment is real
- eyes that go up, looking heavenward
- letting out a huge breath
- rocking back and forth
- a slight moan
- lips parting
- showing emotion/kinship toward others (hugging, reaching for their hands)
- pressing a palm to the heart
- briefly bowing the head
- closed eyes, compulsive nodding
- Crossing and uncrossing the arms or legs
- Drawing one's mouth into a straight line and biting one's lip
- Excessive swallowing
- Clearing the throat
- Pushing food around on a plate
- Trying to remain unnoticed (slumping in chair, edging toward an exit)
- Pretending to be unaware of shouting, an argument, or an uncomfortable event
- Turning slowly, unwillingly
- Stilted dialogue
- Choosing a safe spot to wait (back to the wall or corner)
- Consciously forcing one's limbs to relax
- Nervous laughter
- Nervous habits (picking off nail polish, humming under the breath)
- Warm, sweaty hands
Yes, it can get cold here.
But can we all agree that waking up to -45 celcius (with the wind chill) is a bit much?
The sad thing is, this is BALMY compared to yesterday's -48. My garage door refuses to open and my dog refuses to move farther than 3 feet from the door to do her business...on our deck. GAH!
This extreme cold is unusual for my corner of Canada, but I do recall that LaNina experts did say this would be one of the coldest winters on record for us. I'm positively looking forward to tomorrow's forcast, which puts us at a mere -25.
I hear laughter coming from Florida...Becca!
I'm a seriously deranged person.
But it's something I've started worrying about a lot. My goal as a writer is to become an established children's/YA author. To do this, one must write books. But as I move toward the birth of my first child in May, I am soooo easily distracted. I can't sit down anymore and write an entire scene or chapter; I'm lucky if I can pay attention to anything for more than an hour. And when I do sit down to write, other things take up that time: researching or drafting the next post for this blog; doing a critique; writing a drama for church. When the baby's born, I'll have less time to write (and sleep), so how on earth will I be able to finish that novel, revise it, and ship it off to the agents and editors who are eagerly awaiting its arrival?
And then I realize: I've lost sight of The Big Picture. To achieve my goal, yes, I'll need to write consistently. But does every second of my writing time have to be spent on that WIP? Not necessarily. There are many things I can do to develop my craft. Critiquing has value because it helps me to analyze a sample of writing, an invaluable skill for a writer. My hope for this blog is that it will help others but also that it will become a marketing tool for my career; as such, my contribution to it is important. As for writing dramas or anything else—well, duh. That's writing.
So achieving my dream to become a mother doesn't negate my other dream of becoming a successful children's author. The second may take a little longer, but it'll happen as long as I keep moving forward, whether that means working bit-by-bit on my novel, red-lining Angela's latest literary brainchild, or coming up with new ways to show my character's anger (shameless plug: see Emotion Thesaurus in the sidebar). The important thing is that I'm writing.
Now, if I could just get some sleep.
Thought for the day: "Baby steps to the door...Baby steps to the elevator..." (What About Bob)
This week I sent off Mason and the Zombies to my agent and was left with this strange and foreign thing called FREE TIME. Giddier than Becca trapped inside a donut factory, I reveled in mindless emailing, Utube watching and scrabble games on Facebook.
Eventually though, that naggedy little prickle started up, the one telling me I should be doing something more productive than sending Booze mail or taking quizzes called Which Mental Disorder Are You? It was the voice of my next project. It had waited for a year and a half and wasn’t so keen on waiting any longer.
The project was an old manuscript--an old Nanowrimo manuscript. And we all know Nano novels are usually full of something, and I’m not talking words.
This novel was an experimental piece: new genre, new POV and most importantly for me, a new way of approaching characterization. This time, I didn’t think about what my MC should be doing as I wrote, I just let her have free reign. (My stories tend to be plot driven and I struggle with characters. I figured if I was going to mess around with something new, Nano was the time to do it.)
I shut down scrabble and opened my long term waiting folder (aptly named, ‘The Boneyard’). My emotions chugged up and down like Disney’s Tower of Terror. Was the MS as bad as I had thought when I’d blindly shoved it into a grave and run away screaming? After all, it’s not like corpses got better with age. Or, as was my eternal hope, did a stint in the dark place somehow cleanse it, rubbing away the weak characterization, the fumbling description, the laughable motivations?
It was time to see. I opened the file and started to read.
Soon, I found myself leaning closer to the screen. I’d stop, re-read a passage, a metaphor, a line of dialogue and think, did I write this? Some of it was so good, so genuine, I couldn’t believe it came from my fingertips. Best of all, my character didn’t lie flat on the paper. She had layers. She was interesting. She had a smart mouth, and she was real!
I went back to what I did differently and boom, cue the fireworks, shaft of light, the whole deal. It hit me like a brick sandwich: plotting and characters are two different elements and I’ve been approaching them as if they were the same.
As a plot-driven writer, I can plot and plan the story, I can work out the storyline twists…but I can’t plot out a character. People change and feel as a result of what happens around them, not because as the author I think they should feel X or Y. All along, I’ve been forcing my beliefs on my characters as to how they should act and feel as they are exposed to the changing events. I’ve been treating them like a plot.
This was a breakthrough for me. I understand now that I may know in advance how a story ends, but my characters must have the freedom to react and change without my preconceived nudging. Where they end up emotionally is a mystery that will unfold as I write—I shouldn’t force it.
Each day is another chance to learn, and today was no exception.
- pounding fists against the thighs, a table, a wall
- breathing deeply, noisily
- laughter with an edge
- snapping at people
- talking in a carefully controlled tone
- a shaking voice
- picking fights (verbal or physical)
- irrational reactions to inconsequential things
- demanding immediate action
- jumping into things without thinking
- taking inappropriate risks
- shaking, trying not to shake
- a white-knuckled grip
- leg muscles tightening, ready to run
- shivery skin, crawling flesh
- gasping for air
- dry mouth
- shaking the head in denial
- a voice that goes shrill
- stuttering, mispronouncing words
- a compulsion to talk non-stop about anything
- loosening of the bladder
- holding back a scream or cry
- flinching at noises
- the sudden urge to flee
- hyper-sensitivity to touch
Because you’re AT THE GOOD PART.
You know what I mean--the part of the story that can’t pour out fast enough. Your MC’s paralyzed by fear, the enemy is sure of victory. All is lost, and won, so THEY think. But not you. No, you know what’s coming next and can’t WAIT to knock the villain off his game and let your MC prove what he’s made of. But first, you need to imprint this moment of fear in your book. You need to make hopelessness seep off the page.
You start to type how your MC is cringing in terror and then stop. You glance back a page and shake your head. Somebody cringed in the last scene--can’t use that one. Hot, shuddering breaths? Nope, breathing’s already come up a million times in this book, so that beat won’t work. You need something different, something unique to show fear. His eyes widened? His face was a frozen mask? Pu-leeze. The POV police are screaming at the thought.
The joy and energy starts to leak out of you. The excitement that brought you here is fading. You can’t seem to find the right way to show the rawness of your character’s fear. Everything action you come up with seems trite or hollow or cliché.
Reality trickles in: the coffee’s even colder now, and the mailman has gone. Your fliers are probably out there on the step, about to blow away. And of course the eerie silence means your dog no longer needs to go outside. You sag in your chair, defeated by a descriptive beat.
As you leave to mop up Mr. Ruffy’s mess, you glance at the computer screen and think, if only I had a thesaurus of emotional beats.
And now you do: The Emotion Thesaurus. The list of emotions in our sidebar contain bodily cues associated with different emotions. Just click on the emotion you need, scroll through the list, and see if one of our ideas sparks one of your own. But that's not all. If you're intrigued and want to see more, check out the expanded and streamlined book version. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Expression is available for purchase through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes, and Smashwords. The PDF can be bought directly from our blog via the button in the sidebar.
Also available is the companion guide: Emotion Amplifiers, a free pdf containing 15 states that naturally galvanize emotion and make characters more volatile. If you're interested in further stressing your characters through the use of internal and external stimuli, download this guide using the Free Download button in the sidebar.
What's it called when the car won't start and you have to push it down the road with your dad yelling frantically from behind, "Pop the clutch!"? It's a memory I can recall with alarming frequency, and I remember exactly how I felt each time: annoyed, anxious. Scared. Sweaty. Basically, the way I feel when it's time to start a new writing project.
I sit down to draft and end up peering out the window. Soon, I'm trolling other peoples' blogs, vacuuming, shaving my dog—anything to avoid confronting the accusatory blank page. Out of sheer desperation the words eventually come, but I can see right off they're coming from The Bad Place. I'm writing filler that'll end up getting cut. The voice is non-existent. I've chosen the wrong viewpoint. My main character is a putz and why did I ever like her to begin with?
Whether you're writing a picture book, middle-grade story, or young adult novel, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Why is this, exactly?
1: Writing is messy. We want our writing to be neat, to get it right the first time—a malady otherwise known as perfectionism; fear of failure; the old I-don't-want-to-write-a-whole-book-if-it's-going-to-be-crap malaise.
What to do:
- Embrace the fact that no writing is a waste of time. Even if you write a scene that you end up tossing, that time was spent honing your craft. And learning what to keep and what to chuck is valuable knowledge, too.
- Put bad writing to use. When I worry that I'm not getting any better at this whole writing thing, I pull out the first book I ever wrote, a middle-grade atrocity called "Dirty, Hairy, Smelly Dogs". Reading the first few pages not only makes me want to burn the manuscript to an unidentifiable crisp, it shows me that, yes, I am in fact making huge progress.
- Realize that no one's first draft is flawless. Get the story down on paper and save your perfectionistic tendencies for the revision process, where they belong.
2: Writing is scary, particularly the idea of writing a whole book. Sure, you may get through the opening scene today, but you have three pages of outline notes to draft after that. Christmas is coming, followed by old age and eventually death, and surely these things will cut into your writing time. What if you don't finish?
What to do: Don't focus on finishing the whole project. Revisit the overview periodically so you know where you're going but when you sit down to write each day, focus only on your goal. You do have a writing goal, yes? 1500 words a day? Two scenes a week? Whatever you're able to scribble before the kids start maiming each other? A whole book may seem impossible, but short-term goals are doable. Focus on them. Write consistently and the story will finish itself.
3: Writing is hard. According to a 2002 survey (http://www.jenkinsgroupinc.com/), up to 80% of Americans claim the desire to someday write a book. That's 8 out of every 10 people you know. How many of them are pursuing that goal? How many of those will actually make it?
What to do: Know that you're attempting something that is inherently difficult. It's going to involve some staring matches between you and your computer screen. Pulled hair. Tears. Rewriting or trashing passages that you agonized over. It's crazy, but this is what writers do.
So stop obsessing. Shove your neuroses in the closet during your writing time. Take pride in the fact that you're doing something that few people do and even less do well. Consider this your push-start and get started.
Crap. Now I've gotta follow my own advice…
Thought for the day: The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started. (Dawson Trotman)
Anything is possible--you can buy houses, visit countries and cultures, gossip about Lindsay Lohan's rehab sentence or Paris' shrinking inheritance, find other writers to share the highs and lows with.
Looking back, I don't know what I would have done had I not gone surfing and stumbled upon my current critique group. For me, writing well was something I wanted to do so desperately, but not something I could talk about or share with anyone around me. And when I decided to pursue it, I mean, REALLY pursue it, I understood I couldn't do it alone.
But how did I go about finding others to learn from? No one I knew had the same interest. I was a social hermit (and a techno idjit to boot), but I needed to get past my fear of reaching out and see where my keyboard could take me.
Joining a writing community was likely one of the smartest decisions I made, and when success rings my doorbell, I'll know where credit is due. I strongly recommend any writers out there who are not part of a critique group to find one. There are many possibilities just waiting for your typing fingers to find on Google. I'm partial to the Critique Circle of course, but if you write for children, you can always find other writers at Verla Kay's who are interested in forming critique groups or have openings in current ones. Often Google searches can turn up face-to-face critique groups in your city or area, if you're looking for a more interactive experience.
So WHEN is it time to get a critique group?
1) If your query letters announce you're the next JK Rowling, it's definitely time to get a dose of reality...and a crit group.
2) If you are starting to see your writing strengths emerge and are aware of your weak areas, its time to take the next step and get a critique group.
3) When you read other work (published or not) and feel you can suggest ways to make it better. Sharing your knowledge and thoughts leads to writing growth. Practice makes perfect--the more we help others, the easier it becomes to see waffley spots in our own pieces.
4)When you want someone to read your work and tell you what's wrong with it (as apposed to them gushing how you're going to be --yep, you guessed it-- the next JK Rowling).
5)When you need the support of people who 'get' you. Only writers understand the highs and lows, the frustrations and the struggles. If you feel an overwhelming urge to reach out to someone who can relate, it's time to find a critique group.
The right critique group can be life-changing, not just from the learning aspect, but on a personal level as well. I've met many online personalities whom I think of as friends first, and writers second.
We each write for children and teens, with works ranging from picture books to middle grade and young adult stories. Our writing wanders across many genres, from fantasy to historical fiction to contemporary and non-fiction.
Our journey together began about 4 years ago at the Critique Circle website--if you haven't checked it out, head on over (the link is on the left). Despite living thousands of miles apart, we discovered that we share a lot of the same theories and philosophies about writing, enjoy many of the same authors, and we're both a little goofy. As a result, we've chosen to walk the bulk of our writing path together.
However, that's not to say that we're exactly alike. Angela, for instance, has an affinity for weird-flavored chips (pickle, for one, and the ever-disgusting ketchup chip) while Becca sticks to the non-revolting kind. Becca, though living most of her life in Florida, is white enough to reflect the sun while Angela, who lives in the tundra for half of every year, actually has a better tan. Becca thinks Josh Holloway is quite yummy while Angela--no, wait. We actually agree on that.
Anyway, if you hang around here long enough, you'll see that we share a lot of opinions about writing, but we're definitely two separate entities. The borg is not alive and well here, people; if that's what you're after, you've got the wrong blog. So pull up a chair, see what we have to say about the writing world--specifically writing for children--and please, tell us what you think.