Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Digging for Gold

In an odd coincidence or bizarre sign from the universe, I keep coming upon articles and books that discuss how important it is for writers to ask questions about characters and plot, yet (here’s the twist) not accept the first answers. In other words, the emphasis is on digging deeper, going for the gold.

In Character & Viewpoint, Orson Scott Card writes: “Never let an idea pass through your mind without giving it the third degree.” Is the idea compelling? Important? Why? What will happen to make the story more relevant? Why is this important to the characters? Why should the reader care? According to Orson Scott Card (and others), chances are the first answers to these questions will be cliché, too obvious, or too easy. To find the best answers, the ones that are surprising and unique, a writer must excavate and burrow down below the surface.

Let’s be honest: It’s easy to go with the first answer, to think that it’s golden and glittery and perfect for the story. At least it is for me. Sometimes it takes time, a big step back, and contemplation to realize that the shiny first answer might be fool’s gold. Maybe the real gold, the best stuff, requires more mining.

What do you think? When you are crafting something new or reworking part of a work in progress, do you become enamored with the first answers that come to you? Or do you push, dig deeper, try to find a twist or something unique—the gold?

When you are reading, do you recognize when a writer hasn’t gone deep enough? Does this make a difference to you?

Photo credit for top photo: shovelshats.JPG by: taliesin at www.morguefile.com

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To Read or Reread?

Do you ever finish a great book and swear that you’re going to reread it? I do this all the time. I have lists and piles of never-been-touched books waiting to be cracked open and read, books I can hardly wait to read. But I also have lots of great novels that I am itching to reread. One pass is not good enough for a fabulous book. There is so much more that can be harvested. Yet, other than rereading To Kill a Mockingbird countless times, I haven’t gone back to all the wonderful novels that I want to reread. I already know that I love the plots and characters. And I know that I’ll learn more, as a writer, by rereading. Every time I revisit To Kill a Mockingbird, I close the novel with deeper insights into character and character development, motivation, voice, subplots . . . So why haven’t I reached for The Help, The Harry Potter books, Speak, The Book Thief, (and more) a second time? Because I’m always tempted by the fresh, new reads. Also, there are only twenty-four hours in a day, which is really inconvenient. Sigh

Last weekend an article on this very topic snagged my attention. According to “Why Books and Movies Are Better the Second Time,” by Natalie Wolchover, research reveals that people like to reread books to find deeper layers of significance in the material while also reflecting on their own growth through the already familiar book. Apparently rereading a book or revisiting a movie is often a search for new meaning in a therapeutic sort of way because the readers self-reflect. Revisiting enables them to achieve an understanding of their past and present situations. Okay, but I would add that revisiting great novels also enables writers to learn more about an author’s style, technique, and expertise.

By the way, here’s a link to that article if you’d like to read more: http://bodyodd.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/02/17/10437789-why-books-and-movies-are-better-the-second-time

Do you reread your favorite novels? If so, how does the reading experience differ the second and even third time?

I’m off to revisit my bookshelves. If I can somehow make it past that pile of shiny new books.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Do You Keep Secrets?

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone! Some say that in the world of romance and significant others, there shouldn’t be any secrets. That’s a debate for another time and another blog. I’m here to chat about the secrets that writers should keep.

Secrets and unanswered questions can turn up the volume on tension, which is almost always a good thing, right? Secrets, big and small, plant questions in readers’ minds and make those readers wonder and perhaps read on in search of answers. Why is that character limping? Where did that scar come from? Why does she have a crazy fear of trains? Who is that lurking, shadowy figure?

While I was revising Buck Fever, my amazing and gifted editor advised me to hold back on one particular “big reveal” for another chapter or two. I did and what a difference this made. Instead of giving away too much explanation too soon, I dropped hints like crumbs. I tried to let the audience enjoy the intrigue and the mystery while also giving them the chance to discover things for themselves.

I think about this editor’s advice when I am reading a novel with secrets or information that is held back. And I think about this advice every time I’m about to reveal information in a story that I am writing. I ask myself: Can this wait? Will the plot benefit from keeping this secret a little while longer? What other plot developments might sprout from not sharing everything with the reader until absolutely necessary?

What do you think about secrets? If you’re a writer, do you keep secrets as long as possible from your readers?

When you're reading, do you feel the tension of a lingering secret or unanswered question?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Talent or Passion?

The Super Bowl this past weekend has rocked much of New York and New Jersey. Since this is home turf for me, it inspired me to think about (and blog about) talent and passion.

People often refer to talent as a gift when talking about athletes, writers, artists, musicians, and others with a skill or area of expertise. Sometimes I wonder whether talent is a gift or whether it is something earned. Dictionary.com defines talent as “a special natural ability or aptitude.” Okay, but is this a little too simple? Most often where there is an ability or aptitude, there are also countless hours of hard work and dedication—blood, sweat, and tears--that go into nurturing, training, and honing that ability or aptitude. Yes, there are child prodigies such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was composing at six years of age, but history tells us that he worked long and hard before he reached a level of extraordinariness. So, I question the ratio between the “special natural ability or aptitude” and the passion, dedication, hard work, and perseverance it takes to create something amazing or perform at a high level. Could it be that

when someone is labeled as having a gift or talent, what that person really has is a great and mighty passion and dedication to do whatever is necessary to create or perform well? To, say, win a Super Bowl? Or write an award-winning novel? Maybe the passion is the gift.

What do you think? Are some people born with a natural ability and aptitude? Or, are they born with a burning desire and drive to create and/or perform to an extra ordinary level? Or is this all crazy talk that comes from too many nachos and chicken wings downed during a very exciting football game?