Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Plot Versus Character

Somewhere in my travels through the bloggy universe, I read a five star review of a book titled Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction by Jeff Gerke. Since I love books on craft and can’t resist anything with great fiction in the title, I picked up a copy. Of course it ended up on a books to be read shelf, but, since I wasn’t absorbing its information by simply sharing office space with it, I recently read the thing--and I loved it.

Mr. Gerke maintains that there are two types of novelists. Those for whom plot comes naturally and those for whom characters come naturally. Frankly, I don’t think I fit into either category, but whatever. The point is this: the plotter must find “the plot of the main character’s change,” while the character-inspired novelist must build plot by “finding the story within the main character.” Either way, the main character’s layers and inner journey is the spine of the novel.

The book is divided into sections: “Memorable Characters” followed by “Marvelous Plots,” and a final section that discusses the union of plot and characters. Within these sections there are diagrams, examples, suggestions, tricks, and tips. For example, Mr. Gerke recommends that writers read a book on psychology and temperament titled Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. I am halfway through this fascinating book on personality types and I’ve just about worn out my highlighter. There’s no doubt that the information in this book will help me to develop deep, layered characters with substance.

So, if you’re up for an interesting read on developing multi-layered characters with riveting inner journeys capable of fueling a three act story structure, grab a copy of Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction. It’s worth the read.

Or have you read it? If so, what did you think about it? Have you read Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey?

Have you read any other good books on craft lately?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Filter Words

Are you familiar with filter words? Not filler words. Filter words. These are the words that filter the reader’s experience through a character’s point of view. During the Highlights Foundation Whole Novel Workshop that I attended in March, we talked about filter words. The term, apparently, comes from Janet Burroway, a novelist who co-wrote Writing Fiction : A Guide to Narrative Craft, which is, according to its description, “The most widely used and respected text in its field.”

Filter words include see, hear, feel, think, realize, watch, look, seem, know, and sound (to list a sampling). Although they can have their proper place in writing, they can also put distance between a character and the detail the writer wishes to present. For example, I see the horse run from the field into the barn without the filter words would read The horse runs from the field into the barn. Which sentence is more clean and sleek? Which sentence do you prefer?
I feel the cold wind bite into my neck would transform into The cold wind bites into my neck.

Filter words can tell a reader what is happening rather than letting the reader experience the scene. They can put distance between the reader and the character’s experiences. And we know this isn’t a good thing.

Have you read about or heard about filter words? What are your thoughts about them? Have you read or heard about Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French? Do tell! : ) 

Monday, May 14, 2012

Random Act of Kindness BLITZ!

A smile. An encouraging word. A thoughtful gesture. Each day people interact with us, help, and make our day a bit brighter and full. This is especially true in the Writing Community

Take a second to think about writers you know, like the critique partner who works with you to improve your manuscript. The writing friend who listens, supports and keeps you strong when times are tough. The author who generously offers council, advice and inspiration when asked.

So many people take the time to make us feel special, don't they? They comment on our blogs, re-tweet our posts, chat with us on forums and wish us Happy Birthday on Facebook.

Kindness ROCKS!

To commemorate the release of their book The Emotion Thesaurus, Becca and Angela at The Bookshelf Muse are hosting a TITANIC Random Act Of Kindness BLITZ.  And because I think KINDNESS is contagious, I'm participating too!

I am blitzing Shannon Hitchcock because we've been friends, writing critique pals, and conference buddies for years now. Shannon always makes the time to review whatever I'm working on and chat with me about it when I'm stuck. Awesome. So, as my random act of kindness, I'm offering Shannon a Barnes & Noble gift card because she loves to read (of course).  If you have a minute, why not stop by Shannon's blog to see for yourself how great she is? www.shannonhitchcockwriter.blogspot.com

Do you know someone special that you'd like to randomly acknowledge?

Don't be shy--come join us and celebrate! Send that person an email, give that person a shout out, or show your appreciation in another way. Kindness makes the world go round. :)

Becca and Angela have a special RAOK gift waiting for you as well, so hop on over to The Bookshelf Muse to pick it up.

Have you ever participated in or been the recipient of a Random Act Of Kindness?  Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Whoa, Where Is This Writing Going?

The Kentucky Derby this past weekend had me thinking about riding and writing. 

In the world of writing, there are those that plan and outline before the first draft and those that dive head first into the first version of a story. These days, I figure out my story ideas and get to know my characters as I outline plots before hacking out the first drafts. But whether a writer outlines and plans, or dives into a story, there are times when that story runs away with a writer. This is a lot like having a horse take a bit between its teeth and gallop off into oblivion with the writer on its back.

Photo credit: This lovely photo is by jade at www.morguefile.com
Sure, wild rides can be scary, but they can also be exhilarating. Runaway writing can offer new insights and revelations. A writer, like a rider on a rebellious horse, could end up in a better place if the writer doesn't fight to reign in or pull up the runaway. 

When my writing takes off on me, I remind myself that writing an outline doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t change it. The subconscious often knows best and sometimes takes the bit. Keeping an open mind and not being shackled to an outline or any preplanning can lead to a tangent that might be just a wild ride, or might also lead to a much better story. Why not drop the reigns and find out?

Have you had stories take off on you? If so, what have you learned from these wild rides? If you outline or prep, do you reign in a story that takes off or scrap the pre-planning and enjoy the ride?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Write a Synopsis When?

I’ve heard and read that writing a synopsis for a story before writing the first draft can sometimes be helpful. Last week, as I carved out a synopsis for an almost finished work in progress (sculpting a slab of granite with a butter knife would have been easier), the wisdom of writing the synopsis ahead of the story made more sense to me. If I had some sort of synopsis sketched out based on my original intent for this novel, I would have had a launch pad of sorts. Believe me, I would have killed for that last week.
photo by Clarita at www.morguefile.com

I am also wondering if sketching out a synopsis ahead of time might be a way of outlining or feeling out if a story idea has enough potential to morph into a full fledged novel. A pre-story synopsis might help a writer figure out her intentions for a story, maybe help her figure out the merit and meat of an idea, along with its perimeters. Yet, without the commitment. The story could still change during the writing. After all, what a writer needs to craft a synopsis is what he or she needs to put together a first draft: The protagonist and his or her goal, the antagonist and his or her goal, the protagonist’s internal or emotional conflict, his or her flaw, and the setting.

Okay, I know that there are many writers that work out the story while writing. I am impressed and amazed by this, by the way. And yes, each writer must figure out the way that works best for his or her story and muse, but maybe sketching something out ahead of time could be useful and motivating, even if just as a warm up exercise. 

What do you think? Are you scoffing at this idea? Or is it, at least, a little bit intriguing? Or, maybe more than a little bit intriguing? Do tell!