Saturday, February 26, 2011

Setting as a Character?

When I introduce setting in my writing workshops, I'll often talk about how it can be used as another character when writing. Oftentimes, I get confused or WTH? types of looks from the participants. It is at this point that I take a deep breath and spin my story. Here's what I tell them...

Let's think about some stories where the setting played an important role, if not became a character in and of itself. The first that comes to mind is The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I'm not talking about Kansas or the hurricane, but of Oz proper. All the elements that make up Oz-the yellow brick road, the forest of talking and screeching trees, the city of Oz itself- make the story that much more interesting. Would we have wanted to read Dorothy's story if Oz hadn't of been the setting? We can all agree that the story would have been completely different if she'd woken up two cities away from her aunt and uncle's home.

How about any of the Harry Potter books? Let's just look at Hogwarts. From the outside, this castle looks just like any other castle. But once Harry is inside, he can see that it isn't ordinary at all. Moving staircases, talking pictures, this place lives and breathes magic. It would make sense that the author would create such a setting so that the characters to grow. If it had taken place in just a regular castle, without it's own magical abilities, the stories would have been significantly different.

I know what you're thinking - Kris, these are both examples of fantasy and the setting usually has to be over the top. But I challenge you to think differently. What about debut author Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation? It's the apartment and sweatshop that drives the main character, Kim Chang, to want a better life for her and her mother. The apartment they are forced to live in-with it's garbage bag covered broken windows, roach infested walls, and lack of heat- and the sweatshop they are forced to work in-filled with heat, steam, dust, and lack of hygiene-both make the reader feel something for the characters. Would the reader have cared so much about Kim, being as brilliant as no other student in her school, if she'd lived in suburbia? I think not.

When setting is viewed as another character - or better yet, an extension of the characters, the story becomes deeper and richer, as if it couldn't have been told another way.

I challenge you to look closely at your setting and make it come alive for your readers. I don't think you'll regret it.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Winter's back!

So last week, it was in the 50s in Michigan. Blue skies, white clouds, birdsong. Nature is so cruel to us; you'd think that I would be used to it.

Last night we were dumped on. Michigan wasn't the only state to get the white stuff, and it reminded me that spring is NOT here, no matter what's going outside my windows.

What does this mean? I wrote last time how nature can be my muse (well, not in so many words, but you should've been able to infer that) and that I really enjoyed warmer weather days.

I would be lying if I said I didn't like how the earth looked after a snowfall. It's absolutely gorgeous. When the sun shines, it's like a million diamonds are covering my lawn.

Today, there is no sunshine or diamonds flickering. But there are trees covered in snow, their limbs holding mini-drifts like a postcard.

Even though we are in full winter-mode AGAIN, and my kids are home for Mid-Winter Break (note the name of the break!), I am feeling inspired. Last week I had an incredible massage and I swear that the guy lifted something dark and foreboding from me. I know, sounds weird, but I felt lighter than I have in a long time after that massage. I've gone back to my manuscript, determined to get another chunk down before I speak with my agent this week.

I better get back to it. Keep warm and thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Moving on...Winter to Spring

When New Year's hits, I often feel like I've got a clean slate. I've got a whole year ahead of me filled with days that I haven't used up and aren't memories.

But when winter turns to spring (which I am optimistically hoping that will happen soon since that old groundhog predicted an early spring), I have a similar feeling, but it has more to do with writing.

I've noticed that if I'm not committed to a story during the months of December - February, I sort of flounder around, pretending to write, but not really accomplishing anything. Once we get to the end of February, beginning of March, my juices start to flow again.

I think it may be the anticipation of those early flowers, pushing their green little heads through the earth (and sometimes snow- I do live in Michigan and snow happens in March and sometimes April!), that get me going. Nature is such an inspiration to me, even though my current writings wouldn't show that at all. There's only so much "nature" in and around a hockey rink. But still, in my early days of writing for me (note, not for corporate America), I would sit in my front picture window, laptop on the ledge, me peering out at the flowers dancing in the wind when my fingers weren't flying over the keyboard.

I suppose I'm thinking about all of this because today is Valentine's day. We're half way through February and in about a month, the first day of spring will arrive. I try to be the optimist and believe that the first day of spring will be filled with white puffy clouds, blue skies, flowers popping up, and birdsong. But Michigan can never deliver those expectations.

Yet, today it reached to 40 degrees - a heatwave for this time of year - and the sky is blue with long, thin clouds. It gives me hope that spring will be here soon.

As for me pretending to write...well, I do have a story that I'm working on and working on and working on. It's sort of stuck at chapter 4, but I am committed to it and I know it will be finished. Not because spring is just around the corner and I'm inspired - but because I am inspired now and don't need spring. But don't tell the Universe that, okay? I really DO need spring.

What inspires you?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book Launch - Tommy Starts Something Big

I don't normally attend book launch parties of my authors. I sort of feel like if I go to one, I should go to all. And not that that's a bad thing, I guess I like to say goodbye when we do final sign-off. I've done my part and I'm happy for them to go off and make their dream a reality.

But when I was invited to Chuck Gaidica's book launch, I said yes because this book has my name on the front as well.

There was food, books, bears, and a seven foot Cuddles. Isn't he cute?

Before Chuck read the book, he introduced me and the illustrator (she wasn't there-she lives in Seattle). That was nice. The kids in the audience seemed to enjoy the story, and Chuck did a great job with his reading. But that's not surprising since he's a television weatherperson.

The winter storm we are experiencing didn't hamper the crowd; there was a steady flow throughout the party.

It was a lot of fun and I hope that this book's message - doing kind things for others - catches on.

Friday, February 4, 2011

People, my brain hurts - The Hook!

So, I've spent a ton of time trying to write a blog post about the hook of a manuscript. For some unknown reason, I'm having the darnedest time getting the words down.

Writers know that the hook is a literary device that is used to catch a reader's attention. It's why we want the reader to pick up and want to buy our book. It's something that touches their emotions and makes them feel like they HAVE TO read the book.

The hook is not just the premise of the story, but it's what grabs you around the neck and drags you, kicking and screaming, to cough up your cash and spend some of your time in the author-created world.

I'd share some of my own hooks, but my agent would pistol-whip me if I do.
Here are a couple of examples (very brief and simplistic):

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: a young boy discovers that his magical abilities are not his imagination when he's invited to attend a wizard's school.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: a young boy discovers who murdered his family only after having grown up in a cemetery.

A hook is a good thing to come up with when you're writing your story, as well as your central story problem. Having your hook down will help keep you focused on the story while you're writing it.

Good luck.