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Getting Organized

Getting Organized

Now that I have time to start looking at new work, I’m realizing that I don’t really have the best system for keeping track of ideas for stories. I’m a post-it person, and I’m beginning to realize that’s a problem, because post-its are not sticky forever, and when they’re not sticky they become little pieces of paper that get stuck to your shoes and fall in the trash accidentally. The walls around my desk look like those walls that serial killers have in detective shows—post-its all over the place, with arrows and notes that only make sense to me. One of my friends was chatting with me a few weeks ago and noticed the wall. “What is that?” she asked me. “That’s my book,” I said.

It’s not that I lack organizational tools—I have so many journals I can’t even tell you. I’m constantly finding journals tucked away on shelves, in boxes, and in drawers. People know that I write, and apparently journals are THE best gifts for friends and family who write. I have more journals then I could ever fill, even if I started journaling daily, starting now and ending in year 3014.

My problem is that I don’t really carry journals around with me, and I have no desire to do so. I don’t generally find myself struck with new ideas while I’m out living my life. Usually I’m thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish, like whether or not bread is on sale, and when was the last time I got my oil changed?, and I really shouldn’t buy any more cheese. I’ve heard that some writers are inspired by people they see on the street, or snippets of conversation heard in passing, or situational observations out in the world. Maybe I’m not paying enough attention, but even if I were, what would it look like if I whipped out a notebook and started taking notes while pretending I wasn’t eavesdropping on the people across from me on the subway? Not that it would be that weird, considering some of the things that happen on the subway . . .

What the wall behind my desk often looks like.

Anyway, I tend to be digital. I used to use Microsoft OneNote, which lets you just word vomit all over, and I definitely like that. I have files with titles like “first lines” or just “story ideas”, and I tend to just list things that would be really strange if someone were discovering them 100 years from now with no context (What is “female gladiators” supposed to be?). That system worked for me, but now that I have a different computer, I’m realizing I haven’t looked at any of those ideas in nearly two years. I know there’s lots of software for this sort of thing, so my question for all of you this week is this: What do you use to organize your ideas? Are you finding post-its all over your house, like me, or do you have a better system? Do you prefer to be digital, or hard copy? Let me know in the comments below!


Let’s go to the Movies

Let’s go to the Movies

Now that I’m getting close the finish line with this draft of my book, I’m starting to really think about what might happen next. Ideally it will be published, but that’s not necessarily the end of the road. I mentioned before that I also studied screenwriting in my undergrad career, and I’ve always had one eye on the screen and one in a book. I can’t help but wonder about the possibility of a book getting turned into a film, but when I think about that I realize that I’ve never really heard writers talk about what that means to them.

Since Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings went to the big screen, it seems as if a huge wave of film adaptations – particularly of children’s book – has taken the world by storm. Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars are slated to be two of the biggest movies this summer, not to mention what’s happening with the Hunger Games franchise, and before that, the way that Twilight exploded on screen. All of these franchises were a pretty big deal before going to theaters, but it makes me wonder about the smaller, lesser-known books that are turned into perfectly good movies and bring the words to life in a new way.

When I think of books turned to movies, I don’t think about The Prestige or Blade Runner, or even Fight Club. Those films all stand on their own, and they don’t necessarily drive people back to the book the way that The Fault in Our Stars and the Hunger Games do. Maybe that doesn’t matter so long as the story is being told. But how much does the writer of that story benefit?

The point of all this pondering is just to say that I haven’t really spoken much to writers about how they feel about film adaptations, or if they would ever want one made of their own book. I’m curious to see what all of you think! I can’t imagine it would be easy as a writer to hand over the rights to your story to someone else, who will then write the screenplay. There are people who write both, though. Ron Howard, for example (the creator of Veronica Mars, not the musician), wrote the TV series, then the movie, and now the novels.

My questions this week are threefold:

  1. Would you ever consider allowing a film adaptation to be made of your book?
  2. Would you want to write that adaptation yourself?
  3. How do you think movie adaptations affect the books they’re based on? What if the popularity of the film vastly surpasses that of the book? Does it matter?

For the sake of starting the conversation, I’ll admit that as I’m re-reading my story (and, in fact, whenever I write anything), I think about it on a screen. My writing is very dialogue-heavy, and I think that’s because I’m drawn to screenwriting so much, which is carried by people talking to other people. Because I like to write for the screen, as well, it would be hard for me to let someone else write the adaptation. I hope it would be the kind of movie that would make people want to pick up my book, but if I were also writing the movie, I think I wouldn’t mind if the book wasn’t as popular as the film. Let me know your thoughts below!

Almost There

All right everybody, here it comes. I know I’ve been doing a lot of procrastination blogging lately, where talk about what’s next, but I don’t really talk about what’s happening with my book or how much I am (or am not) working on it. But I’m here to tell you that this post, this very one that you are reading now, is not going to be like that; no, this one is different.

Because I’m almost done.

Yeah, I said it. I only have about thirty pages left of my initial draft to go through before I’m ready to send it out to the next round of readers. (Sorry Dad, but that still might not mean you yet. Let me sleep on that.) I thought that I would be more nervous about this, but I’m finding that I’m actually more anxious to just get the thing off, and excited to have some more eyes on the work to tell me if what I’m working on is actually worth all of this.

I mentioned before that I sent the initial draft to the people I thought would be my harshest critics, and I did that for two reasons: First, I could take their criticism more easily if I knew that the draft they had was the first, most rough one. Not my best work! Obviously needs improvement! I plan to do better!

Second, I knew that they would have the most extensive changes, and I trusted them to tell me the hard truth about structural problems and narrative arcs that weren’t making sense or needed more elaboration. I revised with these comments open next to me, in addition to my own, which I made with what I hope was an eye just as critical. I feel good about the revisions; I have no doubt I’m sitting on a better story then I was before, and it’s thirty pages longer!

This time the biggest thing I’m looking for is how the story affects the readers. I’m going to give it to a few people who like different kinds of books, just to see what they think. Most of all, I want to make sure that the story leaves them with a feeling, even if it’s not the feeling I’m trying to go for. Any feeling is better than boring, am I right?

I’m hoping it won’t take too long for the comments to come back to me, because warm weather always makes me feel insanely productive, and once summer hits I’ll be in grad school land, debating Shakespeare’s true identity with other nerds in Vermont. At that point I’ll have to go through and do what (I hope) will be the final revision, and then I really have to figure out what’s next.

Did You Get My Text?

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I used to own this phone in grey!

Now that I’m over halfway done with the revisions of my draft, I’m starting to think about some of the smaller nuances in the novel that might need some fine-tuning. One of the biggest issues with my story was that the main character needed a way to stay in touch with her old life after she moved away. The only way I could see to accomplish this was by having her reach out to her old friends via technology – texts, e-mails, and so on. The answer seemed simple enough, but when I sat down to start writing those moments I found myself fumbling for a way to write in the use of technology without being clunky or obnoxious.

I’ve seen this done a lot of different ways with a lot of different results. I could just insert something that looks just like an email looks on your computer screen, with e-mail addresses and time stamps and the whole deal. Or I could just have the text of the e-mail in italics. Or I could do a multitude of other things.

Meg Cabot has a few books (Every Boy’s Got One, The Boy Next Door) where she does technology to the extreme. These books are essentially compiled email and/or text exchanges. I enjoy them a lot, but I find myself a little frustrated whenever I read them because I want more. Whenever the characters step away from the their computers and actually interact with each other, Cabot’s readers are left in the dark. Her commitment to telling the entire story via technology-based interaction means that every other form of narrative in her story gets left out. I still love those novels – they’re great beach reads if you’re ever looking for something funny and light – but I’d be lying if I didn’t say they felt like they were missing something.

There are television shows today that are representing technology really well. Sherlock, for example, uses texting in a really brilliant way – it’s both relevant and essential to the story, and only serves to further the narrative. In a totally different genre, The Mindy Project also uses technology in a way that isn’t distracting and adds to the story, and the characters use it in a very realistic way. Replicating that without the visual of a television screen may be impossible, but I think there’s something there.

This week, my question for all of you is a little more complicated. How do you represent the use of technology in your writing? Or, what have you read that integrates technology in a really helpful way? Let me know in the comments below!


I Had the Strangest Dream

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Whenever I think of dream sequences I think of that moment in horrible movies or TV shows (I’m looking at you, Saved by the Bell) when the screen gets all rippled and the edges blur, and everything is sort of glazed over with white. Something silly happens that makes me roll my eyes and then the program goes back to the real timeline. Dreams were never something I really enjoyed or felt were worthwhile in fiction, and I certainly never used them as a tool in my own writing.

That is, until this book.

I don’t know what it was–I was at a point where I didn’t know what to do but I knew what I had to convey. I had saddled myself with a main character who doesn’t share her thoughts with the people around her. The story was written in third person. There just didn’t seem to be another way. Let’s just throw this in, I thought. It turned out totally funky and it felt, to me, like it wasn’t getting anything done. But I kept it, and then I turned it in to my workshop class to see what would happen.

The group had over twenty-five pages of my book to look at, but during the open comments almost everyone pointed out the dream sequence and how great they thought it worked in the story. I pushed back in disbelief. Seriously? It’s not too weird? Their overwhelming response was no. In this situation, the dream accomplished what a conversation between the main character and someone else could not–insight into both how disjointed she felt about what was going on and also the revelation that she was incredibly nervous about something else.

I didn’t believe in dream sequences before, and honestly, on the screen I still don’t. But in fiction, I’m starting to think that maybe there’s something to it after all. I’ve already added a second dream, and I think it’s doing good work to move the story along.

Since that experience, I’ve been looking for good books that use dreams in an effective way to actually get something done. Now that I’m revising, I’m thinking of going back and inserting another one, further along in the story. I’m still pretty nervous about them, and very conscious of the danger of causing eye-rolling from my readers.

This week, I’d love for any good recommendations you all have. Have you read any books or short stories that used dreams in a really great way? I’m also looking for your opinions on this–how do you feel about using dreams in your own writing?


How Do I Look?

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Now that I’ve read through my manuscript a few times I’m starting to notice some little things that I never necessarily thought about during my first (or second or third) pass. I’m going through and carefully adding more layers to all of the characters so that they talk and feel like real people – complicated and varied the way we all know real people to be. During this process I can’t help but notice what may or may not be a big issue: I never described what my main character looked like.

I mean come on. There are illustrations.

I tell it from the first person perspective, which is I think what caused the oversight. Everyone else in the story has an entrance scene or a moment of reflection where they are described. But the main character? No such opportunity.

Now, I took diligent notes during school, so I definitely have the tools to describe my protagonist – she could be looking in a mirror, for (clichéd) example. But now that I’m really thinking about it, I wonder if I need to bother.

I have often toyed with the idea of not really describing what people physically look like unless it reveals something about that person’s personality or the way that he or she is feeling during a particular scene or time period. It comes from my personal desire to imagine whatever I want when I’m reading – maybe I want to envision a character with curly red hair and a limp! What’s that, you say? He’s 6’5” and athletic with frosted tips? Well, now I’m all messed up. I find that when I read I like for the personality to speak for itself, in a way – to paint the physical appearance of the character on its own. The #1 most upsetting thing for me when I see movie versions of films is that the actors often don’t look like my mental image of the characters they’re playing – it really throws me off. Especially when the author of the book paints a specific picture of what that person is supposed to look like. (I mean, short Ron Weasley? I know they casted him when he was like eight years old, but still. I’ll never be over that one.) So I guess while I was writing I just didn’t get around to describing Grace, my main character.

Is this what you were expecting?

And I’m thinking that it doesn’t really bother me. What she looks like just doesn’t matter. Not really. Maybe the little things – nails bitten down way too far, hair in desperate need of a trim, etc. – can be mentioned as manifestations of her anxiety and depression. But the color of her hair? Her height, weight, facial features? I don’t mind leaving that up to the imagination. I don’t mind everyone having their own little version of her.

So the question I’m hoping you will all help me with this week is this: Do you feel strongly one way or  the other? Have you noticed the physical descriptions in your reading? If you were to read something without a description of the narrator, would you be distracted by that? Or confused? Let me know what you’re thinking in the comments below!


What Are You Looking At?

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While reading through my first draft, one thing has become abundantly clear: What I have here isn’t a draft at all. What I have is a really, really detailed outline.

Part of the reason for this is that my main goal while I was writing was to just finish. I really wanted to get from point A to point B and wrap things up. While I was working I just kept pushing forward, trying to think of events that could occur to keep the story moving and grow these characters, until they reach closure at the end. Because my focus was just finishing, the writing and the story sort of suffered.

I realize that was a really pessimistic way to start this post, but I’m not feeling down about it at all! I knew when I finished that I wasn’t sitting on something brilliant or even very good. I was proud of myself for finishing my first draft of my first book, and when people ask me about it that’s what I say – it’s just a draft, and it needs some work, but I finished something, and that feels pretty cool. The fact that the writing suffered is something I can be okay with, because what I really needed was to get to the end. That’s the great thing about computers. I can just go in and fix the writing after the fact.

Me, crazed.

This is all worth thinking about because I think the first thing to figure out when you read through a draft of something is this: What are you looking at? When I read, I’m looking at an outline. When I go through I find myself writing “MORE” in the margins with exclamation points, or putting huge brackets around things and writing notes to myself about how people should be reacting, and how I could be infusing more action and character development. This is important for me, because if I were reading this draft expecting a finished book, I’d probably be having a meltdown.

In the end, I’m grateful for the outline. Revising something as long as a novel is hard. There are a lot of moving pieces that can feel overwhelming. The outline is nice because I can see where I need to plug things in. Having written all the way to the end worked well, too – now I know where I’ve been and where I’m going, so all I have to do is fill in the middle. It was stressful to me to be thinking about what should be fixed when I didn’t have an end to the story. Even if the end isn’t quite what I want it to be in the final draft, I have something sitting there holding its place.

As always, I’m new to all of this, so I have a question for all of you: How do you go about your revising process when it comes to the narrative? Do you prefer to revise very carefully as you go along, or to write to the end as I did and go back to make changes later? Let me know in the comments below!