{Author’s Corner} Staying motivated

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I will never write a five star book.

Now, hold your horses, I’m not being negative, or suffering from self-esteem issues, or fishing for compliments—those who know me will already know that.  This statement is how I motivate myself to write bigger and better.

Let me explain.

I’m one of those people who has to try harder than most others to be good at anything, even things that seem simple, like throwing and catching a ball, or playing a board game.  Because of that, I have to really, really, really want to do something before I’ll put in the tremendous effort/practice/learning it takes for me to be able to do it, and do it well.

When I find those rare gems that speak to me, tell me “you can totally do this”, like archery and writing, I set the standards for what I consider “success” really high.  As in, can never reach it, high.

So let me make my statement again, with a caveat.

I will never write a five star book…in my own eyes.

If I allow myself to believe I’ve reached that ultimate place of perfection, that will be the day I stop writing.  If it’s always out there in the distance, elusive and ultimately unknown, then there is still more knowledge to be learned, more techniques to be perfected, more pieces of my soul to be chipped off and woven into my stories in new and surprising ways.

It’s the only way I know how to keep pushing myself, to get the books to a point where the reader will feel in their entire body what I want them to feel, and be able to disappear from reality for just a little while into a world I create for them.

That, in the end, is perfection to me.

It’s hard on the psyche sometimes, and the nerves, but it works.  And you thought I was just mean to my characters.  🙂

What motivates you to keep writing?

{Author’s Corner} The importance of reading

So you want to be a writer, huh?  Where do you start figuring out just what kind of writer you want to be?  What genre will be your genre?

Reading, that’s how.  Reading everything you can get your hands on, not necessarily for pure enjoyment, but to learn from.  Books are your best teachers.

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What inspires you about the book?  What parts of really catch you, make you feel?  How did the author lead up to that moment in the character’s life?

Even for established authors, reading is one of the most important aspects of growth.  Pick up your favorite book and read it as a writer instead of a reader.  Wear your inner editor’s cap and dissect as you read.  Break the book down into “acts” like a play.  What did the author do that really worked?  What didn’t?  How did they establish their back story?  Build their characters?  Introduce the primary conflict?  How did they begin the story?  How did they end it?  What made the characters real to you?

These are all great questions to keep in mind while reading.

An even better and more direct method of learning from others, is to jump onto a critiquing site like http://www.scribophile.com.  Not necessarily to post your work right away, because that’s a little akin to standing naked on a stage and asking for others to point out your flaws, but to read what others write and the advice they receive.  I learned more by critiquing others work than I did posting my own.

Give yourself time to learn.  It won’t happen overnight, but if you take the time to absorb all that you read, your writing will begin to shine, too.

What book inspired you the most, made you decide, Yes, I can do this?

{Author’s Corner} Diversifying Character Voice

What is character voice?  To me, it’s the distinctive way a character talks and thinks and moves, the way we know through dialogue alone who the character is without any speech tags to tell us.

When you write multiple works, how can you make sure they don’t all sound exactly the same?

This is actually tough, at least for me.  We all have a certain way we speak in a mish-mash of local phrases to go along with body language all our own.  It’s easy to write a character in your own “voice”.  Writing The Glass Man came out like breathing because I wrote as I would naturally speak.  Now, with my new series, the main character is nothing like me in manner or voice.

I’ve discovered a little technique while preparing for the Muskoka Novel Marathon, where I endeavor to write a novel in 3 days to raise money for adult literacy.  I needed a way to feel out my main characters before I started the novel, so could know who they were before the clock starts ticking and I begin the story.

It’s simply this.  Take your two main characters.  Put them in a public place, my favorite is the mall, and have them observe the crowd and interact with each other as they discuss what they see.  It always surprises me, the character traits that just sort of naturally appear.  A catch phrase that comes out.  What attracts them, repels them.  A prejudice, views on politics and religion, fashion choices, body language, it all comes out clearly.

No two characters have ever come out the same when I do this.  They all end up with their own little quirks, shortcomings and strengths.  They speak differently, use different terms of endearment, curses and humor.  It’s such a simple process, but it really works.

Try it out and let me know how it turns out.  Post me a little paragraph here so I can meet your creations.

{Author’s Corner} The magic ingredient to a page-turner

The page turner.

Oh yes, you know the one.  It’s two in the morning and you have to get up at six to go to work.  Your eyes are dry and tired.  Your brain is half asleep, and you promise yourself…just one more page and I’ll put it down.  One pages turns into ten.  Ten turns into the rest of the book which leaves you with exactly one hour of sleep and a smile on your face.

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What’s makes a book a page turner?  I’ve read great stories that don’t have me pulling an all nighter, so what it is about those few that hot-wire themselves into my restless mind and demand to be read?

There are a lot of little magic ingredients required to lay the foundation, I think, like compelling characters and tension galore, but there’s one main one I keep coming back to:  the questions that need answering.

Often I know I have a page turner within the first paragraph.  The writer has raised a question in my mind that I just have to know the answer to.  Before I get that answer, another question is raised, and another and so on, until I get to the climax and I go Ah, that’s why so and so got so upset about whatchamacallit.  You get my drift, right?

There are lots of ways to raise questions in a reader’s mind.  It can be as simple as a heated look between two characters that isn’t explained.  An object that keeps appearing without an explanation of why it’s important.  An errant thought that causes a character an extreme emotional reaction.

Here’s an example from the new YA novel opener I wrote recently called Sparrow:

The creak of floorboards shattered my dreams of beef jerky and peach pie.  Mom’s smiling face disappeared from the sun-dappled clearing we were picnicking in and left me staring at the naked rafters of a strange, cold house.  If the dick slinking around the lower floor hadn’t come to kill us I’d stick a shiv in his neck.  I only got pie in my dreams. 

I wrote this specifically hoping to raise questions in your mind.  Why is this girl in a strange house?  Who might be downstairs and why might they be coming to kill her?  Why does she think about it with cold detachment?  And why does she only get pie in her dreams?

I don’t plan to answer most of these until at least chapter 2, and at that point I’ll be raising other mysteries I hope will pull the reader along, making them flip those pages even when they have somewhere else they should be.  At least, that’s my evil plan. *insert dastardly laugh here* 🙂

Another important trick I often employ is to end the chapter with a bang, during some tense moment that leaves the reader sliding to the front of her seat. I’ve made it sound simple, and essentially it is, but it often take a few tries to get just the right twist at the end of each chapter.

Master this tease and feed method, and you’ll have your readers well and thoroughly hooked.

Happy writing!