Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Writing to evoke the senses

What I'm writing: I've begun that edit of In the Shadow of Olympus - yay! Also working on a couple of short stories
What I'm reading: Still reading the same book as last post - haven't had a lot of time for reading in the last couple of days
What I'm knitting: Sweater - back is done, front is about a quarter done, sleeves not yet started.

I'm in the second week of lessons for the F2K free writing course. I'm really enjoying the course because the assignments so far have been challenging and though provoking and the social aspect, getting to chat with other writers, is great. I would definitely recommend this course to any writer. There will be classes starting in April and August.

For part of the second assignment, we had to write one sentence for each of the eight senses (yes, I said eight and will explain in a moment). Each sentence had to evoke the sense without coming right out and saying what it was. It was a fun experiment in writing descriptive sentences. It was so easy to get caught up in writing long, compound sentences so you could describe every last thing you wanted. But, of course, the simpler was better.

The senses: Sight, Hearing, Taste, Smell, Touch, Time (era, time of day, time of year, etc), Space (open or enclosed, crowded or empty, a certain place), Unknown (a sense of foreboding, danger, or anticipation).

So, would you like to play along? Can you guess which sense each sentence was written for? - Remember, it's one sense per sentence (hopefully even if more than one sense is hinted at, one will be more prevalent) and all eight senses are used. I'd love your feedback because the only way I know if it's a hit or a miss is if you tell me!

1. His aftershave hung in the air, spicy and sweet.

2. The floor of the narrow path was sparsely dappled by stray sunlight penetrating the thick canopy.

3. Ten grasping fingers, ten tiny toes, a shock of red hair falling over eyes the color of sky – perfection.

4. The watermelon lip gloss didn't turn him off nearly as much as the undertone of garlic.

5. I admired the textured patchwork of worn fabric and careful stitches.

6. As she's airlifted above the warped wreckage, the chaos below is drowned out by a rhythmic thwump, thwump, thwump.

7. The lights blinked off, throwing the attic bedroom into inky darkness.

8. I pulled my cardigan more snugly around my chest and shuffled through the crinkling leaves.

Thanks for playing along!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Do You Need a Happy Ending? Ender's Game

What I'm writing: Assignments for F2K class
What I'm reading: Tough Cookie - Diane Mott Davidson
What I'm knitting: Sweater

My younger son, Mark, is an avid reader, but he doesn't recommend books for me to read. So when he said, "Mom, you should read Ender's Game (by Orson Scott Card)," I wasted no time in doing so. Now that I've finished it (but there are others in the series), I'm really glad I did.

For those who aren't familiar with the book, it's the tale of the Earth after it's been attacked by aliens twice. A third attack is expected, so some humans are bred specifically in the hope that a much-needed military genius will be found. Couples are only allowed to have two children, but if those children are close to what the government needs, but not quite right, they may be allowed (compelled?) to have a third. These Thirds are looked down upon by society.

The main character of the book, Ender, is one of these Thirds. He's taken away from his family (and oh, what a family) when he's six and put into training school. What happens from there is a web of training, lies, machinations, and violence. The adults all have an agenda and they'll push the children as far as they think they can to achieve their goals.

Without giving too much away (because if you haven't read it, you really should), I will tell you that the book, overall, is dark, with a few bright spots here and there to remind you there is still at least a little humanity.

Which brings me to the end of the book and the topic of this post (took me long enough, didn't it?). The book doesn't have a tie-it-in-a-yellow-bow happy ending. I don't think it could - not really. The ending is satisfying in a way that left me thinking: What would I do in Ender's shoes? Would I make the correct choices? Are there any correct choices?

Oh, how I love a book that  makes me think!

Anyway, there's no They lived happily ever after or All was well. There's only resolution (some - but questions as well) and a hope that's so slight, and so far in the future, that it is, perhaps, negligible. For me that's enough.

I don't need sugar-and-spice endings. I need endings that fit with the story, that are a natural progression for the lives that were affected, the storyline that was created. In other words, I need realism. Even in science-fiction, even in fantasy, the ending has to be realistic to the world created and the characters' motivations. That doesn't mean it has to be realistic to this world, this time, this place, but it does have to ring true to its own canon.

Now, I love the Harry Potter books, but I think we could have all done without that epilogue to book seven. It never seemed quite reasonable that a child who was put through what Harry was - who was neglected by his family, used by nearly every other adult (whether they wanted to or not), expected, really, to be a killer - would grow up to be a well-rounded family man. Wouldn't he have issues? Wouldn't he have trouble trusting? And what would his parenting skills be??

Ender, on the other hand, is shown as broken. Not broken beyond repair, not someone who has no hope, but still, we can see the scars on his soul. Realistic. That's why I loved the ending. I could 'feel' a truth to it.

And don't get me wrong. I love a happy ending. But only when it fits, and only when we know that the happiness is for this moment, that there are still battles and worries... and LIFE out there waiting.

How about you? Do you crave a happy ending for every book you read? Do you enjoy a 'happier' novel or are you satisfied reading something darker?

And if you're a writer, do you feel like you have to create a happy ending? Are you always conscious of the realism of your characters' actions, reactions, and story?

Let me know what you think....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Literary Head Hopping - Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy

What I'm Writing: Concentrating on a couple of short stories
What I'm Reading: Stieg Larsson - The Girl Who Played With Fire
What I'm Knitting: My sweater - the back is finished and I've just started on the front

Reading Stieg Larrson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and (half-way through) The Girl Who Played With Fire makes me think in terms of Points of View. Larsson wrote his novels so the reader was constantly hopping from one character's head into another – the POV switches as quickly as the scenes do (and sometimes more so as we jump from head-to-head from thought-to-thought within a single scene). Sometimes it reads as omniscient, other times as simple POV switches. It works in a high energy/action novel like those in the Millennium Trilogy, but even so, it's not the way I write, and not the way I usually like to read.

I tend to write a close third-person POV. I hop into the head of my POV character and stick with him/her to the end. The reader knows the POV character's thoughts, but can't know anything the POV character doesn't know. What ever's a mystery to the POV character is a mystery to the reader. Think of the Harry Potter books – other than a couple of very short forays (think Snape, Bellatrix, and Narcissa at Spinner's End), the books were told completely from Harry's point of view. We didn't know anything he didn't know. Because we were in his head we generally liked who he liked, hated who he hated – right or wrong.

If J.K. Rowling had written from multiple POV's, we may have never had the question/debate of whether Snape was good or bad, whether Dumbledore was really dead, etc. It makes for great 'Aha!' moments when we, and the character, find out the truth. The reader often gets more emotionally connected as well.

As I'm reading the Millennium Trilogy, I find myself enjoying the books, but not really connecting on an emotional level with the characters. And I'll be damned if I can figure out why every woman seems to be a former, current, or future lover for Blomkvist. LOL. I haven't seen anything in his character that's overly attractive. Every time a new female character shows an interest in him, I shake my head.

So, Larsson gets us all used to jumping about, to knowing what every damned person is thinking (even secondary characters who really shouldn't matter enough to be shown their POV), and then he goes and pulls the rug out from under us. We've been hopping into one main character's head all through the first book and the first part of the second book, but then, just when it really matters, just when we want to know what this character thinks of the mess they've fallen into, we suddenly don't go back into that head – at least not in the hundred or more pages I've gotten through since the crime was committed. Sheesh!

Dean Koontz is an author whose POV changes I enjoy. He sticks to the POV of the two (sometimes three) main characters and sticks just to them. He keeps a POV throughout chapters and doesn't switch mid-way through. In many of his books, the MCs don't meet right away, so we switch between them, anxiously waiting for them to finally meet. I really love that format, but my husband, Jon, doesn't so much. He doesn't like getting involved with one character and then getting switched to another. I told him he really doesn't want to read Lord of the Rings, then. I've been known to groan, loudly, when POV switches in LotR after hundreds and hundreds of pages of being in the same character's head. NO!! Bring me back to Frodo!!!

I do realize that many readers don't even take note of POV switches and are probably rolling their eyes at me for being so picky about them, but, hey, it's just the way I am. And I didn't even touch on First, Second, and Third person POV – now there's another whole post! And tense… I could write and write about tense.

How about you? Do you have a POV type you'd rather read. Do you mind jumping from head to head while you're reading? Do you even notice it? If you think about your favorite book, do you know whose POV it's written in? What difference would it have made if it were written in a different point of view? (Yes, I want to know!).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Day Out and Mark Guitar Videos

What I'm Writing: I'm about to jump into the edit of In the Shadow of Olympus. I'm also brainstorming a short story and getting ready for a writing class to start tomorrow - YIKES!
What I'm Reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - almost finished with it
What I'm Knitting: My funky geometric sweater - I didn't knit as much on it during the long weekend because I was getting toward the first decrease and wasn't sure how easy/hard I would find it to continue the pattern through decreases - but I finally took the leap last night only to find it was fairly easy.

Yesterday was a day off for Jon, Brian, and me. Mark went back to school yesterday after 11 days off (doesn't that figure? The rest of us have a day off and he's in school.).  The day before, we had decided to all go to the casino and then to an indoor flea market I like. Well, Brian stayed up too late, so he left us a note not to wake him (he knew we'd leave early), so Jon and I set out. We hit Rome and decided to go to the Walmart there because it's bigger than out local Walmart and I was trying to find hot salsa for Brian - the best we can get in our area is medium. I found it (Yay). We then decided we'd hit the Salvation Army thrift store before heading to the casino. I love thrift stores - I often sell the treasures I find  on ebay.

I bypassed the racks and racks of clothes and headed toward the back where they keep all non-clothing merchandise. Over the last few weeks, Jon and I have been looking into buying and elliptical - we both really need to get into shape - but we hadn't taken the plunge of spending close to $1000 (or more) on new exercise apparatus. Well, lo and behold, sitting at the Salvation Army was a Tony Little Gazelle - do you remember those from a few years back? They're something like an elliptical. This one was in great shape and the store was asking $15 for it. Jon and I looked it all over and decided we might as well buy it. If we like it, great, if we don't, we're not out much.

As we were looking at the Gazelle, I caught sight of two wooden CD racks. Mark's CD collection has outgrown the rack he has and I've been looking for something bigger. We bought both of those as well - I estimate they each hold about 250 CDs - so Mark isn't even close to filling one of them, but we'll have the second for back-up if we need it.

I also found a Joe Satriani cassette tape for Mark (he has the apparatus to play CDs, Cassettes, and LPs in his room - if he had an 8-track tape player, I think he'd be all set), a cute lamp, and two horse riding-toys for the granddaughter.

In the meantime, a man gave Jon a coupon that he wasn't going to be able to use ($7 off a $25 purchase). So we ended up with all that stuff for $38. Pretty cool.

We got it all home and cleaned it up. The Gazelle is already a family favorite and Mark has started filling one of the CD racks.

After all that shopping, we left the Salvation Army store and decided we really didn't want to go to the casino after all - and at that point, we really didn't have car space to go looking too heavily at the flea market. So instead, we drove to Utica to return a present and then toddled on home. It was actually lots of fun (isn't it always great to hang out with a loved one AND save money?? LOL).

So that was our day.

Speaking of buying used items, Jon bought an IPod from Brian's friend, Zach, the other day - he loves it. And Mark bought his cousin, Heather's, acoustic guitar she didn't play (which he also loves).

I filmed Mark playing three of his guitars last night (he has a fourth of his own, but also keeps an old guitar of Brian's and one of Jon's (a lefty that Mark restrung so he can play it right-handed), as well as his grandfather's old Bass in his room). Now, I don't want you to think we totally spoil the kid with all these guitars (though he is kinda spoiled). He's bought them all himself with the money he makes from working in the summer, except for the Randy Rhodes Jackson we bought him for Christmas.

The vids are on Youtube if you want to see how he's progressing -
This first one is with his new Acoustic guitar.
This one is with his Les Paul gold-top.
And this is the Randy Rhodes guitar.

The videos are a little dark.

Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Free Writing Course

What I'm Writing: I'm betwixt and between
What I'm Reading: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson
What I'm Knitting: A sweater for me with this funky retro geometric design

Happy New Year!

I've signed up for a free writing course that starts January 5th. It's called F2K Social (because, like Nanowrimo in a way, it also attempts to get the writers socializing at some level - writing is a lonely endeavor, so it's never a bad thing to connect to other writers). The class starts January 5th, so there's still time to sign up.

A little info from the website:

What is F2K?

F2K: Fiction Writing for the New Millennium

F2K is a free online creative writing course sponsored by Writers' Village University and staffed by volunteer Mentors.

The course includes seven one-week fiction writing lessons and is designed for beginning writers; however, intermediate and advanced writers are encouraged to take the course as a refresher or to socialize with and encourage beginning writers. Thousands of writers have discovered that F2K  is a great way to break writers block.

I've been considering joining Writer's Village University with a one-year subscription, but I thought I'd get my feet wet first with the free course.

In other writing news - I've kind of slacked off on my editing of Gods Willing. It wasn't holding my attention and if it's not holding mine, it's not going to hold anyone else's. I do believe I'll start the editing on In the Shadow of Olympus and then come back to Gods Willing with a fresh perspective later on. I think it's a good story, but I just haven't found that spark it needs yet.

I'm also looking at a few short story contests to enter. I really do need to spread my wings more if I want to tackle the literary world.

In the mean time, I'm wishing you all the best in your 2011!