Wednesday, February 20, 2013

NEWS AT 11: Budding Writer Feels Like Insecure Teenager Again

I DID IT, you all! I've found the Fountain of Youth. I didn't need an antique map or magical compass, though I did have to charge through uncharted territory to get there. And now, instead of being the 33 year old adult that I was- happy to wear two different socks, satisfied without makeup in public, and totally at ease with my faults, I have become an insecure teenager again. HIGH FIVE! (Or is that, like, totally lame?"

Unfortunately, I still have the body of someone with three kids and all the financial responsibility that I had before, but now I get to wonder if I'm good enough, if anyone will ever want me, and compare myself to others that are cooler, more successful, and better than I writing. YIPPEE!

Hey you! No shoving! There's plenty Agua de Vida to go around...

No matter what age you begin writing (God bless those souls that start while they are insecure teenagers already- of course, getting it over with in one punch seems like an alright idea now that I think about it) everyone will go through an "I'm just a kid again" phase. The one where you attempt in vain to make yourself a part of the "cool table", tight roll your pants, and meekly opt to keep your true self buried while you try on all the hats from other's heads and wonder why they don't look right on you. Hold on to your seatbelts, it's a bumpy ride...I should know, I'm in the middle of it now.

Don't fret because, like the awkward teenage years eventually did, it'll pass. (I tell myself this anyway) And we will become surer writers in the end, ones that can read a published book without comparing it unfairly to our own rough draft. We will finally find our own voice, which had been there all the time but was shyly peeking out from behind Mother's skirt. We will embrace our weaknesses, learn from our mistakes and in the end, we will be strong enough to hug up the next generation of evolving writers, give them some Oxy, and remind them it will all be okay- we know because we were there.

This is the lecture I give myself from time to time. Of course, the times of insecurity are maniacally contrasted by periods of overconfidence when I declare I am the best at everything. But hey, I'm a teenager- I'll grow out of it.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Winds of Optimism and the Sands of Self-Doubt: A Lesson Never Truly Learned

Once upon a time there was a person who enjoyed writing. One day, this person decided that she wanted to be a Writer, instead of just a writer. She set out with pen and paper and imagination. Where she would end up, she didn't know, but with the Winds of Optimism beneath her wings, she took flight.

Not long after setting forth upon this adventure, she wrote something of her very own. And then, she read it and she thought, "This is terrible." and the Winds ceased to blow. Without the Winds of Optimism to help keep her adrift, she landed in the Sands of Self-doubt, which are more like quick sand than fun sandbox-type sand and with every negative thought, she sunk a bit deeper.

Being stuck in the Sands of Self-doubt and no longer feeling she had the capacity to write anything worthwhile, she decided to read books by other Writers, ones that surely soared with the Winds of Optimism. But as she gazed over the polished words, she continued to sink farther and farther into the Sands of Self-doubt for never could she, a lackluster and incompetent writer, ever be capable of creating such fine works of art.

The sands rose higher upon her until her waist was buried. Then she got an idea. She would write in a new voice, one that was better than her own. Yet, for some reason, the Winds of Optimism did not swoop her into the air, but rather only helped to blow strands of hair from her face now and then.

Her first attempt didn't feel right. Her second was forced. Her third was better than the first, but didn't quite meet her expectations. The Sands began to take her once more and when she was up to her nose in the quickening pit, she read her original manuscript again.

And something magical began to happen. She realized it wasn't so bad after all. It wasn't perfect by any means, but there was something right about it. It was hers. And with that realization, the Winds of Optimism burst across the desert's surface like a tidal wave and wrenched our Writer out of the sand. Her wings spread open wide and the Winds thrust her into the air triumphantly and all was well...

But be warned: the Sands of Self-doubt are always down there, ready to bury us with our own undoing.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Happy or Otherwise, What All Book Endings Must Have

Authors are mean. We create worlds and characters that appeal to our readers, then we methodologically trouble, wound, and even kill them- all in the name of literature. We do our best to force our creations (which we love too, by the way) through a plethora of situations ranging from mildly awkward to brutally maniacal peppered with some promise, hope, and other sugary things then, eventually, we have to figure out how to wrap it up. But what do readers want? 

Some may say that they like a "happy ending" or perhaps a "tragedy" or anyone of the different classifications, but if you simply shift things around at the last minute, will the story be satisfying? Let's say our hero must sacrifice himself to save the world, but then, due to some random interference that is totally improbable, he lives. The ending is happy, but are even your happy ending fans going to enjoy it? Probably not. Why? Because it's off... Let's say boy meets girl, they have their issues, but then in the end they kiss and love conquers all...until that semi-truck comes barreling down the street and smooshes the whole wedding party. Oops. Will our tragedy fans appreciate the irony and relish in the fact that they found love before they died...doubt it. It's too forced.
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick at
Of Course the ship sinks in the end...

As readers, we want the same things no matter how the "ending" is resolved. (Of course there are no endings really, the book just stops and we have to live with that.) For one thing, we want the story's resolution to be probable, somewhat logical. If it's not a realistic chain of events, or at least within our willingness to believe could have happened, it won't sit right. People can't just jump out of a plane without a parachute and land on their feet, unless there is something in the story line that has prepared us for the possibility.

To have a satisfying ending, we need to have all the loose threads tied up. We don't want to wonder what happened to So-and-So, who was an important supporting character. Ending up with questions is a sure-fire way to frustrate us.

We want the message to come through all the way through and we want an appropriate resolution. If the message is about self sacrifice, then we can live with the fact that the main character dies if suits the story. Even "happy ending" fans can love it because the satisfaction comes not from how the story ends but how fitting it is. Is the message watered down or is the ending completely off the mark? If so, we'll feel it when we get there, even if the reader isn't experienced enough to know how to articulate it.

Be them happy, melancholy, tragic, or just...ambiguous, the final pages must be earned, plausible, and represent a proper resolution or individual tastes won't matter- everyone will agree on one thing. The book stinks.
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Tell me, what kind of ending do you like? We've all read books with endings that have stuck with us- for better or worse. Help me out by sharing your experiences!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Middle Grade Fiction- Fun or Functional?

As I've been writing the "Currently Untitled but Previously Referred to Story- Edge", I've been researching middle grade fiction and reading a good deal of it too. As a parent, I feel it's important to have my characters evolve for the better, to learn lessons and do what good children should. But, will that appeal to my readers?
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Middle Grade fiction is characterized by younger protagonists (they are geared toward 7-12 year olds, thus the heroes need to be someone they can relate to), and typically, the themes revolve around the how the character fits into their world. Often, the stories are somewhat shorter in length, in the 45-50,000 word range  but I find that this is not a hard and fast rule. I've read many stories that are just as long as a typical novel and some of the books in the MG section are pretty darn thick! But, does there need to be a moral to the story built into the theme? Can there be a good MG story that doesn't teach the reader something?

Of course, there are cartoons that seem completely void of life lessons. Though it cracks me up, Spongebob Squarepants is one that comes to mind. The oddities of daily life are entertaining but not built to teach the observer anything. Basically, they're like junk food for the brain.
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Then there's the cartoons like Thundercats (I'm old) and even some of the newer versions of My Little Ponies, or the Carebears, that though they entertain, there's an element of good over evil or right v. wrong involved and the characters learn lessons though the hardships they face. In the Ben 10 cartoons, Ben fights aliens and saves the earth but also learns about relationships, loves and idolizes his Grandfather, and constantly struggles with his arrogance. Both types are popular with kids, but with the parents, are they equal? Not in my house. Some "junk food" shows are banned because the themes are more destructive than entertaining and teach my kids to call each other rude (though perceived as hilarious) names, and laugh uproariously at disgusting things like boogers, farts, and poop. (not that I can't appreciate the humor, but you know, sometimes we have to go into public.)

The "MOM" in me knows that it's better to have my characters face challenges, make choices, and survive the consequences so that over time they become better, more confident, considerate, empathetic people. Can I do that without getting on a pulpit? Can I accomplish an entertaining story that feels good to kids and parents alike? There's a fine line between lassoing the human condition, our need to be accepted, loved, and trusted, and preaching these ideals like I do in real life, when I feel my kids are veering off course. After all, I don't always want to be the person wagging my finger and looking over the rim of my glasses.

There is a way to do this. If we focus on the story and the story is something universally true, then we add a hero we can relate to- imperfect but who answers the call for adventure, and we make their journey a difficult one but one that ultimately causes them to learn something about themselves and the world, we can entertain our readers and sneak in a life lesson to boot. It's not impossible, but it's not easy either. But whoever said that being a writer was?

The next thing I'm wondering about....does it have to be a "Hollywood Ending?"
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