Sometimes The Muse Just Won’t Shut Up

It’s a little after 5am.  I’ve been awake since 3, and am not feeling particularly endeared to my creative gears at the moment.  No one likes Writer’s Block, and I do appreciate my muse when it’s on fire, spouting out plot ideas and crafting sentences…but why must my muse be most active *after* I’ve gone to bed?  I am not nocturnal, by any means, though it appears my muse keeps a vampiric schedule.

 

I keep a notepad and pen in my nightstand for such occasions, quickly jotting down ideas so I don’t forget them come morning.  Sometimes, though, my muse starts writing out a scene in my head, and my hand just can’t keep up with the pace.  So with a heavy sigh, I turn on the light, get out of bed, and go to my computer where I can hastily type up the words swirling around in my head.

Then I try once again to go to sleep.  Do I have visions of sugarplum fairies dancing in my head?  No.  I get more plot ideas and scenes running through my mind like an internal movie screen with no off button.  Sometimes, after laying there for two hours, I can get back to sleep.  Then there are nights like tonight (now today?) where I might as well give it up.  Maybe if I didn’t already have problems with insomnia and sleep deprivation, these little bursts of creativity wouldn’t bother me as much.  But I do, and then my muse makes me cranky.  I had planned on devoting the entire next day to writing, couldn’t it have waited?  As it is, now I’m too tired to jump-start my editing goals.

I have a love-hate relationship with my muse.  What about you?  When does your muse tend to strike with brilliance?  Is it at inconvenient times, inconvenient places?  Or do you have the opposite problem, and your muse broods silently for longer periods of time?

Cursed Cliffhangers

We all know the purpose of cliffhangers.  Television shows run for a season, and producers want to ensure that their viewers return in the Fall.  The best way to do that, since they obviously don’t have much faith in fans’ loyalty if the show itself is great, is a cliffhanger, usually centered on the likely death of a beloved character.  “Oh no!  They can’t kill him off!”

It’s bad enough waiting around for three months to see what happens.  (Don’t get me started on the idiots who plan cliffhangers for premiere seasons and then cancel the show.)  I’m starting to see more and more cliffhangers in book series!  How cruel must authors/publishers be?  Books in the same series are lucky to come out twice a year.  Once a year is more likely, and what about those series that authors are in the process of writing?  Come on guys, you can’t foresee the future; what if you never write the ending?

Here’s my other thing: television shows are more easily remembered.  They run for 12-24 episodes over several months.  I read a book in 2-3 days.  I’m sorry, it doesn’t matter how amazing the story is; I have a gazillion other books to read, and by the time the sequel comes out, I’ve forgotten not only to look for it, but what happened in book 1!  Seriously, I started making a list of authors to periodically Google in case they come out with another book when I’m not looking.  Because let’s face it, television previews are all over–well television–the web, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Book release announcements?  Not as easy to hear about unless you Follow every author you like.

Ranting aside, I’m all for serial books.  However, I think that each book should have a self-contained plot.  Even if there is an overarching megaplot with the big baddie that the protag won’t all-out battle until the end (hm, much like the levels in a video game?), there should still be some episodic structure to the book.  There are a handful of Young Adult series out that have become so popular (either the authors have gotten lazy or they feel they don’t have to work as hard to keep their readers) that by book 3-4, they become a series of events, a to-do list in this epic journey the characters are on.  There’s blood, sweat, and tears, but no triumph, no growth.

 

There are some great series out there that follow a character or group of characters through various life changes, but each book is complete in its conflict and resolution.  Patricia Briggs’s Mercy Thompson series is excellent.  Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville series is good (consequences from one book may spill over into another, but the plots are still contained and resolved).  I’d like to add Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series, but alas, Book 11 (she made it so far) ended with a cliffhanger–granted, a character cliffhanger, not plot, but still, me annoyed.

I believe I’ve said my piece.  What about you guys?  Do you feel as strongly about cliffhangers as I do?  Do you love them?  Do you think they have a valid purpose in books?  Do they alienate or ensnare readers?

Those who can’t do, write–10 Things My Characters Do Better Than Me

I suppose this is going to be a bit self-deprecating, but it seemed like an interesting idea at the time.  These are in no particular order.

10 Things My Characters Do Better Than Me

1. Bake–One character made cherry almond torte for her date.  When I make cookies, they have to be eaten with a spoon.  (The incident that inspired this list.)

2. Math–Another character uses algorithms to track current patterns and find sunken ships.  I almost killed myself by miscalculating how much insulin to give myself for a meal.

3. Science–Heck, four characters in my latest book are oceanographers.  If it isn’t obvious yet, I’m an English-minded person.

4. Date–All of my protagonists (with the exception of one) get their guy in the end.  I am single (though now it’s by choice).

5. Garden–The character in book 3 of my new series is an earth elemental, which means she makes all things grow beautiful and healthy.  My mom had to buy me a “forever blossom” so I could maintain a flower in my room.  (I’ll give you a hint: it’s a fake flower attached to a lucky bamboo, the one plant I’ve managed not to kill.)

6. Exercise–When danger comes, you can bet my female heroines are capable of kicking butt, or at least running away.  I have a bad arch that gives in if I try to run; I’d be dead meat.

7. Blood–No adventure would be complete without action: sword/gun fights, explosions, car chases, and of course the various scrapes and contusions that come with it.  I get queasy at the sight of other people’s real blood.  (I know, for a diabetic who pricks her finger five times a day, that seems ironic, huh?)

8. Magic–Okay, so that one’s kind of obvious: many of my characters are supernatural and I’m not, but I’m running out of things to list.

9. Conflict–Someone pissing them off?  The arrogant, sleazy SOB getting in their face?  My strong female characters don’t take crap from no one.  Me…well, I do the deer caught in the headlights thing really well and the meanies usually go away after that.

10. The Outdoors–Whether it’s hiking, camping, or even living in the mountains, so far none of my characters have an aversion to nature.  I, on the other hand, can’t handle the creepy crawlies.  At all.

In my defense, there are a few things I do better than some of my characters, and it’s not like my characters are perfect, flawless people.  They’ve got issues; some they share with me, as a little bit of me gets put into every protagonist, but I get to live a little vicariously through my characters, so sometimes they get to do things I could never (or refuse to) do.

What do your characters do that you wish you could?

The importance of feedback–and how you take it

 

Writing has been called a solitary pursuit, and while this is mostly true, every writer needs a support system of critique and feedback.  Moms are usually great at support, but not so much on objective comments.  This is where a writing group comes in.  Not only do you get objective feedback (as objective as anyone can be, because let’s face it, writing and reading is a subjective business), but you also get a variety of perspectives.  Everyone interprets things differently based on their schema, the filter with which they see the world that is formed by their background and experiences.  It’s good to know beforehand how a reader might interpret something.  Then you as the writer can decide if you are comfortable with that interpretation, or if something needs to be changed to avoid misconceptions.

 

It’s also great to get input from people who’ve had different experiences.  As writers, we write what we know, but let’s face it, sometimes we have to use our imagination and a little research to go outside our realm of expertise.  We want the details right, don’t we?  I gave a character bruised ribs, and a person in my writer’s group said, “Hey, I’ve had bruised ribs.  Here’s what it’s really like…”

Not all feedback is created equal.  As the writer, you have to take it or leave it, though you should always listen to it first.  We use the word “objective” to describe the ideal kind of critique, but there really is no such thing.  Each reader, however well-read or accomplished in writing, still has their own tastes in what they like to see.  Sometimes a writer and reader click like brain twins.  Sometimes some serious deliberation is needed.  Sometimes we feel like the feedback is coming out of the blue and misses the mark.  That’s okay.  It’s all part of the process.

 

It’s also important for a writer to know his or her tendencies when accepting feedback.  Critique should be a discussion, not be perceived as a personal attack.  It might even help to figure out how you best receive it.  Maybe you need a sandwich delivery: positive/needs improvement/positive.    Maybe you’d like alternative suggestions, or just have something pointed out and you figure it out later yourself.

Yeah, the writing itself is a solitary activity, but writers themselves are not alone.  There’s a huge community out there waiting to embrace each other.  If you don’t already know about the #MyWANA hastag on Twitter, go to Kristen Lamb’s blog and read about it.  http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/join-the-love-revolution-mywana/  #MyWANA means We Are Not Alone (writers).

Happy writing and critiquing,

~Dreaming wide awake

Character Building– “Any likeness to real people is unintentional” (cough)

I personally think writers portrayed on television get a bad rep.  They make us look like melodramatic fools.  When writers talk about their books/characters, they always name them with something that rhymes with the name of someone they know.

Confession: I have only ever once done the name tweak, and that’s because the story was actually based on fact.  It was a personal story, so it helped to keep the first letters of the names the same rather than severing my connection to it.  But really, should writers be preserving that personal connection when writing fiction?  I also don’t take real people and wrap them up in different clothing to put in a book.  I might take one feature, like a name, occupation, or hobby, but never the entire personality.

Whenever people I work with find out I’m a writer, they worry that I’m going to write a tell-all book about my crazy co-workers.  Yeah, not that kind of writer.

However, I have a few friends who actually want me to put them in a book.  I even had one book brainstormed in which I would put all my friends as characters (in spirit only, not in name rhyming, personality, or bio).  Too bad it’s fizzled out…I’ll have to find a new home for these imaginary doppelgangers.

What about other writers out there?  Do you draw from real people?  Anyone begging to be immortalized in your next work?