Friday, September 26, 2014

What About Age

Last month, I quizzed my Galva Beta reader about age. I showed her a newspaper clipping about a 101-year-old man who still went in to work a few days every week.

She had seen it.

I mentioned the centenarian I saw on a late night TV show. The lady was thin, frail looking, but was cracking jokes and holding her own.

She hadn’t seen that.

She also hadn’t heard of the Delany sisters. Bessie Delany lived to 104 and her sister Sadie to 109. Their book, Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, was a best seller in the 90s.

She did know of a Galva woman who made it 103 and about the other lady who escaped from a Galva senior center. It wasn’t much of an escape; she wanted lunch in Bishop Hill, so she got into a car and drove away. Not sure whose car it was, but it certainly shocked the staff and some relatives. She got her lunch and a chauffeured ride back to Galva.

My point: out there in the mass of humanity are folks called super agers. They are oldsters who have lively brains for their age. They are mobile, intelligent, and interesting.

I have to believe in them, because I used one to get my story going. I named her Pearl Mabel after my grandmother.

Originally, I dreamed up this character in desperation. I was barely into the first couple of chapters of my book when I started to get too tired and too confused with trying to describe how someone’s great-great-great-grandfather interacted with someone else’s great-great-great-grandfather. I probably could have found other ways of coping with this problem, other writers certainly had, but I settled on my super ager to span the gap in time and never looked back.

I’m not a bit sorry. She’s been fun. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Dreaded Synopsis

Making mistakes. Fixing those mistakes. Definitely not the most fun thing in the world to have to do. But sometimes that is the reality.

I’m not talking about grammar here. Or plot. Or style. My most recent lapse in judgment involves thinking that I could write a synopsis without looking up some examples.

What I’ve learned so far:

·        Don’t produce a laundry of characters. It isn’t necessary. Introduce the main characters and limit the number to five or six. Put each name in capitals when first mentioned.

·        Do show the protagonist’s progression through the three acts of the story.

·        Make sure there are at least three acts. And yes, this includes a conclusion. No teasers. No coy hints or allusions to the ending. No cheating.

·        Create a narrative written in present tense, third person. Each paragraph needs to flow logically into the next. If switching ideas, build a transition to connect the paragraphs. Use the same writing style as the book itself.

·        Give a clear idea of what it’s all about. Define conflicts and convey what’s at stake for the characters. What will be won or lost.

·        Do have an opening hook to capture interest. Avoid grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes.

In short, make an effort to find out what’s acceptable to the industry and don’t try to wing it—it will save time and aggravation.

And check out Writer’s Digest for well-written examples by Chuck Sambuchino.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Scalzi on Writing

John Scalzi said it was good to be back at the Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City. It had been seven years, seven eventful years, since he’d been there. Best selling books, awards, and hinted at television deals gave him an overflow audience on a cool, rainy evening.

My goal was to see the well-known author, hear about the new book, buy a copy, and hopefully get back to Davenport without getting too wet or running into any wildlife. I came away with a bit more.

I particularly liked Scalzi’s explanation of how he used “the new normal” for building the reality for Lock In, his new book. In setting the scene for his reading, he explained how “the new normal” meant the ensuing acceptance of unusual situations after the passage of time. It’s a function of human adaptability. For this book, it meant years after the survivors of a viral plague, who’d been locked inside physically useless bodies, had become, by virtue of technology, normal parts of society. So normal that, in chapter five, finding a new apartment was an inconvenience and not an insurmountable big deal for remotely controlled androids.

The phrase really hit home for me. I spent over a year going to grief recovery meetings where it was used a lot, but in relation to adjusting to life without a loved one. I hadn’t thought about how important it would be for crafting a fictional setting in a make-believe world.

I appreciated the fact that he didn’t use outlines. Redshirts took five weeks to write. He said he went with the flow and cleaned it up later; making it look like that’s how it was meant to be all along. I know the process, but never at that speed or with those results.

I also liked his comments about how hard he worked to get the teenage girl’s voice for Zoe’s Tale. A lot of feminine feedback led to a lot of rewrites and eventually to some major honors.

It was a rare opportunity for me to see and listen to John Scalzi. The rain slowed the trip home down to a crawl in some places, but it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Beta Readers

What I needed from my Beta readers:
·        They couldn’t be overly nice. Writing has to develop and grow—“It’s all great,” won’t make that happen.
·        They had to point out the weaknesses, the things that dropped them out of the narrative.
·        They had to tell me the truth. Will the parts make up a greater whole?
What I’ve gotten back from them so far—the gamut between great, insightful responses and…nothing.

My husband has been my first reader ever since I became brave enough to let someone else in on my writing.

He started out his college career as an English literature major before the sciences won him over.  He has always been an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy, as well as history and economics, to name a few of his interests. I trust his experience and expertise. He’ll always be my first reader, but I needed more variety.

Since I’ve waited a few years to get to this point with my first novel, I figured I had to count my adult sons among my Beta readers. It would be a stretch; they spent their teen years playing video games and reading science fiction and fantasy novels like their dad. What I’ve written wouldn’t be their cup of tea, but I would especially value remarks related to dialogue and current technological aspects. They were good sports and agreed to give it a go.

I chose two other readers who have roots in the Bishop Hill/Galva area. Both of these people are knowledgeable readers with writing experience. I wanted them to let me know if the tone and themes rang true, or if I went too far off base to be believable.

My husband got back to me first with corrections and suggestions. He probably felt a little pressure, but it worked out for me. I used his feedback right away.

My kids got started, but didn’t finish. I need to find out how far they’d gotten before their work and travel got in the way.

Another reader got part way through, but couldn’t finish because of a variety of things that included having a body part replaced. Ouch! She still gave me some good stuff.

The last reader is MIA. To be fair, she warned me. But it’s in my nature to be ever hopeful.

I spent a lot of time over these choices for Beta readers and I will make due with the feedback I receive. I know I will owe them a lot for their time and care.