Friday, July 20, 2012

Are Your Words Effective?

As a fledgling writer, I have grand thoughts of leaving behind a legacy in words that bring readers to tears, either of sorrow, or hilarity, depending on the situation. Barring a sob fest, I would at least like to think that at some time or other I give my readers something to think about. I want to connect with them on an emotional level that will help them remember me, or something I said, and look forward to my next book.

That's going to take a while, probably. So in the meantime I am reading as much as possible in an effort to find writers whom I can connect with. Last night I picked up Jerry Spinelli's Wringer. After only a few short chapters, I had to put it down. I just can't read that book. Too much pain. I have read several of his other books, however, and I enjoyed them quite a bit.

Mr. Spinelli definitely touched my emotions with Wringer. Little Parker, or Snots, drove a spike right through my heart, and I had to get away from him. I hate that, because he undoubtedly has a lovely and evocative story to tell, but he'll have to share it with someone other than myself.

I turned, instead, to Alice in Blunderland, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. This was my first Alice book, and I fell in love with her. She's an endearing little nine-year-old, just like Parker, and she's motherless, so I couldn't help but be touched by her plight. But Ms. Naylor's writing style is so lighthearted and her sense of humor so resonated with me, that I laughed through much of the book. She took me back to my own childhood and I saw how life experiences that were devastating and earth-shattering at that time, are common among young people and simply a part of life. I especially loved the Tarzan game that Alice and her boyfriend, Donald, played. When I played Tarzan, it was with the boy next door, too, but his name was Ronald, rather than Donald. But still, way too close for comfort. Although the kissing scene never entered into our game at any time!

What about you? have you read anything lately that has brought a tear to your eye and closed up your throat? Or that made you  laugh out loud so that other people in the room gave you strange looks? That's what reading is all about for me. It's what keeps me returning to the shelves.

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. Try to stay cool, and share a smile or a touch with someone. You might make a new friend.


Sunday, July 8, 2012

Saving Cats

Lately I've been struggling with a reluctance to work on my current WIP, or to go back and make changes to an older manuscript that needs something - I'm not exactly sure what. It may be the fact that the sun is shining and the birds are calling me outdoors to enjoy the flowers and the lovely hot weather. Or it may be the fact that there is always too much going on  in the house to distract me. I like absolute quiet when I'm working with my characters, and I don't see that happening until school starts up again in the fall. 

But I'm making good use of my down time. I've been reading lots and lots of middle grade fiction, and a few young adult novels in between. One Wish was pretty good, and I very much enjoyed Peaceweavers. I'm currently in the middle of One Great Day and One Amazing Morning on Orange Street, and it's pretty difficult to put down.

I also recently read Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. It's actually a book about screenwriting, but I've been looking around the web lately, and it looks like quite a few novel writers are also making use of his beat sheets. There's a group over in the kidlit section of Absolute Write who have devoted an entire thread to discussing the subject, and I'm finding it to be a very useful and helpful tool.

I'm not going to attempt to explain the beat sheet here, because others have done it much better than I ever could hope to, and it isn't difficult to track down the information. Actually, it was his save the cat notion that originally drew me to the concept. 

To put it in simple terms, which are the kind I work best with, you need to give your main character an opportunity, very early in the game, for readers to like him. Or, if your MC is already likable, then you need to provide your villain with some redeeming quality so that the readers will not completely hate him. 

In Michaela's Gift, her mom is my villain. She isn't, like, a serial killer or anything, but she isn't particularly likable. Of course, toward the end of the story we find out why she treats Michaela the way she does, but it takes a long time for her to reveal this information. Originally, I made her mean and snarky from the very beginning. I thought that was the best way to portray her.

Then my editors got their grips into my manuscript, and they didn't like old Mom. They thought she was too mean, which I thought should be a good thing. But now I realize why the readers needed to see that she had some good qualities, or at least a glimpse of the possibility that she possessed some good qualities. 

Of course, there are some villains that we just love to hate, and I think that's okay. But, for me, understanding the concept of saving the cat will help me with my own writing, so that I will have a little more insight into how to make my characters more appealing to the reader.

How about you? Have you read Save the Cat? Did it help you? There's still a lot about it, especially with regard to pacing, that I need to study more and get a better concept of, but I think it's a great idea that obviously works in screenwriting and in novel writing.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you had an 'ah ha' moment when you read the book. 

Until next time, happy reading.