Sunday, January 30, 2011

No Fear!

Since I'm still on the subject of characters, I thought this blog fest was heaven sent. Dominc over at Writes of Passage ( ) challenges our MCs to be brave. So we must post a scene where one of out characters shows some form of bravery.

I had a perfect scene, but then I realized it was either too long or too spoilery, so I dug up something old, from future books, not yet edited.(will have to edit this at some point) Here's my shot at it.

Muffled swearing and a woman’s scream brought Angie back to reality. She turned her head in the direction of the noise and the blood froze in her veins. A bunch of men were making their way through the crowd, towards them.

She grabbed Tom’s wrist and pulled him after her, moving faster and faster through the swarm of people.

“What’s going on?” he asked, fighting against her grip. “Why are we running?”

Oh, she had no time for this! Digging her fingers into his arm, she tugged even harder. She could hear more screams and sounds of stalls being turned over. The men were surely trying to catch them.

Tom picked up the pace and running became much easier. Angie pulled him into a narrow side street and the two of them bolted towards its exit. Maybe they’d manage to lose them in the maze of streets.

Two turns later, they found themselves in a dingy alley ending in a solid brick wall. Angie cursed under her breath, her pulse thundering in her ears. What now?

“Angie, what’s going on?” Tom asked, pulling his hand out of hers.

The sound of a trashcan being turned over made Angie’s heart jump. They were still being followed. She gazed around frantically, looking for a way out, but they’d have no time to run out of the alley and go another way. She had to do something and fast.

She grabbed Tom’s shoulders and shoved him towards a large dustbin in the corner. “Whatever happens, don’t come out!”

He frowned. “What are you—“

“Don’t come out, I said! Trust me.” She took a few steps back, to make sure he was well hidden.

At that very moment, three massive figures blocked the exit of the alley. Angie turned to face them. They were much bigger than the men she usually dealt with. She backed up until her back hit the wall.

“Told ya fellows it wasn’t a waste of time!” the man in the middle said as the three advanced towards her. “Now there, girly, where’s your friend?”

Angie balled her hands into fists and waited. They weren’t getting any information out of her. Whatever happened, they mustn’t know Tom was still alive.

“Isn’t that cute? She wants to fight.” The man on the right rubbed his hands together. “You’re mighty pretty, aren’t you? Don’t make us hurt you. You might even like it.”

Feeling sick to her stomach, Angie bent her knees and raised her fists in front of her torso. “Just try to touch me, you slime balls.”

“Hold on. Before we rough her up too bad, let’s see if she’s on the list.” The man in the middle reached for his satchel and pulled out a folder.

“Anyway, she’s on my list.” Lefty licked his lips.

“What do you know? She is one of them!” Satchel guy looked from the folder to Angie, his eyes wide with wonder. “Angela Jones, known as Angie. Oh, the boss is gonna love this. Let’s see which one of the brats is nailing her.”

Oh no, you don’t! Angie rushed forward and punched the man in the stomach as hard as she could. He bent double and she hit his back with joined fists. The man dropped to his knees. Angie hit the back of his neck, knocking him out.

She barely managed to grab the folder off the ground when the other two goons snapped out of their shock. They each grabbed one of her arms and rammed her into the wall. They pulled her back, turned her around, and forced her against the rough brick again.

Trying to avoid hitting her face, Angie stuck her knee out. A piercing pain shot through her knee and shoulder, causing her to gasp.

“Not so brave now, are ya?” One of the men backhanded her across the face.

She fell to the ground, hitting her sore knee against the rough concrete. Tears of pain streamed down her cheeks as she tried to stand, but her week knee couldn’t hold her anymore.

“Let’s get it over with.” The man who’d hit her unlatched his belt.

“Wait. If she’s one of the girlfriends, the boss will get mad,” his companion said, his eyes darting towards the end of the alley.

“What the boss don’t know, can’t hurt him.”

Panic grabbed hold of Angie and she looked around desperately for something she could use as a weapon. Why couldn’t they just take her away like good henchmen? Tears clouded her vision as the two goons approached her, cheesy grins on both their faces, blocking out the little light that shone between the buildings.

One of them fell over her and she screamed. The other looked around, holding on to his pants. Tom grabbed his shoulder, rammed him against the wall and punched him in the stomach. He groaned and fell to the ground. Tom kicked him in the ribs once and then in the face, knocking him out.

The remaining man got off her and charged towards Tom. Looking sickened, Tom kicked him straight in the face, knocking him down. A moment later, he had grabbed all three knocked out men and stuffed them in the dustbin.

He knelt by Angie’s side and helped her sit. “Are you alright?”

“Where did that come from?” She couldn’t believe it. Last time she’d seen him fight, he wasn’t like this. They were almost evenly matched. But now, he moved with such speed and confidence.

“Trust me, I have no idea where that came from.” He scooped her into his arms. “Let’s get out of here before more of them show up. I can’t believe what they wanted to do to you.”

Angie leaned her head against his chest and breathed in deeply. Her ribs hurt a little, but it didn’t matter, not when he’d saved her again. How could she have ever doubted him?

“You know, Angie?” he said as they made their way through the crowd, towards the orphanage. “You were right. You can take care of yourself.”

She smiled. “I know. But it’s always nice to have you around to back me up. Thanks.”

He huffed. “I would’ve come out much sooner, but I thought I should listen to you at least once in my life. Remind me not to.”

Angie chuckled. This was something he would’ve said before. Maybe there was a chance he’d get his memory back. And even if he didn’t, he still had everything that had made her fall in love with him in the first place.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Know the nutter better

Incidentally, I happen to have received a blog award. It's for blog good friends (as far as I know).
So I wanna thank J Andrew Jansen for presenting it to me. ( That was really nice of him seeing as I'm a writing N00b. (Btw, check out his blog while you're at it :))
And I wanna thank Mysti for giving it to him and then he passed the savings on to me.
Now, I apparently have to reveal 5 things about myself and give this award to 5 other people who may or may not already have it.

Okay, Five things about me:

1. Random things: My favorite letter is R, my favorite number is 13 and my favorite color is Red.
2. My childhood hero was Robin Hood (the fox from Disney's version) Until I turned 9 and started writing my own characters.
3. I am addicted to music - I would listen to music non-stop. Just as long as I pick the songs - I also happen to be very picky.
4. I hate clubbing - the noise, the smoke (I ware contacts - not a happy environment for them) and the people trying to get their cool on - all of that makes me want to... be somewhere far away.
5. I make a mean bowl of spaghetti

Now for the people I nominee ( I don't know many, so this is a tough one)

Katie Salidas - Because she's an awesome critter and writer and helped me out with my N00b rules.
Aslehy Lynn Willis  - Because she's one of the two people who read my entire novel and didn't cringe. Plus, she gives really good crits and points out essential problems.
Suz Quint I like that she doesn't take to the rules kindly - Hallelujah for people who question those things
Botanist - - because I have fun reading this

Owllady - - because it's very useful (plus, I got a shout out for following :)

Well, this is it. It's all down to you now, peeps.

Your Best Character

For today, I'll cover one of my favorite subjects when it comes to writing: characters. I love building characters. And, as my critters can tell you, I'm in love with my characters most of the time. I tend to know every little detail about them - from their worst memory to their favorite color or food. Not that I introduce those in the story unless they're plot relevant.

But, even with my general mastery in creating people (insert your ironic remark about my modesty here), I believe each one of us has a character that they do best. A character which oozes perfection. And not because the person itself is perfect (that would be totally unrealistic, therefore wrong), but because they are so well done, they feel real. I happen to have such a character. And, incidentally, she's not a MC - she is one of the important characters, but not the POV MC of the book. She's not even the character who's most like me. She's not even the person I'd like to be in real life.
She's just... Jessie.

A little info about who Jessie is (for the people who did not read and crit my first novel, Ruby): Jessie's and 18-year-old girl from California. She's been recruited by a secret agency to help retrieve a giant Ruby (just like everyone else in the story). She doesn't get along with her parents who treat her as if she's not there and arranged for her to get married to some thirty-something business man. So, she's looking for something to keep her away from home as much as possible. She finds Jimmy (one of the MCs) and falls in love with him.
I made Jessie a feisty, funny, smart and extremely loyal girl. She puts everyone before herself, is not helpless in a fight and has a bit of a wicked mouth.
Throughout the story she kicks butt, figures out difficult riddles, saves her love interest's hide a few times, makes friends with the rest of the group and runs away from home.
I have to admit that I spent most of my time developing her in the first volume of my wonderful series (kidding on the wonderful part). Here's some of Jessie (excerpts from Ruby):

Jessie and relationships:  
She looked away, hoping she wasn’t blushing, though the heat in her face implied otherwise. God, woman, he’s just looking at you. Get a grip! But her body refused. Instead, she tripped over her own feet and plummeted towards the ground. 

Jessie and friendship: 
 “Look, just be patient,” Jessie said “I know no one's seen her today, but she could still be around. If she’s not here tomorrow, then we can panic and go look for her.”
 “I’m panicking now," Kyle mumbled. "Can I go look for her?” 
 “I could come with you and look.” Jessie put her hand on his shoulder.
 “No, Jess. You’re right. If you really want to do me a favor, kill Alice.” 
Jessie stood, laughing. “You have no idea how appealing that sounds."

Jessie and combat: 
 Jessica rushed passed Sam and punched Eye Patch in the face so hard, he fell off his feet. “You scumbag! Where’s Harry?”
Two of Eye Patch’s men grabbed her. She broke free from one of them and punched him in the face as well. 

Jessie and logic:
She took out a piece of paper. “Traps seen before past two, twice met fourteen, eight, then be safely on your way. I see you’ve taken the numbers to be the distances between the traps, probably measured in rock slabs. I agree with you. What I disagree on, is your interpretation. You said,” she took out another piece of paper, “that the trap repeats itself – this trapdoor thing – get passed it and we’re set. I think there’s two of them. Past two – the last trap is two traps ago. And the next two are eight whatevers apart. So there’s an extra trapdoor – a total of three.”

And here's what some of my wonderful critters had to say about her:

Critter 1: I like her attitude. She's sassy!! Her hot personality is a good match with her orange hair! 
Critter 2: She's got guts. Like it.
Critter 3: If all these characters were real, I'd want Jessie for a best friend.

Also, at the end of my last chapter, I asked everyone who their favorite character was. Five people out of the six who answered my questions listed Jessie as their favorite character or female character. Which meant I did something right. I'm still not sure what. If I manage to find out, I'll bottle it and sell it.

I honestly have no idea what happened and how she came out like that. She just did. And the funny thing is, she wasn't even in the original cast. (Yes, in case you're wondering, you few people who read my stuff, Jimmy was supposed to end up with horrible Alice). I just put her in as an experiment, and not only did she steal Jimmy away from Alice (I had nothing to do with that, honestly), but she turned into everyone's best friend.
And another reason she's kinda a weird - I usually write guy POVs, but I had so much fun with her, I couldn't help building her up.

So, what is your best character? Was he/she planned or accidental? Dare to show off! I've turned my modesty regulator right off. Share your success story!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Rogue Writer & Dumb Luck

I've been thinking what to post this time...So I decided to post both ideas at the same time before getting into more interesting character related posts.

The Rogue Writer

I don't know how you guys fare with mixing up your writer life with your day-to-day. Most of you, I guess, get help from family members to carve some time out for writing, reading and (in some cases) critiquing.
I'm not like that. My day-to-day life is filled with stuff I must do, and there's no one there who takes my writing seriously. It is a fun little hobby I have which must not interfere with the importance of school or other things.
Being non-native English and writing in English, my family does not read my work - my parents don't know enough English to read a book in the language, my bros don't read (anything) and my boyfriend only read my first draft of the first novel. But he's not very keen on reading either.
So, I write whenever I can. Whenever I get a moment in which I don't have to keep someone company or spend time with my b/f. This resulted in my doing a lot of mind-plotting and putting it on paper whenever I can.
I don't get compliments because I write. No one tells me I'm creative and pats my back. My writing career is like a second job I'm doing behind everyone's back.
But, honestly, I'm not sure I mind. The more impressive when I will make it and get published and be filthy rich.
So, every time I write a page, edit something or crit someone, I'm an assassin on a mission, creeping through windows and planting my thoughts with you (kinda like inception).

Dumb Luck 

In my earlier draft of my YA novel, Ruby, I had my characters find some information with sheer dumb luck. I thought it was a laugh. But apparently, it's a big fiction no-no.

Example (excerpt from Ruby v 1.0):
“How about trying our dumb luck?” Kyle asked, taking a big book and opening it at random. “I never actually made a plan either but it shouldn’t be too hard.” He smiled and started reading out loud: “The legend of the Twin Sun-temples of Yucatan. There we go. Do I have dumb luck or what? I guess it comes with being dumb.”  
 Critter comment 1: For an adventure story, this was too easy. Consider having Sam and Kyle seek out this information in a more active way.
 Critter comment 2: Heroes shouldn't solve problems through luck.

Okay, I get where they're going. And I've changed this part (because I've restructured the entire chapter - and fixed all the nasty errors in this one example sentence). But, I can't help but think... don't we all get dumb luck sometimes? In real life.
My personal example: Had an exam yesterday - nasty interview with a crazy teacher (I mean crazy, he failed 18 people in a row for no real reason at all). I spent 10 hours outside the examination room to wait for my turn. My head was bursting, my stomach ached as I'd hardly eaten anything that day, and I was just about to barf because of the nerves. All I'd studied was a giant mess in my head and I couldn't even speak properly.
So, at about 9 p.m., I entered the examination room, picked a subject and sat down to write it -> it was the worst possible subject. I could only remember one line for each question and the fact that I'd prayed outside that I wouldn't get this subject.
The girl before me failed. I started talking and immediately messed up, but managed to draw the teacher into another subject matter. Then I read my 2 sentences for the second subject and he says: Is 9 an acceptable grade for you? (as in 9 out of 10). I couldn't believe it. I mean, if that's not dumb luck, what is?

So, yes, it happens in real life - people do get dumb luck once in a while. I believe it has something to do with Karma.
And in my characters' case, they did have the book there - maybe they would have searched for that particular page a bit more, or maybe they would have gotten the book later, or maybe some other team-member would've found that information - Seeing how unlucky they get throughout the book, I wanted to give them this small victory. Not that it makes any difference since I've changed this up.
It got me wondering though - what is the border between realism and author laziness when it comes to dumb luck? I want to give my characters a break once in a while. Does that kill the tension or destroy the conflict?
To me, a twist is something that I didn't expect. And, seriously, who expects dumb luck in fiction?
I do agree that if it happens to often and too conveniently, we have a problem. And after this one time, I don't think I've ever given my characters explicit luck ever again, in anything I've ever written.
I guess I'm growing up. Or finally learning how to write properly.

Sorry about the cooky post. But my head is still a mess after my fabulous exam. I'll be back to normal in a few days and talk about more joyous things.
*goes off to eat a ton of chocolate*

Saturday, January 22, 2011

N00b advice you never knew you needed

Going through some writing and crits today, I just realized how much I've changed in my one year of critting. When I first started this business, I was a rebel, claiming that I'm all about the plot line. If you have a good plot, I'll read and love and worship your book. Boy, am I eating my words now (they kinda taste like cookies).

N00b tip #1 -Form over content.

Your content is smashing! I see your idea in there and I love it - I want to fondle it and give it cake. But I can't. Because reading over texts without proper punctuation, paragraphing and grammar is exhausting. Critting them is even more exhausting. That's why I personally try to proof my own writing. If a story flows well, it's much easier for me to focus on the content. So take the time to purge your work and then let your ideas shine.

N00b tip #2 - Commas, people!

Oh, yes. I forget the odd one, like everyone else. Plus, I have different comma rules in my language (no comma after and like EVA!) But I'm getting the hang of it. I even got the title of Comma Queen from my good critting friend, The Regulator.
The thing is, I know, it's a small dotty thing, but it can make all the difference in the world.

 Example: (no comma) She snapped her neck creaking in protest.
(comma) She snapped, her neck creaking in protest.
 I tried to go for an extreme example which makes no sense just to show you the big difference between comma and no comma - if you don't give her the comma, the poor woman snaps her neck (OUCH!).

N00b tip #3 - Comma two

There is the word 'but' - you all know it. I know you type it butt, have a giggle and then delete the second t (actually, I do that with assess - I love to leave the last s out)
80% of times, there should be a comma before but. The rest of 10%, there shouldn't.

Example (when but needs a comma): She rushed towards the wall, but changed her mind before she got there. Hitting her head would hurt like hell.
(no comma needed by the but) She couldn't help but think about it. Hitting her head would really hurt.

Now, notice that in the first example, you could kinda replace the but with a yet - when that happens, it needs a comma. And with that I rest my case.

N00b tip #4 - Para, para, param-pam

Ever noticed how distracting it is to have a huge paragraph to read? (I should know, my textbooks are full of them) You just look at it, groan and refuse to read it if you don't really have to. So, yeah - unless you really have to, try to keep your paragraphs the length you stand to read.
Ever noticed how distracting little snippets of text are - having more than 2 one line paragraphs in the row will kill me. I can't take anything choppy seriously - you either have something to say or you're sending me a telegram. Fill it up with...something! If the idea is not important enough to warrant a few sentences, maybe it's not important enough. (Remember that I'm referring to too many short paras in row - a couple are just fine)

N00b tip #5 - He did this, she did that

I won't get into repetitive sentence structure here, because that's a pretty tough one. It takes a while and practice to learn how to balance your short and long sentences and their beginnings. Though I'll give an example.

Example 1: He picked up the knife and put it on the table. He took the glass and placed it in the sink. He then whipped around and walked out of the room. - What's wrong with this you may ask? He did this and that, he did this and that, then he did this and that -> same structure gets the drool running.

Example 2: He dropped the knife on the table and the glass in the sink before walking out of the room. - look, I made it a whole sentence (which is not much better), but I got rid of the repetitive structure.

Example 3: He picked up the knife and placed it on the table with shaking hands. He reached out for the glass and, trying not to smash it, put it in the sink. Whipping around, he left the room. -> putting more detail would distract readers from repetitive structures.

N00b tip #6 - The lone word syndrome

Okay, I just made this one up - What I mean is when we start consecutive sentences and paragraph with the same word. That's usually a big no-no in the wizarding writing world.

Example (excerpt from Sapphire): [He turned on the flashlight and knocked on the floorboards until he found the ones that sounded as if there was nothing under them. He took them out and pulled out a large backpack. He then put the floorboards back, turned off the flashlight, put it back at the foot of the bed and crawled out from under the bed. He put the backpack on his desk and opened it up. He started getting stuff out of it: guns, gas bombs, binoculars, goggles, ammo and other such things. He finally settled on a radar-looking thing and started pressing the buttons on it.]

This is totally unedited (yes, I still have unedited texts), but it's a great example. He, he, he, he - terrible - very distracting. Same thing with the start of paragraphs. 

N00b tip #7 - The forbidden words

One thing I'm still trying to break myself from (but it will take a while, since I need a lot of editing time for that) is using POV verbs when in close POV.
POV verbs such as:  felt, saw, noticed, realized, smelled, hoped, considered.
Example: She felt a freezing wind chill her skin. - this could very well be: Freezing wind chilled her skin. - and I cut back on some words too - I really must work on this. 
I guess this one tip is actually a bit more advanced.

This is all I could think of, off the top of my head. Everyone is welcomed to join in and complete the list. Material for N00b tips chapter 2. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Being a useful a-hole & a character's great escape

Today I was a bit of an a-hole. That's just how I felt after I submitted my crits. Fortunately, the people I sent them to actually thanked me and said they were very useful and that flattery never got anyone anywhere.
The thing is, I agree (though I do like to get the occasional praise), but I'm worried about how my voice comes across on paper. Do I sound mean even if I don't want to? Can my jokes be interpreted as sarcasm when I was only trying to be funny?
I never mean to offend. I sometimes just get really passionate about the thing I do (in this case critting) and I feel like putting everything into my point to show why I think it's not working. And the better the story is, the more worked up I get. Which is... good?

Anyway, it got me thinking. Can I put my character voice across if I can't put my own? It happened sometimes that cirtters pointed out things about my characters that I hadn't noticed before. And it influenced all my writing of that character from then on.
Someone once told me (recently, actually) that they don't see my character as a damsel in distress - which is fine, I always tend to write strong female characters (unless I don't really like them - then I let them be damsels), but I had no feelings about this particular scene whatsoever. It got me thinking - God, am I losing grips on my characters? Apparently not, since in the next scene she turned into a sappy idiot for a couple of seconds.

I have to admit that Rachel, the MC from my NaNo 2010 project is the first character who ever backfired on me. I had her in mind perfectly, knew who she should be like and what she should do, but she wouldn't. As soon as she stumbled on paper, she turned into the most insecure and can't-make-up-her-damn-mind character I've ever created. Almost, anyway. And she pisses me off because I didn't want her to be like that. I wanted her to be witty and cool and everyone's best friend. Ah, big fail there!

Example(excerpt from Hunters):
[What’s wrong with me?
Daniel turned to her and took her in his arms. “Oh, no, Rach. Don’t do this to me. There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re just special and I can’t figure out why.” 
“But what if…” she sobbed. “What if I’ll never get better and I’ll be a burden for you all the time?” She wished she could stop crying, but this was the worst time to find out she was so weak. Having to depend on someone for defense wasn’t high on her list.]

Now, if this were up to me, she wouldn't start acting like a human hosepipe, get to her feet and start training her butt off to get better (at fighting and stuff since she has to fight and kill vampires). She should get angry at her own incompetence not crawl into the arms of a guy (which I think I did a much better job on). But it wouldn't fit her character now, because that's just who Rachel is - she can be brave - she doesn't want to be a burden and not be able to take care of herself - but she doesn't really do anything about it right now. Maybe she would later, but she won't get the chance because magic happens (I use magic to block out any spoiler alert *evil grinning face*)

Anyway, from my epic fail, a new character has risen, and I just hope another useful, priceless a-hole will shout at her if she tends to get pathetic. Then I will smack her into submission.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Setting things up

Okay, it's always hard to start something new - be in a novel, a short story (ugh, couldn't write those if my life depended on it) or even a meager blog post.

First off, about me. I don't claim to be a writing genius - as a matter of fact, I'm quite the opposite. I make tons of mistakes. And, I've never been published. But I consider myself the kind of person who really reads. As in, not just flips through pages, but tries to find all the little hints and meanings a writer has in mind. Which, I guess, makes me a pretty decent critter (it's actually spelled criticizer, I think, but we people down at call ourselves critters). And a decent reader.

In my blog, I will share thoughts on everything writing related - from ideas spawning  to character names, plots and such - my mistakes, other mistakes - what I love in a book and what I don't. I mostly feel free to ignore me. (I also like to make people laugh, but that's mostly beside the point)

What I want to shortly cover today... scenery - I literally suck at setting up the scene. I've done this in my all my novels - I never go into description overload - and even when I do... people seem to want more. That's just who I am. A minimalist when it comes to setting. And I'm not saying it's right. God knows I'm trying to break myself of this terrible habit.
But I have another problem - language barrier. I'm from Romania - not such a small country at the outskirts of central Europe - and while I have no trouble pointing out every little piece of furniture and glint in the wall in my native language, when it comes to writing it down in English I'm like... duh *drool*

As a writer, I've learned that you must draw a reader into your world - show him what you see. And I hope to get the hang of it at some point. I totally get readers who wonder - uh, were are they, actually? Or, better yet, how did they get there?
And it's not too hard, honestly. I got patted on the head and offered cookies for little things: (random example) She tripped over a sharp rock and grabbed on to a vein for support. -> Nothing special - just a rock and a limp piece of wood - but I agree with all my wonderful critters - it does paint the scene at least a bit!

So, as a n00b writer, it is my resolution to learn how to do scenery properly. Give the right details and not just make objects pop up (like they tend to do).
Also, I have a habit of describing a room before the people in it - and my critters are right! You never notice the room first!

Rambled enough for my first post. Hopefully, these things will get better. *runs off to find cookies*