Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Painting Your Characters into a Corner: 5 Ways to Deal

Okay, writers, let’s talk about The Corner. You know what I mean. That place no writer wants to go, much less his/her characters. That awful, dark, trapped place that you’ve led your protagonist to and where you’ve abandoned him/her with no window, no ladder and no idea on how to get out of there. What’s a writer to do??

Well, I don’t have a magic bullet (although, if your character has to shoot his way out of a maximum security prison, magic bullets do help, implausible though they may be) but I do have a few thoughts on how one might get your hero out of the jam you’ve put him in. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of magic to it.

1. Don’t Panic. Do Review Your Plot
There’s been a whole lot of writing that has led up to this corner. Go back and review your story up until now. Look for hidden clues that might give you a solution. You might have subconsciously written a piece of dialogue that allows for a minor secondary character to come in and help your hero save the day. If you don’t see any clues, then go back and write them in! Maybe you want to leave a certain piece of equipment lying around that might help out the character, or an abandoned road that gives an alternative getaway. Those ‘clues’ should only be mentioned in passing through dialogue or description before the unsolvable situation – just little nuggets of information – that you can pull out later when you need your character to break away from the corner.

2. Go Over Your Main Character’s Personality Traits and Motivation/Goals
Ask yourself, how would your hero react to this situation? Would he do something out of character here? Why? Would desperation make him do that? If your painted corner is really desperate, it might be enough to make that character do something (a criminal act??) that they might not have done before. Especially if his motivation/goals are strong enough to drive him forward from one painted corner into another one. But make sure if he’s going to do something that rebellious or desperate that you have set it up or hinted at that potential. And be prepared to live with the consequences! The reader must believe that your quiet, mousey hero has shown something (like running in front of a car to save his neighbour’s cat) early on in the story to then not be too surprised that when something he cares about is in danger his adrenaline starts to pump and it’s not too far a stretch to believe he will jump down a ravine to save the girl he loves.

3. Write/Outline Different Options for Resolution
No matter how crazy they seem or how far-fetched write those ideas down! See where those options might take you. I know this goes against many pantsers methods but brainstorming solutions (whether on your own or with others) is not the same as writing a complete outline. It can be very loose process and might just give you the spark/idea you need to move forward. Sometimes, the solution you come up with might take your character to another corner (that’s what just happened to me in this WIP). If that’s the case, don’t despair. Think of corners as a naturally escalating the conflict in your story. Escalating conflict is a Good Thing. How many corners can your character get out of? Too many and it becomes unbelievable (unless you’re doing a thriller where problems should be stacking up one after another throughout the book). Just don’t worry if you have more than one corner. Where one solution exists, so will another one.

4. Let Your Characters Sit in the Corner for Awhile
Walk away from the WIP. Sometimes your brain needs to digest the problem for a bit. If you stare at the scene every day and are getting more frustrated than inspired, it will not only paint your character into the corner, you’ll end up building a brick wall around him with barbed wire on top.

Walk. Away. Muse on it.

Let your brain do its weird story telling magic. Think about ALL the characters you’ve written. What are they doing when your hero is in that corner? Does a sub-plot create an opportunity to resolve what’s happening in your hero’s corner? Is there something/someone unexpected or underused until now that might create a disruption/surprise to the plot? If you’re surprised the reader will be too. Again, that's a Good Thing.


5. Don’t Despair! The Corner Can Be a Good Place
Remember when you were a kid, or when you, as a parent, send your kid to the corner, that it was not just about punishment? It was to allow for a Time Out. It was a place to think about all you (your character) had done to get you to there and to think about how to act from that point on. The same can be said when you paint your character into a corner. It is an opportunity to see if your story and your characters are acting the way they should or if you need to re-evaluate their behaviour and if their actions need to change in order to move their story forward in a positive, satisfying way.

What other suggestions do people have for making that corner less frustrating for writers? Let me know!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Signs You’ve Lost Control of Your Life

I realized this weekend that my life has totally lost control. I’m pretty much used to hectic being my new normal but when I glanced at the calendar and realized that next Sunday is the Oscars and, for the first time in I don’t know how long, I have only seen one of the nominated Best Picture candidates, I freaked.

WTF??? How did this happen?

It was then that I knew I had completely lost control of my life. You may laugh and say, “Oh, please. The Oscars?? It’s not like you forgot your kid in the emergency room when you stepped out to get cough syrup at the all night pharmacy and you left your stove on with a pot of soup boiling on it. Now THAT’s losing control of your life.” Sure, not seeing any Oscar nominated movies for 12 months is not a sign the apocalypse is coming but for a movie addict like me it’s a sign that I have not been managing and maximizing my time in the most beneficial way.

Intellectually, I know this last year has been one of the busiest and most challenging of my life but, still, that’s no excuse for not seeing movies! And, yes, I know that I’ve tended to wait longer to see films if I think they’re more DVD material or will be on Netflix soon, and yes the cost of going to movies is crazy, but, like the purchase of tangible books, I will never stop going to movies completely. I WANTED to see The Help. I’m curious to see The Artist. I definitely want to see The Descendants. All I’ve seen is Moneyball. And that was because we got it on demand through our internet services. I didn’t even see it in the theatre. Sigh. It’s like there’s a hole in my life that I won’t be able to fill (at least not in less than a week!)

So in the next five days, I have to fit in three movies. I know, I know, there are nine nominated films but I may be a movie addict I’m not an insane movie addict. All this while hockey playoffs and practices are going on for The Boy, when I have to travel back home this weekend to see my folks, when I have to do things like, oh, buy groceries, do laundry, deal with house reno decisions and try to get at least 3 or 4 hours sleep a night. Let’s not even discuss squeezing in some writing time in there. That’s the second sign I’ve lost control. My writing output has diminished considerably in the last six months. Double sigh.

Maybe I can squeeze in ONE movie. But, really, how will I be able to enjoy Billy Crystal’s jokes if I haven’t seen most of the films?? Triple sigh. At least I can still enjoy the dresses and the acceptance speeches. It just won’t be the same.

How about you? What signs tell you all control has left the building?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Cover Reveal! The Break

Out of all the milestones there are in publishing a book, my absolute most favourite is when an author gets to reveal the cover of his/her new book. And I get to do it now! Here it is, the cover for THE BREAK out this spring! (late March or early April 2012)

I really, really love it. I think the design team at Great Plains did a fabulous job with getting the mood of the story on the cover. I especially love the colours and the blurryness of the girl's face symbolizing the fading memory of her beloved Nonna. But it's also the little things I love - like having the broken letter in the title. The Break has so many different layers of meaning - the actual spring break where Abby needs to look after her Nonna, Nonna's break from reality due to her memory issues, the breaks between family members because of illness or emotional distance. So many things to consider when pulling a cover together like this. I'm so happy with it!

I know authors have a real worry when their cover is revealed to them because so much of it is out of their control. I'm very lucky in that the team at Great Plains do really care what their authors think about a cover. I'd sent some thoughts/pictures to them and they very much captured the mood I was hoping would be invoked.

I really hope the cover draws people to pick up the book when it's released but right now I'm just enjoying staring at it. Sigh. I may just look at it all day! :)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Journey of a Thousand Words

I took a tremendous leap forward yesterday. I wrote 1,205 words. I'm not talking about revising old ones. I'm talking brand spanking new ones.

Big deal, you say. What's a measly 1,200 words? Well, when you haven't written a new word in months it is a very big deal, my friends. At least for me. For a lot of reasons, the last several months have seen me do everything and anything except write. I can blame it on a number of things and I have. All legitimate reasons for not writing. Seriously, my life outside of writing is a huge, messy, time-consuming vortex right now that has been sucking all creativity out of me. I have not been in a happy writing place as a result.

But no matter the excuse, the only way to pull yourself out of that place is by doing one thing: writing that first new word. But I also know that it can't just be any writing for any story or situation. I have been struggling to find the right story, the right characters that I care enough about, that are strong enough to pull me out of my messy vortex of life. I found that story this week when I began re-reading something I'd started a few years ago and stopped mid-way through. I was reading that story again, enjoying it and the characters when it suddenly stopped. Dang it. I wanted to know what happened to these people! I was mad at myself for stopping this story all those years ago. I remember I stopped writing it right around the time I was getting interest in Illegally Blonde and was getting distracted by submission/agent/editor stuff. I'd also heard of a slightly similar story premise that had just been published. Between the IB action and that irritation of hearing about a story like mine (which turned out to be nothing like mine) my writing flow on this story was interrupted enough to make me put it aside. Well, stupid me.

I have always wondered why I don't throw away the half-finished (or half-started, depending on your point of view) stories that sit on my computer hard drive (or scribbled in my journals). Now I know. They are waiting for the right (write?) time to be finished. They sit, their characters waiting for me to face the next page, to fill it with one word, then two, until I string enough of them together to start leading the characters through what will be their world.

The journey of a thousand words begins with one word, true. But it also must continue day after day until you reach the end. If I do a thousand words a day for the next 30 days I will, hopefully, reach that end. I wrote 1,664 words today. Let's hope this story and these characters continue to keep me away from the vortex.