Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Letting Your Characters Act Up!

If you want to create characters who stand out from the crowd of literary characters, then I recommend that you allow them to act up. To look further into how you can do this, let’s look at a quick video and an archived blog on the subject.

Here’s the video
When Your Characters Act Up!

For more on how to let your Characters Act Up, check out this rebellious little blog post that wouldn’t stay archived:
Let Your Character’s Rebel

Would love to hear about your character creation process. How do you do it?  What questions do you have for me?

Monday, April 30, 2018

Philosophy of Revision:What's Yours? 

Your invited to watch this video exploration on developing an empowering philosophy of revision I'd love to know your thoughts on revision.  Feel free to chime in to the comments below:

Monday, April 16, 2018

Finding the Right Voice

Let's Your Writing Sing

Here's a Tight Write Bite (aka a video tutorial) on finding your voice:

Here are a few exercises to apply what you learned in this tutorial:

1. Think of a story you're just itching to tell in a poem, short story, essay, or novel, tell the story outloud.  Now tell it again and record yourself.  Listen to the recording. Don't judge, just listen.  Now let another person within the "story" tell it. Record it.  Listen. What do you notice about the differences? 

2. Write a story in the genre of your choice in 1000 words or less (that's 4 pages), then rewrite it from the perspective of another character. What did you learn? 

3. Read three poems/essays/stories on the same subject by different authors. What do you notice about the differences in the way they use voice? What can you use within their technique to develop your own voice? 

If you've tried any of these exercises, please comment below to hsare what you learned.  

Let your writing sing!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Revision as Re-Invisioning

It Can Be Freeing, It Really Can

Revision--bane or boundary bender?  Sounds about right to me.  When you embark upon revision whether it's a reread and polish of the paragraph you've just written or a revamp of the full draft of a novel, you approach it with trepidation and frustration--right? Well, most people do.  If you dive in eager to see what new things take shape, then you're probably in the minority.  And since I've never been one to fit into the "in-crowd," let me take this opportunity to invite you all to go on a bender.  No, not the Hemingway route to inspiration (Sorry, Ernie!), but the boundary testing bender that allows you to treat revision as an opportunity to discover what might be dwelling in the cracks of your unconscious and waiting to come out.  

Attitude is Everything!

we've heard this adage applied to sales pitches, athletic performance, and nearly every other human endeavor, why should revision be any different?  The way you see revision directly effects how you will experience the process.  If you treat revision as an artistic re-envisioning of your work that allows you to explore new territory and expand on what you've already written and/or learned, then it came be a much more fulfilling and exhilarating experience.  If you look at the process as drudgery or the correction of mistakes, then it will be just that-- a bit like the writer's version of self-flagellation ((Need a definition for that implied metaphor? click here).

I know of a writer who worked for years on a novel, then rewrote it a short story and got it published.  Another writer and friend of mine writes a first draft, puts it in a drawer, then starts over.  Most of my writer friends labor over revision, fervently trying to get it right.  I love Janet Wong's response to that idea. I'm paraphrasing her here, but she says, "Revision isn't about getting it right.  It's about finding other ways to do it."  Want to know more about Janet? Check out her website.

Revision as an Archeological Dig

For me, I like to think of revision as the mental equivalent of doing an archaeological dig in your subconscious.  When an archeologist sifts through a dig, s/he is uncovering the story of a former life/culture one artifact at a time.  Over time, the dig will reveal new pieces of evidence that completely changes the way we interpret the culture/people who lived there.  It's these discoveries in fiction that can really cause us to see our own work in new ways.

Let me offer a few examples from my own work.  When I wrote The Keening, a supernatural historical novel set in Maine during the influenza pandemic, I created a loner protagonist who discovers that she shares a secret ability with her father that she learns about after her mother dies and her uncles try to have her eccentric father committed to an asylum so they can sell their family home and buy another fishing boat to add to the family business.  (How's that for a run-on sentence?  Perhaps I should revise it?  Nah.).  In the original version, Lyza (the loner) had no friends because she was shunned by people who misjudged her dad and she meets a boy on the road at the end of the story  who is a part of the big reveal.  The responses I kept getting from editors about the story was that it was too moody and remote-- it needed more immediacy.  I figured a friendship would make Lyza's situation more immediate and accessible to readers by offering a foil for Lyza, so I went back into the story and made that young boy on the side of the road into her best friend.  In so doing, I had to weave him into the story in a way that made him seem as if he was there from the very beginning.  As I moved through the novel chapter by chapter, I found places for him to just walk right in.  In fact, until the conclusion of the novel, I didn't have to restructure the plot to bring him in-- it was as if he was meant to be there all along.  In fact, he seemed to fill voids I'd seen, but didn't know how to address until he came along.  I call these "expansion joints"-- places in a story that appear like Diagon Alley.  You think to yourself--where did that come from?  But once you enter them, they feel as natural as if they've always been there.

Finding and Exploring Expansion Joints

Expansion joints are just one of the many possibilities for discovery.  Exploring these areas of a manuscript can also lead you to discover new things about your work that turns you in a whole new direction.  In addition to being an outsider in her own community, Lyza fears travel and never wants to leave her family home on the ocean.  Originally, the novel ended with her embracing the idea of venturing beyond her home, but the exploration of this new friendship and his fascination with urban life leads Lyza to venture to "the big city."   This change made her a far more active part of the resolution of the story.  As a result, revising the story to include this friendship lead to a whole new ending organically.  I was as surprised by the turn of events as I hope my readers were.  It's this type of experimentation and discovery that can make revision quite a bit of fun.

Revision as a Learning Experience

It can also be a learning experience.  For longer than I'd care to admit, I worked on been tyring a retelling of the myth of Cassandra in a coal mining community in Virginia in 1911.  It wasn't until an inspiring conversation with a poet friend about the boundaries between a novel-in-verse and a thematic collection of narrative poetry that I fully embraced the idea that I could write this story in verse.  Once I started it, I realized the story fit the medium and it came alive on the page. It was later published as a chapbook by Anchor and Plume Press as Pretty Omens.  You can also get an audio version here.

You never know what you might learn about revision from other writers, here's a look at revision from Mirka Breen "The 3 H of Revision." 

Now, I'm chapters deep into a revision on a novel called Secrets Under My Skin.  I can't say where the revision process will take me with this story because I just started the process--a literary journey that I'm personally looking forward to.  While I'm off revising-- feel free to share your insights and ideas about revising.  I'd love to hear your ideas!

Here's to the new places revision takes us!

Share your revision experiences in a comment!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

And Now For a Dash of Vlogging...

                   As Ursula LeGuin says, our imagination "needs exercise. It needs practice." Creative Calisthenics can be a great way to get the exercise your imagination needs. Give it a try. Here is one for getting into the mindset or standing a moment in the socks of your characters:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Ready, Set, Action!

Ready, Set, Action! 
The Use of Active Voice

from Jarmoluk on Pixaby

Writing in active voice. We remember the lessons in elementary school about John. 

The tree was cut down by John—Passive Voice
John cut the tree down—Active Voice

Did anyone just have a flashback involving red ink?

Seriously though, let’s talk about “active voice” beyond the confines of grammar.  Bring it into the realm of writing—fiction, poetry, picture books, a note to your kids.  Whatever you’re writing, active voice can bring your writing alive for your readers. 

Like all aspects of writing, active voice doesn’t travel alone, so we’ll also talk about a few of the traveling companions of active voice as we go through some brief advice about this stylistic element of writing.

A Verb a Day Keeps ….

Passive voice away. Not really, but it is true that learning and wielding new verbs is a great way to hone your active voice as well as improve you Words with Friends scores. 

Can you use these verbs in a sentence?

Sluice, gambol, cajole, decant

Notice that they’re not only active verbs, but their precise, and they’re lyrical with strong emotional and rhythmic qualities. 

Knowing your verbs gives you more flexibility, precision, and prosody in your writing.

If you said, “the rain cleaned the gutter,” you’d be well and good,but if “the rain sluiced the gutter,” you'd have more sound, imagery, and motion just by using a slightly more specific word. But whatevery you do, don’t let the “gutter be sluiced by the rain”—the rhym is thrown all off and your writing will be more passive than active.

For a little fun with powerful verbs, check this out  Verbs on Vitamins

Tighten Your Literary Waistline (Or Waste in a Line)

Another important part of using active voice is making sure you don’t waste any words in a given line of writing.  For me, the most valuable tool in trimming your writing is using a “poetic weed.” The idea there is to weed every line of writing as if it is a line of poetry

            A. Make sure every verb is active and specific
            B. Cut any unnecessary words –articles, conjunctions, and prepositional phrases
            C. Test every image—is it as tight, concrete, and specific as it could be?
            D. Use active voice
            E. Make sure every detail is doing double duty

For more on poetic weeding, take a look at this post on Wedding Your Poetic Garden

Remember—Write, Revise, Repeat

Developing new writing habits is like changing your lifestyle—diets don’t work—and it’s a day by day battle.  You have to

            A. study the writing of other writers who have tight active voice you admire.  Look
                 closely at how they do it.  Teach yourself the tricks. Here’s a look at reading as a                             writer.  Read On, Writer.
            B. Practice the techniques as you write. It’s usually better to do it in writing exercises
             because while you’re composing a story, poem, or pictutre book, you want to be in the
            moment, not thinking about if you’re using the right verb.  Stay in the zone of your work.

            C. Revise. You learn how to hone you writing by revising. Notice I said revise—not
            edit. Revise means to re-see. Look at your writing in new ways. Play with it, expand it,
            contract it.  Turn a story into a poem. A poem into a song.  Flex your writing like your
            muscles—sprint, do yoga, run the stairs, find writing muscles you never knew you had.

            D. Repeat. You internalize new writing techniques by using them again and again.  It
            takes quite a few morning runs before you get into the routine of it. Writing works the
            same way.  Overtime, you internalize the new writing techniques and make them your
            own so that you don’t even have to think about it.  You’ll write in active voice as easily as
            you prepare your morning coffee. 

So, Who is Ready to Give It a Try? (AKA The Contest Part of the Post)

If you’re ready to take your active voice to the next level, then follow this prompt.

1. Find an author who has great active voice. Sit down, take apart the writing. Look at how the active voice is specifically constructed.  Make a list of how it’s done.  Ruminate on it a bit.  Hmm.  There’s a nice verb. Ruminate.  Lovely sound quality there.

2. Freewrite for 5-10 minutes on one of the following prompts
            A. A child tries something new
            B. A person solves a problem
            C. A family gets a new pet

3. Go back through and use the techniques described in this post and/apply the techniques used by the author you studied in step 1 to your own writing.

4. Read and reread what you produced in step 3.  Tinker with it.  Oh, another nice verb, eh? I can just hear those words clunking around in your head as you work.

5. Set aside your work and write it all again. See what new things emerge.

Have fun!

Like the results? Grand!  

Post them in the comments on this blog to enter the READY, SET, ACTION contest which runs from 9/1/17 to 9/30/17. The winning will be featured on Sylvanocity: A Creative Community with a profile on the author.  They’ll also receive a nice literary surprise to further their growth as a writer. 

Keep in mind.  The comments on my blog must be approved before they appear, so if your entry doesn’t appear, be patient. It will soon! 

Ready, set, get ACTIVE!

A Tight Write Bite by A. LaFaye


Monday, May 15, 2017

Building A Persona: 

The Public Side of Being an Author

Crafting a Public Persona

Craft advice is essential to building a career as a writer, but so is consciously crafting your writing persona. By its very nature, writing is a solitary act that requires us to plumb the depths of our subconscious as we create literary worlds out of the reimagined fabric of our own lives. In order to do that in a way that is not only self-sustaining, but also promotes growth, we need to have a healthy approach to the public side of writing.

Making Our Work Public

In the comfort of our own computer, mind, or office, our writing is a creative extension of the process we went through to create it. We’ve taken a four-dimensional world and reduced it to squiggly lines on the page. It makes sense to us. It’s a fully fleshed out representation of a fictional world we’ve created.  But something happens on the way to sharing this piece with others.

Our work loses the tendril connections to our subconscious, the invisible little lines that fill in all of the spaces others see in our writing, but we can’t see this spaces because we fill them in automatically as we reread. How many times has someone critiqued your writing and your first response, is, “But that’s not what I meant”? We’ve all been there.

Let’s talk about a step we could all take before we ever show our work to others and that is to “divorce the draft,” a concept introduced by Bruce Ballenger and Barry Lane,  in Discovering the Writer Within (a composition textbook).  When you “divorce the draft,” you separate yourself psychologically from the manuscript so that you can view it as a public work versus a private piece of art.  It’s still your story, but you’re sharing it with the world. Now you have to see it through the eyes of a reader who doesn’t have access to your writing process. By distancing yourself from your work, you’re better able to see and accept constructive criticism as a means of helping you grow as a writer.

Divorcing the draft also makes revision exponentially easier because you’ve taken a step back to look at your work anew and can find exciting and inspiring ways to expand your work.

“Revision” means to re-see your work, so if you approach this process with an adventurous spirit— asking, “what new things can I discover?”—you’ll find the critiquing and revision phase to be a much more creative and inspiring process.

Sending Your Work Out Into The World

When you send your work out into the world, you’re often on edge about how it will be received. At this state of the game, it’s important to separate the intertwined influences of taste, market, existing list, and craft.  To know more about what editors and agents are looking for and why, check out the wish list

An editor once rejected a manuscript of mine because a central character was an octogenarian and she didn’t really feel a connection with elderly people.  This response was purely based on her own personal tastes and we can often read that as the main reason for a response to a manuscript in statements like, “this isn’t for me.”  Taste is one of the main response agents work so hard to learn what different editors prefer and have an affinity for.  If it’s a matter of taste, you just need to keep looking for an editor/agent whose tastes are more in line with what you’ve written.

Unfortunately, the market is often the biggest hurdle for agents, editors, and authors. Often all three parties love a particular style of writing or a certain manuscript, but they know that it will not have enough of a broad appeal to sell enough copies to earn a large profit.  When this happens, it’s usually the case where the editor takes the manuscript to acquisitions and the “bean counters” aren’t sold on the accountability of the piece. When this happens, you can try another house who can see new ways to market the book, consider a smaller house that has lower sales expectations, or you can wait for the tide of public interest to change to the genre you’re writing.

Existing List:
Sometimes a rejection can purely be based on the fact that a particular editor or agent has other manuscripts or clients with manuscripts that they’re already publishing or pitching for publication.  In this case, it’s just a matter of moving on to a house that needs a book like yours to fill out their list.

All of the above issues are based on the publishing world and you really have no control over them at all.  Craft is a whole different story.  If there are elements of craft that are holding you back, then you need to address those issues with education, exploration, and revision. When you receive comments about inconsistent voice, variations in plot development, expository vs. experiential sections of the piece, then you know that the situation is more about your ability to fully polish the manuscript.  If that’s the case, then you need to go back and dig in.  It’s also helpful to pursue opportunities to expand your own skills with webinars like those offered by Kidlit College, develop writing groups with fellow writers who have a keen critical eye for craft, delve into excellent books on craft, and/or consider coursework in craft.  Making the study of craft a life-long journey is an essential part of your growth as a writer.

Here’s a great list to get your started on writing books. My thanks to Bethany Roberts in compiling this list.

Most Importantly: Be Yourself!

Your desire to advance your career may often push you to change yourself and your writing to fit the market and it’s important that you’re not resistant to change and growth, but it’s also essential that you don’t sacrifice the unique contributions you have to make to the field in order to “get a sale.” Be yourself. You are who you are for a reason. You have a unique perspective on life and art and writing that only you can share with the world, so be true to yourself and your art. 

Speaking of Being Yourself: A Little Bit About Me

I’m a writer and a teacher who teaches English Department as part of the Center for Visual Culture and Media Studies at Greenville College and the low residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hollins University and I love to offer craft based webinars through KidLit College. I’m also a huge supporter of other authors and independent publishers like Milkweed Editions who have published a handful of my books and I’d love to see more folks pick up a copy of Water Steps this spring in preparation for facing their fears and heading into summer.  Kyna nearly drown as a child and was left with a pathological fear of water she’s overcoming one step at a time thanks to her adoptive parents, but now they want her to live on a lake for the summer and she’s having none of it.  Especially not their silly story that it’s inhabited by shape-shifting silkies.  This could be her most exciting summer if she’s will to take her her biggest “water step” ever.  Can she do it? Pick up your copy of WATER STEPS and see.

A. LaFaye
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Facebook Community: Sylvanocity