Sunday, March 31, 2013
Saturday, March 30, 2013
Friday, March 29, 2013
(We at TKZ will try to air drop you some popcorn)
Thursday, March 28, 2013
While watching the season finale of GIRLS, there was a moment at the end where I was seriously tempted to hurl something at the television. Because after all the advances women have made over the past fifty years, apparently for the younger generation of women showcased by the show, we're pretty much back where we started.
This episode concluded with a nod the classic, "An Officer and a Gentleman" scene where Richard Gere sweeps Debra Winger off her feet, literally. Now, I loved that movie--still do--but the underlying message at the end was that the only way for poor Paula to advance in life was to marry well. I'd hope that nearly thirty years later, we were past such tired tropes. But according to Lena Dunham, they hold true. Not only does her character get "saved" by a man (ironically, the same one that earlier in the season terrorized her), but her fellow castmembers all fall in line accordingly. One starts dating her ex-boyfriend again because he's suddenly struck it rich. Another dumps her boyfriend for not being ambitious enough (as underlined in a scene where his boss explains that, "she wants you to make enough money to be able to keep buying her purses shaped like bread products.") Even the "hippie" character Jessa takes a payout from the wealthy investment banker she was married to for a heartbeat.
Really? Is this what we're selling to girls in their twenties? I understand that GIRLS is a fictionalized version of reality, but if this throwback mentality is being showcased ironically, it's far from apparent. And over the course of the season, this "girls can't do it" attitude has been emphasized time and again. Hannah finally scores a book deal, but suffers a breakdown over the stress and is unable to write it. Marnie is laid off, becomes a hostess (and paramour to an older artist), and decides to become a singer; but we only see her pursue that dream via an ill-advised attempt to humiliate her ex at his office. And Jessa simply takes off.
I'd like to think that this is not emblematic of a wider issue with the upcoming generation of women, but a recent conversation with a friend was very disheartening. She told me that her recently-divorced brother (a man in his forties) now only dates girls in their twenties; thirty is his cut-off point, because after that age they're focused on marriage. Plus, he's discovered that girls in their twenties are extraordinarily eager to please. They have no problem with him calling last minute because another date cancelled. They text suggestive photos after the first date. In addition to the age limit, he also stops seeing them after five dates--and he claims that most of them don't seem to expect anything more.
He's an awful jerk, of course, and probably has a keen eye for girls with low self-esteem. But listening to her, I couldn't help but think that the behavior she's describing is precisely what Dunham has been showing us over the past two seasons. Her characters are not strong young women, struggling to forge their way in the world through that challenging post-college phase. They're highly educated girls whose lives invariably revolve around men, and whose biggest aspirations appear to involve being supported by them.
Mind you, I'm not saying that finding a person to spend the rest of your life with isn't a lofty ambition. And I also strongly believe that deciding to stay home and raise children is just as valid a choice as pursuing a career in the workplace. But the fact that this is what we're seeing on television, at the same time that Sheryl Sandberg's eye opening book "Lean In" is making waves, is telling. Mary Tyler Moore it ain't.
I'd love to see a show aimed at this age group with strong female role models--and I'm hard pressed to name a single one. A show where the "girls" had some self-esteem, and respected their relationships with themselves and their friends as much as their romantic liasons. A show, basically, where it wasn't all about finding the right boys. In television, where shows created, written, and run by women are finally becoming more prevalent, is this really the best we can do?
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
This past weekend, I had the privilege of speaking to the Southwest Florida Romance Writers in Estero, Florida. Up to 25 members were present when I spoke about Social Networking for Writers and passed around my eight-page handout. We could have discussed this topic for a lot longer than the allotted hour, but our time ended and I left for home.
On the drive back to the east coast, I reflected on how a speaker really has to gear her talk to the audience. Speaking to a bunch of writers is a lot different than giving a talk to a roomful of fans. Readers in general are eager to hear how you got published, where you get your ideas, what you researched for your story, and if you make a living at what you do. Don’t ask me why, but that question always arises. Would you ask a lecturer how much money he makes?
You’re expected to be witty and entertaining and to use anecdotes in your talk. I like to educate the public on the realities of the publishing business, so I’ll talk about the impact of the digital era, choices for writers today, and what readers can do to help authors in terms of customer reviews, Liking our pages, sharing our posts, etc. Lay persons find this information to be fascinating. Sure, I’ll talk about my books but mainly as an overview about my series and some of my research experiences. I don’t believe in doing readings or a book review on a specific title. There’s nothing more boring, IMHO, as an author’s droning voice as he reads from his own work. It’s more exciting to talk off the cuff about the publishing world and what fuels my stories.
In contrast, when speaking to fellow writers, I aim to teach. I want to get points across that they can take home and use in their own work. Motivational talks uplift and inspire writers to keep plowing ahead despite the setbacks that we all experience in this career. I’d rather give practical tips, how-to details, and specific instructions. Handouts accompany all of my workshops. This is not necessarily the case if I’m on a panel, however. Then it’s much harder to get across a lot of information because you’re sharing the time and stage. It’s good to come prepared with a few pointers regardless, and handouts are still appreciated, but having one hour to myself is best for in-depth instruction.
I’ve attended panels at writers conferences where the authors prattle on about their work, and attendees leave the room having been entertained but learning nothing new. I don’t care to attend those types of sessions myself. I’d rather go to a workshop where I can gain new insights or tips on a specific aspect of writing or marketing. Anybody can talk about himself. How many can teach in a meaningful, clear manner? Those who can’t teach will do very well speaking on panels at fan conventions, libraries and community groups.
Where am I going with this? If you have a speaking engagement coming up, consider your audience. If it’s a bunch of fans/readers, talk about your books, the publishing world, where you get your ideas, the writing process. If it’s a group of writers, target your material so they can take away something worthwhile.
If you’re a reader, what do you like to hear when you go to see an author? If you’re a writer, do you differentiate how you approach each audience?
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
I'll be flying most of the day today, praying for a lull in the wacky weather that's been plaguing the East coast this year. (Whatever happened to Spring, anyway?)
I've been known to make heroic efforts to write when traveling. One time back in the 90's during a family visit in Cleveland, I holed up in a hotel room, rented a typewriter (a typewriter--that's how long ago the 90's were), and banged out several chapters.
"What is Kathryn doing all day?" my kinfolk wanted to know.
I never try to write when I'm physically on a plane, however. It's all I can do to make it through a few pages of whatever book or magazine I grab at the airport store. There's something about the way the stale, over-pressurized air mixes with the stoic energy of passengers crammed into gerbil seats that puts a damper on creative energy. I feel like I need my elbows to write.
But that's just me. What about you? Are you able to write in a productive way on an airplane?
Monday, March 25, 2013
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Saturday, March 23, 2013
Friday, March 22, 2013
Thursday, March 21, 2013
I’ve been working with college-aged writers recently and noticed that many of them rush a scene by sending it to me too soon, as if they’re in a race. My job is to get them to be their own critic and not settle for mediocre, even if it means they won't get a grade. To get noticed in the slush pile of an agent or editor, today’s author must bring something new to the table that is uniquely from them and their storytelling ability.
Using an example of constructing a house, they send me the basic framework, but the finishing touches are lacking. Is the dialogue there? Check. Is there a beginning, middle and end to the writing sample? Check. Did I meet the bare essence of the assignment? Check. But a good house needs walls and all the finishing touches that make it feel like a home. Well-balanced scenes can be those finishing touches that make a house a home. They can add a balance of color/setting, voice, emotion, and memorable characters that doesn’t slow the pace down and make your work stand out as unique, too.
Here are 8 key ways to layer your scene with more depth and make them stand out:
1.) MAKE YOUR VOICE UNIQUE - Pick a POV for the character who will tell the story of the scene and give him or her a unique voice. That means you must see through their eyes and add their senses and opinions to the scene. You can talk about what’s in a room, as if it were a forgettable inventory, OR you can add color by having your character say things like, “the dump smelled like cat piss.” Also give each character their own unique voice, using the same care as you craft each one.
2.) USE ACTION - Show your character taking part in the scene, rather than merely talking about the emotion they’re feeling. A guy who is forced to fight when he’d rather cut and run like a coward will behave differently than a guy who wants to be there and do the right thing. The coward might hang back or urge someone else to take his place or fake an injury to get out of what he really doesn’t want to do. The brave guy would take lead or protect the others by shielding them with his body, for example.
3.) USE DEEP POV - Set your character’s deepest thoughts in italics as “Deep POV” to give the reader insight into your character’s internal motivation. These could be expletives or funny one liners that he /she would mutter under their breath or in their head. The right Deep POV touches can add punch.
4.) WEAVE IN BACK STORY SPARINGLY - Know your character and their back story so you can slip it into the story seamlessly. Not many readers today tolerate a back story dump. There’s not many ways to disguise it either. But weaving a back story over a longer timeframe of your story is a good way to build upon your character’s history without slowing the pace—and it can create a mystery element. Other characters (who have a past with him or her) can fill in the gaps in a more interesting way.
5.) PICK THE ESSENCE OF EMOTION - Emotion is vital to make a scene memorable. Pick out the best images or set the stage in actions that best highlight the emotion you’re trying to weave into the scene. Add only the essential images. This could be a man talking about the small of a woman’s back, at a certain time of day when her body entices the shadows, or his memory of the first time he’d ever noticed how perfect that gentle curve had always been. The sensuality can be there, without overwriting the description of her, plus it conveys his enduring love for her in a sensual way. I'm not a poet, but I often think that good writers have the soul of a poet in them when I read certain passages that make me stop and reread them.
6.) PICK THE MOST PROMINENT PHYSICAL TRAITS - Beauty is in the small details. Today’s average reader may not tolerate an author describing a character in great detail because that would slow the pace, but try picking out the most essential characteristics of your character and pepper your scene with those images to suggest traits, rather than spell them out. Instead of describing how thin a guy is, add color by saying his suit hangs on him as if he were a human coat hanger.
7.) GIVE THE SCENE STRUCTURE – I think of scenes as mini-stories that will propel the story along with 1-3 plot points infused into every scene. They have a beginning, a middle and an end so that the characters in that scene take a journey and move the story forward. Internal monologue should not be repeated. Have your character discover or learn something about themselves during the scene, for example.
8.) ADD SETTING THAT ENHANCES YOUR SCENE – Any scene can be enhanced with the right setting. The bare bones of two characters talking in a study can be enhanced if there is a menacing storm rumbling outside, a loud crackling fire in the hearth, and a musty old library smell in the air from the countless alchemy books that lined the shelves, an extensive collection of magic books that spanned centuries, set in a mansion in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Classic.
I’ve mentioned 8 key ways to add depth to your scenes. Can you add more to this list? Please share your thoughts and what has worked for you.
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Along with plot, setting, dialog, theme, and premise, your story is made up of characters. Hopefully, they’re interesting and believable. If they’re not, here are a few tips on making them so.
It’s important to think of your characters as having a life prior to the story starting, and unless you kill them off, also having a life beyond the last page. You need to know your character’s history. This doesn’t mean you have to explain every detail to the reader, but as the author, you must know it. Humans are creatures molded by our past lives. There’s no difference with your fictional characters. The more you know about them, the more you’ll know how they will react under different circumstances and levels of pressure.
The reader doesn’t need to know everyone’s resume and pedigree, but those things that happened to a character prior to the start of the story will help justify their actions and reactions in the story. For instance, a child who fell down a mine shaft and remained in the darkness of that terrible place for days until rescued could, as an adult, harbor a deep fear of cramped dark places when it comes time to deal with a similar situation in your story. Why does Indiana Jones stare down into the ancient ruins and hesitate to proceed when he says, “I hate snakes.” We know because he had a frightening encounter with snakes as a youth. But the background info must be dished out to the reader in small doses in order to avoid the dreaded “info dump”. Keep the reader on a need-to-know basis.
Next, realize that your characters drive your plot. If a particular character was taken out of the story, how would the plot change? Does a character add conflict? Conflict is the fuel of the story. Without it, the fire goes out.
Also remember to allow the reader to do a lot of the heavy lifting by building the characters in their mind. Give just enough information to let them form a picture that’s consistent with your intentions. The character they build in their imagination will be much stronger that the one you tried to over-explain. Telling the reader how to think dilutes your story and its strength. Don’t explain a character’s motives or feelings. Let the reader come to their own conclusion based upon the character’s actions and reactions.
Avoid characters of convenience or “messengers”. By that I mean, don’t bring a character on stage purely to give out information. Make your characters earn their keep by taking part in the story, not just telling the story.
Challenge your characters. Push them just beyond their preset boundaries. Make them question their beliefs and judgment. There’s no place for warm and cozy in a compelling story. Never let them get in a comfort zone. Always keep it just out of their reach.
And finally, make your characters interesting. Place contradictions in their lives that show two sides to their personality such as a philosophy professor that loves soap operas or a minister with a secret gambling addiction. Turn them into multi-faceted human beings in whom the reader can relate. Without strong characters, a great plots fall flat.
Keep your reader on a need-to-know basis and your characters on their toes to maintain suspense and a compelling read.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Slowly, [Smiley] returned his gaze to Leipzig’s face. Some dead faces, he reflected, have the dull, even stupid look of a patient under anaesthetic. Others preserve a single mood of the once varied nature – the dead man as lover, as father, as car driver, bridge player, tyrant. And some, like Leipzig’s, have ceased to preserve anything. But Leipzig’s face, even without the ropes across it, had a mood, and it was anger: anger intensified by pain, turned to fury by it; anger that had increased and become the whole man as the body lost its strength.
Monday, March 18, 2013
I've been up to my eyeballs in boxes over the last two weeks as we unpack and settle into our new house in Colorado. In the weeks before the move, however, I confess to becoming a reluctant fan of The Walking Dead. Reluctant because at first I couldn't watch beyond about ten minutes before I had to switch off. Gore, you see, isn't my thing. And The Walking Dead is full of gore...
But then I tried again (fast forwarding through the truly stomach churning bits) and I became hooked. Despite the copious amounts of blood, guts and brains, I found myself invested in the characters and the story and, though I still couldn't stomach the amount of gore, I had to keep watching. Story had triumphed over queasy stomach.
When it comes to thrillers and mysteries, I usually draw the line at unnecessary violence and gore. I've never been one to go to horror movies and I don't enjoy flinching at detailed, bloodied, descriptions of death or mutilation. But the key for me is the term 'unnecessary'. Sometimes the story requires a degree of explicitness for it to remain authentic - and in this case, sometimes (only sometimes) I will forgo my usual sensibilities and keep reading.
For me there are three critical elements needed for me to suspend my natural gag reflex and read on:
- Firstly I must totally trust the writer - I need to feel assured that the violence/gore is both necessary and sufficient and that my trust in the writer won't be destroyed. I don't want to suddenly face a completely gratuitous scene which makes me doubt the authenticity of the experience the writer has provided.
- Secondly, the context of the story must demand the level of explicitness/violence/horror or gore provided. I don't pick up a cozy mystery expecting to find a hacked corpse oozing bodily fluids and explicit description on page 100...
- Thirdly, the explicit descriptions must be compelling and accurate. I don't want to find my stomach churning with a mishmash of innards only to suddenly think 'whoa, that doesn't sound right'. I'm no forensic pathologist or anatomy expert but sometimes explicit descriptions can easily veer into the realm of farce. A good rule of thumb is probably not to involve too many body parts...
Still, there are lines that I am reluctant to cross. These include scenes involving children and animals. The story had better be the most compelling, viscerally affecting, and most brilliantly written piece of all time for me to cross over those lines.
So what about you? Any Walking Dead fans out there? How do you feel about gore in thrillers and mysteries? Are there lines you won't cross (as either a writer or a reader?)
Sunday, March 17, 2013