Anita Stansfield's take on Character Motivation

Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Anita Stansfield spoke at the American Fork Arts Council WC (that's a mouthful. We'll call it the AFAC from now on--can you hear the Aflac duck's lawyers calling me?). If you've never heard of Anita, she writes LDS/Christian books. She's sold over 40 of them.

Anita went into detail about character motivation. Specifically, outlining the reasoning behind character choices. The example she gave: If your list character's favorite food as pizza in your character outline, you also need to know why it's pizza. Is it just the flavor, or is it because the character's parents couldn't afford it and he only got pizza on his birthday?

Other questions to answer about your character:
-who raised them
-what were their circumstances (poor, abused, popular)
-significant events.

Her biggest tip was to touch on human emotion. Use your characters flaws and shortcomings to add depth and personality to the story.

So my question to you: What kind of character outlining do you do? How in depth is it? Do you think it's vital?

The joys of Writer's Conference food.

Saturday, April 25, 2009
Wow. Seriously, writer's conference food has always lacked something. Sometimes I've felt like I've been eating rabbit food (I understand if you're a vegetarian. Heck, I applaude you. I however, am not. It comes from growing up on a cattle ranch. And the fact that I'm weak.) Other times I eat my 3 bites for 10 bucks and wonder where the nearest fast food place is. Other times it's just been . . . redundant ("Really, we're having the EXACT same thing for three meals in a row? REALLY?).

This weekend makes my other experiences look wimpy. The food tasted pretty good. It was the stomach cramps, vomiting, and . . . um . . . well you get the idea. We had a two hour drive home that took more like 3 hours (with my writing buddies mocking me the whole time).

As a side note, I would be more than willing to pay a little more money for my gas if the clerks would clean the bathrooms. There's nothing more joyous than kneeling before a throne that makes you even more nauseous (and I didn't think that was possible).

I swear, from now on, I'm bringing a sack lunch. It's cheaper. And much safer.

Stats on Book Sales

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
This is some info my agent send me about book sales:

UK Hardcovers Fall Hard, But US Market Shows Resilience. The Bookseller reports on Nielsen BookScan UK data that shows "a slump across hardcover sales," as unit sales for the top 5,000 hardcovers fell 14.3 percent for the first quarter of 2009. And the top 400 hardcover fiction title sales fell 17.2 percent in units in that period. In the US, however, a big rise in juvenile hardcovers helped the total market for hardcovers rise by almost 3 percent in the first thirteen weeks. Despite dire selected reports, for the outlets covered in the US by Nielsen BookScan, total unit sales for the first quarter declined only 2.1 percent, at 182.4 million books. Juvenile fiction was the strongest sub-category, gaining 10.4 percent this year, with adult nonfiction declining 8.4 percent, adult fiction flat, and juvenile nonfiction up slightly.

Random's "More Selective" Acquisitions NPR's story on blockbuster book deals from earlier this week was pretty standard fare, but we did take note of the moment when Random House Publishing Group spokesperson Carol Schneider said, "we're acquring fewer books." Asked for more information, she told us, "There are no specific numbers or formula involved here--we're simply being more selective in all categories--literary, commercial, blockbuster." NPR

The upside for me is the increased sales in YA. Hopefully that translates into an increase in buying.

I just can't help myself

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Instead of working on my blog, I'll work on my daugher and my blog at the same time! It's a Mom/multitasking thing.

It pays to have a neighbor that's also a photographer. Shauna always does such a fantastic job. It doesn't hurt to have a subject as beautiful as my daughter.

Review of Inkspell

Thursday, April 16, 2009
I have to admit, I read the first book in this series (Inkheart) a couple years ago. It seemed a bit juvenile, so I never picked up the second. Then a friend handed me her copy and told me how much better it was.

I decided to give it a try. She was right. I liked this one much better.

Cornelia Funke writes beautiful descriptions. She does a fabulous job of using all the senses in her writing, to the point that you can taste her words. "Farid picked a berry, round and blue-black, sniffed it, and put it in his mouth. 'I once knew and old man,' he said, wiping the juice from his lips . . . "

I love how she mingles description with action. I love the words, "round and blue-black." They, among others, seem to paint the colors and smells. Her word choice is so rich and delicious.

She also has beautiful metaphors and similes. For instance:

"The Wayless Wood deserved its name. It seemed to have no end and no beginnings, like a green sea where you could drown as easily as in the wet and salty waves of its sister the ocean." Here's another: "He had only gone a few paces before the forest swallowed him up like a frog swallowing a fly . . ." See how the metaphor brings a feeling along with it? Despite the beauty with which she describes The Wayless Wood, we certainly get a sense that it's a dangerous place. After all, the forest swallows people as easily as a frog swallows a defenseless fly. (I read passages like this and think, "Now why couldn't I be that clever?")

As writers, we're often warned about being overly descriptive. Beautiful as this writing was, it was too heavy. I found myself skipping some of the description because I just had to know what happened to the characters.

I love books that I devour just as quickly as my kids. Inkspell certainly fits the mold. There were a few swear words (~under 10). So be aware in case you hand it over to your 9 year old.

Let's talk about style, baby.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Basic question: What is style?

Short answer: Style is the WAY you write. Think of it as the way you clothe and accessorize your writing.

Do you tend to write lengthy paragraphs or short? Do you overload with descriptions or lean toward the skimpy side? Are sentences clipped and to the point, or do you tend to be more round about?

One quick way to check out your style is to print an average page of your manuscript. How's your "white space?" I like my page to look pretty ragged. Big, honking paragraphs are a bad idea. I'll compare it to a meal. You sit down at a restaurant and the waiter brings you a steak the width of a dinner plate and the thickness of your thigh. And you have to eat the whole thing. Now, this might be a mighty fine piece of meat, but you'd still feel completely overwhelmed. By the time you finished it, bloated would be something you'd passed two hours ago.

Now, imagine that the waiter brings you a nice sized, bacon wrapped fillet Mignon, sauteed veggies, and a side of your favorite potato.

How do you eat it?

I'm betting you don't polish off one item at a time. Instead, you trade off between the three. It's the same way with your writing. Mix it up. Give your reader some description mixed with action (Sara pressed her wrinkled, tobacco stained lips together.)

Tension is like seasonings. Add it to everything. Each page, each paragraph has to have tension. If it doesn't: add it!

What gets you in the mood?

Sunday, April 5, 2009
In the mood to write, that is.

For me, dramatic music and movies will put me in what I call my writing "flow" (where I feel like the words flow from my fingertips like water). My absolute go to movie and music is Phantom of the Opera, but anything dramatic gets my brain tingling with ideas. Last of the Mohicans, Cinderella (with Drew Barrymore), Stardust, The Patriot, Braveheart--do you see the trend? Dramatic, powerful, romantic movies. The power and emotion puts my mind in the right place.

Another sure fire way is to read books in my genre, or something close that's really good.

I find that when I really get into a new story, it's better to keep at it until I'm done. If I take a break, I lose my thoughts and the ideas stop flowing.

All this is absolutely pointless when I'm as exhausted as I am now. But I thought the info might help you if you're stuck.

What helps you get out of your writing funk?

What kills your writing zen?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Sometimes our writing muse can be fickle. Extraneous things tend to turn it off. For some people, the stress in their life overwhelms them. I'm the opposite. The more stressed I am, the more I HAVE to write to release my tension (unless I'm so stressed that I can no longer function).

For others, medications muddle their minds. So far, I've found that it depends upon which medications. Pain pills, for instance, make me downright stupid. But nothing else I've taken seems to affect me.

Lousy eating habits can slog down creativity (sugar does this to me), as can many substances unwelcomed by our bodies (booze, smoking, drugs, etc).

Two weeks postpartum, and I've found a fog lifting from my brain. My energy and zest for writing has kicked in. And I've noticed that my thoughts and edits flow more easily and are generally better than those done during my pregnancy.

What about you? What kinds of things kills your writing zen.

Next post, I'll try to cover the things that I do to get in what I call my writing "flow."

For those of you who commented about my recent struggles with my daughter, she's doing much better on her medication. She's gaining weight again and seems to be a fairly happy child. Perhaps I'll be able to resume some of my earlier work (though I'm sure it will slow down).

Thanks for all the goodwishes and concern. It's amazing to me that I have friends I've never even met. :)
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