Saturday, March 31, 2012

Like Free Stuff?

Today through tomorrow, over at my personal blog, A Still and Quiet Madness, I'm giving readers a shot at winning one of these three FAB prize packages:

Young Adult Fantasy Gift Package

Adult Literary Gift Package

Alice in Wonderland Postcard Gift Package

All you have to do to be entered is watch three fabulous book trailers and answer a question about them ... so if you're up for it, hop over for a chance to win!

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Author’s Bucket List on Plot Structure

By Jordan Dane

I’ve never been a plotter. I’m too impatient. Once I get the general idea of a story with a compelling conflict and a notion of my cast of players, I can’t wait to “discover” the story as I write. It plays out in my head like a movie, but I’m constantly exploring new ways to get organized so my daily word count goals can be achieved without roadblocks.

Today on TKZ, I submit my latest thoughts on the 3-Act Structure and the Storyboard method of plotting. These are purely my thoughts on combining these concepts as they might apply to my writing, but maybe you’ll see elements you like in this for you.

I used to think of the 3-Act Structure as beginning, middle, and end, but I’ve read it more accurately reflected as Establish, Build, & Resolve by Michael Hauge in his book “Writing Screenplays that Sell.” Thinking of these acts in this manner denotes movement. So imagine these three segments as buckets, but before I can toss wads of paper (or scenes) into these buckets, I must have a place to start. Set aside your buckets for now and grab a paper and pen—or Sticky Notes, colors optional.

Presuming I have a general notion of my book, I would create a list of 20-25 things I know about the action in my book in terms of what I call “big ticket” plot movements. No backstory. What will go on my list will be scenes that I envision as key elements to my story. They won’t be put into any order. I merely list them as they occur to me. I would brainstorm without censoring my thoughts. I heard an author talk about creating notes on 3-M sticky notes, rather than a random list, but you get the idea. I don’t expect to know every scene in my book at this stage. The storyboard I create will be an evolving beast that I will change as I write, edit, and final my book so I can see my plot at a glance.

Now let’s talk about the 3-Act Structure in terms of a BIG “W.”

ACT I – Establish - The start of Act I (or the top left of my “W”) is the Triggering Event. It’s the inciting incident that will start my story, the point at which my main character’s life changes forever. As I travel down the left side of my “W,” I head for the 1st Turning Point that usually sets up the problem or the first low point or perhaps a moment of hope. This is a reversal point that changes the direction of my plot as I head out of Act 1. I’ve “Established” my world up to this point and the general conflicts and players in the first 25% of my book, in theory.

ACT II – Build - As my plot heads toward the upward middle of my “W,” that is another key reversal. If I have a book with hope in my first turning point, this shift might dash those hopes to some degree. If I have a dark moment in that first turning point, things get worse, but the plot takes another key turn one way or the other as the action “Builds.” Act II ends with the next turning point (the 2nd low point of my “W”). This is the black moment where all seems lost. This part of the “W” represents the middle part of the turning point structure or 50% of my story, the “building” middle.

ACT III – Resolve – Now I would be in Act III, the last upward line of the “W” after the black moment. I’m headed toward resolution. In this section, my hero or heroine might discover something about the villain in the story that is his or her weakness. He or she implements a plan to take advantage of this Achilles Heel, but I might consider throwing in another epiphany or twist before the end. This could be a twist or complication—an “Oh my, God” moment the reader might not see coming before the world is restored or the ending happens. This last part of the structure is the final 25%.

I’ve oversimplified these blended theories for the sake of this post. The lines of the “W” don’t have to be linear, for example. I could have little ups and downs along the way that will take me through my book, but I wanted you to have a general idea of how this could work.

Now get ready with your buckets. Each of these acts is a bucket, for the purposes of this explanation. So the list I created at the beginning—the 20-25 brainstormed scenes—each has a place in an Act Bucket. I would add to these 25 things as I get more familiar with my book, but if I were to Storyboard this out, I would create 20 squares that represent chapters in my books. (You might write differently, so make this work for you with your average number of chapters in a single-title book.) I would write my 25 items down with each one going on a 3-M Sticky Note and place them on my storyboard where I think they will go in Act I (25%), II (50%), or III (25%). Since each of these scene ideas is moveable, I can change the order and chapter they might appear to get the pace and building intensity up. Once I see things on my storyboard in a visual manner, I will no doubt want to add more Sticky Note scenes to fill out the detail and transitions in my story as the plot develops.

I generally have 4-5 scenes in a chapter. So as my story plot movement gets established and building toward a resolution, I perhaps can add colored notes to signify POV switches or character story arcs or relationship arcs to deepen my story understanding. I thought this process might fit my “pantser” approach to structure with a simple method that I can see visually as I write and evolve the story. Writing software seemed too complicated to learn with my writing schedule, but I’d love to hear of a simple brainstorming plot method or storyboard concept if you have one.

What works for you?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The "Pros" of Making Writing a Profession

Life has been crazy so today I'm revisiting a post from my personal blog that I wrote years ago. I hope you enjoy it!


Ditching the "real" job to write full-time is the dream for most writers, yes? It was my dream and it finally came true several years ago. Following are what I've found to be a few of the high-points of that decision--the "pros" as opposed to the "cons."

1. I can work in my pj's, or my underwear, or even stark naked if I'm so inclined, although I've never taken advantage of that particular privilege since I'm cold-natured.

2. I make my own hours. I don't have to get up with the sun. I can work 14 hours on Monday and 2 hours on Tuesday. No time clock to punch or boss looking over my shoulder.

3. I'm paid for making up stories (well...most of the time). What could be more awesome than that? I get to lie for a living, look out the window and dream while sitting at my desk, talk to myself and to imaginary people. (All these things would probably get me into trouble in most any other profession. I might even earn a trip to a room with no windows while wearing a straight jacket).

4. I meet a lot of interesting characters. Some of them are real, some of 'em aren't.

5. Sometimes I'm fortunate to receive a glowing review of my work or readers say flattering things about my writing. Once a woman at my booksigning told me she had stayed up until three in the morning reading my novel ONCE UPON A DREAM and that it made her laugh. She said, "What a wonderful talent you possess." Talk about an ego rush. Another woman at a different signing told me my novel THE ME I USED TO BE touched her, and that she was so overcome with emotion at the ending that she had to explain to the girl doing her pedicure why she was crying.

6. I've met many, many other writers and a few of them have become my best friends.

7. I don't have to drive during rush hour...on icy roads...wear makeup or dressy clothes.

8. On occasion I have a book signing in an exotic location. (Okay, I've only had two that qualify, but still . . . ) The first one took place in Toronto. (See the first photo). I'm the one with my head down, and yes, when you live in Texas, Canada is considered an exotic location. The second took place in Hawaii. (See second photo).

9. Once I received flowers from my publisher. (And once...Champagne!)

Stay tuned for the flip-side of this coin--The Cons Of Making Fiction-Writing A Profession...coming soon to this blog.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leaving on a Jet Plane...well, Left & Landed by Now

By Brett

By the time you read this, I’ll be halfway around the world, in warm weather near the equator.

Travel is an important part of my life, and an important part of my writing. It is both my inspiration and a source of my research. I often set many of my adult novels in foreign locations, and being able to marry my loves of writing and travel is the best of all possible worlds for me (hat tip to Candide).

What I love to do when I travel is just find some place that I can sit with a book and watch the world go by. This is a great way of getting a feel for how the city or town works, how the people who live there interact, and what normal everyday life is like. Yes, I do sometimes visit the typical tourist spots, but I never do those on any organized kind of tours. I always go on my own. But most of the time I just wander, soaking in wherever I’m at, and observing. Observing is one of the biggest parts of being a writer, and, I like to think, one of my best talents.

I often travel alone, no matter what part of the world I go. Would I like to travel with someone? Sure, but I also enjoy going alone. It’s a great way of forcing myself to meet the locals and learn more about the area. And while I will be doing some of that where I’m going, it is a location I have visited before, so I actually have friends there now who I will be seeing at some point.

When my turn here at Adr3nalin3 comes around again in two weeks, I’ll still be there, but just about to come home. Maybe I’ll have a story to tell you then, or some pictures to share. We’ll see.

So, how about you? Do you enjoy to travel? Do you have favorite places to go? Are you willing to stretch yourself out of your comfort zone? And writers, what’s your favorite type of thing to do for research?

Monday, March 26, 2012

SHADOWS, Revealed! . . . uhm . . . almost

I am cursed, and here's why.

I have this habit of falling in love with shows that last only one season or, sometimes, two. We're talking series like My Own Worst Enemy in which a deliciously diabolical Christian Slater took Jekyll and Hyde to new levels;

that last episode of Stargate Universe when everyone, except Eli, goes into hibernation for a three-year voyage which we all know will never end;

or the series finale for Stargate Atlantis which, while getting our heroes back to Earth after a five-year jaunt in the Pegasus galaxy, left them marooned and cloaked in San Francisco Bay;

or, most recently, The River, which, last time I looked, is likely headed to the cancellation graveyard with one mystery solved but the Magus's crew forever trapped in a no-exit jungle whose landscape has changed around them. (And was it just me, or did that show finally find its legs when Bruce Greenwood showed up?)

I could go on, but you get the picture. There I am, invested in a show. I care about these people. The show's dug in its claws the way all good stories do--and then it--and I--get pushed to the edge of that cliff where we're left, dangling, forever.

And ever . . .

And ever . . .

The same could be said for books that leave you gasping, hanging on by your fingernails, screaming--just like Buzz:

REM got it right. The premature end of a great show feels kinda the same (for me, anyway):

Well, ASHES fans, I'm happy to report that no such dastardly fate awaits you. Your wait is half over. SHADOWS is set to hit shelves on 9/25/12 and, to celebrate, the wonderful folks at Mundie Moms (home base for Cassandra Clare fans everywhere) are hosting a fantabulous cover reveal party on APRIL 1 (no foolin'). You’ll be treated to the FIRST EVER glimpse at the new look for the series, including a peek at the cover for SHADOWS.

In this week's lead-up, I'll also be taking your questions and posing a few of my own on Twitter (@ilsajbick) and Facebook. Have ideas about a movie version? An actress you think would be the perfect Alex? Or maybe you've thought ahead and wondered just what the heck happens next? Always wanted to have a good rant at the way I left you in a lurch? Here's your chance, kiddo.

Oh, and did I mention prizes? Things like an ASHES survival pack? Signed copies of the novel? Your chance to win one of ONLY two SHADOWS ARCs up for grabs for this special event?

So, visit Mundie Moms on April 1, 2012, chat with other fans attending the reveal party, and join in the fun!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Coolest Book Trailers Ever

by Michelle Gagnon

So I have a few releases coming out in the next year, and I've been debating whether or not it's worth doing a book trailer for them. I've done one in the past (and one was done without my even knowing about it, for a college project, which was kind of cool). But I wonder whether or not it's really worth it. Do people watch trailers? And if they do, does it convince them to buy the book?

Here are a few truly great trailers that made me reconsider making one:

My friend Daniel Handler, aka Lemony Snicket, did this hilarious one for his latest YA release, WHY WE BROKE UP...

I also love this one for a book I recently read, Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, even though it's a bit more standard (and considerably less funny):

And finally, one from Cassandra Clare's CITY OF BONES (which has actually been greenlit to be a film, although that doesn't mean there are any guarantees...)

The truth is, rarely does an author get the chance to produce a Hollywood film-style trailer complete with all the bells and whistles. So do you err on the side of doing something a little different, a la Daniel Handler? Or do you try to hit your main plot points to give readers a sense of the storyline?

More importantly...what are the best book trailers you've ever seen?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

I Have a Little Confession to Make...

by Wendy Corsi Staub

I know I find myself in the teeny tiny minority when it comes to certain things that I consider vastly overrated. Things that, unlike the rest of the world, not only can I take or leave, but I secretly kind of…well (to avoid using the H-word), strongly dislike.


Star Wars.


I had a whole other blog ready to go this week, but this morning, awakened to a familiar sense of dismal dread at the realization that my second favorite season has drawn to a close (Fall is my absolute favorite) and that my least favorite season (by far) is now underway—I felt the need to unburden my soul. Sorry. Bear with me. Blogging is cheaper and, for me, more cathartic, than therapy.

I’ve never liked springtime. Never, ever, never.

Ever since I was a tiny girl living in the western New York snowbelt, I’ve felt as though I drag around March, April and May like concrete blocks attached to ankle shackles.

Is it the weather? That’s certainly part of it. In my hometown, we frequently drove through blizzards to get to Easter mass in a church smelling of wet wool and carnation corsages. At my First Communion, the ground outside was whiter than my dress, my veil, or the host. And we frequently huddled in ski coats at the Memorial Day picnic that inevitably adjourned to someone's garage when sleet started falling.

Even where I live now, almost 500 miles away in metropolitan New York City, springtime weather is never as nice as I somehow expect it to be. Here's a photo I snapped from my window last March 20th:
Or if it is nice—if the sun comes out for a glorious day or two—I find it oddly unsettling to be outside in 80 degree sunshine with nary a leaf on the trees overhead and nothing in bloom but the stray crocus. The balmy reprieve is further tainted by the grim knowledge that it isn’t here to stay. No, it’s simply popped in like a teasing kiss of an old flame, only to abandon you again to muddle on through the bleak chill.

This is the season of frozen slush caked over dead leaves, of brown grass and bare branches, of mud, mud, mud. The season of tugging perpetually-stuck antique window sashes up when afternoons grow freakishly warm, then struggling to heave them all down again when a cold wind kicks in right before dinner.

The season of noticing every streak on the panes of those antique windows—not to mention grimy sills and dust bunnies galore—yet, juggling motherhood with perpetual writing deadlines, I can’t possibly pull off a proper weeklong spring cleaning the way my mother and Martha Stewart Living taught me, leaving me with a vague sense of failure and the inability to rest easily in my unclean house.

As the season progresses, golden Daffodils dare to unfurl, only to be beheaded by tribes of apparently mentally challenged deer that descend on our yard forgetting that they don’t like Daffodils until they’ve taken a bite. So they spit them out beside the mutilated stems and move on to the next clump to – Doh! – repeat the process. Adding to my gardening frustrations: I invariably spy a local nursery ad in a Sunday circular that tempts me to cast zone calendar caution to the warm wind. Off I go to spend far more than I should on plants that go into the ground long before they should, only to watch the tender green seedlings die a cruel black death in a harsh late frost.

It's the one season when I don't revel in my self-employed lifestyle; I curse it as I track down stray receipts for the accountant, brace myself for the final tally, and try to swallow back the bile as I write an oversized check to the IRS on April 15.

It’s the season of being held captive to the school calendar, wistfully trying to plan a tropical escape for the kids’ spring break, only to find that there aren’t enough days off to drive far enough south to find the truly warm sun and sea, and that airfare out of all three metro New York airports has more than quadrupled for the weekends that bookend the break.

So where do we go? Upstate to visit family or (this year) colleges, hauling across New York in weather like this (yes, this is an actual spring break photo, shot through the windshield of our car on the Thruway a few seasons back):

It's the season of tugging on pilling sweaters in drab colors, sick of the dreary winter wardrobe yet loathe to trade it for shorts and flip flops and tee shirts that bare milky legs and chapped heels and arms gone flabby in the eight months since I swam my daily laps.

The season of turning the clocks ahead abruptly just when mornings are starting to grow brighter, not only sacrificing an hour of sleep, but going back to rising in the cold dark chill—and then, exhausted as evening settles in, I'm faced with a long, long looooong day that refuses to end. Now the sky takes forever to darken, making me feel as though I should still be productively working, or doing errands, or out jogging—doing anything but what I really want to do at that hour, which is put on ratty old pajamas and sit like a worthless slug in front of bad reality television.

I thought my annual springtime dread would subside when both my sons were born in this particular week—the week that marks the transition to my least-favorite season. And it did, at least for a couple of years. I disliked being pregnant even more than I dislike springtime, so it was a relief to put that behind me even at the torturous expense of childbirth. And of course, I love my children more than—well, anything ever. Cuddly newborns and birthday party planning kept me happy for awhile.

But a few days before my youngest son turned two, tragedy struck: my mother-in-law died of breast cancer. On that same morning—March 11th—as we headed over to her deathbed, my parents called to say that my own mom’s breast cancer, until then in remission, had metastasized to her bones. My mother, too, died in the spring several years later. On her mid-April 63rd birthday, we were told to call in hospice as nothing more could be done. She passed away the day after Mother’s Day.

Now, Mother’s Day has become bittersweet, as we mark the anniversary and mourn the loss of both beloved mothers.

Even my children’s birthdays are bittersweet reminders of two grandmas who should be there, doting and beaming, doling out special presents and helping with the messy cake cutting and snapping photo after photo.

Springtime is not, in our family, about rebirth and new beginnings. It’s about loss and memories of saying goodbye as cold rain fell--still falls--like teardrops from a gunmetal sky.

God. How depressing. Right?

I know. I can’t help myself. It is what it is. Yet oddly, it’s always been this way for me, long before tragedy came along.

Last year, realizing I was basically alone in my loathing of springtime—a freak of nature, down in the dumps at precisely the time of year when everyone else is getting over bouts of winter doldrums—I found myself confessing my misery to my doctor during a routine visit about something entirely unrelated. Okay, not just confessing. Crying. She urged me to call a shrink.

That was a big, reluctant step for me. I’d tried therapy twice before in my life: once after a bad college breakup, and again when my mother was dying. I hated it. It seemed counter-productive to sit around with a stranger dwelling on my troubles when all I wanted to do was be busy enough to get my mind off them. I had zero patience for the therapy process. I still have zero patience for it.

But this time, I lasted through enough sessions to learn--to my utter shock—that there’s scientific--chemical, biological--validity to my theory that I suffer from a form of reverse seasonal depression. The condition may not be common, but it's legitimate.

There’s not a whole lot I can do about it, unfortunately—I'm not big on medication and again, I’m not a talk-it-out-on-the-couch kind of gal--but somehow, it helps to know that I’m not…well, crazy.

What, you might ask, does any of this have to do with, um...writing? Plenty. You see, every spring for many years, I've had a simultaneous book deadline and book release. Every year, it's gotten harder to juggle those professional obligations with my kids and my other responsibilities. Something had to give--and it was usually the work.

Last year, after weeks on end of staring blankly at the screen, I was starting to wonder if I had under-estimated my ability to handle a high profile, high pressure career. I thought maybe the stress of all that writing and promoting, with anywhere from three to five releases most years, was finally dragging me down. I honestly feared for my career when I found myself too paralyzed by my bleak mood to keep up with my usual (and necessary) productivity and nearly blew my deadline. That was the day I broke down and cried in my doctor's office.

Now, though, I know it's not about that. I haven't lost my writing mojo. This oppressive mood, like the season that triggers it, will pass. And until it does, I’ve given myself permission to boldly confess my bizarre foible. I’m even allowing myself to use the h-word. Ready? Here I go:

My name is Wendy, and I hate spring.

There. I’ve said it.

But even I can find a bright side--the proverbial silver lining amid gunmetal rainclouds: the first day of spring means that we’re halfway back to glorious autumn.

And I, for one (literally), will be counting down the days.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What the ER taught me about writing

Almost two years ago, my son was diagnosed with epilepsy after my husband found him having a seizure on the living room floor. That in itself was scary enough; but ration in the possible side effects of the drugs available to treat this neurological condition and it goes a step beyond terrifying. We researched and researched, and resigned to try the most benign drug out there.

His pediatric neurologist started him off at the typical dosage for a child of his weight. His body reacted with jitters and what my son thought was the beginning of a seizure — a racing heartbeat and a “scary feeling” inside his head.

We spent several nights those first few weeks at the ER, trying to figure out what was going on. It wasn’t until I remembered my mom having a bout of panic attacks a year earlier with similar symptoms that I made the connection. My son was having drug-induced panic attacks caused by the dosage being too high for his system. After they adjusted the dose, his body slowly acclimated to the meds, and not only has it controlled his seizures, it’s now a rare thing for him to have any reactions.

So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, the last night we spent at the ER — before the panic attack revelation — I grabbed my laptop on my way out the door in hopes I could get some writing in. I was working on Splintered’s first draft, and had a self-appointed deadline.

I’d already dallied away enough nights (my most fruitful time for harvesting wordage) sitting in the ER waiting room and watching pointless TV shows. I was determined to finally get the scene done that I’d been toiling over for weeks.  What happened surprised even me.

In the three hours we were there, I managed to tap out all that was left of that chapter, even while worrying and wondering if my son was ever going to have a normal life again. My insides wound in nervous knots, my fingers trembled with tension, a mixture of emotions bled into every sentence, yet still I finished.

And not only that, I rocked that scene. In fact, when I had multiple offers of representation for this book, each agent commented on that particular chapter being the most “Lewis Carroll-ian” in the book.  Why? Because I hadn’t held back. I put everything I was feeling into that scene, and it came across as wild and uncontrollable and absurd, which was exactly how life felt to me in that moment.

I always knew writing could be therapeutic to a writer, but I never thought about how good it can be for our stories if we write through the dramas in our life, choosing the scenes to match our situation. Had I tried to write something tender, maybe a romance scene, the outcome might not have been so good. But because I was feeling all of the confusion, angst, and bemused terror my MC was supposed to be feeling at that moment, it was golden, and the best thing that could’ve happened for my book, not to mention a great revelation for me.

So next time you’re having one of those days when everything seems to be going wrong, funnel that frustration into a scene where your MC is facing similar challenges in their life. Whether brought about by the same situations or not, the emotions will still ring true, and will add authenticity to your writing.

It's one of the perks of being writers. We actually get to broadcast our emotions while we’re working, as opposed to stifling them. (◕‿◕)

*Originally posted on Gennifer Albin's blog.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Serial Monogamy, Open Relationships and Speed Dating—a writer’s world.

Carol Tanzman checking in! 

The other day, a writer friend, Jennifer Bosworth, posted on Facebook that she was starting a third Work in Progress  (WIP). I responded by saying that I thought reading three books at once was a lot!

I am a serial monogamist with regards to writing. I can only work one manuscript at a time until a draft is done. I wish I could juggle a couple of them. Conventional writing wisdom, if there is conventional writing wisdom, says that having a couple of projects in the hopper at any one time is good. If you get stuck on one, you can switch to the other.  I imagine it’s like the new TV show Awake.

The main character appears to live in two realities at the same time (which is the dream world, which the real?) and is a cop in both. So he’ll use a clue from one reality to solve the crime in the other. Talk about working all the time! You’d get so much done, so much faster.

Sadly, I can’t do that. My greatest luxury in life is having more than two days at a time to write. It always takes me a couple of hours, after being away for "real life", to get back into the world of a book. I want to be open to my characters so they can whisper their secrets—which for me, means not having other characters vying for my mental attention.

And then, of course, there is the “solving the problem” problem.  Oh, how tempting it is to think that if I worked on something else, the problem in the first project would somehow be solved. I know that happens for other people. Alas, not for me. I need to work it and work it. Try this, try that… come at the problem from a different POV or a different angle. I do have a trick or two (here’s my post on the 20 Stupid Things List that does help) but it all takes time. Time in which my mind has to be focused exclusively on one manuscript.

I don’t listen to music when I write. Unlike my friend Leigh Purtill, I don’t struggle with whether or not to unplug (her post here). I learned early on to shut off the internet and twitter whenever I’m working. The world can wait. My plot cannot!

Perhaps it’s my theatre background. Whenever you go into the rehearsal room, that’s it. Shut the door, rehearse! There’s nothing but the text, actors and sometimes the playwright to interact with. Although not as lonely as sitting at your desk with only your computer for company, the idea is the same: you are in a sacred space, for a limited amount of time, in which your sole job is to create.

What’s your process? Are you a serial monogamist—staying with one project until it’s done? Or do you have an open relationship where you can see others? Perhaps you are a speed dater, trying out different ideas to see which one you really want to spend the next year of your life with.

Let me know. I really am curious as to how others do it…

Monday, March 19, 2012

Characters and Kid History

I've got a ton going on right now, so instead of trying to come up with something super insightful, I thought I'd just have some fun. There's a series on YouTube called Kid History, and it's one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time. Basically they have a group of young kids all telling the same story, and as the story is told, it's acted out by a group of adults. It's such a simple idea, but they pull it off magnificently. This is pretty much my favorite one.

One of the things I really enjoy about it is how simple the stories are. Again, the stories are being related by kids and there's not a lot of room for character development or exposition. But it's not needed because the characters themselves are so fun to watch. Now, I'm not saying character development and exposition aren't important in a book or a movie. They definitely are. But there's a limit to how many types of stories there are. No matter what story you come up with, some variation of it has been done before. And that's okay, because no one (hopefully) has ever done your story the way you've done it with the characters you're using. So have fun with them. Make your characters memorable and your story will be memorable. That's all I've got for now. Instead of listening to me yammer you should be watching all of the Kid History episodes.

Friday, March 16, 2012

'Splain It To Me, Lucy!

by Jordan Dane

I’m taught an online writing class recently, hosted by YARWA, the online chapter for Young Adult Romance Writers of America. We’ve chatted about how to get over the hump and finish a book once you’ve stalled out for various reasons. Some people might call this writer’s block, but for me, I refuse to acknowledge anything like that exists. It’s too easy to blame an affliction we seemingly have no control over. I prefer to think my brain is secretly trying to tell me something that I’m not hearing, even though we are close neighbors.

When I can’t hear my brain SCREAMING at me to stop writing, apparently my body can hear that pesky 3-pounds of mush. My fingers boycott me and quit hitting the keyboard or I find many excuses to distract myself—even doing laundry, for cryin’ out loud. Now that’s desperate.

I’ve learned to listen to my body when this happens. It’s my interpreter when it comes to “brain speak.” One way to get me back on track is first understand and accept that my brain is trying to tell me something about the plot, character revelation/motivation, or certain scenes aren’t working and could be better. Usually this part only lasts hours or a day or two, or a good night’s sleep. I’ve found answers for my dilemma in commercials, the NOVA channel, and even have found the complete ending of a book from watching an old skateboard flick, starring Christian Slater, called “Gleaming the Cube.”

But when I can’t find the answer alone, I’ve found a tried and true method for me is cornering ANYONE to listen to me ‘splain it. Usually this poor person is my husband, John. We can chat over breakfast, spending quality time talking about how to kill people and get away with it, or he listens to my ramblings as we drive. (Your gas mileage may vary.) One thing amazes me about this process. It doesn’t seem to matter who I corner or how I ‘splain it, I invariably come up with the answer on my own as I talk it out. It seems the brain needs the mouth to communicate back to my brain. What a weird Détente!

If you haven’t tried this, do it. It will blow your mind. Literally! I’ve concluded that since I spend most of my day in my own head—without speaking—that when I finally DO speak, my brain is listening and finally sends messages that result in solutions. Things I wouldn’t have explored purely thinking about them. Apparently explaining things to someone outside my “brain trust”—whether they ultimately contribute to the process or not is irrelevant—forces me to work things out in a way I can’t do on my own. The act of being more thorough in my explanation seems to be a critical element to my process.

But given the old adage about a tree in the forest, does it take someone else listening to get results to my dilemma? Or is this the first stages of schizophrenia and my way of justifying it? I haven’t ranted to me, myself, and I on this yet. That day might come on its own—along with a nice helping of meds.

Please share with us:
1.) How do YOU jumpstart your writing process?
2.) What have been your strangest diversions when you should have been writing?
3.) For non-authors, please tell us about your best or worst brainstorming session. (This could be from school, work, or a volunteer activity.)

Below is a video on how the publishing industry works from author to store:

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Frozen Moments

by Jennifer Archer

Photographs have always fascinated me. Each day, moments of our lives pass by unnoticed – blink and they’re gone. However, a photograph captures a moment; pictures are a snippet of time frozen  on paper, or these days on a digital file. Whenever I look at images of people, I find myself wondering what they were thinking and feeling in the instant the photographer snapped the shot: What was going on in their lives? What was taking place outside the parameter of the frame?

When Tansy Piper, the main character in my young adult novel Through Her Eyes came to life in my mind, I was excited about the opportunity to write about a talented amateur photographer. My own photography skills are next to none – I’ve never used a “fancy” camera with different lenses or developed film in a darkroom as Tansy does, but I’ve always wanted to learn. Tansy gave me the chance to research those skills and find out more about them. I was able to live vicariously through her and get a sense of what it might be like to possess her abilities.
As I developed Tansy’s character and started asking myself questions about her life, her family, her motivations, and her interests, I found that I’m especially intrigued by old photographs that were taken long before I was born. They are a glimpse into a past I never experienced – a way to travel back in time. Sometimes I study pictures of my parents and grandparents when they were in their teens and twenties, and I’m always struck by how little I really know about that time in their lives. What were their hopes and dreams? Who were their closest confidantes? Who were they back then? Most teens ask similar questions about themselves at some point: Who am I? Where is my place in this world? What do I want out of life? Who can I trust to be a true friend?  

Thinking about those questions led to my creation of Papa Dan – Tansy’s grandfather. I thought it would be interesting if, while Tansy searched for her own identity, her grandfather began losing his. Papa Dan is dying and has dementia. The only way Tansy can keep him from completely slipping away and disappearing from her world is to try to keep his memories alive. However, that presents a problem because she only knew him as an old man. I thought it would be cool to allow her an opportunity that the rest of us never get – the chance to see her grandfather through different eyes, to spend time with him and his friends in their world when they were her age. 

The next challenge was how to accomplish that. I’ve read a lot of novels where a character actually time travels, but I wanted something different. A twist. That's where my love of photography came into play. Instead of truly going back in time, I decided that Tansy would actually step into Papa Dan’s memories through photographs -- those glimpses of moments in the past captured on paper.

Writing Through Her Eyes deepened my certainty that every generation goes through similar experiences and emotions. Your grandparents lived in a world quite different than yours, but I have a feeling they hoped for many of the same things that you do -- that we all do: Love and friendship, fulfilling work, adventure and security.   

What do you wonder about when you look at old photographs? Do you see clues of what life must have been like during the time the picture was taken?

Visit Jennifer's website:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ideas, TROUBLE, and a Gift for you

Ideas don’t always come to me at the most opportune of times. It would be great if, say, I was sitting at a table, my laptop or a pad of paper near at hand, when inspiration struck. HA!

I’m not saying that doesn’t happen, but more likely I’ll be in the shower, out for a walk, eating at a restaurant, or—and this seems to be a favorite spot for my muse to slap me upside the head—driving my car.

Case in point, my tween novel HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE.

There I was, minding my own business as I drove home from visiting my parents three Christmases ago, when out of the blue the title HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE flashed in my mind. Immediately on its heels came several possible ideas, then a half dozen other titles (such as the next Mr. Trouble novel, YOU’RE IN BIG, MR. TROUBLE). Did I mention I was driving? On the freeway?

You will seldom ever hear me say this, but thank God for traffic. Suddenly my car was at a stand still. I immediately grabbed something to write on and jotted down the list of titles and a couple of notes.

That was one of those idea moments I will never forget, the ones where you know you’ve stumbled onto something good. I don’t always remember where the germs from my stories start, but I do with Mr. Trouble.

Over the next few months after that inspiring drive, the concept for the story evolved and grew into something even cooler than I expected. And when I finally sat down to write it, the words couldn’t get through my fingers onto the keyboard fast enough. There’s nothing like that feeling!

Now here’s a little present for you: if you have a Kindle, HERE COMES MR. TROUBLE is FREE today through Thursday at midnight (March 13th-15th). That’s right, FREE. Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle ap for your computer or other device. A click here will take you to the MR. TROUBLE book page, then click on the buy button and you’ll be charged zero dollars and zero cents.

For those wanting to know a little more, here’s a description of the book:


When Eric Morrison sees the advertisement, he doesn’t know which is more surprising—the ad’s sudden appearance or the fact that his answer to every question is YES!

Not only can’t he find things, but the bullies at school are suddenly picking on him for no reason, and, worse yet, his mother has disappeared but he seems to be the only one who’s noticed. Even his best friend Maggie thinks he’s only run into a little bad luck.

But if Eric thinks his life is upside down now, it’s nothing compared to what’s about to happen when Mr. Trouble and the Trouble family arrive to assist him in solving his problems.

One thing’s for sure—Eric will never see the world in the same way again.

So give it a try! You can’t beat the price.

Monday, March 12, 2012

To Blurb, or Not to Blurb...

This past week, the New York Times ran a piece, Riveting! The Quandary of the Book Blurb, where a couple writers, an agent and an editor/author all weighed in on the question of what, if any, purpose a book blurb serves. Are blurbs obsolete? Do they really say anything to a reader, or are they cues to reviewers, the marketplace, etc., etc.? Go read the various opinions; they're pretty interesting.

The piece got me thinking about my own feelings/thoughts about blurbs: as a reader; as someone who's had a book blurbed; and as someone who's been asked to provide blurbs.

1) As a reader, well . . . yeah, blurbs have made a difference, sometimes. I know for a fact that there are two books I picked up, within recent memory, on the strength of blurbs: not what was said but who provided the blurb. I mean, really, are blurbs going to say anything other than how amazing a book is? Of course not. But I think that blurbs provide some meaningful information to the genre reader, on a par with Amazon recommendations that try to match up what you're looking at with books of similar ilk.

So, if Stephen King or Lee Child has raved about a book, I'll be much more likely to take a look. Will I always agree with either? I can tell you, unequivocally, that I have not; indeed, have felt cheated and lied to by an author I admire when I feel as if I get suckered into a book that isn't my cuppa.

Which then makes a blurb a bit of a problem, doesn't it? Put your imprimatur, your seal of approval on a work, and the work also reflects on you. You're presuming on our unspoken contract; I, the reader, trust you, the writer, because you've always kept your end of the bargain. But now, you've shaken my trust. You got me to read a stinker. So I'll be much less likely to pick up another book just because your name is on the cover.

Very tricky business.

On the other hand, the important thing is that the blurb lead to a sale. It won't lead to a repeat sale, but money in the bank is money in the bank.

2) It seems to be de rigeur these days to ask writers to gather up authors who might be willing to provide a blurb. I've been asked for suggestions, but I've never directly contacted a writer--friend or otherwise. Although I do have friends who have asked me or other writers, if I were asked to do the same? I'd rather stick pins in my eyes. I would feel incredibly awkward. Presuming on someone's good graces or friendship just doesn't sit well with me. Since I've never had to make that contact myself, I have no idea what would happen if a writer suggested that the editor or publicist do this instead. Anyone out there with experience on that? Anyone ever said no and asked that someone else do it?

But as someone who's had her book blurbed, I can tell you that more than one reader said he/she picked up the book on the basis of who blurbed it (not what the blurb said). Just as fascinating to me is the difference between readers in the States and overseas. If you take a look at the ASHES US edition, James Dashner's blurb is featured on the front and Michael Grant's is on the back cover. But for all the overseas editions--including those put out by different publishers--they're reversed. Grant's on front; Dashner's on back. I have no idea why that might be, unless we're talking name recognition or one blurb being seen as somehow better than the other. (Trust me, I was thrilled to have just one of these guys on the book. Two? Died and gone to heaven.)

3) Before ASHES, I'd been asked by several friends to provide blurbs for books. After ASHES, I got, well, a lot more. I've never blurbed a single book, for several reasons. Mostly, it's that I honestly haven't had the time. Yes, I read while I'm writing, but that's usually to turn off my brain a bit, not overheat it more. Blurbing would be, for me, more work. Now, if I were to read a great book and THEN be asked for a blurb . . . that would be a different story, I guess, but then the book would've been out there awhile and why would anyone need me?

This does make me wonder about writers who blurb, and seem to blurb a lot. Either they read much more quickly and work more efficiently than I do--always a strong possibility--or they are blurbing as a favor to an editor or friend, or ... they are being PAID to blurb. Now, if an editor asked me for the favor, I wouldn't refuse. I just flat-out wouldn't. I'd find the time, somewhere--because the editor's signaling several things with the request: a) we're at that stage in our relationship where manus manum lavat; b) the editor is telling me that my name carries clout; c) putting my name on the book might actually be to my benefit, too. Then, attaching my name to a book would have the same impact as, say, introducing a new writer at a conference or festival: my name carries weight, and this gives me more exposure and legitimacy. Blurbing reaffirms me as an important voice.

So . . . then blurbing becomes very loaded, doesn't it? Yes, it's flattering; there are all sorts of implied and explicit meanings. But blurbing can backfire, not only if I lend my name to a dud (no matter what I think of it) but if I agree only to discover that I actually can't say anything nice.

This once happened to me. I agreed to do someone a favor and read his book. It was downright terrible. It was SUCH a bad book that I ended up skimming the whole thing in about an hour. And then I was stuck because this writer said that even if I hated the book, writing a review would generate hits and drive up the Amazon rating . . . etc.

Well, I declined. I wrote him a very nice note and said that the book just wasn't my cuppa. In all conscience, I couldn't recommend the book--but I also declined to slam it. Really, life is hard enough without that kind of nonsense.

After that experience, though, I've become very leery of requests to blurb. As I've said, I've been much too busy to even consider it. For me, I think that if I were to provide a blurb, the circumstances would have to be akin to those I outlined above: a favor to an editor. Otherwise, I think that, for us authors, blurbing is full of all kinds of pitfalls and unforeseen consequences--not just that we might give only a lukewarm endorsement or, worse yet, lie, but blurbing something that isn't all that great might also provide unwanted blowback. For example, I know that a few writers' blurbs, seeing their names? I won't pick up those books because of my prior experience with stinkers they thought were so great.

Like, I said . . . life is hard enough. I don't need any additional headaches.


For those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook, you know I bake just about every Sunday and then post a picture of what I've done, unless it's just too gruesome. [There is, I am sure, a deep, dark psychological reason why I bake, too. I've got a coupla ideas about that.] Anyway, I figured to start carrying this over to the blog because . . . I dunno . . . I like pictures of pretty cakes. Today, I had to slog through my taxes and decided that my weekly cake had to be both beautiful and bright in the mouth. So, today's cake: a lemon-blueberry done in my bran'-spanking new bundt pan. Quite the beauty. Tastes pretty darned good, too.

Friday, March 9, 2012

And then, just as the book was about to end, she...

by Michelle Gagnon

I've been reading a lot of great YA lit lately, and one thing I've noticed is that there are a ton of cliffhangers. Usually most of the story wraps up, but something happens--usually on the final page--that leaves the reader hanging (and, hopefully, thirsting for the next installment).

But it is necessary? Is there something unsatisfying about finishing a book that leaves loose threads dangling, especially since you're usually forced to wait a year to find out what happened? Or is that part of what gets a reader hooked on a series and coming back for more?

It reminds me of the traditional soap opera tenet of ending every episode with a da-duh-da! moment, where just as the couple is embracing, someone walks in with a gun.

True Blood specializes in these; the ending of pretty much every episode is a cliffhanger, and the next week kicks off by repeating the same scene. Sometimes it turns out that to be a bait and switch; Sookie opens the fridge and screams- fade to black. The next week, we discover that she just found out the mayonnaise expired.

But then, consider The HUNGER GAMES. At the end of the book, the game was over, and the implication was that the characters were well on their way to living happily ever after. Loved that ending, and it certainly didn't stop me from buying the second and third books when they came out.

I guess I'm wondering what the advantages of a cliffhanger ending are, as opposed to tying everything up nicely. Is the fear that readers won't come back, even if they loved the first book? Does a cliffhanger put you off a book, or keep you coming back for more?

Thursday, March 8, 2012


by Wendy Corsi Staub

I know, I know, I owe you guys a blog today. I started writing it--a fun and scintillating entry that's completely relevant to the literary world--over the weekend. I meant to have it ready to post at midnight, as I usually do, but, um, see...the dog ate my blog.

Not buying it?

Me neither. I don't have a dog and even if I did, he'd have had to gobble an iMac, track pad and all, in order for that excuse to fly.

So what really happened to the blog?

Sh*t. That's what happened. Doesn't it always?

Sh*t defined:

My husband went away on a business trip last week for what was supposed to be 5 days and turned into a full week.
The kids were dismissed from school at 10 a.m. the next day for the first snowstorm since Halloween.
My thirteen year-old son had 48 hours to learn to rollerskate--blindfolded--in the house--for his role in next week's school musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
The same kid dropped his laptop--NOT while rollerskating blindfolded, but "while watching Jon Stewart," as he earnestly explained to the inquiring Apple Genius Bar Genius--which entailed a 20-minute each-way trip to the Apple Genius bar on Saturday to drop it off, and another trip to pick it up--$280 of HIS FUTURE ALLOWANCE later--the next day.
My sixteen year-old--son #2--had 48 hours to learn to parallel park. Guess who got to teach him?
The Women were Telling All on The Bachelor.
We ate out every night at all the restaurants we like that my husband does not.
I had to hike an extra hour every day to work off all the extra restaurant food.
Back pain from all the extra hiking required prescription muscle relaxers that make blog-writing--and many other endeavors, such as talking and driving, but not sleeping--dicey business.
The fridge fizzled out and I had to empty it for a repairman, then sort through the contents and restock it--after writing a check for a $775 repair bill.
My thirteen year-old had to go to the orthodontist with a broken bracket.
My beloved Princess Kate was on the cover of People.
My agent kept calling to update me about a complicated, ongoing negotiation she's doing on my behalf.
My thirteen year-old's thirteen-year-old friend slept over. They tried to stay up all night. They did.
My sixteen year-old was out until well after midnight and needed to be picked up both Friday and Saturday night (usually my husband's department).
My special 14-day-loan library book--the tell-all by JFK Jr.'s secretary--is overdue.
I'm co-chair of the Cast Party committee for The Drowsy Chaperone. Cast Party: next Saturday. First meeting: yesterday. At my house.
Had to clean house.
The telemarketer I'd told three months ago to take me off her list...didn't.
The accountant needs all receipts for 2011 expenses sorted and itemized immediately for an 8 a.m. meeting this morning.
I'm delivering a keynote address at the PASIC conference today at 3 p.m. in Manhattan. No, it isn't written yet.
And Facebook...well, that's all I have to say about that. Facebook.

So, that's it. That's the sh*t that happened. And this is the fun and scintillating blog entry that resulted.

What? It's not either of those things?
Er...sorry. It's all I've got.

But my husband got back last night, and I have 2 whole weeks to work on my next blog. That...or get a dog with a huge appetite.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

When three wheels are better than two.

by A.G. Howard

Today's post isn't really about the cute and peculiar little German car above with its odd number of wheels. Although three can make for a much more interesting ride. Take love triangles, for example.

When I received my content edits from my publisher for Splintered, one of the things they wanted to expand upon was the two leading guys in relation to the heroine. There was potential there for a love triangle that I hadn't fully explored.

Later, a family member pointed out to me that she wasn't surprised they'd asked for those changes, because everyone was trying to emulate Twilight. She was convinced Stephanie Meyers started the whole "love triangle" craze in literature.

I kind of had to giggle, because there's literature dating back as early as the 1500's that utilized this same technique before any of today's famous authors were ever even born. One of the most unique triangles of its time was in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, where a woman dressed as a man, falls in love with a man, who's in love with another woman who falls in love with the first woman (thinking she's a man).

Confusing? Yes. But who could turn away from such a hot mess of unrequited love and wire-taut tension?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847) is a more traditional triangle, yet there's a paranormal slant. Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar were caught in a crossroads of passion that in the end transcended death itself.  There was also The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (1909) with both the dark Phantom and the equitable Vicomte of Chagny vying for the lovely and innocent Christine Daaé's affections.

I'm not going to explore why love triangles work. It's obvious they do since they've been a literary staple in gothic romances and the like for centuries or longer (there are even examples in the Bible).

But as for me personally, the best love triangles are either when the heroine is attracted to both men for different reasons ... when somehow they are the two halfs to her perfect soulmate's whole, in which case she'll always be questioning who she chooses for they only have half of what she's looking for; OR, when one of the heroes realizes who the heroine is truly better off with and sacrifices his own happiness for hers.  

Mmm. Nothing hits the spot like a broken heart. ;)

Here's a short list of some my favorite literary love triangles to date (including the two I've listed above) in no particular order, from classics to present bestsellers:

  • Katniss Everdeen, Gale Hawthorne, and Peeta Mellark - Hunger Games
  • James Potter, Lily Potter and Severus Snape - Harry Potter
  • Stefan, Elena, and Damon - The Vampire Diaries
  • Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar - Wuthering Heights
  • Jace, Clary, and Simon - Mortal Instrument series
  • The Phantom, Christine Daaé, and the Vicomte of Chagny - The Phantom of the Opera
  • Sidney Carton, Lucie Manette, and Charles Darnay - Tale of Two Cities
  • Sophie, Nathan, and Stingo - Sophie's Choice

Are some of your favorite third wheel love stories up there? Do you have some favorites in films? I'd love to hear of any that I've missed!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Guest Post: Unplug Yourself!

Carol Tanzman checking in. Today, I'm excited to introduce you to my awesome friend Leigh Purtill. Leigh is truly multi-talented. Both a YA writer and a ballet teacher/choreographer, she's choreographing the absolutely fun Zombie Ballet. You can see an excerpt in this first, decidedly low-tech book trailer for DANCERGIRL. She was also a dance consultant for the book, making sure that the dance combinations I described were actually danceable! 

Without further ado, meet Leigh!

I’m not addicted.  I can quit anytime I want to.

~Leigh Purtill

A few years ago, when my first two novels, LOVE, MEG and ALL ABOUT VEE were published, bloggers and readers would often ask me the same question: “Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?”

Without fail, I would respond: “Just finish it.” Finish the first draft, don’t worry about how messy it is, and then rewrite.  For years, that was just about the only piece of advice I had to offer anyone.  I can’t tell you what to write about or how to write it, but I can suggest you do that one thing.  Finish the darn thing.  Only then can you go back and start the real work, which is rewriting.

But now, I can offer a second bit of wisdom: “Unplug yourself.” Close your browser, turn off the wireless, and shut out the noise of the ‘Net. Well, finish reading this blog first and then close it all up. Sounds simple enough but it’s hard - harder even than finishing that first draft. But if you don’t, you won’t.  That’s even more simple.

When I first began writing novels, I was working a full-time job (I watched television for a living so it was a cool job but still, full-time is full-time).  I didn’t have a laptop computer so on my lunch hours, I would write in a steno pad that I could carry to a park bench or a bus stop or anywhere I could find an empty seat.  I’d scribble for an hour each day, five days a week, and then on the weekends, I’d sift through my horrible chicken scratch and type it all up.  That worked really well for me for seven years.  Then I left that TV job and began working as a ballet instructor which gave me a far different schedule.

It also gave me the opportunity to write indoors on my laptop.  So very close to my internet. As writers, we do a lot of research so naturally, I would keep the ‘Net open behind my document so I could quickly look things up (what’s the street value of a prescription drug? What’s an overdose look like? And more fun, lighthearted things like that.). But I have a hyperlink habit. I see blue-highlighted hypertext and I can’t help but click on it.  One click leads to another and another and soon, I’m at Huffington Post laughing at cat videos.

I continued to write, of course, and getting my words per day regularly. But I never realized what writing in bits and pieces was doing to my story until I didn’t have internet access.  I was down for over a week, with very limited ability to get to email and Facebook.  This left me with big chunks of time to just write.  I finished my draft in days.  Thousands of words flowed out of me; I never once stopped because I had to look something up.  I just kept on writing. Before the week was up, the draft was done. 

And then I discovered the second best thing about no ‘Net access: the work itself was more cogent.  I felt more in touch with the material and I could see connections between characters and plot points that I hadn’t seen before because I was always writing a few words or a sentence at a time. Because I had been getting my word count each day and was progressing enough to give my writers’ group pages regularly, I believed I was actually writing. When I stopped internetting, though, that’s when it all started to make sense.

Some addiction experts say that when you are serious about quitting something - like smoking or eating a bag of Fritos in the middle of the night - you should tell people.  That’s exactly what I did.  I told my friends how much cutting out the internet helped me finish my draft (and finish this blog post, too) and asked them to remind me if I began complaining that I was behind on my work.  They are free to use profanity if necessary to get me back on track.

HINT: If, like me, you find yourself constantly “needing” to do research, keep a list of what you need by the side of your computer.  Jot down, “Find ‘R’ name for brother character.” And, “Miles from Alaska to Seattle.” Use placeholders for the missing details and then when you’re finished for the day, spend some with Google.  Just keep the flow going.

So my draft is done and it’s about addiction, ironically enough.  It’s got a touch of the supernatural, too, and some ghosts.  I have to rewrite, of course, and when I do, I’ll be unplugged.

Remember: Friends don’t let friends hyperlink.  But before you unplug, check out my website:

FAT GIRLS IN LA is the story of Veronica May, a plus-size actress with plus-size talent who moves to Los Angeles to become a star.  But in LA, no one notices Vee's talent, only her size. Can she stay true to herself and navigate Hollywood on her own terms? Or will success and love elude her? (First in a trilogy.) 

After a dozen years in the film and television industry, Leigh Purtill left the business to write and teach ballet in Los Angeles. Her first two YA novels, LOVE, MEG and ALL ABOUT VEE were published by Penguin/Razorbill.  She is independently re-releasing her novels along with a slate of brand new books. When she's not creating, she's bored.


Monday, March 5, 2012

Books vs. Movies

The adaptation of books has always been a part of movie making. As far back as 1903, when the first adaptation of Alice in Wonderland was made, filmmakers have looked to the literary realm for inspiration. It makes sense. You take a story people are already familiar with and present it to them in a new medium, chances are they'll want to see it.

The relationship between books and film continues to this day, and in fact is probably stronger than ever. Think about some of the biggest film franchises of the past decade: The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Twilight, as well as the superhero movies based on comic book characters such as Batman and Spider-man. Even this year, the first two big tentpole films of the summer are John Carter, based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' books, and The Hunger Games.

It's a trend that's never going to stop so long as it continues to be profitable. Something that invariably comes with film adaptations is a comparison to the source material, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately.

There are basically three ways a film can be viewed: better than the book, worse than the book, or as good as. Of course it's all subjective, but most films are viewed in general according to these terms. In my own experience, I find that the source I view first, be it the book or the film, tends to be my preferred version, with a few exceptions. Below are some examples.

The book was better than the film:

This is probably the most common, especially when I've read the books first. There's just something special about discovering a character on your own, about taking the author's words and creating the look and feel of a world without any other influence. The best example I can think of is Harry Potter. While the films were good, and they got better as the series progressed, they simply couldn't compete with the books. This has much to do with the time constraints placed on a movie and its inability to include all the minutia of the book. But it also has to do with JK Rowling's incredible writing ability.

What bothers me most about the Harry Potter films isn't what they took out of the movie, it's what they added to it. (The Burrow burning scene in Half-Blood Prince comes to mind.) For some reason this really bugs me in Harry Potter, but not as much in other stories. The world of Harry Potter was and is one of my favorite literary places to visit, and while I can say they did an excellent job with the cast for the movies, it's a little sad to me that future readers will likely be picturing Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson as they read, instead of creating the characters' likenesses in their own minds.

The film was better than the book:

This usually occurs when I've watched the movie first. The first two examples that come to mind are Stardust and How To Train Your Dragon. In the case of Stardust, the filmic world had a more enchanting feel to it, and Tristan's journey seemed much more complete. While I love Neil Gaiman, the book to me was underdeveloped, and the ending of the movie was far better and more romantic.

Now I want to watch this again.

The same applies to How To Train Your Dragon. The movie bears little resemblance to the book, and I think it's so much better for that. I spoke with a friend at DreamWorks, and he said the original take on the film was much closer to the book, but they eventually moved away from it, which is a move I can't applaud them enough for. By enhancing characters as well as the scope of the story, the filmmakers improved on the source material and created two excellent, memorable films.

The film and book are equally good.

Comic books are interesting, because often there isn't a definitive take on a character, both in film or the comics. Adam West's Batman, Michael Keaton's Batman, and Christian Bale's Batman are vastly different, yet still remain true to the source material in their own way, and I think their respective movies are awesome. (We don't talk about Val Kilmer or George Clooney. We just don't)

Oh the pain.

I first watched Miyazaki's amazing animated version of Howl's Moving Castle, and it's one of my favorite films of his. I later read the book, and though it has a different feel, it's also an excellent story. I feel as though the best book version of the story was told in the book, and the best film version of the story was told in the film. Telling the stories in the other medium may not have worked as well.

The best example I can think of is one of my all-time favorite stories, both in book version and film, and that is The Lord of the Rings. I read The Hobbit way back in junior high, but didn't get around to reading LOTR until right before the first film came out. Though the book is long and there may be a song or two too many in it, I love Tolkien's classic story. So much so that I was worried about the upcoming films. But my worrying was wasted, as Peter Jackson and company delivered one of the greatest film franchises in history.

The films, especially the extended editions, did what most good adaptations do best. They take the key parts of the story and they present them in a way that is both new and true to the source material. At times, this means leaving beloved parts behind. But when done well, as in this case, the movies are so good you don't miss those parts for long.

And I honestly get chills watching this. Can. Not. Wait.

So what do you think? What are your favorite or least favorite book to film conversions? How much does watching or reading the story first influence your experience in the other medium? Feel free to debate me about Harry Potter, but I'm right about George Clooney as Batman. I promise.