Monday, February 24, 2014

Girls: A Voice of A Generation Refuses to Put Down Her Body

(Please note: I wrote this post before viewing the February 23rd episode. If anything in said episode contradicts what I’m saying here, please picture my best “Roseanne Roseannadanna” imitation.)

When I last wrote about “Girls,” it was to complain about last season’s “fairy tale” season finale, with Adam rushing to rescue Hannah like he was some kind of skinny, goateed Prince Charming. I’m happy to report that this season, “Girls” seems to be returning to form, featuring four narcissistic, self-centered young women who can’t seem to catch a break for very long. And while Hannah has finally found a well-paying, corporate writing job she seems to be actually good at (although who knows how long that will last), no one has pulled her aside and given her a clue about the proper way to dress for the office, even though she’s working for GQ (advertorial, though, not editorial!)

Or maybe those conversations happen off-screen, I don’t know. I do find it strange that Hannah’s three skinny, fashionably dressed best friends have never pulled her aside and suggested an outfit more flattering for her body type. It is possible that these conversations have happened off-screen, and Lena Dunham has just chosen not to show them. It’s also possible that Jessa, Marnie and Shoshanna prefer a poorly dressed Hannah, because they look that much better standing next to her. (You know young women can be this catty. Admit it.)

Even more surprising, though, is that Hannah, who is so self-centered that she bores Shoshanna to tears talking about how she “bruises more easily than most people” is never shown standing in front of a mirror, complaining about her stomach. In fact, the clothes she wears implies that she is just fine with her body and thinks nothing of showing it off in a tiny bikini.

In an age where young people are bombarded with two separate but equally powerful messages – “Don’t become obese!” and “Don’t pay attention to those Photoshopped models or you’ll get an eating disorder!” – Hannah’s indifference to her body is refreshing. Sure, she’s a little flabby. If she wanted to go to the gym five times a week and count every calorie, she could probably get down to a size zero in six months or so. But she’s got better things to do. She’s got Adam, and her writing, and she’s a sensual girl who doesn’t want to deprive herself of the food she loves. And she’ll wear her bikini and she’ll dance with abandon, and if you make fun of her, she’ll be hurt, but she’s not going to change her clothes.

And I’m not so sure Hannah is alone in her attitude. I live at the beach, and it’s not so unusual to see a woman Hannah’s age who isn’t a size zero but who wears a bikini anyway. There aren’t many women my age with love handles who dare to wear a revealing two-piece, though. But we Gen X-ers have always been closely tuned in to media messages.

Centuries ago, women with Hannah’s figure were painted by some of the most famous artists in history. Now they are belittled and encouraged to hide their flaws. While I wouldn’t want to go clothes shopping with Hannah (I’d love to talk writing with her, though), I applaud her wholehearted acceptance of her body, love handles and all. If “a voice of a generation” decides to write about flaunting her muffin top, I hope the world listens.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Problem with Pacing

Gripping… fast-paced … suspenseful. You’ve read those words on countless book covers and reviews. If you’re a writer, you may have used them in a query or in your book description. But are you really delivering what you’ve promised?

“Fast-paced” is a term I’ve seen often; sometimes from writers who don’t seem to know what it means. Simply put, fast-paced means that the novel’s plot points happen very rapidly. (A plot point is an event that directly impacts the novel’s ending. A book can have a lot of events, but very few plot points.) If the protagonist is a detective who’s investigating a murder, and there’s a new murder in every chapter, that’s a fast pace. If there’s one murder and then the detective goes all over the country investigating the killer’s sad childhood, that isn’t.

Alfred Hitchcock famously described the difference between surprise and suspense as the difference between a sudden explosion versus letting the audience see the bomb under the table and then waiting 15 minutes until it explodes. “The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed,” Hitchcock said. “Except when the surprise is a twist, that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.”

Sitting around for 15 minutes while people chat about the weather until the bomb goes off isn’t the definition of fast-paced. But it is the definition of suspenseful. If your goal as a writer is to increase the tension, spread out your plot points while finding other ways to forward the plot.

Stephen King is a master at this. While his books are always impossible to put down, they aren’t necessarily fast-paced. Rather, he spaces out his plot points and fills the spaces in between with deep back story, heavy character description, and memorable supporting characters. And in a hat-tip to Hitchcock, he “informs the public” by including the antagonists’ points-of-view. Knowing just how close the bad guys are to killing the hero creates nail-biting suspense.

Again, the key to controlling your pace is knowing which events in your story are plot points and which are not. If you’re unsure, imagine what would happen to the ending if you took out that event. If nothing changes, it’s not a plot point.

Every novel writer’s goal is to create fiction that a reader can’t put down. It doesn’t matter whether the book is fast-paced, or suspenseful, or lush, or romantic. But it is important that you describe the book correctly. Calling a book fast-paced when few events affect the plot sets up a reader for disappointment.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Arielle Immortal Awakening Relaunches Today!

Big congrats to Lilian Roberts, whose self-published book Arielle Immortal Awakening is being re-released today by Booktrope!

Arielle Immortal Awakening is the first of four self-published books in a paranormal romance series. The next three books in the series will quickly follow. Lilian submitted Arielle Immortal Awakening into the MARSocial Author of the Year Competition last November and was just named a runner-up. The novel is also a Book Rooster Reviewer Pick. The Paranormal Romance Guild said, "I thought this was a great storyline, and I really did enjoy it... I would like to read the second book in the series." Book 2, Arielle Immortal Seduction, will be re-released in about 6 weeks.

Arielle Immortal Awakening Summary

A mortal soul…
From the time college co-ed Arielle Lloyd had been young, she had been able to hear the thoughts and feel the pain of certain others, and those she comes to think of as her special group. One friend’s dabbling with spells and magic showed her the power of love that can endure beyond the grave. But another friend’s terrifying encounter with a warlock left Arielle wary of those who claim otherworldly powers. On holiday in the south of France, a chance encounter could change her mind. Or could cost her life.

An Immortal man…
Sebastian Gaulle is the wealthy, handsome owner of an international company. He is also an Immortal. For five centuries he has sought the one soul who can fulfill his dreams of everlasting love. Then he meets Arielle, whose heart calls out to him like no other.

A timeless love…

Sebastian has made his choice clear. But jealous Immortals from his past threaten retaliation. They have vowed to destroy any woman who becomes involved with him. In spite of the powerful protection amulet Sebastian gives Arielle, death stalks their newfound love. Their love may be eternal, but their time may be running out.

Buy Links

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Harry Potter and the Post-Publication Revision

This week my book-centric Twitter timeline and Facebook news feed were all abuzz with news about the J.K. Rowling interview in which she said the Ron/Hermione relationship was a mistake, and that Hermione should have ended up with Harry. (Here’s a link to one of myriad articles about the brouhaha) In the interview, Rowling implies that she kept the couple together because that’s how she had originally plotted out the series, ignoring how the characters actually evolved (or didn’t) during the writing. At least, that’s my take-away from it.

I’m a big Harry Potter fan – one of my fondest memories of my son’s childhood is reading these books together – and I was even a member of a Yahoo group for adult fans of Harry Potter. But I was never a Ron/Hermione shipper. I always thought that Harry was better suited for her, and that Rowling put Hermione with Ron as a kind of consolation prize – you’re not the chosen one, but at least you got the girl! Furthermore, I didn’t think Harry and Ginny had any kind of real chemistry, and the movies themselves seemed to point this out even further. The Harry/Ginny bond was essentially lifeless, while the bond between Harry and Hermione – especially after Ron left them to fend for themselves – seemed strong and real. Yes, I know this is just my opinion and there are many in the Potterverse who love both couples together. But still.

As writers, though, is there something we can learn from Jo’s post-publication hand-wringing? Or are these regrets typical of all writers? Does everyone wish they could go back and change some element of their plot after their book has been published?

Author Gillian Flynn is actually getting the chance to do this, by the way. She’s the screenwriter for the movie adaptation of her gi-normous bestseller “Gone Girl,” and it was recently announced (see the article here) that she wrote an entirely different third act for the movie version. I loved Gone Girl, and I thought the ending worked on so many different levels, and yet I’m dying to see what she did differently.

I self-published my “momlit” book KEEPING SCORE last summer, and I haven’t had any regrets about how the plot ended up. But truthfully, the version that I published was not the original ending. I hired a professional editor who told me that my genre required a certain type of ending, and without it, publishers weren’t going to want the book. Well, I changed the ending, and publishers (but mostly agents) didn’t want it anyway. But you know something? He was right. It was a much better book with the new ending, wrapping things up well and rewarding readers for their attention.

Still, I think there are take-aways from Rowling’s regrets. For me, as a “planner” myself, the biggest is to not be completely wedded to your outline. It’s great to know your ending and build your plot points beforehand. It makes the writing easier. But if you find your characters developing in a way that makes that ending a head-scratcher, it’s okay to go back and rethink some things. Maybe you won’t end up changing the plot; maybe it’ll be characterizations that need tweaking in order for things to work out the way you planned. One characterization issue I’m always grappling with is that my “ex” male characters always are giant jerks in my first few drafts. It’s fun to write giant jerks, but they make my protagonists look like idiots for getting involved with them in the first place. Perhaps if Ron hadn’t been so insecure throughout the entire series, the pairing with Hermione wouldn’t have seemed so forced to me.

Second, I think it’s important that a writer get feedback from several different types of readers (not just Mom!) before publication, and really listen to what those readers have to say. I have no idea whether Jo had beta readers for each book in the series, but I do know I wasn’t the only one who thought Harry and Hermione should have ended up together. Stephen King, in his book “On Writing,” also recommends using beta readers, and advises that if more than one reader points out the same problem, it’s something that needs to be fixed. This is easier said than done, of course. We tend to get quite attached to the characters and worlds we’ve created, and making changes just because three or four people said our antagonist’s motives were convoluted is emotionally very difficult. I created the villain, I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing; if I just explain it better, everyone will get it!

For me, my bottom line is to listen to my gut. When that editor told me to change KEEPING SCORE’s ending, I just knew in my gut he was right. When two of my beta readers for my latest project said my main character wasn’t likeable, I knew they were right, too. (and I really hope I’ve solved the problem with my latest draft.)

While I would love to be J.K. Rowling – who wouldn’t? – I do not want to be the writer who, seven years later, is still regretting choices I made that found their way into print. While I’ll always love the series, there’s a big part of me that wishes Jo had listened to her gut and made those changes. Long live Harry and Hermione!