Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Problems with a Scrambled Brain

I've been struggling with my new WiP lately because I can't get any of my thoughts straight. I like the ideas I'm coming up with, but throughout this entire process, I've been struggling to come up with a basic story that I can limit to an appropriate YA word count. Since I'm not published, yet, I have to approach this book (just like my other projects) as if it's a debut novel. That means I need to be as low-risk as possible for the publishers, and that means taking risks on my own that make this book pop without pushing the length of the novel.

I'm not excited by the story I've come up with. I like the relationship between the characters, but at the end of the day, the STORY is really a story. It's several events in an unusual pair of lives with a good deal of conflict, but the stakes just don't pull me in. The stakes aren't high enough, any resolution I can think of sets up too much for me NOT to make it at least a trilogy. And/or 120,000 words long. 78k is about the limit for ANYTHING in a debut YA novel, but even with sci-fi, publishers are more comfortable with 75k.

And, to be perfectly honest, I don't want to spend the time it would take to turn a 120k story into a 75k novel.

It puts me in a real pickle because I want to be writing a novel. The short story I'm working on is fun, but that doesn't get me revved up the way novel writing does.

It doesn't help that I'm still in the middle of pitching another novel, looking over that once in a while to make sure I haven't missed anything, and the holidays are upon us and my day job is sucking away my free time like a vampire at a blood bank.

While I genuinely love the creation process of this job, when creative juices aren't flowing, I wish I could make a living doing something else. Like home brewing. But I know that when I start writing professionally, it'll be TOTALLY worth the effort.

Monday, October 28, 2013

One Comedy Essential: Familiarity

Familiarity with a joke, or the references behind a joke, is essential to delivering a fun, humorous experience for an audience (readers).

Think of "familiarity with a joke" as context. One of my favorite jokes, because it's SO corny, is "Two drums and a cymbal fall off of a cliff. Ba-dump tsh." I think that's funny. Not gut-busting funny, but still chuckle-worthy. Almost everyone I've told that joke to cracked a smile or laughed out loud. Except for one. She didn't grow up in the U.S. where the rimshot gained its greatest fame in the early nineties. She didn't even grow up in a Western nation. And despite the reach of Western pop-culture, that particular bit hadn't made it to Thailand. Where she grew up. So I told her that joke and got a blank stare. Because it was completely outside of her lifetime experience. Which means the context of the joke simply isn't funny.

See? Context is a HUGE deal. A familiarity with the references a joke is making are essential to understanding the punchline. That can make the difference between a successful joke and a total flop. Keep that in mind in your writing, if you're putting comedy in your book, because a reference to an inside joke shared by two characters but never shared with the reader will be nothing more than a wasted sentence. But if you set up the joke through pages of character-building and deliver a punchline after chapters and chapters of buildup, the reader will laugh and laugh and laugh. Because they get it. They're FAMILIAR with the CONTEXT.

Now for a writing exercise: go write a joke. Just a quick joke. Less than two hundred words. Is it funny? Are people laughing (other than you)? Now CUT IT DOWN. Less than one hundred words. If it works in the space of two breaths, chances are, you have a winner.

Post it in the comments, if you like.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Katy Perry at Lakewood High School

As some people may be aware, Katy Perry is doing a concert at Lakewood High School in Lakewood, CO. It's for Good Morning America. The reason I'm talking about it is because my day job ALL week has been putting together the lighting package for that event. It's kept me so busy that I've barely had time to breathe, let alone blog. I have been getting some writing done, but that's all-important novel writing and editing.

So if you're new, or if you haven't read it before but you still want to get something out of this blog this week, click on the tab at the top of the page that say "The Senator's Daughter." It's a short story (borderline novella) I wrote a little over a year ago. I like writing it, I know a few people who enjoyed reading it, so check it out.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Books to Read When You Write Comedy

Don't just read your own writing when you work on a book. Surround yourself with great books that inspire you, teach you quality prose, and show you techniques you may have never thought of before. In the vein of writing comedy, here's a list of books that make me laugh and that I think EVERY writer should read if they want their readers to laugh.

First, Eric Idle's THE ROAD TO MARS. It's hard to find, but I bet if enough people pester the publisher, it'll show up in an ebook format. It's hilarious. The storyline is engaging. And it's one of the best essays I've ever read, which is funny because it's just a novel!

Next, pick up anything Gail Carriger has written. That's comedy. Seriously, go do it now before you finish reading this. Go. Do it.

I'm waiting.

Done? Good.

Finally, read The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. It's not filled with humor the way the rest of my recommendations are, but they have comedy woven in so smoothly that any writer who wants to write serious fiction with a hint of humor should read this series. It'll give great ideas on how to keep the humor subtle without interrupting the flow of the narrative.

But if you don't like to laugh, then I will light a candle for your soul. And weep for the future of mankind. Because, let's face it, laughter is one of the greatest joys in life.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Across the Universe by Beth Revis

When I decided to try my hand at writing science fiction, I knew I needed to brush up on the genre, read the more contemporary authors, and see what the industry was publishing.

With Across the Universe, I found a new author to look for! I really think Ms. Revis put together a trilogy that's worth every second spent reading these books.

The story takes place on a colonizing ship on its way to a new planet. It's narrated both from the perspective of one of the prospective colonists and from one of the boys born on board during the 250+ year journey. Our first protagonist is woken from cryo-sleep years ahead of schedule and must help the second protagonist solve a series of murders being committed by a psycho on board the enormous colony ship.

The picture painted by Ms. Revis is clear and vivid, with echoes of Earth resonating through the alien landscape of the ship. The narrative is engaging, and I found myself wanting more and more of the story the longer I listened (I got a hold of the audio book for this novel but am currently reading the hardback of book 2). On a side note, the audio book is narrated by two separate people, and it's done very well.

The science fiction universe is very believable to me, and I found myself considering how I would act and react to situations on board the ship if I was a colonist woken up to find society completely changed from the world I left behind. Every bit of this book drew me in and kept me wanting to experience more. Not just by reading, but I found myself excited to play sci-fi video games, read more sci-fi books, check out new sci-fi shows and movies, and even write a new book!

My only complaint is that it's written in present tense. This is a personal preference, but I think I would have engaged with the story more if Ms. Revis wrote it in past tense. That's simply because that's the majority of what I've been exposed to, and as I result, I can "ignore" the fact that I'm reading when it's a familiar format. I get truly lost in the narrative that way. But that's me, and it doesn't diminish the fact that you should go out and buy it RIGHT NOW!

Friday, October 11, 2013

What is Funny?

The fact that comedy is subjective doesn't change the fact that somethings are funny and some things are not. Rather simplifying the matter, though, that fact only makes comedy confusing. And as a writer, it makes it so much harder to put comedy in a piece of fiction.

I remember very distinctly laughing at the very first joke I ever wrote. I couldn't stop laughing for several minutes, and I thought it was brilliant. Of course, I never got to the point where anyone could read that joke because I was still a very new writer and hadn't learned to self-edit. So years later, when I read that joke again, I thought, "Why did I laugh at that?"

Where was I going with that? Oh, yes. Our mindset can influence our perspective on comedy. Something that's rip-roaring hilarious when we're sleep deprived may be nothing more than chuckle-worthy when we're properly rested and caffeinated.

But what is funny? And how does a writer know if a joke works or if it falls flat?

The answer is feedback. Get readers to read your work. Ask them if they laughed, and where. Don't feed them the answer to your question, just wait to see if they say your joke. And if they didn't maybe it's time to look at your style of humor.

But, again, what is funny? Are clowns funny? What about steaming piles of dog poop? Pie in the face? If it's in bad taste, is it still actually funny, or do we laugh to hide our embarrassment? And has anyone noticed how similar embarrass resembles bare ass?

Study comedy. What makes you laugh? Who makes you laugh? Do authors write jokes that make you snigger, giggle, or chuckle?

The first key to comedy, I think, is setting up a situation for characters, either in their actions or in their conversations, and then, rather than letting the scene play out as a reader might expect, make the characters say or do something completely unexpected. And make the results, the consequences, even more unexpected. If I say, "Knock, knock," and you say, "Who's there?" what should come next?

I mean, honestly, I'm not an owl. And neither are you. So why do you ask, "Who's there?" Perhaps you should give me an inquisitive look and wonder why I'm saying, "Knock, knock." Maybe there's something wrong with me. And by asking a weird question as if I'm actually knocking on a door is only encouraging my insane behavior.

Laughing yet? No?

Comedy isn't easy. A few years ago, I wrote a standup routine. I spent two weeks coming up with 90 seconds of material. It got laughs, and cheers. And it's something that drives me in my writing these days.

So I ask you, one last time, what is funny? And will you explore those ideas with me over the following weeks and months? I want to explore comedy even deeper, and the best place to start is with many, MANY perspectives on what makes people laugh.

From the example above, I find clowns boring, and poop is gross. Always and forever gross. Never funny. But a pie in the face? Hilarious!

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Why The Blacklist Works and Why Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Doesn't

I was as excited as anyone when I heard Joss Whedon was creating a TV show based on Marvel's S.H.I.E.L.D. I've never been huge into comics, but I love heroes, adventure, and ensemble casts with great chemistry.

The Blacklist has all of that. There's a clear protagonist with a supporting cast of sidekicks, a mentor, the armorer, bodyguard, and obvious antagonists. Agents doesn't have one clear-cut protagonist to attach to as a viewer. Yes, we're supposed to cheer for the team, but why do I care about the team? Sure, they are "the protagonist," but what makes them special? Aside from the fact that they work for a secret organization that's trying to save the world?

In The Blacklist, the stakes are clear from the get-go. For that matter, it was the same with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and even Dollhouse. And I guess Agents has clear stakes, but they're not enticing enough. Save the world, but from what? Or from whom? Villain of the week isn't good enough for a story of this magnitude.

The first episode was quite a letdown, too, because in the previews we saw someone with "superpowers." And then the creators specifically told the audience that this show wouldn't be about superheroes. So right off the bat they told us, "This is going to be awesome, but it's not what you think." And the one character with real stakes, the one the audience wants to get attached to, is sent on his way.

I hope you're following me on this, and if not, I'm sorry that I'm not being clear. But let me make another example from Whedon's most successful show: Buffy. We have Buffy. A vampire slayer chosen by the Powers That Be to kill vampires and protect the world from invading evil. She has a backstory, complex emotions, and friends who support her in all of her efforts. It's the same with The Blacklist. But the only character in Agents is someone without any discernible personality. He's bland, dry, deadpan, and not at all engaging. Despite the fact that he got stabbed in Avengers. The ONE person we have ties to is the hardest to connect with. And the rest of the characters so far have so little going on that it's nearly impossible to care.

To turn this to a writer's perspective, when creating characters, make sure they have several important traits that make them engaging. Not necessarily likable, but engaging. And give them friends. Foils to enhance and reflect their personality. No lone-wolves with a secret past.

Now, I'm not sure if I'm in the majority here, so I'd like to hear everyone's thoughts. Discuss!

Friday, October 04, 2013

Thoughts on Comedy

I've been thinking a lot about comedy in writing lately. I don't know why. What I've decided, though, is that I like laughing. And if an author gets me laughing at least once per book, chances are they've engaged me enough to make me a loyal reader. Five times, and they've really accomplished something. More than that? Well that's where it starts to get touchy for me.

I don't have much put together on comedy at the moment, but I want to explore the subject over the next couple of weeks. If my day job didn't suck all of the attention out of me, I might be able to come up with something more coherent for today, but I want to ask one huge question: What makes you laugh?

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Charity of the Month: Samaritan's Purse US Disaster Relief

As pretty much everyone knows, my home state was plagued by some serious flooding last month. We're still cleaning up the damage, and one of my favorite charities is helping! Samaritan's Purse has a great work ethic, the majority of your donation goes DIRECTLY to the disaster relief rather than getting sent back to fundraising efforts. And it helps people recover from a terrible life-experience.

Fortunately for me, no one I know had any serious loss due to these storms. But I know two people who were directly affected in minor ways, and they have friends and neighbors who suffered the spectrum from minor home-damage to total loss. It breaks my heart to hear these stories, and that's why I want to help.

And I'm asking everyone who can help to dig deep and help where you can.

Thanks, and I'll see you again soon!