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On Saturday, the WCDR welcomes author Guy Gavriel Kay. I hope you’ve registered already, because this is sure to be a great one. On October 21st, I blogged about Guy’s advice to writers, specifically not to get caught up in writers offering other writers advice. I look forward to Guy expanding on this topic. Every writer has an opinion on writers’ advice to writers–be sure to check out the comments on my RAW blog post for some interesting perspectives by fellow WCDR members.

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Here’s a little bit about this month’s speaker:

Guy Gavriel Kay is the author of twelve novels (most recently River of Stars), and a book of poetry. He has written book reviews and social and political commentary for the National Post and the Globe and Mail in Canada, and The Guardian in England. Translation of his fiction exceeded twenty-five languages and his books have appeared on bestseller lists in many countries including several #1 bestsellers in Canada. Kay has spoken and read on behalf of his publishers and at literary events around the world. He has been nominated for and has won numerous literary awards and he is the recipient of the international Giolardos prize for his contributions to the literature of the fantastic. His past work includes the Fionavar Tapestry series, Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan, A Song for Arbonne, Ysabel, the Sarantine Mosaic series, and Under Heaven.

I haven’t yet read Guy’s work, but I plan to pick up one of his novels on Saturday–even if I’ll be reading BHB logo LARGE sizeway outside my comfort zone. As usual, Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books will be settin5 Kay booksg up shop in the lobby of the RoundTable venue and she will have many of Guy’s books on hand. Please click here to have a look at what you can expect to see available on Saturday. Remember to support your local independent book store by purchasing one of Guy’s books! And don’t forget to have it signed!

 

So, people, have you read any of Guy’s books? Which one would you suggest I start with and why?

 

You guys are probably aware of the new(ish) initiative of the WCDR, the Pay it Forward scholarship fund (created by board member, Phil Dwyer). To date, the scholarship fund has raised over $500, and this amazing total will be added to the WCDR’s yearly grants and scholarships. The concept behind the initiative is to pay a small fee to borrow one of the books in its selection (up until now, the books are mostly on the craft of writing), and that emotion thesaurusmoney then goes back to the WCDR community, to assist writers on their writing path.

Last summer, we added a book to the PIF scholarship selection: The Emotion Thesaurus. Information about this terrific resource was already added to the RAW database. Impressed by our PIF initiative, Angela Ackerman, one of authors of The Emotion Thesaurus, contacted me with an offer to add the book to our PIF selection. Well, Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have just released two more books to NEG-Framed-215x300assist writers with character attributes and flaws: The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus. They’ve been quite busy with their own PIF event, which Angela will tell you all about now:

“We have had a lot of changes lately, including moving our writing resource blog, The Bookshelf Muse, to a website called Writers Helping Writers. We’ve also just released two new books on Character Creation called The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. These books look at the light and dark side of your character’s personality, and how understanding your character on a deep level will help you craft a compelling, layered hero.

To celebrate the release of these books, we ran a week-long pay-it-forward event called the Writers Helping Writers Amazing Race. The goal was to dedicate 100% of the time we might have put toward the marketing and promotion of our new books and instead see how many individual writers we could help within a week’s time. Other writers joined us on this race and together we managed to help over 350 writers with close to 1000 critiques, social media help and visibility opportunities given overall. As part of the event, we gave away seats to a webinar: Character Creation: Understanding How A Character’s Past Affects Their Present. Then at the end of the race, we made the recording available to anyone who wished to view it.

The webinar link is only live for 2 weeks in total, and there is just over a week left. If you are at a place in your writing where you are trying to get to know your character on a deeper level and understand what influences him and what his motivations are, this webinar may help. Here’s the link: Character Creation Webinar. Also, in the webinar some handouts are referenced, and you can find those here.”

I encourage you to check out this webinar, and to also check out the amazing writing tools provided on the Writers Helping Writers website. Here’s something you might not have known: Angela is Canadian. From the first time she reached out to us, she was impressed with the Writers’ Community of Durham Region and all it does to support writers:PA-Framed-218x300

“That’s great to hear the group is growing and bringing more people together. I know we writers can be reclusive, so it’s important to have something that makes people feel supported and part of a community. We write on our own, but writing doesn’t have to be solitary or lonely, and we learn so much by talking and sharing with other writers. Writing has a huge learning curve but this is cut drastically when we network and get involved in critique groups and workshops.”

Once again, Angela and Becca are showing their support of the WCDR by donating a copy of each of their new books to the WCDR’s PIF Scholarship initiative. I’d like to give them a big Thank You, and hope you’ll join me! I hope you’re also looking forward to continue contributing to the WCDR’s PIF fund and checking out the new selections when they’re added.

 

In August, author Guy Gavriel Kay made a tweet that attracted quite a bit of response from the Twitterverse. He wrote:  “My Saturday morning writer’s advice for writers: try not to get hung up on writers’ advice for writers.” Guy Gavriel Kay will be speaking at the Writers’ Community of Durham Region’s next RoundTable meeting, on November 9th 2013, and the advice behind his tweet is something he plans to touch on.

I have to admit, when I first read this, I gasped. I like rules. I like what-to-dos and what-not-to-dos. I know we’re writers and the act of storytelling is a creative process. I totally understand the concept of experimenting with your art, of finding your voice and style by doing what works for you. But I also think there’s a lot of “crap” out there that can be attributed to writers not studying their craft, not learning from the more experienced, not bothering to pay attention to the details—not learning more words, better words. As soon as I decided to write, I started to study. I study writing as much as I actually write. I never believed myself to be some kind of writing prodigy who can put fingers to keyboard and birth amazing prose, and so I write, and I study, and I listen to what other writers have to say and I put it in practice.

Guy_Gavriel_Kay-222x300So, Guy Gavriel Kay’s advice didn’t work for me. Until I found a blog in which he addressed the tweet and expanded on what he meant.

He said: “A writer I know asserted earlier this summer online: never rewrite until you have the whole story finished, then you can go back. I’d never have written a novel if I tried to work that way.”

Yes! How many writers are adamant that “powering through the first draft” is The Way to write a novel? I don’t write that way, either. I tried listening to that “rule” and putting it into practice. It led me to an 80,000-word manuscript that I scrapped in its entirety. I rewrite constantly; I go back and add things as I think of them, then I make subsequent changes. This, I found out, works for some, but I’m conscious that it might not for others.

The more I read Guy’s blog, the more I realized what he’s saying is absolutely right. He takes a different approach, which is to “report” something that’s worked for him, as opposed to “suggesting a process to other writers.” Guy Gavriel Kay’s point is to pick and choose from what’s reported and find out what works. Just think of the “Plotters vs. Pantsers” thing: How many writing texts advise writers to create detailed outlines to their stories? I have six on my shelf right now, yet creating rigid, detailed outlines doesn’t work for me. Flying by the seat of my pants doesn’t either. I’m a hybrid, as I’m sure many people are, yet I spent quite a bit of time trying to “train” myself to be a Plotter because I thought that was the “right” way to do things.

The thing about writing with the intent to publish is that you’re going to find yourself having to listen to other people and do things according to other people that you might not agree with. You’re going to grow as a writer, but in the beginning, you won’t have the experience to look at your work objectively so you will have to trust more experienced writers’ opinions. As you become a better writer, you become a more confident writer. So, you owe it to yourself to listen to the advice that’s out there, because that’s how you’ll experiment and learn more about yourself as a writer. But you also owe it to yourself to throw away what doesn’t feel right and go with what does.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there—showing vs. telling, “ly” adverbs = lazy writing—and I think a lot of it is legit and deserves consideration, but it’s not all black and white. If you don’t experiment and understand what you’re doing and why, you might not be able to interpret the advice and become trapped by these rules.

What are your thoughts on advice to writers from writers?

**Don’t forget, Guy Gavriel Kay will be speaking at theWCDR’s November RoundTable meeting. Register early!

 


I’ve been overdosing on critiques lately…willingly. I asked for it!

RAW Critters launched in September. This is an online critique group I facilitate through the website, specifically for members of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. With two groups of 6 members and bi-weekly submissions, there has been a whole lot of critiquing going on. The submissions are so diverse and so entertaining to read. The whole RAW Critters endeavor has worked out so well. I’ve been a (pain in the butt) advocate for more online support to be available for Durham Region writers, and the WCDR has really stepped up its game, virtually speaking. One of the RAW Critters members is from Calgary! We have a long-distance relationship critique relationship going on, and it totally works.

Besides RAW Critters, I’ve been doing some random swapping of material with other writers. A chapter here, a short story there.

The WCDR now has online forums, which I moderate along with my friend and fellow board member Kevin Craig, and we added a critiquing section where excerpts and even query letter can be posted. Though there hasn’t been much activity yet, I have critiqued what’s there.

I’ve done a line-edreding-woman-1070517-mit on a writer friend’s entire manuscript in one week.

I’ve also done some editing of my own work, rereading stuff I wrote a while ago using fresh eyes. I like this part because I don’t have to be nice about my critique. I can just cut freely and call myself a no-good newbie for the lackluster parts.

I’m an addict. I know I am. I love critiquing for so many reasons, the two main ones being:

1) It makes my own writing better by giving me perspective, and allowing me to sharpen my reading-as-a-writer skills. I like seeing how far I’ve come, too, being a newbie still.

2) I like knowing what I said can help another writer up their game. I didn’t do the critiquing thing much in the first year or so I started writing, and then when I did, it was with other newbies who gave me really general comments that I had no idea what to do with anyway. I thrive when I get direct, thorough comments, so that’s what I dish out.

I think when you become a writer—at least one who works at honing their skills with the intention of getting published for something they’re proud of—you are also signing up to become a critiquer. They go hand in hand, even though you might not realize it at first. When you’re very new, you can’t find anyone but your significant other or a friend to want to read what you wrote. You spend a lot of your time trying to look for qualified people who will kick your butt and make you better (even though you really hope they’ll tell you your work is perfect as is…).

If you open yourself up to providing (free) critiques to other writers, you’re going to get a lot of interest. Add your membership to any writing circle, your participation in judging contests, etc.—and you might get so much interest that you have to start prioritizing; you might have to start saying no. I haven’t hit that point yet, but I do spend a ridiculous amount of time on other people’s stuff, which can lead me to neglect my own. I suspect I’ll have to start organizing my time soon to maintain a balance.

Here’s a funny confession–well, it’s not funny to me; it makes me cringe to think of it, but I’ll chalk it up to having been an extreme newbie:

A bit of background on me first: I started writing seriously in 2010. I wrote Chapter 1 and actually got to “The End,” at which point I took a creative writing class. I knew no other writer. (This is right around the time I did an internet search and landed on the WCDR website, but I was convinced there was no way this organization was actually in my Durham Region, so I assumed it was an American Durham Region and I didn’t give the website a second thought, until over a year later). So, after making my I’ve-only-read-one-book-in-my-whole-life friend read my first chapters (to which he actually tried his best to provide a useful critique, what a cutie), and then making my girlfriend resent me with requests to read my stuff—I wrote to my favorite author and asked her to read my manuscript! Yes, I did!

Are you guys cringing, yet? What a faux-pas. What a total newbie move. She responded to me very kindly, telling me her obligations were to her critique group. I then thought, Critique group? What is that? I also found myself thinking, It’s just one story…it wouldn’t take that long, would it? Having absolutely no idea how time-consuming critiquing can be—not to mention doing it for a newbie manuscript that is probably 98% yucky and needs seventeen rewrites before it’s worthy of a beta read.

I can’t believe I did that…

About a year later, when I took novel writing classes and joined a critique group, then started reading about the craft, joined SCBWI, etc., I realized just how much of a dumbass move I’d made. I wrote to her and apologized for my naivete.

Maybe that’s why I don’t ask for any critiques of my own work now unless I’ve done all the revising and polishing I can. I’m trying to make up for the fact that I didn’t give a second thought to asking a long-time, Little Brown Co. published, big name of an author to read my entire 90,000-word YA manuscript—a manuscript that sucked even from the first sentence, I’m happy to report, since I’ve beta’d my own work not too long ago and laughed my butt off at the presence of all the what-not-to-dos when writing fiction.

And maybe that’s also why I critique so much of other writers’ works: because I want to save them from being desperate enough to contact their #1 author and begging for a free critique!

 

What are your thoughts on critiquing?

 

 

I recently wrote a couple of guest posts about something that is dear to my reader’s heart, and my writer’s heart–to both my literary hearts: The unlikable teen protagonist. I thought I’d make this week’s RAW blog post about this same topic—well, without limiting it to not just teen protags—because I believe it’s a good one to discuss and I’d love to hear what my fellow WCDR members, and other RAW visitors, have to say about it.

Part 1 of my blog is here. In it, I talked about my experience receiving critiques about my teen protagonists (mainly, Pen, the protag of my current work-in-progess Boifriend) that pointed at the fact that my characters’ attitudes made them unlikable. As a writer, you constantly hear about your characters having to be likable (likeable? I didn’t know both were acceptable. Thank you, Dictionary.com). Before you realize that what they mean is angry ladyprobably closer to “relatable,” you might do what I did and try hard to change your character into being likable–which is pretty difficult since liking something is subjective (I mean, I like the odor of skunk drifting on the air. Just saying…). As I gained confidence in my storytelling, the whole concept of teen protags being held up to this “likable” standard started to really bother me. Do we take into account that those making statements on what’s likable about teen characters are adults? I’m not sure, but what I do know is that all my beta readers and critique partners are adults. I’m not technically writing for them, but they’re the ones who get to have opinions about the teens I’m creating. Lots of adults “get” teens, but lots don’t. It became apparent to me that teen protagonists can be deemed unlikable based on characteristics inherent to teenagers. Allow me to quote myself:

As a writer of YA fiction, you have to be faithful to the teen experience to give an accurate inside look at the teen world. And yes, all teen experiences are different—I get that. But when it comes to a regular teen in a contemporary novel, you can’t disregard the characteristics of that developmental age. That means the hormones, the ego, the identity stuff, the magnified emotions, the angst. I mean, would you call a toddler protagonist unlikable because he pulls the dog’s tail, destroys the paint job by using markers on the wall, and drops his mother’s iPhone in the toilet?

If you don’t care about my protagonist, that’s one thing; but if she’s not sweet and rational all the time, that’s not unlikable—that’s life. And if Pen asked me to sign her yearbook, you can be sure I’d write, Don’t ever change, man.

In Part 2, I took it a bit further and examined the way girls are often treated unfairly when it comes to this likability thing. This isn’t something I came up with: do a search on the internet and you’ll find lots of articles and blogs about this double-standard related to female gender expectations. So, teen girls can really have a tough time starring in young adult novels. That, too, led to my trying to “decrustify” my characters (all girls) to make them more appealing.

So, now you have my take on teen protags, and female protags. Let’s talk about all protagonists.

Here’s what I think: It’s not about what’s likable, or even what’s relatable. I can’t really relate to Dexter, but I want to read about him. I’ve read stories featuring people that probably fit the “likable” mold, except I didn’t like them at all. I see this this in a lot or works-in-progress, even in my own, and it’s the first thing I point out in critiques, and it’s usually the reason I won’t read any further. These characters piss me right off and I wish for them to get nothing that they want because they don’t deserve it. Harsh, I know. But why do I react that way? Because characterization totally crumbled for me: they said, did, and thought things that I didn’t buy. They weren’t sculpted with care. They were victims of inexperienced writing, or worse, lazy writing. You can present me with the exact same characteristic, for example “a wishy-washy personality,” and in one character it’s so well done I get it and it works, while for the other character, it’s a actually a symptom of bad characterization. I am prepared to like a lot as a reader; I’m even prepared to love a lot of ugly things. But it’s your job to ensure I’m given what I need to understand the people you created, and to want to read about them.

So, yeah, I’ve written some “unlikable” characters.

Maybe the first version of Pen was unlikable because I had no idea what I was doing, and I had no idea what she was doing. But now, if Pen’s unlikable, it’s for completely different reasons that I really have no control over, and that should not force me to change her. I think as long as you work your butt off breathing life into your characters, they can’t be unlikable because they’re real. But if you’re not going to do that, then yeah, I’m not gonna wanna be their friend and for good reason.

Instead of likable and relatable, let’s just concentrate on making our character-people real and readable.

Thoughts?

 

In my perfect writerly world, I’d be able to dedicate several hours a day to my writing. Writing would be the big thing in my life that I schedule everything else around. In reality, the job that pays the bills gets to be that big thing, and that ain’t my writing, people. Writing is the thing I do for free, fitting it in where I can, sacrificing doing other things in order to get some of it done. I like doing it, though, so I can’t complain. Maybe that’s why it can sometimes feel pretentious to act like writing is work, that it’s a job, because I actually like coffe-book-session-451851-mdoing it and I’m not (yet) getting any money for it. I rarely feel like calling in sick for my writing shifts. If I had a writing boss, she’d be super impressed at my dedication and productivity.

In 2012, I participated in a 3-day novel-writing marathon. For 72 hours, I lived and breathed my story. I was so deep inside this world I’d created that everything just leaked out of my fingers and onto virtual paper. I didn’t even have to try. It unfolded in my head and I just went with it. Writing like that, totally uninterrupted, was one of the coolest things I’ve experienced thus far as a writer.

Writing is so, so great. But I can’t do it as often as I’d like. As a result of that, I quite often have to put my clean-home-2-1193877-mstory on hold. It feels like constantly pressing Pause on a movie, dragging it out until the thing is stretched so thin that you don’t really remember what’s going on—or why you were watching in the first place. That is what’s been happening to me, and I’ve noticed it’s a pattern—it’s my pattern as a writer. I go go go like crazy, until something comes along that must be dealt with, like the laundry overflowing. That morning at the Laundromat robs me of a morning at Starbucks in front of my laptop.  Next thing I know, more things are added to the list: there’s a vet appointment the day after the laundry, a couple blog articles need to get done, an extra shift at work on the weekend, and then there’s the need for a house-cleaning day. Okay fine, that’s just life. You get over it and you move on.

Except when I come back to my manuscript, I don’t remember where I was. I read the headings of my scenes in Scrivener hoping it’ll reorient me to the story, but it doesn’t work. I reread the last few pages I’d written—nope, no idea where to go from there. I can hear all you plotters right now, telling me that’s why I need an outline, right? Well, right now, I do have an outline! I have a list of scenes that tell me exactly what I should be writing next. But it’s not really about the outline, is it? It’s about the flow behind the word. It’s about the energy of the writing. It’s about feeling where the heat is and letting it guide you.bored-with-homework-446665-m

When I stop writing in mid-flow, it kills it dead. It sucks the magic right out of the process. So, sure, I might technically “know” my protagonist is going to a party where she’ll run into her love interest and they’ll kiss—but the thing is, I don’t really feel like taking them there. I feel very meh about the whole story. I reread what I’d been so excited about and it seems lackluster.

The only way I’ve found to get back into my story is by rereading my entire manuscript. If I’m still working on the opening, well that’s not such a big deal. But right now, I’m at 35,000 words; rereading all that is going to be a serious undertaking. And when I’m at 87,000 words, it’s just insane! Just looking at my manuscript up on the screen makes me tired. It makes me physically lethargic to think of forcing my head back into it. But I’m totally willing to make it happen, except…by the time I’m done that, it’ll be time to do laundry again, and I have a meeting scheduled for one evening, and an event the day after that, plus there’s the trip I have at the end of the month, and—

It goes on and on.

So, I’m asking all of you writers: What do you do to keep up the momentum? And because naturally, you’re going to lose it repeatedly, what do you do to get it back?

Profanity is a part of…life. I was going to be more specific, but really, I’d bet that everyone’s life is affected by curse words, in one way or another. If you’re very young, you probably get a thrill at dropping one of those bad words and not getting caught. If you’re a Francophone from Quebec, you might pepper every sentence—whether positive or negative—with one of those satisfying religious curse words. If you’re me, you probably have to mentally edit every single sentence that flies out of your mouth to take out the %#@!! and #*&%$!#@ that want to come out of there.

profanityIf you’re writing a piece of fiction, you want to be authentic to your characters’ voices and speech. If you’re writing Adult Fiction, you know you have to take care in where you decide to sprinkle these in. If you’re writing Young Adult, you know those words are probably going to demand being included, but you’re going to have to pay special attention to what’s going to make the cut. A perfectly placed curse word can really tell a lot about a character and the scene unfolding.

I wrote a draft for a novel last year, and I remember this character’s voice just flowing out of me. I could hear her so clearly, and the writing was probably some of the smoothest I’ve ever done. This girl is jaded, sarcastic, and she has a really dirty mouth. I didn’t think much of it while I was getting my first draft down. It all felt natural and not offensive at all. When it comes to characters, whether in print or on TV, I’m not offended by their foul-mouths—in fact, I kind of like them better when their everyday speak has the F word casually worked in, just because. I knew my manuscript might’ve gone a bit overboard with it because it’s YA, but I also figured it was “older YA” and that might make it more acceptable. Within weeks of finishing, I reread the entire draft and turned that into a second draft. I really loved this girl! All was well.

I picked it back up recently, months after having put it away, and I had to cover my ears at all the swearing going on within the pages of the manuscript.

What had happened that changed the way this character’s voice sounded to my “ears”?

I still loved this girl’s voice, but somehow, after putting her away for a long while, I lost the “ear” for the voice and was absorbing all of it through my eyes, strictly a reader at that moment. When I was in the process of writing the drafts, she had been in my head as a character on TV. Now, she was a character in a novel. It seems that I have a much lower tolerance for excessive profanity when it comes to reading. Onscreen, however, almost anything goes.profanity 2

It’s not that crazy, though, if you think about it. Exclamation marks are so, so loud in print. And when reading for the ear, a piece often has to be tweaked. I know when it was time to pick an excerpt of my work-in-progress to read out loud at a retreat this past summer, practicing it on the microphone quickly drew my attention to where some parts had to be rewritten to keep clarity and tone.

I still believe in being authentic when it comes to profanity, but now I know that dropping one F-bomb in print is almost equivalent to that character dropping five of them out loud.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to working profanity into a piece:

1) Do you really need it? Is this true to the character’s voice? My character is foul-mouthed and I wouldn’t want to change that. But some of the other characters she interacted with in the story were also pretty heavy with their bad-word usage. I decided to make her love interest use very little of them, which turned into quite a cool contrast.

2) Can you work around it? I’ve had a character say “Motherf—“ with another interrupting the curse. I’ve also had my character “launch a string of the vilest curse words into the emptiness around him.” Not actually seeing the words can make a big difference.

3) Can you go through your finished draft and take some out? With this particular potty-mouth of mine, I decided I’d take every other curse out regardless. When rereading, I didn’t really remember where I’d taken them out.

4) Have you thought about the bad words your characters are using? I recently read reviews for a book containing an abundance of misogynistic terms (in particular, the C word). So many women were offended and refused to read further. I wondered if the author gave thought to his decision to use that specific word repeatedly, and if he would’ve achieved the same effect using a different curse word. We know language is loaded; it’s our duty as writers to consider this when we put words together on a page to tell a story.

Have you given any thought to the Screaming Profanity factor when it comes to your work?

 

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Summer. Beautiful.

Things have been kind of slow on the RAW front due to the summer. But now, the summer is over. All I can think about is snow, and not in a good way. I can already see myself digging out my winter jacket from the closet, scraping ice off my windshield, dirtying my pants by brushing up against the salt stains on my car. A few weeks ago, I was sitting outside a Starbucks in Los Angeles, writing a scene that takes place in winter. My character’s boots were crunching in the snow, her breath coming out in puffs of condensation. I remember looking up from my laptop and being surprised by the palm trees, by people in tank tops and sandals. I had expected to see winter in front of me. I was relieved when it wasn’t so.

Just a few weeks, and summer decided to take a hike. But it’s not winter yet. It’s fall, and it’s the start of a new year. I’m not referring to school, although that is true as well. It’s the start of a fresh year at the Writers’ Community of Durham Region after a month or so break. There are lots of exciting things going on: speakers, workshops, online forums, Words of the Season, The Word on the Street in Toronto.

RAW is also starting fresh for the year. Here’s what’s going on:

BOOKS & BEVVIES:

Date: Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Time: 7-10pm
Place: Trinity Irish Pub, Whitby, Ontario

Click here for more info. This time around, we’ll be having a book swap:

Calling all published WCDR members and those interested in book reviewing! Looking for a great way to sample your fellow WCDR members’ work, and/or to promote your own? Participate in the RAW Book Swap, an idea suggested by board member Jenny Madore, that will take place at B&B. Bring a copy of your book and prepare to tell us all about it. Then, swap with another published member, or hand it off to a member interested in reading your work. Prepare a review of the book, and/or a Q&A with its author, and post your piece on the RAW blog (and your own)–but there’s no pressure to review; you can simply spread the word if you enjoyed it, or if you know someone who would!

BLOG:

I am looking for contributors to the blog. If you are a member of any of the 3 WC organizations (Durham Region, York Region, Simcoe County), you are eligible to guest blog for RAW. For more information, click here. I’d love to include some reviews on speakers’ and members’ books. Build your online platform and spark discussion among your writer peers by guest blogging for RAW!

RAW CRITTERS:

RAW’s online critique group will begin meeting (virtually) next week. After establishing the group (or groups, as it turns out) and preparing our cyber meeting spot over the summer, we’re now ready to get down to it. Join me in welcoming the 11 WCDR members who are now part of RAW Critters!

 

I’ve been reading some really great stuff lately. I feel like I’m on a streak of good reads (oh, look at that pun right there) this summer. When I read a book, I go into it hoping I’ll learn something. This is one of the ways my reading experience has changed since becoming a writer. It’s like, on top of looking forward to fantastic storytelling, I’m also looking to absorb something that’ll benefit my own writing.

Lately, it hasn’t been so much about my learning something new, than it’s been about relearning something. Hitting the Refresh button on a technique or characteristic of what I believe to be good writing, and making myself aware of it again. This is actually one of the ways I hone my skills as a writer, which is why I love books and magazines on the craft so much. Having the same information rehashed with a fresh perspective, with a completely different voice helps me when it comes to incorporating the stuff into my own writing style—which is constantly evolving.

But, what’s better than reading about good writing is actually experiencing it as a reader.

TALES OF THE CITY by Armistead Maupin (1978)

I picked this one up randomly, when I remembered the author’s name from a piece he’d written for an anthology I read. Reading the back cover, I got this armisteadfeeling like this was the kind of book I wanted to be able to say I’d read.  So I read it.

What I (re)learned: Write strong dialogue.

In TALES OF THE CITY, I was struck by how much dialogue there was on each page—not that it was too much. Most of it was unencumbered by anything but the occasional speech tag. It would stand alone in short bursts of line exchanges. This really kept up a fast pace and it was quite pleasing to my reader’s eye. Another thing I realized is that even though Armistead Maupin was juggling a large cast of characters, he managed to make them all sound unique. I could tell who was speaking by their speech pattern, or the terms of endearment they used, for example.

Not too long ago, I was alerted to the fact that most of my dialogue was buried in descriptive beats, usually body language. I hadn’t realized how much it cluttered the scene and messed with the pace. I also couldn’t see that the reader would be able to conjure up the scene in their mind, and unless it was absolutely necessary for a detail to be related to the reader, it was better to just sit back and let the characters speak—at least for a while.

Reading TALES OF THE CITY was a little lesson in effective dialogue.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell (2013)

I heard of this book when a teen I know was browsing for books we could read at the same time (sort of like a mini book club kind of thing). The story rainbowis set in 1986, and the back cover copy hooked me. The teen in question and I each got a copy. I devoured the book in two nights.

What I (re)learned: Infuse your story with real emotion.

ELEANOR & PARK is the story of how two teens from different worlds wear each other down until they cannot be without one another. For quite a while, the two don’t even speak to each other. They simply sit next to each other on the bus. I consider this book to be one of my favorite novels of all time (it might even be number one). This book made me hyperventilate and it made me tear up. These are not reactions I usually have to books. I often hear people say “This book made me cry” but for me, unless a certain owl gets hit by a death curse at the end of a long series of books (that I’ve also watched the movies of), I’m not going to cry. Rainbow Rowell made these characters and the relationship between them so real to me, that I was sitting on that bus with them and I knew just how much of a major deal the subtle, little things were to them. Sometimes I was the characters. The thing about this story is that every little thing about it felt real, and because of that, it didn’t need to be flashy or in-your-face.

In my current work-in-progress, I’m exploring the closeness between two characters but I’ve been worrying about how to make sure the readers would connect with them and their new relationship. I want every tiny thing they do—every look, gesture, and touch—to feel as huge to the reader as they would to the characters. I don’t want to fall for unrealistic grand gestures, plastic emotions, or melodramatic scenes. I’m not doing life of death here—I’m just doing regular life, real life. Like in real life, and like ELEANOR & PARK demonstrated, sometimes actions–no matter how small or subtle they might seem–just need to be able to speak louder than words.

ELEANOR & PARK was a little lesson in creating real emotion. 

 

What’s the last thing you learned from a good novel?

 


For the next 2 weeks, the RAW blog will be taking a little summer break.

There are a few reasons for this, like the fact that I will be away on a writing retreat for a week. But mostly, I’m hard at work starting up the new Reading As Writers critique group, RAW Critters. I’m quite impressed by the interest I’ve gotten from members of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region. It looks like many of you are like me and find the online thing more realistic a commitment. There is RAW Critters Imagedefinitely an advantage to meeting in person: The discussions writing circles can get into are often spontaneous and lead to the type of unplanned enlightenment facilitated by face-to-face contact. There are advantages to exchanging feedback online as well, but more importantly, for some it comes down to belonging to an online group or not belonging to any group at all. Feedback on one’s work is vital, so let’s take it wherever we can find it!

 

Want something else to read in the meantime?

I would invite any site visitors to check out the past issue of the Writers’ Community of WW Logo for RAW siteDurham Region’s newsletter The Word Weaver. The May/June 2013 issue features some great content, such as a recap by WCDR member Tobin Elliott on our February speaker, author Lena Coakley, and her talk on her Seven Tips About Story. If you’re a member of the WCDR, then you’ve already got access to the July/August 2013 of The Word Weaver, so be sure to check it out!

 

On my summer reading shelf:

goingbovibe

eleanorparkcomelookingallthemountains

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s what I have planned, but I can’t be sure if I’ll get to each of them, and I can’t guarantee I won’t be switching titles as I give in to my “new book crush” tendencies.

What are you reading this summer?

 

(See you in August! Also, Books & Bevvies returns in September. Date TBA.)

 

 

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