September 30, 2009
September 28, 2009
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- Looking for Alaska by John Green
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
- Me, Penelope by Lisa Jahn-Clough
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
September 24, 2009
September 23, 2009
Originality can come only from what you bring of yourself to your story. In other words, originality is not a function of your novel; it is a quality in you.
Finding the power buried in your novel is not about finding its theme. I would say, rather, that it is about finding you: your eyes, experience, understanding and compassion. Ignore yourself and your story will be weak.
September 18, 2009
Sometimes I have a hard time starting a scene. I write the opening sentence once, twice. Delete those. Start over. Struggle to find the right words. Come to realize that I cannot structure a decent sentence. Wait, hands poised on keys. Wait. Wait.
Many writers recommend freewriting. For me, one of the best ways to get unblocked is to use a technique called Writing Down the Page from The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris.
Basically, you focus on action and imagery, keeping sentences or phrases short, line after line. The result looks like a page or more of free verse. The authors claim that writing this way, fast and without regard for punctuation or exposition, frees your inner critic.
This really works for me. I focus on the action of the scene, and as I do so, I end up surprising myself with imagery and ideas.
Here’s an example:
[Note: Izzy and Mom are driving through Delhi in a taxi. A beggar startled Izzy.]
Izzy turns her face and hides in the duffle bag
She feels Mom’s hand rubbing her back
The car accelerates
A few more minutes, the driver says
Mom: Good. Thanks. We don’t have much time.
Her voice sounds thick.
Izzy keeps her eyes shut
Likes the darkness
Smells the faint plastic smell of the fabric
I had forgotten about the duffle bag, but it’s a perfect place for Izzy to hide. What’s more, that notion that she “likes the darkness” feels like something that could take on more meaning.
Now, I can write.
September 16, 2009
This fall, I’m revising my India novel. I finished the first draft of this novel back in April. I spent about six weeks agonizing over what to do next with it. My Hamline faculty advisor, Claire Rudolf Murphy, advised dropping a storyline or changing the timeframe. I couldn’t. I knew something had to change, but what?
I decided to take a break from the story and work on something else. I picked up the draft of another novel. Same problem. It needed big changes, but where to start?
Now it’s September, and I’m back to the India story. My new faculty advisor, Jane Resh Thomas, suggested switching from first person to third as a way to gain some distance from my 14-year-old protagonist. Furthermore, she said I must put the old draft away. I’m rewriting. “Don’t peek,” she said.
Scary? Yes. But also incredibly freeing.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve brainstormed scene ideas and plot layers. I made mindmaps of different storylines. I wrote a one-line description of each possible scene on a 3x5 card. The stack of cards grew. Then, using my big dining table, I arranged the scenes, added cards, removed others and rearranged them. My story is taking shape and growing.
That storyline I couldn’t remove in April? Gone.
The hardest part, for me, is taking the leap from analyzing to writing. I could live in analysis mode (plotting, researching, character building) forever. Why? It’s safe there. It’s a world of possibility. A world free of mistakes.
But it’s also dangerous there. It’s limbo. So long as you stay there, you never move forward. You’re stuck.
I don't want to be stuck forever.
So today, I leaped out of story analysis and I rewrote the novel’s first scene. Or rather wrote it for the first time. It resembles the first draft but it’s different.
My character started her journey today, and so did I.
September 14, 2009
A composition book is one of a type of stock-bound notebook commonly used by writers and students. Although available in several colors, the original marbled black-and-white cover, with its generic label on the front, is the overwhelming favorite. Wikipedia.
My journal of choice is the composition book. It lies flat when open, with no spiral binding, a key feature for a lefty like me. It’s small enough to fit in a decent-sized purse yet large enough for serious notes. And it’s unassuming—there’s nothing pretentious or fancy about it, which means I never have to worry about whether my observations are journal-worthy.
But there’s something more about Composition Book. It’s not just a journal or the title of this blog. It’s also the subject of the journal. Composition: Book.
The Composition of a Book
As a novelist, I’m interested in the craft of writing, what makes good books work, and how an author brings together elements such as place, history, character and time to create an engaging story. I’m on a quest to develop my skills as a writer.
While I’m actively writing my own novels, I’m reading, reading, reading. Mostly I read other middle grade and YA novels, but I also read books about writing. (For pure fun, I read adult mysteries—my favorites are the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear and the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King.)
I go one step beyond reading for pleasure, especially now that I’m attending Hamline University’s MFA program. I also look at how a book works. I love to uncover the structure of a novel or to discover the components that make a book unique.
Here are the first nine meanings for the word composition from an online dictionary:
1. the act of combining parts or elements to form a whole.
2. the resulting state or product.
3. manner of being composed; structure: This painting has an orderly composition.
4. makeup; constitution: His moral composition was impeccable.
5. an aggregate material formed from two or more substances: a composition of silver and tin.
6. a short essay written as a school exercise.
7. the act or process of producing a literary work.
8. an academic course for teaching the techniques of clear, expository writing.
9. the art of putting words and sentences together in accordance with the rules of grammar and rhetoric.
In this blog, I’ll be looking at the components of novels, analyzing structure and considering the overall effect of a book using examples from my reading. Since I am also working on the second draft of a novel, I’ll also share my experiences with the writing process.
September 12, 2009
This quote from E. M. Forster illustrates my reliance on my trusty Composition Books:
My notebook is more than just a repository of information. It’s where I work through my thoughts and experiment with ideas. I hope this blog will be a similar forum, with the added benefit of being able to communicate and collaborate with others.