Friday, February 24, 2012

3 ways to build tension in writing

Tension is one thing I've struggled with in writing. After a little time and a lot of mistakes, I've come across some ways to build it. (special shout to my critique partner, Laura).

1. Give your character something to lose. Any decision they make will cost something, whether it's their reputation, a friendship, a vision of how they saw themselves, etc.

2. Ask yourself, what could go wrong for him or her? When things are going along smoothly, how can you create a twist in the journey? Can you give her a time crunch?

3. Have conflict attacking the protagonist from several directions. I had my protagonist's bad decision affecting her relationship with all the important people in her life but for different reasons. Each character has different motivations and it's the conflict of those that can lead to tension.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

on living alone

Have you ever had the chance to live alone?
I found this gem of an article on the Times site yesterday about how every year, more and more people are opting to live by themselves.
Now, a big part of why I live alone is because I'm not in the same city as the person I'd want to live with. And I've had wonderful roommates throughout the years. To top it off, medical school itself is already an isolating experience so quite often, I sense a resounding, lonely silence.

But here's the thing: I cherish it.

-I cherish knowing that any mess is my own.
-I cherish all of the dishes being rinsed off right away.
-I cherish crowding the tub's perimeter with my bath products.
-I cherish relying on myself for entertainment (which has led me to read a lot more)
-I cherish having people over, serving them wine in hand washed glasses, offering them cheeses from my refrigerator.
-I cherish the Robbins' Pathologic Basis of Disease textbook, always open on the dining table
-I cherish the eclectic mug collection that occupies two shelves of the pantry.
-I cherish the feminine touches: the lavender curtains, a hot pink Alexander McQueen post card in the bathroom, framed photos of orchids, the Audrey Hepburn books on my coffee table.

Maybe it's just pure selfishness, as some people commented on the article. But it's a time of life where I can be this way. My mother moved straight from her father's house to her husband's, so I'll remind myself that even my apartment's silence is a privilege. These may be the last years I can embrace the solitude. And maybe every segment of life deserves that much.
To be cherished.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ripping your work apart (notes on rewrites)

Align Center
Does it sound weird to say that I
love it when my writing is critiqued? I love knowing where I've had gaps, how it's received to an objective reader. I love knowing that I'm not done yet. Maybe that's because I'm a middles person, not a beginnings or endings one.

Receiving (A LOT) of feedback on my manuscript has shown me things I had never thought of. Many times, being too buried in your work has its consequences. Here are a few points I wanted to share:

1. Let your M.C. stand out but don't let him or her call all the shots. Mine needed some external pressure, forces pushing her different directions, ultimatums, time crunches, etc. Each character served as a force.

2. Make book club questions! Look at those of other novels and see how they help indicate spots for character development and conflict.

3. When in a rut, look inside your own life. What did you feel when you first fell in love? Were betrayed? Were pushed over? What reactions---physical and emotional---took place?
I was in heaven this past weekend. If I can ever describe it, I'll consider that a great step.
But for now, there are pictures.

beauty of a long distance relationship

"I can't accept these. All I do is go back and forth from class all day. It feels foolish to wear such cute flats."

I tuck the shoes back into the box, push it onto his lap.

"You don't need an occasion to wear nice flats. Make every day an occasion. You obsess about finding the perfect moment for everything."

I shake my head. "I'd just feel too guilty."

"Maybe that's why I'm your life," he offers, placing his hand over mine. "To alleviate your guilt. To treat you when you can't seem to treat yourself."

**I'll often wallow in the frustration that comes with being far from the one I love but lately, I've been uncovering silver linings. Many of them. I get to value living by myself, a pleasure my own mother never even had. We cherish every moment together; there's no taking anything for granted.
Many times it seems difficult, unfair. But I've learned that we can all handle whatever circumstances are handed to us. We can use them to discover more about ourselves. Yes, with the distance comes an empty, longing separation but there's also room to flourish, independently and together.

Monday, February 13, 2012

how finding a romantic relationship is like finding an agent

1. It can take many attempts to find the right match:
It took months of query letters and perusing through Jeff Herman's guide to narrow down who I'd submit to. It took another month to send out partials and fulls. I often went back and forth when it was time to make a decision. Who do I like more? Who will I be happy with in the future?

2. Chemistry is just as important as qualifications.
I ended up not accepting with an agent who I thought had everything I wanted. However, I learned that sometimes the busier agents are just that. Busier. I knew that I needed someone who could take the time to help me refine my manuscript, someone who was as eager to help me as other clients. I had a list of pertinent questions, including Where do you see this going? Why is this worth your investment? How will you make this the best it can be?
You see, "big" agents are wonderful but they often have other clients that are first priority. Also remember that many fresh agents have a priceless hunger. I looked at background, experience in sales, other agents in the agency, but most importantly, passion for the manuscript.

3. Sometimes the best one comes from unexpected places.
Some rejections are an opportunity in disguise. One agent who rejected me passed me on to another agent, who ended up making an offer.

4. You have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy in a partnership.
You owe it to yourself to edit your manuscript until it seems excessive.
My personal time line:
2009: began first draft
2010: realized first draft wasn't written well, got suggestion from an agent to rewrite
halfway through 2010: began rewriting, attended conferences
2011: shared draft with critique partner, finished it halfway through the year
halfway through 2011: revised, revised, revised...went through around 20 rounds of edits
end of 2011: sent out at least 5 queries a week

What have you learned through your journey?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

quote of the moment

"I wish I were stronger and more secure in myself so that I could really spend my life with a guy like Lenny. Because he has a different kind of strength than Joshie. He has the strength of his sweet tuna arms. He has the strength of putting his nose in my hair and calling it home. He has the strength to cry when I go down on him. Who IS Lenny? Who DOES that? Who will ever open up to me like that again? No one. Because it's too dangerous. Lenny is a dangerous man. Joshie is more powerful, but Lenny is much more dangerous."
Gary Shteyngart

Friday, February 10, 2012

you can handle it

In response to some e-mails, I'll be writing more about my agent journey in later posts. Today, I wanted to share some words of encouragement. A thought crept into my mind last week:

There isn't anything that comes to you that you can't handle.

Maybe it's the time of year but it seems like there are a lot of posts around the blogging world about people flirting with the idea of giving up or moving on. Instead of using our setbacks to make us doubtful, maybe we can use them to make us humble. Maybe they can just be reminders of how much we have left to do, if we're willing to put forth the effort.

I only say this because there have been many moments throughout my life that have felt dark and hopeless. Looking back, I see that they had one thing in common: they were transient. I know I often take on the optimistic, everything's-perfect approach but the truth is, many days are difficult to just get through and I can often understand why writers suffer from depression. Sometimes it takes effort just to get by.

But perhaps that's often half the battle: getting by. Not allowing things to crumble what got you started in the first place.
So if you're reading this and are in a place of doubt, please refresh. Nobody said this would be easy but you can handle it.