Posted in books, creative writing, lessons learned, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

Lessons Learned: Life of Pi

I watched the movie first, and really enjoyed it, so I figured I would read the book, since there’s always so much left out of the movie version of any book. This is one of those very rare times where I actually preferred the trimmed down movie version.

life of piFor those who haven’t read or seen Life of Pi, it’s about a young man who survives his ship sinking in the middle of the sea during a journey from India to Canada. He makes it to a life boat, but finds himself in the company of several of the zoo animals his family was transporting…including a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

What I loved about this story was the use of extended metaphor to tell Pi’s story of survival at sea with Richard Parker (I won’t give away what that’s a metaphor for in case you haven’t seen/read it). It’s not a commonly used tactic in modern fiction, and if you’d like an great example of it, read this book. Or watch the movie.

How to write an extended metaphor is not the lesson learned from this book, however.

Not overloading your reader or being condescending to them is the lesson learned.

c4223-robotcartoonInfodumping is often a struggle for writers who do in-depth research for a book. You found out all these awesome things about whatever and now you HAVE TO SHARE THEM ALL! Unless you are writing a non-fiction book about your topic that is meant to give a detailed history of whatever, please, please, please for the love of all things bookish DO NOT vomit up every seemingly fascinating tidbit of research you uncovered while preparing to write your book.

Listening to an audiobook, you can’t really skim, which makes endless amounts of information you’re not particularly interested in even harder to get through. I listened to Life of Pi and simply had to take a break when chapters went on and on about various animals, their habits and traits, mating rituals, etc. I started listening to the book to find out more about Pi’s journey, not to hear a dissertation on animal husbandry.

Focus on what your reader wants out of your story, not just on what you want to tell them.

girl-868784_1920I also struggled to listen at length to the religious discussions, which I usually enjoy quite a bit. I think religion is a fascinating topic and enjoy learning about many different religions. What I didn’t enjoy was, again, too much straight information that took me away from the story, and the sometimes condescending way the information was presented. I don’t hold with any particular religion, but I was still bothered by the sense I got that if a reader didn’t agree with the author’s opinions on eating meat, practicing multiple religions at once, or who or what God or gods might be they were simply wrong or not as smart as the author. I enjoy learning about how others view God, religion, the Universe, etc., but in a way that invites thoughtfulness rather than looking down on others’ beliefs or viewpoints.

Don’t talk down to your reader.

While I enjoyed the story overall, I definitely prefer the movie version, which focused the point of Pi’s journey as a struggle to understand faith and the meaning of life when faced with tragedy. If something you want to put into your book doesn’t add to the story or unnecessarily turns readers off, there’s a good chance it doesn’t need to be there.

Posted in books, writing, writing thoughts

Writing a Book is like Running a (half) Marathon

Last weekend, my husband and I just ran our second half marathon. I intended to write this post after we ran it last year, but that’s how on top of things I’ve been lately!

So, how is writing a book like running a half marathon?

R and S running the course

The first few miles of a half marathon are awesome. Your adrenaline is pumping, you’re excited to get the race going, and 13 miles doesn’t sound that bad now that you’ve actually got your sneakers on the course. You’ll definitely beat your personal best, by at least half an hour.

When you first start writing a new idea, it’s exciting and you think feel like you’ll be able to write straight to the end because it’s that amazing! You can sit for hours on end scribbling down witty dialogue and captivating scenes. 300 pages? That’s nothing, right?

The fun and adrenaline starts to taper off somewhere around mile 6 or page 50.

When it comes to running, your adrenaline is pushing you to churn out a faster pace than you’ve ever run before. You’re pretty sure you can try out for the Olympics in a few years. Everything feels amazing. Until it doesn’t.

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World and character building has been a rush, and setting up all those clever little hints has convinced you that there won’t be a single reader in the world who will guess the ending. It’s the best opening of a book you’ve ever written or read. Until your creativity takes a nose dive.

That’s when you hit a wall…creatively or physically.

The physical wall you hit halfway through your half marathon is aggravating and painful. Your knees start to ache. Your hip feels like it has no cartilage left. Every step is torture and you’re regretting ever signing up for this stupid race. There’s no way you can finish. Every time a car passes by you hope they’ll stop and give you a ride to the finish line. But no one stops, so you Just Keep Running.

One moment you’re writing like a crazy person…then all the words dry up. Each one feels like you have to drag it to the surface by force. You’re pretty sure you now have carpal tunnel from the frantic writing. Where has it left you? You’ve set up fabulous characters and a storyline no reader will be able to put down, but keeping up the same momentum seems impossible when you move from doling out exciting tidbits to carrying on a consistently engaging story where you don’t lapse into pointless dialogue or never ending description of a walk through the park sounds impossible. But you Just Have To Keep Writing even though you’re now  positive the whole book sucks and you never should have started writing it.

Then something changes again.

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When you see mile marker 11 come into view and you realize you’re almost done, the tears aren’t easy to hold back. Pain, joy, madness…it’s hard to tell. You’re too dehydrated to cry, though, so you hobble onward with renewed energy. As much pain as you’re in, you’re almost there! You can make it.

With writing, the middle section that felt like torture to write and wanted to throw across the room while crying about how terrible it was…everything suddenly comes together. That chapter where your characters endlessly walked through the park went from being a Tolkienesque history of the trees to a pivotal conversation that helped them solve the mystery for fix their relationship. You know how the story ends now!

Sheree Finish Line

Crossing the finish line, writing the end, both feel incredible…but neither one is really the end because you know you’re going to be sore for a week or have a long list of rewrites to work on, BUT it’s a huge milestone to hit and it was totally worth it regardless of the messy shape your body or manuscript is in.

After our race, we got a breakfast burrito and a beer, which I’ll be honest, sounded like a horrible idea at ten in the morning after running 13 miles (the race was hosted by a brewery), but both were actually much appreciated because I was starving and in pain and food and alcohol proved to be exactly what I needed.

Finishing a manuscript is also something to be proud of regardless of the fact that it might have choppy scenes and stilted dialogue and a handful of hints you forgot to ever bring back into the plot. You started a book. You finished it. How many people have wanted to write a book and gave up after a few chapters? A lot.

20170206_074136After running a half marathon, I take a good couple weeks (or maybe a month) off from running. It’s time for yoga, core work, maybe a little biking. My body needs to recover, and honestly so does my motivation.

As soon as you type out THE END, take a good long break from your manuscript, too. Don’t even look at it. Think about it, if you want, consider those problem areas and forgotten clues, but leave the book alone for as long as you can stand it. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting to write sometimes. Give yourself a break so you can come back for the editing round with fresh eyes and some excitement.

Whether you’re running or writing, don’t give up when it gets painful or hard. You’ll learn a lot from your mistakes and be better for it in the end. It took me ten years to publish my first book and a year and a half or running 5 days a week to survive a half marathon. The journey to do something awesome sometimes sucks, a lot, but it’s worth it in the end.

Cheers!

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Posted in books, publishing, self publishing, writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

#AuthorChat with @TS_Krupa

Last week I was able to try something a little different!

https://blab.im/ts-krupa-authorchat-with-delsheree-gladden” target=”_blank”>TS Krupa, author of “The Ten Year Reunion,” invited me to chat on a new-ish platform called Blab. The neat thing about this is that you get audio and video, split-screen, as you watch the chat session. It was so much fun!

The replay of the chat is stored on the site and available to watch at any time!

https://blab.im/ts-krupa-authorchat-with-delsheree-gladden

author chat

Posted in writing, writing advice, writing thoughts, writing tips

The Fear of Imperfection

One of my students this spring was interested in writing for magazines, but felt held back by her fear of putting something out there that wasn’t perfect. She wanted my advice on how to overcome that.

Honestly, that’s a really hard thing to give advice on, because every writer is different.

I’m going to attempt it anyway!

#1: Realize no one’s work is perfect

DeathtoStock_Clementine9.jpgYou’re not the only one who makes mistakes. We all do. While I was on a panel at Denver Comic Con last year, we were all asked what was the biggest mistake we ever made in a book. Jim Butcher was on that panel as well (which was seriously the highlight of that entire weekend!) and he said when writing the early Dresden Files books, he didn’t have the income to visit Chicago, where the books are set, and wrote a scene with characters meeting in the parking lot of the baseball stadium. Problem was, that stadium was built before the majority of people had cars. Hence: it has no parking lot.

If you need more examples…check out THIS LIST of the best/worst plot holes in movies. You could literally spend all day watching or reading similar lists.

#2: Waiting on perfection = Missed opportunities

Perfection is unattainable. In life, and in writing. No matter how many times you read your article, book, or story, there will be something you want to change, tweak, fix, whatever. It will never be done. At some point, you simply have to be DONE. Do your best, and then put it forward. I know authors who refuse to ever read their own books again once they’re published. If they do, they’ll want to go back and change it.

#3: You’re your own Worst Critic

This can be a good thing when working through plot holes or character inconsistencies. When it comes to nitpicking your own writing, you will drive yourself crazy before you’re satisfied. Writers are often too close to their own work by the time they get to that final stage of editing. One word or comma likely won’t make the different between success and failure.

#4: Failing is OKAY

If you put out an article or book and it gets ZERO view or buys, is that the end? No, it’s a hurdle you just jumped over. Whether you breakout from day one or have to slog through mediocrity to achieve something better (like the majority of us) you’re on your way. That typo in your first paid blogpost, or character you forgot existed and was never heard from again, are a right of passage. We’ve all done it, and laugh about it later.

Never putting anything out there DOES mean you’ll never have to face rejection. It also means you’ll never get that message from a reader who loved what you wrote and wanted to thank you for sharing it with them. Those come a lot more often than the obnoxious ones pointing out that one typo.

Posted in writing, writing thoughts

Reading as a Writer: Looking for the Good

Whatever you do for a living, if you’ve ever watched a show that portrays someone in your profession and they get it all wrong, or half wrong, or even just a tiny bit wrong, don’t you find yourself rolling your eyes or commenting to the person next to you on how it really works?

This is why my hubby and I couldn’t watch that TV show Numb3rs together. Or that lousy movie with Jenna Fischer as a dental hygienist.

beautiful burnSometimes, reading is like this for me. It’s not always easy to turn off the writer part of my brain and just read to enjoy. All my writing pet peeves poke at me while I read, and make the experience less fun. Then I have to remind myself that some other writer is reading my books having the same thoughts!

So, instead of critiquing as I read, I try to learn from it instead. I just finished reading “Beautiful Burn” by Jamie McGuire and loved all the work she put into researching how the Hotshot firefighting teams in Colorado live and work. Having lived near or in Colorado for most of my life, I appreciated the level of detail she put into her writing, and it pushed me to dig a little deeper into some of the research I’ve been working on for “Wicked Revenge.”

jm barrieI’ve also been reading JM Barrie’s “Peter Pan” (the original book) which, let me tell you, is far removed from the Disney version, or any other version I’ve ever seen. It’s bizarre and really not something a kid would understand or probably be interested by. I have a pretty good vocabulary and love British fiction, but I’m still looking up words and trying to figure out what Barrie is trying to get at half the time.

BUT, I love the honesty of his characters. Peter has this moment of intense jealousy as Wendy decides to go home to her mother and the Lost Boys say they’ll go with her because they want a mother too, and Peter mentions a saying in The Neverland that every time you breathe, a grownup dies, so he starts breathing really hard and fast. It’s dark, but completely honest for a young boy who’s losing his only family and is too proud to admit he wants them to stay. I want to be able to write that sort of frank honesty in my characters, even if I’ll leave the archaic words and style to Barrie.

So, whether you’re watching a TV show that’s totally misrepresenting what you do every day at work, or reading about cars driving 55 miles per hour down a windy, two-lane mountain pass in a blizzard (which, trust me, would NEVER happen), there’s almost definitely something else that’s going to be wonderfully inspiring. Don’t forget to look for it.

Posted in writing advice, writing thoughts

Unreliable Narrators Are Not My Favorite

gone girlThe unreliable narrator has shown up in some pretty popular books, like Gone GirlClockwork OrangeLolita, and Fight Club, just to name a few.

What is an unreliable narrator?

It’s basically a narrator whose credibility has been seriously compromised.

This can be obvious to the reader, as it is with Alex in A Clockwork Orange, or not so obvious, like it was with Gone Girl.

Why don’t I like unreliable narrators?

Because it’s hardly ever done well. Gone Girl is one of the exceptions, and I’m a little hazy of Fight Club at the moment because it’s been a while, but I seem to remember thinking that one was done pretty well too.

What makes the difference between an unreliable narrator being 8858f-bookpagesdone well or feeling like a cheap trick?

It all comes down to the ending.

I remember watching a movie with my hubby some years back called Hide and Seek. My husband and I both agreed that this one of the worst attempts at an unreliable narrator that we’d come across. What left us feeling that way? Basically, by the end of the movie, we were both left feeling like we had been blatantly lied to through the whole movie. The MC acted in ways completely contradictory to the truth that would eventually be revealed, and so did his daughter.

The daughter was the biggest disappointment, because it made no sense at all that she would respond to the dad’s questions and act the way she did when she knew the truth the whole time. There wasn’t any logical reason for the way the characters behaved, EXCEPT that the writers were lying to the audience.

sixth senseHow is this different that a good unreliable narrator?

An unreliable narrator believes in his or her reality, or is completely committed to the deception they’re trying to perpetrate. Every word that comes out of their mouth, every action the take, and look and gesture should all be in line with their warped viewpoint or deception.

At the end of the book/movie, you should be able to look back and not point out any instances where things don’t line up.

The Sixth Sense is a good example of this. If you’ve ever watched the “making of” for that movie, you’ll see how the painstakingly went through that entire film to make sure Bruce Willis never talks or touches anyone other than the boy. They create situations where there “seems” to be interaction, such as when he’s sitting in the living room with the boys mom, or goes to meet his wife at the restaurant, BUT you see at the end that none of those scenes were what they seemed.

When writing an unreliable narrator, this is what it takes.

Unreliable narrators are tough to write well. There has to be a well thought out plan. Interactions, thoughts, and dialog has to be scrutinized. It’s a lot of work, but if you can pull it off, you’ll have something people will remember for a long time!

Posted in writing thoughts

It’s Done…Walk Away

DeathtoStock_Medium6I have to start this post off by saying, it was inspired by a post my lovely writing buddy, SeriouslyGina, recently posted on her blog. She was talking about the awfulness of querying agents and trying to write that perfect query letter that simply no one can refuse, despite the fact that it is like a rainbow unicorn made of sparkle dust and dark chocolate.

Hint: It doesn’t exist.

Querying is my least favorite part of writing. Maybe that’s why I gave up on trying to find and agent or pitch to publishers and went almost entirely indie. Actually, there are a whole bunch of other reasons for that!

In all honesty, though, thinking about what a torment querying is reminded me of some advice I got from one of my painting instructors in college that has really helped me in my writing and other areas of life. It was simple and kind of a silly thing to stick with me for almost fifteen years, now that I think of it, but oh well.

I had been working on a single painting, a master study of a JW Waterhouse painting, for the majority of the semester, and it just never seemed quite “done.” My painting professor, the incredible William Hatch, finally walked up behind me one day and said, “It’s done. Put your paintbrush down and start something new.” I didn’t think it was done. In fact, I have a print of it hanging in my house and every time I walk by it I think, “Ugh, I should have fixed that part.” But, there’s no sense trying to paint on top of a print and I don’t have the original painting anymore, and I’m not quite that much of a crazy person.

I think Professor Hatch might have just been sick of looking at that painting when he told me to put down my paintbrush, but even if he really did think it was as good as it was going to get, his comment actually stuck with me and I’ve applied it to more than just painting.

I often reach a point in a project, writing or otherwise, when I just have to put it down and say, “It’s done.” When I’m writing, that’s usually after way too many edits when my eyes are crossing and I’m beginning to hate my own book because I’m so tired of looking at it. Before I actually get to that point, I tell myself, IT’S DONE…WALK AWAY. I don’t go back to it. I move on to a new project and don’t look back whether I have that nagging feeling that it could use a little more tweaking or not. It’s just done.

I heard a piece of advice once, and I can’t remember who it was from but I’m pretty sure it was one of those huge 19th century writers we all aspire to be. The advice was to never read your published book. You’ll always find little errors or things you could have tweaked, sections that could have been stronger, blah, blah, blah. It will never be perfect. No book will ever be, nor has ever been perfect. NOT A SINGLE Girl with Book 3ONE.

Instead of chasing your starburst and sunshine with sprinkles on top masterpiece, write the best book you can write, find great beta readers, even better editors, friends who’ll support you no matter what, and pour your heart and soul into your story.

Your book will never be perfect, but the message you share and the way it impacts your readers will make up the difference.

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