Friday, July 29, 2011

Irresistibly Sweet and Seriously Cute Blog Awards

Last month I received few Blog Awards, this time I am not going to be a hoarder, so without dawdling I will pass it on to few Blog Buddies who have joined me recently.

I received  The Irresistibly Sweet Award From Elizabeth Varadan

My Awardees for this award are

1. Dave King at Pics and Poems

2. D.U Okonkwo

3. Langa Tenzin at As Life Goes On

4. Mark Noce Stories

5. S.B Jones Publishing

                                                6. Stephen Tremp at Breakthrough Blogs

 Madeleine Maddocks passed me the Seriously Cute Blogger Award. I pass this award to

1. Anusha at In Disarray

2. Cherie at Ready, Write, Go

3. Donna Hole

4. J.L Campbell at The Reader's Suite

5. Khushi at Whispering Leaves

6. Michelle Fayard

7. Naina Gupta

I am grateful to both Elizabeth and Madeleine, because till date no one (not even my mom) has called me either Seriously Cute or Irresistibly Sweet.Only my grandmother called me sweet and cute, that too just once or twice. Ladies, you two rock.

P.S. Did anyone realize that only my male blog buddies have been given the Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award and the Girlie Gang has been passed the Seriously Cute Blog  Award. Enjoy the  award lovely people. You all rock my writing world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Difference Between Story and Plot

When I started writing, I would often wonder about the difference between Plot and Story. I initially thought they were one and  the same thing. As I waded deeper and deeper into writing, I researched about story and plot and the explanation, though simple,  made  a lot of sense and entrenched itself in my mind.

Very often, I  hear  people discuss books as ‘the story was good, but there was no plot’. I am guilty of that judgement. I have often told my friends ‘I could not find the plot in this book. This book is just a collection of scenes’. And my non-writing friends have that glazed look on their faces when I discuss story and plot.

‘Isn’t  story and plot the same thing?’ one friend asked me. Most non-writers  echo that thought.

I will use novelist E. M Forster’s words; in his classic work Aspects of the Novel, Forster made the important and useful distinction  between story and plot and stressed the causality of plot.

 The story Forster says, consists  of merely the events as they happened in chronological order; the plot is the portrayal  of those events in such a way as to show their causality, how one gives rise to another (rather than simply happening prior to it).   

Forster gives an example.The king died and then the queen died is a story. But the king died and then the queen died of grief is a plot.

Another example is  girl and boy fall in love is a story. Girl meets boy, boy saves girl, girl is charmed by his bravery and falls in love is a plot. There is a series of events, one leading to another in a logical way. This is what a plot is all about.

I loved Forster’s simple explanation. Wish I had stumbled upon all this when I started writing and my head was full of confusion about story and plot. But, better later than never.

When you started writing did you all wonder what was this thing called plot? Did you hope (like me) that  as you started writing, the plot would magically reveal itself? Or were you all aware of  what a plot  is, right in the beginning. Please share your plot confusions with us.

Giveaway Winner: The  lucky winner of Rahma's Ebook copy of the Guardian Cats is Mark Noce. Mark, you can email me for your prize.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Guest Interview with Author Rahma Krambo

Rahma Krambo is Marketing Director for a family owned solar business in Northern CA. She is active in the local arts and literary community as a member of an SCBWI writers group, and board member of the Yuba Sutter Arts Council and Friends of the Packard Library.  She is passionate about reading, writing, cats and libraries.Guardian Cats and the Lost Books of Alexandria is her first book; it blends magical realism with legendary historical events. 

Q:  Tell us a little about  your book  Guardian Cats and the Lost Book of Alexandria. 
A:  It's a children's book, written for middle grades and up, but it has a lot of elements that make it interesting to older readers. Some of the Guardian Cats' best fans so far are adults.
What kind of elements?
The back story is drawn from history, the burning of the legendary Library of Alexandria and is spiced with a flavor of Fahrenheit 451, one of my favorite books. Saving libraries is a passion of mine and the theme runs through the book.
The main characters are two felines with a noble purpose, but there's no shortage of fun creatures with dubious intents – gangster raccoons, an undead Queen, a hellhound, and an evil professor who believes possessing the mystical book would give him unlimited power, like Hitler's 'spear of destiny'.

Q:  Your book has  magical realism blended with historical events. How did  you  go  about researching for your book?
A:  Actually, the historical event didn't enter the picture until the fourth major rewrite. The idea came while my husband and I were on a car trip. He's one of my best critics and when I have him captive with hours of uninterrupted time, I love to bounce my ideas off him. 
He's an inveterate story and history buff and I felt like the plot was missing something; that it needed a broad event or larger story to draw from. During our brainstorming session, the idea of the burning of the Library of Alexandria popped up. The fact that it occurred so long ago and there are three conflicting accounts of how it happened provided the perfect 'jumping off' point for my story. After that, it was just a matter of googling the historical stuff.
The ideas though come from another place; those you can't get from the internet.
The magical elements, to be truthful, came after I read the first Harry Potter book. I had been resisting reading them at first, because I didn't want my book to have any hint of fan fiction in them. You know, I didn't want Marco to resemble some kind of feline Harry Potter.
But a copy of the first Potter book just appeared on my desk one day and as I was reading it, I saw how fun it was to have characters go through portals. This was an element I could easily add I thought, and so when the elder Guardian has to explain to our young hero about the importance of the book they are guarding, he takes him time traveling back to Alexandria. Alaniah, their angelic guide came into being, as well as supernatural creatures from the dark side.  The magical elements didn't require much research. They just seemed to appear, like magic.

Q:  You mentioned in a conversation that you like using the archetypes  technique in your  writing? What do you think about  incorporating the archetypes method?
A:  This is a favorite subject of mine and it was one of the first things I studied when I started my book. Archetypes are not stereotypes. I think of them like the 'bones' of a character which I can then dress up in whatever clothes I choose.
I knew about Protagonists and Antagonists of course, but I learned how the other archetypes are like assistants to the MC; how each one has a part to play in the development of the Protagonist's growth.
The Threshold Guardian is particularly interesting because he/she creates trouble for the MC and may seem like the Antagonist.  However, their real purpose is to test the MC to see if he or she is ready for the next level. You can disguise the Threshold Guardian so the reader isn't quite sure what he's up to, thus adding an element of mystery and surprise to the story.
Then there's the Mentor who offers much needed advice to the Protag. One of my favorites is the Trickster, who appears appear clownish and silly, and can be used to lighten a somber mood. But the Trickster can have a more serious role, much like the court jester, who appeared to be a fool, but was often seen as divinely inspired and given large leeway to criticize the royalty for their own benefit.
Actually, each of the archetypes represent an element of the Protagonist and have a definite role to play, but they aren't just props. They can also have their own character arc.
Archetypes are also a wonderful way to examine the different elements of our own human nature and life experience.

 Q:  You also mentioned getting an external editor to edit your book. Did you find working with an external editor easy? Do you think it’s important to get an external editor before a writer submits a book? 
 A:  In answer to the first part of your question, I found my editor, Jennifer Baum of Scribe-   Consulting great to work with. She was professional and easy to communicate with. Her editing was top-notch and exactly what I'd asked for, which was a line-by-line edit.
When I got my manuscript back from her, at first glance I figured it might take a month to go through all the changes. In the end, it was more like four months. I wanted to share that so writers know that if they want a good 'end product' they have to be in it for the long haul. And take time with each part of the process. Some of those can be really, really tedious. I thought so many times I was done, because I wanted to be done, not because I was completely at peace with it. That's why it took four years, countless revisions and a patient husband who quit asking me when I was going to be finished with my book. 
I made the edit changes Jennifer suggested and I sent it back to her for another go around. I knew what I was doing, that it would extend my 'due date' out further. The birth of my book would have to wait, but I believe it was worth it. If you want your book to be as professional as possible, having an external editor is critical. As much of a skin flint as I am, I had figured there would be some costs involved in publishing and I knew this was not the place to cut corners.

Q: You created a publisher imprint- Reflected Light Books to  publish your book. Any particular reason behind creating the publisher imprint?
A:  Yes. Getting a publisher's imprint is fairly easy, it means you are thinking like a professional. It's so easy to self-publish these days, but it's not easy to be professional. It means taking yourself seriously as a writer and seeing that you have a future you want to develop. Without it, your books appear as being published under your own name, which a lot of authors do and is perfectly fine. But kicking it up a notch was something I wanted to do. I came up with a name I liked and thought would encompass the type of books I might write in the future. I bought the domain name and used it to buy a block of ISBN numbers.

 Q:  What is your writing process like? Are you a plotter or a panster? 
A:  [laughing]I love the image these words invoke. I think I'm a bit of both now, but in the beginning I was definitely a panster. I had no idea where I was going when I decided to write a book, but I gradually developed a way of structuring that kept me from veering too far off the plotline. Then regularly I would stop and analyze it, and see where it wasn't working or the weak spots were.
I used index cards extensively, so I'd throw them up in the air, let them land and see if the new order worked. Just kidding.
Actually what helped most was putting a large storyboard on my wall and pinning the index cards on it. Having it visible in this physical way, instead working completely on the computer, helped immensely, because it's really easy to get lost when there's so many things going on.

 Q:   Is Guardian Cats going to be a part of a series? Is a sequel in the pipeline? 
A:   Yes! It's not exactly a sequel in the normal way. The second book has the same setting, and some of the characters get to appear again. But I really wanted to write from a human perspective this time and so the second book is seen through the eyes of a young boy. I can't wait to get back to a normal writing schedule.

 Q:   Do you have  a favourite writing craft book? 
 A:   Books I keep chained to my desk when I'm writing are: The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler, Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell and Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King.

 Q:  Any writing tip you would like to share with my readers? 
 A: Write every day. Write gibberish until real words emerge.Write with the love of saying something old in a whole new way. 
Thankyou, Rahma, for the interview. We wish you lots of success with your book. One lucky commenter will win a Ebook copy of Guardian Cats.

Rahma’s Blog: Mystic  Coffee:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

An Exercise for Character Study

I am sure, every writer desires, yearns and craves  to create believable, rounded,  and three dimensional characters that readers not just believe in, but also identify and follow through the pages of the book. Any exercise that helps us to develop characters is embraced by us.

I came across this exercise for Character Study in Writing Fiction. When we are trying to introduce depth into a character, we can use the following exercise.

1. Write a sketch of the characters as you see them: their physical attributes, their mental make up, their emotional needs and how they handle relationships and other problems.

2. Write a sketch of the characters as they would see themselves. What is the character’s opinion of himself/herself? How does he/she see themselves?

3. Describe a character that is opposite of the one you described in point 1.

4. Describe a character that is the opposite of the one you described in point 2.

5. Look at the four descriptions and underline the parts you find interesting. Amalgamate

This exercise is a wonderful way to analyze how our characters see themselves.  It made me realize that the way I perceived my character/s is different from the way they see themselves. It’s so true of life and people. We seldom see people as the way they see themselves. Once we know how our characters really see themselves, it makes it easy for us to tackle their core beliefs and  target their insecurities. We can add inner tension with more ease as we are privy to all the inner demons our character faces and tackles.

This exercise is also a wonderful way to give our characters plenty of  traits that can  make them more rounded, unique and individualistic at the same time.

Do you  write a sketch of your characters, about  their physical, mental and emotional  traits? Have you ever tried any technique to get to know your characters better. Please share your methods with us.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Eight People You Meet in Your Manuscripts

Every book has a certain number of characters that take the story forward. These characters have various  roles to play. Its these characters that make a story interesting by adding their own drama.The main character’s interaction with these  archetypes brings with it a host of   emotions, clashes and scenes.

I read a book 'Writing Fiction'. The book talks about there being universal patterns and  archetypes in books and stories. The book says that understanding the function of each character  within the story can help a writer  utilize these characters fully and determine whether these characters are pulling their weight in the story.

The main character can gather aspects from each archetype and learn from them on his/ her journey. The  author of the book has listed 8 archetypes. Once we decide on a character in our story who will fit a particular archetype, then it will be easy to decide on the psychological role they would play and each archetype's dramatic function in our story.

              The eight archetypes are:
1.      Hero

2.      Mentor

3.      Shapeshifter

4.      Trickster

5.      Herald

6.      Allies

7.      Shadow

8.      Threshold Guardian

I have realized that not every story will have all of  these archetypes. Some may have  just few of them. We can consider  some of our  favourite novels and see how many archetypes  we can identify in them. I tried it with the Potter books. It was quite an eye opener. It made me see the purpose of the  characters and their roles were easy  to visualize. We can also write down our own descriptions of characters who  might fulfill each role in our stories.

What do you think of this archetype method? Do you think it can help a writer? Do you think it helps in giving each character their unique role to play in our stories. Do you think it is helpful?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An Advertisement to Sell a Muse

This post idea has been nicked from my writer friend and blog buddy Ellie Garrat. I had really enjoyed Ellie’s post last week  and had decided then and there that I would borrow her idea, or better still get inspired by it.

Our muses can indeed be troublesome. They are also people we desperately need in our lives. Our muse has the ability to irritate us and can be a sadist at times,  he/she loves to  put  us through all kinds of torture. When it comes to inspiration and great ideas we writer are willing to undergo every kind of  suffering for it.

 I would never ever sell my muse; even if my life depended on it. Okay, he does trouble me and we have a rocky relationship, but what the hell, I chose to be in this writer-muse relationship. I am fiercely possessive of my muse. He can be a darling at times. Gentle like a lamb. Generous to a fault.

But, if ever I was forced to sell  my muse for some  strange, unexplainable reason, then ….here is what my advertisement would read:
 “ Muse for sale. Is immensely talented; has the potential of  genius; but, has never developed that skill as yet. Needs to be handled with care, as  he is prone to mood swings. Has thrown few tantrums. Though he believes in loyalty, he has a roving eye, and  sometimes does the disappearing act. Can be extremely generous and  lovey-dovey. Believes in lot of P.D.A’s.  Is a master of disguises. Is extremely goodlooking, computer trained, can work magic on  computer and with pen and paper. Most of his ideas are awesome and he has earned the respect of his peers.”

 Price  on request. 

Now, tell me, if you were selling your muse, what would your ad be? How would you describe your muse? I am waiting to read every one’s ad. I am sure the answers will be fun.

P.S : This is just a fun piece and I hope I am not offending anyone. We all deserve a break from all the serious topics we have been tackling. I have the highest regard for every muse; mine and other writers. If I have hurt the sentiment of any muse, I sincerely apologize, as muses are a writer’s oxygen. God forbid, if a muse and a writer were to part ways.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Important Questions to ask Ourselves while Writing

A writer is supposed to  be not just biased towards their own work, but also somewhat in love with the stories, characters and the world they have created. Therefore, it becomes difficult to be critical  about one’s own work. It’s like  we see a perfect baby: without a blemish or a flaw. And any judgement that emerges  is not accurate and will not help the manuscript.

That’s why it becomes important to have Critique Partners/Groups and Beta Readers. The entry of crit partners and readers comes later, definitely after we have completed the first few drafts.

What we can do to  become critical towards our work is ask ourselves  a list of questions. We can use these questions  not just for our own books, but, also while critiquing others stories and   also while reading a novel.

  1. Is the characterization original and rounded? Do the characters come across as fresh and  not venture into stereotype territory?
  1. Is the language used fresh, lively and uncliched? Has the writer tried to add  his/her own individual  style of writing into it?
  1.  Does the story work on its own terms? For instance, if there is a mystery or intrigue, does the author make us interested  enough to keep turning the pages and march ahead to the final unravelment?
  1. If there is humour, does the author invoke the laughter? How does the humour come across: contrived, situational or natural.
  1. If there is a world building, does it come across as believable, or is it looking too far fetched. Do we as readers believe in the world the author has created?
  1. Are the relationships in the story plausible? Do they strike a chord with us?
  1. Is the story straightforward and one-dimensional or  is it infused with layers and layers of meaning  that is keeping our brain cells ticking overtime while keeping a track of everything going on in the story.
  1. Is the dialogue original or stilted?
  1. Are there pages and pages of information overload? 

  1. Does the story grab our interest and is it able to sustain that level of interest throughout? Is there a way the story can be made more interesting?
After we make notes on each point, we get an entire new perspective on the story. This works well even while we critique someone else’s work. We will realize the areas the writer needs to focus on. Do you have any questions that you ask yourself when it comes to getting critical about your work? How do you judge your  own work or someone elses?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Should Writers Wait for Inspiration?

The  topic for this post is inspired by a comment  by  a writer friend and blog buddy Jim Murdoch, on  a previous post of mine titled ‘Where Does Inspiration Strike You’.

Here is Jim’s comment:

“I don’t believe in inspiration, not in any Romantic sense. Inspiration is a  good idea – literally – and I don’t like to mystify the process. If I have a good idea, great, if not then any old idea will do. I used to wait around for inspiration to strike as if it was out of my control and that’s such a waste of resources. This doesn’t mean I’m not affected by my moods and there are times I’m less responsive than others – there’s nothing like having a clear head when you’re trying to write – but there’s often much we can do to improve our chances of a successful writing session, if we know ourselves. This is why some writers rise at the crack of dawn because they recognise that is the optimum time for them to work. I used to find working in the middle of the night was a very productive time but these days I’m at my clearest in the afternoons.

That said you can be struck by a good idea any time. The key is to be on the lookout. And have paper handy. It’s no different to a photographer wandering around with his camera on the lookout for something worth snapping. Unlike some authors there’s no place I find inspiring and believe you me I have pounded the street looking for ideas in the past. You can’t force a good idea to come to you any more than you can encourage a cat to come to you by shouting at it.”

We writers must write  under all circumstances. If we were to wait around for inspiration, then it may be a really long wait. As writers we have to be our own inspiration.  Once we start writing, our words will  inspire the next lot of words, which will further inspire more words which will give birth to the next lot of words.

I tried this four days back. I was battling a vicious bout of virus, running a temperature and the medication was  making me sleepy. My Crit Partner had sent me her feedback on my MG fiction. She was waiting for me to make the changes. Frankly speaking, I was in no mood to write, my muse as usual was missing in action.

But, I forced myself to write. For the next fifty minutes, meaningless words escaped my head. I jotted them down, though I knew I would discard them later. The initial blank page slowly filled with words as the thought of my Crit Partner waiting for the last few chapters filled my mind. I ended up making the changes even in the midst of a virus with my muse gone on a holiday.

This is one habit all of us should incorporate into our writing life. We should and must set personal deadlines. Else, the manuscript will take ages to get written. Do you all force yourself to write irrespective of the circumstances? Or do you all wait for the muse to drop in? 

Friday, July 1, 2011

Does your Mood Affect your Writing?

I have noticed that my writing is  largely affected by my mood. Whenever, I am over stressed, anxious, worried, sick, perhaps I may have had  a tiff with someone, or someone has hurt me, my writing suffers. And, it suffers big time. Though, I continue to write whatever my mood, it’s not my best writing that emerges during those times. And whenever I am relaxed, happy, have kind of tackled my anxieties, doubts and fears that keep cropping up at regular intervals, my writing comes out lucid, clear and definitely my better pieces emerge.

I don’t know why, I have to shed all my negative emotions when I am writing. It’s like the negative emotions clam up my creative cells and suck my creative juices dry. Many times, I try to switch off from  both: people and things that irritate or drive me crazy, but, its not always possible to do so. Real life is inhabited by people  and is full of situations that are not conducive to writing.

As writers, we have to write come what may. There are deadlines, both professional and personal to meet, and editors to answer to. I have now decided, that due to being a complete worry wart (courtesy mom’s genes) and a big brooder ( thanks to dad’s generous genetic inheritance) its never going to be possible for me to be completely relaxed, completely free of worries, or at peace with myself. Both: brooding and worrying is a part of my D.N.A  makeup and runs through my veins.

 To write well, I  have to create a happy atmosphere  deliberately. I do this by listening to lots of peppy music which instantly cheers me up and drives away the emotional blues. Even long walks help clear away the emotional cobwebs, but its not always possible to walk  anytime, so listening to music is the perfect answer. And my prayers help me out. Then, I am ready to tackle my writing.

 Does your mood affect your writing? Or, are you all  the lucky ones whose moods have no bearance on their writing? Are you all the blessed ones who come up with awesome writing inspite of being down in the dumps? What do you do to drive away the blues? Do you have any method to pep yourself up, so that your writing does not suffer? Please share the secret to your good writing mood with us?