Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Do we Worry about our Character’s Inner Conflict?

I  have read lots on adding conflict and tension on every page, getting our MC into frequent trouble to keep readers engrossed. All of us are aware of adding healthy doses of trouble for the MC in our stories. Keeping these pointers in mind, we all have carved out a perfect  antagonist who will bring about the right amount of tension and conflict in our stories.

I am just wondering, if we all are paying that much attention to our character’s Inner Conflict, or as one writer called it the Inner Journey. This inner conflict is extremely crucial for  a character’s growth. It’s these constant battles with one’s inner demons  that is a true test of character strength.

All of us have our inner demons to conquer: jealousy, envy, anger, temptations, indiscipline, insecurities, fears, anxieties, lack of trust and worries. Actually if we pay attention, everyday life is full of these small and big  inner conflicts that we constantly fight and sometimes try to hide from the world. It’s all these small monsters  that make us the unique individuals  that we are.

When we successfully manage to avoid that second piece of chocolate cake, with the strong reasoning that we need to stick to our diet plans, when we avoid over spending time on various social networking sites as we need to chalk up our word count for the day, when we bite back the words that rise up our throats when people bug us, we  show a strength of character. We can apply the same rules for the characters in our books. 
Character weaknesses and the way the character overcomes them are all a part of the inner journey which is as crucial as the external journey. We can add the inner conflict by giving our character few shortcomings: fear of heights, ego problems, a short temper, laziness, spending too much  money or being stingy, relationship issues, sibling rivalry, issues with bosses and juniors at work.

When our characters succumb to these temptations (even that is a good sign, as then we can make them wallow in guilt and misery) or overcome the temptations ( by pushing away the objects that were tempting them, this will show that our characters can summon their  inner strength  to conquer their shortcomings.) 

Let me tell you the truth, I am not very good with adding inner conflict. Do you all have any tips  for me to work on the Inner Conflict? How do we enhance that or add elements that can highlight the inner conflict of our characters?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lessons I have Learnt from my Favourite Books

Every book that has  joined my favourite list has taught me lots of  writing lessons. Roald Dahl’s books taught me the benefits of wild, wacky and wicked humour. His unique characters: the grumpy couple in The Twits, the funny Mr Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate factory, the adorable George in George’s Marvellous Medicine who  gives his Grandma a  medicine that makes her grow and grow and grow, has  nurtured in me the urge to create characters that kids will love. I am still trying to do that. Though you have been a great teacher, Mr Dahl, I am a slow student.

J.K.Rowling with her seven book saga on  witches and wizards taught me the benefit of creating unique settings and plotting in detail. Each Potter book was   full of surprises. Every question I had in my mind was answered by Rowling as though she  had read the questions  via telepathy. Rowling has made me see the benefits of extensive plotting especially when we plan a series. I am constantly amazed at how Rowling managed to hold a firm grip on all the characters, the various plot threads, without her books   plunging into dull terrain. Her ability to offer something new and interesting in each book made me  gasp.

Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer, another of my firm favourites has urged me to create characters that this generation of gizmo friendly children will enjoy.  For a person like me not blessed with techno abilities, it’s difficult to emulate Colfer. The humour in the Fowl books makes them  wonderful, as do all the characters.

Rick Riordan the author of the Percy Jackson series who has dished up history  in a fabulous never seen before way, makes me rush towards Indian Mythological Creatures to see if I can rustle up some of Riordan’s magic. As of now, none of the Indian characters want to join my literary world. Perhaps they don’t trust me to write their stories.

The Princess Diaries books by Meg Cabot taught me the art of staying true to the target readers. The reason the books are so successful are because they echo the mindset, desires and attitudes of the generation they are catering to. Its important  that our stories resonate with the readers  to make an emotional connection.

What have your favourite books and authors taught you? What is the reason you read them again and again? Please share  your views with us.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Few Imaginative and Funny Writing Prompts

Today, let’s move away from the usual serious topics. The topic for this post is Imaginative and Funny Writing Prompts. It’s just our imagination and us; the wilder the imagination, the better ideas we can get.  Here are few of my wacky ideas.

1. Imagine your Main Character’s boyfriend/girlfriend, who is  prone to jealousy and suspicion, volunteers for a clone experiment. It succeeds, and now there are two of them, exactly the same. Its Double Trouble. What happens to the poor MC when she/he  has to put up with the two of them?

2. Three men wearing strange clothes follow your Protagonist  and her/his friend home. It turns out that the Protagonist’s girl friend/boyfriend is an alien with amnesia, and can't remember a thing. These men have arrived to escort him/her back. What happens now?

3. Your Protagonist  befriends a man who is the Keeper of Secrets. Now your protagonist is aware of every secret  in the world. He/she can blackmail everyone. What does your protagonist do?

4. Your Main Character is stranded with a  shape-shifter on a deserted highway. Now what happens?

5. One of your characters meets with an accident, he/she wakes up in the hospital and realizes that they have developed an ability to read people’s minds, or see their future. This can be disastrous.

These prompts are great short story ideas.Can you think of any wild and funny writing prompts? We all badly need to exercise our  creative muscle and also laugh. Please share them with us.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Literary Device : The Red Herring

 I had heard about the Red Herring many times. And for once a Literary Device/Technique did not confuse me. After I read about it, I easily understood the Red Herring  and its meaning and significance.

As we all know, a Red Herring is an idiomatic term/expression that refers to the technique in fiction, of diverting attention away from an item of significance. It’s also called a smoke screen or a wild goose chase.

 My personal belief is that the technique of a Red Herring is  more effective in mystery fiction, where to take away attention from the real criminal, an innocent person may be deliberately  cast  in a guilty light by the author, through the cunning use of  false emphasis, deceptive clues  that completely mislead a reader, and  also through the usage of loaded words, or over emphasis of certain objects or people. Its like laying a false trail of bread crumbs.

 This is done to misguide the reader, so that the real culprit enjoys freedom  from suspicion. And ultimately when the real culprit is caught, the reader is taken completely unaware and is shocked beyond expectation. It’s said that some writers even create a false protagonist to misguide readers.

For me Snape in the Potter series was a great example of a Red Herring. I  always thought Snape was on Voldemort’s side, but the last book revealed that Snape was Dumbledore’s man and was secretly on Harry’s side.

 As for me, though I have adopted the Red Herring as a tool in my story, I am not sure how successful I have been or how effective it is. Have any of you used the Red Herring in your stories? Does any  example of a Red Herring come to mind?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine Blogfest

 This is a part of Laughter is the Best Medicine  Blogfest hosted by Lydia  at The Word is my Oyster and Leigh T Moore at That’s Write. The best jokes emerge when we laugh at ourselves.

My Blog Fest entry is a  conversation between my eight year old protagonist Rohit and the Tooth Fairy Catherine. Both, Rohit and Catherine  featured in  a book I had written 14 years back. The book was sent to just one publisher who fainted seeing its length. At 55,000 words it was way too big for the target readers.

Read on to know  more about what Rohit and Catherine think of me.

          ‘I feel bad that children will never hear about your  story,’ Catherine turned to Rohit.

          ‘That silly girl Rachna, really messed up my story,’ Rohit grimaced. ‘The book sucked.’

            ‘I thought  she had worked hard,’ Catherine twirled her wand.

            ‘She wrote my story in 13  days. There was no brainstorming session, no plot outline, no character chart. Rachna just cut me out from a sheet of cardboard and pasted me into the story. My character was flat and one dimensional,’ Rohit shook his head.

              ‘She was young  and silly then,’ Cathy laughed. ‘She  put  more effort while working on me, forgetting that you were the protagonist.’

             ‘Yep,’ Rohit said. ‘Her stupid book had no antagonist, there was no sign of a conflict, no tension, no plot. The book was  full of clich├ęs, the writing style sucked, it was an inflated story about a modern day fairyland. If I had written my own story, I  am sure  it would have been published.’

                 ‘Children nowadays don’t believe in fairies  or  fairyland. Perhaps witches or vampires would have done the trick,’ Catherine said wisely. ‘Maybe, her muse was on an extended holiday when she wrote about you.’

                 ‘When I see Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Percy Jackson, Billy Bones, I feel jealous. I could have been famous, if that girl had worked hard on me,’ Rohit grumbled. 

                 ‘ I have heard  Rachna has plans of reviving that particular project,’ Catherine whispered.

                   Rohit shivered. ‘ I don’t want to become a laughing stock in the literary world. Do me a favour,’ Rohit pleaded with Catherine ‘make her forget about me; a few spells should do the trick. Just zap her mind or whatever it’s that you fairies do. I can live with jealousy, but not with  the criticism  she is sure to get if my story ever comes out.’

Hope you enjoyed my entry. I  am looking forward to reading all  the other entries.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How much of Editing/Rewriting Should we Allow?

Sometime back, I read in the newspaper that a book I had really liked had the last one third  of the book, practically re-written by the editor of the publishing house. We writers are aware that our books will be edited, and I am sure we all are cool with it. Even the best writers say that they are lost without their editors. An editor’s sharp eyes catch hold of gaps in the plot and highlight the weaknesses and help tighten the story by  trimming the flab.

But  when an editor rewrites the book, I feel that is too much. The editor can make few small  changes, even give suggestions, but just taking hold of someone’s manuscript and reworking on it, without consulting the writer is too much. I suppose some writers are  eager to get their  books published, so they  accept all the conditions by the publishing houses, even conditions they don't like.

I am cool with editing, I know that I am not perfect and I have a tendency to make lots of mistakes which I overlook and I am extremely happy when my editors suggest changes and wait for me to incorporate them in my stories and books. But just making major  changes without letting me know about them is something I am not comfortable with.

I feel when our stories and books are rewritten by the editor, somewhere along the way, the writer’s  unique voice and style  get submerged  in the editorial interference, as the rewrite will bring with it the editor’s style of writing. Maybe I am wrong, and this is just my personal belief.

What do you all think? Shouldn’t an editor suggest changes to the writer and wait for the writer to work through them, or should the editor just go ahead and rework on the portions that they feel are weak without giving the writer a chance to make the changes. How much editing do you think we writers should allow? Should we silently allow major rewrites of our book by  the editor, even if we don’t like those changes?

PS. The Blogger technical problem removed most of the comments from my previous post. I just want  to thank each one of you for visiting my blog and sharing your lovely thoughts. I truly appreciate your comments and the discussions the comments generate.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Do You Like Writing Chapter Titles?

 I just cannot imagine writing a book, without chapter titles enticing my readers into the story, or making the readers mull over what will happen in the course of the chapter. Actually, I have an obsession with chapter  titles. I need them to get my creative juices flowing in a big way. When I write the  first draft by hand, right on  top is the chapter title sending frantic messages to my brain.

Infact, I sometimes feel that I initially conceive the chapter title and later build a scene around it. For me the title works as a  scene prompt or a trigger to propel the story forward. Many times a title jumps into my mind and then my brain cells start buzzing with ideas to build around the  chapter title. I know, I must be sounding funny, even weird, but that’s just the way it is with me. So far, I have never written a book without chapter titles.

I am sure that if I just had plain old numbers: 1,2,3,4,  my poor brain would clam up and I would be stuck in a major writer’s block.

Let me share two incidents  that occurred while I was working on my current WIP. I was stuck big time at a point in my  book. I was so badly stuck that I even thought about shelving the manuscript for the time being. Then, magically I had an idea to take the story forward. The idea came in the form of a character, who became the chapter title and literally grabbed the story out of my hand. A few days later another chapter title jumped into my head  and brought  with it one of my favourite scenes from the book.

What about you all? Do you have chapter titles in place when you start writing, or do the chapter titles make their appearance later, after you have finished writing? What is your chapter title creative process? Do you like chapter titles? Or do you feel they are a waste of time.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Starting a Story with the Death of the MC

Sometime back, I was commissioned to write a short story for an anthology for children in the ten plus age group. After brainstorming for few days, I zeroed in upon a story about a ghost.

Thinking that it would be a unique idea I brainstormed some more and finally wrote the story and emailed it to my  editor.

‘Oh my God,’ the editor said on the phone. ‘You started the story with the death of the main character. Children just won’t like it. Please write another one. This story won’t do.’

All my reasoning that as the story is about a ghost, it had to have death,  met with a refusal. My main character was a ten year old boy who meets with an accident while on a school picnic and both the boy and his sister become ghosts. After that, starts their training as ghosts.

In this case I felt that the death of the main character had a strong reason behind it. But my editor was unwilling to accept the story. I even told her that children today are smart and are aware of death and accidents, but she was adamant that the story would not go down well with children because of the death factor. At the last minute I had to write another story for the anthology and send it.

The editor’s arguments made me think, that does starting a story or even a book with the death of a main character spell its doom. Do people shy away from such stories. I felt that the death in my story was justified. There was no flashback,  about what the boy was before he died. The story started from the boy’s death and how he turns into a ghost and is accepted  into the world of ghosts. I had to show death, as the boy just cannot turn into a ghost one fine morning.

Children read in papers about school buses meeting with accidents and children dying. They even see deaths in their own families: their grandparents, aunts and uncles. So it’s not as though they are not aware of death. I have heard small children say that so and so has gone to heaven, or is with God.

What do you all think? Was I justified in starting the story with the boy’s death? Do you think my editor was right? What would you have done in either place: my editors and mine?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Scribblerati and few other Useful Links

Seeing the Scribblerati badge on the top left hand corner of my blog, many people have asked me about this site. So I decided to address this question in a blog post for  everyone. Scribblerati is a  wonderful networking site  for writers and illustrators from all over the world. This Ning site is a Scribe’s Sanctuary, open to writers and illustrators at different stages of publication. There is no distinction; even writers seeking publication are a part of this site.

Lia Keyes, British Author, now settled in California is the creator and administrator of the fabulous Scribblerati, a site where one can  meet writers with common interests, chat with other writers, post  pages of one’s manuscripts for critiques, exchange ideas and get feedback from other writers and also post blogs, book trailers and videos. The variety of ways to interact with other writers and illustrators are endless.

Most of  the writing friends I have met online have been via Scribblerati. Actually its only after reading the blogs  posted on Scribblerati  that I was tempted to take the plunge into blogosphere. If any of my writing friends want to join Scribblerati, they are welcome.We Scribblerati members look forward to seeing you all there.

I came across another amazing site EditMinion which is a robotic copy editor to help us refine our writing by finding common mistakes. It pointed out my mistake, which is over use of the  Passive Voice.

Another useful site which I am sure many writers are familiar with is the Writer’s Digest. The site hosts everything from writing advice and prompts to community forums and blogs. One can also register for the Writer’s Digest’s E-Newsletter.

A site  that I have saved to tackle during the weekend is Bonnie Neubauer's Online Story Spinner  which offers millions of computer generated story prompts for creative writers. The Story Spinner provides setting, starting phrases and four words that must be included in your story. During the weekend I will hopefully do few such prompts.        

Have you used any of these online sites? What has your experience been  with such sites?