Friday, October 29, 2010

Accuracy: Does Fiction Need It?

I'm struggling with one simple little problem at this current stage in my edits. This is where I'm combing through, looking for stylistic and voice problems, but I'm also looking for... accuracy.

Dum, dum, duuuum!

Yeah, it's scary. I mean, it's fiction. By definition it isn't gospel truth. But in contemporary YA, it should reflect the real world, for the most part, as it is. My novel, FAKE, takes place somewhere I have never been to. The character's family is of a religion I do not belong to. And while I know enough about both the location and the religion to write pretty confidently and truthfully, I do not know certain, very specific details.

Google is my friend.

But where does "research" cross a line into utter time-wasting distraction? Is it really vitally important that every speck of the story be grounded in absolute truth, or is it okay to take a few liberties? I'm obviously trying to depict the religion as sensitively as possible, and I'm trying not to cast it in a totally negative light (there's a lot about this religion I respect), but when the story is about religion-gone-wrong, is it okay to write it the way it needs to be written? Should I really worry about offending an entire group of people? Do I care whether or not the book is banned?

My heart tells me no, I shouldn't worry about offending people, and no, I shouldn't give a damn if they want to ban it. But my head tells me it's a valid worry and to get all the facts right that I can.

What do you think? Does anybody else write about controversial topics and worry about censorship, or just plain getting stuff wrong?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Becca's Tips for Conquering NaNoWriMo!

I've been wanting to do a post on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, for the uninitiated) for a while now, but lately a carpal-tunnel, muscle-spasmy thing has been happening in my right hand and writing/typing has been really hard. Luckily it feels a little better today and I am going to make the best of it!

So... NaNoWriMo. If you're a participate, most likely you're a rabid fan and you laud its amazingness to all your friends and violently urge them to join you. If you're one of these friends, you probably think it's totally crazy. Writing a novel in a month, pssh! Can't be done!

Well, it can. The thousands of people who complete the 50,000 word challenge everywhere are a testament. My favourite thing about NaNo is that it turns wannabe writers into real writers. I know so many people that say they envy me because I "have the time" to sit down and write all these books, and I just want to shout at them, "TRY NANO." Seriously, all the time you need to write a book is an hour a day. If you sit your butt down and write for a whole hour, you can make the 1,667 words, and if you do it every day you'll have a whole novel in 30 days. Really, it's not that hard!

With that said, it's not that easy, either. I have a few tried-and-true tricks I've used to help me win NaNo the past two years.

1. Just sit there and freaking write. I can't stress this enough. Don't type a sentence, then go back and delete a word, then contemplate the theme and meaning of said sentence. You will get nowhere if you take it phrase-by-phrase, trying to craft a work of art. Seriously - your novel will not be a work of art the first time around. It will be an absolute shambles. The sooner you can accept it, the better.

Just write. Write the first thing that comes into your head, and then build on it. It's the equivalent of a band jamming together, just riffing on each others' sounds. Learn to riff with yourself.

Besides, there's always December for your editing.

2. Use Write or Die. Dr Wicked's Write or Die is a godsend. It's the kick-in-the-pants you need if you just can't concentrate. Set your goal relatively low (that way you really feel like you're accomplishing something when you make the goal!), and set the time pretty high. Then just write, as fast as you freakin' can. You'll be amazed at the amount of material you'll be able to pound out when a clock is counting down on you.

For maximum effectiveness you can pretend a bomb will go off if you don't get to 500 words.

3. Try really hard to pound out a beginning, middle, and end. This is really important, and something I failed on the past two years. I wrote two superhero sci-fi epics, and both times I got to 50,000 words without reaching the end of the story. Both of these novels I went on to finish in December, but at a much slower pace and while having much less fun than I did in November.

Even if it cuts out giant chunks of your story, try to finish the novel. The goal is for your final two words to be 'The End.' I'm going to be working hard on this one.

4. Start a brand-new novel on November 1st. Don't bring an idea you've been building up in your head for months - or years. Don't bring a half-finished manuscript you've been wrestling with. These are against the rules, and if you commit those crimes rabid monkeys will come after you.

Bring something completely new to the table. Or don't bring any ideas! You could start with one character, one inciting event, and start off into the Great Noveling Beyond with not a clue where it's going.

Closely related to that...

5. Have fun. Write something that excites you. Write something that ignites passion, something that brings a manic smile to your face. Something that you just can't wait to share with the world.

Whether or not you're participating in NaNoWriMo, stay passionate. Good writing can come later.

Monday, October 18, 2010

This Post is About Race

I hope I've articulated all this correctly and not offended anybody...

Today in my Contemporary Women's Literature class we discussed Toni Morrison's story "Recitatif." It's the kind of story I'm not very good at reading -- it's very literary, doesn't have a linear plot line, and it's full of obscure symbolism and literary devices you study in English classes.

When I read it by myself this week, I wasn't really sure what to make of it. I was a little confused, but discussing it in class made a world of difference, and it made me start thinking about the issue of race in fiction.

In "Recitatif," two young girls, Twyla and Roberta, meet in a kind of orphanage, and then again ten years later, and they basically have an encounter every ten years after that. One of the girls is African-American and the other is caucasian, and there are a lot of racial tensions between them that affect the way they see the world.

The thing is, though, that we don't know which girl is black and which is white.

There are hints dropped all over the place, but they are very contradictory. On the second page Twyla refers to Roberta's enormous hair -- could this mean that she has big, curly, African-American hair? Or could it just be that she has a perm, since it takes place in the 70s? Later on, the two women are picketing on either side of a debate related to segregation in schools, but we don't know who is on which side! We don't know who is opposing segregation and who is supporting it; all we get is the way the women interact from either side of the issue.

It's really a remarkable story. ANYWAY, the point of this post was something that my prof brought up: since we get a contradictory physical description of both Twyla and Roberta, so we don't know who looks like what, what does that show us about the way people of different races are depicted in fiction?

In my experience, and this happens often in YA, if the main character isn't specifically described as belonging to a certain ethnicity, he/she is assumed to be white. If the description we get of our female lead character is that she has dark hair and dark eyes, couldn't she technically be African-American, or Asian, or Hispanic, or European, or Black Irish, or anything? And if she is supposed to be a certain ethnicity, it's mentioned right away, using semi-offensive terms like "coffee-coloured skin" or something. She's labelled right away as being THIS type of person.

This is really making me think about how my own writing could be more diverse and inclusionary. But at the same time, I don't want to make it so multicultural that it's unrealistic!

It's a slippery slope. But I'd definitely like to fill my novels with lots of different types of people. Isn't variety the spice of life?

Friday, October 15, 2010

I'm Wide Awake, It's Friday

Happy Friday, everybody! Except that Friday actually heralds the beginning of my work week, so I'm actually in for a weekend not of relaxation but of torture...

Anyways, I've been working on my revision almost all day so far, from the time I got out of the shower at 9:30 to about an hour ago at 1:00. I'm pretty happy about where it's going - the agent that gave me all the edit notes totally, absolutely understands the story. It's incredible how much stronger the changes she suggested are making the novel.

The only thing I'm struggling with today is trying to take it one thing at a time. As I'm working, I keeping finding myself thinking about scenes coming up, or scenes I've already read through, and it's wrecking my concentration. I really have to make an effort to focus and remind myself that those scenes I find myself obsessing over will still be there when I'm done editing the current scene!

Also, today I started reading Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund, which I've been waiting to read since last year! Today is a good, good day.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

First Person vs. Third Person

Most novels, YA and otherwise, can be divided into two groups: those written in third person, and those written in first. I'll talk primarily about YA in this post, but it applies to adult novels as well.

Third person, in case you need a quick brush-up, is when books are narrated like this:

"Sally ran up the stairs. Her heart was pounding as she threw open the door."

First person is when it's narrated like this:

"I ran up the stairs. My heart was pounding as I threw open the door."

We see both styles all the time, but I think that third person POV is more common in the literature world at large. First person is common in YA, but used less frequently in adult novels, I find.

So... which is better?

I'm going to make my case for first person.

In first person narration, we experience the story right along with the narrator, who is almost always the main protagonist. When they see something, we see it. More importantly, when they feel something, we feel it right along with them.

This allows us a more intimate view of the story, and a closer relationship with the protagonist. In YA novels, this is important. The main reason *I* read fiction is to develop close friendships with characters. Even if they're fictional people, their feelings and experiences make me feel less alone in what I feel and experience. When I read a book in first person and spend a lot of time in the head of a character I really connect with, everything in the book just comes to life and reading is fun as hell.

Third person, however, creates a greater distance between the character and the reader. This is tremendously important in some genres (for instance, I'm reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo right now and the third person POV is fantastic), but I don't think it works in most YA novels. I think the thing that makes a lot of YA shine is unique character voices, whether it's sarcastic and blasé or erratic and hilarious, and third person takes away the opportunity for the development of fantastic character voices.

Unless you're trying to create that distance from the character, which can work if you're going for a literary feel to the novel, you're better off using first person POV in YA so we can achieve those close friendships with the narrator.

That's my $0.02. What do YOU think?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

How do you make character voices distinct?

So I'm deep in the trenches of my agent-requested revision.

One of the main things said agent wants to see in this revision is my second viewpoint character, Orlando, to appear much earlier in the narrative. She basically wanted to see much more of Orlando, as he's a pretty interesting character (paraplegic, wheelchair-bound gay boy, anyone?).

In the original version of FAKE, Orlando appeared about halfway through the narrative, in epistolary chunks. Journal entries, emails from him to the MC Jen, stuff like that. But what the agent wants is for him to have his own chapters right from the beginning, his own story arc right alongside Jen's.

So I've ditched the epistolary thing and I'm now writing new first-person POV chapters for him right from the beginning.

But the hard thing about this revision, so far, is trying to make Jen and Orlando's voices different. Before it was easy. Jen was first-person present tense, Orlando was writing in a journal. Very easy to distinguish who was speaking when you started reading a chapter. But now, when they're both first-person, how do I make them sound different?

I have basic things. For example, Jen is more pessimistic, swears more, uses more sentence fragments. Orlando is usually bright and sunny, and he categorizes a lot of things in threes (makes lists of pretty much everything). But other than that, I'm having a hard time developing a "voice" for him. Should he use less description? Be less "poetic"? Should I have distinctive chapter headings, like Chapter One: Jen, or is that too obvious?

I think I might be profoundly overthinking this.

What do you guys think I should do? I need heeeeelllppp!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Songs on Saturday (5)

This week's song comes from A Rocket To The Moon, a band I recently discovered. They opened for Hanson (yes, that Hanson) when I saw them last week, and I've just been unable to get this song out of my head since I heard them perform it.

It's just so catchy! And pretty! And cutesy! And that makes it a perfect song for writing contemporary slightly-romance-y YA. I'm using this song to help me write a few scenes I'm writing for my revision (that weren't in the first draft... yeah, the revision is kinda like that), wherein we have some lovely unrequited love and that's basically what I feel this song's about. It's also kind of emo, and my scenes are all about two emo boys, so all the more perfect!