Category: Uncategorised (page 1 of 11)

Pacing

I recently attended a workshop on pacing. In broad terms, pacing describes the speed at which your story is told. An exciting action scene is fast-paced. The sentences are short, verbs are intense, words are terse. The reader is led through the scene in short bursts of action with few or no descriptors. The reader’s heart should race as she confronts danger.

In more reflective scenes, the sentences are longer, with several clauses. The writer pauses to describe the protagonists surroundings, or her feelings and thoughts. Here the writer wants the reader to slow down, to catch her breath and to identify more deeply with the main character.

The mix of these two types of writing gives the story its pace. Too fast, and the reader is exhausted and may not finish the book. Too slow, and the reader is apt to fall asleep and forget to pick up the book again. In romance, readers demand a story that takes them into the hearts of the characters — slower pace. They also want a book that takes them to new places — perhaps a slower pace. But they want the action of the story to keep them on the edge of their seats, pages turning quickly, eyes moving rapidly across the printed lines — fast pace.

I knew all that before I took the workshop so expected to have my ideas reinforced and maybe pick up a tip or two on how to vary the pace of a story.

I was surprised then, when the speaker talked about time in a whole other context. She talked about story-time, reader-time and writer-time.

Story-time is the timeline of the story. Is it six weeks or six years? Does it cover one weekend or generations? Once the author knows her story-time and the number of words she expects to write, she can break down the scenes by words — sort of.  If I’m writing a story with a 60 day timeline and the finished book will be 60,000 words, it would seem I can spend a thousand words on each day. That would be very poor pacing, but it gives a general outline of the task of the writer.

It is highly unlikely that a romance would document every day of this 60 day period in equal detail. The author will pick the high points for the protagonist. She’ll spend more words on the scene where hero and heroine meet, than on the weather the day after. She’ll write more words in the action scenes because the reader will be reading quickly. If the author wants the action scene to last more than a minute for the reader, she needs to fill several pages with those short, snappy sentences. She needs to dig deep into the characters’ emotions and visceral responses, without getting wordy and slowing the action.

When it comes to the slower scenes, with longer, complex sentences and multi-syllable words, the writer needs few words to fill the reader-time, because the reader is perusing those words more slowly.

This was an entirely new concept for me. I’ll admit to being disappointed in my action scenes on occasion. When I’m writing them, I “think” I’m getting it right. I’m using those intense verbs. I’m avoiding dialogue tags and modifiers. My heart is racing as I get my characters down the rapids or out of the clutches of outlaws. Yet, the next day, when I re-read the scene, it feels too small. I now realize that I’ve confused writer-time with reader-time. Because a scene took me a long time to write, it doesn’t mean it will take the reader a long time to read it.

Modern genre novels tend to be fast-paced. We start with the car crash and go up from there. Right now I’m reading a book written in the 1920’s and the introduction takes three chapters. The book was highly successful and has been made into a movie. At the time of its writing, I expect reader-time was a luxury and fans would enjoy the slow pace, stretching out their enjoyment of the book.

Nowadays, attention spans are short. Readers have many demands on their time and can’t, or won’t, ease into a story with a long introduction of time and place and circumstance. Yet, to make a story interesting, readers need to know the time and place and circumstance. The author must exercise great skill in conveying these necessary facts while still giving the reader a sense of racing ahead — until she’s tired enough to take a breath.

The concept of writer-time vs reader-time I find intriguing. My hope is that it will make the first draft of my action scenes more successful.

I love my writer’s group. No matter how many workshops I attend, there’s always a fresh take that helps me grow as a writer. Thanks to the many authors who share their wisdom and their experience.

What about you? Do you want stories that are mostly action? Do you like the long, gentle introduction? Any thoughts on pacing. I’d love to hear them.

 

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Necessary Beauty

For Christians, Easter morning is about resurrection, new birth, new life, renewal, a fresh start, an amazing gift, a life-changing event. We sing at sunrise services, we shout Hallelujah to the risen Lord. It is a day of jubilation. How heartbreaking then, were the attacks on Christian churches in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, not to mention the bombing of tourist resorts. Nearly 300 dead, 500 injured. So much hate on a day that celebrates love. It took the glow off for me, that’s for certain.

On Monday, as I feasted on leftovers from a bounteous Easter brunch, I couldn’t shake my heaviness of heart. I felt overwhelmed by world events and powerless to respond. What can one person do against such staggering odds?

I went in search of solace. I found it in a garden. Beauty — a gift from God — reminded me that there is still much to celebrate in this world. Giant tulips, happy-faced pansies and streams of glowing colours lifted the darkness from my soul.

Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

This little blog cannot change the world, but I hope that sharing these pictures will raise the spirits of one or two, that they will bring a smile to a sad heart or trigger a happy memory for a lonely reader.

Enjoy,   and Happy Easter week.

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Notre Dame

courtesy cnn

Along with most of the world, I had a heavy heart on Monday morning. The film showing Notre Dame de Paris burning seems so impossible. This icon of France, monumental architecture of the medieval world, symbol of the Christian church, guardian of the city for over 1000 years is so etched on the public conscience it seems impossible that it can be lost. When I saw the spire topple I couldn’t help but sob.

Today, there are vows to rebuild and pledges of millions of dollars, to help with that effort. There is comfort in know all the world cares about this piece of history. I wonder though, will it ever be the same? Can a reproduction take the place of the original?

A few years ago, my husband and I took a trip through Europe where we visited castle after castle and cathedral upon cathedral. Nearly all had been severely damaged during WWII. They had been rebuilt using materials and techniques true to the original structure. The results were truly amazing.

One structure in particular, the Residenze at Würzburg, had been nearly 87% destroyed, yet many of the treasures had already been removed from the building — much as many of the art works had already been removed from Notre Dame. Between 1945 and 1987 the Residenze was restored at a cost of approximately €20m.

For me, the most spectacular room was the mirror cabinet . The walls were formed of glass and paintings were etched on them from behind! i.e. the artist had to build up the image backward. So in a face, the dot of light at the centre of the eye went on first, then the pupil, then the iris, then the white of the eye, then the lids, etc. The last touch put on the painting was the background. My mind boggled at the skill and knowledge required to achieve such an effect. 

Much as I appreciated seeing the treasures of Medieval Europe I couldn’t help but ask why a war-ravished country was willing to spend so much on old buildings. The population needed food, shelter, transport, schools, hospitals . . .  How did they justify the expenditure of millions and millions of dollars on historic buildings. The citizen I asked replied that their history was what they had to show to the world. In North America, she said, or Australia or New Zealand, we have landscape. In Europe, they have history.

While I love the vistas and open spaces of my country, Canada, I’m not sure we have a good sense of history. I’m glad that Europe does. Today Notre Dame de Paris is a shell, but it holds the heart of a people. I rejoice that it will rise from the ashes.                                                                                                                                                            

 

 

 

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Second Thoughts

I’m often troubled with insomnia.  Experts warn against lying awake for hours on end. They suggest insomniacs get up and “do” something useful. What the experts forget though, is that bed is cozy and comfortable. Getting up requires leaving those warm blankets and stumbling around in the dark and cold. I’d rather lie in bed, even if I’m not asleep. My compromise is to “think” something useful, while enjoying the comfort of my pillow. Sometimes I write letters in my head, or draw up a plan of action for the next day. Often, I think about my work in progress. That’s what prompted today’s blog.

While lying in the dark as the minutes ticked over I mulled the writing so far and came to the conclusion that my heroine was too bland. I’d tried to make her shy and nervous, but I’d given her a profession that required assertiveness and skill. The two aspects of her character were not working together. I came up with a solution. In her working life she is capable and cheerful. Only around one family member do her insecurities come to the fore. This solution pleases me no end, even though it means I must go back through the pages already written and incorporate the character changes. I’m sure I’ll like my heroine better.

One of the ways I’ll show the two opposing facets of her character is through letters to her sister. Here’s a sample.

You’ll have to laugh, Chastity when you read about my first day. I arrived travel-stained and smeared with mud. I found two mad men in the hospital entrance, one hopping about and shrieking like a banshee, the other brandishing a pistol. I didn’t know whether to interfere or run for my life. I chose to act. If Florence Nightingale can nurse soldiers in a war zone, I can dress wounds in a mining town.  As it turns out, the man with the pistol is the doctor.. . .

She paused in her writing to chuckle as she imagined Chastity’s shock upon reading this tale. Then she sobered. Chastity was a kindred spirit, sharing Verity’s sense of the ridiculous and view of the world. She could happily live with that sister. But Moira . . . Levity vanished as she considered her youngest sister, scarred, dour, and difficult and all Verity’s fault.

Does that excerpt give you a hint of Verity’s character and her conflict? I’d love to see you comments.

How do you spend sleepless nights?

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Genre as Training Ground

My book club’s choice for this month was a  book by an author I knew first as a romance writer. I looked forward to a gentle read. Wrong! The author had written what Donald Maass might call a “breakout” novel, the story that is deeper, more complex, bigger, and usually a better seller than the genre novel that preceded it. The book I just read achieved all of that.

Yet, I could still see the “genre” fingerprints in the work. There was The Writer’s Journey technique of a call to adventure, the refusal of the call and finally crossing the threshold that launched the protagonist into the story. Since there were two parallel stories, the author used this technique with both of them.

I could also detect Goal, Motivation, & Conflict on nearly every page. Each of the main characters was focussed on a goal of protecting family, motivated by love of family. Then the writer threw obstacle after obstacle in their way. Sometimes small goals were achieved and the story moved forward. Sometimes those goals were thwarted, leading to further complications. In one memorable scene the main goal appeared to be accomplished, only to turn to ashes. You can’t go home again, no matter how desperately you try.

True to her roots, the author included a romance, but it was a side bar, not the core of the novel. The book was not what I’d expected, but it was a good read and I’m sure our book club discussion will be lively.

Coming from my perspective as a romance writer, I found affirmation in this author’s journey from genre to mainstream. Nearly every writer dreams of writing the breakout novel, both for the financial reward and for the literary satisfaction. Based on this book, writing genre fiction is excellent training.

I’m always on the lookout for a breakout novel. Any suggestions?

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In Praise of Book Club

Twenty years ago, when book clubs were all the rage, my friend and I decided to start one. We had few rules. One was that members had to live in the neighbourhood.  Our winter nights are very black and often pouring rain. No one wanted to travel a long dark highway in November. The second rule was about the reading list. We wanted to push ourselves to read outside our usual book choices so we agreed that the reading list had to have books from a variety of genres. So, our choices included one each from romance, mystery, historical, biography, travel, hobbies, best seller, classic, children’s . . . you get the idea.

Over the life of the book club, our membership has changed a little, but four of the original members are still there and two others are eighteen year members. When we started, we were all working women. Now we’re all retired. We’ve seen each other through children’s graduation, the arrival of grandchildren, health challenges and the rough spots of life. And we keep reading across a broad range of topics.

Last week we did a trip down memory lane recalling the books we’d enjoyed the most and those we’d disliked but that sparked great conversations. I had done a sort through my files and come upon bits of paper with scribbled titles that never made it to the actual reading list, usually because it would repeat a genre. At our next book choosing session, I’ll put those old titles up for consideration and see if they make it to the final reading list this time.

I haven’t used a book club in any of my novels but in the latest book of the Prospect Series, Her One True Love, my hero and heroine get to know each other while discussing books. Of course, in the 1890’s their “best sellers” were very different from ours. Here’s a sample:

“We should hear back in a couple of weeks. Now, give me your opinion of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Mrs. North has it in the library now.”

“Such a strange book.” She refilled their coffee cups. “I suppose it can be read as a treatise on the human personality. We all have good and evil contained within ourselves. Mr. Stevenson has presented the two sides of a man’s nature in an exaggerated form.”

They talked until the coffee pot was empty. Books, music, current events, Louisa found they had much in common. If it weren’t for the clerical collar, she could like Daniel Stanton very much. As it was she resolved to keep him at a distance. The minute they disagreed on anything, he’d go all stony-faced and quote scripture at her and remind her that she was a daughter of Eve and therefore responsible for the fall of mankind.

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Is Writing Routine?

I used to have a writing routine. After my husband left for work, I wrote, without interruption until he came home for lunch. After lunch I might do editing, but more likely I’d do my chores — shopping, cooking, gardening, sewing. Before bed, I’d read.

Life events have thrown that routine out the window. I’m seeking a new routine that fits with my present lifestyle. I found that coffee shop writing works well, but I don’t like leaving home every afternoon and our recent spell of snow on snow on snow has made that impossible.

I decided to research how other authors maintained their routines, or even if they had one.  The results showed nearly all of 20 famous authors kept to a strict early morning time for writing every day and most employed vigorous activity in the afternoons.  Maya Angelou wrote in a tiny hotel room with no distractions. Jane Austen wrote in the sitting room while her sisters and mother sewed. If visitors came, she hid her papers and joined in the sewing. E.B. White in the busy living room of his house. His family ignored him and he ignored them. (Rather like my coffee shop method – lots of activity but all as white noise.)

Fascinating facts, but none that suggested a routine that did not include early morning writing hours. Of the modern authors, all mentioned the need to turn off social media, etc. during writing hours. That siren call of “you’ve got mail” seems hard to resist.

Philip Roth said  “one skill that every writer needs it the ability to sit still in the deeply uneventful business.“ At least this advice isn’t tied to a time of day. On the surface, sitting still seems a simple requirement. It is not. How often have you sat at your writing desk and decided to just run out to the mailbox, or throw in a load of laundry, or make that one urgent phone call? Sitting still and concentrating on one, difficult, mental task requires a tremendous amount of discipline. That may be why writers desperately seek routines, or rituals.  If we do the same thing, every day, in the same place, perhaps some magic will happen. Our brains will turn on to “writing mode” and the words will pour out on their own.

I wish. Only rarely have the words poured out for me and that is when I’m on a roll. Getting started is a whole other question.

I did find one piece of encouragement. Nora Roberts began her writing career by making notes on stray bits of paper while caring for twin boys with too much energy and a no school day.  No special morning hours there!

This quote from Jennifer Crusie gives hope to the scattered approach .

Do you spend eight hours a day/ 40 hours a week writing or is it less structured?  Honey, I don’t do anything for forty hours a week. It’s “less structured.” I like that. “Less structured.” Instead of “completely random and chaotic.”

None of my research has provided an example of a successful writer who uses the afternoon hours as prime writing time, but I did learn that consistency is a virtue, no matter what the time of day.  And sitting still . . . I’ll work on that.

Over to you, dear readers. Do any of your have a routine that includes filling the empty pages in the afternoon? Please share.

 

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Book to Movie

Christmas is over, the weather is nasty, and I’m feeling lazy. As a result I’ve watched a lot of television lately. My primary impression from my binge is that network television has nothing to offer. I’ve even taken to watching sports!

 My programs of choice are CBC news, Knowledge network and PBS. Makes me wonder why I’m paying for cable. My secondary choices are movies, and that leads me to today’s topic.

I like romance. Romantic movies that make me laugh or cry feel like time well-spent. The old ones with Hepburn and Tracy, Rock Hudson and Doris Day, or Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant are guaranteed to lift my mood. I don’t care that the war-between-the-sexes is old hat, or that modern women aren’t nearly so concerned about their virtue as their counterparts in the movies of the fifties and sixties. The films are entertaining. I can suspend disbelief for an hour or two and just enjoy.

The newer movies,( they don’t seem to have a romantic pairing like Hudson and Day) are more problematic. (I’m speaking here of the made for TV versions, not the block-busters playing at a theatre near you.)

In these films, the characters seem plastic. Their teeth are too white. They are too good to be true and they are so politically correct they come across as insipid. Sometimes I’ve recognized the story from a book I read and enjoyed, yet when I see it on the screen, I’m embarrassed for the “romance” community. So what happened between the page and the screen?

Part of it might be the casting. The actors chosen are very photogenic, but seem to have no personality. The fictional towns that are so appealing in the written word, feel like Hollywood sets in the movies. The storylines are the same ones used in the books, but on paper, the conflict feels significant. On the screen, it feels contrived.

So, sorry Hallmark, I’m going to look out the old classics when I want to watch a romance and skip your bland offerings.

Have I offended anyone? I’d love to hear a spirited defence of a made-for-TV romance movie. Tell me your favourite. I’m open to changing my mind if the evidence is there.

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Christmas Book Madness

A funny thing happened on my way to book Nirvana this Christmas.  For anyone who asks, I’ve told them I love books for Christmas. My husband knows this, my neighbour knows this, my best friend knows this, even mere acquaintances know this. Apparently, I’m quite vocal about my favourite authors as well. Louise Penny is a “must” buy for me and she had a new book, Kingdom of the Blind,  out just in time for Christmas. I got three copies!

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page just won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. She is a British Columbia writer, living on Salt Spring Island. It’s a kind of love story – the history of a very long marriage that begins in World War II. My neighbour and I belong to the same book club and I was sure she’d like it. So I bought it for her as a Christmas gift, knowing I could borrow it later. Well, my darling husband heard me talking and a copy of the book showed up under my tree.

Jack Knox is a local columnist with a wry sense of humour. I bought his latest book to give to my husband. But before he opened his, I opened one from him to me.

Fortunately, all the replica books can be exchanged so I’ll still have lots of new reading. It’s also nice to know that my friends and family actually listen when I talk books. 🙂

I read all of Dear Evelyn on boxing day. Lovely writing and a story to pull at your heartstrings. Evelyn and Harry belong to “the greatest generation,” and their stories are worth hearing over again. I’m glad Ms. Page preserved this one so beautifully.

Kingdom of the Blind was devoured in two days. Louise Penny is a master at making the reader turn just one more page. Fortunately there were enough leftovers in the fridge that we didn’t starve while I followed Armand Gamache and his team from the idyllic village of Three Pines into the darkest streets of Montreal and out again. A very satisfying read, though I felt a little sad at the end. I’m hoping there’s another book to restore the joy in the Chief Inspector’s life.

There are still three new books by my bedside and I’ll filch Rick Mercer’s Final Report when my husband finishes it.

Books, books, and more books. It’s been a great Christmas.

If you got some good books at Christmas — or even double copies — please share in the comments below.

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Good Will – Take Three

Christmas is almost here. Have you done your baking, shopping, wrapping, cleaning? All those Christmas chores threaten to rob the holiday of its true meaning. I hope this little collection of “good will” stories helps you to remember “the reason for the season.” 

Story One:  While hustling out of the rain the other day I went to enter a narrow doorway, with a triangular step. Not the easiest of entries but no a problem for me. I’m quite able. However, an elderly gentleman stood in the rain to hold the door for me. Feeling a bit embarrassed to have put him to the trouble, I mumbled thank you. “My pleasure,” he said, with such genuine warmth that I believed he enjoyed performing that small service. I went on my way with a Christmas glow in my heart.

Story Two:  While standing in the check-out line of my local grocery the clerk and I were exchanging stories of political correctness run amok. Every year it seems, Christmas is the victim of some outrageous slander — like declaring “White Christmas” racist.  The white is about snow, people.   Anyway, I shifted the conversation by explaining about this blog and my collection of good will stories. Three people cheered and one asked for the URL of my blog. So, lady in Fairway checkout, if you’re here, Merry Christmas, and thanks for making my day.

Story Three:  this incident was perhaps more an accident than an act of good will, but it made me happy, so I’ll include it anyway. My husband and I were touring the Butchart Gardens to look at the lights. They are absolutely stunning! In one window was an installation of a toy train, with mountains and tunnels and a curling rink and a carousel. I was trying to take a picture when a young lad, so overcome with excitement jumped in front of my camera. Another little girl was fascinated by the toy merry-go-round so I asked if she’d ridden the real one in another part of the Gardens. Her eyes grew round as saucers. “Can I?” She vibrated with excitement. We all shared a moment of Christmas cheer. Thank you, generous parents, who allowed strangers to share in their children’s wonder.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series of good will stories. I’ve been delighted to read the ones you contributed in the comments section. Please keep them coming.

This will be my last post until after Christmas. I wish you all a joyful and blessed Christmas. May you know peace and good will throughout the season and in the new year.

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