Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Je ne sais quoi

Good morning, everyone! Are y'all as stressed out as I am right now? :) I have quite a few balls in the air, so to speak, so it's been a bit hard to relax lately.

Though my R&R has kept me out of the querying trenches for the past year (!) or so, I've been thinking about that rejection I'm sure we've all received once: "I just didn't fall in love the way I'd hoped." It's a frustrating one, for sure, because maybe there's nothing wrong with the manuscript. Maybe it just didn't cross over from like to love.

It got me thinking about my own reactions to fiction. As I said on Twitter a while ago, I basically have four possible responses to a movie, TV show, or book:

1. Ugh - This is not only bad, it's offensive or problematic in some way, and thinking about it annoys me.

2. Ehhh - Most bad or mediocre fiction falls into this category, and I won't waste energy hating it.

3. I like this! - Fiction in this category ranges from good to excellent. If it's a movie or TV show, it's something I enjoy having on in the background while I do line-edits or work out, and if it's a book, I'll usually spend a nice weekend afternoon reading it. Sometimes I forget it as soon as I'm done, and other times I will idly ponder plot points and relationships on my commute.

4. LYING ON THE FLOOR, INCAPACITATED BY EMOTIONS - I love it so much I cannot actually deal.

Gif is from this album.

Being in love with a piece of fiction is a wonderful thing. I giggle incessantly at the funny moments, I bawl my eyes out at the emotional moments, and I make giant heart eyes at all the characters. Sometimes I'm able to write long, loving reviews about why it's so good, but as a rule, the more I love something, the less coherent I will be about it. My insightful commentary generally adds up to "OMG, [CHARACTER NAME]."

The difference between 3 and 4 is so, so small, but most things I like don't make it to that 'love' stage. And that has nothing to do with quality. Sometimes I will read or watch something, and intellectually I will recognize how well-crafted it is, but it's a solid 3. Then I will read or watch something silly and fluffy and absolutely fall in love with it. It might be a trope that falls into one of my narrative kinks, or a character I completely and utterly fall for, but most of the time, it isn't something I can articulate. The spark was just there for me - and yet, for someone else, that same work of fiction might be a 3. 

Or even a 2.Which I respect. Even if it makes me sad. ;)

So just because your manuscript was a 3 with one agent, don't give up! There might be someone else out there who thinks you wrote a very, very emphatic 4.

What separates like from love for you? Any recent examples?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A lesson on dramatic scenes from the JSA

Good morning, blogosphere! Today, we are flashing back to collegiate Becky and my time as a budding bilingual in the JSA. The JSA, or Japanese Student Association, had a vague enough name that both students from Japan and students of the Japanese language were welcome therein. During our heyday, we had all kinds of great activities: the Spring Festival, Iron Chef night, and, of course, the dances.

In this video, we are performing a yosakoi dance, a subset of dances performed at Japanese street festivals and characterized by lots of dynamic arm movements and yelling. This is also not a perfect run, because SOMEBODY ignored our instructions to wait for us to get into the opening pose before starting the music - okay, sorry, I will never get over that.

(And yes, I am right there toward the front, powering through the sore throat from hell and coming in a liiiiittle too early on some of those wave movements.)

Anyway! The point is, to our fearless leader - the gentleman front and center - the worst thing you could do was halfass the moves. The temptation was certainly there, if only because some of them were a little silly, and if you were self-conscious, the temptation to make the moves as little as possible was strong. The problem with that was, if you make the moves tiny and halfhearted, they will look ridiculous. We had to come in there bellowing and punching and swinging for the fences, because unless we did, it just wouldn't look that impressive to the audience.

While I was idly plotting the denouement of my WIP last night, Fearless Leader's advice popped into my head again. I have always had some trouble with the big dramatic scenes, because that self-consciousness is still there. I worry about making it too big, too melodramatic, and having the scene come off silly because of it. My initial instinct is to shrink back, to make the details vague, to use as little exclamation points as humanly possible.

But when I started revisions on THE HUNGRY GROUND and read through Secret Agent Man's notes, I realized how problematic that was. Even if you like your dramatic scenes on the subtler side - and I do - there's a difference between halfassing the scene and very deliberately dialing back the volume, while still keeping that powerhouse of emotion in play. And sometimes, it's okay if that scene is loud. Sometimes you have to come in swinging for the fences just to match the high intensity of the conflict.

It's still not something that comes naturally to me, for sure. But it's definitely better for me, on my first draft, to try as hard as I can to pour everything on the page. Then after that, I always have my CPs and my betas to help me refine it!

Do high emotion scenes come naturally to you? What's your approach to writing them?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Seasonal atmosphere

I love this weather. I mean, it's awful, but I love it. There's something so rich about a summer setting, in real life and in fiction. Sometimes I just spend the day lying on the floor moaning "I'm so hooot, let me diiiie," but other days, the summer weather is very inspiring.

Summer, for me, means telling stories. Of course, everything for me means telling stories, but as a lover of all things creepy and fantastical, my 24-summers-and-counting have been informed by some wonderfully rich settings.  My childhood summers in New England meant nights on the lake, games of hide-and-seek and flashlight tag in the thick, dark woods. When I moved to the Deep South, summer meant oppressive heat, massive insects, and towering clouds signaling the impending storms.

And then there was Tokyo. Japanese summers typically mean three things: fireworks, festivals, and boiling to death. (Okay, no, the last one is only partially true - despite my initial skepticism, a midsummer trip to the hot springs actually is very refreshing, in a weird way.) But because a Tokyo summer day is typically filled with heat and humidity, if not torrential rainfall, you save your energy for the nighttime. You strap on your yukata, a cotton summer kimono, and make a picnic on the city streets to watch the fireworks.

The only thing better than the fireworks are the gorgeous nighttime festivals. O-bon, which will take place at the end of this week, is a Buddhist festival originally established to send off their ancestral spirits, who visit the living every July. Now, it is mostly for visiting family and celebrating.

So while spring and autumn may be my favorite seasons to actually, y'know, exist in, summer has to be one of my favorite seasons for writing. It provides such a wonderful canvas, no matter where I am!

What does summer mean to you as a writer? What kind of summer stories do you gravitate to?