Saturday, February 27, 2010

I'm supposed to be cleaning my house right now (shhh!!), but thought I ought to not fall behind with acknowledging blog awards. And hey, I did find the bottom of my daughter's closet, which I think deserves some kind of reward.

This beauty came from my CP Simon at Constant Revision. I believe the only requirements are to acknowledge the giver and pass it on.

Because they made me laugh in the Whoops! Blogfest, and because it has brought a smile to get to know these new friends, I pass along the Sunshine award to the following (in alpha order):

AJ at Eyes 2 Page
Jenna at Writing in Dreamstate
Laura at Pray for Rain
Lena at The Writing Desk
Roxy at A Woman's Write
VR at VR Barkowski

And it looks like I'm just a few followers away from 111. I'll give a tiny spoiler about my Eleventy-one contest celebration. Part of it will include a random drawing for which you must do NOTHING but be a follower. The first 111 get two entries. So if you aren't already following, now's your chance to up your probability of winning. :-)
Saturday, February 27, 2010 Laurel Garver
I'm supposed to be cleaning my house right now (shhh!!), but thought I ought to not fall behind with acknowledging blog awards. And hey, I did find the bottom of my daughter's closet, which I think deserves some kind of reward.

This beauty came from my CP Simon at Constant Revision. I believe the only requirements are to acknowledge the giver and pass it on.

Because they made me laugh in the Whoops! Blogfest, and because it has brought a smile to get to know these new friends, I pass along the Sunshine award to the following (in alpha order):

AJ at Eyes 2 Page
Jenna at Writing in Dreamstate
Laura at Pray for Rain
Lena at The Writing Desk
Roxy at A Woman's Write
VR at VR Barkowski

And it looks like I'm just a few followers away from 111. I'll give a tiny spoiler about my Eleventy-one contest celebration. Part of it will include a random drawing for which you must do NOTHING but be a follower. The first 111 get two entries. So if you aren't already following, now's your chance to up your probability of winning. :-)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Narrative misdirection is a writerly trick of establishing false expectations in your readers, directing their attention to the wrong information and causing them to ignore correct information. It's an excellent way to surprise them, and has uses in nearly every genre, though it is a staple of mysteries.

J.K. Rowling happens to be a master of this technique. Time and again, Harry is certain he knows who the villain is, and every time he is wrong! Author and blogger John Granger goes into a great deal of detail about Rowling's method in his book Unlocking Harry Potter. Another Potter scholar, Travis Prinzi, has some excellent posts on the topic as well. (My professor hubby is currently teaching "Harry Potter and Philosophy" and has gotten me into the lit crit on Rowling. Granger and Prinzi are wonderful speakers and their blogs worth a visit.)

In my Whoops! Blogfest entry, I also played with the technique. Misdirection can be an excellent way to make humorous moments funnier. Take a moment to go look at it.

You're back? Excellent. I'll explain the elements of narrative misdirection by walking you through what I did, and why and how I did it.

1. Limited viewpoint. My piece is in first person. The only perceptions you have are Dani's. The possibility is good that she does not have the whole picture. She very well might misinterpret the data in front of her. But it's hard for you, the reader, to know that because I've removed other sources of interpretation by limiting the perception to only what she directly experiences, knows or remembers.

Rowling uses third person limited. Omniscient narrators are a no-no in this technique. Your POV must limit perception.

2. Sympathetic voice and reader identification. Dani's internal monologue paints her as a smart, arty dreamer who's a bit shy. She obeys her aunt grumblingly, having thoughts of being put-upon with "stupid" assignments. Everyone has felt this way at one point or another. As a reader, you sympathize and take her side. You become willing to trust her judgments about what is happening and why.

3. Playing with expectation. Aunts are those sorts of benevolent authority figures we expect to play "the straight man" in any joke. I describe Cecily having a young child that is usually weaving through her legs or swinging from her purse strap, which cements a picture in your mind: maternal and focused there. I give you only the details that would support your existing expectations of "aunt."

4. Clues the character chooses to ignore. This is VERY important. The truth must be in the scene and there for the astute reader to pick up. Otherwise you just have very annoying out-of-nowhere surprises, not narrative misdirection.

I hint that Janie should be around, and that she had been playing a game called "guerrilla stealth"--a name that implies unexpected combat. I also point out that Aunt Cecily is the instigator of Dani ever leaving the cathedral nave and going into the quire. As a reader, you chose to ignore the importance because Dani does.

5. Details that capture your MC's attention. Does the beauty of Durham cathedral's quire really matter that much? Or the fact that the guide is bilingual French-English? No, but as a reader you're willing to be pulled off on Dani's flight of fancy because of the style in this paragraph. I used a little writerly magic dust of pretty words and alliteration and imagery to momentarily sweep you into Dani's distraction.

Keep in mind you can't do pages of this kind of thing, but just a paragraph can be an effective "sleight of hand." It's like the "jazz-hands" dazzle that magicians use to point you away from the real action.

Likewise, drawing Dani's attention primarily to the guy she sat on keeps you, the reader, from looking deeper into what Dani's family members are doing.

6. Confirm misinterpretations. Both Aunt Cecily and Janie play to Dani's expectation. The aunt scolds, the cousin becomes "ashy pale" at the scolding. And it's no small scolding. The aunt's big reaction cements the misinterpretation as true.

7. Payoff, in which misinterpretations are clarified. This is one tiny detail you might be tempted to overlook. Do wrap up how the surprise really happened, because it's annoying to the reader when you don't. Rowling always does. In my little scene, it was a simple exchange: "You weren't supposed to tell your mum" and "you never said that." I didn't have to give a detailed back story of how or when Janie and Cecily planned their trick on Dani. The reader can imagine it easily enough. But I did need to make it clear they were in cahoots deliberately from the beginning or the payoff would have fallen flat, because readers just wouldn't buy it.


So there you go, a quick primer on the basics of simple narrative misdirection. In mysteries, of course, it gets considerably more complicated. The author must layer in clues and dazzling distractions, one on top of another.

How do you think you might use this technique in your writing?
Thursday, February 25, 2010 Laurel Garver
Narrative misdirection is a writerly trick of establishing false expectations in your readers, directing their attention to the wrong information and causing them to ignore correct information. It's an excellent way to surprise them, and has uses in nearly every genre, though it is a staple of mysteries.

J.K. Rowling happens to be a master of this technique. Time and again, Harry is certain he knows who the villain is, and every time he is wrong! Author and blogger John Granger goes into a great deal of detail about Rowling's method in his book Unlocking Harry Potter. Another Potter scholar, Travis Prinzi, has some excellent posts on the topic as well. (My professor hubby is currently teaching "Harry Potter and Philosophy" and has gotten me into the lit crit on Rowling. Granger and Prinzi are wonderful speakers and their blogs worth a visit.)

In my Whoops! Blogfest entry, I also played with the technique. Misdirection can be an excellent way to make humorous moments funnier. Take a moment to go look at it.

You're back? Excellent. I'll explain the elements of narrative misdirection by walking you through what I did, and why and how I did it.

1. Limited viewpoint. My piece is in first person. The only perceptions you have are Dani's. The possibility is good that she does not have the whole picture. She very well might misinterpret the data in front of her. But it's hard for you, the reader, to know that because I've removed other sources of interpretation by limiting the perception to only what she directly experiences, knows or remembers.

Rowling uses third person limited. Omniscient narrators are a no-no in this technique. Your POV must limit perception.

2. Sympathetic voice and reader identification. Dani's internal monologue paints her as a smart, arty dreamer who's a bit shy. She obeys her aunt grumblingly, having thoughts of being put-upon with "stupid" assignments. Everyone has felt this way at one point or another. As a reader, you sympathize and take her side. You become willing to trust her judgments about what is happening and why.

3. Playing with expectation. Aunts are those sorts of benevolent authority figures we expect to play "the straight man" in any joke. I describe Cecily having a young child that is usually weaving through her legs or swinging from her purse strap, which cements a picture in your mind: maternal and focused there. I give you only the details that would support your existing expectations of "aunt."

4. Clues the character chooses to ignore. This is VERY important. The truth must be in the scene and there for the astute reader to pick up. Otherwise you just have very annoying out-of-nowhere surprises, not narrative misdirection.

I hint that Janie should be around, and that she had been playing a game called "guerrilla stealth"--a name that implies unexpected combat. I also point out that Aunt Cecily is the instigator of Dani ever leaving the cathedral nave and going into the quire. As a reader, you chose to ignore the importance because Dani does.

5. Details that capture your MC's attention. Does the beauty of Durham cathedral's quire really matter that much? Or the fact that the guide is bilingual French-English? No, but as a reader you're willing to be pulled off on Dani's flight of fancy because of the style in this paragraph. I used a little writerly magic dust of pretty words and alliteration and imagery to momentarily sweep you into Dani's distraction.

Keep in mind you can't do pages of this kind of thing, but just a paragraph can be an effective "sleight of hand." It's like the "jazz-hands" dazzle that magicians use to point you away from the real action.

Likewise, drawing Dani's attention primarily to the guy she sat on keeps you, the reader, from looking deeper into what Dani's family members are doing.

6. Confirm misinterpretations. Both Aunt Cecily and Janie play to Dani's expectation. The aunt scolds, the cousin becomes "ashy pale" at the scolding. And it's no small scolding. The aunt's big reaction cements the misinterpretation as true.

7. Payoff, in which misinterpretations are clarified. This is one tiny detail you might be tempted to overlook. Do wrap up how the surprise really happened, because it's annoying to the reader when you don't. Rowling always does. In my little scene, it was a simple exchange: "You weren't supposed to tell your mum" and "you never said that." I didn't have to give a detailed back story of how or when Janie and Cecily planned their trick on Dani. The reader can imagine it easily enough. But I did need to make it clear they were in cahoots deliberately from the beginning or the payoff would have fallen flat, because readers just wouldn't buy it.


So there you go, a quick primer on the basics of simple narrative misdirection. In mysteries, of course, it gets considerably more complicated. The author must layer in clues and dazzling distractions, one on top of another.

How do you think you might use this technique in your writing?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Celebrate 2.22 with too, too, too embarrassing gaffes and blunders.

The Whoops! Blogfest

To learn more and sign up, CLICK HERE

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Laurel Garver

Celebrate 2.22 with too, too, too embarrassing gaffes and blunders.

The Whoops! Blogfest

To learn more and sign up, CLICK HERE

A HUGE thanks to all the participants in the Whoops! Blogfest. You all made it awesomely fun! When you get a moment, please let me know where you heard about it. Just drop me a note in the comments. Thanks!

Now for the poll. Tell me which blog topic you'd like me to tackle next:

A. Narrative misdirection -- using"sleight of hand" in your plot
B. Creating dialogue in layers
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 Laurel Garver
A HUGE thanks to all the participants in the Whoops! Blogfest. You all made it awesomely fun! When you get a moment, please let me know where you heard about it. Just drop me a note in the comments. Thanks!

Now for the poll. Tell me which blog topic you'd like me to tackle next:

A. Narrative misdirection -- using"sleight of hand" in your plot
B. Creating dialogue in layers

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

For the Laurel's Leaves Eleventy-one writing contest, you must submit a piece of original fiction, up to 700 words. Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the scene excerpted below.

From The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954, 1993)

In which Gandalf persuades Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire

============

Gandalf looked again very hard at Bilbo, and there was a gleam in his eyes. 'I think, Bilbo,' he said quietly, 'I should leave it behind. Don't you want to?'

'Well yes--and no. Now it comes to it, I don't like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don't really see why I should. Why do you want me to?' he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance. 'You are always badgering me about my ring; but you have never bothered me about the other things that I got on my journey.'

'No, but I had to badger you,' said Gandalf. 'I wanted the truth. It was important. Magic rings are--well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. Also I think you have had it quite long enough. You won't need it any more, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.'

Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? It is my own. I found it. It came to me.'

'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no need to get angry.'

'If I am, it is your fault,' said Bilbo. 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.'

The wizard's face remained grave and attentive, and only a flicker of in his deep eyes showed that he was startled and indeed alarmed. 'It has been called that before,' he said, 'but not by you.'

'But I say it now. And why not? Even if Gollum said the same once. It is not his now, but mine. And I shall keep it, I say.'

Gandalf stood up. He spoke sternly. 'You will be a fool if you do, Bilbo,' he said. 'You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. Let it go! And then you can go yourself, and be free.'

'I'll do as I choose and go as I please,' said Bilbo obstinately.

'Now, now, my dear hobbit!' said Gandalf. 'All your long life we have been friends, and you owe me something. Come! Do as you promised: give it up!'

'Well, if you want my ring for yourself, say so!' cried Bilbo. 'But you won't get it. I won't give my precious away, I tell you.' His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.

Gandalf's eyes flashed. 'It will be my turn to get angry soon,' he said. 'If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.' He took a step toward the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.

Bilbo backed away to the all, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocked. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air in the room tingled. Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble.

'I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf,' he said. 'You have never been like this before. What is it all about? It is mine, isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said.'

'I have never called you one,' Gandalf answered. 'And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.' He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled.

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. I don't know why. And I don't seem to be able to make up my mind.'

'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.'

Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.'

Source:
Tolken, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1954. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 41-43.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 Laurel Garver
For the Laurel's Leaves Eleventy-one writing contest, you must submit a piece of original fiction, up to 700 words. Your scene or story must be dialogue-driven and show an instance of negotiation and persuasion, like the scene excerpted below.

From The Fellowship of the Ring, by J.R.R. Tolkien (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1954, 1993)

In which Gandalf persuades Bilbo to leave the ring of power in the Shire

============

Gandalf looked again very hard at Bilbo, and there was a gleam in his eyes. 'I think, Bilbo,' he said quietly, 'I should leave it behind. Don't you want to?'

'Well yes--and no. Now it comes to it, I don't like parting with it at all, I may say. And I don't really see why I should. Why do you want me to?' he asked, and a curious change came over his voice. It was sharp with suspicion and annoyance. 'You are always badgering me about my ring; but you have never bothered me about the other things that I got on my journey.'

'No, but I had to badger you,' said Gandalf. 'I wanted the truth. It was important. Magic rings are--well, magical; and they are rare and curious. I was professionally interested in your ring, you may say; and I still am. I should like to know where it is, if you go wandering again. Also I think you have had it quite long enough. You won't need it any more, Bilbo, unless I am quite mistaken.'

Bilbo flushed, and there was an angry light in his eyes. His kindly face grew hard. 'Why not?' he cried. 'And what business is it of yours, anyway, to know what I do with my own things? It is my own. I found it. It came to me.'

'Yes, yes,' said Gandalf. 'But there is no need to get angry.'

'If I am, it is your fault,' said Bilbo. 'It is mine, I tell you. My own. My precious. Yes, my precious.'

The wizard's face remained grave and attentive, and only a flicker of in his deep eyes showed that he was startled and indeed alarmed. 'It has been called that before,' he said, 'but not by you.'

'But I say it now. And why not? Even if Gollum said the same once. It is not his now, but mine. And I shall keep it, I say.'

Gandalf stood up. He spoke sternly. 'You will be a fool if you do, Bilbo,' he said. 'You make that clearer with every word you say. It has got far too much hold on you. Let it go! And then you can go yourself, and be free.'

'I'll do as I choose and go as I please,' said Bilbo obstinately.

'Now, now, my dear hobbit!' said Gandalf. 'All your long life we have been friends, and you owe me something. Come! Do as you promised: give it up!'

'Well, if you want my ring for yourself, say so!' cried Bilbo. 'But you won't get it. I won't give my precious away, I tell you.' His hand strayed to the hilt of his small sword.

Gandalf's eyes flashed. 'It will be my turn to get angry soon,' he said. 'If you say that again, I shall. Then you will see Gandalf the Grey uncloaked.' He took a step toward the hobbit, and he seemed to grow tall and menacing; his shadow filled the little room.

Bilbo backed away to the all, breathing hard, his hand clutching at his pocked. They stood for a while facing one another, and the air in the room tingled. Gandalf's eyes remained bent on the hobbit. Slowly his hands relaxed, and he began to tremble.

'I don't know what has come over you, Gandalf,' he said. 'You have never been like this before. What is it all about? It is mine, isn't it? I found it, and Gollum would have killed me, if I hadn't kept it. I'm not a thief, whatever he said.'

'I have never called you one,' Gandalf answered. 'And I am not one either. I am not trying to rob you, but to help you. I wish you would trust me, as you used.' He turned away, and the shadow passed. He seemed to dwindle again to an old grey man, bent and troubled.

Bilbo drew his hand over his eyes. 'I am sorry,' he said. 'But I felt so queer. And yet it would be a relief in a way not to be bothered with it any more. It has been so growing on my mind lately. Sometimes I have felt it was like an eye looking at me. And I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don't you know; or wondering if it is safe, and pulling it out to make sure. I tried locking it up, but I found I couldn't rest without it in my pocket. I don't know why. And I don't seem to be able to make up my mind.'

'Then trust mine,' said Gandalf. 'It is quite made up. Go away and leave it behind. Stop possessing it. Give it to Frodo, and I will look after him.'

Bilbo stood for a moment tense and undecided. Presently he sighed. 'All right,' he said with an effort. 'I will.'

Source:
Tolken, J.R.R. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1954. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993. 41-43.
I've made so many lovely new friends through the Whoops! Blogfest, it appears I'm about to hit a blog milestone, the first 100 followers.

What is it about 100? It's really such an arbitrary number. It's not even symmetrical, and I groove on symmetry. After all, I picked 2/22 for a blogfest date. It's symmetrical, memorable and had wonderful homonym potential. (I appreciate you all letting me geek out that way.)

So, I've decided to announce a fun contest celebration when I reach 111 followers, that amazing age Bilbo celebrates in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Here's to eleventy-one!
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 Laurel Garver
I've made so many lovely new friends through the Whoops! Blogfest, it appears I'm about to hit a blog milestone, the first 100 followers.

What is it about 100? It's really such an arbitrary number. It's not even symmetrical, and I groove on symmetry. After all, I picked 2/22 for a blogfest date. It's symmetrical, memorable and had wonderful homonym potential. (I appreciate you all letting me geek out that way.)

So, I've decided to announce a fun contest celebration when I reach 111 followers, that amazing age Bilbo celebrates in The Fellowship of the Ring.

Here's to eleventy-one!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Too, too, too embarrassing!
Too, too, too humiliating!
Too, too, too snarf-worthily stupid!

Celebrate 2.22 with a festival of gaffes and blunders.

The Whoops! Blogfest

In the tradition of Kissing Day Blogfest, No-Kiss Blogfest, Fight Blogfest, So-long Blogfest, the Whoops! Blogfest will be an opportunity for bloggers to share favorite clumsy, awkward, embarrassing moments suffered by a character in a WIP, or post links to laughable gaffes from film, YouTube or Fail Blog.

1.) Between now and February 22, write a post about the Whoops! Blogfest to let everyone know you're participating and to encourage them to join the fun. Because who doesn't need a good laugh in a gloomy season?

2.) Sign up for the Whoops! Blogfest by filling in the MckLinky widget below so everyone can easily find your offering on the festival day. Please leave a comment after you sign up.

3.) Polish up your scene and post it on February 22. Show us your genre's unique spin on stupid. Or trawl the deep wells of dumb on YouTube and Fail Blog and post a link to your favorite awkward moment.

4.) Enjoy your fellow participants' gut-busting posts and tell them so!

Let's have too, too, too many laughs on 2.22!

Monday, February 22, 2010 Laurel Garver

Too, too, too embarrassing!
Too, too, too humiliating!
Too, too, too snarf-worthily stupid!

Celebrate 2.22 with a festival of gaffes and blunders.

The Whoops! Blogfest

In the tradition of Kissing Day Blogfest, No-Kiss Blogfest, Fight Blogfest, So-long Blogfest, the Whoops! Blogfest will be an opportunity for bloggers to share favorite clumsy, awkward, embarrassing moments suffered by a character in a WIP, or post links to laughable gaffes from film, YouTube or Fail Blog.

1.) Between now and February 22, write a post about the Whoops! Blogfest to let everyone know you're participating and to encourage them to join the fun. Because who doesn't need a good laugh in a gloomy season?

2.) Sign up for the Whoops! Blogfest by filling in the MckLinky widget below so everyone can easily find your offering on the festival day. Please leave a comment after you sign up.

3.) Polish up your scene and post it on February 22. Show us your genre's unique spin on stupid. Or trawl the deep wells of dumb on YouTube and Fail Blog and post a link to your favorite awkward moment.

4.) Enjoy your fellow participants' gut-busting posts and tell them so!

Let's have too, too, too many laughs on 2.22!

Thanks to everyone participating in today's blogfest! I can't wait to pop round to see all your wacky gaffes, bodacious blunders and excruciating embarrassments.

Here's my offering from WIP-1. The setting is Durham Cathedral, in northeast England. My teen protagonist is having a day out with family, and squeezing in a little homework as well.

============

Aunt Cecily motions for me to join her near the quire, where a group of mostly old folks have gathered for cathedral tour. Oh, right, I’m supposed to be doing research for that stupid history presentation. I pack up my sketching supplies and head up the main aisle.

The guide has already started her spiel about the cathedral’s history by the time I reach my aunt. I expected my little cousin to be weaving through Cecily’s legs and swinging back and forth from her purse strap. But Janie’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe she decided to pick up our game of guerrilla stealth with her sister.

“This is not to be missed,” Cecily whispers. “Adèle is the best guide here.”

I get lost in Adèle’s magical voice, the slight Frenchness in her British accent. Every detail seems lusher when she describes it with her whispery consonants and throaty vowels. She leads us into the choir stalls, describing the artisans' techniques for crafting the ornate fretwork that rings the top of the stalls. It’s like an enchanted skyline bristling with Gothic spires. The group fans out and we weave through the rows to get a closer look.

From out of nowhere, a tiny hand grabs my ankle and a piping voice says, “Boo!”

I squawk like a strangled rooster and jump back, crashing into someone behind me. Someone male. He yelps in surprise as we topple onto a pew. A really lumpy pew. It shifts under me—muscle and bone and a pocket full of something I don’t care to think about because holy crap I’m in some old creep’s lap! ACK! I leap up like I scorched my backside on a griddle.

“Sorry, sorry, so sorry!” I gush in a whisper, afraid to make eye contact. I back away, staring at brown wide-wale corduroy legs and huge oxford shoes.

I’m going to kill that twerp Janie! I can’t believe she’d guerrilla stealth me here in the middle of these so-serious geezer tourists.

“’sall right. No worries,” the mysterious male says. Australian words, but the accent is totally London. That’s weird.

“My cousin and I were playing a game and—”

“You’re in big, big, big trouble, miss!” Aunt Cecily jabs my shoulder with each “big.”

“It got a little out of hand,” I finish feebly and finally peek up at my victim. It’s not a grandfatherly sixty-something like I expected, but a college-aged guy with murky eyes. He leans languidly in the pew and slowly slides a finger across his thick lower lip. I turn away, blushing, and see the group moving on toward the high altar.

Aunt Cecily grabs Janie’s slim arm and hisses, “Jane Louise, come out this instant!”

“Sorry, Mummy, sorry!” Janie scrambles to her feet, ashy pale.

“Enough! Both of you, come with me.” Cecily grabs our wrists and drags us from the quire. I hope she knows I’m too old for spankings.

“I’m terribly sorry for squashing you,” I tell the guy I’d sat on.

He smirks and raises an eyebrow. “I’m fine” he mouths, squinting in a way that’s almost…I don’t know, seductive?

Cecily leads us to a chapel off the back of the nave. “So what do you two have to say for yourselves?”

“Sorry,” I mutter. “We shouldn’t horse around in a cathedral. It’s a house of God.”

“Right. And you?”

Janie grins. “Thanks, Mummy!”

“Well done!” Cecily high-fives her.

“She jolly well sounded like a chicken, didn’t she, Mummy?”

“Don’t know—I’ve never heard a person make a sound like that before.”

I goggle at them. “You mean I’m not actually in trouble?”

“Lord, no.” Cecily laughs. “You must know how dead boring this is for Janie. It was awfully good of you to come up with a game to get her through it.”

“But…” I frown at Janie. “You weren’t supposed to tell your mum.”

“You never said that.”

Cecily sniggers. “The chap she sat on, that was a great bonus. And you know what?” She waggles her eyebrows. “I think he rather liked it.”
Monday, February 22, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to everyone participating in today's blogfest! I can't wait to pop round to see all your wacky gaffes, bodacious blunders and excruciating embarrassments.

Here's my offering from WIP-1. The setting is Durham Cathedral, in northeast England. My teen protagonist is having a day out with family, and squeezing in a little homework as well.

============

Aunt Cecily motions for me to join her near the quire, where a group of mostly old folks have gathered for cathedral tour. Oh, right, I’m supposed to be doing research for that stupid history presentation. I pack up my sketching supplies and head up the main aisle.

The guide has already started her spiel about the cathedral’s history by the time I reach my aunt. I expected my little cousin to be weaving through Cecily’s legs and swinging back and forth from her purse strap. But Janie’s nowhere to be seen. Maybe she decided to pick up our game of guerrilla stealth with her sister.

“This is not to be missed,” Cecily whispers. “Adèle is the best guide here.”

I get lost in Adèle’s magical voice, the slight Frenchness in her British accent. Every detail seems lusher when she describes it with her whispery consonants and throaty vowels. She leads us into the choir stalls, describing the artisans' techniques for crafting the ornate fretwork that rings the top of the stalls. It’s like an enchanted skyline bristling with Gothic spires. The group fans out and we weave through the rows to get a closer look.

From out of nowhere, a tiny hand grabs my ankle and a piping voice says, “Boo!”

I squawk like a strangled rooster and jump back, crashing into someone behind me. Someone male. He yelps in surprise as we topple onto a pew. A really lumpy pew. It shifts under me—muscle and bone and a pocket full of something I don’t care to think about because holy crap I’m in some old creep’s lap! ACK! I leap up like I scorched my backside on a griddle.

“Sorry, sorry, so sorry!” I gush in a whisper, afraid to make eye contact. I back away, staring at brown wide-wale corduroy legs and huge oxford shoes.

I’m going to kill that twerp Janie! I can’t believe she’d guerrilla stealth me here in the middle of these so-serious geezer tourists.

“’sall right. No worries,” the mysterious male says. Australian words, but the accent is totally London. That’s weird.

“My cousin and I were playing a game and—”

“You’re in big, big, big trouble, miss!” Aunt Cecily jabs my shoulder with each “big.”

“It got a little out of hand,” I finish feebly and finally peek up at my victim. It’s not a grandfatherly sixty-something like I expected, but a college-aged guy with murky eyes. He leans languidly in the pew and slowly slides a finger across his thick lower lip. I turn away, blushing, and see the group moving on toward the high altar.

Aunt Cecily grabs Janie’s slim arm and hisses, “Jane Louise, come out this instant!”

“Sorry, Mummy, sorry!” Janie scrambles to her feet, ashy pale.

“Enough! Both of you, come with me.” Cecily grabs our wrists and drags us from the quire. I hope she knows I’m too old for spankings.

“I’m terribly sorry for squashing you,” I tell the guy I’d sat on.

He smirks and raises an eyebrow. “I’m fine” he mouths, squinting in a way that’s almost…I don’t know, seductive?

Cecily leads us to a chapel off the back of the nave. “So what do you two have to say for yourselves?”

“Sorry,” I mutter. “We shouldn’t horse around in a cathedral. It’s a house of God.”

“Right. And you?”

Janie grins. “Thanks, Mummy!”

“Well done!” Cecily high-fives her.

“She jolly well sounded like a chicken, didn’t she, Mummy?”

“Don’t know—I’ve never heard a person make a sound like that before.”

I goggle at them. “You mean I’m not actually in trouble?”

“Lord, no.” Cecily laughs. “You must know how dead boring this is for Janie. It was awfully good of you to come up with a game to get her through it.”

“But…” I frown at Janie. “You weren’t supposed to tell your mum.”

“You never said that.”

Cecily sniggers. “The chap she sat on, that was a great bonus. And you know what?” She waggles her eyebrows. “I think he rather liked it.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

We're just days away from some serious fun, but only if you help to make it happen. On Monday, I'll be hosting the Whoops! Blogfest, a festival of gaffes, blunders and embarrassing moments from your work-in-progress, a favorite author, film or YouTube.

Consider this your personal invitation to join in. Please don't reduce me to comment hijacking. Please. I'm abysmal at pushy. You should've seen me attempt to be an Avon Lady. Can we say panic attacks?

Ah, thank you, friends.

How can you help? A few simple things:
Talk it up
Even if you don't do funny, or just can't spare the time, you can be a conduit of information for those who might find the festival fun.

I will be offering a prize to the blogger who can send me the most participants!
Yep, you could win a 10-page critique. From a professional editor. (That would be me, in case you're wondering. I have 14 years' editing experience and a master's degree in journalism. Oh, and I was #1 in my graduating class. Just sayin', this is a pretty good prize, folks.)

Remind your followers to tell me who sent them, so you are credited for your promotional efforts.

Participate
-Sign up HERE.
-Let folks know you're participating by mentioning it on your own blog and/or Twitter. You could win a 10-page critique for sending me the most participants.
-Polish your scene and post it on Monday 2/22. Show us your genre's unique spin on stupid.
-Visit other participants' blogs, enjoy their offerings and tell them so.

Need some convincing that blogfests are worth doing? Check out this post.
Let's have too, too, too many laughs on 2/22!
Friday, February 19, 2010 Laurel Garver
We're just days away from some serious fun, but only if you help to make it happen. On Monday, I'll be hosting the Whoops! Blogfest, a festival of gaffes, blunders and embarrassing moments from your work-in-progress, a favorite author, film or YouTube.

Consider this your personal invitation to join in. Please don't reduce me to comment hijacking. Please. I'm abysmal at pushy. You should've seen me attempt to be an Avon Lady. Can we say panic attacks?

Ah, thank you, friends.

How can you help? A few simple things:
Talk it up
Even if you don't do funny, or just can't spare the time, you can be a conduit of information for those who might find the festival fun.

I will be offering a prize to the blogger who can send me the most participants!
Yep, you could win a 10-page critique. From a professional editor. (That would be me, in case you're wondering. I have 14 years' editing experience and a master's degree in journalism. Oh, and I was #1 in my graduating class. Just sayin', this is a pretty good prize, folks.)

Remind your followers to tell me who sent them, so you are credited for your promotional efforts.

Participate
-Sign up HERE.
-Let folks know you're participating by mentioning it on your own blog and/or Twitter. You could win a 10-page critique for sending me the most participants.
-Polish your scene and post it on Monday 2/22. Show us your genre's unique spin on stupid.
-Visit other participants' blogs, enjoy their offerings and tell them so.

Need some convincing that blogfests are worth doing? Check out this post.
Let's have too, too, too many laughs on 2/22!

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Is it OK to laugh during Lent? It's a question I wrestled with when I first got the idea to host a humor-themed blogfest.

I'm new to observing Lent; the church I now attend, a liturgical Presbyterian church plant, has only existed since 2006. Reconnecting to more historic expressions of Christianity has been quite the learning experience, since I grew up low-church evangelical.

One of the passages read at Ash Wednesday services hit squarely at my thinking about Lenten observations:
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." --Matt. 6:16-18

Basically, the moment you get to thinking "Look at me, I'm so pious!" you've lost any real spiritual benefit. Lent isn't about looking pious, it's about reorienting yourself in a God direction, making yourself teachable by pushing away stuff that distracts you.

So that gets me past practicing Lent as hair shirts and wallowing. But does that really open the way for humor?

Yes. Because there's one thing I know for sure:
God makes human wisdom look foolish.

He promises a barren elderly couple they'll parent a great nation.
They give God derisive laughter, and he gives them Isaac (laughter).

Story after story is just like this. Reversals. Weird commands that rescue: smear blood on your doorposts, walk around Jericho seven times, let only those who drink from the stream like a dog go to battle.

It's moments of weakness and stupidity that bring the humility necessary to change and grow. Those who can't laugh at their own folly only become hardened in it.

So come, friends, let us revel in the folly that leads to growth.

How have you used humiliations and reversals to shape your characters?
(To join in the Whoops! Blogfest on Monday 2/22, sign up HERE.)
Thursday, February 18, 2010 Laurel Garver

Is it OK to laugh during Lent? It's a question I wrestled with when I first got the idea to host a humor-themed blogfest.

I'm new to observing Lent; the church I now attend, a liturgical Presbyterian church plant, has only existed since 2006. Reconnecting to more historic expressions of Christianity has been quite the learning experience, since I grew up low-church evangelical.

One of the passages read at Ash Wednesday services hit squarely at my thinking about Lenten observations:
"When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." --Matt. 6:16-18

Basically, the moment you get to thinking "Look at me, I'm so pious!" you've lost any real spiritual benefit. Lent isn't about looking pious, it's about reorienting yourself in a God direction, making yourself teachable by pushing away stuff that distracts you.

So that gets me past practicing Lent as hair shirts and wallowing. But does that really open the way for humor?

Yes. Because there's one thing I know for sure:
God makes human wisdom look foolish.

He promises a barren elderly couple they'll parent a great nation.
They give God derisive laughter, and he gives them Isaac (laughter).

Story after story is just like this. Reversals. Weird commands that rescue: smear blood on your doorposts, walk around Jericho seven times, let only those who drink from the stream like a dog go to battle.

It's moments of weakness and stupidity that bring the humility necessary to change and grow. Those who can't laugh at their own folly only become hardened in it.

So come, friends, let us revel in the folly that leads to growth.

How have you used humiliations and reversals to shape your characters?
(To join in the Whoops! Blogfest on Monday 2/22, sign up HERE.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What better day than Mardi Gras to belatedly acknowledge and pass along the Happy 101 award? My sassy cyber sister Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings gave me this lovely honor almost a month ago (sorry for the delay). So here's to happy on Fat Tuesday!

The rules to this award are to list ten things that give you happiness and pass along the love to five other bloggers.

Ten (of a thousand) Things that Make Me Happy

Trees. Nothing is more calming to me than time in the forest. It's a holdover from my rural childhood, I guess. I live in an urban row house, blocks from a train line and four bus routes, but just out my back door is America's largest urban park with miles of forested hiking trails.

Public transportation. I adore riding the train to work, and taking jaunts on a subway, bus or trolley. It's just the most awesome setting to people watch, eavesdrop, daydream.

Geeky stuff. I'm always happy to meet other fellow geeks who were in marching band and theater and art club and newspaper and read loads of SF and fantasy and played D&D and can quote Monty Python and understand references to Star Trek and Dr. Who and Battlestar Galactica.

England. I'm a diehard Anglophile. I studied abroad there and have been back a few times, most recently to do research for Bring to Light. I love the British sense of humor, the literature, the history, the mild weather, even the food. Roast lamb and Yorkshire pudding...mmmm.

Singing. I've been blessed with a decent voice that I've worked to train and maintain, though I don't do much public performing any more. There's something incredibly energizing about music making, especially creating harmonies with other voices.

Growth. Whether it's tender tulip tops pushing through the soil, my daughter reading books to me, one of my youth group girls having a lightbulb moment with God, or a critique partner finding her voice, signs of new and good things unfolding excites me.

My church. I couldn't ask for a more loving, vibrant faith community to be a part of, even if it's a little hard to share a building and meet Sunday afternoons.

The library. Three nearby branches offer loads of books and films to enjoy, all of them free. Does it get any better than that?

My family. Not only is my hubby a gourmet cook, he's scary-smart, artistic, funny and loves all the geeky stuff I do. My daughter can be a total goofball one moment, and a philosopher the next. She's imaginative and arty and has the most infectious laugh ever.

Writing. The characters I create are so real to me. It's a joy to breathe life into them and contend with the struggles of developing craft to make them just as real to others.

I pass the happiness on to the following wonderful blogs:

Tricia at Talespinning
Erin at Musings of a Writer Chick Living in Paradise
Roxane at Peace Garden Mama
Lady Glamis at The Innocent Flower
Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time

Now I'm going to drink lots of tea to drown out this sore throat, watch some more LotR extras with my daughter (vacation day from school) and dig into the decadent torte my hubby made. Tomorrow we freeze the leftovers to enjoy on Lenten Sundays.

How do you like to whoop it up? Any Mardi Gras traditions?
Tuesday, February 16, 2010 Laurel Garver
What better day than Mardi Gras to belatedly acknowledge and pass along the Happy 101 award? My sassy cyber sister Rhonda at Snarktastic Ramblings gave me this lovely honor almost a month ago (sorry for the delay). So here's to happy on Fat Tuesday!

The rules to this award are to list ten things that give you happiness and pass along the love to five other bloggers.

Ten (of a thousand) Things that Make Me Happy

Trees. Nothing is more calming to me than time in the forest. It's a holdover from my rural childhood, I guess. I live in an urban row house, blocks from a train line and four bus routes, but just out my back door is America's largest urban park with miles of forested hiking trails.

Public transportation. I adore riding the train to work, and taking jaunts on a subway, bus or trolley. It's just the most awesome setting to people watch, eavesdrop, daydream.

Geeky stuff. I'm always happy to meet other fellow geeks who were in marching band and theater and art club and newspaper and read loads of SF and fantasy and played D&D and can quote Monty Python and understand references to Star Trek and Dr. Who and Battlestar Galactica.

England. I'm a diehard Anglophile. I studied abroad there and have been back a few times, most recently to do research for Bring to Light. I love the British sense of humor, the literature, the history, the mild weather, even the food. Roast lamb and Yorkshire pudding...mmmm.

Singing. I've been blessed with a decent voice that I've worked to train and maintain, though I don't do much public performing any more. There's something incredibly energizing about music making, especially creating harmonies with other voices.

Growth. Whether it's tender tulip tops pushing through the soil, my daughter reading books to me, one of my youth group girls having a lightbulb moment with God, or a critique partner finding her voice, signs of new and good things unfolding excites me.

My church. I couldn't ask for a more loving, vibrant faith community to be a part of, even if it's a little hard to share a building and meet Sunday afternoons.

The library. Three nearby branches offer loads of books and films to enjoy, all of them free. Does it get any better than that?

My family. Not only is my hubby a gourmet cook, he's scary-smart, artistic, funny and loves all the geeky stuff I do. My daughter can be a total goofball one moment, and a philosopher the next. She's imaginative and arty and has the most infectious laugh ever.

Writing. The characters I create are so real to me. It's a joy to breathe life into them and contend with the struggles of developing craft to make them just as real to others.

I pass the happiness on to the following wonderful blogs:

Tricia at Talespinning
Erin at Musings of a Writer Chick Living in Paradise
Roxane at Peace Garden Mama
Lady Glamis at The Innocent Flower
Nicole at One Significant Moment at a Time

Now I'm going to drink lots of tea to drown out this sore throat, watch some more LotR extras with my daughter (vacation day from school) and dig into the decadent torte my hubby made. Tomorrow we freeze the leftovers to enjoy on Lenten Sundays.

How do you like to whoop it up? Any Mardi Gras traditions?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thanks to our lovely host Courtney for today's blogfest on the writing prompt "love at first sight."

My offering is written from the point of view of the male love interest from WIP-1. I thought it would be fun to tell his side of the story of the first up-close meeting and conversation with my protagonist.

==============

Fletcher never told me there’d be girls at his church thing. I’d only gone along to escape another of Mom’s epic custody flip-outs after Dad announced he was moving to Switzerland with skank number 26. I thought chilling with hippie-dude Jesus sounded soothing. Mellow. Almost as good as hiding in a closet with my blanket. Not that I do that wussy baby stuff anymore, mind you.

Anyhow, I followed Fletch to this Hogwarts kind of room where it seemed like half of Gryffindor was hanging out. Well, minus the robes. Then I saw her. Art girl. One long line of lean in jeans and a snug sweater.

I knew she had a pretty French name but went by something boyish. Dom for Dominique. Mitch for Michelle. With just a plain pencil, this girl could make magic. She’d rocked the school art show with a drawing of a Central Park tree that wasn't wood, but water. It was weird. Wonderful. I couldn’t stop staring at it. The longer I looked, the more I felt sucked in. Like the real me was in there somehow, swimming in the shadows just below the surface.

At school, she was always hunched over a sketchbook, her red-brown blonde hair streaming like a waterfall across her face. Hiding away. Like Rapunzel in her tower. I’d climb a thousand thorn bushes to touch the sweep of her cheek and taste her small, soft mouth.

Art girl looked stunned at her joking friend. Then she laughed. I could feel it tug my gut with the cadence of an eight-man scull team rowing a power ten. I had to know. What was so funny? What made her happy? Would she ever smile like that for me?

I drifted across the room to the snack-laden table she was leaning against. I reached for the chips and tried to swallow back the dryness in my throat. Then something impossibly awful happened. Art girl’s redhead friend whispered in her ear and she doubled over, laughing harder than ever. The table creaked and shuddered beneath her. Then it tipped backwards. Food poured onto the floor.

I managed to grab the nearest corner and right the table before everything dumped, but the damage was done. After stunned silence would come the usual humiliation: wolf whistles, clapping and mocking laughter.

I couldn’t watch it happen. Not to her. So I knelt down and started picking up. Weirdly enough, so did everyone else in the room. Not one person clapped. The only laughter was in the group’s easy banter as they worked together. Apparently these were not your usual high school jerks.

I was scraping guacamole off the thousand-year-old church carpet when art girl scooted near me to gather scattered pistachios. She leaned so close I could smell her. Sweet and summery. Like those vines twined through our deck at the lake house. Honeysuckle.

“That must’ve been some joke,” I said.

She shook her head. “I’m such a bloody idiot.”

“You jolly well are not,” I joked, mimicking her.

“What?”

Oh crap. She wasn’t faking. That’s her normal voice.

“Sorry. I just didn’t, um, expect you to sound—” as sexy as those babes in my sister’s Regency romances. I don’t care what my stupid crew buddies say, those books are hot. “It’s not like your accent is…you know, strong or anything,” I babbled. “I mean, I barely noticed. It’s just…aren’t you the new girl who moved from Brooklyn?”

She squinted at me, suspicious.

“I’m Theo. Theo Wescott. From school? I came with a guy I row with, Fletcher Reid.” I pointed my chin in his direction, and darned if he wasn’t totally flirting with the redhead.

Art girl stared at my outstretched hand like it might bite.

“I come in peace.”

She bit her lip, trying to hide a smile. Then she grasped my hand and shook it, her strong, slim fingers a perfect fit in mine. “Danielle. Deane. But everyone calls me—”

“Dani,” I said, my voice husky. Just how I’d say it if she were in my arms.

“Yeah,” she whispered, her eyes wide. They were a soft gray, like a pigeon feather. She leaned back, wobbled, caught herself. Like she wanted to get up and run, but was too scared.
Sunday, February 14, 2010 Laurel Garver
Thanks to our lovely host Courtney for today's blogfest on the writing prompt "love at first sight."

My offering is written from the point of view of the male love interest from WIP-1. I thought it would be fun to tell his side of the story of the first up-close meeting and conversation with my protagonist.

==============

Fletcher never told me there’d be girls at his church thing. I’d only gone along to escape another of Mom’s epic custody flip-outs after Dad announced he was moving to Switzerland with skank number 26. I thought chilling with hippie-dude Jesus sounded soothing. Mellow. Almost as good as hiding in a closet with my blanket. Not that I do that wussy baby stuff anymore, mind you.

Anyhow, I followed Fletch to this Hogwarts kind of room where it seemed like half of Gryffindor was hanging out. Well, minus the robes. Then I saw her. Art girl. One long line of lean in jeans and a snug sweater.

I knew she had a pretty French name but went by something boyish. Dom for Dominique. Mitch for Michelle. With just a plain pencil, this girl could make magic. She’d rocked the school art show with a drawing of a Central Park tree that wasn't wood, but water. It was weird. Wonderful. I couldn’t stop staring at it. The longer I looked, the more I felt sucked in. Like the real me was in there somehow, swimming in the shadows just below the surface.

At school, she was always hunched over a sketchbook, her red-brown blonde hair streaming like a waterfall across her face. Hiding away. Like Rapunzel in her tower. I’d climb a thousand thorn bushes to touch the sweep of her cheek and taste her small, soft mouth.

Art girl looked stunned at her joking friend. Then she laughed. I could feel it tug my gut with the cadence of an eight-man scull team rowing a power ten. I had to know. What was so funny? What made her happy? Would she ever smile like that for me?

I drifted across the room to the snack-laden table she was leaning against. I reached for the chips and tried to swallow back the dryness in my throat. Then something impossibly awful happened. Art girl’s redhead friend whispered in her ear and she doubled over, laughing harder than ever. The table creaked and shuddered beneath her. Then it tipped backwards. Food poured onto the floor.

I managed to grab the nearest corner and right the table before everything dumped, but the damage was done. After stunned silence would come the usual humiliation: wolf whistles, clapping and mocking laughter.

I couldn’t watch it happen. Not to her. So I knelt down and started picking up. Weirdly enough, so did everyone else in the room. Not one person clapped. The only laughter was in the group’s easy banter as they worked together. Apparently these were not your usual high school jerks.

I was scraping guacamole off the thousand-year-old church carpet when art girl scooted near me to gather scattered pistachios. She leaned so close I could smell her. Sweet and summery. Like those vines twined through our deck at the lake house. Honeysuckle.

“That must’ve been some joke,” I said.

She shook her head. “I’m such a bloody idiot.”

“You jolly well are not,” I joked, mimicking her.

“What?”

Oh crap. She wasn’t faking. That’s her normal voice.

“Sorry. I just didn’t, um, expect you to sound—” as sexy as those babes in my sister’s Regency romances. I don’t care what my stupid crew buddies say, those books are hot. “It’s not like your accent is…you know, strong or anything,” I babbled. “I mean, I barely noticed. It’s just…aren’t you the new girl who moved from Brooklyn?”

She squinted at me, suspicious.

“I’m Theo. Theo Wescott. From school? I came with a guy I row with, Fletcher Reid.” I pointed my chin in his direction, and darned if he wasn’t totally flirting with the redhead.

Art girl stared at my outstretched hand like it might bite.

“I come in peace.”

She bit her lip, trying to hide a smile. Then she grasped my hand and shook it, her strong, slim fingers a perfect fit in mine. “Danielle. Deane. But everyone calls me—”

“Dani,” I said, my voice husky. Just how I’d say it if she were in my arms.

“Yeah,” she whispered, her eyes wide. They were a soft gray, like a pigeon feather. She leaned back, wobbled, caught herself. Like she wanted to get up and run, but was too scared.

Friday, February 12, 2010

I'm getting very excited for the THREE upcoming blogfests.

Love at First Sight Blogfest, hosted by Courtney Reese on February 14

So-Long Blogfest, hosted by Karen at Novels During Naptime on February 18

Whoops! Blogfest hosted by Laurel's Leaves (that would here, folks!) on February 22

If you've never participated in one, you might be wondering what all the hubbub is about.

A blogfest is a writing party of sorts. One blogger posts a writing prompt, usually on a theme, and invites other bloggers to join in by posting a scene. The host blogger posts a sign-up sheet for participants so readers have a go-to place to find out who's participating and to easily access links to the various entries.

Why should you participate?

1) It's fun!

And who doesn't need more fun, especially in February? I've been snowed in for days with a bored 7-yo, hubby with a bad respiratory infection and 168 pages of proofreading to do for work. Fun would be a very nice thing about now!

2) It's a great way to get a little feedback on your work in progress, test out new characters, give life to a killed darling, or play with a new genre or POV or style.

For the Kissing Day blogfest, I posted a snippet I'd cut from WIP-2 because it was too racy for the context of my work. But doggone it, I'd worked hard to craft that sensuous moment, so the blogfest was an excellent place to let my work be "published."

For the No-Kiss blogfest, I debuted the bad boy Laughlin O'Donnell, who will be appearing in WIP-2. This poor guy has been lingering in a file cabinet since the early 1990s. He needed a stretch so I could get to know him again.

3) You'll meet lots of cool bloggers.

The energy these blogfests generate is fantastic. Each blogfest widget is a quick, easy way to find blogs you might not otherwise have known existed. Giving and receiving feedback in the online community sparks many wonderful new friendships.

4) It's informative and widens your horizons.

You get to read unique spins on the prompt, often giving you a taste for many different genres. In the Kissing Day blogfest, we saw straight-up romance, as well as fantasy, historical, paranormal, literary, YA and MG. I learned a lot about other bloggers, and about genres I never read but now have a taste for. A good taste. And I want to read more.

Procrastinate no longer, my friends! Go sign up today!

Never participated in a blogfest? What might convince you to try?
Are you a blogfest maven? What benefits did you enjoy from participating?
Friday, February 12, 2010 Laurel Garver
I'm getting very excited for the THREE upcoming blogfests.

Love at First Sight Blogfest, hosted by Courtney Reese on February 14

So-Long Blogfest, hosted by Karen at Novels During Naptime on February 18

Whoops! Blogfest hosted by Laurel's Leaves (that would here, folks!) on February 22

If you've never participated in one, you might be wondering what all the hubbub is about.

A blogfest is a writing party of sorts. One blogger posts a writing prompt, usually on a theme, and invites other bloggers to join in by posting a scene. The host blogger posts a sign-up sheet for participants so readers have a go-to place to find out who's participating and to easily access links to the various entries.

Why should you participate?

1) It's fun!

And who doesn't need more fun, especially in February? I've been snowed in for days with a bored 7-yo, hubby with a bad respiratory infection and 168 pages of proofreading to do for work. Fun would be a very nice thing about now!

2) It's a great way to get a little feedback on your work in progress, test out new characters, give life to a killed darling, or play with a new genre or POV or style.

For the Kissing Day blogfest, I posted a snippet I'd cut from WIP-2 because it was too racy for the context of my work. But doggone it, I'd worked hard to craft that sensuous moment, so the blogfest was an excellent place to let my work be "published."

For the No-Kiss blogfest, I debuted the bad boy Laughlin O'Donnell, who will be appearing in WIP-2. This poor guy has been lingering in a file cabinet since the early 1990s. He needed a stretch so I could get to know him again.

3) You'll meet lots of cool bloggers.

The energy these blogfests generate is fantastic. Each blogfest widget is a quick, easy way to find blogs you might not otherwise have known existed. Giving and receiving feedback in the online community sparks many wonderful new friendships.

4) It's informative and widens your horizons.

You get to read unique spins on the prompt, often giving you a taste for many different genres. In the Kissing Day blogfest, we saw straight-up romance, as well as fantasy, historical, paranormal, literary, YA and MG. I learned a lot about other bloggers, and about genres I never read but now have a taste for. A good taste. And I want to read more.

Procrastinate no longer, my friends! Go sign up today!

Never participated in a blogfest? What might convince you to try?
Are you a blogfest maven? What benefits did you enjoy from participating?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

I'm once again picking up my "why I don't write autobiographically" series. (I gave you fair warning it wouldn't be sequential!) My earlier posts in the series include:

Pitfalls of autobiographical writing, part 1: truth

Pitfalls of autobiographical writing, part 2: perspective

Without further adieu, here's part three:

Distance

Distance is one of the beautiful things about writing fiction. I can explore worlds and try all manner of crazy behaviors without leaving the comfort of my office. And while I might identify strongly with my main character, at the end of the day, she IS NOT ME.

My MC is a bit whiny at times. She makes snap judgments and is overly influenced by how things appear. She takes big risks that aren't entirely sane. I can trash-talk Dani all day long without feeling bad at all, really. Because I ultimately control who she is and who she'll become over the course of the story. And if I don't succeed in making you like her intelligence, her sarcastic, self-deprecating sense of humor, her deep love for her father, her courage and her desire to do the right thing, it doesn't mean I have no redeeming qualities. It means my vision hasn't made it to the page yet.

While I have a certain responsibility to Dani, I also have the freedom to distance myself from her. Her foibles are my ideas about foibles, rather than my direct foibles. When I show my manuscript to readers and they say, "Wow, she's kind of a brat here," my response can be "Yes, indeed," or "Hmm, I didn't realize she came across that way. I'd better rework that bit." What I should not think is "Ohmigosh! You think I'm a brat! Selfish! Annoying! You hate me! You wish I'd never been born!" That kind of thinking is harmful to craft. It leads to self-protective measures, like discounting or even ignoring useful critiques from those you believe have deliberately wounded you.

Distance is necessary. That is, having clearly defined boundaries between your work and your identity. It takes time to get there, even with purely fictionalized characters and scenarios.

When writing from life, it seems to me, getting that sense of separation is darned near impossible. People read about your escapades and say, "Wow, that was a pretty idiotic thing to do" and the label hits who you are: I did that. Me. And I'm a big, fat idiot. You've exposed some aspect of yourself and now it's out there to be judged for good or ill.

As I'd mentioned in part 2: perspective, distance is also essential for shaping your story. Only from a vantage point can you discern which experiences are most important. If you're too deeply enmeshed with the experiences as they happened and can't prioritize, your work will be muddy, laden with boring details, and fail to really go anywhere.

Perhaps I'm over-sensitized to the first danger, exposure, because of my growing up experiences in a home with highly stigmatized problem: mental illness. Who's to say the stigma wouldn't lose a lot of its sting with repeated exposure to the light of day? It might.

I sense that many people who write autobiographical work believe it helps them process their experiences. They can even distance themselves from their past selves to a degree that they can be uninjured by criticism and clear-eyed about how to best present the story.

Reaching that clear-eyed state is a beautiful thing, a sign of maturity and great wisdom. It's a worthy goal for any who undertake it.

How, as a writer, do you protect your identity (your deepest self)? Have you developed distance from your characters?
Thursday, February 11, 2010 Laurel Garver
I'm once again picking up my "why I don't write autobiographically" series. (I gave you fair warning it wouldn't be sequential!) My earlier posts in the series include:

Pitfalls of autobiographical writing, part 1: truth

Pitfalls of autobiographical writing, part 2: perspective

Without further adieu, here's part three:

Distance

Distance is one of the beautiful things about writing fiction. I can explore worlds and try all manner of crazy behaviors without leaving the comfort of my office. And while I might identify strongly with my main character, at the end of the day, she IS NOT ME.

My MC is a bit whiny at times. She makes snap judgments and is overly influenced by how things appear. She takes big risks that aren't entirely sane. I can trash-talk Dani all day long without feeling bad at all, really. Because I ultimately control who she is and who she'll become over the course of the story. And if I don't succeed in making you like her intelligence, her sarcastic, self-deprecating sense of humor, her deep love for her father, her courage and her desire to do the right thing, it doesn't mean I have no redeeming qualities. It means my vision hasn't made it to the page yet.

While I have a certain responsibility to Dani, I also have the freedom to distance myself from her. Her foibles are my ideas about foibles, rather than my direct foibles. When I show my manuscript to readers and they say, "Wow, she's kind of a brat here," my response can be "Yes, indeed," or "Hmm, I didn't realize she came across that way. I'd better rework that bit." What I should not think is "Ohmigosh! You think I'm a brat! Selfish! Annoying! You hate me! You wish I'd never been born!" That kind of thinking is harmful to craft. It leads to self-protective measures, like discounting or even ignoring useful critiques from those you believe have deliberately wounded you.

Distance is necessary. That is, having clearly defined boundaries between your work and your identity. It takes time to get there, even with purely fictionalized characters and scenarios.

When writing from life, it seems to me, getting that sense of separation is darned near impossible. People read about your escapades and say, "Wow, that was a pretty idiotic thing to do" and the label hits who you are: I did that. Me. And I'm a big, fat idiot. You've exposed some aspect of yourself and now it's out there to be judged for good or ill.

As I'd mentioned in part 2: perspective, distance is also essential for shaping your story. Only from a vantage point can you discern which experiences are most important. If you're too deeply enmeshed with the experiences as they happened and can't prioritize, your work will be muddy, laden with boring details, and fail to really go anywhere.

Perhaps I'm over-sensitized to the first danger, exposure, because of my growing up experiences in a home with highly stigmatized problem: mental illness. Who's to say the stigma wouldn't lose a lot of its sting with repeated exposure to the light of day? It might.

I sense that many people who write autobiographical work believe it helps them process their experiences. They can even distance themselves from their past selves to a degree that they can be uninjured by criticism and clear-eyed about how to best present the story.

Reaching that clear-eyed state is a beautiful thing, a sign of maturity and great wisdom. It's a worthy goal for any who undertake it.

How, as a writer, do you protect your identity (your deepest self)? Have you developed distance from your characters?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

As I mentioned in this post about my process so far with gathering critiques, I thought I'd share the set of questions I gave to my beta readers, the group that looked at my cleaned-up rough draft manuscript in its entirety.

Feel free to swipe this list and/or adapt it for your own use.

===============
Beta reader questions

Dear Friend,

Thanks for your willingness to read over and offer comments on my manuscript. As you read, please mark (yes, you can and should write on these) any areas you think I should give more attention. Feel free to e-mail comments as you go [your address] if that’s easier. I’d like to receive everyone’s comments by [deadline].

Here are a few things to watch for:

Character
Are the characters engaging and adequately complex? Do you care about them and enjoy getting to know them deeply, even the antagonists?

Are characters’ voices distinct in the dialog? If not, note where you hear problems.

Do the peripheral characters work in supporting the main story without being overly distracting? If not, note which ones are troublemakers.

Does the main character adequately change through conflict, climax and resolution?

Plot
Does the story move forward and keep you reading more? Note where your interest lags.

Do the plot twists and complications work, or do they seem contrived or hokey? Do characters appear to have sufficient motivation for what they do? If not, note where you “just don’t buy it.”

Are scenes paced well in terms of building and releasing tension? If not, note places where the story drags or races.

Theme
Does the [theme description; i.e. understanding vs. judging] theme of come across in a non-preachy way? Note anything that strikes you as heavy-handed.

I’ve played with a dozen title possibilities and I’m not married to the working title I'm currently using. If you can think of a better one, please suggest it.

Mechanics
Note word choices that don’t quite seem right in terms of tone within a scene, or because a particular character just wouldn’t use that word.

Please note any spelling errors, grammar gaffes, punctuation funkiness and missing words (sadly a big issue for me—my brain seems to fill in what isn’t actually on the page!).

Note any continuity errors you see (e.g. wearing a coat in part of the scene and not having it later in the same scene).

============

Do you provide guidelines for your readers? If not, why? If so, how did you develop them? What key questions would you add to my list?
Tuesday, February 09, 2010 Laurel Garver
As I mentioned in this post about my process so far with gathering critiques, I thought I'd share the set of questions I gave to my beta readers, the group that looked at my cleaned-up rough draft manuscript in its entirety.

Feel free to swipe this list and/or adapt it for your own use.

===============
Beta reader questions

Dear Friend,

Thanks for your willingness to read over and offer comments on my manuscript. As you read, please mark (yes, you can and should write on these) any areas you think I should give more attention. Feel free to e-mail comments as you go [your address] if that’s easier. I’d like to receive everyone’s comments by [deadline].

Here are a few things to watch for:

Character
Are the characters engaging and adequately complex? Do you care about them and enjoy getting to know them deeply, even the antagonists?

Are characters’ voices distinct in the dialog? If not, note where you hear problems.

Do the peripheral characters work in supporting the main story without being overly distracting? If not, note which ones are troublemakers.

Does the main character adequately change through conflict, climax and resolution?

Plot
Does the story move forward and keep you reading more? Note where your interest lags.

Do the plot twists and complications work, or do they seem contrived or hokey? Do characters appear to have sufficient motivation for what they do? If not, note where you “just don’t buy it.”

Are scenes paced well in terms of building and releasing tension? If not, note places where the story drags or races.

Theme
Does the [theme description; i.e. understanding vs. judging] theme of come across in a non-preachy way? Note anything that strikes you as heavy-handed.

I’ve played with a dozen title possibilities and I’m not married to the working title I'm currently using. If you can think of a better one, please suggest it.

Mechanics
Note word choices that don’t quite seem right in terms of tone within a scene, or because a particular character just wouldn’t use that word.

Please note any spelling errors, grammar gaffes, punctuation funkiness and missing words (sadly a big issue for me—my brain seems to fill in what isn’t actually on the page!).

Note any continuity errors you see (e.g. wearing a coat in part of the scene and not having it later in the same scene).

============

Do you provide guidelines for your readers? If not, why? If so, how did you develop them? What key questions would you add to my list?

Sunday, February 07, 2010

So, I'm testing to see if the "sticky post" advice I found online actually works. I'd like the Whoops! Blogfest information to stay evergreen, at least until the day of the festival. I do plan to keep posting other stuff in the meantime. I hope those new posts will appear in folks' feed readers, especially since I plan to participate in Courtney's Love at First Sight Blogfest on 2-14--my first try at male POV!

What's something new you've tried lately?
Sunday, February 07, 2010 Laurel Garver
So, I'm testing to see if the "sticky post" advice I found online actually works. I'd like the Whoops! Blogfest information to stay evergreen, at least until the day of the festival. I do plan to keep posting other stuff in the meantime. I hope those new posts will appear in folks' feed readers, especially since I plan to participate in Courtney's Love at First Sight Blogfest on 2-14--my first try at male POV!

What's something new you've tried lately?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Flashbacks. They're a common tool we use, particularly in the middle of a book, to flesh out characters and add dimension to current plot events.

My current headache of the moment is how to effectively portray flashback material. My novel is about grief, particularly the denial stage of grief, and flashbacks drive my emotionally tormented character to undertake many of her mid-story actions. My fabulous gammas pointed out at our meeting last night that some of my flashbacks are perhaps TOO seamlessly integrated in the real-time action. When adult readers have to go back and re-read several times to grasp that "oh, this is flashback," you know it's not going to fly with younger readers. Switching verb tense (from present to past) was apparently not enough of a clue that time slips are occurring. I need some additional techniques to improve the clarity of what's happening when.

So, help me out here. I need some good examples of well-done flashback use from literature to study, or some writing resources you can recommend. I especially need some narrative technique options I can try out to see what works best.

What books have you read that elegantly insert memory into the narrative, yet clearly delineate the then from the now? What writing resources can you recommend? What techniques have you used for portraying flashback that worked well?
Thursday, February 04, 2010 Laurel Garver
Flashbacks. They're a common tool we use, particularly in the middle of a book, to flesh out characters and add dimension to current plot events.

My current headache of the moment is how to effectively portray flashback material. My novel is about grief, particularly the denial stage of grief, and flashbacks drive my emotionally tormented character to undertake many of her mid-story actions. My fabulous gammas pointed out at our meeting last night that some of my flashbacks are perhaps TOO seamlessly integrated in the real-time action. When adult readers have to go back and re-read several times to grasp that "oh, this is flashback," you know it's not going to fly with younger readers. Switching verb tense (from present to past) was apparently not enough of a clue that time slips are occurring. I need some additional techniques to improve the clarity of what's happening when.

So, help me out here. I need some good examples of well-done flashback use from literature to study, or some writing resources you can recommend. I especially need some narrative technique options I can try out to see what works best.

What books have you read that elegantly insert memory into the narrative, yet clearly delineate the then from the now? What writing resources can you recommend? What techniques have you used for portraying flashback that worked well?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

For many characters, motivations are driven by family of origin issues. This includes far more than one's relationship with parents. Sibling relationships and one's place in the family pecking order can be strong influences on characters.

Dr. Kevin Lehman's The Birth Order Book looks at the particular pressures of being first born, middle, last born or only child. He goes on to discuss how the family dynamic tends to shape relational styles and personality development for each birth order position. He concludes that these early relationships shape not only the family dynamic but also how each individual relates to people outside the family.

He observes that first-borns and only children tend to be achievement oriented, natural leaders who desire affirmation from authority figures. Middle-borns, he says, are laid back, excel at mediating and developing consensus and tend to be more open with friends than with family. He observes that last-borns are creative, rebellious and often rely on humor and charm to get along in the world.

I'm not in any position to critique the science here, though more recent studies, like the ones reported in this Time article, do seem to back up his observations. I've simply found the book helpful in the character development process.

When I think through the back story of any character, birth order has a place and can subtly bring verisimilitude to the story. In Bring to Light, when I needed a likable guy friend character who would respond with gentleness and humor to my protagonist's plight, I made him a last born with older sisters. My protagonist's workaholic mom is, of course, a first born. Her laid-back dad, the youngest of two.

What do you think about family pecking order? Have you explored it in your work? How has your birth order shaped you as a writer?

*this is a re-post from my low-follower early blogging days, 'cause doggone it, I'm busy revising!
Tuesday, February 02, 2010 Laurel Garver
For many characters, motivations are driven by family of origin issues. This includes far more than one's relationship with parents. Sibling relationships and one's place in the family pecking order can be strong influences on characters.

Dr. Kevin Lehman's The Birth Order Book looks at the particular pressures of being first born, middle, last born or only child. He goes on to discuss how the family dynamic tends to shape relational styles and personality development for each birth order position. He concludes that these early relationships shape not only the family dynamic but also how each individual relates to people outside the family.

He observes that first-borns and only children tend to be achievement oriented, natural leaders who desire affirmation from authority figures. Middle-borns, he says, are laid back, excel at mediating and developing consensus and tend to be more open with friends than with family. He observes that last-borns are creative, rebellious and often rely on humor and charm to get along in the world.

I'm not in any position to critique the science here, though more recent studies, like the ones reported in this Time article, do seem to back up his observations. I've simply found the book helpful in the character development process.

When I think through the back story of any character, birth order has a place and can subtly bring verisimilitude to the story. In Bring to Light, when I needed a likable guy friend character who would respond with gentleness and humor to my protagonist's plight, I made him a last born with older sisters. My protagonist's workaholic mom is, of course, a first born. Her laid-back dad, the youngest of two.

What do you think about family pecking order? Have you explored it in your work? How has your birth order shaped you as a writer?

*this is a re-post from my low-follower early blogging days, 'cause doggone it, I'm busy revising!