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I know I’m a couple of days late in submitting this post. My brain drew a complete blank this week when it came around to writing about… my writing experiences and learnings. This is probably due to not having written much over the last couple of weeks besides what you will find on this blog. There were few fresh experiences for me to draw from. As I waited for inspiration to hit me, I caught up on my Watchlist and, sure enough, my standard researching go-to pulled through.
I saw The Breadwinner last night and, during Act I of the movie, the father kept insisting the protagonist retell the stories he had taught her. She was wary of the task and lacked confidence in her ability to remember the details or add spirit to her recitations that her father so naturally exhibited. I understood her anxiety; it is an anxiety we, all authors, become consumed by every once in a while. Will our stories be relevant, will they create an impact? Will we connect?
As the father continued to reiterate to the daughter that telling stories was their tradition and why it was important that she continue the tradition, I began to re-appreciate how selfless an act storytelling can be. Amidst the terror and oppression of the Taliban regime, it was the one tradition that they could uphold because it did not cost anything more than a conversation between two persons – however secret. It was the one way that the truth of a time before the Taliban reign could stay alive for future generations to look back on. As long as there were people telling the stories of their pasts, the Taliban couldn’t obliterate their identity. Storytelling was a risk they would just have to take.
But storytelling isn’t just the tradition of the people of Afghanistan; it is the one tradition that all of mankind has had in common since languages were invented. In Genius, Colin Firth’s enactment of the legendary book editor Max Perkins describes to the self-absorbed Tom Wolfe (Jude Law) in the movie how ancient a form of communication storytelling is. That when the cavemen sat around the campfire at night with nothing to do but worry about all the dangers lurking in the dark, they told each other stories. Stories kept the dread of the dark at bay while campfires became more than sanctuaries, they became a symbol of communion.
Today, we discover scratch marks on cave walls and marvel at the presence of mind and resourcefulness of our ancestors to have preserved the evidence of their existence at a time when they didn’t have the comfort of the knowledge that archeologists would one day unearth their fossils and fittings even without the tips they thought to leave behind. But archeological findings only tell us what we may surmise ourselves; while cave arts communicate the rendition of the stories the Neanderthal themselves wanted to share with us. How much more personal the communication then becomes, how much more generous the act?
In junior high, we didn’t study English, we had Language Art classes. Because that is the form storytelling eventually took. It became more than a means of preserving history. It became methods of imparting ethics and morals, life lessons and standards. It made learning pleasurable and it glued those learnings to our memories. Go online and you will discover a hundred reasons why storytelling is important in everything from early childhood development to cultural constructs to the field of marketing. From reiterating facts of our past to inventing fictions based on our present or somewhere in between, storytelling can take on many forms and shapes from using words and symbols to threads and paints.
But, returning back to the lesson the father was trying to impart to our protagonist in The Breadwinner, the one thing we, authors, must remember is that storytelling is meant for more than our self-gratification in the ability to tell a story well, to impress; the true reason for telling stories lies in the “why”. Realize why you must tell a story and the hesitation will resolve itself.
Why do you tell your stories?
Starring Colin Firth, Jude Law, and Nicole Kidman
Director Michael Grandage
Writer(s) John Logan (screenplay) and A. Scott Berg (book ‘Max Perkins: Editor of Genius’)
Genre Biography | Drama
Release Date June 10, 2016
Filming Location Paramount Studios, Hollywood, California, USA
Parental Guidance PG-13 for thematic elements and suggestive content
IMDB Rating 6.5
Synopsis: When yet-to-be-published author Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) decides to keep his appointment with Scribner’s editor Max Perkins (Colin Firth), he assumes he is walking in for yet another rejection. Little does he know of Perkins’s penchant for discovering new writers, many of whom he has already raised from obscurity to award-winning success. Perkins informs Wolfe that his novel, which is eventually titled “Look Homeward, Angel”, has been selected for publication but under one condition – that the manuscript is trimmed down from its staggering 1,100 pages to something cost-effective and purchasable. Although initially reluctant to see the red-inked knife be taken to his poetic prose, Wolfe agrees to the bargain and Perkins, as per his MO, actively mentors Wolfe towards editing the story into its final form. Wolfe’s reward is a true friend in Perkins and critical acclaim for his debut novel. However, even as the bond between editor and author continues to grow stronger, one where it advances into the home of each, it does not traverse without contention, as Perkins continues to challenge Wolfe to forgo his grandiose and write with greater economy. Moreover, Perkins is warned time and again by his wife Louise (Laura Linney), other literary charges such as F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce) and Earnest Hemmingway (Dominic West), and even chief nemesis Wolfe’s mistress Aline Bernstein (Nicole Kidman) about Wolfe’s proclivity to use and dispose of those who help advance his career. Perkins, though, dismisses the assertions as an inability to endure Wolfe’s artistic temperament – until Wolfe himself begins to prove the assessment correct when the belligerent author starts resenting Perkins for his level contribution to his success.
Experience: It goes without saying that I was drawn to this movie due to Colin Firth’s presence. When I learned that it was a biographical drama on the editor who introduced authors such as Fitzgerald and Hemmingway to their readers, I was further intrigued. To date, I don’t know of any other movie that focuses on the life of a book editor and, as a writer, I felt I owed it to myself to watch it. Like some extra credit homework one does as a precaution for any potential failed test.
I didn’t even know about Max Perkins until this movie. Why would I? If a book does well, authors get all the glory, even though, once upon a time, any form of literature would not see the light of day without some editor signing its ticket. An editor doesn’t even get their contributions acknowledged in print unless the author does the honorable. On the copyright page, it’s the author’s name and publishing house that receives the billing. After all, the manuscript hits the desk of so many different editors for copy checks, proofreading, developmental upgrades, etc. on its way to the press that it would be an odd listing to feature everyone on that little space. But what about the person who discovers a particular work and backs it up against all arguments? Meet Max Perkins. [I’m not sure how faithful an account it is of the original man – though most history buffs claim the movie is principally the real deal – the Max Perkins on screen actually claimed it’s ideal for the editor to go unacknowledged; his words were to the effect that the reader should get an impression that they are reading the book in its original form.]
I’m not naïve enough to believe that all editors are the self-sacrificial heart-and-soul-gamblers that Perkins was. He had insight and was willing to wager his professional reputation for the unknown young writers he believed in and it obviously paid off in these amazing books – though, from the movie, we can see the time and psychological effort it cost him was exceptional. Yet, he seemed to revel in the demands of his undertakings in these temperamental wrecks of egos that he counseled into writing best-sellers. And I loved how Firth brought that out with the quiet grace and effusive sincerity of his acting. [BTW, I discovered he has the most elegant wrist through this movie. Me, bona fide bad-boy chaser go gaga every time over his understated charm and courtesy. And now the wrist?]
Back to his harnessed talent, as always, Firth managed to make the role he plays feel multidimensional, radiating off the screen with his subtle expressions and dialogue delivery. Despite spending most of the movie in quiet reflection, it is a pleasure just to watch the wheels churning behind those lambent eyes or the fleeting smirk that plays hide-and-seek on his firm mouth from self-deprecation or as a result of some study he is yet unwilling to make public. He makes Max Perkins’s skin his own, becoming a man who does not aim to impress but to simply do right by the talented writers he is responsible for.
Playing opposite him, Jude Law does a bang-on job of portraying a self-serving romantic engrossed in astounding everyone he comes into direct or indirect contact with simply because he is determined to rise above the meager upbringing he was afforded. [Disclaimer: I generally don’t like Law] Wolfe was notorious for writing gargantuan tomes that Perkins had to help chisel away to a fraction of their original size because Wolfe believed his writing was beyond criticism and undeserving of revisions. Thanks to Law, Wolfe once again crackles and pops in every breakthrough of his life, trying to overpower Perkins’s more diminutive disposition but finding a formidable challenger nevertheless. Together, they faithfully portray the almost resolute -father-prodigal-son combination that the original partnership was noted for. It’s not easy bringing movies on writing come to life like so many other art forms are accessible through visual representation but, by golly, Firth and Law made it.
Which bring me to the women in the mix. I really enjoyed watching the juxtaposition between the two couples, Max-Louise and Tom-Aline. On the one side, you have a married couple with a gaggle of daughters that have fostered a kind of understanding that allows each member of the pack to flourish in their own way, like the many limbs of a well-rooted tree that is sure of individual and collective fruition. They are ready to welcome other people into their fold just as a tree would provide shelter to strangers just because it can. On the other side, you have a live-in couple mired in an extra-marital affair who, at one point, forsook all family and friends to be with one another and, now, do not appreciate distractions in their personal agendas. If one strays far from the other, the other claws and cankers until he/she returns. Louise’s personality perfectly harmonizes that of Max’s as Aline’s personality pairs Tom’s. It’s selfless devotion vs. selfish passion. And so the Perkins’s generosity is reflected in how Max works with his authors and the Aline-Tom egocentricity spills onto how Tom greets Max’s ministrations. The conflict within the subplot effectively bolsters that of the main plot, and the following dialogue from Max Perkins perfectly encompasses the artistic partnership between the editor and author that was the heart of this biopic:
Maxwell Evarts Perkins: God help anyone who loves you, Tom. Because for all your talk and all your millions of beautiful words, you haven’t the slightest idea of what it means to be alive. To look into another person’s eyes and ache for him. I hope someday you will. And then maybe all your words will be worth five of Scott’s.
Recommendation: I wouldn’t say it is the best movie Colin Firth has acted in but his acting is as immaculate as ever, with great contribution from the rest of the cast. And knowing that the character sketches and plot respectfully tries to remain true to the original people and events, this is a good biopic to watch for all editors and authors. And quite enjoyable too.
Via: Daily Prompt – Inkling
Remember this moment in cinema?I recently had a moment like this. Not that it suddenly dawned on me that I have been unwittingly in love with a person who has always been in my life. It was something much more worrisome.
I was discussing the love of Mr. Darcy with a former work associate when I found myself mentally sneering, “Yeah, everyone wants to be Elizabeth Bennet and find their own Mr. Darcy. What they don’t realize is that they are all Marianne Dashwood chasing after Willoughby.” Then I further added to myself, “Lately, it’s been an endless parade of Lydia Bennets complaining about how they have been completely had by Wickham. Well, what can I expect from a Millennial*?”
And then I became wholly ashamed of my less than charitable feelings towards others. Here was a young woman who has always looked up to me for advice like one does a sister and I was abusing her for her romantic aspirations instead of encouraging her to develop the kind of consistency shown by Austen’s heroines. Even the mild-mannered Jane Bennet would be disappointed in me. Shouldn’t the fact that the younger generation is once again picking up authors like Austen be a source of hope? So I proceeded to correct my stance and discuss with my friend all the reasons why the Elizabeth-Darcy relationship prospered.
Later that day, I was thinking about why everyone loved Mr. Darcy so much; why I loved him, actually. And I came up with the following list of traits:And also:
At heart, he is a noble beast though his pride hides it well
He does not love universally but when he loves, he is ardent and steadfast
He has difficulty delegating and whatever is to be done must be done by him so obviously very capable
He feels deeply, reflects greatly, and holds his own opinions at the highest esteem
He is honest and has no need to deny his feelings or actions
Though he is ill at ease in a crowd or among strangers, he feels no compunction in speaking his mind
He makes short order of assessing people and situations nor does he forgive easily when they fall short of his expectations
He has a superiority complex but only because his mind is so improved
His speech is eloquent, his manners are without art
His actions are made with conviction and confidence
He knows how to handle information with discretion, he approaches life with consistent gravitas
As I added more and more attributes to the list, I became struck by my own reality…
OH MY GOD! I AM MR. DARCY!
[Someone needs to write a fanfiction with that title, by the way]
Apart from the tall, dark, and sexy man thing, of course. But does this mean that all these years I have been in love with myself? Who would’ve thought? If so, how narcissistic is that? The more I mulled it over, the more convinced I became that I might be a borderline egomaniac in my appreciation of the characteristics attributed to Mr. Darcy. If I am ever dissatisfied with myself, I can will away whatever unease I feel with the self-possessed knowledge that should I apply myself to the task at hand, I will succeed.
In fact, the only thing I have truly ever feared in my life is failing to become a revered author. It is the one place where I am not absolutely convinced that were I to practice and push, I would become a best-selling novelist. No matter how much effort I put into the craft or to the purpose of building my author platform, it may all still come to naught. Writing keeps me grounded. It probably even prevents me from using means of manipulation and coercion on others to create little replicas of my personality.
WHEW! Close call, huh?
*Dear Millennial, I don’t really think I’m superior to you. Any harsh feelings I may harbor towards you probably stems from a jealous resentment that you have greater social stamina and enthusiasm for life than I do – and so, the fault is actually mine. With all candor, I actually admire your pluck and ability to discover adventure and entertainment in every task that you set yourself to. XOXO
Back to the topic at hand, why do you love Mr. Darcy?
We’re almost at the finish line. A minute to go before it’s 2018 in Bangladesh while many of you have already welcomed in the new year and others are preparing for this evening’s celebrations.
So I thought I’d leave a final note for this year. It’s been good enough. Perhaps not as fast as I would have liked for my career as a novelist but I still wrote a lot more fiction and on the craft of writing fiction than I have in my entire adult life. I discovered a few good reads that I fell in love with and read a lot of things that I absolutely hated – but most importantly, each material provided me with some learning to improve my own fiction writing skills. Also, my blog took off and has now come into its own confident form.
Speaking of which, to work more on my novel writing, I will only be blogging once-a-week in 2018 unless something major prompts my quill to superfluity. I will be alternating the weeks between my WRITING CHRONICLES and WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS posts – i.e. except for the third week of each month when I will be dedicating said week’s posts to my #AuthorToolboxBlogHop community.
So to all my readers and fellow bloggers,
A HAPPY NEW YEAR & EVEN HAPPIER READING!
So I have returned – my health rallied and my mind itching to get things moving. Though my doctor has informed me that I will need a second [precautionary] surgery to fully eliminate any danger, it will be some time before she again puts me under the scalpel – or scoop, in my case.
Anyway, I realized something about my author self in this past month of doing little more than lying in bed. I’m never more desirous to work on my novel as when I am experiencing a physical or scheduling constraint. It’s just as when I was slaving away like a house-elf for the corporate sovereigns. Then, too, I was desperate for the day when I would finally break free of my executive commitments and start writing the stories I am meant to write.
The day after my farewell at the office, I sat down at my laptop and wrote for nearly seven hours in one stretch. That first day, I had become unaware of any physical want that may draw me away from my creation; the consciousness of hunger, bladder pressure, or optical stress lay dormant before the high of being able to write without accountability to anything but the words adding pages to my manuscript. I ended up drafting the second half of my first [complete] novel in just over three months. Ecstasy!
That raw energy petered off all too quickly. Not that it bruised my ego at the time, as I fell back on the comfort of the new diversions that came my way. First, it was the online fiction writing course I did at the beginning of this year, which took eight weeks to complete. The exercise spurred me into writing a series of random flash fictions and short stories. By the time that was over, I was blogging on a daily basis. The challenge of responding to the WP Daily Prompt was so attractive and exhaustive that I allowed it to become an excuse to not begin editing my novel – after all, editing isn’t as much fun as drafting.
Then there was the Amazon writing contest, which at least got me to draft, edit, and publish my first [sellable] novella. A major milestone. And because I managed to accomplish the feat in less than a month, I felt motivated to dedicate more of my time and effort to writing fiction and consciously reduced blogging to twice a week. Sad to say, I didn’t devote myself to the endeavor nearly as much as I should have.
The shameful truth is I became lazy and complaisant. There’s plenty of time, I thought. After all, if I can produce and amend over 37,000 words for publication in less than 30 days, how long can it take to revise one 75,471-word draft? All I need to do is give two months to the task; maybe even less since the chief story was already written down. Pffft! Piece of cake! I got this!
And then this surgery. BOOM! Suddenly, my mind was flowing with scenes and prose, plots and characters for a new novel. Suddenly, I knew exactly which chapters I needed to slash from my first novel and what I should write to replace them in order to arrange the arcs of the story and characters into one cohesive piece. Yet, there I was, having to hold back the reins because I couldn’t even so much as sit up on my ass as type a page on my laptop.
Oh! How I writhed. I could take pills to allay the sting of my wound but there wasn’t any respite from the slow agony of the words blooming in my head, awaiting harvest. I was on edge with the heavy knowledge that these ideas could slip away just as quickly as they surfaced if I didn’t document them fast enough. This galvanizing commotion could quell at any moment. It made me irritable.
But, still, I misdirected the blame.
Arrogantly, I assumed that my problem was the inability to convert all this creative verve into anything productive. That it should return at such an inopportune time. If it weren’t for this stupid surgery, I could be listening to the symphonic clacking of the keys on my laptop, basking in the pride of writing fiction once more. The fault lay in my illness.
The fault did lay in my illness but the true nature of that illness dawned on me only when I went for a follow-up at the hospital. “Another surgery in a few months’ time.” No sooner did I realize that there will be another episode of lengthy convalescence in my near future when I wouldn’t be able to write that I finally came to term with the real threat. That I had been whiling away not-writing fiction for many months before the surgery took place. That before the advent of this renewed desperation to work on my novels, I had so easily settled into recuperative sluggishness because it was no different from the sedentary state I was already living. The recovery period is a mere month or so; what was I doing with my time when I was healthy?
I wasn’t having a mortality crisis but neither was six weeks a death sentence. Instead of grinding teeth over my temporary infirmity, I should be frowning upon my enduring wastefulness. Because despite my confidence in being able to write and publish a novella in under a month when I put myself to the task, the truth was that I wasn’t putting myself to the task. So I haven’t got this at all. I lacked industry, I lacked commitment.
Because speaking of that mortality crisis I wasn’t having, six weeks could have been a death sentence. It would have been a sorry end if I didn’t have at least one or six bestsellers to my name when the time came. And how mortifying when all those people who called me foolish for giving up a flourishing career to build castles in the cloud were proven correct. How would I even show my face to them then? Closed casket for me!
You know, we, writers, often take procrastination as part and parcel of the profession. We console ourselves with the idea that idleness does not really exist for us because we are always observing, formulating. A more stirring precept to hold fast to would be that we are slowly dying. There is just no time to waste.
Via: Daily Prompt – Gratitude
Plot – one of the seven pillars (others being character, conflict, setting, theme, POV, and style) of fiction. Though harboring deceptively similar traits, it should be viewed as different from the story. However, when I first picked up the craft of fiction writing, I could not find the plot in my stories for the life of me. It was there, but I didn’t see what it was. How was it any different from the story itself? Until I came across the following pearls of wisdom from one of the most masterful storytellers of our history:
Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. ‘The king died and then the queen died,’ is a story. ‘The king died, and then the queen died of grief,’ is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: ‘The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king.’ This is a plot with a mystery in it…”
~ E. M. Forster
The above words of Forsters helped me put things in perspective and review my work, correct errors in my technique, and raise the value of the stories I was writing. Thankfully, not too late in my writing journey to inflict any irreparable damage to my style.
As the years wore on, I came across other educational literature, both online and within books, that helped me identify plots in stories written by others as well as formulate plots of my own. A safe bet for finding them is to look for changes that move circumstances in the story from point A to point B. Again, it requires looking for the causality that will achieve the desired resolution in the conflict introduced:
A tangible event that forces change upon the characters.
E.g. After the death of an all-knowing headmaster, a warrior-student is forced to set out on a journey with his best friends-cum-comrades to discover and destroy the objects that tether an evil wizard’s soul to Earth in order to overcome his reign once and for all. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling)
A decision that changes a character’s circumstances.
E.g. A father decides to leave his post as a clergyman and removes his family to an industrial town where the daughter has to navigate the society of a new breed of working class and masters whose life force is the dignity earned through hard work, as well as butt heads with a proud but honest manufacturer whose heroics is not always apparent. (North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell)
Change in the relationship dynamics between characters.
E.g. A self-centered social princess who enjoys meddling in the lives of her peers out of a misguided perception that “she knows best” is only ever called out by her politically correct older step-brother but eventually realizes she enjoys his overbearing guidance and admires his integrity but is no longer confident that she is worthy of his attention. (Clueless by Amy Heckerling)
Internal change in a character.
E.g. A young woman prides herself on the accuracy of her study of characters of those around her, becomes prejudiced against an aristocratic man of natural proud bearings after being inadvertently slighted by him and hearing accusations of his misconduct against another man but eventually discovers that she allowed herself to be thoroughly misled and proceeds to witness his generosity towards those he cares for. (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
Change in reader’s perspective of the situation.
E.g. A divorced woman, who makes multiple errors in judgment due to her incessant state of inebriation, is obsessed with her ex-husband’s budding new family and tries to recover her life but begins to piece together a sinister past through wild flashbacks that foreshadow that the guilt might not be hers alone. (The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins)
Character coming to the realization that there will not be any change at all.
E.g. A recluse author, under the pressure of trying to come up with a novel that will rival the success of his first, begins to write a female character who likes his dog and whom he starts to fall in love with, bringing her to life and later decides to allow her freedom of will, only to realize that once free, the character is no longer satisfied with her life with him alone, and feels morally compelled to set her free from his domain. (Ruby Sparks by Zoe Kazan)
Such classic plotlines are the fail-safes of writing fictions. Of course, one cannot simply rely on them to succeed. No, success is achieved by adding originality to these storylines in a way that lifts the characters off the pages – and that is entirely up to the author’s creativity. And even more complicated than deciding on the “causality” to induce the story arc is deciding how the plot will progress to make the story plausible.
So once you have decided how you will add the plot to your story, how do you move it forward? There are many methods of plotting you can use, and here are some approaches to get you started:
Traditional Approach – Ideal for planners, this is the method you use to first break down the entire story into chapters, then briefly summarize what happens in them as well as the contribution to the story arc that each makes.
Synopsis – Similar to the Traditional Method, the Synopsis is ideal for planners but who wish to allow themselves more creative room in writing individual scenes to build on the general plot as they progress. Here, the writer also outlines the entire story but without breaking it down chapter-by-chapter or scene-by-scene. The ending is often loosely introduced in the synopsis or may be left blank. The synopsis is a good practice for later if the author wishes to gain representation in traditional publishing.
Freytag’s Pyramid – Though the 5-act dramatic structure was almost abandoned in the mid-nineteenth century, German playwright Gustav Freytag not only brought it back into use but streamlined this outlining method by choicely breaking down the course of plot into Exposition (background information on the major elements introduced in the fiction), Rising Action (introduction and build-up of the conflict), Climax (turning point where conflict is at its most volatile), Falling Action (where conflict unravels and the final suspense/doubts are exposed), and Denouement (where the story’s loose ends are drawn together).
Three-Act Structure – This simplifies the 5-act structure by diving the plot into three segments as the name suggests and putting specific elements in each, which is left up to the author to decide on. Most commonly, the three-act structure is broken down into the introduction plus rise of conflict, climax, and resolution. This structure is becoming more popular as it is often now advised to introduce the inciting incident in the novel as early (often even scene one) into the story as possible to capture the audience from the get-go.
Hero’s Journey – This method engenders the three-act structure by specifically dividing the plot to induce the character arc for the MC. In the first act, the hero receives but refuses a call to action, thus showing his/her reluctance to get involved; in the second act, a series of trials are forced upon the hero that may test his/her physical prowess as well as intelligence, emotional, and ethical quotient; and, in the final act, the hero triumphs over the antagonist.
The Snowflake Method – Introduced by Randy Ingermanson, this method does not attempt to systematically outline the plot but rather starts with writing a one-sentence summary or loglines that defines and entices the storyline, then picks out specific elements in the story such as characters, conflicts, epiphanies, goals, etc., lists them out by rote, and adds details to them which will mechanize plot progress. This method is ideal for people who prefer discovering their way through the plot as much as the reader.
Draft Zero – Finally, the food of the pantsers and who think plots should remain mysteries until they are well on their way through the first draft [for creative freedom, of course]. The writer focuses on speed as they write a mock draft, allowing plenty of gaps in scenes to be filled in later. The writer courses through the story too quickly to allow for anything such as fatigue or “editing impulses” to set them back or keep them from reaching completion.
Of course, authors are welcome to combine any of these methods to ensure optimal output from themselves. After completing the draft of my first novel and realizing how my plot was all over the place, making my MC’s character arc plausible but not achieved via the right course, I took to employing a combination of Traditional Method and Draft Zero – it saves me a lot of time later that would be otherwise spent filling in plot holes.
What are your plotting processes?
I went away for two weeks to prepare for/attend a cousin’s wedding and when I returned, I found my access to all things WP blocked. Hence, my monthlong absence. Since this is not the first time it happened to me, I didn’t go into immediate panic-mode like I did last November.
You see, every once in a while, the Bangladesh government likes to shake things up by blocking server access to various blogging and social media sites in a bid to “combat” cyber terrorism. This is because Bangladeshis really enjoy our right to the freedom of expression and often use social media/blogging as means of venting frustrations towards various stakeholders in our everyday lives and the world in general, which, of course, also includes the government itself. The government attacks the platforms randomly to monitor activity. What they really mean is, “Hey! You’re using your freedom of speech, kudos to you. But just remember to be cautious how you use it because, you know, words can hurt.” Wish our government wasn’t such a pansy about taking criticism but there you have it.
Of course, this Summer, I have been very cool about it but, last winter, I was pissed. There was a whole lot of name-calling involved and contacting various bodies of government to tell them to do their jobs professionally. Finally, the WP Support Center helped me out by contacting the communications board in BD to see what was really going on and after a week or so, all road were clear to go. I didn’t go into all that this time. In fact, the only time I felt a niggle of frustration was when I received a notification about likes or comments or other activities on my site that I could not fully access to review and approve or reciprocate fellow bloggers with my reading what was happening in their part of the blogosphere.
Instead, I took this opportunity to catch up on my reading (just crossed 75% of my Goodreads Reading Challenge even though I had a late start this year), chill with cousins and the new cousin–in-law (a really sweet girl), buy a new laptop since my old one had been running without a battery for the last six months (the new laptop is a smoothy when it comes to typing, btw, and so far near perfect), get my hair colored burgundy with flaming red streaks (a bit of a shock for my loved ones but I think I’m rocking it), re-run Roswell (why did they cancel that show after only three seasons), and really take some vital decisions on continuing my WEDNESDAY REFLECTONS column (even though I didn’t get much writing done the month).
Which brings me to my very critical dilemma: I’m an author aspiring to become a well-revered author. Is it really fair for me to review the works of fellow authors, especially that of contemporary writers? I mean, I try my best to remain impartial in my reviews of books but ever since I have taken on novel writing full time, these fiction writing courses, and etc., I have become really critical of every nittygritty aspect of creative writing. While it has made my reading experience richer and more profound, it has also dampened the sheer joy of curling up with a good story for entertainment’s sake. It has made me slower at reading, too, and I was already perusing at snail pace compared to, say, my best friend. But this has made me think that while I want all writers to do well out of a spirit of fellowship, I also tend to nitpick more often, searching for plot holes and believability, and that I think shows up on my reviews at time.
At the same time, I’m also conscious of the fact that when I’m inspired by a book or it really manages to annoy me, prompting me to write the review, it is actually building me up as a writer too. I am learning what I should work on and what to avoid when drafting and editing my own manuscripts. So with all these pros and cons of reading like a writer, I have been really in a bind as to how to continue with my WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS, which I write for my “Works of Others” blog category. Finally, this is what I decided:
I can’t stop reviewing novels. I mean, books are my life and now, hopefully, on its way to become my life’s work. I love learning from them whether they are good, bad or ugly. But what I will do is cut down on the number of works written by current authors because… even the best are still learning every day and at this stage, I have yet to prove my worth so it is really not fair of me to judge my contemporaries. To recompense on the fewer book reviews, I will increase on critiquing fictions created in other mediums such as the silver screen or television, and also share my learnings from pure classics. Because dead authors can’t come to call me out for a duel at dawn, right?
I’m quite decided on this. But, of course, I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t second-guess myself. So I’m throwing this out to you guys:
Is this a good decision? Should authors be free to critique and review the works of fellow authors? Let me know what you think in the comment section 🙂
Headshot of my newly dyed burgundy hair with flaming red streaks !
I’m updating this post with my photo only because some of you requested. I’m terrible at taking selfies and far too self-conscious to ask someone else to take my photo. Generally, not a very gracious subject, much to the consternation of my loved ones. So pardon me but this was the best I could cough up (reason for the need to scroll down).
I did, however, do a bit of editing like adding a filter before uploading it 🙂
I actually don’t have any pompous writing tips or savories for this week. Rather, I have been contemplating a conundrum regarding genres and I’m just going to throw it out there to see if any of you fellow novelists will pick it up and get it rolling:
How important are trending subgenres in selecting the premise for the stories you write?
Allow me to explain a bit more on why this question has been niggling me. I have noticed more and more publishers these days send out CTA for romance novel submissions in very specific subgenres such as:
“Big high concept contemporary romance”
“Sexy alpha-alien science fiction romance”
“HEA or HFN erotic romances without major focus on character development, extreme conflict or drawn-out plots”
Not to sound like a genre snob or anything but I don’t actually know what the first submission call is asking for, haven’t ever read anything from the second one, and regarding the third, well, really? But whatever these subgenres are, they seem to be selling like hotcakes. Somewhere along the lines of Twilight and 50 Shades of Grey, my commune with the genre of romance picked up a crossed connection.
Of course, because I write romances, I searched out CTAs for romance novel submissions but I get the feeling that authors from other genres must face similar dilemmas: to succumb to the trend or write what holds meaning for me as a storyteller?
Any advice, authors?
author, author problems, Creative Writing, novel submission, romance author, romance novels, romance writer, Romance Writing, Writing, writing dilemma, writing fiction, writing novel, writing romance, writing tips
In my twentieth installation of WRITING CHRONICLES, I went into great details about the various types of narrators and POVs that may be used in storytelling. A perusal will tell you that jumping POVs in the middle of scenes is one of my pet peeves. Of course, a scene may be told from the perspective of different characters but there are proper etiquettes to these things. When you are having a conversation with someone, how much would you enjoy being interrupted by the other person while talking? Or worse, if a third party straggler just decided to insert themselves into your discussion midway? The narrator and the reader develop a bond over the course of a story that requires similar decorum. Each character must wait their turn to have their say. Read the rest of this entry »
Title Deep Dish
Author Mary Kay Andrews
Genre Contemporary Romance, Chick-Lit, Southern American
Publication Date February 26, 2008
Setting Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Synopsis: Everything in Regina Foxton’s life is not peachy but she can make do. Sure the kitchen from which she tapes her television cooking program is held together by scotch tape and she wished she had better wardrobe to host in and she wished her new car would run without failures, but at least she finally has her own cooking show and a car and a house and a sweet boyfriend who also happens to be her producer. But then she finds out that she is out of a job because her sponsor has canceled the show because her boyfriend did the sponsor’s child bride. Now she faces a prospect of moving back to her hometown in with her parents and has to tag along her baby sister who is already a handful with her cutting college classes to play on Xbox and party-hardy. Regina Foxton is what one would call has paddled “out of her depth”. But then The Cooking Channel is scouting her show and she really has a shot at landing the major leagues, except there is another cooking show that has rolled into town to vie for the position. Tate Moody is ruggedly gorgeous and his cooking style (kill and cook your dinner) is the polar opposite of Regina’s (Southern meals with a healthy twist) and so are their attitudes toward life. Tate is as popular in the south as Regina and often their viewers’ demographics overlap but the two become enemies on sight. She thinks he’s a brute and he thinks she’s a princess. Sparks fly and the producers at The Cooking Channel ride on the heat wave to host a reality cook-off challenge for the position for their new network chef. What no one, including Regina and Tate, is prepared for though is that some of those sparks are caused by mutual attractions.
Experience: Deep Dish is something that I would refer to as a pretty good read. It’s not what I’d call award-winning literature but far as romance novel goes, it hits the spot and you can polish off and devour (pardon the food-pun) the whole thing in one sitting. Having said that, there are a couple of noteworthy positive things about the way Mary Kay Andrews went about writing the novel, starting with the setting and world-building.
There are some great contemporary romances out there with chefs as the main characters but rarely do they remain as true to the premise of the character’s career as Deep Dish did. In most cases, novels about chefs draw on the sexiness of heating it up in the kitchen with a passive-aggressive chemistry between the hero-heroine and leave it at that. Andrews did not take the shortcut. Instead, she thoroughly researched cooking show productions and sifted through her minefield of knowledge in Southern cooking (she has her own cookbook published) before sitting down to write the novel, allowing the reader to enjoy a very hands-on experience of the stresses of producing a TV program. We even get to pick up on a few recipes of wholesome Southern meals along the way. I loved the quirky addition at the end of the novel where a few choice Southern recipes were shared, apparently created by Regina and Tate themselves.
The world-building was also rather vivid and something I enjoyed a lot. It may be due to my personal preference for geography and maps but halfway through, the story takes you to this island in Georgia called Eutaw Island. Now I looked for it and there is a geological formation in Georgia of this name and a city as well though no island fit for human habitation. But Andrews beautifully illustrated this exotic location with beautiful wild and marine life and delicious local palate. I totally believed it might be a real place until Google told me she made it all up. As a writer, I can always appreciate such in-depth dive into the author’s imagination.
With regards to character development, obviously, it being a chick-lit, Regina’s character received more attention than Tate’s. I thought their passions and insecurities nicely complemented each other. She has a one-track mind about getting her canceled show onto The Cooking Channel; her adversary-and-romantic-interest is a gorgeous man-of-the-wilds who likes to catch what he cooks and does not have the same sophisticated taste as she. You can’t do much wrong with that; in fact, it’s great recipe for romance (sorry, I can’t seem to help myself here).
The rest of the characters equally complement the two MCs and plot. Her ex-boyfriend is a self-serving jerk with enough good looks to get away with it in most circles is using her to get the show running again; her sister is a college student with badass fashion sense who studies less and parties more; her close friend and makeup artist is a bald gay black man; the production people from The Cooking Channel have all the single ruthless attitude as her boyfriend but are at different stages of life; except the assistant producer who is a shoe-in for the secondary romantic plot opposite the sister is a man with a conscious that balances his boss’s lack of one. It was actually all very smoothly written in and I could appreciate the relatability. Although I would have to say none of the major or minor characters stepped too far out of their stereotype – except maybe the hero but this was not fully explored or explained.
Which brings me to the part of the novel that I could not completely see eye-to-eye on. I found it interesting that he was a single red-blooded heterosexual man with natural sex appeal had he would turn down a voluntary booty call from a hot female celebrity and I wanted an explanation. Especially when he showed the same prudence when another hot minor league celebrity (read heroine) offered the same. If Tate was turning down women up and down the southern states despite his hot celebrity status, there must have been a reason. Being one of the MCs, he deserved a little more backstory. And the thing is there was plenty of opportunities to build up the reader’s understanding of the character since Andrew used an omniscient POV in the novel. There are quite a number of times when Tate’s POV was tapped into and that could have been more productively utilized.
But the use of POV, in general, was another thing that I had difficulty aligning with an author of Andrew’s caliber. There were a number of scenes where the POV kept jumping from major to minor to major characters and I did not understand why that was necessary. If an alternate POV was absolutely necessary for a scene, it could have been broken down and presented in separate sections or reflected by the character in question on hindsight. The use of frequent POV-switching in these scenes, though were not haphazard enough to cause distractions or confuse the reader, created a sort of comic book effect – you know, where you have the dialogues in the speech bubbles followed by the fuzzy thought bubbles and then the off-panel comments about the actions? Like the narrator took the most advantage of his/her freedom to source the characters’ thoughts. I guess it was a technique Andrews used to speed up the plot and thankfully it did not injure the reading experience too much for me other than make me conscious of the flaw as a writer.
Recommendation: It was an enjoyable read. There were a few plot elements that reminded me of Welcome to Temptation (an absolute favorite re-read of mine) by Jennifer Crusie, such as the relationship between the sisters and the visit to a new location and video production crew, etc. so obviously I felt right at home with it. And it warms the heart as a straight cut contemporary romance novel. For another, it had great food culture and I have mentioned in a previous blog Books and Cravings They Inspire how much I love it when writers explore characters’ dietary dynamics. Personally, I’m looking forward to reading Andrew’s Homemade Sin.
author, book, Book Review, Character Development, contemporary romance, Creative Writing, daily post, Daily Prompt, food culture, Mary Kay Andrews, point of view, Romance Novel, Romance Writing, Writing
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