Grandma Says..

Observations and views from a different set of eyes

Swimming In Dangerous Waters

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The day I had feared had finally arrived.  The day had come when Danny, my SO, asked to read a few chapters of my novel.  Why did that request make my knees shake, my hands tremble and my stomach drop to the floor?

Because, my friends, when I started writing an outline for the novel, my characters were chosen based on people in my life.  I knew that I would be swimming in some very dangerous waters. Danny is all over the first chapters of the novel and he reappears in future chapters.  Although I changed the name to protect the not-so-innocent man in my life, no-one who knows Danny will have a problem recognizing him.

I knew the risk of using people around me as characters in my book.  They might not be able to take a joke, or appreciate the fact that I took their individual quirks and put them into print.  Some of my characters are a mix of different people.  I’ve taken a little creative license with their personalities and made them into the type of characters I needed to make my novel work.

But, how else does a writer find the characters necessary to make their novel interesting?  We can put all the events into place, but if the reader doesn’t like the characters, you’ve got nothing.  Readers need someone they want to cheer on or sympathize with.  The characters make the book; the events are their playground to strut their stuff.  And the best source of finding these characters is right in your own backyard.

So, yes, writing characters that use or resemble the people around you might have you swimming in dangerous waters.  But, it’s worth the risk because you know these people and can use them to your advantage.  Just be sure to change the names!

Danny read the first two chapters, chuckled in a few places and handed the pages back to me.  “Did you like it?” I asked.

“Yeah, but I’m not grouchy,” he replied, smiling.  Yeah, right!  Whatever!

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Taking It On The Chin

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I was scared, trembling and sweat was pouring out of pores I didn’t know I owned.  I was horrified each time I pushed “Send.”

“No!” I screamed.  “Let me take it back!  I’m not ready!”

What the hell am I talking about?  Let’s go back a week.  I decided that I had the first three chapters of my novel in ship shape condition.  It was ready, it was ripe and it was time to send it out for critiques.

My blogging buddy, Gwen, the 4 A.M. Writer, gave me a heads up on a site where I could submit chapters and receive critiques from their members.  Also, I picked a few of my fellow bloggers, who shall remain nameless until I finish draining their brains, to give me some feedback on the chapters I had revised.  The critique site only allowed you to send two chapters; however, my buddies were forced to read all three.

I spent a week biting my nails, tearing out hair that I can ill afford to lose and never wanted alcohol so badly in my life.  I had done it, there was no taking it back now.  I had to just sit back and wait for the critiques and be prepared to “take it on the chin.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve been critiqued before.  I’ve attended writing classes, but the instructor was the only one who read my work.  I took on-line classes and found that the instructor was again the only person to evaluate my efforts.

This was a new experience for me, to have people who are no doubt more talented than I, to read my work and tell me what they thought.

And, guess what?  THEY LIKED IT!  I received seven critiques and all seven were encouraging me to go on.  But, that’s not all, folks.  They were honest, they were helpful and they were spot on in showing me where I had more work to do to make these chapters “shine.”

I know many writers like to shelter their novels-in-progress.  They feel no-one should lay eyes on their work until they feel it’s ready for publishing.  Well, I say to hell with that!  I don’t want to spend months making the same mistakes over and over…mistakes that any editor worth their salt would cause them to put my manuscript in the trash!

Every critique held invaluable advice…great suggestions and comments that showed me where the material was strong and where it fell down.  This information is gold to me.  I will return to these chapters, armed with more knowledge of what a reader likes and what causes them to keep reading.

So, at the end of the day, I must thank all the people who suffered through my inexperience as a writer and took the time to take me by the hand and show me the way.  I hope that my fellow bloggers will remain willing to stick with me and keep letting me know when I’ve gone astray.

I laugh now when I think of how I could be so naive to plan on being finished with this novel in a few months.  I now know that this stuff takes time..time to learn, time to listen to those critiques and make changes, and time to check and double check for those crucial mistakes writers can make.

So, I will be busy working on those first chapters…again and again…until I get them right!  Then, I’ll send them back out and be prepared to roll with the punches until I win the match!

My advice to new writers?  Well, when you let someone critique your work, you are must be willing to take criticism, hopefully constructive, and realize that these people are being generous in sharing their knowledge of their craft with you.  LEARN from these critiques..if you’re going to get your back up, get defensive, or expect flowery praise for your brilliant work…you might as well keep your novel hidden and send it in when you’re ready to be published.

Let me know how that works for you…

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The Time Has Come

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I’ve put it off long enough. I’ve run out of excuses..it’s now or never.

Yes, the time has come for me to pull out that first draft of the novel I wrote while I was in Camp NaNoWriMo.  It has sat in my briefcase long enough..it’s calling to me to return to the world I created when I wrote it.  But, I’m scared..right down to my pedicure.

What if I wrote over 30,000 words of pure dribble; what if I find that the humor runs flat; the characters are shallow or the plot is unbelievable?  What if my first instinct is to throw the whole damn thing in the trash?  What if I absolutely hate it?

Damn, I would hate to think that the time I spent writing the book would have been better spent dusting my living room or scrubbing my toilets.  Did I waste that time on a silly dream that I could write a novel?  Aren’t I a little old to indulge myself with such a fantasy?

All these fears and insecurities have plagued me since I typed the words “The End” and left camp.  As a result, I haven’t read word one of what I wrote; I only printed the draft onto dead trees last week and still didn’t read any of it.  I told people I was “letting it cook”; I was taking a “break”; I was following the advice of other writers who advised putting the manuscript aside for a period of time.

But, I woke up this morning and realized that I was just procrastinating.  It is time to push those doubts down and pull that draft out.  I’ve never backed away from a challenge before; I eat them for breakfast.  And, I’m not going to let my self doubts keep me from the finish line of becoming a published novelist!

I started the novel with just an idea; I pulled characters out of thin air and made them real to me and I wrote a beginning, a middle and an end.  The hardest work is done.  I never expected a shiny, polished manuscript when I left camp.  I have to accept what I wrote as a first draft and deal with that.

If I find that the dialogue needs more punch; I’ll punch it!  If the plot drags in spots; I’ll fix it.  If I need to build the characters and their back stories; I’ll create them and if a chapter doesn’t work, I’ll cut it out!  And, I’ll keep doing it until it all comes together and works!

And, it might be more fun than I think.  Who knows?  Maybe once I return to the world I created, I’ll find I wrote a pretty good start on a really promising novel. Stranger things have happened!

But, I’ll never know until I pull that draft out, dust if off and start working on it again. And, as I stand here, right now, I make a solemn promise that I will do just that. Today..or tomorrow..or maybe next week. 🙂  No, I’m going to start today. Today will mark the day that I turned my back on all my fears and moved forward towards my goal of being a published novelist.

Wish me luck!

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Why Am I Fighting With Fiction?

artsy-writer-working

I love fiction. I’ve read fictional novels and short stories all my life. Fiction has occupied 90% of what I have read in my lifetime. So, why the hell do I have to fight to produce a piece of this genre?

What holds me back from diving into writing a fictional piece? It’s not that I haven’t studied the ins and outs of character development, plotting and settings. I’ve taken classes, I’ve certainly read enough manuals on the subject and I’ve followed a large number of the great fiction writers, past and present. So, what’s my problem?

Is it a lack of imagination? Maybe, but then why am I able to lose myself in a good book that is set in Hogwarts, or one that is populated by vampires? Why do I shiver with fear when reading a spooky story? Why would I cheer on the heroes or heroines and watch their struggles and triumphs? Why do I stay up all night reading a great “who done it?” It must take imagination to lose myself in the writer’s world, so I doubt that’s the reason.

Could the reason be that I don’t feel I can come up with an original novel or story, one that would interest the readers in the plot? Maybe, but all of today’s writers of fiction face that challenge, and I do so love a challenge. I know that I can take a story from a fairy tale, such as Hansel and Gretel and give it a new twist. I could write about two orphans struggling with a new stepmother, a scary principal of a boarding school, and add in a mysterious disappearance or two throughout their school year and probably do all right. So, I don’t think that’s a major roadblock.

You might ask me if I’ve ever really tried to write a work of fiction. Yes, I have and although the pieces turned out all right,  I didn’t really enjoy writing them.

Wait a minute. Stop the presses. I just read that last sentence and realized what my problem is!

All writers must go with what they love to write about, and my love happens to be for the world around me. I believe that if you have to force yourself to write in a certain genre, your struggle will be obvious to your readers.  I’m happy in this world and I feel I produce some pretty good stories…at least some of my readers think so. When I’m writing about my views, thoughts or experiences in life, I’m happy as a clam.

So, I bow to all of you past, present and future fiction writers. Forge on with your stories and take me away into your own world. I’m ready!

Now, have I given up on ever writing a piece of fiction? Nope, as I said, this grandma loves a challenge. But, at least I now know why I write in the genre that I do. I have a talent for it and I love it, and that’s enough for me!

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