Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Basics: Dangling Prepositions

"Who are you going with?"

"Which box did you put it in?"

"Who's the letter addressed to?"

Do the above sound perfectly correct to you?  Well, they're not.  They're certainly accepted in everyday speech, and it's fine if your characters talk that way.  But each of the above is technically incorrect, because each one ends with a preposition devoid of its object.  In short, it "dangles."

(Side note:  If you were never forced to memorize your prepositions, DO IT NOW.  I had to memorize them in seventh grade, and I've never forgotten them.)

When using prepositions, they must always -- ALWAYS -- be followed by their objects.  They may not stand alone.  (Remember, too, that certain prepositions can be used as other parts of speech, so it's important to understand HOW they're being used before assuming they're prepositions.)

Here is the CORRECT way to write the three examples above:

"With whom are you going?"  (Preposition WITH followed by its object WHOM)

"In which box did you put it?"  (Preposition IN followed by its object BOX [which = modifier])

"To whom is the letter addressed?"  (Preposition TO followed by its object WHOM)

My above examples are all interrogative (questions), which doesn't need to be the case for this rule to apply:

"I'll let you know for whom to ask at the front door."  (Preposition FOR followed by its object WHOM)

Got it?

And as an added bonus, here are the prepositions for you to memorize.  *grin*















Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Amazing LIzzy

You've all seen the "Ana doll" by our own, talented Lizzy, haven't you?



Fan art is an added perk for any author.  What love and devotion for one's characters, yes? And it would appear that Lizzy has gone above and beyond.  I mean--who knew a Barbie could be transformed into a beautiful protagonist?

Way to go, Lizzy!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Basics: The Muddy, Meandering Middle

There isn't anything SPECIFIC I'm addressing today.  Really, this is more of a warning about one of the biggest pitfalls in novel writing -- particularly by those with less experience.  It's the dreaded muddy, meandering middle.

Sometimes it's really easy to come up with a SUPER inciting event.  We're all, "Wow, what if THIS happens, and it leads to THIS! I mean, WHOA!!"

Sometimes it's really easy to come up with an amazing, satisfying ending that began with our super inciting event.  "WOW! It'll all explode and come together JUST LIKE THIS!"

Thus, armed with an amazing beginning, an amazing ending, and some ideas in between, we write the novel.  Heck, we might even have an OUTLINE first.  (Well, not if we're ME, we won't.)

But somehow along the jeweled way, the middle of our story loses focus.  It meanders.  Stumbles blindly along. Rambles about nothing. Expounds on minutia.

In short, it's a train wreck.

And honestly? It's more common than you might think.  More often than not, the author is the last one to realize there's a problem. But when crits come back with comments like, "Huh?" Well, you've got a problem.

So here are some important things to think about:

1.  MOTIVATION  Everything your characters say and do needs clear motivation behind it.  If, for instance, your villain is motivated by an insatiable need for revenge against your main character for stealing his girlfriend, then everything this villain does is going to be motivated by that.  Everything he does will MAKE SENSE.  Without clear motivation, characters meander.  And then the whole story does the same.

2.  LOGIC  This has everything to do with story arc.  Event A needs to lead logically to Event B and so on.  When your story devolves into a series of (albeit brilliant) non-related events, your arc is broken.  Logic is also directly related to MOTIVATION, because a character's motivation makes his actions logical.

3.  GOALS  Your characters--good guys and bad guys both--need clear goals.  And especially from the viewpoint of the main character.  If your MC doesn't know EXACTLY what he wants, EXACTLY what he's doing, and EXACTLY why...well, he's not going to propel the story forward.  At worst, he will utterly confuse the reader, or cause the reader to lose interest.  We can't root for a MC if we don't know WHY we're rooting.  Without clear goals, we won't have a clear story trajectory.

4.  PLOT POINTS--CLIMAX--RESOLUTION  The story tension should build via a series of logically placed events, culminating in a climax that is exciting AND believable.  The tension shouldn't let up until the wind-down at the end, where we get our happily-ever-after (or not).  A quick search on line will reveal a wealth of information, including all sorts of cool graphs and pictures, that will help you *see* the basic shape of a story.  It's fairly fail-proof.

I guess this was more specific than I realized it would be!  Bottom line?  GET GOOD CRIT PARTNERS.  A slumping middle-of-the-story is a diagnosis that will come from fresh, unbiased eyes.  And if the diagnosis does come? Don't despair. MUDDY, MEANDERING MIDDLES ARE REPAIRABLE!

There you have it.  Nothing's impossible to fix when you put your mind to it.

Friday, July 15, 2011

On the Horizon

Hi folks!

I know, I know.  I still haven't got my act together around here.  But I do have an announcement that'll prove I'm at least PLANNING things for you.

Starting on the first Friday in August, WRITE ON! will boast a new feature called FROM THE TRENCHES!  These Friday posts will be about life as a teen writer, covering everything from daily struggles to plotting techniques to dreams of greatness and beyond.  And, since I'm not a teen, I won't be writing them.  Here's the schedule:


Look for our first installment on Friday, August 5.

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Basics: The Passive Protagonist

It seems obvious--a protagonist should be strong, propelling his or her action forward by decisions and actions born from motives and goals that make sense.

Yet writing a passive protagonist seems to be one of the insidious traps that writers-in-training (and even writers-with-lots-more-experience) fall into.

Recently, I read a YA novel in which the protagonist pretty much waited around for others to tell her what to do.  Mind you, it wasn't that blatant.  She had strong emotions, so she didn't seem passive.  But when it came right down to it, she didn't really do anything, so I never really cheered for her.

She allowed a tough-girl character to lead her around, and didn't demand answers when the girl refused to answer simple questions (such as, "Where are we going?").

She followed her (jerky) boyfriend around and didn't argue when he had questionable behavior (like getting drunk and sort of forgetting about her at a party).

She had hard questions she needed to ask certain people, and she never really came out and ASKED them.

You're probably nodding your head as you're reading this, but you'd be surprised how easy it is to write protagonists this way.  We make things *happen* to them, which makes us think that things are all kinds of exciting.  Except, when things are happening to our protagonist without any definitive action from him, we've got a passive protagonist.

Boring.  Non-cheerable.

So, what to do?

Well, take a hard look at important scenes in your story--major plot points, revelations, twists, etc. What is your protagonist DOING? Following someone else's lead?  Running away?  Waiting for instructions? Asking for help? Engaging in long, mind-numbing internal dialogue?

Or is he DOING something? Is he asking hard questions? Demanding answers? Is he making a hard decision and sticking to it? Running into the thick of the fray? Killing someone? Saving someone's life? Saying "no" when everyone expects him to say "yes"? Or visa versa?

A protagonist doesn't need to be a superhero (unless, yanno, you've written a superhero story), and, in fact, won't be believable if you try to make him into one. But he's got to be bigger than life in the sense that he propels the action--makes the choices--brings on his destiny.  Nobody wants to read the story of a mamby-pamby wallflower.  (And even if your story is about a wallflower who succeeds against all odds, you can still make him ACTIVE instead of PASSIVE--by giving him the actions that propel the story, instead of following the supporting characters and all their shenanigans.)

So revisit your protagonist! Make sure you've written a character for whom we WANT to cheer. Who draws us in and makes us think, "Why don't I think of things like that?"  Not someone who climbs down the fire escape because her best friend told her to.

Got it? Now go make sure your main character is positively kick-butt!