Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ugh. Characters.

        My characters are hopelessly frustrating.

        I started my YA novel in November of 2011, which is probably the thousandth novel I’vestarted, but the only one I’ve finished a draft for. A pretty sweet victory in itself, but I didn’t havetime to celebrate. I was too busy trying to figure out my characters.

        If you think high school is dramatic, try writing a novel.

        My characters would simply not follow their outline. My main character, Kayleigh, wouldwander off and make new friends I had never even planned she meet. How dare she?! Andthen, she would just randomly go fall in love with some guy who definitely wasn’t anything likeher planned love interest.

         For example: In chapter three-ish, Kayleigh is supposed to have an uneventful flight toHawaii, where she will begin another spy mission. Supposed to. Yeah, that’s totally not whathappened. Kayleigh decided to switch seats right before the plane left and sat next to anincredibly good looking guy around her age. She found out his name was Ray, and he was alsotraveling to Honolulu. Oh, well, then guess what she did? She got his phone number.


         Kayleigh did come crying to me a few weeks ago, begging me to take Ray out of thenovel. It turns out he was a total jerk and she found her relationship with him as pointless. (Iwish I could do that. “Hey, God, my relationship with him was totally pointless, can you make itlike I never met him?” Of course, a relationship could never be totally pointless, but its a coolidea.) I contemplated letting her live with her decision, but then said, “Good, finally. Now youcan realize what an amazing guy your real love interest is.”

         And then I realized her “real love interest” was also “unplanned.” He’s a guy who ismisunderstood and misunderstands, working for “the enemy.” When I began writing the story,they weren’t even supposed to end up together. And I had absolutely no idea how I was goingto get them together. But, hey, love seems to flourish when it’s most unwanted (that’s the wholeplot theme in Lauren Oliver’s Delirium-- check it out!). I mean, really-- Romeo and Juliet, Katnissand Peeta, etc. True examples of unlikely happily-ever-afters that happened.

       But yet, when a new love interest pops up on my page that is totally unplanned, I freakout. Even though it is the theme of my novel-- falling for danger. Wanting something dangerous,adventurous, not normal. After almost a year of writing, you’d think I would get the theme.

       I can be really thick sometimes.

       But I think I finally get the picture. Once you start writing, your characters will take you tonew circumstances that you could have never imagined on your own. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Help Yourself to The Help!

Book: The Help
Author: Kathryn Stockett
Rating: PG14 for heavy content, brief violence, language, and some sexual content.

I read an “oh-so-true” blog post a few weeks ago by the brilliant Faith Hough (http://faithehough.blogspot.com/) about how there are three kinds of books: the bad ones, the good ones, and the great ones. She wrote that the good ones make up most of what we read, but when we read the great ones, they make us writers just want to move away from our computers and notebooks because we feel we will never write anything that good.

My thoughts exactly when I read Kathryn Stockett’s The Help.

    If I was asked to describe my feelings for The Help in one word, it would be “Wow.” Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW. Yes, it’s that good. In fact, so good that Harry Potter has been officially bumped down to number two on my best books ever list. I have lost count of the number of times I have read this book.

    The thing about The Help is that it makes you want to get lost in its world-- even though it's world is a very dangerous place. The Help takes place in the early-mid 60’s in the anti-black town of Jackson, Mississippi. The story alternates between three narrators; the sweet Aibileen Clark, who’s raised sixteen white children; the sassy Minny Jackson, who’s known for her cooking and mouth, a dangerous combination for a black maid in Jackson, and ambitious writer Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan. Usually, I’m not a huge fan of books where the narrator changes with each chapter; Nicholas Sparks’ The Last Song or some of Rick Riordan’s books were impossible for me to get through. But I think the changing narrators is what made my experience with The Help so enjoyable.

           The story begins with Aibileen’s narration. Aibileen’s son was recently killed and she talks about not feeling so accepting of white people any more. Aibileen is such a real character with such real struggles and strengths. She is definitely a mother hen type of women, and I guess she’d have to be, after raising sixteen kids. She’s on her seventeenth; another white child of a racist mother.

            Actually, mostly everyone in Jackson is racist. Even, I noted, the black people are racist.

As I read through Minny’s chapters, I noticed how she so fiercely believed in small things, like not being anything but civil (and sometimes less than that) to white women, but believed in equal treatment. For me, this was kind of ironic, but in no means a negative point in the story. Minny, who is definitely one of my all-time favorite characters, is very ignorant at some points in the novel, but I saw how she was hurting, and that drew her to me. The same thing goes with Aibileen-- she had been hurt so deeply by the world. And I just wanted to get on my phone and call her and have a five hour conversation with her. Goodness, I love that woman.
Oh, and Skeeter. She’s trying so hard to make it in a male-dominated writing world, but her mother keeps getting in her way. Skeeter has graduated from college and moved back in with her parents, and the only thing her mom cares about is Skeeter getting married. My heart ached for Skeeter as she and her mother fought. As she struggled to write something meaningful, something she could publish. As she wished for love in the hateful town of Jackson.

These three completely different women. All from different backgrounds, shaped from different circumstances. All united with one goal. (Which I'm not going to tell you, because you NEED to read this book and see for yourself!)

Everything about this book was sheer wonderfulness. I have gone back to read it so many times with a notebook, pen, and highlighter in hand. Kathryn Stockett’s imagery is amazing, her dialogue, superb, and, of course, her characters-- well, I just want to take all my favorite people in that novel out to lunch, for goodness’ sakes!! Unfortunately, of course, The Help is purely fictional. Dang. But you know you’ve written a good book, I think, when your fans tell you that your characters are their best friends. I hope one day I shall be so blest to write a book like The Help.

Favorite Line: “Babies like fat. Like to bury they face up in you armpit and go to sleep. They like big fat legs too. This I know.” -- Aibileen, page 2

(Just one-- I wish I could post the whole book, but, alas, I have my own novel to work on.)

ALSO-- the movie! The Help movie is not nearly as good as the book-- what is?-- but definitely worth seeing once you finish the book!

Monday, August 13, 2012

It's ok to be Divergent

Book: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Rating: PG13 for heavy content, violence, brief mild language, and a mild romance.

The perfect person is either honest, selfless, brave, peaceful, or smart. Never more than one of the virtues, or you risk being different.
Or divergent. And you really can’t afford that to happen.
Veronica Roth’s debut novel, Divergent, takes place in dystopian Chicago, where the human race has divided itself into five factions-- Candor, the honest; Abnegation, the selfless; Dauntless, the brave; Amity, the peaceful, and Erudite, the intelligent. On a certain day of the year, all sixteen-year-olds must take the “aptitude test” to determine which faction they will spend the rest of their lives in. They decide which virtue they wish to strive for, for rest of their days.
Not a big decision or anything.
Only one outcome is possible from the aptitude test. Only one faction. Yet, people have been known to get two.
They are known as the Divergent.
They are extremely dangerous people. They are different from normal. They must all be killed; or used for scientific testing.
The novel begins with Beatrice Prior’s aptitude test day. Beatrice has lived a quiet life in Abnegation with her parents and brother, but yet, she feels like she doesn’t fit in. Not like Caleb, her brother, seems to. She wants to leave, but leaving her family would be the ultimate act of selfishness . . . but maybe she isn’t truly selfless.
First of all, I couldn’t even imagine having to choose one of these factions. Am I selfless? I’d like to think so, at times. But I don’t think I could spend my days wearing the gray pajamas that classify the Abnegation. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I seriously couldn’t. And they are also not allowed to have mirrors. It sounds vain, I know, but how would I do my hair?! Actually, it would probably be good for me. Am I brave? I’d like to think I am, in small circumstances, like in relationships. And food. I’m always brave when trying new foods. But if I see a spider, well, let’s just say there’s not a whole lot of bravery going on there; it’s more like “DAD!” Am I honest? It really depends. Am I peaceful? At times, I think. But of course, I also do love to pick fights with my brother. Am I smart? Well, if you look at my report card, I got all A’s. But is smartness really measured in the school room?
I think I would probably be Divergent, which is incredibly fortunate and unfortunate in itself. I would be labeled as part of a “species” that needs to wiped off the face of the earth. Harsh. The upside, then, of course, would be the fact that I possess more than one of the virtues. The theme of the novel seems to be “can you possess only one virtue?” One character (who happens to my favorite, but I can’t tell you who for risk of a spoiler) asks the question “Can a person be brave without being selfless?”
Veronica Roth is truly a brilliant writer. The themes she incorporates into her novel are so deep and profound. Her characters and their dialogue are amazing. I made so many friends and enemies while reading this book. Oh, and the emotions. Divergent has so many emotions wrapped up in its 487 pages. I found myself whispering words of encouragement to Beatrice, crying alongside her, laughing, and shivering. I felt every single emotion Beatrice was feeling.
Divergent is the first novel in the series-- the second novel being Insurgent. But that’s another review for another time. Divergent was such an amazing read-- it was literally haunting. I went back and read it three more times! Read it, especially if you are a writer. Divergent is a wonderful “role model novel” for dialogue, description, and character development. Enter the world of Veronica Roth’s Divergent . . . you’ll never look at honesty, selflessness, bravery, peacefulness, or intelligence the same way.
Hunger Games fans, this might be the next novel you're looking for!