Et out by jackrabbits

“My life reminds me of a sign that hung by a rusty staple to a run-down barbed-wire fence in Texas. It read:

Burned out by drought,
Drowned out by flud waters,
Et out by jackrabbits,
Sold out by sheriff,
Still here!”

(Gordon B. Hinckley)

Hey there. Haven’t been around much. We’re in the middle of the first of two moves we’re making this year, and we had an outbreak of pink-eye this morning, not to mention that it’s allergy season and there’s been a cottonwood seed blizzard of DEATH outside for the past week.

But it’s all cool.

It’ll be a hectic month, but I’ll get back to blogging one of these days. In the meantime, I’ve become a Twitter addict, so you can find me there: @ehbates.

Tschüssi!

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Now leaving your comfort zone…

In order to complete my music minor in college, I had to participate in a performance group–which, given the short amount of time I had to get the required credits, meant I sang in the university’s non-audition choir.

As if that weren’t uncomfortable enough for me already, the choir director told us on day one that we had to do three things that were outside of our comfort zone and report back to him.

Now, given that anything other than reading a book in a corner was outside of my comfort zone, this wasn’t a particularly complex assignment. But it was an incredibly difficult one, and I (along with many others in the choir) kind of resented it.

I did, however, survive six ventures outside of my comfort zone (two semesters’ worth), and learned that I am in fact capable of talking to other human beings. Sometimes.

Lately, I feel like I’m being shoved farther and farther out of my comfort zone, and it’s like being strapped into the world’s  longest roller coaster–simultaneously exhausting and thrilling and terrifying and exhilarating. I alternate between wanting to curl up in a corner to cry and wanting to run out and conquer the world, sometimes multiple times a day. That may also have something to do with the fact that I haven’t had more than two hours of sleep in a row for a very, very long time, but that’s beside the point.

So what is that’s been pushing my comfort boundaries?

  • Twitter. There are so many cool people on there, and I’m so intimidated by them. But the thing is, every time I get the courage to tweet at them, they’re so super nice. I mean, I totally geeked out and started quoting Oscar with Jessica Day George yesterday! And then there was that time that Jennifer Nielsen read my post about Sachsenhausen and told me it was beautiful? That’s totally my happy place now.
  • Story Social. This is kind of part of Twitter, but separate. I just participated in my first Twitter chat, #storysocial, and it was AWESOME! It takes place every Wednesday night at 9pm EST. I’ve always had the same reticence to participate in these kinds of things as I had toward raising my hand in class, but I forced myself to speak up, and people responded positively.
  • Deadlines. I’ve learned that I am totally incapable to buckling down and writing unless I’m under pressure. So as much as I hate deadlines, I’m setting a few for myself to get those words out.

What new things have you been doing to push outside of your comfort zone?

Some distractions for you

I was doing really well at buckling down and writing while the girls are asleep, but then Jessica Day George quoted Oscar on Twitter and there went my productivity out the window.

So now I’m here to offer you some distractions from your work. Aren’t I nice?

First off: fully-clothed female superheroes. I abhor the scanty outfits, and Mike Lunsford’s designs are brilliant. With the possible exception of Wonder Woman. Not sure what’s going on with the khaki pants there. But still much preferable to her incredibly uncomfortable-looking metal bathing suit.

Also, Oscar. Go watch it if you don’t know what I’m talking about, if only for the sake of seeing Tim Curry as an awkward linguist. If you aren’t crying laughing by the end of it, we can’t be friends anymore. And apparently YouTube has it in German, if that’s your thing, though it’s really missing out on Sylvester Stallone’s gangster accent.

Also, have you ever started reading a book, and you really didn’t like it, but you couldn’t put it down? SO frustrating. And the stupid thing is, when I finished the book, none of my ebook holds were ready from the library, so I checked out the sequel. What is wrong with me?! All I want is to read Son of Neptune! Is that too much to ask?

Okay. Your turn. What’s distracted you today?

Problematic beginnings

Last night, I stayed up way too late pretending that I was rocking the baby to sleep when, in reality, I was furiously rewriting the beginning of one of my stories on my cell phone. (Not the most efficient way to write, but when you have one free hand and a sleeping child on your chest, you make do.) This is the fourth or fifth beginning to this particular project, and it’s the first time that it’s felt right.

We all know that beginnings are important–they grab the reader, slice into the meat of your story, and set the tone for the whole novel. So let’s talk a little about how beginnings go wrong and how to fix them.

1. Nothing happens. This is, sadly, the most common and most unfortunate error in kicking off a book. The character wakes up, brushes her teeth, and heads off to school, where she attends three classes before, twenty pages in, AN ASTEROID CRASHES INTO EARTH AND TRANSFORMS HER ENTIRE SCHOOL INTO RADIOACTIVE MUTANTS.

Skip the twenty pages of tooth-brushing and start with the asteroid.

2. Info duuuuuuump. How many times have you gotten through the first paragraph of a story and needed to come up for air? “Okay, there’s a girl, and she’s got seven siblings with crazy unpronounceable names, and those are all their ages, and they live in a magical kingdom underwater that uses fish to bring fresh air down from the surface only the fish are dying and by the way civil war and social rankings and whaaaaa . . .”

We don’t need (or want!) to know the ENTIRE story in one page up front. Pick one important plot point and introduce it (NOT explaining in detail) throughout the first scene. Pull out your outline and figure out how to let the information reveal itself naturally.

3. Starting event isn’t pertinent to the main plot. Maybe you’ve got a great action scene written that takes place during your character’s jujitsu tournament, but if it’s there just for the sake of the action and doesn’t advance the plot or character development, I don’t want to see it. Make sure you springboard your readers into what your book is really about, or they’ll feel cheated.

4. Inconsistent tone. If your book is lighthearted, start out lighthearted! If it’s serious, set the stage! Don’t have a page of doom and gloom and then turn around and start cracking jokes.

Now, be careful with this. Remember that I’m talking about TONE, not PLOT. All plots are going to have some element of tension and danger to them–that’s what drives the story. But all narrators are going to relay that tension in a different way. Make sure your narrator is consistent.

What are some problems you’ve run into with a story’s beginning?

The slow descent into a Twitter addiction

I can’t believe I just opened a Twitter account. This is so dumb.

What are you even supposed to say in 140 characters? Maybe–nope, how about–still too long–GAH!

Whatever. I don’t have anything witty to say anyway. I’ll just link to my blog.

What’s with all the cat pictures?

OK, OK, I’ll tweet, but I’m NOT using hashtags. I don’t even get how those work.

All these other writers are using the #amwriting hashtag…I guess that one’s harmless enough. I’ll try it.

HOLY CRAP, like ten people just followed me! That, like, tripled my followers!

…aaand most of them are spam bots.

Why do people even like looking at Twitter? All I see are the same self-promoting tweets sent out about five times a day.

Wait, you can mute people who don’t do anything but scream “BUY MY BOOK”?

Heyyyy… That’s better. Some of these people are actually kinda fun to follow.

Wait–one of my favorite authors just followed me back! Eee! Must–control–fangirling…

Favorite author just REPLIED TO MY TWEET! Stay calm… Don’t blow it… Say something cool… In less than 140 characters… Is it OK to abbreviate when tweeting an author? Is she going to judge me? How else do you get under 140 characters? There’s not enough room to reply to her comment AND tell her how many times I’ve reread her books. Should I tweet her twice? Is that annoying?

Dude. I’m totally Twitter buddies with a super awesome author.

Actually, there are a lot of awesome authors on here. Follow… Follow… Follow…

And agents! Look at all the agents!

And #MSWL! Whaaaat?! Coolest thing EVER!

NETWORKING! WRITING COMMUNITY! TRIBES! CAT PICTURES! (OK, no, I still don’t get the cat pictures.) TWITTER FOREVER!