Monday, August 26, 2013

Diversity In Writing

An article from Ellen Oh in the recent WriteOnCon set me thinking about how I handle diversity in my writing.
One of my projects is a YA contemporary suspense set in a fictional Southern California high school. This setting practically screamls diversity. Yes, my white main character has a mix of race in his friends and the humorous sidekick is Latin. Though I've included it, have I 'done' diversity right? Have I avoided stereotypes and treated each character with respect? I hope so, but it will be something to check in revisions. One thing I have not done is to reach out to minorities for help in properly reflecting their world. There are probably realistic elements I should add once I become aware of them.

One last thought on this topic concerns writing what you know. Is this why I naturally think of white main characters? We often use the familiar because the whole craft of putting together a story is complicated enough on its own. Or is that a cop out? Maybe it's time to think more outside the box. For me it's a stretch that my MC is male. That takes some 'getting it right' during revisions as well. 

We live in a diverse world. Fantasy worlds should also reflect diversity. How do you use diversity in your writing? Or what have you read that struck you as using diversity well?
Y'all have a great week!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Receiving Editorial Feedback

Do you need a spoonful of sugar to help those truthful/opinionated critique group comments go down? Keep reading. I loved this WriteOnCon article on How to Handle Editorial Feedback by author Dianne Salerni. Basically, Salerni says she goes through the following six stages when she reads feedback on her manuscript.
Stage 1: No! She’s wrong! She is absolutely and completely wrong about this!
Stage 2: Crap. She’s right.
Stage 3: But I can’t fix it! Changing this will have a domino effect and make the entire plot unworkable. It cannot be fixed!
Stage 4: Oh, wait. I see how to fix it.
Stage 5: You know, this change is pretty good. I’m liking it.
Stage 6: This is brilliant! Why didn't I do it this way in the first place?!

I've never analyzed it into stages like this, but yeah. Changes are either easy-fixes where I instantly see the improvement or I follow these steps to some degree. Here is more wisdom from Salerni: “I have come to accept these stages. I also understand that it’s not possible for me to skip the scary and upsetting ones, even though I know the later, more positive stages are coming. The trick is NOT to respond to the critique while you are in the throes of Stage 1 or Stage 3!”

We newbie writers need a lot of things divulged to us and a multiplicity of readers to compare which spots they keep pointing out. Feedback is our friend. It's a valuable learning tool. It lets us perfect our craft. The already mentioned article includes a great quote from Neil Gaiman. “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” 
YOU are the one who best knows your story and how to work the magic it needs to bring your manuscript to the next level. Bring the feedback on.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Improving Stories Through Rearranged or Combined Scenes

I recently swapped manuscripts for critique purposes and got some great feedback on The Seventh City. I wish I’d found this reviewer before submitting my novel. Oh well. I'll post that story sometime soon. Anyway, I made changes where I felt she was spot on because why settle for less when it's an improvement? Most were little things like clarifications. Today I’m sharing one of the bigger fixes with you.

I had two close in proximity scenes where Karlinah speaks with her father, King Lamoni. The critiquer suggested I combine these so it doesn't feel like the story goes back and forth. It would improve the pacing, better advancing the story. This sounded like a good idea. TIP: Sometimes writers just need to try scenes in a different order. Especially since I was lucky enough to have it pointed out to me. I analyzed these scenes with the surrounding ones to see why I had placed them apart. The only thing I figured was that I was focusing on one subject at a time or I just had it in my head that way. Combining one venue with the same characters would make my story better.

Analyzing caused me to discover that I also had two scenes where the MC speaks with the slimy High Priest. This time I knew why I had separated these. I wanted readers introduced to the HP before the second discussion so the audience would already know he is creepy. Combining the previously mentioned scenes with the king affected this split of speaking with the priest. I should combine those as well and see the result. Check. Now to reread through those chapters to see if the flow improved.
Color-coded Revisions from Marissa Meyer - Check out her detailed article

Some writers color code their manuscript to visualize things such as which characters are interacting and which major plot threads or subplots are involved. The colors show which things are spread too far apart or clumped together. Another method is to keep a summary of each scene on 3x5 cards and play with their arrangement. In my case I was working with a section of only two chapters so I used alphabet labeling. My arrangement switched from A thru G to A, E, B, C, F, G, D. Just make sure to get more Beta readers to verify the new version works. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review and Tough Choices

It's tricky making a clean YA story feel realistic in a world where young people swear and are experimenting with sex. This brings me to the friend-recommended audio-book I listened to last week called The Fault In Our Stars by John Green.
It featured an excellent teenage voice and the atypical subject matter of teens with cancer. I loved those things about it and more. In an author interview recorded at the end, the author tells that he wants readers to get "what it's like to be young and in love and sick". His goal was met. He also succeeded in perpetuating worldly ideals such as it being better not to die a virgin. I can't help but notice my difference in moral standards, even while I try not to impose them on others. It is what it is. I suppose I am not the target audience. I just wish there were more clean reading choices for me from good, national authors.

Because I consider all talents to be God-given--at whatever current level they exist--I feel an added responsibility when those talents affect others. The more public the venue, the more responsibility to bless the lives of others through 1) giving my best performance, and 2) giving it as God would have me do. I want to please Him. That means striving to keep high moral standards in my writing while wanting to please man as well. (Or at least a portion of readers.)

I am committed to using my writing as a way to uplift others. It is easier to meet this goal with my inspirational non-fiction WIP, Bishop Stories, or my Book of Mormon Fiction, The Seventh City, than with Perception, a contemporary YA suspense. I've gone back and forth on the latter becoming LDS fiction rather than mainstream. So far it's still for the national market and I hope to stick to that. Either way, I want it to be a clean read and provide readers with that choice. 

Leave me your recommendation for a good, clean read.