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Archive for January, 2011

Good morning, all! I got to stop by the wonderful Amanda’s Wrinkled Pages today for a guest post as part of Amanda’s series, Get Inspired Mondays. For those of you who don’t know Amanda, you’re in for a treat. She’s a freelancer who writes middle-grade and young adult, and serves up great advice with a hearty side of wit (my favorite condiment, personally).

My huge thanks, Amanda–and have a great Monday, everyone!

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Don’t you…forget about me…

‘Fess up, friends. Has this ever happened to you?

You’ve finally tapped into that long-awaited subplot in your novel, and oh, it’s going so well. So well, in fact, that you’re cruising along, building to a fevered pitch, when suddenly–Gasp! You glance up into your rear view mirror and there’s your main character, standing 100 yards behind you on the side of the road, her hitching thumb outstretched.

You swine! You’ve abandoned her!

You promise it wasn’t intentional. You’re still every bit as committed to her storyline as you ever were. It’s just that in your enthusiasm for your sub-plot, you, well, forgot all about her. Which means, your reader will have too. 

So excuse me while I turn this car around and go pick her up.

God only knows what she’s been up to while I’ve been away.

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Dear Cliche,

I know what they say about you. How you’re predictable and tired. That you’re the mark of a lazy writer. That you want every pair of blue eyes to resemble a summer sky, every heart to race like a locomotive. But I also know it’s not your fault. So you like to have characters with manes of hair who discover their husbands are leaving them for their mane-ier secretaries. Who am I to judge?

But I want you to know, I don’t care what the others say. I love you. I’ve loved you from the first time I saw you on Fantasy Island, and I watched you loyally in every After School Special, every Movie of the Week. 

They said I’d outgrow you, that once I started writing in earnest that I’d come to see the error of your ways, and yet, I still crave you. Sue me! What’s so wrong with wanting a little predictable love triangle? What’s so awful about two strangers colliding in line at the grocery store only to find out they’re long-lost siblings? Good for them. About time, I say!

What’s so terrible about the familiar, anyway? Maybe sometimes eyes are as blue as a summer sky and maybe hearts do race like locomotives.

So I just wanted to write to say I think it’s entirely unfair the way you’ve been treated.  And while I may have to use you sparingly in the future, please know I will always think fondly of you and the times we shared.

And I know in my heart you mean well. 

Because there are no bad cliches. Only bad words.

Sincerely,

Erika Marks

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We all know the phrase: Timing is everything.

Most often it’s applied to comedy, but punchlines (and roux) aren’t the only things that benefit from good timing. Deciding when to reveal something to your readers requires good timing too.

Stop me if you've heard this one: Plot reveals are like a good soup...

We readers are savvy. We can smell a set-up a mile away. We can also smell an “info-dump” from 50 feet. You know, that point in the story when you can feel the author is about to present a lot of backstory, or maybe explain a crime or a plot twist. 

But, oh, as a writer…it’s so tempting to fall for the easy, breezy, utilitarian “info-dump”! You can see the scene, practically feel your protagnonist’s palms grow moist as he takes his place in the center of the living room, his lover’s eyes fixed adoringly on him as she settles snugly into her seat (and she better be snug–this could take awhile), waiting patiently for all her questions (and ours) to be answered at long last.

Oh, it will be perfect! There will be Murder She Wrote moments (“It WAS you outside the museum!”). There will be Three’s Company moments (“Well, Gee Whiz–no wonder there was a life preserver  in my shower!”). There will even be Dallas moments (“I KNEW it was only a dream!”). And you can’t wait to craft them all, you’re giddy with excitement, dizzy with impatience. Believe me, I know. I feel the seductive charms of the “info-dump” with every novel.

Then, just like Pam Ewing, I wake up.

Now don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, and in some genres (mysteries are the obvious ones here), the big reveal is unavoidable, the living room, homage-to-Agatha, blow-by-blow impossible to avoid–and what’s more, it can often times be expected and looked forward to. But in other genres, that sort of wrap-up can just feel forced, cliched.

Because the fact is, in daily life, we rarely have someone’s undivided attention for the duration of a thirty minute explanation, nor are we so sharp and with it (I am speaking for myself, of course) that we can neatly and smoothly deliver an A to Z wrap-up without so much as a pause.

BUT, all that said, our reveals should have a certain panache. They should be well-timed and tidy enough that we don’t a) miss them or b) bury them or c) throw them out to the reader like strings of Mardi Gras beads. We don’t want to show our cards too early but we can’t hide them too long or the reader will get understandably bored, or feel manipulated.

Like I said, it’s tricky, tricky stuff.

So how to know what time is the right time? I don’t know if there is a right time. There are certainly wrong times–and we know those at once (they usually come with wincing and eye-twitching)–and perhaps right times are merely the absence of those aforementioned winces and twitches, who knows?

For me, I’ve come to think my characters know best. They know when it’s the best time for the novel–even if sometimes it’s not the best time for them (“What? You couldn’t have told me this BEFORE I got the tattoo?!”)

So what about you and your reveals? Any tried and true tips to knowing when to say when?

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Just before Christmas, Ian and I made a long overdue return to New Orleans, not having been back since right after Katrina, and I am happy to report that I found my beloved city as lush and warm and deliriously enchanting as I remembered it. The Spanish moss hung from the branches of the mighty live oaks, the fine, pale-green threads swinging in the breeze like upside-down coral in a sea’s current. The shotguns and Creole cottages shone in colors so rich they could be tasted, draped in decorations that would stay festive year-round. The front porch of the Columns Hotel beamed and beckoned. Storefronts glowed, streetcars clanked, and dogs ruled the levee, running along the bank like children out of school.  It was a wonderful Christmas gift.

And though I know the city lives every day with its challenges (the Gulf hasn’t forgotten its oil drowning and neither can we) and many, many people remain hard at work trying to rebuild from Katrina’s destruction, I am grateful and so proud of those who returned to honor such a precious place. My thanks to you. It was a privilege to call New Orleans my home once upon a time.

So this year, if you’ve never been to New Orleans or if you haven’t been in a while, treat yourself. Help celebrate the rebirth and the continuing growth and preservation of this treasure.

Your heart and belly, ears, nose and soul will thank you.

Happy New Year, friends. May 2011 bring peace and goodwill. And may we all do our part to make that wish come true.



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