Oct 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER - JUNOT DIAZ

This Is How You Lose HerThis Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The cruel nudity of language and descriptions of "This is how you lose her" is the well known signature style of Junot Diaz.
Dominican people are described from insiders in unadorned fashion and unforgettable details.
The struggle of moving from a warm country to a cold city will make you shiver while you rush through the pages and fall in love with far from perfect 'negros'.
Their love and loss remind us we are not alone in this struggle through life, comfort us with the clarity that someone has it worse than us, inspire us to believe in second chances.
Beginner writers will particularly appreciate the Lead character being an inspiring writer himself.

Oct 15, 2013

ADVENTURE PLOT



Plot patterns have been categorized differently by various authors.
Some recognize as little as three basic plot types, others list dozens of possible scenarios. 

Beside the quest, love, and revenge, a classic motive for a novel is ADVENTURE.

An adventure plot requires the Lead character to leave his/her comfortable routine to go seek something. The object of his research is usually not specific, as it would be in the quest, it's more a desire to find out what's out there waiting to be discovered and experienced. 

Being myself a follower of this philosophy, I lived more than half my life wandering aimlessly from country to country. The main incentive to pick the next stop is the absolute not-knowledge of its habits and inhabitants. 

I usually get stuck with some place in my head for no particular reason. Right now, I desperately want to go to Buenos Aires. Why there? I don't know anybody, I don't know anything about the town or its surroundings, I would feel lost and have to start from scratch. 
And that is exactly why I will probably be in Argentina by the end of the year. 

The impulse is irresistible, and it is a known psychological condition called DROMOMANIA.

As Michael Pallin says in his book "Around the world in 80 days":

"The compulsive urge to travel is a recognised psychical condition. It has its own word, dromomania, and I'm glad to say I suffer from it"


Send your Lead on a journey



Make your Lead character a dromomaniac setting out on a journey to experience a new life.
Your plot should include various encounters with interesting characters and circumstances.
Make sure the Lead learns something about him/herself and grows wiser thanks to the experience. 


Have a good novel!

Oct 11, 2013

HOW TO HANDLE YOUR FIRST DRAFT

NOTES ON WRITING BASED ON J.S. BELL 'WRITE GREAT FICTION: PLOT AND STRUCTURE' - by Lisa Agosti

Once you are finished writing the first draft of your novel you are faced with a new question: AND NOW WHAT?!

First of all, walk away. You need to detach yourself from your darling creature to be rational enough to judge its contents and edit it. After a few days, spent writing other projects (or more likely being lazy without feeling too bad about it), go back to it and review it, following these simple steps.

How to handle your first draft:

1. Let it cool.

2. Get mentally prepared, get pumped by telling yourself things that help your self-confidence and professional self. Print a hard copy of your novel.

3. Read it through, better if all in one go, in a quiet spot. Don't check the details, you want to get an overall impression, taking only a few notes. Mark the passages that will need editing and jot down whatever idea you will want to add. Focus your attention on some fundamental questions you will have to answer:

    • Is your Lead character a compelling, unique, growing, valid choice?
    • Is the Antagonist an interesting, well developed, believable choice?
    • Is the Conflict between them crucial and unavoidable?
    • Are the Scenes original, strong, of the right length?
    • Are the Minor characters colorful and purposeful?
4. If your first draft is worse than you expected, do not panic. Think of Hemingway, take a break of a few days, jotting down notes on the way.

5. Write the second draft. Some people like to write down everything anew, others cut and paste on the first draft. See what works best for you. Be prepared, great writing is A LOT of work.

6. Refine. Take a week break (yeay!) then read your completed second draft. Cut scenes, define characters, revise subplots. Be heartless in cutting the parts that don't fit in, even if you spent hours and days sweating on them.

7. Polish. Check every scene and every dialogue. Reading out loud may be a big help, as author Lisa Malabanan has wisely taught me. 

Good luck and have a good novel!

Oct 9, 2013

THE COMMITMENTPHOBIC MAN

This character has an immediate deep impact on the audience, he will immediately arise strong feelings, especially if the reader is a woman.

Why is that? Because every woman has met at least one commitmentphobic man. Most likely, she has dated him and loved him and had her heart crashed by him. The result is a complex combination of empathy and distrust that will win your audience right away. 

The commitmentphobic men (if you want to know more about the creators of the term and the subject, I strongly recommend the eye-opening book "He's scared, she's scared" by Steven Carter and Julia Sokol) is a person who is scared of long-term relationships, contracts or appointments.

The classic stereotypical exemplar of commitmentphobic man is very approachable to start with, probably attractive and easygoing, sometimes even too straightforward in his chasing women as well as life opportunities. After an enthusiastic beginning of hopeful, steady, increasing progress, our Lead character reaches a point where he feels that the relationship/job/project is stable and safe. Right away, he starts panicking.

At this point, the partner/colleague/friend of the commitmentphobic (in literature known as "side kick") starts receiving mixed signals, ambivalent feelings of love and fear, approach and withdrawal. One day the most loving, caring, attentive partner turns into an elusive shadow barely answering his phone.

Creating a commitmentphobic character will ensure you the full attention of your readers. They will to through their personal experience and use your novel to find out the "cure". They want to know if there is a "technique", some way or "method" to fix the commitmentphobic and turn him into a perfect husband/worker/partner in crime. 

Is there such a "cure"? 
Wouldn't you like to find out already? That's why it's gonna be a bestseller!

Have a good novel!

Oct 5, 2013

TO PLOT OR NOT TO PLOT

Notes on writing based on J.S.Bell 'Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure' - by Lisa Agosti


Each one of us has its own preference when it comes to outline the plot of our novels. There is no single, inviolable way to lay a fictional foundation. 
Even among the fiction masters, there are two distinct categories: the "plotters" and the "no plotters".

"Plotters" like to outline their novel in a specific, detailed grid before setting off actually writing the story. The risk involved in choosing these methods is losing spontaneity and the freshness of the unplanned stream of consciousness.

"No plotters" on the other hand follow their characters lead, letting them wonder wherever they have to. The result is unknown to the author until the Muse allows the story to appear on paper. The risk involved in letting our minds wander is finding a few exhilarating gems lost in a sea of uncertainty and dullness.

Would you define yourself a "plotter" or a "no plotter"? Would you rather follow a map or a feeling?
Either way, try not to be extreme in your choice. 
Use your first spontaneous draft as an outline for a more controlled plot, or let your imagination fly even if it deviates from the predefined chapter scheme.
Any method will work so long as it is your method.

Ideas for "no plotters":
  1. Set as your goal a specific number of words you have to write every day (many writers choose 1000 words). Try to write first thing every morning, when dreams are still lingering, see if it suits you.
  2. Begin a new day by rereading what you wrote the day before (better in hard copy) and jot down your notes. Correcting yesterday's writing can be your starting point.
  3. Once a week, record your progress on a plot grid. This way you'll have a clear idea of your journey path.
Ideas for "plotters":
  1. If you like the index cards system, keep some blank post-it with you at all times, or download a software that simulates this widely used technique. This is a great way to harness occurring bursts of genius whenever they occur. Play around with your notes creating a visual index for your scenes.
  2. The headlights system compares writing to driving at night. You have an idea of the direction you are going but you can only see as far as your car's highlights. Keep in mind: you should have an idea of where you want to end up (final chapter), so you can better enjoy the ride!
  3. The narrative outline (or treatment) can run between 20 and 40+ pages. It is written in the present tense, includes some crucial bits of dialogue. You are trying to create a large canvas overview of the story.
  4. The David Morrell Method (author of "Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing"): keep a daily journal writing a letter to yourself, asking questions about your idea. WHY am I writing this? What is the book about? Why is the character behaving so and so?
  5. The Borg outline is a all-encompassing system defining the general first, then tweaking more and more the specifics. Start with an overall structure, then focus on each act, then on each chapter of each act. Write down biographies for each character to get to know them better.
To help you understand which category you fall into, choose your 10 favorite novels of all times. Are they plot driven or character driven?
It could very well be that if you read plot driven novels you are a "plotter" and if you prefer character driven stories you are a "no plotter".

Have a good novel!

Oct 3, 2013

KEEP IT COMPLEX

Notes on writing based on J.S. Bell 'Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure' - by Lisa Agosti


How can we add complexity to our plot, so as to make it more captivating for our readers? How can we link and develop all items of the story, in a way that is both easy to understand yet not already heard of?


  • Developing our theme will add depth to our story: 
    • what is the lesson, the value, the meta-message we want to share?
    • weave various subplots, like a tapestry, creating an amazing overall effect
    • introduce symbols and motifs in a natural way. Readers will love a layered story that unfolds at plural levels of depth
  • Write a longer novel:
    • To keep your readers hooked, consider each section of the long novel as an independent novelette with its beginning and its end. For example, Forrest Gump has different adventures that see him turning from ping pong champion to war hero. Still, consistent throughout is his love for Jenny
  • Practice writing parallel plots (two or more plot lines that run along the same forward path):
    • each plot has to work on its own
    • simultaneously, each plot has to interconnect and reach the climax at the same time
  • Playing with structure and style is a good way to reach complex plots:
    • try a nonlinear fashion, jumping back and forward in time. Facts are offered as jigsaw pieces that the reader collects one at the time until eventually the whole story reveals itself
  • Build a Lead character that changes and develops through the story:
    • Ensure a story line that makes your character grow (through suffering)
    • a powerful technique in complex plots  makes the character somehow come face to face with his 'earlier self' to highlight the mutation in progress. Dickens became a master of this technique when he created Mr Scrooge. Time to try your own Christmas Carol.
Have a good novel!