Monday, June 28, 2010

The Importance of Reading Your Work Aloud

We hear this tip all the time if we write. It may be the most crucial tip . . .

And I didn't listen for about five years. I read other people's work aloud, especially poems that rhymed, and I read out my own stuff when I got the chance, but in terms of performing I tend to get in over my head. Reading out loud to others? Definitely. Reading out loud to myself? NEVER.

Why this negativity? It stemmed from when I entered a gifted program where we followed books on audiotape. With respect to my Language Arts teacher, since in his class I learned to love reading and developed my love for horror, audio works didn't work for me. For one thing, I could read faster than I could listen to the stuff; I finished A Wrinkle in Time five days ahead of schedule. For another, I believed in characters having different voices; now I know that the speaker's quality is much more important. If you have two voices doing about ten characters, you were dead to me as a fourth and fifth grader.

But now, having received about a hundred rejections total for all the work I have, and writing poetry for class, a habit I haven't kept unfortunately, I've realized how important word flow needs to sound. We may see the letters on paper, but we also have to hear them. And if your readers even in the classroom don't laugh when you want them to, then something is wrong with the words, not with their hearing.

Even better, reading aloud will give each of our characters a voice. Neil Gaiman at Mouse Circus gives the Man Jack a terrifying growl, while the Sleer truly comes off as a smoky creature. When I read aloud a piece with a supervillain, I gave the villain a maudlin British accent, which helped him appear even goofier.

In the case of a novel, individual voices are necessary for a novel where every character gets a say. Not just the villains and the heroes, but the anti-heroes, the helpers, the thugs, and minor people who steal the show. Democracy has a price, but it gives our novel strength.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Serial Titling: The Real Condensation Begins

Let the record stand that titling stories and naming characters are one of the most unpredictable events in terms of difficulty; sometimes it's easy as pie, as any author can tell you. Sometimes a character will come fully formed to your head, as what happened to J.K. Rowling on a train, but sometimes they just remain in the story like square gears that you can't really fit in. Or they're wood and the rest of the story is metal. Weird stuff like that happens.

With titles, though, you encompass all of your story's elements into a few words. Not all writers try to do this; for younger audiences, the titles might be more concrete (The Berenstein Bears And Too Much Vacation), but as you go into the scholarly set, people want clever titles with meaning. 

Most often, the title centers on the object mentioned in the title, whether it's a person, or a significant object. We call this the literary MacGuffin, because we, the reader, want to find out who or what the thing mentioned in the title is. (Macguffin: object that protagonists in a story want. The literary MacGuffin is something that the readers want.) In fact, Wendelin Van Draanen wrote two Sammy Keyes books when these MacGuffins popped up as titles, and she wrote to find out what the Sisters of Mercy and a Runaway Elf were respectively. Another great example is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, since Sirius Black, the title prisoner, is an integral character that the whole world is searching for. 

This strategy doesn't always work, however, because your literary MacGuffin might be cliched. If your book has a lot of MacGuffins, then you have to pick the one that encompasses the story the most. My whole story is about Magic Turning into Memories, but that title doesn't have the zing I'm looking for since magic is a necessary staple of fantasy novels and memories is a huge mouthful. So what is an author to do?

The solution is to make the theme sound less cliched. So I need to find apt synonyms for magic and memories respectively. Either that or use the theme of Midsummer and Snow, or something off about the woods, since all of these appear in the book. Hey, it might happen.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Night Owl is Really a Cuckoo

As a writer trying to balance schoolwork with cartooning and possibly revisions, I have come across a rather exotic species, one that is worth keeping if one has the money and time. But as I have neither, I warn everyone else who is reading this blog: the night owl is not your friend.

See, the night owl is looking for only thing: your time. And if that time happens to be at night and you are a morning person and you're not used to taking naps, you a
re going to be very grumpy. You don't even hear him coming in because he uses the back door, with all his specialized gadgets. But if you do see him, he wears this cunning disguise:

Do not be fooled by this gentle exterior, diurnal writers. Anyone will tell you in the wake of the Harry Potter craze that owls are not the gentle messengers that will nibble your fingers fondly. They are expensive, noisy, and fussy And the night owl's true face looks like this:

And to be honest, you can't trust a guy who dresses up like an owl unless you know he has a teenage sidekick and that he's mean because he really cares about everyone except the psychopaths that killed his other sidekicks- oh wait, I'm thinking of BATS! Silly me!

If you DO have the money, you DO have the time, then you can make the night owl a rat sandwich. But tonight I'm closing my window and hope that he doesn't have lockpicks . . .

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Balancing Cartooning with Writing

Things I have learned over the past two weeks:
1)Don't let the night owl routine dominate you; find the time to write, NO MATTER WHAT.
2) Don't get stressed, or everyone will hate you.
3) Biology is never easy, so always study.
4) Do a little bit every day, just to salvage your sanity.