Thursday, May 29, 2014

Slushpile Musings: The Importance of Tone

Not too long ago on Operation Awesome, I talked about voice and how it’s a difficult, undefinable aspect of writing. The super glue that holds all the other parts together. Well, this is true, but I think that superglue is a mixture. Voice is one of the ingredients but another ingredient is TONE.

Tone, to me, is even harder to define than voice. Tone is basically the feel of your book. The mood it creates for the reader while the pour through your story. Its not something they necessarily notice, at least when its done well. Effective tone blends into the story. Readers only really notice tone when it makes a mistake. That is, when things are tonally dissonant.

Let’s go to Disney for the best example for this. Anyone remember this movie?


Yeah, its dark for a Disney movie, isn’t it? In the first few minutes alone, a woman is murdered on the steps of a cathedral and the villain Frollo almost drops her baby down a well. And the rest of the movie is pretty dark as well. The villain song is about unquenchable lust driving Frollo into madness. He burns down half of Paris looking for this one woman. In one scene, he tries to trap and innocent family in their home and burn them alive. It’s a lot of heavy stuff for Disney.

But then there’s these guys.

I hate these guys. Because they don’t fit with the serious tone of the situation. They crack jokes but they don’t feel right. Its jut a little awkward that their big musical number takes place while PARIS IS BURNING. 
This is what tonal dissonance is. When something feels out of place, people notice. Whenever something is in place, people don’t. They aren’t distracted and its as it should be. Tone is kind of like the tech crew of a big musical. They do a lot of important work back stage and keep the show running smoothly. But if you notice them, it takes you out of the experience.

Ask yourself, “What is the tone of my work and progress? Am I going for a serious or frightening tone? Or do I want a light-hearted, quirky tone?” Then make sure you stick to that. You can have more than one tone in your novel (in fact you probably should) but there has to be a transistion in order for us to buy it. I mean just look at the first Harry Potter book compared to the last one. That’s a big shift. But J.K. Rowling was masterful in the way she handled it. We barely even noticed the shift. We just went right along with it. That’s good tone.



This is not

Saturday, May 24, 2014

World Building (Is hard)

This past week I did a major edit of my novel to get it ready for submission to editors. It ended up taking me quite awhile. I added two new scenes and had to go through each chapter to make sure every little detail was in place. No, this wasn't a line edit. It was something far more difficult.

A world building edit.

I did not make this book easy for myself when I set the story in this world. The religion is complicated, the plot even more complicated and don't even get me started on the map (Which is in a clock, by the way. If this book ever gets published, brace yourself for clock puns). Its not an easy world to ground a reader in without an info dump.

Never in my life have I had to so meticulously try to avoid info dumps. I have used ever possible venue to try not to be boring when I dispense important world information. I inject a lot of humor into the situation. I add banter. I put an action scene in the middle of the explanation so that the plot keeps advancing. I feel like an acrobat doing jumps and contortions around the inevitable info dump.

Any writer of fantasy knows: world building is hard. Its hard because you don't know how much information is too much. Its hard because there is a time and a place for each element of the world to be revealed and it must be revealed at exactly the right moment. Its hard because the reader must feel absolutely grounded in the world in order to go along with the plot and characters.

Sometimes we really just want to sneak in a chapter on 'everything you need to know about my world before we continue' similar to the chapter on whaling in Moby Dick or 'Concerning Hobbits' in Lord of the Rings. Why can't we just go Victor Hugo on the reader and say, "Enough with the story! Time for a history lesson on the Battle of Waterloo! You don't want to hear about the detailed back story of this nunnery or the construction of the sewer system in Paris? Well too bad! I'm Victor Hugo! I can do what I want!"

Alas, we are no Victor Hugo, and we are not allowed the grace of an info dump. So we must delicately weave the thread of our world into the tapestry of our novel, hoping that we are giving just the right amount of information. For all my writing friends out there trying to write in a unique fantasy world, keeping soldiering on. Its an uphill battle your fighting, but it will all be worth it if you get it just right!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We Need Diverse Books-- Anxiety

My tumblr dash is still full of amazing posts from the movement #WeNeedDiverseBooks. I love it. I love seeing so many people speaking out and contributing and I especially love the recognition that diversity isn't just about race. Its also about sexual orientation, body type, living situation, and mental and physical health. There are a lot of different measures of diversity and its true, every kid in the world needs a character to relate to. A character to look to and say: that's kind of like me. I relate to this main character.

I've read a lot of amazing posts about this both from people who feel underrepresented and people who want to read books about people different from them for a change. I've already done a post a little while back about the importance of racial diversity and challenging the perceived norm (Find it here ). But today I'm going to make a call for something I haven't seen a lot of. Something that is important to me. This is going to be a difficult post for me to write simply because I don't talk about this topic a lot.

Anxiety.

I have anxiety in more than one form. I have social anxiety that makes me uncomfortable every time I'm forced into a social situation I have not fully prepared for. When I have to call a stranger, I silently pray they won't pick up so I can just leave a message. And if I get a call from an unknown number? Forget it. I'm not picking up.

I also have anxiety around medical problems. I found out rather recently that if I read a list of symptoms and I seem to have even one of them, I get a little dizzy and start to black out. The idea of something going on inside my body that I can't see terrifies me to that point.

And then there are the anxiety attacks. I've been having them since eighth grade but I didn't even know what they were until about my sophomore year. They don't come often, but when they do, they come in full force. Often I spend the entire night awake and shaking like I have a fever, hovered over the toilet because I feel like I need to throw up (and I often do). For at least a day after I have these attacks I am left feeling drained and sick. The most miraculous thing about these panic attacks? They are often uncued. I don't know why I have them. They simply start and no amount of talking myself out of them can happen. The worst thing of all? I can't write when I'm having a panic attack. Writing makes it worse. And that is terrifying.

Anxiety is a growing problem in the US. According to the Anxiety and Depressing Association of America, Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S, affecting 40 million adults in the US age 18 and older (18% of the population). A lot of people have anxiety. But its astounding how many times the 'anxious one' in a movie is portrayed as annoying or comedic.

Its not particularly funny.

Anxious people are seen as weak. People who can't stand on their own. But its not something that can be controlled. There have been many nights I lay awake asking myself 'What's wrong? Nothing bad is going on right now so why are you doing this?' But my body doesn't listen. It just keeps reacting. When I read books about heroes getting into dangerous situations, I often times think that if I was in the same situation, the second I got to safety I would be puking my guts out. After a big chase scene when someone says 'we'd better get some rest?' Ha! Yeah, I'll be over here in the corner, trying to get my heart beat to slow down for the next seven hours.

I want to see main characters who have anxiety and who struggle daily with fear. But here's the kicker: I want to see them fight to overcome it. Just a few days ago, I was at a friend's house sleeping over when I started to have an anxiety attack. I snuck out into the kitchen, not wanting to wake anyone up, because having people around makes my attacks worse without fail. I thought I was going to throw up. Which I really didn't want to do because I've been doing well. I've been trying to cut down the number of full on panic attacks to once every six months. It had only been three months since my last panic attack. And by God, I did NOT want to break that streak.

Somehow, I sat down in a chair and I forced myself to go to sleep. I woke up feeling like a badass. I did a double fist pump in the air when I opened my eyes and saw the sunlight streaming through the window.

I want to read about that. About heroes who kick ass even though their body is fighting them. About main characters who can collapse after a battle, heaving and panicking and not be ridiculed for it. I want to see strong characters with anxiety.

Because people with anxiety are not weak. They are arguably, some of the strongest people there are. I have it easy. My anxiety disorder is very minor and I can generally function normally without it getting too much in the way. There are others who have a much harder time than me. They need medication and therapy in order to keep their anxiety under control. Some people fight major panic attacks daily and I admire them for that.

Anxiety is not a joke. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a REAL obstacle like any other, and I'd like to see more characters face it, in any of its forms.

#WeNeedDiverseBooks so that the teenager curled up on her bathroom floor praying for sleep to make the pain stop doesn't have to feel alone.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Introversion vs. Extroversion Part 2

So this post was delayed a bunch. I had a lot of writing stuff to do this past week and blog posts got pushed to the side. But here we are with part 2 of my introversion vs. extroversion post. We've talked about the reasons for introversion and extroversion but it isn't an either or dilemma. Its a spectrum.

My college roommate, for instance, falls right in between the two, with only a slight preference for extroversion. I'm much more an introvert but I'm not all the way on that side of the spectrum. I have some extroverted traits as well. So lets look at some characteristics of introverts vs extroverts.

To Party or not to Party?

To an introvert, parties can spell disaster. To an extrovert, they're the ideal night out. Super introverts will balk at the idea of even staying one second at large party. And super extroverts, well, the bigger the better, right? Me personally, I hate any environment where I have to shout to be heard. A crowd is alright for a little while, but only a moderate crowd. And even then, I can only last about two hours. How long can you last at parties? Do you have a limit for how many people you can stand?

Topic of Conversation

I didn't talk about this much in the last post, but a lot of introverts don't like small talk. They're the type of people who like to go deep right away and ditch the formalities of 'weather' and 'work'. This is probably because we have a limited capacity for social interaction, and we like to make our words count. I relate to this part of introversion most definitely. I'm bad at small talk. Do you have the same struggles? Or is small talk a breeze for you because, hey, you can talk all day if you have to?

Adaptation

Extroverts adapt to the world around them while introverts will seek to change that world. Introverts are often times sensitive to changes in location or situation and it can take them longer to adjust. I won't deny, I'm a lover of routine and when someone throws off my routine it takes me a bit to reset. Because I don't like it when I'm not in control. Introverts are more easily stimulated, after all, and therefore more easily thrown off. Extroverts on the other hand are good at rolling with the punches. How do you with adapting? How long does it take you and does sudden change make you uncomfortable?

Stage Fright?

The number one fear in the United States is public speaking, even above death. So I'm sure there are plenty of extroverts who fear getting up in front of a crowd. But, as extroverts have introverted parts of them, I have extroverted parts of me. I've never been afraid of getting up on stage. Maybe its because I've been doing theater since I was three, but speeches never give me crippling anxiety. Its the one aspect of introversion I can absolutely say I don't possess. Does speaking in front of crowd make your palm sweat? Does your heart stutter every time you hear a presentation is in your future? (According to statistics, don't worry, you're not alone)

Friends

Extroverts are great at maintaining a large group of friends. Its just natural for them to extend themselves to multiple groups and be social. They can run in several different circles and never wear out. Introverts on the other hand, we have to choose our friends carefully because we only have so much energy to expend. We're not trying to be anti social, but we wouldn't be good friends if we tried to keep too many. We choose to give our best to a few rather than our average to a bunch. How many friends can you maintain at once? Do you love having several friends or do you prefer just a few?

Maximum Productivity

I hated group projects in school. Lets face it, I was far more productive when I didn't have to deal with other people. And introverts tend to be much better at working alone than in a group. Extroverts on the other hand love bouncing ideas off other people and working together to create a product. How do you fare with group work? Does your heart clench at the thought or does it get you excited?

So, based on these categories, what do you identify as? Where do you fall on the spectrum? The important thing is that neither is better than the other. Introverts and extroverts have different strengths. Its just that society is still figuring out how to best balance these strengths. The important thing is to understand both types. Extroverts should be able to understand that their introverted friends aren't mad at them when they say they don't want to go out. Introverts should understand that their extroverted friends are just trying to connect with small talk.

Thanks for reading! Coming up soon, I'm going to be a judge in Query Kombat, and awesome competition for any querying writers. I swear by contests, since they did well for me when I was in the trenches. Check out the details here:
http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/2014/05/query-kombat-2014-announcement.html

And about the other awesome judges here:
http://michelle4laughs.blogspot.com/2014/05/meet-query-kombat-2014-judges.html

Happy writing!


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Introversion vs Extroversion (Part 1)

My name is Aimee Hyndman and I am an introvert.

The funny thing was, I didn't know it for the longest time. Until a few years ago, I didn't even know what an introvert was. I knew I liked to be alone and that being with people tired me out. I knew I preferred a small get together to a large party. But I didn't know that it was a fundamental part of my brain.

My mom thought I was reserved because I had been bullied in my younger years. Fair enough. many kids withdraw after being bullied. Except I didn't find myself staying at home alone because of fear but just because... I had stuff to do when I was alone. I was perfectly entertained while alone. And I was, for the most part, happy.

For my Extended Essay (a huge research paper we had to write over the summer as part of the IB program at my high school) I wrote about the difference between introverts and extroverts and the struggle of an introvert living in an extrovert world. Over the course of my research I discovered that I am, indeed, an introvert and that it is part of who I am, not something I can change.

But what kind of an introvert am I? Introversion and extroversion are on a spectrum. You can't just categorize people as one or the other. Some introverts like to go out as much as the next person and some extroverts really need their time away from people. So taking a break from writing advice today and diverging on a path that I know many writers will still relate to, lets talk about introversion, extroversion, and how to understand both.

1. Its all about stimulation

So a lot of introverted and extroverted tendencies can be traced to the brain and how it processes information. Simply put, introverts are far more sensitive to stimulus than extroverts. A loud party that seems normal to an extrovert will quickly wear an introvert down and make them tired. Introverts are also more sensitive to taste, smell, sound and other things that stimulate the five senses. If they have to process too much information at once, they might quickly become stressed and exhausted. This is why extroverts tend to be better at multi-tasking. Their brain can handle more stimulus at once.

But there's a downside to this too. Because and extrovert can become easily bored or down when alone. Without stimulus to hype them up, which their body craves, they can't work to their full potential. Extroverts are very likely to run a TV or radio in the background of their work. But they'll also look for lots of opportunities to go out with friends because they get stir crazy. Introverts, on the other hand, thrive in this environment. They don't need too much stimulation to keep themselves entertained or focused. They might not be as good at multi-tasking but they can focus hard on one project at a time. When they can put all their attention into one thing, they are at their most productive.

Obviously you can't change how your brain responds to stimuli. Extroverts can learn to work even without much stimulus and introverts can adapt to parties if they need to, but they're still more comfortable on their home turf. Which is why its important not to pull and introvert or extrovert too far away from where they are comfortable. You won't be getting their best if you do.

2. Adaptation

So let's talk about adaptation. Introverts and extroverts handle change and new environments very differently because they have a different focus. Extroverts tend to look outward. They see the world around them and the people and the setting. Introverts tend to look inward. They see their thoughts and their state of mind and their own personal sense of well being. An uncomfortable extrovert pushes out and an uncomfortable introvert pulls in. This means they have a different way of adapting to situations.

An extrovert is more likely to adapt to the world around them. They can change to fit in with a group they wouldn't normally connect with. This makes them very good in social situations or meetings because they find it easy to mesh with other people, no matter who they are. This can make them easily likable (depending on how extroverted they are)

Introverts on the other hand are more likely to change their environment rather than change themselves. They are more immovable and have trouble fitting into a mold when they don't already fit into it. So, instead, they change the mold. Its easy to see why we don't always thrive in social situations. We are less outgoing and relatable. We're not bad people or anything but we are more difficult to swallow sometimes.

Which brings me to the nature of expectation and how it effects extroverts, but especially introverts.

3. The Extroverted World

We live in a world that is built for extroverts. America especially is tailor made to be an extroverts country. But it didn't start out that way. It was around the height of urbanization when people started moving to cities. They were thrust into a world of crowds and big business. So those who adapted to the social environment were more likely to fit in. This resulted in a deluge of self help books and advertisements geared toward becoming more social and grabbing people's attention. The new norm was extroversion and introverts started being swallowed up.

You can still see this system today. If you're an introvert you know the horror you felt whenever the teacher spoke the words 'group project' or 'collaborative work'. Some of you might even have hurried up to the teacher and asked if you could work alone. I know I did. Schools in general are geared toward extroverted learning. Desks are arranged in pods. The majority of work involves discussion or collaboration with peers. If a child is withdrawn or reads a lot, teachers seem to think something is wrong with them. They talk to their parents about how little Johnny isn't making friends or how little Suzie doesn't play at recess with the other children, she only reads. This sends a message quickly to these children that there is something wrong with them. It did the same to me.

Really, different children just respond to different ways of learning. They make friends but not in the same way other kids do. And schools, especially elementary schools, aren't yet tailored to serving both types of children.

4. Expectations for the Genders

Because yes, people respond differently to introverted men than they do to introverted women. This isn't as much an issue for extroverts (though I'm sure many extroverted women have been called out on being too bubbly or too outgoing. We just can't win, can we?). But introverted women are far more stigmatized than introverted men. I mean, the world has always had a place in its heart for a stoic, mysterious man, am I right Mr. Darcy? Introverted men are often assigned attributes such as 'thoughtful, controlled, mysterious'. Those aren't such bad things to be known by. Introverted women on the other hand? They're 'too shy', 'haughty', or 'prudish'. Not the happiest adjectives to be saddled with. People were more willing to accept all kinds of men depending on how successful they were but women had to fit a very specific mold. And what did we say about introverts and molds?

Yyyep
This is all very categorical of course, dividing introverts and extroverts into an either or category. But as mentioned before, introversion and extroversion are measured on a spectrum. Tune in next time for Introversion vs. Extroversion part 2 to look at where you fall on the spectrum and how you deal with your placement, wherever it is.