What I'm reading: Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, June 2010
First – the moving update. (To go straight to the Pikes Peak recap, click the "keep reading" link below.)
Movers showed up with our stuff Friday morning. Although we got rid of (we thought) most of our stuff before leaving Florida, there were an awful lot of boxes and other bits and pieces. Hubster ran the checklist, and for most boxes, it was a matter of 'upstairs' vs 'downstairs. Rooms indicated on the boxes were relatively meaningless, as we don't have those rooms in this house. Plus, we plan to do some upgrades and remodels, so keeping non-essentials out of the way should make it a little easier. The 'fun' was that the labels on the boxes weren't necessarily indicative of the contents. Opening and unwrapping was like a day-long birthday party.
It's nice to have some furniture again, even if it's not necessarily where it will end up. And since I'm lousy at visualizations, I can finally see how things will fit and work. Of course, for all the boxes we unpacked, there are trees and trees worth of packing paper. Traversing the downstairs level is like parting the seas. And we learned that waste management up here isn't like our Florida home. There, our taxes covered pickup. Twice a week, as many cans or bags as you put by the curb. Major discards, such as furniture, etc. could be put out on Thursdays. Yard waste picked up once a week. Recycling once a week.
Here: you hire your waste management company directly. They will sell you ONE can, or you can use your own. That's it. Once a week, one can. We definitely have to look into how we can recycle all the cardboard, and what to do with the bags and bags and bags of all that packing paper.
We've had some regular visitors to the property. In addition to the critters in the picture, hubster put up a bird feeder and is happily marking off all the new species he's seeing. I've got my camera and binoculars on the windowsill of my office.
On to Pikes Peak recaps
Some tidbits from the romance panel: In romance, issues can't overpower the characters.
"Adonis" heroes are falling out of favor. Flawed heroes are more popular. Jodi Thomas mentioned making a funeral director a focal character, despite being told it would never work. There has to be something internal.
Small towns seem to be consistently popular in romance (good to know, now that I can observe firsthand!)
Today's women's fiction grew out of the "formulaic" category romance. People's reaction to romance has grown more positive; the genre is gaining respect, thanks to the efforts of the Romance Writers of America.
The next workshop I attended was on Micro-tension, given by Donald Maass. He spoke of keeping the reader turning pages, and it's independent of the type of story or genre of the book. The one thing an author likes to hear from a reader is, "I couldn't put the book down." The one thing an author doesn't want to do is have writing the reader will skim. What's missing from the pages we skim? Micro-tension.
According to Maass, the tension, the friction make the reader want to know the outcome of the immediate situation. It's not necessarily part of the overall plot. He suggested looking at any random page of a novel and studying the following three components: Dialogue, Exposition, and Action. He then asked for brave souls from the audience to hand over their own manuscripts, and he proceeded to have the group analyze a few paragraphs to see if we'd want to keep reading, then took suggestions from the floor to kick them up. Since the examples were from unpublished manuscripts belonging to conference attendees, it's not right to quote them here, so the following remarks are general in nature.
Keep in mind, we were privy only to a few paragraphs, and hearing the excerpts more or less out of context. But that's how an agent might be reading when looking to see if the writing shows merit. (You don't think they read every word when they request pages, do you?)
1. Looking at Dialogue
Escalating the language can add tension. Stronger verbs, more reactions, show friction between speakers. Raise the reader's apprehension.
2. Looking at Exposition and Interior Monologue
To add tension, try to add the opposite, or conflicting, or contradiction of inner emotions. Two ideas at war with each other—and this holds true for literary work as well as genre fiction.
3. Looking at Action
In action scenes, use less expected emotions that play off the action itself. Action does not create tension. The reader must be emotionally involved.
Tension comes from inside the POV character's emotional reactions to the action.
Tension can be subtle. It can appear in sub text.
Maass told us to read a favorite book—one that we read over and over—and look for the tension, because that's probably why we love it. To search our own work, he recommends printing the book, tossing the pages around the room and picking one up at random, then analyzing each sentence. Reading out of order will keep you from being engrossed by the fantastic story you've written!
Tomorrow, my guest is Amanda Flower, who's post is entitled, "Looking for the Blue Danube." You'll want to come back and read it! I've got a few more workshops to recap, and more house updates as they unfold. And maybe a bit more about writing, too!