Thursday, January 3, 2013

New Year's Resolutions and Writing Goals

I have mixed feelings about New Year's resolutions. On the one hand, January 1 is just another day of the year, and it seems like most people set up vague and overly-ambitious resolutions that they quickly drop. On the other hand, I am in favor of regularly reviewing writing and life goals. That's the only way to clearly see what path you are on and figure out how to get where you want to go. And the beginning of the new year is as good as any time to do that!

I'll be leading the January SCBWI schmooze in Albuquerque, where we'll continue a series on the writing life. This time, we'll be discussing our goals and how to make them happen. In preparation, I've been tracking other blog posts on goals and resolutions. There's lots of great advice here.

Redefine Success, from Luke Reynolds (highly recommended).

Set Goals NOW for 2013, from Writers First Aid by Kristi Holl.

How's the Work Going? It All Depends: Focus on this moment, this day, this year, also from Writers First Aid by Kristi Holl.

Make Your Own Luck, by Angela Ackerman: What can you do to give yourself the best chance of success? 

Margaret Peterson Haddix on how she has defined success. (Hear how other authors define success with Cynsations Career Builder series.) 

Writing and Life Balance (Discipline, Setting Priorities, and Life and Volunteer Duties), by Susan Uhlig.

Writing In No Time, from this blog.

Debut Author vs. Career Author (although this one is targeting published authors, much of the planning and organizational advice should be useful to pre-published authors as well).

In personal news, I've been invited to join the Project Mayhem group blog. Learn about the new members here. I'm planning to stop posting to this blog (though I'll leave it up so you can visit the archives) sometime in the near future, and move my activity to Project Mayhem. I'll still be talking about the craft and business of writing, along with some other book topics. I'm looking forward to a new venue, a lighter schedule (a couple of posts per month from me), and the chance for a little more diversity in my topics. Please consider following Project Mayhem for news and thoughts from "The Manic Minds of Middle Grade Writers."

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Like a Young Burt Reynolds: Problems with Character Description

Jodie Renner had a good post on description at Crime Fiction Collective recently. It got me thinking about something that bothers me: too much character description. Jodie's post talked about how too much character description can slow the story, especially when given in bulk for minor characters. 

If the characters aren't important, something like "Juan Lopez, the youngest of the group" is enough to suggest his rough appearance. By giving more details, as a reader I feel like I'm supposed to pay attention. It pushes me out of the scene, and I might pause to study who had what color eyes/hair etc., assuming I'll want to know what they look like later. If they never appear again, or aren't important, you've wasted my time.

But there's another problem with detailed character descriptions. You're trusting your reader to have the same reaction you do, and that might not happen. This is especially dangerous if the character is supposed to be romantically appealing. I've read several romanctic heroes with a cleft chin, which is not something I find particularly attractive. Mention it once, and I can skim over it, but if a character trait is reiterated every time the character appears, it's hard to ignore.

Another problem is describing someone as looking like a celebrity. I've heard that technique described as lazy, but what I think is worse, it could have the opposite effect you intended. I recently read a book which was overall very good, but the romantic hero was described multiple times as looking like "a young Burt Reynolds." Since I don't find Burt Reynolds attractive, this came across as a negative thing. Plus, I only knew what Reynolds looked like in middle age.

You also risk the celebrity technique backfiring if the reader has no idea what that person looks like. I don't watch TV or see a lot of movies, and I don't follow celebrity gossip. There are names that I vaguely know as being popular, but I couldn't tell you what they look like. And as the years pass, some of those names will fade from popular consciousness – or worse, become associated with something negative. Imagine reading a book with a main character who has the sweet, girl next-door wholesomeness of Britney Spears. Might come across as a little dated now, huh?

For me, a brief character description works best. Let me fill in the rest with my imagination.