Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why I Collaborate

I'm an independent person. I need to spend time alone every day, I like to do things my own way, and when it comes to my writing, my first drafts are incredibly personal stories I tell for me.

And yet, my favorite writing project to date, is this one of which I'm collaborating.

It's a hard project sometimes, especially when we're stressed, or when we're passionate about an idea that doesn't work for the other two, or when I'm passionate about an idea that doesn't work and then get frustrated. Darn ideas. Or worse, when I change my mind about something that has major ripples across the course of several books, and Melanie and Sabrina had to adjust their plans, and then I switch my opinion again. It's the kind of thing in my own writing would be just a regular Thursday, but when you collaborate, it's a major catastrophe. I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for Melanie and Sabrina to work with me. 

I'm so grateful that they do though. I've learned so much from the way they work, and from having an audience as I do something as private as writing. And above the work, they have both been amazing friends to me. They've been there when my life went crazy. They've been there to talk with on days I can't get out of bed. They've been there to cheer with me on days I have something to celebrate. And together, we've created something that makes me want to yell from rooftops.

I guess the easiest way to explain why I collaborate is, "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." It's not a fast way to write, and it's not a slim book producing way to write. But I hope when you read it, (and I hope you do read it) that you see the love and the growth that we've had while working on these books. I hope the story breaks your heart, as it has broken mine. I hope that it makes you smile and laugh, and then close the book while wondering what happens next. That these characters of ours will keep living on in your imagination. I hope it haunts you, the way it has haunted us.

I do have more books on their way that I've written on my own. And I'm really thrilled to work on them again, to create worlds and stories completely of my own making, and share them with you.

But until then, I'm just grateful for the kismet that happened when we started this project. I'm grateful for my friend's patience and brilliance. I'm grateful for the nos. 

I hope it makes you fist bump the stars and say, "Yes!"

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Write Kissing Scenes That ROCK!

Oh my gosh I'm so excited. I have never felt so well prepared for a blog topic ever. I have studied this subject extensively, and have so many opinions, because to me, plot is just the stuff that happens between kissing scenes.

So...How to write kissing scenes that ROCK!

Step 1. Make a couple that rocks. You can write a good kissing scene between a doomed couple, but a kissing scene only ROCKS if the reader believes in them. Which means they should be able to communicate like humans long before they lock lips. This couple should sacrifice for each other, long for each other, and complete each other - one character's strength balancing out another's weakness, etc. 

Step 2. Conflict. There should be a reason why they aren't kissing. And the stronger the force pushing them apart, the more you can show the longing and the desire to be together, so make it a good Conflict. Make it impossible. Make the reader doubt that it will happen.

Step 3. Time. They need to long for each other way before their lips meet. They need to earn an awesome kissing scene, and that takes effort, pain, sacrifice, and time. And not just for the characters...I'm actually talking about the readers. The readers need to be invested, which means they need to make a sacrifice, they need to be emotionally connected to these characters, and it needs to happen later on in the book, so the reader has invested their time in a couple.  If a kissing scene isn't working, then maybe it's just too soon. Just don't wait too long, because that also is a thing.

I went through this with my book The Waxling. I wrote the scene where Ari and Henry get together way too soon, and it didn't work for any of the beta readers. So I changed it into a fight scene, where Ari and Henry break up instead, and it works so much better. The longing to be together is still there. I remember where they kissed, and the point in the conversation, if they were just brave enough to say what they were feeling, they would be making out is, so there is an undercurrent of loss through out the fight that really works.

I think ninety nine percent of the work that goes into a good kissing scene happens before the kiss.

Once they've earned the moment, and the reader believes in the couple, and their longing for each other is bigger than the conflict that is standing between them, then you have a kissing scene that really works.

Now you just have to write it.

Tips for writing the scene itself.

1. Turn down the voice in your head that gets embarrassed, but don't turn it off. A good kissing scene can get weird easily, and so try to keep a weird meter running while writing it.

2. Remember the senses, but you don't need to use all of them. I don't need to know the sound of a kiss. Gross I tells ya. I don't want to read about it. But the reader needs to know what is actually happening, and what it feels like. They've put the work in with the couple, and you can give them a few details to make it special. Go in close for the POV. Notice the smell of the girl's perfume, the taste of orange juice on lips, the rough stubble, or soft skin, increased heartbeat, etc. 

3, Remember the setting. There are a lot of kisses in the world, and two people  kissing can feel unspecial. One kiss can blend in with another, so don't forget what makes your couple special, and remind the reader of that while in the scene. Choose the location, setting, and moment of the kiss in a way that it reminds the reader of the struggle to get there. 

This is an example of a kiss that really works because of the use of setting, and even the theme of the story. Start at 1:30. 

 I also love how in that kiss, you can see him waiting, and wondering, and oh my gosh James McAvoy is adorable, and once he knows it's her, he doesn't wait. He is done waiting and runs to her. It's adorable.  

So while you are zoomed in close for the moment, don't forget to show the whole picture, because otherwise they are just giant heads.

4. Remember the moment BEFORE the kiss, and give it time. There's fear before a kiss, awkwardness, longing, and something special, so whatever you do don't forget to take a breath beforehand, or not have time to have a breath so all those stomach clenching moments happen so fast it makes the kiss itself sparks fire.

5. Remember the moment AFTER the kiss. This is a real pet peeve of mine, but you got to remember to pull back, or to have an awkward smile, or a consequence to the kiss. I hate when you have a kissing scene, and then they start talking, and as a reader you're like..."wait when did the kiss end?"

 A good kiss is like a good story, it has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

This clip is a good example of a powerful beginning, middle, and end. Also James McAvoy. 

6. Remember the fear. Every good kiss is a risk. To love at all is to be vulnerable, so don't lose the heart pounding vulnerability in favor of steam. And don't forget also the character's age and experience.  Pet peeve number two, is when a character is acting out of character just for a kiss. You get invested in characters being together, so don't forget to invite them to show up. 

7. Less is more. Sometimes yes, you need every sense and every moment of a kiss, but sometimes, you simply don't. If you've done the work before the scene well, then you don't need every moment for the reader to get it. Sometimes simple is the best policy.

This is a non James McAvoy example. This is from The Waxling, which will be coming out, you know, sometime, whenever. This is near the end, after Henry and Ari have struggled and longed and earned each other. Henry writes a letter and finally tells Ari he loves her, and then a disaster happens, and they work together to solve it, and he keeps asking her if she got his letter, because he doesn't know what her reaction will be, and she's terrified, and keeps changing the subject. Then once the disaster is solved, this happens.

I clutched the folds of my nightgown between my fists. “I got your letter,” I said to him. Sarah took three steps forward without us. Henry swallowed, his jaw tense.


I let out a breath. “I read it four times.”
The terror didn’t leave his eyes. “And?” 
I smiled. 
And then Henry Johnson, the boy who sat with me, and painted for me, and found me, ignored my parent’s watching, and the council members, and the Singers, and he put his hand around my cheek, and he kissed me like he’d waited his whole life to do it.

Oh my gosh it's so cute. It probably only works for me, because I've read all the work I've done, and I know what "sat with me," and "painted for me," and "found me" means to Ari, (You'll have to read it to get the full toe curling experience) but it works in one sentence, without any taste or touch or embarrassingly too personal moments. When you go less, the reader gets to imagine their own moment, and that gives them ownership of it. 

Which of course is the goal and secret to a kissing scene that rocks. It has to rock for the reader. Remember them. Their reaction and experience is more important then the character's reaction and experience.

Or you can just cast James McAvoy or Benedict Cumberbatch. That will also do it.

~Sheena Boekweg

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My First Story

I started my first novel when I was in Elementary School. The Adventures of Peanut Butter and Julie was about a Plucky Young Heroine named Julie and her trusty pit bull Peanut Butter. It would be in the mood of my favorite book at the time, Me and Katie (The Pest). I wrote about two pages, where Julie eats breakfast with her mom, but I couldn't finish because I had a concept and a title, but no story.

Also, I was afraid of pit bulls, and changing it to a poodle named Peanut Butter made zero sense.

I do remember how fun it was to sit down at a computer and create something out of nothing. I remember working on it, and feeling like I was playing the best video game ever.

I still feel that way.

I guess then I must have written my first official story for a class. It was about a Plucky Young Heroine who somehow traveled back in time and became a knight and battled a dragon. I don't remember much about it. Just one line of description. When PYH wears her first armor, and she says the chain mail felt stiff like a pair of jeans that hadn't been washed in a month. I remember it, because I thought it was brilliant, and I remember it, because my mom came up with that sentence and let me use it.

But it was an assignment, so maybe it doesn't count as my first story after all.

In Junior High, while I was crushing on boys, pretending I didn't need glasses, and wrapping my stomach with ace bandages to try to make myself skinnier, I carried around a blue wire bound notebook full of my poems. I wrote poems all the time, mostly in math class, and they were kind of awesome. I remember one.

He who laughs the loudest, is trying to hide some pain,
but he who doesn't laugh at all, is probably insane.

Thank you, thank you.

I wish I still had that notebook, because there were some real gems in there, and it's sad to lose something that you've worked on. But in ninth grade, in a deep end of depression, I decided that nothing I wrote would ever be any good, so I lit it on fire. I told myself I destroyed it because writing didn't make me feel any better, and I worried that dwelling on my sadness made me sadder. So I held it in one hand, lit a match, and watched it burn. When the fire got too close to my fingers, I dumped it in a white bucket full of water. I threw the sopping half burnt notebook away in shame for having destroyed it, but mostly in shame for having created it.

That was the day I quit writing.

I started again in High School. I would write these monologues, and my amazing saint of a Drama teacher would let me perform them. I never wrote them down, so it didn't count as writing. I just would stand in my bedroom and make them up, and then perform them in the classroom that felt as much a home to me as anywhere I've ever been. My monologues were always pretty serious, but it didn't matter what I did, the kids in my class wouldn't stop laughing. I remember yelling at the class that this wasn't funny, which made the class laugh until they cried. I guess  they thought my stomping fits about taking this monologue I wrote about a girl who loved her water heater seriously, was part of the skit. So I made it be part of the skit, and I learned how to make people laugh. People laugh when you are honest in a loud way. I fell in love with making people laugh by telling the saddest truth I could find with the goofiest voice I could use.

But I had quit writing. I mean, I wrote songs, and musicals with my friends, monologues for fun, and dreamed about one day maybe writing a play, but I had QUIT writing. That was something the Sad version of Me did, and I wasn't her any more. I was a performer, and a comedian, and an actress.

And then one day I became a mom. That title felt like the only one I could hold in my hands while I carried a baby.

About that time, the Sad Version of Me became who I was again. I was depressed, and I thought that I should have been happy. I met my dream guy and had a beautiful baby, why wasn't I happy?

When my son was eight months old, he was napping in his room, and I had no place I could go. I had made a goal to not watch any television that February. I thought maybe that was what was making me so sad, so I was sitting on my couch, staring at the blank screen, wishing for a book. But I was carless, and I had read every single book in our two bedroom apartment.

My battered and exhausted mind decided to create a book for me.

There was a whole world in that story-- magic, religions, characters, history, cultures, details, snippets of dialogue. I grabbed a bound notebook, and spent the rest of the afternoon writing it all down as fast as the ideas came to me. And then, for about the next year, I would spend every nap time at my computer writing this story out.

It was awful. I called it The End. It was the first book in a series, (The End, The Middle, and the final book, The Beginning). It was a huge story, and I didn't have the skills yet to do it. I mean I didn't even know how to use quotation marks, or verbs, or descriptions, or actions, or any of it. I didn't know how to write. Let alone write a series set in a world where I had to invent all of the details.

I couldn't stop though.

Writing became my title. Writing became my Prozac. It made me sleep better. It made me a better mom. It made me happy. When it made me sad, I could with a few more chapters and a bit of imagination, turn it into a happy ever after.

And when my son was three, I found Hatrack. I found some amazing writer buddies, and this blog, and more stories, and more words. With time, I even figured out how to use quotation marks, and verbs, and descriptions.

So my First Story was called, The End.

It was my beginning.

Sheena Boekweg is the Author of Funny Tragic Crazy Magic , and coauthor of Alchemy. Alchemy's sequel Pyromancy will be out this fall, and Sheena has two several other books forthcoming... when she's finally satisfied with them.