Becca Wilhite Blog

June 30, 2010

My Dad

Filed under: Dads,family — becca @ 9:42 am

Do you know what I hope for you? That you have a great dad. I have a great dad. My kids, too. They have a great dad. My nieces and nephews have great dads, too. They sort of fill the earth, all those nieces and nephews and their great dads.

Sometimes, when I was a kid, people would ask me, what does your dad do? and I would answer with my seven-year-old studiousness, he’s a strategic planner. I worked hard to remember that, and I used it as often as I could (because even then, I loved me some big words). But between then and now, I’ve had a lot of occasions to answer that question… differently. Because my dad has been a lot of things.

A lot.

But when people ask me now? I tell them he’s a teacher. And a gardener. And that seems to fit. He loves to teach. He fills his heart up with his university students. He cares about their success in his classes and also in the important-er parts of their lives. He loves to teach. And he loves his garden. He tells vegetable stories like I used to tell toddler stories. (Wow! Look how big they’re getting! Can you believe the precociousness of my cauliflower?) He thrills that he can leave boxes of excess produce in the church kitchen, and that it will all be taken and eaten.

A teacher, and a gardener. Sound like Anyone Else you know? Like the One my dad seeks to emulate in his daily life, always putting God’s will first, always seeking to serve others, always willing to submit to the Lord’s plan. My father, walking in the footsteps of his Savior, the master teacher. A teacher, and a gardener.

June 28, 2010

Why is that?

Filed under: familyness — becca @ 7:35 am

Why am I so easily satisfied with my own efforts, and so little satisfied with anyone else’s?

I am tough on my kids. They are bright, capable, competent people. And I’m maybe a little demanding. I’m letting that slide, just a little, these days. I don’t want to live forever in their memories as the mom who was never pleased. (Because I’m not that mom – just to clarify – but sometimes I channel her.) I have determined to let a few things go.

Like, say, penmanship. I have a couple of kids with atrocious handwriting. Seriously. But they CAN write neatly. I’ve seen it. Their teachers have seen it. They just don’t choose it. So I pick at it a little, “Can’t quite tell what that’s supposed to say, want to try it again?” To which, they naturally respond, “No.” And lately? I’ve realized that the world doesn’t spin on my kids’ handwriting. (Besides, the other two were pretty much just like this, and they got over it on their own.)

Like, say, musical practicing. One of mine is a singer/actor (“actress” is for divas) and the other three play instruments. One is pretty talented at it, the others are in the discovery stage. But I assume, because their school skills are above grade level, that their musical skills should be above average. After all, what is learning to play the piano but dedication and application? (Says the girl who doesn’t play the piano, obviously.) I’m getting past the need for them to impress anyone with their musical skills. I want (need) them to have those skills, but I no longer (this week) need them to Shine at it. They must practice. Five days a week. No excuses (except for legitimate sickness, because nobody wants to clean vomit out of a keyboard). But I’m fine if their teacher wants to get a little frustrated with them (if, for instance, they’re still playing the same song for sixteen lessons in a row). I’m just trying not to be the frustrated one. Because learning an instrument is a skill, and whether you have a natural aptitude for it or not must make a difference. But we can learn the skill, right? (Right? Dedication and application? Right?)

But somehow I’m not so tough on me. I can be pretty satisfied with my bare minimum effort. If my thousand words a day are done in an hour, I’m not too eager to stay another hour at the computer just to see what else I can accomplish. If I wander around picking laundry items off various bathroom floors, I’m pretty sure I’ve exercised for the day. If I make family devotional happen, I’m good for the day’s study.

Why is that?

Why am I tough on everyone but me? Me, the only one I can actually change? And what kind of example do I set for these precious little (and not-so-little) people by being mediocre?

June 24, 2010

Bad Idea, Good Result

Filed under: anxiety,reviews — becca @ 8:10 am

I did it. That thing they tell you that you should never, ever do. That dumb, egomaniacal thing.

I looked at my reviews.

Not professional ones (I don’t even know if there are any professional ones – I wouldn’t know where to look). Just the ones on Goodreads. Why? you ask. Why would you do this thing? Hm. Maybe here was nothing else to do? Well, yeah. That’s just silly. I don’t know why I did it. But I did.

I got on Goodreads (where I once set up an account, but have never really spent any time) on Kid 2’s login. Not to be sneaky or anything, but because I can’t remember my own, and the computer remembers hers. I looked up MRRO, and it said there were a bunch of reviews. (Bunch = technical term for something like 135, but I’m too lazy to pull up another web browser page and actually check my figures.) I read them. All.

I know. I’m a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, hyphenated-cliche-using idiot.

But do you want to know what? People like this book. Funny, isn’t it? There were 2 fairly negative reviews (one, which I love, and may reproduce in vinyl lettering for my bathroom wall*,  which something like, “I’m glad this book had the word “ridiculous” in the title, so I’m spared the effort of finding an appropriate description.” Tee-hee.) But the rest of the reviewers liked it. Some even loved it. And the best part? I only know like three of these people. (Hi, Kim!) It’s not like I recruited my friends and family to write positive reviews.

This time.

Once upon a time, like for instance, maybe eighteen months ago perhaps, let’s just say that I may or may not have asked a few people if they would maybe put up a kind word review on Amazon about BBM. Just a few. Like 5, I think. They did. (Hi, Emily!) But then a strange thing happened. I learned never to look at my own Amazon pages. Except to see MRRO’s page once in a while, as I waited for it to become available MONTHS after I had a box of copies. And one day, I looked (who knows why I do these things?) and saw seven reviews of MRRO. Seven. Not a single one of them were by a person that I know. Isn’t that amazing?

Now, I know that seven reviews are not much. Some people probably get that much in an hour. But this was a cool thing for me, especially because most of them say very kind things.

So to read more than a hundred strangers saying nice things about my writing? It was a validating exercise. And a gamble. Because it might take on a very different feeling if the scales were tipped AT ALL, and the ratio was any higher on the snarky side. But it wasn’t different. And it was … nice.

I like nice.

Also nice? A friend sent me a photo from her phone of MRRO on an actual book shelf in an actual book store in an actual state that is not my own! I know, right? (Hi, Melanie!) The book was face-out and everything! I’d love to post the photo here, but there is the little detail of Kid 2’s trip to Washington, DC and my phone’s untimely demise (appropriately) at Arlington cemetery (*snicker*). I love me some good irony.

And the point here is that sometimes, it’s okay to take an emotional gamble (but I’m only saying that because I won).

*Really? Do you think I have vinyl lettering on my bathroom wall? I guess not.

June 21, 2010

Writing Business, Part V

Filed under: writing,writing process — becca @ 4:03 pm

(Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV – all available for your reading pleasure. You’re welcome.)

And today? It’s all about completion. We must finish the things we start. Say it with me. Finish the things we start. Can I hear it again? Finish what we start.

This works on a few levels.

Please finish writing your book. Whether or not it ever gets published, or even read by another human, being able to say “I’ve written a novel” is the second best thing ever. (If you don’t know the First-Best thing, let’s talk.) Finishing is not my forte. In fact, I have loads of started stories in my computer files. Loads. Starting is awesome. Fun. Easy. Hm. That may be the key, right there. Beginning is easy. Middle is tricky. Ending is like plucking eyelashes. Not that I’ve ever plucked eyelashes… (But that reminds me of a story.*) But the hard stuff is worth it. Because then you’re a writer who has completed a novel. Or twelve.

Completion also means that you tie up your loose ends. Honestly? This is why I haven’t done series books. I don’t know which ends to leave flying around and which ones to knot firmly down. If you hint at something early in the story, you ought to bring it back around and flesh it out. If some character shows a tendency toward floating out of his chair, he ought to get to fly in the story. And then he should suffer the consequences of flight. You don’t have to say what happens to every character from now until they die, but you need to give the story a finished feeling Which is entirely subjective, I realize. But if your readers all go, “Wait. What happened to the doctor who was raising those turkeys?” then you may have left his story unfinished. And then there’s the other totally subjective question of How Long To Drag It Out. Jane Austen books tend to lurch to a stop as soon as there is an understanding and everyone’s in love (and maybe I just feel that way because I don’t want the books to end, ever). But what’s worse? When the end has come and gone and we’re still in the book. I thought of this just last week when I was playing at Disneyland. We rode Splash Mountain about a hundred times (roughly) and every time, I thought “they should have ended this ride on the downhill splash” – because yeah, I get that the story keeps going, and then wraps up, but all the real good fun has already happened. How to know? Have people read it. Ask them. Does my story end too suddenly? Do my characters get finished doing what they need to do? When the story is over, am I still writing it?

Which brings me to the other completion business. Once you’ve typed the words “the End” (which, may I say? I’ve never written) you’re not finished. There’s much to be done now. You have written a draft. YEAH! Celebrate. Eat much chocolate, or ice cream, or deep-fried, salted white starch. Do the dance of joy. And then come back.

Because what’s next is that you take a little break (I recommend a week, but you can do whatever you want, natch) and then you read it all over again. You find huge holes in your story. You fill them in. You wonder, “Why did I ever think this was anything other than utter garbage?” You delete seven million adverbs. You cut “Really?” and “Yeah” from your dialogs. You shudder a little. You laugh a little. You find a spark of something so fine in there. And you set it aside again. Repeat this process until you fall in love with it again (or you decide you thoroughly hate it – either way) and you put it away again. Write a few charming emails. Post some great blog articles. Play with the dogs. Then pull it out again, give it another once-over, and decide that it is as good as you can make it. Then call in the team.

The team is imperative. (Unless you’re Shannon Hale, who does her own critiquing. And remember this? You’re not.) The team will read and comment and slice and dice and tear and offer suggestions and coo at your baby and act like friends or family or acquaintances and Readers. I always ask someone to read my work who will Love it. Lurve it, even. Because I’m shallow like that and I crave some positivity. Also, I ask someone who doesn’t generally read in my genre to look it over. This can be frustrating (because they want to know where are the exploding spaceships, and the dwarfs and swords) but so helpful (because they tend not to get wrapped up in my wit and charm, and can just see my flaws). There’s a lot to say about critiquing, and about how I’m not really very good at it, but I love to do it, and that can all wait for another post. What matters is that you and The Team can work your story into better shape than you ever could alone.** And then? You and your agent can polish it up even more. ANd then? You and your editor will make it shine.

So don’t forget to go the distance.

Yea, Writers!

*Here’s the story. When I was pregnant with Kid 1, we took one of those classes that made Husband pass out with the gruesome reality of what was involved with actually removing this child from my body. You know the ones? So our teacher, who was a total Hippie and completely cool, told this story that a doctor she’d worked with, in an effort at sympathy, told his patients, “Yeah, Childbirth hurts. It’s a lot like having your right arm ripped off.” At which point Hippie Midwife lady looked at the doctor, with his man parts and Both His Arms, and decided that he wasn’t really qualified to make that sort of statement. So she began teaching childbirth classes. I often think of that – “it’s exactly like having your right arm ripped off” when people (self included) make strange, ill-advised comparisons.

**But YOU DECIDE what needs to change, ultimately. Because this is YOUR BOOK. Don’t forget that part. Please.

June 20, 2010

Hello Again

Filed under: Uncategorized — becca @ 9:44 pm

Hi, Kids. I’ve been post-dating my Writing Business posts, because I was TOTALLY UNPLUGGED for a WHOLE WEEK. I know. It scared me, too. But as it happens, my life continued very nicely without the internet. (This is true.)

And now we’re home from the Wilhite Family Vacation to the Second Happiest Place on Earth (my Kids informed me today that home is even better than Disneyland, except without Churros and thrilling roller coasters), and as soon as I mow the 13 inches of shaggy backyard grass* tomorrow, I’d love to continue my Writing Business posts. I just didn’t want you to worry about me. (But if you want to, you can worry just a little when I disappear for a while.)

And speaking of disappearing, Kid 2 flies all the way across the country tomorrow morning. By herself. Yikes. She’s excited. And trying to sleep. And wearing her hair braided so she has cutie-patootie waves tomorrow. I’m trying to be the good mom, saying things like “Embrace your adventure” and “Learn many Fine Things,” but under that, I sort of want her to climb in my lap and pretend that she’s three and a half again. But this will be a Grand Experience for all of us, and Yea for the opportunity (and her ability to earn $1000 – I know. She’s a peach.)

*Saturday (last, before the vacation) Husband mowed the front lawn, so there it’s only like seven inches of not-so-shaggy. But it was raining at the time (totally true, too) so he didn’t get to the back yard. I may be out there all day. If you don’t see me by dinner time, send reinforcements.

June 16, 2010

Writing Business, Part IV

Filed under: Uncategorized — becca @ 5:49 am

(Part I, Part II, Part III)

So I had all these thoughts of making this entire post a big dialog. Then I wrote it. It was lame. And trust me, lame dialog is death. So I erased it.

You’re welcome.

Instead, we’ll skip all the cleverness (that wasn’t) and just talk about dialog. Whew.

Dialog is probably my favorite thing to write. I love conversations, and how they can either show a character hiding things, or sink you right down into his soul. In fact, in nearly all my books, dialog is where I begin (writing). I write a scene where my characters are exploring something exceedingly emotional. I also love to write in first person point of view, and so my written dialog is a little more telling than if we had to depend only on the words inside the quote marks. Because my narrator will tell us (readers) things she may not say out loud.

But in any case, I love to start (writing) a story somewhere in the middle, with people saying some things and hiding others. Maybe the things they don’t say are just as important to the conversation. Maybe I should remember that and apply it to my life. (I’m feeling all metaphysical right now. Must stop that.)

Here are some non-Rules to consider.

DIALOG DO:
Let your characters express their prejudices, their backgrounds, their desires through conversation.

DIALOG DON’T:
Don’t let them state their prejudices, their backgrounds, or their desires. Show me, don’t tell me. “I am a lapsed Jew.” vs “Do you thing Bubbie would be offended if I brought this ham to her Seder party?”

DIALOG DO:
Let their conversations make their connections. Let them discover things about others (and themselves) as they talk.

DIALOG DON’T:
Never let your characters dump lots of “backstory” information in a conversation. A little is fine (“Did you know he is my cousin?” ) but a lot is death. (“Many years ago, my mother’s twin sister, crazed from the ill-effects of lead poisoning from eating paint in their grandmother’s attic windowsills, had a tryst with the guy who aerated their lawn every summer. When she disappeared, no one imagined that she’d return in seven and a half months, slightly wider about the hips, and resume her life. But she never spoke again. Several years later, a family with a little boy moved in near her, and the small boy took an uncanny interest in his mute neighbor. He spent every day with my aunt, learning to peel apples in one long, curling strip. No one seemed to notice how much he actually looked like her…” See how that’s horrible? On so many levels?)

DIALOG DO:
Let your characters say things you would never say. I’m not talking about profanity, here. I am not a profanity kind of girl. But I’m also not a confrontation kind of girl, but I let my characters be offensive and confrontational now and then. I let them be unkind and disrespectful, which I rarely am (out loud).

DIALOG DON’T:
Just don’t let them say anything _____-ly. Only Ms. Rowling is allowed to do this. No one else. If you want me to know that Sam is speaking slyly, let her say a sly word or do a sly action or, better yet, cause me to EXPECT slyness from Sam. If Jerry speaks joyfully, for heaven’s sake, make his words joyful. His hands can fling about. But if you write the word “joyfully” in your manuscript, pray for a trusted friend to scratch it into oblivion. Also, on a related note, when Sam says something, just tell me she said it. No matter what your seventh grade English teacher told you, “said” four thousand times is much less distracting than “exclaimed” “uttered” “pronounced” “claimed” and “stated.” Because duh.

Good enough place to start? Excellent. Carry on writing, please.

June 14, 2010

Writing Business, Part III

Filed under: writing,writing process — becca @ 6:27 am

Part I, here, and Part II, here. Some of us have to read things in order. Some of us don’t care. But I am an equal-opportunity blogger, so I’ll give you the choice of just skipping right to the juicy part. Um, this is the juicy part. Right here.

CONFLICT.

Don’t we hate it? I do. Hate it. I’d love to have a life free of it. But what makes peaceful life makes Exceedingly Boring Literature. Would you like to disagree? You are free to do so. I’ll wait.

Are you done yet?

Now?

Now?

Okay. You’re welcome.

So anyway, now that she’s done, we can get into this. Conflict allows your character to make choices and face consequences of everyone else’s choices. It’s kind of the gear around which all the action in our story spins. Some conflict is easy to spot, and pretty simple to create. Character A has a goal. He wants something. Character B wants the same thing. Only one of them can have it, because it is a thing in extremely limited supply. (Gold medal, first chair violin, That One Boy, ring of power, the last bite of chocolate cake*.)

One of them will win, but the conflicting desires drive the choices each makes**, and the consequences must follow.

In opposition to that, we have Character A wanting something, and Character B wanting him not to have it, so standing in his way. Playing defense. Blocking out.

Other conflicts are more psychological. Like internal conflicts. “I want this. But it’s bad for me. But I want it. But it hurts me. But I want it.” You know this? That kind of conflict can happen on every page in some books, because a character battles himself over every choice. “This is happening to me, and I don’t want it to, and I feel powerless to stop it, but I have to try.” Or maybe, “If I get both these things that I want, bad things will happen, by some mystery of physics. These two good things have some bizarre magnetic polarity business that will bring down the wrath of nature. But I want both these things so much that I’m willing to risk it. Maybe.”

Other conflicts are natural. Like the sun extinguishing, earthquakes, tornados, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Oh, sorry. I got carried away.

But natural conflicts are a great place to start exploring the internal kinds. Anyone read Life as we Knew It? It makes me glad I have about a thousand pounds of wheat in my basement. And a great many chocolate chips. It has natural (or unnatural) conflict that leads to various internal and interpersonal conflicts. Because all manner of conflicts are needed to get and keep the story moving.

Think of a story you love. A conflict is probably at the heart of every choice. Even gentle stories, peaceful ones, have conflict that allows the characters to Do Stuff, make choices and fail and try again and fail some more and try again and fail and try again and fail for the last time, because there’s no way they can handle any more of this failure, and then suck it up and square the shoulders and try one last time and finally beat it. (Or not.)

Because here’s the thing. We create our characters. We love them, and fear them, and hope for them, and give them everything they need (except for the things we deprive them of) and when it comes right down to it, this writing business is a lot like parenting. Except less messy. A little. But with parenting, we shield the little humans from much of the difficult, unnecessary conflict that exists in the world. Because, you know what? Life is hard enough without that stuff. But when we write, we push them in. We even blindfold them sometimes, right before we push them, and we give them a little spin to throw them off. So maybe what I’m saying is that writing is a good way to burn off our psychotic desires.

Oh. Was that a little dramatic? Sorry.

But really? It’s necessary not to spare our character-children the friction that will polish them and make them shine.

In our next installment, we’re going to talk. You know, like as in Conversation. Stay tuned.

*Although, technically, there’s that Physics theory that says you can always cut the remaining distance (or piece of cake) in half, until immeasurably tiny halves remain and you go insane for want of cake. But we’re being reasonable, here. As we generally are on my blog.

**Yes. That is grammatically correct. It doesn’t happen all the time, but it is happening now.

June 11, 2010

Writing Business, Part II

Filed under: writing,writing process — becca @ 6:10 am

Writing Business, Part I is over here.

Good morning, class. Today we discuss Choices. And Consequences.

(*cricket chirps in the silence*)

Okay, but really? Stick with me here, because this is where the What comes in. We established in the last post that I think the most important part of a story is the Character. If you disagree, that’s fine. Go write your own blog post. But when the character is set free to Do something, that’s where the action comes in. And also the characterization. It’s all connected. (Here, you visualize me weaving my fingers together with a wise look on my face.)

The plot of a story comes in when someone chooses to do (or avoid) something. Like, we have Little Jimmy, who is a charming boy, sitting at the front of his story. Very soon, he’s going to have to do something. Because something/someone is chasing him, he’s going to have to either A) move, and cause a reaction or B) sit still and be eaten, thus effectively ending the story. So Little J moves. Because, duh. So he opens a door, slips inside, and shuts it behind him. *Click.* Oops. No going back. (There should be a place in every story where the door clicks locked, and there’s no going back. You know, metaphorically speaking.) So LJ now has to choose. Stand here, listening to the claws scratch on the locked door, or go down that hall? Um, it’s dark down there. But this door may not hold for long. Hall it is. Come on, LJ.

Next the hallway forks. Right or left? (Hello? Choose the right. Always.) Okay. Right. Run down the hall. Which seems to be tilting downward. LJ’s shoes are getting wet. Now his calves. Now his knees. What’s an LJ to do?

See how this works? Every choice leads to a consequence. Some consequences are obvious. Others are create-able.  But to say that an action has no consequence is LYING to your readers. Oh, let’s not. Lying is BAD. It’s different than fiction. Because fiction is True. More on this in another post. Characters CANNOT choose their actions’ consequences. You, the Almighty Author, can sometimes choose them. (Remember to make them difficult, too.) But sometimes, the consequences that follow choices are clear and obvious because They Just Are. If you punch a wall, your knuckles will hurt. Not to mention your mom will holler at you. If you shoot someone, at close range, in his heart, he will die. If you make cookies for that boy who can’t refuse chocolate chips, he will notice. At least, he will notice the cookies. If you lie about something, you will either have to continue to lie, and do it very convincingly, or you will be found out. If you overcome your fears, step bravely up to your Foe, and slay him, you win. Consequences follow.

Here’s another thing, Almighty Authors: Let your characters make bad, dangerous, stupid, unkind choices and let the consequences follow. Your character is not you. (But people will think he is. That is fine. People can be wrong, even unto stupidity. Which is their problem, not yours.) Let him go down that dark hallway. Let them play with that box with the AUCHTUNG sticker on it. Let her say those words she already regrets as they exit her mouth. And show the consequences, for good or bad, for growth or for pain.

Now, a word about coincidence: I can never, ever spell that correctly on the first try. I want that second i to be an e. But that wasn’t what I was going to tell you. It’s this: You, Almighty Author, have my permission to use Coincidence to get your characters into trouble. But you may NEVER use it to get them back out of it. Never. This is a Rule. If I catch you breaking this rule, I will shake my finger at you. Greek playwrights used convenient gods to swoop down and solve problems. You can’t. I’m telling you, you’re not a Greek playwright. If you want something fantastic to help your character, you have to give me a hint about it before it appears.

So, to Sum Up (does that always make you think of Princess Bride? “Let me explain. No. Is too much. Let me sum up.”) — Choices = good and necessary. Consequences = crucial.

Now let’s go write something.

(Part III, Conflict, coming up.)

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