Sunday, September 28, 2014

Villain of the Month: (Seeming) Perfection

In working through revisions on a piece with a seemingly (from the outside) "perfect" (aka unlikable) character, I've spent a great deal of time considering how beautiful and necessary imperfections are. It's a funny thing, too, since I teach at a high school where so many of my students are desperate to be perfect. I've spent the past decade watching them starve themselves to the point of near-organ failure, go long stretches without sleeping more than five hours a night, wake up at three in the morning to train for sports, do extra-credit even with an A+ in my class, beg for plastic surgery for Christmas, and so on and so forth. If they were killing themselves because they really wanted to achieve a goal, I'd smile, but most of the time it isn't for that. When asked, they often respond that anything that isn't perfect is failure, and it breaks my heart.

When at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this summer, I spent a long time admiring the impressionists for the beauty of their messy brushstrokes, and I wanted to put together a short list of "messy brushstrokes"(imperfections) of some of my favorite characters in literature (and life) that led to strikingly beautiful characters. I'm also hoping some of you will add others.

* Augustus's mom in TFIOS with her love of pillows with "encouragements"
* Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird's unconventional-at-the-time tomboyishness
* Gatsby's desperation to re-create a moment from his past that may never have been much of a moment at all
* Barbara Streisand's trademark beautiful nose
* Barbara Walters's lisp
* Forrest Gump's slower approach to life
* Bill Gates's nerdiness
* Katniss Everdeen's cool demeanor
* Harry Potter's scar
* My mom's tendency to pay for food at drive-thrus and then drive off without said food

What are you favorites?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Writer's Resource: Advanced Character Name Tools

As a follow-up to Stacy's post about choosing character names by popularity, I wanted to share one of my favorite new tools. I've posted about the Baby Name Wizard website before, but they recently made their advanced name finder tools free (you just have to register).

My favorite is the Expert Name Finder. It lets you select a whole bunch of different parameters to narrow down your name choices.

Here's an example using my current work-in-progress. For the main character, I wanted a boy's name that was fairly common in the US, and one that suggested intelligence and youth. I also didn't want it to start with the letters S, H, or L, since I have character names starting with each of those letters already.

Here's what my search looked like:

Baby Name Wizard search
And here are my results:
This gives me lots of names to choose from. I especially like Aaron, Quinn, and Terrence for this character.

The advanced features also include a name matchmaker, where you can enter in a name you like and it will give you similar suggestions, and a neat tool called NameVoyager that gives popularity graphs, similar to the ones Stacy mentioned in her post.

With these tools, naming characters is a snap!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Choosing Character Names -- A Nerdy Tool To Help Predict Name Popularity

Choosing character names is tricky business.  You want them to be unique, but not so unique that they sound cheesy or dump you into epic fantasy territory (unless, of course, you're writing an epic fantasy.)  You want them to feel current, but not so current that the same name pops up in fifteen other novels at the same time.

So how can you make sure that you're not writing a book with a main character named Bella the same year Twilight launches? Unfortunately, there's no full proof answer, but there is a handy tool to help.

First, you should check out Triona's handy post on baby names.  There lot's of good info there to help narrow down your options.

Once you have your options selected, check out this baby name predictor tool which uses statistics to estimate how popular your name will be across the next 25 years.

For fun, I plotted me and my fellow blogmates to see what it had to say about us.

Sample of Baby Name Predictor results for Stacy Jennifer and Lauren

It looks like Stacy, Jennifer and Lauren have all peaked and are on the popularity decline. So if you write YA and want a name that is common among the peer set you're writing for, all three names should be avoided since it's less and less likely they will appear in pop culture.  (Hint: look for a spike around the time your target audience would have been born.)

If you want an uncommon name, consider Stacy. Based on the chart, people born around 2000 are unlikely to have that name (which is a shame, cause it's awesome. :-P)  And if you want something really unique, give Triona a try.  In addition to being lovely, it didn't register as a name with any popularity spikes, meaning it's quite rare.

If you want even more nerdy name tools, here's a great article discussing how names can be used to predict someone's age (with the help of statistics, of course.)

Happy writing!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Industry Review: Toronto International Film Festival - Page to Screen

Another year and another end to a successful Toronto International Film Festival which saw the likes of Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston and Julienne Moore to name but a few.  

Regrettably, I wasn't able to make it this year but I salute many of my friends whose films debuted during the Festival including Producer Lauren Grant's Wet Bum and Producer Thomas Michael's Backcountry.

TIFF has always been known as a festival of the people and many audience favourites go on to win the year's top prizes, including the Oscars.
Reese Witherspoon playing Cheryl Strayed in WILD

So it seemed fitting that I highlight some of the festival's best page to screen films here. 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Based on Cheryl Strayed's best-selling memoir, the film stars Reese Witherspoon and details Strayed's 1,100 mile 94-day hike along the Pacific Coast Trail. 

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner 

James Franco along with novel title
In this second adaptation of the novel, the film stars Tim Blake Nelson and is directed by James Franco.  Set in Jefferson. Mississippi, the story follows the Compson family over a period of thirty years. 

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa GenovaA star studded cast including Julienne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth, Still Alice follows Moore as a cognitive psychologist suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. 

But lets not forget, this is a YA blog, so besides these titillating titles, there are two major YA projects hitting the big screen this Fall that you don't want to miss.

The Maze Runner film posterNow I know those aren't movies based on YA books, so here are two coming to us in the FALL that are definitely not to be missed.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Jennifer Lawrence in Suzanne Collin's MockingjayBased on the 2007 novel, the film stars Dylan O'Brien as Thomas who, without any memory of his past, must work alongside a group of boys to escape a great maze that surrounds their community known as the Glade.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Does this even need a description?  Jennifer Lawrence is back as Katniss Evergreen in the third and final instalment of the Hunger Game series.

I'm also excited to announce that the feature I co-produced entitled Fall will make its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival in early October. You can check out the info here.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Are You Over-Revising?

As I wade through the murky revision waters on my WIP, I've mostly been focused on whether I'm revising enough. Am I cutting all the unnecessary words and scenes? Have I added enough detail to flesh out the characters so they have more than one dimension? Do I have the right balance of external action and interiorization?

I'm still on my second draft, so there's not much danger of over-revising yet. But I know from experience that it's easy to fall into that trap. Out of a desire to make their manuscripts perfect, writers (who, let's face it, can be a pretty obsessive bunch) sometimes aren't able to ever call them done.

Writer working

Wondering if you might be over-revising? This post over at Adventures in Agentland (the blog of literary agent Natalie Lakosil) has a list of red flags, like sending a manuscript to friends and critique partners over and over again and always having a new list of things to fix.

Whether you plan to submit your manuscript to agents, plan to self-publish, or already have a book contract, it's important to keep the end goal in mind. Getting too hung up on revisions might mean you miss opportunities--and it's a good way to drive yourself crazy in the bargain.