Lisa Coffee

Alternative POV and Romantic Tension

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 9.08.13 PM
I've read a number of romance novels lately that used alternating point of view.  Chapters switch between the female love interest and the male love interest.  On one hand, the reader knows from the beginning that these two people will eventually end up together.  Otherwise, why bother telling us about both of them?

On the other hand, if done right, the alternating chapters allow us to see many near misses and misinterpretations.  She thinks she's embarrassed herself beyond redemption by flipping over a juniper in his front yard; he thinks she's adorable with needles and berries in her hair but despairs when she runs away.

We, the readers, get to see all the internal conflict.  We realize that if they knew each others' true feelings, it would all be peachy.

I'm currently writing a single POV novel, and I sometimes wish the reader really knew what the guy was thinking.

What do you think?  Do alternating POV novels help you feel better connected to the characters?  Do you care more about when and how they will get together?
Lisa Coffee

Writing on the Go: smart phone as virtual napkin

Notes on a napkin
I've long heard legends of authors having "aha!" moments with access to nothing but a cocktail napkin.  They furiously scribbled on the thin surfaces so they could hang on to bursts of words until they returned to their typewriters.

In today's modern world, though, I'm more likely to have my smartphone with me than a pen.  Thankfully, there's an app for that.  You can turn your phone into a virtual napkin.  

I personally have a google document set up to be my virtual notepad via a Google Drive app.  This method allows me to draft while lying in bed unable to sleep, walking around my campus, waiting at my son's baseball practice, or sitting in a boring meeting.  Lately, I've been able to put several thousand first-draft words on my phone at a time.  I later transfer them to my laptop.  This method works well for crafting new material.  It's not going to help when I'm in editing mode, though, as a whole manuscript would be unwieldy on the phone.

I also have a google document called Story Ideas.  It started out as a text file on my phone, but I uploaded it to Google Drive so I could access it from any computer.  I use this document to store my shiny new ideas, sorted by date.  I have dreams of sitting down with an agent someday and combing through the list for the best one to use in my next project.

Anyway, what do you use to take notes on the go?  Pen and paper?  The back of your hand?  Or have you found a tech-savvy solution?
Lisa Coffee

Masterclass Monday: narrators, suspense, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I'm reading Stephen Chbosky's The Perks of Being a Wallflower, right now, and it's got me thinking about creative ways to narrate a novel.  This book is structured as a series of letters to "Dear friend" from freshman Charlie.  Charlie writes the letters anonymously, changing the names of people, because he doesn't want "friend" to know who he is.

From the beginning, then, I wondered whether Charlie could be trusted as a narrator.  What details were true, and what did he change to maintain his secret identity?  I also kept trying to figure out who he chose to receive the letters, as this person's identity will reveal something about Charlie.

Anyway, I'm not done with the book yet, so I'll let you know if I like how it all turns out!  I'm definitely intrigued, though.

This letter structure, though, reminded me of other books with narration devices that create suspense.  Of course, Marcus Zusak, author of The Book Thief and I Am the Messenger, is masterful at shaking up POV.  *SPOILERS*  Death is the narrator of The Book Thief, which we don't really figure out until the end of the book.  And I Am the Messenger has an interesting twist where the first-person narrator learns who is really sending him messages that are shaping the course of his life.

Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me is written in first and second person ("I check the box under my bed, which is where I've kept your notes . . .").  Again, the "you" isn't revealed until the end, which ups the mystery throughout the book.

Have you seen any other interesting narration or point of view devices?
Lisa Coffee

Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writing

So while I was supposed to be working the other night, I instead found this book on procrastination (an older edition, however) at the library.  Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen describe the types of procrastinators, the causes of procrastination, and some tactics for overcoming the problem.

I almost felt like the authors had written the book for me when I read this paragraph on page 23 of the first edition:  "the perfectionist procrastinator usually expects more of him- or herself than is realistic. . . .  The first-time novelist wants the first draft of his writing to be of publishable quality. . . . As a result, the high standards that are intended to motivate these people toward accomplishment often become impossible standards which hinder their efforts."


That's me.  I know I could spend more time writing than I do, but I'm often scared of my novel.  I'm afraid of the big, bad, horrible words that might come out when I sit down to write.  What if my chapter never is right?  Or if nobody ever connects with my character?  What if I do send out that novel I've worked on for five years and don't even get a "good" rejection?

Procrastination allows perfectionists like me to live in the blissful world of thinking we might be awesome writers.  Putting our butts in the chair and actually writing might prove we're not.  So we avoid the chair.

I suppose the antidote is to give ourselves permission to write "shitty first drafts" like Anne Lamott suggests.   But that's harder said than done some days.
Lisa Coffee

A Trip Down Memory Lane

So, I have a high school reunion this summer.  I won't divulge the number, but it's a pretty serious one.  As our senior class president, I'm forever saddled tasked with the thankless work fun of organizing the big event.

I've recently had to spend a huge amount of time scouring Facebook to find classmates.  With a class of over 300, I've got a sizable list of people to work with. The names of people I haven't seen in years are making memories flood back.

I remember walking home in several feet of snow wearing flats and nylons after an unexpected storm dropped several inches.  I was with a guy who ordinarily wouldn't go my route but did that day for some reason.  We goofed around, slipping and sliding until I couldn't feel my feet.  I wondered how long it took for frostbite to kick in.  It was one of those days where you burst through your side door with red cheeks and make puddles in the foyer.

This little incident gave me a story idea, and I've already regained several other lost memories by reading other long-forgotten names.

This made me realize that a senior yearbook can be a valuable tool for any YA writer.  If you find yourself stuck, start browsing through those lovely posed and retouched portraits!
A Cup

Know Yourself, Forgive Yourself, Then Save Yourself!

I spent this weekend at an awesome retreat. A large section of time dealt with our personalities and strengths. We took the Meyers-Briggs as well as StrengthsFinder, through Gallup. It shocked no one that I showed up with a personality and strengths that like people, information, and communication but not so much the “getting things done” aspects of life.*

The point of gathering this information at the conference was to see ourselves exactly how we are and value that. Also, to see others’ personalities as different but not particularly better or worse than our own.

So, what does this have to do with words on paper?

It amuses me that my strengths in life mirror my strengths on the page. And what does not come naturally in life, does not come naturally on the page. I like to joke with Nikki and Lisa that I’m taking my characters to the grocery store again. These people in my head come full of information and voice and personality. They can talk to people and have different taste in music, different opinions on politics, different approaches to change. They hang out all the time.

Oddly enough, those same characters frequently forget to DO anything! I have to spend a lot of energy to get an actual plot. Just like I have to spend a lot of energy to get an actual schedule in my real life. But, as I learned this weekend, that’s okay, because we all are good at some things and weak in others.

What I’m telling you is that we all have to forgive ourselves for not being perfect. And if you’re one of those lucky few that happen to be good at both, it’s probably safest if you keep it to yourself!

After you forgive yourself, save yourself! Go find partners that are not the same as you. The benefit of knowing your strengths is that you can find someone (or someones) that compliment them! You won’t be surprised to read that Nikki and Lisa both have very different personalities than mine. Thank God! I need them! And, hopefully, they need me.

*The graphic shows my MBTI personality. If you know yours, you can get a cool graphic, too. Just click here.

A Cup

Can You Hear Me Shouting From the Rooftops?

I’ve said it before. I’m sure I’ll say it again. writer's block

Shitty First Drafts, People. Anne Lamont’s shining advice to writers in her book, BIRD BY BIRD, is to allow yourself to write a shitty first draft.

I told you about the new WIP. I told you it flies as I write. (Last week, I wrote as much as I did in the previous month!)

I guarantee it’s terrible. But it’s funny, too. (For real. Lisa laughed out loud when she read it!)

My new method looks something like dinner with a toddler, throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. Every ludicrous thought, ridiculous comment, or hysterical character that crosses my mind will show up somewhere in those thousands of words. At times when things just need to happen and funny gets lost- no problem, a joke will come to me later.

There’s something about writing intentionally funny material that has freed my mind from the fear of failure. It’s a beautiful place, my friends!

A Cup

Finding Mojo

Today I experienced TRUE MOJO! It exists. Really, it does.

I’ve spent over a year pounding away at a serious manuscript that I enjoyed but felt WAY too much pressure to get right. Seriously, A YEAR. And I’m nowhere close to done.

Many factors play into the molasses of my WIP. Largely, my real life interfered on my time and on my mental abilities. Writing a story that requires more intricate language and a series of connecting points, not mention dealing with prejudice, death, and cultural differences, just wasn’t going to happen in two three-hour sessions of half-functioning brain a week. Not to mention the school-less summer hours with both kids at home in my near future.

What changed that brought me so much MOJO? Not my time. Not my life.

My story.

When I was finally honest with myself about my situation right now, I could get smart about how to use what I have available.

I love the complicated WIP, I really do, but I can’t give it what it needs right now.

There’s another story that’s been floating around my mind that’s light, fun, and easily told. The characters speak to me again and I spend free time dreaming up ludicrous situations for it. This is the story I should be telling at this point in my life.

Finally starting today, I found the joy I'd forgotten in writing. In essence, I found my MOJO!

Is your Real Life messing with you Writing Life? Are you in denial? What can you do to make it work?

Lisa Coffee

Keeping Perspective

Boston as seen from the 26th floor of Student Village II at Boston University by Henry Wan

Today was a sad day in Boston.  Like me, I'm sure you spent a good part of the day watching the tragic events unfold at the marathon finish.  Days like this put things in perspective for me.  They  make me think in cliches:

  • Life is short;

  • Live each moment like its your last;

  • Every day is a precious gift--live it to the fullest;

The things I've spent time worrying about ("Will I ever finish this draft?" "Is anyone ever going to publish my work?") seem silly in comparison to the real hurt and fear people faced today.

Instead, I'm glad to be alive and with the ones I love.  I hope, dear friends, that you've also gotten some perspective.

And for those touched by tragedy, my thoughts are with you.
Lisa Coffee

Writing Novels: Keep it Simple

Albert Einstein said the following:

"If you can't explain something simply,
you don't understand it well."

He was talking about scientific principles, but this advice translates well to novels.  A story with a singular theme or purpose is sometimes all you need.  If books include too many characters or side plots or detours, the story's power gets diluted.

I've got a huge file of potential story ideas just waiting for me to write them.  Some ideas are just a fragment--a character or a situation that seems interesting.  Others come to me with ready-written log lines like (if I was Stephanie Meyer): "New girl falls hopelessly in love with beautiful boy who is really a vampire."

I have to believe that the fully-formed log lines would probably be easiest to write.  They have a plot built in to them.  Certainly you could pitch such a story to an agent/editor with ease.

I get most frustrated with my writing when I've lost direction.  I'm not sure what emotion a character should be feeling or how a scene should unfold.  During those times, I don't think I can explain simply what my story is all about.

That's when it would help to have that log-line to keep me on track.  Stay focused.

Happy writing, all.