May 16, 2011

On Cultural Sensitivity

How important is it to be culturally sensitive, specifically when writing about diverse characters filtered through an MC? I would honestly like to know what your thoughts are on this.

Let's say character A, your MC, comes from a family that raises horses. She's a big horse lover and has always had them as pets. Then A meets an Italian character B, who may or may not have consumed horse meat back in (certain regions of) Italy (not picking on Italians, just randomly picked one country out of many that consume horse meat). This might seem repugnant to some, but that's because most of us were raised in a society that sees horses as companions and work animals. Lots of people eat cows, which are sacred in India. How do you think they view farms that raise cows for the sole purpose of being slaughtered?

So what do you do?

That was an extreme example, and I doubt anyone would write about horse meat, but you get the point.

How important is it to not condemn OR condone certain cultural behaviors/beliefs despite how you, personally, feel about it?

In my opinion, the answer is that the narrative should reflect the CHARACTER, and not you as the author.

Filter opinions and views through that character, good or bad, right or wrong, and the reader will decide whether or not they agree or disagree (strongly or otherwise).

But then, while A might have strong and unwavering beliefs on any given issue, as the author, is it our responsibility to at least give the other side due time and understanding in order to not alienate parts of our audience?

My answer is yes. But how do you guys feel about it?

eta: Mooderino made some great points in the comments - it should also reflect the story. While my answer is still yes, I mean it in a way that does NOT come off as trying to make a "point" or trying to "educate." I simply mean it in context with telling your story.

*Please note that cultural sensitivity is not the same as being culturally accurate. Make sure that if you do something like this, you present it accurately. Always do your research!
P.S. Followers contest is still open! :)

May 9, 2011

On Etiquette and Honesty

On Agent Interaction

The internet opens up this amazing space to interact with industry professionals that older generations didn't get. With blogs, twitter, facebook, tumblr, etc, writers have the ability to reach out and actually talk to the people capable of making their careers--or, at least, opening the door to them.

Don't abuse this. Don't get me wrong, I totally support doing your research, finding all interviews by that agent, stalking their blog/twitter/tumblr and their clients' blogs/twitters/tubmlrs. The more you know, and all that.

But don't be a nuisance. Don't pitch to them via twitter when they're just trying to have a helpful #askagent chat. Don't message them on Facebook asking them to look at your manuscript. Don't schmooze with an agent with the intention of sneaking your query to the top of the slushpile.

Agents will remember your name if your comments are thoughtful and engaging and honest. They will also remember your name for less favorable reasons, and b/c they won't want to work with someone they know is either difficult or a brown-noser, they won't even bother reading your query.

Agents can be intimidating, but they are only people (people with magical door-opening abilities, possibly like Door from Neverwhere), but still just people looking for genuine human interaction. If you make an honest mistake, they'll forgive you. But don't shoot yourself in the foot by committing those mistakes again and again.

The worst advice I've ever gotten was to lie to an agent. And it was from a published author. Having had previous email exchanges with this author, I went to her for advice on how to resubmit a newer version of a manuscript to an agent in possession of a full. Her advice was to shoot an email to the agent under the guise of checking in to see if she'd read my full yet and if not, hey, attach the newer version of the manuscript so the agent wouldn't have to go back and dig through emails and would think I was being considerate.

Ummm. Okay, while it isn't ill-intentioned, it is deceptive, and that didn't sit well with me. So I ignored her advice and just asked the agent if I could submit a newer version, to which the agent graciously accepted.

Do not lie to an agent EVER.

(BTW, said agent later sent me the nicest rejection I have ever received lol. And also welcomed me to send her the manuscript again after I finished editing. That's another thing you shouldn't do--send continually newer versions. Fortunately, like I said above, agents are human and will forgive your mistakes as long as they don't keep happening.)

On Feedback to Other Writers

Whether you're a beta reader or a critique partner, always be honest in your feedback and your reactions. If there was a sentence that made you pause and go 'wow,' let the writer know. If there was a passage that made you pause and go 'wth?' let the writer know.

You aren't responsible for quality control, but--if you're a beta reader/CP--you're someone the writer allowed to read their work for the purpose of giving them a truthful and thoughtful reaction. Don't tell her the book is awesome if it isn't. That writer might end up shopping a book that isn't ready, and potentially ruin her chances with agents she shouldn't yet be querying.

But also be balanced. If you loved the book, say so, but try to pinpoint a few areas the writer might be able to improve. Likewise, if you hated the book, then you should also say so. But explain why, and try to do it in a way that isn't insulting or inflammatory. Honesty is important, but so is common decency.

On Social Media

Blogging is awesome. It connects you with other bloggers and aspiring writers who share mutual interests and passions. But, as with everything else, you should be honest in who you present to your readers. Who you are on your blog/twitter/etc won't reflect who you are completely, but it should be a facet of you, and not just a guise.

So, be honest about who you are, but also keep etiquette in mind. Don't turn your blog into a personal diary in which you publicly complain about the publishing industry and/or lambast agents who have rejected you.
In almost any situation, when in doubt, choose honesty and tact.

Keep an eye out Wednesday for my Followers Contest post! :D

Happy Monday, everyone! ♥

May 2, 2011

On Description and Senses and Distancing Point of View

I love writing that evokes all five senses. But one of two things usually happen in rough drafts:

1. Writing feels too heavy--too many descriptions and observations slow down the pace.
2. Writing uses language that distances the reader and results in the opposite desired effect.

I am particularly guilty of the first one. Fortunately, fixing it is easy.

Just cut words. Sentences. Entire paragraphs if you must. It's great when a characters sees and hears and smells new surroundings, but these details must hit hard and fast, and then retreat to let the action continue. If the description is either too long or only there to look pretty, delete it. It must serve a purpose.

My first few drafts of Soul had paragraphs of setting description because it was new to London, my MC. Several awesome critiques later, 90% of those descriptions were axed because they were only, I sheepishly admit, indulgent writing.

Fixing the second issue is also easy, although it requires a little bit of tweaking as well.

Distanced point of view happens any time you approach a description as sensed through the character: I saw, I heard, I smelled, I felt.

Remove and reword to make the reader feel more present:

I saw a temple at the top of the hill.
A temple sat on top of the hill.

I heard the church bells toll the hour.
The church bells tolled the hour.

I could smell the smoke.
Smoke burned my nostrils.

I felt the rough bark against my fingertips.
The rough bark scraped my fingertips.

You can see that, while the first sentence uses the 'sense' word (saw, heard, smell), the second feels more sensory.

Another way you distance your reader is when you include unnecessary thought tags.

Thought tags that distance point of view: wondered, thought, mused, realized, etc...

Dad probably wasn't home yet, I thought.
Mom must have left the car in the garage, she mused.
The cows were aliens, I realized.

Sometimes those phrases are necessary to understand what you want to get across so don't eliminate them all--just the ones you can reword to strengthen the manuscript. There is no right or wrong, really. When in doubt, use your best judgment!

Happy editing ♥

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