Monday, December 31, 2012

Five Reasons to Love January

Happy New Year! I can't believe 2013 is here, and with it comes one of the most dreaded days of the year: January 2nd. The day millions of kids and adults return to school/work after a nice, long break. People HATE January. It's cold, long, not special, and we're all recovering from our holiday hangovers. I, however, LOVE this month. Yes, I'll miss the 4-month fall/holiday season with its foliage, pumpkin pie, turkey & stuffing, and cheesy Christmas songs. But there are reasons to love January, reasons why this month rocks!

#1 - You Will Never Be More Motivated
We're so excited to make New Years resolutions. This will be the year we finally put our lives together. After a monthlong holiday gorgefest, it's time to get back on track. It's a clean slate! By February, of course, most of these resolutions will be broken. But in January, you will never be more organized, more motivated, more determined to improve yourself. It's the time of year when we come up with clear, defined goals, when our dreams seem the most attainable. Harness that positive energy. Ride it as far as you can, before you sink back into your old habits. Even if it's temporary, cherish that brief time when you are the most perfect version of yourself. And if you're able to create a new habit, even better!  (resolution tip: think small, then gradually expand)

#2 - The Best Movies Are in Theaters
After a year of popcorn flicks, January is when theaters are packed with awards contenders, the supposed cream of the crop. At no time else will you see your local multiplex filled with so many intriguing, complex, acclaimed films -- and a near lack of franchises and superhero spandex. Smaller films expand to take advantage of awards buzz. You have time to catch up on the onslaught of films released over Christmas. This January, acclaimed, thoughtful films like Django Unchained, Zero Dark Thirty, The Sessions, Silver Linings Playbook, and The Impossible will be crowding your multiplex.

#3 - Awards Season!
January is the crux of awards season. In the past (pre-2003), you had the Golden Globes in January, but you had to wait for the real action in February and March. Now, awards season is on an accelerated schedule. So if you're a movie buff, you have DGA nominations on the 3rd, Oscar nominations and the Critics Choice Awards on January 10th, the Golden Globes on the 13th, then the SAG Awards on the 27th. For those of you who enjoy awards season for red carpet, you have multiple opportunities for dress critiquing, sharpening your live tweeting skills for the Oscars in February. (Disclosure: I'm hoping that Argo wins Best Picture)

#4 -  Exciting Sporting Events
There's more than movies going on in January. The NFC and AFC football championships air, which usually promise excitement and surprises (more than the Oscars, frankly). They determine who will be playing in the super bowl. The NBA is in full force. And...that's all I know about sports.

#5 - Anything Can Happen
A year ago today, who had heard of Gangham Style, fun., or Gotye? Who had read Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars? Who had expected Skyfall to be that good? Who had thought that Tom and Katie would split up and that Kim Kardashian would be pregnant with Kanye West's baby? This time next year, we could be discussing a movie/song/book that we can't even conceive of. There's an excitement in discovering something new and fresh, in those surprises that we never saw coming. As much as we try, we don't know what 2013 will bring.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Drafting: A Numbers Game

After reading Leign Ann Kopans's blog about Fast Drafting over at argyle central YA Misfits, I wanted to share my crazy strange method for writing first drafts. For me, it's all about the numbers. When I think about writing a book, I'm overwhelmed by the sheer size. Hundreds of pages! Thousands of words! All coming from me? I prefer to break one big book into lots of little sections.

[WARNING: I'm a bigtime plotter, so I don't think this method will apply to pantsers.]

For those fantasy and sci-fi writers who can churn out 100,000 words -- even writers who can reach 70,000 words -- I am in awe of you. I just can't write that much. I aim for my book to be 60,000 words. That's a solid length for contemporary YA.

1 book = 60,000 words

First, I create a chapter outline, breaking my story into chapters. I make myself create a minimum of 30 chapters. If the story needs more, fantastic! But 30 is an acceptable amount that falls within genre standards. So for my 60,000 book, each chapter will have to hit 2,000 words.

1 chapter = 2,000 words
I think I can do 2,000 words, but it still seems like a lot. So I break it down even further.

I create scenes within my chapters. Instead of each chapter consisting of 1 scene, I include multiple little scenes. The scenes don't have to be interconnected, but the final scene of a chapter should propel the story and make the reader want to keep reading. I aim to have 4 scenes within each chapter. I'll split big scenes in my head even if it's written as 1 scene in the book. For instance, if there's a big "party" scene where the MC talks with some friends then gets in a fight with her boyfriend, that may all happen in one scene, no break. But mentally, I'll count the friends part as 1 scene, and the boyfriend argument as another scene. So in a 2,000 word chapter, each scene needs to be 500 words.

1 scene = 500 words
I can do 500 words. That's manageable. That should take under an hour to write. But sometimes, 500 words can seem like a lot. There may not be enough going on to justify 500 words.

So I look at sentences. On average (based on my unofficial research), 5 sentences equals 100 words. And since it's a first draft, I allow myself to write longer, rambling sentences and break apart my contractions. One extra rambling sentence can net you 30 words. And if you're at 19,940 words, those 30 words can give you the motivation to get you to 20,000.

5 sentences = 100 words
We can all write 100 words. Scribble it on a notepad during a boring meeting, or on a short bus ride. Every little bit helps. I will finish this book 100 words at a time. Each 100 words gets me closer to that 500 word scene, which gets me closer to finishing that 2,000 word chapter.

Will writing this way produce beautifully crafted prose?

It's a first draft. My main goal is to get the words on the page, to get the story from beginning to end. Nobody said it had to be good. Thanks to overstuffing and stretching out the first few chapters, I usually manage to break 60,000 words, but barely. The words hardly come easily to me. In revisions, I cut the fat. It's better to have fat to work with than to try and create it.

Microsoft Word has the word count ticker at the bottom of the page, so I am forced to look at it. I can't not look at it. And for me, this works. It's a way to feed the analytical part of my brain while I'm being creative. I like to have something to obsess over accountability. This method may not work for you, and that's fine. But if you're a numbers person like myself, feel free to give it a shot!

Monday, December 17, 2012

My Favorite Non-Holiday Holiday Movies

I can't believe Christmas is only 1 week away. One of my favorite unofficial traditions of the holiday season is watching lots of movies on my couch, huddled under blankets while it snows outside. Well, it's supposed to snow, but apparently global warming has come early and Chicago will probably never see snow in December again :(

I love watching crappy Christmas movies and decent Christmas movies and animated specials, even the creepy stop-motion ones. But there are a few movies that I have to watch around this time, even though they have nothing to do with the holidays. Does that happen with you? Are these some movies that you can only watch a certain time of year? Some are obvious, like watching Independence Day around July 4th. But there are others that aren't so obvious. For me, this usually corresponds to when they were first released. I can only watch American Beauty in the fall, preferably September. I prefer watching Can't Hardly Wait and My Best Friend's Wedding in June. These aren't ironclad rules, just weird preferences.

So as the holidays wind down, allow me to share some of my favorite non-holiday movies to watch. (Note: When compiling this list, I realized that all of these movies were released in December. But still, they're perfect ones to watch on a gloomy Sunday afternoon on TBS whilst vegging on your couch.)

As Good As It Gets
(But skip everything James L Brooks made after that -- Spanglish and How Do You Know. And ignore the creepy age difference between Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt.)

Jerry Maguire
(Tom Cruise has never been better, and Cameron Crowe is such a great writer. The dialogue is just beautiful in this film. I'm so happy he won an Oscar, albeit 4 years later)

The Royal Tenenbaums
(I love the look of this movie - so warm and fuzzy. There's so much detail. It's like a moving painting. But I'll admit this film isn't for everyone. Either you love it or hate it.)

Something's Gotta Give
(Every Nancy Meyers film is a non-holiday holiday movie: What Women Want, The Holiday, It's Complicated. And her films are total interior design porn. Just try and NOT salivate over Diane Keaton's beach house. Go on...I'm waiting...)

You've Got Mail
(How is this not a holiday movie? It just FEELS like one. Who wouldn't want to frolic in the Upper West Side? And sadly, Fox Books would probably be out of business today. F-O-X)

Ok, your turn. What are some of your favorite non-holiday films you love watching around this time?