Happy Holidays!

| Friday, December 24, 2010
Happy Holidays, my loves! May all the joys in all the worlds be all yours. I hope you're all gifted with motivation and inspiration and cramp-less hands and endless vocabularies to draw upon. Have a joyous, amazing, beautiful holiday!

the joy of giving + heifer international.

| Wednesday, December 22, 2010
EDIT: What the heck. I had already planned a charity post for today (just that time of year, I guess!), but I'm going to turn it into a comment pledge entry a la Nathan Bransford's post. Please visit his blog entry, comment there, and comment on the other entries from people who have pledged to do similar posts!

I will donate $1 from every comment on this entry to Heifer International, up to $50. All you have to do is comment, and a charity will get some funding! Can't argue with that!

I want to talk about something sort of serious today. But not too serious, don't go away!!!! Woo, rhymes. Anyway, this post is not about writing or books or being author-ly or anything like that.

This is a post about charity.

Seriously, don't go away or I will be VERY PUT OUT.

Charity, philanthropy, giving, donation... these are all words that people have weird reactions to. Some jump on them, some balk from them. All sorts of images pop into our minds. Images of orphans, shelter animals, empty promises, throwing money away, tax deductions, postulating celebrities we suspect are really full of Le Crap. A lot of people get some sort of Good Intention Bug in their head, where they think, "Oh, that sounds like a very nice cause. How nice that someone cares about AIDS/world hunger/water for African kids/protecting the penguins/education for impoverished disaster orphans/whatever. I wish I could do something like that for something I care about. Maybe I'll throw them a bone. We'll see."

And I'm not trying to be a jerk and act like people don't care about things that matter. There's more to it than that. We're in a rough economic time, we have to worry about our own well-being, we can't possibly care about everything that needs to be cared about. Many people have their hearts and intentions in the right place. We just sometimes have trouble taking that last little step into actually doing something.

It doesn't have to be money. Sometimes we're uncomfortable giving money, and that's okay. But we CAN and SHOULD *do* something. We are people of privilege, and we inherently have power. There's no reason why we can't use that power for good. Money, time, clothing, food, love... these are all things we can give. Good intentions are all well and... good... but they don't *do* anything. Sometimes the excuses get stale. It's hard not to be selfish. It's hard to let go of our wants and time and emotional investment. But it's necessary. The human condition demands it of us.

There must be something you're passionate about. A person. A cause. An organization. How can you support it with your time, money, or other input? Do it. This year, do it. Don't put it off anymore. Find a way.

We get so insular. It's only natural. You're not a bad person for worrying about yourself and your loved ones first; none of us are. Even so, we can try to make a conscious effort to branch out. Something as small as being kind to the homeless person who asks you for change is a start. Following people who do good works and supporting them is another start.

Try kindness. Try joy. Try love. Try giving.

What are you passionate about? How can we help?

on the value of humor in fiction.

| Monday, December 20, 2010
Today's Tune: Dog Days Are Over

As many of you know, over the summer I attended the huge and wonderful SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles. There were many incredible speakers, and I took many, many, many notes. A few key points from that conference have stuck with me throughout the months that followed.

One such point came from a talk by Gordon Korman. During that talk, he touched on the point that humor is greatly underrated when we consider the validity of a work of fiction.

This point has stuck with me. I can't shake it. As anyone who has ever written a comedic scene or bit (television/film, fiction, stand up) can tell you, that crap ain't easy. Fiction alone is incredibly subjective, but when you add in humor, the subjectivity of a work skyrockets. Making people laugh is something you can't predict. Some are amused by toilet humor, others only relate to dry wit or having their intellect stimulated. Even then, there's no guarantee they'll relate to your brand of humor. There's little worse than having a joke fall completely flat.

So many elements support great humor, especially in literature. Timing, phrasing, word placement and choice, visual (or written) cues, dialogue, action... there are a lot of pieces to this puzzle. Humor is universal, but unbelievably difficult (if not impossible) to explain. Imagine explaining a regional joke to someone without the background. Or explaining to an alien without a concept of humor why something is funny. Where do you even start?

Drama and tragedy are often lauded as the pinnacle of literary artistry. If you can skillfully write a story that causes people to feel something deep in their bones, you're golden. Drama is by no means easy to write, but there are certain themes common to the human condition that we can draw upon to write it -- death, sickness, sorrow, loss, war, love, family, birth, journeys. We all know how to find the stories inside ourselves that make us feel unadulterated joy, pain or sadness.

But do we know how to make people laugh? To add levity to a serious situation without seeming cheap? To write a beloved story for the ages that not only causes people sides to split, but stays with them because it was also moving and poignant? Can humor be taught, or is it something innate within us?

We undervalue humor. It always has a place, but so many of us avoid it because we don't think we're funny enough. It might limit our audience. It might fall flat. It might be inappropriate.

I think it's time to reexamine humor. It's time to view it as something more than a vehicle for relieving tension in a tense situation, or something to spice up dialogue. Humor is its own entity; something to be treated with the reverence and respect it deserves. Laughter is so closely tied to our own humanity.

Let's stop thinking of comedy as the lesser sibling of drama and tragedy. Let's stop being afraid to use it to tell a better story. Fiction does not have to be serious in order to be taken seriously.

Project For Awesome & Erin

| Friday, December 17, 2010
It's been another busy week in the life of Maybe Genius. ACK.

BUT. Today is Project For Awesome day, so all is well. The idea behind P4A is that for one day, YouTube won't be about boobs and cats and laughing babies. It will be about charity. Hundreds (maybe thousands!) of people are posting amazing, brilliantly done videos about a charity they support. The plan is to "fool" YouTube algorithms by liking, favoriting, commenting on and rating those videos. That way, all the most-viewed videos of the day are for great causes!

ALSO ALSO: you can watch all the P4A antics on Twitter by checking the hashtag #p4a. It's currently the TOP TRENDING TOPIC on Twitter, WHICH IS AMAZING.

Now, I'd like to introduce you to my friend Erin. She's an amazing woman who's essentially dropping everything to go on the road and travel for two years. She's visiting over 70 countries, having adventures, doing extreme sports, and most importantly giving back to the communities she visits. For P4A, she's supporting Drop In The Bucket, which is another incredible organization building wells in Africa for those who don't have access to clean drinking water.

So, I would love it if you would please GO HERE and check out her video. If you can, like, comment, rate and favorite it as well. Then do the same for other P4A videos! Share your favorites! Spread the word!

And DFTBA, guys :)

Present Tense vs. Past Tense

| Monday, December 13, 2010
Today's Tune: White Wine in the Sun

This topic really has more to do with how I write short works vs. longer works, but it's still relevant to tense.

So, obviously, past tense is written as though recalling an incident from the past. "Jamie Jones stumbled through the door, hair askew. She collapsed into a chair and began to laugh."

Present tense is written as though events are unfolding in real time. "Jamie Jones stumbles through the door, hair askew. She collapses into a chair and begins to laugh."

There are many reasons for deciding to use one tense over the other. Past tense feels a little more "story-like," as though one is recounting a tale around a campfire. Present tense is more immediate and, when used well, can be great for creating tension.

Personally, I often use first-person present in my short works and either first or third-person past in my longer works. When I write flash fiction or short stories, I want my reader to feel connected to a specific scene -- a small window into the lives of my characters. I want the scene to feel like it's unfolding before them and they're experiencing it at the same time as my characters.

I find that sort of voice incredibly difficult to maintain well in my longer works. Novel manuscripts give me the freedom to extrapolate and take more time to set things up. I find past tense works better for me here. When I write in present, I feel like everything has to be concise and to the point. Boomboomboom. I feel it loses its immediacy if I spend too much time dawdling on character development.

This is how I choose the tenses I do. What tense do you write in, and why?

book review: Paper Towns by John Green

| Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I don't do many book reviews, but I enjoyed this one so much that I'm making an exception.

If you've been into YA lit at all in the past few years, you've probably heard of John Green. He wins lots of awards and is pretty much a badass at writing for teens. But if you haven't, go here. He's the one with the puff.

Anyway, he's been in my to-read pile forever, but I haven't had a lot of reading TIME this year, so I just recently got a chance to read Paper Towns (which won an Edgar Award, btw). I'm a big fan of mysteries, and I wasn't quite sure what to expect with this. I was surprised. In the best way.

Paper Towns is a story about a boy. And a girl. And another boy, and another boy, and another girl. And some other people, as well. The "mystery" is that the girl runs off and leaves a trail of breadcrumbs in her wake. The others have the time of their life finding her.

But this novel was about so much more than the mystery of finding Margo Roth Spiegelman. It was about finding yourself. More, it was about finding other people and realizing the ideas we have about a person inside our head are never quite reality. We idealize, we demonize, we get lost inside our own brain.

And it was freaking funny.

BUT ANYWAY. The mystery portion of this book was incredibly well-written. Little details, figuring it out... it all read as if it were probable. And the protagonist, while wily and smart, was totally believable. I believed a bunch of teenagers would do this. They were all very well fleshed out, with individual personalities and quirks. Often times I'll read characters that are quirky to the point of caricature, but these kids? They were real people.

My only real nitpick is Margo is kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I'm giving it a pass because I think that was the point. The protagonist actually realizes he's idealizing her in that way and... you have to read the book.

If you like mysteries, coming of age stories, or stories involving Black Santas and Great White Walls of Cow, this is a great read. Maybe Genius stamp of approval.

IT'S A TRAP: Your Protagonist Knows Everything Ever

| Monday, December 6, 2010

Today's Tune: Snoopy vs. The Red Baron

It's been a while since I've done an IT'S A TRAP! post, hasn't it? Why don't I post one? Sounds like a Monday plan!

IT'S A TRAP!: Your Child/Teenage Protagonist KNOWS EVERYTHING!

You have a middle-grade or teenage protagonist, and they're smart. Totally smart. You want to show your readers just how very smart they are. So, of course, you make sure they already know everything ever. They're bored in class because they've already studied all the topics. They've already read all the classics because, well, they're SMART and they read them for fun. Duh.

I've seen this trope quite a bit, mostly in YA lit. The protagonist has just moved to a new town, and they're going to their new school. They attend their first class and oh, gosh, it's Chemistry. What a bummer. They already TOOK Chemistry at their old school, so all these labs are old news. Next is English! Aw, what? The assignment is to read Beowulf? But Protagonist read that already! How droll. Cue being bored and contemplating own superior intelligence.

Smart protagonists are awesome. I write smart protagonists. But no one knows everything, and when we write main characters that have nothing new to learn, it comes across as irritatingly false. It's especially grating and cliche when the method for revealing their intelligence is to show that they're already So Much Smarter/Well-Read/More Advanced Than Their Classmates. Also, why the heck would a student repeat a course they've already had at a previous school? Of course they already know everything in Algebra if they've already taken the course. This isn't a good way to show that your protagonist is intelligent.

Don't cheat your story and your readers by ensuring your brilliant shining star is clearly at the college level in everything ever. Even geniuses aren't geniuses at everything. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. If your protagonist excels in certain areas, let them suck at something BESIDES Phys Ed. Why do bright characters always seem to suck at Phys Ed?

Characters who know everything and blab about how they know everything aren't generally very likable. They have a tendency to develop an attitude that implies the majority of their peers are beneath them, and that's not a trait you want your MC to have. Unless you've purposely written them that way, that is.

There are ways to show off your protagonist's smartypants without resorting to the cheap parlor trick of "Well, this class is a WASTE OF MY TIME because I already know more than what the teacher can teach me." Let them show their scholarly chops without being a stuck-up brat about it.

Note: this tactic could actually work for a character that you DO want to appear as a know-it-all jerkface. Just sayin'.


December brings you vYou - ask me whatever.

| Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Oh hai. Remember a month ago when I still had time to update this blog on a regular schedule? THAT WAS AWESOME.

I miss blogging! WHY AREN'T THERE MORE HOURS IN THE DAY SERIOUSLY.

Anyway, I'm hoping to do some major catching up this weekend, and I'm *hoping* to get back to my regularly scheduled program in December. There may be a few days where I don't get a post up, but I'm aiming for three a week.

What's new with you, blog friends? Anything major go down in the last month I should know about? I FEEL SO DISCONNECTED UGH. I hope all is well!

In other news, I found a shiny new toy. You can ask me questions! And I will respond via webcam! Exciting!

I will have a "real" post up on Friday. Until then!

 

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