Friday, July 30, 2010

Funk the Junk

My husband and I are teachers and one of the first required classes for newbie educators is Packratting 101. Save everything. Throw away nothing. Since I have inborn magpie tendencies, I got an A+++++ in the class and my classroom, my house—okay… ev-ery-thing reflects my…er… “collector” personality.

But I’ve gotten better over time; in fact, every time I change classrooms at school, I manage to get rid of you know—two or three things. And—hold onto your pants—for the past month I’ve spring-cleaned my entire house and the fam is prepping for—gasp—a yard sale.

And while I’ve succeeded in clearing out a lot of junk, there’s just some stuff I can’t. Get. Rid of. So what do we do at the Miller household? We try to funk up our junk—salvage it, give new life to the clutter that occupies way too much space. Like my husband’s katrillion soccer t-shirts that we’re making into some sort of quilt. Or my kids that just have to save ev-e-ry piece of paper they ever wrote on. Well, we file them in into folders or make collages or shhhh… mom just discards them when they’re not looking.

And me – I loooove GAMES magazine and use the puzzles in my classroom, but, uh… can’t keep five years of subscriptions sitting around on the floor. Two years ago, I spent a laborious four hours ripping out my favorites and stockpiling them in one little tidy binder. Go me.

Most of you know I’m engaged in a junk dump with my book, the novel that was 175,000 words and is currently—YAY!—under 100K.

When I first started writing my novel, I was na├»ve with a capital stupid. I spilled everything. I have one main character with a cast of five strong supporting roles and wait—can’t forget all the other little guys. And I just felt it was uber-important for my audience to know their life history. You know—all those cutesy little anecdotes that will make my book totally hilarious and interesting and

Uh, bor-ing.

But… but (sniff)… my readers just have to know all about my main character’s second cousin’s aunt on her mother’s side who makes a fleeting appearance in chapter 33. They just have to.

If there’s one thing I learned about writing back story—it’s don’t. Meaning don’t lump it all in the beginning. The reader will learn enough about your characters through cleverly crafted dialogue and sprinkled-in facts that are only on a “need to know” basis.

For example, I originally devoted an entire chapter to one of my major characters, Brent Wilcher (PS—his ego would have looooved that). I rambled about his relationship with the main character, told all these cutesy stories about them growing up, and how he’s changed, blah, blah, blah…


Six pages gone. All of it? No. I just did the same thing I did with my beloved magazines. Keep the best—get rid of the rest.

And funk up some of that back story into the following: (hehe—sneak peek of my BOOK)

The next play yielded an eight yard run for the visiting Crusaders and Brent cussed so loud all of North Carolina could hear him. He paced the sidelines twice, cradling his helmet, and then slipped it over his blond spiky hair. Was the entire football team sporting that look these days?

I studied him briefly, then blushed when he caught my stare.

“Hey, Jamie! How ‘bout getting my stats right this time?” Brent guffawed. “You missed a few hundred tackles last week.” He pushed an unsuspecting ball boy to the ground, bounded back to the line of scrimmage. Crouching for the next play, he turned toward me and winked, my half-eaten hotdog from dinner surfacing at the top of my throat.

“Ugh.” I buried my face in my long brown hair. “I cannot believe we used to play Legos with him.”

“So how many tackles does he have?” Mark asked.

I scanned my chicken scratch. “Oh, you know… a couple hundred.”

Mark grabbed my clipboard out of my hands. “It’s only the second quarter.”

“Don’t remind me.”

So—hopefully you get it—Brent and Jamie grew up together, used to be friends, now he’s a jerk. Six pages down to 178 words.

As I attempt to “funk my junk”, another question always looms: how much do you tell the reader and what do you leave up to the imagination?

Rather than me explaining Brent’s life story, hopefully my excerpt left you ruminating? Why aren’t they friends anymore? Why’s he mean to her? Why’s he mean to everyone? And does he really have a couple hundred tackles?! Seriously?

And as I have my yard sale, I hope that my discarded junk will become someone else’s treasure. And some of the “junk” I’ve cut from my book—well, I’m hoping it will be treasured—in a sequel.

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