Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing - Lesson 6 of 6: Rhythm

Of necessity I have some more very long quotes for you all but I think it is necessary to properly explain Rhythm, read through them carefully and consider what B. says seriously because I think it's something that you either already have an understanding of, or you don't.  It doesn't mean you won't ever if you don't yet, but it's something you'll have to read and see if you come to the same conclusion I do.

"...It [Rhythm] is one of the hardest subjects to explain because it is so simple and universal.  A child is born with the manifestation of Rhythm present.  It breathes.  A fair start which nature provides for all.  After that, development follows.  First in walking, second in speech, third in emotions.  One step, one word, one emotion changes into another and then another, each with the same allegiance, a final aim in view.  This is the first level of Rhythm- consciousness.  the second level arrives when outside forces impose their Rhythm on you.  When you walk or move or gesture with or for others.  When you walk in line; run to meet a friend; shake hands with an enemy.  when your words answer other words; sweeping you with them or holding you still.  When your emotions are the direct answer and result of somebody else's feelings.

"...[The third level is] When you command and create your own Rhythm and that of others.  It is perfection.  It is a result.  Do not hurry to achieve it.  The student must start with the second level.  He must not do much at the start.  All that is required of him is to notice these manifestations in real life and store them away in his brain.  Special attention should be given to the results of different Rhythms.  The best thing to start with is music, where Rhythm is most pronounced.  Go to a concert; a street organ, if you prefer, will do just as well.  But listen to it with all your being, entirely relaxed and ready to be swept by the definite measures of the music.  Give yourself up to the emotions it brings to you.  Let them change with the changes in the music.  Above all, be attentive and flexible.  Follow music with the other arts, these with every-day occurrences. 

"...look into space and listen with your inner ear.  Music, and the other arts which follow naturally, will be only an open road to the whole of the universe.  Don't' miss anything in it.  Listen to the waves of the sea.  Absorb their sweeping change of time, with your body, brain and soul.  Talk to them as Demosthenes did, and don' weaken after the first attempt.  Let the meaning and Rhythm of your words be a continuation of their eternal sound.  Inhale their spirit and feel at one with them, even for an instant.  It will make you, in the future, able to portray the eternal parts of universal literature.  Go through the same experience with woods, fields, rivers, sky above- then turn to the city and swing your spirit to its sound as you did to its creative rattle.  Don't forget the quiet, dreamy, small towns- and above all, don't' forget your fellow men.  Be sensitive to every change in the manifestation of their existence.  Answer that change always with a new and higher level of your own Rhythm. This is the secret of existence, perseverance and activity.  This is what the world really is- from the stone up to the human soul.  The theater and the actor enter this picture only as a part.  But the actor cannot portray the whole if he does not become a part."  (119 - 122)

Every story has a Rhythm much like what is described here.  We mimic life and we mimic it in a way that actors learn to pull in from the rest of the world.  So too should writers be pulling in this Rhythm of life that B. talks about in this chapter.  You've learned to Concentrate, both on your experiences, and your writing with lesson one.  Lesson two helped you to remember the emotions of life and help them bleed truthfully into your characters.  Lesson three expands on what Dramatic action is and how it doesn't have to be in an explosion to be just as vital  Lesson four was Characterization and understanding how the character is different than you and how to make the characters different from you.  Lesson five was the use of observation, true and in detail of the world around you.  Lesson six is finally the culmination of everything you've learned to do to feel the Rhythm of the world around you, the tug and flow of the words in a conversation or the actions in a scene or even the flow of the scenes around you and your characters.  If you're aware of it in real life how can you fail to write it into whatever world you're building, whatever scene is laid out before you or whatever conversation your characters have.  Learning to be aware of these things, of this Rhythm and working to extend it can only help your writing in my estimation.

Finally I have a last quote for you that really struck a chord with me and I hope it does with you as well.

"The Creature:  I don't think I did anything unconsciously.  I am a very matter-of-fact person.
I:  I know you are.  The actor must be- How otherwise could he dream?  The only person who can dream is the person who can stand with both feet firmly on the earth." (34)

So let us strive to understand the world around us that we might be firmly placed and so that our minds can fully fly free while our feet stay firmly on the ground.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Writing - Lesson 5 of 6: Observation

The following is in regards to a game played by German children that B. knew of who would be required by their teacher to "repeat snatches of their activities, things they have done today yesterday and a few days ago. It serves to purpose of developing the pupil's memory, analyzing his actions and sharpening his sense of observation." (92)

"It [the game] helps a student of the theater to notice everything unusual and out of the ordinary in every-day life.  It builds his memory, his storage memory, with all visible manifestations of the human spirit.  It makes him sensitive to sincerity and to make-believe.  It develops his sensory and muscular memory, and facilitates his adjustment to any business he may be required to do in a part.  It opens his eyes to the full extent in appreciation of different personalities and values in people and works of art.  And lastly, Madame, it enriches his inner life by full and extensive consumption of everything in outward life." (97-98)

Finally, "The Creature" as he calls the actress who comes to him tells of the exercise that she created based much on what the German children did with their teacher.  "I decided that for three months, from twelve to one every day, where ever I happened to be and whatever I might be doing, I would observe everything and everybody around me.  And from one to two, during my lunch time, I would recall the observations of the previous day.  If I happened to be alone I would re-enact, like the German children, my own past actions... I became as rich in experiences as Croesus n gold.  At first I tried to jot them down, now I don't' even need to do that.  Everything registers automatically somewhere in my brain, and through the practice of recalling and re-enacting I'm ten times as alert as I was.  And life is so much more wonderful.  You don't know how rich and wonderful it is." (101)

Here's the curious thing about observation.  We all think we do it.  To an extent we all do I think, but to do the kind of observation with a purpose and a concentration like that which is discussed in the above passages and in this chapter of the book is to go above and beyond merely taking in what's around us.  It goes to the level of taking everything in, even the things we would normally filter out of our conscious mind.  Think about it.  When you're driving seems a good example to me.  You look around, certainly, you watch where you're going you look for pedestrians you try and watch for all the lights, you make split second decisions... it's probably one of the few points where we're actively observing as much as we can.  It's when we lost concentration, allow our minds to filter out too much information that accidents happen.  That's when we almost hit the pedestrian or when we run the red light or rear end someone whose break lights we shoudl have seen.

This kind of observation can only be helpful for writers as much as for actors.  We write the human experience, but how can we write it when we're closed off to half of it?  When we can't even be bothered to truly pay attention and observe the people around us.  If we've by this point mastered the art of Concentration then shouldn't we also have mastered the art of observation?  Unfortunately the two do tend to be learned rather exclusively.  Instead of learning to concentrate and observe we learn to do one or the other.  Proper observation though deserves a great deal of concentration.  Now don't try this in the car please, you've got enough to pay attention to without adding everything else, but try this exercise, see how much you can remember and start to train yourself to think of every possible experience around you and in your own life as possible fodder for your novels.  Your worlds can become richer, your characters more unique if you have a greater vat of information to draw on.  Why wouldn't you want that?

Wednesday will be the final installment of the chapters.  Lesson 6:  Rhythm.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Writing - Lesson 4 of 6: Characterization

Today's lesson's quote is a little long, but I do consider it worth the reading.  Please read it and consider it before continuing on.

"It is like this, my child.  The actor creates the whole length of a human soul's life on the stage every time he creates a part.  This human soul must be visible in all its aspects, physical, mental and emotional.  Besides, it must be unique.  It must be the soul.  The same soul the author thought of, the one the director explained to you, the one you brought to the surface from the depths of your being.  No other but that one.  And the character who owns this created soul on the stage is unique and different from all the rest.  It is Hamlet and nobody else.  It is Ophelia and nobody else.  They are human, that is true, but here the similarity ends.  We are all human, we have the same number of arms and legs and our noses are placed respectively in the same positions.  Yet, as there are no two oak leaves alike, there are no two human beings alike.  And when an actor creates a human soul in the form of a character, he must follow the same wise rule of Nature and make that soul unique and individual. ...Analyze now in detail the posture of your head, go to the galleries or look into books.  Look at Van Dyck, look at Reynolds.  Your arms and hands were natural and sincere, but I could have told you right away that those hands play tennis, drive a car, and when necessary, can broil a marvelous steak.  Study the hands of  Botticelli, of Leonardo, of Raphael...  ...By studying and making it your own.  By entering into its spirit.  Study the different hands.  Understand their weakness, their flower-life tenderness, their narrowness, their flexibility.  You can control your muscles.  Just curl your palm longwise.  Do you see hwo much narrower it is?  Two days practice and you won't even think about it, but whenever you want it, it will stay like that as long as you wish.  And when, with that kind of hand, you grasp your heart, it will be a different gesture than the one you made.  It will be Ophelia's hand clutching Ophelia's heart, not Miss So-and-So's hand grasping Miss So-and-So's Heart." (77-79)

So.  Long quote right?  I felt for understanding this chapter the longer quote was necessary.  He talks about "Characterization".  The woman he speaks to doesn't understand what he means.  She says the lines of the character and she wears make-up and costumes and that makes her the character she is supposed to be, isn't that right?  Here in this passage which is the heart of the chapter to me, he explains what he means by Characterization.  It is more than simply yourself that you are portraying in this, it becomes a character that can be played by any human who understands Opheilia and who can become her with the nuances of a gesture, a posture, a glance, etc.

Now I can feel you asking, how does this compare to writing a character?  I can feel the same questions come up as the actress had for B.  Surely if you write a character that character is already characterized.  So here is my question back for you, do your characters live and breathe on their own?  Do they inspire a different feeling in you, in your posture, even in the motion and ability of your hands?  If you've ever done any improve or Role Playing to figure out your characters you might notice something interesting that my husband and I have noticed.  With particular characters, once you're in their head, if you let yourself walk around as them or do an action as them you might find a peculiar thing happen.  I'm right handed, my husband is left, but we have characters who will instinctively grab things with their dominant hand if we're far enough into the characters with enough Concentration (see lesson 1!).  It's always a peculiar feeling to grab a pen with my left when I know I'm right handed but I find out the character is not.  Here then is the characterization that would be acted on the stage.  There is a deeper understanding not only of who the character is in regards to yourself, but who they are in regards to themselves.

It's something to keep in mind when you're creating a character.  The stronger you want the character to be the more individual it needs to be.  Would that character be able to speak in a crowded scene with no names mentioned and stand out as distinct?  Why, what makes it that way?  Is it the way he speaks or the way she stands?  Is it the way he carries on without end or the way she stands silently with minimal speech?  Why not write every character with the intention of making them so unique every time someone might go to act them they cannot help but notice these characteristics that define this person.  Help your reader to understand how individual they are by making them live beside and beyond yourself.  Study people outside of yourself in order to understand what other things your characters hold the potential to be.  You're only one small part of what they can become if you only let them!

Monday will be Lesson 5:  Observation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Writing - Lesson 3 of 6: Dramatic Action

Lesson Three - Dramatic Action

"Dramatic action which the writer expresses in words, having that action as the purpose and goal of his words, and which the actor performs, or acts, as the word actor itself implies." (55) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

"I: Yes. But my action was prompted by you.  The Creature:  By me?  I:  Yes.  By your character rather.  To convince you in anything one must approach you through emotion.  Cold reasoning is inaccessible to your type of mind- the mind of an artist who deals mostly with his or other people's imaginations.  If, instead of you, I had a bearded Professor of History as a companion, I wouldn't have acted sorrowful at all.  I would have tempted him enthusiastically with a picture of the past - a weak spot of all historians - and he would have yielded to my statement.  The Creature:  I see.  So one must choose his actions in accordance with the character of the part that opposes him.  I:  Always.  Not only the character of the part, but also the individuality of the actor who plays the part."  (63) Acting, The First Six Lessons, Richard Boleslavsky

Firstly, these are direct quote from the book, he refers to the young actress as "the creature" which is not unusual for the time this was written.  It's an older book but the lessons in it are no less useful for all that.

Now Dramatic Action in theater, whether on a stage performed or in the script written is not so different from what other types of Authors must achieve.  Each was written at some point, each had to have action considered at some point.  The biggest difference is that the Actor performs what the script-writer wrote visually for the audience to see.  They may never see the script that inspires the performance but they will likely not feel less for that lack.

Writers of novels however have a bigger job.  They must describe not only the words of each character that will inspire action as the script-writer must, but they must then also describe the actions that the characters perform and the reactions that those actions inspire in others.  Dramatic action is often thought of as conflicts but I think we should take this cue to look at dramatic action a little closer.  Yes, a conflict is often filled with Dramatic actions.  People argue, they throw things perhaps, or there's a great deal of tension in it. But conflict and dramatic actions do not have to be massive, huge things that are so overt the reader feels like they're being hit over the head.

What if two people were arguing in silence?  How would you describe that?  The conflict would be there, but the focus would be as much on what they were doing, what their expressions were, the tension of their bodies as it would be anything else.  So where do we go with this?  Look at a scene you wrote that you're not happy with it.  Is it missing dramatic action?  Is it missing actions on the character's parts?  Or are they all talking heads standing still in the room?  Who would lose by adding in a little detail about the actions and reactions of the characters setting the scene?

Lesson Four on Friday:  Characterization

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing - Lesson 2 of 6: Memory of Emotion

Lesson Two:  Memory of Emotion.

As I said on Friday, today is the continuation of the First Six Lessons of acting translated into use for writing.  Today's lesson is on the "Memory of Emotion".  If you're interested in the book I'm using as my basis it is Acting, The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky.

"We have a special memory for feelings, which works unconsciously by itself and for itself.  It's right there. It is in every artist. It is that which makes experience an essential part of our life and craft.  All we have to do is know how to use it."  (pg 36)

This chapter discusses how B. believes that every person has the ability, unconsciously, to attach emotions to objects.  When this is done those emotions become so attached to the object that we cannot help but experience the emotion whenever we see the object.  I believe this to be true, particularly if you consider aversion therapy and positive reinforcement in regards to both animals and humans.  He suggests to the actress who has come to him in this chapter that as she has been concentrating on everything in her life as well as in her art that hidden within her is likely the emotion she needs to access, and she has only to remember the occasion or the object of that emotion in order to bring it up.  He spends the chapter explaining to her how at first she may need to re-tell the story in great detail to bring up the emotions she experienced at that time.  But that through practice she would be able to condense that feeling and bring it into action whenever she liked.

Writers are people who go through a myriad of emotions for just as many reasons.  We have to know what a character's feeling and to be believable we have to know WHY they're feeling it.  We have to know the character so well that we can bring up an emotion... well what if that's not the only case?  What if we as writers need to know ourselves and our own emotions well enough to bring forth an authentic emotion in a differing situation?  Here's where I suggest that the turnover is.  Just as B. told the actress to go over the emotions until she could bring them up at a single thought, perhaps we as writers should be doing the same.  When we understand the nuances of each emotion that we are capable of, that we have experienced and when we can call them up then we can understand our character's emotions with a depth and truth that we may have been lacking before.

I'm often told in acting to "keep yourself out of it".  You don't want to "impose" yourself on the character.  This is a danger for the author as well, but where I am not supposed to do that in acting, no one tells you not to do it with writing.  Seriously consider your characters, know them inside and out and know the feelings of emotions and what can bring them out.  When you know yourself you can know what is you, what is your character and how to breathe life into your character that is not entirely your own.

Lesson Three will be Wednesday:  Dramatic Action

Friday, December 16, 2011

Writing - Lesson 1 of 6: Concentration

Hi Everyone,

First let me apologize for my drop in posts the last week, was having a tough time (as Friday's post no doubt evidenced) but I think I'm through the worst of it now and I have some interesting thoughts for you!

My next 6 posts, this one included, so the next 5 posts, will be based off of a book I just finished reading entitled Acting, The First Six Lessons by Richard Boleslavsky.  It's a book for actors that suggest the different things an actor must do to become great.  I plan on giving a brief overview of the idea and then I will explain how I think writers can benefit from looking at their work and their life in similar ways.  I don't think it extends only to actors.

So.  The First Lesson:  Concentration

"Acting is the life of the human soul receiving its birth through art.  In a creative theatre the object for an actor's concetration is the human soul.  In the first period of his work- the searching - the object for concentration is his own soul and those of the men and women who surround him.  In the second period - the constructive one - only his own soul.  Which means that, to act, you must know how to concentrate on something materially imperceptible,- on something which you can perceive only by penetrating deeply into your own entity, recognizing what would be evidenced in life only in a moment of the greatest emotion and most violent struggle.  In other words you need a spiritual concentration on emotions which do not exist, but are invented or imagined." (pg 22)

The above is a direct quote from the book.  Boleslavsky is speaking to a young woman who wants to be an actress and has come to him asking for him to teach her to be what she so desperately wants to be.  His first "lesson" is that she must be able to concentrate.  Seems redundant for me to say it right?  Maybe, but it's something that I feel very few of us really know how to do in this day and age.  We have so many things to do, so many things taking our attention that we become unable to concentrate on what we SHOULD be doing.  In this case, our writing.

Writing to me is much the same as B. describes acting to be.  There are two periods, the searching and the constructive.  When we build the story, plan out its details, research the information or setting, build the world or characters, it's at this point that we're external.  We look outside of ourselves for inspiration, we look to other people, to other information, we seek for a whole idea and we slowly build it.

When we sit down to write, that is when we move from the searching to the construction.  Like B. suggests for the actor at that moment the writer must swallow everything they have learned, everything they have searched for and they must look to the story that waits in their own soul and no where else.  Now as writers we don't seek to say someone else's words like an actor does, but our own words in a way that only we can do.  Keeping this in mind when we are searching and when we sit down to write we owe it to ourselves to create a space where we can fully concentrate on our work, our words and yes, our own soul as that is where the story lives.

In some ways a writer's job is harder than the actor's, as an actor you generally portray one character for one story.  Most first person stories could perhaps be seen as akin to acting out the story for the reader's benefit.  But those of us who write in first person, who have to go through not one character but all of them.  Those who write the plays the actor will act, should keep in mind that what people want to connect with is the soul of the story.  And they want it to be something they as a human can also connect to.

So take away those things that will break your concentration.  Work out exercises for yourself to keep that concentration no matter what.  It's when you can write without breaking for any reason, where you can submerse yourself fully into the sights and smells and emotions of your settings or your characters or your scenes that you will naturally fill in what needs to be seen, heard or felt.  I think it's in that intensity of concentration where you will get your best imaginings, your best rememberings and your best writings.

Monday will be Lesson Two:  Memory of Emotion.

Friday, December 9, 2011


When the world seems at it's darkest, all you can do is feel lost.

I don't know what to post today.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Poetical Waxings - "Things to do"

Be yourself.

Know yourself.

Find yourself.

Lose yourself.

Love yourself.

Laugh for no reason.

Smile for no reason.

Love for no reason.

Forgive with every iota of your being.


Love your enemies.
Love your neighbor.

Love your friends.

Love your family.
Love God.

Pray for your enemies.

Pray for your neighbors.

Pray for your friends.

Pray for your family.

Pray for your Life.

Pray with abandon.

Pray with Joy.

Praise Him for all the Blessings given, whatever size.
Live every day the way God designed for it to be lived.

Live knowing you are Forgiven.
Live knowing you are cared for.

Live knowing you are Loved.

Live knowing you will never be alone.

Live with Joy.

Live with Sorrow.

Know there are times for both.

Live every moment with everything you've got, hold nothing back.

Don't just exist.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

For Love of Writing

There's some wonderful things about being stuck with your writing.  It could be an opportunity to try your hand and writing other things.  There's not just one genre or one story out there after all and as much as you may love that genre or that story sometimes I'm learning they just need to sit and stew until you find out what's wrong with them.  That sometimes means writing other genres, trying other things or reading, reading, reading every writing book you can get your hands on.

Most of all when you're stuck just don't stop writing.  Write anything else, free write what you're stuck on, anything but stopping.  When you stop it dies, that's the problem... let your love of writing shine through and guide your words even when what you want to work on is stuck.  Just always go back to what you're working on or you'll eventually start tons of projects and never finish them.  With writing finishing the project is almost more important than starting them.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Writing Sick

It's never fun when you're not feeling well and often the last thing you want to do is work of any sort, even if it IS usually very enjoyable work.  I've always been told that you have to go do things like that anyway, even when you're sick because that's what adults do.  Now despite my own personal feelings in regards to how we treat sick people (for instance I really don't think food people should be allowed in to work while they're sick and I've read an article recently that echoed that thought.  Yet so many people do it anyway!).

Anyway!  I thought it an interesting experiment to write a little while I wasn't feeling good.  It is a peculiar thing, particularly with a laptop because you can stretch out on the bed even though you're feeling awful and pull up a document to type in.  That doesn't seem so bad right?  Now I wouldn't suggest doing it with something you're seriously working on unless you've got pretty good mental clarity despite the ill feeling, but it's an interesting idea to write and really experience your sickness.  Who knows, you might realize that it's really handy later when you're feeling better but one of your characters is sick.

I've spoken before about writing life and drawing from it, so here's another opportunity.  The same thing can be done when you're feeling down or when you're doubting yourself. Writing the physiological and psychological effects of such things while you're feeling them can give you a really good resource to draw from later when something similar happens to your characters.  Try and take everything as an opportunity and write a really in depth journal of how you're feeling, especially when you're feeling awful.  The more detailed the better.  After all, what better way to help the reader really feel like they're there than to write about it from an extremely knowledgeable place?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chapter update - NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo isn't happening for me this year.  Why?  Well frankly I got into some stuff at work that I really wish hadn't have happened but it did and it had to be dealt with.  Combine that with writer's block already and I wasn't exactly moving very quickly.  To be honest I wasn't even really trying and there's something disappointing in that.  I had time if I pushed myself but I lacked motivation and desire.

Do you ever feel that way with your writing?  Sometimes the things in life can be used, sometimes those same things can be used but they have to be worked through first.  I've been very proactive in saying that you should keep writing during anything else.  If you've got the desire to write then WRITE, but I understand that sometimes things happen that sap your motivation or pull your desire to write away.

For this story?  Well I had that happen before the work thing, but the work thing did need to be resolved.  Hopefully that will happen sooner than later.  The bigger problem is my frustration and lack of desire to write.  What's with that?  I realized that while I get a great deal of joy out of creating and reading the final desire I'm not a terribly good writer.  I don't mean the words I chose or the phrases that I pick, more the actual ability to sit down and find the discipline to write.  Fortunately I think there's still hope for me as that means I have the potential to be a good writer but I'm not quite there yet.  So what to do first?  Well first I think I should put myself on a schecule I actually think I could motivate myself to follow.

It's kind of like a diet that you don't really feel like doing but you know you should, you've got to start with realistic goals, small ones, so that you can see your progress faster than you think you will.  So my first small goal is to find an two hours a week to write.  I can find the time to go and memorize my scripts, I can find the time to fiddle with games or my computer or anything else, surely I can find two measly hours to write every week.  It won't be as fast as I like or as fast as I know I'm capable of BUT it will be steady and it will help with my discipline as a writer.

If you're having similar problems I hope you'll consider going on this "writer's diet" with me, lol!  When it's over hopefully we'll all come out as well toned and fit writers!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Fiction vs Non-fiction

Lately I've been having a great deal of trouble working on my novel.  I think my last chapter messed a bunch of stuff up and didn't come out right at all and it's really thrown me for a loop.  That being said I've proportionately been playing in the kitchen more and making up more recipies.

My husband and I aren't rich by any means and it's both forced and allowed us to become incredibly creative when preparing foods.  We make them last for as long as we can and we turn leftovers into some really interesting and tasty new dishes with very little extra effort.  It's gotten me thinking, why not write a cook-book?

It's not like I haven't thought about it before.  When my husband and I were first going out we cooked together a lot then too.  So recently I started writing down the recipes we've been creating.  I've always been a reader of fiction.  When I started to create my own world I started reading non-fiction as a way to legitimize and otherwise ground my creation but I'd never really had an interest in writing non-fiction.

Oddly enough, despite my skepticism I'm finding a peculiar joy in jotting down my recipes as I create them (or more commonly asking my husband to write down whatever I call out).  I've made some really interesting dishes and as my recipe cards grow thicker I am considering more and more seriously about putting a cook-book together... now the only question I have for myself is how the heck is a fiction writer who cooks going to market something like a cookbook?

I certainly don't feel qualified!

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Use of Memory

Today I had reason to really go through my memory and remember as much as I could as accurately as possible about conversations from the last three weeks or so... holy cow!  I didn't realize how hard it would be and while I was writing it I realized something else.  Since we only have our own experiences to draw on we as writers need to cultivate one very, very important thing.

Our memories!

What's going to happen if you go through somehting that you really, REALLY could use when writing a novel say four or more years down the road?  What if you can't remember that specific anymore or the thing that really tweaked you out.  What if you can't even remember the event but if you could it would help you out of the bind that your writing's in?  I can't believe how important memory is when you're a writer, and worse I can't believe I didn't realize it until right this moment.  I always knew that it had to be good of course.  I need to remember character names and little tidbits of information and the like but that's what my notebook is for... well duh! 

There was my head slapping moment!  that's why so many authors do write journals.  Yeah sure, a lot of it's going to be dull because let's face it, 90% of our lives are probably very routine.  But if you've gotten into that routine of writing down your day imagine what happens when something incredible comes around!  Now, not only do you have some really interesting insights into something you might not have otherwise, you'll also have a record for it so you can compare notes at different times in your life, utilize it for different characters or even use it as a whole new jumping off point for another novel!

I know I'm seriously considering actually starting a daily journal.  I've started it before and never quite managed to get in there EVERY day, but if you work on your memory then you can fill it in a heck of a lot faster than I sometimes do.  So working on your memory to remember vividly everything you did that day and then keeping a journal to help out your long term memory's specifics seem like a REALLY good idea to me!  Hopefully you'll realize the same thing as me but it won't have to be with your own D'oh! Moment!

PS.  Sorry this post's so much later than normal, I wasn't able to get on to write it until now!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Adrift in a Sea of Words

Lately I have been stretching for ideas.  I've felt uncreative and unable to write anything.  A friend on the WD board that I suggested last post suggested that if that's my problem I stop working on my novel for awhile and start doing some free writes.

Free writes are interesting things, I've mentioned them before in my blog but never really in depth.  Generally you want to find somewhere quiet or with a bit of music if that helps, and you want to just write.  No censoring, no going back to edit, nothing that would hinder the process of writing.  You literally write everything that comes into your head during this write.  Set an alarm so you're not constantly looking at the clock and keep writing.

One of the first free writes that I ever did in my life started like this:  "I have no idea what to type so I'm going to just type whatever I'm thinking."  It was a peculiar way to start writing in my opinion but oddly enough it worked, I kept writing and writing and eventually I started thinking of random scenes that popped into my head, I started thinking about new characters and about where my novel was going.  In the end I actually found it very useful.

So now to this time around when I'm feeling drained and uncreative.  I know the things I usually do in order to de-stress and get some creativity back but this time I keep letting myself feel overwhelmed, often with things that have nothing to do with writing, but more often by the novels that used to help me relax and let my brain work for me instead of against me.  I'm intimidated by the wonderful words I read by other authors and find my own words just not quite good enough.  I think I will be trying some free writes and set myself adrift so that I can just write for awhile.  Since that's what I've been so hesitant to do it seems the perfect way to get over that fear this time around.

Enjoy being adrift on that Sea, there's moments of brilliance there and it can gently lure you into relaxation to allow your brain to think of something brilliant.  If you need some starter ideas you can check out my earlier blog post with those here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Writer's Block - Some interesting Ideas

I was reading some articles (though I forget which one so if you recognize what i'm saying let me know and I'll source this info!)  about writer's block.  The most interesting thing that I found was that they suggested that the creative process must sometimes be left alone.  Weird huh?  You can force yourself to keep writing if you want, but they say often inspiration comes from your brain having rested and you doing something else.

The examples that they gave was doing things that took concentration but that didn't really take alot of thought.  Then you don't think about for awhile and suddenly... BAM... there's your new idea that's not the same old paths.  I don't know how well that works (I tried it yesterday as a hot shower and pampering yourself a bit was one of their suggestions) I found when I came back to my story I was just as stumped.  I've slipped over into trying to restructure this story and edit it instead of writing it and I'm not sure how to switch back to writing it.

I find that I'm not satisfied with anything that I write in regards to it, though I'll go through phases.  I was in a drama mood when I started writing it, but now I'm definitely not and that's what the story is.  So how do I get back into what the story is?  I'm not sure I can precisely.  I just have to push myself and keep writing it anyway and then edit it later.  Or maybe I should switch to a new story idea.  Overall I'm not feeling terribly creative.  I'll have to find some nice thoughtless but concentration intensive things to do... something that worked better than just the shower.  I did think about it, but my mind wandered off my story pretty quickly.  Good luck!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Writer's Resources - Some Great Ones!

Hello Again internet world!  And welcome back to my tri-weekly blog post!  Happy monday!

Okay, now that that's over with I want to share with you all some resources that I have found really valuable for one reason or another with my writing.

First and foremost are two of the books I've read most recently in regards to writing.  One is The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell.  It's an awesome resource, especially if you're having a lot of trouble.

The second book I would highly recommend as a general overview with some truly wonderful insights into writing novels (though novels of all kind, it is general as I say) is The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing  From The Editors of Writer's Digest.  It's a collection of tips and observations from authors, editors and agents from Writer's Digest and is definitely worth a look.

If you're feeling really low or alone with what you're writing I would also recommend the Writer's Digest Forums.  The people there are truly spectacular with some wonderful advice on your writing.  I suspect you'll find some people of like mind on the board, no matter what you write.  Some forums are busier than others of course, but you can usually find someone to chat with about your novel or just about random stuff.  Or best of all the frustrations of completing your first/second/third novel.

Rachel Gardner's Blog is great to read, and she has some wonderful emails that her blog sends out if you are like me and forget to check.  She's a literary agent so she's got some really interesting insights into the process that as writers we might not always think of.

And Finally, Holly Lisle is a great resource for information, encouragement and for general interest.  You can check out her blog or look through her website.  I'd highly recommend taking a look at her stuff, especially if you're self publishing.  The stuff she writes has been very useful for me!

Hope some of these things help and I hope your writing's going well!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Writer's Block

I suspect this will become a multiple post thing.  I'm working now, more or less everyday and I really have no excuse (even then) to not be writing.  I could be, I have the time.  Today I even stayed up super late and I'm only kind of tired.  So why aren't I writing?

Well the first thing I want to blame is writer's block, but I know that's only half the story at best.  What I know it comes down to every time is that I just don't want to work on it!  I love the story, I'm really fond of a bunch of the characters but I feel so uninspired.  Over and over again I read that you have to work through that and write anyway.  The most I've managed to do is to stay consistent with writing a blog post (even when like today, I feel uninspired to do even that much).

The more I read the more I come to learn that I'm not alone in this.  Procrastination seems to be one of the Writer's biggest obstacles to cross.  So how do you motivate yourself?  Well I can't tell you that really because I'm not you, just like you're not me.  We can share every trick and tip we ever come up with in our entire lives with each other and never find something that works just for us.  I think it comes down to desire more than anything else.

Do I want this?

Why do I want this?

 Do I want this badly enough to fight with every breath to achieve it?

If you answered yes to number one and three, then what's stopping you?  Find the thing that works for you and go do it!  If you answered no then you're probably not really into writing anyway and you'll move on when you find something that really does make your spirit sing.  Now if you're like me you might have said "well, yes, but..."  I think there can't be any buts to the answers to the above questions.  If you really want to write and be published then you've got to WANT it.  You've got to know WHY you want it, and you've got to want it so badly that you're never going to take NO as the final answer until you've exhausted every last avenue.  And if you do that and still get No's all over the place you've got to believe that the next project (that you started while waiting for acceptance or rejection) will be the one that gets accepted.

I've always wanted to devote myself to a craft, but I've always had trouble getting motivated.  Well this is my devotion and I must find time to do it as faithfully as I write this blog.  Even when I don't have a clue what I'm going to write before I write it.  Even when I finish and feel that it's not my best.  Even if it's only an hour a day or 100 words a session.  The amount really doesn't matter in some ways, at least not at this point.  What really, really matters is that I make the decision that this is what I want to do with life, that THIS is how I'm going to live.  And when I've decided that?  Then I go out and do it because I cannot accept any other way.

If you're struggling like I'm struggling know that you're not alone.  But also know that the only person who is responsible for your success or failure in the end is you.  "Forget Regrets, life is yours to live." - Rent.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Setting - How real is too real?

I was reading an interesting chapter from another writer recently and the thing that I noticed most distinctly was that there were a LOT of details in the setting.  Now I've read over and over again that writing details into your setting makes your writing more "real" and "believable".  That's great!  I want to make lots of details and put them all in right?  I would question that.

There's some truth to it of course, what book have you read that has no little details that betray the character's knowledge of an area or gives you a better understanding of a character through how they observe things.  But if you want to make a setting very real please, PLEASE don't feel the need to put in so many details (especially in a paragraph or a line) that the reader will feel overwhelmed.  I don't really care about details that aren't important or don't reveal something about the character.  I as the reader want to have an idea of the room or place that a person's in, I want to know about the character and I want to know about the situation.  To keep my belief in the story I also want the author to be consistent in the details they DO put in, but I don't want to hear about the minute changes in the colour green on a bush that happens to be in a clearing but isn't terribly important.

So how do you add details without being overwhelming?  Ask yourself this, "What does this detail reveal about _____"  Now you can add in scene or character or situation there (those are the main three that I can see) but if you put in a detail and it really has nothing to do with anything but your own amusement that's probably fine if you do it once in awhile.  Please don't do it in every sentence in a paragraph... let alone all throughout your story.  I ask this and point this out as both a reader and a writer...

That being said, I hope you're all enjoying procrastinating in NaNoWriMo!  I have predictably gotten a job in my desperate attempts to stress myself out to the max before I push through and write.  (Not too serious, but it does seem to be a pattern)  I should be stressed enough by week 3 to finish the novel... hopefully I will push through and continue tomorrow instead.  Happy writing!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Story Starters - Get that Pen Moving!

I've always thought that it's difficult to come up with ideas for free writes.  So as a way to help all of you who do read my blog who write I thought I'd challenge myself to come up with a few story starter ideas to help get those pencils moving.  So following are five story starter ideas, you can write a paragraph, go with the story, or write for a time instead of a length.  Totally up to you, if you want to share your writing in the comment section awesome, I'm always glad to hear from my loyal readers!  (and if anyone new wants to post I'd be glad to hear from you too!)

1.  It was late.  The sky wasn't dark though.  Little dots pricked it like holes in a skirt, light shining through and making the clearing as bright as day...

2.  "Aaaaaaah!"  She screamed with every last iota of her strength.  The sound was so intense that there would be nothing left when she was finished.  There was no way she would ever eat that broccoli...

3.  Hungry, hungry, gunna get a bite to eat, hungry, hungry...  The thoughts swirled around in his head as he strode down the street to the beat of them.  It was about time...

4.  He yawned, but he didn't bother covering his mouth.  "Careful."  She smirked at him.  "If you don't cover your mouth a fly'll go in."  He opened his mouth wider and aimed it at her, yawning again.  She...

5.  There was this bush.  It was round and puffy.  Yes, a bush can be puffy!  It had flowers speckled over it and peeking through the greenery.  They were a peculiar shade of...

So there you go, five story starters to get your brain working.  You can change them, use them, whatever you'd like with them and I reserve the right to do the same at a later date!  Lol!  Enjoy :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dialogue - How's yours?

I have always hated dialogue.  Not reading it, but writing it.  Why?  Who knows, maybe I hated it because I never really spoke much in my own life.  Maybe I hated it for some random other reason.  Honestly it was probably just because it was something I was never very good at.

Now you may laugh at me for this, but the thing that's really helped me to improve my dialogue?  Improve acting.

Yup, you've got it.  I role play.  That's all role playing is and no, that's NOT in a sexual way.  Make a story with a friend (in person is best), give the background, both of you think of characters and start talking with someone.  Speak not as yourself but as your character and remember the situation you're in as your character.  If you're like me and you either are or you think you are terrible with dialogue I've found this to be a very fun and useful way to improve your dialogue.  It helps your brain think differently too.  And it's a break from writing when it might be frustrating you a little bit.

I've no idea if it'll work for you, but hey, it's certainly helped me!  And dialogue, especially authentic dialogue, is a very important part of any novel.  As much fun as exposition is it's not exactly something you want for your entire novel.

Happy Novel Month!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo -aka- Hell Month. Sorta.

You've got everything set up, your desk is perfect, your computer's primed and the clock reads 11.59pm.  The breath held in your chest as you wait is starting to make your ribs ache but your eyes don't leave the clock.  Just as you think you might actually pass out from lack of air it clicks over, DING!  Midnight.  November 1st.  National Novel Writer(or writing I suppose) Month has officially begun.


Sound familiar?  I did NaNoWriMo for the very first time a few years ago.  I was going to university full time, with a full course load and I was doing a work study position (aka, I was working) as well.  I heard about NaNoWriMo and happened to be taking a novel writing course.  What better way to get inspired than to push myself and complete 50,000 words in one month?  It didn't seem so unrealistic, there's 30 days in a month right?  So that's what... say about 1667 words a day if I write every day.  Phshaw!  That's more than doable... so I told everyone that I was doing NaNoWriMo.  I was going to complete my novel in one month!

Week 1 passed.

Week 2 passed.

What happened?

Nothing.  I'd reached the beginning of week 3 and had squat, zip, ziltch, nada, zero... two weeks left and I had to do what!?  I started thinking maybe it would be okay if I didn't do it.  I mean I had other years, there was so much to do, I could be forgiven right?

Wrong.  Apparently I severely dislike telling people I'm going to do something and not doing it.  That I happened to like a professor of mine at the time and I'd kind of mentioned it to him sometime the week before?  Well... I couldn't look bad NOW...

Full time classes, work, and a novel that I already had writer's block for.

I began to write.

And write.

And write.

I didn't sleep, barely ate, was up in my room constantly because not only had I told people I was going to write for NaNoWriMo, see I had forgotten about the 50,000 word goal.  Most novels?  They're around 100,000 words if you're wondering and that's kinda short.  (Word count post here if you're interested in specifics).  And I, being the bright and stupidly brilliant kinda person we can all sometimes be, had told people not only was I going to write 50,000 words, I was going to finish my novel.  Yeah.  The one I had two chapters for...

That one.

Final word count?  104,877 words in my first draft.  In two weeks.

It was totally worth it.

Moral of the story?  Set goals for your self.  Set ridiculous goals for yourself.  Hold your breath, face the obstacle course you've mounted for yourself and despair.  Then take up your pen, stare down the blank page and charge ahead.

You might just surprise yourself with what you can do.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Sleepless Nights

Morning came, much like the mornings before it, bright and clear and beautiful.  I would have loved waking up to it.  A good morning stretch with a wide yawn cracking my jaw and ending in a smile would have been a cheery way to greet the morning.

Had I slept.

Had sleep even been part of my vocabulary last night.

Sadly, it was not.  Instead I lay awake, watching the night slip away into the darkness as it ate itself slice by slice and turned into day.  There was no appreciation for the sun, no sweet dreams to kiss regrettably goodbye for another day and no welcome stretch to greet the morning.  I met it with a frown instead.  One more day to chase away the sleep I yearned for, one more hour to trudge through.

I got up.

It took me another half of an hour but I did get up, finally admitting I wasn't going to sleep and I had things to do.  I drifted from one room to the next, preparing for a day that I'd never really left and hoped to finally leave that night when I chased after the hope of dreams once more.

It wouldn't have been so bad if I had at least been tired.  If I had at least been rewarded from my long night of laying awake and thinking with some sign that this night at last I would lay down and find rest.  But no.  I was as awake as a rooster after a good night's sleep, even without the good night's sleep.  My body was heavy, run down but like the night before my mind was quick, ready to go, wanting to learn, to move to sing.  I let it go, trying to sleep once more even with the sun so high in the sky but still my mind refused to settle.

Oh well.  Another day, another minute, none of them wasted as each moment was crammed with thoughts of this, that, and the other.  What was I to write today?  What was I to sing about with so many thoughts muddled together and raging?  Where was the sorting, the organization and the order!

There is no order in a sleepless mind.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Having a Clear View and a Loose Hold

I have been very badly stuck for the last several weeks but I have been incredibly reluctant to call it writer's block.  Really?  I should have labeled it as that to begin with and then just found a way around it.  I wasn't sure what to do and I was allowing myself to be really depressed about a number of things.  I've come to the conclusion that for my own ability to write I MUST NOT send my work to anyone else for any reason other than that I am sending them my completed novel to read for their own enjoyment.  I am far too influenced by every opinion and I so desperately want to please people that I will change everything with every opinion I get.  I have realized I am not one of those people who can sift through the opinions for the gems and keep the writing my own.  I need to focus on my own writing for my own reasons.

Now that does not mean I will cease asking for help.  Of course if I'm stuck I intend to ask for loads of help, but it's not quite the same as having someone reading your work with the purpose of judging it.  I can't stand judging from that perspective.  I really just want everyone to love everything I do.  That being said I know that's not possible too, but if I am serious about this I'm going to have to give that illusion up especially.  So I am going to take some advice from a very wise man (I'm sorry it took me so long to get it Warren) and I am going to eventually put my work out there for people's enjoyment but I am probably not going to utilize critique groups any longer or ask for critiques from people.  I need to learn to do it on my own at some point anyway, especially if it's going to be a career.

Now, as to having a clear view and a loose hold, I've found that some advice from another friend of mine has been very useful in getting me to write again.  I ended up free writing an interesting scene for the story that popped into my head.  It's only about 5 pages, I have NO idea where it actually is in the story but it allowed me to decide a great many things about where the story was going.  I haven't done a concrete outline with this one in the same way I have previously and writing this future scene I have found the desire and recaptured my interest in the story.  From that point on I started writing the chapter I'd left unfinished and I am feeling altogether good about everything once more.

Will I end up using that chapter?  Who knows, I might use it and expand on it, I might use it as a jumping point or I might never actually utilize what I've written in this story in any of my chapters but I find I'm not so worried about that at the moment.  What I need to concentrate on is what I CAN do and what I can do is write and get more of the story done.  For once I've actually been up for incredible amounts of time and I'm still going strong.  Every time I stop and hesitate this time I go back and continue writing on a different scene.  I read in one of my books a suggestion to write scenes on cue cards with character names.  You write all the interesting scenes you can think of for each character then arrange them.  That's the quick look of it, but hey!  It seems to be a good system for me.  I'll keep it up and maybe I'll finish another chunk of my novel.  I think this has finally been my tipping point and now I just have to keep myself from procrastinating!

(The blog post is an obligation and it helps me keep track of the things I find out, so I don't entirely consider it procrastination! lol!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Consistant Characters

I find one of the hardest things to do at times is to keep my characters consistent.  Usually if I write them all at once they end up being consistent but at times (like right now) when I'm not righting consistently the characters can suffer.  I forget what they look like or what they were supposed to be doing in the story, I forget their motivation or the way that they speak.

The best way to combat this that I've found is to keep a separate note-book for all of the information that is actually just information instead of "story".  I have a synopsis for each character which includes their Motivations, a little bit of their history, some notes about where I was going with them.  I also have their appearances so it stays consistent from beginning to end.  It's been incredibly useful when I'm writing (even when it's in a short period of time) as a handy reference to look back at.  It's also a great place to keep the names of smaller characters.

Who wants to flip through the novel while they're working at it just to find a name that's mentioned once of a guard or something who made a ten second appearance?  (Makes me go, why did I name that character again?  He's never going to be seen after this...)  By keeping track of who says or does what I can reference it easily and then I don't have to go through the story again.  That's a good thing as far as I can tell since it does keep me writing at a relatively quick pace when I do write.

Monday, October 24, 2011

First Rule of Writing - WRITE

I find myself in a quandary today.  I am trying to think of something useful to write that will be interesting to those who read my blog (since I know there's a few of you, hi all!).  Yet I find myself stumped.  For the first time in awhile I find that I am excited to be working on my writing (say hello to the cable being out for 4 days, it's back now but I can pretend it's still out >.>), yet I can't think of anything to write here and writing my novel terrifies me.

Maybe that's something to talk about.  Have you ever written something that terrifies you to continue?  I don't even know why working on my novel freaks me out so much.  Maybe I'm afraid of success.  Or maybe it's failure.  Or possibly both.  Though if I'm so afraid of failure I don't know why I wouldn't have finished it already twice over!  You'd think in that case I'd want to finish it so I wouldn't feel like a failure, so I guess that leaves that I must be afraid of success.

I had a really bad experience with a critique group that was repeated in my classes in university rather too many times for my liking.  At that point I was so crushed because of the things I let other people tell me I had no spirit left with which to write.  I tried art, computers, anything to get me out of my writing funk but it really just came down to the fact that I didn't think I could do it anymore.  I let mean people who didn't know what they were talking about any better than I did tell me that I wasn't good enough.  In all fairness I had esteem issues before that class so it probably hit me a lot worse than anyone intended, but there it is.

Now I've let that affect me for far, far too long.  I've got to realize that yeah, it happened, some people didn't like my work, so what?  I don't have any less to say, it doesn't make me less creative, it doesn't make my world less likely to be written.  The only thing that has any affect on any of those things is me, myself, and I.  So it's about time that I take responsibility for that.

The first rule of writing is to write.  So if I'm going to follow those rules then I need to stop making excuses, stop blaming everything else around me and go write.  So let me encourage you to do the same.  If you're serious about your writing, if this is what you really want to do with your life, stop making excuses, find the moments, find the time, find the courage, and just go write.  That's what I'm going to do.

Friday, October 21, 2011

He said, She said

I got into an interesting discussion on the WD forum recently.  I had mentioned my utter disgust with the word "said" in my own writing.  Now let me be clear about one thing, I CAN read it in other people's work, usually I don't even notice it.  (I usually skip over the "said" though I know it's there).  In my own work?  I can't stand it.  I will write dialogue and then reach the end where "he said" would go and I just stop and shudder when I consider putting "said" in there.

Again, there's nothing wrong with using Joe said, or whoever said in your writing.  I came to the realization that I disliked the word when I was younger and writing a lot of dialogue.  I realized that I was using it every few lines and frankly I already have problems with repetition in words...  I decided to stop using it along with "replied" and "asked".

The first problem I ran into when I stopped using he said, she said was clarity.  I was no longer using any tags at all to indicate who was speaking.  When dialogue is really strong and there's only two characters chatting it's easy enough to write it without using "said".  The reader can assume that the characters are going back and forth in their discussion and realistically quotation marks are already telling the reader that the characters are talking, so why reiterate that with said?  However I did find that when my character's voices weren't very strong it got confusing very, very quickly.  So how did I fix it?

I began to add actions.  What are the characters doing?  What is their expression like?  What are they observing?  It's easy to add too many descriptions, if the dialogue is going well and it's firing back and forth and easy to follow then it's probably not the right place to add an action unless it enhances or directly affects the dialogue.  That's the key I try to follow.  I add action descriptions for two reasons, one to denote who is speaking when there's more than two people and two to further the scene, the story and the dialogue.  I will always believe that adding something like this is more useful than saying "Joe said" after your speech unless absolutely necessary.  It's become a pet peeve of mine in my own writing and I do think I'm very much in the minority on this, but that's okay.  Everyone's got their own style and this just happens to be a part of mine that I see no reason to change.  I'm sure a "he said" will pop in my writing somewhere eventually, but for the moment I've got too much of a block toward that particular phrasing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Family vs Peers, who should read it first?

Lately I've been considering who to give my novel to when it's finished.  Do I give it to my family?  Friends?  Peers?  Try and find an agent or editor to read it?

My first question is going to be this, who is my audience?  If my family reads the type of book I write and can give me an honest review then yeah!  Why wouldn't I?  But if they're not my audience, if they don't have any interest in the things that I write then as supportive as they are they're not the right people to give it to.

So what about friends?  Again, audience is a huge aspect of it.  With friends though you have to remember which friend you're giving it to.  Are they going to be able to tell me not only an honest review but one that is going to be constructive in its criticisms and specific in the things that work and that they like?  If they're not or if they're not into that kind of book do I really want them to be reading it?  And if they don't like it will they be afraid to tell me for the sake of our friendship?  Consider your audience and the people you're giving the work to, if you don't think you can take what they have to say, they're probably not the best person to give it to.  Again, even if they're super supportive that may not be what you're looking for.

Your peers (other writers) who have shown a good ability to take and receive criticism (which could also be your friends), and who are interested in the genre you're writing is perhaps one of the best ways to share your work and get very good feedback.  The only problem with this avenue that I've found is that sometimes your peers forget that they shouldn't be editing your voice along with the rest of their critique.  I've definitely been guilty of that in the past and I've been learning how awful it can be if you don't pay attention to that.  When you're critiquing someone else's work you're not supposed to make it yours.  Don't change the language but highlight what you don't understand.  If you've got some awesome peers?  Then this is definitely one of the better ways to go in my estimation.

The editor?  An awesome option right?  Someone who's professional, who knows to edit your grammar and to clarify your story and language.  There's only one problem.  They can be expensive!  You're definitely paying someone to do the work and if you can afford it awesome!  Make sure you talk to them first and that you're clear about what you expect from them and what they're willing to give you for the price they're asking.  I've heard a lot of horror stories as well as good stories in regards to this version.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Ups and Downs of Writing

More and more I've been reading and in everything I read that talks about the life of the Writer I've been seeing how life goes up and down.  Not just in life itself, everything there could stay exactly the same, but the writer is one of those people who suffers.  We suffer from the art of self doubt, overconfidence, depression, elation... we go up and believe we can do anything and then the next moment we're down where nothing can work and all we can write is to be thrown in the trash.  Take heart though, if you're a writer reading this who recognizes this in yourself as well, we're definitely not alone.  It's something that most writers seem to suffer from.

This week I got banned from the Writer's Digest forum (permanently and my IP address was banned so I can't register with a different name) for "spamming".  I've emailed the guy they said to but I haven't heard anything from him. Fortunately!  As I just went and checked again to see if I as still banned, I found that not only am I no longer banned but that it was an admin problem for the power going out that resulted in a great many people being banned who should not have been.  I'm back to full access.  Yay!

That incident did however lead me to start reading more of the writing books that I've been slowly collecting for the last little while.  And that's how I discovered today's topic.  There's always things you NEED to do if you're going to be a writer.  The first rule of writing is WRITE so you always, always need to be doing that, no matter how down you are or how up you are.  You've got to find a way to keep writing.  However you should also know that the ups and downs are normal, that if you keep working through them eventually you'll come up with your novel.  Once your novel's done then you can start editing and finally you can get to the point where you let your novel fly free on its own.  When that happens good!  Try not to let it get you too down and move on to the next novel.  Keep writing.  Right now that rule's the hardest one for me to keep doing.  There's no good reason I haven't written a word in two weeks, but I haven't and I am failing badly at rule number one.  At the very least I've been keeping up with this blog which now has a schedule!  (yay!) so there's a reason to write all the time on something.  Now I just have to figure out how to get my butt moving on the rest of the chapters.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Characters - A Study of Evil

I've been considering what it is to make an "evil" character lately.  I remember once a long time ago I used to have discussions with people about what constituted as "evil" when you made a character.  At the time these discussions started it was the "obvious" evil verses the more subtle ones.  (Think drowning kittens vs taking over a kingdom.)  Now in the case of drowning kittens (or people as the case may be), most people would consider that a more obvious type of evil.  Murder = bad, if you don't know that it also = evil.  So what about the other one?  Taking over a kingdom.  I use the idea of the kingdom but it could also be country or anything else that requires a leader.

If you look at history it's always, always the victor who dictates how things are seen because they're the ones who will write the history books.  Imagine what would have been written about America if Germany had won WWII...  It wouldn't have been pretty I'm sure.  The atrocities that were committed by the furor and his followers would have been justified in their minds and in the history books that they wrote after.  Fortunately for a great, great many people those atrocities are not only seen as such but there are a great many efforts by many more people to ensure they do not happen again.  The world has moved on and away to try and understand how to accept all peoples, no matter their differences.  We're not there yet obviously, but we're working on it and that forward motion is a good thing to my way of thinking.

What I find really interesting is that I bet a lot of people would hesitate over saying whether or not invaders are "evil".  Invasion of another land or kingdom or people often includes a great deal of death, torture, destruction of land, maybe even slavery, theft... huhm... alot of those things are lumped in the evil category aren't they?  We seem to think of them as "necessary" evils, and it's all in the presentation.  In a fantasy novel "invasion" much like in real life can happen lots of different ways.  If you're portraying the take-over as a response to a different invasion force, it's much more acceptable.  The person invading is often (if not always) seen as the bad guy and those defending or fighting against the invasion are the good guys.

Yet the ways you could write such a thing are limited.  As interesting as the bad guy might be to write about, very few people actually want the bad guy to win in the end.  Why would we want the bad guy to win in the end when that happens far too often in life?  Yet look at the history of the world and think about how many things would be different if someone else had won the battle.  Would we really be more "evil" than we are now?  I'm not so sure.  So I've been considering my novel and what I want to do with my books in this light and I realize that I always seem to make my bad characters redeemable in some way shape or form.  Now I like that because I believe all characters must have motivations that are true to the character and the choices they make in the story (much as we are in life).  By keeping in mind that the "bad" guy has his own motivations and believes in them just as strongly as the "good" guy it's harder to see who the "bad" guy is.  Hence the word Antagonist.

When you've got someone in the story who presents an obstacle for your protagonist they don't necessarily have to be evil, they just have opposing goals to your protagonist.  I think that's one thing that I'll always enjoy exploring through my writing.  What is it that makes a person evil, vs good, especially in gray situations where the outcome makes all the difference?  I've got my own theories about it, but it's still interesting to explore.  It goes along the same lines for me as "why does God allow bad things to happen?".  There's always reasons for things in life, I believe that even when it's really hard to see or acknowledge, and I utilize the same thing with my writing.  My bad guys so far always believe in what they're doing just as strongly as any of my good guys, though perhaps the biggest difference is the good guys try to do things selflessly while the bad guys are often selfishly motivated.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Characters - What's in a Name?

After my last post I've been thinking about character names a lot.  When I name a character I know that the name is going to be part of what defines them.  It says something about who they are, where they're from and the way they're going to be.  Ideally I love it when characters come with their own names.  A short search sometimes yields one without any problem.  Sometimes it's not a name I understand, sometimes it's an earth name (aka in one of the baby sites).  The odd thing that I love when the characters I meet come with names attached is that often the meaning (when it's an earth name) suits the character.  It's one of the amazing things about writing that I really love.

It's not always that easy!  Any writer who's written more than one story knows there are some characters who are stubborn, who won't tell you a thing about themselves without you wrestling them to the ground and making them cry uncle first!  When a character like that rolls around I will first flip through my mind and try out different sounds.  Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't.  When it works I"m happy enough since I usually get to name them and make up the meaning when that happens and since it's something that was chosen specifically for that character it fits them well enough and I as the author feel comfortable working with the character.

When making up sounds to form a name doesn't work I have to stop and consider what I already know about the character.  The very first character I meet for a story is the hardest.  They're the one that you may not know everything about to begin with and finding a name for a character when you know nothing about them is HARD.  You don't know what they love or hate, or why they're important or what kind of story they're going to feature in.  Sometimes you don't even know if they're going to be your main character.  It's in this case that I find two things helpful to pursue immediately.  First of all where are they from.  It's the where they are from that's important not the where are they now for a very specific reason.  If you know where they're from, you know the (or you should have an idea of) type of names those people give, you know the culture that the character is going to have come from, you know the possibilities for class that are likely, whether the character has magic or not, whether it knows a lot about science (fantasy vs sci-fi would be a place difference), even things like how the character will handle problems, what kind of prejudices your character might have, what experiences were likely when your character was growing up, etc, etc, etc.  Wow, all that just from a place!  Now, knowing where the character is currently will help you start to fill in all that in between information.  How they got where they are, what happened along the way and why they're the way they are now. 

That's fabulous!  With two questions you've got a handle on your character so now the name, that's when I choose three or four things that really personify the character and I track over to one of the web's baby name sites.  I specifically go for sites that let you look up the meanings.  I pop the first description of that person's personality into the search function and peruse the names that are conveniently placed before me.  Usually the first trait I put in comes up with something I can use, sometimes I don't like any of the names presented to me or they don't quite fit, or if it's a not entirely positive trait it may not show up with that specific word (synonyms are useful there).  I'll move on down my list of traits until I find the name that fits the best.  If that still doesn't work I'll start looking at the sounds of the names that kind of fit and re-arranging them to create a mix of names that suits the character.

Very, very rarely I'll come across a character who is so stubborn nothing seems to fit them.  But in that very rare case I've almost always found it's because the character is hiding something from me that I need to understand about their personality before I can name them.  When I go back and find out more about the character a name is almost always revealed.  If they won't talk even then?  Well, then they're not worth the trouble and it's time to find a new character and story.  You'd be surprised how often they start talking quickly after that... no character likes to be left behind for another!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Character Creation - Who am I?

So I have been considering what to write for today's blog post.  I should probably make a schedule and post to that but so far it seems to be every two or three days.  I'll try not to let too much time pass in between for anyone who's interested in reading it more frequently.

Today's post is on Characters since I haven't yet posted anything directly about them.  I've been considering my own characters for the novel I'm working on and I've been comparing them to my favourite characters in various books I've read.  There is always something about each of the characters I love in other books that speaks to me in one way or another.  I'm a fan of the down and out or misunderstood characters personally, but I do love other characters as well.

Phantom by Susan Kay has long been my favourite book, it's an in depth look at what the Phantom of the Opera's life before, up to, during and after the whole Opera thing might have been like.  Erik (predictably perhaps) is and always have been one of my favourite characters.  What I love about Susan Kay's version over other versions is how real she makes him.  He's someone who grows up in a world that doesn't understand him, and he is brilliant and very, very human.  (Also see Elizabeth which is another of Susan Kay's book, though they're both out of print as far as I know if you can get your hands on it, definitely do it).  Erik is a rich, complex character at all ends of the evaluation.  One of the things I think really works for this story is that you also get a good look at his parent's history as well as his own.  It's not a huge in depth thing but it tells you what you need to know so you understand why his mother raises him the way she does and a lot about their relationship and his subsequent life choices.  Susan Kay does the same thing with Queen Elizabeth in her other novel (mentioned above).  If you want to know how to write intricate well thought out characters Susan Kay has long been one of my favourites.

The Redemption of Althalus by David and Leigh Eddings is another book whose character has stuck in my mind for a long time as someone I love to read about.  Althalus is witty and entertaining at his very heart and he carries you through the story rapidly because you want to know more about him.  He's so engaging in that book that despite it being a fairly sizable book you go through it rapidly.  So there's another type of character, is he misunderstood?  Probably, but I found him simply enjoyable to read as opposed to being fascinated with his complexities or with his history (although he does have a history int he book if I remember correctly).  Some characters are just so fun to read that they could be doing the dishes and you would still think it was funny!  By that way of looking at it, you don't always need a complex character but they have to be somewhat amusing to the reader.

Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey was the first book by Lackey I'd ever read of her rather in depth and massive series.  I loved Talia (she's the main character) because she was so shy and awkward and out of place.  It really resounded with me at the time and the more I learned about the character and the world the more I fell in love with the character and the writing.  There's people that you can like and admire and there's people that you just want to cheer on.  Talia you grow with as you grow with the series so there's yet another type of character.

I could go on but this post is already pushing it for normal post lengths.  Every character in these three examples has its own uniqueness to it.  Now since I"m the one identifying with them they've all got something in common with me and so with each other as well.  But at the same time they are incredibly distinct and unique.  What you want most with your characters are to make them memorable to people, characters that someone can identify with.  To that thought, I know I need to make my characters unique from each other.  I use different parts of my own personality, my own traits to make the characters someone I identify with and then try to write someone else who might identify better with someone else.  It's really hard to write a character I don't identify with so I have to search myself to find that little thread that makes me understand the character and thereby get a character who's different from me, who I would not normally identify with so that someone else might be able to later.  I don't identify with every character and neither will everyone who ends up reading my books.  That doesn't mean the characters can't draw people in if I can make them unique from each other and engaging.  There's always someone who will get them if I keep them consistent and true to themselves.  To do that I make certain I know everything about every character, even those that aren't going to be important for this story.  And hey, who knows, sometimes characters can surprise you if you let them!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Short Stories vs Novels

Generally I have always been a novelist.  I don't like reading short stories and I hate writing them.

That being said this foray into attempting to write a short horror story has been highly educational!  I never would have expected to find writing horror not only educational but kind of enjoyable.  I get to work with a new idea (that I can later turn into a novel) that I put all the important bits into one short scene that reads like a complete story.  I think horror is a little easier to do this in since I don't actually have to have the good guy win in the end.  Horror can easily be a tragedy.

Novels are usually much more intricate, have a larger cast of players, and more than one plot.  You've got to pare a short story down to the most important plot (no subplots!) and maybe a tiny bit of backstory (preferably not much is needed) and a lot of action in a very short period of time.  This is very challenging for me since usually my mind starts spinning new characters and plots and places... but it's a good exercise to bring that spinning down to a very tight spiral and try your hand at controlling your words and your characters as well as your situation.  It's also nice because the story has a shorter end goal you can finish the initial draft faster and feel like you've accomplished something.  If you're finding you're a little stuck and you usually write novels, why not try a short story as a "break" to let your story breathe but to continue writing!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Genres - Sharing Borders

So I have been stalled with my current story as I figure out how many plot lines I actually have going at the moment.  I've got a good handle on them now I think but I decided to let them stew and to work on a horror story for a contest with Writer's Digest.  I haven't yet decided if I am going to submit it to the actual Writer's Digest Horror Story contest or if I'm just going to submit it to the forum version of said contest.  One's free and one costs money, but one wins money for that monetary submission and one wins little trophies for the forum.

Now.  That being said, regardless of where I end up submitting it, I've been finding some interesting things while I've been working on it.  First of all being that I am most definitely not a horror writer.  Secondly I've realized that writing this other genre (regardless of my personal feelings toward it) is definitely stretching my writing skills and imagination.  And thirdly, I am both more and less critical of my work.  More because I'm trying to make it a horror story that I would read and less because I don't usually read horror so I don't have as much to compare it to.  Now either way I'm definitely going to be taking advantage of the Writer's Digest Critique section to try and improve it since I don't believe that's against the rules for either contest. (of course I'll be checking that first).

I don't know what most writers would recommend in regards to writing outside your genre but I have read over and over again that writers should also be avid readers.  Not only should they be readers in their own genre but in as many different areas as possible.  I think that writing has the same reasoning to it.  If you want to write a really tense scene in a fantasy novel then why not study how to write thrillers or horrors?  Depending on the feel you want for the scene I can only see studying that genre assisting in your final creation.  Stories need to be well crafted in all aspects and few stories are exactly the same the entire way through.  So, my foray into horror is at the very least an interesting exercise because it's challenging.  Perhaps I'll try writing a short romance next... I've never liked those though I usually like some aspect of it in my fantasy.  Go figure!

Friday, September 30, 2011

Story Events - Plots

I've been having trouble with Chapter 8, fortunately only partly due to writer's block.  I've realized that there are some holes in my novel because I wasn't making one of the characters important enough who I had written into it as being important.  I'd also been forgetting several of the plot points that were also important to the story (hence why I was having a block when I thought it was too thin a story).  So now what I'm doing is going back and doing an "event map".  Normally the characters in my stories run away with them but as I have started holding the DM position I've realized how I like to write is a very similar thing.  I like to plan the stories that I DM for people by creating events that can happen when they reach a particular place.  Some events will happen when they get there and you know they're going to get there because you've set the premise or the story up that way.  Now the nice thing is the when or the particular order doesn't always matter unless it sets off a more important event later.  So I'm taking the same premise with my writing.  I'm going to do an "event map" instead of a plotline or outline for my novel.

 Basically that means I'm going to write out all the possible plots and subplots, attach which characters are going to be needed in each one so I know where they cross over and who's important for each segment and then I'm going to write major events in each plot-line that needs to happen and which characters NEED to be involved.  I've decided not to write a true outline this time, though I've been doing a synopsis for each chapter and that's been helpful.  I suspect that doing it this way instead of as a definite outline I'll be able to keep more flexible.  What do you guys do to plan your story?  There's lots of comment space!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writer's Block

Writer's block as always been one of those things that I struggle from.  When I was in high-school I never seemed to have a problem with the dreaded writer's block.  Somehow I always had someone to talk to or I always managed to find something to read or do that would lift it pretty quickly.  Since then I've taken lots of writing courses and been in a few different writer's groups and I've found writer's block an increasingly difficult problem.  So what changed?

I've been really thinking about the things that cause my writer's block and I've come to a conclusion.  I have no idea if this is going to be universal or if it's going to be just me so if anyone feels the same way, do please let me know.  When I was writing in high-school (and younger) everyone around me gave me praise, made me feel good about what I was writing and the way I was writing it.  They seemed to think I could be a writer and that my writing was worth reading.

Enter university.

Now, don't get me wrong I loved school in high-school and university was no different.  There were classes I hated and classes I loved and some that just didn't interest me but overall I love learning and I loved the experience.  Except for one thing.  Suddenly, my writing didn't seem so wonderful anymore.  No one understood it, or if they understood it they simply did not like what I had written.  I could not have enough description one day and then had too much the next.  I began to suffer from writer's block so badly that I had to force myself to break through it with no help from anyone else just to get a poorly written short story on the page so I could hand it in for the next day.  What happened?

I know that when we're younger people give us praise much more frequently.  It seems that when we get to be adults we don't get that anymore, we should be able to hear the hard truths and deal with it.  The "hard truths" were often viciously laid out and a great deal more deconstructive than constructive.  I remember having writer's block so badly and begging my teacher one semester to help me find a way around it.  The only solution I was given was to "just go write it."  Now obviously (now anyway) that was good advice in its own way, but I felt like I was drowning and couldn't bring myself to write a word because I was terrified that people wouldn't like it.  One of the worst criticisms I've ever had was a flat out statement that was agreed to by all that a character was "disgusting and unlikeable".  I don't know about you but when I like a character hearing something like that (from the entire group no less) is devastating unless that's what you wanted for that character.

Now let me explain what I think my teacher meant.  "Just write".  I think that teacher meant that I should go home and start writing everything and anything that came to mind.  I don't think it was meant to be "just go write the story and stop complaining" which is how I took it as it came with no further explanation, it was supposed to be "just go home and write something."  I've only really understood that in the last few days as I've been working on chapter 7 and now chapter 8.  However I also recognize that fear and discouragement are powerful things that can contribute to that block.  It's built from the ground up with fear of what other people will think about it, fear of it not being good enough and anything else you can think of that involves others judging my work.

Yes, eventually my work will be judged by others.  Once it's done and someone else reads it the judging will begin in one way or another and there's nothing I can do to change that.  But I am not writing for others and I have to remember that.  Yes, audience is something to take into account, so is the publisher or agent I want to read my book and then support it.  But at this stage, at this point in the writing there is only one person that I need to write for and that's myself.  I'm a reader too, I contribute to the hundreds of books that are published every week simply by being a contributor to the purchase of them.  I know what a good story is, I've long had a sense for timing and figuring out the future of a story before it happens.  The book that I'm writing is in that way no different.  I write the book I want to read and I can trust that those other books that I read have other people reading them too who will one day pick up my book and read it too.  It's for the people like me that I write because I write it for me.

So.  Go away writer's block.  Go away fear.  I've no use for you at all.