Saturday, October 8, 2011

Multitasking and You

While I'm writing a novel, I tend to become singularly focused on that one task. It's a big, challenging one, after all! Between school and a novel, most of my brain juices are sucked dry and need to be replenished daily. But as I'm writing my current WIP (work in progress, for those not hip to writer lingo), I've found a neat little trick to help keep my brain fresh and actively engaged -- and that would be multitasking.

I don't mean it in the traditional sense of doing all kinds of different things at once, but rather alternating between different types of creative projects. For example, I've come to find that I really enjoy making fanvids for movies and TV shows that I like. Whenever I get stuck with my writing, I stop and work on a fanvid, which lets my brain think it's having a break doing something fun while also keeping the creative portion of it chugging along. Plus, I have something immediately tangible to show for my efforts and since we tend to be reward-based creatures, this helps reinforce my motivation to keep going in all facets of my creative life.

Common writer advice is when you're stuck, to step away from the piece and do something else. I've found this works almost 99.9% of the time. Of course, sometimes you just have to push through the block, but generally it doesn't hurt to work on something else for a little bit to recharge the batteries.

What sort of things do you do outside of writing when you need a break? Do you think it helps to keep in that creative mindset or "zone"?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Starting a New Story

It's pretty much like this.

On that note, I will hopefully be starting a new novel soon! Also, edits for my short story are almost finished and then I'll be sending that off to the Writers of the Future contest. Nervous, but also excited (see also: cautiously optimistic)! I haven't submitted my writing anywhere since the ninth grade so I'm interested to see how things turn out. Fingers crossed!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Beyond the Nostalgia Factor

On a recent nostalgia kick, I decided to hook up my old Nintendo 64 console to play The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, a game I played but never finished when I was much younger. For as many frustrating memories of the game, I also had fond memories, too. The Legend of Zelda games heavily influenced my creative leanings way back when, encouraging some of my first fanfiction writing, and so they hold a special place in my heart. It's a testament to the story and setting that a game like Ocarina of Time can still compete with other video games today, even lacking the graphics.

It got me thinking about what sort of qualities combine to make a "classic" or a story with long-lasting appeal -- something that makes the audience want to come back time and time again for the experience, regardless of knowing the ending.

In part, the argument could be made that it has to do with nostalgia, where memory evokes some of the good feelings associated with the reading/watching/playing/etc of the story. But I don't want to oversimplify matters here. A terrible story cannot be redeemed by nostalgia alone. There has to be that special something first to create a point of nostalgia for the future, where we can look back and go "that was really a fantastic story" and want to revisit the world and the characters that were a part of the journey.

Here are just three of the factors I've come up with:

An Identifiable Protagonist. All writers know that their main characters should be memorable in some way, or else they'll just be words on a page and soon forgotten. Taking that a step further, an identifiable protagonist is one that could be easily picked out in a line-up of characters. They are particularly unique in some way or fashion that sets them apart from your average fictional character.

Off the top of my head, examples would include Link from Zelda with his trademark green outfit or Harry Potter with his glasses and lightning bolt scar. While these are primarily appearance-based, personality shouldn't be underestimated either. Think of Jack Bauer from 24 who's recognized by his devotion to his country and getting the job done no matter what the cost; or Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games and her extraordinary selflessness in regards to her sister.

A Great Supporting Cast. No man is an island, and no one character can carry a story on their own. A setting must be populated by interesting secondary characters -- ones that have their own goals, beliefs, and purposes for being where they are and doing whatever they do. The more memorable, the better. Not all need be likable, though -- and in fact, it's better if some aren't! Audiences love to hate a despicable character as much as they enjoy rooting for a good one. (And sometimes, if they're like me, they love to love the villains, too! Poor maligned villains. ;))

A World All Their Own. It doesn't need to be an outrageous fantasy land with magic and elves prancing about, or a sci-fi universe with advanced technology aplenty, although that's always fun, but it does need to have consistency and authenticity. Magic should have rules, technology limitations, and actions consequences. This results in a believable setting that adds to the action and story, rather than distracting away from it. Examples of well thought-out worlds would be Tolkien's Middle-earth or Collins' Panem.

It goes without saying that great writing also helps make for a great story! That being said, what qualities or factors do you think make for a timeless tale? What sort of thing keeps you returning to the same stories? What are some of your favorite story worlds to "visit"?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Brief Update

"You must stay drunk on writing
 so that reality cannot destroy you."
- Ray Bradbury
I finished the first draft of my fantasy/horror short story that remains as of yet untitled. As you can see from the Current Writing Projects section of the sidebar, it turned out to be a little over 10,000 words, which is a lot longer than I had intended or foreseen. As a partial experimentation in short story writing, I thought it went fairly well.

Doubtless it needs editing, but I'm going to let it breathe some before tackling it. Like a fine wine, I've found most of my writing is more palatable after some time has passed (and my inner editor has a chance to chill the heck out).

It is a relief to be done, though! I love the feeling of completion, having seen a project through from beginning to end. Nothing like it in the world. The only odd thing is, as much as I wanted to be finished, I'm already antsy to start another project, haha! So goes the life of a writer, I s'ppose! No rest for the inspired!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Fail Again. Fail Better.

A part of me has been putting off this blog post because I didn't want to admit failure. Silly, maybe, but true! As writers, we experience failure all the time, whether in the form of rejections or something as small as a few lines of dialogue not working out. It's never fun, but ofttimes necessary to our growth.

My Camp NaNovel didn't end up working out, I'm sorry to say. I started off poorly, my persnickety ways catching up to me faster than you can say 'did I just end that sentence in a preposition?'. Then I managed to catch up finally after a few days, but I could tell the passion just wasn't there anymore. The idea I loved, and the characters I thought had potential, but the way I was writing it just wasn't right. Part of the problem was a lack of an outline, which this particular story sorely needed in advance. And I couldn't seem to shut off my inner editor either, he's a nasty one, he is.

So I stopped. I didn't want to call it giving up, but that's what it was. I was embarrassed. I had made such a big deal out of participating! Now what was I going to do? Aside from cleaning the egg off my face . . .

Egg pictured here. Not actual size.

Well, I started thinking. Whenever something doesn't work out, I like to figure out why that is. I came to the conclusion that, at the moment, I'm suffering from a touch of writer's ADD. I lose interest quickly. Now I know I can write a full-length novel because I've done it. I have the discipline; I write every day. But lately, my style has been evolving, changing (whether for better or worse), and I've been trying to pretend otherwise to no success.

My mother has been telling me for years to try my hand at short stories, but I always sniffed at the idea. I'm a novelist, consarnit! My creativity cannot be contained in mere short stories, I said! I was wrong.

So I'm writing a short story right now, taking advantage of an older idea I loved but didn't think could fit the larger format of a novel. I'm rather enjoying it, too! I'm still a touch on the verbose side of things, but I can always cut later as necessity dictates. It's a learning process, as most things in life are.

My point with all this is that if I had never failed Camp NaNo, I might never have even considered writing a short story. That failure forced me to look inward, identify some of my own shortcomings, and figure out a way to work with them, rather than struggle in vain against them. And who knows? This failure might end up resulting in a different kind of success. For us artists, even when we lose, sometimes we win.

As the author and playwright Samuel Beckett said, "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Preparations are Complete, Captain

So I've finished planning for Camp NaNoWriMo. The reason I say "planning" and not "plotting" is because I am one of those daring breeds that likes to write without an outline or strict map. Yep, I'm a pantser, writing by the seat-of-my-pants-or-more-often-my-pajamas. As long as I have a loose notion of where the novel is supposed to end up, and characters to drive the story, I find this works perfectly fine for me. Usually.

Yeah. Good enough.

What pre-novel planning I do do typically consists of:

  • character sheets for the main character(s) and any important minor characters
  • selecting character models or play-bys for said characters to help visualize
  • a brief plot synopsis that covers the gist of the story (while being deliberately vague)

This is all done.

In addition to these things, I've also come up with a title through a lengthy process of writing down lots and lots of titles because apparently I like coming up with them more than committing to one. I've even gone as far as to make a faux cover for the book. I like to think all this creative preparation helps keep me engaged with the story idea, which is especially important until I can begin getting the words down on the page.

The only downside to being so thoroughly prepared, by my own standards, is that I don't have anything else to do for the next three days, leaving me champing quite vigorously on the proverbial bit.

Which leaves me to ask the question: what do you do to prepare yourself for writing a novel, and how far in advance do you start planning?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Let's Go to Camp!

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We're having a minor plot bunny infestation. Nothing to worry about.
For those who haven't heard, NaNoWriMo is launching a new program called Camp NaNoWriMo beginning July 1st. The details are all still a bit hazy, but Camp NaNo is supposed to be a year-round version of National Novel Writing Month, the only difference being that you can choose which month to participate.

This is good news for those who are too busy in November, or would like to participate in the high-octane/caffeine-filled days of nanoveling multiple times a year.

That being said, I myself have decided to take a break from my current novel to write something a lot more fun and silly for Camp NaNo. I'm hoping to revisit why I love to write so very, very much and NaNoWriMo is as great a venue as any to do it! Too often, it's easy to get caught up in perfectionism, particularly when in pursuit of publication, and lose sight of the beautiful, intricate chaos that is writing. I want to remember that sheer enjoyment, the kind of puerile joy I had as a young girl just starting out, typing up Legend of Zelda and Star Wars fanfiction in her spare time*.

If you're interested in noveling during July (or August, etc.), I'd definitely encourage you to check out the Camp NaNo site once it's up -- I'm not sure when that will be, but hopefully soon! *crosses fingers* I'll keep you posted!

Seriously, if you want to participate or have questions, drop me a comment! A strong support system (and/or some light competition) is essential for these sorts of manic write-a-thons, and I'd love to write alongside you this July!

* Let's be honest, I still dabble in both on occasion. Fangirl 4 lyfe! ;)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Quotes. Quotes Everywhere.

I'm a big fan of quotes, and you can quote me on that.

Whether they're quotes from a movie, a book, or just a friend's odd commentary, there's something about a memorable line that I love. I think it might be in part due to that human need to connect -- to know that someone else out there feels exactly the same way you do. That you aren't alone. We've all had days where we come across some phrase that perfectly captures our complicated existence. It's that feeling of discovery that I adore.

So I decided today I'd share four of my recent favorite inspirational quotes with you in the hopes that it helps spread the encouragement! Because, as writers, goodness knows we need it sometimes!

"Ambition comes from the brain leadin' the body, instead of the other way around."
- Elvis Presley

"The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet, the steady dignity that refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going."
- Graeme Fife

"Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius, and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring."
- Marilyn Monroe

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great ones make you feel that you, too, can become great."
- Mark Twain

These are just a few out of many, many quotes that I fancy. I'd love to hear some of your favorite inspirational quotes! Please share in the comments!

Friday, May 20, 2011

On Meddling

I wanted to post something about Anne Boleyn yesterday, on the anniversary of her execution, but I got busy with studying for finals and writing the novel, so we're just gonna be a day late with this.


For those who aren't familiar with her, Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII's second wife and Queen of England. Henry courted Anne for roughly seven years before marrying her and making her his queen. After failing to produce a much-needed male heir, Anne's enemies took advantage of the King's displeasure with her and plotted her downfall, ultimately leading to her execution on May 19th, 1536 on false charges of adultery, treason, and incest.

(This is the Sparknotes version, however, and I'm greatly simplifying a long, fascinating tragedy that I would encourage anyone who's interested to research more about.)

Anne's lasting appeal can be credited to a variety of reasons -- her tragic fate, her romance with the notorious Henry VIII, the strength of her character, the enigma of a woman taking a man's world by storm. For me, personally, I've always admired Anne's spirit, particularly her courage in the face of incredible adversity, often overcoming problems with her intelligence and wit. She was not physically beautiful, reports indicating that she was of only moderate good looks, yet her vivacious personality captured the heart of a King and court. Anne was bold, brave, and indomitable. A modern woman by many of today's standards, an anachronism.

When I think of Anne, one of the first things that comes to mind is her speech on the scaffold:
"Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul."
One line that has always stuck with me is this one: And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. It's been interpreted as meaning that Anne was asking future historians to review her case and judge her by the truth of their findings, as opposed to believing the guilty verdict delivered by a jury of people who hated her. 

And that got me thinking.

As a writer of historical fiction and non-fiction, I feel like there's an opportunity to be the champions for the dead. We can be their voices, give an alternate account of what happened and maybe why. We can explore the what if's and why fors. We can't change the past, but we can explain and interpret it to the best of our abilities, given the evidence available. In effect, we can "meddle" with Anne's cause, hers and many others from bygone times.

Of course, we'll never know everything, and it's likely we'll get some things wrong, but we can bring an awareness of our history from a more human, more personal perspective. Because Anne, like so many historical figures, was not just a name in a textbook -- she was a woman who lived, and loved, whose life was cut tragically short, and she shouldn't be forgotten.

P.S. Spoiler alert! Anne's only daughter, Elizabeth, goes on to become Queen Elizabeth I, reigning in a golden age for England, and becoming arguably one of the best English monarchs. Take that, Henry. ;)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Foray into Historical Fiction

So I've finally started a new novel! I'm writing historical fiction set during the 1950s, centered around the studio and star system. And maybe there will be a young!Elvis cameo later on in the decade. Possibly. Probably.

I mean, come on, look at him! So cute.*

More seriously, though, writing historical fiction has been an interesting challenge. Reading around, there seems to be two camps in terms of how much research you should do before attempting a novel set in a different time period. While I did some cursory investigating to familiarize myself with my era, there was plenty I didn't know going in. I'll be the first to admit that it probably would have behooved me to do a bit more research than I did, but I really don't think there's any way to anticipate everything you'll need to know while writing. Inevitably, you will have to stop and look up what sort of hairstyles were in vogue, what model of telephone was in use, whether or not your lady characters wore underpants beneath those pencil skirts. Those sorts of things that will probably not but wouldn't it be cool if it did? come up in Trivial Pursuit one day.

What year did they remove the 'LAND' from the HOLLYWOOD sign? 1949. Yes, I know that off the top of my head. No, that's not weird.

Ironically, it was this fear of being unprepared that prevented me from writing historical fiction for so long, contrary to my love of reading it. What I've found, though, is that I love learning about all of this stuff as I go along. Yes, it sometimes interrupts my writing when I have to stop and Google the odd historical fact, but it's a thrill to come across some neat piece of information that will lend authenticity to my book. It probably doesn't hurt that I'm a History major and adore learning new things about the past either.

Long story short, I'm having a ball with this novel. Although it's slow going, it's the most fun I've had in a long while, and I think I may have finally found a genre that fits me. Only time will tell!

* Yes, this is pretty much an excuse to put an Elvis picture on my blog. I regret nothing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Storms on the Brain

Some days, it occurs to me how apropos the word 'brainstorming' is. According to Merriam-Webster's dictionary, a storm is "1. a serious disturbance of any element of nature", "2. a disturbed or agitated state", and "3. a sudden heavy influx or onset". I don't know about you, but I'd say those definitions describe the process of plotting and planning quite well!

A story idea usually starts with a kernel -- it may be a character, or a scene, even as little as a line of dialogue. It's just a little butterfly flapping its wings, unaware of the potential hurricane its created.

Soon, you find yourself thinking more and more about this idea. It's a sudden heavy influx of creative possibility. You start to flesh out the characters in your head. Sometimes you get tripped up by potential plot holes. Other times, you want to pat yourself on the back for coming up with such a brilliant plot twist. This, you think, could be The One. The perfect idea for the perfect book. The next bestseller. And the anticipation becomes electric.

But it's not always so easy. Brainstorming can be difficult in a world where the adage 'there's nothing new under the sun' seems so true. This is where that agitated state comes in. Sometimes it's a real struggle to decide, what happens next?

Sometimes, the storms bring anxiety and self-doubt. They rain on your parade. They can dampen your enthusiasm. But, like any storm, the sun will always come out, in the end. Always.

We just have to weather the tempest until then.

The life of a writer -- or any artist, for that matter -- is one that is characterized by these creative 'storms'. We grapple with thoughts, ideas, possibilities on a near constant basis and the result is often memorable characters and stories. In the wake of sleepless nights, tossing and turning over plot, beauty blooms from the blank pages like a flower after a downpour. And makes it all worth it.

I myself am in one of these brain-storms right now, planning for a novel I intend on writing in May. So far, it's been both a challenge and a pleasure. But every now and again I get discouraged and have to remind myself that it's not the end of the world whenever I hit a block or hiccup. It's just part of the process.

I'm in the eye of the storm, and I say, bring it on!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

He is Risen!

Happy Easter!

Don't forget to count your blessings among all those peeps today! ;)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Pros (and Cons) of Prose

Style matters. It's one of the first tenets you'll find in pretty much any book on professional writing. Lately, I've been finding myself comparing and analyzing the writing styles of authors I enjoy. Part of it has to do with trying to pin down my own natural style which is in a near constant state of flux, and the other part has to do with simple curiosity. How do published, successful authors do what they do, and so well?

It seems there's a versatility in fiction, as in music and art, that encourages new and varying styles of writing. This benefits the reader who will have lots to choose from, but can baffle the writer who's trying to figure out what works and identify their place in the literary universe.

I'll give you an example of what I mean.

I'm currently in the process of reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It's a genre buster, involving romance and fantasy and history, all wrapped into a nice, little package. Or not so little, considering it's roughly 850 pages long (considering the version you buy). It's chock full of description -- from the changing locations to the characters, even minor ones, nothing escapes the detailed treatment.
I swung down the road that afternoon toward the village to fetch Frank from the vicarage. I happily breathed in the heady Highland mix of heather, sage, and broom, spiced here and there with chimney smoke and the tang of fried herring, as I passed the scattered cottages. The village lay nestled in a small declivity at the foot of one of those soaring crags that rise so steeply from the Highland moors. Those cottages near the road were nice. The bloom of postwar prosperity spread as far as a new coat of paint, and even the manse, which must be at least a hundred years old, sported bright yellow trim around its sagging windowframes. - Outlander, page 28
Beautiful prose, no? And it's consistently awe-inspiring throughout the novel, too. If there was ever a book to teach how to describe people and places in fiction, I would definitely recommend this one.

And in the other corner . . . I just finished reading Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins. It's a Young Adult romance with genuine charm and humor. Honestly I could sing praises up and down for it. As expected, its written more simply than Outlander, but manages to highlight important details just the same.
He shakes his head, a little dazed. The first thing I notice is his hair -- it's the first thing I notice about everyone. It's dark brown and messy and somehow both long and short at the same time. I think of the Beatles, since I've just seen them in Meredith's room. It's artist hair. Musician hair. I-pretend-I-don't-care-but-I-really-do hair.
Beautiful hair.
[. . .]
The beautiful boy gives an amused grin. His teeth are lovely-straight on top, crooked on the bottom, with a touch of overbite. I'm a sucker for smiles like this, due to my own lack of orthodontia. I have a gap between my front teeth the size of a raisin. - Anna and the French Kiss, pages 15/16
Both books are well-written, without a doubt. They both have their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. My point is, they both have such different styles. Of course, they're in different genres and age ranges, but the fact is both succeed at what they're setting out to do. Entertain.

I adore the English language, so my style tends to shy towards arguably excessive description, usually with a large focus on character introspection, and it's always made me curious whether people care for all of that or if they're secretly skimming to the dialogue.

Orrrr, maybe I'm just paranoid. *shifty eyes*

Inquiring minds would like to know, dear readers! What sort of style of writing do you prefer to read? What kind do you like to write? Are there certain circumstances in which a simpler approach to prose is better?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

History Will be Kind to Me for I Intend to Write It

So I'm a history major now.

Crazy, right? For most of my life, it was practically a foregone conclusion that -- if I chose to go to college at all -- I would end up an English major. Creative writing's my thing, has been since I first started with Johnny Quest fanfiction in the first grade, and I'm not too bad at essays either. Reading the assigned literature, on the other hand . . . well, I plead the fifth. No offense, Dickens.

It began to occur to me that my interests were not so linear anymore. When perusing classes, I kept being drawn back to history courses. All I could think of was, what stories these classes could tell me, what inspiration would I draw from the past! For me, that's what history is: tales of real people living real lives. People just like you or me -- women and men who had dreams and hopes and fears. Not just names in a textbook (that I'm required to read and probably won't because we've established this sad truth). They say life is stranger than fiction, and many events that have taken place in the course of human history are certainly strange, to say the least, if not outright unbelievable!

I still wanted to be an author, of course, but I was no longer certain than an English degree was the best or, I should say, only way to help me achieve that. Don't get me wrong, I think an English degree is wonderful, and immensely helpful for any would-be writer. It just wasn't for me, after all. And I'll be entering my third year next fall, so this could change, but right now I'm happy with the decision to become a history major.

I've already started watching Jeopardy; that's like halfway there, right? ;)

Thing is, writers are incredibly fortunate as they can study 'at the knee', proverbially speaking, of the masters. All the greats that came before us have left their life's work for us to read and learn from. I didn't need an English degree for that, not when I could pick up any of those books on my own time (and with the added bonus of not having to write a lengthy essay about symbolism). The truth of the matter was, a minor in creative writing would give me everything I needed, leaving me free to choose whatever major I wanted and investigate a different path than the one initially marked out in crayon by my younger self.

It was both thrilling and terrifying -- but what big changes in life aren't?

I've always felt that pursuing your passions is important. If you don't like where you're at, why are you there? If you don't like what you're doing, why are you doing it? I'm as guilty of getting caught up in routine as anyone else. Because it's safe. Because it's easy. But rarely is it as rewarding as stepping from your comfort zone, taking a chance, and diving into something new, just for the heck of it.

The Roman writer, Virgil, famously wrote, "Fortune favors the bold."

So be bold, in your writing and in life!

Note: Blog post title is a quote by the ever-excellent Winston Churchill.