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.