Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

I usually don’t write to music because I find it distracting, even when it doesn’t contain words. Lately, however, I’ve been finding myself needing a little something else to get into the mood.

I only listen to soundtracks when I’m writing because if the song has words, I’ll start singing along to it and be way too distracted. And, inevitably, that just leads to me going to Twitter or Tumblr and distracting myself further.

Frozen SoundtrackSo, I stick to the soundtracks.

Right now I’ll admit I have mostly Disney soundtracks because I find those to be the most familiar and soothing. Plus they just make me happy. I do have Lindsey Stirling‘s CD on there, though, and that makes a great background for action scenes because her violin work is usually enhanced by dubstep. But I have Pocahontas, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Frozen, too.

But I need more. And I need more variety. So, I’d like to know what you guys are listening to while you write. What really speaks to you? Which tracks do you find are good for the slow scenes versus the fast ones, or the romantic scenes versus the violent ones? I’d like to try writing to music more in order to see if it positively affects me.

In other words, help a girl out! I’ll be taking your recommendations and adding them to my writing playlist in the hopes my Muse is further inspired.

Admit your faults

Posted: February 4, 2014 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

SplatterA lot of writers have a hard time letting go of their manuscripts and just getting the damn thing published. One of the biggest reasons is because it’s constantly not ready, it’s not done, it’s not perfect.

Perfection doesn’t exist, and it never will. Even the most beloved books on our shelves have their issues, but it’s a matter of those issues being outweighed by brilliance.

So learn to live with your mistakes. And learn to admit your faults.

Sometimes you’re going to have to settle when it comes to your story. You’ll have to use that cliche to get from point A to point B, or maybe you’ll have to leave that plot hole because there’s just no way to fill it.

A perfect example of this is The Avengers. If you listen to the audio commentary, you’ll hear Joss Whedon talking about his experience writing and directing the movie. The commentary itself is brilliant if you’re a Joss Whedon fan. I could listen to that man talk about anything. He so funny and insightful, and I love the way he operates.

But that commentary is also a gold mine for writing knowledge. And one of the biggest things that stuck out to me was when he talked about the scene where the Chitauri all died after their mothership was destroyed by the nuclear bomb.

I’m not proud of that either, okay? That’s… It was necessary to make sure we understood that they didn’t have to just clean up for the next 17 hours by still fighting, but… So they could actually have their moment of triumph. But it’s a device I am not fond of and probably shouldn’t have brought up.

I’m glad he brought it up, though, because we often think that writers don’t know when they use a cliche or can’t tell they’ve used a trope in their story, when in fact they probably just couldn’t find a solution to their issue. It’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean they’re not brilliant. It’s just how things have to work sometimes.

Let me rephrase that.

It’s not the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean you’re not brilliant. It’s just how things have to work sometimes.

Your manuscript is not going to be perfect. Not ever. Make it as good as you can and then send it off to live in the hands of your readers. If there’s something wrong with your story, admit to your faults. Sometimes it just can’t be helped. But being aware of those issues and trying to avoid them in the future is the best thing you can do.

Have you ever written something and known it was a cliche or a trope, but also knew you couldn’t get around it? What did you do in a situation like that?

What made me want to be a writer?

Posted: January 14, 2014 in Writing
Tags:

SplatterLike most things in life, it wasn’t a specific event or person that thrust me down this path. It started with a proclivity for the matter, then a deepening curiosity, an insatiable desire, and finally, a bit of luck.

My stories, like the tales of most writers, started off terrible. It’s not something I’m ashamed of. In fact, sometimes I miss that era when an entire story could be encased in a single paragraph. Everything you needed to know was bound with a messy bow within five run-on sentences. It makes me cringe now, but for a fourth grader, those words were gold.

And why shouldn’t they be? That was a time of pure imagination. There were no rules, no constraints, no doubts; just an empty page and a story in my head that needed to be told.

My stories today, I’m glad to report, are a bit more complex and imaginative. Though the price I must pay for that comes in the form of rules, constraints, and doubts. Nothing in life is free.

Even then, in fourth grade, I enjoyed writing. I liked stories and I liked telling them to people. I liked describing things and putting them down on paper, like that very act made them true, made them real.

That proclivity turned into a curiosity. Could I do more? Could I go bigger? Could I actually write a novel? The answer was yes. And though it would take me a long, long time to actually finish one, I spent every moment of my free time trying to do just that.

This is when I realized that the act of writing was a monster that had grown deep within me. It was not something I could cut out of me, even if I had wanted to, because it was so deeply rooted. It had unknowingly become a part of my soul.

I would spend hours on a quest that had no ending. There was no solid goal in mind, just a need to write and the ability to do so. So I wrote. And I wrote. I jumped from project to project without a care, without structure, and without discipline. But I didn’t need any of those things because writing was still just an idealistic dream. Something to strive for while I was asleep, when the inhibitions of life were less pronounced.

That step from dream to realization hasn’t been completed yet, but I’m almost there. My heel is in the grass, and my toes are just waiting to slap against the dirt. I’m moving in slow motion, but eventually my dream will manifest. I just need patience.

That step, that initial heel-to-the-grass motion, didn’t begin to occur because of me — or at least, not entirely because of me. There was also quite a bit of luck involved.

Although my entire journey was a confluence of events, it was this single step that I took next which solidified me on this path. Or, I should say, a single person.

In college, I took several required English classes, and had several wonderful professors. In their own way, they each encouraged me and nudged me in the right direction. But it was only when I finally took an elective creative writing course that I realized this is what I want to do for  the rest of my life.

My professor in college was quiet. She would look around the room, focusing on each person, making sure no one had anything else to say about whatever we chose to talk about that day. Her class was less about the end result and more about the journey. It was about the discovery of self, about learning the craft and implementing it, but also learning about yourself and putting that information to use.

I learned a lot about myself in that class, and even more when I went on to the next elective. I learned that I sucked at writing. I learned that sucking was okay. I learned to be better. And I got better. I learned that critique doesn’t always equate hate. And I learned that some people will pull you up while others will drag you down.

But most importantly, I learned that writing is not just a job or a way of life or a means to an end. God knows that it’s not a means to an end for most people.

Writing is, without a doubt, something spiritual, something ethereal. It’s something we can’t help but doing. It’s something that pulls at our insides until we have to move our fingers across the keyboard and string those letters into words and the words into sentences. It’s an insatiable desire, and one that I plan on feeding endlessly.

As writers, we should be connecting with our readership on a personal level. This can take some time and effort, but in the end it will be worth it.

Why does Lady Gaga have such a large fanbase? Because she’s given them a name they can identify with (Little Monsters), and she accepts them for who they are. She understands her fans, and in return more and more of them flock to her.

But it isn’t just on a large scale level. Take Team StarKid, for example. I’ve talked about them before, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of you guys still didn’t know who they are. They got their fame when their Harry Potter musical parody went viral on YouTube, and since then they’ve continued to make shows in the same vein.

I’m a huge fan of them, and it’s because I can connect to them on a human level. They aren’t just a brand or a product, they’re people. And that’s important to me.

So important, in fact, that I’m willing to throw my money at them every chance I get. They put all of their musicals on YouTube for free, but they also sell DVDs and albums and merchandise. And even though I could just watch the shows online, and even though I could illegally download their music, I don’t.

Why? Because I want to support them. I want to see them succeed. I believe in their vision, and I want to see that vision become a reality.

And so do a lot of other people. So many, in fact, that when StarKid wanted to raise $35,000 to create their latest musical, they ended up raising nearly $150,000 because so many people feel the same way about them as I do.

As writers, we’re getting bombarded with tips and advice every single day, but take this one as gospel. It’s true, and you can see the proof above. If you take the time to get to know your audience and connect with them on a human level, they will repay that kindness tenfold. And it won’t just make for better sales; it’ll make for a better experience all around.

I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo this year because I just don’t have enough time to dedicate to it, but I did promise myself that I was going to write more this month than I have in the last previous months.

So far, that’s not going too well.

A few weeks ago, I had a complete story pop into my head — from start to finish. I knew the characters, their motivations, their secrets, and their journeys as people. I even had whole scenes floating in my head with the dialogue and everything. That’s never happened to me before, and I was quite excited to get it all down on paper.

The only problem was that the story sounded so much better in my head. Once I started writing it, the voice fell flat, the characters became unlikeable, and the story started going in a direction that I didn’t really like once I really tried to hammer out the details.

So I put it on pause. Meanwhile, a new character jumped up fully formed in my head. It was a completely new story, but since the other one didn’t really work out, I thought I could begin this one. Maybe my writing muscles just needed a little exercising and then I’d be able to get back into the swing of things. Once that happened, I was hoping to go back to the first story.

Only, it didn’t. The same thing happened: I wrote what was in my mind, and nothing really worked. Suddenly the story began morphing on its own, and it was a far cry from the original idea. The problem was that I couldn’t get back to that original idea. It was gone, and I don’t think I’ll be able to find it again.

I’m sure this has happened countless times to all of you guys at one point or another, but I’d like to know what you do whenever you have trouble getting the right words out on paper. Do you stop writing for a while, and take a break? Do you push through it? Do you work on something else? Do you edit another project instead? I’d love any input! I really want to be writing on a more regular basis, but lately it’s becoming difficult to get what’s in my head out through my fingertips.

The art of the anti-hero

Posted: November 8, 2013 in Writing
Tags: , , ,

Sherlock

The anti-hero can be an extremely difficult character to create, but when it’s done right, they’re often more compelling than your traditional hero. But what exactly is an anti-hero?

An anti-hero is a character that lacks the traditional qualities of a hero. That means he or she may not be courageous or moral or willing to sacrifice themselves for others. In some cases, the anti-hero can actually have a villainous nature, but due to circumstances outside of their control, they act the part of the hero.

If an anti-hero is part villain, then why would we be at all interested in them as our main character? Anti-heroes are more flawed than traditional heroes and in many cases that makes them feel more human. Their mistakes and the subsequent consequences are bigger. There’s no easy road for an anti-hero, and these qualities can make them feel more relateable.

There are hundreds of examples of an anti-hero. Off of the top of my head, I can think of Sherlock (from the BBC show), Severus Snape, and Dexter. Each of these characters has varying degrees of the anti-hero “gene,” and we like them for different reasons. Some of them also work better than others.

Sherlock is my favorite. He’s a sociopath. He’s crass and has a serious superiority complex, no matter how deserved it may be. He’s assumptive and doesn’t do well with people. And yet we love him. Why? John Watson is a big reason for that, as we tend to see Sherlock through his eyes, but there’s something more. It’s because Sherlock is so horrible that, when he breaks down and we see actual love and compassion, it makes it all worth it. There’s nothing better than when a character whose heart is encased in stone gets the chance to show everyone what he’s really like underneath his unfriendly exterior.

Severus Snape is the midway point between Sherlock and Dexter. On the one hand, he’s a pretty horrible person. He’s spent years and years picking on a boy simply because he hated that boy’s father. Prior to that, he was a Death Eater. And just because he decided to switch sides, it didn’t mean that his prejudices disappeared. Snape could often be juvenile and manipulative, but he had one single saving factor: love. Everything Snape did for Dumbledore was in the name of his love for Lily. And while it’s hard to truly care about someone who did the things Snape did, it’s also difficult to hate someone for loving a human being as much as he loved Harry’s mother.

DEXTER (Season 2)

Dexter is a difficult case in terms of an anti-hero. He’s a serial killer who kills murderers. Do you see the conundrum? On the one hand, he’s a murderer himself. He’s a psychopath. He is sick and twisted and not nearly the person he appears to be on the surface. And yet, what he does in his spare time is kind of heroic. He solves the crimes and dispenses of criminals in ways the police force can’t. What he does is by no means legal, but is it actually wrong? That’s a hard question to answer, and not one I’m prepared to address. This is partly because Dexter often crosses that line from anti-hero to villain. I’ve only seen one season, so I’m sure he grows and changes, but his lack of empathy and lust for blood often sends shivers down my spine.

There are several types of anti-heroes and several levels at which they can be found, but overall, anti-heroes can be an interesting sub-category in which to file away your main character. Their flaws are their greatest assets, and everyone loves to see a bad guy turn into a good guy. (Why do you think Despicable Me is so popular?)

Who’s your favorite anti-hero? Are there any anti-heroes you just don’t like? Have you ever tried to write one? If so, was it easier or harder to write than a traditional hero?

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to be the strong and silent type, with Chewbacca from Star Wars.”

Veronica Mars Season 1 Kristen BellAs writers, it can be difficult to create a flawed character. I think this comes from the fact that we put so much of ourselves in so many of our characters. And who wants to admit they’re flawed?

The truth is, however, that we are. And our characters should be too. “To err is human,” and all that. The more flawed our characters, the more believable and relateable they are.

I’ve been watching Veronica Mars with the crew for ReWatchable, a podcast we put together to rewatch oldies but goodies — those shows that aren’t airing anymore, but were so amazing we have to watch them again. In some cases, we’re introducing the show to people that have never seen it before, and they get to talk about their experiences with the superfans.

This is my role for Veronica Mars. I’ve seen bits and pieces before, but definitely not the whole thing. So far I’m loving it, and part of that has to do with Veronica Mars — the character.

Veronica is a complex character, and she’s got tons of flaws. That might sound like a bad thing, but I think it keeps her real. If she always solved the crime by dinnertime (50 points to Gryffindor if you know that reference) she would feel more like a superhero then just a plain old super sleuth.

Veronica gets things wrong sometimes. Sometimes she’s duped. And sometimes her life really, really sucks.

All of that adds up to make a three dimensional character. It’s important to remember that when building our own characters. Veronica is a little arrogant and a lot cynical. She doesn’t usually see the good in people, and sometimes that can ruin her relationships with others.

But people are really like that, and the more human they seem, the more the viewers or readers will be invested in that character. They want Veronica to be right. They want Veronica to grow as a person. They want Veronica to finally trust other people.

And when it inevitably happens, it’s going to be that much more rewarding.

Have you seen Veronica Mars? What other characters can you think of that have a lot of flaws but eventually learn and grow because of them? Do you usually have trouble writing flaws into your own characters? (I know I do.)

Here’s the next post in this series where I discuss TV shows and movies and the knowledge that we can gain from watching them. We can apply that knowledge to our writing. As always, I never pretend to be an expert. I just like exploring my own thoughts on the matter as I write these blog posts! I welcome all comments and would love to hear what you think about this topic.

Make sure you check out my previous post, titled, “How to shock the socks off your readers, with Colby Granger from Numb3rs.”

Chewy and HanHopefully you guys have read my thoughts on Star Wars as someone who has just recently watched the original trilogy for the first time. It’s pretty relevant, because we’re going to be talking about Chewbacca today!

Chewy was one of my favorite characters in the films, which is interesting because, well, he doesn’t really talk. I mean, he does speak, but not in a language we can understand.

I thought this was an interesting character trait, and something that would be quite difficult to accomplish in a novel. If your character can’t talk, how can you give them a personality? How can you tell your readers exactly what they’re thinking (assuming the POV isn’t theirs)?

The easy answer to this is to “show, don’t tell.” We’ve heard it a million times, and I think it applies here more than anywhere else. If your character can’t — or won’t — speak, the best way to show your readers exactly the type of person they are is through body language.

You should already be doing this with your other characters, but it’s doubly important if a character has no dialogue.

In the movies, Chewy’s movements were paramount to understanding him. While you could make a distinction between when he was happy or when he was upset by the sounds he made, it was much clearer when that was backed up with physical actions. Whether he was hitting someone or hugging them, it made it so much easier to understand his emotions.

A character in your book that doesn’t speak needs to do the same things. They need to interact with other people in order to show those characters what they’re thinking. A hand firmly planted on a hip versus a hand fingering the fraying hem of a shirt speak volumes of two different emotional states.

While dialogue is an important facet to your novel, so is physical action. Even more so when your character won’t be speaking at all. That physical action in place of dialogue is the literal answer to showing and not telling. A character that doesn’t speak would create a challenge for an author, I think, but one that’s definitely worth pursuing.

Do you know any characters in a book that don’t speak? How did the author get around them not being able to communicate verbally? Do you have any characters that don’t speak in your work? What’s your favorite scene starring Chewbacca? :)

We’ve all been there. It’s a dark and stormy morning/afternoon/evening (dun dun DUN), and the lights flicker.

“Please, PLEASE don’t go out,” you say, as you quickly unplug your laptop so it doesn’t get fried and save the document you’re currently working on about six times, just to be sure. “I have SO much work to do.”

But eventually the inevitable will happen. The power will go out and stay out. Not only does this increase your chances of running into a wall if you’re like me (who has trouble not running into them when she does have her glasses on and it’s light out and both eyes are open and she’s been living in the same house for three years…), but it seriously puts a damper on your writing.

Or does it?

I try very hard not to be one of those people who can’t live without the internet. Yeah, sure, I’m on it a lot and I always have my phone and I feel naked if I go on a trip without my laptop, but I can put these things down and walk away if I have to. I’m addicted, but I’m not THAT addicted.

When the power went out at my house the other day, I was just a tad bit frustrated. I had a lot of things I had to do, and about 98% of them needed the internet. I still had some juice in my computer and phone, so it’s not like I was without technology, but I wasn’t *connected*.

So, I decided I’d get some work done anyway. Hey, maybe actually writing a story out on paper (*gasp!*) would get the muse all fired up. Maybe this was a good thing!

Writers are understandably quite reliant on the internet these days. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Blogs and emails and social media, oh my! But when the power goes out, there’s not much you can do about that stuff. So, how do you survive? What can you do in the meantime? Here are my suggestions.

1. Write anyway. You don’t need a computer to be able to write. Sit in front of a window or grab a flashlight and do it the old fashioned way. I love writing things out on paper, but it’s inefficient (for me) when it has to end up on the computer in the end anyway, so I don’t do it that often. The power going out afforded me the opportunity to work on my handwriting (which I love to do, don’t ask me why) and start on my next short story. The spooky weather helped to set the mood too, so that was great.

2. Do some research. If you’re like me, you probably have a bunch of books for research. The internet is great and all, but sometimes flipping through a book is a better (and more reliable) way to get answers. Have you been meaning to do a little world building? Grab a text and get studying. Have you mean meaning to look up a few things in one of your craft books? Grab the resource and dig in!

3. Read a book. What I really love about when the power goes out is that it forces you to stop and slow down. I very rarely do that, and usually when I do, I feel immensely guilty. But when a storm knocks out the power, you have no choice to stop and smell the roses (but not literally, because you’d get soaked). Pick up a book, relax, and start reading. In a way, you’re still working because we all know that the best writers are voracious readers.

4. Get organized. Got a messy desk that’s keeping you from writing? Clean it. Been meaning to reshelve your books so they’re easier to find? Get going. Have you been wanting to write your scenes down on index cards so you can lay them out and work on the structure of your story? What’s stopping you!? This is the perfect opportunity to do something physical in order to get your stories in order. Many of us love to organize and color coordinate, and as long as you can still see, you can still get stuff done.

5. Get some sleep. Your computer is dead, and so is your phone. It’s too dark to see, and your flashlight isn’t powerful enough to light up your room in order to do what you need to do. It’s 10:00 at night and you’re frustrated and tired. If the power hadn’t gone out, you would’ve gotten another two hours of work done. Yeah, that may be true, but this is the opportunity to turn two currently unproductive hours into two extra hours of sleep. By the time you wake up, you’ll feel more refreshed and more than likely the power will be back on!

What do you do when the power goes out and you really need to get some work done?

ta·boo adjective \tə-ˈbü, ta-\

1 Forbidden to profane use or contact because of what are held to be dangerous supernatural powers
2 Banned on grounds of morality or taste <the subject is taboo>
3 Banned as constituting a risk <the area beyond is taboo, still alive with explosives — Robert Leckie>

There are many subjects that are taboo, topics that people just don’t talk about. Taboo subjects aren’t universal either. Everyone has their own preferences due to their own experiences and upbringing.

I've never seen it, but Dexter is one of those shows that people may be uncomfortable with, given what Dexter does.

I’ve never seen it, but Dexter is one of those shows that people may be uncomfortable with, given what Dexter does.

In fiction, horror specifically, dismembering bodies and killing innocent people isn’t the best thing in the world, but more than likely we’ve all read a book or two that contains a graphic scene. But even those books don’t breach certain topics. I don’t want to even type them here because they’re so undeniably wrong. Perverse acts that involve the deceased or children tend to be on the other side of that invisible line we all know not to cross.

(This is, of course, a generalization. There are sick people out there that enjoy these things. There are people out there that might not see a subject like necrophilia as taboo as the average person, but those are the outliers. We’re ignoring them for the sake of our own sanity.)

The world is ever changing, and different cultures have their own special circumstances when it comes to taboos. When I was in Italy, visiting Pompeii, there was a stand selling little mechanical dolls. When you moved the trigger up and down, they would come together and fall apart in the act of sex. As an American, we were pretty shocked and embarrassed. Can you even imagine someone selling that on a street corner over here? But the guy, in broken English, laughed at us and said, “It’s funny! It’s a joke!”

And, of course, time changes taboos too. A few decades ago no one talked about sex or menstruation. Now? Sex is all over the radio, and I see about thirty commercials a day for feminine products. We’re much more comfortable with certain topics these days than we were back in the ’50s, for example, and that’s going to keep changing and keep evolving.

But should it? It’s an honest question, not because I feel uncomfortable talking about certain taboo subjects – in fact, I find the idea of some of those subjects being taboo completely ridiculous – but because you have to think of the whole picture. You have to think of other people.

Over on Hypable, one of the other staffers wrote a brilliant article titled, “Breaking fandom taboos: Let’s talk about slash shipping.” For those that don’t know, slash shipping is the pairing of two characters of the same sex. This might just be who you want to see get together in a show (your “OTP,” or “One True Pairing”), or it might be who you decide to pair in your fan-fiction.

Dean and Cas Supernatural

The Dean and Castiel (“Destiel”) pairing from Supernatural has a huge following.

In the article, Selina talks about what happened at a Supernatural panel and the followup explosion that resulted from it. It’s an interesting read, and I suggest you read both the Hypable article and the Daily Dot article she sources. It really is fascinating to see fandom coming out into the daylight and walking around in the real world. It has some interesting consequences.

The question here is, should these subjects stay taboo? Should they stay in that dark corner of the internet we call Tumblr? Or should we talk about them, bring them out in the open, and normalize them?

I’m of the opinion that the more we talk about these uncomfortable subjects, the less uncomfortable they’ll be. Acceptance of certain subjects in pop culture can lead to their acceptance in real life, and in some cases that truly is a wonderful thing.

Don’t get me wrong. Some subjects should be taboo. Some subjects are just plain wrong. I’m not talking about those.

50 Shades of Grey

Love it or hate it, this book has done a lot for the erotica category.

But, to bring this back around to fiction, as I know most of you here are writers, it makes me wonder, what can we be doing to help normalize the topics that have not quite stepped over that invisible line yet? Shows like Teen Wolf make homosexuality a complete non-issue. Books like The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices by Cassie Clare have insanely popular and likable characters that just happen to be gay. And this is just one topic in a long list of topics that are beginning to be addressed in popular works.

To give you guys a more relevant topic, I feel as though erotica is just touching down on the other side of that invisible line. Some people still don’t like to talk about it. Some people still giggle or side-eye you when you say you’ve read it, but a lot more people are accepting it as okay. And whether or not that’s your thing, I think acceptance of any person and their preferences – save for the truly twisted, of course – is a wonderful thing.

What do you think? Should taboo subjects stay taboo? Are we becoming too open and too comfortable with certain topics? Or do you think accepting people with open arms as they are will bring us all together in a more positive light?