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
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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.)