Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Road Ahead

I recently finished writing the second draft of a novel. It is the third in my series so far. It deals with my favorite character, my elftacular Zel. The problem I had with finishing this book and handing it off to someone to read through was that I thought that I had built Zel up so much that I would never be able to do him justice in his own book. Turns out that I was wrong. I nailed Zel perfectly. The person who read this book really knows her stuff, and by extension, she knows my stuff. She knows the characters and said that it felt as though she was in my head while she read it. She answered the questions I had about the book - too many new characters, characters that disappear in the middle, too little action. She also was able to hit on a character that I killed off in this draft but was alive in the first.

This leads me to a new goal that I have for myself. Having faith in what I write.

I have a problem with perfection, I have mentioned that before. But I almost always think that whatever I write is not that good. I don't know why that is. I know that I can write. Other people - professional writers, professors, writing group members - say that I can write. But why is it that I have little faith in my abilities?

For the upcoming year, I plan on doing a couple of things:
     1 - rework Zel's book, fixing the little grammar and tense errors that were found. Flush out characters      that seem to disappear in the middle of the book. Really, not all that hard to do.
    
     2- start a new book. The NaNoWriMo group in Grand Junction is going to attempt a new writing project. The write a complete novel in 9 months, sort of a lead in for NaNo. But, do I continue with the series I know in and out, or do I start a new idea? I have been thinking about writing a steampunk novel.

Those are my writing goals for the new year - so far.


Getting Ready for Solstice

This Wednesday I head out for Boston, Massachusetts.  I have been accepted into the Solstice MFA Program for Creative Writing at Pine Manor College and will be attending my first of five residencies.  These next ten days include a rigorous schedule of craft and seminar classes as well as nightly readings by professors and early morning workshops.  There are eight people in my workshop groups and I have read all but one of fourteen pieces.  I will finish that up tonight and then, upon my second read through, I am going to mark up and annotate all the places that pique my interest, confuse me, or otherwise deserve some type of comment.  It's been very interesting reading what others, outside my specific circle, are writing.  A trend I am seeing is the need to put everything in present tense or first person and sometimes both.  I don't mind this really and, in fact, I am looking to explore this a bit myself.  Some of the pieces I've read so far leave me wanting more while others leave me fairly content (or not very content) and not really looking for anything further from them.  The workshops should be very eye opening as I've not had a read workshop since I was in college at Mesa State about seven years ago.

On my Prime Cuts Goal List for this blog, I mention five things I want to work on as a writer: time management, perpetuation of creative juices and inspiration, finishing what I start, Grad school, characters, and my letter of intent as part of my admission into an MFA Program.  I am very excited and nervous because once I arrive in Massachusetts and engage in the residency, I will be working on all of these goals simultaneously.  Well, all except for the letter of intent which I can put a huge slash through as I not only accomplished it, but used it successfully to get in to Solstice.  

I hope to get in a blog post from Massachusetts and share the valuable tidbits that my classes and seminars promise to be peppered with, but in case I don't get a chance to do an update in the next two weeks, you now all know why.  My classes for this residency are as follows: Craft Analysis, The Future Now: Dystopia, Magic Realism, Unforgettable Characters, Teaching Composition, Adjusting the Sails, Raw Material, and Changing Lives Through Literature.  Massachusetts here I come!  Also, as a side note, one of the several novels that I was encouraged/required to read prior to attending the residency is The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi.  So far I find it to be a fantastic young adult read.  It's not for the squeamish, that's for sure, but, just like any good Dystopian novel, it is sure to frustrate and invigorate.  I recommend it highly. 

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Trickle Trickle whoosh!



What does the wind sound like? Or the rain on a tin roof, a fire, or an explosion? What kind of emotional feelings do you experience when you hear these sounds? What sort of emotions do you feel when you hear music, the phone, or the voice of a friend? How does a Ford F-150 sound when you start it up or the the sound of an old, rusty car door? What about the song a Cardinal sings or a litter of kittens playing in a wood pile? What about snow fall in the middle of the night? 

You can check it out online via some sound effect videos, you can get ambient sound Cd's, noise makers, and some things you can hear for yourself. Sound is another element of the five senses that you can add to a story or even journal writing to make your work a tad richer. Using it to help describe a scene or what a character hears and what emotions they feel can make it more real for a reader. Try listening to some different sounds and making a story around them. Or sit in a coffee shop, bookstore, in the park, or your home. Listen and write what you hear, see if you can recall a memory or make up a memory for a character. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Writing as a Reader

“If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” 
― Stephen King
In many ways, it just goes without saying. To be a good writer, you have to read. And I'm not talking about self-help, learn how to write guides. There are a lot of those out there, and we've shared a lot of ideas from such publications. Authors have an abundance of advice to give readers, lists of 'dos' and 'don'ts.' Honestly it can all become pretty exhausting.  But in the end, you can read every 'how-to' book there is on writing, and your writing still may not shine. You my know every craft 'rule' and phrase ever conceived of, but that doesn't mean you can implement them. But why?

Experience. That's what it comes down to. Like every profession, every talent, every aspiration there is more to it than just doing. You have to learn your craft, and you can't just go in knowing everything.  Authors are invaluable tools that should never be wasted. They can offer an abundance of advice, but I think the strongest words that many authors can give are those that work in the novels they publish themselves.  

Many tools out there can help you when you write, but nothing as much as reading, and dare I say it, borrowing from other authors.  I do not mean stealing. You know that author you really like, that writing style that you really connect with and love to read? Try writing like that, see if your words can flow in the same way his or hers flow with you. What does an author do that really works in their writing? What resounds with you? Can you mimic them? Can you find from their voice your own? The best writing comes from reading, it is just up to the writer to take the time to do it. So next time you're really itching to write but find yourself unable to, instead of trying to force it or picking up one of the hundreds of self-help writing guides (unless that's what you are craving) pick up that favorite novel of yours and read it, and think to yourself, 'What do I love about this book? What is the author doing here that works? Why does it work? And if it works for me, does it work for others?'

But never overwhelm yourself, that is key.  Don't force yourself to write in a way you can't, but never forget the importance of stepping away from your keyboard and turning the pages. Because you gained your desire to write from somewhere, from someone else's work. I believe it's important to rediscover that every now and then. 

And who knows, in the future, you may be that inspiration to a aspiring author!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Seeing is believing


Look at the picture above, isn't it pretty? Do you like it? Would you want to venture there and have a day or even an whole vacation? What do you imagine when you look at the picture? Are you already creating a story filled with characters?

Visual elements are just as important to writing as taste or touch and other senses. Normally I would say go outside and spend the day looking around and observing everything, taking notes, and doing the same inside your house or where ever you decide to go and I still encourage that. But, sometime the places and sights to see that you want to set in your stories or ideas are impossible to get to or get your hands on. You may have a story in France and have never been nor have the money to go. Some stories might be set in the past, the future, or even on a different world or reality. There may be items you'd like to describe, flora and fauna, that you're not too familiar with.  For those stories books, art, and the internet are great resources. So in conjunction with looking at things at home and in your area outside check out the internet, go to the library and look at the books, and see if you can get into museums. Pay attention to all the details like color, size, and textures.
Look, really look!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vocab word of the week!


This week's word is actually the word of the day from the dictionary.com website, if only because I love how it sounds in my head.


lagan

 
 LAG-uhn  , noun;
1.
Anything sunk in the sea, but attached to a buoy or the like so that it may be recovered.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Talking and Listening for Writing

Dialogue can be a challenge.  Stories can seem lame.  The flow of one element into another can feel stagnant and anticlimactic.  There is no magical solution to mend any of these things.  Good writing comes from hard work and lots of revision.  However, there is something really simple that can aide all writers from the aspiring newbies to the old hats, and that is talking to people and listening to people talk.  Pay attention the next time a sage (or quirky) old grandparent tells you the 'I used to walk barefoot in the snow uphill both ways' story.  When out at a restaurant, listen in on the cute lovey-dovey couple sitting a table away.  They might throw out a pet name you've never heard before or make mention of some terribly intimate inside joke that you, as a writer, can speculate upon and imagine up how in the world 'bet your legs on it' makes this couple smile and blush.  Maybe the couple isn't lovey-dovey, maybe they are quiet and cold to each other.  Pay attention to what they say both with words and with their body language.  Use this to fuel your writing.

Go people watching at the mall.  Get daring and strike up a conversation with a random stranger (doesn't have to be a long one) talking about anything!  And, of course, talk to your friends.  The more you talk/listen/observe, the easier it gets to create realistic human interactions within your writing; and the more you learn how your fellow humans operate (from a technical and logistical point of view) the stronger your stories will become.  If you want to write realism then draw upon what reality offers you and if what you want to write the opposite, then use what you've learned as a 'what not to do' reference guide.  The best way to break a rule is to master it and the best way to write what a thing 'is', is to describe what it 'is not.'  People are your greatest resource and, at the risk of sounding unprincipled, I implore you to use them.  This is not meant to be an exercise in investigative reporting or slander; this is meant to further your awareness of the little things that we tend to take for granted.  


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Vocab word of the week


nu·bile

  [noo-bil, -bahyl, nyoo-]  Show IPA
adjective
1.
(of a young woman) suitable for marriageespecially in regard toage or physical development; marriageable.
2.
(of a young woman) sexually developed and attractive: thenubile girls in their bikinis.
Origin: 
1635–45;  < Latin nūbilis,  equivalent to nūb ere to marry (seenuptial) + -ilis -ile

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Goal Update: Dialogue.

So, yesterday I had my first official workshop in over two years. I was a nervous wreck all week, let me tell you! However, now that it's over and done with, I thought it would be a good idea to share my experience with all of you. So this time instead of prompts or philosophical questions regarding craft I'm going to keep it brief.

What I discovered yesterday being on the opposite end of the workshop is first, it is nerve wracking. Second, the readers really know what they are talking about, especially if on the rare occasion you find yourself with a nice group like I did yesterday. They were all so helpful that I was truly surprised. I honestly expected my story to be ripped to shreds, but it wasn't, contrary, all my workshop letters that I received said that they loved it. So why did I want to bring this up here?

Dialogue. That's why. When I applied to join Detangled Writers I filled out a goal list, one of those goals was to work on my dialogue. I have been doing that, and I've been having a lot of fun with it, though it has been a real challenge. However, yesterday I was able to see the fruits of my labor (please forgive the cliche). The feedback I received all had one thing in common, near ten letters all telling me that they were transfixed by my dialogue. There were other problems with the story of course, because it was a fifteen page piece of prose that was mostly dialogue, but it was a fun undertaking, and to have such positive feedback was really enriching.

I'm learning a lot as I write, especially playing with dialogue. One is how fundamental dialogue is to characterization, and how very little things in the spoken word between two characters can do so much! I'm also learning the weaknesses of dialogue. One issue I fell into was that one character dominated the entire conversation, she was an intense character, and it was her function within the story to lead the scene, however she took it too hard, and the readers were finding themselves having a very difficult time sympathizing with her. They wanted more about her, but because of the Point of View (POV) I chose, it was very difficult for them to follow her, because they were hearing everything from another character.

I find it so very interesting how versatile dialogue is, as both a way to keep the story moving forward, but also as a characterization tool, and I am so happy that when I made that goal I stuck with it. I still have much to learn, but a positive workshop response has really helped boost my confidence as a writer.

~ Beth

Friday, November 30, 2012

Grammar Corner: Analogy and Metaphor

In the literary world, analogy is like duct tape while metaphor is a fun house mirror.  These are the rudimentary tools used to engage the reader.  In an analogy, you compare one thing to another thing and in so doing, add to and enhance the meaning of the first thing.

ex) My writing is like a river filled with sharks.
ex) Her pregnant belly was as a big as a beach ball.


The key to analogy is comparison.  Metaphor, on the other hand, foregoes comparison and ups the ante.  In a metaphor a thing is called something else entirely and the desired effect is to create vivid imagery and give the reader greater insight into the scene, character, or theme.

ex) My brain is a broken computer.
ex) The dog was the master of the house, lording over his human subjects.



Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Weekly vocab word


mal·fea·sance

  [mal-fee-zuhns]  Show IPA
noun Law .
the performance by a public official of an act that is legally unjustified, harmful, or contrary to law; wrongdoing (used especially of an act in violation of a public trust). Compare misfeasance def. 2 nonfeasance.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

PROMPT - Take it outside: Scene Exercise


(all images used are free domain)

One of the hardest challenges for writers is capturing landscape.  Because landscape is so much more than just trees and hills. Landscape has shape, colors, facets, and smells. Landscape has atmosphere. You can take as much from the landscape as you can a character, and you can use that landscape to characterize said character.  So I come with a challenge for all of you.

Take it outside. This can be either figuratively or literally.  If you don't want to go outside, because I know it's cold with winter looming, find a photograph and just look at it for five or ten minutes. Take in the way the light filters through leaves and branches, or how the breeze seems to have lifted the leaves even though you can't feel it. How does the grass sway. Is there a path? How does it look? Mountains, are they jagged and covered in snow? Or are they smooth and dusty? Once you find a landscape that pulls to you, start writing, write anything, anywhere, but make sure you have a character. Use the land to characterize said character.  How does your character feel in the landscape, how does he/she walk or move within the land. What do they look like within the land? Does the land compliment them or distress them?

If you can, because I'm not a stickler for literary fiction, bring mythological or magical elements in. How does the land itself accept this character. Are there challenges keeping the character out, or is it trying to bring her/him in? The point is, use the land in a way you might not usually. Make the land your primary focus in this scene. Let the land build your character rather than the other way around.

Most importantly though, have fun with it!

I am going to do this prompt later today, and in the near future I shall share my results.


Some keywords to get you started: Towering, light, rainbow, silhouette, wispy, shadow, darkness, frail, firm, stagnant, glistening.

Helpful hints: If you can, use metaphor to build your landscape, or even personification. Make the land a character in itself. 

~ Beth


Monday, November 5, 2012

Homework Update: Back it Up, Baby

     One of the things I have trouble with is backing up my work. I tell myself to do it every time I write, but then distraction takes over and I forget. Again and again.

     But this year for NaNoWriMo, I am the backup queen. I have been emailing my book to myself, as well as having my work on two hard drives and a jump drive.

     I just got my baby laptop back. The hard drive went caput on me. Two hard drives have taken my work from me. And I am bound and determined not to let that happen again.

     So join me in the backing up of your work, no matter what it is. It takes little time to do it, and it will save you a lot of heartache if something dreadful does happen.

STOP! NaNoWriMo Time!

     So many people I know are pulling their hair out already, and I have to wonder why. For those of you that are not a member of the self torture club known as NaNoWriMo, let me explain. The goal is to write at least 50,000 words in a month. No, it can't be the same word 50,000 times. The purpose of this month of writing abandon is to make yourself write. To turn off the inner editor and get the words out on paper, or in most cases, the hard drive. You can write whatever you want: fiction, short stories, non fiction, exceedingly long poems.

     Many of my friends sign up to do this year after year. For me, this is my fifth year, and I have won every year. I have never had a problem with just sitting with the laptop and letting my fingers tell a story. I have a rough idea and I let it take me where it wants to go. So why are my friends having so much trouble?

     I think one of the problems people have is the anticipation for the game to start. They have their notebook or flashcards filled to the brim with ideas and characters and amazing plot lines. They get 5,000 words or so in and BAM. Roadblock. And they don't know how to back up and go another direction.

     I admit that I get stuck occasionally. I write myself into a corner and have to stop and wonder what I just did. And sometimes that happens at 3 in the morning. So I hit "enter" a few times and get going again. I go with another character or a situation. I keep moving forward with the story, even if I now have to take the dirt road with all the bumps and dips. I'll still get to point "B," I've just decided to take the scenic route.

     The point is to not get discouraged and throw in the towel. There are 30 days in the month. Plenty of time to get back on track. And don't let the word count of others bother you. If you can only manage 2,000 words a day, you're still above the daily average. I am a person who writes at a fast pace and finish with my 50,000 words pretty early in the month. But I still keep going along with the story. I can't leave my little babies hanging. And if I can help others that are struggling, all the better.

     Just keep going and don't get discouraged. Before you know it you will cross the finish line and will have a goofy grin on your face. And then you will sleep soundly, knowing that you did something that not many people can do. You will have created something that came from your own imagination, your own experiences, and your own knowledge. And that is something to be very proud of.

The Adventure of NaNoWriMo

And isn't it an adventure? Every year I try Nanowrimo I learn a little something different, about myself as a writer and about my writing style. I learn what I like. What I dislike. I learn more about craft. More about where I want to go. More about myself in general, but the most important lesson - at least in my opinion - that I've learned is, don't force it.  I've noticed a lot of people having trouble with Nanowrimo this year.  I've watched as they've struggled to write a novel, to find a topic, a genre, a style. Wanting to play with new styles, tenses, etc (myself included). I've also noticed that this struggle and desire to find something new has been holding them (again myself included) back from their ultimate goal. So in the spirit of Nanowrimo and a pep talk, I have advice for all my nanowing friends and cohorts, and myself included. Please take it with a grain of salt, and feel free to share your own ideas and advice, or even disagree with me entirely.

Don't force your novel. Don't try and push yourself into a genre that only causes you frustration. Just go with it. I know from experience I write best when working with others. Co-writing has been the key to getting thousands of pages of story out for me and my friends.  I have been taking advantage of this technique in nano, and less than five days in I am well over a quarter of the way there. I also have learned that just writing as the words come to me is key to success. The most words I've ever gotten was when I was in the mood and just feeling what I was writing. I wasn't caring about rather I was going to get published or rather others enjoyed it. I wasn't caring that it wasn't going the way I'd originally planned, but rather had taken wings and gone in it's own direction. Those are my best pages I've ever written.

Write what you like. This may seem counter intuitive, or even counter productive to the statement I just made, but really its not. Here is what I mean. You enjoy something, be it romance, be it literary fiction, horror, or just plain smut. Well then if you're struggling for words, write what you enjoy. The phrase, "Don't fix what's not broken," seems to fit in very well here.  If you enjoy writing something, are confident in writing something, why fix it? You can always learn from what you already know and expound and expand upon that knowledge with new knowledge. Right?

I myself was going to write in a third person, present tense story for the November challenge. That was my goal for Nanowrimo. It was a goal at which I have failed utterly, and for which I will continue to fail. I am comfortable with first person, past, or third person, past. I find I am fairly talented with those as well.  So that is what I'll write.  I wanted to challenge myself, but in that desire I ended up hindering myself, so I quickly gave up. And the words have been flowing naturally since. I haven't felt drained, I haven't felt angry or impatient. Letting my writing come naturally has been allowing me the most satisfaction as a writer.

I know some authors feel shame for not being able to get out of their comfort zone, but most, if not all of us are still aspiring authors.  But I will gander to say, there is no shame in writing what we know. We are still building on our craft, still learning as we go. In fact, Nanowrimo is a challenge to help us do just that. So in the spirit of a pep talk, just have fun! I know that's what I'm doing, and even when I'm frustrated and not getting words out as quickly as I would like, enjoying what I'm writing is helping me. If you are one of those who is able to take something new and reign it in by the horns, FANTASTIC! That is marvelous.  And you should keep doing that, but I think one of the dangers - a trap that many of us fall into - is thinking that we need/have to do something that is outside of our comfort zone or even skill sect, and in the end that just causes anger and frustration.  If Nanowrimo, or writing is not enjoyable, then why are we doing it in the first place!

So now I ask for your responses. Many of you were going to leave your comfort zones and try something new as a writer. How is that going for you? Are you finding success in your endeavors or did you take the same path I did, returning to what I know and enjoy. Are you using a combination of the two? Did you go into a whole different realm entirely? What have you been doing to counteract the stress of writing so many words? And what advice do you have for other's who are participating in Nanowrimo?

To leave off, I think my greatest piece of advice is, have fun, because if you aren't having fun, then what's the point?

~Beth

Vocab word of the week


im·pet·u·ous

  [im-pech-oo-uhs]  Show IPA
adjective
1.
of, pertaining to, or characterized by sudden or rash action,emotion, etc.; impulsive: an impetuous decisionan impetuousperson.
2.
having great impetus moving with great forceviolent: theimpetuous winds.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Publishing Companies and Editors

I recently read a book that I was surprised was even published...

It is important to note that I am not too upset with the author. I think this was an interesting story. However, I was a little unnerved by how many typos were present. One or two typos in a book is fine, I know editors aren't perfect and don't catch everything. But there were so many! Some words were not in the right order, there was a place where a word that didn't even belong in the sentence was present, and other little issues. And if I, the grammar idiot, am catching them, then you know it's bad.

Clearly this is a case where the publishing company demands quantity rather than quality and pushed this author into pumping out a book in a very limited amount of time, shoved it through a once over by an editor who didn't try to catch everything, and sent it on to the press to be printed and put on the shelves. And you have no idea how much that rakes my coals. I feel like this book could have been much richer, deeper even, and clearly the author had to have some talent to get published in the beginning so why force her to be an Assembly line, over worked, underpaid, and stomping down her light? You know, turning what could have been or once was a fantastic author into a mediocre one. Frankly when I sit and read a book and think, "Damn if this got published, then I'm pretty sure my stuff could too," and I think my stuff isn't good (that could be my usual self-debasement at work), then obviously something is wrong. 

So what can be done about this? I don't know other than to keep improving yourself and your personal craft and research the hell out of the publishing companies and editors you send your work into. Check out their authors, see how many books they crank out a year, look at their early work and compare it to their current work. Look at the quality of work the publishing company is putting out. And, even though you're internally screaming with intense desire to be published, don't settle and don't let an editor or pub co make impossible demands.  

NaNoWriMo Update

It's the third day of NaNoWriMo and I haven't officially started on a set novel.  At this point I am asking my fellow Detangled Writers and any of our readers to throw out ideas.  Normally I am rife with them but having started a new job and with my mind all abuzz about starting an MFA program in January, I am absolutely stumped.  I am going to visit the forum on NaNo for the 'adopt a' options wherein various contributors put forth fun ideas for characters, plots, twists, bizarre traits, complications, etc.  But I'm very curious as to what you all might recommend to get my juices going.  I'm a completely open book.  My goal was to work within the Horror/Erotic Horror genre but at this point all I can think of is an extensive journal chronicling my adventures in the Bra Store where I have just been employed.  I don't necessarily want to write a 'how I learned to use a cash register' memoir, and that's why I'm here and pleading.

I'm particularly excited to get started on a/many projects because there are many write-ins happening in my local area and I would like to support the writing community by taking part in some of them.  My zeal would increase greatly if I had something to pluck out during these events. The other option is, of course, to revisit some of my earlier ideas which are only half formed and consist of about two to five pages of actualization.  But I would like something fun and something purely NaNo to help me ride out this month.  Any suggestions would be very appreciated.  


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Craft - Revise - Revise - REWRITE - Revise

Something that has been mentioned in my Intermediate Fiction Writing course, and something I've come to learn as an increasingly important truth in the dogma of writing, is the importance of rewriting.  We all know that we have to revise a draft, one time, thirty times, sometimes a hundred times before it is worthy of being sent off for submission.  In our day and age, with technology to assist us, it's much easier to go through the revising process. However, something that is often neglected is rewriting a draft entirely.

In the past it would take years and years for authors to finish a manuscript, sometimes having to stop and rewrite the entire thing thing from scratch, not once but up to ten times. Since drafts were written on typewriters or in journals having more than one copy at a time wasn't exactly a viable option. To revise authors would need to cut out sections move them around, and examine the.  This could obviously create an astronomical mess and a lot more confusion. With word editors we don't have to worry about that so much now. Yet something that may afflict the 21st century writer is laziness.  With all these technological advances to help us, why should we go through all that effort?

Maybe it's time to drop the computer, leave the cellphones, and take a pen and paper out into the woods for a few days. What do I mean by this? I mean that we as writers in the 21st century would be well off (in my honest opinion) to just walk away from all our helpers and handicaps and explore our craft in the ways of old.  Hemingway and Dickinson, Thoreau and Emerson.  They didn't have word processing, they had time, patience, and an uncanny connection with nature that made their writing something unique and pleasant. Their writings are filled with imagery, characterization, and what many authors lack now, philosophy. Something was written because it was meant to be written, every word had room on the page, worked for the page, and the entire narrative arc. And writers from the 1900's and earlier, they had to depend upon their patience and whit to become published.

They rewrote, and they rewrote everything over and over before it was ready to send off to a publisher. Hundreds and thousands of pages of the workings and reworkings of their craft.  Perhaps we should follow their example, to take a short story, and just put it away, leave it for a month, maybe two, and then rewrite it without ever looking at that old draft. Once rewritten, pull out that old draft, and see what works, then revise and revise some more.  Many authors attest to this being a fundamental step in their best work.  So I would challenge all of us to do this. To consider rewriting when we make headway into our revision process.

Since it is hard to do this, I would suggest, write a one to two page story. Put it away for a week to start. Rewrite it, and just see what happens. You may be pleasantly surprised by the results.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting Ready! NaNoWriMo

Five days, counting today, until National Novel Writer's Month.  I have been stuffing myself with a variety of books to get into the mood.  Most recently I finished How Not to Write a Novel and found it to be an unexpectedly fantastic read that pretty much says it how it is.  Also, it talked about vanity publishing and e-publishing as a possible option but not the end goal for serious authors.  Another book that I'm still reading is Writing Horror by Edo Van Belkom.  I have found this to be very informative in looking at the physiological effects that books have on their readers and how different genres affect different areas of the body.  For instance, fantasy affects the heart (the feeling of wonder and awe, hopefulness and bedazzlement). Science fiction affects the mind and forces the reader to think (it's up to the author as to exactly what they should be thinking about).  But in Horror, it's the gut.  Interestingly, Erotica also attacks the gut which is why erotic horror and sex and violence tend to be so closely linked.  I find this concept very fascinating.

For this November, I would like to focus on what part of the body I am trying to affect.  However, just as in acting, you can't put the desired outcome before the process.  You can't say 'be evil' when portraying Lady Macbeth and call it good.  You can't say 'I want this to make my reader hotter than July' and expect it to happen.  When trying to 'be evil' you have to feel what she feels, justify her every emotion to yourself, and imagine the most trivial of physical attributes such as nervous sweating and the way your tummy feels when you are angry.  And so, when you set out to make your readers guts twist in anticipation, you have to start by analyzing what sorts of things actually cause arousal.  During NaNoWriMo I would like to work with the building blocks of horror and eroticism and, hopefully, at the end of the month I will have something that affects the human body in just the right way.

But then again, it is NaNoWriMo, and while I'm aiming at creating a deliciously erotic tale of terror, I will be happy to just 1) accomplish the word goal for the month, 2) work on only one or two projects during the month and actually generate some length, and 3) have a complete or near complete manuscript to work with at the end.  I think a good exercise (one that is mentioned in Van Belkom's book) is to take time and generate ten really interesting story ideas.  They can be as comprehensive or as vague as you want.  My addition to this exercise is to add ten story endings to the mix.  They don't have to relate to the beginnings in any way.  In fact, you can write a story completely based off the ending idea rather than the beginning one.  I think that having an ending in mind can be a real life-saver (or a total downer depending on the writer and their process).  During the next five days, I will be making a list of ideas both new and old as well as doing various primer exercises.  I intend to grab November by the horns.


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Weekly vocab word


sup·ple

  [suhp-uhl]  Show IPA adjective, sup·pler,sup·plest, verb, sup·pled, sup·pling.
adjective
1.
bending readily without breaking or becoming deformed;pliant; flexible: a supple bough.
2.
characterized by ease in bending; limber; lithe: supplemovements.
3.
characterized by ease, responsiveness, and adaptability inmental action.
4.
compliant or yielding.
5.
obsequious; servile.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Character Casting

I recently picked up the book: Now Write! Mysteries. It is a collection of best selling authors that talk about their writing processes. I chose this book because I have decided to break away from what I normally write: urban fantasy and horror. My project for NaNoWriMo this year is going to be a suspense novel. I like suspense novels. I like the villains, the cops/feds/P.I.'s that catch the villains. I like reading about how the villains do their crimes and their motivations for committing them.

But suspense is very different than urban fantasy. In UF, I can create my own worlds, have various critters brought to life, use magic and all of that fantasy stuff. Suspense novels though, need facts. They need procedure, because though you are creating the crime(s), the law enforcement people you use have to follow a strict set of procedures. That is something you cannot fake or else your readers will be done with you.

In this new genre of writing for me, I cannot have a telepathic elf knowing where and when the crime will occur, or who the villain is. It is a guessing game for not only the police, but for the reader as well. I am going old school with how I am approaching this book: the five W's. Who, what, when, where, why. Who is the criminal, what have they done, when did they do it, where is the crime scene, and last, but most important, why did they do it.

I think I have my criminal(s) figured out. I know what they have done, and why, as well as where and when. I know who they are. But it's the heroes of the book - the cops/feds who have to figure this guy out. That is when my current problem lies. Do I go for the stereotypical cop - older, divorced, drinker, or for the fed who does everything by the book. I just don't know if I can avoid some typical behavior in my law enforcement characters.

This is where Now Write! Mysteries has helped with this issue. One of the contributors, Kathleen George, proposed a good idea for "Casting Your Character." George suggests taking something that you have already written and revise it, casting actors as your characters. How does your character deal with conflict? Is there an actor or actress out there that you have imagined as your character? Knowing their set of skills, would their mannerisms or speech patterns match your character? Does the actor you use add anything to your character - humor, sarcasm, empathy, antipathy? You don't need to make your character match the actor, or vice-versa, but you may discover hidden facets of your character.

 Brad Pitt vs Edward Norton? Peter Sellers or Daniel Craig/Sean Connery. Newman or Redford. All of them amazing actors, but they all bring something different to the table. They carry themselves different, body language is different, even the way they use their eyes is different.     

Good actors study character traits. Sometimes a writer needs only to look to the big screen for an idea to pop and say "Hey, that is exactly how X enters a room." Just a little spark and you're off.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Playing with Tenses


Photo Credit: OnBloggingWell.com

With NaNoWriMo fast approaching I've been considering my comfort zones as a writer, and particularly the use of tense in my writing. For clarification, while I'm sure all of us here know what that is for our readers, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which is exactly that, write a novel in a month, sort of. The goal is to push yourself to write 50,000 words in a month. The main website link can be found on the right hand corner of the blog.  That is neither here nor there however, so let me get back on track. In response to Skoora's most recent update, and several other conversations I have been a part of recently where tense is  point of topic, it has truly had me wondering about my own use of tense.

Let me start by saying, that there are a great deal of tenses, far more than I ever anticipated, such as the 9 past tenses Skoora introduced yesterday, there are also many different forms of Present Tense, and then future tense is just a whole different ballpark I don't even want to enter. Mixing the tenses with Point of View (POV) also creates an interesting albeit complicated algorithm for writers.  What I mean by this, is there are just so many, how do you choose? Some tenses come naturally, such as past tense. We as humans are just so at ease with writing in this form. It just comes - as Skoora said - naturally.  However, what about the often neglected Present Tense?

As of recent I've been reading more and more Present Tense stories, these stories are difficult to read a great deal of the time because they take so much thinking to write, and on that same token, they are also extremely difficult to write.  I have started dabbling in Present Tense writing, with a story that I started writing in 2009 that I've neglected for a long time.  This story originally started out in Past Tense, Third Person, Limited Point of View.  A fairly standard approach.  Yet inspired by some of the  Present Tense  stories I've read - yes I am intentionally capitalizing these even though it is not grammatically correct I want to bring focus to them - I decided to tackle the story again from a different angle. I must say I was surprised by how different, and unnatural Present Tense feels.  There are many rules to flow I've discovered - though haven't read up on - that stuck out to me. First, 'is' vs 'was' these words in Present Tense are obviously not interchangeable, because one clearly signifies the past.  'She was dancing' vs. 'She is dancing,' and so on. However, when I'm writing, my fingers long to use the latter.  'Was' feels natural, while 'is' feels like I'm trying too hard.

Is also makes the POV feel that much more close, which in some cases, is a wonderful dynamic between author and character. For example, mystery novels. Many thriller writers make the mistake of letting us see more than the protagonist thus losing some of the mystery, however with Present Tense, a boundary is made, because it is very difficult to create a fluid paragraph in Present Tense that is far away.  This tense seems, at least to me, to push towards limited or close point of view.  I am not sure if there are grammatical rules that follow this assumption, and I will be looking into it and writing a research article on the idea of tenses for Detangled Writers in the near future. Yet I cannot help but wonder.  I have decided for NaNoWriMo that I am going to attempt to write 50,000 words in this tense, and see where it takes me. So now I pose a question to you:

What have you noticed about tenses? How have you dabbled, as well as POV, are there any among us who actively write using Present Tense, if so, how do you work with the limitations this tense form presents.  What about future tense, which is something I rarely see done, if ever now that I think about it. What are your experiments with tense usage, and how have they helped you grow as a writer.

This article is strictly contemplative with no empirical backing, but simple observation, however I am still interested to know if any of you have had the same experiences as myself. What other experiences have you had?

Please look forward to a more indepth and research based article on the topic of Tense and POV in the near future.

~Beth

Grammar Corner: Past Tenses Aplenty

The English Language is a fierce and complex thing, not just in the words, but in the grammar as well.  As writers, the English Language, is our most valuable asset (that and imagination and life experience), and there are many aspects of it that we take for granted.  Taking it for granted is not a bad thing at all - we converse, we read, we write, and through all of this we learn what sounds organic and makes syntactical sense without having to know anything of formal grammar.  Something that usually comes to us quite naturally is the usage of past tense in writing.  Did you know that there are nine different forms of past tense?  I didn't.  I only looked it up because the book I'm currently reading, How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, mentioned that there were six.  I won't go into all nine forms here since most of us handle 'had, would have, had been, etc' with ease, but if you are curious about the specifics please visit Daily Writing Tips.  It is not necessary to know what a gerund, participle, or appositive phrase is in order to be a magnificent writer; however, it never hurts to be knowledgeable of one's craft even to the point of being able to say, 'that there's a perfect example of past habitual!'


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Weekly Vocab Word


Styg·i·an

  [stij-ee-uhn]  Show IPA
adjective
1.
of or pertaining to the river Styx or to Hades.
2.
dark or gloomy.
3.
infernal; hellish.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Heffron Prompts: Part II

PROMPT: If you're stuck, consider changing the time of day you usually use for writing.  If you've been putting in an hour on your story before heading to work in the morning, write during your lunch break, or as soon as you get home in the evening.  Also consider changing where you write.  If at a computer, take a notepad to a park or a library.  New times and locations and routines for writing can spark new interest.


PROMPT: Spend at least three sessions practicing the "stay in the chair" method.  Set a timer for your session, and write whatever you want, perhaps responding to a prompt in this book.  Do not for any reason get up from the chair.  Turn off the phone, shut down your e-mail, tell family members that you are not to be disturbed unless someone is facing a life-or-death situation.  If the idea you're exploring stalls before you finish, begin a new one or simply write about writing or describe the room in which you're working.  Your goal is to practice staying in the chair.

PROMPT: Create a new element of the story that is being kept secret by one of the characters.  Allude to this secret somewhere in the first scene.  As you move ahead, slowly reveal the secret, one that adds another complication to the story.  You needn't know the secret yourself when you start writing.  Allow yourself to discover it as you write.

PROMPT: Steal a line from something you've read.  It might only be a phrase, but grab that sucker and plunk it into a piece of your own.  If you don't have a piece in progress, spend a session exploring an idea in which that line or phrase can appear.

PROMPT: Describe a process.  This exercise is a standard in technical writing courses.  Students explain the steps involved in doing something, such as fixing a flat tire or installing a water heater.  Spend part of a writing session describing a process.  Then look for ways of weaving this process into the work in progress.  For example, in her essay on how to write the lyric essay, Brenda Miller describes how to make challah bread.  She uses the process to enlarge the essay and make her points about craft in a more lyric way.  In fiction, describing a process can have the same effect, the most famous being the chapters in Moby Dick that describe the techniques of whaling.  Your fictional character, rather than react to his wife's leaving in the typical ways, might carefully wax his car.  Don't look for obvious parallels when deciding on which process to describe.  Choose one you know well or one you can research.

~*~

Prompt excerpts from: Heffron, Jack. The Writer's Idea Workshop: how to make your good ideas great. Cincinnati, Ohio, 2003

For other more prompts from The Writer's Idea Workshop, please check out Heffron Prompts: Part I.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Monday, October 8, 2012

Nose-gasms: Playing with smells

Only the best Sandalwood incense in the world!
To go along with my previous post about touching anything and everything for writing research, I thought I would write about taking another field trip. This time, it's for your nose! Like I said before, I love putting in the little details to make a story richer.

So some afternoon or morning, take a notebook and a pen and get out into nature to smell things. Fall is an excellent time to smell the air and the leaves. Take some time, relax, enjoy the day. This is as much a gathering information/research exercise as it is time to yourself, alone, where you can just be and take it easy. Just let stress fall away.

When you get home make a cup of coffee, tea, or coco and note how it smells, how it makes you feel. Then attack the things in your home that have scents. Note how the litter box smells if you have one, I know it generally stinks but how does it stink?

I think most of my friends know this, but when I was living at home with my parents, and they were still buying the powder laundry detergent, I would stand back by the washer and smell Mountain Spring Tide. It smelled so good! Don't worry, I wasn't huffing it, just smelling it. I don't think it smelled like a mountain spring, but it was nice none the less.

I also used to spray some of my Mom's perfume on my clothes. For some reason my Mom always has the best perfume. So go smell some or aftershave or cologne, see if the smell of it is nostalgic or reminds you of someone. Maybe a new character of yours has a particular scent they love wearing.

Bath and Body Works!
Fennel, I think it has a kind of licorice scent
Go smell your shampoo, dish soap, and lotions. Stick your nose in your books, DVD cases, and refrigerator. Smell herbs at the grocery store, food while it's cooking. you get the point.
Even if you're only gathering notes for now, you'll have this for later. Or you could spend some time researching a scent you know you like or come across and write a short story about it.