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


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

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.


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


  [stij-ee-uhn]  Show IPA
of or pertaining to the river Styx or to Hades.
dark or gloomy.
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. 

Vocab word of the week

This is one of those words that I could guess the meaning and came to learn it through what I was reading, but after seeing it again in the current book I am reading, I thought it was time to look it up officially. As it turns out, my guess was correct but then again I guess this one is kind of a no brainer


   [pree-ter-nach-er-uhl, -nach-ruhl] Show IPA
out of the ordinary course of natureexceptional orabnormal: preternatural powers.
outside of nature; supernatural.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Lesson in Discouragement

In reading Edo Van Belkom's Writing Horror, I have come across a very interesting, though completely logical, idea.  The author of the writing guide talks about how he always tries to discourage amateur writers from continuing seriously in the craft.  His thought process if that if one man can discourage an ambitious writer to abandon their dreams then those weren't really their dreams, were they?  His point in all of this is that, as writers, we will be subjected to massive amounts of criticism, rejection, ridicule, and other forms of discouraging verbal abuse.  A real writer deals with this in whatever way works best (maybe they have a few minutes for a pity party), then they push forward and continue on writing, revising, rewriting, editing, submitting, and preparing themselves for a brand new round of rejection.  

The lesson in all of this, is to persevere.  If you are a writer - a blogger, an essayist, a novelist, a poet, or even an aspiring columnist - then you can't let anyone or any group discourage you from what you really want.  Thicken up your skin if you have to, and keep your rejection letters in a folder that can be easily thrown away when it becomes too overwhelming.  And also remember that rejection doesn't necessarily mean they don't like it - it just means your story is not what they are looking for right now, so either wait until your story is what they are looking for, or send it somewhere else where it will be better received and get your butt going on a new project.  So next time you're in a class, a writing group, an open mic night, or chatting in a forum and someone says that you should throw in the towel, just shrug it off because the only person who can make that decision is you and, if you call yourself a writer, then you've already made your choice.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Prompt - Stanza Story

Sometimes professors have the coolest prompts.

Last week our class was assigned a prompt to write a story based off of a stanza from a famous poem.  So I want to challenge you all to do the same.  The poem we were provided was, "Resurrection of the Dust," by John McKernan, because of copyright issues, I will not be using this poem, but rather a classical work, that has no risk of Copyright infringement. So for this prompt I shall use "The Phoenix and the Turtle," by William Shakespeare.

The purpose of this poem is to choose one stanza. That stanza will be the beginning of your story.  You should challenge yourself by limiting your story to one or two pages.  Practice quick and concise writing, however, if you go over, that is okay too!

The Phoenix and the Turtle
By William Shakespeare
Retrieved from here.

The Phoenix and the Turtle

Let the bird of loudest lay
On the sole Arabian tree,
Herald sad and trumpet be,
To whose sound chaste wings obey.
But thou shrieking harbinger,
Foul precurrer of the fiend,
Augur of the fever's end,
To this troop come thou not near.

From this session interdict
Every fowl of tyrant wing
Save the eagle, feather'd king:
Keep the obsequy so strict.

Let the priest in surplice white
That defunctive music can,
Be the death-divining swan,
Lest the requiem lack his right.

And thou, treble-dated crow,
That thy sable gender mak'st
With the breath thou giv'st and tak'st,
'Mongst our mourners shalt thou go.

Here the anthem doth commence:—
Love and constancy is dead;
Phoenix and the turtle fled
In a mutual flame from hence.

So they loved, as love in twain
Had the essence but in one;
Two distincts, division none;
Number there in love was slain.

Hearts remote, yet not asunder;
Distance, and no space was seen
'Twixt the turtle and his queen:
But in them it were a wonder.

So between them love did shine,
That the turtle saw his right
Flaming in the phoenix' sight;
Either was the other's mine.

Property was thus appall'd,
That the self was not the same;
Single nature's double name
Neither two nor one was call'd.

Reason, in itself confounded,
Saw division grow together;
To themselves yet either neither;
Simple were so well compounded,

That it cried, 'How true a twain
Seemeth this concordant one!
Love hath reason, reason none
If what parts can so remain.'

Whereupon it made this threne
To the phoenix and the dove,
Co-supremes and stars of love,
As chorus to their tragic scene.


BEAUTY, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed in cinders lie.

Death is now the phoenix' nest;
And the turtle's loyal breast
To eternity doth rest,

Leaving no posterity:
'Twas not their infirmity,
It was married chastity.

Truth may seem, but cannot be;
Beauty brag, but 'tis not she;
Truth and beauty buried be.

To this urn let those repair
That are either true or fair;

For these dead birds sigh a prayer. 

Obviously a problem arises in that this is not a modern poem, so your story may take the feel of this poem. Feel free to use the stanza in quote form.  Use it for characterization, whatever purpose you need.  Just have fun with it. If this poem is too difficult, choose a different one. Just keep in mind copyright laws when you do so. 


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Naked in Silk: Playing With Sensations

I have a kimono from Japan that I used to wear around my room with nothing underneath. 
One of the things I strive for when writing is in the details. What does the room look like, what does the fabric of the furniture feel like. While that may not seem overly important, I sometimes feel that just a touch of sensation, something the a character notices or feels that's tactile brings a little something extra to a story, makes it a little sweeter or richer. I know I certainly love it when reading a book or a story. I feel like it pulls me further into the character, situation, and setting, builds more of a connection with the world I am looking in on. So in my own writing I try to remember the little things, the even the mundane. Of course for most of it that means research and a field trip day!

Start by touching things in your house from the walls to the coffee maker. Take your clothes out of your closet and molest them shamelessly. Look at the tags and see what they are made of and take notes. Like the note under the picture says, I have a kimono from Japan, and I, when I was thinner, used to get naked and put it on and then go about my business. I declare that silk is one of the softest, soothing fabrics I have ever had the pleasure of wearing/ touching.

After you've played with your household things seek out the elements starting with the basics. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water.

Fire is one of my favorite elements. It warms you when you are cold, provides light, and can entertain. So light a candle and carefully, you don't want to burn yourself, move your fingers over the flame. Watch the flame flicker. If you have a fire place examine how it dances and note how it makes you feel inside. Is there comfort? Is it too hot?
Air is nice as well. Aside from needing it to breathe it can be comforting or annoying. Although you can't see it you certainly can feel it. One of the things I get great pleasure from is lying in my underwear during the early spring and autumn months, when their is a nice breeze, near an open window. I usually like to read then and relax with the breeze blowing over my skin. It's really nice and certainly recommend trying it. I also love sitting outside and letting the wind lift my hair. It's neat to see how the wind plays with the strands.

Water is amazing! Either sitting in a hot tub, warm bath, or a cool pool, it just feels good. to me at least., some people don't like water. But why? Wouldn't that be an interesting character fact? Playing with water from wading in a river, swimming, taking a bath, or filling the sink and just playing with it, take notes on how it feels.

Earth. There are so many things to touch when it comes to earth. Moss, trees from their leaves to their bark. Stones in the sun to those in the shade. Flowers and grass. Take your shoes off and walk in the grass (provided there aren't any stickers those suck). Play in the leaves. One of the things I loved most about working in the family garden when I was younger was playing in dirt. Sure mud is fun, but the dirt was really fun. In the sun it was warm and if it was dry you could grind it down to powder until it was soft. In the shade it was cool and if it was moist it was an interesting texture.

Things in your house and in nature aside there are man made things outside your home that are fun to touch and take note of. Several years ago, when Earth Final Conflict was airing on cable T.V, there was an episode where the Taelons gave a girl who didn't have hands, hands. Real, honest to goodness hands. She was talking to one of the other characters about what she liked to touch the most and she said bricks. I remember thinking that I'd never really paid much attention to bricks so I went outside and felt the bricks along the front of the house. They were rough and at the time they'd been in the sun so they were warm. After that I touched my Dad's car, the big dumpster down the way, and so on. 

So how about an hour or two some afternoon to just touch things? Even if you don't ever put the details in a story, having some fun and just experiencing the different sensations you get from what you feel can be interesting and you might just learn something a little extra about yourself. 


Writing Prompt: Fact or Fiction - Research

I am always fascinated with discoveries being made in the art world. And these past few weeks have been full of juicy thoughts with the "discovery" of a new painting from a master. Recently, people claim that a new Leonardo da Vinci has been discovered, a younger, fresher faced Mona Lisa called the Isleworth Mona Lisa.

It is exciting, there is a newly found word from a master. But is it real? Did da Vinci paint the Isleworth Mona Lisa? Is it a cleaver forgery from a contemporary?
Mona Lisa

How would you go about proving your theory? Research - a necessity if one aims to be a good writer. You have to know your facts before you can write about anything. There are plus and minus aspects to research though.

The Isleworth Mona Lisa

Where does one go to research art authentication/forgery? Anyone can get online and get facts. Whether those facts are correct is another matter. While the internet is good for gathering quick information, you have to ask yourself if it is reliable. Do you trust the source? How many websites did you investigate?

I believe that every writer needs to use a mix of sources, least of them being the internet. Books, journals, magazine articles, and people who are familiar with your subject are usually the best way to go. And yes, many journals and magazines are available online - but scholarly material is very different than a tumblr site with an opinion written by a conspiracy theorist.

Writers also need to have a working understanding of their subject. Using the Mona Lisa's as an example, you as the writer need to know about various art techniques and theory. What is the base of the painting? Was there a sketch involved? What paints were used? What about brushstrokes? Lighting? Texture? If the writer does not understand the basics, how can the reader understand them? And what about the reader who is well versed in art? If you do not know your subject, no one will take your work seriously.

Now, there will always be naysayers in whatever subject you chose. Especially when it comes to art, and the art of one of the masters. If a person were to write about these two paintings, the writer would first have to take a side. Say the writer thinks the newly discovered painting is not da Vinci's work. How does the writer tell the reader why it's fake?

Through evidence the writer finds through not only examining the works, but by knowing the era of the known work. The writer needs to convey how the paints were created, what was mixed in the oils to make certain shades. The writer needs to show the differences between the paintings: materials used and techniques. For example, the Mona Lisa was painted on wood, whereas the Isleworth Mona Lisa is painted on canvas.

WRITING EXERCISE: Think of an item, be it art, historical letters, an unfinished manuscript, that has been found. The person/people that have found this item claim it is authentic, an original work worth millions of dollars. How would you go about collecting the evidence to form your own opinion? How would you sway others to believe your argument? Think about the research involved, and outline your approach.

This might lead you to a fascinating tale of intrigue in the art world.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

Just a short note about reading.

You know how in middle school, high school, and college you have to read a ton of text books, books off the required reading list, and stuff your teachers make you read? Well as an adult, aside from things having to do with work, you can read anything you want. ANYTHING!

When I was growing up my Grandmother read me kids books and biographies about historical people. My Mother read my fairy tales and kids books and my Father read my The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And they read to me almost nightly until I was reading on my own. But I had trouble reading because I have dyslexia and reading out loud was a nightmare and you know every teacher just loves to make kids read out loud. So I began to hate books and it took until I was in middle school before I began to love them again. 

I started out reading the William Allen White and other award winning books. They were nice and some I really loved but they weren't quite, exactly what I craved. 

In High school, for the first three years of English classes I liked all the required reading but when it I got to senior year, English comp college reading, I wanted to slap my teacher every class period. She picked out the worst books ever! And when it came time for college, it didn't get any better. Thankfully, I'd been seeking out books on my own and I was lucky enough to get a weekly trip to the bookstore. I read fantasy, I read young adult fantasy and Sci Fi, I read romance, some classics and plays, and some non-fiction too. But I felt kind of bad for not reading the gems of the literary world. 

Well as is turns out, like in all genre fiction, there are crap books in literary too, and when you are a poor, extremely choosy (ehm picky) person, you want to make sure that the book you are reading is worth the money you paid for it. So my point is, if there is something that you love to read from shameless, raunchy erotica to the most snooty of mainstream literature, READ IT and don't feel bad for it for goodness sake don't let anyone make you feel less for what turns your crank in the reading sense.    

Thursday, October 4, 2012

10 Rules of Writing

I recently read Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing.  It is literally an 89 page book dedicated to  white space, caricature-like drawings and, of course, the ten rules.  They are as follows:

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. 
  6.  Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
 My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.
 If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

I found the entire book to be a bit on the pretentious side, please visit my personal blog to read my full review.  Concerning these rules, I question whether or not calling them 'rules' makes us less likely to follow them, or if something like this might be more palatable if presented as suggestions.  What are your thoughts on these rules?  Do you follow them?  Do you break them?  Do you think that you have to follow them in order to get any literary credibility?  There are a few that I do agree with and many that I intend to completely disregard.  Are there any here that you would personally follow?  Are there any that you disagree with completely?  

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

The Need To Move On

Copyright notice, this image is public domain and free to use from here.

This is more a speculative piece, not based on any prompts, or any writing I have done recently. Nor does it have to do with other writers' suggestions, but rather something that occurred to me a few weeks ago, and then again tonight. Sometimes - I realized - what is most necessary is to just move on.  I don't mean this in a way that suggests anyone should just quit halfway through. No nothing quite so drastic. Rather, I mean this more in a way of growth. We as humans, we grow, our experiences, our every day interactions shape us and how we regard the world around us. Rather we grow forward or backwards, no matter the direction, there is little debate that we grow.  So for better or for worse, does our writing not need to as well?

This is kind of a personal realization for me, and here is the reason.  For the last seven years I have been in a writing partnership with Skoora.  Many of you know that.  Thousands of pages have been drafted between the two of us. Hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words, and I'd gander millions if not billions of characters. These accomplishments have helped me grow as a writer, but recently I've found myself wondering how far I've come, and if I could go further. Because I realize that I have trouble letting go. We as human beings find a place where we are comfortable, and being shaken from that comfort causes us great stress. Something as simple as our favorite barista quiting after ten years of diligent service at our coffee shop that we go to just for them is enough to shake our emotional stability for a short time - and for some a great deal of time.  What does that say about us? Well the obvious answer is we stick to what we know.

This is a double edged sword, because the greatest advice writers give other writers is 'Write what you know.' Yet when does that quit being enough?  For the last six of the seven years Skoora and I have been writing, there has been a pretty prominent constant in our writing, and that is my primary character who goes by the name - I bet you can guess it - Tory.  He's the character that really started it for me, the one who made me realize so much about myself as a writer, but also about myself as a human being.  There has been something positive that has come from this, over the years as I've grown, so has he, to where I can now write him in any situation with ease.  I know him better than I know myself, I now what makes him tick, I know what makes him smile, and what makes him cry (which is everything). I know what he wants, what he fears, who he cherishes, who he wishes he could love more.  I know his vices and where he excels.  He's a character that is as real to me as you or myself.

I know Tory.

But maybe it's time I stop writing what I know? I find myself performing a tap dance through flaming hoops and tanks of man-eating piranha when I try to write someone else, anyone else.  I think with Tory I have grown as far as I ever will, and so this makes me wonder should I find a knew comfort? Should I find a new  knowledge?

Is this a question that all writers should ask?

Is the advice, 'Write what you know,' too broad?  If you know detectives, certainly you should write about that, if you know horses, then follow in Joe Henry's footsteps and write about horses. Yet, one of the greatest feelings in writing is learning something new. The research, the hardwork, the discovery that goes into writing the next scene, in building a life that you yourself can never live.  Is that not the wonder of fiction? The wonder of using ones mind to weave tales that are remarkable and unfamiliar, but through time, effort, and perseverance, become familiar?

Should I put to rest my familiar comfort and face the fires of uncertainty?  It's an interesting question that I know many great writers would disagree on. So this is something of a philosophical question that I don't believe has a write or wrong answer, but rather is left to personal preference, and it is the job of the writer to find that in themselves.

So I ask, what is your take on this topic, on writing the familiar, can this lead you into a dangerous downward spiral? Do you believe you should always write what you know? Do you believe that sometimes the best writing comes from learning and building new knowledge?  When does it become time to move on? Should we always/never move on?  I hope that this piece has allowed for some thought rather than confusion.

And on that note I leave with this idea:

 What we know is limited, but what we can learn is a vast universe of unforeseeable potential. - Elizabeth Kelly

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Heffron Prompts: Part I

I am currently reading The Writer's Idea Workshop; how to make your good ideas great by Jack Heffron.  I am four chapters in and while much of what I am reading has been touched upon in other writing books, this one has struck a singular cord within me.  In Heffron's book he talks about how we, as writers, often talk an idea to death and then lose all drive to write about it and how we should keep some ideas secret until we have enough written on the page to sort of rope us into the project rather than allow the idea to exist as some ideal that we will never actually work toward finishing.  I am ever so guilty of this and that is why my current project - something that I've mentioned in passing to Crimson - is going to remain under wraps until I have a few chapters pumped out and can make a real decision on whether or not this idea is any good.  In the mean time, here are some of the prompts from his book, which contains over three hundred prompts, that I found particularly interesting and useful. 

PROMPT: If you have an idea that you've been carrying around in your mind for a while, stop reading this book and put something on paper.  Even if you can only spend five minutes doing it, spend the five minutes.  If you're hesitant to begin writing, just describe the story in a paragraph or write five possible titles or name all the characters.  But do it now.  This very minute.  I'm not kidding.  Go.  You shouldn't be reading this sentence, unless you've taken time to do this prompt.

PROMPT: Write a pledge to yourself to keep secret an idea for a writing project.  Tell no one about it.  If you tend to be a blabbermouth, as writers often are, give the pact with yourself a time limit, such as: "I'll keep this idea a secret for one month, during which I'll write a little something on it every day." 

PROMPT: If you've been working on a piece for a good while and feel it may be time to let go, put it away for a while, give yourself a deadline for working on it.  For example, tell yourself you'll spend the next five sessions on the piece before putting it away.  Then, stick to that schedule, even if the piece suddenly comes to life.  If it does come to life, you can bring it out again later but for now you've decided to move on to something new.

PROMPT: Write about a place you've never been, one in which you've always had an interest or somewhere that has inspired a feeling of connection.  Investigate your interest or connection.

PROMPT: Create a prompt of your own.  One of the themes of this chapter is that creativity requires moving past what you've been told to do, and so what I'm telling you to do is tell yourself what to do.  You might want to brainstorm a half-dozen "assignments" and choose one to explore in a session.  The key here is to set forth your own task and then find ways to accomplish it.

PROMPT: After a writing session, write a congratulatory note from your ideal reader to you.  The reader should tell you he or she loves your idea.

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


I, for one, jumped on that first prompt!  I hope that some of you will do the same.  Don't get stuck on a project that is taking forever and eating up the time that you could be using practicing, polishing, and, most importantly, creating!  I put some of these prompts up with specific contributors in mind but I hope these are useful to any and all of our readers.  For more prompts please check out Heffron Prompts: Part II.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dream a little dream for me

I think just about everyone has dreams. Happy dreams, sad dreams, and dreams that make you want to spit nails when you wake up, wake up in a cold sweat-heart-racing-terrified dreams, and dreams that are so outlandishly crazy and chaotic that they just don't make any sense. Sometimes our dreams are influenced by something we've watched on TV, a movie, something we've read or played. Sometimes they are influenced by food, cheese and popcorn seem to really make mine colorful. But whatever it is, in the end, we all end up dreaming (unless you're a person who can't dream).

I have a hard time winding down at night to go to sleep. My head races round and round, passes itself on the racetrack and generally makes me cranky. I've had this problem since High School and the best way to get my head to focus one thing so I can settle down, is to tell myself a story or in some cases, I demand that Skoora tell me one. Occasionally what ever I've told myself or what ever she's told me sneaks into my dreams thus creating something strange, although most of the time it doesn't, or I've slept too hard to remember.  What's important here are not the stories, what you ate, or anything else except the dreams themselves because sometimes, just sometimes you can take something from those dreams to add to a story or create an entire story from them.

Now just hear me out, I know dreams are freaking weird. I once had a dream that John Travolta in his Battlefield Earth costume/make up was chasing me along a beach. I hid in some cave and ended up running through them and coming out in a forest. From there I ran along a path to gate which protected fifty or so tree houses that made up a convent of nuns. To top it off Angel from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was out in the day light helping the nuns with something, what I can't remember. What I do remember is that I had to get my butt into the tree house convent else John would get me. I'm not joking, this dream happened, and I've never even seen Battlefield Earth. But I kept a dream journal next to my bed and the only reason I remember this dream is because I wrote down as much as I could remember before I lost it. In this particular instance, I haven't used anything from the dream in a story. However, I've used elements or ideas that come from my dreams in other stories.

My challenge to you, try keeping a dream journal next to your bed. Try to get in the habit of writing down your dreams if you have time and can remember them. See if you can spin a story out of one or all of them, or maybe even add little things from one dream into a story and something from another.