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 website, if only because I love how it sounds in my head.


 LAG-uhn  , noun;
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


  [noo-bil, -bahyl, nyoo-]  Show IPA
(of a young woman) suitable for marriageespecially in regard toage or physical development; marriageable.
(of a young woman) sexually developed and attractive: thenubile girls in their bikinis.
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