Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Goal to Write Every Day

I'm going to write every day this year.  I'm going to get out one of my old journals and put a few lines down.  If I write a blog or write on a novel, my entry might just be 'see blog' or 'Death Man 300 words' or what not.  I need to write.  That is my life blood right now.  I need focus.  And any writing, no matter how serious, how decent, how pathetic, or how bland, is better than no writing.


Amanda LaFantasie © (last day of) 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013

Vocab Builder Word


SOLIPSISM

sol·ip·sism (slp-szm, slp-)

n. Philosophy
1. The theory that the self is the only thing that can be known and verified.
2. The theory or view that the self is the only reality.
[Latin slus, alone; see s(w)e- in Indo-European roots + Latin ipse, self + -ism.]
solip·sist n.
solip·sistic adj.


I read this word in a workshop piece and fell in love with it.  Essentially it is a spectrum word that indicates a person's inability (in varying degrees) to empathize with others.  It's totally a Philip K. Dick wet-dream word.  

Weekly vocab word

flor·id  [flawr-id, flor-]
adjective
1. reddish; ruddy; rosy: a florid complexion.
2. flowery; excessively ornate; showy: florid writing.
3. Obsolete . abounding in or consisting of flowers.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Long awaited and belated weekly vocab word

ca·ve·at  [kav-ee-aht, -at, kah-vee-, key-]  Show IPA
noun
1. a warning or caution; admonition.
2. Law. a legal notice to a court or public officer to suspend a certain proceeding until the notifier is given a hearing: a caveat filed against the probate of a will.

Do you Mary Sue?


I'm taking nine classes for the upcoming residency at Pine Manor College.  One of the classes focuses on speculative fiction, which, if you didn't know, is anything out of the normal realm.  It covers science-fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopian, and much, much more.  For this class, the professor assigned us all to take the Mary Sue Test prior to attending the residency.  It's actually a pretty cool little test.  I took it for my Death Man character and scored a 14.  I recommend everyone to take this test for at least one of their favorite original characters, and I doubly recommend this for those who dabble in the world of fan-fiction.

For people who don't know what Mary Sue means it is essentially inserting oneself into a story and creating a character that is impossibly perfect.  I think there is a masculine form of this term but just as Brony (a seemingly masculine term applied in general to those who enjoy My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) covers everyone in the gender spectrum, so too does the term Mary Sue.  So take the test and see if your hero/in is too good to be true or too bland to be possible.  Post your scores if you like what you see or post them if you don't like then and give a comment on what you want to change for the character or if you feel that the score is unjustified for the specifics of your character.  Happy writing everyone and Happy Holidays, too!

This Deviant Artist hit the nail on the head in her depiction of a typical Mary Sue story.
Amanda LaFantasie © 2013

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Scripturient

 www.gdfalksen.com/post/67540778214





scripturient  

scripturient adjective & noun. [skrɪp'tʃʊǝrɪǝnt] Now rare. M17.
[Late Latin scripturient- pres. ppl stem of scripturire desire to write, from Latin script-: see SCRIPTURE, -ENT.]
A. adjective. Having a passion for writing or authorship. M17.
B. noun. A person with a passion for writing. Only in M17.
scripturiency noun a passion or mania for writing M17.
 


This is now one of my new favorite old words.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Which time? Writing prompt for all and stress relief for National Novel Writer's Month participants.


I got to thinking today, after watching NBC's Dracula, about time periods, historical figures, and buildings, landscapes and so on. There are so many time periods and places I wish I could be a fly on the wall of. I wish I could have seen Queen Elizabeth I and England during her reign or Queen Victoria during hers. I would like to have seen the kind of lives some of my ancestors lived, how they made ends meet, where they came from, what their views were. I wish I could have seen certain places of the world before time and war had crumbled them.

So I posed a question to all of my friends on Facebook, mostly because I am curious, but also because as I was writing it, I thought perhaps this would be a good time to convert the question into a writing prompt. I left it open for those who just want to give short answers and for those who want to take a break from Nano and write something short and easy. So here's the question or rather questions:

What time period/place do you wish could visit, if it were possible for you to go?
What would you most like to see and what would you like to do while there?
Who would you like to meet in person if there is or was someone you'd like to meet?

And to add another element to the questions, first write this as if you couldn't do anything to change history, because if you did, it would disrupt everything. Then, write it as if it wouldn't matter if you changed history, if you could change history, but remember there are consequences to every action. How do you think your changing things will shape the future?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

NaNoWriMo Time!

It's that time again!  National Novel's Writer Month, or NaNoWriMo, is here.  It starts midnight tonight.  I know that several members of this blog are going to be taking part this year and I thought we could do a mid month check up to see how everyone is doing and how far along they are to their 50 thousand word goals.  To kick it off, I'm going to stay up and start writing in the wee first hours of November and see if I can get a good five hundred in before I crash for the night.  My goal is to work on new material for my Death Man novel as well as get a start on a new novel that can work as my workshop pieces for the upcoming winter residency where I will be starting my third semester with Pine Manor College's Solstice MFA in Creative Writing.

A word of advise from me for all those out there attempting this wonderful and exciting task: make time.  Steal minutes wherever you can.  Even if you just have fifteen minutes between things and you think you have enough quiet or concentration to pump out a few paragraphs, then do it.  Every little word counts.  A book is nothing but chapters and chapters are made of pages and pages are made of paragraphs and those paragraphs are made of sentences and that's where words come in.  They are the foundation of everything in literature.  Keep the words coming and don't stop to edit (or at least don't stop for too long).  Best of luck to my fellow NaNoWriMo participants.  Ready, set, write!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Importance of Imagery

This is my craft analysis for my MFA on imagery using Deliverance by James Dickey as the main source. You do not need to have read the book to read this essay and I do not believe there are any real spoilers contained within.  Enjoy!

 
Imagery in the Georgia Wilderness

            Some say the devil is in the details, but when it comes to imagery, I say the ‘difference’ is in the details.   Imagine a picnic scene.  Vivid, sensory descriptions are all that stand between a Monet-esque afternoon, and the third circle of Dante’s hell.  On one hand we have gently swaying ash trees, rolling grasses, polished silver with scalloped edges, and starched, white doilies; on the other we have a threadbare blanket, an overcast sky, enormous deep-fried turkey legs, an ant army descending upon a glob of jelly, and greasy fingers digging into the basket for more.  Could very well be the same picnic, but the images give us vastly different impressions.  These descriptions not only color our perceptions of scenes, they give us a deeper understanding of the novel as a whole, particularly its theme. 
            In the novel, Deliverance, James Dickey reinforces the Darwinian theme – survival of the fittest, or, you have to adapt or you die – through his use of sensory and emotional imagery.  Janet Burroway tells us in her book, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, “... if you are to realize your characters through detail, then you must be careful to select the details that convey the characteristics essential to our understanding.  You can’t convey a whole person, or a whole action, or everything there is to be conveyed about a single moment of a single day.  You must select the significant” (Burroway 78).  This goes back to the imaginary picnic.  If the theme is ‘rich people are slobs and pigs on the inside’ wouldn’t it be better to use the latter description over the former?  Of course that depends on the context of the rest of the novel.  Looking at Deliverance, which is a story about survival at great physical and emotional costs, it would be strange if the narrator, Ed, who happens to be a novice hunter, only noticed fluffy tails, wiggling noses, and cute features when encountering animals.  Those details have a time and place, but not in this novel.  The imagery in the following passage is what separates Dickey from Disney. 

            “In the middle of this sound the tent shook; the owl had hold of it in the same place.  I knew this before I but the light on – it was still in my hand, exactly as warm as I was – and saw the feet with the heel talons now also coming in.  I pulled one hand out of the sleeping bag and saw it wander frailly up through the thin light until a finger touched the cold reptilian nail of one talon below the leg-scales.  I had no idea of whether the owl felt me; I thought perhaps it would fly, but it didn’t.  Instead, it shifted its weight again, and the claws on the foot I was touching loosened for a second.  I slipped my forefinger between the claw and the tent, and half around the stony toe.  The claw tightened; the strength had something nervous and tentative about it.  It tightened more, very strongly but not painfully.  I pulled back until the hand came away, and this time the owl took off.
            All night the owl kept coming back to hunt from the top of the tent.  I not only saw his feet when he came to us; I imagined what he was doing while he was gone, floating through the trees, seeing everything.  I hunted with him as well as I could, there in my weightlessness.  The woods burned in my head.  Toward morning I could reach up and touch the claw without turning on the light” (Dickey 89).

            Nothing is fluffy or friendly about this owl.  Dickey uses words like ‘reptilian,’ ‘stony,’ ‘claw,’ and ‘scales’ to describe an animal that, in a different setting, might be considered cute.  The image Dickey creates is that of a fit and efficient hunter, everything that Ed wants to be, and, in the end, is forced to become.  In On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner, the author says that “... the writer who works closely with detail – studying his characters’ most trivial gestures in the imagined scene to discover exactly where the scene must go next – is the writer most likely to persuade and awe us” (Gardner 37).  So much happens in this small scene where Ed touches the owl.  Through his “most trivial gestures” we understand, or have an idea, of what has to happen next.  Already we see Ed adapting himself for survival: “I hunted with him as well as I could,” and, “I could reach up and touch the claw without turning on the light.”
            Sandra Scofield reminds us in her book, The Scene Book; A Primer for the Fiction Writer, to, “... keep in mind that you want details to be part of action, not tacked on for effect.  And do remember to engage all of the reader’s senses, not just sight” (Scofield 112).  The owl passage focuses more on touch than it does sight, but an even better example of “... integrat(ing) description – mak(ing) it a part of the flow of the action of the scene ...” (Scofield 111) occurs during a confrontation between the protagonists and two men who, “... stepped out of the woods, one of them trailing a shotgun by the barrel” (Dickey 107).  The climax moment of this confrontation occurs in sounds:

            “I knelt down.  As my knees hit, I heard a sound, a snap-slap off in the woods, a sound like a rubber band popping or a sickle-blade cutting quick.  The older man was standing with the gun barrel in his hand and no change in the stupid, advantage-taking expression of his face, and a foot and a half of bright red arrow was shoved forward from the middle of his chest.  It was there so suddenly it seemed to have some from within him” (Dickey 116).

            While Burroway tells us, “A detail is ‘definite’ and ‘concrete’ when it appeals to the senses.  It should be seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched” (Burroway 75), Dickey often creates images using a combination of abstract and sensual details.  In the following passage there are a number of details that help us see the river on its surface level, “... as if [we] were a movie camera” (Gardner 71), but we also see it as Ed sees it, as something mindless, indifferent, and uncomprehending. 
  
            “What a view, I said again.  The river was blank and mindless with beauty.  It was the most glorious thing I have ever seen.  But it was not seeing, really. For one it was not just seeing.  It was beholding.  I beheld the river in its icy pit of brightness, in its far-below sound and indifference, in it large coil and tiny points and flashes of the moon, in its long sinuous form, in its uncomprehending consequence.  What was there?
            Only that terrific brightness.  Only a couple of rocks as big as islands, around one of which a thread of scarlet seemed to go, as though outlining a face, a kind of god, a layout for an ad, a sketch, an element of design”  (Dickey 171).

            Gardner introduces the concept of the originality of the writer’s eye in On Becoming a Novelist.  Essentially, “Getting down what the writer really cares about – setting down what the writer himself notices, as opposed to what any fool might notice – is all that is meant by the originality of the writer’s eye” (Gardner 71).  The above passage is a great example of that originality.  This isn’t just a river anymore; it’s Dickey’s river.  It’s Ed’s river.  Through his narrator, Dickey captures things about this river that are different from ‘what any fool might notice’ and uses these things to develop his survival theme.  Ed’s life before the river begins to merge with his life now: “outlining a face, a kind of god, a layout for an ad, a sketch...”  He sees the face of a god in recognition of the divine power of nature and he relates it to things he knows from his job, from his life before the canoe trip.  Only this character, presented by this author, could view things this way.  That is the power of imagery and the originality of the writer’s eye. 
            One of the lengthier scenes in Deliverance depicts Ed climbing a mountain cliff.  It is a simple enough action: man climbs mountain.  But the massive amounts of sensory detail that go into the scene’s composition turn it into an intense conflict of man versus nature.  

 “I got on one knee and went cautiously outward, rising slowly with both hands palm-up on the underside of the fissure top.  I was up, slanting backward, and I felt along and around the bulge over my head.  To the right there was nothing I could do, but I was glad to be back.  To the left the crevice went on beyond where I could reach, and the only thing to do was to edge along it, sidestepping inch by inch until only my toes, very tired again, were in the crack” (Dickey 175).

“Time after time I lay there sweating, having no handhold or foothold, the rubber of my toes bending back against the soft rock, my hands open.  Then I would begin to try and inch upward again, moving with the most intimate motions of my body, motions I had never dared use with Martha, or with any other human woman.  Fear and a kind of enormous moon-blazing sexuality lifted me, millimeter by millimeter” (Dickey 176).

            What starts out as ‘man climbs mountain’ turns into ‘man f***s mountain.’  It makes sense in a way.  There is an enormous amount of risk and physical exertion involved in climbing and in love making and Dickey uses this relationship between activities to not only create a visceral image for the reader but to also how Ed’s development in becoming a survivor.  Scofield says, “... ‘description’ isn’t a discreet element in narrative” (Scofield 111), and there is certainly nothing discreet in Ed’s triumph over the mountain:  “It was painful, but I was going.  I was crawling, but it was no longer necessary to make love to the cliff, to f*** it for an extra inch or two in the moonlight, for I had some space between me and it” (Dickey 177).
            The example of the picnic from the beginning gives us a taste of the spectrum of choices an author has to make when writing imagery into a scene, but Dickey’s text shows without a doubt the importance of making the right choices.  In The Scene Book, Scofield says, “Forget those high school classes where you talked plot, setting, character, theme.  Those things aren’t separate!  You want your descriptions to exist as part of action and emotion, part of the meaning of your scenes” (Scofield 111).  Imagery is just one piece of the puzzle.  It’s a piece, if done well, that is entirely unique to each author, and even each character, and it’s the one that makes all the difference. 

Works Cited:

Burroway, Janet, and Susan Weinberg. Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. New York: Longman, 2003. Print.

Dickey, James. Deliverance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. Print.

Gardner, John. On Becoming a Novelist. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Scofield, Sandra Jean. The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer. New York: Penguin, 2007. Print.


Amanda LaFantasie © October 2013

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Vocab Builder

Stentorian!


sten·to·ri·an (stn-tôr-n, -tr-)
adj.   Extremely loud: a stentorian voice.

Example: His stentorian cries of terror echoed throughout the apartment building until the tentacles won, and then there was silence.  

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Book List!

This semester at Pine Manor I have a fantastic line-up of books to read.  I have already tackled seven - almost eight! - and felt like it might be interesting to show our readers and contributors the annotated bibliography that I have to keep for my readings.  What you see below has been copied and pasted from my personal account at EasyBib.com, which has been a godsend for this project.  Please note that my annotations are meant as a personal guide for myself to see what I learned or liked about a book and perhaps even why.  They contain spoilers and also some of my immediate reaction.  


Abbott, G. The Executioner Always Chops Twice: Ghastly Blunders on the Scaffold. New York: St. Martin's, 2004. Print.
  • It is interesting reading how someone methodically describes the actual mechanics of bringing people to pain and to death and giving an objective bird's eye view of the process. Helpful to me in my own detailing of execution in writing. This book is a fast and interesting read - the best part of it is the accidental intimacy we begin to feel for certain hangmen by the end and for the Sanson family in particular. It gives a bit of humanity to the ones carrying out the sentences as well as a bit of justice (or scrutiny) to the one's being killed. Also has great insight to the mental rationale of the executioner (one says he executes while his predecessor hung them - another says that he doesn't kill them, he let's them kill themselves at the end of his rope).

Dickey, James. Deliverance. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970. Print.
  • Favorite parts were the owl on the tent, the making love to the rock wall, and the part when he cut out the arrow. I had visceral reactions to much of the 'gore' or 'pain' descriptions and oddly enough, not as much of a reaction to the rape. It reinforces some of the rape culture beliefs of the time and makes the victim feel tainted through Ed's POV. Overall, this is a fantastic example of effect and poetic prose. The ending was subtle and I wouldn't have minded just a bit more of something - it sort of just stopped after a wonderful cool down period. I loved all the non-sentimental and yet extremely sad mentions of Drew and his death. Excellently haunting. This is the 1970's version of Lord of the Flies for me: Drew = Simon, Lewis = Jack (in his savageness), Bobby = Piggy, and Ed = Ralph. Very archetypal in that way. Highly enjoyable read.

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: HarperCollins, 2013. Print.
  • He wrote the first part intending to make it 'boring' so that it might dissuade young, young readers from continuing on - so that only kids mature enough to get through the boring part would persist. I love the dip back into memory and the part when he feels it's a 'ghost memory' that it didn't happen when he gets his heart ripped out by the varmints. I love the end so much that he is still recovering even at forty-seven and that he's suffered as a human and is growing a new heart. This is a fantastic and quick read with so much imagery and such a raw-innocence in it that it just had to be told through a child's eyes. There's something beautiful about this story that makes me feel like Gaiman is a web weaver - like he wrote the epilogue long before he wrote the first chapter (probably not) but he had such precision in getting from the start to the end. Such tight story telling and no wasted words. It was wonderful and the repetition of water and fabric were just gorgeous.

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.
  • An interesting look at POV - I really fell in love with this poor monster. I melted every time he screamed, "Wah! Mama!" It was fun and full of anachronistic moments, phrases, 'knowings', that made it highly humorous yet no less serious. Gardner's use of dialogue mixed with action is fantastic and reinforces the aesthetic of the novel. Fun stuff in the book: moments when the structure takes a movie type turn as well as moments when the first line of the paragraph is flush with the margin and the rest of the paragraph is indented. This inversion really caught my eye. Fantastic resource for structure. Something else that I loved and found to be very effective was that it went 'oh so smoothly and sneakily' from first person past tense to first person present tense. That was brilliant especially since the ending of the novel portrays Grendel on a fall to his death and it ends with this suspended moment of knowing what's going to happen but having to use your own imagination for it.

Memmer, Philip. Lucifer, a Hagiography: Poems. Sandpoint, ID: Lost Horse, 2009. Print.
  • Interesting take on the Lucifer myth - putting him neck and neck with Christ as a caring and sympathetic brother rather than an antagonist. I like the brother-ness. The story telling in the poetry is fantastic. Favorites include the dance and when Lucifer watches his daughter be born. I like the reaffirmation that Satan and Lucifer are different angels. It's a real twist that God wanted Lucifer to perform the Christ role initially and that this 'plan' was what made Lucifer drop out of heaven saying 'that's the stupidest thing he'd ever heard.'

Myers, Walter Dean, and Christopher Myers. Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.
  • Super quick read - nice handling of some very adult matter (prison rape and violence) without making it too graphic or turning off a younger audience. My only complaint with the book is that the main character is sixteen and much of his diary entry narrative feels younger than that. It could just be the fear making him feel that way, or maybe he's not that intelligent but the rest of the story leads us to believe that he is quite smart. The end is haunting and unsettling and leaves such a chillingly ambiguous taste in my mouth that it redeems any 'immaturity' in the text prior. Also I love the gradual and effective way Myers pulls us into the screenplay format.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five: Or, The Children's Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death. New York: Dell Pub., 1999. Print.
  • It's like a dream within a dream within a dream within a dream. Craft-wise, I enjoyed the various POV narrators and the broad spectrum third person (with occasional author asides) that delved into omniscience. For satire and comedy this broad stroke style is highly effective it seems. This book also makes me proud of my affection for ugly, mutilated, awkward, and otherwise non-traditional appearance characters. No one in the book is attractive accept maybe Derby and he's doomed from the get go. Structure wise I adore the long chapters with continuous breaks (lots and lots of white space) and not just between Billy's 'time travel jumps' but also in the middle of a conversation. It gives the reader a breath and for me it makes it easier to come back and read again and pick up with a sense of knowing exactly what's going on. There's so many lovely gems in here - all of Kilgore Trout's novels and the recurring imagery of silver and blue defining the skin of the dead. Not to mention the picture of the pony and the woman. I liked the non-linear approach and it worked to make Billy even more interesting.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Language Creation

Language. What is it? A grouping of words, symbols, signs, gestures, and sounds used to communicate. Language is used everyday, from speaking to people, texting, computer programming, the posting of pictures, and so on. Suffice to say, language is important to know and understand the world around us.

But what about created worlds? What about the races and places that writers create? How do these people communicate? It is easy for an author to use their native tongue when their characters speak and think. I don't find anything wrong with that. It is easy - for some - to translate a few sentences into a different language. I do that constantly, changing English to Latin, French, Italian, and Russian. But I am a language nerd. I love various languages.

However, in my creation of worlds and races, I have backed myself into a wall of sorts. I have elves, vampires, sorcerers, witches, and so on. Each of these races have their own histories, and therefore, they need their own languages. But, how do I go about creating various languages for my races, without it sounding alien?

Tolkien is a great inspiration for language creation. Using the Elder Futhark Runes, he fashioned the Uruk Runes spoken by the Uruk-hai. The Cirth Runes - language of the Dwarves - is based upon the Anglo Saxon runic alphabet.

By following Tolkien's example, I am in the midst of creating a few languages for my various races. I am in the middle of creating a history for my vampire race. Finally figuring out where my vampires originated from, I can now use the languages from that area to create my own. For my vampires, I am mixing Elder Futhark Runes, the Lepontic (Lugano) language, and Ogham. I think that what I come up with will be fantastic, but it will take a lot of hard work.

http://www.omniglot.com/index.htm   This is fantastic website all about languages. Omniglot is the online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. It has sections on phonetics, different writing systems, and sections about conlangs - constructed languages.

Here is to making the created world a little more complete, with a language of their own.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fighting with writer's block and killing it dead.

Writer's block is that nasty, greasy bitch who likes to come visit at the most inconvenient time and cause all sorts of drama and emotional upheaval. It likes to leave us unsettled and wanting a gods damned break, just a little bit of one, just for a few hours, so we can get our train back on track and chugging along. Sometimes we can back hand the bitch and shove it out the door but sometimes, even if we've slapped it and ourselves, we just can't seem to recover.

It was easier when we were younger. We didn't have as many hang ups. We didn't have as many worries or things that invaded our writing time or space. There weren't roommates, in-laws, and health problems, work, homework of the assumed 'higher education' levels and a social life. We weren't too worried about grammar and spelling, speaker tags, whether or not to use this word rather than that word. If we decided to share it with someone they would tell you how awesome it was because they wanted to encourage you and would forgive all the little mistakes and focus more on content. If we didn't share it, then it was our own little treasure. We only had to really focus on our story, play time, and the simpler things in life.

I have to say finding time to write hasn't really been an issue in some respects, it's getting things around me to settle enough so I CAN write. I have come across a problem where I live that makes it very difficult for me to write and trying to come up with compromises simply aren't working. Goting other places doesn't seem to help much either. Thus a lot of my writing drive has been squish-squashed. Health complications have also made it difficult to really focus on much of anything.  Which is very sad because writing used to be my coping mechanism for just about everything. Writing used to keep me sane, well saner.

So what does a person do when that's taken away and hindered? Fight for it! It's hard, so very very hard, but you have to fight for it, even if it's scratching at the surface and you just write blogs or letters to trusted friends bitching about someone or something. You have to write short stories and it doesn't matter if it is crap. Sometimes you need crap. Sometimes you have to get the steaming pile of shit out of your system so the good stuff that has been trapped can surface. If you're angry, write something angry. Take what ever you are angry about and turn it into a character and then torture it, make that character suffer. I know that sounds twisted but at least you will have written something.

I've read some opinions from published authors who say writer's block doesn't exist, that it's a writer being this or that, that they just don't want to sit down and write. That we basically just need to suck it up and just sit down and do it if we want to be successful. Whether it's all in our heads or there are some other problems going on, they all seem to agree that you have to write through it. If this is the job you want, then you have to treat it like a job.

Here is the blog from Larry Correia (he wrote Monster Hunter International) that has be of some help and inspiration to me. He doesn't hand hold. He gives it to you straight, which I think is what most people want and need. It's not a five minute read so read it when you have a few minutes. The second link is his post about time management.

Ask Correia: How to be a professional author.

Ask Correia: Time management for writers

I don't know if this is going to help anyone and this isn't some magical cure-all. These are just some ideas and harsh realities meant to help knock us all back into gear. We're probably always going to battle with this problem from time to time. I mean I've spent months dealing with and fighting against things out of my control. There were, still are, and will always be days where I'm far too panicky and emotionally raw (that happens when you live with chronic pain but that's for a personal blog) to set foot outside my room much less deal with all the noise and commotion in my house. I swear there have been days where I've actually wanted to break every TV in my house and wished everyone had a bad case of laryngitis. There were, still are, and probably will always be days where my back pain makes it hell to sit in a chair for short periods of time much less long ones. Sometimes I can make sitting on the sofa work if only because I can change my potion more frequently. Sometimes I just can't and have to squeeze in as much as I can for as long as I can stand it. But it has only been recently that I have actually really worked on my works-in-progress- novels. Before that, I was still writing, just blog posts, e-mails, and letters. But I was writing something.

The point is simple, you can't stop. You have keep writing something, anything. I'm not going to say 'if I can do it then you can do it too'. No, that's one of those cheap cop-outs self help and diet plan sales people try to get you to buy into their crap, good advice or not. This is entirely on you just as much as it's entirely on me. A story isn't going to write itself. So look that writer's block bitch in the face and have a fight it with, blow it up, torture it as much as it tortures you, but kill it dead and when it comes back to life, kill it again. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Hannah's (Crimson Lantern's) new goal list.



The lovely Amanda LaFantasie last posted this blog's anniversary (which is amazing! Great job everyone!) and also about old goals and new. So here I am, reviewing my old list and compiling a new list. 

Old list: 
1. Finish a book
2. Improve spelling and grammar
3. Be more descriptive
4. Write more elegantly and eloquently 
5. Get something published. 
6. Improve writing habits/ setting word goals

All of those are a work in progress still. I feel like I will always be fighting with the grammar and spelling gods of writing. I will discuss my writing process, lack there of, and writer's block in a later post.

New List:
1. Finish a book! I get so fixated if something doesn't feel right that I end up derailing myself.
2. Work on letting go of the small stuff and moving forward in a story.
3. Be more descriptive but don't bash it in. Sometimes less is more and learning the balance is key.
4. Writing more elegantly, sure, but writing gritty as well
5. Improve writing habits. This is the hardest of all but I will explain that later in another blog. Setting word goals aren't really a concern of mine at the moment. I am happy to write a paragraph at this point. Again, I will explain later.
6. Balance out my reading list. I need to read more fiction and less non-fiction.
7. Getting feedback. Again this is another blog post entirely, but it is just as important as anything else. 8. Make it worse, make it hot! Something Amanda's current mentor from Pine Manor College, Sterling Watson, said. Some of the best advice I have ever heard.


Friday, August 16, 2013

Happy Anniversary: Looking Back and Looking Forward

As I was perusing the blog today, I noticed that it's been a year since we got this craziness going!  Our official anniversary was the 13th of this month, but we'll celebrate it a few days later because I definitely feel it's worth celebrating.  Firstly I want to congratulate everyone who has been a part of this blog, the admin, the writers, the editor, and the readers.  I know that for me, Detangled Writers has been a source of pride, enjoyment, and education.  Taking a look at our contributor profiles, I see a group of people who I hold in high esteem.  These women have taken time out of their lives to share their thoughts and knowledge with the writing community.  Some of the goals we wrote in our profiles might be a bit outdated by now - some things might be all done and checked off, some things may have been set aside, while others may be in progress.  I invite the contributors to create fresh goals lists and provide an update.  Tell us about your writing; what projects do you have going on, is writer's block bugging you, are you having trouble finding time for your craft?   Also, let's talk about what goals we have for the blog in general and how we can become an even better support network for each other.  

 
Old Goals for Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora)! 
  1. Time Management 
  2. Keeping the Creative Juices Flowing
  3. Finishing what I start...
  4. Grad School and everything to do with it!
  5. Characters - working on characterizations
I accomplished part of number four by applying to and being accepted to an MFA program.  I am currently working toward completing my masters in creative writing at Pine Manor College.  Number five can be removed because, for me, the writing itself is what generates character and plot and trying to work on those independently is possible but not really a goal.  As far as the first three goals, I would keep one and three on my list!  Number two is less of a goal for me and more a goal for the blog.  My new list, a much more specific list, would look like this:

New Goals!
  1. Time Management
  2. Finish Death Man (my current novel in progress)
  3. Work on short stories for Workshops
  4. Read craft books and fiction novels
  5. Attend an AWP conference (Seattle 2014)
Some goals for the blog would be to see some more blogs on hot topics such as fanfiction writing, romance versus erotica, elements of craft, literary definitions and analyses, and even book reviews and discussions.  I would love to see more vocab words!  Everyone is encouraged to post vocab builders and word exercises.  If people have personal blogs where they share writing pieces, I would like to see entries detailing the process, successes, and failures they had with the project and then a link so we can read your work.

I hope that everyone who is part of this blog is as proud of it as I am.  This post brings our total to 148 published blogs for Detangled Writers.  Here's hoping that by this time next year we have upwards of 300!  Thank you to our contributors and readers.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Grammar Corner: Further versus Farther

I was advised recently by my MFA mentor to look into the difference between these terms.  While I'm not sure if my misuse stems from misinformation or from a repetitious typo (I somehow always type breath when I mean to type breathe), I followed my mentor's advice and here is what I've found.

It's confusing to say the least as one appears to speak of actual physical distance while the other does not.  But if we look at the further, freedictionary.com tells us this:

fur·ther (fûrr)
adj. A comparative of far.
1. More distant in degree, time, or space: a result that was further from our expectations than last time; the further lamppost.
2. Additional: a further example; a further delay.
1. To a greater extent; more: considered further the consequences of her actions.
2. In addition; furthermore: He stated further that he would not cooperate with the committee.
3. At or to a more distant or advanced point: went only three miles further; reading five pages further tonight. 

So when it comes to further we might say: Jimmy has come a great deal further with his studies than little Janie.  We might also say: I want to take my game further than it's ever been before.  In the previous sentence, 'further' indicates an intangible destination.  But what about concepts that two possible interpretations such as heaven/nirvana/the ether?  "I wanted to go to heaven but knew I would have to go much further to get there," versus, "I wanted to go to heaven but knew I would have to go much farther to get there."  Does one mean spiritual distance and the other mean down the road?  That's where it gets confusing for me. 

far·ther (färr)
adv. A comparative of far.
1. To or at a more distant or remote point: ran farther than the others.
2. To or at a more advanced point or stage: I went no farther that day.
3. Usage Problem To a greater extent or degree: carried the idea farther.
adj. A comparative of far.
More distant; remoter: the farther shore.

Methinks that the free dictionary might not be enough to answer this grammar question.  I've called in some experts, namely Grammar Girl.  

In this article, she breaks it down simply into:
Farther = Far(ness) as in the physical distance ('far' being a pnuemonic device)
Further = Figurative distance, which can include abstracts like degrees

This is satisfactory for me, but now that I've focused on these words, I feel like the simple breakdown might be too simple.  English has a knack for breaking all of it's own rules, after all.  But for now, I'll try to keep farther down the road and further up the scale.  And when it comes to 'death' or 'heaven' or 'hell,' I suppose it depends on the meaning the author is going for.  "I wanted to go to Heaven, Mississippi but it was farther than I realized," or, "I wanted to be a good girl and go to heaven but preacher said I was further into sinning than a Saint into praying." 

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Curious Case of the First Person Omniscient Narrator

Craft Analysis, Packet 1
Author(s): Kurt Vonnegut, John Gardner, Walter Dean Myers
Novel Title(s): Slaughterhouse-Five, Grendel, Monster
Student: Amanda LaFantasie
Semester 2, August 2013

The Curious Case of the First Person Omniscient Narrator

            What are rules for if not for breaking, or at least bending?  The Elementary school version of first person point of view might go something like this: the main character uses the pronoun ‘I’ and the story is told completely from his or her perspective limiting us to only what that character knows.  But it isn’t as clear as all that.  The phrase, ‘I learned later,’ is just one way that authors are able to provide greater scope to a scene where the first person narrator might fall short of giving a solid account of the action.  There are other ways to stretch the limits of what first person narration is capable of. 
            Kurt Vonnegut, for instance, enables the narrator of Slaughterhouse-Five – a veteran of WWII who survived the Dresden firebombing – to relay his story with a degree of omniscience that is rare even in third person point of view.  He uses a particular method to accomplish this: a story within a story.  Others have also found ways to free themselves from the strict parameters of first person.  In Grendel, John Gardner invokes the omniscience that one would commonly find on the stage in moments when the first person narrator, the famous monster from the Old English poem “Beowulf,” views the world as if it were a play.  Similar to this, Walter Dean Myers broadens the first person narrative by alternating between journal and screenplay format in the novel Monster, wherein a sixteen-year-old boy faces the possibility of jail time after a neighborhood robbery goes wrong. 
Each of these novels warp the typical portrayal of the first person narrative until the warping itself becomes part of the characterization, creating a sense of detachment and revealing the mental strain and sometimes dubious sanity of the narrator.
            For any of this to really work, the author must first establish a strong first person voice.  Chapter one of Slaughterhouse-Five is 22 pages of ‘I’ and ‘we’ and all the traditional elements associated with a first person POV, thus introducing the reader to the god-author who will make himself known in further chapters.  The narrator begins with stating, “All this happened, more or less. […] I’ve changed all the names,” and so simply sets us up for the third person story that he wrote (a story within a story), which takes place primarily between chapters 2 and 9 (Vonnegut 1).  In chapter 10, the first person narrative voice returns and wraps up the experiences not only himself but of the main character from his story.
At the end of the first chapter, the narrator prepares the audience for a leap away from the first person point of view that they’ve just gotten used to and bring us into a story he calls The Children’s Crusade (Vonnegut 15).  “I’ve finished my war book now.  The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it’s written by a pillar of salt. 
It begins like this:
Listen:
Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
It ends like this:
Poo-tee-weet?” (Vonnegut 22).  And just as promised, the story does begin with “Listen” and end with “Poo-tee-weet,” but what he fails to mention is that he is not going away just because it’s Billy Pilgrim’s story.  Despite the appearance of third person omniscience in The Children’s Crusade, the narrator continually makes himself present through first person annotations as well as bold assertions of authorial omniscience.  During a scene where Billy and a fellow soldier are captured by German forces, the author mentions the sound of a dog barking.  He goes on to relay information that only a god-narrator could know saying, “The dog, who had sounded so ferocious in the winter distances was a female German shepherd.  […]  She had never been to war before.  She had no idea what game was being played.  Her name was Princess (Vonnegut 52).  This sort of excessive trivia appears again and again ranging from the way a stranger perceives Billy to be “in abominable taste” to the fact that Billy and a young German guard are actually distant cousins but that neither of them ever found that out (Vonnegut 151, 158).  It is almost as if the narrator cannot possibly keep from interfering in his own novel.  When Billy is set up at the first POW camp, he receives stamped dog tags and the narrative author, not Billy, makes this observation: “A slave laborer from Poland had done the stamping.  He was dead now.  So it goes” (Vonnegut 91).
The narrator makes himself unavoidably present throughout his ‘novel’ when he states boldly, things such as: “It would make a good epitaph for Billy Pilgrim – and for me, too,” and, “Now Billy and the rest were being marched into the ruins by their guards.  I was there.  O’Hare was there.  We had spent the past two nights in the blind inn-keeper’s stable” (Vonnegut 121, 212).  This insistence to remind the reader of his presence is not limited only to scenes which show him in a favorable light.  The first time Vonnegut’s narrator inserts himself into The Children’s Crusade is after Billy Pilgrim follows the sounds of grief coming to him from the latrine where he finds an American soldier wallowing in intestinal discomfort upon the toilet.  “That was I.  That was me.  That was the author of this book,” says the narrator, in full admission (Vonnegut 125).
            Another technique that Vonnegut employs to create an omniscient flavor to his story is the addition of an all knowing character or characters.  In Slaughterhouse-Five, this role belongs to the Tralfamadorians, a race of aliens who see past, present, and future simultaneously and who may or may not have kidnapped Billy Pilgrim and kept him a zoo (Vonnegut 30).  During his time with these creatures, Billy makes an assertion that Earth’s violence will play a part in the destruction of the universe and, to his shock, the creatures assure him, “’We know how the universe ends –‘ said the guide, ‘and Earth has nothing to do with it, except that it gets wiped out, too.’ […] ‘We blow it up, experimenting with new fuels for our flying saucers.  A Tralfamadorian test pilot presses a starter button, and the whole Universe disappears.’ So it goes” (Vonnegut 117).
The moments of Vonnegut’s book that tend toward a third person omniscience are the moments that solidify the first person authorship off the war vet narrator who knows everything about every character and about every object in his book.  While Vonnegut is responsible for  Slaughterhouse-Five, the first person narrator is very much the author of The Children’s Crusade and can and does get away with saying impossible to know things about side characters and how they feel toward Billy Pilgrim.  The layering of authorship – even Billy Pilgrim becomes an author and public speaker in the story (Vonnegut 142) – creates a certain tug on the reins, strains the reliability of the narrator and reveals a bit of the fragmented psyche of an old man desperate to chronicle his time as a prisoner of war. 
            Some of the omniscience in Gardner’s Grendel comes from the bird’s eye view that the title character often assumes.  In this way the world comes to him via the Shaper’s (Bard’s) songs and the extrapolations Grendel is able to make based on what he sees and hears from the near and far.  Grendel would, “… be watching a meadhall from high in a tree, night birds singing in the limbs below me […].  Inside the hall I would hear the Shaper telling of the glorious deeds of dead kings – how they’d split certain heads, snuck away with certain precious swords and necklaces – his harp mimicking the rush of swords, the heroes’ dying words” and through his observations the narration becomes more and more omniscient (Gardner 34).   He learns of the surrounding peoples and the shifts in alliances and even knows somehow from his perch that “…two groups would fight as allies […], except that now and then they betrayed each other, one shooting the other from behind for some reason, or stealing the other group’s gold, some midnight, or sneaking into bed with the other group’s wives and daughters” (Gardner 37).
            Just as in Slaughterhouse-Five, Grendel’s omniscience relies heavily on the establishment of a strong first person narration.  This book, for the most part keeps true to this form, even stating quite obviously who the narrator is such as in the passage: “The harp turned solemn.  He [the Shaper] told of an ancient feud between two brothers which split all the world between darkness and light.  And I, Grendel, was the dark side, he said in effect.  The terrible race God cursed” (Gardner 51).  There are other places where Grendel proclaims his own name in relation to the ‘I’ of the story it is when he begins to say Grendel as a separate entity that things really take on an omniscient point of view.  Here is the first time the narrator breaks from first person:

What will we call the Hrothgar-Wrecker when Hrothgar has been wrecked?
(Do a little dance, beast.  Shrug it off.  This looks like a nice place – oooh, my! – flat rock, moonlight, views of distances!  Sing!)

Pity poor Hrothgar,
Grendel’s foe!
Pity poor Grendel,
O, O, O!

Winter soon.
(whispering, whispering.  Grendel, has it occurred to you my dear that you are crazy?)
(He clasps hands delicately over his head, points the toes of one foot – aaie! Horrible nails!! – takes a step, does a turn:
[…]
It will be winter soon. 
Midway through the twelfth year of my idiotic war.
Twelve is, I hope, a holy number.  Number of escapes from traps.  (Gardner 91-92)

            It takes all the way until the end of the section before Grendel reclaims himself as ‘I.’  Through this technique the reader has a clear idea of the loss of control Grendel feels and the effect it has on his mental stability, which is, obviously, debilitating.  Toward the end of the novel, Gardner demonstrates Grendel’s emotional destruction further by ambiguously presenting dialogue in italics, therefore making it seem either imagined or telepathic: 

His syllables lick at me, chilly fire.  His syllables lick… A meaningless swirl in the stream of time, a temporary gathering of bits, a few random specks, a cloud…Complexities: green dust, purple dust, gold.  Additional refinements: sensitive dust, copulating dust… The world is my bone-cave, I shall not want… (He laughs as he whispers.  I roll my eyes back.  Flames slip out at the corners of his mouth.) (Gardner 170)

Preceding this italicized conversation are a myriad of places within the text where the first person narrator moves further and further into objectivity and omniscience, consequently moving detaching himself further and further from himself.  At one point he seems to have an out of body experience which is presented parenthetically in italics.  (He lies on the cliff-edge, scratching his belly, and thoughtfully watches his thoughtfully watching the queen.) (Gardner 93).   Gardner takes it a step further in this strange mixture of first person commentary and third person stage play:

Theorum: Any action (A) of the human heart must trigger an equal and opposite reaction (A1).
Such is the golden opinion of the Shaper.
And so – I watch in glee – they take in Hrothulf;
quiet as the moon, sweet scorpion,
he sits between their two and cleans his knife. 

SCENE: Hrothulf in the Yard.
Hrothfulf speaks:

In ratty furs the peasants hoe their fields,
fat with stupidity, if not with flesh.  (Gardner 113)

            The semi-mathematical word choice also lends itself to the omniscience of the piece as it comes across as grossly anachronistic.  In Slaughterhouse-Five the all-knowing characters are the Tralfamadorians; in Grendel that role belongs to the Dragon.  With the inclusion of such characters/elements into their first person narratives, both Vonnegut and Gardner are able to make the overall concept of omniscience much more palatable.  The Dragon tells Grendel, “’Things come and go […] That’s the gist of it.  In a billion billion billion years, everything will have come and gone several times, in various forms.  Even I will be gone.  A certain man will absurdly kill me.  A terrible pity – loss of a remarkable form of life.  Conservationists will howl’” (Gardner 70).
            There is no alien race or dragon to unveil the past, present, and future in Walter Dean Myer’s novel, Monster, rather this time it is through a camera lens and a journal that the audience comes to understand what happened and what could happen to the first person narrator, Steve Harmon.   He establishes a first person base line with a journal entry indicating, “Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie.  It is a strange movie with no plot and no beginning.  The movie is in black and white, and grainy.  Sometimes the camera moves in so close that you can’t tell what is going on and you just listen to the sounds and guess” (Myers 3).  
This novel teeter-totters between this journal format and that of a screenplay.  Unlike Vonnegut’s novel, Monster does not spend a great deal of time in the first person to start out, instead, Myers inserts journal entries throughout, frequently and powerfully enough to keep the audience from forgetting the narrative voice.  There is another key difference between Monster and the other two, Slaughterhouse-Five and Grendel, this being that the first person and third person omniscient do not bleed into each other.  There are some sudden shifts between the two forms, but Myers keeps screenplay and journal separate.  The following is an example of the omniscient portions which are structured to resemble a screenplay:

FADE IN:  INTERIOR: Early morning in CELL BLOCK D, MANHATTAN DETENTION CENTER.  Camera goes slowly down grim, gray corridor.  There are sounds of inmates yelling from cell to cell; much of it is obscene. (Myers 7)

            While the traditional first person point of view does not make an appearance in these segments, the narrator does find a way to insert himself without saying ‘I’ or ‘me’ but with just as much potency.  The rolling credits appear on the page in this fashion:

Starring
Steve Harmon

Produced by
Steve Harmon

Directed by
Steve Harmon

(Credits continue to roll.)
(Myers 9)

The direction in the action line indicates that the credits are to roll like the opening of Star Wars and while this isn’t as direct as plastering his name all over the place, it keeps Steve’s voice present for the audience.  Something even as simple as a line of direction can create a duality within a story.   On one hand, the audience reads the bare bones of a screenplay and on the other hand, when it comes to action lines, they are reading only the things that Steve feels are most important concerning his trial and that makes it almost more intimate than his journal entries.  We learn of his past through scenes of the movie:

CUT TO: FILM WORKSHOP at Stuyvesant High School.  A film on a small screen is just ending.  It is a class project.

[…]

We see STEVE raising his hand, looking much the same as he does in court.

STEVE
I liked the editing. (Myers 18-19)
           
Whereas we learn of his now through the journal: “Notes: I can hardly think about the movie, I hate this place so much.  But if I didn’t think of the movie I would go crazy.  All they talk about in here is hurting people” (Myers 45).  As mentioned before, there are some quick shifts between journal and movie, and it is when these two styles meet, but do not mix, that the audience gets an idea of the narrator’s emotional duress as he immediately chooses to switch over to a detached persona rather than put this court appearance into a real time journal entry. 

When we got in the court, there was a delay because the stenographer had brought the wrong power cord.  The court officer was talking about termites. 

[…] 

OFFICER 1
So this guy comes to the house and tells Vivian we got
termites.  I get home and she’s all upset.  I said no way
we got termites.  No way.

JUDGE
You ever see any termites? (Myers 65)

            It becomes clear that Steve is using the movie as a way to forget that this horrible thing is happening to him.  At one point, Steve has a death fantasy involving lethal injection and eve this appears as part of the movie, the camera focusing on his face as imaginary executioners put in a plug to keep him from messing his pants as he dies (Myers 73).  The final movie moment of the novel captures the fragmentation left by this false sense of security – that the objective world (third person omniscient) doesn’t hurt as much as the subjective one (first person limited).    

CUT TO: CU of O’BRIEN.  Her lips tense; she is pensive.  She gathers her papers and moves away as STEVE, arms still outstretched, turns toward the camera.  His image is in black and white, and the grain is nearly broken.  It looks like one of the pictures they use for psychological testing, or some strange beast, a monster.

The image freezes as last words roll and stop mid screen.

A Steve Harmon Film (Myers 276-277)

So it goes, that breaking the rules of first person and expanding a fairly limited point of view to the point of omniscience has many effects on the story.  For these three novels, the most compelling effect is that of escape.  These narrators – the veteran, Grendel, and Steve – are all prisoners in some way or other.  The first one was a POW and spends much of his life trapped in the memories of that time.  The second narrator tries and fails to understand and walk among the humans.  He becomes a prisoner of his condition, trapped in his cave with only his mother for constant companionship.  Lastly, Steve is, quite literally, a prisoner.  When he is not in court, he is in a prison cell – guilty until proven otherwise so it seems.  For each one of these characters, it is the idea of escape that propels them toward omniscience.  The drive to know and be done with it.  To finally be free of their prison.
At the end of Myer’s novel, there is an Extra’s section where the author answers various questions.  When asked why he chose to use the screenplay format, he explained, “In interviewing inmates I noticed a tendency for the inmates to attempt to separate their self-portrayals from their crimes.  In Monster I have Steve speak of himself in the first person in his diary, but when he gets to the trial and the crime he distances himself through the use of the screenplay” (Myers, Extras 7).  What Walter Dean Myers sums up in this response is more than just the reason why Steve hides behind the camera lens, it is the reason for the war veteran’s story within a story and the logic of Grendel’s stage play projections.  It is why the disintegration of first person into third is a fascinating ride for the audience; it exemplifies humanities ever present need to cope.


Works Cited:

Gardner, John. Grendel. New York: Vintage, 1989. Print.

Myers, Walter Dean, and Christopher Myers. Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1999. Print.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-five: Or, The Children's Crusade, a Duty-dance with Death. New York: Dell Pub., 1999. Print.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Vocab Word

Recalcitrant

re·cal·ci·trant (r-kls-trnt)

adj.
Marked by stubborn resistance to and defiance of authority or guidance.

adj.
1. resisting authority or control; not obedient or compliant: a recalcitrant prisoner.
2. hard to deal with, manage, or operate.n.
3. a recalcitrant person.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Reading is the Thing

I have read three books this month and will read one or two more before the calendar ticks over into August.  Reading is part of my homework for the MFA program and as a result it has helped me build up my repertoire of devoured fiction.  Each and every day I am reminded via absolutely priceless lines of verse and tear-jerking emotional dialogue and action that reading truly is the most essential building block of a writer and also the most useful tool in a writer's work box.  

What are some books that you (contributors and readers alike) have read recently?  Take some time to think about what parts of the book inspire, appall, upset, or confuse you.  Think about why and also think about how the author has accomplished these this - or not accomplished it as well as you would like.  Reading and thinking about what you've read are the two cornerstones in writing.  

Here are some books I recommend if you are in need of good reading material.  Please, please, please feel free to add to this list.  I would like to make a large posting with a composite 'must read' list as recommended by the contributor's of Detangled Writers!
  • Grendel by John Gardner
  • Battle Royale by Koushun Takami 
  • Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Word is Only the Beginning of the End

This is a topic I might have already touched upon, however I wanted to revisit it. If I have not mentioned it on Detangled Writers, or if I have and you just don't want to scroll a dozen pages back, I will start by asking you all a question: What does it take to make a story? Not a good story, not an amazing story, or even a bad story. Just a story, the rest can come after; and why am I asking you this? Because this is a topic that is both intriguing to me, while being irksome at once.

We have many expectations for a story, some of them very shallow. I'll name a few, a story must have plot, and it must be reasonable, that's one expectation - or often considered requirement. A story must have characters, and those characters need to serve a purpose. A story must have meaning, not necessarily a lesson, but meaning that relays to the reader. And that leads to the most shallow of expectations (in my opinion), a story must be written - or oral, but it must be made of words.

This expectation has often baffled me, as a person who can sit and stare at a piece of artwork, or listen to a classical work of art, and wonder and imagine and build from them. Yet many people are very adamant that such things as music or artwork are not stories. Do you believe this is true? In one of my writing courses we had a very heated debate on what a story was, and most people attested that no, a story had to be a full manuscript, but it could not be a picture or any form of artwork.

I believe this to be a very narrow view, and as a writer, as an artist, as someone who loves listening to music, I wanted to share this idea with you all. I was one of three people that contested this view of storytelling, and here is why. All of my stories, start with pictures, start with a feeling that I'm having inside, because that's my outlet, and so when I was told that art was not a form of storytelling I was quite offended, because this is what I believe a story is.

Anything that can get your imagination invested. As simple as that. I believe that if you look at a picture, and you ask 'why?' there is a story there, because as soon as you ask why, your mind starts building that story for itself. The artist who painted the picture, there was an investment in the presentation, there was a thought, and as an artist myself, there is a story, at least for me, even if it's missed by everyone else.

Now I know that's a very broad view, and can be equally as dangerous as the narrow view of story, so I'll condense it into a smaller frame of idea. Native Americans and Ancient Egyptians often used pictures to depict their legends where words and language were not enough. Would we deny that these are stories?

Finally the definition of story that really bothered me was that a story must have length:

"For sale, baby shoes. Never worn."
- Ernest Hemingway

This is the story that Hemingway considered his very finest in it's power to invoke a reaction. He believed this to be his greatest work of all time, and many people say that this is not a story at all. They say it's a piece of prose, but that it lacks the length and meaning of a story. It lacks the meaning? Do you believe this is true? "For sale, baby shoes. Never worn." This lacks meaning? ...Never worn; why? Why were these shoes never worn. Considering Hemingway's time, it leads to the assumption that the child died, if the child didn't die, there was something amiss with the shoes, but either way, there is a distinct feeling of loss - at least to me.

Because of the contention against this piece, a form of writing known as flash-fiction was created, and in fact my limited research on the topic genuinely suggests that this is the very reason flash-fiction was created at all. However flash-fiction doesn't necessarily make it a story. I admit I don't believe this is probably Hemingway's best work, but the fact that it resounded so strongly with him, and that he believed it to be his best, doesn't that investment in and of itself make it a story? Of course Hemingway knows much more than any of us behind the true meaning of the story, because perhaps the shoes were just too small for the baby, we don't know, it leaves us to wonder though.

So I want to ask all of you, what do you think qualifies as a story? Do you think it's an underlying meaning, or does it have to have words and length? Do pictures and songs count? Or is it what comes after that counts?



Sunday, July 14, 2013

It feels like my brain is corroding slowly but surely, especially in the areas where I'm artistically inclined. It's kind of devastating, and so I've been really struggling to figure out what to write, both personally, but also for this blog. I've started so many blog posts and then just had to walk away because I've been so overwhelmed. I'm trying to remedy that now, by discussing some of the hardships that comes with being a writer, and how sometimes 'writer's block' is very real, and to people who depend on artistic expression, very devastating.

I've had a few classmates and associates in the past claim that 'writer's block' is a fallacy, and that there is no such thing as not being able to write anything. Perhaps in that regard they are correct, you can always write something, but what happens when you don't feel what you write, or when you reread it, it is a horror to behold? I've started to read again, slowly but surely, and tried drawing as well to counteract my inability to write, with little success. I've found that my artwork is suffering as well.

So I am at the end of my rope and would like to know how all of you deal with writer's block. How do you combat it, are there any techniques, philosophies, lessons you can share with me? I'd really appreciate it, and as this is a community for writing I thought I'd present this, because certainly I am not the only one who suffers from this. So this can be used as a source to help encourage other writers on how to combat a full imagination shut down.





Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Camp National Novel Writer's Month.

It's that time again! Nanowrimo is doing another Camp Nanowrimo for the month of July. I have already signed up and am excited to get started. It's strange, I kind of want to start ahead of time but that wouldn't really count toward the word count for the month of July. Besides, I still have to get all my notes in order so I can attack July with a fury! Rawr!

So, who is going to join me? 

Blurb Writing

One of the hardest things for me to write is the blurb section for the back of a book, or just an all around description for the novel in general.

I tend to write long novels. Short stories never remain short. I have trouble writing poetry of any kind because of my "need" to expound. When it comes to the little two or three paragraph condensed explanation of what is going to happen in the novel, I have no clue what to write. I write about a mass of characters of various horror/fantasy genres. I also have many things going on in my novels - battles, training, sexy times, eating, general goofiness. How does a person condense 500 plus pages of hard work into three little blurbs?

I get this way when I try to explain what certain novels are about. In my head the explanation sounds good, but trying to say it out loud makes everything convoluted. There is a reason that I WRITE.

Does anyone else have this problem? How do you go about whittling down your work into the barest terms?

An Update & Possible Genre Change

Tomorrow I leave for my second residency at the Solstice MFA program in Boston.  My first time around left me with a whirlwind of ideas as well as a fantastic bunch of writers to count as friends and comrades.  This time I head back with one semester under my belt, a yearning to catch up with my Boston buddies, and a strong desire to learn as much as I can.

For the first semester I read twelve books and wrote around fifty pages (more than that but fifty semi polished pages) for my Dystopian novel.  This novel does have the potential of being marketed as YA but I'm not going to push that at all.  However, this time around, I have a list of several YA books that I want to read and I am suddenly inspired to work on a very clear cut YA story.  I actually wrote out this story in screenplay format several years back.  I never finished the screenplay but I did chart out the entire ending up to the 'FADE OUT' via long notes.  One reason I'm wanting to rekindle this story is because of the strong female lead (and I don't write many females even though I am one), and another reason is because it's already plotted.  This plot may change here and there but the fact that it is plotted will help me write out scene after scene and also give me a chance to really tackle writing a synopsis. 

In order to work on this however, I would need to change my major from Fiction to Young Adult Fiction.  From what I understand this is totally doable and that it's only in my third semester that I have to decide on what genre to graduate out of - some people switch in their second semester and never go back, but I think I will return to Fiction a better person for having honed another side of my literary interests.  


Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora)