Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Craft Choice: Speaker Tag

"I shan't go overboard with speaker tags," she said, "I find them to be horribly dull!"
"Then don't!"  He retorted.
"Oh, I certainly won't!  And when I do use speaker tags, I'll keep it nice and simple and only use 'said' for the communicative verb."
Having just finished rereading Golding's Lord of the Flies, I am left to ponder the usage of speaker tags in fiction.  In this book, lines of dialogue get their own paragraph and are often left without a tag of any kind.  It is the preceding or following paragraph that give us a hint as to who spoke.  Many people, authors and the like, have expressed a desire to minimize speaker tags in writing as a way to keep the story moving along or to limit the temptation to add unnecessary exposition to 's/he said.'  Some people feel quite the opposite and demand a tag on almost every line of dialogue because losing track of who's speaking is more detrimental to your story than a moment of extraneous detail.  Personally I hate not knowing who is talking though sometimes keeping it a bit obscure, such as in Golding's novel, can add to the setting of chaos.  But don't let that be your only element of chaos either.

Then there is the subject of what to use in your speaker tag.  Most Fiction authors agree that 'said' is more than enough, yet, Venice Berry (a very successful author herself) informed my workshop class in Boston that 'said' is fine but can get a little boring after a while.  She encouraged us to reach for other ways to express the verb.  There was a time when I steered clear of 'said' figuring that it was what 'learning writers' used and not the mark of a matured author.  I've been corrected.

What do I do when it comes to speaker tags?  I use them generously and I often fall into the trap of adding exposition right along with it.  And I primarily use 'said' but I am not afraid to change it up when I feel it better expresses how or why the character spoke in the first place.  This is a topic of interest to me and may end up working its way into a critical analysis at some point during this semester.  Just as a casual question: how do you - readers and fellow contributors - typically handle speaker tags?  I'm not asking what you think is best or better or more professional or more likely to get you published.  I'm just curious what works for you at this point in time.  Everyone has a different style and sometimes it helps to know you're not completely alone in your craft choices.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013

Monday, January 28, 2013

Vocab word of the week


  [n. bah-kuh-nahl, bak-uh-nalbak-uh-nl; adj. bak-uh-nl]  Show IPA
a follower of Bacchus.
a drunken reveler.
an occasion of drunken revelry; orgy; bacchanalia.
pertaining to Bacchus; bacchanalian.
1530–40;  < Latin Bacchānāl,  equivalent to Bacch us ) + -ānāl,  probably as back formation fromBacchānālia;  see Bacchanalia

3. saturnalia, debauch, spree, carousal.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Back on the writing wagon and with drive!


About a month ago my father called me up and wanted to know if I would be interested in flying home for a visit while Amanda Lafantasie (a.k.a Skoora), was in Boston for her MFA Residency. I was more than interested, I was down right giddy and more than ready to brave flying alone. So we decided on three weeks in which I would relax and visit a few friends and some family and two days later I was home bound.

That trip seems to have been just what I needed. I didn't do too much, just had a few mostly quiet visits with friends and family, and played with my parent's dog, Kali. But somehow whether it was the comfort of being home and truly relaxing, the quiet of my parent's house, or both, my brain settled down, stopped running a million miles a minute and complete thoughts of stories and ideas started happening.

One night I got up to let the dog out to do her bathroom business and for some reason when I laid back down, I just couldn't sleep. I started thinking about a movie I'd seen that evening and, like with most movies, anime, TV shows, or books, I started plotting a fan fic. I'm not sure how I got from Narnia to a dragon story I only have notes for or even how I got from that to a vampire story, but an hour later I had some little notes written and I could finally sleep.

I can say that I didn't get to writing the next day, I was still in the middle of my trip and wanted to wait until I got home. When I arrived home, I was excited and really wanted to write but I was kind of scared. It took getting settled in, some venting time, and a serious brainstorming session along with some helpful plotting notes from Amanda's MFA homework to get me on the right track. Not only am I as excited as Roy Mustang is about dogs, but I actually have some confidence and the first chapter arc plotted out and ready to be worked on today!

Also, while I was away I got a letter from the Long Ridge Writer's Group. A couple of years ago I was doing their short stories for magazines program, almost finished it but moved and life happened. Their letter was basically stating that I only had one assignment left and I could still do it, for a fee of course. I would like to finish it and get the diploma. But I have to wait until I have the money and contact them to find out if I can get the material sent to me for the last assignment simply because half my things are still in Kansas and what I did bring up here, well, I haven't seen it in the garage.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Some Rules for the Unruly

Many of us of the creative persuasion find ourselves getting caught up in the idea of rules.  When it comes to writing there are the rules of grammar and the rules of good composition.  But in the end, once these have been learned, there are no rules to speak of, only guidelines that steer you toward or away from ideas and delivery of narrative.  My personal test is this: does it say what you want it to say and does it do it in a way that is accessible to an audience?  The audience may interpret it much differently than you and that's just fine, but as long as they have something that they can feasibly interpret, something that meant something to you as the author, then you have yourself a success.  Maybe you followed some of the rules to get there or maybe you didn't.  Maybe you broke every single rule in the book.  All that really matters in the end is that you did it.  We take different roads to get to the same place, and writing is no different.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Recurring Words - Vocabulary Builder

pal·imp·sest  (plmp-sst)

1. A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible.
2. An object, place, or area that reflects its history: "Spaniards in the sixteenth century . . . saw an ocean moving south . . . through a palimpsest of bayous and distributary streams in forested paludal basins" (John McPhee).

I came across this word while reading Orwell's 1984 and then again as I just started The Handmaid's Tale and I just had to share it.  Another word that cropped up time and time again during the Solstice Residency was, 'agency' used to mean " the state of being in action or exerting power" or "how a result is obtained or an end is achieved; 'a means of control.'" It was used most commonly in this construct: "... a character's sense of agency..." and, "... I'll allow for that agency..."  This was terminology that I was completely unfamiliar with prior to my time in Boston.  

agency [ˈeɪdʒənsɪ]
n pl -cies
1. (Business / Commerce) a business or other organization providing a specific service an employment agency
2. (Business / Commerce) the place where an agent conducts business
3. (Business / Commerce) the business, duties, or functions of an agent
4. action, power, or operation the agency of fate
5. intercession or mediation
6. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) one of the administrative organizations of a government
[from Medieval Latin agentia, from Latin agere to do]

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Burning Yourself Out - Writing Meltdown

Some in my classes would suggest that a writer can't get burnt out, or the oft called experience, writer's block. This is when a writer has a metaphysical/subconscious block that keeps them from writer. My classmates would argue that it's "all in your head" which I would argue, "Yes that's true, there is a wall between my brain and my hand keeping me from being able to write." Other's in my class would argue - including myself - that writer's block is a very real thing; and very frustrating. So what do you do about it?

Well that's the question isn't it? Many suggest writing to be able to write. Makes perfect sense doesn't it. You cannot write, so write some more, until you can write again. It doesn't make sense, yet at the same time, this is a pretty valuable piece if advice. Like tearing down a real wall so you can build a new one. You have to smash through the pieces and then build up until you have a wall again. Yet that's not really the same thing is it, because you're not destroying your previous writing, and building up from the foundation. You're trying to push through a mental gridlock to be able to write.

So what can you do? From personal experience, I have found that sometimes the tactic above is worthwhile, whereas sometimes it is mere folly and only makes things worse. Sometimes writer's block is simply your brains way of telling you, 'stop, you're doing too much, take a break.' I would actually argue to say, this is the case and point of writer's block more often than not. So perhaps a good method is to step back, put the computer away, cap the pen, and just leave the story. Not for long of course. A day, two days at most; maybe an hour is even enough. Just give you and your story some space. Think of your story as that rebellious teenager, fighting against everything you say. If you give them some space, some trust, they tend to give you some respect in return. Imagine it as your story telling you to 'Stop! Give me some time to digest everything that's happening to me! My plot is developing, it's growing, and it's all happening too fast and I just don't have the time or resources to really understand what's happening to me.' Just like that rebellious teenager.

Of course I'm not an expert, and of course giving the rebellious teenager too much space can notably backfire depending on the situation, but hey, the cool thing about writing is, it's not going to run away with some bad boy or get into street fights or go drinking to get a feeling of control. The most the story can do is tell you to leave it alone until it has time to flesh out its own issues.

Of course, you could always take the route of the authoritarian parent, and beat that story into submission (I do not suggest doing this to real children - in fact, just don't). Sometimes taking that metaphorical switch to a story can do wonders, sometimes, it can and will backfire.

Writing is such a finicky thing, because in the end, writing will do - as the saying goes - what writing does, with or without you. This can lead to wonderful and brilliant new endeavors that get you on the New York Times Bestsellers list. Or this can lead you to a dud of a story that no vanity publisher will even print. So tread carefully.

This however brings me to my question and allows me to escape my severely inappropriate similes and metaphors. What is your experience with writer's block. Do you, as some of my classmates would attest, believe it is not real? If so, why not? Or do you believe it is real, and what do you do to combat it?

Made with MSPaint and Clipart

Monday, January 7, 2013

Preparing for Publication...

...Or rejection.

That time has come. Over the next few weeks I will be preparing a portfolio of my writings to be sent off for review and - hopefully - publication. This is a big step, and I am a long way off from truly being published I am certain, but it is time to get that first rejection letter out of the way. I am working steadily on a new story, though time has not allowed me to make it as far as I would like. So while I peck away at the bark of this new adventure, I figure it's time to work on getting some of my adventures out there for the public.

The main story I am sending is entitled "Daisy Duke" a short story that my professor said was by far my best work. However, being my best work, it is also my roughest piece. So I am going to spend a fair amount of time reworking the piece to make it flow to it's fullest potential. Because I am planning on sending this piece off for publication I am regretful that I cannot share it with you all on this site, but I do want to share an excerpt to show you a little of what I have learned. Which I will present at the end of this post.

It is my intention to have at least four stories edited and sent off to a number of journals and magazines by the end of the month. With courses starting again one Wednesday however, I believe I should set my sights for mid February. With that said. Wish me luck! I hope to be able to come back and give you all good news about my endeavors.

On another note: I have made it my New Years Resolution to complete that One Full Draft I mentioned upon joining DW. Due to my classes and my own laziness, it does not look like I will meet my March deadline, but that will not stop me from pursuing an end of the year deadline!

Absently playing with one of my longer curls, I sat twirling my finger in the auburn lock as I watched the city street with vague interest.  People walked by, just as they always did, their eyes downcast, just as they always were, oblivious that anyone might be observing them.  From where I perched on my steeple I peered out at the city like a man who had long before lost interest in life.  Perhaps I had. My moth eaten coat and dirty pants, oil stained beanie, and splintered boots didn’t exactly exude livelihood.  My hair was nearly black with grime save the one curl I twirled in nervous habit. I don’t remember how long it had been since I’d last been intimate with a toothbrush, and I could feel the wax squirreling its way from my ears to mix with whatever was growing in my beard.
- Elizabeth C. Kelly  (ToryKasper)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Solstice Update for Skoora

"I napped in the student center today and woke up to a commercial for SNHU which boasts a Creative Writing program that takes place completely online.  I cannot fully describe just how utterly horrifying it would be to have followed through with my application to Southern New Hampshire University and to not be here right now, to be stuck in my room without any notion of who my classmates and professors really are.  Anyone considering distance learning should look into low-residency as it allows for a sense of home and family and invigorates rather than frustrates the learning process.  No matter how scared and nervous I was at the thought of undertaking my MFA at Pine Manor College, I honestly can't imagine being anywhere else right now.  Sappy, I know, but I think I've already fallen in love with the program and can't wait to see familiar faces again in June." - Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) 
This is taken from my daily blog, Gurgle Burp.  Visit the site for more information, but as you can see, things are going really well.  This post is pretty much a shameless plug for this wonderful program and I hope that it is helpful to our readers as a way to look at just one of the many ways to further their education in writing.  Following is an interview with one of my classmates and new friends here at Pine Manor: Interview with Solstice Low-Res MFA.

In the end, it's never too late to expand one's own perceptions as to what makes good literature (fiction and genre) and what one can do to elevate their writing into the higher echelons of story-telling.  That is what this blog is all about.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Note about Envy from Pine Manor College

"Shall we talk for a moment about envy? This tender subject has come up among some of my writer friends lately, and we all agree: Envy is mostly useless. It robs us of joy and generosity and works hard to diminish our love for our own hard-won words. My advice? Allow the envy to overtake you in whatever way it wishes -- for 24 hours only. (You will probably find that 24 hours is envy's natural life span, but only if you don't pretend you're not feeling it.) Wallow if you must. Rail against the muses. Eat much ice cream. Do not plot murder. Another's success does not diminish your own chances. Envy seduces us into looking at the world as a zero-sum: his gain is my loss. This is not true. If it is a friend you envy, don't feel ashamed; he has felt exactly this way at one time or another.  Remember what you will want your friend to feel for you when your fortune turns (and it will). Remind yourself why you like this friend, and why this friend likes you. After that, suck it up get back to work, because writing is the one and only cure." ~ Monica Wood, The Pocket Muse
Today during the general welcome and introduction to the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College, our director, Meg Kearney, touched on the topic of envy and imparted upon us a type of cure that not only works but enables your own writing to flourish brightly in the end.  She talked of 'falling in love' with someone else's work.  In the act of rooting for them, helping them, guiding them as much as possible and cheering them on in their publication endeavors, you will grow as a writer and a human being and your writing will show that growth.  It is possible that I've mentioned Envy on this blog before, but even if I have, it is very worthy of further mention.  Love the writing around you and the writing around you will love you back.

For a more detailed account of my time at Pine Manor College, please visit my personal blog: Day One in Boston and Day Two in Boston.  Tomorrow I take the class on Dystopian literature and hope to have many fascinating tidbits to share here.  Until then, I leave you with this: Envy is a waste when there are six other perfectly good Deadly Sins you could be enjoying.

Amanda LaFantasie (Skoora) © 2013