Monthly Archives: August 2014

All or Nothing

When I start to read a book that I’d bought only seconds prior, there’s this sort of charged electricity of excitement that passes through me, and when I pick up the book, I cannot put it down. This has happened to me so many times. With Little Women, with Starship Troopers, with Hunger Games… Now, with The Paper Magician.

When I put the book down instead of diving right in, that magic is lost. I am not as interested and I don’t get as hooked onto it so quickly. I can forget about it for days.

New Book Syndrome. I like this, but so very infrequently am I able to really take advantage of it. I become enraptured with the style of the author, wordchoice, the characters in the book, the way it’s written, the new, interesting idea of it or the things I have yet to read. It’s like being in the middle of a library with so many options and choices to read and learn something new, and if ignored, it’ll die down and go unnoticed completely.

But now I’m indulging. I’m pushing through this book easily and I don’t want to stop.

I think about how I want readers to feel when they look at what I write. I want to engage that kind of reaction out of them, I want to be able to pull them in and not let go with my words and imagery, I want to create something so profound that that feeling is so overwhelming that there’s no way they can ignore it.

But some stories just click with you, and others don’t. And then what happens when the new-book-magic is fizzled out, in the morning after or later in the day? When it’s all gone, are you still just as excited about the book? More often what happens is that you start to see things in it that you didn’t before, you critique it, you wonder, you speculate and prod more than you learn and explore.

Whether it lasts or not, that “SHINY!” feeling is still one hell of a ride. One that I love and live for and don’t feel often enough. Time to fix that, methinks.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Advertisements

Questionnaire and Questioning

I had been planning this post after the prompt about meeting characters, and then it just so happened that someone who follows me (and who I follow), made a post that coincides, and the results were entertaining.

One of the things I absolutely love about character development and finding the voice and personality of a character so strongly, is that if you had a set of questions in front of you to ask them, you could get answers back authentic to who they are. Jon has an excellent example, an onslaught of varied, unique and interesting questions that you may not have thought to ask before, but it helps flesh out the character well, in unexpected ways.

Friend took an approach similar to this one to figure out the dynamic of his characters he was going to write for for Camp in April and July, things about their greatest accomplishments, what they buy at the grocery store, what kind of character they’d play in a certain game.

It gives you a feel for them, and it helps give them a stronger voice, I think. I used to do these questionnaires when I was younger, for new characters, and for old ones, and just sunk into it on a rainy day. It really is one of my favorite things to do, but for being that, I haven’t done it much at all recently.

Regardless, I encourage it, at least give it a shot. Check out Jon’s blog, the link up above, and I think he has another set of questions in his blog somewhere, too, or just do a random search online. You can’t go wrong. Or, if you think of something random; what kind of coffee do they like, would they go to Starbucks? Do they like flowers, how do they feel about old, classic paintings?

On top of that, it manages to give them some more dimension, making them more human (or humanoid, or humanistic… err… depending if they’re aliens or not). I like what it brings to the forefront, more than just the things you would typically know from reading the novel or the stories, the questionnaires bring forward a lot of random little tidbits, showing off all edges.

I’m a fan of reading things like that, too. I have a friend whose blog is run about and “by” her character, and I see different prompts and questions about odd little things pop up every so often. Inappropriate thoughts or things being shouted, a particular phrase.

Maybe I’ll do one of these sooner than later, myself…

-The Novice Wordsmith

Mish Mash Part Two

That’s all today is. I’m not feeling very wisdomous today so it’s just going to be a bit of everything.

I had a goal for the month going, based on a prompt list I made back in February. These are just all sorts of different ideas I’ve come up with and been given in the months, along with novel goals and the like, to go back to on days where I want something to do. Altogether, typically the number is around 45-40. I started at 30, in Feb/March. But it keeps growing, For every one that I take off, two more get put on.

So this month was 15. Last month there was none because of Camp, and the month before was 15. I’m sitting at 45 today. And after my writing frenzy, I’m just feeling like going a little slower. So I’ve made up to 10 so far… And there are three days left in the month. And I’ve spent a few hours so far just playing in Scrivener instead.

Scrivener, by the way, is very nice. It’s huge, but it’s nice. I geeked out to the max when I got it, I was so excited. There is a way to transfer things over to Scriv, but I’ve been doing it manually. It is a heavy program, like I said; every time you create something new, it’s a project. It’s not RTF, it’s a scriv file, that gets its own folder. So it’s not like notepad or Roughdraft where you can just open it up and start writing. No, this is all about commitment. Not bad, but can tend to be a little intimidating.

That said, there are still a lot of good features to it that are definitely worth the money and the effort. If you ever get flustered or don’t know what to do with something, don’t worry, the tutorial is HUGE. Absolutely enormous.

I wanted to get my novel is ship shape for Scriv, which, maybe I should have just transferred, but it’s going well. I still have yet to use all of the tools and really do it up– probably do that tomorrow or later tonight– but I’m working on a different project for now.

Even if you can’t afford Scrivener, and you want to give it a look-see, you can trial it for a month and see how you like it. If you’re a big project builder, I recommend it. If you’re someone who has lots of smaller projects, maybe not. Something that Friend pointed out was that since it’s not RTF it doesn’t have much flexibility on where you can read it, if you have a machine that doesn’t have Scriv. So that’s kind of turning me off, but I still like it, overall.

I’ve been slacking, but this month has been kind of a bad one. Next month will be better. And then it gets cooler and I don’t have to worry about sweating buckets when I take the trash out.

I think next month also starts the NaNo prep, officially. Know what you’re going to write yet? Because I sure the hell don’t. I thought about pantsing it, but I am so not a pantser by nature. It’s one of those, “challenge yourself” deals. Just in case I ever need to pants again, which I did a lot of in July. But I have a few ideas, one which came from a really strange but awesome dream, in fact. We’ll see which one wins.

I was looking at thought bubbles the other day, at a particularly hilarious post she made about Camp Nano, and there was one thing that stuck with me after that. We strive for 50k words during that month, but no, it’s not technically a novel. Novels are a lot bigger. They take more time and energy and thoughtfulness and care and all sorts of things, but, there are some that are within the 50-100k range. Young Adult novels, novellas especially. I imagine Ocean at the End of the Lane by Niel Gaiman was somewhere under the 100k mark, since the book was 180-190ish pages long.

At that note, though, I do want to write something that I can finish in a month. I want something I can see the end to without breaking it into a trilogy. Friend has made a few of those, but never went back to the stories to revise or edit anything. I want something I can manage in that month, and work on, that’s malleable and finish-able in under a year, even if the intention is not to publish it. I like finishing things. It feels good.

Lazy day abounds, though. I think I’ll finish my work in Scrivener and then work on the chores of the day. Tomorrow will have some kind of wisdom, I think.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Prompt/Dare/Challenge: Meeting the Main Character

In a stroke of genius, I’ve sort of forgotten entirely about posting all day, but I need to share with you what happened yesterday, because I can’t let it rest, and I’m still buzzing from it.

So yesterday, Friend gives me an interesting prompt, after we had a conversation about ‘what do your characters say about you?’ Then he said, here, use this as a prompt. When he said, “No, seriously,” I paid attention, and it clicked and it would not let go. Like I said, still buzzing.

The prompt is this:  “If your characters could have lunch/dinner/breakfast/tea with you, what would they pick, and what would you talk about, and what would they think of you afterwards?”

Think about that. Really. Take one character at a time, and go out to meet them. How would they react, what would they say? Would you even get along? Try it with old characters, try it with brand new characters, fit yourself into a point in time of their life where you want to see them. Are they young, is it the latest moment you’ve put them in, or is it something in the distant past?

I’m still not done writing. I’ve had so many ideas and one today just pulled me under and wouldn’t let me breathe until I finished. When I step back and blink and have to remind myself to breathe after looking it all over, I think I did a pretty decent job.

Let your characters surprise you. I had one that switched in a direction I never expected, and I had so many other things I wanted to say, but that didn’t happen. The other was as complex as the character herself, and had so much dynamic and different elements implemented that wasn’t even intentional at first. Some will be simpler. There was one yesterday that had turned out to be a dud, but because I’d fallen out of sync with that character.

Go out to them, let them come to you, or have them contact you somehow. Are you strangers? Do they know you? Have you seen each other before? How much do they like or dislike you, and why, what do they have to say about what you’ve done to and for them? Do they know what kind of being you are, or have they never seen a human before?

As one of my favorite prompts of this month, let alone probably of this year, I hope you give it a chance, and I really hope you like it at least half as much as I did.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Accurate

To me, accuracy has always been the end all be all. I grew up not caring about it, but in the past few years, I’ve noticed how important it is. While it goes out the window in movies and shows, there are still those who swear by it.

When you’re writing fiction, the world is in your hands. It is yours to do what you choose with, you create the realism and how things are, you make things the way you see them or how you want them to be. All of that, how the characters react and why, what they say and do and how they move, it’s up to you, but what basis do you go on for what makes it that way?

That was always something difficult for me to remind myself of, especially when writing about something that involves the military. I realized that the type of military was in a totally different universe, so I had the ability to mix and match the values, regulations, rules of any type, all around the world, if I wanted to. There was that level of control. I’m still not finished developing the branch in question, but while I have more friends in the US military, I tend to take from that power the most.

Certain titles and names come from different places around the world, but I’ve used the US system as a base to build up from. On the other hand, I could have made it all up, too, but there should at least be an example that gives you an idea of where to go.

That brings up the question of research, which I shamelessly love.

Writing non-fiction is all about research. It’s digging up links and books and references to the point that you’re making, so much that it becomes countless . It’s the grown version of those papers you did back in high school, in a way.

Research for fiction is different. Writing a police or political thriller, what you find through research can help or hurt where you want to go with the story. It can provide a plot twist or kill an idea and open doors for new ones. Historical fiction, research becomes a little more important.

In conversation with my sister the other night, she mentioned an episode of Doctor Who that had dozens of plot holes, and it was directly tied in to French history. While they have creative license to go about it how they want, there is also a call to keeping things in line, accurate, and making sure things are done correctly. It is the difference between historical while being true to fact, and making up a history on your own. The writer in question did no fact checking, and even came out in saying that he didn’t bother. He just ran with it.

Don’t be intimidated by research. Though it sounds a nasty word, it’s not much more than hitting google and clicking through links that you know or feel are most trustworthy, and there are plenty of resources out there at your disposal.

My friend, after I got into a story about a girl with multiple personality disorder, suggested I talk to a psychologist about case studies on the matter if I wanted to know more. After realizing there was a social worker with a psychology degree at the place I volunteer, I decided to talk to her about the situation, and I got some pretty good information out of it. To my surprise, I was somewhat spot on, but getting a real life example helped a ton.

Other types of research include museums, parks, and going to places in town that have history you’re looking for or writing about. From a guest post, you can find inspiration and information anywhere. Sometimes, it’s right in front of your nose. Even accuracy can be fun!

The devil is in the detail. It all depends on how close you want to be to something, or how you want to portray it.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Fabulous Furnishings, a Prompt

One of my favorite things to do when I need something to occupy myself is to check out home decor on Pinterest. Bear with me, this is going somewhere.

I’ve written before about little prompts that you can challenge yourself with when your creativity is running low. This is one of them. The first was birthdays, something simple, relying on other bits and pieces to get some creativity flowing and taking it easy, more or less.

Pick anyone in your stable of critters, and map out what their home looks like. Have they done a bunch of DIY projects, and did those turn out well, or poorly? What kind of home do they like, a big, spacious one, or a smaller one that’s compact and easy to clean? Are they neat, or is every piece of clothing on every imaginable surface they own?

How about this, too? What kind of place do they want, versus what they have? Is the character someone who wishes to be neat but is actually clumsy, lazy and messy? Or are they too anal about appearance within the home, who has yet to figure out that they should relax a bit?

Go wild. Check out pinterest or tumblr or reddit, get inspired, or try to find something that fits the images in your head, and set yourself to work on the home.

Happy hunting!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Read, Write, Learn

On my way in to work this morning, I heard a commercial for Bic on the radio. It was a “conversation” about “get writing,” with a Bic pen, and how writing can help your creativity, your reading capability, and something else I can’t think of at the moment.

I grinned after I heard it because I had just been thinking about what I was going to write today, and ‘reading and writing’ was right up there. So I decided the commercial had made up my mind for me.

Reading and writing go together in the most obvious, passive ways. You read a sentence you’ve just written, whether during an exam or on your own, you read instructions on a manual, you write notes to people at work or to clients, inner-office notes. They’re hand in hand, no matter what the circumstance, pleasure or production.

It goes too, without saying, that the more you do, the better it expands your mind and your ability. The more books you read, the more style you take in of other authors, the more vocabulary you learn, the more you see and understand with different possibilities and your imagination just expands and expands. This can help non-fiction as well as fiction.

I will admit that there is a set of books that transformed my reading, and helped transform my writing. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is not only a gorgeous trilogy of thrillers– murder, police, and politics respectively– but it has so many themes and underlying messages that it was like literal headcandy for me. It is the most recommended set of books by me, and I think that will continue on for quite a while. Stieg Larsson had created an incredible set of characters with dynamics that blew my mind and development that was beautiful to watch. The situations he put them in, the mystery he wove, the little hooks and callbacks, every little detail was perfect.

To me, he was the first story teller I had really fallen in love with, and he helped me see the intricacies of the art a hell of a lot better.

When you shut the book completely after finding out a major plot twist, I think the author is doing their job incredibly well. I still remember how shocking that was to find out.

In that, you can see what difference reading makes for us. Seeing things in vivid detail brings out certain points and elements that maybe we hadn’t noticed before. It makes you pay attention, it brings you in and doesn’t let you go.

This goes for all good stories. They show us what we need or want to see, they open our eyes and give details we didn’t think of to put emphasis on before. They teach us. They show us the way. They help us become better writers, the way we want to become.

They also help us become story-snobs. When you read a story that hasn’t utilized all of its elements for good, is obvious and not terribly cohesive, you can tell, but even that can help us. “What not to do,” in some cases, and for example: Fifty Shades of Grey.

I’ll roll this lesson in too because I’m thinking about it. On the topic of Fifty Shades, and as I mentioned before, vocabulary and word choice is important in that it helps shapes the story, it helps us bring out the color in the story. It brings the images in our head to the forefront on a page.

I always joked that you can tell when an author learned a new word or found a new word they liked, because you’d see it more in the book in a certain section. I’d always vowed to write in a way that I wasn’t so repetitious, to have good word flow and sentence structure that was as colorful as the rainbow and then some. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s more difficult than I realized at first. Writing a book with no repetition within it whatsoever, 3-400 words of constant flow can be difficult. The trick, at least, is to make sure that you’re varying the word choice, keep it going.

One trick I learned was not to use the same word twice in the same paragraph, articles and some nouns excluded. ‘As’ and ‘just’ especially only should be used once.

Let me go back to Fifty Shades, where I’ve heard– and briefly seen– the word choice is about as staggering as it can get. It is an easy read, quick, something you can simply devour if you’re in the mood for it, because who really worries about vocabulary when you’re taking in literary porn?

For those who are more picky about what they read, who read for a good story and stimulation just as well, the word choice that the author uses can be what kills the mood and the desire to read more. If it’s poor, badly executed, it doesn’t engage, and it’s more of “meh,” reaction than an “ooh, 2:00 a.m? Who cares!” reaction.

On the other hand, that could bring up the topic of reading level. What we like and what we can take in. I couldn’t get past the first chapter of Dante’s Inferno eight years ago without falling asleep. Shakespeare was just as daunting. This is where we can improve by reading more, finding where our level is and going from there. Sort of like a video game, if you want to think of it like that. The more you read, the more you understand, and the better you do.

Still, there are books that exist at a decent reading level that manage to dazzle without being hard to understand.

I wonder now, after writing so much, how well I could read Dante’s Inferno. Though I still have trouble with older books that have thick, more antiquated vocabularies. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea has been a slow read for me, but no less exciting. If nothing else, I can see the images that Jules Verne has written out so well, much better than I used to. And Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre was a hard read back seven years ago just as well, but the more I write, the more I read, the more I’ve developed my ability and my apprehension (comprehension?).

I will say that there’s a sweet spot for vocabulary plus reader understanding. You can still have an intricate story that’s easy to read; take Harry Potter for example, which started as a sort of children’s book and continued on to the higher dredges of young adult (that’s my interpretation, at least, I could be wrong), and still continues to be one of the most read series by the target audience. At least, to my knowledge, for fiction writing, there is that good level of word choice plus intricacy plus good story telling skill.

We all have our preferences of what to read, just as much as we do for what we write. I’d still fall asleep reading non-fiction books, but that doesn’t mean they’re written poorly, and it doesn’t mean it’s not on my reading level, it’s just not what I’m interested in. So there is that difference: interest versus reading comprehension versus vocabulary used and flow of words versus personal taste.  Some enjoy books that others find mundane, and there’s an audience still for time travel and science fiction just as much as there is for Twilight fan fiction and so on. If we all had the same level and comprehension and taste, this would be a much shorter post.

Don’t be afraid if you’re intimidated by something. If you can’t read it, or it’s not engaging your interest enough that you’re having to read and re-read whole paragraphs, don’t force it. Come back to it later or not. There’s no pressure on what you have to read; if you want to read, don’t make yourself read what you think others will enjoy hearing you talk about. Find something you like and run with it.

The same goes for writing. Don’t force yourself to write science fiction if you’d rather write about Victorian era wizards, or steampunk rabbits with bayonets that shoot ethereal nets at ghosts. Find where you’re most comfortable, and just go for it. There’s an audience for it somewhere, I guarantee it.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Running and Writing

I’ve made analogies to this before, they’re all spread through my posts, and the obvious reason for it is that I’m both a runner and a writer. I can see too many similarities to the two to ignore.

Both are free activities, but getting more gear and finding things to help your stride both in wordcount and in miles or minutes ran can get expensive. You can do both on your own, or with a group. Most importantly, both are done at your own pace.

In the writing community, our Boston Marathon can be equated to NaNoWriMo. I’ve heard my friend tell me about a woman who beats out everyone in his region to 50k, and she does triple that in the month, but she’s always the first to get it. Though, National Novel Writing Month isn’t so much about how fast you win, but that you won at all, and how many words you got out of the month.

Going at your own pace is a huge point to me, I remember looking at a favorite author of mine writing about how she got out so many pages in a day (which I knew how to translate to how many thousands of words she did, and it immediately blew my mind); she was doing, on a bad day, triple what I was doing on a good day. Then again, I had only just become more prolific, but it was still boggling. How could someone get out that much in so little time?

Practice. Dedication. Hard work. She knew what she was doing, she was a professional author of 20 years, and I was, and am, just a beginner, but I’m getting there.

Sometimes you find people with bad form and posturing, and they may get past the finish line, but what does their progress look like? Let’s take some highly ridiculed books, for example, Fifty Shades of Grey, or Twilight. They get the most praise for crossing the finish line, but they struggled through the race, and none of what they did to get there is recommended.

On that note: rough drafts are like training for a marathon or a 5k for the first time. You go back out again and again to improve as much as possible until you finally finish with a product you love, and that becomes your race day. When you’ve  made it out with a winner’s medal and a grin on your face and the final copy in your hand.

On the more professional side, and in obvious news, you can make a career of both, or you could do either just for enjoyment. It is what you make of it. If running gives you clarity, keep going. If writing fills your head with impossible ideas that you’ve fallen in love with, don’t stop now.

Running in the rain is just as thrilling to me as a capturing story writing itself. Writing without much of a muse or inspiration is like running in thick humidity: so impossible that I’ll hate myself for even trying.

And it’s just as well; there are those who don’t care for running as a way to get active and fit, and those who don’t care or try to get the grasp of writing. To them, there’s no enjoyment in it, which is to be expected.

I’ve written more at length about writing for enjoyment, here, but it’s hard not to brush up on it again. Though there is a lot of focus on writing to get published and getting your works out across the world for people to see and devour and adapt into movies and what have you, there’s also a desire to simply write because you want to. Running has a pressure on races and qualifications, but if it’s not something you want to do, you shouldn’t. Hell, I still haven’t done a 5k and I’ve been running for almost three years.

Races can get pricey, though. Themed races especially, but most marathons and 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, usually require an entry fee. The gear you should have to help you achieve more for running can also get expensive. As a writer, I haven’t run into much expense, other than what I donate to nano, or the shirts I was thinking of buying, or the copy of Scrivener that I got this month… If you wanted to attend the Night of Writing Dangerously, though, it could make your wallet weep. That was the only qualifier I could think of for writing, too, while there are countless races you need to qualify for in running.

Then there are the more obvious splits: running is physical, writing is mental. Running can create or perpetuate health problems, or even alleviate, but writing does not help in any direction physically. Writing instead helps your vocabulary, your imagination and creativity, your brain growth and personal development.

It’s an insight I couldn’t keep to myself for much longer, and one I do enjoy thinking about. Both writing and running have helped shape me as a person, but I’m sure they aren’t the only two activities that hold so many similarities. Whatever you enjoy, however you spend your days, it’s likely not very hard to find likenesses in them. After all, you do like them for a reason, right?

-The Novice Wordsmith