Monthly Archives: September 2014

Talking Head Syndrome

Created by a friend of a friend, Talking Head Syndrome is a serious disorder created by only specifically working on the dialogue and forgetting that your characters are in a place, with some kind of scenery, and that they have bodies.

Diagnosis is typically given from editors. While THS is not fatal to the character themselves, it can be to the interest of your reader in a certain direction, if you don’t have any other stimulants in the chapter/excerpt/story than the dialogue. Though the characters with THS can still feel, and express emotion with their faces, it is still detrimental to their body language.

Talking Head Syndrome can also dramatically decrease your wordcount, sensory details, and most of all, depth and personal atmosphere to drag the reader in.

Fortunately, there’s a cure! Found at high altitudes on the Mountain Descriptor, one can find scenic details, curious movements, slumping, whole-body exclamation, descriptions of rooms, idle motions, wanted or unwanted touch, animals in the immediate area, room details, and many more! These things can help fill out the empty spaces between dialogue, giving the chapter or story a more robust feel, and giving your characters more than just heads!

With all of the new filler pieces, you can help your story become like a fine painting. While dialogue alone can suffice in some situations, or must, there is always a plus to putting in bits of the surrounding area in as well, finding a way to blend it in.

Carly looked off just then, her mouth dropped open even after her sentence was finished, caught by the beauty of the orange and pink horizon. Joss’ continuation of the story caught her attention back before too long, and she resumed listening. 

Little somethings. Reach a hand forward, turn slightly, sigh with the whole body. The five senses come in handy here, too, especially! Don’t let yourself lose sight of it, even in a thrilling conversation that pushes the plot forward several spots. Remember that your characters, even if they’re robotic and non-human, have some kind of sense that allows them to take in what’s around them, or to move (unless they don’t, then ignore this post entirely!).

Don’t let Talking Head Syndrome get you down any longer! Take the steps and see a better story today!

-The Novice Wordsmith 😉

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Guest Post: The Horror Show

October’s coming up, and as such the airwaves are full of Halloween themed ideas and the inevitable horror movie. And of course, with that sort of inspiration, some of us decide to try their hand at horror novels.

We all know what that means, really; naming our fears and writing about them in such a way that someone else can experience what someone would go through if they were afraid of such things.

But hang on a tick… most of our experience with horror is through movies, and novels don’t often relate well to this. A novel is something that has a different pacing, and is missing the visual element.

It is all too easy to make a horror novel about the same cliched tropes that we’ve seen before, in said movies, and then it’s less scary. It becomes expected. In theme. And it will lack the authenticity that a horror story needs to scare the reader.

I used to work in a haunted house; they no longer scare me. I’ve lost my suspenders of disbelief, so that I know that they’re just actors. I can be startled, but not scared. Not like when I was a child and the unknown darkness held menacing things.

Some horror authors use the terror that they felt in order to build up a story. But fear itself is often wordless; panic, fright, and the need to Get Away are things that defy easy description.

Impending Doom is a little easier to write; so is Pain, and Dread. Fear is an emotion, like anger; it just lends itself a little less easy to the mind.

Try this exercise. And it’s a tough one… write about a superstition, WITHOUT using the words ‘fear’, ‘afraid’, ‘terrified’, ‘avoid(ance)’, ‘scared’, and ‘phobia.’ Remember, a good author does a ‘show, don’t tell’, and using any of those words is telling.

Here’s my take:
—————————–
He couldn’t turn his back on the water, even though the sand sculpture demanded his focus. He could hear the sinister sound of the surf, rustling behind him like a beast in the bushes. The sculpture site he had been given was far too close to the sea for his liking, and he gritted his teeth as he had to lean down to add some detailing to the mermaid that he was creating out of damp sand.

Let others rely on doing runs to and from the surf to get more water for their works. He had a portable sand block press of his own design, and a wheeled dolly with plenty of purified water jugs on it, and an hour and a half to craft a winning entry. Plenty of time before the tide came in and erased it all.

The wind ruffled his hair; the sky was overcast, and it was a lousy day to be on the beach, but the event planners had set this up months in advance, and they couldn’t control the weather.

He tried not to think about the sign that he’d seen on the way to the beach: ‘Tsunami Warning.’ It had been there since the sixties; there had never been a tsunami off the Oregon coast in a hundred years.

But there always was a first time for everything. He’d seen the pictures of Indonesia and Japan; huge morasses of water, consuming everything in its wake. Cars and buses floating along in the water like some giant bathtub toys, houses collapsing under the unexpected deluge of water coming down the street.

He had been given one of the sites closest to the waterline. He hadn’t been given permission to change with someone else. The safety of the boardwalk was two hundred yards away, possibly closer to three.

He wanted to just quit the contest, because those clouds overhead and the sky had gotten darker. Wasn’t the first sign of a tsunami heavy clouds? He couldn’t remember.

Just the thought of being swept out to sea made him want to look over his shoulder instead of paying attention to the work in front of him.

Was the sea a little closer?

It was. It surely was.
—————————————

Balance the internal with the external. Fear is internal. Stimulus for fear is external. It’s something you see – or can’t see. It’s something heard which doesn’t match normalcy. It’s evidence of something Not Right. Or simply feelings of wrongness sometimes.

Think about something that makes you scared for a moment. You can feel your skin crawl, the tension, the want to hide somewhere where it’s safe, or at least lighted. Then try and put the character who is being scared in your own shoes. Can you make them feel that fear, in their own voice, in their own head, and in their own mind?

I think you can.

It’s uncertainty of their next moments. It’s worrying about what MIGHT happen before it does, and then what DOES happen is often unexpected anyway.

And it’s worse than they imagined.

Another element of horror is the fact that it’s drawn out. The inevitable chase scene. The character becomes the prey in a hunt. Trying to escape. Because as you well know, anyone who fights the beastie? Usually dies. Horribly.

In horror, the big bad nasty almost always has the upper hand. They make the protagonist feel mortal. Vulnerable. Weak. Because if they weren’t afraid of it, if they could outfight it, outrun it, or outthink it right off the bat? It’s not scary enough. Their confidence and skill will carry them through.

Of course, there’s always the reversal — the misplaced bravado route, where they think they’ve got it covered – and then they don’t.

Now that is the source of even bigger fear. Maybe they escaped with their life after being foolish enough to brace the proverbial tiger in its lair. And they are scarred by the near-death experience. (Possibly literally.)

That’s a key: any fear a character has is not something they can easily shrug off. Any horror that a character faces has to be something that they are already afraid of to begin with, or something that can apply that (un)healthy fear of that after that first encounter.

It doesn’t have to be blood and guts, or supernatural things thrashing people around, or demonic possession, or aliens, or zombies or vampires… I was rather surprised to see how many people are afraid of clowns.

But that doesn’t help you, does it?

What should be your horror vehicle? What should you make people afraid of?

Anything. You. Want.

A skilled enough writer can make anything menacing. Items can be cursed. Food can be poisoned – or worse. A normal person could turn out to have a hidden past. Or change right in front of their eyes. Sometimes the scariest things of all are things we take for granted to be harmless — until they aren’t.

The thing you want to keep in mind when writing horror is that the object of horror has to regularly keep pushing at the characters. It must continue to vex them, whether it starts eating them one by one or keeps them from leaving the proverbial island (or both), it’s got to be something that they can’t get around or away from that easily.

Just like things we’ve been afraid for for years.

You can be afraid of anything, really — heck, just check out the List of Phobias on Wikipedia, or phobialist.com. Pick something you’ve never heard of before as a challenge, and start from there… and don’t be afraid to write about it.

Putting your Hero Through Their Paces

Also known as: Deliberately Doing Mean Things to your Hero.

One thing that got me when I was reading one of Friend’s stories, about one of his characters meeting him, was that the character asked, “Why are you doing this?”

His response was, “It makes a good story.”

Which, if I were that character, would make me feel very forlorn. Why is my creator putting me through all of these rigors if they know what it will do to me? Don’t they love me? What the hell did I do to deserve this?

Thinking about it, probably all of my characters would ask me that.

The reason is the story. It is the rigors and the hardships and the tough, stress, anger, sorrow that makes everything so real and so tangible, it puts more life into the character, it is another way to relate and fall in love with them. If they experienced nothing traumatic or alarming, nothing heartfelt or upsetting, wouldn’t you feel even more distanced from them?

I still remember another friend giggling madly as he thought up embarrassing situations to put his character in. It amuses us, and there’s a point to it. It helps development, it helps move plot, it helps us see the dimensions of not only the story but the character themselves.

Tossing a villain at them that they can’t kill right away, shoving them into a situation where they struggle, forcing them to find a way out, putting them in the face of adversity, it is all for the sake of the story. It is what we do as story-tellers. We love our characters, we want to see them flourish, we want them to go above and beyond, and we put them in these situations because we know they can find a way out, and because it will help them in the long run, to get to the point we want them to be at.

One thing I will say is that you shouldn’t just throw something at them just to do it, and if you end up not liking what you did, you CAN go back and change it. Do not put them in something that you don’t like, and unless it’s your intention, that you want, that will aid the story, don’t put them in something without a way out in mind.

It is probably one of my favorite things, to find new things to put them up against, because of how dynamic it makes the story. Action, suspense, thrill. It keeps the reader on the edge (and sometimes the writer), hooks them in and shows them something unexpected.

Your character might think you’re a sadist, but– actually, I’m not gonna finish that statement, that sounds really awful.

Don’t be afraid to do mean things, if you like where it takes your hero. Remember, they’re on a journey, and you decide where it goes, but it should always contribute to the story in some way. You can apologize later with some good karma, if it works out.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Pushing It

Something that gets faced a lot in physical sports and activities is that line of “can I keep going on this pain/annoyance, or should I slow down to recover?” It is something I’ve struggled with in running when I up the ante, and it seems to translate to writing in different ways.

You know the days, slow, sluggish, your head is cloudy and you can’t get the picture right. There’s too much fuzz on your mental television and you can’t tune it in just right to see correctly. Maybe it’s just a bad day, or you’re out of sorts, but you still need to get your writing done for the day, and you do still want to make progress on something.

Except, you can’t. You’re stalled out mentally. So when do you keep pushing, to try and make something happen, and when do you call it a mental health day and walk away from it until you can see better?

When it becomes an all-out struggle, I stop, to breathe and try to calm down. It’s easy to get frustrated when you feel like you can’t get any details right. Likewise, it’s hard to get anything right when you’re flustered. I’ve had a BIG problem with this recently, and it’s the cause of a few month-long pause on a project I’ve been wanting to work on very badly.

Funks and grooves are easy to get into sometimes, when things have been thrown off, but the best thing to do sometimes is to wait until it feels okay. Do what you can to alleviate some frustration, whether it be outlining or getting fresh ideas for the scene, or rethinking what you’ve done so far. Don’t count yourself out completely.

Then there are times where you force yourself to finish it, no matter what, you have to get to the finish line. The point here is that you can go back and revise what you did. You can even re-write it, if you really feel like you have to, but if there’s a need for you to finish now, don’t worry about revision. Write. Come back to it later, look it over, you may yet like what you wrote when your head’s a bit more clear.

In some situations, forcing it to happen may make it worse. It can get you to put characters in situations you don’t like, or say things that aren’t true to their personalities, and the list goes on. Complications feed complications, and sometimes it’s easier to see what’s going wrong, and others can be harder to tell.

If it’s mild, try to do what you can, but you know your limits best. Don’t make something happen if it doesn’t feel right. It’s okay to take breaks. Up against a deadline? Pause, breathe, and go forward as you can.

If it’s severe, it’s better to reset your head. Wait for it. Take it slow.

What I hear a lot of is that taking rest days from an injury often deters training for a race. It’s the same in that, if you have a deadline with your publisher or a personal deadline to reach, having to stop creates a lot of stale chaos for you. Bury yourself in “homework:” if you can’t write, read, or watch a movie related to what you’re writing, or a television show. Something will come up. Something will spark.

Everything takes time, though. Pace yourself. Relax. Look at what’s going on and see what the best course of action is. Don’t panic, there’s a way. There always is.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Dream On

This morning, I woke up with some really vivid dreams still playing back in my head, most of which included travel. One included kittens, and snakes, then there was the Stanley Cup match dream, and ice cream.

When I was younger and hearing about Twilight, I got excited knowing that Stephenie Meyer created the books from a dream she had. It wasn’t something new to me, but seeing someone create from a little subconscious spark was a big exclamation point for me. Since I was younger, I was always a total goon for dreams, their meanings, and the research on them.

I found myself wanting of a dream that could do that, that felt so perfect for a story or a movie, and to let it take me on this huge ride of inspiration.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, it didn’t manage to happen while I was obsessed with the thought, but later, it did.

One thing I want to say about this is it’s how you perceive it, how you encounter that little crazy thing that happened in your dream. Is it enough to make something out of? Where does it make your mind wander, and how fast does it go?

For those of you who are apathetic about this topic, that’s fine, I recognized before I wrote this that it wouldn’t be for everyone. And rightly so, some people have very vivid, strange dreams, and others have more simple dreams that stick to normalcy and don’t make them look insane. I am not one of those people.

One dream, in fact, is up for debate on if I want to write it for NaNo. Sometimes your head just brings things together that are so strange, they work. With some minor tweaks, maybe, but they’re no less motivating.

I want to know what you think about this, what is your view on dreams helping the creative process? Do you do it, and if so, how often or infrequently? Are there any current stories that you’ve written that have come from your wild, or not so wild, subconscious?

All in all, I’m a fan of this kind of thing; sometimes my craziness just brings out something that I can’t let go. It’s a good source of creativity, in my opinion, because it’s a brain dump. You’re shaking out everything that you’ve had on your mind for the week, or for the day. When you shake loose papers, there’s bound to be something that makes you go, “Huh… That’s kinda cool.”

Another side to this is the dream sequences of characters, which can be much like our own, but also tend to waver on the premonition side of things. What’s the importance of dreams if there’s nothing that comes of it, right? It’s optional, like everything else, but in a way it’s a little thing that helps make the characters more real. I’m not saying you’d have to map out the entire dream, not unless you want to (refer to dreams being important, or going somewhere with the plot), but little mentions, maybe it disorients them or makes them go, “Uhm, what?”

It can also provide some comedic relief, or get them to briefly think about certain things, as well as putting them on the path of something else, just to get them off the trail of something they were close to solving.

Ultimately, it’s a distraction, but it can be a creative one. It’s up to you whether you let the unfettered subconscious have a say in what you write, the possibilities are endless.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Ban It!

As some of you already know, yesterday (Sept 21) started Banned Books Week, a quiet protest against censorship. You will probably be surprised to see some of the titles on the lists; Lord of the Flies, Where the Wild Things Are, To Kill a Mockingbird, Grapes of Wrath, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone… Books that, depending on where you lived or went to school, you grew up with.

I couldn’t understand how some of these were banned, it seems so simple. Profanity, sexual themes, handling topics that were controversial at the time… Others, like Steal This Book, were a little more bold and obvious in the banning, though I still question it.

This is actually my first time hearing about this week, and hearing that any of these books have actually been banned, but the week was founded in awareness against censorship in 1982 by librarian Judith Krug. More history and information about that here.

So the intent seems obvious: if you support bringing down the outrageous censorship and being told what you can and can’t read, promote and support the effort. The effort in question is a push for the First Amendment freedom, and to focus on the power of literature (as the wiki states).

The first thought that comes to mind is a quote by Robin Williams: “Live your life in a way that the Westboro Baptist Church will want to picket your funeral.” The same sentiment carries through to writing, though it doesn’t seem so difficult after looking at what these books have been banned for.  Write in a way that your book could potentially get banned from a library. Choose to challenge instead of going quietly.

Seeing more of these books, it’s surprising, but should I really be surprised? Some profound, classic books that make a huge statement are on there, censored, to be kept away from people because of the content, because someone finds it offensive and wrong. They are loud books. They make you think. They challenge complacency. They help make you harder to control.

Though I probably shouldn’t go around assuming it’s all about control, but to a point, isn’t it?

If you do anything this week, read something that’s been banned, and truly  consider it. On the other side, when you write, whether it’s a new chapter, or revising an older one, or a separate story altogether, think about what you’re challenging by writing it. Think about what goes into it. What do any of the characters do that push the envelope and force you to consider their actions and why they’re doing it?

And most of all, if you support this week and the awareness and freedom it promotes, only let it go by quietly if you’re too busy reading.

-The Novice Wordsmith

PS: Tell me what some of the most profound things you’ve had your characters do!

Bad Day

More like a bad weekend. Meh. Sorry that there’s not much today, though I have something in store tomorrow. After my laptop’s hard drive decided to die, I’ve been in a roller coaster that just hit a low point. I will say that warranties are messy, but they are worth it, on that note. The good news is that manufacturer warranties seem to be a hell of a lot better.

Ugh. That’s my entire mood right now. “Ugh.” When you expect one thing and find that you get another it’s kind of a total buzzkill.

Writing has helped me the past couple of days, it’s better to not think about it, to just keep it out of sight and out of mind, but my motivation has been so low. Like I said, low point. Not dangerous or to cause alarm, just… bummed out. A phrase my sister uses, seems to sum things up well.

As you can see, it seems to effect how I write just as well…

Anyway, I have a couple of things for tomorrow, motivation willing. About this week in reading, and a little update to the last post.

Thank you for being patient with me, and even if you’re not, thank you anyway.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Feedback and Other Bits

As I was writing the entry “Preparation,” I paused, just as I was about to type in a question to those who read the blog. I stopped and went into something else instead, because the last time I tried a question, I didn’t get an answer back.

Of course, that was at the beginning of the blog. So I think I want to try again.

The point of this blog, in a lot of ways, is to learn. Not just for me to help teach people what I’ve learned, but to learn from everyone else, from the readers, from their insight and experience and apply it as needed. This blog may belong to me, but I want it to sprawl with information and different testimonies about certain ideas and thoughts, I want there to be more than just my touch.

Which is why I have a guest writer, and I wouldn’t mind having more. I’m admittedly a little nervous about reaching out for it, though, because I’m not sure what to expect or what kind of guidelines to set, but I am interested in more opinions and more of the blog being inspired by the people who love it.

I wanted to use now to thank everyone who does keep coming back for more, to see what I (and Friend) have to say. It helps me put more into this every day that I write for it. ❤

I sometimes struggle with my own confidence about what I say. I don’t want to lead anyone astray, but the worry gets to me enough that it’s caused me to trash a few posts. I have been writing for years, but I’m still learning. Eventually, I’ll get into the process of publishing and be able to share my experience and thoughts with that, but after seeing others tackling the subject before me, I get skittish and feel under prepared.

Then there’s that maybe I should post less. I drew up a prompt sheet when I made this blog, and even while I keep adding to it, I’ve done just about everything on it. Like writing, though, I suppose I can never really run out of ideas.

So, feedback, what do you think? More posting, less posting, is there a topic you want me to cover in specific? Is there something I should go back over because I wasn’t clear enough? And, since I didn’t get to ask it before, what are you plans for November? How do you prepare, if you’re going to do NaNoWriMo?

I look forward to hearing back from you!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: You and Your Genre Shadow

As the Novice Wordsmith and I start gearing up for this year’s NaNoWriMo in November, I always start playing with genre ideas. And whenever someone asks what they should write about, I always answer with this:

“Well, what’s your genre?”

Without knowing the answer to that question, your novel is going to be an orphan plot idea and a character in search of a direction. You can have a great character concept, but without knowing what genre the story they star in falls into, you’re going to be going through the motions of living without much plot potential.

(Slice of Life is actually a genre type. It’s used for sitcoms most often.)

Some genres define the universe (Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Steampunk for example), and some define the type of plot (Mystery, Drama, Crime, Romance), and others classify the expectations of how the novel is written (Journal, Young Adult, Advice). It’s a box that when someone opens the cover, they know what kind of things lie inside the pages.

It’s easy to pick your favorite genre and write in it exclusively. Your writing voice is all about comfort, because if you aren’t comfortable with what you’re writing, you won’t want to write it, usually. But as Wordsmith alluded to in a previous post, you can push the envelope of your comfort zone. Why write what you usually write, especially when you’re just getting started? The first novel or story you write is to prove that you can finish what you start. But that doesn’t have to be your genre.

Some folks like writing along similar lines. They have a favorite genre that they live in, because their writing flows naturally to that place. They fall in love with their personally crafted universe and stay there. They become a genre author without even realizing it, because they think, ‘Oh, why stop at one novel, why not a trilogy, or a series?’

The best and worst thing to be is known as a specific genre author, because you wind up writing more and more of that genre. You wind up with fans of your work and they judge your new book in the same genre (if not the same universe) by the previous ones. If you write something new in a different genre, it will be compared to your other genre and you will be measured. “Eh, so and so writes better SF books than fantasy.” This is nothing wrong, necessarily, because sometimes _readers_ prefer one genre over others, and when you, ‘their’ author, write out of their genre, they’re going to be a harder sell.

My advice to you is to push yourself. Deliberately write in different genres just to see if other ones work for you. Don’t just write in the same space of your favorite authors – go to the library or bookstore and go to a different section. Pick out a book by an author that has a lot of titles on the shelf, and flip through a few pages. See if the style and feel is alien to you, or makes sense.

Then write in that genre the next time you put pen (electronic or otherwise) to paper (ditto). See what happens.

If you want to get fancy and go for even more challenging? Do a mashup of genres. Don’t just say, ‘I’m writing a horror novel.’ Try ‘steampunk/mystery’ or ‘horror/journal’, or go out on a limb and try ‘science-fiction/advice/journal’ — that last one, by the way, is how I would classify the Zombie Survival Guide.’

The point of getting out of ‘your’ genre is not just to push you to do something different, by the way – it’s a growth experiment. If you want to be a paid author, but the market that your genre fits into is saturated, you should be able to shift gears and write in spaces where the market needs stories.

Not only that? It avoids getting into novels that are superficially similar to each other; some series authors fall into that sort of trap. Expanding your repertoire of writable genres means that you can get away from ‘home’ and find an adventure waiting to happen by the side of the proverbial author’s road, no matter how alien it may seem at first.

When I participate in the NaNoWriMo, I look at what I did last year — genre first, and say, “I am not doing that genre this year.” It’s another way of writing without looking back.