Tag Archives: change

Guest Post: Push Yourself, Because Nobody Else (Usually) Will

It’s easy to write when you have a good idea and a good head of steam. The words just flow. You fall into the easy sense of your own writing bath, and it’s warm and comfy.

One of the things I love doing to Wordsmith is to give her a prompt for the day. It’s a game we play; a challenge to her writing limits by putting in something that she wouldn’t have thought of herself.

What she doesn’t know is that I’m giving her these things based on being inspired by her writing. (Well, she knows now.) Or based on things I’ve seen during my travels. Or just being ornery.

The idea is that by doing this, I’m facilitating her writing chops by having her rise to meet any assignment I give her. She doesn’t have to do it right away, she doesn’t have to succeed; it’s like serving a tennis ball over the (Inter)net. “Here, see if you can hit this.”

Sometimes she lobs it back with casual grace. Other times she smashes it back and I can’t help but return it with a similar piece of my own. And other times she chases it down but can’t quite wrap her head around the concept. So I know where her writing strengths and weaknesses are.

At one point in my life, I had someone doing that for me. “Write a scene without using any metaphors.” ‘Write a short story and use 6 out of these 10 words.’ “Describe an object without using the sense of sight.” “Write a scene about X, but don’t use ANY of these words.”

The first choices we make as writers is what defines our writing flow. But if we keep choosing that choice — the same stock characters over and over, the same situations over and over, we run the risk of getting too comfy with our writing — writing the same thing over and over. I’m sure you’ve seen it in some of your favorite authors. It should never be like that.

The best authors craft up a world, a self-contained character with a life independent of any of his or her predecessors, every time. You should never have ‘previous novel’s protagonist copy with their name and hair changed.’ as the main character twice in a row.

Change it up. Dare to be different. Dare to push yourself to craft something unique from the story before. Every year I do the NaNoWriMo I deliberately switch genres from the previous year, just so I separate myself from the last elements of the last novel with a whole year, if not more.

Mash two genres together that don’t normally go together. “Ballet Drama” and “Western”? Or maybe three– “Mystery” and “Survival” and “Historical Piece”?

If your first instinct is ‘you can’t, then you aren’t pushing hard enough. Try to come up with an idea to make the plot work. I mean, heck. The Japanese anime writers do it all the time…. check out Hetalia: Axis Powers, for example, where someone mashed up World Politics with Anthropomorphism.

(Yeah, I know. I said, ‘What? How did they ever think of that?’ too.)

When you find the right motivation, and the right idea, the push will become a pull. And suddenly you’ll be expanding your writing universe in a wholly unexpected direction…

Good luck…

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Static versus Round

Every storytelling aspect can be applied to real life, in different ways. Tropes, climax, conflict, heroes and anti-heroes, and, most of all, round (or dynamic) and static characters.

I found this particularly true for the round and static character explanation over the past several months, but it got more into the dynamics and elements of storytelling itself with some fundamental things changing or being different than normal.

Static characters are not typically in the forefront of the story, for example. Every main character I’ve read has had a change of heart or a change of life and has handled it differently in the end than they would have in the beginning. They are round, and called such for the change, the fact that they are always curving and turning when you zoom in on the lines.

I digress, the fact is that there is a shift in view or perspective for those dynamic characters, they learn and in turn their actions change.

Recently, though, I realized that a friend of mine hadn’t changed much or at all, and her perspective, her reactions, her general disposition had all remained the same. When asked a question lately that she’d been asked years ago, her answer was the same.

People who are immovable in many ways are usually the secondary or tertiary characters, or in the background somewhere. They matter less because the main storyline relies on a lot of change, it relies on conflict creating a different view, it’s why you read the story in the first place, to see how something progresses. The definition of progress is ‘movement to a goal or further to a higher stage.’ How do you get there if your sights are in the same place?

Could a story technically still survive with a static character in the front? It becomes more about their struggles and their daily life and how they handle it. Sure, because you’re highlighting the way of life, there’s a message in there somewhere.

Then again, if that’s all you wrote, wouldn’t your writing become very limited?

Someone who is not open to learning or change is stifling the ability to become a better version of themselves. I mean those who outright refuse.

There is a story to be told there, but, as the name suggests, dynamic characters have a lot more possibilities.

I have to admit that I’ve never met someone so stubborn and unwilling to change, someone so against the idea. In 25 years, I’ve met one or two who don’t fully grasp the concept of learning and being shaped by ideas and the world around them. They understand it plenty, but they refuse to let it take hold.

The thought had me wondering about main characters, about stories and novels, and how many of the main characters don’t budge, don’t change or get shaped by the way their world moves. What kind of story does a character like that make for?

In contrast, a lot of my characters tend to be like me in that they thirst for knowledge. Some, like secondary or tertiary characters, aren’t given that much dimension, so they remain static. So there’s a difference there between refusal and not being given the chance.

Usually, how you hear about static characters is by the fact that they aren’t the ones the story’s changing is directed at. They aren’t going through conflict. They simply look on from the sidelines. They are a stationary piece of the puzzle themselves.

Which reminds me of Welcome to Nightvale’s deep quote from the other day: “Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.

Whether it’s a story you’re writing or your own story, static and dynamic characters are everywhere, and each have a place. Just as it is in what we write, our life has lessons for us, if we choose to see it that way. We are what the story makes us, if we’re willing to accept that.

What kind of character will you be?

-The Novice Wordsmith

Resolute in Resolutions

A lot of what goes on in the last few days of the year revolve around resolutions. I can’t say I haven’t heard anything, because I’ve heard more about New Year’s Resolutions in the past weeks than I have in the past few months combined. For good reason and obvious reason.

One very resounding thought I’ve heard that strays from the rest, however, is to ditch the resolution altogether.

Resolutions, ultimately, are goals. They’re something to strive for, something you want to do, something you want to happen in that year. So in January, it’s no surprise that the gym is packed full, because people are trying to reach weight loss goals and get toned and in shape by the time that they really want.

If there’s something I learned the hard way, it is that goals take time. The quicker something is done, the easier all of that work can be undone, because your mentality then becomes, “I can just do it again in this amount of time and be fine.” So you put it off and do things that are more enjoyable, because you know you can make up for lost time. You do the things you shouldn’t, and further yourself away from the progress you made.

These things take time. Don’t give up what you want to do, unless you’ve realized you want to do something else. Whatever it is, even if you lapse, don’t just stop. Don’t count yourself out completely, because there’s always going to be time.

If not now, when?

Just because it’s so many days past the first of the year does not count you out, either. Shaping better writing habits, filling notebooks, finishing a novel, writing a poem a day, or whatever it is your writing goal for the year may or may not be,  starts when you want it to. You do not need to measure your success by the year and how much time there is of it left. In the end, the goal of goals, of resolutions, is to improve your life, from that point on, and not just for the year.

One of my personal preferences when it comes to New Year’s Resolutions is to stick with it until it’s done. You repeat that same resolution until you’ve reached it. If you decide it’s not what you want, then you can drop it, but pick up a new goal to help you get to work on that passion, or dream, or idea.

When it comes to writing goals, or any, really, and you find they’re daunting and intimidating as ever, pause, look at the work load. Shave it down, make it possible for you to keep up in the beginning. The only way you get to where you want to be, is by building a strong foundation to stand on.

Let’s take daily writing, for example. What’s the wordcount you want to achieve daily? Or is it simply to write something, anything, every day? As you go on, you find what you really want, and what you think counts more. Write fiction every day, or a blog post? It doesn’t have to be targeted, if it’s easier for you to achieve, writing is writing, after all, though eventually, you might find yourself targeting what you want to write most.

This happens with a lot of things. As you get better, stronger, or more frequent, you figure out where your problem areas are or what you want to focus on, and it shapes what you do.

That’s the other thing about resolutions, you can’t expect to do the same thing over and over. As you change, so does your routine! It’s a good thing! Change means you’re dynamic, you’re making progress!

And you don’t have to have big resolutions, either. They can be small. Small is not a problem– some people go all out and adapt to the “go big or go home” philosophy and end up burning themselves out before they even really give themselves a chance. Taking on something you know you can accomplish is the first step to being able to tackle bigger things without even realizing it.

Don’t let anything drag you down. When you look ahead at what your dream is, you need to see that there’s a journey to it, and it starts with a step, however weak or strong it is, but it is everything that you put into it. So whatever your resolutions or goals are this year, don’t forget to be kind to yourself while you start the path of progress.

I’m certainly rooting for you!

-The Novice Wordsmith

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

Recycling Bin

One of my favorite things to do is to re-write old stories, things I felt like I didn’t do well enough, or there were new pieces to consider, or there was a change somewhere else. I love looking back and between and seeing the difference, to watch growth and change and see how I shape my own personal style.

Especially in the case of something I wrote when I was 12. The difference was astounding. One character went from the portrayal of everything I wanted when I was a kid, the epitome of my naivety, to a stunning young woman who had an astounding amount of depth and personality for how young she was.

The difference was alarming as it was hilarious. It was like looking between the kindergarten scribbling and the college level painting.

As you keep writing, progressing both through age and experience, you learn more about telling a story. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the bare-bones of the beginnings, but the more you keep climbing up the mountain, you find things that you hadn’t seen before. You see what a three-dimensional character is, you see with the character’s eyes instead of your own.

It doesn’t have to be time only, either. You had a bad day, you couldn’t get something down right, you weren’t able to tap into your vocabulary like you usually can. You lost a pet or a friend. Someone turned their back on you. You broke up with your partner. We are all affected by everything in our lives, and so too is our writing.

It’s not uncommon for someone to write better when they’re suffering, either, from whatever it may be. Clarity comes in all forms. In other cases, it can cloud our typically clear thoughts and make things more difficult for us.

Revision and editing, as awful as some people think they are, are also a great tool for the reason of fixing things you didn’t like before. Don’t scrap it and re-write unless you know it can’t be saved, because simple revision, having someone say one thing instead of another, can change the whole view and feel of the chapter, or story, making it stronger.

Such in the case of my NaNo novel of last year. A chapter I thought was passable and “fine” had become a strong piece that would set the pace for the next few chapters. There was nothing terribly wrong with it before, but the revisions I made helped round it out with better detail especially, and a change of topic helped bring focus to the brewing conflict.

Then, of course, there’s writing something you end up downright hating. A friend of mine shared a quote with me today that sums it up: “Why should I write even if I don’t like what I wrote?”

Just because you hate it doesn’t mean everyone will. You are your own worst critic, and the glaring flaws you see, someone else won’t. Which has happened to me before, too, and was incredibly surprising. I passed the piece off as “meh” and shared it because they asked for it. I got told, “Whoa. That was incredible.”

Hearing that can really change your tune. Then again, there are the pieces that you think really can’t be saved, but why not give them a chance?

Though on that note, my advice is to look for opinions if you’re conflicted. If you really are not happy with it, change it. Writing is about putting down whatever comes to mind and shaping, molding it to what you want. After years, loss, gain, happiness, turmoil. You are always shaping, like a glass blower! Except with words. And not with something molten.

Let your life’s changes and experience affect your writing, for better or worse. See the merit, take advantage.

-The Novice Wordsmith