Tag Archives: development

Putting Pen to Paper…

But not Just Any Pen or Any Paper. This is a lovely article that Friend pointed me in the direction of months ago that I meant to share.

It’s the same message that Natalie Goldberg writes about in Writing Down the Bones, within one of the first chapters. To write anywhere, in any format, with any pen or pencil, is to expand how you write in a unique way. It helps build uniqueness, character, experience. To fill notebooks and journals and anything you find in any way, with scribbles or notes, thoughts, or full stories, because you can, because it’s a way to write.

The message isn’t hard for me to take to heart, and I find myself wondering about buying a new journal to fill, giving myself that challenge, but I have a few already that I’ve been trying to do that with…

I will say that it’s incredibly satisfying to finish a journal from front to back. I am, unfortunately, one of those people who stacks journals, but I don’t fill them very often.

Whether you fill it or not, though, and whether it’s a single page or a stack of them bound together, all adds to the experience.

-The Novice Wordsmith

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Guest Post: A House of Prose, and Don’t be The Lauren

Everyone’s a critic.

When you ask for an opinion from someone on something you’ve done, what you’re secretly asking is ‘do you like this?’ And you secretly want them to like what you’re showing them. It’s the author’s curse; we want to be published, but we need to write something that people can relate to enough to want to buy.

The underpinnings of our society dictate that we have to ‘get along’, ‘be liked’, and ‘hold approval.’ Popular people are who we hear about; unpopular people are spoken about derisively or with hatred sometimes.

Books and writing our expressions of our writer’s soul. It is the innermost child (..or occasional lurking adult) seeking the light of day and the likes of others.

We pick our genre, the one we feel the most at home with, and we decorate the house of our novel home with the things that belong there. A family of characters, or a single person looking out the windows. A bunch of good-natured or mean neighbors to challenge the family. And then there are the things that try and burn the house down or break in and steal their stuff.

I say it’s a house here because the analogy is apt to me; we ‘live’ in the space of our novel when it’s going good, and then when it’s done, we do our best to spruce it up and invite guests to come visit.

I’ve lived in a few places over the years; that first moment when someone new sees my new place they always look around. Form impressions. Some of them look at the things I have on the walls, some of them look at my knickknacks, some of them look at my furniture, and a few of them poke their head in the bedroom.

“Nice place.” they say. Whether they’re being polite or not, I don’t know. But then again, I live in a rental, so it’s not a house I can do a lot of decoration with. I’ve been in a few houses that I’ve said, ‘this is a gorgeous place.’ I have things that I want in my house, so when I see one of those things, I appreciate it.

Now apply that idea back to books again.

Some folks can write an amazing epic tale that grabs you from the get go; some folks write a ramshackle tale that barely holds itself together; you can see the holes in the plot like you notice crayon marks or holes in the walls.

It is not a reflection on the owner/author; it is all about the _everything_ in the house/novel, rather than the bits that you notice that stick out to you.

I’ve got a friend that I’ll call Lauren. She wanted to be a writer, because I was one. She participated in the NaNoWriMo, because I did, and people really liked my first novel.

When she read it, the first thing she asked was, “Is this about you? Is that character there me?”

(The answer was no and no. Because I am not a six foot tall efficiency expert who drives a convertible.)

Then she started poking holes in the novel. Pointing out typos, a half-finished sentence here and there, that sort of thing.

“I know.’ I said, defensively. “It’s a first draft. Thanks.”

When she won NaNo for the first time, she gave me her first effort at writing a full length novel. Asked me what I thought.

It was a pretty good tale, but she got lost in the weeds when she hit Week 3 and there were two very similar characters that I kept getting mixed up, and there was another point where she was missing parts of the description because she was in what I call ‘fugue state’ — you can see the action in your head, and it’s rushing fast, but she didn’t put it all down on the page.

“Did you want me to make edits or did you just want an opinion?”

“Just an opinion. I know my writing sucks.”

“I liked it. It had some good suspense elements, and your heroine is genuinely likable. Your supernatural elements are solid, too. And your writing does not suck.”

“Do you think I could get it published?”

“I think it needs some work before you can get there. There are some elements that need more details, and your ending is a bit rushed. I’d like to see more of the world, too.”

“You hate it.” she said.

“No, I don’t hate it. It’s good! It’s a first draft and I like what I see here. That’s the nature of the Nano — nobody ever produces a perfect first draft, but the Nano makes you actually finish that first draft. If I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t have finished it.”

Later, I heard she’d shared it with some of her other friends, with the additional rider comment that she felt I didn’t like it, because I didn’t think it was good enough to get published. Of course, she was giving it to friends who liked her as a person, and since she had predetermined for them that she was looking for praise, not critique, by way of ‘Friend didn’t like it, I’m hoping you will’ — she was told what she wanted to hear, rather than the truth. And when one of her friends, who is usually bluntly honest, said that it was ‘scattered and disorganized’, Lauren was done showing people. The manuscript went somewhere dark and never saw the light of another person’s eyes again, for fear of disapproval.

She tried her hand at writing the sequel the next year, because like many first time successful novelists, they still have a story left to tell. And it’s easier to work within an existing world than it is to spin up a brand new one.

But she got sick the first week, and stopped writing, and because she was a week behind, she gave up. This was the same year I wrote 100K words in the month.

She hasn’t attempted the Nano since.

For me, the NaNoWriMo is one of my life’s passions. I’ve done it every year for the past twelve. I talk about it a lot. Whenever I’m with friends or family, and I bring up the idea of Nano and they like the idea and are impressed with someone who can write that much in that little time, none of them really ask, ‘Yes, but are they good novels?’ If they do, or they ask when I’m getting published, I just grin and say, “I’m still working on that part. It’s a first draft, and a story that needs to be told, and one of these years I’ll like something enough to edit it and try and get it published. But it’s great practice and a grand adventure that I willingly take every year.”

They are invariably encouraging.

Lauren, if she’s also present, frequently jumps into the conversation with the “Hey, I wrote for the Nano too…” (Subtext: I want some of the positive attention you’re getting.)

“Oh cool!” is the response. “What are you writing this year?”

“Oh, I’m not likely to. I did it once about six years ago.” she says. “I have a bunch of good ideas, but I don’t have the time.”

Predictably, that means the focus goes back to me shortly after, because I have Ideas and Advice and Encouragement That You Should Play This Year. Nano is my passion, and I believe everyone should play at least once — if not more than once — because everyone has that lurking story in the back of their heads, triumphs, troubles,tasks, thoughts, tribulations, trout that traversed the trawler’s tail temporarily, those things. Tall tales. Truth, too.

At the end of one of those days, Lauren asked, “How come they never acknowledge me as an author like they do you? Do I suck that badly?”

“You didn’t show them your work.” I said. “You can’t know that they won’t like it until you show them, and the people you showed all liked it.”

“You didn’t like it.” she said.

“I did. I’m sorry you don’t think I liked it because I offered constructive criticism.”

“Well, I’m not a writer anyway.” she said.

Don’t be the Lauren, ladies and gentlemen. Write because you want to. Write because you have an amazing idea that’s half-baked — and understand that it’s okay to write a story that goes awry in the first chapter, as long as you follow the prose wherever it goes.

Don’t write because you need to be loved vicariously through your writing. I’ve written some of my best work when I was miserable, because pain is a crazy good resource to write out of sometimes.

Do write because you have a world you want to share, no matter how big or how small the space is. Do write because you want to finish the story, or at least take it for a spin around the block. Or the galaxy.

You never publish what you never write.

Nobody will ever see the house that you’re afraid to invite them over to visit. And when you decorate the walls with your art, be it imitations of the Masters or kid macaroni art, when you get your furniture of gleaming chrome and exquisite silks, stuff you, personally, might never be able to afford, but your characters can?

Don’t expect everyone who visits to want to move in. It’s your house of prose. You wrote it. You made the installment payments of 50,000 words or more (or occasionally less). Maybe the back rooms aren’t done. Maybe the roof has leaks that you didn’t see. Maybe the patio door is hung upside down. But it’s your home, the home of the tale you had to build from the ground up, and you ought to be proud of it.

You can always redecorate later, but you’ve got to turn the key in the lock and drag the readers in, first.

Build your first story, and you have the beginnings of a homeworld that is uniquely yours.

Storytelling: One Size Does Not Fit All

A couple of months ago, I was on my way out to get my hair done by a friend of mine, a stylist, whose salon happened to be thirty minutes from where I live. Being a new driver, and it being my first time going out there on my own, I elected to take streets instead of the highway. I’d gone through the directions in my head constantly since the night before, quizzing myself on where to go and where to turn and where not to turn, what to look for, etc. My sister had only driven us out there once, and it was with the highway, but she had helped me figure out the route without it, and I’d tried to run myself through the paces I remembered when she drove us.

So I’m driving, and it’s getting close to the point where there’s the highway and the way I take. She said, stay left, so I stayed left, and I got myself on the highway on complete accident, for the second time in my life, and freaked out.

Okay, pause.

I’ve told this story a handful of times. Once to the stylist friend, in a humorous tone, laughing at myself and the situation after I’d gotten through it, once to my sister, halfway into hysterics and worried like hell, and a couple times to other friends, highlighting the craziness and my exasperation with what happened.

I noticed, immediately after I told my stylist about getting lost and making my way safely to her chair, that I told the story differently to her than I did to my sister. And then again when I told it to friends, and Friend. Now, to you, this is cut and dry and I’m emphasizing different points.

Each person we talk to has a different understanding and view of us. We have a relationship with them that allows us to have deeper conversations, or it stays shallow and we don’t bother them with how we were feeling. That doesn’t come as a surprise, but it’s curious to consider. Shallow relationships yield shallow conversation and the deeper yield, of course, more robust explanations.

It was just interesting to note, because I’d never noticed it before. How could I be practically crying on the phone with Angie when I’m trying to navigate my way through a mostly unknown city and then turn around in fifteen minutes and laugh my ass off with Vicki about it?

Because I have a deeper connection with one and I don’t have half the bond as I do with the other.

And then I applied it to characters. Their comfort level with the other character in question greatly dictates what they have to say about the situation or event playing out. How guarded or cavalier they are about what’s going on with them, how personal it is, and who engaged the conversation also has a huge impact on how it goes.

It seems so obvious, when you think about it, it’s just natural, but then you observe it in your own life and it makes you stop in your tracks.  What you say to people is largely based on your relationship together and the trust you have with them.

Something to chew on for the weekend, I think. Or to put to the test with a variety of different characters!

😉

-The Novice Wordsmith

Secrets, Secrets, are No Fun…

I found myself yesterday trying to figure out how much a character would say about their past. To anyone, a stranger, or to someone they were very close with. How long would it take them to spill the beans about something important and personal to them?

Privacy is another factor that relegates how much is told about the character at one point, it’s what defines what other characters around them find out, and how they find out. It shapes the story, gives it more or less conflict, and puts a more obvious time stamp on what will be revealed when, and how.

It’s as simple as comfort, but if you take into consideration that some people feel the need to talk to others about heavy topics because they have no one else to talk to them about, it adds another dimension.

The inspiration for this comes from an experience where I was asked a bunch of more personal questions that I’d talk to a trusted friend about, and, they were someone I trusted and wanted to talk to about those things. Except, there was someone behind me who I didn’t care to let know anything about my life, personal or otherwise. When she found out certain things and started asking questions, I got prickly, and felt like walling up.

I noticed it was something I had a few of my heroes do before. You earn that trust, and the ability to know that information. Some are a little more lenient, though, deeming certain information able to be heard by others, some strangers, pending phrasing and vagueness.

So I guess the question then becomes about the trust issues the critters have.

And trust goes so much farther than just conversation, it is the basis of most actions and is why we do what we do most days. It builds into love, care, and affection, it’s a reason for effort and time spent, it’s what makes us want to go out of our way for others, to help.

Stepping back away from the psych side of things… I realize that another thing to consider is what they have to had. Whether it’s because they’re afraid of ridicule, or because they’d rather keep quiet than deal with reactions, good or bad. Maybe they’re tired of saying anything about it. After spending a day getting asked about an obvious injury, it’s not hard to imagine wanting to hide it so that the questions can finally stop.

Will something happen if they let the secret loose? It’s chaos in an instant, and suddenly the story is thrown for a loop and they’re trying to do damage control. Hah! But is that what you wanted all along? To find a way to get those secrets out in the first place, because the character is too walled up to let it out themselves?

Ultimately, it’s another side of them that makes them something more dynamic than just a vessel for a story to be told. They become easier to relate to,  to sympathize and empathize with both. Filling out their secrets and feeling out their boundaries is just another part to definition and development. A rather fun one, if you ask me.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Cultural Progression Part 2: Hierarchy of Needs

( As a disclaimer: I have little to no sources cited for this, as it’s mostly my opinion and things I’ve learned in psychology and anthropology classes in the past. Other than proven things, such as the Hierarchy of Needs, none of this is scientific fact, just a stream of consciousness. )

It occurred to me the other day that it’s not just the way that we develop and evolve as a people, but also what our needs become, which seemed to stick out like a sore thumb after re-reading what I’d written.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs directly correlates to what we do as a people. The reason a majority of the civilized nations’ populations are on smartphones and glued to the internet is because of this. It’s what determines how we tackles problems, what’s more important to us, and what’s not.

This is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, displayed  in a pyramid. 

Most of the developed countries have the first and second one secured by one form or another, unless you’re being tortured or otherwise horribly mistreated. Though I realize that you could go with a less basic view and see it as a psychological safety too, which may or may not be there.

When I thought about it, people in the 11,000 BCE era and backward (and a bit forward) struggled sometimes on the bottom rung of the pyramid. Food was hunted or gathered, winters being the worse for scarce resources, they didn’t have much in the way of healing, and sometimes, more often than not, they were nomadic. Some of their most basic needs were encroached upon by the world around them and the lack of knowledge about the body and what it did or needed.

If we go up, safety was sometimes more infrequent if you consider them being kept from danger completely, but it was not so hard to achieve  for them. Hunter and gatherer people knew how to work together to make the village flourish, from what I can tell, everyone contributed and there was not a total lack of ’employment’ for whatever sense that can be put in. Again, here, the winters are the hardest because they have to live off of the land that cannot provide for them when it’s frozen.

There’s more breakdown than that, but I think you get the picture: that there are things back within the past thousands of years that humanity has been on this earth, that we lack then that we don’t now.

It was something that came to me when I was thinking about ‘normal’ or ‘expected’ behavior of certain individuals in our societies this days as opposed to one hundred or even a thousand years prior. There are things we didn’t know, whether it was how to do it, how to counter it, or how to treat it; we had so many other problems to take care of back so many years ago that we couldn’t focus as much on the frivolity. We were more concerned about the black plague back in medieval times than we were about reading or writing. Learning and education came later when we could handle our health better and knew what was going on around us.

When our scholars learned, we learned as well. And our scholars could only learn if they could live.

Not all of it is about living, though. It was also about keeping ourselves safe and secured, having some kind of work not only to provide for the community we were a part of, but to keep ourselves and our families taken care of. Sex was still mostly about reproduction, but the more we evolved, the more it became about recreation. So the notion of ‘waiting for marriage’ because it was better to have a union established with which to support children, is becoming outdated now because of what we’ve developed in medicine (birth control) and how large our population is now. There is no need to reproduce, is the growing trend, because it’s being replaced instead by a desire to have a family.

Safety, in some countries, is harder to come by than others, where the employment rate and being employed at all is dependent upon how you live. Where capitalism reigns supreme, it’s more difficult to be comfortable. Currency, as I said in the previous post, has evolved to become the trade of choice for how we acquire things. It is our support structure now where livestock and crops and goods like blankets and clothing used to be. When the Native Americans traded with the Europeans for beads and fur, it was because those things would have lasted them, and done very well to provide in a way, that they had high value.

Which reminds me that lobster was once undervalued in comparison to what we see today (HAH, I have a source for that, at least!).

Evolution and development of country and humanity. Whew.

That’s something interesting to do, finding a character that’s seen all of this and writing them through the ages. What have they seen, what kind of loss have they gone through, what has their enormously long life been like through all of these thousands of years?

I sort of let myself get lost in this topic, so apologies to anyone who doesn’t care for it, but I felt the need to share because my head exploded with ideas and thoughts. That it all seemed so obvious after I considered it. All of the religious wars and the high mortality rates and the average death being halved from what it is today, not to mention the way that technology has garnered some flack because of how attached to it we are, even if looking back shows that we’ve done what we can avoid people before.

A love of history also comes in to my writing this. So it’s my inner historian that goes wild at comparisons and the consideration of how we’ve evolved as well as our needs and what we do both for fun and for our well-being.

People who complain about “kids these days,” are more attached to the way things used to be in their day and probably more averse to change, because no matter what century or decade you were born in or live in, things will be forever changing. New things and advancements and experiments are introduced that further our ability to live and do it well.

Speaking of that, it’s been something I think of when it comes to stories that span a society or world or universe of people over a long period of time. You can’t have things be static from one point to the next if it’s over a course of 30 or 40 years, or even just 15 (in the case of one of my novels), because things are always changing. There has to be an obvious point of development. Static makes things easier for you because there may be less to remember, but it’s also difficult to gauge the way the society is progressing.

Evolution is not just physical, it’s not just the difference in gene mutations as we adapt to our world, but the adaptations we make together, in society and with communication, what fits our needs.

Another thing that I was thinking about was the surfacing of terms like ‘transgender’ and ‘pansexual,’ which were on the rise and originated in the 90s. It certainly doesn’t mean that these things didn’t exist back then, hundreds if not thousands of years ago, it just meant that there was less to identify with. The more we learn, the more knowledge we have at our hands to describe and know what we are and what happen with us, the better comfortable we can be with it, if you’re non-binary in gender and sexuality.

Or non-binary in any other way, too. As we develop and learn, the spectrum of which we can identify with grows. Does this mean that those things never existed? Likely not, it just lends to helping us feel more comfortable in our own skin, and to have more to identify with that is acceptable within our societal boundaries.

And on a whole other tangent, what is it really that defines us as being overly offended? What should or shouldn’t we be offended about? Is it the sexist jokes that plenty of people have grown up with being told to them, the gender roles thrown about to shame or humiliate, the plain “jokes” that are about racism and nazis and dead babies and what have you? Or is it smaller things like incidental mistakes and not catering to someone’s whims that really constitute being easily offended?

I could go on for days, probably, about this topic as a whole, which is incredibly broad, when I really think about it. There’s so much to take in about how this whole world works and how it’s changed over the thousands and millions of years, on a basic level and a detailed one.

Thankfully, my huge tangent does apply to writing, especially if you’re building worlds, so it’s not all for naught!

-The Novice Wordsmith

Hopeless Romantic

I have been trying for months to write this post and do it justice. Romance as a genre and a subgenre have made a huge impact on my writing, as they’ve been a big part of it since the beginning. Action was always a close second, but romance had my attention from the get go and it never let go.

Romance, and any intimacy, really, is as personal as it gets, sometimes. When it comes to love, it’s an  emotion in control of you, it has you wanting to press up against someone, brush your lips across theirs, slide your hands up their sides, pull them in close, kiss them hard and hot and not come up for air until you have to. It’s intoxicating and exciting, with a strong draw and a very good chance to write itself.

Sex itself may not be the most personal. Anyone can do it, it can be a one-night stand and a bad experience, or it can be the most invigorating thing your character’s done, but still make them feel like they’re missing something.

The first step for romance is always chemistry. How does your couple get along at first? What draws them to each other, or are they butting heads from the beginning?  The cultivation of their chemistry, from weak to strong or strong to stronger, can be just as slow or quick as you like it, something that is sometimes dictated by the pace of the novel itself.

The second step is obviously to plot out the course of the relationship. It can range from rough and rocky with triangles galore, to mostly smooth sailing with bumps to overcome. What sort of problems do they have to overcome together or separately, publicly or privately? Is one of them heavily guarded or scatterbrained?

Step three is previous partners, which can have a wild impact on the way they treat the current one. The damage done, or not done, can set the pace for the next romance just as much as the chemistry can, and it can give you more or less to work with depending on what you decide. Old partners who hurt them, psychologically, emotionally, or physically, can contribute to intense scenes, unexpected reactions, and long, quiet nights curled up together, or apart.

These elements fill out what you need, but above all else, you’ll need passion, care, the intensity I mentioned, and a fire to blaze, however tall or short it reaches.

Love, in its own, is a strong, beautiful emotion that can turn ugly or be something so deeply cherished or longed for. It creates comfort and happiness, warmth, amusement. It is a turn on a ride that you never want to end, where being held by them can be either the most satisfying or excruciating thing to endure, depending on when it happens.

Some genres/sub genres may be just as easy for you as this is for me, how natural it is, how effortless it is to write out the way to people come together and chronicle their passion, however short-lived it is, or if it lasts the rest of their lives. Their intimacy and struggles in the midst of a large conflict, those sweet moments captured in the soft language and loving glances.

I figured I’d end this with one of my favorite quotes, which comes from a book I’ve never read: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. Gorgeous as it is evocative.

Happy loving~

-The Novice Wordsmith

Long Lost

One of the biggest go-to plot twists (and tropes) has been the “long-lost” sibling, parent, friend, etc. Your writing is going well, and then you stop and you wonder about what could spice things up, and all of a sudden you’re staring at the computer screen or notebook with wide eyes and your jaw dropped open, because having someone be introduced into their life that they should have known since the beginning is such a hard throw for anyone.

Some of these are easier than others depending on where you are in your story, and what kind of holes you’ve left open. Think about it before you jump though; what feels right for the character and their life? Another thing to consider is the execution of this. How are you going to introduce it, and does it help you do something else?

As an example: does the feel of the character having a long lost sibling make up for something else in their life and development, or do you feel like you should go back and write them as the youngest/oldest/middle of a group of children instead of alone?

Of course there’s another way to go about this as well: instead of a random interjection, make the person’s absence a conscious part of the hero’s life. The long lost brother who’s been missing or cut them out of his life for so long, who turns up unannounced one day.  Or the friend thought dead who gets spotted at a crime scene. Or, neither of them show up just yet; they lurk in the outskirts of the novel until you’re ready to bring them in, or you decide you didn’t want and or need them after all.

Some plot holes may support these newly thought characters, though, the ones who jump in at you at the last second and turn the story on its head. The ones who grin at you and wave and show you something that could work rather well.

Others may not work out at all.

The Long Lost ______ is an interesting dynamic, when you look at it: you’re putting someone in front of your hero who should have been in their life all along, thus throwing them for a loop and making them come up with countless questions. Confusion. Anger. Upset. Betrayal. In some cases, embarrassment.

It’s a quick way to spice things up, but it can also change the tone of the story, so be careful how you use it. Find what degree of focus you want to give it, or not give it, and run with it. The phrase is “the more the merrier” for a reason, right? 😉

-The Novice Wordsmith

Prompt: Unleashed

Whether rational or irrational, we all get angry, but what happens when we’re pushed to our breaking points?

Put a character in this position. What does it take? Who or what finally gets them over the edge, and what happens when they go over? What kind of person are they when their controls, their calm and their understanding is thrown to the wind like the caution of their aggressor?

Consider what kind of situation they’d have to be in. Is it a combat scene, with magic or with blades, or is it a discussion that turns badly awry? Does it highlight their skill and ability, or is it an exercise in futility and failure?

Think about everything, your own experience, movies, video games, television shows, books. Nine times out of ten, when the character “unleashes,” it brings them a win. You get egged on until you can’t stand it anymore and then let loose the fury of a thousand suns. On the other hand, there is that rage and upset can blind. Suddenly, the character is just going for motions or shrieking because they can.

Another fun thing to think about is if you have characters that avoid anger and temper, instead opting to curl up and go quiet. Shutting down instead of letting loose.

Whatever extreme they go to, make it happen, see what their reaction is. After all, even the creator can be surprised by what their characters do.

-The Novice Wordsmith

En-Trope-y and Immortality

Growing up, I noticed a lot of people I wrote with had characters that were immortal, or, to be more precise, characters that they didn’t consider ever had an ending. The first couple of years of that were okay. After that, I got bored and frustrated.

When it comes to tropes, there’s very little that isn’t one. Tropes are tools, things that, at the base, have been used before, but the difference between “trope” being a bad word and an okay word, is how you use it. That, I found out quickly. I remember friends browsing tvtropes.com and other friends getting upset about being called a trope and I never really formed my own opinion of them until later.

Tropes are tools. The little girl whose father was her hero, so she decides to walk in his steps, to greatness, only to find that she needs to walk in her own to find it. The teacher who finds excitement in the company of others because he finds his work so boring. The twins who don’t let anything get between them because they’re so close. They set up the story, they give you a subject and a way to find a conflict, they show you where to go, give you something to achieve, and show you how to get it.

Immortality, one of the broader, more difficult tropes to execute (pun intended), can be sticky. Or so far that I’ve seen. Is it one character that’s immortal among the rest of a mortal world? Is the race immortal, a la the elf race in most books/games/movies? Or is everyone immortal and there’s some kind of catch about death?

After thinking about it, I wonder if it’s not just the one way that’s the only bad way to go about immortality. It is something that can be very dynamic for a character to deal with, watching loved ones die while they remain forever, or watching the world crumble and themselves stand apart from it. When it’s simply. “well nothing can kill me,” invincibility, just out of stubbornness, then it’s gone too far.

When it comes to living forever, there is more to consider than just what ends they can or cannot meet, like I said.

“John stared ahead at the pink and purple horizon. ‘It’s so beautiful, have you ever seen anything like it?’ Cathy asked. He smiled softly. ‘No,’ he lied with excellence, because in fact, he had seen the sun set like this countless times in his ageless life.”

Don’t be intimidated, as I like to say; if you’re considering a character being immortal, go for it. See what it brings you, see if you like it. That’s what matters above all, having a line and a character that you like, and that you like where it goes. You may have a dozen that live forever, if that’s what you want, but think about what kind of lives they have. Think about what’s gone on, and all the different possibilities to find ways to shape how they’ve become. Did they fight in wars, are they wealthy and well off, or do they prefer a less worldly life?

The best thing about making characters is that it’s a brand new canvas, you have something clean to paint on, to create. You get to mold and make something profound, and there’s no doubt you will.

Personally, I haven’t had an immortal character in years, but I hadn’t thought about it until now. Having the tangible ending to their lives is what makes the characters more real for me, it’s something I enjoy having, the thought that their lives are jut as fragile as mine.

Back to the tropes, some are easier to do right than others. “Right” in this case is defined by your creativity and originality: the bones can be the same, but it’s what you do with the muscle and flesh that defines the character, quite literally. Don’t ever be afraid of the word ‘trope,’ or any word, for that matter; do what you’ve got bubbling up in that wild, imaginative head of yours and don’t let anything stop you.

-The Novice Wordsmith

Guest Post: Pain and Penning it Out

Some of the best writing of my life came from when I was in a lot of pain, and I didn’t want to write.   But I had a journal then, and sometimes from great pain came great inspiration.  It’s a lot easier to describe pain when you’re in it — it’s kinda like method acting in that you understand how it feels because you’re feeling it.

Now, I’m not condoning getting smashed out drunk, or taking drugs, or causing bodily harm to yourself or someone else to experience it first hand just so you can write about it, but rather, to take advantage of any pain you’re currently in to sort it out in words.
There’s a stress reduction method called ‘journaling the problem’ — it’s effectively writing out what’s bothering you so that way you quit internalizing it.

Write with the freedom of knowledge that you can delete anything you write at the end, though to be effective, you’ll want to keep it instead, so you can see where you’ve been and how you’ve fared since then.
Art sometimes imitates life.  In that sense, you can characterize a situation in a story by giving your characters the ability to handle a similar situation — do they do better or worse?   Do they take a different path with different choices?
Then there is the aspect of physical and emotional pain, and what it does to your ability to cope.    Heroes should not be able to hop out of bed hours after being shot, and a sprained ankle doesn’t just impair running away from zombie hordes, but often prevents you from even standing on it.   It can last for days, too.
Then there are moods; high and low, angry and sad, happy and excited, confused and contrite.   Using the idea of ‘show don’t tell’ in another form, how do you describe feeling blue?
“Inherently, I didn’t give a damn what happened to her.   She was having one of her patented meltdowns, the kind that made her unpleasant to be around, because she would make these unreasonable demands on you, your time, and your efforts, and then treat you like you were the crappiest friend a girl could have.
Today wasn’t a day I could deal with that sort of crisis.   I was having one of those days where I just wanted to go back to bed, even though I wasn’t tired, and the idea of pulling the pillows up on top of me and blocking out anything but their comforting weight and semi-concealment sounded really appealing.
But that would require energy and effort, and braving the wrath of my boss, who frowned on ‘taking mental health days’ because Sally, down the hall, used that as an excuse to take a trip to Cancun.”
Realize that your mind and mood are like a place in a way; and so is your physical “state”, to turn a phrase.    The next time you get down, or really high up, don’t just visit.  Write a journal entry about the experience,  take mental pictures, that sort of thing — and start your library of experiential learning ideas that can form a ready-made reference for the next time you put your characters through a similar situation.  Treat anything you can experience outside of your  normal baseline as a possibility, even something as ordinary as working up a sweat:
Ira shambled back to his chair, letting gravity drag him back into it as he felt the blood still pounding in his ears.   He grabbed clumsily at the sports bottle full of tepid water from the water cooler and chugged it;  his face felt hot and his shirt was soaked in several places.   He peeled it away from his chest and swiped underneath with the gym towel in an attempt to get dry; it didn’t work very well, since his body just produced sweat faster than he could blot it up.
“Next time… walk.”  he told himself as sweat dripped down his nose.   “Running in this weather is a good way to get yourself in the ER.”
Good notes form the beginnings of an outline checklist item.    The written word has more power when it comes to telling a story if you do the homework to relate what it felt like to you when it happened to you, instead of just expressing a condition in a few words.   It also makes you think of alternatives to reusing tropes and trope expressions:
Before: “He labored at the giant novel through blood, sweat, and tears.”    (Me: “I’ve worked on novels.   It’s not like that at all!”)
After:  He labored at the giant novel late into the night, until his fingers were aching from all the typing, and he was having trouble focusing on the screen.   His mind kept wandering off, as if to tell him he ought to have been in bed hours ago, and he’d retyped the same typo four times in a row.
Bottom line:  Make the pain fit the deed.   Take notes on anything that you might find interesting to write about later.   You never know when you’ll be able to use it.