Tag Archives: setting

Diversity

I like to think I have a wide variety of characters. I have military personnel, a woman who has a psychosis, a guarded air force pilot who’s strong willed and hard up front, a politician, a struggling artist, aliens who come from a different world into another to try and make their lives in a less hostile place, space faring dinosaurs that want nothing but to gnaw on all the mammals in the universe, though some of them are more peacekeepers than warlords.

Last year, I found out my dentist actually writes novels, and crazy, wild, awesome ones. Erotica, body farming, time travel. It was incredible to me to find this out, someone I’d been going to for years and I just found this out.

It made me stop to look back at myself, what I was doing, how I was doing it. It made me see the space opera I was writing and wonder how it compared, see how tame or crazy it was.

What I didn’t do was look at the dynamic, and look at the details and pieces that haven’t been done much or at all. The childless 42 year old female leader who wanted to forge ahead in her career first. The elderly couple who still enjoys having sex. The equality that is so marked in every chapter. The naval officer who is filled with a sense of dread every time he thinks of his child wanting to sign up for the military like he did. Things you just don’t hear about. Sex drives and fear in places where honor should be and courage in people you wouldn’t expect, and the hardened, all-or-nothing attitudes from women.

I’m not saying no one else has done it. I didn’t get the idea because of my own pure genius, but because I was affected by something similar.

But looking at that, I see that I have another list. People and topics and character dynamics and details to fit in that I haven’t done before. Transgender characters don’t come to me immediately for the same reason mothers and fathers don’t unless they’re for established characters. I’m not one. It’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just that it isn’t in my arsenal of what I know yet, but that’s easy to fix by at least making an effort to make one or several.

I still need to write a same-sex romance with men, I’ve done several with women. I need a transgender character, I need mothers, fathers, I need aunts and uncles and close knit, bigger families, I need aromantic people, I need genderless people, I need color and I need spice, I need more, to really push myself, to test my limits.

And looking at this post right now, it looks a lot like I’m saying, “I NEED to do all these things for equality in every way!” But the nature of the writer is to dig in deep on unknown territory and just go. If I don’t give myself that chance, I have an unexplored avenue that I might actually know how to do some justice, like the short story I wrote about a polyamorous triad starting a family. It had quirks and bits and pieces that made it more unique.

Tropes are tropes are tropes. They aren’t ever going to be something else, but ‘trope’ isn’t a bad word if you give it your own personal spin, if you know how to cover it in your own spice and put it out on your stage and tell it exactly what to do.

What really matters is letting yourself explore, because keeping yourself in a box isn’t challenging yourself, it’s not forcing you to think critically and research and reach out and wonder, and I think that’s what I love.

You will always have something, a character, a genre, a setting, that you’re strongest with, that is your best bet to do the best justice possible, but let yourself learn, too. Familiar is only so good to you for so long before it tends to get a little worn. When there’s a whole wide world of knowledge and creativity and color out there, choose not to stand in place.

The Novice Wordsmith

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Guest Post: Your Music Versus Their Music

Let’s face it. You have musical tastes. Whether it was the music you grew up with, or the music that spoke to you, or the music that someone gave you on a mix tape, or the soundtrack to one of your favorite movies, we are a species and a culture that loves their tunes — and someone else’s tunes are at times ‘noise-that-you-don’t-like’.

Stop for a moment and think about what music lives on your iPod, WinAmp, or on your playlist for Pandora — or, if you’re not part of the iThingy generation, your CD collection, or (if you go that far back) vinyl and cassettes.

You’ll see that your music defines you, more often than not. Listening to a song can take you back to who you were and what you were doing when you listened to the song — maybe it’s about someone you dated, or classes, or maybe it was played at your graduation — perhaps by you on an instrument of your choice. Maybe it was the in-thing when you were growing up.

I trust you see where I’m going with this.

Your characters ought to have their own musical tastes. Maybe it’s the same as yours. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s an anthem for who they are as a person — and maybe the secret to their character is hidden in the lyrics.

Have you ever listened to a song’s lyrics and said, ‘this reminds me of a friend?’ And yet when you played it for them, they said, “I don’t get it?”

Realize that they aren’t wrong, and neither are you. What it is is that you, as the author-attributor (yes, I know that’s not a word), are seeing the person with your own filter that happens to be a song. And so your perception lends itself to music.

When you’re the author, though, you will almost always match the perfect song to your character, because they can’t help but agree with you — unless you have characters that defy initial definitions and ideas and strike off on their own – to with, marching to the beat of their own plotline.

One of the things that I gave the Novice Wordsmith as a challenge, more than once, was to say, “Take this song that I’m giving you. Look up the lyrics, listen to the song, and then apply it to a character of yours. Figure out what sort of situation they would be in for these lyrics to make sense. Go.”

I, personally, am somewhat musically driven; I’ve written whole short stories and parts of chapters while being inspired by music. It didn’t even have to have lyrics – sometimes it’s just a feeling. After all, how often does listening to the instrumental soundtrack to a movie conjure up memories of the movie itself in your head?

(And just to prove the point: “Everything is awesommmmme!” o/~)

You should try it. It’s a different way of seeing the words and getting some inspiration. Instead of having ‘writing music’ in the background to help set the mood for you, why not have the music take a more active part of the writing by choosing the song directly?

A bit of trivia here: My very first NaNoWriMo started out exactly this way. Lacking inspiration, I turned on the radio, and started writing using the first song that came on — Sting’s “If I Built This Fortress (Around Your Heart).” Suddenly I had a mental flash of a guy driving down the highway doing 75 in a convertible, and a character snapped into focus. I let the lyrics and that mental image drive the introduction, and decided that I’d take that journey with that character — wherever it went.

You can go either way with this, really: have the song write the character, or have the character pick the song that goes with them. It really is as easy as the character turning on the radio — and then deciding whether to hit Skip/Shuffle or listen and live.

Let me know how it goes for you, and whether you tuned in or tuned out.

Guest Post: Start Big or Start Small, But Where it is Becomes Your Call

(Meant for yesterday.)

Morning folks.  Whether you have 0 words or 500, if you’ve hit your first roadblock, or the wordcount just isn’t coming as fast as you’d like, it’s time to look at what you’ve got and seeing if you blew through the easy words in your rush to get rolling.

That first hour of writing on a blank canvas can be deceptive; you put down the first stuff that comes into your head and burn through your Big Idea, Premise, and Opening Lines pretty quick.  But once the initial framework is on the page, the inevitable ‘Now What?’ comes into play.

If you’re feeling a little uncertain where to go from here, there are two paths you can take today: (insert Phil Keoghan of The Amazing Race impression here): Stall, or Start Walking.

  • In Stall, you look back at what you’ve already written yesterday and add some details.   Add colors, sounds, smells, extra features, musings, impressions, extra dialogue to give your first characters in their first scene some more depth of focus.    For example, this year I started off with a brief sketch of a crime scene, and then pulled back a little to tease at the timeframe — the distant future.   I originally described the devastation of an explosion as simply ‘lots of bodies’, but when I doubled back, I added in damage to the building, the parking lot, and then described the era in more detail.    I actually described the main character as something more than a gender and ethnic background, and gave the secondary character some more lines so that he wasn’t introduced just to walk off and get coffee for my detective.
  • In Start Walking, you want to think ahead to what’s on the horizon,or, to wit, ‘where is your next scene going to take place?’    This is not a one man, one room play you’re writing here, odds on.   Whether you’re writing a Hero’s Journey or an Everyman/Everywoman slice of life tale, or a Superhero(ine) Saving the City, they’re not likely to be in the place they were when you wrote on Day 1.   Ask yourself, ‘where do I need to get the main character next?’   And start writing towards that direction.  Do they need to make any special preparations?  (An odd reverse example is Mr. Rogers, who fascinated me as a child by having the odd ritual of changing his shoes while talking to the audience after he came into the house.)    Do they tell anyone where they’re going?   Will any of the scene 1 characters be coming along, and are they opposed to doing so?

The point is that right now, today, Day 2, you are building potential. Potential energy, potential wordcount, and potential motion, along, of course, with potential plot.   Being able to lay tracks ahead of you or buy time to figure out where you want to be is still wordcount; the goal here is to breathe life into your novel by giving it enough detail and brea(d)th so that you want to keep writing in this space.

Eventually we’ll be setting things on fire (not necessarily literally) and maybe blowing stuff up, but it doesn’t have to be today.   Days 1 and 2 for me are usually reserved for either detailed worldbuilding, or meeting the main character, or setting up the stage where the main character will walk into any moment.    Or any combination of the three.

Hope this helps, and feel free to suggest a topic for a future guest post….