Archive | May 2010

my area of expertise

This summer, I’d like to write another novel.

I suppose that is silly, because the more I’ve been reading, the more I’ve been finding that for new writers, novels are not the way to go. But I like writing them, I like developing them, and I like the results.

The problem is that I tend to write male characters. Now, I’m not sure if there really is much of a difference between the mind of male characters and the mind of female characters. But just in case, I’d like to write  a novel with a female main character.

So, I got the brilliant idea recently of someone who was raised by pirates and becomes an assassin. I started developing this more yesterday until it hit me.

This is my second story with characters associating with criminals.

Now, I honestly don’t know what this means. I know that writers tend to have their own little spot in writing that they “specialize” in. But criminals for me? That is honestly the last thing I expected. I’ve never had problems with the law. I’ve never even been close to it. So why this?

To be honest, I have come in recent contact with inmates who clean the mental health hospital. While there are many people in my group who are scared of them, I more view them as just regular people. So maybe that is part of the reason this would be my specialty. Everyone is the same. Everyone eventually hurts.

And maybe not. Maybe as I become more of a nurse, it’ll change into something else. I did also get the idea of a superhero who has a psychotic break and checks himself voluntarily into an asylum. That is obviously nursing related.

And who knows about me writing this novel over the summer. I generally spend months planning one. But that does sound like fun.

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more concerning characters

Characters  are, in many ways , the backbone of stories. If you can write good characters and maintain good tension, you will probably create a very captivating story.

However, creating good characters is a challenge. I call them 3-Dimensional characters, as I’m sure many other people do. 3D characters is what every author should strive for, although unfortunately, some published authors do notattain that.

So, how do you do it? One of the easiest and possibly the most often overlooked thing is by creating a background. It’s one thing to say that you’re going to have a characters that was raised by pirates and is now an assassin. But how did she flip over? How did being raised by pirates effect her? Were the pirates nice? Has she had any non-questionable associations? How did that relationship end? These questions are what makes a character a good character.

Another way to know that we have a good character is if the character is different and you can answer questions about the character to makes sense. For example, I’m asked what would Shad (from my novel) do in this situation. He sees someone get hit by a car; they’re still alive but obviously badly injured. No one else is nearby to help. What does he do? He would rush in there and help, but he’d probably forget about things like calling an ambulance, because he is more used to be in a society where you help each other as you would want to be and you have to do it yourself if you want it done. My reaction would be more along the lines of call for help, then go see if I can do something. (I might be in nursing school, but the idea that I’m the one who has to step in soon if there is an accident scares me.)

So, to help you find thee questions and more develop your characters, I have found these links. They were made more for roleplayers but they’ll help us writers too.

365 questions for roleplayers and writers is exactly that.  I will warn you however that it is a PDF, so although you should be able to view it, it might make acrobat open suddenly. (I never liked viewing PDFs from the web until I got a preview function in safari.)

Character Questions has a few less questions, but more in categories. So if you wanted to focus on the character’s family, you can do that easily. However, I don’t particularly like the website, just to warn you.

So see what you discover about your characters now.

The Benefits of Writing Often

If you look at many of the advice and tips that older writers will newer writers about how to write better, they often say that writing often is one of the best things you can do.  But why? What good does  all of this writing have to do for anyone? Here is what I’ve learned in the past years.

The more you write, the more you want to write: This may be one of the first things that someone will notice when he/she begins writing. Part of the reason why we stop writing is because we have writer’s block, so writing more often will mean that we have to get over the writer’s block. Another reason why is because the more I write, the more I get excited about what is coming up to write, so I want to get to that goal of such-and-such a scene.

It’s just like any other type of hobby, you need to practice to do better: I think that getting plot ideas may be a gift, at least as easily as writers tend to get them. However, since I have seen what happens when I take mediocre talent in drawing and continue to improve it, it stands to reason that so long as one can get plots, they can improve enough to be a good writer, so long as they continue to practice.

You learn what works and what doesn’t, for yourself: It’s one thing to read about it in a book. It’s another thing to write it for yourself. I read once that an English teacher once said that no one could write a good story about flying pigs  or a story in second tense. He had several students attempt to do so and although some were creative, none of them really worked out well. Sometimes, just like those students, we need to see that something can’t be done before we agree that he really can’t be done (yet).

You gain more ideas: This seems totally contradictory, doesn’t it? However,  I have found it to be true. The more that I write, the more ideas come to me. So if you’re worried that if you write, you won’t have anything else to write, don’t, because it doesn’t work like that. It’s like your brain is working overtime trying to figure everything out and a few other stories, just in case.

Motivation is one thing; Actually doing it another.

I was hoping, over my break, to finish and do a computer edit of my most recent story. However… that did not happen. Why? Because everything else continued to distract me.

Take me writing this post. I got on the computer, check my stats, checked facebook, checked my school e-mail, got on to write this post and discovered a new theme. Checked out the new theme. Then got around to writing a post. Earlier today I modified a comic strip because it made so much sense with my modification.

I have found some really great things today and I like what I have found. However, finding cool things don’t result in me actually doing what I need to do, that is, editing my story.

So what am I to do? I actually found the answer in one of the wonderful little links I found this week. Turn off the internet.

What I did was I turned off my computer’s airport actually, so it thought I had no internet. That kept me from quickly switching from my word processor to facebook to check the updates or other various things.  Ideally, it should be written in a place that doesn’t have internet, so you can’t even be tempted to change the internet back on. (I actually did that. Everything went well, until I needed to check a fact and I turned back on the internet. Not a good thing.)

Unfortunately, with this new knowledge I have not had the chance to edit anything today. Maybe later.

The Proper Use of Very

As said by Mark Twain:

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.

What Do YOU Promise?

It is the author’s job to make the reader think that the story will end one way, have the story end a totally different way, and have the reader say the author’s way is better.

I don’t remember where I read this, but I think that this is the best advice ever given to me. It is a challenge–a huge challenge–but when I look back at the books that I have loved, and the books that I haven’t quite loved that much, this is usually the reason why the latter just didn’t match my expectations.

Making the reader think the story will end one way is done through two different means.

Foreshadowing: (v) to show or indicate beforehand; prefigure.

The idea behind foreshadowing is to give the reader a hint that an event might happen before it actually. It doesn’t have to be direct. Actually, I think that it is always better being subtle, but that takes practice. Just know that giving away hints of the ending isn’t always a bad thing to do.

Connect the dots:

If you thought foreshadowing was hard, this is even harder. The goal is that all of your foreshadowings, and all of your fake-outs of foreshadowing, have a reason behind them. Bob might threaten Steve, and this might look really good when Bob is the bad guy, but it turns out Bob is merely protecting his sister, and not actually going to kill him because he’s a sociopath.

So why do you need any of this?

Some of it goes back to the idea of tension in a story. Tension is the idea of having people ask, “What now?” With foreshadowing, you encourage the asking of the questions, while providing very little answers. All of this makes for captivating writing.

dream, sweet, dangerous dreams

So here is an interesting  question. What does the use of dreams play in ones story? What should it play? Should it play any?

I was once working on a chain story. (For those who don’t know what a chain story is, it’s where a bunch of people take turns writing sections of a story.) Someone started a dream sequence that merged into several people’s dream sequence and I was stuck with the challenge of unraveling it all. (This was before I had any confidence in writing.) Then, the person in charge of the chain story declared that there was to be no more dreams, as least for the time.

I think partly because of that experience I have shied away from dreams. I’ve also probably avoided having dreams in my own writing, I think because they appear too magical.

That all being said, here are a few of my opinions about dreams in an easier to read format.

1) Understand that dreams aren’t like real life. In real life, I can talk about myself getting up, brushing my hair, grabbing my things for the shower, going downstairs, ect. Real life is linear. Dreams are not. Dreams jump around and even when we are telling someone about our dreams, we often use words like, “Somehow we ended up at WalMart,” and, “Somehow we got there.” Or, “For some reason I was driving a car.”

2) We don’t usually question our actions in dreams. Now, I have had dreams where I’m kinda awake, kinda asleep and decided, No, I’m not going to dream about that. Or I want to do that. But in really deep sleep, we usually just take it for granted that we’re driving a car, when we’ve never driven before in our life. It’s only after the dream that we say things like, “I was driving, but I’m not sure why.”

3) Dreams can be used to foreshadow. This is probably the most common type of dream, especially in fantasy stories, where we have some wise person appearing and telling the main character to not go to such and such, that of course, he goes to anyway.

4) Dreams can also be used to tell some of the character’s true personality. This is, in some ways, a reference back to chapter 3. Take, for example, our character, Jane. jane keeps having nightmares about killing people (proving that she can actual kill someone)  and then at the end of the story, she has to kill someone for whatever reason (hopefully a good one), although she has been telling herself the whole time that she will not.

5) Dreams should be done infrequently. Unless, of course, that is the basis of your whole story. But general advice is to avoid having the character have dreams constantly for whatever reason.

6) Readers don’t like dreams. Dreams, and flashbacks, interrupt the flow of the story forwards and brings it to a screeching halt. This is part of the reason behind number 5.

7) Dreams do have characters doing things they can’t normally do. For example, I’ve had dreams about me driving (I can’t drive.), about me fighting someone in my bedroom (Never did.) And about me fighting aliens. (Never going to happen.) And sometimes, we do things that we wouldn’t normally want to do in real life either.

So, any one else have thoughts about dreams in fiction? What are some of the best dream sequences you’ve read?

Question of the Week, 5/16

I know. I’m actually writing this a little on the late side of Sunday. But I’m now on what is called mid-spring break, the week break between spring break (in March) and summer break (for me, in July). So we might actually get some awesome posts this next week.  (I have a few titles in mind that may prove interesting.)

Before getting to the question, I’m going to do a slight modification to the question of the week that I’ve been toying with for a few days. I’m just going to keep the question here and not worry about any summarization and the like. Reason being is two fold. For one, I’m not really get any responses (yet) and for two, I get so many google hits from different and random searches that this way, people who find these posts in say, October, can still get their two cents in.

That all being said, here is this week’s question of the week:

Do you want to be published and if so, why?

Not really related to writing but close enough. (And, if you care, fame and fortune, if your honest answer, is a fair one. :) )

suffocating under all that info

Now, for some writers, this is a basic topic, and for others, this is something difficult to understand, and even more difficult to avoid.

We take all of our time working very carefully, building backgrounds of characters, histories of various places and objects, and general mannerisms people use in our current novel. Then, of course, we want to share all of our brilliant information.

What do we do? We decide to write it in. In general, writers put this information in the beginning of their story.

Now, most any writer who has read much of anything writing or studied it in school understands the concept of having a captivating beginning. So, what sometimes happens is we have a story like this:

Martie ran down the alley, dodging mud holes and rotting garbage alike. Her heart beat so strongly in her chest that it felt like she might die. She gasped for air in strangled gasps, barely able to get enough.  In her hand, she still carried the gun, clutching it like a lifeline. Something in the back of her mind told her that if anyone saw her, with the gun in her hand and the blood on her shirt, they would immediately call the police, but she could not seem to get rid of either. Instead, she ran, just like she always did.

Or maybe she hadn’t always run. As a child, she lived in the exact same apartment in the exact same area of town. She always went to the exact same school until she graduated one and could move up to the next. Even in college, she never jumped around from one to the next, or even one degree to the next, always sticking with what she had decided upon when she first began. It never seemed right to change.

She never was interested in running while in higshchool, opting for the more passive hobbies of drawing. Her dormroom was full of boxes upon boxes of sketchbooks full of everything she had scribbled down to pass the time. Many of them were good, some worth selling.  A few she had sold.

But all this came to an end five months ago….

Five pages later, we finally get back to Martie running through the alleys, losing the reader on page three, if we are lucky.

This, my friend, is called an infodump by most people. It may occur in any part of the book, at any period, describing anything. The biggest problem with them is that they are generally long, boring, and usually not needed.

Wait! What am I to do if I can’t do this? How am I suppose to tell my reader anything about the beautiful world I created?

It’s called bite-sized pieces. One little bite-sized piece at a time.

First of all, you need to learn to recognize what an info dump is. They do generally appear at the beginning of the story, so that is usually a good place to look.  This is very, very, very hard to do. I thought that this one novel I wrote had no real obvious info dump. When I let some other people read it, they suddenly said that, “Um, BTW, this part where you explain about how good of a pilot Shad is, that’s an infodump.” i honestly had no clue.

Secondly, you need to learn to evaluate logically if you need that infodump at that exact moment. Really, on page 1 with the above example, do I really need to go into the whole history of Martie’s life, hobbies, ect? Obviously, no. Do I really need to go into a whole history of Shad being main pilot by seventeen, when most people don’t even get their license until 23 or so on page 3? No.

The secret then is to share what you know in small snatches of information. This is sometimes difficult, sometimes easy. I tend to stick some of it in dialogue, but you don’t want to have Bob tell Mary what Bob and Mary have been going through for the last five months. Instead, you can have Bob run into one of his buddies from highschool and the buddy asks him how he’s doing and Bob can then explain everything, without it being obvious. (However, if this buddy does not play a role in the story, you don’t want to do that. Keep in mind that every scene needs a purpose.

I also might slip a sentence or two here or there, just to explain an action.

In general, I tend to stay with one thought when sharing information. And one tiny thought at that. It might be as large as three paragraphs but if it’ll be much longer than a page, maybe you should avoid doing that whole thing in one sitting.

Two things to keep in mind about the reader. One is that, although the reader might like your book, if he/she finds an infodump, there is a 50/50 change he/she will merely skip over it to the more interesting parts.

Another thing to keep in mind is that,  you might not realize that the reader doesn’t know everything that you know. If you remove the infodump, the important information still has to be communicated to the reader, or else, you’ll leave the reader confused and frustrated. (I felt so confused when reading one book.) Keep this in mind.  In Shad, I have a lot of abbrivations because the sweepers would talk like that. I still need to be able to tell the reader what SSD is and what SCL is, ZT, SRIS, FSR, ect, without listing them all off. This is challenging.

However, if you do manage to complete it to that point, then you might actually have a pretty decent story.

our dreams are our stories

Why do we read/write/watch stories? Why do we need thousands of them and always new ones?

It’s not just escape and fun. It’s also survival of the species.

Each of us has the potential for thousands of different personalities/lives. Some are stronger than others, but all are capable of growing and becoming dominant.

When a group of people faces a crisis together, the individuals by nature (like water finding its own level) take on roles (like “leader”) that are necessary for survival — with previously hidden potential coming to the fore.

In reading and writing storise, we exercise these potential lives within us, and vicariously acquire experience, which could, under unexpected crisis situations, prove important for the survival of the group or the species.

That’s also why it’s important to preserve and read thousands of old previously out-of-print and forgotten books.

That is from an e-mail from Blogging about Books and I find it particularly true for myself. I live a normal life in South Dakota, going to college, and living at home. I don’t really have any adventure.

But with my stories, I can enter in any world I can create. I can do things that not only do I not have the money for, nor do we have the technology for, but that I cannot physical do here.

The other reason why I write is because I can create worlds. Yes, we have a pretty nice world here. But what if we changed something?

Writing is us experiancing the world in ways that we (hopefully) never will have to and it is us taking on personalities, hidden behind names and other occupations, that we wish we had, or that we wish we could overcome.

So maybe, instead of telling new writers to write what you love, maybe we should tell writers to write what they want to do. Write themselves. That’s what I did after all.