Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Time to Wake Up

I had a dream today that I knocked on my door. The me I should be answered. The one who writes every day. The one who exercises every day. The one who lives in the house of mine that is organized the way I want it to be. I felt sad and out of sorts. I told her that she should wake up and leave me in the dream since she knows how to actually live my life. She just smiled and shook her head, "It is you who needs to wake up." And so I did. 

 I can't stop thinking about it. It -is- time I woke up.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

November 2013 Ramble: What Traveling Has Taught Me About Writing

This month in the Writer’s Ramble we discuss Outlining vs Discovery writing, Plotting vs Pantsing, Architects vs Gardeners.  However you are used to classifying these two creation styles they boil down to the same two categories.  Do you like to plan out your novels and short stories or do you prefer to let your stories tell themselves?

At heart, I am a pantser – I like to sit down, start typing and see what comes out – even the way I travel could be considered pantsing.  I’ve gone on trips with my family as well as with my old job as a travel agent where I would wander off, discovering what the cities had to offer; wherever my feet took me.  I had so many adventures that were not in the tour books, it almost seems unreal.  I collected so many wild stories, it became a joke in our family. "Well of COURSE that would happen to Heidi..."

Much of the writing I’ve done has come about the same way.  I let my fingers wander and end up running into characters and situations I’d never dreamed of, but which ended up being just what the story needed.  A discovery writer, a pantser, is a more organic writer.  You kind of sit back, let things grow as they will and if it turns into something useable? Great!

However, as my traveling habits have evolved, I’ve come to appreciate having a basic plan.  I found I could see more of a place and not miss out on things that I know I enjoy by doing a little research and having a game plan in place before I arrive in a new city.  Outlining, plotting, planning – these are all new things to me in my writing life as well. 

This month for NaNoWriMo I decided to try my hand at plotting.  Okay, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a conscious decision.  My sister was brainstorming with me about a series of books I’d gotten an idea for.  At the end of the session, we had two of the ten books pretty well plotted with rough ideas about the other eight.  I’d never done that before.

It feels good to know where I’m going with this story, and that there are nine other stories waiting to be told once this one is done.  I’d gotten familiar with the characters before I started writing them.  Just as researching a city made me feel more like I was coming home than venturing out into a unfamiliar and foreign place, so has plotting out this series made these characters feel more like family than strangers I need to get to know.

As a writer I’ve come to the realization that to be my best I need to be both a plotter and a pantser, depending on what the situation calls for.  I still leave myself time in my travels to do some wandering.  I leave myself open to adventure.  If my characters want to take a left when I want them to take a right, I’ll go along with it.  You never know where a wrong turn will take you – until you make it.

(I’ll let you in on a little secret.  This blog post was completely by the seat of my pants.  I hadn’t thought about the correlation between my thoughts on travel and my thoughts on writing – until I wrote it out.  My advice is to be focused, have goals and an end game in mind, but keep yourself open to the adventures of the unknown. It’s a wild ride, enjoy it!)

What are your thoughts about these two different approaches to writing? Leave a comment with what works best for you!

Nanu Nanu

Monday, September 30, 2013

September 2013 Ramble: The Hero's Journey Part 1

Over the next few months in our Writers’ Ramble we will be discussing and dissecting a story structure developed by Joseph Campbell in his “The Hero with a Thousand Faces”. You may be more familiar with it termed as “The Hero’s Journey”. Campbell determined there were 17 stages of this journey and broke them into three main sections: Departure, Initiation and Return.

This month we will be discussing the five elements of the Departure phase. I will be covering Refusal of the Call. Check out our main blog for my group’s take on the other stages.

Refusal of the Call

"Refusal of the summons converts the adventure into its negative. Walled in boredom, hard work, or 'culture,' the subject loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved. His flowering world becomes a wasteland of dry stones and his life feels meaningless - even though, like King Minos, he may through titanic effort succeed in building an empire or renown. Whatever house he builds, it will be a house of death: a labyrinth of cyclopean walls to hide from him his minotaur. All he can do is create new problems for himself and await the gradual approach of his disintegration." (Campbell p. 59)
In a story that follows the Hero’s Journey, it is common to be presented with a situation that calls for a specific Hero. This is generally a world or a people in peril or conflict. Events unfold that make the Hero aware of the conflict via The Call to Adventure. How the Hero responds to the Call sets the tone of the story. It is quite common for a Hero to initially Refuse the Call; this builds tension and shows the Hero to be relatable and human.

There are many reasons a Hero would Refuse the Call:

  • Luke Skywalker refuses to go to Alderaan with Obi-wan because he has chores to do and a responsibility to his aunt and uncle and their farm. 
  • Sherlock Holmes will refuse a case until some bit of evidence presents itself as a sufficiently intriguing puzzle worthy of his great intellect. 
  • In the Matrix, Neo refuses the Call numerous times because of his initial disbelief in the Matrix as a whole and later in himself as a Hero. 
  • Fear of the unknown and a fear of what they would be giving up by leaving home are also common reasons for refusing .

When a Hero Refuses the Call, three paths open up, though they share the same road for awhile:  First, they can struggle for a time, but eventually something (usually very personal and tragic) will happen that outweighs their objections and they finally Accept the Call and the Adventure begins! Luke Skywalker’s home and family were burned to a crisp.  “There’s nothing left for me here.” Let’s go save a Princess!

Second, the Call follows them everywhere they go, as Calls are wont to do, but the Hero keeps slipping the noose.  Eventually, the Call stops playing the nice guy and the Hero is caught in a trap.  Take Jonah and the Whale.  There are some Calls to which there is no escape.

Third, because they have been chosen by the powers that be for the specific task, their life will be plagued by misadventures until they give in (as was shown in paths 1 and 2) but by continuing to Refuse they will be forced out of the role of Hero and into the role of Damsel in Distress or Villain.  They will either need to be rescued by a Hero who Accepted the Call or become the Villain in another Hero’s story.

There are times when a story works best with a Hero who jumps at the Call, but generally it is more interesting and satisfying for a reader to have a Hero who is reluctant, shows fear and weaknesses and who at times has to be beaten over the head with the Call before they accept it.  Of course, you can go too far with this, but the payoff a reader gets once the Hero overcomes their resistance to the Call is usually in direct proportion to the amount of fight the Hero put up initially.

There is a variation to the Refusal of the Call that some call Can’t Stay Normalwhere an old Hero has forgotten or given up their powers, deliberately or otherwise. They get tired of their life of adventure and just want something Normal. Eventually they get it, but once they have a normal life they either miss their Adventure and want it back or they are enjoying their normal life, but the Call will not leave them alone. They have a destiny to fulfill, dangit! The world needs saving again!

If you are writing a story that follows the Hero’s Journey, does your Hero Refuse the Call?  I’d love to hear how, leave me a comment!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

June 2013 Ramble: Where Do Characters Come From, Mommy?

My writing group’s topic this month is “How do you create your characters?” As with most of our topics, our answers will be different. I decided to go through a few of my projects and jot down how I ended up with the characters I have and see if I could find a pattern ;) And what do you know, I did!

Love in all Directions – I thought it would be fun to have a regency quartet with four brothers who go by North, South, East and West. So I came up with names that would shorten to those nicknames and then I started seeing their faces and feeling their personalities. Then they told me about their parents and their childhood traipsing around the known world. Each born in an area corresponding with their directional names. Things took off from there.

Seven Spires – I had some names that I wanted to use and an idea of a world. Once I got the world more concrete in my mind I saw where the different characters fit into it. I started by filling out a character sheet and writing a prologue for each of the seven main characters and a couple pre-prologues of their ancestors. As I wrote they became clearer and told me more about themselves.

Fork in the Road – I had an idea of an inventor and his creation rattling around in my head for a long time, but it wasn’t until NaNoWriMo that I actually fleshed him out. Again, I just kept my fingers typing and he came to life – along with his rival and love interest.

Perfect World – I had a basic plot idea that mulled itself around my mind until Dave Farland’s Writer's Death Camp last November. I talked with him about it and that conversation shaped the overall story/theme enough that I felt excited to sit down and write it. As I went more details filled themselves in.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that I’m a discovery writer. I start out with a name; a picture/piece of artwork; a concept or idea of a world and then sit down and let my fingers do the discovering. I have found more often than I can count that I’ll write something a character does or says and think to myself in passing “Hmm… wonder why they did that?” only to discover a few days or weeks later “Ohh! That’s why!”

When I was younger I would think about my characters a lot more before trying to write them. Too much, in my opinion. I’d obsess about their hair, their clothes, their mannerisms and never get around to actually writing about them doing anything. Once I decided to just write and see where it took me, I got a lot farther and I still discovered their hair style, clothing preferences and their mannerisms.

This will not be the way for everyone. Some people are not discovery writers in any sense of the word and so my way of doing things will seem crazy and inefficient to them. And that’s okay. You just need to figure out how –your- process works and work it!

I’d love to hear about how your little darlings are brought into your worlds. Leave me a comment below! Until next time, dear reader. Nanu Nanu.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May 2013 Ramble: What Inspires You?

This month my writing group’s blog discussion is about Muses and Inspiration. Where do ideas come from? The answer will be different for everyone. It’s important to keep yourself open and always searching; there’s an idea hiding in every nook and cranny of this world. They are just waiting for the right person to find them and bring them to life.

Now, let’s get personal… Well, allow me to get personal. I have found that inspiration will hit me over the head without warning in the strangest places and so I make sure to always have with me a way of recording these assaults. The program I have found most useful is Evernote. I’m not going to go into a sales pitch, but I do recommend checking it out. It’s an app that syncs between your phone and computer and you can make notes via text, email, voice recording or your camera. I’m not letting any idea get away from me!

I remember driving home from work right after I’d moved to Portland, OR. I wasn’t familiar with my new city yet and got lost. As I was at a stoplight, looking around for something that would tell me where I was and where I should go, I caught sight of an exchange that I wish I had had a video camera with me to record. A man was stretching his legs while his car was being filled (you can’t pump your own gas in OR – I felt like a queen when I would go to get gas :) ) and a woman was walking down the street.

He watched her approach with an expression of awe, but lowered his eyes when she turned in his direction. She looked at him with interest and a small smile, but turned her head away when he looked up. This exchange carried on for the entire time it took her to walk past him. They took turns watching each other, but looked away before the other could see they were being studied. I was across the street, but I could almost see little strings tethering them to each other. Even after she’d passed she kept turning back to look at him and he watched her until she was out of sight. He shook his head ruefully and got into his car. I wanted to scream at them, their whole relationship flashed in front of me and I couldn’t believe they’d just let it slip by.

So many different ideas exploded in my head during the exchange, even now, 12 years later, I remember it clearly. The ideas born on that day are still with me, getting mighty impatient to be used, but they haven’t abandoned me. Before the light turned green, I scribbled it all down in a notebook I had with me.

Recently, I was driving to my current job, not lost this time, watching the sun disappear behind the mountains. The way the sun’s rays got caught in the hazy clouds hanging around the top of the mountains made me think of a person’s fingers reaching up under a sheet, making peaks and valleys. I made a little Evernote and later that night wrote a scene for one of the projects I’m working on.

What inspires me? Everything. What speaks to me? This world and all its possibilities. What inspires you? I’d love to hear; leave me a comment! :)

Monday, April 01, 2013

April Ramble: Which Point of View is Right For Me?

One of the first things you need to decide when starting a writing project is what Point of View (POV) you are going to use to tell your story. There are reasons for choosing each one and there are benefits and drawbacks to each as well. Let’s start with a brief over view of your choices. There are three basic perspectives to choose from: 1st Person, 2nd Person and 3rd Person.

1st Person – This is the most intimate POV as it tells the story from inside the head of your character with the use of I/me/my/mine in their speech. You can weave a tight, confined – even claustrophobic – tale with this perspective. This can be a benefit or a detriment, depending on how you use it and what goal you have for your story. (This year I have undertaken my first 1st person project and so far I love it.)

Your reader will get to know your character very well, their thoughts and feelings, their understanding of the world and the situations they are in. You need to keep in mind exactly what your POV character would know and not include anything that they would not (this applies to all perspectives). This can sometimes land writers in a bit of a pickle if they need to convey a bit of information that their POV character would not know. There are different ways of dealing with this and it can become a ‘make or break’ point for a writer. Use your imagination and creativity, but please avoid employing deus ex machina. :-D (That is a topic for another blog.)

The Rashomon Effect is something I’ve recently learned about and has become something I would like to try – either as a writing exercise or a final project. Basically, it is multiple first person accounts of one event by various people who were involved in or witnessed the event. It underlines how people’s perspectives color everything they see and how unreliable eye witnesses can be. I think it would be a fun way to both get to know your characters and to tell a story, however.

2nd Person – Involves the use of you/your/you’re/etc. Where you will see this POV used most often is in blogs, textbooks/instruction manuals and Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books. It is possible to write a story in 2nd person, but it would be extremely difficult. My knee-jerk reaction to being told what to do leads me to believe I would not be a fan of a book told in 2nd person. I loved the CYOA books because I made the decisions that brought me to different parts of the book, but a book that was constantly telling me what I was doing and thinking without any input from me would not be a book I would stick with for very long. I think that would be a common reaction and the reason only certain types of avenues use 2nd person.

3rd Person – Probably the most common POV used. The terminology used with this POV involves he/his/she/hers/it/its/they/them/theirs/etc. It is separated further by two subcategories: limited and omniscient.

Limited - This is the perspective that most people use and most are familiar with. It follows one character at a time, telling the story from their perspective – much like 1st person, but taking a step back from the I/me/my’s. You still need to keep in mind what this person would and wouldn’t know and show things through their specific tinted glasses. You are limited in the information and experiences you can convey by the character you choose to use.

There are ways to work around the limits of Limited. One example is in the Harry Potter series, which is told almost exclusively from Harry’s POV. Rowling created the invisibility cloak and the pensieve to be able to give the readers information that Harry would not have had otherwise.

George R. R. Martin and Rick Riordan (to name two examples) use 3rd person limited, but switch the POV character between chapters. This is limited because readers still only experience the story through one character’s perspective at a time. This helps convey more information and tell more of the story than you would be able to if you stick with one character.

Omnicient - These stories are told from an all-knowing view point. Readers are able to know everything that is going on with all the characters in a story. There are different ways to go about this, but the most common is to have a narrative voice (re)telling the story. They know everything and so readers get to know everything.

Whichever perspective you choose, make sure it is the best fit for the type of story you want to tell and that you follow the rules that go along with the particular POV. If you aren’t sure, try writing scenes from different characters perspectives and different POVs. It won’t take you long to discover which feels right to you.

Do you have a favorite POV? Do any of them frighten/intimidate you? Tell me about it in the comments section :)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

March 2013 Ramble: Writing Teasers

A couple of weeks ago I attended LTUE (Life, The Universe and Everything), a speculative writing symposium. The difference between a conference and a symposium was a little confusing to me, but since they stressed the word symposium, I wanted to get a better idea of what it was that I was actually attending. After looking on various websites and comparing definitions, I have come away with the idea that symposiums have a more narrowed field of discussion. LTUE is not just a writing conference, but a symposium on speculative (sci-fi, fantasy, horror, paranormal, etc) writing. Comic-Con and Dragon*Con are conferences where a wide (and ever widening) scope of topics are discussed and presented. With that bit of business out of the way, let’s get on with the narrow topic of discussion for this blog post: writing teasers.

Howard Tayler, the author/illustrator of Shlock Mercenaries presented this topic. For those of you who don’t know Howard, you are missing out. He is a very knowledgeable, talented, – very funny – man. Here are some of the main points that I gleaned from him, in between the laughter.

Know your audience! – This is important in every aspect of writing and writing teasers is no different. You have to know who you are writing to in order to know how to make it entertaining and irresistible.

 • Pick the most interesting part/character near the beginning and start there. – If you don’t get to what you promised in the teaser within a reasonable amount of time you run the risk of the reader saying, “Hey! I wanted to read about X… where is it?! Dumb book, grrrr! *wallthrow*”

 • Don’t give away any major plot twists or reveals, give them just enough to whet their appetite for your book. – Let them know what kind of book they are holding. The theme/voice of your teaser should match your book. (Promise fulfillment was a theme that ran through many panels.)

 • Ask yourself why someone should read your book. What comes to mind first is a good place to start.

 Writing teasers and writing books takes different skills sets. – Some authors are great at writing teasers and some are not. It is a skill that needs to be honed along with the rest of your craft. As with all writing – practice, practice, practice!

 • There are certain things that you as an author cannot say about yourself or your work. – “This is the best epic fantasy since Lord of the Rings!” and “Mary Sue is the next J.K. Rowling!” are good examples of things you can’t say about yourself. If someone else says them, rock on, but no statements of quality like this can come from you.

Howard took a volunteer from the audience and for the rest of the discussion we worked on writing their teaser. It was extremely informative and I feel better prepared for when the time comes for me to write a teaser.

 Stay tuned for more posts containing raindrops of wisdom as I relay what I learned from the other panels I attended.

 Nanu Nanu

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

February 2013 Ramble: Writing Groups

I have been fiddling around with being a writer for at least two decades, but I’ve only gotten serious about it the past year or so. Part of my process of “getting serious” included looking for a group of strangers who I could share my writing with who would give me honest, constructive feedback. My family and friends are great support, and I’m not saying that they think everything I write is gold, but I wasn’t sure I could trust their opinions because they know and love me (so I thought if they liked what I wrote it would be mostly because they liked me).

I was also looking for something I could be accountable to. A writing group only works if people are submitting their writing, so to stay active in a group I would also have to stay active in writing. The third reason I’d decided on finding a writing group was to improve my critiquing skills (which were pretty non-existent a year ago). I wanted to be able to read more critically, not to point and laugh at typos or author errors, but to understand what makes a good story better and how it can go wrong.

So, there are my reasons: accountability/motivation and a desire for unbiased critiques. I suppose it’s a sad state of affairs when I feel I can trust a bunch of strangers over my loved ones, but I think we can all understand that feeling. The members of my writing group did not stay strangers for long, but the trust I have in my group members hasn’t changed. I’ve gained valued conspirators, a better understanding of story structure and a sense of forward momentum.

Now, on to a few tips you should keep in mind when debating joining a writing group. First, figure out your reasons for wanting a group. Each writers group will have different dynamics and structures and you need to find the one that works the best for you. This is not the one where you necessarily feel the most comfortable and the best about yourself. It is also not going to be the one that makes you seriously consider suicide after each meeting. I would suggest somewhere in the middle where you feel safe and challenged. Having members that are at a slightly higher level than you is also a good idea to help you stretch and improve your abilities.

Second, make sure you are ready to accept (and where applicable, apply) criticism. No one can tell your story like you can, but there is always room for improvement. Once you decide on the story that you are going to tell you need to listen to your group’s comments to make sure you ARE telling the story that you want to be telling. I’m not saying to make every change that is brought up because then it will no longer be your story. One rule of thumb that I’ve heard on more than one occasion is if you hear a comment once and don’t agree with it, it’s okay to brush it off. But if you hear that same comment over and over, even if you don’t agree with it, it is something to consider. It is pointing to a problem section; somewhere along the line what you were trying to say and what you actually said became two different things. You may not want to fix it in the way people suggest, but fix it you must.

On the whole I have found my writing group experience very beneficial and am looking forward to using it more fully to become a better writer as well as a better critiquer.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Changes and Moving Forward

Hello all! It's been awhile, I know. I have some great news though!

1. I attended LTUE last year and met a group of people who were interested in forming a writing group. Through various additions and subtractions, our group has stabilized and we meet every Tuesday night over Google. With work being crazy and other issues, my attendance has not been the greatest, but I have had a great time and gotten wonderful insights. We have decided to launch a group blog where we each post on a monthly topic. Tonight we will be discussing our first submissions and getting it posted by the first of February. It will just be a snippet on that site with a link to our respective personal blogs. If you were able to follow that jumble you should be coming to the conclusion that - Yes! I will be posting here at least once a month! *waits for the cheers to die down* So in a few days you'll see my first group post telling why I joined a writing group.

2. Last May I attended Superstars Writing Seminars and met a lot of wonderful authors, aspiring authors, editors, etc. I am going to be attending it this year as well and a few people who will also be attending decided to form little critique groups to get to know each other better as well as get more words on paper/screen. Split into groups of 4-5 we post ~1k words to our livejournal uhh... journals and then read and comment on each others' posts. So that gives the double blessing of me having to write at least 1k words each week as well as getting valuable feedback. I'm stoked!

3. I have been driving from Mesquite to Las Vegas for work 3+ times a week for two years now and I am well and truly sick of it. All that time wasted!! At first I thought I could use the 1.5 hr drive to "write" into a recorder and be productive, but it hasn't worked out as I wanted it too. I think it's mostly because I'm afraid of speaking my thoughts out loud. I've always been better at writing/typing them out. I will admit that I probably should have forced myself to become comfortable with that medium instead of wasting so much of the last two years, but it's all muddy water under a broken bridge now. SO, what is #3 about, you ask? I've decided (after months and months of debating with myself) to move to Vegas. It's not a permanent move because I don't really like Vegas, but it will allow me more time for daily workouts and writing. I'm hoping to have a place settled on in the next week or two and then just get 'er done. Enough time has been wasted and I've been miserable for too long. I don't know why it has taken me this long to light the fire under me as I know that nothing lifts my spirits more than a big life change, but there it is.

Stay tuned for monthly postings that I hope will be educational and edifying :D Nanu, Nanu

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Rainy Desert Teachings

Driving through the desert after the rain on my way home this morning seeing how green everything is, I had two thoughts: The desert doesn't waste time in showing gratitude. And it is quick to forgive a drought and get on with its life, beautifully. I need to be more like the desert.