Saturday, December 29, 2012

My voyage into short story writing

     So I have three novels in progress which, according to my usually very honest writer's group, are actually pretty good and have some potential (or at least that's what they tell me). Those novels have been sitting at 16,600 words, 30,600 words, and 25,217 words respectively. Why aren't they done? Because I've selected to focus my effort on short story writing instead. The question is: why?

     My writer's group asks me what happened to the novels. I say that they are in work but I wanted to get some shorter pieces done first. Okay, it's not the best idea to change gears mid-stream but I do it all the time. Partially because I think I'm obsessive compulsive (I do love lists and I count everything after all). I need completion and I fear failure. Well, what writer doesn't, right? But I think my competing need/fear compels me to gravitate towards the shorter works.

1A.)  Writing a short story makes me feel complete. It's done. I can check it off the to-do list (I adore doing that!), then I can add it to my completed list (yay), and then I can submit it to my writer's group, make their suggested changes, and get it ready for submission. It's so packaged and perfect. Unlike the novel that needs more and more from me, the short story just wants to be born and then run off on its own little legs like a baby colt. My novel is much more of a baby human in need of feeding, care, and daily changes.;-)

1B.)  I work long days and when I get home, I only have a truncated amount of time to write. I spend that hour or two on the novel (as I should be doing) and I have 100 paths down which to trod.  I spend it on the short story and I've produced a finished work. This makes me feel like the missed TV shows and the shortened sleep hours are all worth it.

2.)  The characters in my novels need development. The characters in my short stories need me to be briefer. They call out, "hurry up and finish me."  There novel cousins just make more wheels turn, while whining, "that's only the surface of my mixed up emotions. Dig deeper. Fill another page."  :-)

3.)  My short story characters are so much fun. They don't have the background or stamina to be a novel character but they glow in their short life span in the pages of my short stories.

Now that I have relished the feeling of completion that my short stories give me, it's time I move back to the novels. They've been patient for a very long time. Wish me - and them - good luck.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

What Inspires Us to Write

     It's an active debate among people I know: "What inspires you to write?"

     Every author has his or her own answer to that. When I think introspectively, I could up with several responses.

     Firstly, I tend to get inspiration from other writers in my writing group when they say things like, "You know, you should write a story about X?"  I think the idea of working from such inspiration is addictive. It's as if I'm writing for an already waiting audience and who is not inspired by a waiting reader-ship?

     Secondly, I love to play with the "what if's" of the world.  I like to turn the tables. Make the victim the killer. Make the child the evil genius.  Make dark light.  Make light dark.  It's my love of debate.  I just had a four email exchange with another manager at work over a company policy. I had to play devil's advocate because one side of an idea is never enough for me. Personally, I think the concept behind the upcoming movie, "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" is brilliant.  It's that idea of bringing the 'what if' of an age-old story to life.

     Thirdly, I find inspiration in my fantasy world. Since I was a child, I loved to imagine alternate realities and alter egos. I still love to imagine them and now I give them a new life on my pages.

     Fourthly, I get energy for my writing from music. The sound of the swells, the beat of the bass, the lyrics that speak to me - all of these create characters in my mind. I hear a song and I imagine a character who would have that in his/her life's soundtrack and voila, a new story idea is born.

     Fifthly, the world around me inspires. Sure, a lot of authors and artists say that but it's still true to me.  I love to travel and everywhere I go, I try to capture a picture of a location or an event that can appear in a future story of mine. I also love to take pictures but I am not a photographer as much as I am a writer. I always loved the idea of both but writing is more a part of my soul. I love in Washington DC and I travel a lot. I have a series of places yet to be used. My characters don't know where they are going yet, but I do. 

     Lastly, I think the idea of creating a story that will hopefully be immortal, one that will live long past me. I want to birth an idea that inspires others for many years to come. As sappy as that is.

    So what inspires you to write?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why I Write Fantasy

     In my writer's group, which I love by the way, we critique members' projects on a monthly basis (well 11 months out of the year, we take January off) and, in order to be fair and balanced, the submissions are read and critiqued anonymously. It isn't until after all comments have been made that the author reveals him or herself.  So I showed up at my writer's group meeting back in November and unveiled my latest short story. 

     I got to the venue early and started laying out the cookies and setting up my iPad and chatting with one good friend and fellow member who arrived before me. "Didn't you write anything this time?" she asked.

I may not be the best but I try to be prolific. I submit between one and three projects a month to the group. "Yes," I said.

     "I assume you wrote that fantasy piece," she answered.

     "No," I responded, "I've been working on pure literary stuff lately. Nothing fantasy or paranormal-based for once."

     My friend grimaced, "Now why would you want to go and do that?"

     I finished setting the table and sat down, "Well, I don't know," I answered, "I just thought I'd do something a little different."

     "But who wants to read about the real world? I live in the real world and it sucks. I read to get out of the real world."

     Soon the other members arrived and the discussions began but, as I got home that night, I started to give our exchange some real thought.  Why do I, like my friend, gravitate towards reading and writing fantasy over general literary fiction?  Is it just that I like to make up my own worlds?  Yeah, that could be it.  Or is it because I get tired of going to work every day and playing by the rules of the real world?  Definitely that too.  All literature is an escape but fantasy is more so an escape and it just feels like a safer world to play in.

     For example - I, for one, hate horror movies for the most part.  I love old Dracula films and those awesomely-bad B-movies on the Sci Fi channel but I hate...despise....will not attend movies about real life murderers or serial killers or anything like that.  The Fog? Yes.  Halloween? No!   Thinking about this, I realize it all plays into my fantasy is better than reality/literary world. Fantasy worlds are safe. If they are scary, it's okay because they aren't real.  Fantasy worlds take me out of my real existence for a few minutes instead of reinforcing it. 

     So, in retrospect, I came to a conclusion on why I write fantasy / paranormal 99% of the time:

1.  As stated above, fantasy worlds are safe.  It's never going to really happen to the reader.

2.  You - the reader - can never get that far ahead of me - the writer. It's my path. I'm laying the bricks as we go. I'm opening the door for you. I get the joy of surprising you.  I get to make you say "wow" because you don't know what lies ahead until I light the way.

3.  As the writer, I can create a suspension of disbelief anywhere along the way. Why yes, that character does fly. You can't say it's preposterous because it's fantasy.

4. There are definite endings in fantasy / paranormal. The evil will be defeated. The magic will work. There's always another trick. In the real world, evil will be back. It can't be banished forever. But in fantasy, it can. The writer can create a new world and take everyone into it with him/her.

5.  I don't have to play by the rules. (Unless we go down the time travel road, but that's a whole other animal).  I can barely suffer through some police shows on TV when they try to make the viewer believe that one person can do all if the beat cop/detective/medical examiner/CSI specialist/attorney are all one person.  I don't buy it because I live in the real world, I work in the real world, and that's not how it's done so don't lie to me.  But in a fantasy if a character has multiple roles, well okay, it's a fantasy. I'll go with it.  So I like to write by my own rules, not reality's.

6.  Endings are so much better in fantasy. While talking on the phone the other night to another friend, we got on the topic of what makes for good writing. I said that when I was young, I decided that a great writer has a 'wow' ending, something unexpected and amazing. I said to her to think of Saki and O. Henry. I loved those type of endings when I was a child. I decided that to be a good writer, I needed strong endings like those. Till today, if my ending is weak, I feel the piece has failed. But I find I can achieve better endings in the fantasy world.... and that is why I prefer to play there.

     I still experiment in literary fiction but fantasy / paranormal will always be my love and that's why I write fantasy.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nanowrimo - Day 19

Despite not documenting it on any type of social medium - because I was so busy writing! - October was an awesome writing month for me.  I was averaging about 2100 words a night and one Sunday, I did 4800 without much more than bathroom and tea breaks.  In fact, I managed to write three short stories in the span of four nights. So, of course, I was psyched for Nanowrimo. How could I not be?  I completed story three on October 30 and decided to take a writing break on Halloween.  I can't write if the TV is on and Halloween was on a Wednesday and Wednesdays are Supernatural night on the CW so a break was much deserved. :-) I figured one night of rest before Nanowrimo started was allowed.  So I went to work on November 1 chomping at the bit.  I couldn't wait to get home and start Nano.  Flash forward twelve hours....I got home, I was hungry and exhausted.  So, I thought it's only day one and I only have to do 1667 words a night to make 50K by the end of the month and I so clearly can pull off 2100, what's the problem?  I'll just make this an early night and I will re-group on November 2. 

Nov 2 - that didn't happen as planned.  At all.

Nov 3 - off to my writer's group where we will all write together in a common environment of writing bliss, encouraging and motivating each other. That didn't happen as planned.  At all.  Sure, I went.  Sure, I had a great time as always...but the topics were video games, how I need to shorten the endings on my three October stories to add more punch, and where can we get curly fries for lunch.  Curly fries - one; writing - zero.  But it's okay, right?  It's only day three.

Nov 10 - had a great day accompanying friends to an anime convention. I don't even watch anime but it was fun. So what's my Nano total?  An awesome nine words. I'm suddenly depressed.

Nov 11 - had a great day accompanying friends to see shirtless Daniel Craig, aka James Bond. Great movie, great food, great fun.  So what's my Nano total?  An even more awesome twelve words.  What on earth?

Nov 19 - the worst part is that I have a idea and a plot and characters I love - that my critique group also loves.  I'm going to really delve in tomorrow.  What can go wrong?  Right?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Hype and Confidence

I read the latest super-hyped book yesterday (lost a day of writing to do it) and when I put the book done (or more appropriately, put my ipad down and hit the little white button to get out of the Kindle app), I was left with a sense of, "huh?" 

Years ago, when I was reading through the classics (something I started at 11 years old, knowing I wanted to be a writer and continuing through my BA and MA degrees in English), I would walk away stunned. Absolutely stunned. How on earth could I be a writer NOW?, I would moan.  How could I ever match the level of amazing that I just soaked in?  If this is what is required to be a writer, I will never match up.  Afterwards, I would try to replicate some of that grandiose story, some of that amazing dialogue, some of that memorable flair. I would always, in my own opinion, find myself falling short and decide that maybe I should just write poetry instead or take up a career in journalism where it was all facts and no flair.  Eventually, I would return to my own short stories (the first of which was told to a tape recorder when I was three, the next set typed up by my own little seven year old hands on my mom's old typewriter from high school). But, I would never feel confident that I was anything better than mediocre.

Fast forward the years and I find myself hearing about the latest "hot" book on TV.  (Remember when we never heard about books on TV? Well, this IS a plus to hear so now.)  Some co-workers of mine chimed in on the hype (they are mentally casting the movie as I write it), so I decided to download a copy and read this wonder for myself.  I finished quickly as little thought was required - it wasn't a mystery or anything to mull over deeply.  Then I sat back and thought, "why the hype? This is (no thyme intended) tripe."  And no, I will not write the title or author here.

So I'm left to wonder, is this to which the literary world has descended?  I mean, of course there are rare gems worthy of the hype (thank you, JK Rowling) but for the most part, is this how publishing has stayed alive and not shut its doors in the media age?  By publishing to the lowest common denominator?  I don't just mean that I didn't care for the plot (I didn't), the language (I didn't), but how one-dimensional the characters were, how much the author needed a thesaurus, the cliffhanger that went nowhere (unless you buy the sequel, I'm assuming), the vapid heroine and her poorly thought out decisions.

Therefore, as a writer as well as a reader, where does this leave me? Does a background in the classics make me the old fuddy-duddy on the block? Or do I have to strive lesser and lesser each year to write well as long as I find a way to shock?  Are mainstream writers now destined to be the shock-jocks of the literary world just to sell a novel?  If so, where do I go from here?

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Search for the Perfect Writer's Software

Writing is fun but there are times when it also gets a bit mechanical.  Now I love new ways to write so I decided to look into using something other than Word (or its variable Mac equivalents, such as Apple Works) for my writing.  I wanted something that would keep my outlines and character portrayals in the same place as my writing.  That started my online search for writer's software. For some reason, the Fates were against me. Everytime I searched for writer's software on Google, my laptop froze up.  Hmmm.

Finally, I found some online resources:
*   -- gave a check-list of several programs
*  -- narrows the software down by category
* -- evaluated several software types

After reading the reviews, I got excited to jump in and buy something.  Then I remembered how much my laptop hates me. Really hates me.  Case in point: while typing a novel chapter the other day, my space bar decided not to comply and no matter how much I hit it, spaces were still missed. So I explained to my HP laptop that a future of being replaced by an iMac was in the cards, and so it spit at me.  Literally.  The plus/minus key skidded off and onto my lap.  Nice.  In addition, my little laptop has some Core-something error going on and is not downloading software from disks anymore.  At least not happily.  So I changed my Google parameters to search for writer's software that can be downloaded online.

At that point, I found all roads led to  I was pleasantly surprised to find that Amazon allows for software to be purchased and downloaded right from the Amazon site. There are fewer options to download than there are to buy, but it was a nice option.  I was also happy to see that Amazon offered as many options for Mac users as they did for PC users.  The top two choices I found for me were: Scrivener and Final Draft. 

Upon reading the reviews of both, it looked like Final Draft was more script focused while Scrivener was more for me - the novel and short story writer.  There was also a big price difference: $40.00 for Scrivener and $178.11 for Final Draft.  In order to see how this purchase of downloaded software would work, I opted for the cheaper, more novel writing version, so I purchased the Scrivener. 

I found the download quick and easy. I registered it online and that took a little bit of time (about 2 hours before the registration took effect and the software would let me "in").  So far, only one day into using the software, I find it good, but not great. 

Things I like:
* The note card options for characters and locations.
* The easy ability to change from note card view to normal page view.

Things I am not as impressed with:
* It's not much different or useful than using Word or AppleWorks.
* It appears that I have to convert the written product over to a Word document in order to submit it. I may be wrong about that as I've only had it for one day yet so I will update that if I find I can submit directly from Scrivener.

Going forward, I plan to continue to write with, and updating here, about my use of Scrivener for novel writing. I then plan to bite the bullet and buy Final Draft as well in order to find the perfect writing software. Now if I can just write another 5000 words to make up for the time lost in searching for writing software, I'd be really good to go. :-)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Writing in Secret

When I was a child, I preferred to write in secret. I think I did that for three reasons:

1.)  I wrote in fear that someone was going to say, "You're only writing? Oh good - you aren't doing anything important. Come over here and help me with this." I would obey but I would think: What do you mean, nothing important? I'm creating art here!  Of course, when I got back to what I was writing, I didn't want to do it anymore.

2.)  I wrote in fear that someone was going to say, "Read to me what you've written so far." No, it's not ready. You don't tell someone to take you into the darkroom while the pictures are still drying.  Prematurely reading my story out loud would lead to editing.  Editing a story too soon led to story death.

3.) I wrote in fear that someone was going to read it before it was ready and laugh at me. I could take a lot of abuse but I can't having my creative product laughed at while still in its juvenile form.

So for these reasons, I used to write in secret.  Now I find it's still a preferred way to write.  I sit at a conference table while a speaker drones on and I scribble bits of dialogue in my tablet.  I wait on a bench for a bus and I jot an outline in my notebook.  Tomorrow, I'm going to a class where I hope there will be very few group activities so that, just like in high school or college, I can slide my pen across my notebook page and watch even one paragraph come to life.  The end product will goon display but the early stages, those are just for an audience of one: me.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do Broken Hearts Equal Good Writing?

I had lunch the other day with a very dear friend of mine who is a smart, talented writer and a scientist, who recently had her heart broken by her boyfriend of 11 months.  She rightly feels betrayed.  I was so saddened that the best I could do was listen.  There was really nothing I could do to help, even having been in the same situation myself one time.  There's nothing that can make a pain like this dissipate, except for time and maybe Scotch. ;-) But then I got to thinking: do broken hearts equal good writing?

My friend has no mind to write right now and I can understand that. Some pains are just too personal to run right out and start putting to paper. But many writers have turned romantic misfortune into valuable art.  The wonderfully talented Adele turned her broken heart into an awesome album and something like 7,291 Grammy awards (I lost count).  Yes, she is a singer/songwriter and not a story writer but the creative arts are the creative arts and songwriting is really a form of poetry in many ways. 

I have found that sadness and part memories have fueled some of the best poetry I've ever written.  In fact, I'm often more prolific when I am sad.  (When I'm happy, I tend to catch up on the house cleaning I don't do when I'm sad...)  Unlike short stories and novels, which I feel are open to audience interpretation, poetry is a more personal art form and it lends itself best to the chronicle of the heart.  The short, curt sentences.  The crisp meter.  The words that have multiple meanings.  The almost musical quality of the rhymes and word choices.  Put together, it's emotion on paper and who can say if my emotion is right or wrong? 

For us writers, like many other artists, it may be that getting our feelings on paper is the best form of psychiatric therapy when are lives are in low tide, not to mention that apart from the cost of paper and pen, it's the cheapest therapy out there.  Maybe we need the pain to open us up to tell the true stories inside of us, the ones we like to normally keep in the dark.  Even if broken hearts don't equal good writing necessarily, can it be said that broken hearts at least equal honest writing?  And as artists, what we do with that honest writing is what makes all the difference.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Creating Memorable Characters

Last month, I went to the movies to see Sherlock Holmes twice in three days. I love Holmes and the gorgeousness of Downey and Law didn't hurt but it did get me to thinking about what makes a memorable character. Holmes and Watson have been loved by readers for almost 130 years while other characters are hardly memorable at all. What's the difference?

It's the balance of Everyman and HeroAnti-Hero. Not to get too lit class on it, but I feel these are two basic types of characters that are easily identifiable to readers. This person can be any age and gender (Holmes, Watson, Harry Potter, Miss Marple, Percy Jackson) as long as the balance is there. The reader needs to be able to both identify with the character (being a child, wanting to solve a mystery, having a secret) AND be able to be amazed at the character's abilities, choices, or morales (he figured out the puzzle, he knows magic, he was merciful). The goal is to allow the reader to see both himself as is and the self he wishes he could be all in one. It's a way of creating "just like you, only better."

How does one achieve this balance?

First, make the character approachable. Harry knows magic, but he's still just a scared boy who gets bullied and makes mistakes. Holmes is a genius, but he also has addiction problems and a great need to be needed. Percy is the son of a Greek god, but he also has a bad home life and difficulties in school.

Secondly, make the goal big enough. Saving the world works nicely, but can't be the only thing characters have to do. Saving themselves, protecting family, bringing a criminal to justice, writing a wrong, solving a mystery all also work nicely. I recently read "All the Lovely Bad Ones," by Mary Downing Hahn. Her protagonists wanted to right a 100 year old wrong and bring peace to the dead. That works too. Anything the reader would love to do if he/she had the same awesome chances that book characters get.

Thirdly, despite his/her approachability, make the character special. Smart is just fine (Holmes), but outspoken also works well (Elizabeth Bennett of "Pride and Predjudice" fame). Magic and special powers are perfect (Harry, Percy) and so is deduction and common sense (Marple, Poirot, Katniss from "The Hunger Games").

Lastly, never let your character be too pompous. The students at Hogwarts learn lessons from their teachers, Elizabeth Bennett found via Mr. Darcy that she didn't know everything, Katniss misjudged people, and even my beloved Holmes was sometimes wrong. He once asked Watson to remind him of his error whenever he got too pompous about his own abilities. Good idea. A reader wants the "just like you, only better" characters to be role models, not lecturers or bullies. You want to leave the reader saying, "I wish I was that character" and not, "I never want to read more about that jerk."

Now it's my time to return to my own writing and follow my own directions.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Procrastination and the Joy of Deadlines

I'm a master of procrastination. I can find a million things to do before writing. The biggest problem with that is how much I love writing and want to be doing it all of the time. But for me, it comes down to a guilt issue. I feel guilty about spending too much time writing, despite my obsessive love for it. It really isn't about writing after all.  It's about me.  I feel guilty for spending too much time on me. That's why I love deadlines. With a deadline, I can bypass some of the guilt about me time. Writing without a deadline may result in a finished product but there was no real reason for this finished product to exist, except that I wanted it to be.  A deadline, on the other hand, is like an order.  I have to finish my project by this date imposed on me. I'm not doing something I enjoy just for my own amusement anymore. I'm doing it because I was told to. Deadlines are a joy to me.  I don't always make them, but I try, and any written word is better than none at all.

Monday, January 16, 2012

2012 - the year of the writer and that writer is me...I hope.

Yes, it's been a year since I last blogged on this site, which is funny since I am a writer and I didn't find the time to write here in 16 months. Well, truth be told, I had cancer and all the related treatments and that had the annoying side-effects of being both tiring and tiresome, as well as a real time killer. But I'm moving forward now. :-)

What I really need is a deadline.  I've found over the last year that my best work was done under pressure. I don't like the pressure but I do like the deadlines. I think because it reminds me of being in school and I was one of those kids that looooooved school.  Not just loved it, looooooved it. Well, not math class and usually not science class.  I knew I wanted and was destined for a career involving words, not numbers. But I always had my homework done ahead of time because I refused to miss a deadline.  As a writer now, I'm much the same way.  I can procrastinate my way into making procrastination a stunning new art form and I can use those excellent procrastination skills to never get a writing project done but give me a deadline that I can't fudge and I am ON it.  So now all I need is somebody to give me a deadline.  Please.  It doesn't work when I impose them on myself. If it did, I would never be a procrastinator.

So blogs full of tips, hints, and markets open to submissions are forthcoming.  Right now I'm just trying to calculate the appropriate length of a YA novel (I'm hearing 50-65K) and how long it will take me to reach that.  In my current Work-In-Progress (WIP), I am at 8100 words. So somebody throw me a deadline to reach 65K and I'm going for it.  Just as soon as I finish the laundry and update my Facebook.  LOL