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.