Ironic? Hypocritical? Really doesn't make any sense,
Well, the fact is that most things in life that we do
end up with some sort of consequence and we always
hope for the best and never the worst.
Writers, my peers, do you know why the stereotypical
writer is a "tormented soul" fast-bound to some sort
of short life over loaded with cigarettes and whiskey?
Well, as someone once said, "we kill ourselves as the
price we pay for playing God in our creations."
Sounds epic, doesn't it? And not the Ke$ha (insert
eye roll for word-generalization) kind, but think of
it, why do we think we have to be so tortured and
As Carolyn has stated time and time again, as a writer
you are not your character. But, let me tell you, as a
writer you must ask yourself if you write for
entertainment or closure.
Sounds strange, right? Heh, maybe even freudian..?
The reason why I've boiled it down to those two areas
is because a writer who writes for entertainment is one
who is going to write for fun, think of funny/crazy and
things they find really interesting. The other kind of
writer, the bull's eye-hit or miss are those who write
as a way to cope and deal with something going on in
their life. Which is why the character(s) and story
are really awesome and powerful or... really awful
The tricky part is, figuring out how to master that
emotional vulnerability and make it detached from you.
I started out writing for fun, I had been writing dumb
little stories since I was in elementary school and
picked it up again towards the end of high school. The
thing that very few people, if any picked up on, was
that some thought I was writing about me and my
situations that were going on at the time. After all,
it was high school. When was drama not involved?
Anyway, I think you get the point, and I never knew why
someone would even think that.
After a good while I realized I was writing for closure
but not the characters as myself and the people involved,
but I wrote the situation as a way to deal with it in my
own life. I even had a professor say that she did the
same thing when her daughter had to go over seas with her
husband for work, which made her really scared.
See? We all tend to do that at some point but there is
a point in which being too involved within that self-
created coping mechanism that suffocates the story you've
already began telling. Of course that means the readers
and the story pay the price because you were too involved,
which means the story became about you and no one else
to be able to enjoy, relate, and read.
We use anything and everything in our disposal to create
our own work of art, a story, book, poem, or something
along those lines that requires creative energy and just
a little bit of our soul for art. But we should write
only what we know, right? Its the best way to be
trustworthy for the reader, but if we know dramatic and
traumatic situations then we can write about them, right?
Of course! I encourage you to do so because already
you're going to have a flow of conflict to carry the
story along. And that's what makes things interesting,
You always have to remember what your audience wants to
read, that's if you have an audience already reading your
work. If you don't have an audience yet, time to think of
what your target audience is and pull the trigger!
Being detached once you get started with your drama (in
the story of course), prevents hitting the hurdles
head-on of, "oh crap, this is me. I couldn't do these
things, why should that character do them?" Or, "this
hits too close to home... my own drama isn't over, how
can I ever wrap this story up?" Or better yet, "I give
up... why put this character through what I'm going
through. Its not fair for me and not for them."
Don't they really sound awful?
I think we've all bumped into those hurdles and really
hit the dirt and then the guilt hits us from starting
something and then axing it. Or better yet, the story
keeps going on and remains in the "planning" stages
that is itching to come forth and live.
That's why its important to remove yourself in order
to let the story flow on its own course and be the
middle-man just telling it as best you know how!
And like Carolyn has always said, no one knows your
story but you.
Now, write from the heart, tweak with your wit, and
edit with your audience in mind.
Use your drama to remove the drama in writing it!
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Yep, I am back after a brief sabbatical of trying to get not 1 but 3 books into publication shape!
I have also been doing a lot of writing coaching and as always I have sensed a pattern common to newer writers and I felt like everyone (even authors 5-100 books in have to remind themselves of this) could use a little reminder of making sure your writing has rise and fall.
What do I mean by that?
Simple. Your writing should breathe...
There are times when you will take quick, short breaths. Other times you will sigh gently.
Through out the book, section, chapter, paragraph and even sentence your writing should have a sense of movement.
You need to be not only going somewhere with it, but going with purpose.
Another analogy would be the make sure your writing is shaded. Not everything should be black and white. Especially your character's motivations. There should be a million shades of gray in there.
I know, I know... easier said than done.
But not really. You can truly breath life into a paragraph just by making sure that your sentences are not all the same length (and therefore the thought process behind them). Make sure that either external or internal dialogue rises from the character and not just from you. Make sure your prose is written through the eyes of the SPECIFIC character that you are in their POV.
Normally by applying these simple criteria, you can really get your writing MOVING :-)
The bedroom's walls were a dull white whereas the carpet was a light beige. There were not many knicknacks on the dresser however the closet was full to near bursting. All manner of clothing, shoes, and sports equipment threatened to tumble out at any moment.
There is nothing really wrong with the above paragraph, except of course it is told in passive voice. However, beyond that it is monotonous and lacks any rise and fall.
Dull, dull, dull. The walls, the carpet, even the bedspread looked like they had been washed in the same dirty creek. Even weirder the dresser was so spare it felt Spartan yet the closet was like a level-5 Hoarding situation. Who the hell lived like this?
Can you feel the difference? The difference in sentence structure. The difference in SPECIFIC language and an internal POV evident.
How about you test your rise and fall. Go pick a random page. Point out at least 5 places where you demonstrate movement and draw the reader in.
Feel free to comment below with a sample and I will swing by and critique it if you like!
Sunday, May 8, 2011
The first thing I'm going to say about character I'm sure will raise a couple of eyebrows. Characters don't really exist.
Now before you go all postal on me, stop for a moment. I'm not saying character isn't important, or that I don't love character work, or that everything you've been doing up to this point with your character development isn't worthwhile. Not at all. I'm an actor, fercryingoutloud. Of course I think character work is vital to what we're doing as writers.
What I'm saying is that sometimes, in our quest to make our characters "real" we forget that they... well... aren't. They are two-dimensional constructs made up of black characters on a white page (typically... and typographically... speaking). Can they feel real? Absolutely. Can they begin to act and speak for themselves in our work? Hopefully.
Along with that, I think it's good for us to remember that our characters are capable of an almost limitless range of choices. We sometimes box them in with our desire to be "realistic". We don't allow our characters to truly surprise us. And while characters should be consistent, one of the truly consistent things about real people is that they have the ability to change. Sometimes rapidly. There's always motivation for the change, but that change can be quite shocking, both to outside observers and even to the people themselves.
Use some caution here--I'm not talking about the writer's hand. In other words, don't just make your character do something because you need them to, regardless of motivation or established character traits. What I'm discussing is allowing characters to go in unexpected directions. Allow them to surprise you.
Because as much as surprises in real life may not appeal to everyone, in fiction they are GOLDEN. :)
Ben Hopkin (@actingnodrama) is an actor, as well as a writer, director and producer. He teaches online acting classes, and hosts an online radio show on Thursday evenings at 8pm PST. If you're interested in acting, you can check out more of his ideas at www.actingwithoutthedrama.blogspot.com.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
About the time I started writing my first novel, a friend of mine, who had been working on her first, was just starting to swim in the dissolving bits of her marriage. It turns out that she was married to a person I call the “anti-cheerleader.” Maybe he thought he was being helpful, but he wasn't. You can't do this. It's a long shot, you shouldn't really try. When are you going to move on to something else? I don't want you to be disappointed.
When we met recently to catch up, she marveled that I was at the point of being able to pitch my novel to agents. She had never gotten that far. How did you ever do it? she asked. Guiltily, I immediately knew the answer and didn't really want to confess it to her. It had nothing to do with me being a better writer, or more disciplined. I just had this ace in my corner: a spouse who knew how to be a good cheerleader.
Whenever I tell my friends that he's the reason I was able to finish a novel, they all offer a that's nice kind of smile. That can't be the only reason. But, really, I'm here to tell you it is. The voice of the spouse or significant other is insanely loud, for good or ill. Her novel was in a drawer. Mine was ready to pitch.
Why do the cheerleaders and anti-cheerleaders in our writing lives have such an impact? For me, it had something to do with staying on the course I set for myself. There are moments during my writing life when I definitely start scanning the room for the exit. It's not because I don't like writing. I love it. Stringing together words that work just right is the best drug there is.
But sometimes writing can seem just plain difficult, and rewards and validation only seem to come so often. I hate to admit it, but sometimes the question Why am I doing this? does enter my mind. I can't tell you how many times I've called my husband, reciting a posting for a “real job” from Monster.com. But he knows I want to write, so he hangs up on me.
When a writer has those moments when they might want to throw in the towel, that’s when cheerleaders make the difference. Even by hanging up. Spouses, significant others, friends, family, whoever.
But like I said, the spouse’s or significant other’s voice in particular is insanely loud and powerful. This person tied their life to mine. They must know something I don't know.
I thought about myself in those moments of doubt and having the anti-cheerleader saying things to me like what my friend's husband said. I would have headed for the exit in the first five minutes. A lot of good, talented people would have. Like any long, lonely race, writing can challenge your fortitude. Like a long-distance runner, you might hear a little voice that says Owww, this hurts. When can we take a break?
But I got very, very lucky. Every time I get close to the exit, I hear the voice of the person I had the dumb good fortune to tie my life to whispering Keep going. Come back around after you've done a little more. You can do it. And the other cheerleaders who've since looped arms with him say the same thing. You can do it. Don't give it up.
I'm nothing special. If I make anything out of this journey, it's because of the cheerleaders in my corner who keep me on course. If you know a writer, especially if you're the spouse or significant other of a writer, be their cheerleader. And if you can't, then say nothing. Don't be an anti-cheerleader. Because as full of doubt and fear as a writer can be, they really don't want to find the exit. What they really want is for you to bar the door that leads out to someplace that's not the dream in their heart.
Melissa Romo writes about her writing journey at http://thebookorbust.blogspot.com. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey with her cheerleader and two cheerleaders-in-training.