Posts Tagged ‘editing’

HappySadTheatreMaskOur characters are people – real in our mind, real on the page, and real in our hearts. Make them as real to your readers as they are to you.

This is the most important part of a novel. We might have excellent plots that twist and turn with fresh surprises at every angle, or a beautiful, imaginative world that inspires us with awe. Maybe a fresh, fascinating story rarely told, or even masterful prose with transcendent knowledge and application of language. But take any book you love, replace the characters with flat shadows of people, and you are left only with empty, black ink.

From the first line of our story, invest the reader in the characters we create. Show us what they care about. It could be as important as saving the universe, or as small as caring for a single daisy. But if our characters care, our readers will care. So, how do we do this?

Real people have passions. If our character loves gardening, don’t tell us that she gardens everyday. Show us how warm she feels as the sun beats on her back, as her hands ache with the pressure of churning soil, how much she sweats as she labors away for hours, but show us her satisfaction of witnessing seeds of nothingness grow with time into delicious tomatoes, or red roses, or juicy watermelons. And she doesn’t have to be good at it. She just needs to be passionate about it.

Emotion is universal. Everybody can identify with it, so the stronger the emotion (well…this can be overdone), the stronger the connection. I recommend overstating emotion. In theatre, emotion is overstated, as it is in cinema and books. But the reader won’t be able to tell if you do it right. Exaggerated emotion is one of the keys to storytelling. This doesn’t mean our character runs around on a rampage shooting or slicing everyone up, neither does it mean our character should drive around crying everywhere after her boyfriend dumps her. Here’s what it can mean: Our character reacts internally after witnessing a herd of buffalo stampede over her freshly budded grove of plant life. Depending on what kind of person she is, she could scream, “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!” (not recommended), or we can show her feeling the strong loss of creating something from nothing, then shoving down the exaggerated emotion, only to unleash it at a later time – directed at someone undeserving. Which is the more interesting story? Who do you identify with more? If your answer is the screaming psychopath, perhaps you should join Darth Vader and the Dark Side.

Point is, when readers identify with the characters, and when they have a stake in the story, we become invested. And when we become invested, we now have a stake in the story. We’ll flip the pages from cover to cover to see what happens next, unable to set the book down. We’ll feel both satisfied at the end, and disappointed there is nothing of the story left to read.

In the title, I also mentioned growth. In a great story, not only does our protagonist change, but our antagonist also changes. Many writers miss the latter point. This doesn’t necessarily mean our antagonist transforms into a saint, but it can mean they learn an important life lesson, or devolve into something even worse.

So, growth of our protagonists. (We can also show protagonists devolving.) What better way to show growth at the end, than flaws at the beginning. Real people have flaws, right? You have flaws, don’t you? I certainly have no flaws, but we all know you do, right? Right, where were we? Flaws, yeah. It’s okay for our characters to have flaws, especially if they’re universally identifiable. What makes a story interesting is how our characters deal with those flaws. Do they learn from their mistakes and get over hard-learned obstacles? Or do they fall to the Dark Side like our forever-friend Darth Vader? Show the story, don’t tell it. Make the reader a friend by showing our characters’ experiences as they endure them. Then leave that lasting impression by showing how far they’ve come. Key is to show our protagonists’ progression little at a time, then compound the growth with extreme experiences. But never leave them stagnant. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if our characters grow too much too quickly, they might lose that ever-so-important quality – reader identification.

Transformation also ties integrally with growth, the difference being, they are rarely recognizably the same person when comparing them at the beginning of the book to the final page. We need to be careful here. As advised above, if our characters grow too quickly, we will lose our audience. Want your characters to transform? Throw unique, interesting, and hard – very, very hard – decisions and obstacles in their paths. They need to make the emotional or logical choice for who they are at that time – which changes them forever. Then keep doing it again. But beware, always change the pace. If we have a non-stop, hard-hitting pace from start to finish, our readers will never be able to come up for air. And breathing is important for most of us.

In Elements of Advanced Storytelling, I promised to dig into the differences between active, reactive, and proactive characters, and which are the most interesting in stories. Okay everyone, raise your hands. Active? Eh, might get a few hands in the air. Reactive? Hmm, probably only one or two. Okay, what about proactive? AHA! There they are! Raise them nice and high! Yep, you are right. Proactive characters are by far the most interesting, and here’s why.

Reactive characters only do what? That’s right – react! Our antagonists will likely be the most interesting characters in this type of character story because they are making everything happen. They are making the decisions for our protagonists – shaping them, forcing them to enact whatever evil plans our antagonists are concocting. Just about the only interesting thing our protagonist can do in this situation is react unexpectedly. But that’s a far cry from our other two types. Active characters are good. They will react, but will also push back. They will create tension, and exert a moving role to drive the story forward. Now, proactive characters take charge. Proactive characters don’t necessarily always know what they want, but they always make decisions (good or bad). This makes for a much more interesting story. It is highly common for the inciting incident in our novel to cause a reaction in our character that impels the story forward all the way to the last page. But if our protagonists are actively doing something in the beginning, and drive the story forward all on their own, that’s when we get caught staying up into the wee hours of the night reading that novel we just can’t put down. This is real tension – driven purely by our proactive characters.

Outlines. Some of us use them, some of us don’t. But I recommend everyone sketch out at least enough about our main characters to understand who they are. The worst thing we can do is think we know our characters, then make them do something they normally wouldn’t for the sake of the plot. If you want a good reference for an outline, here’s my advice. Make your own. There are numerous character outlines you can download off the net. Some are very detailed, some are vague. But, we all need to find that character outline that fits our story, then make it. It could be as little as describing their personalities, their likes/dislikes, tastes, experiences, and what they would do if held at gunpoint. Yes, many characters will never face that latter problem, but you need to know your characters. What better way than to consider what they would do in a life or death situation?

Want more outlining? Okay, write down how you want them to change throughout your novel. Who do they meet? How do they interact? Write down a few jokes they would tell, or physical tics or eccentricities. Show us their turning points and future moments of clarity. The list goes on and on. We should never put it all in our novel, but as writers, we need to know. Key is, stay organized, stay on track. And remember, sometimes when we write that novel, the outline flies out the window. Allow our characters to change, to experience life beyond the bounds we’ve set forth in an outline.

Any questions or comments? Feel free to express yourself. I want to hear your thoughts. I’ve found the above to be some of the best methods (that by the way work universally), but I always keep an open mind, and I’m always striving to learn and grow – to be better than I was yesterday. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments. Thanks!

CherryBlossomIn the following weeks, I’ll delve into how to take our writing to the next level. In the past months, I’ve written a lot about basic storytelling, shared best practices, shown how to hone our skills, and revealed a little about characters and world building. Here, I’ve broken out Advanced Storytelling into a number of important elements, and will detail each of these into individual posts in the weeks that follow. Hope you enjoy!

  • HOOK YOUR READER: From the first line in your story, it is important to suck the reader in by showing immediate tension with your protagonist. Next week, I’ll discuss what first lines we should avoid, which are overused, and what ingredients grill up an exciting hook. However, this goes far beyond that introductory sentence. When is it appropriate to relax the tension? When should we begin to delve into back-story? At what points in our story should we re-hook the reader with another twist? How do we end it in a way that is both satisfactory to the reader, and leaves them craving for more? Stay tuned, and we’ll delve into the details.
  • AUTHENTIC CHARACTER EMOTION – FLAWS, GROWTH, ARCS, AND TRANSFORMATION OF PROTAGONISTS AND ANTAGONISTS: I’ve shown in previous posts how important character emotion is. Emotion links us to our characters, gives us a stake in the story, and makes us truly care about what happens – connects us to fresh and new experiences. Might even have an impact on our world outside of reading. In this topic, I’ll discuss at what points in our story we should show character growth, (or the lack of), and dig into how to make this experience truly impactful to the reader. We’ll review best practices and the art of taking our characters’ arcs to the next level – both protagonists’ and antagonists’. I’ll explain the differences between proactive, active, and reactive characters. We’ll also dig into this scientifically – showing outlines and how this relates to our plot elements and increases tension.
  • TENSION, CONFLICT, AND THE DRIVING FORCE: To keep the story moving and our readers impulsively flipping the pages into the wee hours of morning, it is imperative to show the steady progression of plot and characters, the enticing details of hazards and wrenches, and the difficulties and growth that ensues. Some good advice: the more we torment our characters, the more interesting the story. When should we ramp up the tension and conflict? When should we relax? Sub-plots are at times necessary, but many times they are not. It is important to consistently progress the storyline, and at the same time, show the little steps and interesting details that keep the readers holding their breath.
  • YOUR WORLD – DETAILS, CULTURE, AND SENSES: It is easy to bog the reader down with unnecessary details, or do the opposite and not show enough. Where is the balance? This depends a lot on the story, style, genre, characters, length, and voice. But it is always important to make the world we portray real to our audience. Here, we’ll delve into the finer details and examples of great stories with interaction – and the differences of styles and how they relate to the overall theme and story structure.
  • THE THREE ACTIONS – ACTION, REACTION, INTERACTION: Characters and the world, the reader and writer, the plot and details. In this topic, I will discuss how we put it all together with the “Three Actions.” I’ll show how they interrelate and the parallels between them. I’ll reveal why these elements are so important and how they impact the storytelling experience.
  • STORY STRUCTURE AND THEMES – OUTLINING VS “PANTSING”: Hundreds if not thousands of books crowd the market, all showing the best ways to structure a story. Here, we will dig into why there are so many different methods, which to use, which to avoid, and why. Is there a “best” way, or does it depend on the style of the author? Should we conform to what the world is telling us, or enhance our natural strengths? There is much controversy here, and I will take a neutral stance in order to show the broadest picture, explain why so many authors are adamant that their own opposing and conflicting views are correct, and give my advice on how to proceed in this vast sea of style.
  • PROSE WITH STYLE AND VOICE – CLARITY, BREVITY, AND WORD CHOICE: Writing is an art, but with any art, the more knowledge and experience one has, the more likely one will succeed. The broader our experiences and perspectives, and the more we open ourselves to possibilities and ideas, the more likely we will achieve our goals. Our work ethic matters. Our passions matter. We must know ourselves, stay in tune to our strengths and weaknesses, then actively make ourselves improve and grow. Grammar might seem basic, but the more knowledgeable one is, the more command one has of language – not to mention an understanding of which rules are breakable and when. In this topic, I will discuss the differences between character and author voice, and expand on the importance of the words we use, and how we use them. There are many styles of storytelling, and I will show examples of some of the most common, and analyze their differences.

Like many, I have a passion for storytelling, but I’m also acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. The elements of self-awareness, knowledge, patience, understanding, wisdom, and work ethic are all fruits that set me on my path to success. To grow as a writer is to grow as a person. I look forward to your future comments and interactions.

To many, I say Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Today, everybody is Irish! Drink a green beer, wear a green pin, or take your family and loved ones on a special outing.

But today means much more to me, personally. It signifies the fourth year my wife and I have been married. Happy Anniversary to us! Each year continues to be better than the last. We have been together for nine years, and I must say, I have grown immeasurably. I am a far happier person today than I was nine years ago. And those few people who knew me back then can vouch for my extreme turnaround. I owe it all to my wife for her patience, for showing me it’s okay to be happy.

Reflecting back to those beginning years, I shake my head. It’s a wonder how far I’ve come. In every way – even my writing. I’ve only been at it for 10 years, and after comparing my first draft to where I am today, it’s the difference between a kindergartener’s toy car and a humming Dodge Viper. There’s still room for growth, but wow, what a difference.

When I finished the first draft of my novel, I thought to myself, “Okay, what’s next?” So I began writing book 2 in the series. It didn’t take me long to realize there was something wrong with my writing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

So, I hired an editor. She scoured through it – fixed some grammar issues, sentence structure problems – she did her best for what it was. It needed more. Much more.

I put it down for about a year, feeling stuck, not knowing where to go. Then, I had an idea. Without going back to college and earning a degree in English, perhaps there was a better way to learn that thing I was missing. A writers group.

I found Stonehenge. And on that first night I attended, I learned something. I had a long way to go before I could ever consider myself to be a writer.

Through listening, practicing, hard work, and dedication, I can now proudly call myself a writer. My work is publishable, and in fact, I even have a Literary Agent! The awesome Pam van Hylckama Vlieg, book blogger and Twitter extraordinaire with Foreword Literary.

Today, I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the memory of how far I’ve come, but most of all, I celebrate my anniversary with my beautiful wife. She is the greatest gift to my world, and forever inspires me to be better than I was the day before.

Which direction did that witch go to get my sandwich? I should have told her, order two, and don’t let the chef put too much mustard like last time–a dash of thyme is welcome. And I hope she didn’t wear that stupid hat where she’s going; I wouldn’t if I were her. I wanted to go there myself, but their cashier annoys me, and they’re never gonna find a nicer one. Oh, well.

English is weird! I’ve been using it for some time, well, English and Bad English, and even today, I find it odd. Sometimes, it’s like trying to tell a person born blind what blue looks like. To me, communication is the most important thing in a relationship. And here is the rub: just because two people speak the same language, it doesn’t mean they understand each other.

Language is a living organism, always changing, and it is effected by time, religion, creed, sex, age, location, social status, and so much more. A word I use today may have a completely different meaning five years from now and another in ten. English doesn’t make things easy with the amount of rules and what not. It is a miracle we’ve gotten so far.

So, how does one communicate. Clarity and patience. It is not enough to use words, but we must place ourselves in the shoes of another. How do they perceive you and what you say? This may be achieved through clarity and patience. When using words that may have several meanings, be sure your syntax reveals the intention of the word, and if a person displays confusion, don’t cast blame or call them ignorant. Patiently inquire what they don’t understand, or, rephrase your words using alternate choices in vocabulary. It’s not like English doesn’t have enough synonyms.

Anyways, how does this apply to writing and literature? Well, that should be evident. Pick up some Shakespeare and see how the language was 400 years ago. It’s readable, but requires some knowledge. Imagine how your literature will look to humans another 400 years from now. They might need a dictionary too.

When writing your story, clarity is one of the most important things you can strive for. I am an advocate for writing the first draft as fast as possible and with little thought. This allows for the creative instinct to shine. But writing is like a sculpture. A block of clay is placed before you, big chunks removed, and little by little, it is slowly refined to bring forth amazing art. So, be patient with your own work as well. Give it time. Craft it, mold it, and ensure that it will stand the test of time.

Anywho, I’ve rambled for long enough…

Since this is a writers blog, and many of us have already discussed the value of a writers group, I’d like to express what this means to me. What Stonehenge has done for my writing, how, and why. And how you can start your own. Maybe even join ours.

I’ve often expressed that I wrote a book before I knew how to write, but how did I learn? Well, with a solid group and a little dedication, it could mean the equivalent of a free MBA, and practical world experience. Many of us have degrees in various arenas, some of us are subject matter experts. All of this helps, but is it all necessary?

What’s important is you find a solid group of writers with similar goals. Certainly, the quality of the writers is valuable, but what matters more is the feedback. The ways critiques are expressed, the format of the meetings, their frequency, and measurability of improvement.

Here’s the way we do it. Of course, this doesn’t mean this is the way it must be done. Certainly, there are other formats that work better for different people, but I would highly recommend starting with something similar.

  • Frequency: We meet every week. Some believe this is too often, but I’ve found that a small core group of people show up every week, and everybody else will show up when they can – some every other week, a few only once per month. Personally, I attend every week. It keeps me motivated to write, gives me a reason to get out of the house and socialize, allows me time to meet with friends and professionals of the same mind, and always forces me to improve upon myself.
  • Reading Aloud: This is one of the most valuable tools any writers group should use on a regular basis. I stated above that different formats work for different people, but all writers groups should read each others’ submissions. Aloud. Why? The flow of the language, the clarity of ideas, realistic dialogue, pacing, word choices, the sound of grammar and sentence structure, transitions, and simply to catch anything that otherwise would be difficult to uncover. This alone has been worth its weight in platinum.
  • Submissions: This can vary from group to group, but here’s what works for us. Depending on the tenure of our writers, volunteers bring in a 2-6 page submission to be read aloud by peers. We have nights where longer submissions are preferred, and they are detailed below. But why, do you ask, are they so short? Well, it is amazing what can be intuited about the rest of a piece by a short slice of it.

Advantages of Short Submissions: The writing style of the author can be quickly determined. Have they developed their voice? How is their pacing, sentence structure, formatting, grammar? How do they show emotion? Action, reaction, interaction? Does the short piece capture the attention of the reader? What is the driving force of the scene? Does it move the plot? Short submissions can be read aloud, which aforementioned, is one of the most beneficial experiences a writing group can have. More often than not, focusing on short submissions, (especially if brought in consistently), will also indirectly affect the next section.

Disadvantages of Short Submissions: Here are a few things that short submissions cannot directly capture. How does the overall story flow? What are the main plot points? Are they consistent? Does the story follow an overall structure – such as the three-act structure? What are the overall themes? Are the questions posed at the beginning getting answered in the end? What are the character arcs? How does the protagonist change? What about the antagonist and supporting characters? And the big question, how are all of the aforementioned points addressed in a group that works primarily with short submissions? Keep reading, we’ll get there.

  • Format of Meetings: There are usually 10-15 writers at each of our meetings, and 5-7 submissions total. The submitter brings a copy for each of us, (sometimes we need to share), and the submitter chooses somebody else in the group to read it aloud. While the piece it read, we mark up our copies. Some of us are strong with grammar. Others – pacing and flow. Others still – word choice. Tense agreements, dialogue flow, clarity, brevity, transitions… When the reader is finished, each of us take a turn expressing our overall impressions of the piece. And because time is a factor, our finer points are left on the page, to be read by the submitter at a later time. During this time, the submitter must allow the rest of us to express ourselves, but it is very important that we do this correctly. Writing is personal. For many of us, it’s difficult to accept criticism. We are a self-conscious bunch, and when one of us musters up the courage to bring something in, it is the responsibility of the rest of us to be aware of that when offering criticism.
  • Difference Between Opinions, Qualitative, and Quantitative Analyses: Writing is an art, first and foremost. But as with any art, there are rules – well, more like guidelines. Grammar and spelling are mostly quantitative – meaning they are hard, measurable rules that do not vary much, except over the span of decades and centuries. (But that’s for a different post.) It is important to know the rules before we can break them, but since writing is an art, there are many opinions on the matter. These are more qualitative analyses, and as close as we can come to becoming scientific, it ultimately comes down to opinion. So this point is important when discussing others’ work. They might not have the same opinion as you, and that’s okay. When offering criticism, speak in a positive, encouraging manner, but always be truthful. Some of us prefer a more blunt method, others need a lighter touch. And it is the responsibility of those who submit to listen. Listen. Do not speak unless clarity is necessary, of if there is a misunderstanding. Our group is a little more open about this than others, as I believe healthy, respectful debate can oftentimes root out the real issues, and get to the bottom of a problem, but this needs to be managed by a facilitator. Someone needs to be in charge who will keep the night rolling, keep the meeting from getting bogged down. This is a must. But still, every member of the group needs to understand that most of what we say is based on opinions and experiences. And we have a variety of members who come from many walks of life, which is fruitful because of the differing number of perspectives. And now, after the critique, it is up to the writers to decide which suggestions they approve, and which ones to discard.
  • Change It Up: As mentioned above, short submissions are highly beneficial, but are not the keys to everything. We have featured author nights – where one author submits a long piece ahead of time, and is critiqued before the meeting. There’s the option of choosing Beta readers for finished manuscripts that are discussed outside of meetings. Make a night of discussing outlining, or industry evolution, or story structure. I find that once per month, changing up the format of the meeting keeps the members challenged, increases learning, and sparks highly interesting discussions.

So if you aren’t convinced of the benefits of a writers group by this point, try to join one and see for yourself. It might take some time to find one that works for you, or one that has the right mix of fun and work, or even one that offers critiques in the right manner, but if you haven’t tried, or if you haven’t yet found the right one, keep searching. I recommend searching meetup.com to find one in your area, or start one yourself. And if you haven’t already, check us out at meetup.com/Stonehenge.

Writing is a journey. It’s work, but it is also a passion. Be consistent, know your value as a writer, be realistic about where you’re at in your journey, but keep those passions and goals alive. Never lose yourself, never lose that spark of life you infuse in your work. And most of all, have fun doing it.

Step Up That Game

Posted: February 24, 2013 by stonehengewriters in Matt's Words
Tags: , , , , , , ,

It has happened!

What, you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment, but first, allow me to show how I got here.

As a writer, my immediate payoff for writing is in fact…the joy of writing. Slaving away those hours upon hours in front of a computer, brainstorming ideas throughout the day, locking ourselves in a closet as we outline…(well maybe not ALL of us can relate to that), all of these things don’t always feel like work. Because face it, most of us write because we have a passion for storytelling, a love of the craft, or a character that keeps pounding on the inside of our skulls, begging to be released onto paper.

But it isn’t all fun and games, is it? No matter how we cut it, writing is hard. Very hard. The first draft of my novel read worse than a kindergarten drawing. My parents thought it was great, but then, they are a little biased, aren’t they? Only after I joined a writers group – Stonehenge – did I understand just how terrible it was.

And then, the real work began.

First, I studied the craft. I learned the basics of grammar – by reading books, practicing what I learned, listening to podcasts, then doing it all over again. And yes, my friends, this was work. A lot of work. I then unearthed the value of great storytelling, discovered the advantage of 3rd person limited versus omniscient. (For those unfamiliar, stay tuned for a post about this.) Learning and practicing. Learning and practicing. It was hard work, but once I felt comfortable with my writing, and felt that it was publishable, do you think I stopped there?

Good guess. No. While continuing to read about and practice the craft, I researched the publishing industry and conferences. I learned about agents, query letters, synopses, pitches, developmental editors, the various forms of publishing…and my head was spinning. How, oh how, was it possible for my baby to get published? Why did I ever pick up the pen? Of all the talent, all the writers in the world, why would I ever believe anything from little old me would be put into print?

Well, I also believe self-doubt, self-loathing is a part of most every writer’s process. Yes, process. And when we find a way to get over this, the cycle repeats. But, that’s for another post…

Above, I mentioned conferences. Browsing on the internet one day, I discovered this thing called San Francisco Writers Conference, and it was super expensive. But the more I read about it, the more I knew I had to attend. I read it was a great way to not only learn more about the craft and industry, but to also meet published authors, agents, editors, and publishers.

So I signed up with an excited, but heavy heart. I wasn’t sure it would pay off. Couldn’t that money be better spent elsewhere? I have a family, mouths to feed. How could I justify paying so much for this little hobby? Well, writing is more than a hobby to me. It is a passion. I strive to learn more, to build upon myself, to make my writing better than I’d ever thought possible.

My lovely wife has always supported me, (though she rarely cracks open a book). But, there are many ways to support those you love. She knows my passion, and she felt justified to encourage me to pursue my dream.

In 2012, I attended the San Francisco Writers Conference. I left renewed, invigorated, and felt more connected to the industry. I met lots of great people, and discovered us writers are one giant, family. I took what I learned back to my writers group, worked on a few more revisions, then decided to go again this year.

This year, in 2013, this year, I did not expect this to happen. With a much improved manuscript, I reconnected with some great people I met at the conference the previous year, and thought to continue to improve upon it even more. I write Fantasy, which is only 6%-8% of the market. But those hopes, those dreams which haunt in the dead of night, those passions that keep my fingers punching the keys, would not allow me to see reason.

The final day of the conference, the awesome Pam van Hylckama Vlieg – book blogger, agent, and social media extraordinaire – offered me representation.

Often times, I daydreamed about that moment – what I would say, how I would feel, how I would act if that moment ever arrived – but none of those dreams compared to the emotion that moment elicited. My jaw was on the floor. I was confused. Could this really be happening? Me? Joe Shmoe? I looked from Pam to my manuscript sitting before her, then back to Pam. And I was still confused.

But yes. She nodded, confirming that impossible notion. And like any unintelligible cave man, all I could say was, “Really?”

Obviously, I’m a writer, not a speaker.

And now the journey begins. I look forward to working with her on the last revision of this manuscript, look forward to the moment she finds a publisher, and I look forward to our many future projects together.

You can find us here: Pam’s Clients

Here are my final words. I wrote a book before I knew how to write. If I can do it, so can you.

I remember that years ago, when I encountered my first writer’s group and choppy-sentence ridden passages I hated them.  My own sentences were long-winded with a tendency towards the passive. Now, I catch my stream-of-consciousness rough drafts to be choppy, halting and exactly what my younger self despised.

Yet, now, I’m defensive of the choppy sentences.

What happened?

Everyone’s style changes.  Life, reading, and our own minds conspire towards this end  Even if, somewhere, we want to hit the pause button, we really don’t have a choice.

I think that it was easier to slow down and think through things in a long-winded fashion when I was younger.  I didn’t understand that the chaos of life could cause a person’s thought patterns to come in continuous clips of phrases, to be constantly urgent and hurried.

That doesn’t fit in every scene.  When you want something to move slower, to build character rather than plot, this sort of choppiness needs to be edited out.

So while scouring my short stories for too little sentence variation, I am thinking about the pendulum swinging from one end to the other despite my desires.

I suppose we have all witnessed changes in our writing over time. Have any caught you off guard in this fashion? Have any weaknesses morphed into strengths? Or vice versa?

A while back, Steve Yeager provided some superb advice on how to accept the critiques of your peers (Accepting Critiques with Grace) but what I would like to present is this: where do you draw the line in accepting feedback and sticking with your instinct?

I’ve been with Stonehenge for little over a year, and I have grown so much as a writer due to the feedback of this group, which ranges in age, genre, and perspective. If you are lucky enough to find a spectacular gang of writer’s, you cannot argue the benefits of seeing things from people who are not family or friends. But even then, you may not agree with all points of view or you may. Ultimately, it is up to the writer how they effect change within their story based on feedback.

For the sake of argument, let us say, out of ten people reading your work, all ten provide outstanding advice. Should you implement every change offered? Does the story remain yours? Or do you filter through the ideas and use them, tweak them, or disregard them?

I would like to share a quote from a writer, both lyrical, literature, and screenplay, who has had a profound influence on my life, Mr. Nick Cave: “All of the great works of art, it seems to me, are the ones that have a total disregard for anything else; just a total egotistical self-indulgence.”

I’m in no way saying don’t listen to any feedback or advice, but Cave brings up a valid point to consider. Many of the changes to my novel, which really spiced it up, have come from outside perspectives. But there comes a point when you need to trust your instincts, speak to your own heart and purpose, and soar with your own wings. A sentence may not be grammatically correct, or may have odd word choices, but it really has soul and meaning, to you, and everyone says change it. Do you? Or do you stick with your guns?

A writer’s group, select group of friends, or any other form of critique group will very much help you get to a higher echelon of writing, or art, and what I ask is, are you creating for you or others? Like any form of art, it takes years of discipline and practice to fine tune your style, and in the same arena, you must develop your own ear and instinct for feedback. Regardless of which methods you choose, always remain true to yourself, but always approach everything with an open heart, an open mind, and the rest will come…

As an artist, I have always struggled with the will of motivation. Keeping myself inspired to create, and it has never been an easy task. I have moved from drawing, painting, photography, and now writing. The desire is never a problem, nor the imagination, nor the ideas, but the drive is missing. I’m in the car, the motor is on, and I’m not pressing the gas– green lights all the way– no follow through. And this is the curse of Prometheus’s Fire.

As usual to the human condition, I have forgotten one of the highest lessons: All things begin with choice. There is nothing holding me back except myself. We’ve all heard this, ad nauseam, but it is said for a reason. So, the time has come to silence the world around me, set every tiny distraction aside, and look at the choices in my life. And what do I see? Creation. I am a creator. It is my purpose, my design, my everything. This above all, I must keep in the forefront of my mind.

And to keep the writing and editing process fresh, I have experimented with a new device. Something to hold writer’s block at bay, which is really an excuse for procrastination. I write parodies of my own work, sort of literary gag reels. So, I present an excerpt from the novel I am working on, The Etherium:

Harkin approached the sorcerer– cowled in black, silver pages cycled through the air with an incandescent glow, the dark figure paid no attention.

“You there!” Harkin’s blood-shot eyes focused on two blurry images of the man. “You’re coming with me.” Attempting to place the edge of his axe on the table to emphasize threat, he missed the edge, swayed, and with drunken balance, the heavy blade crashed to the floor. Harkin fell face forward into the table. The cracking of wood echoed about the tavern–

“Oh, for the love of God!” The man in black stood from his table, throwing back his hood.

“Cut, cut!” The director rubbed at his furrowed brow.

Hands entagled with the silver pages suspended from thin wires, thrashing about, the man in black ripped them from the ceiling. “I have had enough of this! This man cannot get his lines or rhythm right. I’ll be in my trailer.”

“No, no, no…” The director raced after his star. “Karl, please babe. Come back. We’ll get someone else.”

“I’m done!” Karl slammed the studio door open and headed towards his private sanctuary. “Should have stayed in Wellington…”

Hope you enjoyed! Remember, life is absurd, and we should never take anything too seriously. Even ourselves.

Whether you write in Fantasy, Romance, Science Fiction, YA, Erotica, Literary Fiction, Horror, or in any other genre, your world shows us your reality.  Some stories require little world development, (as earth already exists).  However, others require a great deal of thought and imagination.  But whatever story you choose to write, make your world a character.

WorldCharacters.  This main element keeps me flipping the pages of any great novel.  I love experiencing life from inside characters’ minds.  It keeps me on my toes, allows me to feel what they feel, hurt when they hurt, love when they love, and hate when they hate.  Writing from a POV (Point of View) is an incredibly valuable tool to develop.  But what does this have to do with the setting – the world?

Well, how do we experience life but through our senses?  Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  And let’s not forget what emotions these senses evoke, the reactions they elicit.  Setting can create tension, complement the mood of the scene, add dangers and surprises to the story, and most of all – can interact with the characters.

Imagine a world without weather – a world neither cold nor hot.  A world without sunlight or darkness – without homes, jungles, mountains, beauty, or horrors.  A world we couldn’t interact with.  If we could imagine such an “environment,” it would be a pretty boring place to live.

The setting of a story allows us a unique opportunity to exaggerate real life, show emotion through a storm, torment our characters, and experience beauty of the impossible.  You might already have a great story with interesting character arcs, a tight 3 act structure, and an awesome beginning and end, but if you don’t have a developed setting, you are missing out on a wonderful opportunity for exploration and experience.

One question I ask myself after creating a new world from scratch is:  How much of this should I show in my story?  The answer?  If you’ve done your homework – created fascinating countries and cities with rich history, know the evolution of your plant life and beasts, generated interesting cultures, wars, literature, languages, games, not to mention weather, magic (if necessary), oceans, and naming conventions – do NOT include all of this in your story.  Show only about 1%.  It isn’t possible to include everything, and if you try, your story will turn out heavy and boring.  Fiction is neither the place nor time for telling.  Take a college class or read some non-fiction.

Instead, show.  Don’t tell.  Let us experience and interact with this fascinating world through the characters’ senses.  Don’t tell us of the history of an ancient palace.  Instead, let your character’s hands run over the rough cracks and ancient carvings.  Let us smell the dust in a cellar that hasn’t seen the light of day for a century.  Let us taste the sweet fruit that exists only in your imagination.  Let us fear as your unique beasts threaten us, as your storms thwart us, as your prisons break us.  Let us fall in love with the colors of your mountains, the smells of your food…  The point is, show us the story that exists in your world – don’t tell us of the world itself.

Once you have developed your world, your characters’ interactions will become richer, the plot more interesting, the arcs more tense.  And if your story doesn’t require world-building, still, let the characters interact with the environment.  If we’re in a cafe, I want to know what the coffee tastes like and if its raining outside.  Show me an argument on the streets, subtle looks of passersby, the discomfort of a three-legged chair, the annoyance of being seated beneath a fan on a cold day.  The richness of your setting allows you to show the personalities of your characters, allows them to interact more freely, and creates a more realistic impression on the reader.

So make that setting a character!  Experiment.  Let your surroundings inspire your imagination.  Both most of all, have fun doing it!  The more fun you have, the more you fall in love with your story, and the more involved you are with your characters, the better the reactions of your readers.  They will love you what you love, hate what you hate, smile when you smile, and cry when you cry.