Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How Do You Define Yourself?

‘You can’t define yourself with negatives. You have to choose adjectives.’ Stacy London, What Not to Wear

While Stacy was talking about a particular woman’s very low self image it occurred to me it could also apply to writers.

Especially given all the the pressure going on now with NaNoWriMo. Especially for those people that feel they have no hope of really finishing it.

And so they feel they have failed.

I’ve heard that from a few friends recently and I was surprised. Not at the feelings of being upset or disappointed, but the fact they used the word Failed. In regard to something like NaNo.

Perhaps I don’t take NaNo as seriously as some people do, but hey, they aren’t paying me for that writing. They aren’t giving me any particular benefits for doing it. The benefits that we get from participating - whether we finish or not - only come from us. And our expectations of ourselves.

So to go along with Stacy London - but paraphrasing - Don’t define yourself - or your writing - with negatives. Choose adjectives. I say Choose Good Adjectives. You are a Writer. You can do it!

As for Failing at NaNo … You only Fail if you allow yourself to feel you did.

And if you didn’t learn a darn thing from it.

Have there been times I didn’t finish NaNo - you betcha. Did I feel I failed. NO. Because I learned invaluable things about my writing, my story, my characters, my scheduling….my voice. I learned all kinds of things, writing and not writing.

So if you are feeling a bit down right now - you don’t have to give up. There are NaNo get togethers going on all over town for ‘write in’ kind of things to get as much done as you can.

If you have already given up, don’t feel like you failed. Sit down and figure out what all you learned this month. Maybe you learned how much time you really need, or don’t need, to really get some writing done. Perhaps you learned you hate these characters, you need new ones - So, get some. Maybe the story needs new characters. Or a new angle. Maybe it’s really a short story or novella, not a novel.

If you sit down and think about it, even a bit, you can find all kinds of things you learned from what you did do. Or even what you didn’t do. Perhaps your heart just isn’t in it. Or in the story.

Whatever your experience you can learn from it.

If you want to. If you choose to.

If you need more thoughts or ideas, I can help with that.

But you have to choose what words you are going to use to define your experience this month.

Choose good ones.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Lost the Ability to Write?

Having gone through a Major slump, funk, or writers block recently, and still trying to come out of it, I started hunting around for help. The great thing about living in this time is the invention of google.

And I came across this great blog. I was caught by this title of course, since I was wondering things along the same lines.

Can You Lose the Ability to Write?

So if you are in a slump, or a funk, and you are wondering the same thing, go over and read this blog.

And then it would be nice if you’d come back and let me know if it helped. So we all have even more things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving Day.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Something in the Air? Or Funks and Writers Block

Or funks and slumps and …. well, some people don’t believe in writer’s block. But when you’re experiencing a funky slump, or whatever you want to call it when no words are coming to your mind at all for writing…. And you aren’t even reading. That’s definitely not a happy dancing place.

So how do you get out of it?

As I’ve tried to get out of the deep trench of emptiness that seems to have taken over my brain I have stumbled across interesting information that I needed at this time.

And I found not only that I wasn’t the only one that had been in an awful funk, so had the Editor of Writer’s Digest - just check out this part of the recent free e-newsletter -

Letter From the Editor

Lately I've been in a funk. Personal funk. Professional funk. Writing funk. And, as many of you probably already know, I don't tolerate funks well and will go to great lengths to get out of them. One article that helped me was 4 Ways Inspiration Helps You Beat Writer's Block, which helped me learn that instead of looking for inspiration, sometimes it's better to let it find you. I also found comfort after reading Your Job Is To Write, Not Worry, a piece designed to remind you what is really important when your heart and soul is devoted to being a writer.

Also, I wanted to introduce you to one of my favorite members of the WD team, Marielle Murphy, in my latest installment ofWD Editors Are Writers Too. If it weren't for her "Friday Fun Fact" e-mails, I wouldn't have known that slugs have 4 noses! I'm eternally grateful for that.

Okay I’m not saying that misery loves company, and that info’ on the slugs….. Ewwwww.

I’m saying it is nice to know that I’ve not been the only aberration in the writing world these days. Especially with NaNoWriMo in full swing and there’s clacking of keys to be heard all over, even in the next chair.

It wasn’t just the felt commiseration, it was the articles of inspiration and encouragement.

Like this one:


Hmmmm, maybe I can convince key-clacker in chair next to me that while he seems to be cranking out the writing for NaNo, the inspiration suggestion of going away and changing the scene might really help me and be what I need right now. I guess maybe the Thailand elephant suggestion might be a little much? But he might think a change of scenery might help him as well. Elephant or not.

So what do you do to get out of your slumps? Especially writing slumps.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Murder She’s Talking About

No, don’t worry, not real murder. Although it might seem like that sometime right about now for those out there working on, or behind on, NaNo. [You don’t have to do show of hands.}

I readily admit I am not doing NaNo this year. Not because I don’t believe in it or because I see no use in it. I just didn’t have the energy to write anything let alone tackle NaNo. After a while there’s only so long you can put off and ignore things you have to do, need to do, should do. At some point you have to cook meals that someone is going to eat, even if they help with cooking, there’s still the preparation, cooking, and clean up. Not to mention all the clothes washed, and worn again. And all the rest of the ‘fun’ stuff that has to get done / be done, and all those Happy Holidays breathing down on us fast. I just couldn’t deal with all that this year. Something had to go. This year it appears my brain at writing. Got up and left at some point. Which brings me to the Murder of the title. Although I am having a tough time writing anything, even darlings, the other person that lives in the household with me apparently has no trouble, and he is doing NaNo for the first time this year. Maybe he’s the one that took my create writing brain cells….. Hmmm…. No, I’m not contemplating murdering him to get them back. Doesn’t work that way. Er, does it? Just kidding.

I have writing friends that I think are tackling NaNo. Although, since I’ve not heard from them and am assuming they are…..

But one writing friend has been notified that their short story is going to be published…. but what about rewriting the first part, says the editor. Well, actually, cutting the whole first part and starting down on page 2.

Writer’s have different feelings about this. Some are - ‘so, what are you waiting for? You are going to have a piece published, what’s the big deal, just do it already.’ Other’s resist.

This is what writers often refer to as killing your darlings.

Maybe because I’ve been of bombed out state of writing not even shuddering through the shells of burned out stories, I’ve found a sudden curiosity in Killing Darlings. [The killing the dust bunnies hasn’t captured my attention very long.] Never heard of people divorcing darlings but I’ve often done that - just in case they needed love later in the story, kind of thing. I mean, Kill? That’s pretty drastic.

But interestingly as I was half-way mulling this writing mayhem I came across a site I had not been to before. The Bad Penny Review. Okay, so yeah, I had to stop and look just for the title. And then I got into looking at a section they have on Killing Your Darlings. Spooky, strange, how things like that happen, huh.

Interesting what they have to say about the different authors and some of the revisions, the Killings, that have taken place in famous works.

Especially this one - Murdering Your Darlings: Writers’ Revisions - that’s talking about The Great Gatsby.

“…..Usually, we think of revision as making qualities less abstract, more clearly defined, but this example suggests something more complex: that the real trick is in discovering precisely what the story demands—even, as in this case, if it means a slight pull back in focus to deliver it.

And that, perhaps, is as accurate a description of revision as anything else, but as we shall see with other authors, a story can have an absurd variety of needs.”

Well, that certainly clears things up about Murdering Your Darlings, huh? But it is an interesting concept to think of discovering precisely what the story demands. Guess I should read more about Killing Darlings to figure out the who, what, when, and where. Just like in a real detective story perhaps.

So how do you determine the answers to those? Is there a sure fire way you know those answers?

Those that are taking a break from NaNo - get back to it, you don’t even think about this until after you finish.

And take a break and a drink first. After all the first step will be determining which is a darlin’ that has to go, and which one you just haven’t discovered what the best qualities are and where to use them.

Just divorcing them for a while, Right?

So what do you do? Is your best way? Do you just flat out murder?

How do you go about that?

Have a routine? A style, a m.o. …….. ???

I’ll get the big spotlight if I need to.

Just let me know.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaNo Numb?

Brain gone NaNo numb already?

Take a break and get some help from fellow writers at JRWs Writers Wednesday casual gathering.

You might learn things like, if you get stuck in NaNo, it helps to blow something up.

Sometimes with pirates.

If that doesn’t help just come and give your brain a break with a fun bunch of characters.

Writers Wednesday

Capital Alehouse in downtown Richmond, 623 East Main Street, Nov. 9 from 5:30 till 7:30 p.m. When you enter, look for the friendly crowd with the stick-on name-tags. Free parking in the Lanier Parking Systems deck at 6th and Cary Streets.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Character Development

Or Developing Character.

My blog has been bare lately because I had a core brain unload after the overload of conference information and it has refused to reboot back up….. that or because I have been held captive by large groups of marauding dust bunnies and have just now escaped. Or both. That makes a real character out of you believe me. Don’t believe me, look at your lurking dust bunnies sometime and see how big they can get and form while you are off doing other things and being busy. Just be sure to inform someone of your whereabouts for rescue purposes. And I’m getting ready to do battle again so if I am gone too long send in the calvary. Or a couple of Dyson vacuum cleaners.

Luckily for you the Super Wonderful Troy Howell is stepping in to guest blog about his great information on character development that he had sent to me when we did a session on Character Development for the recent James River Writers Conference with Belle Boggs and Derome Scott Smith.

Check out Troy’s book ‘The Dragon of Cripple Creek’ - he has a great take on dragons and dragon lore, and check out his blog and site, great illustrations of course - and a lot of Troy’s interesting and inspirational thoughts and writings.

Thanks Troy for coming to my rescue.

On character development / my reference notes for the James River Writer’s panel discussion, with a few additions /

by Troy Howell

The ultimate goal is to convey characters in such a way that the reader relates enough to hear their stories. As you develop your characters, ask, Why should the reader care? Empathy or sympathy, at the least, curiosity. Whatever occurs that is greater than that—bringing tears, laughter, enlightenment—is a wonderful gift.

Each character has a function that is natural to the story premise and plot. I was recently asked by a reading group discussing my Dragon of Cripple Creek (Amulet, 2011) what my inspiration was for Dillon. Though my dragon, Ye, was pure inspiration gotten from that nebulous place where ideas drift in whispers, Dillon was the result of a need. When I created my protagonist, Kat, for the book, I felt she needed someone within her own age range to relate with outside the adult realm, someone who would eventually help her balance her thoughts and actions, and through whom more information would come. A girlfriend was not the answer, since her time is spent on a family road trip due to a job change for her dad. A sibling was a natural choice. A sister would pose the risk of being competitive, so a brother was the solution—an older brother, because a younger one would not add the necessary understanding. Hence, Dillon.

As in life, each person wants something, has a motive. Every word and action is affected by that motive. Each person has a core flaw or weakness, a vulnerability. Each person has a core strength. Need is the underlying cause for these weaknesses and strengths. Need is not equivalent to want, but usually determines want.

"Every character is sufficiently vivid and interesting for his function.” —John Gardner

Avoid stereotype: Every character, no matter how minor, should be unique and unpredictable. Sometimes, the first action or response from a character that comes to your mind is not unique; consider choosing something quirky or even opposite of who they seemingly are—surprise and delight us. My police chief, Chief Huffman, was initially stoic and steely, until I gave him a stutter that surfaces when he’s facing the public. In the movie, Meet Joe Black, Death is a golden-haired young man who loves peanut butter.

Be sure you step into their shoes, their feet, their souls. Look into their mirrors, sleep in their beds, have their dreams. Know each one as thoroughly as you can—each one has a history.

Much depends on POV.

Much depends on situation, setting, and environment.

The character should fit the scene naturally, unless, by intent, he doesn't fit at all.

A few details can convey much: A man who frequently says, “My goodness.” A cat whose fur is the careless color of chalk. A woman who wears a coat, size FITS ALL HOMELESS.

“Although characters may be complex, the details of their complexity are often blurred,

as if by time." –JG

Contrast, and a contrasting cast of characters. Contrast adds balance, richness, intensity, conflict.

Names are important—select the right one.

The reader should sense that each character has all the senses—sight, smell, touch, hearing, taste (except, of course, in cases of disability). We should also get a sense of how they sound and how they smell, besides how they look and feel. By feel I mean texture, not emotion. Emotion is a subject of its own, though the two can be, and usually are, related. Would her fingers be cool if she touched you? My dragon, Ye, smelled of “fortune and ashes, spices and earth.” It hurt Kat to smell him and soothed her, too. Each character should breathe.

Convey character through action and dialogue; show more than tell.

Psychic range: You should be able to see them from both a distance and close up.

So, to restate what I believe are the essentials of character development: Get the reader to care. Each character has a function, a basic need, and a want. Live your characters. Be unique; be succinct.

Thank you, Shawna, for being the perfect moderator on the panel, and for the opportunity to be a guest on your blog.