Tag Archives: writing

Has Writing ruined reading for other authors?

Think back to when you were a child.  An innocence, where magic investagationand fantasy filled your world.  The tooth fairy somehow always knew when you lost a tooth, and you stared in amazement (though not disbelief) how such a tiny car could fit twenty clowns in it at the circus.

Then you grow up, and you discover why.  You were taken backstage and saw how the magic was done.  And like that *snaps fingers* the magic is gone.  You can’t ignore it.  The next time you went to the circus you looked for the trap door.  Even if the magician guesses your card correctly, you wonder how he did it.  ‘What’s the trick’, you ask yourself.  Not, ‘Wow, that’s incredible’.  You want to know the trick…  Because there is no such thing as magic.

You discovered the Great and Powerful OZ was just a charlatan behind a curtain using smoke and mirrors to play God.

Okay, I’m getting a little melodramatic, I realize that.  But it makes my point.  Critiquing is habit forming.

Since I’ve joined this underground society of writers I have done a lot of critiquing.  There are days I prefer it to writing.  But it is not without its drawbacks.

Even though my daughter is in high school, I recently started to read to her again before going to bed.  Sure the titles and topics of what we now read have drastically changed.  Little fuzzy woodland critters dancing gleefully in meadows have been traded for teenagers stranded in a town entranced by some dystopian virus outbreak, but still quality time is quality time…right?

I like to think my daughter enjoyed the times I’ve read to her when she was a little girl, but I’m not so sure this is the case now.

“I looked down the street.  All the houses had the same exterior brickwork, same mailbox, same landscaping…”  I pause after reading that last sentence.

“What?  Why did you stop?” my daughter asks.

“Exterior brickwork?  The author would have been better off saying ‘façade’.  It flows better.  ‘Exterior brickwork’ drew me out of the story a bit.  Don’t you agree?”

A sigh and eye roll later she replies, “Not as much as you analyzing every sentence.”

Critiquing is a wonderful tool.  I believe it helps me improve my writing as I become aware of other people’s issues in theirs.  But I recently noticed that I can no longer just read a book for the sake of reading.  I critique as I go.

I’m not saying I’m a master wordsmith, merely that critiquing helps sharpen your skills since you train yourself to look for pitfalls even experienced writers can fall victims to.  Like ending sentences with prepositions.

But like the grown up now looking for the trap door the tiny car parks on top of, there is a part of me that misses the freedom of reading without looking at word choices and inconsistencies.  Wires, pullies, smoke machines, and mirrors have replaced magic.

I still can enjoy reading, but it has become easier to get pulled out of it now that I read it from a more technical viewpoint.  I would never have noticed that a word appeared three times within a four paragraph stretch.  Head jumping never bothered me, and I would gloss over any semi-colons barely aware they were there.

Maybe it isn’t such as bad thing.  After all, those semi-colons have no place in modern society…

Happy Jumping Frog Day!

“HeHolidaysy camel, guess what day is it?”

For those in the United States, it may trigger a smile or a remorseful head shake over the insurance company commercial involving two poor camels getting heckled over the nickname for Wednesday – ‘humpday’.

Everyone enjoys getting ‘over the hump’ as the weekend gets closer.  We celebrate it.  Right?  It’s practically a holiday.

Holidays are something people look forward to.  Some days we celebrate because of religious reasons, some for political reasons, and some for the sole purpose of wanting something to celebrate, regardless of the origins.  (Arrrr, matey – some people just can’t wait for September 19th).

It’s this latter type of holiday I’m addressing today.  The term “Hallmark Holiday” has been coined to describe a holiday that has no real purpose other than to boost commercialism, such as selling cards or candy.  Most of the family member celebrations have fallen into this category: Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents’ Day, Sweetest Day, and Siblings Day.  Those who reject romance even throw in Valentine’s Day (who now shares February 14th with the holiday Singles Awareness Day or S.A.D.)

Yet, while you probably heard of most of the holidays I listed above (Siblings Day is April 10th and has been around since 1998), there’s a whole other world out there of holidays that apparently Hallmark and other card producers has overlooked.  An event in itself that may be cause for celebration.

I have looked high and far to find a “Clean Up You Room Day” card for my kids, but for whatever reason, neither Hallmark nor American Greetings had a single one, not even an ecard!  What the heck?

And I can’t tell you how difficult it was to convince everyone in the office to take a moment of silence for all those missing socks on Lost Sock Memorial Day earlier this month.  But I think I can drum up business this coming September 5th and find some folks to gather around to celebrate Cheese Pizza Day, heck I celebrate that practically every week, but it’s nice to know there’s a day set aside for it anyway.

Now some of these ‘holidays’ can get confusing.  You certainly don’t want to embarrass yourself going around wishing everyone a Happy Chocolate Day (July 7th) this coming May 15th which is, of course, Chocolate Chip Day.

It pains me that I can spend months or years writing and trying to get my thoughts and characters out there in the world with zero success and yet some drunken idiot one November 2nd screams out in the middle of a bar ‘Today is Look for Circles Day!’ and manages to rally enough people into thinking this idea should be supported.  Okay, maybe not supported well otherwise there would be at least one ecard for it.

Admittedly, many of these holidays are not federally recognized, but they still exist.  The question is why.  But as we ponder that, I want to leave you with some well-wishes this May 13th.

May you have a wonderful Frog Jumping/Leprechaun/National Receptionist Day.  And let’s not forget this is National Barbecue/Bike/Blood Pressure/Photograph/Recommitment/ and Salad Month as well.

Now, if you excuse me I need to practice my chicken dance for tomorrow’s festivities.

 

Blurring Genres

I always enjoyed Fantasy, as I mentioned in previous entries.  I read to escape reality, and perhaps it seemed the best blurred linesway to do that was to engage in a genre that removed itself from reality the most.

Even in my other free time hobby, video games, I enjoy fantasy – The Witcher series, Elder Scrolls, vampire sagas.

For a time I was interested in The Sims when it first came out (like a decade ago), but when I realized the game dealt with the same crap I had to deal with in real life it lost a lot of interest for me.  Like literally, your character had to find time to crap – go to the bathroom, as well as eat, go to work, shower, talk…  I had enough difficulty finding time for me to do all those things for myself!  I really don’t want to take up precious free time to do it for a virtual me.

So Fantasy was my passion.  It made sense when I started writing that would be the genre I was drawn to.  So my first two manuscripts were clearly urban Fantasy.   My first was a vampire novel, which has yet to see the light of day (seriously – no pun was intended).  Being my first attempt at a novel I made so many mistakes it is in dire need of revamping…okay, I chose that word on purpose, sorry.

My second novel, Natural Enemies, I believe shown major growth (you can check it out yourself here).  But then I wrote my third novel and was half way through it when my CPs mentioned I was writing a paranormal romance not a fantasy.  My opinion about blurred genre lines are posted here.

Now I started another manuscript.  Maybe the fourth times a charm…right?  When I started writing it was to be a good ol’ fashion urban fantasy.  However, as I wrote, as my characters and plots tend to do, it morphed.  As it turns out, it isn’t fantasy, it’s not even magical realism, or any other sub-genre of fantasy.  I thought it would become action/adventure, but I’m not so sure anymore.  In truth, if someone was to put a gun to my head right now and demand a classification I would have to say – incomplete, simply because I wouldn’t be able to answer them, so I they would shoot me, and thus, I wouldn’t get to finish the story.

I know this will be an issue when I finish, unless it develops in some clear and defined way so I can properly query it under the right genre to the right agents and publishers.  But what if it doesn’t?

Many stories overlap multiple genres, and at times it seems almost like a crapshoot when classifying someone’s work.

Yes, classifications are useful and necessary.  Most people when looking for their next book will make a beeline to a certain genre.  I don’t know anyone who goes into a bookstore or library and would say to the staff member or librarian if asked what are they looking for would respond ‘Anything, as long as it has words’.  People have interests matching the classifications of the genres.  I never had an interest in reading Romance novels, and I know others have no interest in Fantasy.  It’s not that one is better than the other, they’re just different.

But some genres can overlap.  Speculative Fiction has many distinct categories, and Romance can contain plenty of action scenes.  Mysteries can have plenty of romance scenes.  How do we know how to properly define a book when the relationship between the two main characters is as important to the development of the story as discovering who the killer is?  Just because there’s magic in the world, does that trump the fact the story is about the coming of age of a young girl trying to find herself in that world?

It seems that writers today aren’t so concerned with making sure they stay ‘inside the lines’ for want of a better expression, when creating their stories.  But if the industry isn’t willing to entertain that sort of flexibility, what happens then?

Be sure to read my latest entry of my Paranormal novel: Daughter of Lilith on Wattpad!

Everyone’s a critic

Muppet Critics
Statler and Waldorf, created by Jim Henson

Perhaps it’s human nature.  Although what purpose that particular instinct serves, I have no idea. Maybe it stems from the desire to be popular, to attract the best mate, or appear stronger in order to better our chances of survival and procreation. Perhaps it stems from a desire to feel superior to everyone else. Or maybe some people are just a-holes.

For whatever reason there isn’t a sport, hobby, or profession in existence that isn’t at the mercy of a critic. I don’t mean professional critics. I mean those people who, for example, walk into a room and see someone watching a game on TV. They sit for an hour watching and listening to the announcers and then see one of the players make a foul, error, or just basically mess up in some way. At that moment, they have absorb enough information about the pastime from observing for the past hour to pass judgment on that individual who has spent years, perhaps even decades, dedicated to learning, practicing, and playing that sport. They can jump right in with the announcers and click into place as easily as a perfect puzzle piece.

I’m just as guilty as the next person, I’ll own up to it. During the Olympics, I watch to make sure the gymnasts ‘stick their landing’, and when they don’t I’ll mutter a ‘tsk’ and shake my head in dismay. Never mind the fact that if I were to try as much as to walk across a balance beam the nearby hospital would have to be put on high alert.

Watching episodes of Family Feud sparks this as well. “Name something people drink at a wedding.” “KOOL-AID!” And of course the rest of the Family players jump and cheer, and pat the contestant on the back. “Good answer, good answer!” Well, no it isn’t. In fact it’s a stupid answer. (I made this example up, but if someone reading this thought it was a good answer, my apologies.)

But the truth is when you put yourself in the public eye, you open yourself up to judgment by EVERYONE. Those qualified to do so, and those who aren’t. Some will attempt to pass on constructive criticism; others will just pass on bad feelings.

The poor contestant who answers ‘Kool-Aid’ knows that isn’t a good answer, but they’re under pressure, on national TV, in front of a live audience with a microphone pointed at them. With that kind of pressure, a nice tall glass of cold Kool-Aid would really hit the spot…of course, so would hard liquor, which would be a better answer to that question, but whatever.

That gymnast has about a million things to consider when they are flying, twisting, and turning in the air. Inertia. Gravity. Momentum.   Where’s the f-ing ground? The fact they can do one-tenth of what I see is amazing to me. If they end up taking a tiny hop landing after being airborne for five seconds swirling around like a piece of dandelion fuzz in a tornado, I seriously can’t care less, I’m impressed!

Each page a writer types is a series of decisions. What their characters say and do. How they react to secondary characters. What setting should they create? Chances are some of those decisions will be bad ones. Some will be brilliant. Creating a world and populating it from your own imagination, then putting your name on it and shouting to the world ‘Hey, look what I did!’ takes a lot of courage.

With seven billion and counting people out there, it’s impossible to impress everyone. But not impossible to gather seven billion opinions. Some will share experience, and perhaps grant you some insights. Others will look for anything to pick at. The best you can do is take what you can glean from it all and move forward.

Remake: Part ∞

cookiecutter

An idea! An idea! My kingdom for an original idea! I realize I’m getting older, and the more I live the more I will experience. However, I don’t think I’m so old that I already have to live my life in reruns, at least in relation to when I want to be watch a movie.

News recently came out that there will be a Highlander remake.   Really, Hollywood? So much for ‘there can be only one’. Have all the good plots and characters been used up and now you have to go through your archives and resurrect old ones?

I enjoy going to the movies. But it seems that everything is a remake or sequel. Total Recall, Carrie, Robocop, Gremlins, and rumor has it there will soon be a remake of Dirty Dancing, and even Porky’s. In fact, there are over fifty movie remakes in the works. Seriously?

How many times can Bruce Wayne develop his neurosis of bats? Did Two-Face end up like that when someone threw acid at him during a trial, or did it happen when he toppled a chair he was tied to in a warehouse doused in flammable liquid?

This is not to say no good has come from remakes. Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker certainly holds its own to Jack Nicholson’s interpretation, which was great. And the X-Men movies offer a great showcase for the latest CGI and visual effects. And we can’t deny each time there’s another remake or sequel released the public flocks to it, pouring money into Hollywood’s coffers, so why go out and find an original idea? If something works, don’t try to fix it, right? Just dress it up with different actors and more modern effects.

But while everyone has a favorite meal or dessert, if you had it every day you’d eventually get tired of it. Even a kid doesn’t want to eat PB & J every day of the year.   Now I do acknowledge there are original movies out there. I’m just basing this on what I see from billboards and commercials each day. Many of the plugs for the mainstream shows are remakes, adaptations, based on a book, or rehashing an already successful idea (aren’t we due for yet another zombie apocalypse movie about now?).

Maybe the Guf of original ideas is empty. Even as a writer when I start a new manuscript I can’t help thinking that what I’m writing has, in some form or another, been done already. My characters may be different, but the template is the same. Hero goes on an adventure and meets up with allies and goes out to save the day. That cookie cutter fits Star Wars, Indiana Jones, LoTR, every Marvel/DC Comics movie, Harry Potter, and countless others.

When you look closely, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Bilbo Baggins have a lot they can compare over a drink at the Cantina. Their journey began with them leading very mundane (dare I say perfectly normal, thank you very much, lives). They spent their days in their hovel (in the cupboard under the stairs, in a sand cave on Tattooine, or in a hobbit-hole), until they come across an old man with a white mustache and beard (length may vary from simple goatee to something that would put ZZ Top and Duck Dynasty folks to shame). The old man sends our simple hero on a grand adventure. Each armed with a special weapon (wand/lightsaber/magical blade) they strike out to fight the forces of evil. Along the way they make allies and friends to aid in their cause that will eventually end with them standing alone in the face of danger. And let’s face it, people – who doesn’t see similarities between Dobby, Yoda, and Golem? Just saying.

dobbyyoda

Individually, each of these is a creative, beautifully written, and unique story. Yet, the basic skeletal structure is the same. They are far from remakes of one another, but yet, it makes you wonder how original are original ideas nowadays? All three of these stories follow the Hero’s Journey monomyth outlined by Joseph Campbell’s as do many other stories and movies. It doesn’t mean they aren’t unique in their own right, but does it make them unique?

While there’s much to be said for coming up with a new and fresh idea, perhaps after a hundred plus years of movie making and thousands of years of storytelling, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Writing styles – plotter versus panster

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Anyone who writes and talks to other writers eventually gets asked the question:  ‘Are you a plotter or panster?’

While to an outsider it sounds like the perfect beginnings of a harassment case and the filing of a restraining order, it’s a common question.   Writers are interested in knowing if their counterparts outline and plan their stories before sitting down to write or if they just ‘wing it’.

A plotter plots out their manuscript, often creating an outline of the entire story before they launch their word processor and type their first word.  A panster may have a rough idea of what’s going on with their characters, but doesn’t have a clear and defined concept, yet they dive into their manuscript and see where it takes them.  They are flying by the seat of their pants.  While I’m not sure where the term ‘panster’ came from, I’m just going with my belief that’s why we are called pansters.  If you know differently, please leave a comment.

To be honest I have yet to meet anyone who is completely one or another.  Most if not all writers are going to be a hybrid of the two.  One writer I know does create outlines before beginning the writing process, but as far as I know, has yet to not alter it numerous times throughout her characters’ journey.

I consider myself predominantly a panster.  I will often have the beginning and the end of my story scoped out in my head, and at that point will beginning writing.  I sit down with my characters, which tend to be flushed out more than the plot I’m about to the put them through and tell them the following:  ‘Okay guys, here’s the deal.  You’re here, at point ‘A’.  I need you all to get over here, at point ‘Z’.  How you do it is up to you, just make sure you get there…except for you Smeadly, you need to die at point ‘R’.  Sorry, need to make sure the main character has motivation to continue forward.’

Aside from poor Smeadly, the process works for all of us, mainly because I believe my stories are more character driven then plot driven, so as long as I stay true to their personalities, the plot will be pushed forward.  As I write I will find myself adding the points ‘B’, and ‘C’, and (poor Smeadly), ‘R’.  So in some sense I’m never really flying blind.  But since I don’t have the outline to begin with, I would be considered a panster.

Most will agree they while neither is better than the other, one usually works better for an individual.  Most plotters will shake their heads in wide-eyed wonderment as the panster sits down and just begins written without consulting a stack of papers with the outlines and character profiles, and bite their tongue when we get writer’s block.  Pansters will roll their eyes and tap their foot as the plotter goes over their notes before preparing to tackle the puzzle that will soon be their next masterpiece. 

There’s no right or wrong way to write a story.  If it’s in you, it will get out and find its way to the keyboard.

The floggings will continue until morale improves.

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Sometimes motivation just escapes me.  Even when I have an idea that I believe has potential and just needs to be flushed out a little, finding the energy to bring it home just doesn’t happen.

It doesn’t help I have three full manuscripts sitting on a flash drive that haven’t caught the attention of any agents or publishers.  It doesn’t help that the average temperature outside has been in the single digits for the past two months either.

This is when people start to champion the optimist’s battle cries.  “Don’t give up hope.”  “You’ve got talent.”  “You just need to find the right agent.”  “It’s all very subjective.  But it’s a great story.  You’ll find it a home, soon.”

It reminds me of a previous job I had where, in my personal opinion, management was less than caring and ethical.  Sadly, for those who know me personally this doesn’t pinpoint the exact employer since I can say this about a few of them.

Anyway, most of the employees were not happy, and so being corporate leaders, management decided to make everyone read one of the most best-selling books of the late 20st century, Who Moved My Cheese.

Now for those blissfully unaware, this is a motivational book written by Dr. Spencer Johnson.  It’s an insightful story about finding strength to carry on even when the winds of change swirl about you at hurricane speeds.  It warns you that if you are incapable of adapting to your environment, you can find yourself in trouble.  It delivers this message with the help of a metaphorical maze populated by mice and two tiny humans.

In truth, Dr. Johnson brings up many good points and strategies within these pages.  Unfortunately for Dr. Johnson, corporate America was quick to exploit his message as quickly as governments exploit scientific findings and turned it into a weapon.

Armed with the good doctor’s wisdom, many companies, including my employer at the time, had their staff read this book and essentially said if you can’t handle change there is something wrong with you.  Apparently a strong, stable person should look at mergers, takeovers, and buyouts with enthusiasm, and look forward to cutbacks and layoffs as a child looks forward to Christmas morning.  Nothing says ‘happiness’ like a pink slip in your stocking.

I recall having at least four or five motivational speakers come in with a year’s time, and numerous inspirational theme days sprouted up including Hawaiian Day, Hat Day, and my favorite – Prom Day.  Each event encouraged employees to don the appropriate attire for the day.

When the movie “Office Space” came out I already left that job, but it brought about a serious case of PTSD.  I curled up into the fetal position and people tried coaxing me out from under my bed with pieces of cheese, promising not to move it away from me.  Well…it could have happened that way.

It baffled me that management seriously thought that hiring people to tell us to be happy and embrace change – which usually meant either being laid-off or seeing a reduction in compensation – would work.

It was a waste of time and money, and usually ended up causing more anxiety each time these mandatory meetings were scheduled.  It would have been less stressful to install air raid sirens to go off at random intervals throughout the day.

The worst part was that management tried to treat the symptoms, instead of the cause.  Of course, knowing their management style was the cause, what could one expect?

What does any of this have to do with writing, querying, and trying to catch the attention of an agent?  Not much, but it’s been a while since I enter a post in here.

However, this does touch on motivation.  While it does mean a lot to have friends and family support and stand by you when you are struggling, the bottom line is that no one can motivate you but you.