Monthly Archives: July 2012

But Supposing I Don’t Know Anything?

I am a writer who came from a sheltered life. But a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring comes from within.

– Eudora Welty

I can relate to that. As a sixteen year-old, I haven’t really had the chance to be exposed to the more daring parts of life. Though, as a pastor’s kid, and someone born into a family of utter lunatics, I have seen some of the nuttier parts. I can honestly say that I haven’t done anything daring enough to add to my writing chops. Now if you looked at all the stuff I’ve imagined doing, then it would be another story altogether. Also, the world would owe me many debts of gratitude, a Pulitzer, and perhaps a million or two. Sadly, imaginary exploits aren’t applicable.

If you go by the old “write what you know” advice, then both Eudora and I are out of luck as far as writing anything interesting goes. But is that actually true? I personally don’t think so. I do get what the adage means–and in a way, it’s true that being an expert in whatever you’re writing about does add depth, but I still disagree for several reasons. One of which being that I don’t know much just yet, and have no choice, but to write what I learn instead of what I know.

    1.   Half the fun of writing anything for me is having the excuse to read a zillion books about strange things. It’s rather nice to be able to walk into the library, pick up a copy of 101 Ways to Blow Up A House and be able to avoid arrest with three simple little words: “I’m a writer.” Also, most librarians tone down that laser glare reserved for teens who invade their sacred libraries if they know they’re aspiring writers.

I think knowing the history and the more obscure factoids about your particular topic can also be a big help, regardless of how much of an expert you are. Sure, you may have been the youngest kid on your Little League team, but do you know who invented baseball? What they were like? What gave them the idea? Any baseball fans probably do (I don’t), but you see the concept.

    2.  Being told by a real expert can be almost as good as being one yourself. Hearing about real experiences, the emotions that went with them, and how things really are, as opposed to how the books say it is. Typically, there’s a big difference. The recipe may say you can make creme brulee right the first time, but your taste-testers may not say the same.

3.  A little imagination goes a long way. Even if you can’t really research what color a tyrannosaurus was  or if you don’t actually know anyone who’s been shot in the knee, you can probably extrapolate (or more accurately, guess) something. I’m one of the lucky folk not cursed by fear of water, but the main character of my novel is. I am, however, terrified of heights, and have been to use the “getmeouttaherethisinstantordie” feelings I’m all to familiar with to describe what my dear charrie feels.

And that’s my opinion on “write what you know.” Any thoughts from the brilliant minds on the other side of the screen that I so dearly love to hear from?

 

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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Attack of the Deadly Writer’s Stone!

Stone sounds much more sophisticated than block, doesn’t it?

A writer’s block has apparently decided to sit on me for awhile. Despite the fact that my novel is actually done, the editing (e.g. rewriting the stupid parts that exist because I didn’t plan out the blasted ending) is going to kill me before I get to the sequel. As it is, I find myself hunting for reasons to not actually work on it. School, work, other “more important” writing projects–I know I’m stalling, but I have yet to get up the courage to stop myself and get back to the thing. And hey, a little distance is supposed to help with editing, right? Right…

And while we’re on the topic of writer’s block, I’ve got a couple tips for my fellow literarily inclined teenagers. I’ve had plenty of experience. Wayyyy too much, actually.

1. Music!

Sometimes having appropriate music to both block out distractions as well as get your imagination on the same track as your project helps. I typically use soundtracks and split the tracks into folders according to the emotions the particular songs dredge up. I’ve got Action playlists, Romance playlists, Mystery playlists, Sad playlists–you get the idea. And, by the way, the Doctor Who soundtracks are really, really great for writing.

2. No Music.

While music can be a tremendous help, it can also be extraordinarily distracting, depending on both your writing style and the day. Also, some people tend to get into music a little too much on occasion *cough* and that isn’t very good for someone trying to plant their butt in a chair and actually get something done. So it can go either way. Use your own judgement.

3. Brainstorming

When I’m stuck, it sometimes help to step back and start looking for new things to either add or substitute into the story. I trust you know you to brainstorm (if so, would you show me how?), so I won’t get into that, but once you do have a new idea, use it. Working on something new that you’re thrilled about writing can work wonders for your creativity–and therefore, the rest of the piece.

4. Avoidance

Sometimes, that block is a tad too heavy to shift on the first try. Working on something different for a while can help you get your brilliance shining again and help you when you go back to your original project. Either that, or you’re going to want to abandon the first one altogether. Again, it’s a thing that doesn’t work for everyone. Writing is an immensely personalized art.

5. I Think You Already Know…

The most popular and probably the most effective method for ridding yourself of a writer’s stone–er, block? Sit down. Pick up your pen/laptop/whatever. Write. And that’s probably what I should be doing right now rather than imagining new and creative ways to avoid actually working on the monster I’ve created. Granted, the other methods are heaps more fun ( You don’t want to know how long I spent putting together my playlists.), but I think this one has a better chance of success. Not that the others hurt, mind you. Having music to write to and new ideas for when you’re done with this one is always good. Whatever you go with, just write.

Even if you don’t want to.

Like I don’t want to right now.

Good night.

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Book Review #2 – The Horror of the Heights & Other Strange Tales

Before I actually start the review, I wanted to say thanks to you folks who subscribed within the first three days of the blog even existing! Not only is it gratifying, it makes me happy. Gracias, mi amigos y/o amigas!

Now, for the fun stuff. First off, I love Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and pretty much the whole body of his work. The Lost World is officially my favorite, but his short story collections come in a close second. They were so off-the-wall and varied that you never exactly know where he’s headed with his tale. Not to mention that the chap’s perfectly brilliant.

Image(Also, I like the cover art. I’d rather like to dive into that world and stay there forever.)

In this particular book, some of his more popular short works are showcased, as well as a few of the more obscure ones. But they’re all fantastic, so I would advise you to read them all! My personal favorites are “The Brazilian Cat,” “The Leather Funnel,” and “The Parasite.”

For anyone who doesn’t know (due to dear Sherlock’s popularity), Arthur wrote far, far more than just detective stories. He was one of the early Victorian science fiction writers, and, in my opinion, one of the best. In “Horror of Heights” alone, he touches on aliens, mind control, zombies, and mummies who come back to life and insult archaeologists.

Obviously, the tone of the stories is going to be a bit more narrative-heavy than a modern collection simply because of its time-frame, but Conan Doyle did keep a better balance of showing and telling than most of his compatriots did. It’s much easier reading than Jules Verne or H. G. Wells. There’s also a lot of subtle humor woven in to keep things interesting. Now, on to a few of the strange tales themselves…

In “The Parasite,” Doyle addresses the power of the mind when Professor Gilroy finds himself under the thumb of a woman by the name of Ms. Penclosa, a known mesmerist. But that’s what a mesmerist is hired for, right? The only problem is that this one is no longer just entertaining. And she won’t let go.

In “The Brazilian Cat,” Marshall King discovers just how nasty family can be, particularly when money and panthers are involved. As a bankrupt bachelor with no hope of getting by on his own, Marshall does what any self-respecting Victorian does–he contacted his cousin Everard about an extended visit. But Marshall hasn’t the slightest idea of what he’s in for.

In “The Leather Funnel,” Doyle seems to be channeling Warehouse 13 a hundred years before it showed up. A leather funnel appears to be inducing terrible nightmares in anyone who dares sleep in the same room with it. Why?

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The Dinner Is Afoot!

More accurately, the mystery dinner theater. Being homeschoolers (Woot!), my bookclub/lit class is going to have to organize our own senior trip fundraisers. And guess who gets to write the plot for this particular one?

Yes, I offered to do it. Hey, it’ll be awesome! I love writing! And mysteries! And comedy! So writing a comedic mystery that people will pay for is no biggie! May I just say that I have gained a lot of respect for the people who do this all the time for professional mystery dinner theaters. Trying to weave together a seamless mystery full of hilarious red-herring characters that will both keep the audience laughing as well as make them wonder whodunnit is ridiculously hard. Lucky for me I don’t have to write all the comedy bits (The club will do that as a group.). I’m still not completely done with it, but I have most of the basics done. This is what I’ve learned in the process…

Image

(As you can see, I was getting a tad distracted. But I still had “mysterious evil” on the brain, apparently. As evidenced by the creepy dude with the hat.)

As far as advice for writing one of these terrors goes…Start with setting. Once you have an interesting setting–haunted mansion, theater on opening night, baseball game, whatever–suspects start blooming naturally. For our particular plot, I hit upon using a theater similar to the Muny since most of our actors(e.g. my best friends) are thespians to the core and tend to spontaneously burst into song anyway. And with that as a start, I went through a list of personnel who would typically be in such a theater to hang around and kill people. Director, make-up artist, wardrobe person, usher, backdrop artist…you get the point.

Secondly, make your heroes quirky. Since your detectives are going to be the ones working both the crowd and the suspects, they’re going to be the ones talking the most. Therefore, you’ve got to give them an interesting point of view to start from. One of the several detectives we may or may not use (depending on whether the club okays it when we meet to brainstorm next week) is a teen detective who is all-grown up and in danger of losing her job. All those concussions that the typical teen sleuth gets have added up and she’s not as sharp as she once was. Can the audience help her out by helping solve the mystery?

Thirdly, narrow your suspects naturally. At the beginning of the show, make sure that it seems anyone could have done it. Make sure everyone has a solid motive and a suspicious demeanor. Then slowly begin narrowing it down. Perhaps there are alibis for a couple suspects. Maybe the clues at the crime scene eliminate someone. Bring it in to a group of two or three, then deliver the final clue. But make sure it isn’t too easy. The audience should think they have the killer cold, but should still have a smidgen of doubt.

And that is really all the pointers I have to share, outside of make sure the food’s good, too. Even if the mystery is a total fail, having good food helps. Anyways, good luck with your projects! Wish me luck with mine… 😉

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review #1 – The False Prince

Typically, I’m a bit leery of fantasies. I read them, but I go in expecting them to turn cliched and more about how well the author can describe a dragon scale or name a magic sword than about character or plot. Jennifer Nielsen, however, may have just changed that.

The story comes from the point of view of an orphan, Sage, who is in the act of absconding with a slightly-too-large roast as the tale begins. His grand theft dinner is foiled by a nobleman, Connor, who also seems intent on foiling Sage’s comfortable–if dismal–life. Intrigue builds as the story unfolds to reveal poisoned royalty, missing princes, and potentially deadly competition. A competition for the throne battled for by twenty nobles…and three orphans? The only problem being that not a one of them has any legal claim on the crown. Or do they?ImageOne of the primary things that really captured my attention was that The False Prince really didn’t read like most of the fantasies I’ve come across. It had a sharp, engaging tone that really made me want to hang around and see if any of that wit would rub off. That unpredictability really fit the character of Sage (who, I might add, is now a favorite on a long list of fictional favorite people).

And that brings us to Sage himself. In a phrase: Oh. My. Goodness. He’s defiant, he’s sarcastic, he’s self-reliant, and probably the ultimate problem child. Yet at the same time, he has a soft-spot. Whenever he sees an injustice (and there are plenty to spot), he goes through the roof and generally makes life miserable for the naughty people responsible. At the beginning of the book, he has a solid Look-out-for-#1 mentality, but by the time you hit the last page, Sage is noble, self-sacrificial, and even a little humble.

But he’s smart. He is always smart.

The plot was also rather smart. There have been a lot of “lost royalty” and “royal impersonator” books popping up in teen and juvenile fiction lately, but this was a really nice blend of those two. Not only were the tone and character fresh and original, so was the plot. Well done, Nielsen, well done (not that it means much from a unpublished teen, but still…)

Another thing I really appreciated about the book was the ending. The necessary twist came on late, but you could sort of pick up a glimmer of what it would be beforehand. It was a brilliant way to deepen the character, as well as make you love him all the more, and it set the stage for an utterly beautiful climax. It wasn’t a shocking climax( as with the twist), but it was incredibly satisfying. I was sitting there, figuring what would happen and flipping pages (yes, I did read them, not just skip to the end) like crazy just to get to that point so I could root for Sage. It was sort of like the ride to the peak of a roller-coaster, knowing what’s going to happen, seeing it coming, and bouncing in your seat waiting for it.

All in all, I adored the book. Jennifer Nielsen was utterly brilliant and I can’t wait to see more of her work.

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Welcome to the Insanity…

        Well, then. Blogging…Not something I’ve had a grand deal of experience with, but I’ll give it a shot for the sake of my education. As you can probably–hopefully–tell by the oh-so-eloquent title up top, I am… *drumroll,please*…a writer.

        As is every other teenager with a computer these days.

        It’s somewhat depressing.

        However, I shall just have to deal with it. And I shall do so by dropping my thoughts on writing, books, and whatever else pops into my head out here in the wide open spaces of the cyber world! So, now that I’ve announced my magnificent plan( and conveniently filled the empty space under the header), I shall go tinker with the blog settings a bit and see how terribly I can wreck this thing. I shall return…

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