Posts Tagged With: creative writing

The Five Things a Writer Needs to Read

1. The Classics

They’ve survived for centuries for a reason. Even if they aren’t your favorite light reading (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if they aren’t, despite the apparent belief that all writers must devote their bookshelves only to authors who’ve been published for over a century or whose work is primarily existential) , they’re well worth the read.

2. Your Genre

If you’re well-versed in your chosen genre, you’ll soon get a pretty good idea of its cliches and common mistakes, as well as how to avoid them.

3. Your Old Work

I know it’s painful. Very, very painful. I ran across some of mine the other day and had to fight the urge to feed it down the garbage disposal. But, not only can you see how far you’ve come, you can pinpoint areas you may still struggle with. Who knows, you may even find something worth salvaging for a new piece.

4. Other Writers’ Work

Because it’s way easier to spot other people’s mistakes than it is your own. And the more practice you get at problem-spotting, the easier it’s going to be to spot your own mistakes, from plot holes to painful word choice to grammar accidents. There are various sites that cater to amateur authors (fanfiction.net, fictionpress.com, etc.) that work well for this sort of thing.

5.The Things that Set Your Soul on Fire

You know what I’m talking about. The stories that made you want to write your own in the first place. The ones that spark new ideas and make you think. That fire up your creative spirit when you think  you’re too exhausted to write. Whatever you enjoy the most, that’s what you should be reading. So, go! Read!

What do you read to help yourself write? Let me know in the comments!

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

Quirky Names: Yes or No?

A while back , during my blog challenge, I did a post on some of the names I’ve used for my characters. Reading through the list, the first names are innocuous enough–if a bit on the unusual side–but the tenth is…well…undeniably odd. If you’ve read the post, you’ll know that one of my characters is called Squeaky. That isn’t his real name; he was dubbed that by my protagonist because of a certain falsetto quality of his voice and the fact that she was cranky over him trying to kidnap her. However, he’s known as Squeaky throughout most of the book, with his legal name only being mentioned once in passing. Why? Because…

1. The quirkier the name, the clearer the picture.

For minor characters especially, you want to be able to devote only one or two sentences to characterization before moving on with the main characters’ story. Picking a name that says something about the character–whether it points out a physical trait(as with Squeaky), an ethnic heritage, or just plays on name connotations–is one of fastest ways of getting your point across without going into too much detail.

2. Remember me?

Some of the most famous fictional characters in the world have quirky names. Sherlock Holmes, Professor Xavier, Fitzwilliam Darcy, Xena, Spock–all quite unusual. It’s a part of what makes them memorable, and can serve to help your character stand out from the rest (not that you should rely solely on that, but still).

Conversely, if you have a crowd of oddly named characters and leave your main character with the only normal name of the bunch, that works, too. It certainly seems to have worked for Rowling.

3. Tonal Quality

The names you choose can help set the tone of your entire piece. Quirky ones, in particular. A ridiculously pretentious moniker adds to a period piece. An obscure(but not too obscure) ethnic name enhances an exotic setting. A giggle-worthy nick-name can pull together the elements of a comedy beautifully. And so on.

                                                                     However…

                                                 On the other side of the matter:

1. If your name is Kanjjdighw, you may be trying too hard.

There are limits to everything, and this is one area where the line between okay and not-okay is paper-thin. A name that’s so unusual it becomes unbelievable is definitely in the not-okay zone. It’ll annoy your editors, alienate your readers, and drive your spellcheck berserk.  As writers, we tend to get a bit obsessed with being unique, but it has to stop somewhere. It’s better to have a dull name in a great story than a name so odd no one pays attention to the story.

2. One thing is not like the others in this picture.

Sometimes a quirky name just does not fit. Trying to shoehorn one into a drama or a serious piece of historical fiction is seriously wrong, and your readers will know it.  You don’t have to go completely the other way and name everyone John Smith, but throwing fistfuls of fun, irreverent names at a sombre novella won’t do it any favors.

3. All things in moderation.

If used sparingly, quirky names can be lovely. If used too much too often, they can lose their punch and make your work sound like you were spending a bit too much time thumbing through baby name books. Realistically, not everyone in an average group of friends/acquaintances/enemies is going to have an intriguing name. A variety of names–from the outrageous to the everyday is typically your best bet–that all fit your particular story is your best bet. Besides, the personalities are the important bit, anyway.

So, where do you guys stand on quirky names? Discuss in the comments!

 

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Writing Prompt…Wednesday?

I do, in fact, realize that this is rather late. Lo siento, mi amigos/amigas. Getting back into a blogging schedule is rather nuts, particularly when coupled with the rest of madness that is life outside the computer screen. However, if I’m lucky(and dedicated…as if that will ever happen), things will get back to normal soon.

This Week’s Prompt:

Boil your story/novel/whatever’s theme down to one word. See if there is any other way to sneak that into the project in question without clubbing your readers with it.

My answer:

This particular part of writing is seriously the hardest part for me. But, thanks to a creative writing teacher who refused to let us even start anything without a theme, I’ve learned that it actually does help the writing process. It can help you determine what stays and what goes during the editing process, help nail down your characters, and even inspire better plot points. And as for my story’s word? I think the only one that really fits is discovery. In the midst of thugs, bombs, a few swordfights, jumps off moving trains, and a kiss or two, she’s finding out quite a lot. Learning that she isn’t alone. Discovering new parts of herself.  Rediscovering things she thought she’d sworn off.

Your Answer?

Categories: Writing Prompt Monday! | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Writing Prompt Monday – Entry #12

WordPress is snowing. But it is currently 70 degrees outside. In December. *sobs* My life is ruined.

And now back to our regularly scheduled writing drivel, this week’s post relates to editing and polishing up your work. One thing I’ve noticed as I frantically try to finish the revisions on my novel before Christmas (just an abstract goal, I’m not going to curse anyone with it as a gift) is that you can lose a lot in editing. If you are–as I am–trying to work mainly on the plot, the prose itself can get lost in the scuffle and as such, sink your work just as quickly as a bad plot. Ergo, this week’s…assignment(it’s not technically a prompt, I suppose).

Q. Take 1-2 paragraphs of your current work. Give it a good spit-polish keeping these points in mind.

-Passive is bad.

Appropriate, gripping adjectives are good in small doses.

Awkward phrases are bad.

 Unnecessary words are also bad.

Run-on sentences are an evil spawned in the darkest pits of the dark side of the moon and should be killed on sight.

A.

I’m starting with the first paragraphs of my novel. They really, really need help at the moment. Here is the unedited version…

“Before you’re sucked into the chaos that makes up my life, allow me to point out one thing. This was in no way my fault. Well…the stairwell incident sort of was, but that’s beside the point. All in all, I was just a perfect innocent (not a word I get to use often) who happened to get sucked into the blasted mess.

Then again, it isn’t unusual for me to be in trouble. But usually, it’s of my own making rather than something someone else planned for me to stumble into. A gadget gone wrong, a trip gone weird, or simply my own blasted curiosity typically catapults me into trouble—and I don’t mind. It can be one of the most amusing past-times for a peculiar person to get oneself in and out of trouble. This time, I wasn’t given the choice.”

And here is the edited version.

“Before you’re sucked into my three-ring circus of a life, allow to point out one very important little fact. The events of this tale were not my fault. Well…outside of the stairwell incident. That was probably me. But, either way, it’s beside the point. 

For once in my life, I can honestly say that I was an innocent bystander, sucked into trouble by a certain n’erdowell and forced to cause a bit of chaos of my own in the process of getting out.  Granted, it isn’t unusual for me to be embroiled in one mess or another, but I generally make it myself rather than letting someone else do it for me. One of my gizmos gone wrong, a trip gone wrong, or simply my own blasted curiosity–and I don’t mind. It can be vastly amusing for someone with a good sense of adventure and significant amounts of explosives. But someone else setting a trap for me to fall into? This was a first.”

Your answers?

 

Categories: Writing Prompt Monday! | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Ten Commandments of My Story World

In trying to put together an entire universe for a series of novels and trying to sort out all the characters that fit into said universe, certain patterns start to emerge. The rules of the universe start showing up and eventually wind up almost set in stones. And they kinda come in handy once they’re established. If you’re stuck on determining the future of a character or the plot to throw him/her into, looking back on previous patterns can spark whole new ideas. These are the Ten Commandments for my stories. What are yours?

1. If something can go wrong, it will do so in the most dramatic way possible. Probably involving explosives, evil relatives, escaped circus beasts, or all three.

2. If a person of the opposite sex irks you beyond measure, you should try to get used to it. You’re probably going to marry them.

3. Vacations, business trips, and any other type of travel will always go haywire and end in either a grand adventure or a terrible tragedy. In some cases, both.

4. Never trust someone who appears normal; only the crazy ones are safe.   I mean, c’mon…if they hide their crazy side, what else are they hiding?

5. Family can either be a very good or a very bad thing. There is no middle ground. They’ll be either the staunchest allies you could hope for or the worst enemies you could ever imagine.

6.Normal does not exist. Anywhere. Ever.  Come to think of it, that sounds about right for the real world, too.

7. Everyone has a stories, both good and bad, and all worth telling.  You may have to dig deep to find it, but even the most heartless, bland, or inherently evil character has something intriguing in their background.

8.Adventure is unavoidable. And why would you want to anyway? Almost all of the inhabitants of my world are slightly insane and have no qualms about jumping headfirst into trouble.

9. A friend is the very best thing you can have when in a jam. They’re even better than explosives!

10. A hero will always be a hero in the end, and the end will always be happy eventually.  Some characters just take a while to remember that they are in fact supposed to be heroes.

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A Method to My Madness. Or Not.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with outlining. Way back when I was first learning it in English, I didn’t mind it because it was a could-be-done-in-my-sleep-with-one-hand-behind-my-back assignment. Simple. But then they started making me do it with my actual writing assignments. And when I made it to high school, it was required with my creative writing assignments. Personally, I tend to associate “spontaneous” with “creative” and there’s nothing less creative than an outline. Following an outline is by definition following a pattern. I hated it with a passion.

But then I started writing novels. I realized just how complicated it can be to try keeping track of everything in your head for over a year and 60,000 words. Without an outline, you run the risk of not having a set (or well-thought-out) plot or mixing up details and clues. It gets quite troublesome. On the other hand, figuring it out as you go (“pantsing” for those who like that term) lends the work a bit of freedom to go where it will. Both have their advantages. Or you can do a hybrid outline/pantsing thing with a little of both. There appears to be no really wrong way to do it.

1. Outlining

I’ve tried strict point-by-point outline with some of my work and it’s fallen completely flat every time. There’s something about trying to write a novel before actually writing the novel that completely douses my creative fires. All the ideas dry up, the passion for the work flies the coop, and everything goes kaput. Also, it tends to put me in an indescribably nasty mood in which I feel the need to give up and go hunt for character photos on Pinterest or consume copious amounts of junk food. But apparently it works for some people. *shrugs* Go figure.

2. Pantsing

Outside of having an endlessly amusing name, this method actually has some merit. You can go any direction you want without messing up a plotline and there are always later drafts to tighten everything up. I did this with my first novel.

And I’m never doing it again.

I’m still working on fixing that stupid book, thanks to a plot that was overly complicated and didn’t really work, characters that popped in with clues that didn’t make sense, and about a dozen other issues that all arose because of pantsing. While I will admit that the creative freedom is nice and can actually be helpful, I can’t advocate pantsing. Nor, apparently, can many other people. Just about all the people I know that write use outlines of some sort, most of them stricter than mine.

3. Hybrid Outlining

This is the method I’ve settled on using, because it combines the better elements of the previous two. You’ve got the structure of traditional outlining and at least a little of the pantsing freedom. I tend to write a loose outline and write from that, changing things and going in new directions as I see fit. It seems to work well so far. It feels a great deal less stifling than outlining as well as less I’m-lost-what-on-earth-am-I-supposed-to-be-doing than pantsing.

So, howsabout you? What are your views on the subject?

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Titles, Handles, and Monikers

Names are vastly important. Every time you sign your name to an e-mail, you make an impression with the words alone. Your name may be a rock-hard Western creation or a frilly French confection, but it makes an impression, whatever it is. People automatically start assigning personality traits based on their assumptions, and suddenly, they feel as though they know everything about you simply from what they’ve deduced from your name. It can be quite amusing.

They do the same thing with characters–perhaps more so than with real beings, since they can’t ever see the characters. Therefore, as writers, we have to be infinitely careful in the handles we bestow upon our darlings. And that little fact is one of the banes of my existence. Naming characters is ridiculously hard sometimes! Ridiculously! First names are one thing; those usually pop up fairly easily. My main character came about as an extension of my name (since she was originally my role-play character), the love interest was titled with my favorite English gentleman name, and one of the main secondary characters was named after a favorite literary character. Easy. But there are a lot of other elements to consider besides finding a suitable first name, and most of them are far less simple.

1. Last Names A last name can make or break a character. Most of them make a statement of some sort or another, even without jumping into the meanings behind them. Give your charrie a last name of Wayne and what comes to mind? The ultimate cowboy? A hooded crimefighter? Both strong, powerful, solid images. That’s what’s going to project onto your character. But name them something a bit less admirable…Hitler or Moriarty, for example. That’s also going to project onto the character. And unless you want them coming off as an evil psychopath, then be careful whose name you choose. Perhaps Google them before making a final decision, just to make sure there aren’t any serial killers or terrorists or otherwise disagreeable personages by the same handle.

2. Meaning Honestly, I don’t think meaning…ah…means…much. The average reader isn’t going to have the slightest inkling what “Colton” or “Cassia” mean, and I doubt they’re going to care. You don’t want to put too much stock in name meaning when choosing one for your beloved character. While it can be fun to have a private author’s joke within a name, it isn’t necessary to drive yourself nuts trying to find a name that means cheerful for your chipper character and a name meaning doubt for the skeptic and so on.

Of course, in some instances, the name–and its meaning–figure into the plot itself. If my family were ever the subject of a story, the name would kinda have to be brought up, considering how well it represents us. It means either “of the lion” or “horse thief” and no one knows which. And knowing my family, it could go either way.

3. Originality 

Cassia Echo Rembrandt = Good

Akkjhgnbnhgnuik = Bad

‘Nuff said.

4. Impressions and Irony As I said above, impressions are everything, especially for your characters. The names should match the characters and give the reader an accurate impression of who they are from the first moment. Think of the great characters of film and fiction. Hercule Poirot. His name is like reading one of the books that feature him. You can almost see the brilliant, fastidious, proud, little Belgian just by looking at his name. Indiana Jones. Definitely all- American, apparently a traveler as signified by the place name, and probably a no-nonsense chap, judging by the solid last name. See what I mean? It matters.

On the other hand, a little irony can be fun, as well. Name the roughest- toughest woman in your book Fifi or something equally ridiculous. But, personally, I think that works better with secondary characters than with your protagonists. Also, too much irony, and it begins to feel slightly absurd.

5. Nicknames These can also be useful, as well, though they obviously don’t work for some characters. While “Indy” has an even more adventurous feel than Indiana Jones, I think Hercule Poirot would fly into a utter fit if someone called him “Herc.” Whatever works for your character. Nicknames are good as a quick way to show familiarity between characters, as well as a simple way of showing if a character is a loose, casual person or an uptight soliderly type. They have a billion different uses. Experiment!

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