Wednesday, December 15, 2010


here's a comment by a visual artist on deviantART that I responded to in a comment.

"I feel like I need a more effective way to communicate my ideas, and get across the feeling I'd like people to derive when they look at my work. By itself, my work doesn't quite tell the stories I would like it to tell, and there's nothing about my work I can really identify as a 'strength' at this point. It's pretty 'meh', unrefined, and in a stylistic limbo where my aesthetic choices communicate a kind of uncertainty that certainly isn't helping the content any.

Needless to say, I'm restless with my current process, it doesn't give me what I want, and I desperately need to experiment with it. This is more a struggle with style/voice, rather than a struggle with subject matter. I haven't "found myself" yet in terms of "style", and it's time I really shift gears and think about it--because what I'm doing now isn't it."

It's really interesting because, as a writer, I'm always trying to bring art into my work. It's definitely stylistic choices over subject matter. And sometimes I come up with things but often I find myself floundering about, stuck in what I find myself creating, wishing I could do half of the things I imagine. And I'm almost 100% sure that voice is the answer to this problem, because voice becomes the vehicle for conveying everything. It presents reliability and comfort. The only problem is, do I like my voice? I think that's half of the battle; I have to decide to like my voice.

And for sure it can be developed more (if I decide it's lacking something). But if it isn't the most gorgeous poetic voice to ever grace the written page, well, I can't be too hard on myself. There's also so much to learn. I remember when I was 14 and I would write something and go "wow, that's amazing!" Now when I look back on those things I wrote I'm half amused, half seriously embarrassed.

But when I found my voice while writing my NaNoWriMo novel, I settled into it and it was so easy. I didn't have to constantly stop and ask myself about every single choice I made. And now that I think about it, the writers I've known who I've been jealous of because they were consistent and wonderful and etc is because they all knew their voices. I knew this really young, amazing writer, and now I realize it was because she knew her voice.

So. This has been a stranger detailing their creative process in your journal comments. Thanks for making me think.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NaNoWriMo Madness and Thoughts

So I was reading this book called Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld, second in a triology which began with the amazing Leviathan. As a quick description, they're steampunk novels set in WW1 times but with a different spin on things--a different spin involving genetically fabricated "beasties" by the "Darwinists" in England and her allies verses the "Clankers" of Germany and Austria and their powerful machines.

Anyway, it's a young adult book as well. As I was reading this yesterday, I was thinking about my NaNo novel, and about showing vs. telling. I've recently realized that there's a distinct blend of the two that I quite like (because I can do it well). Here's an example:

"In the sudden wash of green light, Dylan's face was no longer sad. His eyes had their usual spark, but there was an angry gleam in them. He tossed the jacket to Alek."

You could call this telling, and yet it is perfectly acceptable and appropriate (and in a published book, mind you). I would almost call this visual telling.

But back to my realization. As I was reading, it struck me that any story you read is less about what actually happens in terms of plot points, but how you get there. What ultimately makes people love or hate twilight is not what actually happens, but the tone of the book. Some find it disgusting and dreadful, others find escapism there. It's true of any book. And here's where the two ideas tie together: it's that blend of telling and showing that an author pins down in a way that makes sense for them, and once they do that, they're free to create what becomes the real essence of the story; or, what the reader experiences as the novel, as the author's voice. This is how we as reader's come to choose the books we like.

Here's an example of what I mean:

"Oh, right." Alek recalled that Dylan's mother hadn't wanted him to join the military. "Women can be quite mad sometimes."


"I should get back to my skulking, I suppose."

"Aye, you should," Dylan said. "I'll go up and watch the eggs for you. Come back before dawn, though, or the lady boffin will have both our heads."

Have I explained this thought well enough? Obviously having a story is essential. But the writer must also be comfortable telling the story--that's what comes through above, in this case through humor. It's those things that make his voice recognizable, that make me as a reader appreciate and like his style.

So, yeah. Let me know if I wasn't clear.

Friday, October 1, 2010

What is writing art?

In my time spent studying writing, thinking about writing, and actually putting words down, I have often come across what seems to be a complex conundrum: what qualities must a work possess to be “art?” Is Harry Potter less artistic than, say, Pride and Prejudice? And why? What is this quality that separates them, and how is it defined? Is inspired work better than plotted work? Is it better not to outline, or to write everything out?

When I wrote my novella, I noticed that in the beginning I wrote with a richness that slowly evaporated as the story went on. Richness is a vague word, so I will define it as imagery without sacrificing detail, (so, not imagery for the sake of it); writing to inspire the sense, writing to intimately involve the reader. As I went on, I lost this effortless quality that had been with me in the very beginning. There were moments I had it, but it seemed to peter out.

Sounds a lot like inspiration, right? I like to define inspiration in terms of what it feels like to read. As readers, we see a story really as limitless possibilities that simply unfold in a particular way because of the writer's decisions.

I am a musician. I've played the flute for about 10 years, and I am currently learning the guitar. Writers use metaphors so here is mine. When you play an instrument, there are of course a lot of things to master, but the main aspect—the quality which determines your skill more than others—is being to look at a note and know instantly what you need to do in order to produce that note. So, with guitar, you have to learn the chords so that when you want to play something you can switch between them with relative ease and speed.

It seems to me that writing with “richness” or “inspiration” (or this vague quality that seems quite difficult to define) should be something you can learn. It should be something you can practice, that you can read about, that you learn! Yet, the best we get in terms of instruction are vague allusions to filmatic qualities that we are told to master.

When I finished my novella I also felt embarrassed by it. The title is “Dragon Boy,” and it's a relatively silly adventure story. I don't think people would consider it art. And I think this is what bothers me. Not that I was unable to concoct a masterpiece (I'm not that vain... yet), but that is some mysterious line in the sand and everything a person writes falls on either side. I am very tempted to say the distinction is between story and art, but great stories have been written artistically. My question is, how?

I think that even though a writer should avoid writing the way he or she reads (because not making any choices about the direction of your work ironically makes the decision for you: you end up cornered and frustrated) but, at the same time, the experience of reading absolutely must come with the writer when approaching the work. This is the quality that must be learnt: conveying the scene in a way which opens the reader's the senses, both intellectually and emotionally, in a way which forwards the story, while maintaining a consciousness of the overall course and destination of the story.

Because if the writer doesn't know where the story is going, then who does?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hello friends

I'm sorry that the last post was so scattered. I wrote the first paragraph one afternoon and then three days later came back to it... this did not lead to continuity. I'm not sure if I really have that much to say about how seductive it can be to write openings other than it is :P

I think, in a way, writing can be like reading. When we read, we start off with huge ideas of what the story could be, and then the writer narrows those down for us. When we write, we can find ourselves being squeezed, knowing we need to narrow, and feeling that pressure, but being unable to do it because we haven't decided what we want to happen and we have no idea where our story is going.

Being a writer is fascinating--when it's not frustrating. It's such a unique art. I really don't think there's anything like it, except thoughts, and living, and becoming aware of things. It's one of the only art forms that really expresses the interior life, mainly because it is the language of the interior life. Which is interesting. It can be hard because the language of our art is the language of our daily lives, our interior lives, our reading lives... if you put an artist in a prison cell with paint and canvas they'd be able to create for a little while before going insane. I think a writer would go mad quite sooner :P

I speculate that many writers take English in school because in doing so they're surrounded by writing, and while that can be overwhelming at times, it's also part of our artistic relationship--writers do not live in a void. No artists do.

I think that writing necessitates the ability to maintain two perspectives at once: the overall scope and the minute progression of tone. Tone is an interesting thing in writing, I have found it is a life-saver. Knowing your character's emotion is one thing, knowing what sort of tone that demands is another. I had been working on "The Mark," my current novel, and I wrote this scene and it just felt wrong. I went back and re-read from the scene before and saw that in the "wrong" scene the tone had changed completely from serious to one of levity, and that there had been no real reason for this.

I am probably not being specific or in-depth enough. Sometimes I don't know how to be. My mind is very much "big picture oriented." So those are some of my thoughts.

Until next time.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Larry Brooks (scattered post)

The problem with opening lines and introductions is that they’re extremely seductive to write. I’ve never had a problem starting a story. But when the story reaches a certain point where it is meant to launch and instead flounders, the writer may find themselves embroiled in many problems.

The main problem for me has been that the trajectory I established does not fit. Does not fit anything: my idea of the story, the appropriate way the story should go, etc. But how do you determine where the story should go? How do you combine that with your great ideas?

I’ve always thought it should be more than running through the dark. I am the writer, after all. Ray Bradbury said “Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations. Plot is observed after the fact rather than before. It cannot precede action. That is all Plot should ever be. It is human desire let run, running, and reaching a goal. It cannot be mechanical. It can only be dynamic.”

His ideas are interesting, because they can actually be molded to fit many viewpoints--which is part of the problem. On the one hand, you could look at that paragraph as speaking to the person who despises outlines. They jump up in their seat and make an exclamation of validation when they see “it cannot be mechanical.” But for the person who does outline, the paragraph is simply a metaphor for what they do. First, they follow the footprints of their character and create a map. They allow their character’s desires to determine the outline they make. They do not rely on mechanics; they rely on the dynamic of human emotion.

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit of an outline person. Just a bit. I also read a lot of books on writing, and recently I’ve been reading “Story Structure – Demystified” by Larry Brooks. He has a lot of interesting things to say, this one in reference to my opening paragraph:

“You have to know. You have to study. You have to search for it, see it, recognize the how and why of it. Most writers don’t get to read unpublished works, which means almost everything they see conforms to the principles. It’s seductive, it looks simple, so you think you can do it, too. That the power of your initial idea is enough.”

But he has more to say. He has a structure to give. It is basic only in that it is universal, and that is what makes it powerful. Many structure books are too specific, or frighten you away from using your “silly” ideas. Which, in hindsight, might be why some people don’t like outlines.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’ve been using this book with success and there are some very interesting things in there that might be helpful even if you don’t enjoy outling. It’s specific, but again, universal. You can recognize the principles he lays down in pretty much any successful book or movie. Unless it’s Twilight :P

“The difference is discipline. Insight. Recognizing the magic, then the honing of skills that allows the magic to become second nature. To become instinct.”

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"Making endless decisions"

"From the Washington Post today:
Having to make too many choices can affect one's ability to stay focused, finish work and do complex mental tasks, finds a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Almost 400 people took part in seven experiments in which some were asked to make choices or rate various products. The more choices individuals had to make and the more time they spent deciding, the worse they fared on later tasks, regardless of the complexity of the choices."

An interesting article. Writing certainly involves more decision-making than plopping down in front of the computer screen and twiddling away time on hulu.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

"To readers a great story seems like one of two things: it looks easy… or it looks like magic.

But to a writer that understands the magic, it’s all physics and mechanics and principles dancing with a demanding muse. Just like the magician, storyteling is about diverting attention, then commanding attention, then paying it off."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Space and Pacing

As I’ve been working on my second steampunk/fantasy short novel for young adults, I’ve been thinking a lot about plot and structure. During the week I spent an afternoon with a younger friend of mine. We walked along the river, and at the end, arrived at a secluded dock-like area. There was no one to be seen around. Signs of humanity, yes, in the from of buildings and houses and cars, but no moving cars, no athletes out running. We joked that it was like the world had stopped, with all people but us having vanished.

Now, we’re both writers. She’s three years younger than me and plots are her thing. She whips them up while doing her chores. But for her, writing them down is more complicated. I can wax poetic all afternoon. So it was interesting to put us together; we started spinning a story out of it right away, using ourselves as the starting point that became an epic apocalyptic tale involving aliens. She would cement plot elements (just a little bit impressive, right?) and I would explore emotional implications.

She had told me earlier that she would outline but just end up zipping through the plot points way too fast. So, I have now been thinking about pacing, especially after coming back to my novel, The Mark.

A complimentary discussion to this one would be the topic of outline people versus no-outline people (James Scott Bell talks about this in his book on writing called Plot and Structure, which I recommend. Another good book on plot is Immediate Fiction by Jerry Cleaver). I have found that obsessive outling helps me, most likely because that’s the kind of mind I have (lists, schedules, and organization are my forte), yet I can also identify with the “no-outline” perspective, that outling makes a piece too heavy, leaden, or unmoving. I mean to say, the outline makes the writer feel trapped, shutting down creativity.

I think this can happen even if you like outlines (as it happens to my friend). The problem is that the writer doesn’t leave enough space in the work for transitions from moment to moment, for pauses, for surprises, for characters to reflect, for the work to breathe. Actually, I can think of another book that addresses this: The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes by Jack Bickham. He has a section (24) where he talks about an idea of “the sequel.”

“Thus the major structural components of fiction, scene and sequel--link like the strongest chain. In the scene, you provide excitement and conflict, ending in disaster; in the sequel, you provide feeling and logic, and the character’s decision, which leads directly into the next scene.”

It comes down to pacing. Leaving space is probably a difficult thing for writers because of something I have mentioned before: we expect writing to feel the same as reading, with the same emotional progression. Instead, the emotional landscape of writing is completely different. I have found that, for me, the key is to write about something that I think is really cool, because then it can keep my attention in any number of emotional situations. I can be excited but I can also just be interested, I can feel empathy in sad scenes, I can slow down and examine a scene rather than be taken with the frenzy of inspiration, in which pacing often goes out the window.

But, the answer to how to leave spaces when creating an outline? That answer is more complicated, I think. There are so many things to balance when writing. Many are subconscious, more are subtle and complex.

Benjamin is probably going to pick on me for not expanding very much in this post. I’m sorry, I still haven’t explored this fully myself, so expansion is still out of reach in this case. At the very least, I enjoy the story-telling element of a blog like this, with a narrative.

See you soon.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Changing Format

It’s been fun, but now I realize there’s no shame in saying that I’ve run out of topics to write about that I am very knowledgeable about. There are still things I know about writing, and I will still write about those things, but I have now discovered, conclusively, that I am not a font of writing wisdom :P

Instead, I want to move in a new direction and do something that will be fun. Don’t get me wrong, the advice was fun, (because of the story-telling that went along with it). But now I think I’m going to move into a different realm.

I’m not exactly sure what I want to do. I know for sure that I am going to switch to simply weekly blogs instead of bi-weekly, because I keep missing Wednesday with my hectic schedule (going to college in the spring doesn’t make any of this easier).

One of the biggest things happening to me right now is a changing relationship to writing. It’s true that I have been very busy this month, but I also haven’t been thinking about writing in the same way. For a long time I’ve been very active in pushing forward, but not I feel that I have lost the sense of urgency.

In some ways, it’s good to feel calmer about the whole situation and more laid back in general. But, at the same time, I feel it’s time to re-evaluate. I’m still an artist, I still have a writer’s mind. What am I going to do about those facts though? I’m for sure finishing my novel, and I will probably write more, but everything feels different. Again, there’s a loss of urgency.

It’s probably a good thing. I just want to write beautiful literary things and interesting steam punk/fantasy things, and I want it to be easy and fun. Which it has been. I think that all I need to do is really carve out that writing time and make it permanent. Before I had so few things going on I could work writing around my outings. Now writing gets stashed but I never come back to it. Resolution time, I think. :P

That’s all for now! Next weekend I will write something fun. Maybe it will be novel progress, maybe it will be a journal-y type thing, maybe it will be something about the craft I’ve been pondering.

Until next time. :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Writer’s Journal: helpful, or not?

Today I want to talk about the writer’s journal. I’ve often encountered the idea: you’re supposed to keep a notebook with descriptions of things you’ve seen, snatches of conversation, etc. The value of this, I admit, has been lost on me. If you spend all of your time cataloging these experiences, then that’s the only fruit of your writing time, and what have you written besides personal things? In other words, you haven’t produced much.

That reason and the fact that I’ve never been fond of journals. Life is interesting in that you continually learn things about yourself--I used to think I didn’t need to have regular human interaction and now I know that yes, I don’t need it to breath and continue living, but it certainly helps me grow and think and other positive things like that :P

One thing I’ve learned is that I don’t feel a sense of satisfaction when I write a personal journal. I do, however, experience a negative emotion of guilt when I don’t write in a personal journal I’ve bought. So in the end, there isn’t anything to keep me doing it. I also end up being really mopey in my journals, and I don’t end up getting much out of re-reading them--just embarrassment at how silly I used to be.

But recently I discovered a new outlook on this idea of a writer’s journal. Instead of fleshed out things, you just put in key words, essentially, that serve as a reminder of things you’ve seen, rather than an essay on them. The nice thing is, you can go into more detail if you want, of course, but it’s not necessary. I really, really like the idea because I’m always seeing little things that appeal to my writer’s mind. The combination of a sunset and music from a house show, for example. The scent of cut grass as you drive home. Romantic things, to tie into my last post :-P

I would also like to talk about my blog here at fauxpoetica as a whole. I’m not sure yet if I’m able to sustain what I’ve been doing (two posts a week) or not; I think what might have to change would be topics covered. So far I’ve really tried to stick to writing (despite two off-topic posts) but maybe if I open the format up more I could blog more regularly. Obviously, the readership is not here, so it really boils down to me doing this for myself and a few friends, and I have to determine the value of doing it.

See you on Wednesday.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

No Wednesday Post

Apologies, I will write on the weekend. It's been busy, here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Genres and Romanticism

Growing up is kind of an odd thing. Much has been said on the subject, to be sure. Personally it’s been very freeing. I think when I was young my thoughts would go in loops and I couldn’t break free simply because I didn’t know how. I’m not saying I’m totally fine now and age won’t have any more seasoning to add :P Just that things are more firm now than they were before.

For a long time in my writing youth I was caught between the genres of fantasy and contemporary. I mentioned before that I used to write failed fantasy novels--that turned me off of working on them for a long time, and when I came to dA I naturally started writing contemporary, literary stuff, because that’s what the audience appreciated. Additionally, my mother, who reads most things I write because she’s an English PhD and I don’t pay enough attention to grammar, also strongly appreciates the contemporary genre.

But even while I wrote seemingly endless short stories in the contemporary genre, learning the craft of what made one story work and another flop, I was still conflicted because fantasy work was in my roots.

Part of the problem was medieval fantasy does little for me. I mean both that I don’t appreciate it very much and that I don’t write it very well. A few months ago I discovered Steampunk, via the novel Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. This genre seemed to speak the language of my imagination, in a vastly superior way than medieval settings ever would. Now I’m writing my second longer work in the genre.

There’s a large part of me that’s still a literary elitist and wants every sentence to dazzle the last, but it doesn’t always work that way. In fact, it rarely works that way. Slowly, I have been forgetting my fascination with the elusive idea of beautiful, perfect images, one right after the other.

Recently someone commented on a short story of mine that, “All of your male characters are such diehard, hopeless romantics.” There’s something about contemporary fiction… the fascination with everyday beauty, like sunrises, and even the mundane--cigarette smoke, pots and pans, coffee pots. It’s a kind of romanticism, since generally the stories are about characters falling in love, already in love, or, more frequently, conflicted in love.

I think what appeals to me about the whole thing really is that aspect: love. It’s such a powerful topic because it can apply to so many situations, and even without ever having been in a romantic relationship, I have experienced betrayal, heartache, and the kinds of pain that go along with that, yet I am an idealist and maintain a belief in a kind of perfect agape love.

It can be a bit disheartening to think about how narrow my world has been for so long and how big my tiny anthills have been. One of the biggest words you hear at this age is “experience.” It’s hard when you have none to appreciate that, like anything probably. Not only is it achingly slow to acquire, but it’s not especially easy to find, either! In some ways it can be easy, but as such a huge definition, it’s quite difficult.

Luckily, I’m happy where I am right now. Writing Steampunk novels allows me to use my (limited, but intense) emotional experience and literally make up the rest, which is incredibly fun. Hey, it’s better than having to be a manic-depressive alcoholic in order to create!

Until next time.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Book of Eli - Thoughts

I’ve been trying to keep this blog “on topic” as it were, but I don’t think a few diversions into other areas of life will be a problem, considering “life experience is writing experience,” as Jerry Cleaver says. Additionally, film is just another form of story. I’ve often felt over-shadowed by film, or as though it can do things I can’t do in writing, which can be true, but at the same things there’s things one can do in writing to much greater effect.

But on to The Book of Eli. I would mainly like to discuss the viewers relationship to the character. The film, in some ways, is unbelievable--such as certain details relating to Eli’s skill and the timeframe of the apocalypse--but in such a way that is accepted movie-unbelievable. So a strong main character is essential. For most of the movie, I believe Eli to be such a character. However, near the end, I felt a sudden disconnect from him.

It’s interesting to talk about Eli as a character. He doesn’t talk much, and we don’t hear his thoughts like in a first person narrative in writing. I sympathize, because I have been writing stories in third person and find it difficult to use strong showing elements without telling creeping in now and then. I found him immensely likeable, though at a certain point I believe I got confused as to his intentions (“don’t interfere”). He wasn’t who he said he was, and that bothered me, but maybe that’s not a valid reason :P

Maybe I don’t know where I’m going with this blog. I admit--it’s been a long day. It’s going to be a long month. Right now I’m at the first of three dog-sitting jobs, all of which are about a week long, two of which are stacked on top of each other. These dogs are boxers. When I got here, they barked at me as though I were the most evil person in the entire world. The good news is, they changed their minds :P

See you on the weekend with a more complete blog. I let this idea go too long and forgot what I was all going to do. And, I got barked at, so you know, I was too scared to remember ;)

Sunday, August 1, 2010


This weekend I have been in Buffalo New York with my family, staying with one of my mom’s college friends, John. He is an English teacher at a prison. He’s also single and Catholic; he has a statue of the Infant of Prague in his dining room. The house he lived in was his mother’s house, I believe, and he keeps it the way you’d imagine an elderly woman would. He turns on the radio in the morning and has one in the only bathroom in the house, and when we drove to Niagara Falls he kept the radio on in the background the entire time.

John is also a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright. My Grandmother (mom’s mom) also likes Wright. I asked my mom her opinion, she said, “I think he fell prone to this ‘great man complex.’” As for his architecture, she says, “he really kick-started the whole modern architecture movement, and the buildings do have a beauty.” And she’s also a fan of “Falling Waters,” a beautiful late-Wright in Pennsylvania. Personally, I find his architecture like classical music: a strong narrative is present, but one must discern it. To continue the metaphor: in popular music, there are words that explain the narrative. In classical music, the narrative is only sounds.

I mention Wright because we all watched a documentary (and after lunch John will take us to see some of the buildings) and I just found it very interesting. I have been contemplating the human mind for the past few days--mainly, to use an example, differences between the kind of ordered, mathematical thinking of my dad versus of the abstract and academic thinking of my mom. And this documentary brought to my attention several interesting artistic complexities.

Apparently, Frank Lloyd Wright came from a broken home. His parents divorced when he was an adolescent, and apparently his architecture became an extension of his quest for the perfect home. This is apparent also in his almost obsessive-compulsive planning, which extended even to designing furniture and even a dress for the wife of a client to wear in the house. The exteriors of the homes he built reflect security and strength, with brick accents and strong lines, and overhangs that create porches. The interiors are wide open and one room can give the sense of leading to three rooms, or even five.

It was very interesting because the documentary said something along the lines of “the suffering of his early life became his creative drive.” This quote almost suggests that the mere presence of suffering in his life led to his skill. There was no mention of any training or early trial and error that may have occurred. It’s quite a common thing, of course: “the struggling artist.”

In reality I think that suffering is a great part of art but, obviously, the mere presence thereof does not lead to great art. Another interesting aspect to the discussion is how an author deals with suffering in their work, how they paint such things, and whether the conclusion of the story is “optimistic” or “pessimistic.” Tone is a very interesting thing in much work. I enjoy stories where the ending is optimistic to the point that the main character decides life is indeed worth living. I’m not using technical language, but that is basically what I mean.

Another aspect to this situation I find myself in on this trip is learning. There’s a general feeling in our country that learning is “boring.” My mother has always emphasized education, to the point I believe that almost all of the fun was sucked out of it. Some people are enlivened by learning. This is an interesting thing to me, because despite the fact that if I am interested in a subject I will devour information about it, I can become exceedingly bored with having to read every single display in a museum.

In my case it has a lot to do with how information is presented. Textbooks are boring, historical novels are fun. But, I can pick apart a textbook (or a description written in an extremely dull, lifeless style) if I am very interested in the topic at hand. A fault of mine is that I am not interested in many things. For a long time, even, I saw no value in travel--the reason being that at home I had everything I needed, and travel, even to exotic places, just didn’t do anything for me.

But, even I can admit that Niagara Falls was magnificent. I was thinking I might be able to talk about how place affects writing, but I think the true affects are a more permanent residence in a place, and how that can overtake perhaps choice of settings, and local flavor of discourse. For me, the effect of this vacation has not been an immediate compulsion to write, but a gradual opening of thoughts and ideas that will, I am sure, become future stories and characters, etc.

My friend’s father once talked to me about his belief that college was an extremely important part of a young person’s journey into adulthood. He spoke about the value of experience, and how topics are exposed to you that you might not have encountered otherwise, topics you would enjoy learning about. I know how I feel about college, but I don’t know how I feel about encountering topics to learn about. Learning, for me, is a straight jacket, because of how I encountered it in childhood. In reality it is probably something a lot like curiosity--something alive, something inquisitive. There’s a disparagey for me, one I would like to understand: what goes on in the mind of someone who enjoys it?

Most likely this is a bigger topic than I can cover in the conclusion of this post, and additionally I don’t believe I am presently equipped for such a discussion. I will say that I have been experiencing a lot of things recently, so I don’t think I’m missing out on that. I suppose it remains to be seen whether I will pursue knowledge about things I encounter in this time period.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Quest

Recently I have been watching a lot of videos on the internet of dances that have been performed for judging of some kind. I enjoy watching these videos on a superficial level (they are pleasing to the eye) but they also inspire me, and I am very intrigued by the connection between different arts.

Sometimes it seems as though they aren’t related at all! Dance may inspire me, but translating into the writing space in my mind is like trying to translate another language that you’ve never heard before. Ideas are tricky things, and I thought I would speak to that in this post.

Where do you get your ideas? I think there are two types of ideas. Spontaneous ideas and crafted ideas. Of course, the goal is that the first can become the second, but that is not always the case. Spontaneous ideas are fits of fancy that come over you. “What about a story where an elephant is trying to put on a sock but it won’t fit?” To become a crafted idea, the writer must determine how much connection and commitment they have to the idea. “Do I really like elephants enough for this? Do I relate to the poor guy’s problem?”

If the answer is “Well, I don’t really like elephants, but I can work with this idea,” the writer should be very careful in going to craft the idea, because generally it will become clichéd and trite (the elephant has a mommy and a daddy who watch with amusement, etc).

Another path an idea can take is “inspiration.” Inspiration is a very interesting topic, even if one does not believe in it. Personally, I think the concept that you have to be inspired in order to write something comes from reading. What is inspiration? Feelings, essentially. An emotional drive interpreted as the need to create. When we read, we experience feelings and we have an emotional drive--what’s going to happen to the character? So when we sit down to write, we expect the same thing to happen. The trouble is, we’re supposed to be creating. By definition, the two experiences are extremely different.

So connection to an idea is important, but inspiration is not always the same as connection. I have an example, there was this idea I had recently that I felt a connection to and was able to write without becoming too contrived and without being “inspired.” It was a piece I wrote for Flash Fiction Month (July) called Amphibians about a boy who essentially thought he was a frog.

This is an excellent example because the ways it could have become cliché were many. We could’ve seen him hopping around the yard, his mother amused, then have a girl dressed up as a princess appear and “turn” him back into a boy. It’s very clear how cliché that would have been, right?

Instead I went through a checklist: Unique Relationship? (I gave him a friend instead of a princess, a friend who believed him and followed him around). Unique Inner Landscape? (I gave him a fascination with muscles, a fascination that led him to decide he was a frog). Unique setting/language? (I didn’t do much with this one in the piece, but it’s good to have on the checklist). Unique personal-relations conflict? (By this I mean a unique conflict in the relationship. In this case, the friend went along with everything until frog-boy wanted to jump in the river). As a side note, closure is also important. It can be unique, but it’s okay if it’s not, just that it’s present.

So the quest is to find ideas that you as the writer can transform into interesting, unique pieces. I find that having tools to get me there is very important--tools like the checklist above. Practice is the other thing. The only way I got out of the indulgent, poetic-fluff days was by writing myself out of them and by trying everything. Maybe checklists don’t work for you when you’re doing your first draft--try going through the checklist at the end. There are as many methods of writing as there are writers, but there are still universal things. Look for them.

See you over on the weekend. I’ll actually be in New York, maybe I’ll do something about how landscape can inspire. No promises though :P

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Novel and the Short Story Compared

Something that has always interested me is my proclivity for writing short stories. It began because I would write failed fantasy novels about young heroes who could do anything (and therefore a whole lot of nothing), and this fact would depress me, so I switched to short stories.

Though, perhaps that’s not entirely accurate, because I also began to write poetic fluff descriptions for awhile (the name of this blog refers back to that, in some ways), and those were always short because of what they were--insubstantial, lacking any character or real point of reference, existing only for my unskilled hands to put words together in ways I thought, at the time, were pleasing.

There came a time when I decided that understanding my characters was important. But I’m getting a tad ahead of myself. I wanted to say that I think different people experience their characters differently. My sister, for example, made up a large cast of characters/friends she would interact with and talk to, literally out loud. They weren't imaginary friends, because she didn’t pretend they were real, but that didn’t stop her from interacting with them.

I never did that. I never had an imaginary friend. I did have a friend who had an imaginary bird, but that was as close as I got. So when I approached writing, the characters always came to me as an extension of self. I created “the fantasy hero flawed with perfection” because I craved that perfection, I think. I wanted to live through them.

I don’t know how my “poetic fluff description” phase enters into this. Maybe it has something to do with reaching outside of myself (finding the perfect interior world flawed) and yet trying to create a perfect external world. Neither way works, of course. I still can’t separate myself from having characters who are an extension of self, but what I can do is give them real flaws--flaws that I further identify with. It’s a strategy that has worked.

But, on the topic of story length, I think this aspect of having a whole cast of characters around you (as my sister did) relates very easily into the realm of novel, whereas my intense identification with fictional characters, (so intense as to make them extensions of me), led to shorter works by necessity. I’ve realized that in some of my longer work, the secondary characters did not deserve to be called that, for they were merely cardboard cutouts propped there for my lead to talk to.

In a short story, of course, this is excusable, because you don’t have time to introduce secondary characters. But in a novel, it is a vital skill to learn (one that I am still learning myself).

Next blog update will be Wednesday, I think I’ll try updating on Wednesdays and the Weekend.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Deceptively Simple: The Writing Game

This thing we do called writing is deceptively simple. Not only does it require copious amounts of time, but the reward and satisfaction can take months, years even, to come full circle. It’s a curious thing how any artist creates their art--not just the actual process involving paint or instruments or dance, but the compulsion. What compels art? Specifically, what compels writing?

Often when I’m online I see profiles on various websites where people say, for example, that they love horses, have a nickel collection, and like to write. Sometimes it seems to me as if the whole world is full of writers. I think this is true, to the extent that everyone has stories, and because we live in an mostly educated world, everyone has the skills needed to put those stories on paper.

Verbal story tellers have their own place, of course, and that’s an interesting talent because it’s very immediate, both the telling and the hearing happen simultaneously. For introverted writers, that would be a quite frightening proposition, and yet the reception of the work is very live and vibrant. Many people have written about the sound of spoken words (often relating back to poetry), and it really is a different way of thinking about story.

So even in trying to introduce what I want to talk about already we’ve encountered several fairly complicated ideas, and we haven’t even been discussing the mechanics of a novel or a short story or a poem.

My mother always says my dad is a story teller. He is great at telling jokes at Thanksgiving and stories of things that happened when he and his siblings were kids. When I was younger, he used to tell me and my younger sister stories--that is, until we started to “interfere” too much by telling him what we wanted the story to be about. Why did we need him if we were going to dictate the entire thing?

Maybe the fact that my dad said we might as well tell our own stories started something in me and is part of my compulsion to write. I found that his stories, and our involvement in his stories (“you should make the character shoot lightening bolts from his hands!”) were often wish-fulfillment oriented. I think this is something many writers start with, turning to the page as a way of fulfilling things they can’t in their lives, and so begins the complications. Intentions led to words.

Another reason writing can be deceptively simple is that it does not involve muscle-memory the way learning an instrument does (unless you count learning to type). It is not immediate (you cannot demonstrate your skill instantly as you can with an instrument), and even if you want to show someone what you’ve done, it takes them awhile to read. A series of paintings or photographs can be viewed much more quickly, even when the viewer lingers.

Drawing to the conclusion of this post, I find I am more interested in what makes writers tick than by the original question. If you have any thoughts, they would be welcome here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

inaugural post

"It would be wonderfully efficient and clever of us writers to have to learn our lessons only once." -Judith Guest