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.