That's all for now.

Sorry guys, but I won't be able to write a full fledged post this week.  I'm swamped with final projects and end of year fun, so I'm just going to link you to a writing site I tend to frequent that my friend and I created (the same one I created Azryen with, go figure).  Feel free to sign up and read some of our member's work.  We are always looking for new members.

Writer's Dream

Happy Summer,

~A Fellow Writer

Blogging

I’ll be honest.  I usually come into these blog posts knowing exactly what I intend to write about, but this one is different.  I’m not entirely sure what I want to write about.  You see, at first I thought there were only so many topics related to writing that I could write about, and thus the list would inevitably run dry.  For a little while I feared I had finally reached that point.  But the thing is (at least in theory (or at least in a theory that I just created)), there should never be a lack of topics to write about.  There are so many nuances to writing, that books and books could be written on the subject and only begin to scratch the surface of the diverse craft.  So, how could it be that I’ve only written roughly ten blog post and I went into this one thinking I’d wrung the topic stone dry?  Well, I don’t know.  But I think it has a little something to do with the task itself.

That brings me to this week’s topic, which I literally just decided upon two minutes ago; blogging.  It’s a repetitive task.  Usually bloggers update their blog whenever they find the inspiration or whenever their readers expect them to, but considering I’m swamped with end of semester work and I have no dedicated readers (that I know of), neither of these factors play a role in my blogging.  What does, however, is my passion for it.  I enjoy free writing and luckily, that’s basically what I do for this blog.  I pick a broad topic and write as much as I can about it until I can’t anymore.  It’s fun, even when there are so many other things I need to be doing.  It’s an easy way to de-stress and let my creative juices flow.

It also helps that this is a topic that I enjoy discussing.  It’s easy for me to sit down and talk about it for a prolonged period of time.  This is probably the best piece of advice I can give to any blogger, whether you’re writing it for a class, an actual audience, or simply yourself: love it.  Otherwise it’s going to be brutally difficult experience trying to sit down for thirty minutes and write something substantial.  You’ll probably just end up spouting nonsense for a few paragraphs about nothing in particular, slap a catchy title onto it, upload it and call it good.  Sort of like I just did now, right?

Just kidding.  But seriously.  Make sure you chose a topic that you thoroughly enjoy before writing a blog.  If I hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get over this most recent obstacle.

Trying to keep my head above water,

~A Fellow Writer

Read

Read. If you're going to be a writer, it's something that you have to do.  It’s like any artistic craft; there are countless examples of those works deemed “good” by society, which in turn can be models of your own future pieces.  I’m pretty sure I told this story in one of my first posts so I won’t bore you with the details, but the reason I’m now a writer is because of my own experiences with reading.  Every time I read a book I discover new techniques I might utilize later in my own writing endeavors.

Now, by no means am I suggesting that a writer must plagiarize.  If you were to publish a book and then someone came along and stole your ideas, characters, and world, would you appreciate it?  I know I wouldn’t.  Imitation might be the sincerest form of flattery, but there are other ways to express your admiration.

What I’m talking about is style and technique.  For the longest time I thought writing long winded, wordy sentences was the “right way to write.”  For whatever reason, I also thought the longer and more complex my words were, the better my writing would be.  Boy, was I wrong.  By reading as many books as I possibly can and thus exposing myself to a variety of authors and writing styles I have discovered new and improved ways to approach the craft.  Some of these techniques I’ve discussed in recent posts, while others I might tackle in later ones.

In closing, my advice is to read.  As simple as it may sound, it will help you immensely in the long run.  I just finished the seventh book in the Sword of Truth series, The Pillars of Creation, and not only has Terry Goodkind taught me so much about character development, dialogue, description and detail, his characters, Richard and Kahlan, inspire me to continue pursuing my craft.

That’s all for now,

A Fellow Writer.

A Whole New World

I’m a writer.  It’s as simple as that.  I love the craft.  I enjoy sitting at a computer and pecking feverishly at the keys as ideas flood my fingertips.  I lay awake at night and let my mind wander, untamed, to discover fresh material.  But most of all, I revel in the prospect of creating entire worlds from nothing but my own imagination.  (Or with the help of a friend’s, as you will come to see.)

Azryen.  It’s a word you probably don’t recognize and if I weren’t about to explain what it is, you’d write it off as nothing more than gibberish.  But it’s not.  In fact, it’s so much more.  Azryen is a world, very different than our own, that my friend and I have constructed from nothing.  We’ve spent close to a decade perfecting its lands, developing its magic system, fine tuning its races, building its cities, and bringing to life its inhabitants.  We currently have a few novels underway that take place in Azryen and there are countless more planned.

Whether the task is as grand as creating an entire world, or on a scale as small as the city of Nuark, the entire process is endearing to me.  Yes, there are challenges, but there are ways to overcome them.

1) Keep everything straight.  Try not to contradict yourself.  There’s nothing more off putting than discovering a piece that doesn’t fit into what should be an intricately crafted puzzle.  To do this I write everything down.  Keeping records is essential, otherwise you might forget something and eventually replace a name or idea with something new, altering everything that was once based off of it.

2) Make sure it’s interesting and fresh.  There’s nothing worse than day old McDonald’s french fries.  I take that back—there’s nothing worse than McDonald’s french fries.  Period.  But that’s beside the point.  Make sure your world isn’t as stale as a thrice fried machine cut potato.  Once a reader has explored Narnia, they’re not going to settle for some cheap knock off.  And that’s a fact.

3) There’s a difference between fresh and complete, utter nonsense.  Try not to go too far “out of this world.”  If your reader can’t draw any parallels or make any connections to the world he or she lives in, they’re not going to want to spend their free time in the one you seemed to randomly construe.

I might be alone in this (but for some reason, I doubt it), but this is by far one of the most engaging parts of writing a story.  Sure, you can write realistic fiction and set it in our world, where the connections your readers will be able to make are endless, or you can experiment with something new.  Tolkien created Middle Earth.  Goodkind crafted the Midlands.  Collins envisioned Panem.  No matter how grand the tale, all the kinks in the setting have to be worked out beforehand or your readers will be able to sense the disconnect.

That’s all for now.

A fellow writer.

The Balancing Act of Life

Any student, college or otherwise, knows of the stress that comes with a full workload and the seemingly endless stream of assignments that professors and teachers enjoy sending our way.  So, what’s a writer to do when all our free time is spent constructing formulaic essays and completing sets of inane calculus problems?  I can’t speak for everyone, but there are times when I finish everything I need to do on a particular day and experience an overwhelming urge to write something creative.  Then, even more common, are the days when all I want to do when I’m done is eat junk food and watch Doctor Who.

If you’re as in love with writing as I am, then you’ll know how rewarding a solid hour spent tackling your next chapter can feel on a lousy day.  I can’t stress this next point enough and I have countless times before.  If you don’t love it—if taking a few hours out of your hectic lifestyle to sit down and let your creative juices flow isn’t appealing—then nothing will get done.  That being said, I’ve recently devised a plan to make sure I always have at least a half hour to write on any given day.  I schedule it.  It doesn’t get more spontaneous than that, right?  Sarcasm aside, if I know I’m going to be incredibly busy, I fit it into my schedule.  It’s an amazing way to unwind after a long day of work.  Think of it as if you’re reading a book before you fall asleep.  The only difference is that you’re writing the words for someone else to enjoy in the future.

Scheduling is the bane of any college writer’s existence.  “I have class from eight to twelve, then I have to give myself time to eat lunch from twelve to twelve thirty, then I have class again until two, then I have work from three to eight and somewhere in there I have to write a two page essay and finish my problem set for Chemistry.”  I don’t see a place where creative writing might fit into that schedule, do you?  But if you really want it to, you’ll find the time you need to accomplish something substantial.  Maybe it’ll have to wait until the weekend, but who’s to say you can’t be productive enough then to make up for the hectic week during which you could get absolutely nothing done.

If you honestly love it, you’ll find the time.

That’s all for now,

A Fellow Writer.

A Few Words of Writing Wisdom

Telling a writer to focus is like telling a squirrel to stop protecting its nuts.  It’s not going to happen.  You see (I may just be the exception, but I doubt this is the case), us writers have way too many thoughts and ideas up there to keep them all straight.  So what happens if you’re working on what you’d call your “main project,” the story or novel you’ve decided you need to finish before you can allow yourself to start something new, and you have the sudden urge to take a break and work on something else.  Well, you do just that.  Your other project will be waiting eagerly for you to return, but in the meantime let those creative juices flow.

As I’m sure I said in an earlier post, this is also a great way to get over even the most severe cases of writer’s block.  If you’re stuck on a certain part in your current project, focusing your energy on something else for a while can often lead to newfound inspiration.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve used this exact method and days later found myself ten pages into a chapter I’d before thought was going to be impossible to write.  It might seem like an unproductive way to finish a story, but think of it like this:

When you finally finish your main project (because you will and you have to believe you will with all your heart) then your next one will already be partly written, ready for you to jump right in. 

That’s all for now,

A Fellow Writer.

Hurdles: The Ultimate Writing Metaphor

This week’s post is going to be a little different. First, I must admit that I’ve been neglecting The School of Arts because I managed to get over the hurdle that has been challenging me for so long in Chasing Evelynn:

50,000 WORDS!

I just recently broke 50k in the project that I would consider my main focus, Chasing Evelynn, and since then I haven’t looked back.  There’s something so remarkably satisfying about reaching a goal like this one that I found the inspiration I needed to push forward and accomplish a great deal more.  As I’ve discussed before, as a writer there were (and still are) times when everything I wrote seemed to be garbage and that was if I managed to write anything at all.

So, the question I usually find myself asking is “how do I overcome these obstacles in the first place?”  Well, the truth is, there’s nothing I can do but muster my way through them.  There are always going to be times when I feel like I need to find a new hobby (or as I keep telling myself, potential career), but I can’t let the troubles I face stop me from doing what I love.

In these cases, all I do is write through it.  I don’t care how atrocious any of it sounds because I know if I do, I won't get anything done.  All I care about is getting my ideas on the paper, otherwise they’re apt to be lost to the cosmos that is my mind.  It has taken practice, but I’ve learned to worry less about sentence level issues while I’m writing and focus more on simply getting my thoughts onto the page.  I write what is on my mind, not what I believe others will sound good.  That’s why revision exists, because the first time someone writes something it will never be perfect.  There’s no way around it.

Until next time,

~A Fellow Writer

The "Where" Of It All

The prospect of creating a richly intricate and realistic setting can seem daunting at first, but it’s well worth every second of our time.  It can be as simple as a child’s bedroom, with glow in the dark stars stuck to the ceiling and a toy box spilling over with stuffed animals, or an entire city brimming with vibrancy and life.  In either case, thought, it is the detail that matters most.  As with every part of writing, we constantly skirt a fine line between too much description and not enough.  I mean, if a story takes place in a forest is it really necessary to describe every tree that a character walks past?  On the other hand, if a story takes place in a city but the reader isn’t given a single inkling to suggest this, they’re not going to be able to visualize the characters interacting with their environment.

Perhaps We’re All Insane

Me and my writer in cahoots, (who I mentioned in an earlier post, but let’s just call him Gerald, for old time’s sake) began our largest endeavor over five years ago.  It spans five continents, countless nations, innumerable cities and towns, and I’m not even sure we’ve scratched the surface of what it has to offer.  On the other hand, it took me only a few sittings to develop Nuark, the fictional city I created for this blog’s project, but I’m still smoothing out the rougher edges.  What I’m trying to say is, whether the  plan is to create an entire world or just one city, our job as writers is never done.  There will be details we have to hone and places we have to create even after we think we’re done.

You see, between the two of us, Gerald is sort of like our scribe.  He jots down all our crazy ideas  and saves them for later reference.  I think this is the key to creating any setting.  As soon as an idea comes to you, write it down.  Otherwise, if you’re like me and him, you’re going to forget it.  There’s just so many other thoughts floating around up there, that a detail as small as a town or landmark’s name is going to become lost in the jumble.

Setting might not seem like such a priority in a mostly character driven market, but I feel it’s just as important.  Think of a story’s setting as its backbone; without it, the story cannot stand on its own.  Because of this, I pay it the same amount of attention I would any other part of my work.  My characters need a world to interact with and it has to be consistent and believable, otherwise my readers will be able to sense the disconnect.

That's all for now,

A Fellow Writer.

So, You’ve Hit a Brick Wall

Writer’s block.  We’ve all been there.  Sadly, it’s unavoidable.  There’s just nothing more daunting than the prospect of having to fill a blank page with intelligible words.  I mean, it’s hard work sitting down and taking the time to create a master piece, but we must.  And we do.  Not because we have to, though.  We do it because we want to.  I’m not sure about you guys, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than telling a story and it just so happens that writing it is the perfect way for me to do so.  I think that’s the key, though.  You have to love it, otherwise a small case of writer’s block will turn into something insurmountable.  Either way, I have a few tips that I’ve stuffed away in my toolbox from over the years and I hope at least one of them proves useful.

It’s Your Story, Know It

I think I expressed the importance of knowing what you’re going to write before you sit down in an earlier post about brainstorming, but I want to reiterate.  Personally, if I’m unsure of what I plan to write beforehand, there’s no way it’s randomly going to come to me while I stare at a pixelated piece of paper.

So, my suggestion?  Map it out.  Write an outline.  Create a story board.  Do something that will get those creative juices flowing.  Clichéd, I know, but it works for me.  Sometimes I scribble an outline and add scenes and major plot pieces as they come to me, but this way I always have something to refer to if I ever get stuck.  I decided to try something new for The School of Arts, though, and I’m discovering that it’s extremely helpful.  I bought myself a cork board, some fancy markers, a stack of neon note cards, an assortment of green tacks and a left over piece of yarn, and with this pile of junk I created a storyboard.  It’s hanging over my desk, so whenever I sit down to write it’s there, waiting to inspire me and keep me on track.  I can add a note card or two whenever something comes to me, but I always know where I’m going next.  It also helps that I basically have the entire plot planned at this time, but even if you’re only sure of the first few chapters, it could help to keep you on track.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Procrastinate!

Again, it’s clichéd, but don’t put off `till tomorrow what you can do today.  Just don’t.  Because chances are you won’t do it tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that and eventually a week becomes a month and you’re exactly where you started.  Square one.

Set goals and create incentives for when you accomplish them.  Finish a chapter, eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food.  Finish another chapter, watch an episode of your favorite tv show.  Finished three chapters?  Heck, break out the Play Station and play a few matches of Uncharted!  Whatever helps you de-stress and get back in the writing mood.

There’s never a deadline set in stone, unless of course you’re a published author working on your next big manuscript, so it might not seem like such a big deal to take a few days break, but they add up.  Trust me.  More than once I’ve found myself stuck in one of these writing doldrums, my sail devoid of that much needed inspirational gust of wind.  Lucky for me, it’s always come, but I try to avoid the temptation of putting it off as much as possible.

Writing is a Two Way Street

You know that saying, about how love is a two way street?  Well, writing is the same way.  Everything you give you have to get back, otherwise you’re never going to find the inspiration you need to continue.  You have to want to do it, so each page you finish is as rewarding as the last.  If it weren’t for writing—the simple freedom of words on a page—my life wouldn’t be the same.   Sure, I’ve hit a few road blocks along the way, but they’ve never kept me from my following my passion.  I hope that every writer can say the same, because the only thing standing between us and our chance to make it in this industry is ourselves.

I’ll leave you to ponder this, a passage from Chasing Evelynn that shows the main character expressing her own passion for the written word. . .

“there was something endearing about words written on a page in a time long before now – a time when things had to have been different – that inspired me.” -Evelynn

~A Fellow Writer

Indeed, That's What She Said

You never realize how important dialogue is until you read through something you’ve written and realize there’s no way anyone on this planet would speak in such an incessantly gaudy way.  Dialogue isn’t supposed to make a reader stop and question a character’s realism.  It’s supposed to be a vehicle for storytelling and character development.  When utilized to its fullest potential, dialogue is a remarkable tool that can be shaped and conformed to fit any story’s specific needs.  If you want your novel to take place in a Victorian Era city, your dialogue would sound much different than if it were to follow the exploits of a thug growing up in modern day New York.  You see, it can provide insight into a story’s setting just as easily as it can exemplify a character’s personality and key traits.  Knowing this, it’s easy to assume that the possibilities of what dialogue can do are far greater than even I know.  Here are some of the ways I try to use it to its fullest extent.

“Why the hell couldn’t we take the stairs?”

By far the most obvious use of dialogue is characterization.  The way a character speaks says a great deal about who they are.  For instance, a boy who speaks in short, spastic sentences might be labeled as hyperactive and annoying.  On the other hand, a boy who always uses long sentences and extravagant words might be considered arrogant and coy.  The subtle in between, a boy who speaks naturally in colloquialisms and knows precisely when to shut up, will be portrayed as average and realistic.

Another thing to consider is the power of curse words.  In society it’s common to hear these flagrant attempts at badass-ness spewed in everyday conversation, but they speak volumes of the person using them.  Someone who freely uses such vernacular can be viewed as lacking morals, whereas someone who only uses questionable language in intense situations is probably impulsive.

Here are a few examples of how I’ve used dialogue to characterize in the first three chapters:

“Oh, Luke,” Silvia sighs.  “Whatever you do, don’t look at your arm.”

-> I’ve done a few things here.  First, by using Lucas’ nickname when she hasn’t up until that point, it’s made apparent that Silvia has a softer side.  She’s let her guard down because she’s honestly worried about Lucas.

“Oh, I get it,” Lucas says.  It’s all he can do to keep his voice down; every time it raises an octave, a fresh wave of pain shoots down his arm.  But his frustration brims with each car she swerves around and narrowly avoids colliding into.  “Like a personal ad?  I enjoy long walks on the beach, having a good time, jumping out of fourth story windows and driving like a lunatic.”

-> As everyone can probably tell, Lucas would like to think of himself as a comedian. Whether he is or isn’t is something for you as a reader to decide, but I’ve done more than just show that side of him here.  I’ve also suggested that he’s not someone to let things go.  Considering only minutes before he’d almost been engulfed by a raging inferno, it makes sense, but the way he uses snappy humor to cope with it says more about his personality than any description could.

Tag, You’re It

Dialogue tags are every writer’s worst nightmare.  At least mine, anyways.  They’re the action word we use to show when someone is speaking.  They can be as simple as “said,” or as descriptive as “choked,” but either way they are used to further explain how the speakers say whatever it is they say.

Personally, I’ve heard many complaints about my use of dialogue tags.  You’re using too many.  They’re not varied enough.  They’re too varied.  Anyone who uses a dialogue tag other than “said” or “ask” obviously doesn’t know how to write.  Well, you’re wrong.  I’m sorry, but you are.  There’s no “right way” to write.  Sure, some ways are more effective than others, but every writer has their own personal style and I’ve read such a variety that I honestly don’t care one way or the other, as long as it’s engaging.

My one piece of advice though, would be not to use too many.  It is something I was guilty of, I have to admit, and now that I’ve adapted my style to fit this suggestion I know it’s improved.  Most of the time a dialogue tag is unnecessary.  Instead, have the character speak and get right into their corresponding action.  It’s a lot easier to read,

“Hi.”  Suzie smiled and shook my hand.

Than it is to read,

“Hi,” said Suzie, smiling as she shook my hand.

Here’s an example straight out of chapter three:

“One of her few character flaws.”  He laughs, a contagious chuckle that brings a smile to Lucas’ face.  “Next time I send you to retrieve someone, Silvia, try and bring them back in once piece.”

I feel this more actively expresses the character’s (Harland’s) actions and flows better than if it were to use a dialogue tag.  So, in this case, less can certainly be more, but as with everything it’s about finding the perfect in between.

Information Overload

Dialogue is also a perfect way to explain something about your story without taking a few long, drawn out paragraphs to do so.  As long as it sounds natural and could potentially come up in ordinary conversation, an exchange between two, or even a few characters is the perfect way to avoid the dreaded “info dumps.”  Let's face it, a conversation between friends, two people who are romantically involved, or even arch nemeses, is going to be much more interesting to read than three pages worth of dry exposition.

Let Dialogue do the Talking

It's simple.  Utilizing dialogue effectively makes a story more interesting to read.  Some of my favorite authors use it in ways that were both original and engaging.  Take Cormac McCarthy, for example, and his novel No Country for Old Men.  In the book, he used dialogue is used to a great extent, the only difference being that he rarely used any tags at all and when he did they were simple and concise.  If you haven’t read the book I suggest you do, because it’s interesting to experience varied styles and fills your own writer’s toolbox with skills for later use.  I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from this book, which speaks volumes of the power of perfect dialogue. . .

“You think when you wake up in the mornin yesterday don't count. But yesterday is all that does count. What else is there? Your life is made out of the days it’s made out of. Nothin else.” -Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

That's all for now.

~A Fellow Writer

PS, if you hadn't noticed, Chapter Three is uploaded.  Read at your leisure!