A to Z Challenge 2013

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Blog Chain - What World Am I In? And How Did I Get Here?

Thank God today is a blogchain day, because I can talk about things that are much brighter and fun than yesterday. Yeah, don't ask me where that morbid post came from. I almost didn't post it after I re-read it, but in the end my muse grabbed the mouse and did what he wanted to do.

Enough of yesterday though. Today, I'm here to talk about characters and their worlds. Specifically, the talented Cole poses the following question:

How do you get inside your character's world?

Since I'm usually typing by the seat of my pants, I learn about my character's worlds through their eyes. Let me explain with a few examples.

In one of my WiPs, the idea for the story sprung from driving by a bowling alley's darkened parking lot. The look of the shadows and the way the streetlights cast pools of pale amber just lit my muse on fire and suddenly I had an idea. But even though the world began from a real place near my home, that didn't mean it would stay that way. My MC began to take me on a tour through the world as he worked his way through the story. I learned about the world he lives in as I wrote, rather than planning or building it.

My NaNo WiP is set on Earth in the far future, and I am still discovering all of it's intricacies as I write. I didn't initially envision an underground base deep below the city, abandoned by humanity for eons. But my characters took me there and showed me how the world had changed over the centuries. Each step they take in the story helps flesh out their world for me, and I just try to keep up.

The only exception to this freeform world-building is the first novel I attempted to write. The MC is a homeless woman on the streets of Denver, and I chose this location purposely. I've grown up here in Denver and have lived here all my life. And although the story is mostly about the character, I didn't want to put it in a city that I would have trouble describing. I felt that if I had to tell this particular story from a location I wasn't really familiar with, the focus would drift off the character as I tried to describe her surroundings.

I guess my real answer is that I am pulled into the world of my characters by the characters themselves. They are my tour guides as they walk through the story. I also know that these days my writing is description-light, because I have been concentrating on writing a good story first. I hate research (although I enjoy learning about real places, so figure that one out), which is probably why I discover the worlds in this manner.

If you missed out on my predecessor BJ's post on the subject, you need to go check it out. Tomorrow, you can read what the awesome Shaun has to say as he rounds out this topic.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Writing - Skybound

Peter tugged on the line once more, sending the smudged green kite into a diving half circle. The kite was a diamond-shaped lime against the tombstone sky. He smiled, admiring how it stood out against the somber clouds. Jimmy was flying his red kite last week, but Peter didn't like the color; it reminded him too much of a day-old bruise.

He let it climb higher, playing out the string through his bandaged palm. Peter winced a little as the line pressed against the cut, but he refused to let go of his smile. The pain wasn't so bad now, not like during the knife's first slice. A tear formed on the left, but Peter pretended not to notice. He blinked it away, ignoring the cold track down his cheek. The kite had to fly higher if he was going to have any chance at all. The powerful winds were up in the clouds; any lower and his kite would follow Jimmy's into the tree's maw. Then it would be gone forever, destroying his chance.

Peter wasn't scared. He knew about the old guy with the skeleton key and the round glasses. But there was no lightning today, just the ocean of dark clouds that reminded him of a full cemetery. The graves were up there, and when the people rose once more to greet God, they didn't have to climb as high to get to heaven. Only the worst stayed down here in the dirt. If he could just get the kite a little higher, he could fly up and find Mama again. She was waiting for him there, he knew it.

Peter heard the backdoor slam, followed by bad words. He glanced backwards, the smile replaced by something more akin to terror. Peter started tossing the line out quicker, tugging it this way and that. Fly higher, he thought. He's coming. Peter moved forward, trying to keep the line from tangling in the bushes as he dropped behind it. Don't let him see the string. He'd heard that dogs could smell fear, and he prayed the man hadn't brought Rufus with him.

The flapping of the kite was loud now as the winds picked up. Peter could hear the man's heavy footsteps, the booted feet crunching through dead leaves in an unsteady pattern. The wind carried the stench of alcohol and sweat ahead, freezing Peter's blood. He turned to look through the leafy bush, catching a glimpse of the cracked leather hanging down. The line in Peter's hand whipped back and forth, the kite struggling to get free. His breath was coming in ragged gasps, and his ears were pounding in time with his racing heartbeat. No time now. He had to run.

Peter launched himself up and took a step, but he knew it was too late.

"Whatthessssshhelll. Boy, yur gonnna get - " The snap of leather was followed by metal hitting bone. The blow sent Peter to the ground in a heap, the string stinging one more time as it slid through his fingers. A line of red reminiscent of Jimmy's kite traced its way down the side of Peter's face. His eyes were locked on a small mound of dirt, unable to cry over the failed attempt. Released from its tether, the kite caught the wind Peter had been searching for. The smudges on its back matched the clouds that sucked it in, until it climbed into the sunshine above.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I've Figured Out The Problem

If you haven't noticed, I've been having a problem. I sit down to write a post, and...nothing. It finally dawned on me what the heck is wrong with me.

When I first began this blog, it was for a purpose. I wanted to have a place to explore writing, share with other writers, and learn what I could. I also wanted a place I could write whatever I wanted and share it with all of you. Up until recently, I'd been able to do this. But I started thinking about what I post and wondering if I should post my writings here.

Then I realized that by putting my stories here, they would in all likelihood not be publishable later. I then decided not to put excerpts up here, for fear that I'd stumble on great idea and not be able to develop it into something later. The problem is that this effectively shut down the main reason I am on here - to have fun.

By stifling myself and restricting what I post, I closed off that part of my creativity, and I've really been struggling to find the words for posts. For the last few days, this has been the only thing on my mind. I didn't even manage to put up a Ten Word Tuesday post, which I regret.

Anyway, after thinking it over at great length, I've decided to return to the roots of what this blog should be about - my writing. I am throwing caution to the wind, and from now on I will be posting whatever thoughts happen to crawl onto the page. If nothing else, I'm all about having fun. And the last few days have not been fun. So it's time to get back to what I enjoy, which is just writing for the sake of writing and not worrying about what becomes of it.

Alas, you will need to bear with me a bit longer however, because after today's post I will once again be unplugged until Tuesday. You see, I'm headed out on the road tomorrow to drive to Salt Lake City, UT, where I will be donning the ceremonial graduation attire and walking across the stage. Since my family (my wife, my kids, and even my parents) are making this trip with me, it'd probably be rude of me to ask them to be quiet so I can put up a post or two. You can expect however, that upon my return (assuming we don't get lost in the snowstorms or crash along the way), I'll post some pics from the trip.

Keep your fingers crossed for me that the weather doesn't get too bad. And starting next week, I'll get back to what this blog is really about - fun with writing.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

My Outlines Are Premises...Sort Of

I had an awesome story idea this morning, and I decided to start a project on it. Rather than do my usual however (see, I'm learning), I grabbed a notepad and pencil and started writing a rough outline. Have no fear, all you pantsters out there. I have not gone to the darkside. I'm just trying to improve my writing so that I can still write by the seat of my pants - albeit within a rough framework.

As I started writing it out however, I noticed that instead of writing Chapter 1 - do this, Chapter 2, do that, I was writing ideas. I'm not completely disappointed in my process though, because I was able to map my way through the story (sort of).

One interesting thing I notice (looking back on it) is that I was thinking about some important things, such as why my MC wants to do this instead of that or why the antagonist(s) are in conflict. I scratched out this sentence or that one, realizing that it wasn't working. It was really fun.

Now I have a (extremely) rough framework, but at least I know the rough path the story should take. I know where to begin, what the middle will consist of (okay, a little shaky here, will need filling to be good), and how the story will end up. There's still plenty of room in there for being a pantster, which satisfies my creative muse quite fine.

The question I pose to all of you is this - what makes it an outline as opposed to a premise or synopsis? And does it really matter?

Rapping About Books

I had to put up a link post about a video I saw on Notes from New England. Rather than embed it here, I'll just urge you to go there and check it out. Besides, the blog she hosts is pretty awesome too. Enjoy.

Ten Word Tuesday - Voices

Hearing voices in your head is crazy...

...unless you write.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Blog Chain - Mistakes

This blog post brought to you by the number 4 and the letter "R".

Oh wait. Actually this blog post is brought to you care of Rebecca, who asks:

What is the best mistake you've made so far in your journey as a writer? How has that mistake helped you grow :)?

Wow, where do I begin? There have been so many mistakes I've made in this journey so far, sometimes they feel like they outweigh the successes. There's the whole "trying to do NaNo at the same time I'm trying to pass my last class in college". Yeah, that was a big mistake.

Then there's the "pay attention to what you choose to post here, because duh stupid, it's considered published." Yeah, that was a dumb mistake too.

Probably the best mistake I've ever made involved arrogance. When I first began this writing journey a year ago, I figured I could just plunge in and start writing. People had been telling me forever I could write, right? They must know what they're talking about. Oh, and I guess the fact that they are family and friends doesn't mean they're being less than objective, huh?

I figured out how much a mistake this was once I had someone with real talent critique my work. The big hammer came slamming down, and I realized just how much I have to learn. This was a hard lesson to learn too, because it was a huge blow to the ego. But it taught me something I should already be familiar with - humility. It's okay to believe in yourself, as long as you remain realistic.

I truly believe this mistake has given me the opportunity to become a better writer and not embarrass myself by querying something that is really not ready. It also prompted me to take some classes, so that I CAN become a better writer. I'm learning that altering the way I thought I should write is not necessarily a bad thing. It's not set in stone, and changing my ways doesn't mean I need to sacrifice my story - or my writer's voice.

This is a great question because it highlights something we should all know and accept. Mistakes are a good thing; they challenge us, put our feet to the figurative flames. And hopefully after we rub the pain from the burns, we can stand up once more and begin walking in a new and better direction.

Now head on over to Sandra (who preceded me) or put a note on your calendar for tomorrow so you can read Kat's response. Which may or may not be brought to you by the number 4 and letter "R".

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Contest Entry - Why I Write

This post is my entry in the contest B.J. Anderson is holding. What can I say, I want me some Twinkies (and the gift card wouldn't be half bad either).

The question she asks for this is "Why do we write?"

Unlike so many other of my fellow writers, I am not one who feels the call. I don't have so many little voices in my head having convoluted conversations, begging me to tell their tale. I don't sit up late at night with my fingers upon the keyboard, the words flowing out like so much golden honey on warm biscuits (okay, sometimes I'm lucky enough to have those moments, but it's rare). Oh, and yes I am incredibly envious of all you writers who DO experience these things.

I write for three reasons:

1. I've discovered I have the knack for it (even if it's only the rare occasion when I can look at a passage I've written and declare it brilliant).
2. Writing provides a platform for my creativity, a facet of my being that has been ignored (or forgotten) for far too long.
3. Writing makes me feel good, not only about myself but also about what I can give to those around me.

The first reason may sound arrogant, but I'm proud of myself when I write something worthy. If you can't recognize when you're writing well and give yourself a pat on the back once in a while, you may not want to consider continuing the pursuit. The other times when you feel less than worthy are just too depressing. This first reason is also me being practical. When you find something you do (especially if you can do it well), you need to embrace that. There are so many things we know that we can't do, that we need to acknowledge the things we can.

The second reason is more significant than the first. You see, my day job is that of a computer geek (a.k.a. server admin). Other than being an accountant or a taxman (no offense IRS), I cannot imagine anything less creative. After living too many years ignoring my creativity (or not having a decent way to express it), writing has given me an outlet for all that creative energy. I've heard you can explode if you bottle that stuff up for too long. Whew. Thank you, Muse.

The third reason is the most important of all however. I am a firm believer that we need something of our own that makes us happy. We need to have something that makes us smile, something we can throw ourselves into. Now don't get me wrong. I'm a parent, and nothing makes me smile more than my wife and kids. But they are not solely mine. I share my wife with my kids and visa versa. My writing however, is mine alone. And selfish as it is, my writing gives me great joy (even the difficult parts). I willingly struggle with silencing my internal editor (a herculean task to be sure), and I am so elated when I manage to write a paragraph without second-guessing my choice of words. I bask in the glow when I manage to write really well and someone else out there feels the same intense vibe after they read it. All of these things together sum up the fact that writing makes me feel good, like nothing else I've ever done.

Other than marrying the right woman and being blessed with two wonderful children, that is.

Though I have had doubtful moments when I thought I would never try writing again, I honestly cannot imagine really quitting. It's way too much fun.

Today is the last day you have to enter B.J.'s contest, so what are you waiting for? Drop a comment on her page or create a post of your own. It's Twinkies and a gift card at stake here, people!

Process? You Mean I'm Supposed To Have A Process?

Yesterday I mentioned how the members of The Literary Lab were walking through their own writing processes for us. After reading Lady Glam's post, I decided it would be fun to put up my own version. Since my process has been evolving over the last year or so, I thought I'd give everyone a glimpse into where I started and where I'm headed. It's a long post, so I hope you'll bear with me.

When I first decided to write, I had an idea that popped into my brain. What was really awesome was that I came up with the title immediately (which is really rare for me - I still haven't named my NaNo WiP). It is called "A Moment To Breathe" and it's about a homeless woman and the man who decides to help her.

My process at that time consisted of sitting down and writing. I just started with a first sentence and wrote continuously. Names were made up on the fly (I'm terrible at deciding on names), and twists and turns occurred whenever they wanted. I don't think I consciously paid attention to rules, sentence structure, anything at all. I was just getting the tale down, as quickly as I could type.

Then I had a writer friend critique part of it, and the results almost made me quit writing. My lack of "thinking" about things as I wrote made for HUGE holes and embarassing problems. For a long time, I actually doubted I could ever write anything again. Then I buckled down and thought seriously about what my friend was really saying. I took her advice, and I learned to pay attention. Well, a little more anyway.

So began phase two. I put the homeless story to the side, primarily because it's a tale close to my heart and I want to tell it right. I didn't think at that time (and still don't) that I had the skill to write it well enough. I chose to start something fresh and new (still untitled, mind you). I began writing as before, just writing. But in my mind, I was thinking more about where I was going with it. I did alot more with characterization, thinking about who the main character was, why they would do this or that. The process was still in my head though, with nothing being written down. No org chart, no listing of chapters. No overall idea where the story began and where it would end.

So began NaNO '09. I was finally beginning to realize the importance of an outline, of structure. I sat down and tried mapping out some chapters, character names, overall storyline. I got nowhere. It was too alien, and I could not be creative that way at all. I already had the story idea (yes, still untitled even though I'm about three chapters away from finishing the rough draft). I did manage to (in my head) envision the beginning, the middle, and the end. There have been twists to the plot I did not initially plan on (like the MC killing his mother...I still don't know where that came from, but it works), which satisfies the pantster in me. Keeping the overall goals in mind has helped me become slightly more organized though too.

After all of this, what is my process now (or in the future going to be)? Well, I see some really neat things I can borrow (okay, I'm stealing 'em, heh heh) from Scott, Davin, AND Lady Glam. I would like to be able to (either on my current WIP's second draft or a future project) actually write down a basic plotline like Scott's example.

1. Guy signs up to be foreign exchange student.
2. Guy is actually exchanged to another planet.
3. Guy finds a way to cope and/or return home.

Yeah, the above is one of those story ideas I have in the back of my mind. I have more details than that, but this is a good example. I would also like to be writing down the questions that Davin poses to his characters:

1. Why is Guy choosing to be a foreign exchange student?
2. Why did they lie to him about where he is being sent?
3. Does Guy really object to the new environment or is he just scared?

I still want to be able to go chaotic from time to time, like Lady Glam.

1. Maybe Guy is actually secretly CIA and carries a secret decoder ring.
2. What if I toss in some talking alien geckos who want to sell Guy interplantary insurance?
3. What if Guy's girlfriend gets jealous of the green alien females and chases after him with a futuristic rocket launcher?

The final answer is that my process is still very much changing. I am trying to become more organized but still maintain a high level of creativity. Sometimes I just start writing and see where it goes. Sometimes I have nothing more than a scene in mind. From that scene will spring a whole story.

Eventually, I'd like to be able to take that little spark of creativity and build it (on paper no less) into something way more cohesive and well developed. I don't ever see myself being completely organized, to where I map out every chapter, every character, every plotline from the get-go. Ain't gonna happen folks. That would probably take divine intervention. But I WOULD like to be able to organize things prior to writing (or before I get too far along in a story) and actually use that information to improve the writing.

If you haven't already answered this question in the Lab's comments, what is your process for writing? Are there things you wish you could do better in this area? If you feel the need to do your own post on the subject, let me know so I can come check it out.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Wednesday Wonderings - Blog Excerpts To Published Material

Before I plunge into today's question, there are a few housekeeping items I need to mention. If you haven't stopped by The Literary Lab in the last couple of days, you need to. Scott and Davin have been walking through their writing processes, and it is very interesting reading (particularly for those of us trying to improve and refine our own processes). If Lady Glamis can share her ideas on the subject (hint hint), it'll be an awesome finish to the topic.

My friend (at least I hope I'm still a friend) Rebecca Woodhead is trying to win the literary category in the Shorty Awards and she could use your vote. She already won Ms. Twitter UK, but this would be an even great accomplishment on top of that. I have been woefully remiss in mentioning her progress, so I don't blame her if she wants to thump me on the head with an oversized fountain pen. She is doing awesome, but she could really use your votes. Make me proud all you wonderful followers and vote her to the top.

And last (but not least), Jody Hedlund - newly agented and on her way to publication - has been providing us a glimpse into her journey as she wades through the process. I have found it fascinating, and I think you will too.

Now on to business.

Yesterday I joined the Lighthouse Writer's Workshop as a member so that I can take a course on writing short stories. I have decided that this is a great place to begin my creative writing education.

This morning I began thinking about short stories and what I would bring to this class. I have started quite a few meanderings here on my blog, many of which I can see expanding into a full-fledged story. As I was thinking about these, I experienced a horrific moment. What if I am not allowed (or not encouraged) to use the writings I have posted here?

What I am concerned about is whether posting a writing on blogger makes it less likely that I could ever publish that story in a real magazine/anthology/publication. I'm not concerned that anyone else owns the rights to the story, since I write everything here myself. I am more concerned though, that someone else would not want to publish it in their media since a rough draft/previous version exists out here on my blog. I actually enjoy using this medium as a way to test out story ideas, work my way through them. But am I limiting myself by doing so?

If anyone can shed light on this, I'd really appreciate it. While I'd hate to stop posting my creative thoughts here, I would really hate to miss the opportunity to take those writings and actually get them published as a completed story later in the future.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why Can't I Create Conflict?

I understand if the title throws you. Most people want to avoid conflict. In writing however, we have to create various levels of conflict. It's what helps propel our story along (among other things).

You can imagine then, my frustration at not being able to create the final conflict for my MC. Twice now I've been writing along, setting things up to put my MC in a do-or-die situation with the antagonist...and everything goes awry. It's almost as if my subconscious is trying to keep my poor MC from having to deal directly with the conflict.

As I sit here reasoning this out, I'm left wondering if my initial impressions of my MC are completely wrong. Perhaps he is not the brave, jump-into-the-action hero type. Maybe he is trying to speak out to me and say, "Hey, you trying to kill me or something? I know we have to fix this situation, but do I have to take of it personally?"

This train of thought leads me into the realm of characterization. I don't know about the rest of you, but I rarely know all the in's and out's of my characters. I usually discover their individual traits as the story goes along. The question that this particular situation leads me to is whether I should morph the character to fit what I need or adapt the story to fit around the character? After all, if I adjust the character now, I will very likely have to go back in other parts of the story and alter how they react in other situations as well.

I suppose with each revision, every character morphs a little bit, solidifying into a more concrete and identifiable character. The tightrope I'm walking here though is how to keep the core qualities of this character intact as I complete the tale.

Have you ever had a character act in ways that you thought were "out-of-character"? Do you reign them back in or alter the story?

Ten Word Tuesday - Habits

Forming writing habits is hard.

Managing to write daily? Awesome!