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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

The Writing Demon

Writing Demon is a counterpart to the Cookie Monster. I try not to hang out with either one of these characters for too long–bad influences–but I’ve heard that they often get together at the local pub for milk and whiskey (Writing Demon’s beverage of choice).

Most of the time, however, Writing Demon just follows me around everywhere I go. Sometimes it seems as if he lives inside my body, like a parasite, feeding on mostly metaphors and pain.

If I haven’t written anything in a while, Writing Demon will begin to poke me while I lie in bed so I can’t get to sleep. He’ll plant evil daydreams in my head, making me imagine myself signing a publishing contract, quitting my job, and tending to my garden in my spare time. He’ll screw with the synapses in my brain so I get distracted at work and start thinking things like, “This must be the best time to get some editing done.” He’s even tried to get me fired on multiple occasions, just so I’ll have more time to feed and nurture him.

Writing Demon must be fed on a daily basis or he gets irritable and depressed (hence the drinking.) He rejoices when I’m too tired to workout, because he knows I’ll head straight for my laptop. He snaps at my daughter when she interrupts him while he’s feeding.

But once in a while, Writing Demon will do something that makes up for his sly, ornery disposition. Sometimes, he’ll reach his hand out and point with his dark, skinny finger at a juicy metaphor on the page. I’ll tilt my head and stare at the screen in awe for a moment. Did I do that?

Writing Demon will nod his head, reach for the phrase in all its glory, bring it to his lips, and, with a painful longing in his eyes, place it gently in my mouth. Thank you, Writing Demon. That was delicious.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s 8 Rules of Writing:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that they will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character they can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things – reveal character or advance the plot.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing:

  1. Never open a book with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologs.
  3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialog.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”
  7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10. Try to leave out the parts the readers tend to skip.

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Okay, I must admit that I’m usually one of those people who like a book and swear it’s the BEST BOOK EVAR!! until I read the next book, which actually really is the best book ever. And the cycle continues. I tend to get excited about what I’m reading. Not sure if this is because I’m usually pretty good at choosing books that I’ll like, or because I’m good at choosing books that are awesome. Either way, I may be prone to hyperbolic fits of adoration when I discover a good read.

Having said that, and please don’t let this revelation eschew my credibility, I just read THE FIRE IN FICTION by Donald Maass and I loved it. For those who don’t know, Mr. Maass is CEO and uber-agent extraordinaire at Donald Maass Literary Agency. If you follow that little linky there, you’ll find he is not just a highly-experienced industry insider, he is also the author of fourteen novels published under pseudonyms. His other book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL has received much critical acclaim and it is one of the most recommended books for new authors looking to learn more about the craft of writing fiction. So, definitely check that one out if you get a chance, too.

But I didn’t read that one. I’ve already written my novel. I’m now working on the rewriting, which is why I chose to read THE FIRE IN FICTION. So, that is what I’ll be reviewing here. Focus people.

There are only nine chapters in this book, and the book itself is only 272 pages long, so this is a quick read. But, even so, I’m not going to waste our time by giving you a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book. I don’t think you want to hear little ol’ me give you a nine-paragraph review when you can just go to Amazon.com and use their handy “Look Inside” this book feature. That feature and this review should give you enough information to decide whether or not you want to throw down your hard-earned cash for this one.

Onto the book. My favorite chapters in this book were the chapters entitled “Protagonists vs. Heroes”, “A Singular Voice”, “Tension All the Time”, and “The Fire in Fiction.”

In the chapter on protagonists vs. heroes, Mr. Maass discusses the difference between a protagonist and a hero. According to him, “A protagonist is the subject of a story. A hero is a human being with extraordinary qualities.” This is to say that, protagonists can be ordinary people who do extraordinary things, but establishing them as extraordinary early on is necessary to make your reader care.

Maass argues that if your protagonist is an  average Joe, you must present him as a human being with deep emotions and hint at the underlying tension/event early on in the story. Otherwise, your readers will view him as just another average Joe to ignore as they make it about their day. Nothing extraordinary here, move along (ie. close the book.) Even if your protagonist is not the type of person most people would want to hang out with, maybe he’s the dark, broody type, establishing early on that they are worthy of the readers attention, and even their affection, will keep them reading.

The “Singular Voice” chapter discusses giving your characters voice. This involves digging deep inside the character to find what makes them distinct from you and me and especially from your other characters. Don’t be afraid to give your characters opinions and a strong point of view. Authors who write in the omniscient point of view tend to be very good at this. Jodi Picoult is a master at this. Pick up a few of her books at your local library – you won’t regret it.

In chapter 8, “Tension All the Time,” Maass goes into detail about that special ingredient that keeps you reading into the wee hours of the morning: Tension. Actually, Maass uses the term “microtension” to describe the opposing emotions, needs, and motivations experienced. If your protagonist wants to go to college but he knows his parents will lose their house if he doesn’t get a full-time job, this is inner conflict. If his mother is telling him to go to college and his father is telling him to get a job, this is outer conflict. Not all conflict involves explosions and fighting. Each chapter, each paragraph should be imbued with inner and outer conflict.

The final chapter, “The Fire in Fiction,” is about writing the story that you are most passionate about. Only then will the story be yours, instead of an imitation of your favorite author or the latest bestseller you just finished reading. Writing about what matters to you is what your ultimate goal should be.

At the end of each chapter, Maass includes exercises like picking any scene in your novel and identifying the outer and inner turning points. Or finding a piece of dialogue and stripping away all the attributives (he said/she said) to see if you can still identify who’s speaking based on the voice and action. He also provides tips throughout, such as going through your manuscript and honing the bookends of each chapter, so they are more compelling.

I think you can see how much I loved this book. I’ve read at least ten, but probably closer to 20, books on the craft of writing. I’ve read books on everything from plotting, grammar & style, and story structure, to books on tropes, the publishing industry, and formatting your manuscript. All this information can become repetitive and exhausting after a while. If you ever get to the point where you feel you’d rather listen to Dancing with the Stars soundtracks over and over again rather than read another book on writing, then you should read FONDLING YOUR MUSE by John Warner (of McSweeney’s) for a good laugh.

So, what if you’re just taking the first baby step on your writer’s journey? In that case, you may want to start with something that deals with the basics. After you get your copy of THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE, and it’s been dog-eared and highlighted into submission and you’ve been whipped into a style stupor, you might want to revive yourself with some literary smelling salts, such as STORY STRUCTURE ARCHITECT by Victoria Lynn Schmidt and THE PLOT THICKENS by Noah Lukeman. Then you can move on to ON WRITING by Stephen King and WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.

Then, when you’re finished with your first draft, you think you know everything there is to know about crafting a compelling story, and you’re ready to embark on the beastly journey of rewriting, you can read THE FIRE IN FICTION and, one of my personal favorites, THE FIRST FIVE PAGES by Noah Lukeman.

Well, this blog post turned out to be about 17 times longer than I had anticipated. Off to dig into another rewrite.

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I just had an amazing literary brainstorming session with Arielle.

I’d spent most of this weekend writing and plotting (when I wasn’t cleaning or baking bread) while Arielle played The Sims. I decided I needed to work on characterization. Since I keep all the information for my characters and setting in a single document on my computer, this meant I would need to take away Arielle’s primary source of entertainment.

We do have two laptops in my house. However, Arielle’s laptop is the used Powerbook G4 I gave her a few years ago when I got my Macbook Pro. Her laptop does not have an Intel duo core processor, so it can’t run The Sims 3.

Well, after taking over the laptop, in order not to hear her griping, I decided to request her insight into some characterization issues I’d encountered. She was only too glad to help.

We spent a good two and a half hours working out names, traits, and future plotlines for many of my characters. We even created a few new characters. She now knows way more about the story than I had intended her to know, but she kept goading me along saying, “My opinion will give you an advantage as you write because I’m your target audience.”

I know when I’m being used, but I would say that in this case our literary relationship is symbiotic.

I can’t wait to be done with this book.

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Creating an entirely fictional and somewhat futuristic society is fun – for the most part. The most difficult part of creating a fictional futuristic society is creating laws and currency. Of course, you can draw from current laws and currency and build from there. However, in order for your futuristic society to seem “futuristic”, the reader must feel as if they’ve been taken to a new, exciting, yet strange place. The laws of the future may not be preferable to today’s laws, they may be downright frightening, but they have to be distinct.

The laws of my “futuristic” society have not caused me too many sleepless nights, as I have a clear idea as to how my society operates; it’s the currency that has me stumped.

Ideally, the currency of a futuristic society would take little energy to create, be secure from theft (and counterfeiting) and highly portable (light-weight or weightless). So, taking into account these criteria, I’m unsure what type of currency to use. Paper is dead as it is wasteful and takes a lot of energy to create in a way that makes it impervious to counterfeiting. Gold, though light-weight, is susceptible to theft and would require some form of authentication technology. Computer technology (microchips/cards) require mass production of cards/chips/scanners, which would require a new technology for producing plastic and still seems a bit wasteful.

Then, of course, there’s the idea that there should be no currency. In its place there would be a system of bartering. Of course, this begins the journey down the slippery slope towards – gasp! – Communism.

So, I’m stuck. In the meantime, I’ve started writing out a new scene in long-hand. Not a good idea, since I currently have about 125 pages of the book written out in long-hand that have yet to be transcribed. I’m only contributing to this growing backlog. However, writing in long-hand lends an organic quality to the story that typing does not. Don’t ask me why, my brain just works that way.

Well, I guess I’d better get back to work. 😉

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At first I was frightened, but when I looked closer I noticed that the lion was wounded. I continued walking, thinking the lion would let me pass. Instead the lion stopped me only to say that he would let me pass today, but for future reference, I was wrong to cross his path.

I continued down my path, unscathed but for a sense that I had trespassed. I walked further and further still before I came to a realization that the forest was for all living creatures. I was not trespassing, I was just following my path.

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