Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
Last week I read two great posts. One was from Guide to Literary Agents. Chuck has doing an “Agent Guest Column Month” for November and I found the guest column by James M. Tabor gave me a bit of an ah-ha moment. In it he points out that the best way to get a good start on writing is to go out and live your life.
It might seem like a silly thing, but I know that I have a tendency to delve into what I’m doing and I’ll forget about the outside world. I’ll put off cleaning my room or vacuuming the house to stay in front of the keyboard and hash out whatever I can of the next scene I’ve got. (Homework is my exception.)
I think that this advice is true. It wasn’t until a road trip with Jessie last summer that she and I began writing novels with the purpose of getting them published. Going out and seeing new sights can inspire and get the creativity flowing. At least, that’s the way it is for me.
What do you think? Does getting out of the daily grind inspire or damper your imagination?
To continue the spirit of symbolism, I bring you the color yellow! Yellow is one of those beautifully bright colors that can bring a smile or sting your eyes. Yellow is a very versatile color that can indicate anything from joy, creativity, optimism, caution and illness. Yellow, like the other two warm colors of the rainbow, creates warmth and grabs your attention. Yellow, like red, is used in traffic because it can grab a driver’s attention. Yellow lights to warn for stops, yellow signs to warn for hazards and upcoming changes in the road.
The bright side:
- Yellow happy, creative and stimulating.
I’m sure I don’t need to go in depth as to why yellow indicates happiness, so we’ll go straight into creativity. Yellow gets the energy going for both your mind and your body, which in turn gets the juices going. Not very fancy, but it’s true. Yellow is optimistic and can represent youth, which is why wearing yellow and having blonde hair (to a certain extent!) can make you look younger. This color creates alertness and clarity. A yellow piece of paper catches your attention much more than any other color. Because it indicates youth, be careful when using it with older people. Also, it’s been proven that men dislike yellow more than women, so be careful with that, too!
The dark side:
- Yellow can indicate warning, decay, anxiety, and deceit.
With all of its good points, yellow definitely has its low points. Yellow is the color of warnings, like red again, but in a more cautionary manner than in a stopping manner. Too much yellow, like orange, creates anxiety. Babies put into a yellow room are more prone to crying than when in rooms of other colors. Dirty yellows show decay, illness (like jaundice) and deceit.
Different yellows can mean different things, too:
- Pale yellow indicates softness and a pure friendliness
- Light yellow shows intellect, freshness and joy
- Dark (dingy) yellow shows decay, sickness and sometimes jealousy.
- Yellow-orange (or Gold) relates to prestige, illumination, wealth and wisdom.
- Yellow-green is associated with deceit and disorientation. It can also show cowardice.
Yellow! It’s a bright, refreshing color that can bring attention to you–or your characters. Whether it be blonde hair, a yellow dress, a yellow tie, who knows, even a yellow car! A little bit goes a long way with this color. This color would love to be your friend if you give it a chance. (I promise it’s nice–for the most part.)
I asked a question to the ladies at Edittorrent awhile ago and Alicia Rasley answered it last week. My question was a simple one and something all of us writers have:
How much back story should there be?
Alicia does a great job addressing the topic, including how much to reveal, what is back story (in comparison to extraneous information), and when to introduce it.
I’ve taken up a position of “less is more,” but my wonderful critters keep mentioning all the things that I’m lacking that I think has a lot to do with this issue. If you tell too much, your story isn’t set in the present anymore! If you don’t tell enough, your characters lack some emotion and motivation.
Just like all things in life, there’s a happy medium! And I haven’t found it yet–but someday.
Just as there’s a science to word choice, there’s also a science to description. It has to do with schema and schematic knowledge. We usually learn about schemas in relation to our associations of labels and stereotypes, but what about events in your memory?
Schemata (pl. of schema) can be described as what you think is common, typical, or frequent in any given situation. For example, when you’re driving in a car, you’re expecting a road with lanes and perhaps some stop lights or stop signs, probably other cars. If there’s a tree growing in the middle of your lane–that’s a little weird. That wouldn’t be part of your schematic knowledge of ‘driving.’
Schemata can help us when remembering an event. It’s a sort of ‘general knowledge‘ we tap into when we think back to our day at a zoo. Maybe we don’t remember the monkeys and the gorillas, but there are always monkeys and gorillas at a zoo and so we therefore know they were there when we were.
So, how can this help you when describing a certain scene while you’re writing? Tap into your reader’s schematic knowledge.
When you’re describing a house, do you need to describe the entire structure? Probably not. People know what a house is and they have schematic knowledge of a house–the general idea of it. But what they don’t know is what makes this house different or special compared to other houses they’ve seen. So, when you go to describe the house, write down only the unique and unusual parts of the house.
The house was two stories high, sitting on a weedy patch of majestic green grass. There was moss growing between the singles of the roof and ivy crawling up the left side of the house. A rocking chair sat unattended on the porch beside a closed door.
Let people’s imaginations fill in the gaps about the window sizes, the shutter shapes, what the columns look like (if someone even imagines them). Those parts hardly matter to the general appeal of the house–half rotting, half whimsical.
Everyone is going to imagine a different house. But is this a problem? Not at all!
Jessica’s Writing Process
In the style of Ms. Johnson, here are my disclaimers:
- I type about 100 words per minute, if not more, on average. (I often have to backspace and correct typos, though.)
- I don’t turn off my internal editor. (But it’s not very good, either.)
- I usually don’t stop until I’m done. (Makes sleeping hard.)
The more I read how other people write, the more I think I might be a rare lemon. I never write without an idea of what I’m writing already. So I have two processes, and another for editing.
When I have the entire scene in my head:
- I open up a new document (separate from the entire WiP) and write. I can easily write about 2,500 words in an hour.
- Every time my flow is interrupted, I’ll reread the last few paragraphs or the last page to reorient myself in the scene in my head. And continue until I’m done. (That’s right, I don’t stop until I’m done. Yes, I am insane.)
- While I do take time to avoid my crutch words, avoid unnecessary words, and consciously choose words, I always scroll back to the beginning and reread everything. I make quick changes for everything I see (I often don’t see much).
When I have the first part of the scene in my head:
- I open up a new document and write until I reach a dead end. This is where the scene goes all black and I have no idea what to do next. Life sucks.
- I play out the scene until it progresses in a reasonable way. What if my MC says this? What if my MC says that? What would be the reaction? I write down the best thing I can come up with. Sometimes it takes several tries, sometimes it takes several minutes (or a lot of minutes).
- I follow this pattern until I see the end. Again, I don’t stop until the whole thing is written.
- Then I go back to the beginning and edit, sometimes rethink entire paragraphs, but try to just make the whole thing coordinate in some way.
And then my process for editing:
- I open up the WiP, all scenes written inserted into their proper place. I will only revise scenes that have context–surrounding scenes. This is for consistency.
- I reread the last page of the scene right before and then continue reading the to-be-edited scene.
- I pay close attention to the whole and its parts. If something sounds awkward, I’ll rephrase as many times as needed. I pick new words, I take out or put in commas and other punctuation when necessary. I usually rethink paragraphs and sentence order. Dialogue, and clarity of speaker and pronouns. I usually do this in increments whenever I have time, so I never work until I’m completely done.
- When I’ve finished revising the entire thing, I’ll go back to the beginning and reread it as if I’d just written it.
Now, as for whether or not I write out of order–I do. However, Devin and I have our entire WiP planned out scene by scene. We can write in order if we want, and sometimes when we feel particularly inspired, we’ll jump ahead and write something else.
And the last thing I do? Save. And then show off. After that, it’s for the critters to dissect so I have more work to do!
Here’s a small lesson on telling, but not necessarily showing. To a certain extent, telling or exposition is completely and absolutely necessary in your story or, you know, things wouldn’t make sense to us. The reason you’re inclined to write back story is, after all, to make sense of the present story. You write in a lot of telling, a lot of exposition, because you want your reader to understand. That’s natural.
But there’s a formula to it.
With this formula, you’re forced only to describe when it’s necessary to understand what’s going on. Instead of describing the house a group of people are heading to and then cut to them knocking on the door, reverse it. Have them knock on the door and then describe the house, because then it’s necessary (maybe!) to know what the house might look like.
It’s a sort of method of payment for telling readers something you can’t simply show them. If you give them a present action to focus on, slipping in exposition so they can make sense of the scene is a natural flow.
Here’s the set up of the example:
The current action is Mindy going into the bathroom to brush her teeth. When she looks in the mirror, she notices that she isn’t quite herself today–she’s in her brother’s body. What do we need to know to understand this action? Perhaps that the room looks different, she feels different, etc.
In the first example, I have numbered the examples of blatant telling that, in my opinion, are either hidden well in the action or are needed to understand the present action. The numbers are evenly spaced through the narration. The paragraph seems short and to the point (although perhaps not really intriguing). In each case, the action comes before the exposition.
The second example switches the order, presenting exposition before the action it explains. It’s longer, and there’s actually more unneeded exposition (letters a-e) because there’s no limit. If you place the action first, you’re limiting what you can logically explain without jumping around. When you place the exposition first, you’re unrestricted!
Compare the two examples! Which do you think is better?
Mindy slid out of bed feeling weird–groggy still, half-asleep and hazy. She walked across blue carpet (1) barely able to hold her eyes open before opening the door and heading down the hall to the bathroom. The hardwood was cold against her feet (2), her vision blurry as she glanced at the pictures lining the walls (3). She flipped on the light after stepping into the bathroom, wiggled her toes against the shaggy rug (4), and grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste. She squeezed the white paste onto her brush, let cold water run on it, and then put it into her mouth. She squinted at her hands. They looked weird today. Maybe they were a bit swollen (5). She looked up to the mirror and almost swallowed her toothbrush whole–why was she looking back at her brother?
Mindy slid out of bed feeling weird–groggy still, half-asleep and hazy. She looked down at the carpet, it was blue (1), and took a look around her room. There were blue walls, a bookshelf full of videogames (a). She frowned and rubbed her eyes. Must still be dreaming. She walked to the door, opened it, and headed down the ball to the bathroom. There were hardwood floors (2), pictures lining the halls (3), and glaring bright lights in the ceiling. The hall was two feet narrow (b) and in her sleepy, half-opened eyes, it looked much smaller than she was used to. She got to the bathroom and flipped the light on. It was all white, a tub against the far wall with a sea-horse shower curtain (c). There was a shaggy blue rug hiding the dull linoleum (4). She grabbed her toothbrush and toothpaste, let cold run onto it, and began brushing her teeth. Her hands looked swollen (5) as she stared down at them. They looked weird but she shrugged it off. Her eyes fell on the water running in the white porcelain sink (d). Above it was a medicine cabinet with a mirror (e). She looked up into it to assess how she looked and almost swallowed her toothbrush whole–why was she looking back at her brother?
A cool exercise to drive the point home is to pick up your favorite book, or a book by your favorite author. Read carefully and notice when the author is writing the present action and when they’re lacing in the exposition. You’ll notice the pattern, action first, exposition after! I promise.
Mondays are for what gave us an a-ha moment. I was shown this post from J.A. Souders’ blog about senses. We’re all used to the five senses, but she introduces you to six more you can use in your writing. The six other senses to enhance your stories are: Time, Temperature, Pain, Balance, Motion and Direction
She went through an exercise to practice this and I think it can only help to do it too! I didn’t follow her example to a key, but here is my try.
Logan teetered on his feet, passing his thumb through the flame of his lighter. His skin sizzled, his mouth easing into a smirk as flames encompassed the house and the wood siding crackled in the heat. A scream rose above the flames and dissipated into the night. Only twenty minutes to ruin someone’s life–twenty minutes to provide hours of entertainment.
The fire licked at his skin and the thick, black smoke burned his throat–tasted like cheap cigarettes and dark roast coffee. He’d hoped for something more exciting. The acrid scent of cedar and boiling paint was nothing. He turned to the left and dropped his lighter on the ground. Whoever said revenge was best served cold was a complete liar.
And to break it down for the six new senses, here they are in plain sight! (Just in case you missed it in the paragraph.)
- Time: twenty minutes
- Temperature: heat.
- Pain: sizzled
- Balance: teetered
- Motion: passing, turned, teetered
- Direction: to the left
Now that I’m aware of them, I can tell my writing will be that much better! What do you guys think? Try it out and post it up, I’d love to see your take.
I promise this is not another boring science lesson. This one will be fun. It’s about writing! Fun, right?
Many amateur writers (yes, me included) think they need to pack their intensive high school and college vocabulary into their book in order to show that they can, indeed, write. But that’s not writing. That’s showing off.
When you’re writing, you need to make conscientious word choices for two reasons:
- You need to use the word with the most impact. This has to do with eliminating unnecessary qualifiers, but also with creating a picture. Instead of “walks like a fat lady” you might choose the word “waddled.” It paints a vivid picture without blatantly telling your readers anything. Likewise, you may choose to use “sprint” instead of “ran quickly.” Using adverbs are typically a sign that you can pick a stronger, more effective verb. So do it!
- You need to use the word that won’t distract your reader. Distracting your reader pulls them out of your story. No one wants to read your book with a thesaurus in hand unless they’re reading the book for school and it’s for a grade. When you use big and unusual words, it takes longer for someone to read it. It’s a distraction when they have to stop and think about what word it was they just read.
Wait, what? Words can distract a reader?
Yes, they can, and that’s where the science comes in. Here are three things you need to know about word recognition that can help you start choosing the smart word and not the Brobdingnagian word:
- More frequently used words are easier to recognize. This means that people will read common words quicker than uncommon words. They don’t have to stop and think about what word it is or how to pronounce it or what it even means.
- Words recently seen are easier to recognize. This is called repetition priming. This is why the dialogue tags “said” and “asked” seem to fade into the background when reading. When you start using a very wide variety of dialogue tags, it becomes distracting because your reader has to take time to recognize each one separately.
- Words in general are better recognized compared to a string of letters, known as the word-superiority effect. This primarily has to do with words that are super irrelevant, like sesquipedalianism. For people who don’t know what this word means, they aren’t going to see it as a word but a string of letters to sound out. It slows down your reader and takes them out of the story. Don’t do that! You should use 10 small words to describe what you mean over 1 big word only 1/100,000 of your readers will know without checking a dictionary.
So, the science of word choice means that you need to pick the best, common word available to you. That is what it means to be a good writer (I think. Don’t check me on this).
I’ll be honest: I didn’t pay much attention to the blog world last week. That doesn’t mean I didn’t come across something worthy of sharing, though–contrarily, I have some fabulous advice from an English professor. I’ll try to be short and sweet (since I am often bitter and long-winded):
Each scene should have emotional movement.
What does this mean? Not only does each of your chapters and scenes need to move the plot forward, but they need to start in two different places emotionally. Perhaps you start with happy and end with sad. That’s fine. Or maybe you start with happy, have a bit of confusion, and then have some anger. The point is that there needs to be change. It doesn’t have to be drastic, but think of it this way:
Your reader needs to feel something different at the end of the chapter or they’ll be bored. I don’t want to read about someone who’s happy through the entire chapter. I don’t want to read about someone who angsts during the entire scene, either. Someone who was happy and then angsts because of some twisted plot development? YES. Sign me up!
Symbolism is important in writing, that much is sure. Colors are one of the easiest ways to use it. Everyone needs colors, right? Hair color, eye color, clothing, houses, plants, skies, etc. How often do you read something and the villian has black beedy eyes or a hero/heroine with strikingly bright or dark or light eyes?
Think of Harry Potter. Dumbledore was white-haired (albeit that happens when you’re 157 years old) and had twinkling blue eyes. White and blue don’t spell evil to me. Voldemort, however, has serpentine scarlet eyes. Red can be associated with blood and what does Voldemort love more than spilling just that! Especially of the Order and muggles–yum.
Colors, of course, aren’t limited to hair and eyes. Think back to high school–or your classmates if you are in high school–and remember the way everyone dresses. You could point out who was in what clique, even if you couldn’t see the brands or the styles. Goths wear black, purple, sanguine reds, maybe even a cobalt blue. Preppy girls wear pink, blue, yellow, red–any color of the rainbow.
(These are generalizations. Not all people in these cliques wear these colors. These colors aren’t only associated with these cliques. :))
And now colors in nature! Here’s where the symbolism really begins. For one, think of roses. Everyone knows red roses are for romance, black is for mourning, yellow is for friendship, etc. The list could go on forever.
Naturally, certain colors are associated with certain emotions. Deep blue can make us depressed. Red can make us lustful or it can represent hate. Green calms and reminds us of nature. Green can also make things appear dank and moldy. There’s always a connotation for everyone for every color.
So! Make sure your colors count. Should those flowers be red? Should they be white? What about the villian’s eyes? Are they going to be a gloomy blue, or maybe black? Blood red? And that neglected child we all love? Plain brown hair and some bright blue or green or hazel eyes, perhaps.
Colors should be your best friend in writing–along with adjectives and verbs and nouns and similes and metaphors–oops, getting a bit too excited there. Colors are an easy and safe fall-back to add a bit more detail to your writing.