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Category Archives: On Writing

Tips and hints that I have learned along the way in my adventure to become a published writer!

Character Withdrawls

I’d like to dedicate this post to my characters Adam Johnson and Mike Michaelson, two important people in my life that I have neglected for the past three months. I feel like a horrible person.

Getting back into my writing groove following my Study Abroad in France and the commencement of Fall Semester has been like pulling teeth. With an extra heavy schedule this go around, it’s been hard to find that time to write when sleep is so hard to come by. I realized that I’m going to have to fit writing into the cracks and break down the writing block that has accumulated over the past few months.

The past two weeks I’ve made some made some beat-around-the-bush attempts to get back into writing without actually doing any writing: reviewing notes, sculpting characters, that sort of thing. These things certainly have their merits–visualization and review are essential during the writing process. But I discovered I was missing the point.

The point of writing is to write.

I came to this realization as I began a new job last week. I went from having a manual labor at a dry cleaners to a receptionist job where I sit at a desk and get paid to staple things, unstaple things, organize things, answer the phone, and have free time. One night in particular, I was tired of battling through my homework and decided I was going to back through to read everything I had written in Disconnect thus far. I got bored of rereading the first chapter for the MILLIONTH time and skipped to the end of the most recent chapter I wrote.

What met my eyes was an exchange between Adam and Mike that I had completely forgotten about. It was one of the many arguments the two protagonists get into on a regular basis, and this one struck me as particularly funny due to the large amount of foam shot up one of Mike’s nostrils. All of the sudden I remembered how much I loved the dynamic of their relationship. I realized how much I missed Adam’s manipulation and Mike’s comedic retorts, and I needed to get back to writing soon.

Admittedly, I still haven’t done any serious writing since this event, but I’ve at least begun drafting conversations and situations between the two friends in my journal. Finding time in my schedule that still allows for sleep has been difficult, but I’m sure I can find room somewhere in my schedule. Mike and Adam are worth it.

ACE

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Posted by on October 6, 2012 in On Writing

 

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Revision: Its Bark is Worse Than Its Bite

Revision is a scary word, a scary idea, hard to start and overwhelming. Over the course of the past two weeks, revision is all I have been doing and I am here to tell you that “revising is a process more dreaded than dreadful” (Burroway 341).

I have always been afraid of the “R” word. No joke. Ever since I began writing it has been a block to me. Just like with the journals, I have been under the impression that revising would ruin the integrity of the story and take it from its purer form. In this case I am right. It does take it away from its “true form”, but like a diamond goes through many stages of cutting and polishing to produce the gorgeous sparking gem we recognize, a story must go through the same process. While in the cooling stage of first drafting, your diamond is in its roughest and purest form. Don’t be afraid to chip it out of that dirty piece of coal and polish it to perfection (or at least as close to it as you can get, anyway).

This is what I have been doing with my first 25 pages of Disconnect, and I’m happy to say I now have a solid prologue and first two chapters.

Back to the quotation by Burroway, revision is harder the longer that you are not doing it. As I began pulling apart my manuscript (a feat that took a good week’s hard work between classes and riding buses), I discovered that I was actually enjoying myself. I liked returning to old work I had let cool off over the semester while I moved forward with narration from different sections of the book, and seeing how much my character and narrative had developed as I fleshed the story out. Additionally, I found I kinda like the way red lines, scribbles and margin notes look across my sheets.

When I finally finished marking up my manuscript, it was time to take to the keyboard and hash out all my notes. This was the hardest part for me. Once I had all my notes figured out, I needed to bring them to life, make them real. Seeing as my deadline was fast approaching, it took three days of at least 8 hour sessions a day to finish.

I’m going to be frank with you. It sucked. I felt like I made it worse. It’s been a week and a day exactly since I submitted what I had to my professor and still have not gone back to read what I did. I’ll go look back eventually, but not until I have made sufficient distance between me and those chapters.

Now as you are revising your own work, I would highly recommend a few things:

  1. Look for sentences that are unnecessarily long and wordy
  2. Look for descriptions you could succinctify
  3. Ask yourself questions like “Would my character really do or say this?”, or “Is there a way I can show this through dialog/action rather than telling?”
  4. Allow yourself to explore the possibilities. Keep in mind that if there is a gun on the mantle in Act I, it has to go off by Act III.
  5. Keep every draft you complete. I have a program called Scrivener on my laptop that works wonders for this. It has the option to create folders and sub folders that can house multiple revisions and things of the like.
  6. Don’t get discouraged. It takes you nowhere. If you are feeling down, go talk to your wonderful IR and they should have no problem cheering you up.
  7. Reward yourself when you finish. Why wouldn’t you crack open that stash of Cadbury’s Eggs? Or ice cream? Or chocolate bars? Believe me when I say you deserve it.
 
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Posted by on April 25, 2012 in On Writing

 

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Research Can Be Fun!

For most people, the word “research” is a swear word. Those who have written research papers (or any kind of academic paper for that matter) know how painful research can be. But I am here to tell you that as my title states, research can be fun!

One of the things I have been really focusing on over the past couple weeks with my writing is doing research on things that would help enhance the worlds I’m building and make them more real. I’m the type of person who loves to read things that have that faint touch of reality; I try to write that way as well. But in return, that means I need to do a lot of research on those things I don’t know about. I probably haven’t won you over yet, but bear with me.

The fun part of research comes in when you are looking up things you are actually interested in, for example, your book. My story temporarily called Disconnect takes place in a futuristic society completely integrated with computers. They are so essential to their function in daily life that the computers themselves are implanted in everyone’s brains and their social life/human interaction take place entirely in virtual reality. Now, because I am dealing with a society of this nature and I’m no computer geek, I have to make sure I’m getting my research done.

For example, on the Internet I’ve created (called the Mainframe) everything takes on a physical representation. Websites show up as businesses with advertisements and buildings that people can interact with. Because computers and computer viruses, worms, spyware, and malware are synonymous I have to do research on them to figure out their functions so I can give them the appropriate physical representation when my characters run into them throughout the story. It’s been really interesting to go through and read about all the different types of viruses a computer can contract like Trojans, ILOVEYOU viruses, and other things. Quite honestly, it’s made me a little paranoid.

I’ve also been experimenting with the interaction that my characters have with this internet I created. I realized it is so large and expanding so fast that there is no way these characters would be able to find their favorite “sites”. I needed to put an address to each place on the Mainframe, soI spent one of my daily writing sessions researching the Domain Name System, how it works, what makes a domain and a subdomain and all that jazz. At the end of the session I ended up with a URL system that directly parallels our own, is different, and allows the characters to find the places they like to frequent.

Additionally, I’m dealing a little bit with hacking because my main character is a genius computer hacker. One of my good friends knows a lot about hacking, and I’ve sat down and talked to him about all the different types of hacking one can do, the way they work, and the weaknesses and strengths of each method. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I’d like to learn some tricks myself to get the feel of what hacking feels like, so to speak.

As an example not related to Disconnect,  for my novel Legend I am dealing with a lot of sword fighting, battle styles, armor, weapons and an extensive amount of geography, all of which I have only a limited knowledge on. The research for this book has been admittedly more fun than for Disconnect because it forces me to get out there and experience things. I’ve another friend who is big into weapons and fighting styles, and he’s offered to give me lessons on how to use different knives and bows. It’s been so interesting to go look at the different weapon types and to learn about their different functions so that I can create my own weapons system for Legend.

See, the idea here is that you write about something that really interests you, otherwise you wouldn’t write it, right? The fun in research comes when you want to do it and genuinely desire to know more about whatever it is you’re researching. Research helps give you credibility to your readers, because they’ll believe that you actually know what you are talking about, and the great thing is you do!

Please keep in mind to make sure you are doing the right kind of research. It’s really hard to filter out the stuff that will help you and the stuff that just gets in the way. It’s like those annoying story problems in math class; you have to filter out the useless junk. There is a plethora of databases you can go to–libraries, bookstores, neighbors, friends–but really you don’t need to consult them all. Thoreau put it quite nicely when he said “It is necessary to find out exactly what books to read on a given subject. Though there may be a thousand books written upon it, it is only important to read three or four; they will contain all that is essential, and a few pages will show which they are.” The same goes for outside resources. You only need to know enough to be able to sound like you know what you are doing.

Alrighty I sure hope this helps all of you out there! My apologies for my extended silence, but good news! Disconnect is a few pages longer!

Happy writing!

ACE

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in On Writing

 

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The Writer’s Journal

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted! Things got hectic those last couple days of the week! But good news! It’s spring break, and I hope to get at least three posts out this week. Maybe.

So anyway, my last post I talked about the Ideal Reader and how they are the best people to work with. Well today’s post is going to be about the writer’s best friend: the journal.

Now when I say journal, I’m not talking about your “Today the dog got sick on the rug” journal, I’m talking about a journal in which contains full blown drafting sessions, drawings, questions, character sketches, lists, notes–pretty much everything that makes up the foundation of every novel.

When my writing professor first introduced the concept of writer’s journals, I honestly didn’t agree with the idea. Internally, I fought against it because I believed that the manifested itself in a whole, unbroken shape, and that if I wrote anything outside the text as it came to me, it would compromise the integrity of the story.

How wrong I was.

At first it was really hard for me to journalize my writing. My entries started out as writing down names I liked, situations that would make great scenes, and I started taping things I would find in people’s pockets at the dry cleaners I worked at like ticket stubs and business cards in my notebook, hoping to finding something to write about. I thought the exercise was pointless, and I didn’t feel like it was doing anything for me at all.

It didn’t change until my first creative writing workshop of my college career. At the time, I had started a story idea about a weather mage that I was quite proud of, but come to find out my group felt like the characters were flat and had no motivation and substance. The suggestion was given by one of my classmates to sit down and have an interview with my characters in my journal. Feeling quite attached to the piece I had written I decided to try it with absolutely amazing results.

The interview ended up being only one page front and back, but what I discovered about my character changed the course of not only the story, but also the way in which I journaled. All of the entries that followed had substance and made my writing so much better than it ever had been! I couldn’t believe it! I was able to make my writing more succinct, to the point, and have my characters fleshed out better by the time I was ready to write the story. I was able to improve the quality of my writing by almost 100%! I was able to take long verbose descriptions and dialouge like this:

“Swiftly, I catch up and cut in front of him a second time. He turns to walk around me in a different direction, but I grab his sleeve, preventing him from getting any further away from me. ‘Alright, listen kid. There is something about you, something strange about you that I cannot explain. This moment our lives have crossed has really left me wondering about you, and I intend to find out why you are so different from everyone else. You may as well answer me straight.’

This caused the boy to stop, mainly due to my grip on his sleeve. ‘I can’t tell you anything.’ He shakes my hand off his arm and continues walking, very cold, very closed. I am determined not to give in to the temptation to just walk away.

I catch pace with him, this time standing exactly in his way. ‘What’s your name? Who are you? Where are you going?’ I demand again. He stops short, his face working as he tries to control his emotions. I notice the sky has suddenly become darker and rainclouds are beginning to collect. This was strange, seeing as the day had started out almost ethereal.

‘Looks like it’s going to rain. Do us both a favor and answer my questions before that storm hits.’  His eyes widen in panic, and we both look up to the forming black mass. Immediately, his head drops to his chest, and I can see him heaving deep measured breaths. His long fingers clench into fists, and for a moment, it is as though the air shifts because a slight shimmer appears all around him, like heat rising off of sun-baked asphalt. The air seems to get heavier. The sensation passes quickly and the aura around the boy dissipates, leaving me to believe it a figment of my imagination.

Slowly, he lifts his head, his eyes clenched tightly shut. ‘Listen girlie,’ he says through clenched teeth ‘I am in danger. You don’t want to get to know me. I can’t let you know me. Everyone  close to me gets hurt. I don’t know what you think you are on to, but trying to ‘figure me out’ and discover what makes me so ‘special’ could cost you your life. I can promise you my ‘special-ness’ isn’t worth that steep of price. It’s certainly one I am not willing to pay.’”

and transform it into much stronger dialouge and descriptions like this:

“‘Abigail Jayne! My favorite girl!’ Vinny Morano’s large belly fills my vision, held back only by one straining button of a bombastically colored suit. I blink, dizzy from the busyness of the jacket. Trapped.

Slowly, I back up, fearing for the safety of my eyeball and my pocket book.

‘Oh. Hello Vinny. Funny meeting you here. Look, can’t chat—left something important at home—’

‘Awh, come on now Abigail Jayne. You don’t come visit us poor lonely Moranos for months and expect me to just let you go without a nice chat?’

He places a large arm around my shoulders, smashing me to his side. He steers me toward the end of the street where his perpetual yard sale sprawls across his lawn.

‘No really Vinny. I can’t. And it’s A.J. I don’t know how many times I’ve told you that.’

‘Paw,’ he snorts beneath his greasy black mustache. ‘As I always say, always call something by its true name and it will forever be your friend.’”

Huge transformation right? I never would have dreamed journaling before composing would effect my quality so much, and I wonder how I could ever have gone on writing without one. It’s kinda funny because at my first turn in date in class for my journal, I found myself having an anxiety attack because I was so attached and dependent on it, and I literally limped away from class that day. My writing journal is now a part of me that goes everywhere I do (just ask my friends; they’ll tell you).

Now keep in mind you can do your journaling any way you would like. I personally write in the margins, I use sticky notes, I print and paste pictures in my journal, I have stickynotes with commentary or corrections on my writing if there is no room to make any on the page, and I draw maps. I also have an additional commonplace book that I keep the small things like one-liner ideas and names I like to help my journals keep focused on the story at hand. Another hint with journaling before I end this post is that you need to go out and find a journal that you know you’d enjoy writing in. My first journal was quite creatively decorated, if I do say so myself, to help keep myself interested in writing in it. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m stressing again and again doing the little things to help keep your writing interesting to you. It can be work, but if writing is something that you have a passion for and would like to do it for the rest of your life, you cannot allow it to feel so.

Alright guys! Enough of this talk. Time to do some journaling of your own! 🙂

ACE

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2012 in On Writing

 

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The Ideal Reader

In honor of my wonderful Ideal Reader’s birthday this past week, today’s post is going to be about the Ideal Reader–probably one of my most favorite people to deal with in the writing universe.

In Stephen King’s On Writing, he said the “Ideal Reader is also the best way for you to gauge whether or not your story is paced correctly and if you’ve handled the backstory in a satisfactory fashion.” I believe this is true. Your Ideal Reader, as a definition, is that person that you write for. They represent your audience. They are the type of people you are writing for, and having a representative of them can be your greatest asset.

There are two main take home points King brings up when dealing with your IR:

  1. Watch your IR when they are reading your work. I realize this sounds sorta creepy and maybe unnerving, but you can gather a lot of helpful information by doing so. Be looking for certain reactions: when they laugh, when they are able to put your manuscript down and work on some other activity. These reactions can help you figure out where the story needs to pick up pace and where you are accomplishing the effect you are looking for.
  2. Listen carefully to where your IR didn’t understand. Your IR is similar to a search dog. They can sniff out those passages that just don’t make sense. It’s very likely that those places they didn’t understand, you probably don’t understand yourself*. Ask them what exactly they are confused about and try to pinpoint what areas need fleshing and/or clarification. Some areas that tend to have problems include backstory, description and character motivation, so keep your eyes peeled for those aspects as you write.

*Note: I have found that if the writer doesn’t fully understand the motivations of a character or how things work in their world, it shows in their writing. I’ve noticed it in my own work. I tend to get very vague and wishy washy about what I want to say in regard to the scene or event I’m working on.

When I work with my IR I do things a little bit differently. My IR has a lot more involvement in my writing process than King’s does in his. Rather than locking her out entirely as I’m drafting, I tend to use my her as a sounding board. Lucky for me, I work with her almost every day, and I’m able to bounce things off of her whenever I want, and I’ve found it helps me flesh out the world more completely. She asks me questions that make me really think about what I’m writing. How things work, why things happen the way they do, stuff like that. Numerous times she’s helped me out of literary jams and writer’s blocks, and provides the occasional encouragement that every writer needs.

In the selection of IR’s, I would highly recommend you find someone close to you that you could trust with babysitting your first born child, because that’s what your work is, right? I pick from those that I have known the longest and have been with me from the very beginning of all beginnings. I’ve known my IR since the beginning of my first book, True Heir to Freedom’s Throne, when I was 13, but I didn’t realize that she was my Ideal Reader until I reconnected with her after high school at my current job. The moment I figured this out was the best day of my life, might I add, because I got a better idea of who my target audience is. It really improved my writing a lot, and I am so grateful for her.

Oh, and one more thing:

Happy Birthday Jess. I freakin’ love your guts. ❤

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2012 in On Writing

 

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