Writing for the Love of it

The real secret is to do it because you love writing
rather than because you love the idea of being a Writer.
– Iain Banks

I once got into an odd conversation with someone about writing… let’s call this person Frank the Writer. So Frank saw my pile of writing magazines, and I could tell by his expression upon opening one of the issues that he was surprised I highlighted certain sentences which I found insightful or helpful to me as a writer. Watching him read my notes in my old Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, and The Writer issues was, for some reason, like watching a child realize there is no Santa.

Frank asked why I think I’m a writer, and I responded, “Because I have to write, or face the possibility of insanity.” I added something about how I’m drawn to writing, that I get personal satisfaction from it. I asked him if he didn’t feel the same.

“No,” he said. I’ve never heard anyone sound so mournful. “I don’t. I read these books that tell me I should feel something that tells me I’m a writer, just like how you just told me, but I don’t. I never feel anything when I write.”

This was puzzling to me. How can you write something and not feel anything while writing it? I asked Frank a series of questions which led me nowhere until, frustrated, I asked, “Do you want to write, or be considered a writer?”

“I want to be a writer.” No wonder he never felt anything when writing. His motivation was all wrong. He wanted the fame without the work. He wasn’t writing because he felt any special need to, or because he wanted to send a message of sorts out into the world, or even because he thought he had a story to tell, but because he wanted the recognition for being brilliant. No wonder his writing felt cold, empty.

Writing takes guts, patience, and stamina to do what it takes to be “considered a writer.” It takes years to be “discovered,” and by that point you will have numerous drafts hidden beneath your bed, stuffed in a back cupboard, shoved between cracks in the wall. Even if you go the self-publishing route, you have to be a savvy business-minded writer to make the publishing process worth it.

What do you think? I know some of you have multiple drafts lurking in the dark corners, and others of you with agents. What do you have to say to Frank and his misplaced motivation? Can I help him learn to love the process that is writing rather than love the idea of being a Writer?

Eight Writing Tips by Vonnegut

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she 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 action.
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.

Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction by Kurt Vonnegut

The Heart of the Story

Though this is more about feature writing in a newsmagazine or some such publication, I thought this article was helpful for us fiction writers as well. Just um…whenever he writes “journalist,” substitute “fiction writer.” In general, it works out.

The Heart of the Story
by Jon Ronson
, feature writer for The Guardian

Finding a Story to Tell
How do you begin your story? All journalists are, to a greater or lesser degree, paranoid conspiracy theorists. This is because stories do not have natural boundaries, every lead can take you to another lead, every thought to another thought, and eventually – if you allow yourself to become crazy – every story you write can incorporate the past, present, and future of all human civilisation. You don’t believe me? Okay, I’m going to pick a topic at random. The Paris fashion shows.

Every journalist is – at some point in their career – asked to cover the Paris fashion shows. The brief is this: we are slobs with no fashion sense. Wouldn’t it be funny to send us to this strange world, where we can be wide-eyed, sardonic innocents, making fun of the pomposity, the circus, and the expensive clothes?

So you start with that very brief, but the conspicuous, garish wealth on display starts to grind you down. Where are the clothes produced? Are they stitched together in some sweatshop where the workers are beaten up for complaining about their conditions? So it becomes a story about that. And you feel so superior in your slobbishness, and you think it’s all a con, but what if you’re wrong? I don’t like looking like a slob. Are they happier than me? What is happiness? How old is that girl? Oh my God, am I a dirty old man for finding her attractive? Why does the age of consent differ from country to country? Is the Law as fragile as a shifting sandbank? Should the Law respond to the moral climate or dictate it? Is she too thin? She looks ill, yet attractive. Why is that? Why did Ali McGraw become better looking the sicker she got in Love Story?

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Playing with Structure

Using Foreshadowing
Heighten the themes of your story or increase the tension by using small incidents which echo later, more significant events, known as foreshadowing. Keep it subtle though, and the reader will be quietly thrilled to have spotted your literary trickery!

Multiple Viewpoints
Don’t be afraid to tell your story from multiple viewpoints if you feel it’s right, but be careful not to confuse the reader – make it clear which character is in pole position at any one time.

Question Your Decisions
Once you’ve decided on a structure (or as one develops while you write), ask yourself what your chosen structure adds to the story. If your answer is that it seemed like a good idea at the time, it might be worth reconsidering!

Article found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/getwriting/module15p

Building Novel Templates

I found this article online to help you structure your projects. It seems simple enough, and isn’t a strict outline, which I have never been able to do. Instead, it helps you make a list of major plot points, which does make it seem suspiciously like an outline. Perhaps it’s just how Parnell talks about his method, but I just seemed to find this article helpful. Give it a try, it might help with your writer’s block (even if you are in the middle of a project).

Building Novel Templates
by Rob ParnellFirst, know your characters inside out, work through a rough story outline either in your head or on paper, making sure it’s your characters that define the story and not the other way round. Okay, so that’s the tough bit. Now for the easy bit:

  1. Get a piece of paper and write 1 to 10 down the left hand side with plenty of space for writing in between.
  2. Next to No 1, write Intro.
  3. Next to No 10, write Finale
  4. At No 1, write one sentence, no more, describing your opening scene.
  5. At No 10, write one sentence describing the last scene in your book.
  6. For instance, if you were writing a love story, next to No 1 you might write: ‘Jane finds herself alone after husband John dies’
  7. At No 10, you might write ‘Dirk asks for Jane’s hand in marriage.’ It’s simplistic I know but that’s almost the point.
  8. Now, against 2 to 9, write down the major plot points that will take your reader from the beginning of your novel to the end. These will act as cues for scenes in your writing.

Now read it through. Is there logic? Does it seem satisfying? Is there a moral, a point to the story? If so, good. If not, start again. Its no big deal.If you’re happy with what you’ve got, write a couple of words, lines etc. linking the plot points. These act as more cues for scenes in your novel. Next, transfer everything on to PC and begin to expand on your short sentences.

Start to describe how you’re going to open scenes, what you’re going to write about, what actions take place, what the various conversations will be about and how issues might be set up and resolved. At the end of this process you should have a draft template for your novel. Read over if a few times to see if it includes everything you want to mention in your novel.

This is a great exercise for many reasons, not least that it helps you visualize your novel in its entirety, probably one of the best tricks you’ll ever have to pull as a writer! Not only that, it can help you iron out problems before you start writing. Too many writers stumble during their novels because they run out of steam and cant remember where it was going, or discover its now different from how they imagined it.

I know planning novels is not everyone’s idea of creative bliss. Indeed many writers tell me they just cant do it, donut want to do it, and will fight to protect their right to make up the story as they go along. Fine. That works for some. But let me tell you something I’ve learnt, in my long career teaching writers to write novels. With a novel template you are at least twenty times more likely to finish your novel than without one! Sobering thought, eh? So before you dismiss the idea, at least give the template a fair go.

© Copyright Rob Parnell 2004 http://easywaytowrite.com

Article found at http://www.fictionfactor.com/guests/templates.html

Creating Convincing Characters

Happy Labor Day!

Today is a list from The Writer (July 2006) that quickly describes how to create convincing characters by Corey Blake. Blake begins the article, Creating believable characters takes time and discipline. Creating dynamically real individuals and not imposing your own thoughts and impressions on them is not easy to do, and is often the difference between a novel or screenplay that sits in a closet and one that finds its way into the hands of audiences.

  1. Label the desire essences of your main characters. Come up with lists of desires, fifty of them, and slowly condense them into twenty. Focus on the ones that feel right for each of your main characters, considering their religious beliefs, major life events, appearance, intelligence, siblings, education, parents, music, sex, etc, anything and everything a person in real life faces.
  2. Label the fear essences of your main characters. This is a little easier now that you’ve come up with the desire essences. The fear essences are the “polar opposites” of the desires. They battle the desires, and at each decision, either the desire or the fear will win. Make the pairs, and discard the pairs the character doesn’t feel strongly about. Keep doing this until you have 10 pairs that excite you.
  3. Get specific in the backstory to understand how these essences came to be. As Blake says, “A character’s current behavior is a battle between fear adn desire, and his or her immediate choices are made based on very specific (yet unconscious) experiences from the past–experiences that leave imprints.” Write as much as you can about each half of each pair, so you have pages and pages on the character describing how they think or would think in a given situation because you know the history behind that certain essence.
  4. Describe their current behaviors. Take the essences and specific examples and determined the kinds of behavior your character has because of it.
  5. Raise the stakes. Don’t be afraid to throw horrible obstacles at your characters! Watching them deal with obstacles is what makes a story interesting; no one wants to read about a girl who sails through life.
  6. Don’t meddle. A “truthful story is going to grow from your willingness to let your characters make their own decisions based on how you defined them. As their parent, you have to let your children go.”
  7. Let your characters play. At this point, your characters will be writing themselves.

Capturing the Setting

This is an article I found on the BBC – Get Writing website, written by Sue Chester. I took out the exercises and etc, focusing mainly on the content. If you’d like to see the original article, click here. It’s a pretty long article, so reader beware:

Setting Off
For the last few weeks I’ve been on a journey through the Caribbean. It was very cheap. Gabriel Garcia Marquez took me there personally for less than a tenner in Love in the Time of Cholera.

The setting of a novel is integral to the story. It’s the stage set where the action takes place, the unifying factor where the plot unfolds and where the characters develop. Not just the geographical backdrop, setting is also reflected in time and place. Time could mean the time of day, the season, the future, past or present. Place can mean anything from the specific geographical location to a house, kitchen, car, football stadium, a Swiss ski slope or a Norfolk beach.

Description is the first port of call when it comes to creating your setting, lifting your readers into a vivid, imaginary world that rings true and feels real – exactly why I enjoyed reading Marquez. A good descriptive passage isn’t just a random list of what was in the landscape or in the room, but has enough striking and original detail to paint an image of the scene.

So what makes description work? It’s a combination of observation, detail, imagination and creating a sensory experience for the reader; all through use of the writer’s kit – nouns, verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and figurative language.

Before you describe anything you need to really observe the world around you, just as a fine artist would when painting. If you haven’t properly looked and absorbed, how can you describe to others with enough accuracy and intensity to hold their interest?

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