Friday, July 29, 2011

Keep on going

Sometimes we all hit walls, whether it's in our writing, our work, our education, or our personal lives. We may come up against a decision we don't want to face, we may start regretting a decision we made, or we may feel like our lives are spiraling out of control. At times like these, it's good to remember we are not alone. Here are a few quotes that I've found inspiring and encouraging both in my writing and in my life: 

"Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live."
-Dorothy Thompson

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do."
-Mark Twain

"To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go."
-Mary Oliver

"I think somehow we learn who we really are and then live with that decision."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

"Your work is to discover your world and then, with all your heart, give yourself to it."

"Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact."
- William James

"You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream."
- C. S. Lewis

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
- Martin Luther King Jr.
Any others you would like to share? 

Monday, July 25, 2011

Scene Setting

Have you ever read a book that took place somewhere (real or fictional) you’ve never been, but you can picture it like you’ve lived there? If the answer is yes, chances are the author did a great job depicting the setting and atmosphere (either that or you just have a great imagination :P).

So how do you write a scene that tricks your readers to believing they’re in an ancient royal palace or futuristic spaceship instead of reminding them they're staring at ink on a page in their familiar living room?

It’s not that hard. There isn’t really any deep secret or meticulous method. It’s mostly just including the right details in the right places. Here’s how:

Picture the place in your mind. Make note of everything, every color, every line, every object for your own personal reference. Then move on to sound. And smell. And touch. And, if necessary, taste. Try and imagine yourself taking a short walk through your setting, as if you’re a director arriving on set, preparing to make a film. You have complete control over the setting: if you want to tear down a wall and put in a fountain, go ahead and do it! Resources are free in your imagination.

When writing the scene, try to sneak in small details here and there instead of describing a room at once. Any more than two or three sentences of description can appear dull and loose your reader’s interest, especially in young adult novels. Unless the setting is breathtakingly beautiful or eye-opening to your main character, the description should be interspersed with dialogue and action. Have people sit in the chairs of soft blue velvet, or drink from the gold goblets encrusted with dragon’s scales. Try and include details in the setting that serve a duel purpose, maybe revealing something about a character (paint splatter on the walls for an artist) or a mood (every ghost story needs fog and mist, right?). 

(Sometimes color can be a great way to convey the mood)

Be consistent. If you have Sweet Mother Sally open the cabinet by the fridge to get a mug, don’t have her daughter open the cabinet over the stove to get the same object two scenes later. If the cat’s collar is pink, don’t have it suddenly change to blue (without a reason).

Any other advice? Do you have a favorite place like you to “visit” by opening the pages of a book? 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

To be afraid or not to be afraid... that is the question

Fear is powerful. It can cause people to do atrocious things, and keep them from doing outstanding things.
"Fear is the Mind Killer."
Frank Herbert, Dune 

And yet, it’s a gold mine for writers. Just think-where would Stephen King be without it? 

I had a dream the other night where I was walking through a forest covered in snakes- which I'm terribly afraid of- and it inspired me to do this post. They were everywhere, twisting around branches, slithering under water, coiling in the dirt- and I was trying to meander my way through them. At one point, I wanted to turn around, but the two people who were with me encouraged me not to give up. I took a few steps and realized it wasn’t as bad as I thought. As long as I left the snakes alone, they minded their own business. None jumped down from the trees to attack me, or latched on to my ankles or anything.

When I first woke up, I thought maybe it was my subconscious trying to tell me something. Maybe it meant I was letting my fears keep me from taking the right path. Then I started thinking maybe it was the opposite: why waste your time taking a short cut full of obstacles, when you can take a longer, clear cut route? Being my usual indecisive self, I couldn't decide, so I let the interpretations fade to the back of my mind as I went to work.

Less than two hours into work, I was sent out on a story that took place at a serpentarium. Coincidence much? I, of course, didn’t tell anyone I was afraid, but walked through the main entrance with a forced sense of courage. And, much like my dream, it was surprisingly painless. Most of the snakes were asleep, but a few lifted their head and slithered around, and I watched them without being afraid. Thankfully, we didn't have to touch any or open their cages (hey, everyone has their limits, right?).

Maybe all my dream meant was that it’s time for me to face my fears and realize that, as long as we’re aware of them, there isn’t really all that much to be afraid of.

Isn't that what reading is all about? Facing fears from the comfort of our home? Watching others make mistakes and deal with devastating consequences without any risk to ourselves (other than perhaps loosing a few hours or being glued to a book)?

While we shouldn't let our fears hinder us, they can serve a purpose in our lives. In addition to alerting us to danger and heightening our senses, they enhance our writing. Fear can provide a great source of motivation for a character and a cause for empathy from a reader. Because... let's face it, we all get scared sometimes.  

What are some fears you've overcome? Are there any you haven't quite mastered, but want to? Have you incorporated any into your writing? 

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Little More Inspiration

After participating in the Inspiration Blogest, hosted by Summer Ross (see my previous post), I had the pleasure of learning what inspired others, so I thought I’d take some time to share what inspires me.

I’ve said before (and I’ll probably say again) that music is very important to me. I’ll sometimes put a song on repeat and make up a story to go along with it. Here’s a song that I can close my eyes and visualize all sorts of things to go along with:

Seeing a good book or movie can often motivate me to write, and bad ones can sometimes make me want to write as well (he did what? It would have been so much better if he had done this instead). 

I have been exposed to so many wonderful stories, but my all time favorite remains the Lord of the Rings. While I haven't written anything at all similar Tolkien, it sometimes helps me to remember all the little things that go into making a whole world (history, politics, places, clothing, etc.) and that it is possible to create one! 

Places can also be very inspiring. I seem to always come up with new story ideas when I go to new places, or back to somewhere I haven’t been in a long time. Here are a few pictures I took when I spent a semester in England:

(I lied. This one is actually from Scotland)

And then there are people. People are probably the most important source of inspiration for me, whether they be a stranger I catch a glimpse of on a crowded street, or one of my best friends, they often give me new ideas for characters. 
(My sister, me, and one of my friends during a photo shoot my aunt did for my 18th birthday)

And of course, pictures are a great source of inspiration! I waste hours googling inspiration for sci-fi and fantasy pieces. Feel free to be inspired by any of the above pics. :)

Inspiration Blogfest

Aka, the first Blogfest I've participated in :)

Hosted by Summer Ross, here were the rules:

  •  On July 18th post one inspiring prompt. You can use a writing prompt or a photo prompt.
  • Go around and comment on each others prompts

        Every one will have some great inspiration to write from 

Sounds great! Inspired by my recent move (and my roommates severe loathing of the furniture), I made up the following prompt:

First, describe your ideal house/apartment/vacation spot, etc.

Next describe the worst house/apartment/vacation spot (make sure you pick the same type as in the previous part).

Finally, write a scene where a character is expecting the first, but gets the second. Or expecting the second, and gets the first.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Everything Ends

With “The End of Harry Potter” so often a topic of discussion these days (it will never die as long as we keep it alive in our hearts), why don’t we take some time to talk about endings in general?

Have you ever read a book that was exciting and page turning, and then you get to the end and it just… stops? Or something ridiculous happens that makes you feel incredibly disappointed. This has happened to me quite a few times, and it is something that I wish authors would avoid.

You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had the opposite happen, where I’ve read a book that wasn’t that great, but I put it down and thought “Wow, that was a fantastic ending” (probably because I’m bad about stopping halfway through a book if I don’t like it), but I’ll admit, I’m picky about endings. I almost always like stories to end happily. It doesn’t have to be a perfect “and everyone lived happily ever after”-in most cases those seem incredibly cheesy and unrealistic (unless of course, it’s “The Hobbit” or a fairy tale, or something along those lines)- but I don’t want a tragic death on the last page either: if there’s going to be a tragic death, that’s fine, but I want to see the other character’s reactions and process the grief along side them, not be left hanging on the last page to mourn on my own!

Twist endings are great, when they’re well done. On the other hand, poorly done twist endings can be horrible. If the author doesn’t foreshadow the ending at all, or at least drop hints, it makes the reader confused, annoyed, and regretful of the time and money they wasted on the book. It makes the author look lazy and armature, and no one wants that!

I think it's really neat when the author ties everything together, taking things from earlier pages you may have forgotten about, and bringing insignificant details or events to life, as if revealing some great secret the whole story has been building up to. But even then, I want to see what the characters do with this information or, if they don’t know, at least hint at how it’s going to effect them.

These are more my personal preference than actual rules or necessities. The only thing you really need to do in an ending to make it a decent one, is answer all the readers questions. You don’t even have to do that. If you want to leave it open-ended, you can: just make sure anything left unanswered was done so intentionally (the end of Inception comes to mind).

Do you have a favorite kind of ending (Hollywood? Tragic? One that makes you think?) or a specific favorite book or movie ending? Any endings you absolutely hated? I'd love to hear about them, without giving too much away, of course :).

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Who is excited about the final Harry Potter movie?

I am! My friends and I are going to the midnight premiere tonight. I'm super excited-I’ve been a huge harry potter fan ever since I was little.

(A blurry pic of me with a copy of Harry Potter back before the first movie came out)

I actually first heard about Harry Potter in school, and I didn't like the cover, so I refused to read it. Then I got a copy of it for christmas. And another copy. And another. After we had six copies in the house, my dad took one and started reading it to my sister. I overheard him, and was captivated enough that when he stopped for the night, I grabbed another copy and read the whole thing in a day or two. 

We went to visit my aunt the next day, and I couldn't stop talking about it. She said she had to buy me the next two books just to get me to be quiet long enough she could say a word to my sister. What can I say- I was spellbound.

So now I'm wondering- what did make Harry Potter so popular? Other than the fact that it’s awesome, it has everything a good adventure story needs- lovable characters, a well thought out plot, an enchanting setting, mystery, suspense, a touch of romance (in the later books at least), and the right amount of humor.

But there are also a lot of books that have all those things and aren’t anywhere near as popular as Harry Potter. Some people might toss this up to luck, or say it was great marketing. That may be, but part of the reason I think the books were received so enthusiastically by our generation is because we grew up with Harry. Literally. When I read the first book, he was a year or two older than me, and as I kept growing, the books kept coming out a little more than a year apart (or so it seemed) so that by the time the last one came out we were both seventeen.

It makes me wonder how appealing it will be to later generations, because if they start reading at ten or eleven, the first few books might be right up their alley, but I’m not sure they’d enjoy the later ones, as they get much darker. While if children wait until they’re older to start reading, they might find the first books too juvenile. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen to too many friends. It’s tragic, but understandable.

However long harry potter manages to hold on, JK Rowling is certainly an inspiration to all us aspiring YA authors. She said she got lots of rejection letters before anyone gave her an offer. When it was first publish, they only printed 500 copies. And now… it’s Harry Potter!

Any other HP fans out there? What is it about the books (or movies) that hooked you?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Designing a Book Cover

Since I have a decent background in digital arts and my amazing friend Lydia is an awesome photographer, I decided to make my own book cover for my upcoming book "The Chronicles of Vallanie Sharp" (an excerpt of which is conveniently located under "excepts"). It's still in progress, but as I've come up with something satisfying, I thought I'd look back over the steps it took to get there. 

Here was a design I came up with a few months ago:
The eyes were annoying me. I kept changing their size, so you could see more or less of the face. I'm not happy with the way they are here. I was going to add something (likely a DNA strand) in the dark space at the bottom. I do like the way the text looks, and the black background. 

Here is a working sketch Lydia drew up:
I love the background picture. I love the purple. I actually really love this, except it doesn't fit the content of my book well enough. (Make's me think of a ghost/horror story. I'm going for more sci-fi/adventure, with perhaps a subtle creepy undertone). 

With something "dome like" in mind (since the story takes place in one), Lydia created with the following design:
While I loved the image, it again didn't fit the mood I was going for. 

So I tweaked it a bit and came up with the following:

Still, something was missing (the edge of the picture needed to be touched up, at the very least). 

And fixing that brought me to where I am now (ignore the difference in title... that's a whole different challenge I'm working on):

What do you think? Critiques are welcome, especially if they are accompanied with suggestions for improvement :)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Finding the time to write

This is something I struggled with a lot when I first started writing, and even now that I've gotten into the habit of writing everyday, things come up that pull me out of it now and again.

Like Now, for instance. The past few weeks I’ve been interning, studying for the GRE, starting this blog, packing to move (from one apartment building to another beside it), and preparing my book for publication. These are simply excuses.

I’ve actually found that, for the most part, I’m one of those people who does better writing when I’m busy. If I have to get up and show up for class at a certain time, I have no problem setting my alarm an hour earlier and writing first thing in the morning. If I have to get up really early for work, I write when I get home.

If I ever get a rare full day to myself with little or nothing that needs to be done-which sounds ideal for a writer-I actually get less done, proportionately. I’ll procrastinate. I’ll get distracted. I’ll open a blank document and think, “I have no idea what to write.” It’s like I have situational writer’s block.
It’s getting out and engaging with other people that give me ideas and inspiration for my stories, and allow me to clear my head. That being said, if I have too much on my plate, writing is often the first thing that goes, and once it does, it’s hard to jump back into.

In an effort to keep this from happening, I’ve learned to plan ahead and set aside designated time to write (an exact time works best, but if that’s too uncertain, then “as soon as I get home” or “right after dinner” works too). I try and keep this time the same for as long as possible (for example, I wrote first thing in the morning every day last semester, but over the summer I switched to writing before I go to sleep).
But of course, last minute surprises love to pop up and shatter all my careful planning. When that happens it’s easy to say, “Looks like I’m too busy to write.”

The truth is, most days, we’re never too busy to write. The time is there, we just aren’t looking for it hard enough. I mean, look at me-I’m on here (and you are too!) so we must have a few minutes to spare. The trick is to squeeze those minutes into hours.

If your schedule seems too busy, rearrange it. You might be thinking, “I can’t do that.” But chances are, you can, if you’re willing too. Some of the ways I’ve managed to cram in writing during those hectic busy weeks are by:

1) Cutting back on phone calls (this was a big one for me-I probably spend over an hour a day on the phone, on average. That gives me a whole half-hour to write, just by cutting it in half).

2) Getting up early, going to bed late. Sleep is important, but what is twenty or thirty minutes really going to do for you?

3) TV. Movies. Video Games. Need I say more?

4) Dinner. Do you usually cook? Try making something you can throw together quickly, then pop in the over for thirty minutes or more, and write while it cooks. If you usually eat out, try eating in, or ordering take out. Who says you can’t write while you eat?

5) Reading. It might sound counter-productive to give up reading to write, but if it’s a daily ritual you’ve already become accustomed to, try cutting your reading time in half, and devoting the other to writing.

6) If you live with other people, make sure they know you are writing. Or working. Or doing something important and should not be interrupted under any circumstance unless the house is on fire or the world is about to end. Or your favorite fictional character was just seen walking down the street. 

Of course, you don’t have to give up all of these things. Being a writer wouldn’t be very fun if all we ever did was write. These are just some suggestions, all of which I’ve cut at one time or another, but picked back up again when things slowed down a bit in the rest of my life.

Have you ever found it hard to find the time to write? How did you cope? Was there anything you had to give up? 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Make Believe

Here's a little "get-to-know-me" piece, since we're still starting out:

After reading Bethany's post on Ink-Splattered I've been thinking about playing make-believe and felt I had to post this. 

When I was little, my absolute favorite thing was to act out movies or books with friends. They started off as literally re-enacting the story, then progressed to making up our own adventures with the characters, and then we made up our own characters, and eventually, our own worlds. But of course, that was what I did when I was little. It’s not like I’m doing that now (says the creative writing student).
If I wasn’t a hobbit, I was the Swan Princess, or the little Mermaid, or a Jedi, or some unknown slave from some unexplored forest embedded deep in a lost crater on the moon.

In kindergarten, I was popular. I remember being surrounded by boys and girls alike who would help me hunt ghosts, fight off dragons, and explore hidden mines. Then reality hit. My teacher told me I couldn’t be a burglar when I grew up (but Bilbo is!) and I wasn’t allowed to put that in my report. First grade came around, and make-believe simply wasn’t cool. The spice girls were cool. Pok√©mon was cool.

It seemed I would have to choose between friends and fantasy. I’ve always been incredibly indecisive and stubborn, so I insisted on keeping both. It wasn’t easy; I was teased a lot (but who wasn’t?) and I had to give up a few great “adventures” but I kept my make-believe going now and again until middle school by finding the right people and showing them the right movies.

Then in middle school, I started writing stories. I was all about getting everyone involved, so I’d get a group of three or four together, start a story, hand it off, and see where it went. Sometimes, we ended up with a few short pages of semi-decent fan-fiction, while other times we had fairly good original stories. But then it became “un-cool” to write.

So I tried role-playing. Then that became un-cool as well.

Time to give up? Never! How can I get a group of high school people to dress up and run around acting like fictional characters? I know- I’ll make a movie! (Ok, so maybe that wasn't my exact process. I was actually interested in film, but the end result was the same: FUN!)

Me as Ash in a pokemon parody. 

Me and my friend Kait as C3PO and R2D2 

Filming "The Ladies of the Rings" (if lotr took place in modern times with a female fellowship)

Pokemon 2010: A Parody 
(in case you're bored and need a laugh)

Anyone else play make-believe too? Did you continue it as you grew older, or did you find other ways to express your creativity? 

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Music as Inspiration

Do you ever turn on the radio, or listen to a new CD, and hear a song that really resonates with you? One where it seems like the singer got inside your head and wrote about your life?

It happens to me all the time, especially when I’m making the (almost) monthly four and a half hour trip home.

Usually, when I listen to songs with lyrics, I associate them with a character. Sometimes it fits in with my own life, but often it’s a character from a book or movie. Now and then it will be a friend or relative. Other times, it’s a pure creation of my imagination. These songs can be incredibly inspiring, and can be a great source of story and character ideas. Here are a few that have been inspirational in my writing:

Mad World, Gary Jules

Stand My Ground, Within Temptation

Hurricane, 30 Seconds to Mars

And here's one that's been inspirational in my own life:

Free Life, Dan Wilson