Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Anyone Listening?

How often do we actually sit down and listen to people? I mean really listen—not thinking about what we’re going to say next, not noting how something reminded us of what we saw on TV last night or something silly our neighbor did. We all know that communication is key to, well, just about everything, so how is it that we can sometimes be so bad at it?
Some of the best stories might be right in front of our very eyes—er—ears, but we’re too preoccupied with whatever is going on internally to realize it. Worse still, we may be missing out on opportunities to better know people, even people as close as our family.
Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers believed that active listening was the most important trait a therapist could have, and that having a good listener in your life is essential to your happiness. We all want to feel like we matter: we all have something to say, and we all want someone to listen. (I mean, why else are we on here blogging?)
So sometime over the next few days I challenge you to sit down and really listen to someone, as if their words revealed the greatest secret of all time. It could be a friend, a family member, or even just some chatty person in line at Starbucks. You’ll probably brighten their day, and you might get a story (or blog post idea) out of it as well.

Friday, February 24, 2012

When heroes take time off, they... Blog?

I’ve been into BBC’s Sherlock lately—a modern adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, in which Watson follows Holmes on many adventures and records them on his blog. Literally. They’ve created a blog for John Watson. And Sherlock Holmes. And a few minor characters from the TV series.
Anyone who’s a fan of the show should definitely check them out—they’re complete with all the cases, what happened between episodes, and even have (quite hilarious) comments from other various characters.
I told some of my friends about it and they sat down and read the whole thing. It’s genius. Which brings me to my question: Is this common? Are blogs for fictional characters on the rise, or are they something you think would be quickly shot down? Would you read one? Would you ever blog for your own characters? I’m curious. I’ve really never heard of this before.
Tying to determine if fictional blogging was a new sensation or if I was just behind, I googled it. What I found mostly supported the later, though the majority of fictional blogs, it would seem, are fans by fans engaging in a sort of roleplay. However, it's also becoming more common for TV-shows to create them in order to promote themselves.
It seems like it could potentially be a neat marketing technique for authors (though I’m not sure people would ever read it unless they were already fans of the book or movie. Maybe it would get them prepped for a sequel?). I see how they could catch on, or quickly become annoying. What do you think?
Here are a few fun ones I've found:
Barney's Official Blog (from How I met your Mother)
An unofficial (I think) Spiderman blog
And, for anyone interested, here's an article on how to Write a Fictional Blog

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cutting it short

I’ve realized it is my senior year of college, and though I’ve written many personal essays, acedemic papers, and even novel excerpts, I’ve written very few short stories. Two, I think. So I’m challenging myself to write a short story.
I didn’t think it’d be too hard. I turned on some music, sat down, filled up a page or two with ideas… then realized I’d just come up with more ideas for novels.
Then I thought I’d call my sister and ask her for help (we always bounce ideas off each other) but, when I reached her voicemail, I remembered that she doesn’t like to talk on the phone. So I thought about writing a story about a sister who’s sister won’t talk to her… or better yet, she can’t talk to her sister, because her sister is dead, or her sister has amnesia, or got sucked away into a magical land. Wouldn’t it suck to be the sibling who never got to go to Narnia?
I think it’s safe to say I’m still working on an idea. So I’m going to keep this post short and to the point:
Do you have a form that you tend to write in (Be it novels, short stories, flash fiction) or a specific theme you tend to write about (most of my stories have an element of childhood)? Have you ever tried to write outside of your comfort zone? If so, how did it go? I’m curious to know how “normal” of a struggle this is.  

Monday, February 20, 2012

Psychological Sherlock

As a Psychology major, I can never get away from Freud. While everyone knows him for his emphasis on sex, some of his more feasible theories are often overlooked. Perhaps the most important one is the role of the unconscious. In his mind (and the minds of some practicing psychologists today) there are no accidents. Everything we do is driven by some buried want or need. In that respect, ever choice we make, no matter how seemingly insignificant—the color of our shirt, the way we part our hair—is directed by our unconscious.

Freud thought that by spending hours listening and contemplating people’s monologues, he could reveal some of these unconscious motivations to his clients. In class, we tried noticing the little details about people and speculating on their possible motivations. Why was the girl in front of me wearing a sweatshirt and ponytail, while the girl behind me was in a dress and heals? Why had some people brought umbrellas ‘just in case’ and others hadn’t? What does this say about them?

Of course, without being able to get into someone’s head, we can never really know if any of this is true, but it’s great practice for creative thinking and could give you some good material for fiction stories. So, the next time you’re at the grocery store and the woman in front of you is rude, or the guy at the checkout counter is taking forever to scan your items, try to get inside their heads. Think about what brought them there, at that moment, in those clothes, to do those things. It can be fun and (hopefully) more productive than yelling.

Have you ever stopped to think about what drives you? Is there one big thing you’re looking for (attention? wealth? love? fame?) or something you’re working too hard to avoid (commitment? failure?)? How much about ourselves do you think can be attributed to unconscious desires?

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Our Friends Have To Say About US

I’ve noticed my room mate and I have a lot in common: same life goals, similar schedules, similar values, and similar interests. We’ve even been mistaken for sisters:
My roommate (Megan) and Me
I guess it doesn't help that we sometimes share clothes. When visiting my friend over the weekend, I noticed she had a lot in common with her roommate as well. It got me thinking. There's a famous proverb that goes something like, “You can judge a man by the company he keeps.”As most of my friends are academically motivated, interested in literature or politics, and into fantasy and science fiction, I guess I'd be judged as a Geek. Fair enough.
How true do you find this in your own lives? Do you feel like you’re drawn to people similar to you, or do you feel like you’re influenced by those who you’re surrounded by? Maybe this is slightly different for writers, who are often intrigued by those who are different and end up with a variety of all sorts of acquaintances.
Whether or not you find people are often attracted to those who are similar, friends are just as essential in stories as they are in real life. You can tell a lot about a character through his or her friends, even if they have a small role to play. What about the main character makes other people want to spend time with him? What does he find attractive/admirable/interesting in others? What does he find repelling? What does this say about himself? Whether a side-kick, a foil, or a potential source of conflict, friends can be great sources of information. When developing them, it’s great to think not only about their own role, but how their role (both prior to and during the time you’re writing about) effects you more major characters. 
Who are some of the best crafted friends of main characters? Would the hero be the same without them?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When starvation becomes a mental disorder

You know how some people seem to have everything together? I’m not one of them.
I’m typing this on my phone while waiting in line at subway, hoping to soon take the first bite of food I’ll have had in over six hours. Here’s a brief overview of my day: Test, Test, Lab Work, Super Important Paper due.
Then I had a three hour long class in which we workshoped each other’s papers and the teacher told us just how far off we were. Collectively, it was a lot: like 1,995 words off of a 2,000-word paper off. So, during our ten minute break around five o’clock, when my stomach felt like it was starting to eat itself, I followed my classmates outside for their cigarette break and interrupted their rant, asking desperately if anyone knew where a snack machine was. Someone suggested one building. Someone else suggested another. I went to both, but they were, sadly, snack-machine-less.
Nearing the library, I walked as fast as I could to the entrance, and straight to the coffee shop. There was a line, and I was in a hurry, so I filled my mug up with hot water thinking I could at least have tea. Then I realized I had used my last tea bag.
I arrived back to class, late, with a mug of hot water, missing an earring. To my severe disdain, the boy next to me was eating a Chick-fill-a sandwich. Come to think of it, it would have been a good idea to start looking for food at the cafeteria.
I starved through another hour of editing papers and receiving brutal feedback, until the teacher announced everyone could leave, as long as they had met with her one on one. Guess who was the only person left to meet with her? Me.
My friend took pity on me and, through a break in her laughter, pulled out a bag of hot chocolate (why would someone carry hot chocolate around in their purse? I don’t know, I asked, and she didn’t know either) and I could finally put the hot water to use (for the record, Raspberry hot chocolate is tasty).
But it still didn’t curb my hunger. Nope, that didn’t happen until much more recently, after I spent a long ten minutes in isolation with my professor who marked up my paper and read off her comments ("Good, terrible, good, terrible, excellent, terrible...), after I stumbled back through the cold to the food court, and after the nice woman at subway (who just so happens to have been a former friend whom I cut ties with after learning she was sabotaging my roommate’s drinks) gave me my sandwich. Know that if I die from food poisoning, it was worth it. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What "I'm sick of Writing" Really Means

Another fun post for today (though I take full credit for this one). I thought it would be a good way to start/end the week. 
When Writers say "I'm sick of Writing", they really mean:

  1. I have writers block. I hate writers block. 
  2. I've been bent over a computer screen so long, it hurts to sit up straight
  3. Stop asking me about my story. I don't want to talk about it!  
  4. I just started revising my tenth draft. 
  5. I need to hear I'm a great writer. Tell me I'm a great writer!  
  6. My hand is so cramped, it hurts to sign my name. 
  7. I've gained ten pounds from converting my workout time to writing time (and snacking on chocolate and cookies time) 
  8. I spent weeks working on a new story idea, only to hear of a bestseller with the same plot.
  9. I need to spend sometime away from imaginary people. 
  10. I want your paycheck. 

Well, I'm off to work on my non-fiction thesis and study for psychology. Feel free to add more. Hope everyone has a great week! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Write "Good"

Some of you may have seen this before, but I came across it for the first time at our university writing center and I had to share. Just some fun writing "advice." :)

The following was written by Frank L. Visco and originally published in the June 1986 issue of Writers' digest. (I found it on Plain Language) Enjoy:

“How to Write Good”
  •                   Avoid Alliteration. Always.
  •                   Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.
  •                   Avoid cliches like the plague. (They’re old hat.)
  •                   Employ the vernacular.
  •                   Eschew ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
  •                   Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are unnecessary.
  •                   It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.
  •                   Contractions aren’t necessary.
  •                   Foreign words and phrases are not apropos.
  •                   One should never generalize.
  •                   Eliminate quotations. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” 
  •                   Comparisons are as bad as cliches.
  •                   Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous.
  •                   Profanity sucks.
  •                   Be more or less specific.
  •                   Understatement is always best.
  •                   Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
  •                   One word sentences? Eliminate.
  •                   Analogies in writing are like feathers on a snake.
  •                   The passive voice is to be avoided.
  •                   Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.
  •                   Even if a mixed metaphor sings, it should be derailed.
  •          Who needs rhetorical questions?