Monday, January 30, 2012

Recognizing your own Writing Strengths


It’s easy to tell when something is written poorly. When revising our own work, a preposition out of place, a misspelled word, or a string of repetitive sentences can stand out to us like a glowing red stop sign, making it easy to slip into that “What was I thinking—my writing is HORRIBLE!” mindset. The stronger writing is often overlooked, left unacknowledged.

Sometimes it's easy to feel like this guy.
Writing, like film editing, is at it’s best when it doesn’t call attention to itself. The best movies are the ones that move from scene to scene without ever pulling you out of the action, without ever making you stop to question if that character was wearing that same hat a moment ago, or what happened to the cat that was lying in the sink a minute ago, or even what the significance of the cat lying in the sink was. Writing should do the same for readers.

But as writers, we should be able to identify this fluidity in our own works. Are our transitions smooth? Are we giving the reader enough to look at through imagery? Are we giving them enough to process through action, thoughts, or dialogue?

Good writing should be clear, communicative, and easy to read. But you probably already know that's harder to do than it sounds! If you’ve read over a few pages of your manuscript and found nothing but a few typos and an overuse of passive voice, you’ve done a surprisingly good job.

Because it's easy for even the best writers to have days of doubt, here’s a few signs of good writing that are often taken for granted:
  • A strong consistent voice/narration
  • Sentence variety
  • A sense of unity, a common theme or focus that the story doesn’t stray from
  • Subtle imagery
  • Literary devices that don’t call attention to themselves 
  • Emotionally charged scenes without the assistance of emotional adverbs (sadly, excitedly, etc)
  • Realistic dialogue
  • Realistic character development
  • Humor 
Any other advice on how to recognize the strengths of your own writing?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Where's Our Writing Knowledge Coming From?


In psychology this week, we’ve been talking a lot about how we learn: intuition, personal experience, reason, and the scientific method. In psychology, science is, of course, the most important (who would take medication that ‘felt right’ or try some pill a friend whipped up in their kitchen and recommended saying ‘it cured my cancer’), but in writing, it’s the opposite.

(Picture from: murphyboys.org)
Writing is where your personal experiences should shine through. It’s highly based on reason, or imagination, starting with the thought of “what would happen if…?” and following a logical train of thought from there. Adding characters, changing events, and throwing in a bit of foreshadowing in places that “feel right” all sound like good uses of intuition to me. In my opinion, science is more about the average, and writing is more about the exception.
 





But, because stories don’t go through the scientific process and don’t become part of any formula, does that make them any less true? Is it possible that stories can “be true” to some people and not to others? I’d be interested to hear what you think on the matter.

And, just as a side note, I have over 50 followers now! Yay! I feel like Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory where he was more excited that he had 100 followers on twitter than that his girlfriend got an article on the cover of an important magazine. Thank you guys so much for being a part of this blog!  

Monday, January 23, 2012

Favorite Character's Blogfest

Today I'm excited to be participating in Laura Josephsen's awesome Favorite Character's Blogfest. Basically, between Jan 23rd and the 25th we're supposed to choose a favorite character we've written about and put them in the spotlight. So here goes:




It was a tough choice for me between Val- the obedient-gone-spunky heroine of The Chronicles of Vallanie Sharp, or Kim, a lonely introverted girl with mild psychic powers in a storyline I came up with this previous summer. Since I’ve been working like crazy preparing the second book in Val's series for its release this summer, I’ve decided to take a break from the dystopian world and go with Kim (though I’m giving a disclaimer that her story is in very early stages of development).

Kim's a girl on the cusp of having an easy transition into adulthood, until everything starts spiraling down at once. I like that she has so many insecurities, but can still remain strong and shove them aside when it really counts. She’s one of four main characters in this new novel, and I would classify her as the heart of the group.

I had mixed feelings writing her at first, because it allowed me to back and explore my own high school experiences and insecurities within a fictional slightly fantastical context. Her introversion and temporary social exile allows me to spend more time processing the whole "teenage environment", including school, home, work, and recreation and the overwhelming emotional effects each area can unintentionally have on an individual. The majority of the story so far, Kim is still trying to figure out who she is, what she wants to do with her life, and what's most important to her. It's been fun coming up with her basic beliefs, then finding ways to test her values, and seeing how she grows from those tests.

Here is how I’m introducing her in the current draft:
            By the start of her senior year at Camberly Academy, Kimberly Irene Maxwell had learned everything there was to know about high school. She knew how to make friends, how to gain popularity, how to make the best grades with the minimal amount of work, what to do to catch a guy’s interest, what to do to keep them away, and she was certain she could handle anything the world could throw at her. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
            Finishing the label for her last binder, Kim leaned back to admire her work. The moment her hand touched the carpet, she felt something collide with her elbow, and looked up too see that it was her mother’s boot.
            “Kim!” Mrs. Maxwell cried, pulling a hand to her heart as she regained her balance, water sloshing from the edge of her plastic pitcher. “You scared me half to death!”
            “Sorry.”  A few drops dripped dangerously close to Kim’s masterpieces, and she pushed her papers away with her bare feet, before scrambling to pick up the various markers scattered across the hardwood floor.
            With a shake of her head, her mother let out a sigh. “I wish you wouldn’t sit in the floor. We do have tables, you know.”
            Kim secured the markers inside an argyle pencil case and held up the first of her binders for her mother to inspect. A carefully arranged mosaic of pastel stars and hearts covered the front of the blue plastic, framing her name, which had been meticulously printed on stock paper in bold lavender ink. “What do you think?”
            “I think,” her mother replied, glancing up from where she was watering the plants by the dinning room window, “if you spent as much time on your homework as you did decorating their folders, you’d be first in your class.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Revision


I've been revising a lot this week, mostly for school. It's time to gather the pieces for our senior thesis: the three or four BEST pieces we've written over the past four years... while, not surprisingly, have all come from the past year, for me. Anyway, as I am now a writing tutor (and, more importantly, a writer) I've given the revision process a lot more thought, paying close attention to the steps I take to do it. Here's a few tips I have:






1) Start with the big picture. Every story needs a thesis: Yep, not just English papers, even creative works of fiction, though the thesis is usually not stated explicitly. You should, however, be able to clarify what a story is arguing or demonstrating with a short defendable sentence.

2) Every story needs organization: That's right, beginning, middle, and end. While the story doesn't necessarily have to progress chronologically, it should be progressing in someway. This could be in terms of theme, clarity of an idea, character development, etc.

3) If a scene isn't adding anything, delete it.

4)If a sentence isn't adding anything, delete it.

5) If a word isn't adding anything, delete it.

6) Try to get some distance from your work, and go in without judging yourself too harshly. The point of editing is to catch those silly mistakes without anyone ever knowing you even made them. I like to pretend I'm editing someone else's work when I edit, writing comments as I would to a stranger (ex: who is this character? why is she sitting in your kitchen? Even if I know she's my roommate and we always eat breakfast together) and then take a break before going back through and actually making necessary changes based on the comments.

7) When you're starting to feel good about the overall structure of the piece, it's time to narrow down. Focus on things like grammar, sentence structure, and word choice.

8) Get someone else to look over your work and make suggestions. (Take their suggestions into consideration, but by all means, if you don't 100% agree with them, don't make them. At the end of the day, your name is going to end up on it, and yours alone)

9) Edit it on your computer. Print it out and edit it on paper. Then on the computer again.

10) Stop editing. It's never going to be perfect, but when it feels like it's getting close or, more likely, when it feels like it will NEVER get close. Stop. Sit back, do something else. Don't touch it for a few days, and when you come back to it, you'll probably be amazed at how much better it is than you thought.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Getting Back On Track


So it seems a lot of people (like me) took a break from writing for the holidays, and then while getting back into work/school/home life, and then… had a hard time picking back up where you left off.
That’s what time off does to you—while it may be well deserved, relaxing, and even necessary—you feel it when you get back into it. It’s like training for a marathon and taking a week—or a month, or a month and a week—off: It hurts.

So how do work through it? How do you get all those ideas to just come floating back to you? How do you revive the story?

Motivate yourself. It’s as simple as that. Of course, you have to find time to write, but if you’re really motivated, that will come. Here’s a few ways I’ve found helpful to amp up the motivation and pull myself back on course. Feel free to add any you want:

  • Listen to Music- And I mean really listen to it. Not while doing work. Not while driving. Sit and listen with your eyes closed, or with a pen and paper, and listen to the music and visualize a story to go along with it. If you’re trying to get back into a specific story, it may be a good idea to keep a scene or character from it in mind.
  • Read- Sometimes the best motivation is reading a great book and thinking “Man, I wish I could do that.” or even a not-so-great book that leaves you thinking, “I could do so much better.”
  • Make an outline/or plot chart- This one is self-explanatory, but the logic behind it is to get you thinking about a story again. If you’ve already written one before the break, don’t look at it and re-write it from memory. Then compare the two. Resolving any differences could make for a good spring-board back into the story.
  • Ask yourself- Why you started writing the story in the first place. What motivated you to write this particular story? What is it about? Why is it important? Keep coming up with questions, and have fun with your answers. This is your time to enjoy being a writer, so try to shrug off any pressure and just… write.

Hope this helps :)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I've made it to 2012...

Even though it may have seemed like I dropped off the face of the earth. I've been busy "writing"... or, well, technically, moving back to school, signing up for classes, buying books, work orientation, etc... but I did have to sign my name on some of those forms, so that counts as writing, right?

I'll post more when life's less hectic, but here's a brief update for now.

Listening to:

Reading: 

Day Dreaming About: