Note from Cassandra: Thanks Carol for hosting me on your blog today and for your excellent post here. I hope everyone enjoys reading your words of wisdom.
POP GOES THE WEASEL
First of all, I want to thank Cassandra for offering me this opportunity to be a guest on her fantastic blog. I always learn from her posts. Today I’m a virgin – this is my first ever time to write a post for someone else’s blog. It’s a little frightening. So here we go, sink or swim.
“Pop Goes the Weasel” is a song most of us learned before we could string more than two words together – as soon as we could master the crank on the side of the Jack-in-the-Box. We watched Mommy turn it, Daddy, big sister. We knew what was coming.
The clown popped out, and we jumped and squealed. We couldn’t wait for them to push the clown back in and make it jump out. “Again! Again!”
Then it was our turn. We turned it fast, we turned it slow, we mixed it up. Again and again.
When we were two, this was thinking outside the box.
We passed the Terrific Terrible Twos a long time ago. Now most of you reading this are writers.
Today, thinking outside the box means something a little different from Mr. Jack. We still have the familiar set-up, but the outcome is . . . outside the box. Now when we turn the crank, maybe the box explodes. Or the clown is a girly fish dressed in sequins with a pink feather boa around her neck and wearing bright red lipstick. Or we have to put the box together like a puzzle to hear the song. Or we start with the clown outside, turn the crank, and he returns to the box.
The same with our writing. Thinking outside the box applies to every aspect of a novel – character, conflict, dialogue, setting, tone, point of view, plot, theme, and so on.
Instead of your protagonist being a firefighter, maybe he’s a special hot-spot firefighter who gets called out on wildfires. Or maybe he’s a dragon and a rookie in the Dragonopolis Fire Department who always needs to be careful not to start fires of his own when he sneezes or laughs or becomes angry.
Thinking outside the box takes many forms. That’s the beauty. The possibilities are endless.
What’s your favorite way to think outside the box?
Carol Kilgore is a Texas writer living in San Antonio. She writes mystery and suspense with a little romance to tingle your tootsies. Her blog, Under the Tiki Hut, is a positive spot for readers and writers to meet, relax, and exchange ideas and dreams.
Note from Cassandra: I’m over on Laura’s blog today but she has come to visit us here in the realm to tell us about her writing schedule. Thanks Laura for being here today. After you check out her post here, hop on over to Laura’s blog to check out my post for today.
Gosh, I’m so excited to be a part of Cassandra’s blog tour. What an exciting month, right? Cheers, Cassandra, for all the hard work you’ve put into organizing this international writer fest!
I’ve been asked countless times about how I squeeze writing into my schedule. I’m going to preface this with a disclaimer. You see, I think my answer is a non-answer, but it’s the reality. Okay, drum roll, please!
I don’t schedule writing time. Nope. I don’t.
Why? Because if I did, I’d feel pressure to write, no matter the quality or topic. For me, pressure creates angst and frustration. Angst and frustration actually makes me freeze up. I get too caught up in things like: What should I write about? What if it sucks? What if I can’t find the right words? What if it doesn’t turn out the way I want it?
Notice most of those questions have a negative connotation. SO not cool. Once the negativity wheel starts spinning, I dig myself deeper and deeper into a rut and my writing stagnates like a 1000 year old bog. Stinky. Yuck.
So I don’t even go there.
Sure, I still have goals and I still work really hard to obtain them. For the most part, I do get some writing in every day, but I don’t go all ballistic and start berating myself if I don’t. I trust myself and my brain that the right words will come out if I let them come at their own pace.
Yes, it’s true that I will go days, sometimes weeks, without writing. And that’s okay. Because my brain is still processing things even if I’m not actively thinking about it. I can tell because when I DO sit down to write, the magic happens. An idea strikes. A dialogue snafu gets smoothed. A plot hole gets filled in.
It all works out.
That being said, everybody develops their own strategy to apply to their writerly life and I’d LOVE to hear your routine for writing!
Laura is a board certified psychiatrist and hopes to become a published author. She writes adult and young adult urban fantasy, fantasy, and dystopian fiction. Her blog: Diamond, Yup, Like the Stone http://lbdiamond.wordpress.com/.
Note from Cassandra: It brings me great pleasure to introduce Sonya Clark today. Her debut fantasy novel ‘Bring on the Night’ is available from Lyrical Press. Thanks Sonya for hosting me on your blog today and thanks for sharing your thoughts today on your writing process. Hope you all enjoy this fantastic post and then jump on over to Sonya’s blog to check out my interview.
My writing process tends to be inconsistent and chaotic. Sometimes I outline, frequently I fly by the seat of my pants. Sometimes I start with a character, other times a plot or situation. Sometimes the words come quickly and I’m riding the rapids without a kayak. Sometimes I’m dragging a story, heavy and manacled to my body in rusty chains, across the desert Ray Bradbury called Dry Spell, Arizona. Hopefully one day I’ll figure out a sure-fire method to consistent writing.
One thing I have learned is how to start the actual narrative. I write urban fantasy, an action-heavy genre to be sure, but I think this could work for just about any genre. When I first started writing I made the newbie mistake of starting with set-up and background. I thought I needed that to set the stage, so to speak. I didn’t realize what I was doing was the dreaded info dump. I had a manuscript I was unhappy with. Well, I was happy with the manuscript but the beginning was seriously lacking. It was way too low-key and did a poor job of introducing my main character, a vampire named Jessie. One thing I tend to do when I’m having trouble with a manuscript is take a detour, write a short story or flash fiction about a character or two. It helps me learn about the characters and I’ve found it’s a good way to get past a block in the main work. So I did this with Jessie, and liked what I came up with so much I used it as the beginning of Bring On The Night. Rather than tell what she was all about, this showed it. From that experience I learned to always start with action. Find a way to introduce your main character that shows what they’re all about, and fill in the background details later.
Here’s an excerpt from that opening scene:
“Or are you one of those guys who want to take what you want, but you don’t want to put
the hurt on? Huh? You too tender-hearted to listen to some poor girl scream and cry and beg for
“But that’s not how I roll.” She laced the fingers of one hand in his hair and pulled his head
back sharply, black eyes boring into his. “I like to put the hurt on, and I want you to remember
every second of it when you wake up.” She leaned closer, close enough he should have been able
to feel her breath on his face. “If you wake up and you go looking for more girls to drug, you might want to think of tonight as a cautionary tale.”
She opened her mouth. He watched in horror as two teeth began to elongate into sharp,
curved fangs. He began to scream as she lowered her mouth to his neck, struggling in vain to free himself. Her fangs sank into his flesh like hot knives, ripping and tearing as she jerked her head. The blood began to flow, followed by the echo of his screams.
I’m currently faced with a decision. To keep agent hunting with my MS in its current form, or to overhaul the MS and see what happens. Technically I’ve only been rejected from four agents, which isn’t bad and two of them were not form rejections, which is better than when I first started trying to get Death’s Daughter published but still, I’m tossing up in my mind whether I need to go back and refine the work or whether to give a few more agents a try.
I guess what it is going to come down to is whether or not I actually think I can make the MS better than it is. One of the comments I received was that the beginning felt a little generic and so there is the question of whether I can change the beginning and make it better. If the answer is yes, then I should. However, I started sending the MS out because at the time I thought I had reached the limit of what I could do without further guidance and I was happy with how the story worked.
Before I send out another submission I will definitely be re-reading the MS, particularly focusing on the opening. I will probably make minor changes (just because I never read anything I’ve written without changing something), though I may be facing another round of rewrites.
At the end of the day, I can only do what I can do. As long as I’m happy I’ve put my best effort out into the world, things will be alright.
How do you know when you need to revise more? How do you decide your MS is ready?
In other news, if you missed the start of the tour:
Join me on the 7th on Sonya Clark’s blog.
Note from Cassandra: I’m over at Lua’s blog today but she has left a great post here for us all to read and enjoy. Thanks Lua for sharing these thoughts with us, and wishing you all the best on your writing journey.
‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’
By Lua Fowles … says Virginia Woolf and I think she has a point. It’s not just women who need a room of their own but I think it goes for all writers; we need solitude, we need quiet and we need a door to shot out the world. The Muse is a strange creature, it wants to be alone with the artist, it requires our full attention to help us put that story on to paper. So basically, yes Virginia, we need a room to develop that idea we have into a novel.
But that makes me wonder- what about before we discover (because lets face it, ideas are discovered not created) the idea of our story? It is necessary to get into our room and close the door once we have the story idea but what are we supposed to do with all that peace, quiet and an empty room when we have no story to tell?
I love the word “frustration”. The dictionary says it means, “a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.” That feeling of dissatisfaction, that impulse to solve the unresolved problems and fulfill our needs is what drives us to tell stories. For me, telling stories is the only way to make sense of this world, to understand myself and others, to stay in balance in this chaotic world. It is the only way that I experience satisfaction and solve my problems. In that case, I suppose, it’s safe to say that I need frustration before I need a bunch of money and a room of my own.
Ideas need to develop “outside the room”. They don’t develop because we’re perfectly satisfied with ourselves and with the world around us, they don’t emerge because we don’t have any issues with the world. They emerge from dissatisfactions and frustrations. Having a room is great, once you have your story idea. Then you can go inside your room and work on it, develop it, make it a masterpiece without any distractions or interference. But before that, to find your idea- you need to go outside and get frustrated a little. No- make that “a lot”. You need to get frustrated, a lot…
Lua Fowles is an aspiring writer from Istanbul Turkey, currently working on her first novel, ‘Closed Eyes, Change of Heart’… On her blog, Bowl of Oranges, she’s talking about the difficult but joyous journey of becoming a writer. She’ll be on her way to the University of Kent to get an MA degree on Creative Writing this September.
Visit Lua’s blog here: http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/
Shiny, glittering, distractions.
It is how magicians get away with their tricks and it is frequently how movies manage to make even the weakest of stories seem somewhat plausible.
It would seem that in writing, distractions can’t save a poorly written story because you don’t have all the shine and glitter – you certainly don’t have an amazing soundtrack and special effects.
Still, many writers seem to use a bit of shine.
Colourful humour and language to throw the reader off the scent of poorly executed scene.
Flowery language and description to gloss over the massive plot hole.
Throw another dead body into a scene that was feeling like it was going nowhere.
Introduce a new character to hide the fact that one of your other characters has suddenly had a personality transplant.
And the thing is, as an audience member, you frequently allow yourself to be distracted by the shiny because it is fun. Because even though you know that you are being had, that something is missing, what you are being given is still enjoyable and there isn’t really any fun in pulling it to pieces. You know what is going on and you let it happen. At least when it is still enjoyable.
You start to really question the shiny when that is all you are being given. There is nothing else underneath and it isn’t really going anywhere. All you’ve been given is the glossy overcoat and there is no substance. As a reader, a lack of overall substance just can’t be tolerated.
So what shiny distractions do you enjoy reading? Which ones have you used? When won’t you accept a shiny distraction?
I’m going to preface this post by pointing out that I really dislike animal movies. That is, movies where the main character is an animal that is befriended by a human and does a range of cutesy/mischievous things before ultimately solving some massive problem and healing all the wrongs in their friendly human’s life while giving us some moral message. There are a lot of these movies out there and they are well loved movies but they’ve never grabbed me as an audience member. Mostly because cute didn’t cut it for me as a replacement for story or character development even when I was a child and the overly moralistic message of so many of these movies seemed really condescending.
That said, I do like animals in stories. They can serve a valuable role and if well written can even have all the attributes of a full fledged character. There is a difference between a movie with an animal in it and an animal movie. Same with books.
When I consider using an animal in a story I usually think about the following:
1. Is the animal’s presence actually adding anything to the story? A means of transport, companionship, comfort, finding something, revealing something, etc.
2. Could a human character serve the same purpose better?
3. Is the animal actually acting in the way an animal would or are they simply a human character dressed up like an animal?
4. If the animal is magical and can talk, are they still acting in the way an animal would or is there some cross over between the animal characteristics and human characteristics? And is there any point behind this cross over?
5. Is the animal becoming simply a cute distraction from the plot?
Inserting an animal as a character for me is like inserting any other character. They need to have a purpose and serve some sort of function in the plot. They need to relate to the other characters and if possible those relationships should grow and change as the story progresses.
What are your thoughts on animals as characters? Or animal movies for that matter.
We could probably agree that very little writing is actually bad in the sense that at least words are getting written and it is a lot easier to make bad writing good than to make a blank page turn magically into good writing. However, if you’ve decided once and for all that what you’ve written is terrible and all you want to do is make it go away, here are five things to try that just might make you feel better.
1. Line the bird cage, rat cage, any other animal cage you can think of, with the print outs. Technically this is recycling and not only will the writing be well and truly gone, you’ll get that warm and tingly feeling from saving the planet.
2. Blow it up on the screen and then print it out. Cut up all the words and then stick them back together in random order. Read repeatedly to whomever you can trap long enough.
3. Cat toy. This one I have actually done. Cats love chasing scrunched paper, particularly over hard surfaces because the paper makes a great scratching sound that keeps them intrigued for minutes. Once they start getting bored all you have to do is throw it again and they’ll dive after it. If you really feel the need you could probably read the writing to your cat first, then scrunch it and throw it.
4. Art work. I don’t study art and don’t know what the style is (I could probably have googled it but I wasn’t really in the mood) but you can always paste various parts of your writing into the background of your painting. Call it something depressing and hang it up somewhere prominent.
5. Finally – something actually useful to do with bad writing – put it in a nice yellow folder on your desk top called ‘Junk’ and save it for the day when you just might decide you can do something with it.
What do you do with ‘bad’ writing?