The Problem of the External Muse

July 27, 2010 at 5:44 am (Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve talked a bit about inspiration previously and where ideas come from but I usually avoid talking about my muse (I’m not saying I don’t use this turn of phrase but it isn’t my favourite way to put things). The reason for this is that by calling it a muse and personifying the idea of inspiration it makes it sound like it is something external to the writer and not part of them.

I don’t usually like this idea.

For me inspiration is definitely an internal process and the ideas from within. Certainly my mind draws in things it has seen and heard and smelled and used these in combination to form what might become a story idea but that process definitely takes place within. No mythic being bestows the ideas upon me, fully formed or otherwise. And because it is an internal and slow process of bits and pieces being slotted together, the ideas become very much apart of the writer. You’ve raised the idea from just a tiny spark or notion to a fully fleshed out plot line that might eventually get written down.

Maybe the problem is that by externalising the idea it feels like it is cheapening the process. That somehow writers just get ideas. That nothing goes on, they sit around with empty heads and wait for a magic muse to hit them with some fairy dust.

Then again, at other times it does feel like something else is happening. The ideas move seemingly overnight (which probably means my subconscious is at work) but suddenly something that seemed unworkable has fallen into place. A line of dialogue that isn’t working can suddenly be heard clearly. That little voice in the back of your mind nudges you in just the right direction at just the right moment.

If my muse exists she’s probably going to clobber me after writing this. And yes, she would be female.

I think that if it is about the muse then we shouldn’t be waiting for her, we should definitely be out there hunting her down and demanding information right now. Hopefully with more success than Elmer Fudd ever had hunting rabbits.

What do the other writers think? Muses or not. Cheapening the process or giving writers a way to talk about something they sometimes don’t fully understand – their creative processes?

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Twitter me this

July 26, 2010 at 5:35 am (Death's Daughter, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Okay – so the links are coming thick and fast, but probably because there are so many brilliant bloggers out there sharing their stuff.  Here are the links I’ve found and posted on twitter over the last week.

My picks for the week – and there is a few of them because everyone has been writing awesome posts this week:

Talli Roland on blogging: http://talliroland.blogspot.com/2010/07/ten-for-tuesday-of-blogs-and-bloggery.html

Elspeth Antonelli – 10 lessons for writers: http://elspeth-itsamystery.blogspot.com/2010/07/10-lessons-for-writers.html

Words of advice from fantasy authors: http://io9.com/5579212/words-to-live-by-advice-from-34-science-fictionfantasy-authors

Just Jemi – printing out the MS: http://jemifraser.blogspot.com/2010/07/printing-epiphany.html

Lua shares her writing story: http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/getting-aligned-or-the-dilemma-of-being/

Check out Sybil’s collection of book trailers – yes, mine’s been added:

Trailer for Death’s Daughter been added to Sybil’s collection of book trailers: http://www.sybilnelson.com/

Other great links this week:

My top 5 songs to get me ready to write – what are yours? https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/top-5-writing-songs/

Miss Rosemary’s scattered thoughts on writing: http://disgruntledwriterscircle.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/scattered-thoughts/

Yona Wiseman – Rave rejections: http://daylightprocrastinator.wordpress.com/2010/07/22/rave-rejections/

Hema P – The writing bug: http://hemapen.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/the-writing-bug/

Cheryl Angst – Twitter chats for writers: http://cherylangst.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/twitter-chats/

To Conquer a Mountain – Creating a universe: http://shoutitfromamountain.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/creating-a-universe-and-a-reality/

Casey Lybrand – time management for writers: http://blog.caseylybrand.com/2010/07/19/writing-time-management-and-blogging/

Holly Ruggiero – Playing with Words: http://scribblessplashes.blogspot.com/2010/07/playing-with-words.html

New blog post – Bringing fantasy to life: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/bringing-fantasy-to-life/

Talli Roland – chick lit is dead: http://talliroland.blogspot.com/2010/07/chick-lit-is-dead-long-live-er-womens.html

Elizabeth Spann Craig – About being a writer: http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/2010/07/8-things-no-one-told-me-about-being.html

Jemi Fraser looks at getting an e-reader: http://jemifraser.blogspot.com/2010/07/e-reader-help.html

Carol Kilgore – using your sixth sense as a writer: http://underthetikihut.blogspot.com/2010/07/that-tickle-on-back-of-your-neck.html

New blog post – My writing goals: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/writing-goal/

Mason Canyon reviews Nowhere to Hide: http://masoncanyon.blogspot.com/2010/07/nowhere-to-hide-by-terry-odell.html

RT @bubblecow A Four Parargraph Approach To Cover Letters http://bit.ly/b17YA0

Cat Woods – Seven deadly sins for writers: Pride – http://catwoods.wordpress.com/2010/07/19/seven-writing-sins-pride/

Terry Odell guest posts on Mystery Writing Is Murder: http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/2010/07/homework-time-by-terry-odell.html

Criminal Brief – why writers need an editor: http://criminalbrief.com/

Margot Kinberg – Straight Shooters http://margotkinberg.blogspot.com/2010/07/straight-shooters.html

Terry Spear – The closet muse: http://casablancaauthors.blogspot.com/2010/07/my-closet-muse.html

Stephen Tremp – the 30 second blurb: http://stephentremp.blogspot.com/2010/07/30-second-elevator-blurb.html

New blog post – Query Letter: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/query/

Novel Journey – on dialogue: http://www.noveljourney.blogspot.com/

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5 Essentials For Genuine Characters

June 29, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Keeping it simple today. This is quick checklist for creating genuine characters:

  • Don’t shun stereotypes – While the overuse of stereotypes is definitely a no-no, but to utterly ignore every existing paradigm for character creation isn’t such a great idea either. Despite what people say, they actually do like the familiar and dragging them by the hair into totally new territory probably isn’t the best way to connect to your readers.
  • Appearance matters – You have to give your reader some idea of what your character looks like. This doesn’t mean giving the reader an info dump two pages long that ends up describing every single mole. Give them enough to form an image and then move on (and if you revisit physical appearance again be sure you are consistent).
  • Dialogue rocks – Dialogue is where the reader has the chance to hear the character speak in the words that they have chosen. Unless the book is narrated by the character the reader does not get the chance any other way. That means the dialogue should be authentic to the character and it has to be distinguished from other characters.
  • Everybody has a past – unless you sprung from the ground about a sentence before the beginning of the plot. How much of the character’s past you choose to explain or explicitly detail is up to the individual writer and plot but every character has a past, has opinions and viewpoints and ways of doing things. Characters that seem to exist only for the sake of the current plot never really feel genuine.
  • Relationships are necessary – You character is going to be interacting with others and it is important that you understand the relationship that they have with each of the other players. Is there a history? Is it a newly established connection? Are there other connections between the characters? If the relationships don’t work then the characters won’t feel right.

Did I forget any? Probably. Let me know what you think.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Continuity Errors

June 28, 2010 at 5:30 am (Replay) (, , , , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Have you ever watched a movie where something is happening on a Monday and then the next day is Saturday and everyone is on their weekend? Not because time has passed that you haven’t been shown, but because they have literally jumped to Saturday without any events occurring in between, on or off screen.

Have you ever seen a character wearing one thing and then the next minute they are wearing something different? Or more importantly, they are eating something and it magically reappears, whole and untouched upon their plate in the next minute.

Continuity errors really jump out at me in films because you have to wonder with the number of screenings they do why nobody picked up on it. Of course, now that I’m writing regularly and finishing my own work, the answer has become quite apparent.

Too many details.

My brain is racing around trying to keep up with the main plot and sometimes small details slip by me without a second thought. Even on the third or fourth reading I don’t notice. Sometimes even friends read the story and don’t notice the error. Yet there it is in black and white, just waiting to be discovered and mocked.

I’m a lot nicer in my critique of stories since I’ve been writing.

The biggest problem I have had recently is in weather and the time of day. I particularly had this problem in my second MS (though I had numerous other problems with this MS, including a psychotic protagonist who refused to work as per the plan). The story takes place over six days and is divided into six parts with approximately seven chapters per part.

It all seems wonderfully structured and organised until you realise that chapter three of part one has a character watching a sunset and then in chapter five there is another sunset. Not the same sunset in a different location. Hours have passed and the sun is definitely setting again.

Part three is equally inept with a storm brewing, that never approaches. Not disappears or goes around. There is a storm brewing, everyone is worried about it and then it literally never gets mentioned again. Gone. Unimportant. Except for the reader who flicks back wondering if they missed something.

I also had a problem with directions. If you walk north from this building you end up at that one. Except when you don’t. Except when they head off north and exit the city from the same location, not passing the building they used to arrive at when heading in the same direction.

How to solve all these problems? I would say how to avoid them in the first place, except I know that is not going to happen, so now I’m just going to work on how to identify these problems and fix them.

1. Sometimes stories jump around or are not told in a linear fashion. After you’ve written the first draft, create a timeline of events and make sure that if something hasn’t happened yet, it isn’t mentioned.

2. Around the outside of your timeline, you might want to list any external phenomenon that are mentioned. Storms, tides, wars, grazing animals, etc. Anything that might give the reader a moment of confusion if it changes or disappears illogically.

3. Draw maps. I hate maps, I won’t look at them in books. If I can’t get a feel for the place from the writing, I certainly don’t want to try and decipher someone’s artistic rendering of it. However, for the sake of organising a place in my head, some sort of visual representation of the main areas (main city, main residences, main rooms) will help you sort out your location and spacing problems. Even in rooms, if the chair is against one wall, it can’t suddenly be under the window, etc.

4. As to fixing these problems, don’t do what I frequently do and change the story at one point without following the correction through. That just creates more problems in the long run.

Continuity errors – don’t think no one will notice.

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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10 Ways to Know You Are Obsessed With Writing

June 26, 2010 at 5:40 am (Replay, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’m on holidays at the moment but I’m reposting some of the more popular posts from my old blog, Darkened Jade. If you leave a comment I’ll be sure to catch up with you when I get back.

Today I would just like to share a list of ten things that indicate you’ve become obsessed by writing (not saying obsession is a bad thing):

1. You start re-reading every sentence that you write and then start re-writing every sentence, convinced that you are ‘improving’ them. I know when it’s time to stop when I have just written the same sentence ten times and I no longer even believe it to be written in English.

2. Your partner/best friend/child sends you an instant message asking if you will be eating breakfast/lunch/dinner.

3. You start arguing with your characters out loud: “No, you fool. You have to go…”

4. You have any kind of repetitive strain problem (wrist, arm, finger, neck, eyes).

5. You get home from your day job and your computer is turned on before you have put your bag down, taken your shoes off, fed your pets, or spoken to your children.

6. When you have told your friend/partner/child you will be ready to leave just after finishing one more sentence you write another couple of pages and forget you were meant to be finishing until they unplug the computer at the wall.

7. In your bag you have at least three notebooks and five pens, as well as a pencil in case all of you pens cease working on the same day.

8. Every single thing you read or watch is critiqued in terms of character, plot and setting.

9. When you meet someone for the first time you repeat their name, not to help you remember them but so that you can someday use that name in a story.

10. In conversation you directly reference events and characters you have been writing about (even though nobody else has read it yet).

Add your ‘you know you are obsessed with writing when…’

And here’s the link if you haven’t yet checked out the blurb or excerpt for Death’s Daughter.

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Tweets for Writers

June 24, 2010 at 5:49 am (Death's Daughter, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve been tweeting them as fast as I can find them and now here is the full list of links that I’ve collected in the last week or so.

Apologies if some of the links are faulty.

I definitely recommend checking out Alex’s blog and clicking on some of the links from the Dirty Dozen blogfest. Some great reads here.

Alex J Cavenaugh – Dirty Dozen movie blogfest – some great entries: http://alexjcavanaugh.blogspot.com/2010/06/movie-dirty-dozen.html

The rest of the links (yes – some of these are mine):

Carol Kilgore – Organised desk? http://underthetikihut.blogspot.com/2010/06/i-know-its-here-somewhere.html

Lua Fowles – Creativity’s Evil Sister: http://likeabowloforanges.wordpress.com/

Little Scribbler shares some great news: http://littlescribbler.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/now-that-im-finished/

Talli Roland shares what’s in her bag: http://talliroland.blogspot.com/2010/06/ten-for-tuesday-bag-lady.html

Thoughts in Progess – interview with Ann Summerville: http://masoncanyon.blogspot.com/2010/06/guest-blogger-ann-summerville.html

Alan Orloff – A really, really, really great idea: http://alanorloff.blogspot.com/2010/06/really-really-really-great-idea.html

Blog Post for #writers – Fear and Avoidance: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/06/17/fear-and-avoidance/

Julie Dao – Forget chivalry, it’s grammar that’s dead: http://juleswrites.blogspot.com/2010/06/forget-chivalry-its-grammar-thats-dead.html

About Death’s Daughter by Cassandra Jade-fReado: http://bit.ly/93RQY9 via @addthis View excerpt and book trailer.

Talli Roland – Sleepyitis: http://talliroland.blogspot.com/2010/06/sleepyitis-sufferer-speaks.html

Writing tired: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/

Glynis Smy – When a video makes you want to buy the book: http://www.glynissmy.com/2010/06/when-video-makes-you-want-book-daughter.html

Clarissa Draper – First person and some grammar: http://clarissadraper.blogspot.com/2010/06/problems-with-writing-in-first-person.html

  1. Elizabeth Spann Craig – Stretching oursleves as writers: http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/2010/06/stretching-ourselves.html

AdMan: How to write a book synopsis that sells: http://actionad.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/how-to-write-a-book-synopsis-that-sells-2/

From the Basement – Trust your characters: http://girldownstairs.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/trust-your-characters/

Blog post – 5 Reasons you shouldn’t write when tired: https://cassandrajade.wordpress.com/2010/06/18/5-reasons-tired/

Madison Woods – A writing question: http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com/

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Twitter Links

June 14, 2010 at 5:53 am (Death's Daughter, Weekly Review) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I haven’t done a review of writer links in awhile – I used to do them weekly but now find myself just not having the time to put them all together. Here is a recap of some of the links I’ve been sharing on Twitter recently. Sorry if some of the links don’t work – I tried to test most of them and they seem to be up and functioning.

My Links:

Excellent and interesting writing links:

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More on Plot

June 13, 2010 at 5:58 am (Plot, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

Continuing on from yesterday where I looked at losing the plot in the mess and lack of clarity about what the plot actually is.

For me, plot is about characters. The events are less significant than how the characters react to them. In that way, the small and insignificant can take on much greater meaning when seen through the eyes of the character and the character reactions keep driving the story forward. But that isn’t always how people see stories.

So what makes a plot interesting?

The argument about there being no new stories certainly has quite a lot of weight behind it and if there are only seven plots (though you could contest that number if you like) then how do you make your particular plot line sound new and fresh and interesting. We’ve seen from the Avatar phenomenon that just putting a coat of paint on an old idea (moving a previously explored plot to an alien world) doesn’t really work as far as stopping criticism of rip-offs, meanwhile clearly the old story worked and so people found definite enjoyment in the plot even while criticising the movie.

One of my favourite segments from Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy (the television series) was when they described the basic theme of this one band’s songs. Boy meets girl who kiss near a setting sun which then promptly explodes. The way that line was delivered in the hum-drum, we’ve seen this all before, etc, etc was hilarious. How can the band continue to sell the same song over and over (though I guess many bands do this already when I think about it)? What makes a plot original and feel new?

I don’t know that anyone can actually answer that question because it is like trying to figure out what is going to be cool tomorrow. Plenty of stories that have been straight out rip-offs have become legendary while the original subject matter has faded into obscurity, meanwhile other writers get stones thrown at them because they dared to have a jealous best friend or a disgruntled worker.

What I do know is that there has to be some underlying point to the story for me to enjoy it, even if that point is only that there is no point. I know that heavily moralistic tales that feel the need to beat me over the head with the author’s values bore me. I know that every time I read a fantasy that starts with a farm boy I seriously question whether to read the next page or not. And I know that any book with a dragon in it will at least get my attention for a little while regardless of how bad the rest of the story may be.

Share your thoughts – what makes a good plot?

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But I Thought That You…

May 29, 2010 at 4:29 am (Structure, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , )

It’s become almost cliche now.  The moments where in a story where two adversaries are facing off and they are playing mind games with one another that they each tell us their theory on the I know that they know that I know etc, etc.  And it can be exciting to see the twists and turns these minds take in formulating a single move (whether to smile at a certain comment, or would that be a give away).  It can also be exceedingly dull when neither of the characters are as smart as they think they are and their reasoning is both obvious and infantile.

What brought this up?

I’m rewatching Death Note – for the third time, yes, I know. I know.

I can’t help it.  I love the plot. I love a lot of anime but Death Note stands, if not alone than at least a little off to the side of where most other anime stand. There are no epic fight sequences and only a few explosions.  No magical transformations and gravity defying leaps into the air. Death Note is a thrilling crime story where both the killer and the detective trying to play the cat stalking the mouse and end up locked in one of the most intriguing mental play-offs I’ve ever watched (or read for that matter).

The difficulty being that the crime begin committed isn’t really a crime. Light has found a book that allows him to kill anyone if he writes their name in the book and can picture their face. The story is told mostly from his perspective though as the story progresses we begin to see more and more from L, our detective who has to catch a killer when he can’t even figure out how they are killing.

Both characters are brilliant, driven and ultimately, both are willing to die for their beliefs. Light believes he can create a better world using the note while L believes that the mysterious killer is evil and must be brought down.  Both believe they serve justice (though Light strays further and further from this path as the story progresses).

As the two characters meet and begin to work together to solve the crime there are many sequences where the action halts and the internal dialogue is expressed. Both characters are desperately trying to trip the other character up. Light needs L’s real name and L needs proof that Light is the killer and he needs to know how Light has managed it.

All and all, this series works and it draws me in completely. So what makes this story work?

Clever dialogue, intelligent reasoning and very few holes in the logic behind the story. As long as you can believe that the Death Note can work, the rest of the story works perfectly. Even the rules for how the Death Note works are clearly established and maintained throughout the story. Both of the characters are complex and their development is clear. Light’s transformation as he gives in to the temptation of the Death Note is both logical and yet mesmerising.

The only complaint I would have of this series is the length and the lull in the centre of the story. This is caused when L seems to lose his way and in essence gives up. We all know that if characters sit around waiting for things to happen, the story gets dull.

Have you got a favourite television series that has taught you something about writing?

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Love Triangle

May 27, 2010 at 6:05 am (fantasy, Work In Progress) (, , , , , , , , , )

I wasn’t supposed to have a love triangle in my current WIP. I’ve gone back through all my ideas and plans and nowhere in it does it suggest that character B likes the protagonist. Yet while I’ve been writing, certain things have been developing.

Character A and the protagonist are getting along swimmingly and things are right on schedule for them but Character B is just so rugged and wild and tempting that I’ve definitely been seeing some sparkage between him and the protagonist. The question becomes do I figure out what this means for the story, develop the relationship properly and then have a full love triangle, or do I try to steer the story back to its original course? Given that the original romance was really just a side plot to a quest story with a little bit of horror thrown in for fun.

It is a question I’ll have to answer soon because otherwise I’ll be too far along one path to easily change without a lot of rewrites and I try not to rewrite until after I’ve finished the first draft. Otherwise I just keep rewriting and the draft never finishes.

So – advantages of going with the love triangle scenario:

1. It is going to add tension between the characters and it will help flesh out character B’s role which in the original plan was clearly not well defined.

2.  It will help slow down Character A and protagonists relationship which is going a bit too well at the moment.

3.  It makes sense. It wouldn’t make sense for the protagonist to utterly ignore the fact that there are sparks between her and Character B, even if she only acknowledges it long enough to end it.

4.  It will be easier to edit out a subplot that doesn’t work later than it will be to add it in after the fact.

Disadvantages:

1. I don’t like love triangles. I find them a little cliché.

You’re opinion? Are you for or against love triangles? Have you ever created one in a story?

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