And what are we up to today?
In early June, Google displayed archived documents from the 1944 D-Day attack on the Normandy Coast. Among these pictures, letters, and papers was a similar document to this one, handwritten by Eisenhower, detailing his apology, explanation, and acceptance of blame in the event the Allied attack failed. My love for history and my understanding of how different things might well be aside, both that apology and this statement concerning Apollo 11 give me pause on the writerly front.
I have a dear friend who states that when she comes to a crucial scene in a manuscript, she discards not just the first option she pens, or the second, but sometimes the third as well and ultimately goes with the fourth. Keep in mind, writing is not a snap of the fingers for her; I have long been a lucky first reader of her work, and I can tell you she agonizes over the majority of her scenes, and she attacks description and characterization with the long considered zeal of a perfectionist. Ergo, this abandonment of carefully crafted prose two, sometimes three times, is not a short or simple process.
It’s also a marvelous, and difficult, writing skill.
By discarding what comes first and most naturally, she forces herself to think past three very important things:
1) The Obvious. The clichéd, the stereotypical, the been-there-done-that. Maybe it feels right to you because it’s right, but maybe it’s just because you’ve seen it somewhere before. You’ve watched another scene turn along these lines, you’ve heard other voices speak these words. Natural progression is good, but beware of the commonplace.
2) The First Option. By working past what pops into mind first, you explore other ways that a scene could result. You begin pushing against the walls of the box, sticking your fingers through the air holes, doubling your list of “what ifs.” If a scene refuses to go anywhere, perhaps the best bet to find that hinge moment and swing things another way.
3) The 2-D Character. Maybe this is what a character would do first, but is it what a character would do best? Taking a look at what else might happen, not from the authorial point of view but rather from the character’s point of view, can give you and your readers a ton of insight into this character that otherwise may never have surfaced. The character might still emerge victorious and alive from that moon landing, but the fact that he or she prepared for what might happen on the other end of the spectrum can be extremely instructive.
Photo borrowed from this tweet.
Random Writing Exercise: Take a particular scene (bonus points if it’s one you are stuck on!) and write in the exact opposite direction from the one you’d planned. See where it goes. It may take you nowhere. It may give you insight into your characters or plot that you were missing. It may throw open the next door and reveal to you exactly how to rampage over the writer’s block into the meat of your story.
Ladies and gents, it's official: My novella is titled One Door Closes, the first book in the Secrets of Neverwood series.
It's very nice indeed to have this aspect settled! Naturally, the only thing to do now is to post the list of reject titles for the three books in the series.
(This first list taken from textual samples of Book One)
"Some Inroad Somewhere"
"Geese Passing Overhead"
"Rebalanced and Replaced"
"Frank Lloyd Wright It Up!"
"Nameless Male Coworker"
"Feeding the Horde"
"An Electrician Upstairs and a Carpenter Out Back" (you know, I'd really like to offer an innuendo here. Really.)
"Baby's First Loan"
"The Bitter Mouthful" (Oh my GOD.)
"Small Town Mentality"
"All the Dirty Laundry"
"Just a Boy on a Porch"
"This Stupid Town"
"A Giant Hole" (Yes. We went there. Of course.)
"The Spurs of his Pelvis" (No, seriously. I think this one will work.)
"A Steady Knocking"
"Bags of Carrots"
(and because I am just crammed full of BS on a good day...)
"The House on Audrey Corner"
"When Calvin Met Danny"
"Naming Glenna" (WOW, this is so inappropriate...)
"Getting to Know You"
"The Lost Finger" (I might have just spit my drink all over my computer)
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Financial Institution"
"House on Haunted Hill: Mama's Revenge" (starring Jessica Chastain, obviously)
"The House That Was (Re)Possessed"
"American Horror Story: By Blood or By Right" (Season 4)
"Eric Files a Lawsuit"
"Unhappy Teenagers (and Other Tragedies)"
"How Danny Got His Yoo-Hoo Back"
...and of course...
"Calvin Honestly Doesn't Know What to Do With That"
Tis November, NaNoWriMo month! (That's National Novel Writing Month, wherein writers are challenged to write 50,000 words in 30 days.) In fact, it is the end of November, when most people are either scrambling diligently to reach their quota or sitting back and enjoying that gorgeous word count table and the beautiful "WINNER!" bars next to their names.
This would have been my third year in a row participating.
I cannot stress enough what a great idea NaNo is, because above all else, it gets people writing. It certainly did for me. It loosens up those cords binding the words in, shutting down voices. You know, those barriers that say things like, "That'll never work, it doesn't make sense, don't even bother starting." NaNo brings people together in support and friendly competition. And it results in a WHOLE LOT OF FIRST DRAFTS.
The first year I did it, it was a revelation. What came out of it was 50K of culture, scenery and characters set in the realm of death omens, namely the Black Dog and the souls designated to fill the role of harbinger for the rest of the world. I haven't done too much with it since, but I am so proud of it, and it's a universe I am chomping at the bit to explore in more detail.
The second year, while more prolific (I wrote 60K with time to spare), was also disturbingly sobering. I wrote a coming of age tale about a gay boy and the best friend he's secretly in love with, driving from California to Yellowstone National Park the summer before college. The story, drawn heavily from my own trip to Yellowstone that summer, was in and of itself not the problem. It came out (no pun intended) very readily, and I liked my characters and where they went, in the real world as well as metaphorically.
The reason I decided not to do NaNo a third time in a row came out of this second try, however: As freeing as it is to just write and write and write, no self-editing, no redrafting, just hit that 50,000 mark and then you are allowed to look at it a second time... Such a method ended up being detrimental to my particular writing style. I found myself tossing down as many words as I could in order to reach my daily quota. Never mind if those words actually had a real place or purpose in the story. Never mind if they were just restatements of the adjectives that came before. The stressful part turned out not to be meeting the word count so much as coming back later and realizing that, had I been allowed to write in my normal manner, I would not be back chopping out a third of what I'd spent a month putting down.
I know we are taught not to self-edit as we write, but frankly, it works for me. Only rarely does it stopper my writing. It does not slow my process but rather enhances it: I go back and reread what I've already written in order to glean more knowledge about the places I have yet to go, the scenes I am gearing up to write. In this sense, it helps that I do not tend to write a story's scenes in order. I will write the beginning, then something two-thirds of the way through, then the end, then right after the beginning, then the middle, then... You get the idea. If it comes into my head, I get it down before I forget it, regardless of where it is slated to end up in the story's timeline. Ultimately this method assists me in keeping themes arcing strongly and teaches me more about my characters and the world they live in. One would think this method would lend itself well to NaNo; when there is no rule concerning writing in order, a person can just go crazy. Fly. Erupt with a tide of storytelling.
Not true. For me, it turned into another way to not actually write. And by that I mean "write substance".
This year, I bowed out. Next year I may come back to NaNo, because goodness knows it's a wonderful way to flood the brain with ideas. Get things moving. This November, though, I needed time to work as I work best: producing something ultimately less wordy but that I can nod at and call quality.
How are you all finding NaNo? Does it work for you?
Random Writing Exercise: Try another method of writing. If you always write consecutive scenes, try writing the ending of your story first. If you tend to write all over the place (like me), trying writing a story in order, start to finish. If you edit as you go, try just writing straight up (no editing until you're done) and vice versa. Challenge yourself, just for this one story. How does this switch inform your style of choice? How does it cramp said style? (I know a lot of writers with a lot of different writing styles. We can always stand to learn from the styles of others, whether they work for us or not.)
A few years ago, while wandering through Borders (RIP, darling), I came across a book from a writer I'd never heard of before, the cover art of which induced me to lift it off the shelf and take a closer look. The blurb on the back was equally awesome: Sci-fi, futuristic, with a fascinating apocalyptic premise. I bought it then and there, took it home, and read.
And was sorely disappointed.
Not because the premise wasn't what it was cracked up to be. It was. Not because the story itself wasn't intriguing. It was. Not because the research wasn't sound. I'm sure it was.
I was disappointed because the writing let me down.
Now, plot development and characterization aside, I feel there is a distinct importance to the way a story is technically told. In the case of the above book, the problem lay in overt cliche and bland phrasing and word choice, but on a much more bare-bones front, grammar, spelling, and punctuation are also incredibly important. I fear this necessity is being overlooked more and more these days, especially in this age of immediate internet publication (i.e., start a blog/website, post, and tada! Written work!) And I have no problem with netspeak or e.e.cummingsing it up because I will be the first to agree: it's easier. Faster. Takes less effort and still usually gets the basic point across. When I'm texting on my phone, for instance, I don't usually stop to capitalize or punctuate everything, and I use numbers in place of letters with the best of them. I cut corners.
Let there be a caveat, however: How much would you, a reader, trust an author if he or she couldn't properly spell as many as three words in a thousand-word article?
Let's take the unofficially published stuff out of the equation for a moment. I have been in the middle of a fantastic hardback novel only to be confronted by spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, repetitive wording, incorrect punctuation or the ever-popular mistaken homonym (their/there/they're, etc, thanks a lot, spell-check). And there is no faster way to make me immediately start questioning the author's expertise and dedication, and therefore, the reasons why I should even be reading said book.
I have a life, time I'd like to use wisely and profitably. Things to do and lots of books on my to-read list. So maybe this nitpicky-ness makes me a snob, but then again, why should it? I feel the phrase actually being sought here is "having certain standards".
Becaaaauuuuuse... let's take that caveat and change it from "article" to "medical article". Starts putting things into perspective, doesn't it? I certainly would wonder about a doctor who can't even be bothered to put his or her work through a proper edit, and the reason is this: you can have the most interesting subject, the soundest research, the best story in the world, but if you cannot convey it comprehensively to a reader, that gem will be lost. Maybe not entirely, but in some way, some part of it will disappear.
There are amazing stories out there. Amazing. Not just published, but written all over the web, in fanfic, in blogs, in journals, in parody, on news sites... Everywhere. So many of them suffer, however, from the author's inability, or (and much worse) unwillingness to convey the essence of what he or she is writing.
The internet gives us an incredible connection to people of different countries, languages and backgrounds. It's an aspect I treasure, and I understand that there will be differences and mistakes and misunderstandings, that not all people write in the same language or style and that this is the reason for most of the miscommunication on this front. I'm not asking for some universal language requirement, and I'm certainly not asking people to tailor their writing for an 'English speaking world' or whatever the heck. I just want to stress the importance of knowing how to convey a story technically as well as artfully, especially if you want to publish it for the world at large, because it is a damn shame when something so beautiful loses its potency because of spelling errors and inattention to detail.
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation