And what are we up to today?
...tis a rather blustery day! Driving has been a bit on the hazardous side due to Random Branches in the Middle of the Road. The power went out this evening and they weren't expecting to get it back online till 9:30 PM, but it suddenly popped back up around 7:30 so I don't know. Either way, yay, as my laptop battery isn't all it could be.
Writing has been almost nonexistent this week, mostly because I started a new job. Having been unemployed for the last year and scraping my bill payments together by house- and pet-sitting pretty much non-stop, I am extremely glad of steady income. But the schedule is kicking my BUTT. I need to get used to waking up a whole lot earlier, and more importantly, I need to get my writing brain in gear on much shorter notice. Luckily this is a job that works an entirely different section of my brain; I had a job a while back that basically sent me home after work to sit on the couch and stare dully at the wall. Good for money, not good at all for creating anything.
But it's good to be employed again. ^__^
Random Writing Exercise: Write a scene from your antagonist's POV. Doesn't have to go into your story or even get mentioned anywhere. This is just to get to know the other side of the story, as it were. Motivations? Lack of motivation? Give your antagonist a well-rounded moment, because it can only help your protagonist's development.
There’s a site I just love right now: HitRecord (see my links list over on the right side there). I’m fairly new to it, and while looking through past collaborations, I came across a collab called Tragedy/Comedy. The idea is to take a difficult experience in your life and convey it in a comedic manner, because even in the darkest times, there are always standout moments where you can just laugh and laugh. An intriguing premise, with a lot of potential for contributions (obviously, as there are many!). Immediately it caught my eye, both for the emotional impact inherent and the hopeful approach of dealing with hardship in such a way. I thought, okay. This is something I can do.
And then I started thinking about the bad things that have happened to me.
I am a writer. It’s what I do, what I’ve always done, the one straight thread that has run all the way through the twists and turns of the rest, intersecting with every other thing I’ve wanted to do: jobs, activities, people I wanted to meet, places I wanted to go, things I was rabid to learn.
(To give you a taste, as a child, I would say things like “I want to be a cowgirl… and a writer” or “I want to be a tightrope walker… and a writer.” Nowadays, it’s “I’m a writer… and an administrative assistant” or “I’d really like to go to school in England and write some characters north of Hadrian's Wall.")
I am incredibly grateful for the fact that in the overall scheme of things, I haven’t had a whole lot of horrible things happen in my life. But everybody, including me, has something, and maybe it’s an event another person wouldn’t consider all that bad, but to that one individual, it might be the worst thing he or she has experienced.
And that deposits a lot of baggage.
I have discovered it can be very hard to think about a bad experience in comedic form. I thought I would have more than a few things to pick through, and some that would spring to mind immediately as funny, given the time that has passed since they occurred. The truth is that, in trying to turn a bad experience into an amusing anecdote, you find out you might not be as over that event as you thought you were. My mind’s first reaction was to shy away from the bad memories, put them back into their labeled drawers where I have been safely keeping them. In a weird fit of hypocrisy, my mind also kept circling back to those ugly items from those once-locked drawers, unable to tangent away toward other possibilities. It took more effort than I expected to keep from continuing that unending cycle, from tucking things away again, instead making myself take them out and examine why they refused to be funny. And the things that did crop up as immediately amusing no longer feel serious enough for what I want to convey.
Maybe being able to turn a tragedy into a comedy is a crucial step toward actually getting past the event in question. The adage “Someday we’ll look back on this and laugh” is more than just a cliché or a phrase meant to provide (albeit lackluster) comfort at the time; it might be the one stepping stone people actively push back under the surface of turbulent waters. I’m starting to wonder if turning a tragedy into a comedy is something everyone should practice, as far as that’s within their ability to do. I realize that some things just are not funny.
I now have a story to contribute to this collab, but it’s taken the better part of two pondery weeks just to find an event I feel I can write about, while still doing the original situation justice. I want to thank the collab’s creator for presenting the idea, for giving me so much food for thought, and so much to examine. The HitRecord website is all about looking at things from another angle, and this collab has certainly prompted that in me.
Not-so-random writing exercise: Obviously, your task is to take a downer moment in your life and convey it in comedic form. This may end up being a more thinky exercise than a writey one. Whatever works. I think the real exploration here centers in what you find yourself <i>doing</i> with the story in order to spin a funny tone. How much of it changes? How much doesn’t? Are you okay with those alterations? Does it change your memory of the event?
Currently writing while listening to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford OST, by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Moody and evocative, and highly adaptable to whatever I'm working on at a specific time. I've used this particular soundtrack as writing background for several things, and I'm wondering: what is it YOU all listen to when you write? Do you listen while you write, or maybe just before? Just after? What tune is in your head for a specific type of scene? Are certain songs interchangeable for other projects or do they only fit once? Are you the type of writer you prefers silence while you create?
Random writing exercise: Pick one phrase you heard someone say while out and about this past week and write an entire conversation based off of it. Just the one phrase, taken out of context of whatever was going on when you heard it.
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.
Getting so many of my ideas while walking to and from the gym lately has made me very aware of how often I draw on what I see around me in my writing. The beauty of (currently) dealing with characters in our present day setting is all the direct inspiration that arrives free of charge.
Little things: a man waiting for a tow truck on the side of the road; a teenager juggling projects, driving tests, and prom plans all in one weekend; a line stretching around the block in front of a movie theater on opening weekend. Big things: the fight for gay rights; the imbalance between the 1% and the 99%; the news that leaps off the front page or the computer screen, sometimes in real time. There is so much to draw on, and it doesn't have to be a big climactic moment at all. A teacher once told me there is drama in brushing your teeth, if you approach it in the right way. Learning to open our eyes and ears (and noses and all the rest) to the small stuff is all part of world building. I want my characters to walk through a concrete universe full of the results of others' actions, surrounded by the people who make that world what it is, reacting to their world as if they are physically breathing it in and out of their bodies. The question of detail may mean the difference between a story that tugs fitfully at your trouser leg and a story that grips you by both shoulders and stares you point blank in the eye.
Another little beauty is that detail work can make character building easy, because the world is an active participant in who that person is or isn't, who he or she becomes. Noticing what my characters notice has been very instructive.
Random writing exercise: Take a character you've written or are thinking about... and change the gender, just for a day. Rewrite scenes, write new scenes, introduce this character to their other-gender self over coffee. Make your character genderless, if you want. Discover how much this changes your perception of your character. Get to know your character better.
...is all the little bits of research you end up doing. Running times, the anatomy of a gun, epileptic symptoms, neurotransmitters, law enforcement offices... Once I found myself going into detail on Ford F350 Super Duties. It's very similar to how a friend of mine once described her aspirations for acting: taking lots of lessons in lots of subjects so she could be fairly knowledgeable in as many fields as possible.
I think about Michael Crichton, one of my favorite writers (rest in peace), and how much fun he must have had while looking up dinosaur science/quantum mechanics/nanotechnology/gorilla family interaction/insert awesome notion here, and it just makes me enjoy it all the more. As writers, we get to find out a little bit about a lot of things, within a very short and condensed time frame. Even the most mundane research takes on an element of enjoyment once I've gotten firmly into it.
So much inspiration to be had out there.
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation