Friday Exercise – Wish List

Make a list of 5 elements you know you want in your next story (or book).  If you know what tone you want, a few of your main characters’ traits, whether you want first or third person narration, what genre you want, where you want to set it or what kind of setting you’d like to use.  For example:

  1. three friends as the central characters
  2. lots of humor and banter in the narration and dialogue
  3. scenic setting…maybe on a journey of some kind?
  4. adventures and mishaps, and maybe a battle with a tin of pineapple?
  5. a dog

And that example is pulled from Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome, by the way, which is the funniest thing ever written.

Think of it as sort of a wish list for your story.  List more than 5 things…list as many things as you can come up with.  Fill in the details.  You want to write something that will fit into the steampunk genre?  Okay, so which established elements of steampunk do you want, and how is your story a little different?  How can you take an element of it a little further, give it a twist, or focus on an area that’s been overlooked before?  You want an exotic setting.  Otherworld or real-world exotic?  If it’s the real world, pick a place you’ve always wanted to know more about, or that you’ve visited, and do some research.  If it’s otherworldly, are you going for futuristic, alternate history, another planet, science fiction, or fantasy?

The point is to aim for what you’re excited about writing, and then get you asking and answering questions to focus your sights.

Advertisements

I Fought the Law and I Won

There are very few rules in writing that you can’t bend, break, or ignore – if you do it right.  I’m a believer in knowing the rules and why they exist, but once you understand how to follow them, you can start figuring out how to not follow them effectively.  See, there’s no point flouting something just to flout it – in any arena, I’d say, that’s just a sign of immaturity.  You have to flout rules with a purpose in mind, if you want your writing to be stronger for it.

Some of the rules I will gleefully break if it suits my purposes, and which I enjoy seeing broken to good effect:

  • Point of view.  Who says if you write in first person, that you can’t switch perspectives?  Well, plenty of people, but it’s been done by far better writers than me – Emily Bronte did it in Wuthering Heights in the form of a frame character.  Wilkie Collins did it in The Moonstone by having multiple characters give their accounts of what happened as testimony toward the effort of solving a mystery.
  • Tense.  Yes, it’s important to keep your tense consistent, and no, you shouldn’t overuse the method, but from time to time dropping into present tense in a past tense narrative can be really effective for times of intense shock, conveying an immediacy and timelessness to a given moment.
  • Chronological narration.  Not necessarily the only way to tell your story, although you want to tell it clearly enough that the jumps don’t confuse your readers.  Chuck Palahniuk’s books are narrated conversationally, memories and flashbacks building up on one another and altering the reader’s perspective on what’s currently happening in the storyline, so that what you thought was going on originally is not what you realize is happening as the story unfolds.  This is awesome in that not only are the characters transforming and the story progressing, but the reader is changing as the book goes along, too!
  • Conform to a genre.  Yes, this makes your book far easier to market.  But, personally, I’d rather go out on a limb for my own original ideas on the chance that someone in the industry will love it and know how to package it for the masses, than write derivative, stereotypical work that sells just decently and has no impact on my readers.  If Neil Gaiman had written a typical ol’ fantasy novel in a typical ol’ fantasy setting, rather than the original twisted weirdness of Neverwhere, it’s possible there wouldn’t be a popular subgenre of underground urban fantasy now.
  • Protagonist = Hero.  Doesn’t need to be.  I love a messy protagonist who does the wrong thing sometimes.  I love anti-heroes.  I love reading from the point of view of a person I’m glad I don’t know personally, but who is fascinating anyway.  If I liked perfect protagonists, I’d be a Superman fan instead of a Batman fan.  I wouldn’t relish Dostoevsky’s work or love Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights so much or have a voracious appetite for Tana French’s mystery novels.

I was told at an early age by an excellent writer that the only unbreakable rule of writing is Do What Works.  Thanks, Mom!

Decisions, Decisions

I used to write blindly – no idea where a piece was going, what length I was shooting for, what type of story or book it was going to be, what the storyline actually was…nothing planned.  While the spontaneity had its perks, I rarely finished anything.  These days, I do free writes from time to time, writing whatever comes to mind, as a way to purge, as a brainstorming tool, to make connections and associations – in short, to get the advantages of spontaneity without the commitment to making it be a story.

And when I sit down to a project, I know what I want from it.  I don’t plan for every turn of events, don’t outline beyond a rough arc and a few spots of tricky or intricate turns, but I do have some idea of how I want things to end up, and a few of the places I want the story to go through along the way.  I also tend to decide, ahead of time, on what kind of story I want to be writing.  Not necessarily genre (my stuff tends to be weird amalgamations of bent genres fused together into its own thing), but I’ll have in mind, say, High Concept Zany Adventure, With Funny Bits In.  (That would be The Life & Death (But Mostly the Death) of Erica Flynn, by the way.)  Or Uplifting Post-Apocolyptic Story, With Rabbit.  (Short story in progress, as well.)

For me, setting a few ground rules actually opens up possibilities rather than limiting my ideas.  Having a direction, something to aim for, makes me look at the broad horizon of the storyline as a whole, rather than plugging along paragraph by paragraph, missing the forest for the trees, working only with what I have written rather than looking at what I can write next.

There are many times I find myself borrowing metaphors from the process of making visual art as a way to look at writing.  The worst part of starting any art project, for me, is the blank page.  Endless possibility is weirdly inhibiting.  Blocking off a few shapes helps you start looking at what you do know needs to go into the piece.

Having a little definition, really knowing what you want a piece to be, goes a long way – at least for me.  If I have a clear sense of what I’m aiming for, everything starts to flow.  I know what kind of things I want to have happen, what fits, what won’t, what I need to happen and how to make it work with the tone instead of against it, where some relief is needed if the story is getting to heavy or where some darkness is necessary if it’s getting too silly and off-the-wall.

So I will keep doing free writes when I’m stuck, need ideas, or am between projects, but I will also set some clear markers for myself when I sit down to really work on something…because that’s how I get things done.

First Post

Since this is my first post on this shiny new blog, I’ll start with a brief introduction.

I’ve been making up stories since before I can remember, and writing them down since before I could spell.  I remember making a grand effort at editing for the first time around the age of five – and it was a monumental task to detach myself from the story enough to break it up into individual sentences, where it had originally been one long run-on strung together with conjunction after conjunction.  Editing your own writing has to be the hardest part of the process, but I’ve come a long way since then.

Now, I write fiction and work as a freelance editor.  I’ve written flash fiction, short stories, and a novel (which I’m in the process of editing).  I dislike strict genre guidelines both when writing and when reading – it’s a lot more interesting to see a new twist than to read an old re-hash.

My plans for this blog are to post a few times a week, maybe more, maybe less, depending on how busy I am or whether I have anything worth sharing at any given time, and my subject matter will be about the writing process.  Methods, approaches, exercises, brainstorming techniques, things I’ve noticed in books I like, that kind of thing.  And probably some philosophizing about writing from time to time, too.

So if that’s your kind of thing, check back here and read on!