Writing What Scares Me

When I started my second novel – the one I’m wrote for NaNoWriMo – I knew that I wanted several things to be different from my first novel, The Sound of Color.

TSOC is in third person, past tense.  I knew that I wanted my NaNoNovel to be in first person.  I learned about two chapters in that it also needed to be present tense.

TSOC’s magic happens in another world (High Fantasy), while the NaNoNovel happens in our world (Urban Fantasy).

TSOC has a somewhat formal voice, and I knew my NaNoNovel was going to be more playful, lighthearted, sarcastic, etc.

But these two novels are actually a lot alike.  They’re both fantasy, and both of them have an MC who’s a teenage girl that is a lot like me.  They are both compassionate people, both have to face an Antag that isn’t a huge part of the story, both have a supporting female character and a supporting male character as best friends.

That’s fine.  That’s what these stories needed.

But as I look forward to having writing be a long-term hobby (or if I’m lucky, a job), there’s so much more I want to write about.

I want to write from a guy’s point of view.

I want to write from an old man’s point of view as he looks back on his life.

I want to write about a disabled person, a middle school girl who’s being bullied, a married couple.

I want to write about a sentient elevator that stops working to see what the people inside do.  A couch who gets stolen.  A mug that doesn’t like the smell of tea.

I want to write about an atheist, a centaur, a girl from another world who comes to ours.

Why?  Because I write to explore.  To put myself in other people’s shoes.  That’s why I want my next novel to be something that scares me.  Something foreign.  Something that I have to research.  Something that I have to work at to put myself in someone else’s mind.

I want to write a sci-fi story, a contemporary story, a story about a bookstore, a story about things that I’ve never even dreamed of.  A horror story, a romance story, a story about a guy who curses and a girl who wears high heels.

I want to write short stories, poems, novellas, books in a series, long novels and short novels and newspaper articles.  I want to write first person, omniscient, multiple 3rd-limited, second person… ALL THE POVs!

I don’t want to stay where I am.  I want to grow as a writer, to be the hoper of far-flung hopes, the dreamer of improbable dreams.  I want to write every shade of story that I can.  And yes, that’s a bit scary to think about.  But isn’t that the point?  We’ve probably all heard this quote:

If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough.

So if my writing doesn’t intimidate me just a little, it’s not hard enough.  I want my writing to force me to grow as a person.

I love the sad, emotional scenes in TSOC.  Star loses someone close to her, and goes through some tremendous pain.  As a person, I’ve never felt pain like that, but as an author, I had to dive into her pain.  So maybe, hopefully, it made me more sympathetic to real people who’ve experienced that real pain.

I don’t want writing to be just a hobby, just a profession.  I want it to be an exploration of human nature, a journey to grow as a person, and a chance to think outside of my limited life experiences.  I want to write what scares me.

Priorities and NaNo Life

I would like to share a picture with you:

Graph NaNo 10-23.jpg

This, my friends, is the graph that I see daily.  The graph that rules my life right now. The graph that tells me whether I’m a successful human being or not.  (Well, not actually.)  As you can see, I’m still a little behind on my word count.  But I’m catching up a bit each day, and with Thanksgiving break here, I’m confident in my ability (through God’s grace) to reach 50,000.

So what have I learned?  Well, I think that my favorite thing about this November is that I’ve really made writing a PRIORITY.  Even if my novel stinks (which it often does), even if my characters are flat (I must have forgotten the baking powder), even if I never even attempt to publish this manuscript, I’ve still had a ton of fun with this writing challenge.  I’ve had a ton of fun making writing one of the most important things each day.  Whether it’s driving to Panera Bread for a Caramel Latte and an hour pounding out words, or taking my laptop in the car so I can write while my mom drives me somewhere, I’ve just gotten really good at fitting writing into my crazy life.  Which feels totally awesome.

So even if you’re not doing NaNo, or especially if you are, I’d love to hear ways that you keep writing a priority.  And either way, I encourage you with this: the only thing you need to do to be able to call yourself a writer is to write.

Now, since this blog post is pretty short (don’t give me a hard time, I wrote 2,500 words already today), I thought I’d end with a video of one of my favorite YouTube people.  It’s about NaNoWriMo.  How about that.

I think that it gives a pretty good representation of what us Wrimos face this month.  🙂

Disclaimer: she pronounces NaNoWriMo incorrectly.  It’s supposed to be wri like “write” and not wri like “ree.” But other than that it’s a super fun video.

Alright, guys.  Go out and write this week!

Let it demand to be read

There’s a great line in The Fault in Our Stars – “Pain demands to be felt.”

What if our writing was like that?  What if the novels we wrote demanded to be read?  If readers were unable to sleep at night until they read the last page?

I’m in the middle of reading four books right now.  FOUR.

The first three did not demand to be read.

I was simply bored with the first.  Twenty pages in, it was still the setup for the main plot.  The plot that I KNEW was going to take place because I’d READ THE BACK OF THE BOOK!  So it was 100% un-suspenseful.  You know what I did with that book?

I returned it to the library.

(It was due.)

But wouldn’t that BREAK YOUR HEART as an author if you went through all the trouble of getting a book written, polished, PUBLISHED… and then have someone RETURN IT TO THE LIBRARY after 20 pages?

It would break my heart!

The second book, I’m reading for book club – so I (probably) won’t return it until I’ve read the entire thing.  But let me tell you: the first 5 pages are about a boy going to a swamp.  LEGIT, that is ALL THAT HAPPENS!  The dog chases a squirrel, the boy yells at the dog, and then gets hit by a passer-by for using language.  But he’s basically just CHILLING AT A SWAMP.  Oh, and there’s some cleverly disguised info-dumps about the world.

The third is okay.  I’ll finish it, definitely, but there’s nothing PULLING ME TOWARDS IT.

When I write, I don’t want it to be “okay.”  I want it to DEMAND TO BE READ.  At this point, I have a solid beginning – no boring setup or disguised info-dumps.  And no swamps.  But now I’m at a part where one major suspense point has been resolved, and the MC has no major obstacles in front of her.  No suspense.  No conflict.

It’s so bad that I don’t even want to write it, because there’s no mystery for ME.  No raging emotions, nothing EXCITING.  If I’m bored writing, that equals the reader ready to return the book to the library.

WHAT DO I DO???

Ashley and Kathleen, two of my favorite authors on the blog CrackinTheWIP, frequently talk about blowing things up when they’re out of ideas.  Or just want some more excitement. ie, “Hm, and have you tried making something explode yet? Perhaps a person, or a place, or some sort of fruit cart?”

Maybe I should try that.

Either way, something’s gotta change.  Some suspense must be added, some character must turn evil, some fruit cart must explode… something to make the chapter I’m on DEMAND TO BE READ.

WIP, here I come.

The Captain

Keeping a Journal

journalLet’s say it’s been a long day.  You’re tired from the chaos of work/school, your brain feels like mush, and you’ve got about thirty problems to deal with tomorrow.  Annnnnd it’s 11:30 pm.

What do you do?  You crash into bed.

What do I do?  Pull out my journal and take command of words for half and hour, until it’s 12:00 and I’ve just lost half an hour of sleep.

Why?

I’m a writer.  I write.  I enjoy writing!  For me, keeping a journal is totally worth the half hour of sleep lost.  I don’t do it every day — but when I do write in my journal, I always come away refreshed.

It’s a special type of writing.  It allows me to pour raw thoughts and scenes onto a page without ever having to worry about someone else reading it.  It will forever be un-edited, flawed, imperfect.  And that’s part of the beauty.  I can lose myself journaling, no barrier between thoughts and words, nothing holding me back from spewing forth whatever the heck’s going on.

It’s a great way to keep my brain clear.  When life’s stressful, my journal listens.  When the cute boy texts me and I’m exuberant, my journal listens.  When I just want to melt into a puddle on the floor, my journal listens.  And it never judges.  And never talks back.  Never offers advice.  Never tries to fix my problems.  So when I’m done writing, I come away empty, yet fulfilled.  I’ve gotten everything off my chest, processed everything that’s happened, given myself some insight to my day, taken a step back from my issues to maybe get a glimpse of the bigger picture.

More than that, I’ve recorded my life for my future self.  I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoy going back and reading old journal entries.  It allows me to see how God’s working in my life, to laugh about that old joke, to give myself a face palm because of my stupidity back then, to grimace at my poor handwriting (that’s when I go wayyyyy back), and maybe to learn a little bit from my own past mistakes.

So that’s why I journal.  It’s freedom to express myself wholly, to record actual history instead of made-up plots, to distance myself from my problems, to commit my plans to the Lord, to make sure inside jokes go down in history… to do something I enjoy.

I’m curious: who out there keeps a journal?  Why or why not?

While Writing, I Listen To…

MUSIC!

It works like this: pull up my MS, pull up Itunes.  Hit “playlists –> Writing Music” and BINGO!  Got my inspiration to write – everything I need to keep my creative juices flowing.

My personal preference is purely instrumental music, at least while I write.  Most of it’s soundtracks from movies.  Recognize any of these?

soundtracks

The far off, fantastic images that go with these soundtracks fills my subconscious with everything needed for dramatic writing and incredible, impossible settings.

What about music for a specific scene?  Sometimes I use a certain song to give me just what I need to plow through a scene.  My favorite time this happened was with the song Arwen’s Vigil by The Piano Guys.

It’s a dance scene.  Oh, what the heck.  I’ll give you the song and the scene.

And now the scene:

A murmur of excitement filled the air as the elves parted to make room for Irsong and Emma. The music began, quiet and mysterious notes of a lonely piano. The sound paused, and Irsong bowed as Emma curtsied.

A hush fell over the crowd. The piano grew louder, and smooth voices of deep stringed instruments joined in. The tempo increased, and Irsong and Emma swirled like phantoms in the night, chasing each other with a haunting beauty.

Star stood transfixed, her eyes tracing the footsteps of the two dancers.

The melody gained a ferocity, a desperation, which drove Emma and Irsong to run and leap about each other to keep time. Star’s heart pounded to the tempo, and images of swirling shadows filled her thoughts, and she was lost in the magic of the music for a time. Ever the song grew ever faster, until it reverberated across the deepest parts of Star’s being, filling her with fantastic terrors.

In an instant, the music slowed, and Emma and Irsong danced lightly to the last measures of the music. Star had a fleeting wish that she had been the one to dance such a song with Irsong.

Another song began, and soon the elvish king entered the dance floor with a lady that Star assumed to be his wife. Then Rella and a male elf, and other couples joined Irsong and Emma in the dance.

More and more of the elves joined in, pairing off and swirling in the light of the fountains.

And there you have it: one of my favorite scenes in my entire MS.  And one of my favorite songs.

coffitivity

Now to shift topics: sometimes I don’t listen to music.  If there’s a seen that just needs my sole attention, a part where my music distracts me… well, then I tend to use Coffitivity.  It’s a website that provides a “white” background noise, simulating the murmurs of a cafe, or the flipping pages and whispers of a library.  Just enough noises to keep your creativity flowing, but not too much to distract you.

And it’s free.

What keeps your brain working while you write?  Do you have some favorite writing music?  Or do you use something else?  And let me know if you enjoyed my dancing scene!

The Emotion Thesaurus

The emotion Thesarus A few months ago, I bought this nifty little book on Amazon.  And I love it.

The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Gide to Character Expression.  

It’s brilliant.

Each page in is dedicated to a particular emotion, for instance, fear, humiliation, regret, curiosity, anticipation, etc.

Under each emotion, there is a definition, followed by a list of physical signs.  Each page looks a bit like this:

FEAR

DEFINITION: to be afraid of; to expect threat or danger

PHYSICAL SIGNS: 

Face turning ashen, white, pallid

Hair lifting on the nape and arms

Body odor, cold sweats

Clammy hands

All the way down to things like:

Tight shoulders

A shrill voice

Shaking uncontrollably

Next there’s a list of Internal Sensations, featuring responses such as

An inability to speak

Heartbeat racing, nearly exploding

Holding one’s breath, gulping down breaths to stay quiet

Followed by mental responses (wanting to flee or hide) and cues of having the emotion acute or long-term (insomnia, depression, exhaustion), cues of the emotion being suppressed (keeping silent, attempting to keep one’s voice light), and other emotions that may follow, along with the page number, such as ANGER (22), TERROR (154), etc.

It’s sooooo helpful when you find your characters doing nothing but smiling, sighing, and frowning.

Want to show excitement?  Try a wide grin, bouncing from foot to foot, squealing, or getting the giggles.

How about anguish? Experiment with Tugging one’s hair, checking and rechecking the time, rubbing the arms or legs, restless fingers, or rocking back and forth.

“This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each… This writing tool encourages writers to show, not tell emotion and is a creative  brainstorming resource for any fiction project.”

Still not sure about it?  What if I told you it has an in-depth introduction (complete with examples) on how best to utilize emotion?  And that each page has a writer’s tip to refresh your memory on writing emotional scenes?

I not only keep this by me when I write, but I also pick it up for fun sometimes.  People watching me read it might think I’m crazy, however, because I tend to tap my foot, claw at my cheeks, lick my lips, and squeeze my eyes shut, trying each action as I read it.  And then I smile broadly, realizing how perfectly it fits the emotion.

Looking for some new action beats?  This is the book for you.

Don’t Forget the Conflict

magnet

Based off of a blog post I wrote for the CC blog a while ago.  I thought it was an important enough topic that I should post it here also.

When was the last time you stayed up half the night to finish reading a book?  Why?

It’s every author’s dream that their book would be so good that readers, editors, and agents wouldn’t be able to put it down.  How do we do this? Suspense. If readers are made of metal, then suspense is the magnet that pulls them to the page. But how exactly does one go about creating suspense or conflict in a story?

First, we need to make sure there’s something standing in the way of our main protagonist. It seems fairly obvious, but I’ve read many stories (and written some too) where the protagonist was just having a happy-go-lucky adventure with no antagonist and nothing working against the MC. So we need to be sure that our overall story has a main thing standing in the way of the MC’s goals. I’ve heard it said that there is an inverse ratio between the character’s happiness and the happiness of the readers – so limit the amount of time that your MC spends in a happy, safe environment.

Second, we must make sure that each chapter has suspense. Even if we have created the coolest scene, the sharpest dialogue, and the most realistic characters, unless there is suspense, there is nothing pulling the reader to the page. Every chapter should contain something, either small or large, that goes against the protagonist, and that could turn out one way or another. Keep readers guessing! It’s unanswered conflict that pulls in the reader’s attention.

There needs to be conflict in nearly every scene in your MS. If you find your characters living happy lives, then go in and wreak havoc. Turn peaceful conversation into a misunderstanding. Flip a nice gathering into a high-tension situation.

I’m writing a fantasy story where my MC receives a warm welcome in an Elvish city and is asked to a dance.  I was going to have it be all happy conversation and lovely gowns. But then I thought, what if my MC is terrified of going to the dance? What if my MC has never danced before and is scared of making a fool of herself? What if she gets into a fight at the dance? What if she doesn’t have anything to wear? What if, what if?
Suddenly it went from a cool scene to a magnetic scene. Even if the small changes didn’t effect the outcome of the whole story, they helped make the lead-up to the dance more suspenseful.

If you go through each plot, each chapter, each scene, and add distrust, confusion, and chaos… well, then you will have a terrific story. Or at least a magnetic one.

Scrivener: download complete

scrivener logoYesterday I took the leap of faith and downloaded the free trial of Scrivener.  I’ve gotten to the point where I’m doing serious edits on my MS and I figured it was time to check this program out and see if it could help!  I was pleasantly surprised with all of the cool features and gadgets it has.

For those of you who don’t know, Scrivener is “a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents.” After fooling around with it a fair amount today, I decided I’d list some pros and cons (thus far) of Scrivener.

PRO: It is just as cool as the website makes it out to be — maybe even cooler.

CON: I can never remember how to spell / pronounce it.  Scri – ven – er.  Scree – vhon – noir.  S-C-R-I-V… oh whatever.

PRO: I love how it is organized.  Within your MS folder, you have separate folders for each chapter, and within each chapter folder, you have a text file thingy for each scene.  What does that mean?  It is really easy to move a scene from one chapter to another — just drag & drop, and BAM!  Moved to another chapter.

CON: If you’re importing an already-written MS (like I was), it might take you a few minutes to figure out how get your scenes and chapters organized.  Luckily, there is an “import and split” feature that will break up your scenes for you automatically.  All I had to do then was add in the folders for the chapters.

Scriv Scene Break

PRO: Once you’ve done that, it allows you to edit all your scenes & chapters together.  When editing the text, it will give you a single dotted line for a scene break (see pic at left) and a double dotted line for a chapter break.

CON: I got nothing for this one!

Cork Board - Labled Note Cards

 

PRO: There is an amazing “corkboard” feature that allows you to play around with virtual index cards.  Each “scene” file you create automatically has an index card that is linked to it.  Say you are looking at a chapter’s corkboard.  If you move around the index cards in that chapter, Scrivener will reorder your MS’s scenes to match what you did with your index cards.  Not happy?  Just drag the index cards back.  Or re-order your scenes with the navigator (“binder”) on the left.  Basically, re-ordering your scenes is just a drag-and-drop away.

And look! You can label your index cards “first draft”, “revised draft”, “done”, and the like.  You can also take notes on the index cards that won’t appear in your MS.

Scriv Glitch

CON: Scrivener does occasionally glitch on my mildly old computer when I try to view my enormously large document and ask it to do something complicated, such as zoom in.

PRO: There are a lot of awesome things you can do, like editing while in split-screen or full-screen mode.

Full Screen Mode
Full Screen Mode
Split Screen -- corkboard on the left, document editing on the right.
Split Screen — corkboard on the left, document editing on the right.

CON: If you’re like me, you might spend a few hours playing with all the features, instead of doing something more important, like, say, homework or actually working on your MS.

PRO: You can download a free 30 day trial from the website!  http://www.literatureandlatte.com/scrivener.php  — AND that’s 30 days of actual USE.  If you use it twice a week, you can have it for fifteen weeks.

CON: After that, it does actually cost money.  It’s not super expensive though — just $40.

PRO: In the course of an afternoon, I have this thing up and running, with my MS all organized and ready to be edited in a fun, easy-to-navigate environment.

Note: There are a TON more features that I haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of — name generator, built-in dictionary, outlining program, formatting, research management, and so much more.  Their website does a pretty good job of advertising for themselves, so check that out if you want the details of everything Scrivener can do.

So.  Who all out there uses Scrivener?  What are your favorite features?  Drop me a comment and let me know!

Thoughts While Editing — aka, DID I REALLY WRITE THAT?

Woah.  Did I really write that?

The most common thing I think while reading through my story.  And it can go one of two ways.

Option #1: Woah, Did I really write that?  That’s terrible!  I must kill it!

Or, Option #2:  WOAH!  Did I really write that?  That’s incredible!  I had no idea I was that good!

There is very little in between.

My “editing” process has begun with a general read-through of my MS, and I’m taking notes on it as I go, highlighting things that need work, adding notes such as KILL THIS! or Deepen POV or What? She would never do that.  I’m nearly done, and my MS has gained a lot of color and a lot of notes flying everywhere.  And I’ve done a lot of thinking the two thoughts above.

You see, when I started out, I really. Could. Not. Write.

And as I wrote more (and had it critted) I got better!  And now I can see how awful my MS is in a lot of places, especially at the beginning of the story.  The first six chapters or so were brutal to read.  And then in about chapter 7, I thought for the first time, woah.  Did I actually write that?  ‘Cause that’s not half bad.  Actually, that’s pretty good.  And then — AND THEN!!!!  About two chapters later, I nearly made myself cry.  (In a good way!  A character died and I wrote it really well.)  And it was amazing.  My whole brain went this is why I’m a writer!  (Not because I enjoy crying… but I love the feeling when you’ve written something well enough that it merits that reaction from anyone — even myself!)

The scenes like that give me the courage and perseverance to slog through the scenes where I think Option #1… and hopefully after a few re-writes, I can think option #2 for every scene in my book.