Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Information & Flow: Finding a Balance

In my last blog post, I spoke on how, as writers, part of our job is to tell a story in a captivating way, and I stand by that.  A good story is nothing without the right use of words.

But what a lot of people don't realize is that it can sometimes be hard to find the right balance between a good use of words and putting enough information into your story.

Recently, I've uncovered some of my old stories, and I assumed what all writers assume: that, when I read over my old work, I would find it horrible.  There was no possible way that my writing from three or four years ago was going to be on the same level as my recent work!  In some ways, I was right.  In others, I was not...

What I found, essentially, was a change in my writing style.  A few years ago, I was a flow writer: I thought over everything that I was writing and made sure I was writing them out in the very best way possible to try and get the best sound out of, so that, when people read it, they would be fascinated.  Now, I write to inform, making sure that all of the little nuances of the story are known so that the reader understand what I'm trying to tell them.  There's nothing wrong with either of these methods, but ideally, you should find a balance between them.

For each writer, this balance is going to be different, and can vary from piece-to-piece and even throughout various parts of a particular story.  When writing out an introduction, dream or love scene, it's not uncommon to fall into a more romanticized style of writing, because it reflects the mood of the scene.  When two characters are locked in a passionate embrace, a writer tends to write with more synonyms and metaphors and use less factual words.  The scene is heavily emotional, so so is the writing.  Suspenseful scenes also take on a similar quality, though in a more atmospheric sense, rather than personal.  

To the contrary, other areas that are much more based on the physical qualities of the scene and less on the emotionally will be based more on statements (though they should continue to be descriptive statements).  A heated conversation will rely more on the dialogue and describing the physical reactions of the characters rather than on using words to portray emotion.  

But all those other scenes require a balance.  A good mix between telling the reader what's going on and relaying an emotion and captivating them with your word choice.  Finding that balance is the tricky part.  When you're trying to get yourself through a story, it's easy to state, state, state.  The writing becomes bland; there's little captivation.  No suspense.  No emotion.  Your intense love scene became a simple kiss that lasted a strangely long amount of time.  When you over-think things, the words go into overdrive and you end up with a rather ridiculous-sounding piece.  Readers will wonder why you would use a word like "perplexing" when referring to an inconsequential trip to the bathroom.  

Information and flow are both crucial parts to story-telling; they're both needed to make a truly wonderful adventure for your reader.  The balance between that two is huge, as well as knowing when to give a little more or a little less of either.

How do you handle your flow balance?  Do you prefer to use a lot of sophisticated, fancy-sounding words, or do you prefer to just tell the reader what happens?  Is this the way you think works best?  Are you working to find your balance?  Let me know in the comments!

-MaddiJ.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Show Me How You Feel

It's easy to say "She was nervous."  Anyone can say "She was nervous."  It takes a writer to explain that her lip is caught between her teeth and her knee is bouncing up and down in her anticipation.  That her eyes were shadowed under her lowered brow as she stared intently at the door, waiting for it to open.  By now, all but a few of her fingernails were chewed to stubs, and the room around her was watching her as if she were a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode.  And in all that time, the writer never once had to say "She was nervous."

There's no challenge in explaining how something happened.  Anyone can tell you about their day.  Anyone can tell you about someone else's day.  As writers, what we do is not explain how something happened; what we do is tell a story.  And part of telling that story is carrying our readers along with suspenseful, entrancing words.  "She was nervous," isn't suspenseful or entrancing, and while it gets the message across (let's face: when you read "She was nervous," you can't help bu think that she was nervous) it doesn't really pull the reader into what you're saying.  It doesn't give them a clear picture of what exactly your character is going through.

So how do you pull out your character's feelings to make the reader feel with them?  I have a few tips:

More words isn't a bad thing.

As long as you're not droning on about something, it's far from a bad thing to go into a somewhat lengthy description of what your character is doing.  Tell us what shade of red the color of their cheeks are turning.  Explain that their hand is placed over their mouth.  Talk about the creases at the corners of their eyes when they smile.  I've never been able to express enough to people that more description in their work can do WONDERS!

Put yourself in your character's shoes.

Sometimes imagining how a character will react physically to a situation isn't an easy task.  You need to experience the emotion yourself.  For just a moment, allow yourself to become your character; to take on their mind and their quirks and their physicality.  Imagine that what's happening in the story is happening to you.  How do you react?  Even if you can't put yourself completely into your character's mind, your own knowledge of how you were react will give you a great starting point.

Don't just explain one character's reactions.

The reactions of those surrounding your character (assuming they're not alone) can be as useful a tool as explaining the character's reactions.  It's especially useful at the beginning of a chapter, where you can use a "zoom in," in which you start out explaining the general feeling of the room, zoom into explaining some of the characters and then zoom into the main character(s).  Showing the reader how the others feel about the situation will help to imbue some feelings into them.  

Words (or the lack thereof) can be expressive.

I'm sure this doesn't need much saying.  But a character's verbal reactions to a situation can be extremely useful, when used alongside a physical reaction, even when that verbal reaction is non-existent.  A character's silence can give off a lot of different emotions.  When partnered with a glare, it gives off a "Don't piss me off!" sort of feel.  When partnered with a blank expression, it says "I'm in deep thought and can't be bothered to respond."  And when partnered with a smile, well, they're just too happy for words, aren't they?

While explaining an event isn't a bad thing, it's not always the right thing.  Explaining a characters physical reactions is sometimes a better use of words than saying how they react.

AND NOW I HAVE A CHALLENGE FOR YOU!

Do a Google search and fine two different pictures of a person's face (it can be two different people).  Describe each one of the expressions without using words that describe their mood (eg. "nervous," "angry," "doubtful," etc.).  

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I'M IT!!!!

I GOT TAGGED BY JOE!  Joseph T. J. Eastwood  So here are my answers to your questions, Joe:

1. Tell me something about you that most people don't know. 
When I was a year old, I fell down a flight of steps in my walker and ended up with two scars on my face: one above my left eye from a cut and the other a dot smack in the middle of my lower lip where a nail pierced through.
2. Did you dream last night? 
I remember dreaming, but I don't remember what.
3. Type of music you dislike most? 
Either rap or country.
4. Is the glass half empty or half full? 
The glass is two times bigger than it needs to be.  ^.-
5. Do you touch-type? 
Heck yeah!
6. Do you sing in the shower?
I sing everywhere.
7. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
In Ireland with my best friend, Rory.
8. Do you believe in love at first sight?
Sadly, no.
9. What inspires you?
Music, other people, being outside, reading, sitting alone and thinking about my characters, watching the news...
10. What book are you reading at the moment?
Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein.


THANKS FOR THE TAG, JOE!!!


-Maddi J.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Who's Important?

Many people lead themselves to believe that the protagonist (hero) and antagonist (villain) are the only important parts of a story.  They're what make up the action, right?  But this isn't the case.  Not in the least.

There are so many more characters important to a story than just the "main" ones.  Let's take the example of Harry Potter.  Besides the "trio" (Harry, Ron & Hermione) there are tons of characters that are minor (though "Potterheads" may disagree to that term) such as Dumbledore, Dobby, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood...  All of these characters are perfect examples of minor characters that are absolutely essential to the progression of the books.  Alternately, beyond Lord Voldemort, there are essential characters on the opposing side: Draco & Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix Lestrange, Wormtail.

In my mind, all of these characters should have had just as much thought put into them as the main characters.  Every character that is involved in the evolution and progression of a storyline should be well thought out and three-dimensional (unless intentionally made to be otherwise).

In my current project (currently unnamed) the main protagonist is a young werewolf named Sarina and the main antagonist is an ancient vampire named Elliot.  They're locked in a seemingly never ending dance of death, each trying to eliminate the other.  However, the evolution of Elliot throughout the story is dependent solely on Rikki, a girl he meets some decades after his first encounter with Sarina.  Oppositely, Sarina's courage and skill, as well as her drive to kill Elliot is led on by her human friend, Ethan.

While Elliot and Sarina are the key points of the story, Rikki and Ethan deserve as much thought, because they are so essential to the plot line.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you're deciding the most important characters in a project:

How Often Are the Characters Around?


Nine out of ten times, if a character is a constant within a story, that character is important.  Even if they aren't important, they should be well-planned.  A flat character that's always around is no good.

Examples of this are (going along with the Harry Potter example) characters that were in the same house as the trio, such as Seamus Finnigan.  Being around as frequently as he was throughout the series, it was important that he was well-developed and had a definite personality.

Does the Character Have an Effect on a Main Character?


Any character that has, will or is having an effect on the main character(s) of a story are important.  Characters that are parents/guardians or leaders need to be well-defined, because their personality has an effect on how your character(s) react to them.

An example of this is Dumbledore.  Though he himself is not a main character, he has a huge impact on Harry's life.  If he were anything other than what he was, things with Harry might not have ended up the way that they did.

Does the Character Have the Potential to Become Important?


This is a very vague question, but should still be considered.  At the point you're at in your story, you may have plans to make a character important.  But that doesn't mean that they can't.  What you have to ask yourself is, "Is there a good chance that this character can have a larger role to play?"  This is only a question that you need to ask yourself i you have very little of the book planned and you have a large group of characters prepared.

Developing your main characters is hugely important, but developing the characters around them is almost as important.  A story is flat if its characters are, and that includes the ones that your main characters interact with.

Hope you enjoyed and found this post helpful!
~Maddi J.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Keeping Your Priorities Straight

Anyone that's seen the Harry Potter movies (or at least the first one) will remember Ron's infamous line, "She needs to sort out her priorities."  It's always been a favorite of mine.  And recently, I've taken it to heart.

For the past few months, my focus has been slowly placed on the Bloody Lovely series: figuring out my characters' histories, working with my co-author to get a good plot going, trying to work out all the kinks.  I'd venture to say that it has been my soul focus for nearly a year now.  But, as of late, there has been little process made on the books, between mine and LJ's various activities, both school-related and not.  Still, I stuck to the series for a long time, and when it became clear that now wasn't the time to get progress done as far as actually writing the book is concerned, I turned to developing my own characters.  Recently, though, I've changed my mind about what my priorities should be.

Now, i don't want to give anyone the wrong idea: I am still determined to finish Bloody Lovely with LJ at some point and I in no way think that you should quit on a project that you truly love, no matter what.  You should always work to find a way.  However, circumstances being what they are, I think that it's time that I move on to a project that, at this time, is more promising for me.

To help you determine whether or not your priorities are straight, I've come up with a little questionnaire:

[1] Is this story one I intend to finish?
Another way to phrase this question is: "Are you serious about this story?"  Is it something that you've been working on and that you have a plan for, or is it something that you're just writing as a fun side-project.  Side-projects should never take precedence over projects that you've been working hard on.

[2] Are there any factors preventing you from writing the book?
If there are factors in your life - such as work, school, family problems, etc. - preventing you from writing the book, then it's very possible that it's time to give the story a break.  This doesn't mean that you can't come back to it later or that you don't like it.  It just means that, right now, there are other things that you need to take care of.

[3] Is this a story that you enjoy?
One of the most said (and truest) bits of advice that someone might hear about writing is to write for yourself, not for someone else.  So if you have a project going that you adore and another going that you think will be popular among other people, your priority should be the one that you love.  Your writing will never be as good in a book that you're not putting your heart into.

[4] Do you know what you're doing?
Do you have a plan?  Do you know how you're going to next part of the story?  Or are you drawing up a blank.  In other words: do you have writer's block (a phrase that my friend Joe does not like at all; sorry Joe haha)?  If you're having problems writing your project, the best thing that you can do (in my personal opinion) is to step away from it for a while.  I've said it again and again: if you really can't get yourself to write, then you certainly shouldn't force yourself to do it.  Move to another story or just stop writing for a while until you're ready to give a story another try.

Here's how my questionnaire went:

Is this a story you intend to finish?  Most definitely.
Are there any factors preventing you from writing the book?  Many, both for myself, and for my co-author.
Is it a story that you enjoy?  Enjoy is too small a word.
Do you know what you're doing?  Yes and no.  I know all of the general plot for the first four books; but there are no specifics laid out, and when you're co-writing something, you want to make sure that it's clear what needs to be included before you write it.

So I've got two questions answered telling me that I should take a break from my current project and move on to something else, and that's what I intend to do.  Keep in mind, though, that, for me, things are a little different.  I am, in fact, writing the series with another person, so it's not just my life that's affecting whether or not this series should be my priority at the moment.  For yourself, you may have to evaluate things a little more.  For example: 

Is the problem that I'm saying is preventing me from writing really what's keeping me from doing it?  Or am I using that as an excuse?  Is it that you can't write because you're too upset, or that you don't want to try writing and you're using your emotions as your personal rationale?  You have to be as unbiased as possible when you're figuring this out for yourself.  Try not to let yourself make up excuses for not doing something.  (Then again, if you're making up excuses not to do it, that's a pretty good reason - where creative writing is concerned - why you shouldn't do it, in and of itself.)

So there's my little spew on getting your priorities straight.

Now that I'm working on something else, I may or may not have something for you all to look at in the future. We'll see.  Right now, I'm working on getting my characters straight.  The story I'm currently working on is one based off of a clip that I wrote AGES ago, back when I was still in love with vampires - yes, I'm writing a story about vampires.  So I'm going to try to blend the old clip (which I'm really quite fond of) with my new ideas for the story.

Thank you to everyone that stuck out this post, and happy writing to you all!

-Maddi J.