Wednesday, October 28, 2015

For Those About to Write: I Salute You

Dear fellow NaNoWriMo'ers (is that a thing?)

In a few days, we will be off to battle. Some of us will not survive, but we will do our damnedest to taste victory. Join me in glorious battle, my friends, for three days from now, we dine in hell...or probably in front of our computers, living off junk food. Cooking burns precious time, and who needs to live a healthy life when there's writing to do?


I'll be taking off all of November to shed my blood, sweat, and tears into my NaNoWriMo project. Good luck to you and your endeavors, whether it's NaNoWriMo, being a bad ass, or all of the above.

Hugs and kisses!


Monday, October 26, 2015

Face Your Fears: You Can Do This!

Coming, this November, from the producers who brought you your worst nightmare, it's NaNoWriMo. Yeah, okay, National Novel Writing Month is only as big a deal as we make it. The race to 50,000 words is really against our own lazy butts. However, there is no adversary more terrible than that jackass little demon in the back of our heads telling us we can't do it. Even if we've written ten billion words in our lifetime, that jerk called Doubt makes those 50,000 seem like a novemdecillion (yes, that's a real number)

Unfortunately, Doubt doesn't only open shop in November. Before every piece I write—heck, even right now—Doubt's telling me I can't do it. Every time I sit my butt in front of this screen, I'm terrified that it's right, but fear is the path to the dark side. It leads to anger, which leads to hate, which leads to writer's block, know the deal. Like I said in my vlog-blog on writer's block, the number one way I combat apprehension is through motivation, and I'm not talking Zig Ziglar, or even this blog you're reading here. We need a living, breathing pep squad behind us—anyone who's willing to put up with our arrogance when we're on a roll, and our sobbing when were not. But in the case of NaNoWriMo (or any writing challenge) it's a good idea to surround ourselves with people who are putting themselves in the same hell we are. Writing groups, Facebook groups, twitter, even the NaNoWriMo site itself are great places to connect with your fellow mental patien-I mean, writers.

Of course, Doubt's such a jerk-wad, he doesn't stop with the confidence in ourselves. Once we're pumped and ready to go, that's when he ties his handkerchief around his neck and prepares to feast on our writing.

When we think of comfort zone, us introverts think of the closet we lock ourselves in so we don't have to deal with the world (I've got no idea what you weirdo extroverts think of, but you go girl...or boy) But comfort zone also goes for our writing. Personally, I have a hard time getting romance. I was the kid who cried "cooties!" whenever I saw kissy-kissy on the old mover reels (damn it, I grew up in the 90's, I'm not that old) To this day, my fingers tremble over the keyboard and my cheeks burn whenever I have to consider a kissing scene. A lot of times, I catch myself speeding through it, but all that does is make me have to go back and endure the torture again and again until I get it right. And this is something that's imperative to get right. Usually, when we're writing outside our comfort zone, it's a scene or concept that's important to the story. By speeding through it, or worse yet, abandoning it, our stories suffer. Like my crazy-brain says all of the time, our story will tell us what it needs to be told, and if we give into Doubt, we ain't going no where.

But we've gotten through it all! We kicked Doubt's ass when he made us doubt ourselves. We kicked his ass when he made us doubt our work. But the battle ain't over yet. For all of you bravehearts out there who are about to cast your work into the world, this may be the greatest bout with doubt you've ever faced (rhyming not intended, but appreciated)

In the case of NaNoWriMo, or anytime we're starting out, we shouldn't even consider publication. This is the part of our stories that is strictly for the story itself. If we go into it for the sake of publishing, our story isn't our partner anymore—it's our slave. I can't tell you how many of these poor stories actually have been published, but I can tell you, I never finished a single one of them. It was just too painful, because I could feel the struggle between the story and the writer.

But what about when you have written a story from the heart? The main problem I see is obsessing over perfection (which I mentioned in my writer's block blog!) As an artist, this is something I've experienced countless times, but my dad once told me something I carry with me to this day: "A painting is never done." The thing about any form of art is that it can always be "perfected". Now why did I put that in quotations? I've said this before, but art cannot be perfect. To attempt to do so is to strip it of its humanity. It's no different from writing for the sake of publication. You're afraid that your novel doesn't have a chance in hell to be picked up if it isn't written perfectly. The truth is, it isn't about the writing. Okay, it kind of is, but that's all through study. Honestly, though, I've read books I loved that would've been unbearable to read if not for how good the story was. Study up on the "rules" of writing, sure, but tell yourself it's okay to break them wherever need be (for example, I'm writing all of these articles with all sorts of bastardized grammar—"ain't" and "ya'll" and the like. Why? Because TEXAS, that's why!!!)

So whether you're reading this right before November rears its ugly head, or you're reading this, I don't, at the end of the world and you only have a few hours to finish your novel (no pressure) remember that confidence is the number one combatant to the demon, Doubt. Go get yourself a cheer squad, don't be afraid of what you think you can and can't write, and as always, trust your story. Together, you two are more bad ass than Constantine, and that's pretty bad ass.

Current Stats
Watching: Macross!
Listening: Pokemon Red/Blue - Lavender Town
Reading: Armada by Ernest Cline
Playing: Nothing :( (prepping for NaNoWriMo!)
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment bellow^^^

Saturday, October 17, 2015

"Show Don't Tell", You're a Jerk

I can't be the only one whose head goes whirling when I hear that stupid phrase. "Show don't tell"? What the hell does that mean? To the writers who have been studying this stuff for a while, we know it means to convey our ideas through the senses rather than outright saying "Miyoko clutched the throttles." But the phrase "Show don't tell" itself is telling, and doesn't teach us a damn thing. So here's the deal: instead of telling what is telling and what is showing and blahblahblah, I'm going to show you how to put the reader in the moment, and how we bring our writing to life.

The five senses: touch, taste, hear, smell, and sight. This is our arsenal for deeper writing, but know what? I'm adding a sixth. Emotion. Instead of focusing on what the character is doing, turn the reader's attention to why they're doing it. In my last vlog-blog, I gave the example of the ex-outlaw with the black hat. I could've very well have gone with something like this:

"So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you got there." Gene flashed a yellow toothed grin at Tim, and that ticked him off enough to want hit him. Alan wasn't paying no attention. He got out of his rocking chair and grabbed his old, black hat off of the mantle, and said, "Let's ride!"

(For you folks just tuning in, here's the original: "So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you've got there." Gene flashed his yellow toothed grin at Tim, and if he could, Tim would knock them teeth right out. But all that'd do would make Alan mad, except Alan wasn't paying no attention to him, or to Gene. His eyes were on the shelf atop the fireplace—on the black hat he set there long before Tim was born, when his outlaw days were done. 

Alan's rocking chair gave a tired groan as he got out of it. He stepped up to the fireplace, reached for the hat, and Tim knew it was a done deal. The moment he put that hat on, Alan was an outlaw again.)

So why didn't I write it short and sweet? It would've been great for keeping my word count down, and it got the point across. The thing is, readers don't read stories to be told a series of events (no matter how interesting those events are) They read stories to immerse themselves in worlds outside of their own. They want an emotional connection, which we express through telling the story, rather than stating what's going on in it. Just like I mentioned in my previous vlog-blogs, everything we have in our story—every prop, every scene, etc.—has to have meaning behind it. The reader wants to feel the same emotional impact to (whatever's going on) that the character is feeling.

Going back to that "Miyoko clutched the throttles" thing. If I were to state Miyoko getting into the cockpit, clutching the throttles, and so on, that'd be those series of events I was talking about. It's cool as hell that she's about to save Tokyo or whatever, but the problem is, I'm missing out on an enormous part of that cool factor. I neglected the strong emotional sense of anxiety, suspense, and/or excitement before going into battle. Instead, let's try this:

The hatch spun shut before she could buckle all of the way in. Was the air getting thinner? Her chest was so tight, she could barely swallow a breath. She might die today. They said she was ready, but she really might die.

"Ten seconds to lift off."

There was no going back now. Miyoko clutched the throttles. She could do this. She could win.

Wait. What? "Miyoko clutched the throttles." That is the exact line I used as the "telling" example. Except it's not. We know what's going on in Miyoko now. We know how nervous she is, how sure she is that she's done for. When she grabs the throttles, I'm no longer stating what she's doing for the sake of putting that picture in the reader's head. Now, I'm expressing her swallowing her fears and pressing onward. I'm showing the character's strong will, and I'm setting up the story to move forward. As an added bonus, I'm putting the image of the cockpit in the reader's head. I've knocked out all of the details I need to convey with one simple line, and I did it with context clues.

Okay, if you've read any of my other blogs, you know I bring up context clues all of the time. The reason for that is because a story isn't a visual thing. The reader has to build it in their mind, but it's hard to build a mental image if we don't know where the hell we are. However, stating "this is here, that is there," is boring. I want these things worked into the story with only as much detail as is needed. Above, I mentioned that Miyoko grabbed the throttles. Automatically, we can assume there are two throttles, she's using both of her hands, and because of the way cockpits are generally built, the throttles are on either side of her. We also know she's sitting down, because I mentioned her buckling in. If I had to bet a thousand bucks on it, I'd say you probably imagined what her seat looked like, too. In those passages, I didn't mention that she was in a cockpit, but if you've read the story up to that point, you know she pilots a giant robot. I never have to mention anything about a cockpit unless it's important to the story, because the reader can already assume it's there.

As a reader, the advantage of novels over movies is you can build and feel them. You can customize chairs and the sounds of chittering birds. You can feel the warmth of a fire, taste the the sweetness of chocolate, and breathe in the fragrant stench of a herd of cattle (didn't see that one coming, did you?) But to create those feelings, there has to be reason behind them, and you have to let the reader build these sensations for themselves. Focus on the story, not the details, or you're not showing your reader anything, and they hate that as much as I hate the stupid phrase, "show don't tell"...well, almost.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Building Blocks of Writing Part 3: Description

So here we are at last; the third and final element of storytelling (if you're just tuning in, check out action and dialogue) There's a reason why I put these three in this order. Action moves the story and the reader from A to B, whether through emotion, pacing, or the character's actual movements. Dialogue dives deeper into the human aspect of the story. It's what breathes life into it. But both are used to describe the story. A story is nothing but a series of events being described to the reader. It's a picture that we're painting with our words so vividly, the reader might as well be watching a movie.

But therein lies the problem. Too much paint makes for a big, brown, blob. So how much description is too much? We've discussed the power of suggestion in the action segment, how a little goes a long way, and the same goes here. But weren't we just talking about painting a vivid picture? Think of it like this: a story takes place 100% in the reader's mind. If we're going to tell them every detail about everything, we might as well gear them up with a helmet and squeaky shoes so they don't get into trouble (shout out to my little sister) It's demeaning, but more than that, it's boring. Instead of telling our readers about every grain of sand in the desert, weave it in with action and dialogue and create not just a description, but a scene. Check it:

Tim hacked up another wad of sandy spit and groaned as he wiped it on his sleeve. "Ain't this desert ever going to end? Dust's killing me, Alan, and I mean it!"

Alan raised an eyebrow back at him. "Still a long ways yet, boy. You best get used to it."

But he ain't going to get used to it. How the hell could anyone get used to three days worth of saddle rash, and waves of sand scratching out their eyeballs? Alan grinned like he could see how bad Tim was hating it. He clucked at his horse and clouds of sand puffed from its hooves, and Tim's eyes seemed to catch every grain of it. The ride to Elwood was going to be a hell lot longer than Alan said.

Here we've got setting, we've got plot and character, dialogue, action, description all in one small bundle. We might not know the whole story, but we know enough to build a world. We know we're dealing with two guys riding to Elwood through the desert, and we can guess Alan's older than Tim by the way he called him "boy". Notice I didn't put any physical appearance beyond that. As soon as a character is introduced, the reader's going to have a mental image of them. Whatever physical attributes that are important to the character must be mentioned as close as possible to the moment they take the stage. In this case, Tim's male, and he's young. If there were any other physical attributes that were important to the story, it should've been described before I moved on to Alan, or I'm only distracting the reader and sacrificing story in favor of useless details.

Every detail we write must have purpose behind it. Say I have a character who's so fat, he has a tough time pulling his pants on in the morning (FYI that right there would be how I describe he's fat—writing that epic battle between him and his pants) This detail might not be what the story revolves around, but it has to be consistently important. Maybe he's made fun of for it, and that causes him to have a jaded outlook on the world. Or maybe he's fine with the way he looks, but when running away from pirates, he can't keep up with his friends and ends up being caught. 

The same deal goes for clothing. Clothing can be tough because there's so much detail in what a person wears. It irritates the heck out of me when I have to wonder whether someone's in hot pants or skinny jeans, but this goes back to the context. What kind of person are they? Where are they and what's the climate like? Instead of spelling out the main character's dusty old cowboy hat, sprinkle in these details and let the reader assume what kind of clothing he's wearing. Unless, of course, that hat has a direct impact on the plot.

"So what do you say, Al? It ain't a big herd, and those cowpokes won't put up much of a fight. Most of them are as scrawny as that boy you've got there." Gene flashed his yellow toothed grin at Tim, and if he could, Tim would knock them teeth right out. But all that'd do would make Alan mad, except Alan wasn't paying no attention to him, or to Gene. His eyes were on the shelf atop the fireplace—on the black hat he set there long before Tim was born, when his outlaw days were done. 

Alan's rocking chair gave a tired groan as he got out of it. He stepped up to the fireplace, reached for the hat, and Tim knew it was a done deal. The moment he put that hat on, Alan was an outlaw again.

It's not just a hat anymore, is it? The hat represents Alan's days as an outlaw, and by putting it on, it sets up a conflict for the rest of the story. At some point, the story will have to round back to that hat. Maybe he loses it saving Tim, showing he chose Tim over the outlaw life. Or maybe he gets shot in the head, and that bloody bullet hole represents how that life got him killed. In the meantime, the reader is always going to picture that hat on him unless it's stated otherwise.

If I want my reader to know that Tim's also wearing a hat, that hat doesn't need to have metaphorical significance, but it does have to be a prop to move the story along. I might have him push up his hat and wipe his brow, killing two birds with one stone. I'm painting the setting (it's hot) and showing the reader Tim's hat without having to spell out either of them. 

It's all about keeping it simple, using only as many words as the story needs. For instance, I didn't need to say Alan got up slowly out of his rocking chair. I let the pacing and the context do it for me. I weaved the description in through action. See? All of the elements are connected. Just like DNA building all life of earth, binary creating everything you see on this screen, protons, neutrons, and electrons creating everything thing in the universe, these three, simple elements of writing are what create stories. Learn to weave them in the right way, and we can create worlds.

Current Stats
Watching: American Dragon (shut up :|)
Listening: Glitch Mob
Reading: Armada by Ernest Cline
Playing: Nothing :( Too busy preppy for NaNoWriMo!
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment below!^^^

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Unofficial Blog: Mapping Out Your Story


I'm a pantser, big time. When it comes to mapping, I stop at the literal sense.

Mapping my story like this helps me map my story—way more than cork boards and note cards. I've tried every method in the book, but this is how it goes best for me: I'll go into free-writing, come up with a loose plot, then draw up a map to figure out the setting. From there, I'll go to Google maps and plan where I'm going. I'll also do a bunch of searches on the settings I want and stick them in my Pinterest

So next time you get a story rolling, consider mapping it out! Hah! Okay, shut up I'm sick and tired. Going back to writing now.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Building Blocks of Writing Part 2: Dialogue

So Ernest Hemingway and Elmore Leonard walk into a bar, and Hemingway says...

You know, I've never been good at jokes, so we'll stop there. But seriously, Hemingway and Leonard are renowned for their mastery of dialogue. They understood how people converse with each other, the words they use, the pacing of their speech. They knew how to use these things to create living, breathing characters and move the story forward

Take a look at these two examples:

"Lucy dumped David."
"Man, that sucks."
"Yeah. Guy's real torn up about it."


"Lucy and David just broke up!"
"They, did? Aw, too bad."
"Hey, what's that smile for?"

The topic's exactly the same—Lucy and David broke up—but by my choice of words, the two are different stories. For one thing, I never specified the gender of the characters, but we can tell which conversation would be held between guys, and which between girls. And the content of the story is different. One is about two guys talking about their buddy (another assumption—I never said they were friends) The other's two girls gossiping, and one has a crush on David.

The brain eats this stuff up. It'll create whole worlds from a few lines like those above. Hell, if I only wrote "Lucy broke up with David", the brain will get ticking about the who, what, when, where, how, and why. But what makes a reader stick with our story is the human aspect. While "Lucy broke up with David" does get a story going, those conversations above build characters and worlds. This is a form of description more powerful than any "David had dark skin and amber eyes" could be.

The way our characters talk tells a story, itself—their culture, their level of confidence, their opinions of themselves, of others, of the shit storm we're blowing at them. Some people will flip out during stressful situations. Some know how to keep their cool. But it isn't just character. Like with action, the way we pace our wording can make or break the emotions we're going for. I might have a cool-headed character, but if I need the characters to be running for dear life, I don't want him articulating every thought in perfect grammar. If he does, I want another character there, cutting him off, grabbing his arm, and pulling him away as the boulder rolls past. Either that, or I want the boulder to smoosh him. Despite the character's personality, I need to choose the pacing that best fits the scene and will progress the story.

If you look at Hemingway and Leonard, you'll see that their works are about 90% dialogue. Many writers say that your own work should be a greater percentage of dialogue than description or action, and that's because of the power behind it. A story is a character's world, and dialogue is a direct translation from their brain to the reader's. However, there are no rules in writing. The percentage of whichever element you use is up to you. It depends on what kind of story you're writing. And, you know what? I take back that "no rules in writing". There is one, and only one rule. Story above all else. Whether your scale tips towards action, dialogue, or description, you have to consider what's best for the story. But you cannot forget the other two elements. Dialogue is powerful, but the way to truly grasp that power is to weave it with action and description.

Current Stats
Watching: Star vs. The Forces of Evil
Listening: Rush
Reading: Monsters of Men: Chaos Walking Book 3 by Patrick Ness
Playing: Halo
^^^What are ya'll up to? Comment below!^^^

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Unofficial Blog: Outlining

I wanted to give ya'll an example of what an outline looks like for me. This is from a short script I wrote last night...

Starts off walking through jungle.

A huntress doesn’t prowl to kill. She prowls to survive. She roams the jungle not to seek danger, but to find salvation—for herself, and for her cubs. (pause) Even though her cubs are…

Hears thunder. Sniffs. Quick head turn. Runs. Jumps up trees. Sees smoke. Jumps. Races down the mountain. Unsheathes spears. Trees clear. Skids to a stop. Demons are running about. Too many to fight. Mother tells daughter to run. Daughter almost gets caught. Huntress gets in the way. Fights. Fights way out of mess. Faces up against Zong. Nearly gets beat up. Have to save the girl. Flees.

Home is gone. Needs to cheer up child. Fishing. Eating. There is a town within the mountains, a few days hike away. Takes girl. Teachers her things along the way. Demons attack right as they see the town. Steal girl. Huntress goes after them. Comes face to face with Zong. Epic battle. Uber beats-up Zong. She almost goes after him, but then remembers the girl (who is unconscious) Makes vow then and there to rid the world of demons (it’s time to finish this, so no more cubs will be lost)

Girl wakes up on the porch of a farmhouse to wind chime. Mask is beside her. Takes it, stands. Wind blows through her hair. Over the mountain, there are storm clouds. Thunder rolls. Story ends.

The process usually starts off in the shower, listening to some jamming tunes while I have a notebook on the toilet, ready to get soaked...with ideas! Then I'll stare at the computer screen for about 30 minutes, glance back and forth between it and my notes. I'll type a little, stop, stare, and repeat. At some point in the future, I'll get the idea down in a few paragraphs. Sometimes I turn the paragraphs into a bullet list if they're really messy and incomprehensible, but most of the time, I luck out with something like this ^^^

Okay, that's enough. I'll see ya'll next Wednesday with more building blocks of writing! (And hopefully some vlogs. Dern real work!)