Nanowrimo

Just a quick blurb for anyone else who is planning to participate in National Novel Writing Month:

Have fun! Don’t worry about reaching your word count, or finishing the novel. (In fact, I usually surpass the 50k word goal but do not reach anywhere near the end of my novel.) Do worry about writing every day. Do tell people that you’re doing it, so that you have people to talk to when you get stuck, and so that they can remind you to write every day.

Best of luck!

 

Creative Outlets

So there’s this thing people like to talk about called “writer’s block.”

I don’t really want to talk about it, because I think it’s kind of like fear. The more we think about it, the worse it gets. I also don’t really want to talk about it because I have this huge test tomorrow that I most definitely should be studying for right now instead of writing this post. But I wanted to discuss creative outlets.

I usually try not to assume things about people but I’m going to make a guess here that for most of the people reading this, writing is – at least partially! – a creative outlet. What is a creative outlet? It’s something *ahem* creative that allows you to relieve stress. Unless you purely got into writing for money, I’m guessing that it’s a creative outlet.

Here’s what I wanted to take a moment to suggest: Writing shouldn’t be your only creative outlet. 

When writing is the only thing you turn to, it’s going to be devastating when it’s not working out for you. And there are going to be some times when the words just don’t come. There are other writing things I can turn to – working on other writing pieces than the one you’re stuck on, or writing what you know won’t happen to get towards finding what should happen next, or writing personal entries, etc. You can read (that isn’t a creative outlet, but it can help get the creative vibes going). Sometimes, this isn’t going to work either. Ah, yes, the dread
ed writer’s block.

So what can you do? You can turn to something else. Fun fact about me: I’ve played the violin for five years, and since then the viola for nearly eight years now (kudos to any of you who know what a viola is and special kudos to you if you don’t ). If you put that all together, there’s not really a time in my life that I don’t remember playing a stringed instrument. It’s been a huge creative outlet for me, whether I’m writing covers for pop music or performing or competing in regional/state competitions. Most importantly, when writing fails me, music is something that I can turn to.

Everyone needs something besides writing as their creative outlet. This can be drawing or singing or painting or playing an instrument or literally anything that you enjoy doing and that allows you to express yourself and be creative. (And hey, I won’t judge – I have friends who have somehow discovered creativity in math.)

This is a small drawing I did the other day while procrastinating on homework taking a moment to relax. 

Comment away, please. I would love to hear about the things y’all love to do and how you’ve found ways to express yourself. Have a great day, and if things a stressful, remember that it’s important to take time to calm down and do something you enjoy amidst the chaos.

Aivee.

 

The Great And Terrible Ten

This only makes sense every other time it happens, but whenever I’m feeling extremely stressed and upset, something that often cheers me up is reading a depressing book. I think this has something to do with the fact that what’s happening to me is never as bad as what is happened to the characters in the book. Regardless, my go-to book is The Fault in Our Stars because I can read it in a long night and because it is sufficiently depressing enough to cheer me up.

And if you’re a TFIOS hater, bare with me, because this post isn’t really about TFIOS. However, something that always sticks with me from the book is when Hazel talks about being asked to rate her level of pain every time she goes to the ER.

[The nurse] said, “You know how I know you’re a fighter? You called a ten a nine.” But that wasn’t quite right. I called it a nine because I was saving my ten. And here it was, the great and terrible ten, slamming me again and again as I lay still and alone in my bed staring at the ceiling, the waves tossing me against the rocks then pulling me back out to sea so they could launch me again into the jagged face of the cliff, leaving me floating face up on the water, undrowned.”

This can be a mindset that applies to small things in our every day lives, but most importantly it is a mindset that we as writers need to understand will affect the shape of our plot and the ability of our characters. When something terrible happens to our characters – and terrible things will happen time and time again – we need them to push through. To move through the story, and to make the plot worth reading, we need our characters to be able to endure and survive and conquer the things that others would balk and flounder at.

This isn’t because our protagonists or any of the characters need to be the strongest or the bravest. This is because plots are the connections between a series of successes and failures, and because regardless whether the character succeeds to fails in the face of a challenge, they will face many things. Though you need to balance out the high-action plot points with some calmer moments for the characters to regroup, every moment is leading up to something great. And before your protagonist accomplishes their greatest success, they will experience their greatest failure. How they emotionally and physically deal with the consequences of their failure is something for another post, but the important point now is that they will have one failure that is definitively worse than others.

Your story needs a moment that is the great and terrible ten. There are countless posts online about why we must do terrible things to our characters to shape their personality and to develop a read-worthy plot. But amid all these struggles, one failure needs to trump the rest. Our characters, after all, are never infallible. Whether or not their motivation to conquer less destructive moments is because they know one will come along that will truly destroy them, despite all their best efforts, something will eventually get the best of them.

So give your characters things to overcome and give them the means to overcome them. Readers love to root for their triumphs and bravery. But make sure that you understand (when you are writing these moments) how they affect your characters. Not every trial can be a small failure, so make sure you understand what will constitute the moment that is the great and terrible ten.

Aivee.

Postscript: I wrote this because it has been too long since I posted and because this is something that I think is important, but I do think there are several points to this post that can be clarified and expanded upon. I hope to do so in subsequent posts, but also feel free to comment any questions you have.

Additionally, my previous post has now been updated to include, in few words, the things I meant to say when I first made the post but was at the time unable to.

 

A Very Happy Unbirthday

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

I’m sure I have no idea, but I do know that this is the kind of question that could inspire countless novels. Our stories need to have some sort of purpose and the reason we can take an idea and write it infinitely many ways is because it must be an idea that is subjective and complex and cannot be answered or solved in one definitive way, or is an idea that gnaws at you when you should most definitely be doing something other than considering the complexities of life. Even when the point of a story is one that has been made before, it must be a point/moral that can be expressed many different ways.

To both state concisely what I’ve just said and to give you a frustratingly broad suggestion: Write about life. Write about people. Write about unanswerable questions.

If you write about these things, you will never run out of things to say and ways to say them.

Reasons We Remember:

  • We remember facts that are necessary for later success, whether short term or long term.
    • Ex. for school classes, work related material, driving laws, etc.
  • We remember events tied to extreme emotion. This emotion can occur during the moment or be tied to a moment after it has occurred (I really loved how Inside Out clearly demonstrated this). Our perception of memories frequently change.
  • We remember the first time we experience something. We remember because the experience is new and so we notice many things and are attuned to many details that others might pass over. We’re also more likely to be emotional – anxious, elated, scared, etc. Whatever we are feeling, we are likely feeling it intensely. This leads us back to our second point.
    • I’m tempted to also say that we remember the last time we experience something, but that’s impossible to know in the moment and presents issues that I could spend an entire separate post on.
  • We remember things when we have done them over and over. You could argue that when you’ve done something repeatedly you no longer pay attention, but I would argue that you’re also very accustomed to it and obviously remember it without much effort. Additionally, consider if there is a specific time that you did something that your memory of the thing is from.
  • We remember societal milestones. Things that our society deems important are likely to have other factors from this list attached.
  • We remember anything with a Before & After attached to it. This will never occur without extreme emotion also causing the event to be more memorable.

memory lane

I made the above list entitled “Reasons We Remember” this past March. I was spending a lot of time collecting my thoughts about memories and why they are so important to me. Not just my memories, but the act of remembering and the importance it plays in our personalities and our culture.

In the margins of this list I wrote:

“Memories are such strange things (like people) which is probably why they so interest me. It’s funny because I can’t understand, looking at this list, why I would remember in such detail going to a fair in 5th grade with a friend and walking across a field and her worrying that she’d lost her sunglasses.”

Perhaps I’ll never understand why this memory has stuck with me, but it’s important in our novels that each moment is memorable. Each scene needs to be important for our characters and important to the plot. I always cut down significantly in my second and third drafts of novels because there are lots of scenes that I wish I could keep from the rough draft but that aren’t integral to the rest of the events.

We need to carefully consider the significance of each scene. If these moments are important to the plot, then they will likely be important later down the line. This makes every scene in our book something that our characters will remember in later scenes. We need to determine what makes each scene memorable, and how our characters will remember them. Also consider if the reader will – or should – remember the scene in a different light than the characters, and how different characters should remember the same scene in different ways and for different reasons. 

There is a great difference between remembering something and knowing something, though the two can seem very similar at times. In storytelling, what we/characters remember will always be more important than what we/they know. Knowledge is facts. Remembering is senses and emotion. Stories and poems can be about facts, but we are less likely to enjoy reading them if remembering is involved.

To end with one last (very Texan) pondering that is also written in the margins of my list:

“‘Remember the Alamo.’ Isn’t that what they say? They don’t want you to know it happened – they want you to remember it.”

Aivee.

 

Small Details

Sometimes when terrible things happen, I find myself focusing on the smallest of details. As the world grows more chaotic around us, with shootings and mass murders and suicide-bombs becoming more commonplace and us becoming horrifically desensitized to their frequency, I have been thinking about this quite often. To consider the great loss of life can be too much, but to focus on one, much smaller part of the story makes it more bearable. I read through an article of all the victims of terrorist attacks in the past six months. There were hundreds of profiles and it was devastatingly overwhelming. Somehow, the news articles that profile one story – one person, or one couple – are manageable and can still express the entire horror of what occurred.

When you don’t know where to start – start small. Start with the small details. Start with the moments that can, at first, have nothing to do with the great and terrible thing that you are having such difficulty expressing, but which are integral to the very essence of the story. I have forgotten the quote and it’s author, but I once read that to write about war, we should start by describing the young child’s shoes that have been abandoned in the road.

baby shoes

I find Hemingway’s 6 word story a reminder of our ability to tell stories with the smallest of details.

In the novel I am currently writing, the narrator has lost her older sister, who has been her only mother figure and best friend that she has had for many years. Uncertain of how to open with the death of her beloved sister, I was finally able to begin by writing the story by doing so about her sister’s despicable cat, which most definitely should not have survived when the sister did not, but whom was something that could be focused on despite the tragedy, and whom could lead us to the root of what was bothering the narrator.

This idea of focusing on the small things has remained with me ever since. Sometimes the smallest moments can say the most about a large issue. As writers, we have to be able to identify what story can express the entirety of what we have to say about a topic. When the reader cannot immediately connect to or sympathize with the grand tragedy, they may be able to immediately attack to the small details. These small things break the ice. They allow for us to discuss terrible things with being overwhelmed. 

I once thought that it was ridiculous that every story has to have a message, but it’s true. Whether you begin the story with a specific message in mind, or the message simply develops while you write it, it is important that you identify what the purpose of your story is. What are you trying to say? How does each scene and character and interaction and – yes, the smallest of details – contribute to the message? What does a pair of shoes or a cat or the color of your character’s nails have to do with what you are trying to say? How can the seemingly unimportant become a vital piece of clockwork in your story?

Aivee.

Why You Should Write What You Don’t Want To

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” – Natalee Goldberg

To write – and to share what you write with others – is to be vulnerable.

I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, but I hide pieces of myself – my fears and hopes and faults and accomplishments – in my stories. Sometimes I’m so ashamed of them that I unconsciously bury them so deeply inside the story that I get halfway through before I notice. But this has also helped me through a lot of personal struggles. I can separate the parts that I like from the ones that I don’t and, on page, give myself second chances and transformations and triumphs.

Write about the memories you don’t want to face. Separate yourself from them if you need to. Change some details and actions if you need to. Give yourself the room to breathe and heal your wounds. Give your struggles to your characters and let them work through them.

memories

For me, this advice means writing about the things that are hardest for me to write about. But I think the advice, though hard to execute, is really rewarding when you manage to follow through. It has given my writing more depth and made my characters easier to relate to and more realistic. It has allowed me to better understand myself.

There are times when writing is easy – when the words flow and the characters lead you and the scenes are vivid in your mind. These are the moments in which we fall in love with our words and our stories and our inability to accept limits. Sometimes, however, the times that writing is the hardest are the times that best allow us to grow (as a person and a writer). Don’t be afraid to write messy. You don’t have to show anyone these scenes and stories and characters. You just have to keep writing.

Aivee.

 

Forever & Always [see terms and conditions]

mindfulness. (n) a technique in which one focuses one’s full attention only on the present, experiencing thoughts, feelings, and sensations but not judging them. 

The part of this that stuck with me is that the person explaining the practice of mindfulness said, “Don’t focus on the past or the future – just the present.” And somehow this explanation made me consider all the worries I have about the things that have happened to me in the past and the things I’m worried that could happen to me, and as I tried to focus solely on the present – of myself sitting in a room and taking each breath in and out – I failed….. Instead, I started thinking about the characters in the book I’m currently editing.

What is motivating our characters? This is a basic character development question and an important one, but the question suddenly became more complex and three dimensional as I considered it with all of eternity set before me. Don’t just know what is currently motivating your characters – consider the past, present, and future. 

forever&always

What have been past goals or motivations that your characters had or experienced? How did their success/failure shape their current mindset? Are they yet to experience failure and brimming with brazen, impossible plans? Are they cautious and realistic?

But it’s more than this – what happened in their past that is motivating their current actions? This can be as simple as the backstory that has created their personality/mannerisms/etc, but it can also clarify why they currently have the goals they do. How are past and current goals changing and juxtaposed against each other? How does your character deal with the times that they conflict – which goal do they choose (or which one becomes more important) and why? Also, consider whether the goals they currently have are motivated by their current situation, or by their worries about possible future ones. We cannot just imagine our characters as experiencing one seen at a time, but as an active part of the larger flow of events and relationships that take place before, during, and after the story stops being told on paper.

These are all things that real people are constantly, subconsciously, dealing with. I am becoming increasingly convinced that it is these things that we think about but don’t always notice that make us complex and interesting and human and real – and that we should endeavor to give our characters these multifaceted qualities.

Aivee

Narrators (and New Beginnings)

Hey y’all. It’s been a while.

I recognize that it seems like I’ve given up on this blog, but starting today I would like to endeavor to prove that I haven’t. I was worried about having something profound to say in every single post I made, but this seems too close to comparing first drafts to final drafts. The goal of this blog is to get something out every other day, to get to know you all better, and to not always feel so alone in my writing process.

Onto other matters …. I’ve recently realized that people tend to focus on the subject of descriptions but often a description reveals nearly as much (or more) about the narrator. 

photographer

Who is our narrator? What do they notice – what about that do they truly care about? Are their descriptions physical, or do they focus more on the feeling something gives them, on the way someone carries themself and what that might reveal about them? For instance, I tend to, if I’m writing in third person, describe personality over physical traits and I often have readers telling me they can’t quite picture a character because I haven’t physically described them enough. I realize physical traits are important in a sighted world,  but to me, who my characters are matter more. I think this should come out when we’re writing in first person as other characters as well. How does our narrator interpret physical cues of emotions? How do they respond to what they see?  What experiences have lead our narrator to this exact moment with this exact description? At the start of the book, would they have given the same description?

It’s really easy (in theory) to practice this by describing a character/scene by several different characters. I’ve been doing this recently with a novel I’m editing to strengthen my understanding of my characters who perhaps aren’t in every scene but who I refuse to ignore and demote to being a secondary character. It is my firm belief that every character is important. You can also practice this by having one character describe a character/scene at different times throughout the book. How does their description and mindset concerning the character/scene change as they progress through the book? If nothing changes, something is wrong. Dynamic relationships and personal growth are vital to strong, realistic characters. No two characters should describe the same person/scene the same way.

Aivee.

World Building

I am currently working to complete a novel that is not part of the fantasy genre, but I keep getting sucked back in. I think this is because fantasy allows for freedom – the ability to escape the world you’re part of, yes, but also the ability to ditch everything you think you know about society, and create a new one.eab1611067654c024c696edaf90fbbd0

Hold up, that’s not quite true. It’s actually very difficult to create a world from scratch. In fact, I cannot think of a single novel/series that uses a world with a culture that shares no aspects with Earth’s (please comment and let me know if you can). I’ve already done a post on borrowing from other people’s work, so borrowing from reality is fine. But when you sit down to create a world for your characters, be conscious of what aspects you decide to keep or change. 

I understand your world’s inhabitants might not require water to survive (wait, is that because you’re the exception?), but here are some basic, vital things to consider with any world.

Basic shelter. No matter what species your characters fall under, there are going to be basics they need for survival. What is the common type of shelter? Are there class distinctions? Is shelter natural or man made? Who controls the creation of shelter? What’s the layouts of these shelters? Where are people getting their food from? Commercial grocery stores? Hunting and gathering? Agriculture? What quirks does your world have to make this interesting?

This category intertwines a lot with: Environment.  What’s the flora and fauna of your world? How do they interact with your characters? What does food distribution look like? Who has access to what? How is the environment being used to fit peoples’ basic needs? How do different groups feel about that?

Wealth distribution. Maybe everyone is given the same amount of money. But especially in today’s world, that isn’t natural, so how did you society get to that sort of equality? Perhaps money isn’t the most important currency. I can think of several dystopians in which water becomes currency, or everything is accomplished through trading. If your society has unequal wealth distribution, consider the possibility of classes and minorities. What are the social stigmas associated with these?

Considering how your society’s justice system might work will tie into the overall government and economy. (Of course, these sections are all interdependent.) Who is in charge of your society? How did they get to be in charge? How are new officials/monarchs/etc decided upon? How do the common citizens feel about this?

Consider, along with the setup of your society’s government and wealth distribution, the gender roles of your citizens, and how that affects the way your characters think. For almost all of Earth’s history, society has been patriarchal. But that doesn’t keep it from being matrilineal. Consider how these things work together, and how they affect the perceptions characters will have of each other. I have read some really great books that attempt to create an equal standing for men and women, but consider how this would truly affect mannerisms and stereotypes.

What technology do your characters have access to? Are they lacking something because it hasn’t been invented, or because only wealthy citizens have access to it? I’ve realized within the society for my novel Mage that just because they don’t have the technology for something, doesn’t mean they don’t have the ability. In this case, magic has handicapped them, because they have never been forced to find ways for non-mages to do things magic can easily accomplish. (Additionally, if your world is magical, consider the limits magic has, and the relationship between those with and without magic.)

Finally, consider what religions are present within your society, and how that affects the way your characters think. This can be tricky if you have invented religions for your characters, but regardless, you need to understand what your characters understand about how everything in your world has come to exist.

Give your society a past. Just as it is important for your characters to have reasons for how they now behave (and the society they’re raised in will play a large role in this), you need to understand how your world got to where it is.

You don’t need to know everything about your world, especially in your first draft. I’m a pantser, and a lot of what I figured out about my world, I figured out during the first draft, and now, after. So have fun. Push the boundaries of how we know Earth and its inhabitants exist, but you do need to know why you’ve chosen certain aspects of your society, and always consider how that changes how your characters think/act.

 

Aivee.