Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Writing Dry Spell, Book Review, And Other Happenings.

Good morning, faithful readers.

I guess I'm getting to the point where I need to deviate from posting up articles exclusively about fiction craft in favor of something a little more personal just so I can get any post out at all. Don't worry, I'm still keeping this relevant to the subject at hand. Writing's a journey, right? You might as well hear a bit about mine.

Lately I've been going through a writing dry spell. I blame my day job, my many social involvements, and the writing workshop I attended at Timegate. The day job has become ultimately boring and tedious. My job title is copywriter, but with the shortage of time and people, I haven't done any writing for it for at least the past 3-4 months. I realize that it's time to start looking for a new job and I've been working on a writing sample for a game developer position near Seattle. Don't get me wrong, I love my friends and the steampunk/geek community here in Atlanta. However it's got d*ck all when it comes to jobs in my field outside of temp-work.

My social life has gotten thoroughly busier. Starting one's writing career is not only about writing, it's about the connections one makes in life. It's about how to market oneself. I am a steampunk enthusiast. My novel takes place in a steampunk setting. Therefore, through certain very good friends of mine, I have been getting more involved in the steampunk community here in Atlanta and elsewhere. I'm currently helping my friend, Doctor Q put together the Mechanical Masquerade, a huge steampunk-themed masquerade ball in November (by the way, he's also putting on a Wild West themed event on July 23rd; if you're in the Atlanta area, check it out!). I've also started writing articles for his news site, The Steampunk Chronicle. Actually the reason why I started writing this post today was to garner some attention for my book review on there of Caitlin Kittredge's The Iron Thorn.  Other than that, I guess I've been out and about more to escape the now quiet darkness of my apartment--my only company my cat as I sit among wall decorations and furniture that are not even mine. But I've also found that being social is expensive, which is also why I'm learning to cope and stay home. The fact that I'm also preparing to go to the Labyrinth of Jareth Masquerade in two weeks helps. Sewing and Netflix work wonders for one's mind.

The writing workshop at Timegate proved to not be all that helpful, instructor-wise. Now mind you, I am learning on how to accept criticism and not take it personally, but I also am able to tell when a person does or does not have any business teaching. There is a difference between constructive criticism and personal attacks, the instructor didn't seem to know it. Also in a market where books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane and the Damned, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell often make it to the bestseller lists, how can someone honestly claim that no one writes or reads the Victorian style anymore? Really I ended up getting better advice from the participants of the workshop, and also found a new beta reader who's just been plain awesome so far. If you're reading this, hun, I will get you the next chapter soon! I just want to clean it up a little first.

I do admit the workshop has done a bit of a number on my self-esteem as a writer, making me constantly question my skill as a writer. I'm working on getting over it, though. Beer helps. Remembering the coolest moment from the workshop for me also helps. The guy who read my chapter aloud turned out to be a voice actor and not only did he enjoy it, but the way he read each character sounded almost exactly like the way they sounded in my head while writing it. To think that he was able to hear what I heard does make me feel worlds better.

As far as I'm concerned, I really should just file the instructor of that workshop away with the possible internet trolls I'll probably need to deal with once my books get out on the market. An instructor should be supportive and inspire you to improve your writing, not attempt to swear you off of it. As much as I knock on my previous creative writing professor, she has always been supportive of her students' work. She doesn't always understand my work, and who could blame her without being all that versed in genre fiction. However, I am thankful for her, especially when I was lucky to have her working with me when I can't imagine what sort of headache the Timegate instructor's students in Missouri have to go through with her on a daily basis. I imagine beer helps.

In case you missed the link, click here to read my book review for Caitlin Kittredge's The Iron Thorn!

Until next time, happy writing!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My Brain Went To Hawaii, And All I Got Was This Lousy Blog Post! Or:The Mental Journey in Fiction

Welcome back, faithful readers!
I should really stop offering up excuses for putting up posts so late. With the frequency of lateness lately (that was horrible, I know), I might as well just say this: expect some time between posts. I’m a busy woman as of the moment. Being single again does that to you, oddly enough. Anyway before I accidentally open that can of  hyperactive space worms, I'll just go ahead and address what I'll be talking about in this post: travel within the mind in fiction.

Pictured: The Mental Weekend Road Trip

Now the simplest way I can explain what this concept is is the run of the mill, character-learns-something-about-something plot device. You know how it goes: the main character is on top of the world, has everything, but has some fatal flaw to their personality that will lead to his or her ruin, goes through a series of events, and then either overcomes or comes to peace with that fatal flaw. Though when I say character, I don't necessarily just mean one character. The subject can be one person, two people, hell, even a whole society of people. Heck, the subject doesn't even have to be on top of the world, they could be in a rough place, they could be in search of something, they could even be dead for that matter! It really is up to you as long as you remember that a journey within the mind often results in learning something from the events on the journey. As moralistic as this type of journey is, it doesn't always have to appear preachy or dangerously close to being a cliche!

And you shall know me as Fuzzy Jesus!

Now that you already get the idea that a character can take a mental journey by learning something, let me give you another mental nugget to chew on: the character (subject) does not need to learn a damn thing!

Mmm, tasty mental nuggets!

How is this possible, you may ask? Easy, you make the reader learn something. Every action has a consequence within a series of events. If your character becomes faced with a circumstance that should change their way of thinking and doesn't learn anything about it, make the consequences appropriate for the action. The consequences speak for themselves and will affect the reader just as well as any active choice the characters make for themselves.

Pictured: Learning how to just let go!

Now I'm going to pause right now before I raise any more eyebrows. "What is the whole purpose of including a teaching aspect at all in your fiction?" you may ask. There are a number of such purposes, and you may pick and choose them based off of what you want to do with your novel. However, the most crucial aspect has little to do with learning, morals, or any other teaching cliche that would normally cause any self-respecting reader to cringe. Being conscious of every element of your story as you're writing it and how it will affect the mental journey of the character or reader presents a valuable, realistic aspect to your writing.

Novels do not have to read like a text book or a manual. Heck, what is learned within a story doesn't even have to be all that important. Sometimes your characters, plot, and setting will take on a life of their own and by presenting them realistically, by having them react to each other realistically, they may even teach you something that you never even thought was there. Think the novel as a sort of a thought experiment in that manner. Believe it or not, in working on my current novel, I had the chance to reexamine certain aspects of my own personality and some of my relationships with certain people simply because I was watching them in the forms of my characters, but as an outsider.

That's right, squirt, I don't need you and your football snatching ways anymore!

In that sense, and forgive me for rambling, the story is also different for every person who reads it. Don't believe me? Think of any time you've watched a film interpretation of one of your favorite books. Are they ever what you expect them to be? Most likely not because the director often identifies with some aspect of the work that you did not. A good example of this is Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl and how the Hollywood and BBC film versions of it differed heavily from each other (and to some readers--myself included--the source material). The Hollywood presentation focused mostly on the relationship between the sisters, the BBC version focused mostly on the personal feelings and motivations of the characters.

Why do you think English classes are so frustrating when it comes to interpreting literature? Especially when other people pick up on elements that you didn't even notice in the book? Sometimes you're not paying attention, but more than likely you simply did not identify personally with that aspect. A death in a book is going to resonate much more with someone who's lost somebody close to them than someone who has not. To get around this while reading, but more importantly while writing, the imagination is key. You must take a mental journey of your own.
Place yourself in the situation of the character, how would you feel if in that situation--and every event leading up to that situation. Now think of the character you already created, are they used to being able to fix everything in a situation they have no control over? What does an event actually do to them on a mental and emotional level? Empathy, imagination, and research are key. Read often and pay attention. The journey of the mind is not just a journey in your own mind, but also in the minds of others--real AND fictional.

Attention faithful readers! Due to much (ok, very little) coercion on Laura Fitzgerald's part, I am now on Twitter! Click here to see shorter, more frequent ramblings of mine on writing, geekery, or whatever happens to cross my mind after a whiskey sour or two!

In the meantime, happy writing!