Keeping Conflicts Unresolved

Today’s post is short, but the writing technique is still strong and effective. I’ve been talking about what Interstellar did to have a powerful emotional impact. One way was to keep a crucial conflict unresolved until the very very end of the story.

When Cooper has to leave his family, and Murph refuses to say goodbye, it creates strong tension in the audience. See, if Murph and Cooper would have made-up before he left, that tension would have been released, but instead, the writers amplified it by leaving it not only unresolved, but by taking advantage of the parent-child relationship that was going on, and the unknown future of Cooper. All these things worked together to take the emotion to a new height.

Having Murph run after Cooper when he’s driving away, serves as an extra little push, an extra little reminder that their conflict is left very unresolved.  And because of Cooper’s situation, we have to carry all this tension and heartache with us through the entire movie.

The conflict gets touched on again and again. It changes, it stretches, it deepens through the show. (It can’t just stay the same, because it would go stale and dull our sensitivity to it). It hits a climax with Murph when she yells that Dad didn’t even try to save them, that he left them here to die, and hits a climax with Cooper when we see he would give anything, anything to go back and change his decision to leave Murph in the first place.

Imagine instead, that Murph had ran out and caught up to them, and they’d had a sweet loving goodbye, and later, Murph begins to think Cooper abandoned her. It would not have been near as effective. The emotion would not have felt near as powerful, near as raw through the movie.

So, look for powerful conflicts to leave very unresolved.

 

THE COMPARING TRAP

Guest post by Mikey Brooks

About Mikey Brooks: When he’s not saving the world from evil witches or changing diapers, he’s writing, illustrating, or mikeypicdaydreaming. He’s published six middle-grade books and several more picture books. He lives in Utah with his smokin’-hot- wife, their four kiddos, and the world’s ugliest dog. You can find out more about him, his books and art at: www.insidemikeysworld.com

 


 

I believe every writer struggles with self-confidence. I know I do. It doesn’t take much for me to find myself wallowing in my own self-doubt—listening to the negative voice in my head telling me to just give up. It’s pretty easy to do. Even after publishing 6 books I still find myself thinking that I am not a very good writer, or that I wrote all the books I had in me. If you are that special spirit that has never experienced self-doubt or have never heard that negative voice, then maybe this blog post isn’t for you. If you are like me, then read on.

My latest bout of self-doubt hit me rather hard this time. I was at a con talking with some author friends about their recent successes. The publishing gods had been generous to them over the last year. I was all, that’s awesome—good for you—you so deserve it. I was honestly happy for them. That is until it came my turn to share and I had nothing to offer. Nothing. My last full length book came out in November of 2014 and here I was, pretty much 2 years later, with nothing new to offer. In comparison to all their amazing-writerly-achievements, I was a loser. That’s all it took for me to grab hold of the pity train and ride it toward the inevitable cliff that was to be the demise of my writing career. Because I had nothing new to offer, right then, I was boomed to lie amongst the twisted metal of what could have been. It might sound a little dramatic, but let’s be honest, we all think this way…sometimes.

I had fallen into the comparing trap. Comparing myself to others has always lead to dangerous thoughts. Not a day passes that I can’t see or think of someone who is better looking, wealthier, more successful, or a better writer than me. In fact, in the time it took me to write that sentence I thought of a dozen people. With the negative thoughts about myself comes the ugly ones for others—mostly jealousy. How can I truly be happy for my friends when they have something I don’t? In no time at all, I can turn from easygoing Mikey Brooks to crazed Verruca Salt demanding the world to give it to me now. I don’t like these thoughts and feelings, so why do I continue to compare myself to others? Am I setting myself up for destruction—buying my own ticket for that train wreck? Well, yeah.

So how do I get off the pity train? How do I stop comparing myself to my friends? First off I have to say that comparing isn’t a bad thing. We compare cars when we are trying to find something reliable, we compare houses when we are trying to find the best place for our family to live, we compare dates when trying to find the perfect match for us. The problem with comparing comes when you try to compare yourself with others. Recently I came across a great quote that has become my new motto: “The only person you should compare yourself to is your former self.”

compare

We all need improvements, we all want them. I want to be a better writer, a better husband to my wife, and a better father to my kids. How am I supposed to know how far I come if I don’t compare with where I’ve been? How do I compare with the Mikey of 10 years ago, 5 years ago, even 2 Years ago?

Keeping this strictly aimed at writing, 10 years ago I was just barely starting to let others see my writing, and let’s be honest, it wasn’t all that great. 5 years ago I had written a couple books and was sending them out to agents (I might mention here I had a huge self-doubt issue when all the rejections came because I was comparing myself to all those getting agents). 2 years ago I was still writing with 6 published books under my belt—6 books! Comparing myself to Mikey of 10 years ago really shows me how far I really have come. It also gets me excited for the future. Where will I be in 10 years, 5 years, 2 years? Where do I want to be? Let’s just say I’m 4 years into my 10 years of becoming an overnight success.

Nothing will be a quick fix when it comes to ridding the negative thoughts of self-doubt. Sometimes though we have to yank ourselves off that pity train before it crashes. We need to get out of the comparing trap and start comparing ourselves to what really matters: us. What are the good things you have done? What are the things you want to change? How are you going to accomplish them? Let’s look forward to the future with a positive outlook. Be the best kind of person/writer that you can be. No one can be a better you! So keep trying. Now go write!

Take a look at the mountain

Blood on the windows
Millions of ordinary people are there
They gaze at the scenery
They act as if it is perfectly clear
Take a look at the mountains
Take a look at the beautiful river of blood.
– Genesis, Domino, part 2

I’ve never been one for writing exercises, even as a fan of Writing Excuses. I think I’ve done exactly two of their writing prompts in all the episodes I’ve listened to. It’s not laziness–on the contrary, I’ve got my own projects to work on and I don’t have time for extra work to do.

And I’m starting to think that might be a mistake. If there is a weak point in my writing (and there is, and plenty of ’em), it’s description. I’m not just “light on description”, I’m guilty of acute sensory deprivation.  I know I should do more. I just…don’t. Perhaps this is an opportunity for some practice exercises? Can I teach myself to add description more instinctively?

I’m going to try it, and I’m going to drag you along, kicking and screaming. I need a starting point, though, and fortunately Phil Collins and gang have provided me one. Let’s take a look at the mountains–or one mountain in particular–and see what we can do with it.

Prompt: My character looks at a mountain. What does she see?

Mount Kokaibo rose majestically heavenward, its forested lower slopes giving way to sparse scrub, to unforgiving rock, and finally to a snowy crown, wisps of cloud spinning out into the air.

Not bad, though this is all visual. Granted, mountains are usually far away if you’re going to be looking at them, and visual may be all you can get. Or can you?

Mount Kokaibo rose before her, covered in vibrant, steaming jungle nearly to its rough granite peak, like a favorite uncle, his bald head barely visible above the swarm of nieces and nephews clambering up his frame, trying to pull him down.

Though not technically describing the mountain, perhaps this attempt endows the mountain with a bit more personality and relates it more to its surroundings. There’s sound elements to the simile, and perhaps even some tactile connections. Moreover, it endows the setting with a sense of tone. In this example the mountain seems almost pleasant, perhaps, largely because of the “favorite uncle” comparison. But how about this?:

Mount Kokaibo rose before her, angry orange in the dying light of day. Though cloaked in festering, fetid jungle up much of its slopes, its unforgiving, lifeless stone peak thrust up from the green like a bloodied knife blade emerging from its victim’s back.

Hopefully this feels much different from the previous example. This mountain hardly feels like a place for a family campout–unless that family campout is about to be broken up by a psycho-killer. But hopefully this is a good example of how having a goal in mind can help drive your description to achieve a given feel. If you want your readers to be drawn to the mountain, use the former example. If you want to fill them with foreboding about what might happen when the characters reach the mountain, use the latter. There’s a reason why Tolkien’s Mount Doom is described the way it is compared to the Misty Mountains.

But perhaps we want only to provide a sense of mystery–we don’t know whether the mountain is good or bad–and perhaps it’s neither:

Mount Kokaibo rose before her, a massive mound of vibrant jungle receding into the rain-laden clouds that came in low off the ocean. Gaps in the clouds teased the imagination like a belly dancer, hinting a ragged gash of stone here, more teeming, glistening green there, all the while hiding its true size, or even where the peak might stand.

The more I do this, the more I’m convincing myself that I not only can do more with description, I should. What’s more, I’m beginning to see opportunities for concentrating and sharpening that description further.

For example, in the line “…the rain-laden clouds that came in low off the ocean…” the word “came” sits like a stone paperweight in the middle of a birthday cake. It does little but stand out when most of the words around it are specifically chosen for impact. It could easily be replaced with something more evocative, like “…breezed in…” or “…wafted in…” or “…lumbered in  like a threadbare blanket from the ocean…”.

Of course it’s entirely possible to spend too much time on description. If a character picks up a pen during a scene and its only real purpose is for him to sign a document, spending too much time describing the pen might trick the reader into thinking they’ve spotted a “Chekov’s Gun“. A little description might tell us something more about the person who owns it (“he picked up a pen, ebony and trimmed with gold, from his mahogany desk…”) without drawing undue attention.

Similarly, there is often no reason to spend more than a few lines at a time describing something. We get a pretty good idea of the mountain from any of the above attempts. To go on for several more paragraphs would likely bore the reader, unless the information will actually prove vital later on. For example, if you can see the terrain the characters will pass through on their way up the mountain, describing it now can help prepare reader expectations. If they’ll never even go up that mountain, too much detail will just be overkill at best, and disappoint reader expectations at worst.

Description, like most elements of a story, is a balancing act between what the story needs, the writer’s style, and the reader’s imagination. After all, most readers have seen mountains, or at least pictures. If the characters are passing through the mountains it may not be necessary to describe them much beyond calling them mountains. If the mountain is important to the story, though, it might be good to give the reader more. It’s a recipe that will need tweaking to get right. One teaspoon or two might be a matter of personal choice. No salt or an entire cup? You might lose the reader altogether.

It may well be that I’m preaching to the choir here. Many authors instinctively “get it” when it comes to the right amount of description. But perhaps some don’t. Some might include too much. Others, like me, might use too little. It’s something we can learn, we can fine-tune, until it becomes more instinctive. That’s where exercises come in, and after writing this column I’m starting to think I might have missed the boat in ignoring writing exercises all this time. A little exercise might not be such a bad idea.

5 Reasons to Do Audiobooks and 5 Tips to Do Audiobooks Right

Guest Post by Charlie Pulsipher.

Charlie Pulsipher is a were-hamster and lemur enthusiast who lives in Saint George, Utah with his lovely wife and neurotic dog. He writes sci-fi and fantasy or some mix of the two. He creates miniature cardboard sculptures. He plans on surviving the inevitable zombie-apocalypse that will surely start when dust bunnies rise up against their vacuum cleaner masters.image010-1

Find him online at charliepulsipher.com.

He spends his time away from the keyboard and the scalpel (for cardboard) hiking and camping stunning Southern Utah.

He neglects his twitter account. @charliepulse

Email him at raptorbark@hotmail.com (yes, that’s real)

Don’t be fooled by his shy, humble exterior. He does bite and his velociraptor impression is quite scary. It’s probably the coolest thing about him.

Also, pick up his books sooner than later. The dust bunnies are looking quite indignant.


Many of you may be toying with the idea of audiobooks. I’m here to help tip you into action.

Why Do Audiobooks?

Reach Nonreaders – There are a group of people out there who only listen to books. They don’t think they have time to sit down with a physical book, but they still love stories. About one in ten people listen to audiobooks. That’s a huge audience.

Reach Voracious Readers – People who consume a lot of books do so in multiple ways. I read hardback, paperback, ebooks, and I listen to audiobooks. The biggest readers may find you in one place and not the other.

Be Easier to Find – An audiobook is another searchable link to you and your work. Make yourself as accessible as possible.

Boost Other Sales – People who love your audiobook are more likely to pick up your book in print. Many people use ebooks and audiobooks as a test to see if they really want to invest in an author.

Up Professionalism – There’s nothing like mentioning your books are available as audiobooks to see people’s expressions change. There is a professionalism in having your books available in multiple formats. They may still buy it in print, but knowing you put in the effort to make an audiobook may have been what tipped them into the purchase.

Bonus: It’s Not Terribly Expensive – The shared royalty route through ACX is getting harder to do, but it is still there. That means it is free to begin with. You can also find narrators willing to work with you and your budget if you decide to pay them straight out for their time.

Tips to Do It Right

Get a Great Narrator – This is a time to be picky. You don’t want to jump on the first person to send you a sample. You have to really like their voice, the way they read, their accents, and their emotional responses to the words you typed out. ACX lets you search for narrators and pitch them yourself too. Take advantage of that.

I started on ACX and liked, but didn’t love the initial pitches I received. I almost pulled the trigger with one anyway but held back out of financial fears. I’m glad I did. I met my narrator on Facebook later after commenting on a post about audiobooks. I found out he lived in my area and arranged to meet him. He was on ACX, but I wouldn’t have found him without digging and being picky.

Stay Close to Said Narrator – You want to be in contact with your narrator through the entire process to make sure the voices, pronunciations, and emotions are correct and appropriate. You can email, text, or use a walkie-talkie app like we did. My narrator would send me a quick message asking for clarification and then he could hear me say the names of people, places, and magical items correctly. It worked out very well.

You’ll do the same thing while reviewing their work. I would send my narrator things that didn’t sound right, wrong words (which happens when you read out loud sometimes), and any other suggestions that came to mind.

Take Advantage of the Edits – Your narrator will uncover more problems in your book than you would think existed after all your polishing. Start your production of your audiobook before releasing all the other formats if possible. If they are already out, mop them up as soon as your narrator finishes sending you all the flaws and mistakes. Don’t feel bad about those mistakes. There really isn’t a better way to catch typos and mistakes than reading a book out loud, especially when it’s done by someone other than you. Fix them and move on.

Have Fun! – You and your narrator should enjoy this process. Don’t stress too much. You want the voice to come through as natural. Your narrator should sound like he or she is enjoying the story. This means you need to easy to work with. This doesn’t mean you can’t be firm when something needs to change or be redone, but it does mean you are tactful, professional, and easy going most of the time. Enjoy it.

Market it Well – Your audiobooks are going to need their own marketing. They reach a slightly different audience. This is where I can’t give the best advice. I’ve had some luck with Facebook ads, but I tend not to market myself as well as I should. If you have any ideas or suggestions about marketing, please share them in comments for everyone’s benefit.

Bonus: ACX is Your Friend – ACX makes audiobooks fairly painless. They have forums, FAQs, and a ton of resources available to make the entire process easy. They help you market by providing you with codes to get reviews. They answer questions quickly. Lean on them through it all.

My Audiobooks

The Crystal Bridge
Obsidian Threads
Shadowed Glass

 

Character Analysis

Today I want to look at a few examples of how characters are first introduced to the reader. How much does the reader really need to know about a character at first glance? How much description is needed? Let’s grab a few excerpts to examine.

First up, the character Kelsier, from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn:

Kelsier had heard stories.

That’s the first paragraph. We basically have a name, and nothing else. The second paragraph, other than letting us know Kelsier is a ‘he’, is pretty much exposition of the setting by describing the stories Kelsier had heard. We don’t get much more on Kelsier until the third paragraph:

Kelsier watched the sun, his eyes following the giant red disk as it crept toward the western horizon. He stood quietly for a long moment, alone in the empty fields. The day’s work was done; the skaa had been herded back to their hovels. Soon the mists would come.

We get a little more about Kelsier here, mostly be observation. He’s quiet, contemplative, and he’s connected with a farm, though we’re not sure he’s a skaa (whatever that is), so he may or may not be a worker.

Eventually, Kelsier sighed, then turned away to pick his way across the furrows and pathways, weaving between large heaps of ash. He avoided stepping on the plants–though he wasn’t sure why he bothered. The crops hardly seemed worth the effort. Wan, with wilted brown leaves, the plants seemed as depressed as the people who tended them.

Still not much to go on. He seems to respect plants, or is at least careful enough not to step on them.  And he seems depressed or downcast. But we’re still not sure of his status. Is he a worker or not? We get our first clue two paragraphs later.

The skaa hovels loomed in the waning light. Already , Kelsier could see the mists beginning to form, clouding the air, and giving the moundlike buildings a surreal, intangible look. The hovels stood unguarded; there as no need for watchers, for no skaa would venture outside once night arrived. Their fear of the mists was far too strong.

I’ll have to sure them of that someday, Kelsier thought as he approached one of the larger buildings. But all things in their own time. He pulled open the door and slipped inside.

So it looks like he is a skaa. But we’re still not sure, because in the next paragraph his entrance causes everyone inside to stop what they’re doing. We get more setting description,  and then some dialog. Four paragraphs later we get our first, small dose of physical description:

“Fieldwork hasn’t ever really suited me,” Kelsier said. “It’s far too hard on my delicate skin.” He smiled, holding up hands and arms that were lined with layers and layers of thin scars. The covered his skin, running lengthwise, as if some beast had repeatedly raked its claws up and down his arms.

And so it continues, characterization details measured out in drips and drabs. By the time we reach the end of that section we still only really know what Kelsier is like, with only the barest inclination of this appearance.

The next character we are introduced to is Vin, a young woman. The first physical description we get of her is four pages into the chapter:

Theron eyed Vin, obviously noting her bloodied lip. She glanced away. Theron’s eyes lingered on her, however, running down the length of her body. She wore a simple white buttoned shirt and a pair of overalls. Indeed, she was hardly enticing; scrawny with a youthful face, she supposedly didn’t even look her sixteen years. Some men preferred such woman, however.

We don’t get a lot. Other than her bloodied lip, which is more setting than description, we know she’s wearing simple, workman-type clothing, she’s thin and looks young for sixteen. Not much to go on, really. Certainly not the “police sketch” writers often feel like they need to provide.

The thing is, readers have imaginations, and with even the most sketchy details provided we will start to fill in the missing data on our own. I picture Vin as being small, almost boyish, with dark bobbed hair and a cap like a Greek fisherman’s hat. The dark hair I likely got from the cover, but the hat? Where did that come from? It’s not mentioned, and it’s definitely not on the cover. I suspect it’s an unconscious connection; boyish worker-types in overalls have to have some kind of cap in my mind.

I suspect most of you, even with practically no physical description given, are starting to fill in an image of Kelsier as well. We get mostly personality clues from him, so clearly physical descriptions are not essential. The only physical clue we get is his scarred arms, and that’s it. And yet we don’t get thrown out of the story. We don’t feel a need to skip ahead in hopes of finding a scene where we get to see him from another character’s perspective in hopes of getting a rundown of his looks.

The long and short of this exercise is this: there’s no need to dump. We don’t need to know everything there is to know about a character condensed into two paragraphs. Clearly we can take our time, spinning the description out bit by bit, point by point as the story evolves organically.

That’s not to say there’s not a place for “police sketch” style description dumps. If it makes sense for your perspective character to notice such details, then go for it. Certainly it’s not out of the ordinary for a detective character to notice such details. They’re trained to observe. We’re not surprised when we get a string of details like, “She sauntered in the door slowly, like a panther, her long legs peeking out from the slit in her black silk dress, her high heels clicking steadily on the floor. Her blond hair was the color of cigar ash, her full lips were a little too dark. She wore a prim, red silk blouse that covered up to her neck, but her assets were too ample to provide much of a mystery. She was stacked, and she was dangerous. And she was headed straight for my desk.”

But some for some middle-aged city clerk who seldom even looks up from his work to suddenly wax so profuse in his observations would seem entirely out of place. Let the perspective of your characters determine who much and what kind of details to reveal, and don’t be afraid of being stingy with your description. It’s amazing how little you really need to provide without running the risk of losing readers. Give them even the smallest of cues and they’ll gladly do the work for you.

This is, of course, Brandon Sanderson’s style. Were this Bradbury you’d likely get several paragraphs of profuse, vivid detail elucidating not long their appearance but serving up a concise picture of their world view as well. That’s Bradbury’s style. He’s generous with the paint when he creates his word pictures.

Your style may be somewhere in between. You may need time to discover where your balance lies. You may learn to vary the amount of description in response to instincts telling you where to place your focus. There’s likely not any one or even a few “right” ways of approaching character description. We only know that you need to give your reader something, even if it’s almost entirely personality exposition rather than description.

Balancing your description is a writing skill we can all develop, and a good tool to have in your writers toolbox. It’ll be a different balance for nearly everyone, and that’s okay. But finding the balance that works for you is just one skill of many that writers need.

 

 

 

ENGAGE! with Description

Amanda K. Thompson is a wordbender, an autodidact, and a lover of corny jokes. A librarian by day and a writer by night, her work has been published in Bards & Sages Quarterly and Yellow Bird Magazine. In addition to writing, she reads obsessively, reviews books on Author PhotoYouTube, and builds her nerdy sock and POP! collections. Currently, she is working on a retelling of Cinderella. When she finally figures out the perfect formula to plot and organize a story, she will let the world know.

She can be found online at her blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel


Confession: I don’t like description. I skim it when I read. For years, I thought this was just my pet peeve.

It all changed one day while reading The Frog Princess by E.D. Baker. I got bored.

I knew, as a reader and writer, I should not be bored. Our princess is suddenly a frog; she’s just escaped from a witch’s hovel and she’s on a grand adventure to turn herself back into a princess. There’s nothing boring about that! Yet I knew, as a reader and writer, I should not be bored. Our princess is suddenly a frog; she’s just escaped from a witch’s hovel and she’s on a grand adventure to turn herself back into a princess. There’s nothing boring about that! Yet I am bored. I’m bored because the author’s description of the forest is boring.

That’s when I had an epiphany. What if disliking description isn’t a pet peeve? Do readers make allowances for boring description because it’s common? Can writers engage readers with description, instead of boring them?

I analyzed the descriptions of this forest scene. What don’t I like about it? Why is it boring?

They’re not bad or poorly written. They vividly detail fallen trees and branches littering the ground -and the light bulb goes off. The moment the word ‘forest’ was mentioned, the fallen trees and broken branches are exactly what I picture; I already know what a forest looks like. Every other description of the forest is not necessary and therefore detract from the story.

When we use an excess of description in our writing, action stops. We call ‘time out’ and kick the characters to the sidelines to twiddle their thumbs while we guide the reader on a tour of our setting. THAT’S AUTHOR INTRUSION.

Writers need to keep the story moving through description. We have to use it to our advantage, to further the action or character development, instead of letting it slow down the story.
Remember ‘show, don’t tell’? Take it one step further. Don’t just ‘show’; show only the interesting bits.

Don’t waste the reader’s time describing something unimportant. Description should convey something more than scenery -the narrator’s mood, an omen, or the state of the world. Don’t show what’s normal or ordinary about a setting. Show what’s different.

Let’s head back to that forest scene and this time, instead of giving our reader a guided tour, let’s show what makes this forest different. With a character who is literally a fraction of her normal size, this is amazingly simple. Instead of stepping past exposed tree roots, she now has to scramble over them with four awkward legs. Trees once merely large have become gigantic. And remember, her new body is covered in mucus.

By adjusting the forest description to show what’s different, it not only makes this forest journey more interesting, it continues to drive the story forward.

Here is a more conservative example. Let’s describe our character’s neighborhood:

The quiet suburban street was home to a dozen, nearly identical houses with white picket fences, street lamps, and wide sidewalks.

This sentence paints a very precise picture. It’s also exactly what our reader envisioned the moment they read ‘suburban street’. Which means everything we described after that was unnecessary. Boring. If we put too much of this in our story, we are going to lose our reader.

How do we describe it by describing how it’s different?

Street lamps came on at precisely 5:00 every night to illuminate the quiet suburban street, sentries standing guard over the manicured lawns in the darkness.

When the reader reads this, they know what’s different about this street. It’s well-lit and the picturesque way of describing the streetlamps as ‘sentries standing guard’ hints at caution and perhaps paranoia. This conveys a sense of foreboding that haunts the neighborhood street, and it carries the story forward.

Engaging description is simple once we adjust our perspective. Ask yourself, “What do I want to convey in this scene?”, then use your description to do it.

Now that we’ve solved my peeve about unnecessary description, let’s look at the second problem I’ve identified. This journey through the forest is boring. The character literally hops from point A to point B. Nothing else is happening.

I excused this at first. As readers, I feel we have come to expect boring parts to crop up as a natural part of a book. But you know what? There’s no reason any part of a story should be boring. There is always a way to make it more interesting and, more importantly, relevant.

Looking through that forest scene again, I caught myself thinking: This would be a great opportunity to show how the princess’s transformation into a frog is affecting how she sees and interacts with the world.

This is a purpose to drive the scene. Instead, the author taking me on a tour of the forest, I could watch this princess gripe about how inconveniently huge everything is as she journeys through the forest. Or contemplate her role in the universe, now that she’s realized how small and insignificant she’s become. Or a dozen other things that will help either better acquaint me with the character or assist in character development!

This all comes down to point of view. Point of view is more than whether your character is referred to by ‘I’ or ‘she’. It is the perspective through which you tell the entire scope of your story. It’s like the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. It wasn’t actually made of emerald. The green-tinted glasses everyone wore made it look emerald. This is exactly what writing in perspective is; it’s an immersion into the mind of your character that never takes a break. If you find yourself writing a boring scene, figure out what your POV character is thinking and share it with the reader.

We actually have a fantastic example of how to do this from that same scene that set me off on this whole journey:

“The trees where we stood were ancient, their trunks so thick that I couldn’t have put my arms around them even when I was a human.”

This is a great way to describe the trees; it’s descriptive and it actively involves the character.

The rest of the paragraph reverts back to the ‘guided tour’ description and loses my attention again.

“Broken branches littered the ground, and here and there we could see where one of the mature trees had fallen, exposing a patch of the forest floor to the sun.”

Do you notice how the character’s personality took a back seat? This sentence lost the sense of perspective so vibrant in the first example. We don’t see the character’s opinion on what she’s observing, we don’t see her actively taking in the view. We only see the view. The emerald-colored glasses have slipped.

A more active voice in description brings our readers closer to the action and to our characters, which makes our book more interesting and harder to put down. Writers have the ability to completely immerse our reader with every sentence and every word, instead of with every few. We just need to exercise it.

Gaining Incredible Emotional Power by Crossing Opposites

When I pressed “play” on Interstellar, I had no idea that I was about to have one of the most powerful emotional experiences of my movie-watching life. Sure, subconsciously I took into consideration that I would cry at the end of the movie. Maybe. I was not prepared to legitimately cry near the starting, in the middle, at the climax (multiple places), and at the resolution (in two places). On top of that, I was not expecting to experience emotion that was that raw. I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced emotion that raw from a movie.

I was not alone.

 

 

So what in the world did the Nolan brothers do?

Well, a few things.

Last time I talked about how pairing/crossing opposites can make a story more powerful. It’s because of the breadth. It’s the breadth between extremes that enables the audience to feel emotions more powerfully.

We tend to think that if we want to write a story that hits a particular emotion powerfully, that we have a lot of scenes that hit that emotion. So if we want a story that makes people cry, we might think of having most of the story made up of tragic scenes. But the audience actually experiences stronger, raw-er feelings, when you contrast emotions. Tragic scenes become more powerful when we have humorous scenes.

It all gets back to writing with foils. (You can read my post on foils here).  When we pair opposites, we create contrast–we are pulling the audience from one extreme to the other.

We are yanking them from one end of the spectrum to the other, and all that breadth they travel makes the experience feel sharper. (David Farland did a post on this once by the way.) It’s like going from hot water to cold. The cold feels colder because we just experienced the hot.

Interstellar does this beautifully.

First though, let’s talk about the kinds of emotion Interstellar evokes, because Interstellar elicits powerful emotions. The movie is emotional not just in the I’m-about-to-cry sense, but its emotional in that it evokes a variety of contrasting emotions and evokes them in a strong way

Here are some of the main emotions that I see: Continue reading Gaining Incredible Emotional Power by Crossing Opposites

Experience the unknown

I’m sure I’ve written on this before, but hopefully it bears repeating: it’s good to get outside your box now and then and try something new. True, we writers with our super-sized imaginations are often able to extrapolate from what experiences we already have to picture situations and people we’ve never been through ourselves, but there is a limit. Some things may be beyond our ability to imagine, and a little real-life experience can open up amazing new vistas to our view.

But let’s face it, some experiences we have to be dragged through, kicking and screaming. I’m an introvert and something of a home-body. I don’t go out much, and that’s perfectly fine with me. But fortunately for me, I have kids. They get me into all sorts of new situations I would never have chosen for myself.

For example, I dislike driving long distances. I don’t care much for big cities. I don’t like crowds. I’m not fond of living in a hotel. And I don’t have much good to say about California. So of course my two boys would both qualify for the Pokémon World Championships in San Francisco this year.

And so we went. Their job was to play their game and do as well as they could. My job was to get them there and back safely, well-fed and reasonably rested (school started for one son the next day).  They were there to have as much fun as possible. I was there to worry about everything so they didn’t have to.

I surprised myself. I still won’t claim the driving was fun, but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. And though it wasn’t fun at the time, we’ll probably remember for years how we took a wrong turn and spent an hour driving 30 of the curviest, most gut-wrenching miles of road I’ve ever had the misfortune to burn fuel on just to get back on track.

I met interesting people, and I actually approached them to start up a conversation. I met a policeman who was assigned to protect a hotel full of Pokémon players. I met several hotel workers with interesting perspectives and personalities. I experienced one of the best places to people-watch in the world: Market Street. We passed more people from more varied circumstances just walking from our hotel to the hotel where the competition was held than I’ve seen in years.

I’m also probably on Caltrans Most Wanted list, but that’s another story we’ll just leave untold.

I stood with one of my sons on a wind-blasted cliff below an abandoned fortress watching as a massive cargo container ship churned its way under the Golden Gate Bridge with what seemed like only a few dozen feet to spare. I stayed in an old building renovated into a semi-posh hotel overlooking the grid of wiring for electric busses, a massive new building going up across the street, and facing a black wall covered in street art. The stairways were narrow and the elevator seemed designed for freight. And it was cool.

I drove through parts of the city that made me hope my boys weren’t paying too much attention and wouldn’t be asking me awkward questions. I experienced a ten mile stretch of road that forbade left turns the entire length of it. I spent time in a part of town populated by charming (and undoubtedly expensive) old houses that presented only a garage door and a steep, narrow stairway to the street.

It was all new and exciting, shoved me completely out of my comfort zone, and left me exhausted most days. I loved it. I came home with a new degree of confidence. I had navigated a minivan from Salt Lake City to San Francisco, all over the narrow streets of the penninsula, and home again without serious difficulties (aside from the unintended side-trip that left me nearly car-sick).

And I never would have chosen to go through any of it on my own. It would have been my loss. Fortunately I’m willing to do for my kids things I’d never do for myself.

So my advice to us all is to be more open to new adventures. Be more quick to say yes to stepping out of your box now and then. Try something new and unexpected. Broaden your horizons. Test your limits. In short, add more experiences to your personal archive from which you write. Take time to learn more about the world, about life, about yourself.

Your writing will thank you.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT SCRIVENER

 


Or I should say, Why I Love Scrivener So Much.
What is Scrivener? It’s a software program for writers. According to their website:

Scrivener is a powerful content-generation tool for writers that allows you to concentrate on composing and structuring long and difficult documents. While it gives you complete control of the formatting, its focus is on helping you get to the end of that awkward first draft.

I discovered Scrivener last year, after completing NaNoWriMo. I knew Word was not working for me, and I needed something that could help me organize my writing and have it all available at one glance without the need to open a dozen Word documents, or have little sticky notes everywhere. I had a coupon for Scrivener, and I tried it (though I must say that the full price is only $40, which is an absolute bargain). After watching a couple of tutorials on Youtube, and spending a few days playing around, I was sold. This was the answer to my questions.

I love it so much, I’m on a mission to convert writers everywhere to it. And no, I’m not being paid for this endorsement.

Disclaimer— this is just the way I use Scrivener. There isn’t a right way or a wrong way to use it, and other writers will use it in different ways.

Another disclaimer— Scrivener was originally developed for Macs, and lots of features are still not available in Windows.
And another important disclaimer— I’m using screenshots of my Work In Progress. Keep in mind that it’s a very, very rough draft, and I’m only about 1/3 of the way into it. Take it easy on me.

So here’s a compilation of my favorite features in Scrivener (Windows version), in no particular order. If you want to follow along, you can download Scrivener for free.
1— Having everything in one place.

scriv

As you can see, there are 4 main parts on my Scrivener board:

1. The binder, or chapters and scenes

2. The main document area

3. The index or synopsis card area

4. The document notes area.

I will explain the binder area in more detail in a minute. The main document area is where I do the writing. I write by scenes, and each scene is assigned to a chapter. I don’t use the synopsis cards too much, but I’ll show how they can be used. The document notes area is where I write notes to myself and where I ‘store’ parts of the text I’ve cut. I love this because I can take out parts of the text that don’t work but they’ll still be attached to the scene where they came from, which means I can always put them back without the problem of trying to figure out where they go. It’s very convenient, let me tell you.

(To dig deeper see the rest of her article on her blog!)

Unsticking the stuck

This week I nearly threw in the towel. Writing is just so hard! I just can’t do it any more! There are so many other things I could be doing! It’s not like I’m ever going to be good at this!

And then I took a deep breath and filed it away to deal with later. I did end up skipping my writing session that day, until I could figure out what was driving my sudden loss of desire. Later that day I had some time to think, so I looked at all the reasons I might not want to write. It wasn’t hard to identify most of them. I’ve fought them off before.

For one, I’d just started listening to Brandon Sanderson’s “Words of Radiance” on audiobook again. That’s a guaranteed double-whammy. For one it’s very hard not to devote every moment of free time with my headphones in, catching just another moment or two. Having read it before doesn’t help. It’s simply too big a book to remember everything that happened, so in many ways it’s like reading it for the first time all over again.

The other problem is that Sanderson intimidates the daylights out of me. I’ll never write as well as he does. I’ll never write half as well as he does. I’ll never even write as well as his laundry. I may as well give up. Not many writers make me want to give up, but he’s one.

But I’ve managed to overcome both of those issues before. There had to be something more.

And there was. I’d just returned from a family trip, during which I’d done no writing at all. There hadn’t been any time. I was out of the habit. But that wasn’t all of it. It couldn’t be.

No, I was also really tired from that trip. That alone is not enough to stop me from writing, but when added to the mix…? Yup. But there still had to be more.

Was it because of where I was in the story and the scene I was about to write? Well, actually… I was dreading the next scene. I knew what I needed to do, and I didn’t want to have to do it. But why? Then I realized that my outline was getting in my way again. Though I’m a somewhat sparse outliner, I sometimes still feel obligated to follow it exactly whenever there is a signpost to guide me. I had to remind myself that the outline is still just a suggestion, not a retaining wall. If I don’t like it I can do something else.

All those factors, I realized, were contributing to a major internal rebellion against writing. But having identified and, to some degree, dealt with each one in turn I found I had cleared the log jam. My very next writing session I not only wrote, but I wrote more in a single sitting than I’d written in weeks. And I still wanted to write some more that night. And the next day. Not only was I unstuck, but it was as if I had a backlog of writing propelling me forward. It’s been a great couple of days.

I think we all get like this from time to time. We may call it writer’s block–and it may be–but often it could just as easily be a bunch of factors all ganging up on us at once. Sitting down and identifying them, then sorting through them and resolving them may be all it takes to get the creative juices flowing again.

It helps to know ourselves as writers, to understand what things can sap our creative energy, what dead ends we can let ourselves slip down. The more we understand who we are, what motivates us, and what stops us cold, the more we can unstick ourselves. Which can be a big relief. I really didn’t want to have to put away my Brandon Sanderson while I finish this novel.

The Authors' Think Tank Podcast, a show for writers by writers with new episodes every Monday.

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