And here we are, distinguished ladies and gentlemen! This is officially the 50th article in the 'Comsie Rambles On' series! Hehehe! I just want to take a quick second to thank you all for the likes and comments, and for offering your own touches and advice on the topics being discussed. I'm still learning too! So I love to see them! And now...let's take the first step taken towards Article #100!!!
This weekend's topic took some extra effort, trying to figure out how to put it into words that people could understand. Emotion can be such an intangible idea when it comes to explaining it or trying to bring it out in a story. Not to mention the fact that methods of doing so drastically differ from author to author, and it translates differently from reader to reader. But there is a hidden essence in all this that truly connects us all together in a variety of ways...and if we learn to tap into that energy, our stories can truly create some moving moments for everybody involved, writers and readers alike.
But how can I even approach a conversation like that?
The best way, I figured, was to do so through music. Music has this incredible ability to truly affect us when we need it most, and expect it least. It takes the intangible idea of being able to emote in your writing, and makes it a little more easily absorbed. It's more than an inner concept. You can hear it. You can feel it. So I'd like to use that as my tool this week as we talk about bringing real emotion to the words we write, and how to dig even deeper once we know what were looking for.
As always, the idea behind this goes back to the whole 'show, don't tell' mantra that every writer should keep going on in their heads at all times. When you're writing, always remember that it is not enough to say, "My main character is sad." Let your main character's inner thoughts, sullen actions, and painful dialogue, display that. If done right, the sentence, "He/She was sad," shouldn't have to be mentioned. Instead, concentrate on what's going on around that character. What led up to that moment? What might happen after that moment? How does this take the story in a 'sad' direction? If your readers have been absorbing all the details around this particular event or the circumstances surrounding this character, then their empathy should kick in and they'll feel sad for him or her without you having to 'tell' them that they should. It's like seeing a well decorated slice of cheesecake behind the counter at your local bakery. Hehehe, nobody has to 'tell' you it's going to be delicious! You can look at it, you can smell it, you begin to salivate at the very thought of it. (Ugh...now I want some cheesecake!)
But this connection between you and your audience comes from digging really deep to the very core of the emotions that you're trying to convey in your story. And that takes practice. Not just skill, as I'm certain you all have the skill, without a doubt. But practice. It takes time to really drudge up those emotions and memories and personal experiences that you might be drawing from to create that particular scene, and then put it into words. You have to 'feel' it, so your readers can feel it. I can, honestly, say that I've sat at this keyboard with tears in my eyes MANY times, myself, while writing some of the more painful moments in my stories. And while it may be emotionally draining, and it might force me to take a break from time to time...the effect that it had on my readers worked out even better than I ever could have imagined it would have. Hehehe, so...I guess you could say that I was proud to depress so many people at once. The sadist that I am! LOL!
But this comes from being able to really understand emotion in general, being able to relate to it from times in your life when you felt the same way, and then bringing that to the surface. Because, at its deepest level...I think we really have the ability to all relate to the shared experience of life itself. We've all been heartbroken at one time in our life. We've all been angry, we've all been scared, we've all been head over heels in love with someone, we've all been full of joy and fireworks. It might have been on different levels or for different reasons, but believe me...a 14 year old boy who got a Playstation 4 this past Christmas and a 65 year old man who got that first shiny bicycle in the store window when he was a kid BOTH understand the same kind of joy and surprise that comes with that. The bike or the video game isn't the connection. The JOY is the connection. And you can touch the hearts of an infinitely wide range of readers once you teach yourself to make that part your focus.
So where does the 'music' come in, Comsie?
I want you guys to listen to a few songs down below that I chose specifically for this article. I want you to think about how these songs make you feel inside. The voice. The lyrics. The instrumental arrangements. And more importantly, how they all fit together. These were meant to 'move' you. They are presenting a particular feeling and guiding you to sympathize and possibly end up feeling the same way. Try to let go and feel what it wants you to feel. What is it doing to you? Why are you suddenly feeling something that you weren't feeling before the story started?
This is a South Korean artist by the name of So Hyang. Now, a friend of mine shared this with me last year, and she is being hailed as one of the most emotionally moving singers in the WORLD right now. Naturally, I was skeptical. I mean...the world? Really? Ummm...but I have to admit, she is pretty damn moving to say the least. What starts off as a really cool, soft, and pleasant song...ends up as a near religious experience by the time it's over. She's about as close to a living, breathing, Disney princess, as you can get. Hehehe, I just listened to this again a couple of minutes ago, and I feel really good now!
Give it a listen...
Hehehe! Did you feel that? Maybe a little bit? Maybe a lot?
Now, when you think about the song itself and her performance of it...how did it affect you, emotionally? And why do you think that is?
No matter whether you're a singer, actor, writer, painter, or architect...the unique value of your art comes from your personal 'choices'. For a singer, it comes from knowing when to draw a note out, or to cut it short. To reach a higher tone, or a lower one. These choices may be pre-planned or totally subconscious and spontaneous...but it is those choice that personalizes the song to them and them alone. Writing is no different.
Can you move someone with text on a screen the same way that song might move you with visuals and audio and expert arrangements? YES! You can do all that, and a LOT more, in fact! Because the people reading your story have more than a few minutes to spend with the characters and themes that you're hitting them with. If anything, your writing should be able to touch them on a level that a three to five minute song can't reach. And while it may not be as immediately devoured as a song or a movie...the impact can be just as powerful. Just like these singers, you, as an author, have a 'voice'. Your choices will make your story relatable and unique to everyone who lays eyes upon it. It's all in how you communicate the emotion that you're looking to broadcast to your audience.
I think that there's something 'unspoken' between us all that can be instantly discovered when an artist presses the right button or finds the right trigger. Something about hearing that song above touched me. It connected to something within me that I might have buried or forgotten about. An old memory? An emotional experience? A faded dream? A release for some bottled up feelings that I never faced or dealt with properly? Who knows? But something about this particular song made contact with a deeper part of me. It went searching for certain emotional strings...and then gave them a little 'tug'. THAT'S the power of being able to emote with your work. You can have all the vocal skill and training in the world, perfect pitch, breath control, and the best sound equipment that money can buy...but it's the emotional connection that will always make your work stand out over everything else. There's a spark, an untitled glow, to it that can't be faked, manufactured, or imitated. I believe that emotion easily separates a really good story from a GREAT story. One that your readers will never forget.
Like I said, it takes practice. It takes exposure. And sometimes, it's going to be exposure to feelings and memories that you may not want to relive or dwell on for any length of time...but the more experienced you become with experiencing those feelings, firsthand, the easier it will be to project those feelings through the characters in your story. Spend some time thinking about it. Take a moment, and think about that very first time that you really got your heartbroken. Go back to that time in your life...the pain, the tears, the denial, the acceptance...honestly approach those feelings, and think about how you (at that particular moment in your life) would have to explain how you were feeling. Put it in focus. "I felt like my heart had been torn in half by someone I trusted." Good! Put that in your story! "I was so ANGRY that he cheated on me!" Great! Put that in your story! "I wish I never met her! It was like she destroyed my whole life!" Excellent! Take those emotions, and tell that story through the eyes of your main character!
I won't lie...sometimes it hurts. It does. I've dealt with some really painful moments in my life through my stories. From "My Only Escape" to "Save Or Sacrifice" to "Never Again"...I had to draw from some pretty disturbing memories in order to write those out. But it can be a truly therapeutic experience when it's all said and done. I don't know...tears are good for the soul and all that.
But the more you sort of dig around in that wound, the more you pick at that scab...the more you begin to get a clear understanding of the subtle differences involved when dealing with one emotion or another.
In the two songs below...they are both dealing with heartbreak. Someone that you love who is now attempting to be happy with someone else. Now, hearing that part of the emotional description, one would think that the songs would be pretty similar to one another. "I love you. You left me behind. I can't let go." They both deal with loss. They both deal with a mixture of pain and anger...so, I guess 'painger'! Hehehe! However, give them both a listen. The emotion and the theme is the same, but lyrically and emotionally...they're both sending out a very different message. Sad, yes. But the Yebba song is a bit more determined. She seems like she's in pain, but there's a certain feeling of strength and empowerment in her delivery. I can feel the pain in her performance. But she's still standing strong, despite her being so close to breaking down.
However, in Conor Maynard's highly emotional cover of Drake's 'Marvin's Room', he seems a bit more somber. More defeated. It feels more like he's trying to maintain some kind of strength, but he's struggling through it. It's almost like he's lost as to whether he's going to make it or not.
And is he crying? it almost looks like he was crying! Geez! Where was this coming from? I think he was 17 when he covered this, so...recent heartbreak maybe? Who knows?
Anyway, you can tell two completely different stories from this subtle difference alone. One of someone getting over a massive heartbreak, or one of someone being crushed by it. Put yourself in both situations. Feel it in your heart. And think about how you would put those feelings into words when your characters are going through something similar.
The thing to remember is to always draw from your personal truth. Somebody out there has been through the same things that you have struggled through in your life, and when you make that connection...when you find a way tug on that heart string...the reader/writer dynamic becomes a symbiotic experience. When you dig deep enough...you're no longer just telling your story, but their story as well. You reach out and you actually 'touch' a part of them that they didn't even know was there.
Hehehe, I didn't mean for that to sound anywhere NEAR as perverted as it did!
The subtle changes on one side of the emotion or another comes from the words you use, and the way you describe the plight of your character. If you want to empower them, your word usage should reflect that. The tone should be different. Convey strength through your descriptions and vocabulary. If you want them broken and hurt beyond repair...change the way you describe their handling of the situation. You wouldn't describe both sides in the same way in real life if it were happening to you. So don't do it that way in your stories. Pay attention to the difference. A sentence or two can make a huge difference in how your readers perceive your protagonist's state of mind. And that state of mind can be the rise or fall of an emotionally potent scene in your project.
These next two songs show a slightly different take on the idea of misery. Just...plain misery. Now, this first one will always have a special place in my heart. Johnny Cash and his wife, the love of his life, passed away about 4 months apart from each other. After losing her, he said that his music was all he had left, and he made this cover of 'Hurt', originally from Nine Inch Nails' album, 'Downward Spiral'. This was the last video he ever filmed before he died, and the flashbacks to a long life of entertaining and basically being country music's number one badass, mixed with the heartbreaking lyrics, is sure to twist a few hearts here and there when watching it.
The second video, however, is more 'angst' than misery. You watch the video and listen to the song, and while Alessia Cara is 'miserable' where she is, it has a totally different vibe to it. She isn't sad about it. She just doesn't want to be there. I remember seeing this for the first time and thinking, "Omigod, I remember being like that at a party!" I'm supposed to be having fun, but...I'm just not into this at all. I'd uch rather be somewhere else. Anywhere else.
Again, these songs have different tones to them. The inspire different emotions and therefore need to be treated differently in order to connect to different people. It all depends on what you're looking to broadcast with the picture you're painting for your readers at that moment.
Will it be Johnny Cash, a dark place with a slightly optimistic outlook? Or an Alessia Cara party place with a slightly darker, isolated, outlook?
Now, emotions don't all have to be sad and depressing! Hehehe! Of course not! Evoking emotion comes in the form of love and joy and blissful happiness as well! So, don't think that you have to have some kind of heavy drama going on in order to explain making an emotional connection with your audience. Some of my more lighthearted stories are extremely fun for me to write as well. "Kiss Of An Angel", "Jesse-101", and others have given me a few giggles and good vibes, typing them out. But still...joy is an emotion that you want to push forward when you're writing your story. Let your readers feel it like YOU feel it. Right?
The slight shift in these two videos below is expressed mostly through an 'internal' and 'external' version of joy. Both by the same artist, same voice, same theme. However, in the first song (Which ALWAYS makes me smile when I hear it! Hehehe!) is all about feeling good. It has the kind of feeling that you get when you just wake up, the sun is shining, you've got the day to yourself, and everything is AWESOME! This is an internal joy. Nothing can touch you. It can't bother you. It just makes you feel good inside! The music, the lyrics...everything about it is all sunshine and good vibes!
The second, while having the same theme, is more external. It's sharing that joy with other people. It's inspiring. It tells you that you can feel just as amazing as she does, if you only shrug off the bullshit and realize how beautiful you really are. (A song that I desperately needed to hear when it first came out and I was feeling down. Because...sighhh...'the internet'!) Both of these themes can connect to readers in a way that will keep them smiling until their cheeks hurt while reading your work. And that is what is going to make your writing memorable. It's more than a story. It's an experience. Something that they can go back to when they want to feel that way again. Something that they can share with a friend or family member when they're in need of connecting to that happiness the same way that they did.
If only you knew how much power you had when it comes to affecting people on an emotional level. You really can change lives with what you write. One emotion at a time.
So, there we go! Emote control! It's not about me telling you what to write or how to write it. You all have the talent and the passion to figure it out for yourselves. Your very presence here proves that. This is just meant to shine a spotlight on a few things that you may have a feel for, but never really pay attention to. It's there. Many writers think about emotions in terms of joy, sadness, anger, jealousy, and indifference. But there are infinite shades of grey in between. Combinations and lethal cocktails and conflicting ideologies, that you can personalize and use to your story's benefit. But the first step is diving into those emotions, feeling them fully, and attempting to figure out how they work for you and for your readers. Learn the subtle shifts from one to another. Teach yourself how to deescalate or intensify those emotions at will. And, as always...practice, practice, practice.
I've been doing this for almost 21 years now...and I still find new blind spots that I didn't pay attention to before. So get familiar with your own hearts, and go out there to give them your best. Do it better than I did.
Thanks for the love and support you guys! I hope the music/writing comparison helped to get my point across. Like I said, it's kind of a hard thing to put into words. I love you all! And I'll see you next weekend with more!
If you think you can't find the emotional power within yourself, check out the video below. This is a Latin pop artist, Abraham Mateo. He made this back when he was only TWELVE years old! How a twelve year old was able to tap into such heartfelt emotion is a complete mystery to me! But listen all the way through. By the end of this song, its like, "Who IS this kid???" It just takes passion, effort, and practice. That's it. If he can do it...you can too.
Best of luck!
The biggest trick that any writer can pull off when it comes to their finished product...is making it look like writing is easy. Hehehe, getting your readers to think that you just sat down at a keyboard with a cup of tea or coffee, and tapped into some level of genius to type something out from beginning to end.
(Cue snickers and laughter from the writing community.)
Obviously, this isn't true. Sure, it becomes easier through practice and discipline, and we get used to the habit of expressing our thoughts in this particular way...but there is nothing 'easy' about writing a story. Not at all. From conception, to creating characters, to plot devices, to dialogue...it takes a LOT of time and patience and skill to pull off a story from beginning to end. You have to juggle a series of different talents all at once, and once you're finished...you've got to edit it and start all over again to catch anything that you may have dropped along the way. Yeah, to say that it's easy to do is not only a mistake...it's an outright lie for many of us.
Because of this pleasurable, self torturing, practice that we love so much...it can sometimes cause our most ambitious ideas to seem more intimidating than they have to be. At least that's been my experience so far. There are stories that I wanted to write years ago that still intimidate me to this day. Every time I consider sitting down and just getting it started, I almost get overwhelmed with anxiety about how I'm ever going to create that story, those characters, and actually get it right. I get intimidated by the time I'm going to have to put in. Intimidated by the emotion I'll have to pour in. Intimidated by whatever research I might have to do for the details. I feel the story idea looming over me to the point where I'm forced to back away from it, and like the procrastination savant that I am, hehehe...I put it off until later. And as we all know, 'later' often never comes.
This week, I'd like to spend a few moments talking about writer confidence, and maybe clear up the smoke and mirrors aspect of possibly beating the intimidation when it strikes.
For me, personally, it doesn't always take some massive new project to intimidate me into shying away from putting the work in. Sometimes, it might just be a particularly important chapter that I'm worried about getting right. Or a specific scene where a big secret is revealed, or a dramatic argument or major event has to come along to change the course of the rest of the story. As I mentioned in a past article, sometimes I know exactly what I want to say and how I want to say it...but there's a 'hesitation' involved anyway. For me, that's WORSE than writer's block! LOL! I can deal with writer's block. But fear or lack of motivation? Nothing makes me feel more helpless when it comes to my writing.
Also, there are times when the intimidation isn't even creatively inspired. Sometimes I have to ask myself if I'm going to have the time and the focus to really dive into this new chapter/story the way I want to. What is my work schedule like? What are my friends and family up to? Will I be able to remove myself from the world for a week or two to get this as well polished as I want it to be? Some of you guys have kids or partners that need attention and quality time. Some of you have a busy few weeks of work ahead of you, and you know that's not going to leave you with a lot of energy to write when you come home. There are more factors that you can ever imagine that have to be shifted around in order to concentrate on the task at hand. And that can cause a writer to hesitate as well. It's nothing to feel bad about. It happens. And if you decide that this isn't the time for you to jump into that particular project...then so be it.
However, you can't let these things destroy your writer confidence.
See...being intimidated by a story, chapter, or important scene, in your project isn't going to be like an explosion at the base of a tower, causing it to crumble to the ground all at once. It's more like an aggressive army of termites. It erodes the foundation in secret. You start making little excuses for why you can't jump into it today. You start getting randomly distracted by things like getting your house cleaned, or a sudden Netflix binge. "I'll do it later" and "I'll get around to it when I have more time" become your mantras, and before you know it...it's six months later and you haven't so much as brought it up on your laptop once in all that time. Don't believe me? Look at your files right now? Do you have any lingering projects that you were going to 'get around to', and haven't? When was the last time you opened that file? It might be longer than you think. Hehehe! It usually is for me.
So how can we fix this?
I think the first step in starting this new project or getting a previous project back on course comes from asking yourself...'What am I so afraid of?' When I mention fear, I'm not talking about outright TERROR or anything! Hehehe, it's not that serious. But something is stopping you from sitting down and typing out the thoughts and emotions in your heart. What is it? What's bullying you out of tackling the next chapter? Find out what is giving you the most hesitation, and give it some thought. Loosen that knot. And be brutally honest with yourself. Maybe you don't like where the story is going. Maybe you're bored with it. Maybe some negative comments on the last story made you doubt your abilities as a writer. Maybe you have such high expectations for this next chapter that you worry you're not up to the task? Whatever it may be...find it, face it, and think about how you might be able to get around it. Diagnose the problem so you know what to fix. As long as you keep putting it off or making excuses, the actual issue that you might be trying to avoid is going to remain vague and unclear. In fact, you may deny that there is a problem at all. "I can't write tonight because...it's National Hot Dog Day! That's all." Hehehe, yeah, that's not a reason.
The second step? Take a leap of faith. Find a few minutes of peace, open that file up...read what you've read so far, maybe doing a soft re-edit and making a few changes along the way, and then move right into the next sentence without hesitating. You just read what you wrote, your memory's been refreshed, you've got the file open, your fingertips are touching the keyboard...do it. Right then and there. Pick up where you left off and just start writing again as if it had only been a few hours since your last entry. If you're starting something brand new from scratch, and you're not sure how to begin...stare at that blank scene and think about ONE thing that you want your readers to know about your main character. And then create an opening scene that displays that one trait or attribute (or flaw). Put them right in the middle of it. Like, let's say that your protagonist is madly in love with some boy on the basketball team, right? Your first sentence...
"I don't even really like basketball all that much. But I show up to the high school games for 'him'. Only for him."
This is an opener that you can easily build off of. That little bit of text both gives answers and creates questions. The answers? This person is probably in high school. He's infatuated with someone on the team. He doesn't like sports. The questions? Who's speaking right now? Who is 'him'? Why is he so infatuated with him? You've immediately planted the seed, and you know have avenues to pursue your next few sentences. You can get into the thoughts and feelings of the main character, or you can describe the beauty and allure of the boy he's watching on the court. You end up writing a few more sentences to complete your thought...and that thought leads to a few more thoughts. You're already a few sentences deep into this new project, right? You might as well follow that path to the next logical idea. And when you complete that thought, you open the door to two or three more things that you might be able to add. Before you know it, you might be 1000 words into your project, with enough inspiration to keep moving forward. Sometimes, getting your brain to operate in that creative mode will create the momentum needed to get things started, and far enough along to actually enjoy yourself again instead of worrying about whatever problem you had getting started in the first place. Believe me, it works. But only with practice.
I feel much more confident when I play around with my stories and sort of feel my way through it. I have to put things into motion, and that takes a push and a few extra nudges when I feel myself getting distracted again...but once I actually start writing and get my wheels turning again, the intimidation of taking that project head on ceases to be a problem. I think about what I'm feeling, and what I want a certain scene to accomplish, and I just keep feeling my way around until I feel good by what i see on the screen. That doesn't mean that everything I write is going to be flawless or error free. I don't even worry about that part. The emotion is what matters most. Capturing that moment, and bringing it to the people reading. Most of the time, I'll start a sentence without any idea as to how it'll end. The same way that I might have a spoken conversation with a friend. I don't plan what I'm going to say ahead of time, or what he/she will say after that, and how I'll respond. Stay in the moment. That's important. more times than not, the intimidation you feel is coming from this magnificent vision of what the final product is going to be. But you haven't built it yet. Don't start worrying about the dangers of life on Mars when you haven't even figured out how to get there yet. Hehehe, one brick at a time.
I'll just start writing a sentence, let the emotion sort of swirl around in my head for a bit, and I may stop halfway to stare off into space for a second or two, trying to find that one magic word to add next...and then keep going. Don't worry about it being good enough. Worry about it being honest enough. Take one step, and then another, and then another. Learn to trust your instincts. The only way to do that is by putting your instincts to work for you. They're like any other muscle in the body. You have to give them a workout in order to strengthen them. Build them up, sentence by sentence, through little leaps of faith.
With time and practice, it'll become second nature to you. Your confidence will grow, your instincts will become more involuntary...and then...there will be these truly magical moments when you truly feel in tune with what you're doing. You own it. You start typing and you feel as if you're in complete control of everything that you're doing, to the point where you might get in the zone and turn out half a chapter in one sitting. Let me tell you, that's the greatest feeling in the WORLD! There are nights when I feel like I'm playing this keyboard like a piano at the Philharmonic! And when I click that 'save' button...I'm truly proud of the work I put in, and get excited for the reaction I might get back from the readers.
Now...mind you...I might come back the next day, look at it, and rip it to pieces again, because we're all our own worst critics. LOL! But at least I put the work in, and I got it done. That hesitation that I felt because I was intimidated by my own expectations of what I wanted the story or chapter to be didn't beat me. It didn't bully me out of my creative expression, and once I actually made the decision to get it started, it wasn't anywhere near as scary as difficult as I thought it would be. But it will be a leap of faith. Each and every time. That's not going to change, but you learn to deal with it. And before you know it...you'll have much more written than you ever though possible.
As always, I hope this article helps any of you guys who might be struggling with a few 'I'll get to it later' issues as well. Whether it comes to you starting something new, getting back into something old, or even going back to edit and ultimately publish a story that's already finished...you can get it done. Just find your earliest opportunity to sit at your keyboard, and dive right in without waiting. You're all creative people, and you've spent a long time honing your craft. Have enough faith in your instincts to carry you once you make the effort to get started. Start writing, and let your instincts take the wheel from there. They won't fail you.
Take care! And I'll seezya next weekend!
As many of you guys already know, I grew up being a fan of Stephen King's writing. Something about it creeped me out, but more importantly...it spoke to me. The setting, the characters, the almost claustrophobic feel of the events taking place...I could feel it as if it was really happening at that very moment. So, I was, and still am, a fan.
I remember watching an interview with him once as he was talking about his writing process, and he was asked if he actually sat down and took 'notes' and jotted down his ideas before he started a new book, or at any time during his efforts to finish it. He was quick to give a clear and emphatic, "No!" Hehehe! He doesn't keep notes at all. The reason he gave was that, if the ideas he had were good enough to make the book, then they'd stay in his head and there would be no need to write them down. And if they weren't good enough, then they probably faded away for a reason. Makes good sense, I suppose. I can see where he's coming from.
I, on the other hand, am the exact opposite!
To me, my notes are just as important to me as the actual story itself. In fact, it's rare that I throw the notes away, even after I've finished the project. Sentimental value, I suppose. Plus, it's rare that I use all of the ideas that I come up with...so I end up going back and sliding some of those ideas right into the next story. Why not? Consider it my 'literary recycling program'.
This week, I want to talk about the benefits and the possible drawbacks of taking notes for your stories, both before you get started and during the writing process!
For me, taking notes on my ideas are essential. I make sure to keep a small pocket notebook and at least two working pens with me at all times. Inspiration can hit me at any time without warning, and when my muse gets all fired up and is looking for a way to channel itself into something productive, I want to make sue to have that outlet ready in the form of a pen and a pad. Maybe I have or overhear a particularly interesting or funny conversation and it sparks an idea. Maybe a beautiful stranger passes me in the street and I start thinking of ways to describe him as a character in one of my stories. Maybe I'm having a shitty day at work and I have some frustration that I want to get off of my shoulders. Whatever the situation, I like to develop my ideas when I'm in the moment. I tend to self reflect a lot, so when something happens, good or bad, I'm constantly asking myself how I feel about it. And how would I be able to explain that feeling to somebody else if I had to. That's where my notes come in.
I can honestly say that there have been plenty of times when I've been riding the train, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office, or standing in line at the grocery store...and I'll suddenly get flooded with some really vivid ideas out of nowhere. So I immediately look for a way to jot them down before I forget anything. I have an entire shoe box full of scraps of paper at the foot of my bed right now. Hehehe! Little scribbled notes on the back of candy wrappers, store receipts, junk mail envelopes...some of them are short pieces of dialogue that I thought up, some are basic layouts for what I want to accomplish with the newest chapter, and sometimes they might be ideas for an entirely new project altogether. I'm constantly trying to capture a written 'snapshot' of that moment, as some of my best ideas can be fleeting. Telling myself that I'll remember it when I get home is not an option. Because I won't. Not like I would have if I took notes in the moment.
The method to my madness is this...once I get a decent idea in my head, I want to expand on that idea. I want to explore it with the same energy and emotion that created the idea in the first place. What was I feeling that made me suddenly think up this sweet and tender moment for the next "Jesse-101" chapter? Who knows? But let me see where else this feeling will take me. You see, by writing it down...I can allow the idea to grow and change without worrying about losing its original form. Have you ever tried to memorize someone's phone number without a cell phone or without writing it down? Do you see how MADDENING that is??? Hehehe1 you end up repeating it over and over and over in your head until you nearly drive yourself insane, and just 30 seconds before you're able to find something to write it down on...you forget one of the numbers! Or you forget the area code, or get the order wrong! Arrrghhh! That's how I feel when I'm trying to remember story ideas as they come to me. My brain gets clogged up with more and more ideas, all spawned from that one momentary feeling inside, and there's no way for me to remember them all. My creative brain swells up with a ton of info sometimes, so I have to write it out like people in a sinking canoe, trying to use buckets to scoop the water out before it fills up and sends them to the bottom of the lake.
So, rule number one? Get rid of it! Hehehe, if it's in your head and in your heart att that particular moment...write it down. You don't have to pen an entire chapter right then and there, but get your details scripted out. Names, faces, places, events...put it on paper. The bonus of making this a habit is not only saving your initial thoughts...but you don't have to stress yourself out over remembering it for later. You won't have to repeat the details in your mind again and again, only to lose some of them anyway in the end. Also, your brain can sort of push that idea to the side and build on it. It's been my experience that any idea, no matter how small or how vague...the second I write it down on a piece of paper, my mind starts coming up with ways to support and expand on it. Right away. It's become an automatic part of the process for me now.
Example...I might hear a song on the radio, and it'll inspire me to think of two characters sharing their very first kiss while listening to that very song. The melody might just trigger something in me, and I reach for my pen and pad. I imagine that kiss, and how I would visualize it, what words I would use to describe it, and where it takes place. I might just write...
"Ethan and Drew look at each other, music playing, drawn in slowly, so nervous, lips touch, heart racing."
They're just a skeletal structure of a scene, but it's enough to remind me what I was thinking of and how I wanted it to look. However, once that's written down and I don't have to worry about remembering it later...my mind starts to add details. Maybe they're laying on the bed. Maybe it's raining outside. Maybe they use their feet to kick their shoes off and let them fall to the floor. As the moment expands, I start thinking that maybe they were having some sort of softly spoken dialogue that led up to that moment. Then a brief silence. Then the kiss. And then I'll add a few notes about what that kiss leads to. Maybe they go further. Maybe they stop and just enjoy the sound of the rain against the window. Maybe Ethan's mom comes home and they get interrupted. Maybe a friggin' Tasmanian Devil jumps out from under the bed and devours them both! I don't know! LOL! But whatever it is that's got me feeling the urge to start writing...I want to catch it. I want to hold onto it. And then recall that emotion as soon as I can get back to my keyboard to type it out. So keeping a pen handy at all times is an absolute must for me. I'm pretty sure I would have lost volumes of work and ideas if I didn't have a way to keep my most spontaneous thoughts with me.
However, you don't want to get too dependent on your notes in the long run. You want to remember your ideas and free your mind up with enough space to make room for more...but you've got to remember that they're just 'scribbles'. What you jot down in your notebook is NOT some sort of binding contract, where you're now forced to put every single thought in your head into your story. As I said before, I make an effort to collect all of my ideas and keep them handy if I need them, but I don't use them ALL. That would be crazy. Think of it like leftovers in the fridge. The night you had that dinner originally might have been amazing and delicious and awesome all around. But, you may look in the back of the fridge a week later and still see it sitting there. You might start thinking, "I really don't feel like keeping this any longer. I might as well throw it out." These random ideas and spontaneous thoughts are no different. So if you go back and look at them later or you put some more thought into them and decide they don't really 'fit' into the framework that you're trying to create...let them go. Or use them elsewhere. Don't be discouraged. It wasn't a BAD idea...it was a spur of the moment idea. That's all.
Also, don't let your notes, outlines, or its of dialogue constrain you. Be flexible when you're writing. more spontaneous ideas will come to you as your typing out your next chapter. Trust me. So don't feel like you're handcuffed to the notes you took before you started writing. If you want to cut something out that was in your notes? Cut it out. If you want to expand on an idea by adding things that weren't in your notes? Add them in. The beauty of writing your own stories is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. The only rule book you have to follow is the one you write for yourself. And alll rules are subject to change at any time. So proudly take advantage of your freedom and only use your notes as a grab bag of helpful treats...and not some rigid set of laws that has to be reproduced exactly the way it was written when you thought of it. Relax. Allow you talents to flow organically and bring all the heart it can to your story.
Anyway, I hope this makes some kind of sense. I always have to keep notes when I'm thinking of these articles too! Hehehe! ::Holds up my trusty piece of folded scrap paper:: I know what it's like to really enjoy writing and the thrill it can give you when the ideas are just flying at you to the point where your typing fingers can barely keep up. But I also know that 'passion' and 'opportunity' don't always line up the way we want them to. We won't always have the chance to run for our laptops and start writing every time the creative lightning strikes...and there's nothing worse than having a really good idea, or cleverly worded block of dialogue...and forgetting the best parts of it before you get home.
So keep something to write on and something to write WITH in your pockets at all times! That would be my advice.
Take care, you guys! Happy writing! And I'll seezya soon!
Can you guys believe that this is the 47th writing article I've done already? LOL! I talk too much! Geez! Reaching that big 50th milestone in the next few weeks! Can't wait!
Anyway, let's get into it, shall we?
Whenever you read something, whether you actually realize it or not, you are speaking the words on the page/screen aloud in your head. Even while you're reading these words right now...there's a voice in your head narrating the text for you. Then again, there are some people who actually read out loud, and that's ok too. However, when you read something in your head, even though you don't have to use your lips or your tongue or control your breathing...the same rules apply. Somewhere in the back of your mind, you may find yourself doing these things anyway. And I'm willing to bet that a majority of your readers do too.
When I talk about writer 'flow', I'm talking about the ease and comfort that people experience when reading the words that you wrote. This is an aside from content, plot, or character. It's different. Subtle. You have to make an effort to notice it and smooth things out if you want your project to be as awesome as it possibly can be. How do we do that? Well, that's what this weekend article is all about! So...let's talk about writer 'flow'!
Have you ever read a story that you really LIKED, but kept stumbling over words every now and then...preventing you from loving it as much as you really wanted to? Sometimes its due to spelling errors, or maybe just awkward wording in a sentence, or sometimes there's a language barrier and certain phrases don't translate well. Whatever it is, it can cause that inner narrator to pause or get confused, and that can interrupt the flow of a story. See...there's a rhythm in writing that may seem natural to you guys as authors, but the truth is, it's a skill that you build over time with a ton of practice. If we go back and read our earlier works, we may be able to see the difference in our old rhythm and our new one. At least that's how it is for me. The word usage isn't as refined, the sentences aren't as well structured...I can always tell my older work from my newer stuff. I guarantee you that my readers can too. So, I think it's important to go back and pay attention to what we've done in the past and compare to what we do now. You may be surprised to see a pretty big evolution there.
I really started noticing this when I began re-editing my stories for eBook releases. Some sentences needed to be rewritten to keep from sounding...'clumsy'. Sometimes I would add new material, reword certain scenes, or add a little finesse to the dialogue to make sure that the rhythm that I was looking for could be maintained throughout the project. The first rule of creating a flow for your stories? Keep it consistent. Let the tone and feel of your scene play itself through, and then if you decide to shift speeds, segue into it as smoothly as possible. Try to picture the colors changing, like a sunset. It doesn't go from high noon to midnight in a snap. There's a slow and steady transition from one to the other. A sunset. A sunrise. Give yourself enough space to move through your story with graceful curves instead of harsh angles.
Hmmm...wait, is this making sense? Hehehe, let me try to put this into words that may seem a bit more 'user friendly'. There's nothing mystical or philosophical about writer flow. It's just a means of taking notice of what you're doing and how you're doing it.
When you get a chance, read some of your writing out loud to yourself. Treat it like an actor's audition. Put your feeling and emotion into it. Look at the text on the screen, think about the character and the scene, and then read it out loud. If you have trouble with a word or two, or if it sounds awkward when read aloud...think about how you could change that sentence around to make it sound better and create the emotional vibe that you're going for. Sometimes, changing a single word or adding a few extra can create a whole new 'feel' for your story. I happen to be a bit obsessive about this kind of thing, myself. Hehehe, which is one of the reasons that I know that anyone who offered to be my editor would end up in a mental hospital by the time I got through nitpicking my own stuff to the point of madness. But stories are personal portraits of who I am. If I don't feel it, how can I expect my readers to feel it. So, occasionally I read through a sentence or line of dialogue, and I'll realize that it could be done a little bit better. For example, sometimes I'll say something like..."We stared at each other." Which is simple enough, but I might go back later and change it to..."We stared at one another." it's saying the same thing, but sometimes 'one another' sounds slightly more intimate in my mind. (Hehehe, I told you it was insanity!) I might change the word 'hug' to 'embrace', or the word 'beauty' to 'allure'. It all depends on how I'm reading the sentence and how it makes me feel. Always be aware of your emotions when you're reading your own work. You'll know when you've got the flow just right. Just keep at it.
Now, if you find yourself reading out loud and you stumble over the way a sentence is worded...fix it. Try thinking about what you're trying to say with that particular sentence, then close your eyes and try to convey the same message 'naturally'. As if you were talking to a random person on the street. Treat the story as if it was some sort of high school or office gossip that you witnessed yesterday, and now you're telling somebody else about it. Don't think about the writing aspect of it. No mechanics, no structure...just say it like you would say it to a regular person. Let it come out smoothly. If you speak a different language, say it in your own language where you feel most at home, and let it roll out naturally. It's possible to overwork a sentence and over plan our dialogue when we're writing. Sometimes simplicity is the key. If you find yourself having to reread a sentence, if there's a clumsy jumble of words on the page, if you run out of breath or feel that there's an awkward pause that shouldn't be there...get rid of it. Smooth it out. Grab some mental sandpaper and wear it down until those rough edges are gone. Because if you stumble physically, you'll stumble the same way mentally. And so will your readers.
As I've mentioned in previous articles, the length of your sentences create pacing. Make sure that the pacing matches the tone that you're looking for. Longer sentences slow things down. It gives your readers time to absorb more details, inhale all of the fragrances you've provided them, experience beauty and color. You can use this tactic to flesh out emotional events and deep conversations. Shorter sentences, however, speed things up. This makes the heart beat faster. It puts you in a different state of mind. Short sentences can be used to increase tension. To enhance the heated back and forth of an argument. To shuffle your readers through an intense action scene. Every time you use a period, it's like an editor's cut in a movie. Cut, cut, cut, cut...look over there, look over here now, back to you. But always remember to try to keep your flow consistent from one moment to the next. Don't throw your readers off with a weird mix of the two. Remember the sunset? If you start off with long sentences that are full of detail and flowery language...and then want the scene to change into something more aggressive or intense...start making your sentences shorter and shorter as you progress forward. Let it smoothly transform from one extreme to the other without it coming off as jolting or out of place. And vice versa for the opposite effect. Again, this is subtle when it comes to writing, but if you read enough stories and have practiced writing your own, you'll be able to 'feel' the difference once you start paying attention to it.
Now...this isn't an exact science. Nothing artistic or creative ever is. That's what makes art beautiful. The freedom from rules and regulations, and the dreamlike ability to express yourself without boundaries. But I hope that bringing your attention to the idea of writer flow will help you to notice it a bit more when your writing your own story or reading somebody else's. That way, you can build your own methods of pulling this off and develop your own instincts on how to use it to be the best writer you can be. I feel that writing is both an art and a craft. The craft is being able to put words together and tell a good story. But the art is being able to transcend that craft and translate your emotions for your readers to feel it the way that you do. That only comes with dedication and practice. So keep at it! And I'll be cheering for you the whole way!
Take care! And happy writing!
There are five words that always make me laugh whenever I watch one of the videos from the Youtube series below, hehehe! Because it's SO true for every story and every TV show and every movie that I've ever seen! And it's true for your work too. Can't help but to get a few chuckles out of it!
Those five words?
"Super easy! Barely an inconvenience!"
Don't worry, an explanation is coming.
One thing that I hope many of you will take from this week's discussion is the idea that any story...literally, ANY story...can be picked apart and scrutinized to the point where it simply might not work as an effective story anymore. Sad, but true.
I don't say this to discourage you guys. I say this to 'free' you. I say this to make you guys aware of the reality of the situation when it comes to writing a story of your very own. Especially if it's your first time. Please keep in mind that you are writing a fictional story. Let me repeat that before moving forward...you are writing a FICTIONAL story! You are creating something out of nothing. Your goal is to entertain an audience by getting your fictional main character from a fictional point A to a fictional point B, by whatever means you can use to advantage while keeping your readers locked in while you're doing it. You are creating a dramatic series of events to provide opportunities for your story to move forward. It's not real. NONE of this is real. It's a story. And it's meant to get your readers to enjoy the ride that you have planned for them.
(Unless, of course, it's autobiographical...in which case, that's real! LOL! But even then, who's to say that your memory is as accurate as t should be.)
I wanted to start this discussion with this statement, because I feel that it's really important for every writer to remember this when they go into writing their next project. PLEASE, keep in mind that you will never ever EVER be able to avoid or find your way around the "Why doesn't he just...?" crowd! Never! Not EVER! Hehehe! Trust me, I've spent 20 YEARS trying to write stories that the nitpickers couldn't possibly dismantle and make my main characters look hopelessly stupid, frustratingly clueless, and unforgivably fake! And those aren't MY words...that's from my fans who claim to actually love the stories I write.
Anyway, when writing a story and plotting it out, putting all of the pieces together to reach the desired effect that you're looking for...you have to construct a certain formula in order for your story to work in your head. You have to build a foundation and keep adding bricks until you reach the top and are able to put a roof on your project. It takes practice, but you learn to connect dots, bond events, set chain reactions in motion. But that doesn't mean that you won't miss something or slip up every now and then. It happens, and people will catch it and call you out on it. Sometimes, it's a plot hole that you can fill in and make your story better. And other times...just let it go. Hehehe, sometimes it's just a part of the story. Let readers know, 'This is something that we built, exclusively, for you to enjoy', right? Just...hopefully they'll enjoy it for what it is. It's all a matter of telling the best story that you can, and concentrating on what you feel is most important.
This can...and will...lead to plot holes in your story. Don't feel bad about it. This is inevitable. No writer is out there looking at ten thousand different alternative solutions for your main character's every thought and action in any given story. And even if you could, there would be ONE reader out there that saw ten thousand and two possibilities, and will bring it up anyway. You can't beat them, don't try.
This weekend, we talk about plot holes! Figuring out what you can fix, and what you should leave alone. And those unavoidable literary speedbumps in the road that we TRY to avoid...but still hit, despite our attempts to swerve around them at the last minute!
Before I start, take a look at some of the videos below. I really love these, as they always make me think about things I never thought of before and laugh! We're all potential suckers for a good (or bad) story sometimes. But, yes! There are plot holes in every movie you see! And if you sit there and make a sincere effort to pick everything apart...then yeah, I doubt any story/movie/TV show would make much sense at all. But...that's only if you work at stripping down every element of it. And where's the fun in that? LOL!
These are all parody versions of what these movies would be if broken down to their core. Many SPOILERS are involved! So, if you haven't seen the movies listed, then you may want to skip over that particular video. But, for those who have seen them all...
...Take note of the plot holes and conveniences included in this as the jokes fly by...
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Hehehe, are you beginning to see what I'm talking about here? No story is exempt from contrivances or cliches. Plot holes pop up because we don't all see the world with the same eyes. That's something that you really have to keep in mind when you're trying to get around this problem in your writing. Something might be wrong with my car, and an experienced mechanic might tell me, "Well, why didn't you just move this wire to that wire and reroute the electric charge? Hehehe, or whatever. Ummm...ok, well I didn't think of that. Thanks, I guess? And you guys know how I struggle with programming and computer stuff that, I'm sure, makes me look like a full blown idiot to people who know computers much better than I do. But, hey...sorry. I didn't think of that either. Shame on me.
The point is, if you're going to share your art with a wide audience, they may see blindspots that you can't. And this is where having a Beta reader, or even multiple Betas, read your story (I suggest 'chapter by chapter', just in case you spin off in a direction that you can't come back from later) ahead of time. Maybe your friends and fans can pick out a few inconsistencies in your writing, and let you know before you get too far ahead of yourself. They can be extremely helpful in that regard.
I've made many mistakes in my stories in the past that I didn't really think about until someone pointed it out to me. I've had someone in a wheelchair show up on the roof of an abandoned building without thinking about how he was able to get up all of those flights of steps without assistance. I've overlooked obvious answers to story conflicts, I've mixed up continuity issues, I've dropped the ball in potentially major scenes...but that's all a part of honing your craft. Live and learn, I suppose. I was trying to tell a story that would be excting and memorable to everyone who took a look at it, and I was definitely trying to guide it in a certain direction so I could achieve that. A young artist, Ruel, said about creating his own music, "Writing is exaggeration." And I really couldn't agree more.
It's not so unrealistic, you know? Any honest portrayal of our own lives might come off as convenient and contrived as well when seen through the eyes of an observer. Take a look at your own experiences, good times and bad. How closely does it play out to the stories you read online? Is it really all that complex? Sometimes, you meet your best friend by chance. Sometimes you fall in love with someone you didn't expect to care for. It happens. It almost feels like 'fate', when it does because...how the hell could I have been so lucky/unlucky on my own? Should our stories not reflect that in some way? Sure, we add a little flair here and there, but truth be told...a majority of the greatest moments of my life happened by 'accident'. Spontaneous reactions to unexpected opportunities. Falling for my best friend, losing my virginity, comng out to a few trusted friends, lucky breaks, and hilarious failures. Even writing my first story for Nifty. "What's the story behind that, Comsie???" I found Nifty by accident online one night, read a bunch of stories, wanted to write one of my own...so I sat down and wrote it. "Oh." Exactly! Not exactly a page turner, is it? Hehehe, but it's life! Exaggerated life, sure, but life just the same. That's what I write about. And that's been my personal experience.
I want flawed characters. I want spur of the moment mishaps and bumbled conversations and knee jerk reactions. As a writer, we all get the chance to plan and plot things out in order to create the story we're trying to tell. Stories that take place in the 'moment'. Readers, however..have a bit of an advantage. They have time to detach emotionally, take time, pause, back away from the situation, and crate a variety of alternate scenarios in their heads to poke giant holes in what you've written. Which makes sense, it's what readers do. But it's not always fair. Hehehe! Keep that in mind.
Have you ever had a heated argument with somebody, walked away angry, and spent the next few hours thinking, "I SHOULD have said this!" Or, "I should have pointed out how much they SUCK when they said that!" And hey...if you had time to think and analyze and push your emotions aside for a biting zinger that would knock your opponent to the floor in the heat of the moment...that would have been great. But, the truth is...we don't get a do-over. We don't get to remove ourselves from the situation and pick it apart from a distance until the moment is already over.
I say this because I believe that an author's passion is important, and writing should feel natural and fun to you guys. Create your vision, and have it play out the best way that you know how. You shouldn't be stressing yourself out, trying to outsmart the world's greatest detectives with every plot point and word of dialogue that you add to your project. You'll never get anything finished that way. Have confidence in your ability to craft a series of events that will get your characters where they need to go.
Create your story line, write it out, go back and self edit to see if your plot is missing anything or if there's anything that doesn't add up...and then give it to your Beta readers to see if maybe they can find some of the errors that you can't see for yourself. The big thing here is to get the story finished! If you need to add something or change something later to keep from confusing your audience or spoiling the suspension of disbelief...then so be it. But while I challenge you all to write the best story that you can at all times...please don't give yourselves brain aneurysms trying to fill in every plot hole and make your story 'critic proof'. It won't happen. There's no such thing as 'critic proof'. They're critics. Criticism is what they do. Hehehe! It's like trying to make a kite 'wind proof'. It's pointless. And you need that wind to make the kite fly, so why try?
A few more of these...
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Plot holes occur...these things happen from time to time. Don't stress yourself out about it. I definitely challenge all writers to do their best to write as airtight a story as possible...but I'd be lying if I said I thought it was possible. Plot holes exist. Hehehe! If 'The Terminator' had a time machine...why not go back and kill Sarah Connor as a baby? Or her mom? Or her MOM'S mom? When the weaponry that could stop him didn't exist yet? Instead of becoming Batman...Bruce Wayne was a massively rich, highly influential, member of society? Why not create a giant, non-corrupt, police force to take care of all the crime in Gotham City, and take out all the crime at once, 'Elliott Ness' style? And how did the elderly farm couple in 'Superman' suddenly explain to everybody in their rural town that they have a new BABY living with them? How did they enroll him in school with no prints, no birth certificate, no previous history of him existing at all?
Sometimes...you just can't address a million questions in one story. Every story you write can't be 'War & Peace' length. Every story can't have a 'Lord Of The Rings' foreword with history lessons and languages and world building bonuses. I definitely think that we, as writers, should always cover as many bases as we possibly can when we're working on a project...but, sometimes, you've just got to get your story to work the way you want it to work. Period.
The answer to a lot of question that readers may ask when it comes to plot holes is, quite simply..."Because the story would be OVER if I did it your way. And that wouldn't be satisfying at all." Hehehe! I cant imagine how boring my life would have been if I could go back and 'fix' everything to make it perfect. I'd be so dead inside. LOL!
However, don't take this to mean that you should ignore all of the comments you get when it comes to potential plot holes in your stories. Some of them CAN be fixed, and probably should be. Especially if you're getting the same questions fro a variety of different people. As always, hear your critics out, and then see if they're making a decent point. Is this plot hole big enough to cause your whole story to fall apart without addressing it? Or can you sneak it by with a few tricks and puffs of smoke?
If you find something that needs fixing, you might be surprised to know that you could probably correct the problem with a few sentences and get your story right back on course again. It may just be that simple. However...if you want to go the 'smoke and mirrors' route...hehehe, I can give away a few secrets on how you do that too.
- Focus on the moment. Bring the emotions on and put your readers in the moment with your protagonist if you can. Really dig deep into what they're thinking. What they're feeling. I will admit to being a full blown savant when it comes to teen angst in my stories. Hehehe! And it's easy for someone older and wiser to scream, "Why doesn't he just walk up and ask the other boy out already??? Jesus!" Take that argument and make it a part of the moment. Make that a part of your protagonist's inner monologue. Of COURSE he thought of that too, but, ummm..."I'm 15, I'm deep in the closet, and I'm being asked to approach the cutest boy I've ever seen for the first time ever while my body and emotions are working against me all at once!" Sometimes it helps to actually address the obvious (and probably more boring) solution to the problem, and use that confusing fluster of emotions to further explain why he may be taking a different option instead.
- Re-read your story from beginning to end, and try to ask yourselves the questions that readers might be asking later. How specific are they? Visualize them in your head. If you were to fix certain details, would it derail the events and special moments you had planned for future chapters? SOMETIMES...(probably bad advice, but...) you can let these things slide by for the sake of the story. I know that sounds lazy, but honestly, many readers will be along for the ride. They want to follow the roller coaster and just have fun. Whereas...if you were to sit on a roller coaster and concentrate on the physics of how it works and the probability of a tragic accident...um, it would be TERRIFYING! If you need your characters to suddenly run out into the street for some reason...have a fire alarm go off. Hehehe, because...'story'! Ugh, I hate to say that, and don't overuse that technique...but I'm being serious when I say that just has to be the answer sometimes. 'Because...'story'.
Why hasn't Marty McFly's trip back to the past screwed up the entire time continuum, creating paradoxes that threaten the existence of everything that he's ever known when he gets back to the future?
Why are Morpheus and Neo constantly jumping into the Matrix to free people when they can just go out and free them in real life and destroy the machines power supply in the process?
Or, as one of the videos called it, "A scene called 'shut the hell up, everybody!'" LOL! I hate to say it, but sometimes it's the only way to keep you from painting yourself into a corner. So embrace it.
- And, last but not least...the things you don't think you can fully explain without turning your plot on its head and messing things up? Don't. Keep those scenes short and sweet, allow the scene to serve its purpose, and hopefully you'll be able to move on to something else before readers start thinking twice about what just happened. Take a scene and follow it up with something with some emotional weight. A different focal point. If you're lucky, it'll act as the shiny object to keep readers progressing forward instead of slamming on the breaks and trying to figure things out. This is where pacing will be important for your story. If you provide too much lag time after a scene that might act as a plot hole in your story...you're dead in the water. Hehehe, so, before they can ask...just shout..."Look! Elephant!"
And then run away.
Alright, just a few more before I wrap this up!
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Now...as I said before, PLEASE don't take this as a Comsie license to be lazy or cut corners when you're writing. You should give every story you create the heart and soul that it deserves. One hundred percent of your best effort. And then get your Betas to help you find all the little blindspots that you might have missed. Take pride in what you do, and always give it a champion effort. No excuses.
However...I wrote this article so you all realize that plot holes can, and probably WILL, happen. Know them for what they are, try to see if you can fix them without bringing your story to a screeching halt and having it fall to pieces...and if you occasionally run into a brick wall, where no other option is available to you, well...'Because...story.' Sometimes you've just got to go with your gut and hope it works for the best.
That sounds pretty difficult, choosing when to grind harder and when to let things slide...but I guarantee you...
...It's "Super easy! Barely an inconvenience!"
I hope this helps! And I'll seezya soon with more! ((Hugz))
When writing your stories and creating a tapestry of drama and conflict, occasionally putting your readers through a roller coaster ride of ups and downs from beginning to end...you may make the choice to lose a character or two in the process. It happens. It's a part of more stories than most people realize. In fact, with very few exceptions, all of your favorite Disney cartoons from when you were young...have an orphaned protagonist. From Peter Pan, to Bambi, to Dumbo, to Aladdin, to Cinderella, to The Jungle Book, to The Lion king...all of them have either been permanently separated from their parents, or have their parents violently murdered in the first act! It's practically a Disney cliche at this point. Death happens often in the stories we create and the stories we read. Hell, even the BIBLE kills off its main protagonist at a certain point in the story! Hehehe...oops! Spoiler alert! That 'Jesus' guy? He doesn't make it out alive! Very sad.
But, if you want the death of a major character to be a part of your story, and you want it to be a part of your project, then I say go for it! Just make sure that it has some sort of meaning, and that it is bringing about the desired dramatic effect for the story you're trying to tell. That's the most important thing to remember in this mess, hehehe!
I've only killed off a few characters in my stories online (But i won't say who, because...'drama'), but I've definitely learned a lot from doing so. I would like to share that knowledge with you guys this week. So let's talk about killing off characters, shall we?
I think the first thing that we, as authors, should be aware of...is the supposed need to create an 'event' to push our stories forward. It's been my experience that it is a total coin toss as to whether this will work to your story's benefit or not. The death of a main and beloved character can be both tragic and upsetting to your audience, and I'd assume that was your intention in killing them off in the first place. However, the big question that you should have playing over and over again in your mind is...why? Why are you killing this character? What will his/her death mean, and how will it affect the rest of the story? There's nothing more frustrating than having someone bumped off for no real reason, and then not having that death have any impact on the rest of the plot. It's almost like, "Well, why were they ever introduced in the first place?" You know? It's like when you watch a horror movie, and the main character sees all of their best friends and family members slaughtered and gutted in the goriest ways imaginable...and two minutes later they seem totally unphased by that. Hehehe, ummm...no! To say that seeing something like that should be highly traumatic is an understatement. But, what can you do? Horror stories need fodder to be scary sometimes. ::Shrugs::
Always remember that your readers are attempting to relate and invest time and emotion into the characters that you create with your writing. So if you're going to give one of them the axe, then you'd better make it count for something. If you're doing it for shock value or to subvert expectations by taking off the plot armor and nothing else? Chances are, your readers aren't going to like that a whole lot. In fact, it can end up backfiring on you in a major way. So I think that it's something that needs to be plotted out and planned for ahead of time, and a reason for your character's untimely demise should have a certain impact on the rest of the characters in the story. It should bring about some sort of awareness, or trigger some level of growth for your protagonist. And this all has to be planned ahead of time. It needs a build up. Readers have to care about this character and be shocked and awed by the fact that they're no longer going to be a part of the story. Which is tragic and hurtful to the people who loved that character...but if you show echoes of their impact on the main character, then your audience may just nod their heads and think, "Well, it's a shame that this person had to die...but I get it now." And THAT will give their death meaning, making it a cathartic part of your protagonist's evolution into the person that you wanted him/her to be.
Now, if you're looking for opportunities to kill off a character in your story...and give your main character a "Noooooooo!!!" moment while dropping to his knees and screaming up at the sky, hehehe? Then I would, personally, narrow it down to three specific 'types' of character deaths. I use this as my three-point guide as to how I want the death of a character to affect my story. There are different degrees of reader attachment and story plot elements that you have to play with here, and each one affects your story in a different way, depending on where you place it. So give it some thought, and see which one might be right for you.
Level 1 - "The Catalyst"
When you place a character death near the beginning of a story...this automatically signals your audience that this is going to be the 'jump off' point that will ultimately set everything else in motion. The character that dies only needs a minimal introduction and little background information, but should be seen as someone that is goodhearted and important to the main character. You will only have a short time to develop this character and make his death meaningful when it happens, but it doesn't have to be an epic look into who they are. Their death is what you use to ignite the spark you need to get the story going. Nothing more.
For example...Bruce Wayne's parents get murdered in an alley by a guy with a gun in Gotham City. That's the catalyst for him to grow up and become Batman. Uncle Ben gets killed, and it becomes the reason that Peter Parker decides to become Spiderman. These deaths are a significant part of your story's beginning, and you can use that plot device to explain why your main character does what he does, and creates opportunities for your readers to connect with his reasoning.
Level 2 - "The Escalation"
Now...if you have a character die in the middle of your story, or near the end of the second act...this can be used to escalate the tension in your project and truly raise the stakes when it comes to what your main characters are trying to accomplish. This time...you have much more time to flesh out the character that you want to 'bump off' later on. You get your audience to get to know them more intimately, and therefore, their sudden death becomes much more heartbreaking. If you've spent the proper amount of time building this character up and making him/her a special part of your story's cast...only to have him suddenly bite the dust...the reaction will be MAJOR! It immediately takes your story and ramps it up to heights that your readers might not have expected. It creates a sense of dread, because, "I LOVED this character! And if this person can be killed off....who might be next?"
When you kill off an important character mid story, you're letting your audience know, explicitly, that the gloves are coming off, and anything is possible now. It's a flare to signal the masses that things just hit a new level of 'bad', and that your favorite characters are facing real danger now. This is a writing tool that you can use to heighten tension and set your future events in motion, making them a frightening ride for anyone who bares witness as they cling to every word, wondering where things are going next.
Level 3 - "The Sacrificial Lamb"
Now this method is most often used when you reach the climax of your story. And it is just as advertised. The 'Sacrificial Lamb'. When you write a major character death near the end of your story, it is often seen as a noble sacrifice for the greater good of whatever it was that the protagonist was fighting for. This can also have a hugely dramatic effect on your story, as the person sacrificing their life is usually the one who has made the protagonist's journey towards winning the day complete. At this point, you're dealing with a character that has usually been along for the entire ride, and that readers have come to love and adore along the way. So...word to the wise...if you're going to kill this person off...have them bite the big one doing something important. Don't just knock them off over something petty. You've got an opportunity to really engage your readers emotionally with their sacrifice...don't waste it! Give them a send off that you think is worthy of your reader's attachment and emotional investment in them from the very beginning. Have it mean something. I think that Level Three is the most important and touchiest writing tool of them all. Missing a step on this one can either get your audience to cry and keep reading...or it can totally piss them off and cause them to stop reading entirely. So be careful. Like I said...it's all about planning things ahead of time. Make sure you have your act together, and build up to the ending you want your story to have. Even if your protagonist dies at the end...make it worth the reader's time to have him/her go out with a bang. You know?
So there it is! Comsie's personal guide to killing off characters and not traumatizing your audience in the process! Hehehe! Just remember that a character death in a story should have the same impact as a death in your own life. Things change. They shift. You don't just lose someone and go on as if it never happened. If you're going to kill off a character, ask yourself why, and how will this affect the story in the long run? If you can't answer that question, then don't kill them off. Put them on a bus and send them to Detroit or something! LOL! Death isn't something to take lightly, even in online fiction. So get it right! K?
I hope this helps! And I'll see you guys next weekend!
I have such fond memories of working in a big music store in the heart of downtown Chicago for a number of years. Easily, the best job that I've ever had in my life! No other job has ever been more fun, more meaningful, more beneficial to me in my growth as a person. No contest. Hehehe! Just a bunch of high school and college kids with a love and passion for music and art and film, to the point where we appreciated the 'misfit' in one another and embraced as being something to be proud of, instead of judged. It was one of the most tight knit families that I've ever been a part of that wasn't blood related. And I miss them terribly. I really do.
One thing that I remember, distinctly, however...are a few of my co-workers who could sing, or rap, or play guitar, or were going to school for film...and they were all really GOOD at their individual crafts, too! But, there was always this idea among them that, "I'm just a regular person. I don't do this to get famous or anything. I just do it for free...just to do it. You know?" And then we'd feel compelled to ask one simple question...
Understand...I am well aware of the fact that 'art and commerce' very rarely make for good bedfellows, because each one thinks they know what's best and are constantly fighting for control. I've seen it happen more times than you can imagine. They're just thinking from two different sides of the brain, so it can't be all about artistic expression that a wide audience might not understand...but everybody can't just sell out for money and cheering crowds either. Without some sort of balance, both parties are bound to fail eventually. But...if you really believe in your writing, and you happen to be good at what you do...what's stopping you from taking a shot at something bigger than a non-profit 'hobby'?
You'd be surprised how incredibly EASY it is to edit, format, and publish, your own story as an online ebook these days. One that you can actually sell and make some extra pocket change off of, month after month, for as long as you keep it posted. Setting up an account is absolutely free in most places. You can set one up right here on GayAuthors, as a matter of fact, and sell your books to people who are already big fans of your work, or people who may become fans once they see what it is that you have to offer.
Today, we're talking about possible ebook publishing...and why you guys should get in on this right away!
Before we get started...let me sweep the rumors and BS right out of the back door, k? You will NOT get rich off of ebook sales! Hehehe! Put that idea right out of your mind. If you go looking on Youtube or Google for tutorials on how to get started, sell more books, or quit your day job so you can stay home and make six figures a year just typing away at a keyboard...you will have been misled. I never once bought into that idea, myself, and you shouldn't either. In fact, the truth is...if you're able to make gas money for your car and grab some extra groceries every now and then for the first six months to a year of you having your work published...you'll be doing GREAT! Don't dive in expecting much more than that.
The good news is...you've got something to build on once you've reached that six month mark. When I say six month mark, I don't mean just publishing your story and coming back six months later to see what your profits look like. I mean six months of a true (and DAILY) dedicated effort to promote your work! Promote to the point of exhaustion if you have to. If you need eight hours of sleep before getting up at 9 AM for work...and it's 1 O'clock in the morning...spend an extra 15 minutes getting your name out there. Lose some sleep. You're going to have to really work at making this happen. Because, if you thought it was tough getting your stories noticed on GayAuthors or Nifty or on some other story site online...you're going to get absolutely CRUSHED by the lack of attention you will experience on sites like Amazon.com where people have to actually pay to read what you have to say! So promote, promote, promote! And don't ever stop. Making some extra cash for your art, and reaping the rewards of the hours of hard work that you put into getting your voice heard, is awesome! It's a great feeling to know that your words are worth a few dollars here and there. But it takes time and a lot of effort to get noticed. So why not get started today, right?
Stop reading this right now, and take a moment to think of the possibilities..."
Are you smiling? No? Hehehe, ah well...maybe by the time I finish this article.
The thing about ebooks is that they are, essentially, a goldfish in an ocean when it comes to getting your name out there. You will be competing with millions of other authors, from all walks of life, of all ages, from all genres. And, make no mistake...some of them will be BETTER than you. Hehehe, that's just the honest truth. But, in life, we don't get what we want...we get what we work for. And if you're willing to stay up late, and keep typing, and promote your work...you can outsell any writer who's got their ego telling them that they can relax. No matter how skillful they are, or how huge their fanbase. Your hard work will always win in the end. Just stay focused. Stay disciplined. And keep going.
You'd be surprised how quickly the word of mouth can spread once you've 'seduced' a few people into reading your work. As writers, you all have something to say. You all have a story to tell. And even if you've posted it already on GayAuthors or elsewhere...go back and see if you can improve on it. Re-edit it, give it some extra polish, and put it out as an ebook. Why not? Do you have any IDEA how many people there are out there who are looking to read exactly what it is that you have to say?
Take a shot. At the end of the day, it's no different than posting your stories here or on Nifty for free. Except...maybe you get a little extra income on the side. If you only make five dollars, it's five more than you HAD, right? So...score! Hehehe!
That being said, I want to give you guys seven quick tips on how to get your ebooks noticed, and make some extra income every month that you can use to spend on making life a bit easier, and being able to have a little fun every now and then. K? There are plenty of places online that offer free accounts for self-publishing ebooks. Like I said before, there is an ebook section right here on GayAuthors. Feel free to look up the guidelines and find out how to get in contact with the right people to make that happen. Also, Amazon.com has the KDP program which is excellent and available to a wide variety of readers from all over the world. So that's a great place to start once you get comfortable with everything. Signing up is also free. Another good place is Smashwords, although, their submission standards for formatting is a bit 'precise' for my tastes. Hehehe, if you don't format it EXACTLY the way they want you to...your book will get rejected until you fix it. And the system doesn't even tell you what's wrong with it...so you can spend weeks trying to figure out WTF is going on before you get your books published. So, it's a rough 'audition', but if you can get in...Smashwords probably has the widest reach of any site that I've been associated with so far. So, it's worth a shot.
Again, it's a one in a million chance that you'll make enough money to actually retire and become a writer, full time...but if that's your eventual goal, it's not a bad place to start. So consider these seven rules as a 'ground floor' tutorial.
#1 - Editing and formatting! This is important. Before you submit anything to a 'professional' ebook site...do your best to be 'professional'. Every ebook that I've put out, I've gon through and read every single word and edited it from beginning to end. Every open tag, every misspelled word, every plot hole...I tried to make a champion effort to find every last one of them and fix them up so that it reads like a book that I would, personally, pay money for. This isn't little league anymore. If you're going to put a book out on the actual market, and it's riddled with spelling errors, misused punctuation marks, and character flaws? Then you're wasting your time. Remember, you're basically starting from scratch all over again as far as a fanbase is concerned. These people have no idea who you are. So you need to make a good first impression. Otherwise, you can kiss their support goodbye. So get it right! You've only got one chance to grab their attention. Make it count.
#2 - Keep your prices LOW!!! At least in the very beginning (Meaning for the first year or two. Or until you have a loyal group of followers who believe in you enough to pay a little more for your work after a few successful outings). Now, in my case...I already had a pretty big catalog of stories finished and an established fanbase before I started publishing ebooks. So I never charged much, because I would rather have ten true fans buy every ebook that I put out there, then just one or two curious customers who might splurge on one or two ebooks a year. That's counterproductive in the worst way. Again, nobody knows who you are yet. Your goal is to get people to take a chance on you. You want them to think, "It's only a couple of bucks. I'm already here. Let me make a little impulse buy and see what he/she has to offer." Don't go trying to make ten dollar sales on your first book. It won't work. If you have a story that's 100,000 words or more? Save it for later. Try a few short stories first. Something you don't mind putting out there as an appetizer to get people interested in something more substantial from you. You're more liable to make a ten dollar novel/novella sell from someone who has enjoyed four or five of your shorter stories than you will from a new shopper who doesn't have any idea what would make you any more special than other authors who are charging half the price.
Even if you wrote a ten dollar novel, and you put forth a ten dollar effort...hehehe, try giving it away for five. Tops. Remember, it's better to have fans than 'customers'. Fans come back for more. And they won't do that if you tax them too heavily on what you're writing. On Amazon, my ebooks are almost all $2.99 (Let me shamelessly promote them while I'm here! Hehehe! https://imagine-magazine.org/store/comicality/! That's another rule! ALWAYS be in promotion mode!). The only reason they're even that much is because anything cheaper gives Amazon 70% of the profits. Even though I set up the account, wrote the story, did the formatting and editing and all of the hard work...your ebook has to be at least three dollars for you to get a decent percentage of the profits from it. So keep that in mind. It's as cheap as I can possibly make it...but I also have over 30 books available. So it's a much better deal to gain a fanbase that wants to collect them all...like Pokemon! Hehehe!
#3 - Free shit!!! Hehehe, tell me...if you saw that on a sign on the side of the street...wouldn't you look over there to investigate? LOL! Yes, the best promotion you can possibly put out there is gathering the interest of new readers. Readers who have WAY too much quality stuff to read online for free to want to grab their credit cards and pay for someone to give them more of the same. So, I can't stress enough how important it is to keep writing and putting stories out there online. Let people see your talent. Let people wander by and stumble across the amazing stories that you have to tell. Then, once they've built up their faith in you to be consistently awesome...let them know about your ebooks. Let your free stories be the trail of breadcrumbs that lead to the stuff that might put some extra pennies in your pocket once a month. It's not a 'trick'. Think of it as a kick ass party that's taking place in a club, and everything is free...but there's more in the V.I.P. area upstairs if you want to check it out! Hehehe!
Also, ALWAYS allow a review of your story to be available on Amazon if that's the route you want to take! There is an option where readers can see what your writing style is like, and they can read the first...ummm...I think it's 20% of your story, before making a purchase. I ALWAYS allow that for all of my ebooks. If you want to gain new readers, but you tell them they have to 'buy' before they 'sample'...you just cut your readership in half. Not a good strategy. Let them see what you've got. Grab them in the first few pages, and seduce them into wanting to read more.
Even drug dealers know that if you give the first taste for free...you've got a customer for life!
Annnndd....now i'm using drug references. Don't do drugs, kids! Stay in school!
#4 - Bring your online fanbase with you! If you have people that have been reading your stories from the very beginning, or have been corresponding with you through email or chat or whatever...let them know that you have ebooks available. Give them the address, and ask them to leave comments and ratings when they get a chance. This will only help your ebooks to sell better. You may not think that people look at these comments and ratings...but I can assure you...they do! I have to admit that I look at them myself. So ask your biggest supporters to get involved in making your ebooks a success. However...remind them to be HONEST with their reviews. That's just as important. If your best friend, 'Billy Bob', shows up on six of your online ebooks, and he's giving every single one of them a five-star rating and saying, "This is the greatest book I've ever read!" On every single one of them...that's obviously going to look suspicious. Especially if it isn't true. Inspire commentary, and tell folks to be sincere about it. It's not going to hurt if you get a two or three-star rating, once in a while. THAT review will get more attention from new readers than marks giving you all aces all the time. Because they'll be curious as to why one person thought it was great and the other one thought it was awful. Either way...another sale for you. So go for it. Don't try to cheat the system. Play the game like everybody else and let the cards fall where they may. Amazon is set up to know when folks are being fake in their reviews. They can even tell when someone left a review without purchasing the ebook. So if you think you're going to fool anyone...hehehe, you won't. It's better to be confident and let your ebooks succeed or fail based on the merit of your writing.
#5 - Set up a home base! I'm sure that I've mentioned this before a few times, but it really is more essential than ever when dealing with ebooks online. Find a place that you're comfortable with, and STAY there! Keep a reliable email address, a website, a Twitter account...whatever. You have no IDEA how many people I've tried to answer their emails or send thanks for their feedback, and had the email bounce back to me. It's frustrating as HELL!!! LOL! STOP friggin' changing your email and contact info every 60 days! It comes off as flaky and unpredictable to new readers. They're trying to get in touch with you, and they can't because you decided you don't like Gmail anymore or whatever. Sit still. If fans can't reach you, then they won't be fans for much longer. My email is Comicality@webtv.net right now, and it has been the same since 1998! Webtv doesn't even exist anymore, but I was given the option to keep the email and I definitely wanted to do that. I don't change my screen name, I don't change my Twitter, and i don't change my website address. So if you want a stable fanbase...then stay stable! Give them a place to go where they can talk to you. Where they can get updates and teasers and release dates from you. Stop moving around so much. It's not good for business. Hehehe!
#6 - Get your synopsis and keywords together! People may not always judge a book by its cover, but they WILL judge it by the brief description that put underneath it. I wrote an article on story blurbs a few weeks ago, just before the holidays, if you guys want to check it out. Make your story sound interesting to anyone who's looking for something to jump into. it's all about getting them to ask the question, "Well, this is what you told me...but what happens next?" If you've got an intriguing story blurb, an 'impulse buy' type of price, and an honest review or two for your ebook...then congrats! You just made another sale, and possibly made a new fan of your work! Make sure that your synopsis makes people curious, and that your 'keywords' are specific. If one of your keywords is 'gay'...hehehe, well, congratulations...you just put your story in a GIANT cauldron with a million other stories that will probably get noticed before yours will. Try 'gay TEEN', or 'gay COLLEGE', or 'gay VAMPIRE'...whatever it is that you're writing, don't be too vague with your keywords. A lot of people out there are looking for the exact story that it is that you want to tell. But they can't find it if it''s just un the gay or erotica or coming of age tags. Think of a few tags that will separate you from the horde of other stories out there, and narrow their search down a bit where finding your particular tale isn't so difficult.
#7 - Make a few exclusives! Now, if you're writing stuff for free, but you want to draw attention to the fact that you have ebooks available as well...write one or two stories that are exclusive ONLY to your ebooks sales! Hehehe, I feel like I'm being a big con man by filling you guys in on this part, but I swear, that wasn't my intention. Er...not entirely.
Now, you guys know that I've always often my stories for free online 99% of the time, and I love doing that. But the ebooks that I put out have added material and a much more polished execution than the stuff that's on my site. The "Gone From Daylight" and "Savage Moon" books have a LOT of added stuff that can't be found anywhere else online. And then there's "The Boys Of Widow Lake", books 1 and 2, which are only available as ebooks and nowhere else. (Book 3: "Depths Of Devotion", coming soon!) So...is that a mean spirited trick to get people to spend money? Hehehe, maaaaaybe! But I do occasionally lure people into that special V.I.P. section when I can. And if people don't want to go, there's still plenty of freebies for them to enjoy. No harm, no foul. But...eventually...many of them is going to want to know what's behind that magic curtain. And while it won't make me rich, a few diehard fans might end up inadvertently buying me a lunch or two. And that's alright with me! LOL!
SO...that's my secret reveal on ebooks! if any of you are interested, get online and do some research on where you want to go and what the standards are. You can start right here on GA, and it doesn't take long to figure things out. If *i* can figure out how to do it, you guys can probably learn it in half the time. Just remember, you put a LOT of work into your art! As authors, you pour your heart and soul into every project that you put out there. And while we may not be overly obsessed with material gain, and would rather just enjoy the prestige of being appreciated by an audience that we built on our own...
...A few dollars in the pocket wouldn't hurt. Hehehe! if you don't want them, feel free to donate them to Comicality! I've got a link for that too! LOL!
Take care! And I wish you all the best of luck!
This week, I'd like to talk about something that I face from time to time, and it often takes a few days for me to power through it, but it can be done with a little bit of patience to balance out the frustration of not being able to sit down and write when you really want to.
I'm talking about writer burn out.
Don't panic, hehehe! It's not a permanent condition. But it does happen from time to time, and it's never a good feeling. But there are ways to get those rusty wheels turning again, fire up the engines, and get your muse back in working order. You just have to ride it out every now and then.
Now, when I talk about writer burn out...I'm not talking about 'writer's block'. That's an entirely different animal altogether. With a block, there are no ideas coming to you, no direction, no real inspiration to get you motivated to keep writing. That happens from time to time as well. But burn out is when you already have your thoughts together, you know where the story is going, you know exactly what you want to say...but there's this strange 'fatigue' that settles into your very bones, and you suddenly don't know whether or not you really feel like typing it out. It's like you just feel worn out and you're almost intimidated to write in your current mood, because you won't 'feel' it the same way that you would when you're all hyped up and ready to cover your screen with a 1500 word outburst in one sitting before even taking a break. Have you guys ever experienced that? Or is it just me?
There are times when my brain is racing and I have all of my notes sitting right here beside me, and I feel like I should be ready to go...but my emotional gas tank is empty. It's hard to explain, but I just don't have that magic spark that I need to write anything good at that particular moment. I don't know where it goes. I don't know where it hides. I only know that it's missing when I need the added juice to get started, and I hate having to feel like a slacker until it shows back up again. But what else can I do?
It happens. Sometimes you've been sitting at a keyboard, and your fingers are sore, and your wrists hurt, and your butt is getting flat, and your shoulders are slumped over, and your eyes are red and worn out from strain, and...you just don't feel like writing anything at all. You WANT to write, but you don't feel like writing. Weird. Sometimes writing can be a physically taxing as well as emotionally draining experience. But, if (or more like when) this happens...don't stress yourself out about it. It'll come back to you. And often, the result will be better than ever before.
My first piece of advice to you guys is to simply let it happen. Don't push yourself or force the words to leap out on the screen if you're not feeling it at that moment. Writing should always be a passion, not a chore. If you don't feel like your mojo is working...take a break. It's as simple as that. Sit back for a moment, catch your breath, get some sleep...pour a glass of something 'wicked' to drink. Hehehe! Give your creativity a breather every now and then. I treat my brain and my emotions the same way that I would treat any other muscle in my body. This blank screen that I sit in front of is my intangible version of going to the gym for a healthy workout. Don't make yourself sore and miserable by pushing yourself too hard. Give your 'dream factory' time to gather new material for you to write about. Give your battery some time to recharge. You'd be surprised how often it helps more than it hurts. And I know that it's sometimes difficult to stand back and break whatever writer 'momentum' you had going initially, but I've found that when I push myself to the brink of exhaustion on any one project, I end up finishing it and not wanting to write much of anything for weeks afterward. I'd rather give myself a 48 hour break and get right back to work than frustrate myself into burning out for weeks at a time.
It sounds weird, but I start to resent a story that keeps nagging me to write it. Hehehe! Sad, but true. Sometimes, I'll just be mentally fatigued and I want to come back a bit later when I can give my writing all of the heart and energy it deserves. I've learned that I have to listen to my muse 90% of the time so I can get these stories to look and feel the way that I want them to. But that other 10% of the time? My muse needs to listen to me for a change. Slow down. I've done all I can do. Back off for a little while so we can get back in sync again. Hehehe!
My personal muse is a huge brat, and hates to hear the word no...but he'll get over it.
Allow yourself some time to breathe. I can't tell you how many times I just figured, "I'll sit down at that keyboard on my day off, and just handcuff myself to this machine for 12 hours straight and get it all done in a day!" Hehehe, yeah...life almost never works like that. Anything can tip my current mood in a counterproductive way. I could get a nasty email, I could wake up with a sore throat and a cough, it could be a rainy and gloomy day outside, I could get a rather hefty bill in the mail, I could have slept wrong and have a sore shoulder...hehehe, it could be anything. And, suddenly, I can't generate the right amount of sparkles that I need to do what I do online. But getting angry about it only makes things worse. Frustration is the undertow that's certain to pull me further and further away from the shore. In order to beat it, I need to relax.
And sometimes, I need to unplug completely.
There are certain activities that I can jump into in order to deal with writer burnout when it happens. It often helps me get my thoughts together, and I can get back on track rather quickly. My top three are as follows...
Youtube! Hehehe, yes...I believe that Youtube is probably one of the greatest distractions, and yet greatest stress relievers, in human history. Sometimes, when I need to step away from my 'Comsie work' and give my brain a chance to cool down...I head over to Youtube with the click of a button and I get a chance to zone out for a bit and SMILE for a little bit. I want to laugh a little bit. Maybe check out something creepy, or watch a few movie trailers, whatever. Sometimes I get into a 'Youtube Loop' where clicking on one video causes the system to suggest something else. Then I click on that, and it suggests something ELSE. It can be endless. But it gives me something to concentrate on other than the aggravation of not being able to write. Who knows? You might even find yourself getting the inspiration you need to get back in the mood you were looking for. You never know. Either way, if that gets my brain to release a little dose of Dopamine into my system from the entertainment, I'll be that much closer to slaving away on the next story or chapter. The sooner, the better.
Chats and email! Despite my need for a touch of isolation for a few hours a day, I really do pride myself on being a rather social person. I really do enjoy talking to people when I get the chance, and I don't get to do it as often as I used to. So there are times when I break away from the intense focus of writing to just...say hello to people on the Shack and engage in some casual chit chat from time to time. I might start answering emails from people who wrote to me, or I make a surprise visit to the chatroom on my site to share a few giggles with my online friends. This always puts me in a good mood, and it re-energizes me to be in touch with the people who have given the site so much support so I can see what's going on in their lives and how they're doing. Again, having a spontaneous interaction with other people will keep you from pulling your hair out over something that you really can't control. Let the writing obligation go for a few hours and just unwind for a bit. It's fun. I promise.
Reading! I've said it a bunch of times before, but I can't say it enough. Even though I LOVE to write stories and entertain others...sometimes I like to be entertained too! There is sooooo much talent out there. So many writers with unique perspectives and a variety of writing styles that I love getting into when I need to break away from the grind of it all. Get on GayAuthors, get on Nifty, get on The Shack Library...find stories and give some other authors a try. See what they're doing with their characters, what techniques they're using, how they make you feel. Not only do you get a chance to lay back and enjoy someone else's hard work for a change, but you could almost think of it as doing your homework as an author. Reading always makes for better writing. Always. So see what's out there. And if you like what you read, send the author a quick note to tell them so. Who knows? You might get a colleague and a new friend out of it all.
All in all...the key is to detach yourself from the desperation that you may be feeling to create some sort of masterpiece against your will. Break away from it. Take a day for yourself, and come back when you truly feel inspired to move forward with the story that you wanted to write. Maybe it'll be today, maybe tomorrow, maybe next week...who knows? But I can honestly tell you guys that I have been deeply dissatisfied with every chapter or story that I felt 'forced' to write by a deadline. And these days...I won't even release something unless I know, for certain, that it represents my very best effort. I can tell when I was pushing myself too hard. I worry that my readers can too. I didn't come this far to screw it all up now. Hehehe! I want my beginner's luck to keep carrying me for as long as humanly possible before it gives out on me.
Anyway, I hope this helps! Writer burnout...have you guys ever been trapped in that frame of mind? Let us know!
I can't imagine anything feeling better than finding some level of pride in one of my projects. (Well, there might be a few things that feel better, but I can keep my clothes on for this one! Hehehe!) And that pride doesn't just come from favorable responses and good ratings. In fact, it comes from finishing a new chapter or project before anybody ever even sees it. It's like the planets and stars align, and everything is finally fitting together the way that I pictured it...or at least as close as I can get to that ideal presentation. I honestly get excited about releasing new stuff on the site. More than the readers do, believe it or not.
But one thing that I always pressure myself to remember is...'I need to get this right first'! That's the most important part of the process for me. The wording, the emotion, the structure...that final 'spit and polish' that's going to make the whole medley truly sing. That takes patience. Getting that part done right takes time, and it can be frustrating when my muse is being stubborn, but once I get it to sparkle the way I want it to...I'm practically beaming with a grin for the rest of the week!
Now...not everything that I write is going to be a big hit with my audience. Everything that I release is not going to have some huge, dramatic, event take place that will leave readers angry, overjoyed, or sobbing uncontrollably at the end. I don't expect it to. Sometimes, writing a story feels more like drawing a detailed picture, or building something out of old school Legos. In my mind...I know exactly how I want the final picture to look when it's finished. So being certain about where the lines, the colors, the building blocks, go in order to make that happen, is just as important as the major events that they're either building up to, or coming down from. You can't skip to building an awesome attic in a house without building the basement first, right? It's something that I've learned to appreciate, and pay more attention to since I first started.
In my earliest days of writing stories at Nifty, I had four points that I wanted to hit with every short story and every additional chapter that I added to my list. Introduce the cute boy characters, find a way to get them together, find a way to express their feelings for one another, and then...let's get some mattresses squeaking! Hehehe! I figured that, as long as I got those four main parts of the plot right, then a lot of readers would probably just skip over most of the other stuff anyway. Why concentrate on the details? At best, they'll 'skim' through it and keep scrolling down the page until somebody gets naked. The same idea was applied to my sci fi stuff when it was still in the planning stages. People want to see the alien, the vampire, the spooky ghost...get to the point already before you lose their attention and ruin the story!
I feel like that was a novice mistake on my part, looking back on it.
One that I've learned to correct over time, and with a lot of practice.
Details, depth of character, backstory, clearly defined motivations...these are not meant to be seen as boring parts of a story. They're not meant to slow down the pacing or to merely act as 'filler' for readers who are immediately looking for something juicier to jump out at them with every few thousand words. In fact, when done with the right amount of flair and a hint of mystery...it can become the most intriguing part of your project.
This time around...I'm going to try to express the importance of 'connective tissue' in our stories, and how we can use them to enhance a story, rather than flatten it out. (If that makes sense)
My older stories and chapters were often a lot shorter than they are nowadays. In fact, many of them are only half the size of the chapters I try to put out every week or two. And while those stories were straight to the point, and said what they needed to say...I felt my love for details and connective tissue spreading out as I got more relaxed with my own voice in terms of writing. Reading feedback and emails from the people absorbing it all...I found that they weren't skipping over the so-called 'boring' parts at all. I mean, sure...I know that there are readers that are in a big rush to have certain issues resolved and certain events to finally take place...but I refuse to rush it. I absolutely refuse. And it's because I can see the finished work in my head. Even if the readers can't. And those tiny little intricate details and casual mentions of past or future events are all needed to build the design that I want my stories to have.
I think that, with writer maturity, you learn that it's more about telling the story you want to tell, and less about trying to simply 'entertain' with the words you put together. And as authors...isn't that the whole point?
One quote that I live by is, "Some people write because they want to say something...and others write because they have something to say." And if any of us are having trouble figuring out the difference...then that's the first journey that we should all be taking to be a better writer. Hehehe, it's something to meditate on when you have some free time.
There are times when fans will politely (or not so politely) push you to turn tricks in your story without fleshing it out properly. But you have to train yourself to resist the urge to 'perform' instead of 'create'. If you have a plan in place...stick to it. And mold it into what you want it to be. This is when I get to truly be selfish and tell everybody, "WAIT! I'm getting to the good stuff! Just hold your friggin' horses!" Hehehe! And that may lead to some folks feeling aggravated and impatient...but if they rush back to read the next chapter? Then I've already done my job as a writer. And, here we both are...back in the saddle again.
I want to show you a few fun videos. It's basically cartoon rabbits re-enacting some of your favorite movies, but rushing through them in 60 seconds or less. Now, even though this is an exaggeration for comedic purposes...THIS is what your story looks like with no connective tissue! With so-called 'filler'. This is what you have when a rabid 'event oriented' fanbase pushes you to skip the boring stuff in order to hurry up and get to what they say they want to see.
Entertaining? Sure. But will it be your best work? Will people remember these a day later? Can you shove the depth and meaning that you wanted your story to have in these few short moments?
You're an author. Have confidence in your art. And don''t let anybody force you off the road when you're pursuing your passion. Is this your story, or their story? Take control and be proud of your creative choices, cheers or jeers be damned.
One thing to remember is to constantly build upon the foundation that you created from the very beginning, and to remember the essentials every step of the way. When I say that, I mean that every chapter of your story should be an evolution of the chapter before it in some way. Now, that doesn't mean that your protagonist has to go from a painfully shy bookworm to a full blown gigolo within a chapter or two, or from a farm boy to a powerful Jedi knight in a week's time. The growth can be gradual, steady, and in sync with who your protagonist is as a character. Give them time to learn, and bring your audience in to the learning process with them. If you've got a big action scene coming up, or a dramatic character death, or an explosive first kiss...then that's awesome! These things are the benchmarks of a great story, and those will be the scenes that most people will remember when they're finished and think back on your story later on. BUT...that connective tissue can add a few extra sparks to those bigger scenes that you're so anxious to get to. They are meant to give those bigger moments meaning.
I've discovered SO many missed opportunities in my older stories as I was going back through them to re-edit and fix them up to release as ebooks. Moments that I skipped over, dialogue that ended too abruptly for my tastes, opportunities for character development that were ignored...if I were to rewrite those stories all over again, I would definitely do things differently.
However, since I write and release my stories, chapter to chapter...there are some scenes, or even whole chapters, that some may see as 'filler'. But I can assure you...they're not. I'm always thinking ahead, and whenn those future chapters come around, readers will be able to look back at those old boring chapters and say, "Omigod...NOW I see where that came from." That's the whole point.
Connective tissue in a story can have a variety of effects on your plot. It can display the aftermath of a recent event, and explain how your main characters are dealing with it...and how they plan to progress from there. It can also drop hints and clues and create a trail of breadcrumbs for your readers to follow towards the next big event. Creating speculation, foreshadowing soon to be revealed secrets, or increasing tension for a building conflict. Connective tissue can bring two unlikely friends or lovers together through a seemingly mundane situation or conversation, or it can shift the focus of your main story to concentrate on a few supporting characters or a related subplot while giving the main plot a rest. Think of it as an opportunity to take all of your best ideas, your most memorable moments...and gluing them together with something interesting enough to hold it all together.
Connective tissue is all about answering your reader's questions before they're asked. That's all.
"Why did this happen?"
"Who is the woman in black?"
"How is this kid going to come out to his homophobic stepdad?"
"Where is this thing with the college roommate going, and is he flirting or not?"
See...without a series of scenes to ask, and then provide possible answers, to questions like these between the big moments in your story...then all you have is a bunch of dramatic 'dun dun dun!' moments with no reason or meaning to your audience. Always remember...'show', don't 'tell'. You can't just convince your readers that a gay teen coming out to his stepfather is scary by simply writing, "I'm scared to come out to him because he's a homophobe." Well...I mean, technically, you can...but it won't have the same impact. It's just words on a page. It conveys a message, but not the emotion behind the message.
Instead...why not try having a few short (but effective) scenes where you demonstrate that this stepfather doesn't care for gay people? Maybe he hears something on the news and makes some off colored remarks about it. Maybe he's trying to get his stepson involved in sports to keep him from being a 'sissy'. Or maybe there's a TV show with a gay character on it, and he swiftly changes the channel to display his distaste for the subject matter. This might seem like boring filler dialogue to some, but what you're actually doing is building a history of behavior for this side character in your story, and explaining why his stepson is afraid to come out to him as being gay. You're providing actual reasons for your protagonist to feel the way he does. This is necessary when telling a good story, even if your audience is in some big hurry to skip over it because they don't see where it's leading the way you do.
Now, let's say your main character finds a love interest, and decides to come out in order for them to be together. But...in a rage, the stepfather ends up kicking him out of the house and screaming that he can never come back. Not ever. This is (finally) where you can see why the connective tissue was needed. You can see the last domino fall, and trace it back to where the chain reaction happened in the first place.
If you skip around...and write, "I'm scared of my stepdad, but I'm in love now. I'm going to do it. I'm going to tell him tonight." And then you have a short dialogue and have him kicked out of the house? Well...it's functional. Not bad. I would have written it the same way when I was still finding my way around a keyboard. Hehehe! But now? I want that connective tissue there to bring color and understanding to what's going on here. I want readers to see the stepdad for who he is ahead of time, anticipate his negative reaction, feel the tension when coming out becomes a necessity for the gay teen, and then be shocked and appalled when the explosive conflict happens at last. There's a build up. An arc. Your readers are already entrenched in the situation before they even read it. Then they experience the emotional impact, first hand. They're given a clue as to what built up to this moment, and how the main character is planning to press forward towards the next big event. They're a part of that journey.
I wish I could stress how much these chapters mean to building a better project when you're writing. A few missing bricks in a wall can cause it to collapse. DON'T RUSH! Take your time, and craft your story your way! K? People will either like it, or they won't. You don't have any control over that. The goal is to give birth to a project that you can be proud of, and that went exactly the way you wanted it to go. Much like sex...sometimes it's better to slow down and take your time so your 'partners' can enjoy it.
As always, I hope this helps! Happy writing to you all! And it's good to be back! Hehehe! Sorry about disappearing for the holidays! But, you know...'family' and stuff!
Ensemble In one of my stories, "Savage Moon", I write about a teenage boy who gets drawn in with a bad crowd of misfits...who later turn out to be a pack of werewolves. (Don't worry, that's not a spoiler. It's, literally, the plot of the story. And it's practically given away in the title. So I didn't ruin any surprises with that one! Hehehe!) However, the 'alpha' tells their potential recruit about what it takes to build a strong pack. A family unit. And the key is in the personality traits of everyone in their circle. Every member of the pack has something unique to bring to the table. Something that none of the others can do without them there. Having any two of them exactly alike isn't efficient for the pack to thrive. Every character is filling in a hole that couldn't be filled by anyone else...and therefore, they are given purpose and a direct reason for being there. They strengthen the whole by covering certain blind spots within the group.
I've learned that, if you're going to populate your story with a broad cast of characters...the same rules apply. While it's realistic to have people in your life that you recognize and, maybe, speak to on a daily basis...but don't really have any major impact on your life...allowing that to exist in your fiction can actually detract from the focus of the overall story. Obviously, we all have family members, coworkers, classmates in school, etc...but if you were to take out a piece of paper and try to list them all right now...you'd end up with a LOT of 'characters' that probably jump in and out of your life all the time. But your story can't be about all of them, now can it?
It's a fun experience to work with a variety of different characters in a single story. I feel the interaction between characters, whether a positive interaction or a negative one, adds depth to the whole cast. You get to let them show the readers who they are by how they approach, engage, and respond, to one another, as opposed to just telling your audience who they are through narration. However...it can be really easy to get carried away when doing so. Any story can quickly spin out of control if you try to divide your focus among too many characters. It dilutes the potency after a while, and can make all of your characters suffer from a lack of proper development in the long run.
SO...this weekend, we're talking about building and 'tightening up' an ensemble cast in your stories! Let's get to it!
I, personally, use ensemble casts a lot in my writing. Not always, but quite often. Especially in my sci-fi or horror laced fiction. Definitely with stories like "Gone From Daylight", "Savage Moon", "Agenda 21", "Shelter", and "Skylight"...but also with stories like "Billy Chase", "New Kid In School", and "A Class By Himself". The idea is to have each side character bring something 'out' of the protagonist that the others usually don't. It allows you to see your main character from a different angle, existing in a different element as he or she bounces from interaction to interaction. It's like...in real life, I have a certain relationship with my mother. We talk, we laugh, we spend quality time together. But the relationship that I have with my very best friends that I've known since high school is completely different. The relationship that I have with the people I work with is different from both of those examples. It's not like I'm suffering with some sort of personality disorder...our interactions are just based on a variety of relationships to one another. So, when creating an ensemble cast of characters for your story, this is something that you might want to keep in mind. Why is this particular character there? What are they bringing to the table? What meaning will they have in terms of furthering the plot? And, most importantly...if you cut this character out of your story completely...would it have any real impact at all?
If you have to even think about that last question for longer than a few seconds...take that character out of your story. Do it right away, before you get attached to them. You won't miss them. And neither will your readers. Trust me.
I think my love for ensemble casts comes mostly from the works of Stephen King. More so in his writing than in the movies or TV mini-series, but he has a really cool way of putting ensemble casts together and using the technique to its full effect, in my opinion. It's as if he can take a group of friends, or just random strangers...toss them into a serious situation, and somehow weave them all together into a story where every single person has a role to play, and a seemingly predestined reason to be included in the story. Whether you've read the books or watched the movie versions, this is evident in stories like "The Stand", "IT", "The Langoliers", and others. Each character is contributing something to the plot. Maybe someone is a detective and has a keen eye for detail. Maybe another character has some sort of psychic ability. And another might end up being a traitor in their midst. But you bring them all together and put them in the same space? And, much like the wolf pack in "Savage Moon"...the whole becomes stronger by focusing on the attributes of its many parts.
The key to creating a strong ensemble comes from being able to define who each character is and what each character does. You can start with a vague idea in your head at first, and narrow it down as you go along during your planning process. Think about what 'elements' you want to have in your story beforehand...and then create characters that will embody those elements in their attitudes and through their actions. I've found that to be the best way to go about it.
Maybe you need a bashfully beautiful love interest. Maybe you need a character to lighten things up and act as the 'comic relief', even in dire situations. Maybe you need some muscle. A rebel who can bring the pain and provide protection when the plot calls for it. Maybe you need someone to be the asshole, or a best friend to act as the voice of reason, or a mysterious wildcard to keep the other characters on edge, or perhaps a sacrificial lamb who will end up saving the day when the time comes. Whatever elements you want your story to have? Create them in your mind first. Then craft your cast of characters around them and assign roles that will help you breathe life into those elements and carry the plot forward however you see fit.
So...the big question becomes how to determine who belongs in the story and who doesn't. Well, I feel that ensemble casts should connect to your story in one of three ways. Whether the play a major role in the main story, or are just there for the blink of an eye, the reason for their inclusion should be attached to something in order to give them purpose.
Connected to the other characters. This is something that I initially think about when putting my characters together in my head. I write gay teen romance, so I begin with my protagonist and then create his love interest. That goes without saying. So...how do I go about creating the world around these people? Maybe I'll give my protagonist a best friend. Someone to comfort them when they're down, lift them up, or maybe just someone to vent to when they're upset. It allows me to get outside of the main character's head and turn his thoughts into dialogue with another person, which is often more entertaining. What else? Maybe I'll add a bully at school, or a love rival, or a particularly nosey neighbor. Adding characters like this can offer challenges to our protagonist and can create some very interesting obstacles for our main character to skate around. In some of my stories, the parents are in the background. Present, but not really important. They don't enhance the story in any way, so they're not the focus. However, in a story like "A Class By Himself", the main character's mother plays a much larger role. A hard working, single, mom who's just struggling to get by so her son can succeed and have a future is an important part of the plot, so having her fleshed out and involved in what's going on is important. So...if you have characters that are directly connected to the main character, whether it be a friend, an enemy, a relative or sibling, or even a nasty teacher or school principal or boss at work...then you can figure out whether or not you really need them there pretty easily. Just remember that they should have some sort of impact on your main character's journey. They should greatly affect their moods and their actions. That's how you know they belong there.
Connected to the plot. Sometimes there are plot elements that you want to express, or a series of events that you either want to set into motion or eventually resolve, and you can use a few side characters to accomplish that. Now, this isn't to say that you shouldn't flesh these characters out or push them into the background fog of your storytelling...but they are here to carry the plot. That's their purpose. In the story, "Never Again", I had a side character that makes a brief appearance in the beginning of the story, shows up for a few seconds in the middle, and then makes one last appearance, I think, in the last chapter. However, his role in the story ends up delivering the 'punch' that the story needed to reach the ending that I had in mind. Now, was he a major character in the grand scheme of things? No. But his inclusion was plot related. He had a role to play, and he played it well! Hehehe! When creating plot related characters, they don't have to be as deep or as layered as your main characters, but they still need to have an effect on the story that is significant and ultimately understood by your audience. They have something to do. This is less about how they interact with your characters, and more about what your readers can learn from them within the context of the story. Think of them as mail carriers. They're there to deliver a message. They can piss your protagonist off, or they can enlighten them, or they can destroy a romantic moment, or they can bring certain emotions to the surface. So concentrate on the moment that you're trying to create. You want the story to take a sad and dark turn? You want to fire your main character up and inspire him to give it his all? You want to create a sense of danger or dread? These are where your plot themed characters come into play. They don't have to be a big part of the story, they just need to provide the catalyst for the emotional ups and downs that you're trying to weave into your project.
Connected to the theme. These characters can be 'temporary' in your story. This doesn't make them unimportant, though. When thinking of a theme for your story, you are creating a certain feel or tone for what you're writing. So ensemble characters that are connected to the theme are basically used as examples of the mood you're trying to express to your audience. Hmmm...how to explain? Let's say that you're writing a story about war veterans who are dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome. If your main character is going to meetings to deal with his issues, a 'theme connected' character or two might bring more depth to what's going on with him. They may not play a major role in the story, but may show up on occasion to offer some advice or possibly display what could happen if the protagonist goes down the wrong path. Maybe you have a story where the main character is dealing with drug addiction, or is a part of a Gay/Straight alliance club at their local rec center, or a group of runaway kids who happen to settle in the same abandoned building. Basically, you can tell as much or as little about them as you want...but their main purpose is to flesh out the world you've built for your characters to inhabit. They don't have to necessarily have to be connected to any of your main characters in any significant way, and they don't really have to further the plot. They're there to 'show' your readers the world in which they live. If you've got a homeless teen on the streets, you might want to have somebody he wanted to think was a friend...but ends up ripping him off. Or maybe you have some random kid beat him up for his shoes. Or maybe you have a truant officer constantly breathing down his neck and searching the streets for him. These people can come and go, only having short interactions with the other members of your cast...but they're there to demonstrate the theme of your story in a very visual and engaging way. So whether your main character lives in a Utopian paradise or a dystopian shithole...having a few meetings with other people who exist in that world to demonstrate exactly what it's like to live there, can be a huge bonus for a writer, and can make their story all the more immersive in the long run.
So, bottom line, ensemble casts can be a useful tool in creating a more three-dimensional view of your characters and your story as a whole. It's all about how relevant they are to the plot, and that can be determined by how you view their contribution to the big picture. Always make sure that the characters you create are there to do something. To have some impact. Even if it's a little thing, make sure they know their role in the grand scheme of things. If they're just there for the sake of giving your audience another name to remember...let them go. Don't be afraid to cut a character that isn't going to work out for the best interest of your story. It's not always an easy decision to make, but unless you want that person to drag the rest of your story down into the mud, give them a hug and say goodbye.
I hope this helps! Take care! And I'll seezya soon!
One thing that I have always loved about writing stories is the idea that I can finally allow my mind and my emotions to exist in a world that I, alone, can actually control! Hehehe, and that probably sounds pretty narcissistic, but it's the truth. In the worlds that I create, the shy guy can get their first kiss from the prettiest boy on the block. The lovable 'friend zone' kid can get the boy of his dreams to finally see him for the perfect mate that he is. Justice is always served where needed, bullies and evildoers always get their comeuppance, and fate is always conspiring in the favor of my main character.
Naturally...spoiler alert...real life doesn't always work that way. To be honest, it's a coin flip decision, figuring out whether you're going to be treated fairly or unfairly by life itself. Sad, but true. But a guy can dream, right?
Being able to write fiction and fantasize about what a perfect world might be like if it followed our individual ideas of love and romance and beauty were at our very core is an exciting and satisfying release for any creative mind that decides to take it head on. However...I, personally, believe that there has to be a little bit of room left for the readers to enjoy their fantasies too. Them being engaged in the stories we write is half the battle. Maybe even more so. And I'd like to talk about that a bit more this week. Feel free to join me if you like. Hehehe!
You see, one thing that can be hard for me to do sometimes is to take 'myself' out of the equation when I'm writing. I cling to every emotion, every expression...my stories are SO personal, and so closely connected to who I am as a person. I can see and feel and almost touch every last part of my story as if it were real. I think it's a good thing, and I love being able to bring my personality, thoughts, dreams, sense of humor, and fears, to my readers. But I also try to remember that this is their experience too. The idea for me as an author is for us to share that experience. I can't create a sense of perfection for my audience, because we all have drastically different ideas about what 'perfection' is. How can I possibly 'tell' somebody what they want? That's just not the way to go. So...how do I get around that and still bring that heart and that extremely personal touch to my stories that a wide audience can relate to and identify with.
The answer is...leave room for their input.
Hehehe, don't look so confused. I'll explain. LOL! When has 'Comsie' ever NOT run off at the mouth?
I always enjoy reading your comments on these weekly entries, and I love to hear about how you guys handle all of these writing tactics on your own. I can remember a few times in the past where some of you were talking about 'sex scenes' in your stories, and how sometimes you just allude to a sexual encounter and then get back to the story. You don't have to graphically describe every thrust, every kiss, every heavy breath and droplet of sweat, involved. The sex is simply suggested, and the audience understands what happened when the story 'faded to black', right? This is a perfect example of leaving room for your audience. Because, even though we don't write out some lengthy description of what was going on in that scene, in the minds of your readers...they're probably picturing the most erotically charged sex scene they've ever seen! LOL! It's true! Tell me you haven't done it yourselves. Wherever the author leaves off...your personal fantasies fill in the details. And nobody is ever going to write something hotter than your own sexual desires. Those desires are tailor made to you and you alone. Giving you an opportunity to explore and enjoy those fantasies during the story, makes them a part of it. They personalize it, and therefore...become much more involved.
That's the secret!
It's the 'eye of the beholder' theory at work. If everybody reading this were to post a picture here of who they think is the most beautiful boy on planet Earth...chances are, despite some similarities here and there, no two pictures would be alike. So, when I describe my characters in my stories, you may notice that the details lay out a 'guideline', but I don't go out of my way to make them overly specific unless I feel it's needed for the story. I may describe hair color, eye color, vague body type...but other than that, I use words like 'beautiful', or 'gentle', or 'delicate features'. I describe them as being bashful, or intimidating, or merely cute. And that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Instad of trying to force my version of 'cute' on my readers, I try to explain that my protagonists finds them to be stunningly gorgeous...and I give them room to interpret what their idea of 'stunningly gorgeous' means to them. Maybe they're picturing the typical, soft bodied, boy next door. Maybe they're picturing the sexy track star with the rock hard abs. Maybe they think back to that very first crush they had in the tenth grade, or they might think back to that first boyfriend they nabbed in college. Hell, maybe they're thinking of a singer or actor that they're currently obsessed with. The point is...when you give you readers room to create some of the details with their own vivid imagination, they become more attracted to the story itself. The perfection in their own minds becomes an overlay for the story you're giving them...and that symbiotic reader/writer relationship gets enhanced tenfold.
The way to accomplish this is to simply allow certain specifics about your characters or events in the story to be vague and malleable, according to who might be reading. That doesn't mean that you should purposely exclude details. You still want to paint a picture that will bring your readers into the world that you wanted to create...but there are ways to finesse your wordplay in ways that gives a description without intruding on your reader's imagination.
If you write, "I thought he was so beautiful! He was about 5' 7", and rail thin...150 pounds, tops. He had a few pimples, but nothing major. And a lip ring on the right side of his bottom lip. An emo boy with reddish brown hair and spiked bracelets on each wrist." there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. This is a detailed description of a character that you wanted to create, and it's perfectly normal for you to do so. So if that's the picture you want to paint, then go for it!
However, in most cases, I would personally write it a bit differently...
"I thought he was so beautiful! Slender, with longish reddish-brown hair. I liked his bracelets too. I just couldn't get over how cute he was. Scattered pimples and all."
So what's the difference? I left more room for the reader to put the picture of this boy together. I don't mention how tall he is. What if my readers want to picture him as being really tall and lanky? Or what if they want someone shorter? What if the term 'rail thin' turns them off? They might like someone with a bit more meat on their bones. What if the term 'emo boy' puts a certain vision of what that means...and they decide they're not into it? What if they don't like lip rings? All of these things come into play when writing a story. ESPECIALLY when it's a romantic or erotic story. So it's something to think about. This is why it can be difficult to write fanfics sometimes. What happens if you pick a fictional character or a celebrity that other people don't find sexy? They skip it, immediately. You want to avoid that. Let your readers define the characters for themselves. Give them an outline, sure...but unless a super detailed description is needed for that particular character...leave the window open for them to do some creative world building of their own.
I learned this after years of having readers give me ideas or pictures or drawings of how they imagine my characters would look. They're all so different! But I LIKE that. When they read the stories, they have the best cast, the best score of music, the most erotic and visually appealing love interests, imaginable! The story that they're building in the back of their minds is FAR superior than anything that I could ever hope to type out on this screen. So it's almost like we're developing this project together as a team. And I find that to be a bonding experience, personally. Sometimes they have hotter sex scenes in mind, sometimes they have more action packed fight scenes in mind, sometimes they're imagining the saddest song ever made during a heartbreak scene...and I won't even try to match that. Hehehe, let them build it their way. It's a big part of the process when it comes to building and maintaining a loyal fanbase and increasing their personal connection to the characters in your story.
So...set the stage, pick the costumes, and flesh out your characters and scenes however you want...but always remember that the reader is a big part of this creative effort. Whether you know them or not. Detail is essential in literature, but sometimes...less is more. If someone is beautiful...let you readers figure out what beautiful is. If someone has longish blond hair...let your readers determine how long 'longish' is. If your characters made love all night long...sometimes it's sexier to just say "We made love all night long. Over and over again. And every orgasm was better than the one before it." Trust me, your audience will imagine what that must have been like, and it will be everything they ever dreamed of! "Wow! You're story was awesome (enter writer's name here)!" Hehehe, well THANKS! You did half the work! ::Giggles::
Junk food for thought! I hope this helps!
Seezya soon, you guys! And happy writing!
Beginning. Middle. End.
Setup. Conflict. Resolution.
All stories have a certain formula to them. That formula can be played with, rearranged, and altered, in a variety of different ways...but even that has some form of structure, when you sit down and think about it. Straying from a conventional method of telling a story doesn't mean that the original blueprint doesn't exist. We just choose to find a way of subverting expectations concerning the norm. A norm that set the standard for us in the first place.
The most interesting stories and character revelations aren't drawn as a straight line. Most memorable stories have an 'arc' to them. The beginning, middle, and end, are bent into a shape that gives our readers somewhere to go. A journey. An adventure. And I know that we hear about story arcs all the time, but do we really take a moment to think about what that term actually means?
Many people may be familiar with the depiction of the theater masks, 'comedy' and 'tragedy'. One mask is smiling, and the other one is frowning. But what many not be aware of is the fact that these two masks aren't just grins and frowns, but the visual representation of two true story arcs. It describes how the story is going to begin and how it ultimately ends.
Look at the smile on the comedy mask. That's how comedies or 'feel good' stories work, isn't it? It starts at a high point, then it dips down to a low point where things look dark and hopeless for our main character...but then the smile slopes up again, and with the dodging of a myriad of obstacles and hardships, the story ends up on a high note again. This is the natural story arc of a comedy. (Not always a 'Ha Ha' comedy, but a story with a happy ending.)
Now...take a look at the frown on the tragedy mask. This is the exact opposite. Things start out being dreary and miserable. A serious low point. Then...it slowly rises up to give the main character feelings of hope and salvation. Things begin to turn around for the better. However, to complete the frown, the high point is short lived, and then it's a downward slide back into misery again. The character ends up back where he started, and that brief glimpse of joy and promise makes the tragedy all the more unbearable in the end. It's a crushing blow to the protagonist, and there are no pots of gold at the end of this particular rainbow.
Whichever way you go, the story arc is what keeps things interesting for your readers. You want your characters to have somewhere to go, whether it be to their benefit or to their ultimate demise. It is that journey that creates the feeling of purpose when it comes to people reading your story. They're looking for a reason as to why they read your book from beginning to end in the first place, right? You've got to give them one.
Imagine if your story was traveling along a straight line instead of an arc. What if the protagonist started off miserable...ended up miserable in the end...and was miserable every moment in between. I mean, would YOU want to read that story? I wouldn't. There are no moments of hope. No promise of rescue or happiness...no shining light at the end of the tunnel. Just...more tunnel. And a depressing journey that never gets any better than it was when you started.
In the same respect...imagine that your character was soooo perfect and soooo beautiful and happy at the beginning of your story...ended up getting everything he wanted in the end without any struggle or sacrifice...and had nothing but good fortune and heartfelt giggles every moment in between. That would be equally boring. I wouldn't want to read that story either. There's got to be a FEW pitfalls and missteps along the way, right? Otherwise...I'd know how the story ends just from seeing how it begins. That's not entertaining, in my opinion. Even a baseball pitcher knows to throw a few change ups in there every now and then to keep people guessing. Why should your art be any different?
Remember...people scream on a roller coaster...but they fall asleep on a train. Take that any way you want to take it.
Have you ever been on a long road trip? Driving down a straight road with no scenery, no turns, no buildings....just an endless road? Yeah, that would be your story without an arc. When you create an idea for a story...think of your plot as a yin yang symbol. Think about all of the wonderful parts that you want to add to it, but also keep in mind that there have to be a few challenges and obstacles in the way as well. Whether you're writing a comedy or a tragedy, these same rules apply. A happy story needs moments of misery to create a sense of joy for your readers. And a tragic story needs moments of levity in order to keep your audience from being so depressed that they stop reading. If you can master a sense of balance on either side, then you will attract an audience willing to laugh and cry along with the characters that you create no matter what. But it takes some finesse. And finesse takes practice.
Now, I'll admit...I've never been the bravest soldier in the battle of growing up as a kid. Hehehe! I was the shy guy. I had secrets, I was scared to reveal a lot of the feelings I had for other boys, and well...hindsight is always 20/20. So I do include a lot of teen angst in my stories. Silly mistakes and bad decisions. That was my life back when I was trying to navigate through life for the first time ever. And believe me...I get HAMMERED for it sometimes in my comments and emails. LOL! My characters are 'stupid' and 'ignorant' and 'GET ON WITH IT ALREADY!!!' But that's not how I remember it. Not when I was a teenager myself. There were peaks, and there were valleys. I remember being scared out of my mind sometimes, and being brave to the point of being downright reckless other times. But that's life. We all go through it. And we all don't have the wisdom and experience of a full grown adult when we shuffle our way through it for the first time. But, that aside...when folks ask me, "Why can't this character just throw caution to the wind and tell the whole world he's gay and get it over with?" Or, "Why doesn't he just profess his undying love already for the most beautiful by EVER in chapter TWO of the series?" Hehehe...well, because I wouldn't have a STORY to tell then, now would I? There's no arc to constant misery or constant perfection. My teen years weren't like that, neither were yours. Be honest! So why would my characters' teen years be like that? I don't WANT my stories to read like, "I saw this boy. He was cute. I asked him out within the first ten minutes of meeting him. He said yes. We had hot sex. The end." I mean...how entertaining is that? Where's the meat of the story? Where's the fear and the folly and the reward for going for broke? That's 'porn without plot'! And there's an audience for that, but it's not what I write. That's not why I started creating my stories and sharing them online. Am I crazy? If I wrote that story, none of my 'romantic' fans would read it. None of them would connect in the same way, or relate to the situation at hand. What would be the point?
Can't writers just paint a decent picture from their hearts without being 'jumped' on all the time? Hehehe! Let me give my characters somewhere to go, something to learn, something to deal with and wrestle their way through to a satisfying end. The 'arc' is everything in a story. No matter how short or how long it may be. Give your characters something to triumph over. Some kind of opportunity for redemption. Or even an unfair hardship that eventually leads to them crashing and burning at the end. Either way, the idea is to have your character start somewhere...end somewhere...and have a change in mood and tone and experience significant challenges along the way. That's the fuel that makes writing fiction fun. And if the writer is having fun, then the readers should be having fun too.
And if they're not...because they desperately want the story to go a different way? Then...sorry...but they should be spending time writing their own story instead of wasting time telling you how to write yours. As I've said many times in the past...you don't write for your readers. You write for yourself. Then you SHARE it with your readers when you're finished. Don't get those two things confused. I've learned that 'all' readers will never be happy with anything you write. Hehehe! Not ever. Don't try to sacrifice your voice to please them, it won't work. If you're going to write a story, at least make yourself happy with it. And if others jump on the bandwagon, then that's a bonus. But if they get mad and complain...at least you know that you put out a good project. Your best work. And those readers have the entirety of the internet to go find what they're looking for. So don't you dare feel guilty for one second about being true to your own voice. K?
Alright...had to say that, because...'tangent'...
Anyway, an arc is created when you visualize where your character begins, and figure out where you want him/her to end. Then you try to find an interesting way of getting them there. Think about the lessons that you've learned in your own life growing up. Think about what defines your thoughts and beliefs surrounding everything that you do. It may seem mundane now...but those beliefs might have come from somewhere.
Maybe you have a policy to never date a musician. Hehehe, ok...well, why? Do you have a history with someone who was a musician? Maybe you fell in love with him, the had some good times...then saw some pitfalls in the relationship, then it ultimately ended in tragedy. Well, that's you're story arc. You learned something. Experience was achieved through good or bad fortune. You traveled from your starting point to where you are now. It's hard for me to put into words, but if you keep writing and drawing from your past experiences...the grand design will present itself to you naturally. And you'll adopt that same practice to all of your characters when writing your stories in the future. You just have to be able to visualize the arc in the planning stages.
Think of Scrooge. How he progresses from one attitude about life to another. But only when being shown the truth, and making an attempt to take that journey to see what's on the other side. That journey...the struggle...that creates the arc. The need to succeed or to fail is what pushes the main character forward within the storyline. So the key is to create the 'opposite' of where the character started from...and then bring them back 'home' in the end. That's the secret.
If they're happy...put them through the ringer and give them some significant obstacles to maintain that happiness. There ya go! Character arc!
If they're miserable, then their obstacle is being confronted with glimpses of joy and hope. They 'overcome' that obstacle by screwing it all up and letting everything go to shit. And the end up back where they started. Miserable.
Either way, changing emotions is the hidden key to creating interesting character arcs in your stories. So play around with a few ideas, and see if you can find a comfortable way of creating story arcs of your own. Remember, you want to give your character somewhere to go...therefore, giving your readers somewhere to go.
Everything you write should be a journey. And that comes with both good and bad times for the characters you use to tell your story. Give them something to do. K?
I hope this gets a few brain cells sparked up, and it helps with your next story. Take care! And I'll seezya next week!
It was 1997, around this time of year, when James Cameron's big blockbuster movie, 'Titanic', was bout to hit movie screens around the world. I remember it vividly! Hehehe, mostly because my best friend and I were like, "We'll put that off until later! We're not missing 'Tomorrow Never Dies'! It's James Bond, dammit!" Anyway, as they began advertising 'Titanic'...I noticed something different about the way the commercials were doing it. This was actually a sneaky little trend for a short time in the late 90's. You'd see one commercial, and it would be full of emotionally stirring music, and fancy costumes, and dancing and giggles...like, "Come see the romantic movie of a lifetime!" But then...during prime time, you'd see a commercial for the exact same movie, but this one was practically using the heart-pounding action theme from Cameron's 'ALIENS' movie instead! With this trailer, they showed the ship sinking (Yeah...spoiler alert! The ship sinks! Hehehe!), and it was all about people running and screaming and gunshots and people getting punched in the face! "Don't miss out on the action packed movie experience of the year!" Okaaaayyyy...are those commercials advertising the same movie? The answer is...YES! All they did was change the focus, thus changing the tone. And it worked. It got the dramatic Oscar thirsty romantics to come see it, as well as the action oriented disaster movie fans, and it became one of the biggest money making films of all time. Can't argue with success, I guess.
Now, when people talk about tone, I think there's a basic understanding of what that is...but not exactly how it can be used to create the overall feel of their story. Nor do they think much about how conflicting tones can actually work against a story's ability to keep the readers locked in. Some may ask, "Well, who's going to nitpick my story for its tone? I mean, what does tone even mean when it comes to writing my own stuff?" Tone means everything! Just a few sentences can drastically change the tone of a scene and throw your audience off in a major way. Tone can affect the way that your readers look at a certain situation, the characters involved, and create an entirely different interpretation of what's being said and done.
Hmmm...here, let me give you an example...
These are the opening credits to an old sitcom, 'Diff'rent Strokes'! Hehehe, even if you've seen this before, make sure that you watch the original again, for comparison's sake! Now, this was a weekly half hour comedy about a rich guy in a condo that adopted his maid's two children after she passed away. It was all jokes and laugh tracks, etc. Watching the first video, you can see how it fits that old TV sitcom tone and represents what the show was like before you see a single episode. Very happy and upbeat, right? You see a sweet older guy in a limo, grinning from ear to ear, giving a better life to a couple of kids. Playful shenanigans ensue from there.
Now...click on the video next to it...
NOTHING has been changed about the opening itself, except for the music. Everything else is the same, but the 'tone' is different. This time, when you're looking at the same happy, feel good, events that you saw in the first opening credits scene...you can see how drastically different your mind interprets what's going on here? Hehehe, it doesn't seem so 'innocent' now, does it?
See for yourself...
That...is the power of 'tone'. It can make you see things that aren't really there, feel emotions in ways you didn't expect. And it's being done to you all the time. In commercials, in movie trailers, in politics, on consumer packaging, etc. The idea is to create a certain feeling within you, and use that to emotionally alter your perception of everything else that goes along with it, whether it's the truth or not. It all depends on your focus and the tone you apply to it. Last week, I talked about writing story blurbs and creating a summary that provokes a certain 'feeling' about your story that will draw readers in to see what happens. This can be created by tone alone, and it can be done in a very short amount of time if you practice figuring out how a wide audience responds to the words you use and the way you use them.
Going back to 'Titanic'...if you're looking for a big, action packed, tragedy with Summer blockbuster special effects and gruesome deaths? They've got you. If you're looking for a lighthearted romance where the female main character finds the man of her dreams and is whisked away from her unhappy life, only to discover the true power of love? They've got you too. The advertisers can't lose. You get the rugged action hero AND the Disney princess. This is how the concept of tone can be used to persuade you to feel one way or another, and to any author that's skilled in this part of their craft, they can accomplish anything...from making their readers laugh, to making them mad enough to punch a hole in the wall, to sobbing uncontrollably on cue. So beware...'tone' is a loaded gun. Use it responsibly.
Now, one thing that I want to say right away...is don't confuse 'tone' with 'theme'. They're not the same. Theme is determined by the feeling of your story as a whole. It's a broad blanket statement about your entire project from beginning to end. Tone, however...can change from scene to scene. It's not meant to be as vague. You can set a different tone from moment to moment, depending on what you want that scene to accomplish for your story. For example, a really dark themed story can have moments of levity. Or even full blown comedy. That's fine. In the same respect, a romantic comedy can suddenly descend into a few dark moments that totally blindside your characters (And readers) in a really effective way. Sometimes, changing the tone in your story can keep things interesting, provided you make a smooth transition from one tone to another.
I find that switching tones in my writing is best achieved in short bursts. If there's something dramatic going on, something with significant emotional weight...a character might try to, unsuccessfully, inject some humor to avoid the situation. But, if I want the current tone to be one of heartbreak and tears...I might add one joke or two, but I'll make it feel awkward and out of place as it should be, and then I'll get right back to the drama of the scene. Nobody wants to be pulled out of the moment by an entire Laurel and Hardy comedy bit that goes on for a page and a half. That can come off as jarring and unnatural to your audience. Not only that, but if you want to finish the dramatic part of the scene...you'll have to work to ease them back into the intended mood all over again. It's like driving on the highway. You've taken the comedy off ramp from 'Dramatic Way'...and now you've got to find a way to get back on at the next exit and merge back into traffic. I think a few changes in tone can be effective, but always remember the point and purpose of the scene first...and then see if you can play around with the formula a bit for a change-up.
Is there an exception to the rule? Of course! Plenty. But, if you're going to suddenly change tones in your writing...make sure that you're doing it deliberately. Like, for shock value, for example. Imagine if you have two best friends hanging out and they're having a hilarious conversation, playfully teasing one another, fighting over a video game controller...and then, one of them reveals, "I've only got a few weeks to live." ::Slams On The Brakes:: Wait...WHAT??? "That's why I came over here today. I wasn't sure how to tell you, but...yeah." Now this is one HELL of a sudden change in tone! But...when used correctly, it can be an extremely dramatic moment that will have even MORE impact, due to the festive and jovial moments preceding it. If that was your intention, then AWESOME! Well done!
However, if it was unintentional...then that might end up confusing and leading your readers astray. If your tones clash from scene to scene, it ends up diluting the emotion that you were going for. It's key to stay consistent when it comes to this kind of thing.
Also, try not to 'combine' tone and theme in a way where you stray from what the story was built up to be from the beginning. Meaning...stick to your theme. Tone can change up from time to time, but when you change the entire theme and your story goes a different way? That can also be damaging to your story.
No spoilers...but there have been a bunch of movies that have made this mistake in the past (Well...'mistake' in my opinion), where the theme of the movie did a 180* in tone...and never got back to the theme it started with. I remember watching some movies like "A Walk To Remember", "Regarding Henry", or "Million Dollar Baby"...which are all good films in their own right, but the tone COMPLETELY changed at one point, and never came back. It was like, "Wait! What happened to...? Jesus...i wasn't prepared to sign up for this! Gah!" So, if you're going to change the tone, my suggestion would be to adhere to the original theme. And if you have a certain theme? Figure that out in the beginning and stick with it, even if you deviate from the original tone from time to time. Like I said, consistency is the key.
Ok, before I bring this to an end, I wanted to give you guys a personal example of how I feel about tone. I'm writing these out quickly, but I think they'll get my point across. I hope. Hehehe! Plus, I'm giving you guys some more video examples of what I mean. Because they're FUN! Take a movie that is in NO way the kind of flick that is portrayed in this trailer...but, technically, they ARE scenes from the movie! So, you can't say that it's false advertising. You've just been tricked by the tone monster!
This first example?
Imagine that I had a scene where I had one boy breaking up with someone he had just started dating. They're not producing any magic together, and he just wants to move on, even though his date evidently had other plans in mind for them. I'm going to keep the characters and dialogue exactly the same for each of the four examples, but I'll be changing some of the details, the tone, and the vocabulary that I use, to try to give each short its own feel and create a different experience for you guys as readers. See if you can tell the difference.
#1 - Romantic Comedy
He just kept giving me the goofiest smile ever! And, yeah...maybe I felt like saying the words out loud would be the equivalent of kicking a baby kitten with a steel tipped boot, but...I swear, if I didn't get the courage to tell him now, I was going to try to swallow my wad of gum and hopefully choke to death before being forced to deal with the horrible confession. "I'm sorry, George. This just...this isn't working out for me." I said.
Talk about having a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders! I couldn't believe that I had waited this long to say it. After trips to the carnival, and the movies, and hanging out at the beach...I was happy to break free from his goofy antics and just...move on. You know? Before he started saving strands of my hair and toenail clippings for the voodoo altar of me that I'm sure he had in a closet in his mom's basement somewhere!
He looked a little surprised by this revelation, and I tried to soften the blow a bit by saying, "You weren't happy either, were you? Wouldn't it be better if we just...stopped wasting each other's time." It was true! Talking to him was like trying to make friendly conversation during a hostage negotiation sometimes. We didn't have anything in common, we didn't share a sense of humor...and we just...
Oh F#$%! Why is he crying???
"What makes you think I would want this?" He said. "I thought we'd be together forever." Geez, pump your brakes, 'Cinderella'! We went out two times. We had ONE kiss. We're hardly soul mates at this point. Then, he says, "How could you do this to me? HOW???"
Ok, this is getting weird. I, suddenly, wanted to strap a jet pack to my shoulders and simply fly away from this situation, but had to settle for saying, "Maybe I should go. I'm really sorry, k?" Might as well make my escape before I make things any worse, right?
That's when George looks at me, and he says, "Don't. I'm not ready to let you go just yet."
#2 - Drama
It was time.
I feel like I had been dragging this out for much longer than I ever should have. I wasn't just hiding from my true feelings anymore. I was actually going to end up really hurting him if I didn't come clean and tell him the truth.
So...I took a deep breath, and I said, "I'm sorry, George. This just...this isn't working out for me." The words seemed to cause his infatuated smile to completely vanish from his face. It was like his emotions had suddenly blown a fuse, gone dark, and he was left with the pain of finding his way around in pitch black darkness...trying to find his way towards whatever had happened to cause this.
The silence was deafening. I felt like garbage almost immediately. Trying to walk back my disgusting comment, I said, "You weren't happy either, were you? Wouldn't it be better if we just...stopped wasting each other's time." Was I really trying to make this seem like a mutual break up? I didn't expect him to buy that. He was in love with me. Or at least, he had convinced himself that he was. I was being a coward, hoping to get out of this dating thing clean.
"What makes you think I would want this?" He said, tears now rolling out of his eyes as he sniffled quietly to himself. "I thought we'd be together forever. How could you do this to me? HOW???"
I began to tremble inside. I had really hurt him. It wasn't my intention, I just...I wasn't sharing the same feelings that he was. I'm doing the right thing, aren't I? Better now than later? I don't know. I've just...I've got to give myself some time to think. Maybe we both need some time to think. Hopefully, it will lessen the impact of a blindsided heartbreak. "Maybe I should go." I said. "I'm really sorry, k?"
"Don't. I'm not ready to let you go just yet." He sobbed. Ugh! I never felt like such a bastard.
#3 - Thriller/Horror
I remember feeling a serious chill crawl over my shoulders as I fought to find the words to tell him that we were through. Nothing harsh. Nothing confrontational. I just knew that I needed to get away from him before something went wrong. Terribly wrong. "I'm sorry, George. This just...this isn't working out for me." I said, keeping my distance from him.
There was a sudden change in his demeanor. It was as if a dark storm cloud had rolled in overhead to darken his mood considerably. The chill within me got worse, and I found myself getting increasingly nervous as his intense gaze lifted to stare coldly into my frightened eyes.
Trying to cover up my growing fear, I stumbled to say, "You weren't happy either, were you? Wouldn't it be better if we just...stopped wasting each other's time?" He didn't answer. He just stared at me...a single tear falling from his eye while the rest of his face remained void of emotion.
Finally...he spoke. "What makes you think I would want this? I thought we'd be together forever." He balled up his fists, now allowing more tears to roll down his cheeks. "How could you do this to me?" He said. Then, loudly shouting, "HOW???"
I flinched in horror, unsure of what he might do to me if I remained within reach of him. With a shaky voice, I said, "Maybe I should go. I'm really sorry, k?"
But...as I took a step forward, George stepped in front of me. His eyes red with anger, his bottom lip, quivering, as he sneered, "Don't. I'm not ready to let you go just yet."
#4 - Action
Even with the armed soldiers approaching our position, George and I...clearly outnumbered here...I couldn't help but to use this panicked moment to tell him my true feelings about...well, about 'us'.
With bullets whizzing over our heads as we maintained cover behind the shipping crates on the dock, I said, "I'm sorry, George. This just...this isn't working out for me." Causing him to stop reloading his firearm and give me a look of total disbelief. As if...it was SO inappropriate to do this right NOW! As the army approached our position, George hopped up and shot a few rounds into one of the explosive cans behind our attackers, causing them to fall forward and remain stunned for a moment while he took cover again and looked me in the eye, a shocked expression on his face. "You weren't happy either, were you? Wouldn't it be better if we just...stopped wasting each other's time?"
Hearing our enemies regaining their footing, I popped to lay down some cover fire and then slide back down to keep them at bay for a few minutes longer. Hopefully giving the calvary enough time to figure out our location and rush in for immediate evac!
"What makes you think I would want this? I thought we'd be together forever." George said, quickly rolling over to deliver a head shot to another approaching soldier. "How could you do this to me? HOW???"
The gunfire began to race over our head again, and I had obviously picked the wrong time to bear my soul like this. First we get to safety, THEN discuss our break up! "Maybe I should go." I said, and then got ready to run to the other side of the shipping dock. But not before telling him, "I'm really sorry, k?"
He grabbed me by the wrist, shoving another pistol into my hand. "Don't. I'm not ready to let you go just yet."
So there ya go! The same small scene, told four different ways. Hopefully, it'll demonstrate how the tone of a scene can cause an audience to feel different ways about what's going on in the story at that moment. It can cause readers to look at things differently, it can cause them to choose sides for or against the main character...it can change the whole feel of a story. So if your tone is inconsistent with what you're trying to do...it won't be as effective. Even if it's beautifully written and edited flawlessly, evoking emotion is a HUGE part of the writing process. If you're lacking on that part of it...the rest begins to fall apart. So pay attention to the tone of your story, scene by scene, and make sure that it's doing exactly what you want it to do as you continue to move forward. K?
Yikes, this one was long! Hehehe! I'll shut up now! I hope this helps!
Happy writing! And I'll seezya soon!
So...readers have decided to sit down and go to a quality archive full of some really well written, really hot, stories online. They get comfortable, open their laptops, head on over to GayAuthors.org because we've obviously got the best game in town when it comes to this sort of thing, hehehe...and BAM! They're looking at hundreds upon hundreds of stories all at once. Whether readers feel overwhelmed by that, or they take the happy 'kid in a candy store' approach, it can be a daunting task to figure out where to begin. Tags and keywords help to narrow things down, sure, but your story might still be thrown onto a list with a hundred others with a similar theme. So the question is, how do you get readers to buy your particular doggie in the window over somebody else's?
Welcome to this week's topic! We're talking about writing a story synopsis for your project, and hopefully grabbing the reader's attention before they've even read a single sentence of your work.
However, before getting to that, I think authors need to remember that you really can't judge a book by its cover...but the same can't be said about a title. So the rules of a good story title definitely apply. Otherwise, readers won't even get to the story synopsis and they'll end up missing out on your genius. So always try to think of something that's intriguing, easy to remember, and is relevant to the plot but doesn't give too much away, when you're giving your story a title. If it's too simple and non descriptive (Like "Jake Gets A Blowjob"), readers might skip right over it. if it's too long and unnecessarily descriptive (Like "The Cosmic Adventures Of Johnny The Detective On The Gangster Planet Of Neptune")...yeah, skip. There's a huge middle ground in between the two extremes, so you've got tons of creative space, just remember that title is the bait on your end of the fishing hook. That doesn't mean the hook can't be successful at catching fish...but most fish are going to pass up the chance to just suck on a random hook. Hehehe! So keep that in mind.
I like to think of story blurbs as being mini movie trailers for the story to follow. You're giving readers a 'hint' about what to expect, but you want to leave out enough detail and context to keep them from figuring out the whole story from the blurb alone. Never underestimate a reader's ability to guess his or her way through your entire story from the synopsis you've given them. As I've said in the past...readers are very savvy these days. They've read hundreds, maybe thousands, of stories before they got to yours. They know the themes. They know what 'beats' a story hits, how narratives work, how plot twists are foreshadowed early on. They know romantic tropes, science fiction cliches, horror contrivances, and dramatic cues. Keep this in mind when you're trying to put a story blurb together. One or two sentences can end up giving away the entire plot of your story. And...even if the reader is making the wrong assumption from what they've read...they may skip your story anyway. Simply because they THINK, "I've read this before. I know how it ends."
It's nearly impossible to avoid, but it is a factor. Think of it as reading an old mystery and assuming 'the butler did it'. That may not be how the story ends at all, but if your story blurb describes a murder, a grieving widow, and the victim's only friend was his loyal and true butler, Edmund? Some people will think, "Yeah. That guy's SO guilty! Hehehe!"
I think story synopsis blocks should serve one, very important, purpose. It's asking your audience a question. Better yet, it is planting the seeds necessary to get them to ask the question. What is this story about? What can I look forward to? What kind of feeling am I going to get from this? Can I relate to these characters? Will I have any emotional connection to the plot? Etc.
Your answer, as a writer, should be...
...Read it and find out!
Your story blurb should take on the easy task of drawing someone in to read something that they've already been searching for. Always remember that they are trying to find your work and hear what you have to say. You've just got to wave your hands and shout out, "Over here!"And they'll come running. So, whether your story is finished or a work in progress, try to see if you can capture the overall theme of the project as a whole. Ask yourself what 'kind' of story it is, and try to project that feeling in your synopsis. It's like a microfiction project of its own. You only have a paragraph to do everything that you hope to accomplish with 10 to 20 chapters of a short novel, so use the same rules that you would when writing your story. Interesting characters, intriguing plot, emotional involvement. If you're writing apocalyptic stories where the stakes are high, use a vocabulary and a put forth a vibe of possible danger and dire circumstances. If you're writing a tragedy, your tone should be more somber. Feel free to pull a few heartstrings when giving readers a glimpse of what's to come. No matter what genre you're writing in, push that 'feeling' forward in your synopsis. Grand adventure, or sweeping romance, or spine-chilling horror...give your synopsis that will match the story you want them to dive into. You can't go wrong.
Now, that sounds like a lot to accomplish in a very small space, but it can be done. Just remember, this is a 'movie trailer' for your story, not the story itself. You only need to capture the appropriate emotion and basic idea of what's going on. It's ok to be vague. Again, you want readers to leave your story blurb with more questions than answers. Be careful not to ramble. I know what it's like to want to cram a bunch of complex info into a few paragraphs to really sell your idea, but it might end up hurting you in the end. Even if you're telling a story that covers a bunch of different genres and has a lot of twists and turns...DON'T try to squeeze all of that into your synopsis! "And then the archaeologist finds the magic medallion, but the medallion is not what it appears to be, and when the aliens show up, it's up to Frank to save the love of his life from their evil plot to steal the world's supply of a mysterious mineral that was buried in the Earth over a thousand years ago. Did I mention that Frank's father was a Van Helsing?" Ok...stop. Take a breath. Erase ALL of that...and start over! Hehehe!
There's WAY too much going on in that mess. A story blurb only has to be a summary. Instead, try, "On an archaeological dig, Frank finds a mysterious medallion that seems to be of interest to a group of hunters that lie in the shadows. Who are they? What do they want? And can Frank keep his love safe when they come looking for them?" There. Done. As always, your planting the seeds of multiple questions in the minds of potential readers. What mysterious medallion? What's so important about it? Shadowy figures? Are they dangerous? What's going to happen next?
And...your writer's answer is? Say it with me...
'Read it and find out!'
Don't worry about being too specific with details. You got the 'feeling' right. Mystery, intrigue, a touch of romance...done. Assume that the readers who are interested will read the story and discover the rest on their own. Hey, more surprises for them to find, right? That can only help you in the long run. As they say, sometimes less is more.
Anyway, I'm sure that there is a LOT more that I could say about writing story blurbs, but I'll avoid that rabbit hole for now! Hehehe! It might be better for a group discussion, anyway. Still, I hope this helps. Just remember...the 'question' is everything when grabbing a reader's attention. If you can get that part right, it'll gnaw on their brain until they surrender to it and give your story a try. You guys are on your own from there! Hehehe!
Best of luck! And check back next week for my article on 'Tone'! It applies to story blurbs too!
Flashing back to some time around 2006 or so...
I remember being really excited to join forces with another massively popular writer here on Gay Authors, and we were secretly trading emails back and forth, putting a story together so we could both bring our individual talents to the table and make something really special. The working title for the story was "Turn A Blind Eye", and the author was @DomLuka. If you haven't read any of Dom Luka's stories on the site, I highly recommend doing so. He's amazing!
I still have some of the emails saved. Nobody knew about the potential team up, as it was meant to be a surprise, but I was a big fan. I looked forward to it. The idea was for each of us to take a character (Alex and Bryce), and write the story from two different points of view. My chapters would be from Bryce's POV, and Dom's would be from Alex's POV. Unfortunately, much to my regret, the story never came to be. We began working on it, but his schedule and mine were too hectic and unpredictable for us to really coordinate our efforts and make it happen. Life gets in the way, sometimes. Not to mention that we were both focused on continuing series of our own on our individual sites at the same time. So it was hard to pull off that particular magic trick, hehehe! But...Dom if you're still out there somewhere? Hehehe, I'm ready when you are, dude!
This week, the topic is writer collaboration! How to jump into it, how to smoothly navigate your way through it, and how to combine your best instincts with the instincts of another author that you're eager to work with.
I think that working with another writer can be a truly positive learning experience for both parties. Joining your passion with the passion of another author brings the best out of you sometimes. You begin to examine your similarities as well as your differences, and it gives you another perspective on the craft of putting a story together in general. Now, it's extremely difficult for me to collaborate with other writers these days, personally, because I'm constantly juggling a ton of chainsaws at once as far as my 'Comsie Work' is concerned, but I can tell you from experience that I really enjoyed participating in other writer projects when I got the opportunity to do so. It was FUN, learning other characters and storylines that weren't my own, and being able to put a bit of a personal spin on them. You should try it sometime, if for no other reason than you might enjoy the challenge.
There was a vampire story that I began on the "GFD: Blood Bank" site called "Lost In Shadow", where I basically set up a cast of characters and a situation that had to be dealt with by writing the first chapter. Then I passed the second chapter off to another author, who was given total freedom to carry the story in any direction that he wanted. The third chapter was picked up by somebody else, and so forth and so on. This Round Robin story was a lot of fun to work on, but, of course...it's hard to keep something like that for any length of time. People have different writing habits, different works schedules, different family obligations...and then there's just plain writer's block lurking around the corner. Hehehe! But, for a while, I LOVED it! I'd love to start from scratch and finish "Lost In Shadow" off as an ebook someday. But that's another story for another time.
If I had any tips for tackling a joint project with someone else, I'd narrow them down to the following four suggestions. Everything else, you'll just have to feel out and work through on your own. That's part of the fun, after all.
Plan ahead! If you're going to collaborate with another writer, you are both going to have to come up with a game plan before you start writing. Full stop. Don't start a story without getting together in some way and discussing what you guys want to accomplish. When I say 'plan ahead', I don't mean...you plot out the whole idea and story on your own, and then contact the other author to see if he or she would be interested. Hehehe, that's not a true collaboration. The whole point is for you both to create something as a team. So, start with a blank screen, talk to one another, and start building the story together. Figure out a theme, come up with characters, bounce some ideas back and forth with each of you having a say in what you're constructing from the ground up. Not all writers (Or writing styles) are compatible with one another, so you'll have to find a way to mend the two disciplines in a way that inspires, challenges, and strengthens, you both. This is something that you might want to figure out before you put the hard work in. Think a few chapters ahead. Where are you going with this? How will you separate the chapters? What kind of 'events' do you want to happen along the way and which one of you is going to handle that? These are all things to think about before you get started. I know how easy it is to just say, "Yay! I want to write something with this person or that person!" And have no plan going into it. Take some time, get those details fleshed out a little bit and figure out how you're going to trade off your duties as you go along.
Communicate! No, the conversation doesn't stop at the planning stages! Hehehe! The thing about writing your own stories without having to pass your pre-planned ideas or spontaneous instincts on to a partner, is the fact that you two (or however many people you're working with) can quickly end up getting in each other's way if you're not communicating. You may take the story in a direction that ends up completely ruining the ideas and creative goals of the other writer. And vice versa. One writer might paint the main characters into a corner, making it difficult for the next writer to get them out of it. You want to work with each other, not against each other. Being in constant contact is essential in making sure you guys are on the same page. If you have ideas, share them with your collaborator(s). If you want to do something big a few chapters down the road, and want to start building up those plot points earlier on? Let your partner know. Hell, they might even be able to help you set things up with their contributions as well. But you have to make sure you work that out ahead of time. If you decide, in chapter 3, that you want Jack and Harry to get married in chapter 10...and your writing partner decides that Harry gets torn to pieces by wild hyenas in chapter 7...hehehe, well, obviously you guys are going to have a major conflict there. So keep sharing your ideas with one another to make sure your individual contributions to the same story are compatible.
Pay attention to continuity! This is important. Even if your writing styles are vastly different, you can still create the illusion that this is all the same story, written by the same talent. However, you've got to make sure that you're keeping the story straight in your head in terms of continuity. For me? The stories and characters that I've written over the years are always in my head and close to my heart. And even I get my OWN continuity mixed up from time to time! So you have to pay extra attention when it comes to the continuity of your partner's characters and plot points. Don't have someone's eyes change from blue to brown, or have a shy guy suddenly start beating up bullies at school. Obviously, if your collaborator has a character who's father passed away...and in your next chapter, you have him randomly show up to a family dinner...hehehe, that's going to create a serious 'WTF?' moment for everybody reading! So make sure that you know both your side of the story, as well as your partners', and keep things consistent. This should be easy if you're keeping up with tip #2 above.
Don't 'bully' the story! Competition between creative minds is ok. It's natural. Consider literature a sport when you're writing. Put your best foot forward, and get your writing partner to do the same. BUT...don't bully your way through the storytelling. As a writer, you know that it can be a very personal and isolated practice to create a story. We get used to working alone. So, it's easy to fall into the habit of controlling everything that is being said and done in a story. You may have a vision of how you think things should go, and you want to almost force events to follow your ideas to a tee. Yeah...you have to ease up on that. If you want this to be a true collaboration, then you have to make room for another author's voice. Again, this goes back to the 'communication' rule. Talk. Think things out, share ideas, make compromises...give the other author just as much room as you would want them to give to you. If it was just going to be 'your' story, then why collaborate at all? Let your partner breathe. Let them work their own particular brand of magic, and look at it as a challenge to show readers what you've got in response. There's no better feeling than matching wits with another awesome writer, and leapfrogging over one another to bring your 'A' game to the same project. Appreciate the team effort, and the effort will appreciate you in return.
Alright, that's it for this week! If you guys are ever looking for a unique experience and want to stretch your writing muscle a bit further than usual, try collaborating with another writer. It's a really great way to find things out about your own writing process as well as the habits of others. Give it a shot!
Food for thought! Hope it helps!
Seezya next week!
The thing about having a dialogue with someone in real life, versus having a dialogue in written prose...is that, more times than not, prose demands a sense of purpose from its characters' interaction. There's very little room for fluff and small talk. The words being spoken have to actually 'say' something about the current situation and add to the story. It doesn't have to be forced, but I think it helps to know what your intentions are as a writer when adding dialogue to the scenes you have in your project.
Now, there are writers and critics that will tell you that every single spoken word by your characters should have some significant impact on the overall story, and if not, it should be erased. I, personally, am not that strict on the characters in my own stories. Sometimes my characters just like to shoot the shit for a while. I think that's fine. But that doesn't mean that they're conversations are completely purposeless. They are necessary for the story, they just aren't directly used to move the plot forward in any certain direction. Those conversations serve another purpose. A purpose that I think is important when it comes to telling a good tale.
So this week, we're not just talking about dialogue...but engaging dialogue. Dialogue that accompanies your story and plot and characters in such a way that it can elevate your project as a whole, and keep readers glued to the screen.
I truly believe that dialogue should feel natural and spontaneous in a story. It should sound like the kind of conversation that two average strangers could be having on a bus, or on any random street corner. And depending on who's having that conversation, there might be a few jokes told, some witty back and forth, maybe some wisdom passed from one character to another. That's normal enough. But every conversation doesn't have to have some sort of great meaning, emotional weight, or some deep sense of gravitas, in order to work in your writing. In fact, if every sentence spoken between your characters did that...it would come off as stiff and unrealistic. People don't talk like that. Sometimes, you just see a familiar face and say, "Hey, what's up? How are you?" And the answer is, "Fine! How about you?" And that's all there is to it. The problem with adding this natural dialogue to your writing is that it can sometimes slow the pace of your story way down if you let it linger on for too long without giving your readers a reason to care about this casual chit chat. Nobody wants to read about two people discussing the weather for a page and a half. Not if it doesn't have anything to do with the rest of the story. Does that mean you can't discuss the weather in your story? No. You just have to give it purpose. Why is this happening? Let your audience know the subtext of this conversation and why they need to keep paying attention.
Using the 'weather' example... If two, well established, characters are on a mission to steal a car from a mob boss...WHY in the name of all that is holy are they talking about whether or not it's going to rain??? Nooooo! What am I reading? SKIP!
However...if the tools they're using to steal said car depend on whether or not it rains when the heist goes down...that's a factor. It's a part of the story. Let the readers know that. NOW that conversation has meaning.
Or...let's say that you have a really shy, closeted, teenager talking to the boy of his dreams for the first time. Maybe they're in an elevator together, and the weather forecast is the only thing he can come up with to talk to this stunning beauty next to him. Again...it's a mundane conversation, but it's given depth and meaning through the character interaction and the situation at hand. If done right, you can make the most boring dialogue engaging to your audience through the subtext alone.
Basically, meaningful dialogue can have one of three main objectives. To set the tone of the scene, to introduce certain personality traits of your characters, or to advance the plot of the story by delivering information that will be needed later. So...let's talk about that first one.
Setting the tone for your scene through dialogue is all about how you word it. Maybe there's some flirtatious tension going on. Maybe there's some serious conflict happening. Maybe it's a scene of all out chaos, or maybe it's a scene of total indifference. The way your characters relate to one another speaks volumes beyond the actual dialogue. Two people who are hostile toward one another may throw a few passive aggressive comments in each other's direction. Two people nervous around one another may stutter or pause, or say something that they immediately regret once the sound has left their mouths. Characters who are the best of friends may joke around and give each other shit in a playful way. The thing is...you can create an atmosphere for the scene through the dialogue being shared by the characters at your disposal. You can let the reader know whether this is going to be a lighthearted scene, or a dramatic scene. You can give them cues about an instant rivalry and play up the animosity between the two people speaking. While the conversation itself may be simple and plain, the 'feel' of it can draw your readers into the scene and give them a sense of presence within the scene itself. What should they be feeling right now? Why did they say what they just said? And why did they say it that way? Your readers are smart, and they're emotionally involved in what's going on. So set the stage, give them some details, and let them know how light or how dark the scene is by the dialogue that you give them to work with and the context flowing behind it.
The second method involves displaying the personality traits of the characters involved. You guys might remember my article on "Show, Don't Tell". This is exactly what I mean by that. Who is your character (whichever character you're focusing on at the moment)? Are they extroverted and optimistic? A simple block of dialogue with them talking about sunny days and double rainbows can paint that picture for your readers. It might not have anything to do with the main plot or advance the story any further from where it is, currently...but it clearly expresses the attitudes and motivations of one of your main characters, which...in my opinion..is just as important, if not more so. Use your dialogue as a tool to allow your characters to show the audience who they are as a person. Maybe they're a hopeless romantic. Maybe they're a standoffish rebel. Maybe they're an insecure jerk, or a lovable shy guy. The words they use and the things they say can convey a clear message to your readers and give them a sense of who you characters are without you having to explain it to them later.
The third method? Moving the plot forward. Now...with this one, I would warn all writers that it's difficult to do this without losing site of the 'tone' and 'character trait' parts of the equation. I believe that moving the plot forward comes from a combination of all three sides of this. You definitely want to provide new information and progress towards the finale that you're looking to reach by the end of your project...but if you lose sight of tone and character in the meanwhile? The story can easily fall apart. Try to keep having your protagonist or love interest 'break character' by suddenly saying something that they would never say normally, just for the sake of advancing the plot. Don't change the tone of your story from something happy and comical to something dark and disturbing, simply because you want to jump into the tragic parts of your story. Keep things smooth. Flow. Being a good writer, I think, is all about the choices you make. And how readers react to those choices as the story unfolds. The idea is to have your audience follow you on a journey. Not for you to push an emotional 'agenda'. I know you have an idea in mind for how the story is going to go and how you want it to end...but use some finesse. Hehehe! Have patience. Any driver knows what happens when you take a sharp curve too quickly. Ease into it. Have faith in your readers. They're with you. Lead them in the right direction, but don't suddenly sucker punch them with dialogue that doesn't fit, simply because you want to jump to the next step. Keep things consistent. I've learned that it reads better in the long run.
Remember...engaging dialogue comes from engaging people, and engaging situations. If you're writing, and there's a voice in the back of your mind that says, "I should probably add some dialogue to this scene"...ask yourself why? If you can't come up with a better answer than 'because...' then don't do it. Why are they talking? Who are they talking to? What will this add to the story, plot, character, tone, or theme, of the story? Don't just have people talk when they have nothing to say. If this becomes a part of your story, readers won't be able to decide what conversations are important to think about or remember for later...and which ones are just fluff for the sake of fictional mumbling. Pick your moments wisely, and make sure that every conversation is actually 'saying' something...even when it appears to be saying nothing.
Hehehe, easier said than done. I know. But nothing can teach you the difference like practice. So, you know...PRACTICE!
Alrighty then, I know this was a short one this week, but there isn't really a whole lot that I can say in terms of advice for this topic! Every author is different. We all have our own methods, ideas, and our own experiences with writing in the past to draw from when it comes to getting the desired effect. I can't guide anybody in the right direction, because there IS no right direction! I can only tell you what I've encountered so far, and what feels comfortable for me. So find your own version of these little lessons while writing your own stuff. And if you find little tidbits of your own along the way? Share it with me! Hehehe! I'm still learning too!
Take care! I hope this helps! And I'll seezya soon with more!
Most of the time, when I'm writing stories or new chapters to existing stories, it's spawned by some sort of inspiration or emotion that I'm feeling. That's just something my personal creativity feeds off of, and sometimes the muse for one particular story or another can be a 'feast or famine' adventure. What can I say? When the time is right, the stars and planet align and they let me know when it's time. Once that happens, the words just seem to flow naturally as if they came from somewhere else entirely. I'm sure that many writers can say what a glorious experience that is. The feeling is amazing!
However, while the creative side of writing can be sudden and effortless in moments of inspiration...there's still a process that we all have to go through in order to get the words from our hearts...to our brains...and out on a screen for other people to see. And I believe that the easier that process is for an author, the easier it will be for that author to blast out their best work.
That's not always something that's easy to achieve. 'Life' is a great big attention whore! Hehehe! And so is creativity! So, there are going to be times when it feels like you're being torn apart by two narcissists at a dinner party. You're going to have to choose one. Sad, but true. And when it's time to write...life gets put on hold. It takes focus, and quiet, and a certain degree of isolation, to effectively pour your heart out on the page. But, if you can find a few hours to sit at your laptop and give your writing process your all? The end result will be SO worth it!
This week...I'm talking about eight things that I did to help my own writing process a little easier to deal with. Not the actual writing itself, but the process of translating my thoughts and emotions for my readers to absorb, with as few obstacles and interruptions as humanly possible.
It may make a 'recluse' out of me from time to time...but if I'm going to claim to be a writer, even unprofessionally, then I'm going to give it my all and do it right. And with a little preparation and a touch of writer discipline...I can smooth out the writing process itself, and pour all of my energy into my work instead of stumbling every five minutes and disturbing my train of thought.
Let's get started...
Eat something first! I know that I probably sound like you mom and dad when I say this, but it's true. Feeding yourself will give your brain the nourishment and your body the energy to sit down and create your masterpiece. Have dinner, have a snack, keep a bag of chips nearby...whatever. Your body is burning through a lot of mental and emotional energy when you write. Give your body what it needs to function, and your mind won't wander off while you're writing. Not only will you be fed, but you won't have to worry about stopping mid sentence later to make yourself a sandwich when you, inevitably, get hungry later on. Also...keep a drink within reaching distance. Whether it's an ice cold bottle of water, a warm cup of coffee or tea, or a few beers and a glass of whiskey...whatever your flavor is, have it handy. There's nothing worse than getting on a creative streak, typing out words as fast as your fingers will allow...while struggling to ignore hunger pains or a deep thirst. Keep it close. Have these things ready, or taken care of ahead of time. So once you get 'in the zone'...you can stay there.
Work in a clean space. Clutter, whether we realize it or not, hinders creativity. I know it sounds weird, but it's true. Clutter in your work space leads to clutter in your thoughts. Get rid of it. If you feel cramped or like the messy clothes on the floor, or dirty dishes, are closing in on you...take a moment, and clean your space so you can feel free and comfortable to operate without having to look at it. Even if it's just in your peripheral vision...lose it. If you've got a bunch of notes scribbled on pieces of scrap paper and grocery store receipts and candy wrappers (As I often do), just stack the ones you need at your side, and put the other ones elsewhere. Set a positive atmosphere for yourself. Give yourself some room and feel good about the atmosphere that you set for yourself. You'd be surprised how much it helps to clear the mind. Again...the goal is to make your writing the ONLY thing on your mind while you're pouring your heart out. I always feel that I write much better and much faster when the clutter is gone. Give it a try.
Turn all of your distractions...OFF! Every last one of them. We live in an era where everybody seems to treat everything as though it was a dire emergency and they NEED an instantaneous reply fro you. It's not. And they don't. "I texted you and you didn't get back to me within the first 12 seconds of me sending it! I know you're online! I'm stalking you!" Hehehe, really? Come on. Nope! Cell phone? Off. Television? Off. Radio? Off. Skype, Facebook, Twitter...anything that will 'alert' you to a new message within seconds of you receiving it, and will cause you to agonize over what it says and who it's from? Lose it! If you want to concentrate...then concentrate. The world can wait for a few minutes while you follow your passion and say what you need to say with your art. Now, obviously, if you have to look out for actual emergency situations for work, or for kids/family, and you need a line of communication open 'just in case', then that's fine. But unless you're an on call paramedic or heart surgeon or something...don't let people treat you as one. It may sound harsh, but please don't interrupt my flawless writing streak because you were bored at home and just wanted to say hi. Send me a message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I'm finished. Promise. Also, there's no such thing as effective multitasking when it comes to your writing. Don't write two or three sentences and then look back over your shoulder at the TV. Turn it off. Don't divide your attention. It's sooooo easy to do these days, but if you want to write...then write. Either save TV for later, or watch TV first and then write. You can't do both. Trust me. Millions of dollars are paid to psychologists and social analysts every year to make every last commercial on TV as eye catching and distracting and loud and obnoxious as humanly possible. It's their JOB to take your attention away from whatever it is that you're doing at the moment. So cut that influence out of your writing time, and focus.
Learn to say 'no'. Now, this is one of the most difficult parts of clearing the runway for your writing process. At least it is for me. When it comes to your family and your friends and your job...it can be difficult to stand up and simply say 'no' when they come looking for attention. I don't mean that in a bad way. They want to spend time with you, and you want to spend time with them in return. I get it. I definitely advise us all to crawl out from our holes and get some sunshine every now and again. It's good for us. BUT...if your muse is jumping and you want to sit down and really express your current feelings while the juices are flowing through you...it's OK to tell your friends no every once in a while. Don't feel bad about it. Maybe you don't want to go to the movies tonight. Maybe you don't want to go out partying on a Saturday night, or have company, or get into a two hour phone conversation. Say no. "Hey, I've really got something that I want to do right now, and maybe I'll catch up with you guys on another night." That's all you have to say. No long list of excuses are necessary. Sometimes, you just want to write. So do it. What's wrong with saying no to a distraction from what you really want to be doing tonight? You know?You see, I think that a lot of people work at daily jobs...and at the end of the day, they punch out, and they're done with it for the rest of the evening. They can't imagine wanting to be there all day and night and sacrificing a good time out on the town for more 'work' if they didn't have to. Makes perfect sense to me. But I think creativity and passion works differently. I like to go out and have fun just like everybody else. And yet, writing 'frees' me. It's something that I truly LOVE to do, as often as possible. There is no punching in and punching out. I can do it all day and never get antsy or bored with it. So...there are going to be times when I don't WANT to stop writing my new story to go to a party. I don't want to gab on the phone, I don't want to go shopping, I don't want to go out to lunch. I want to sit right here in front of this laptop and spill my heart and soul out on the page for the next few hours. That's my idea of fun for the evening, and I hope my loved ones will be able to understand, or at least respect, that. Sometimes you just don't want to miss your creative moment. Sometimes...you just have to tell them 'no'. There's no love lost, I love my friends and family dearly. But...for right now...LEAVE ME ALONE!!! Hehehe!(Seriously...don't be a dick about it. Just say, "Hey, I've got other plans." I haven't creatively 'clocked out' yet, and I want to finish this thought before it fades away. I'll get together with you guys later.) Simple. Right?
Create a playlist for yourself. A BIG part of my personal writing process is music. It always has been. I can guarantee you all that I have a personal playlist for almost all of the stories that I write on my website. They range from happy, 'mall friendly', boy pop...to dark and moody, instrumental, movie scores and ambient horror. Music is a part of me setting the mood for what I'm writing in whatever scene I happen to be tackling at the moment. If I need something sad and dramatic? I have a playlist for that. If it's for something comical and playful/flirtatious? I have a playlist for that too. And when I need something 'sexy'...hehehe, well, let's just say that I've got songs for that as well. Find songs on your computer that give you a certain feel or inspire a certain emotion inside of you. Some songs might make you want to get up and dance. Some might remind you of an action scene where your main characters walks into a room and kicks ass. Find songs that fit a certain mood, and put them all together in a single playlist, so you can play them while writing. We all have 'anger' music. We all have 'heartbreak' lullabyes. We all have confident anthems of triumph and achievement. Find yours, and put them into a single folder so you can out them all on repeat when writing certain moments in your story. Sometimes, having song lyrics helps. Other times, I find them a bit distracting, and go for instrumental scores instead. It all depends on what it is that you're trying to say. Get on Youtube! Think of movies that really got you revved up, or moved you to tears at one time or another. Then look up music from that movie in the search! If you're looking for a song by a particular artist or band, with lyrics and all...look up (Movie title) + soundtrack! If you want an instrumental part of that same movie...look up (Movie title) + score! Chances are you can find anything you want, and that musical backdrop will help to keep you in the same frame of mind while you write or edit your work. Give it a shot! It works wonders!
Always have your notes within reach! If you guys keep handwritten notes like me on multiple scraps of paper...get ALL of them together before you start writing, and keep them in a nice little pile next to your laptop or PC. I can honestly say that there is nothing worse than trying to write, getting some nice momentum and flow going...and having to stop to go searching for notes and details at the last minute because you forgot how you pictured the scene going! Arrrghhh! It sucks! It totally takes you out of the moment. I'm constantly writing stuff down as I think about it, and any time that I have to stop writing to go searching for those scribblings...I end up losing some of the fire that I got burning bright for the next few paragraphs I had planned. So keep them close. Also, I've found it really convenient to keep 'character profiles' in my online files for each story. These are very short descriptions that I line up under each story title and can bring up and look at any time that I need to. Basically, I can look up "New Kid In School" and look to see if Ryan's eyes are brown or hazel. I can see how old "Billy Chase" is, or what side of "Jesse-101's" forehead has that tiny scar on. Just make a short list of details that you can pull up if you're drawing a blank on anything. Is this character blond or brunette? Are they right handed or left handed? Do they live with both parents or just one? Whatever details that you may need to jot down for continuity's sake...put them in the profile. That will save you the time of going back through earlier chapters of your own story to find any details that you may have forgotten over time.
Take breaks! Psychological studies have shown that concentration and focus is actually MORE effective when we indulge in a few breaks every now and then. Even if you're trying to rush through and reach a deadline or get something finished...always remember to take a moment to breathe. I know that we all get in the mode of, "I'm going to sit right here, and just pour six hours of HARD work into getting this done tonight!" every once in a while. Ummm...don't do that. LOL! I don't know how YOU guys might look at that, but it never ever works for me. Forcing myself to completely 'mad dog' my computer screen for endless hours on end without a break just leads to burn out and mental/emotional fatigue. That's not to say that you shouldn't be determined about what you want to accomplish. Just...write for an hour, maybe two, and then take a short break. Ten to fifteen minutes. Go on Youtube and find something fun to watch. Lean back and listen to some good music. Play a few video games or go for a short walk or drop by a chatroom for a bit. Just 'disengage' from your main focus for a little bit so you can recharge your creative battery, and then jump back in with even more tenacity than you had before. Seriously...if you're on a roll and don't want to stop writing, then that's cool. Follow your instincts. But I wouldn't advise writing for more than an hour or two straight without at least giving yourself a chance to relax for a little bit. Otherwise, you know what happens? You get drained...your butt hurts, your shoulders hurt, your fingers get tired, carpal tunnel settles into your wrists...and you might get a lot done for that one day...but then you're sore and miserable and don't want to type another word for a WEEK! Hehehe, that's counterproductive. Do a little bit every day, and you'll make better progress that way. Just don't get distracted to the point where you forget what you were supposed to be doing in the first place. Ten minutes here, twenty minutes there...then get back to work. I've learned that this works wonders when it comes to me getting stuff done.
Know when to fold 'em! Yes, ladies and gentlemen...the old gambling anthem works here as well. Believe me when I say that I completely understand the desire to chase your muse and keep writing until the sun rises and the letters on your keyboard have been rubbed away from overuse! LOL! You should see the first WebTv keyboard I had (And still have! Because I'm sentimental)! The letters have been scrubbed off of the keys, and there is an actual groove in the spacebar. I definitely abused that thing when the site was young! BUT...you've got to know when to stop. When to pack it up for the night, shut it down, and have faith in your ability to pick up where you left off 'tomorrow'. Don't force it. Sometimes, the mind is willing, but the body can't keep up. If you're falling asleep at your computer? If your face is pressed against the keyboard and you wake up to 75 lines of the letter 'Z' because you just couldn't TAKE anymore? Then you're doing too much. Let it go. Pushing yourself too hard can lead to the same burnout and fatigue that I mentioned above. It's good to be ambitious and to give it your all...but you're only human. You need rest. You need food. You need to practice proper hygiene rituals. Hehehe! There comes a point when you need to call it quits, save what you have, and shut it all down for the night. That's just the way it goes sometimes. There have been countless times where I've actually gotten soooo MAD at myself for literally nodding off in my chair when I desperately wanted to get something done. Even now, I treat sleep the way bulimics treat food. I HATE it! I wish I didn't need sleep at all! I have WAY too much to do to waste hours and HOURS of my time sleeping. Grrrrr! But...nobody wants to read the half-baked ramblings of an author who's barely conscious while writing the next chapter of his/her story. Hang it up for the night. Go to bed, and come back when you have the brain power to put your best foot forward. K? It'll be there when you're ready to tackle it again. Besides, chances are you're just going to have to spend twice as much time editing the story when you finish. So you're not really saving yourself any time at all in the long run. So you might as well keep a healthy sleep schedule and get it right the first time. Right?
Alright! So those are eight little tips that I've learned that will help to make my writing process a little bit easier on the body, mind, and emotions. Give these a look whenever you're having a bit of difficulty with getting that new work started or finished. I hope this will help! And happy writing, you guys! I wish you the best!
″I love you!″
″I love you more!″
″Unh unh! I love YOU more!″
″No way! I love you more than ANYTHING in this world! I love you to infinity!″
″M′kay! You win! Kiss me!″
Mwah mwah mwah mwah...blechhh! Hehehe!
Honestly, how long can a story like this go on before folks get the point and grow weary of the content? There are only so many ways to say ′I love you′. Only so many ways to hang out and have a good time. Only so many holes to fill in a sexual encounter. Hehehe! It may seem sweet from chapter to chapter to see your protagonist and his special love interest get all warm and cozy, whispering sweet nothings into one another′s ear every time they get together...but even for a HUGE romantic like myself, I can honestly say that it doesn't take long before that schtick gets old. Maybe not right away, but over time...you might need something more than just a lovey-dovey situation where one hot guy compliments another hot guy on how hot they are and they go off somewhere to have sex while the readers watch. You HAVE to change things up sometimes. It′s just one of the rules in the game when it comes to keeping people interested in your characters and the story that you′re trying to tell.
There are plenty of emails in my inbox right now, begging..."PLEASE don't let anything bad happen to these two! EVER! Keep it happy! I can't handle any drama in this story!" And...well...sorry. Like...how would that be any fun to read? I don't get it. There's got to be SOME sort of conflict on the horizon to keep people coming back for the next chapter. I mean...right? You wouldn't want to read the same marshmallow sweetness for ten chapters in a row. What would be the point? I'm not trying to anger or depress anybody...but a life without any struggle just isn't realistic in my opinion. Let them have a few snags in their fairy tale ever now and then. What's wrong with that? Come on! It'll be fun! I promise! Hehehe!
Not every story has to be an overly dramatic soap opera. Everything doesn′t have to have moments of shock and awe and plot twists that drops your reader′s jaw by the end of the chapter. But...people in real life are different. We have different tastes, different views on life, different beliefs, different interests. And even if all of those things were, somehow, made out to be compatible...we still have mood swings. We have good and bad days. We deal with problems and misfortunes. It′s realistic. Why not make that a part of your story? Not to exploit your characters for the sake of drama...but to enhance those moments and create momentum by showing your readers how they deal with those differences. Who would your characters be if they were under the pressure of a highly emotional situation? Who would they be if confronted and forced to defend themselves in a physical fight or an argument? How would they react to some serious temptation? How would they react to the loss of a loved one or a best friend? Conflict in a story not only spices up your story, but it fills in the little corners of your characters′ personalities in ways that wouldn′t be evident in an ′oh so perfect′ storyline where all they do is kiss and giggle all day long.
SO...today, let′s talk about the concept of ′conflict′! And how to effectively use it to up the ante on your writing in a way that will keep people coming back for more.
The first rule of conflict is...don't put too much emphasis on the rules of conflict. Hehehe! I know that sounds backward, considering the theme of this article, but it's true. Conflict doesn't always have to be a Batman/Joker kind of confrontation. Never feel like you have to go over the top with the friction you create between your main characters. It's not always necessary. Conflict is simply a difference of opinion. It can be as big as someone cheating on their boyfriend with their older brother...or it can be as simple as one boy is out of the closet as being gay, and the other one isn't. Maybe the 'conflict' takes the form of a long distance relationship. Maybe the love interest has had bad experiences with sex and affection and doesn't want to jump back into that arena without some sort of a guarantee that they won't be hurt again. Whatever their differences are...use them in your story. There doesn't always have to be a 'black and white' kind of fight when it comes to conflict. Your characters don't have to be mortal enemies. In fact, they may not be enemies at all. They simply have an issue, an obstacle, or a belief, that creates a disconnect between them. The conflict is created by how much you focus on that disconnect and the level of intensity you want to apply to it.
I've found that mild conflicts are a bit less dramatic, but a lot more realistic. It takes practice to find a balance that you're comfortable with as a writer. Anyone reading my earlier stories can see how major events sort of take place in almost every chapter. It's almost like watching reality TV shows, where something spicy has to happen in order to keep the ratings up. But once I began to relax a bit more and find my stride, I allowed those dramatic events to spread themselves out a bit more. I felt more comfortable being subtle by introducing a conflict between characters and playing with the intensity a little bit at a time...until it's time for the main event, and then I can crank it all the way up and create moments of true hostility that readers saw coming and were just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The audience already knows where the disconnect is, and they know why it's there, but as the warm water heats up, the anticipation for this inevitable showdown between the two can come off as a lot more rewarding.
I also believe that conflict works best when your readers can see the logic in both sides of the argument. That's an important part of the audience getting involved in the story. They're forced to ask themselves, "Well, if it were me...what would I do?" It's a lot fun to create a character that's just a pure evil antagonist to your perfect and well-meaning main character. It's entertaining to have a villain that people just love to hate. But, as the saying goes, every villain is the hero of their own story. I've known some people who are just...assholes. Let's be real. Those people exist. But I've also found that they aren't doing it just to be evil. There's a reason for it. There's an issue there, a thought process behind their actions, or some form of damage. And sometimes people are just il and water when they're in the same room together. So even when I have characters who pose a direct threat to my protagonist, I like to attempt to shine a light on who they are and what their motivations may be. Let your readers get a glimpse as to why they're doing the things they do, and maybe give your protagonist a few flawed moments when they're at fault as well. Maybe they'ree being paranoid, or jealous, or unfair, or just mean for the sake of being mean. Juggle back and forth between one flawed individual and the other so the conflict carries some nuance and complexity to their relationship. Nobody's perfect, but every unlikable character isn't a heartless psychopath either. Play around with that.
Hehehe, Lord knows I have! And sometimes, the readers end up liking my villain even more than my protagonist! So...be careful. Sometimes it backfires!
Anyway, that's my weekly babbling on conflict. Look at the characters in your story, and see if you can recognize the struggle in each of them. Conflict isn't just about right and wrong. Sometimes it's just about being 'different'. As always, I hope this helps! Have fun writing! And I'll see ya next weekend!
When I′m writing, I often visualize my stories as being movies, TV shows, comic books, etcetera. It′s just the way my mind works, I guess. I picture the characters, the backgrounds, the musical score, the movement of the camera...it′s a part of me putting every part of my story together in sequence, and actually seeing things as they play out in my head so I can effectively describe it for everybody else who might be reading. And just like movies and TV, a vast majority of stories are told in a way where one important scene switches to another important scene, often with some time passing between the two. When you write, it′s a ′fable′ that you're creating. It′s a heavily edited documentary on a fictional character′s day to day life. You don′t want to hear about what this character had for dinner. Your readers aren′t really interested in his homework, or what he watched on TV that night, or how long he spent playing his Playstation online. (UNLESS, of course...it relates to the story being told) So I ask for us all to think about what we′ve done in the last 24 hours of our lives. Every last little detail. Write it down and see how interesting it would be to anyone else who′s reading it. If I asked you what you did yesterday, would you spend two hours giving me every little detail, or could give me an abridged version and wrap the whole thing up in two minutes instead?
Yeah. Give me the latter. That's all I need.
Every single moment of our lives isn′t interesting enough to put into our book. And a lot of moments that ended up being truly important in the long run? We probably thought they were pretty mundane at the time until all the dominoes fell into place and we looked back to see where it all began. These are moments that we don′t include in our stories for a reason. We only tell that parts of our characters′ lives that are essential to the plot. So we may skip some of the more uninteresting parts where our character is combing his hair, or brushing his teeth, or taking out the garbage. And that means finding a way to jump from scene to scene smoothly, without having it feel ′jarring′, ′jerky′, or confusing in any way to the reader as to what′s just happened.
Today′s topic? Scene transition! And how to walk the fine line between a potentially good transition, and a potentially bad one.
I will begin by letting you guys know one of the FIRST things that I′ll tell any author when reading and reviewing their work. And I say this with no judgment or disrespect at all...but I will always go out of my way to mention to other writers to lose the visible ′text breaks′ in their stories. Every time. Maybe it′s just me, but I find that highly distracting when I′m reading. It′s almost a cheap way of switching from one scene to another in your story, and it′s something that can usually be solved with a sentence or two, where those breaks wouldn′t be necessary at all.
″- - - - - -″
″(A few hours later)″
″(Insert special graphic to separate scenes here)″ Or any kind of visible break that is meant to let the reader know that you′re changing scenery or a character's point of view, jumping forward or backward in time, or just switching to a different situation entirely. Yeah. Sorry. Hate to say it, but I would definitely advise against ever using those breaks in your stories to signal a scene transition. I'd say to avoid it at all costs. Have faith in yourself as a writer. If you′re writing about one set of characters, emotions, or a certain situation...and then decide to move on to something else...then practice making a smooth transition to a new concept. Don′t take the easy way out and figure, ″This will let the readers know that I′m switching gears without me really having to explain it in my writing.″ Spoiler alert. NOPE! Hehehe, the switch is just as jarring if you don′t ′pad the connection′ as it would be without your specially designed graphic put in place. I think you guys would be better off with an extra sentence or two to imply a change of scenery than you would be with a paragraph break and a few internet symbols to send a vague message that, ″Hey, we′re going over here now! Keep up!″
I've done the transition break thing myself in the past, and I don't anymore. It's just as easy to end one paragraph with a character thinking, "It's been a long day. I need sleep. Maybe I'll be able to see things clearly tomorrow morning." and then starting the very next paragraph with, "The sunlight poured in through my bedroom window, waking me out of my sleep." There it is. Done. You know where one scene ends and the next one begins. The readers are following along, they can sense the change in scenery and tone, and no line breaks or graphics are necessary. Even if you're changing character points of view, there are clever ways to get around that as well. It's a bit more difficult, but it can be done.
Example...let's say you're writing from two different POVs, Mike and Brian. Maybe you're following Mike's story right now, and at the end of his scene, you mention, "As much as I like him, I really doubt that Brian has any reason to like me back. He's probably not even into guys." Then, you end that paragraph, and your very next sentence is...
"Mike! Dude, are you spacing out on me again, or what?" I didn't even realize that I wasn't paying attention to him anymore. Sometimes, I just start daydreaming about Brian without even thinking about it. I wish I wasn't so crazy about him. It makes it hard to concentrate.
Now, there's no real visible cue to show that you're switching characters...but as long as you 'complete' the scene with one character, and then begin the next scene by establishing a change in tone and action, your readers will still be able to follow your story without much of a problem. A few cues can be used to end one scene and start another. The change will be established through the storytelling itself, and not the graphics on the screen.
Now, one thing that I want to warn you guys about, is the dread '3B' issue! Hehehe, it's dangerous when it comes to the smooth flow of a story! What is the 3B issue? 3B stands, quite simply, for 'Blah Blah Blah'!
If you have any 'blah blah blah' moments in your story when making a transition...go back and change it. Sometimes, we want to get from one amazing to another in our writing, and we try to hurry up and connect two completely different events with something that gives the illusion of storytelling, but it really isn't. It's just...'blah blah blah'.
"So these two guys worked at the same pizza parlor, and they started flirting with each other by the end of the first week. They were really sweet on one another and ended up kissing that weekend. Then...'blah blah blah'...they got together and had sex."
Hehehe, yeah, that little 3B moment? You need to go back and decide whether it needs to be there or not. Now, of course, a writer wouldn't actually use the words 'blah blah blah', but the writing that they use to connect the first kiss to them having sex is obviously JUST thrown in there to connect the first kiss to them having sex. It's a race from one big moment to another. So that means that the information being delivered has either added something that was never needed (in which case, why is it in your story?), or it needs something that was never added (Which, again...why is it in your story?). If it's unimportant, then take it out. You won't miss it, and neither will your readers. And if it IS important, then treat it as such, and give your 3B section some added detail and depth so that it flows with the rest of the story. Don't skip over it and figure the audience is in a rush to get to the naughty parts. Take some time and develop the story you want to tell. Otherwise, it's almost like the writer is telling you, "Blah blah blah, whatever. You get the point. Let's move on." No...they don't get the point. You're the author. You're supposed to flesh out the point on the page in your own words and paint a clear picture for the people enjoying your work.
Imagine seeing a half finished painting of the Mona Lisa, and on the blank half of the canvas, you see a post it note saying, "Whatever. It's supposed to be a woman smiling. You get the gist of it, right?" Hehehe, how frustrating would that be? If you're going to transition from one major scene to another, either find a way to do it smoothly without adding unimportant fluff between the two scenes...or give the moments between both scenes the depth and meaning that they deserve, so it doesn't come off as something you just kind of threw in there at the last minute. You actually send a message that you think your 3B moments aren't worth writing about. And if the writer doesn't care, the reader won't care either.
Just something to think about.
Alright, I'm done gabbing for this week! Hehehe! I hope you guys are still enjoying these! It's fun to share some of the things I've learned over the years, and I've still got a lot more to learn. So I'll be sure to share even more as I pick up new tricks and tips along the way! Take care! And I'll see ya next weekend!
One thing that I can tell you about my own writing muse is this...
It is a shy, introverted, creature, and it takes a lot of coaxing to get it to come out of hiding sometimes.
Basically, if you don't want to write your story tonight, or tomorrow, or the next day, because you're waiting for the inspiration to hit you...you're going to end up wasting a LOT of writing time. In fact, you may lose that inspiration altogether. Sometimes you've got to find it on your own. You've got to hunt it down, put a leash around its neck, and physically pull it out of the shadows so you can get something done. Hehehe! So, this week, we're talking about writer inspiration and how to exercise it in a way to keep that creative flow going.
Whether you're looking to tell a brand new story or simply want to add to something you're already working on, you can find the inspiration if you go looking for it. And the best way to chase it down is simple...go out and live life. You have to live life if you want to write about it, plain and simple. Writing can often be a very isolated process, and it's easy to lock yourself in a tiny room with a dim lamp and cup of 'miscellaneous', and never come out of there. My inspiration is almost always outside of my room. I've got to be able to go places and talk to people and see life happening all around me. It helps like you wouldn't believe.
Now, when I say go live life, that doesn't mean that you have to go mountain climbing or skydiving or wrestle salt water crocs in a mud pit somewhere. it's just a matter of putting yourself in a different set of surroundings. Instead of typing on a keyboard in your bedroom, try taking a pen and a notebook and try going to a nearby park. Or maybe take your laptop to a local coffee shop or library. My place used to be the Lake, and I loved to write on Navy Pier. There's just something about getting out of my comfort zone that gets my creative juices flowing. Things are happening all around you. Maybe you see somebody that you find absolutely gorgeous while you're out, and decide to make him a character in your next story. Maybe you'll overhear an interesting conversation between two people walking by. Maybe the smell of fresh flowers, or the scent of freshly baked donuts will waft your way and bring back a pleasant memory from your past. Inspiration can be triggered by just about anything, but the unpredictability of being in an area with other people works wonders. You never know who or what you'll run into.
An example...maybe I go out to buy milk and eggs for the kitchen, and while I'm at the register, there's a really cute college boy bagging my groceries. Those few minutes might inspire a whole new story. I would take that one moment in time, and stretch it out in both directions, past and future. What events brought him to this counter? Maybe he's working his way through school. Maybe his father owns the store and this is his first time having an actual job. Maybe he's saving up for a car, or a trip to Hollywood to take a shot at an acting career. Create a backstory for this random person that you've never met before. Now imagine stretching things out into the future. What would happen if I talked to him? What if I joked around a little bit and he responded with a few giggles and a joke of his own? What if I came back for the next two or three days in a row, buying stuff I didn't need just so I could see him again? What would happen if after a few meetings we decided to go get lunch somewhere when he got a break? I could build an entire ten to fifteen page story off of just that one glance a cute guy bagging groceries. I wouldn't get that being trapped in my room all day.
So whenever you leave the house, become an observer. Hehehe, DON'T be the creep who's staring at people or purposely butting into their conversations! But pay attention to everything that's going on around you. You're surrounded by a million different stories every single day. Pick one that you like, put your unique spin on it, and tell that story. Tell the story of that brand new family restaurant that's opening up on the corner, or that teen couple having an argument outside the mall, or that homeless guy asking for change outside the convenience store. There's so much inspiration out there that it can be overwhelming at times. You just have to teach yourself to recognize it.
As far as my experience is concerned...the really is no such thing as fiction. There's just my personal truth being expressed with fictional details. Everything that I've ever written for the Shack is simply 'me' speaking through a bunch of different characters. My thoughts, my feelings, my sense of humor, my hobbies and interests...they are the life's blood of everything I type out on this screen. So I can enhance my inspiration by enhancing my life. My experiences. We're constantly telling ourselves stories all day long. We're living a story right now. Picture yourself reading this article. Now think about why you chose to click on this link and what you brought you to this very moment. Now think about what you're going to do after you finish reading, and what it might lead to further down the road. There's a story there. Choose a specific moment, add a foundation, and put your personal brand of whipped cream on top. Voila! You've got a new potential idea to work with.
Now...once you find that inspiration that you were looking for, no matter how big or how small...chase it down. Write while the fire is in you. Don't wait. Procrastination is the number one enemy of creativity. Trust me, I'm a master at putting things off until later. Hehehe, like that old joke, "I bought a book on how to prevent procrastination. I haven't read it yet, though. Maybe tomorrow."
I do realize that everyone has their own life responsibilities, and you might not have the chance to race to your laptop and get the time, energy, and focus, to write every time a new idea pops into your head. Some of you guys have school and exams, some of you have heavy work schedules and weird hours, some of you have family commitments that need to be your number one priority. But...when you get that tug on your creative strings, immediately make a 'plan' to sit down and write it out. As soon as you can get some time to breathe. I find that my writing never feels more natural, more potent, then when I feel like I'm right there in the moment. Be passionate! Get your head, your heart, and your typing fingers, in sync with one another and bleed on the page for our enjoyment!
I also recommend that you write what you're feeling whenever your emotions are running on high. That's a whole other kind of inspiration. Use that. Even if it doesn't fit into the current story you're working on...write it into something else. Or just write your feelings out in a standalone story all its own. I know that I usually get a lot of flak for writing so many stories at once, but I channel my emotions into what I write. I use the inspiration I have at that particular moment. I want people to feel it the way I feel it, and I can describe it best when I'm currently going through it. I think one of the biggest mistakes that an author can make is thinking, "I'm miserable right now...I just want to write something happy to get out of this funk." It'll show. If you're miserable, why not write something miserable? If you're heartbroken, write about heartbreak. Not only will your writing come off as more genuine and relatable to your readers who have been there...but it can be sooooo theraputic to get it out of your system and on to the page where it might do some good. Let it be a sigh of relief. Don't write against your own emotional state. It's there to help season the main course, not poison it.
Anyway, short recap...
Get out and about. Take some 'me' time and live life. Then come home and write about what you've observed. Inspiration is everywhere. Go find it. And when you do, make plans to tackle it as SOON as you get a chance. Passion doesn't last forever. You'd be surprised how many potentially great stories I've lost simply because I didn't jump on my muse when I had the chance. And be sure to use your deepest emotions to your benefit. Don't try to swim upstream. Some of your best work may be hiding within those painful feelings that you don't want to talk about.
I hope this helps inspire a few of you to start writing! And KEEP writing! Go out there and make GayAuthors proud! Hehehe! Take care! And happy writing!
Every now and then, when writing one of my stories, I find myself trying to demonstrate a point that might not be recognized fully without a specific example or short dialogue surrounding it. As I always say, it's better to 'show' than to 'tell' in your stories. Sometimes, the point being made is just for the sake of a scene or two, or for the development of a certain character arc. And other times, that one point might be the sobering moment of my entire project. The true theme of it all, and the reason I wrote the story in the first place. While many of these moments may seem spontaneous and off the cuff in a story, it actually takes a little bit of planning, some foreshadowing, and a well delivered 'punch' at just the right time to make theimpact of it work effectively for whatever it is that you're trying to say.
Now, when I talk about making a point in your stories, please don't take that to mean that I'm suggesting you get all preachy about your story, or attempting to force some agenda on your readers. I'm really not. It's your story. You thought it up. You wrote it down (Or typed it out, as the case may be), and there's nothing more repellent than an awkward or overly aggressive delivery of a message in a story. Sometimes, it takes effort and subtlety to keep your audience from feeling like they're being manipulated. Whether they agree with you or not is beside the point. Very few people want something crammed down their throat. (Hehehe, wait...that came out wrong! LOL!)
So, ask yourself...what was it that you were trying to express with your story? If it's just, "I was super horny and wanted to watch two people doing the nasty!"...then that's cool. Go for it! Hehehe, five minutes and a dirty thought can go a long way, believe me.
But, if you took the time to create an elaborate, erotic, or romantic scenario, develop characters, write engaging dialogue, etc...then I would assume that you had more to say than that. A message to convey to your audience. Nothing major or life changing. Just a little piece of 'you' as an author. So, what was it? I'm curious to know. And I'm sure your readers would like to know too. Stories are the original forms of virtual reality. Your audience is caught in this incredibly immersive experience that you've built out of nothing but your imagination and the vocabulary that you have at your disposal. You're running the show. You have an opportunity to inspire, educate, emotionally stimulate, or 'warn', your audience by giving them an experience that they can take with them even after the story ends. So...if you have a point to make, then use your writer's voice while you have the audience's attention. Let them know what's in your heart. That's one of the perks of being an author, in my opinion. It's a chance to both discover and explain myself to the world. Maybe everybody gets it and they agree, and maybe they don't and I get sucker punched in the gut for it...but a piece of me is still out there for others to find, and to at least begin a conversation within themselves or with others to define what their own thoughts and memories about the subject matter at hand may be. A part of my writing is a personal commentary on how I see the world. Positive and negative, and how the extremes can quickly shift from one side to the other. I enjoy doing it. And if you're one of those writers that likes to insert a bit of your own knowledge, wisdom, and life experience, into your stories...then this weekend's topic is just for you!
How to effectively get your point across, and figuring out how to present that little life lesson beforehand. Let's dive in!
Now, before I start babbling...I realize that there are many writers who really have NO interest in having a deeper message in their stories. I get that. Totally acceptable. Sometimes, a story is just a story. It's written for entertainment purposes, and that's all it has to be. Nothing else. Equally as enjoyable. However, there's a little 'after school special' part of me that kind of wants to send out a touch of insight within the text of the stories that I write and share with the public. My stories try to give subtle (sometimes, not-so-subtle) hints to readers about issues like how to deal with heartache. How to keep from being exploited or abused by another person. How to resist cheating on someone you love despite the temptation. How to deal with coming out of the closet, or finding the courage to take a chance on talking to the boy you really like, or how you might regret not taking that risk when you had the chance later on. Theses are all things that I've dealt with in the past, and I now have a platform where I can not only let other people know that they're not alone in feeling the way they feel, but I can, maybe, show them the stupid mistakes that I've made and the consequences that followed...hopefully, preventing my readers from going down that same road when it's their turn to tackle these things for themselves. It's what I focus on, and what I ultimately hope to accomplish by putting certain messages out there for people to relate to and, hopefully, learn from. Now...how do we do that?
I think, if you're going to do this with your writing...then you have to know what your point is going to be ahead of time, and then spend time defining and fleshing your point out, little by little, before you give your readers the 'punchline'. Think about it. And find some sort of relatable metaphor that will allow you to demonstrate your point throughout the plot so it can truly be understood by your audience as they experience it through the eyes of your main character.
I've had a few stories where I tried to demonstrate a point or two, and it was something that I always had to carefully weave into the story being told. I couldn't just drop the mic all of a sudden out of nowhere. I had to work from the point I was trying to make...backwards. "How do I get people to maybe look past what they are already dead set on believing, and maybe open up their minds enough to possibly see things from a different angle?" It's the literary version of using a teaspoon of sugar to help the medicine go down. It's the realization that, "Oh! This story actually has a point to it." Find your main theme, and make sure that it remains a symbiotic part of your story from beginning to end. The trick is to keep it 'undercover'...but still visible. So when you decide to pull the covers off, your readers are right in step with you. "Ohhhh! I totally get it now!" That's the reaction you're looking for.
I've written stories about the lingering damage that parental abuse has on a child, and on how money and class status can make for a hostile atmosphere. I've written about the difference between being in the closet, but suppressed and ashamed of who you are...mirrored by being out of the closet, and being bullied and made fun of because of it. I've written about trying to find love again after having your heart torn apart, I've written about falling for someone who was totally straight, or maybe way out of your league. I've even written about love between people of different ages...and had to shield myself from the backlash of it all. But for those few moments, where I have the reader's focus and attention, I get to put them in someone else's shoes...and I do all I can to get them to understand WHY my characters feel the way they feel. I give them a glimpse of what it's like to see life through the eyes of someone that they'd probably be angered and annoyed by, otherwise. I want readers to be pulled in to the story in a way where they can discover and (hopefully) understand the main character's motivations. I want them to say, "Well...if it was ME, would I act all that differently? I mean, I think I can see where he/she is coming from in this situation." And if you can involve your audience in a way where they can put themselves in the story...then your point has been made. Even if they disagree with the message itself. At least you touched a nerve. Hehehe, and as writers...touching nerves is what we do best.
Now, this doesn't ALWAYS work. I mean, there are readers who hate and despise and are angered and annoyed by everything that "Billy Chase" does when I put out a new chapter. LOL! I honestly don't know why they keep reading. I feel bad for stressing them out and taking years off of their lifespan with my awful plot points. BUT...every now and then...I work myself up to a learned lesson that readers can understand, appreciate, and even applaud, once he's gone through hell to get there. Again, that's all becaue of extensive planning and laying the groundwork ahead of time so the audience can follow my character through his journey, pitfalls and all, and learn the lesson WITH him. As opposed to me just trying to spit it in their faces with no rhyme or reason.
Again...'show'...don't 'tell'. Very important.
So if you have a point to get across, make it an organic part of the story itself. Demonstrate its importance by threading it into your narrative and into the behavior of your protagonist. Don't force your message on the reader. Let your story create the fantasy, and through a series of rewards and consequences, allow your readers to reach the conclusion and discover the lesson for themselves. There's a big difference there. When people read your story...for some it will open up a window and let the light shine in. For others? It holds up a mirror. Either way, you made your point, you've explained why the point has value, and you've left a lasting impression on the people who have invested time and energy into the work that you've produced for them. Congrats, writers! That's a total WIN for you all! Hehehe!
Anyway, that's all for today! I hope it gives you guys something to think about when writing your next story. This weekend topic is, in itself, a story with a point. I had an idea, I thought about how to best express that idea, and then I worked backwards from there to make sure this whole discussions was centered around bringing that point home for you guys to understand and take to heart. Writing a story is no different. Find your focus, weave it into your project, and then deliver the punchline. Voila! That's all there is to it!
Thanks for reading, you guys! And I'll see you next week with more!
Have you ever completed a story that you were truly proud of writing, that got a standing ovation from your readers and fans, and became one of the shining gems in your body of work? If so, let me add to the giant round of applause and congratulate you on creating something truly special for everyone to absorb and keep close to their hearts for years to come. It's not an easy task, believe me. So take pride in the moment.
Sometimes the success of something that you've previously written, along with the rabid cravings of fans wishing that they had more to read, can lead you to a strong desire to continue on with the story that your muse once gave birth to. I mean, you know these characters like the back of your hand, right? You've lived with them long enough to build an entire world around their personal story and people reacted favorably to them. Creating another story with these same characters would be like revisiting an old friend, right? Can't go wrong with the idea of jumping back into the story to give the people more of what they want!
Well…that's not always the case.
There are some things that you've got to think about before returning to a story that has already been told. Sure, you have some advantages in place...but there are also some pitfalls involved. No matter how well a story does, no matter how beloved the characters are, we all have to be able to ask ourselves..."Does anything really need to be added to this?" And we have to be able to give ourselves an open and honest answer. Because, truth be told, if you add to a story that doesn't need adding to...not only can it come off as weak without depending on the original text...but it can actually end up ruining the power and the impact of its predecessor in a way where both get dragged down into the mud. Obviously, we don't want that.
So, today we're going to talk about sequels, prequels, and spinoffs! Something I definitely have dabbled in enough times to figure out some of the flaws and fortunes in the process! Hehehe!
Because 'trial and error' ROCKS!
Let's start by thinking about what these three expansions really mean in terms of your original story. When writing one of these extra ideas on your original project, it's important to keep in mind that you are trying to give the reader something NEW. Perhaps even unexpected. Sure, you want it to be familiar enough to draw them back into the world that they cherished so much from the original, but this should be a new angle, a new perspective...it provides information that could not have been provided in the first story. The last thing that you want to do is go back and repeat old information that the audience could have easily gotten in the first story without any more description needed. Otherwise, you're just telling the exact same story over again. The problem with that is the readers already know how the story ends. One of the big mistakes that many Star Wars fans site for the release of "Solo" in theaters dealt with that exact concept. No matter how dangerous the mission, or how risky the mission...nothing is going to happen to Han Solo or Chewbacca, because they obviously show up in later chapters. So putting them in mortal danger during a prequel kind of loses its effect. It goes from 'Can they get out of this???' to the much more mild question of, "What do they do to triumph and come out clean on the other side?" It's not a boring or unimportant question...but it doesn't have the same punch. These are the things that we, as writers, need to think about beforehand. The elements of each idea are slightly different from one another, so let's go into the difference between a sequel, a prequel, and a spinoff, in terms of the stories that you've written so far. I've done all three, and I've enjoyed them immensely, but I still have much to learn. Let me split them up and tell you what I've discovered so far...
The very first question that a writer should ask themselves before attempting a sequel to a story that they've previously completed should be, "What is it about this story that was left unsaid?" When you finished your tale and wrapped it all up in a neat and tidy manner...what is it that is motivating you to keep going? It can't just be the readers asking for more. I mean, that's extremely flattering and all...but if you said everything that you had to say with your first story, and have nowhere else to go...then why write a sequel?
I totally understand that telling a story and giving it that 'happily ever after' ending is sweet, but it doesn't often work like that in real life. Hehehe, happily ever after? That's a pretty optimistic stance to take on the characters that you've built through multiple chapters of struggle and strife and had to fight to be together at all. I'm sure that they had a few other problems and conflicts in the future, some significant, some...not so much. But a life free of drama and obstacles from that point forward, in my opinion, is not only unrealistic, but it would be downright boring after a while. Hehehe! However, if you are looking to add a new chapter in your characters' lives and continue the story...there are some questions that need to be addressed in the planning stages.
What's changed since the end of the last story?
How have the characters grown since their happy or unhappy ending? And how will that affect their decisions in the future?
Is the threat of new challenges in this relationship enough to carry an entire story?
What will the impact be on the readers to follow these characters on their next big adventure? And will that impact be significant enough to tell that story and update your readers on what they're doing since the last story ended?
If you're iffy on that last question, I suggest you abort that plan immediately and go back to the drawing board. Don't retell the same story you did before. If you said what needed to be said, no matter how long or how short the story was, don't be tempted into continuing it unless you feel it's really necessary. Like I said, you might just end up sapping strength away from your first story by doing so.
Have you guys seen the new trailer for the "Halloween" movie reboot recently? Hehehe! Perfect example! It's basically saying, "Let's pretend that we had the original 1978 "Halloween" movie, and everything that took place after that NEVER happened! LOL! If that's not the definition of a true sequel, then I don't know what is!
I have one or two sequels in the works at the moment, and I am taking everything that I've written here in this topic into account. Believe me. I've put a lot of thought into it, and I want to make sure that I do it right. One of those stories is a hidden secret for now! But, I will tell you that a sequel for the story "Gone From Daylight: Nightfall" has been in the works for quite some time now. It was a story that I have wanted to continue since the original was finished, and it takes place a number of years after the first one. "GFD: Nightfall" is on the site and the "Blood Bank" for free, but the ebook version has been redone from scratch, and it is a MUCH better version of the story that I was trying to tell, in my opinion! Consider that the 'director's cut'! Feel free to check it out when you get a chance, and look for an explosive sequel in the near future, with much higher stakes and a different dynamic that I think will enhance the characters and the storyline as a whole!
Now, with prequels...you have to ask yourself some of the same questions as you do with sequels...but with a few slight changes in your perspective of it all. The most important, of course, being...'what story is it that I need to tell that couldn't have been (or hasn't been) explained in the original text?' If you're writing a prequel, then it is assumed that there are secrets and revelations that can explain and further demonstrate the thoughts and future actions of your main characters. The cool part about writing a prequel is that you get a chance to look at your original story, choose certain moments or character behaviors, and then go back in time to explain why those things took place, or why a character feels a certain way about themselves or why they reacted a certain way to a certain situation. It gives you the chance to say why a certain trinket might have some significance to your main character. Or why they have a particular phobia, or why a few situations might trigger a nasty response from them. Prequels give you an opportunity to go back and look at those first few dominoes that you set up before your main character became who they are. It can be a lot of fun! Especially when you get to draw from your original story and look at the questions and speculations that other readers had concerning the writing. Again, the goal is to answer questions without an answer. Otherwise, there's no reason to write it.
I've written a few prequels on the Shack, and they have always been projects that I made sure were necessary and enjoyable, as well as informative, adding another level of insight into what was previously going on with the characters that my readers had come to know and love. Stories like "Ryan's Heart" repackages the very first chapter of "New Kid In School", but from Ryan's point of view. Not only that, but it reaches back to events that happened before meeting his future sweetheart, Randy, for the first time. And I even got to play around with a few special cameos that fans of the original weren't expecting. Hehehe, which is also fun. But that's the whole point! Can you give your readers something new and involve them on a deeper level with a prequel? If not...don't write it. I know that it's fun to rewind the clock and add a bit more information, but it can backfire on you if you're not careful. You can end up spoiling the untold motivations of a character that was better off being 'mysterious'. Or you can end up giving away secrets to people who haven't read the original text yet. Which is why, even though I don't really give any big secrets away in the "Gone From Daylight" prequel, "Taryn's Song"...I always advise everyone to read "GFD" first! These are things to think about before you begin, and if you still think your characters can benefit with a bit of detailed backstory, then go for it! Again, just make sure that you have a legitimate reason for diving into the background of your original story. If you didn't feel the need to do so the first time...why do it now? You can give backstory on your characters in a few paragraphs if you feel it's important to the telling of your story. That can be done in the original. Only tackle a prequel if there are multiple unanswered questions about the actual origin of the characters that you're focusing on. Questions that need an entire story to explain and bring to light for your audience. If the material seems thin? Don't do it. Let your original stand on its own merit. I think a lot of stories work better that way.
Now, as most of you guys know...I'm an 80's kid! Hehehe, I grew up with comic books, and those comics taught me everything that I know about storylines, character arcs, plot twists, triumph and tragedy, etc. I can't tell you how AWESOME it is to see those same comic book characters being brought to life in the movies, and watching those movies make billions of dollars at the box office every year! Because of that, crossovers and cinematic universes are now seen as the Holy Grail of blockbuster movies these days. But stories have always done that in the past, not just in comic books. There's an isolated story that may exist in one book, surrounding a few characters and their journey through life...but there's still a whole world out there beyond that. The idea behind an effective spinoff is taking the opportunity to tell your readers what was happening outside of your original story. You may be focused on one or two characters in the main story, but what else was happening at the same time? If your main character falls in love and gets obsessed with his new boyfriend...what is going on in his best friend's life? How does HE see this new relationship? What does the character's mother or father think? Maybe he has a brother or sister. How do things look from their perspective? The world doesn't revolve around one or two people in a single story. If you want to do a spinoff, then it's important to make sure that you have strong, three dimensional, characters that can carry that spinoff on their own, and that their perspective is a welcome change to what readers can easily get from the original story.
Nearly everything that I've written for the "GFD: Blood Bank" has been a spinoff that, in some small way, builds upon the world of vampires that exists in the original story. This is the peek behind the scenes for readers who enjoy the main series. This is what is going on before, after, and during, the story being told. It's assumed that this is all information that will be alluded to or mentioned later, and will have some impact on the main story. Spinoffs can be fun, as they let you explore different characters and flesh them out individually, while still having them be a part of the main project. I truly enjoy doing that. But it takes time. And you have to be sure that your focus is placed on a character that your readers want to know more about. One that is interesting enough to inspire readers to follow them on a journey of their own.
Anyway, either of these three exercises can be an enlightening experience, for both the writer and the readers alike. Just make sure that it's necessary. Don't just do it for the sake of doing it. Provide another level of effort, some new revelations, and maybe even a few big plot twists that further enhance the appeal of the original story. It's a lot of fun...just be careful. You've got a 50/50 chance of making a great addition to an already popular story, or possibly dulling the applause you got for a project that might have been better off being left alone.
I hope this helps out and gets you guys thinking of new ideas for your own projects! Take care! And I'll see ya next weekend!
Now, while many readers that get truly involved with the stories we write online are mostly involved in the sometimes exaggerated drama of the situations we put our main characters through...I feel that it is often the tension delivered in a few key scenes, sprinkled here and there throughout, that truly captivates a reader's attention and brings them to the edge of their seats. It's this grinding on the nerves, along with a few tugs on the heart strings, that can really allow your audience to lose themselves in your writing and become fully engaged in every word of text in front of them, craving to read more as soon as possible.
If you can pull this off as a writer, then you have developed a very persuasive gift that you can use to carry you through many more stories in the future. Writing is a gift, but the stories you create and the way you build them up have a specific 'science' to them. It's just a matter of learning to apply an instinctual formula to fit the context of your story in a variety of different ways. Tension in a story can make your work unbelievably addictive if done right! Once you learn the literary 'mathematics' of it all, you can write hundreds of new and amazing chapters and change things up enough to avoid becoming repetitive or predictable.
That being said, hehehe...my apologies to any of you who ever lost sleep trying to burn through any of my previously available chapters when you had other, more productive, things that you could have been doing with your evenings instead. It's flattering, believe me. But I hope it's not keeping you from work or school or family or anything else meaningful. That wouldn't be a good thing.
Before I jump right into it all, let me start by sharing this particular scene with you guys. This is from the 1996 movie, "The Rock". To this day, I still regard this particular few minutes of film to be some of the most intense moments in any movie that I've ever seen before. (There are others, sure. But I didn't want to post anything that might have spoilers involved. If you haven't seen 'Seven' with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman? Yeah, the end of that movie is INSANE as well! WATCH IT!!!) When viewing this scene, the tension starts off being pretty 'action movie accurate' from the get go, simply because of the ordeal itself. But notice how, minute by minute, things are elevated to some serious 'Holy SHIT' levels while watching everything unfold! The flawless acting, the motion of the camera angles, the swell of the music in tone and volume, the heated dialogue...soon being shouted at full volume, in what seems to be a no-win situation. To me, this is the perfect example of what creating and escalating tension is all about! Give it a look!
One thing that I really love about this scene is the fact that the tension is being pulled SO damned tight before a single bullet is fired! It's not the action that creates the tension, but the build up to it. By the time the actual fighting begins, your audience is already wound up and ready to explode! Giving your scene the kind of power that you need it to have to set off the bomb that you've got planned to go off at any moment. Like..."JESUS! Where is this going??? This can't be good!" This is what I like to call 'punchline tension'. It's designed to build up to a major turning point in your story, and the tension created is all about the 'payoff'. VERY effective, because your readers can see it coming, but they hold on, regardless. Listen to the dialogue. It's a chess game, basically. Both the General and the team leader begin by trying to reason with one another and inject a few logical points to get their opponent to consider changing their mind. When that doesn't work, the team leader (Played by Michael Biehn) attempts a different approach by talking to the other soldiers in the room instead. However, the general (Played by Ed Harris), counters by reminding them all of their elevated and advantageous position. This is when people start yelling to force their point home. However, neither side is willing to back down, and once things have reached their most volatile moment...it doesn't take much at all to set acts of extreme violence into motion! When the scene finally drops the hammer on the audience, the impact of it is crazy!!! You almost want to cringe and shout, "NO NO NO!!!! Ahhhh!!! Shit! This is BAD!!! SO BAD!!!" Congrats! You now have yourself a captive audience! Just keep in mind that the build up to a major moment in your story is just as important, if not MORE important, than the moment itself. This is how you lock your readers in. Think of it this way...
If your readers are sleepy and need to get up for work or school the next morning? If they have to go to the bathroom? If they're due to perform open heart surgery in a few minutes...but they choose to finish your recent chapter instead? Then...SUCCESS!!! As it should be!
(By the way...don't EVER delay open heart surgery for a story! LOL! That's IMPORTANT! Jesus, what kind of monster are you? ::Giggles::)
To visualize...tension in your fiction is the ability to place two opposing forces at an equal distance of a line drawn in the sand. At first...they're far enough away to possibly solve their conflict without losing control of the situation. However, as each side takes another step forward, pressure is applied, and things get more intense. They eventually end up in one another's faces, and they keep inching forward until one side or the other eventually crosses the line. And that's when all hell breaks loose.
This particular building tension is all about the eventual payoff. That's the focus. Draw your readers in and keep 'tightening the screws' until they're ready to snap. And then...Boom!
There are other slight variations on the idea of creating high tension, however. So, while I have your attention, let's touch on the majors.
Another scene that I would like to share with you all is from the 1989 movie, "Aliens"! I wish I had a clip that includes more of the build up to this moment, as I have always felt that it was truly brilliant. But, you know...Youtube! To this day, the sound of that 'Aliens' motion detector thingy creeps me the fuck out! GAH!!! Hehehe! Basically, there are alien creatures that are overrunning this deep space facility, and even though an entire team of well trained, heavily armed, soldiers, have been deployed to handle the situation...it is immediately clear that their enemy has been underestimated, and they find themselves completely overwhelmed by what's going on! The tension, like every other part of the story, has an arc to it. It builds, it reaches its peak, and then shit hits the fan and it's all a roller coaster ride downhill from there. Take a look...
Now, unlike the scene in "The Rock", where all of the tension comes before the big action set piece...THIS scene takes the action and places it, center stage. When writing a hardcore action scene like this, the tension is built through pure chaos, instead of suspense. There's a difference.
What begins as a very quiet, anticipatory, moment...suddenly gets boosted up to level 100 once they realize what's really going on! Figuring out that the 'animals' they expected to outwit are smarter than they seem? That escalates tension. Having a young child now put in harm's way? Escalated even more. Having a 'traitor' in their midst that they can't trust with Burke? Another level of tension. And then, (R.I.P. Bill Paxton) when one of the main characters actually DIES during one of his most heroic, and totally badass, moments in the entire film...well that just shoots the tension through the ROOF! Because it lets the audience know that the stakes are so high that not everybody is guaranteed to make it out of this alive. Beloved main character or not!
Increasing tension rule? Take the plot armor off! TV shows like "Game Of Thrones", "24", and "The Walking Dead", have used this technique to perfection. Yeah...that favorite character that you loved so much? They might not survive this episode! So keep biting your nails until you know they're safe for sure! Give your characters multiple problems to handle all at once! HARD problems! And put a timer on them as an added bonus! They've only got a few seconds to do...'whatever'! Hehehe! It'll be awesome, trust me!
Action scenes like this one demonstrate the value and serious 'gut punch' that tension can deliver to your audience when you need to give your story a powerful boost, and let your readers know that outcomes can be a bit more unpredictable than they think. For heavy action scenes, I find that creating many different levels of uncontrolled chaos works wonders.
There is a scene in "Gone From Daylight", where the main character has gone to save a friend of his from a drug induced stupor on the edge of town...and he finds him, barely conscious, with the love of his life helping him out. As well as two of his friends, who are experts at fighting off enemies. The scene begins with people trying to stop the main character from taking his friend home, and a giant battle ensues. But it's not just that one fight that is the focus of the scene. There's an overwhelming series of events that all begin to take place at once. A dangerous fall, a rickety fire escape, a deadly battle between his best friends and an enemy of great strength, the need to protect his love interest...all of these things are going on simultaneously. With the focus, rapidly, shifting back and forth from one major emergency to another to keep the readers as wild and frantic as the characters in the scene. Putting your readers into the same panic that your main character is going through can also make an exciting scene so tense that they won't be able to look away until they see how it ends! Watch the "Aliens" clip again! See how they bounce and back and forth from one big problem to another. Quickly! Zoom, zoom, zoom! So, for action scenes, use a flurry of different dilemmas in unison, and switch between them to keep the tension party going strong!
So...what if you're not writing some kind of 'punch in the face' action scene in your story?
Well, I believe that all conflict, whether argumentative or displayed through a physical confrontation, is simply a harsh dispute and an even more harsh defense of differing ideologies. That always makes for the BEST conflicts, and the greatest moments of tension in whatever story it is that you're trying to tell. (More on 'Conflict' in a future post, and how it differs from tension, as I explain it here.)
This type of tension is created mostly through dialogue, and may not result in some massive shootout or hand to hand combat scenario...but biting and well delivered dialogue can have the exact same effect if done correctly. As we all know, words can hurt more than any kick or punch delivered physically. Again, the same rules apply. You have two people approaching a line that's been drawn in the sand, and one of them is eventually going to CROSS that line in an attempt to bully their opponent out of their opinion, and give up. This can be accomplished by giving some real thought to how both sides of an argument feel that they're in the right, and are desperately trying to convince someone else to see the light. These kind of conflicts start off as an attempt to reason with the person standing in their way, and tension rises as the different ideologies begin to clash in a frustrating manner. The idea of "WHY can't you see my point of view???" Builds to a crescendo, and...of course...a line is crossed. A writer can do amazing things when their readers can see and possibly sympathize with both points of view. By creating tension in this way, you force readers to tackle the conflict within themselves, and they may not know who to root for right away. Which can only make your story and it's main conflict all the more engaging in the long run.
This scene is taken from season 2 of the Netflix show, "Daredevil"! It displays the clash of ideologies perfectly, in my opinion. You have two men that are, basically, vigilantes. They both work outside of the law in order to bring justice to their city. However, has one of them gone too far in killing the 'scum' that he sees no redemption in? Or is the main character deluded by the 'good' he thinks he's doing, while allowing the crime and the murder to continue? Listen to the conversation they have, how it builds, and see if you can see the point in both sides of the equation?
Now...99% of that entire scene is just a conversation on a rooftop. With two determined characters trying hard to make their point. There's a desire to feel vindicated. They feel that there is something to 'win' by shouting it out. But when neither side seems to be making any leeway with the other, tension builds, and drastic measures have to be taken to end the argument. Because logic and reason isn't working anymore, and the line was crossed when one of the parties has given up on a diplomatic solution. They'll never see eye-to-eye, and attempts to reach any common ground are over and done with. A slight variation of escalating tension, but it still works wonders, depending on the story you want to tell.
Now...ONE more, before I stop blabbing! Hehehe!
This method involves two sides that seem to be equally matched, but when pressure is applied and the heat gets turned up...a great truth is revealed. Creation of tension in this way comes from your audience siding with your protagonist, and truly ENJOYING the badgering and bulldozing of another character until they get the answers they're looking for. This can range from beating a criminal suspect up for information, to a heated courtroom confession...as is brilliantly displayed in the infamous scene below...
Now, this might sound a bit weird to you, but it's true. Words in a story have a 'speed' to them! Weird, right? If you want to have a calm, romantic, moment between characters after sex...where they're just laying in bed and enjoying the afterglow? Then make your sentences long, and poetic, and highly descriptive. Draw the out, and capture the nuance and detail of the moment. But...when it comes to tense situations, heated arguments, or immediate threats? Keep it short! The shorter the sentence, the faster your audience will read it. Keep them dodging back and forth from one hyped up scene to another. Like ducking to dodge a bullet fired in their direction. It may sound silly, but it's true. A 'period' in a sentence during a tense scene is like an editor's cut during an action scene in a movie. When action happens, the cuts become quicker. More frantic. They create 'energy'. That's what you want to do with your words.
So shorten your sentences. It helps in creating a feeling of tension. It seems like such a small thing, but it works. People who argue interrupt one another. They SHOUT! They make insults and offensive comments. They say things to regain the upper hand at any cost. The 'back and forth' between characters is a weapon that you have at your disposal when trying to bring the stress and fury that your readers are looking for in the most crucial of moments. Shorter sentences, description, dialogue, creates a faster feeling of momentum in your writing. This is you, turning the volume up on the stereo and making this scene stand out as something to pay attention to.
Just don't drag it out for TOO long! Anxiety can be exhausting. And it gets tiresome if you wait too long to give the audience what it's looking for.
Anyway, that's my take on creating and escalating tension in your work. As with everything else, it takes time and practice and a lot of 'trial and error'. But once you get it down...it's going to add some spice and flavor to everything you write from that point forward! So consider it a skill that you want to study and keep close to the hip for later use! Cool?
As always, I hope these little self-learned lessons over the years will help you guys out in some way! Good luck! And I'll seezya soon!
December 8th, 1980...
A true musical icon was gunned down by his ′number one fan′, according to his assassin. Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon that night by shooting him in the back, and this was not long after he had just given him a personal autograph earlier in the day. And he didn′t run afterward. Instead...he sat on the curb, and read from J D Salinger′s novel, ′A Catcher In The Rye′. A book that he says inspired his heinous act. One of the saddest days in American history, in my opinion.
Now, of course...there isn′t ANYTHING in that book that would suggest killing anybody, least of all a musician who seemed to be dedicated to ending war and violence in all of its many forms. But, it begs the question...when you′re writing a story and putting it out there for the whole world to see...do you feel that you are officially stepping up to claim some responsibility for the messages that you put into the words you share with others? Do you find a moral obligation to be ′careful′ with what you write? Or do you find that limiting on your creative freedom...and therefore, the antithesis of truth and honesty in your art?
Not an easy thing to tackle, but let′s give it a shot, shall we? This week...let′s talk writer responsibility!
I will be the first to admit that I really don′t censor myself when I′m writing a story. I don′t hold back. My emotions pour forth, and I follow my personal muse as far as it will take me if I think it will paint the kind of picture that I wanted to paint. However, when my creative energy has been spent and the dream factory closes up for the night...the ′editing′ part of my brain takes over, and I feel that other choices have to be made in order to feel good about putting the stuff that I′ve written out there for an unknown public to read. Please, don′t ever think that I write anything without a sense of conscience. I do. As much as I champion freedom of expression and challenging other mindsets to accept and embrace concepts that they might not be willing to let invade their comfort zone...I am always careful with what I say and how I say it. Many of my stories deal with some very heavy issues. Abuse, suicide, heartbreak, coming out, bullying, terminal illness...and people are actually absorbing what I write. Every word. And no author knows whether their story is going to be taken as an emotional roller coaster ride that leads to an impact on someone′s life...or if it′s going to be the next ′A Catcher In The Rye′, inspiring them to do something foolish. Maybe even criminal.
It′s something that I always keep in mind when I′m putting a story together. It would KILL me to know that something that I wrote caused somebody to hurt themselves or somebody else. To make a bad decision, to risk unprotected sex with a stranger, to take advantage of a minor, break the law, or to contemplate suicide...simply because they read it in a ′Comicality′ story. I couldn′t live with that. That was never my intention and it never will be. And yet...how much responsibility can an author take upon him or herself when it comes to how their stories are interpreted by others? Where should the line be drawn?
I don′t want my teenage readers being afraid of sex. I don′t want them to shy away from it or to be embarrassed by their desires or ashamed of their pursuits. But...at the same time, I don′t want to have my stories building fantasies around dreamy boys and easy relationships where you never fight, never need a condom, and everybody lives happily ever after, no matter what, either. There has to be a middle ground somewhere. A compromise that allows them to think for themselves according to a particular situation. And that′s where I try to keep my writing centered. In the middle. Yes, there are good times, and yes, there are bad times...but there are no pleasurable deeds committed without possible consequence, and there are no downfalls into misery without a sense of hope and redemption. There′s a balance to be maintained. I always strive to show both sides of the coin so everyone reading can make positive choices based on who they are as a person, and not just based on what I wrote in a story that was meant to be used for entertainment purposes only. Thoughtful, inspiring, motivational? Definitely. But entertainment, just the same. I have to take some personal responsibility for the content of my stories. Especially now that the ′Comicality′ brand has a bit of notoriety online. I have to be more careful than ever. I never know who is reading. I have no control over how they take my message or what they do with it. So, I take all of these things into account when I look over my stories and get ready to hit ′send′ to share it with the rest of you guys. I′ve been through violent abuse, I′ve suffered heartbreaks that felt like I′d never ever be able to smile again, and I′ve been at death′s door myself, not to mention, losing a very close friend of mine to suicide when he was only 17 years old. It hurts.
But that puts me right in the middle of a conflict that I need to wrestle with if I′m going to truly be passionate about the content of my stories in general. Can I be responsible in my presentation of ideas, and yet still be honest enough to capture the hearts and minds of people out there who need to know that someone understands their struggle, and has the courage to speak the words out loud so they can stop feeling so alone? It′s a thin line. But one that I think every writer reading this can walk if they really feel the urge to do so.
I think the goal is to keep your readers in mind, younger and older alike, when going over some of your most emotional scenes. I try to imagine how someone else my read the scene. I want to be raw and brutally honest about the severe pain associated with a broken heart. I want it to be visceral and disturbing and emotionally moving in a way that will remind and possibly bring up past feelings for readers who have gone through something similar. They can feel that torment as if it was brand new. The truer you are to your feelings and memories in your writing, the more connected your readers will be to your project. We′ve all been there before, right? But what about the college boy who′s currently going through a serious heartbreak or rejection at the exact same moment that he′s reading my story? What happens if I′m digging around in his backyard and end up doing more harm than good by triggering emotions they′re not dealing with in a healthy manner? I wouldn′t want that. There are times when I think about certain words or phrases that I use in my stories, and I go over them to ′soften the blow′ by using words with a little more finesse instead. If one of my characters gets their heartbroken, I might avoid talking about how much ″I want to die...″ or ″I could KILL him for stealing my boyfriend from me!″ It may be something that I write while I′m in the moment...but sometimes my conscience pops up and says...let′s not phrase it that way, Comsie. People are reading. Have any of you other writers ever experienced that in your stories? Please feel free to leave your thoughts down below. I′m curious.
The other side of that coin, of course, is that the gritty details of certain serious issues are needed for the story to have the kind of hard-hitting impact that I want it to have. If I write a scene in a story where a boy is getting violently bullied, dragged into a high school bathroom, and beaten up with no one to come to his rescue...I want it to be unsettling. It′s meant to be a disturbing scene. I don′t want to hold back and deny the readers who have experienced hardcore bullying in their lives an honest portrayal of what it′s like to have to live through something like that. When I talk about suicidal feelings or childhood abuse, it comes from a very personal place. And readers who recognize those feelings immediately feel a kinship for the descriptions going in to the scene. And for many, it can be a very therapeutic exercise to relive some of those moments and finally lay them to rest. I have gotten so many emails over the years from people who just want to say ′thank you′ for telling the truth and helping them to come to terms with what they′ve been through so they could move on. I don′t want to fake it or sugarcoat some of the harsh realities of what′s going on. Otherwise, what′s the point of the story itself? Am I going to have the stones to say what needs to be said or not? If not, then I can leave the heavy content out of the story completely and write giggly fairy tales all day. Why not?
Hehehe, sorry. I′m rambling a bit this weekend. But it′s something that′s awkward for me to think about sometimes. So, any thoughts on this? Please leave your comments below if this has sparked anything for ya!
Bottom line, I feel a duty to be honest in my writing, but that doesn′t mean that responsibility gets tossed out the window. I don′t think any author should take a ′devil may cry′ attitude with their stories. Words have a power that we, as writers, definitely understand. Words can be used to empower us, enrage us, break down barriers and blockages, and inspire us to do great things. But those tables can turn quickly if we don′t at least put some thought into how the message is received...instead of just how it is delivered.
Anyway, food for thought! Thanks for trying to decipher my weirdness! Hehehe! And as always, I hope this helps!