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!
While an extended story with multiple chapters and layers of depth may give a writer enough breathing room to truly build and explore the lives and personalities of the characters they′ve brought to life, I think it′s still a good practice to occasionally go back to writing short, self contained, stories to keep that particular part of their creative muscle strong. Short stories and flash fiction can teach you things than the ′wide open canvas′ style of writing can′t. It can help you to focus your talents, work on self editing, and keep your storytelling less complicated than your average epic saga. Over the past year, I′ve been trying to write more, one-shot, short stories and smaller mini-series, myself, in order to do exactly that. Strengthen my ability to condense and control my writing skills in order to quickly and effectively get to the point without making any grand plans for an entire ensemble cast of characters and any big dramatic plot twists and turns that won′t happen until much much later in the story. Sometimes...keeping things simple is a good thing. And with just the right words and just the right characters, you can create something truly sweet and inspiring without having to make a 72 chapter blowout! Hehehe!
So, let′s talk about short stories, shall we?
The skill involved in creating a straightforward, one time, story is all about selecting a single situation and describing it in a way where only that single moment matters. Maybe you′re writing about a boy′s first kiss, and that′s great. It can be a moving story that gives your readers a really warm and fuzzy feeling inside when they read it. But (at least for me), my gut instinct is to create a relatable main character, then flesh him out through his actions and dialogue, then introduce the love interest, and then allow the readers to peek in to see how they got to know one another. How they relate to one another. How they get along and ultimately build up to that first kiss...giving it meaning and value and a giddy sense of relief. But, with a short story, you don′t have the time and space for all of that. Find the ′punchline′, and zero in on what′s most important. And only what′s most important. If you decide you want to give some background details about what led up to this miraculous kiss... that′s great! But do it in just a few sentences or perhaps a few, well worded, paragraphs. And tell it, almost, as if it was a flashback. This is who he is, this is how we met, and now we′re ′here′. Done. The idea is to concentrate on the kiss. That′s what the short story is about, right? That′s the punchline! Awesome! Keep it that way. Start your story ten minutes before the kiss happens, and end the story FIVE minutes after the kiss happens. Any bonus details that you add about what led to this moment and what hope there is for future events down the road are welcome, but mostly unnecessary. Practice restricting yourself from getting too far into details that will ultimately lead to ′other′ story elements that aren′t related to that one particular moment in time. For example...if the two characters sharing this kiss grew up together and have been best friends since they were in Kindergarten, and are now celebrating their seventeenth birthday together alone with a movie marathon in their bedroom...cool. All relevant information. However, if you mention parental divorce, or an illness, or ex-boyfriends, sexual confusion, religious constraints, or anything like that...those are details that have more ′story′ behind them. Those are elements that may need extra explanation for them to be considered important to the plot itself. And if you just mention it and then don′t do anything more with that info...then it isn′t important to the plot itself...in which case...why bring it up? Eliminate it from your narrative. Get rid of it. Keep things tightly wound around the special moment in question.
It′s a first kiss. Focus on the kiss and nothing else. Don′t add, ″By the way, the boy I′m kissing happens to be a contract killer for the mob!″ Hehehe, that is a detail that will take at LEAST five to ten more pages to fully explain! Five to ten pages that have absolutely nothing to do with this kiss itself. So...stay focused. K? Hehehe!
Short stories follow the same basic rules as the longer ones do. The situation at hand is just much more grounded and isolated in nature. The shorter the story, the more precise you have to be with choosing your moment. The story has to have a beginning, a middle, and (hopefully) a satisfying end. Just like any other. But you have to find ways to effectively narrow your vision as much as you can without sacrificing the essential details you need to get our point across. Some stories don′t lead to grand adventure and heartbreaking drama. Sometimes, I write short stories about a guy going to a gay bar for the very first time, or two boys that practice kissing on each other so they can be ready for ′girls′ later on, or about stalking a really cute classmate through his photos online. Those stories are short and to the point, without the need for much explanation beforehand, or much promise for anything afterward. It′s just a golden moment in time. A single snapshot of someone′s life, detailed in words, and then the rest is left up to the reader to figure out for themselves.
If you ask me, that can be even more endearing to a section of your audience, sometimes. They can finish building the rest of the story on their own, and they can make it whatever they want it to be. Hehehe, see? You get to deliver the epic romance feel without having to do all the hard work yourself. Awesome, right?
Anyway, the point is to occasionally return to your roots and try putting out a short story every now and then. Remember when the thought of writing 3000 to 5000 words in one story seemed like such an impossible chore? LOL! ″I can′t write that much! I don′t have that much to say!″ That was my feeling, at least. But, over time, I started adding details, expanding on my visuals, getting more comfortable with my dialogue and plot structure...and now it′s actually more of a challenge to hold back and keep things simple than it is to elaborate. I′ve learned that it′s best to find your particular niche and find a decent balance between being too broad and being too brief with my ideas. A taste of both is fun, but too much of one or the other can taint the ′broth′, you know?
So try it out! When you get the inspiration for a scene or a short story that doesn′t really lend itself to a much bigger project, try writing it out and posting it for your readers to see every now and then. I think it′s FUN, myself! Hehehe! But I′m a psycho, so don′t take my example as anything made of sound mind! But, not only does the practice keep your perspective clear and fresh from time to time, but you get the chance to experiment with new and unique ideas whenever you feel inspired. Different styles of writing...and it helps you to truly learn how to paint a crisp and clear vision in a single scene without losing sight of what that scene is all about. A skill that will definitely help you out when you′re writing your epic ′War And Peace′ sized novel...and want one major scene or another to stand out as the centerpiece of that part of the book!
Get it? Good! As always, I hope this helps spark a few ideas, and I wish you guys the best of luck! Seezya soon!
Whether you are using an auto correct program on your laptop or PC, or whether you have readers constantly pointing out some of the same errors in your stories, chapter after chapter...there comes a time when you need to take an honest look at your writing and your bad habits...and make yourself a ′low-light′ reel for yourself.
This is the opposite of a highlight reel, where you look at what you′re really good at and examine the best parts of what it is you do. That′s a good thing to do, and it keeps you inspired and pushing yourself towards excellence. But sometimes, a low-light reel helps a LOT more when it comes to reaching that higher goal of being a better writer.
When you′re putting a story together, I always stress comfort and natural flow over everything else. Follow your heart, let the words flow through you, and whatever mistakes you make along the way...fix them in editing after you′ve poured your emotion out on the screen in its most potent form. Get the emotion out first, while you′re still in the moment. That′s the most important part. The mechanics? You can fix and tweak those later, and hopefully give your story the shine and gloss that it deserves.
However, if you look at your project, and you′re constantly misspelling the word ′privilege′ or ′separate′? You should make that a part of your low-light reel. It′s not a typo or a random error. There′s a problem there. The sooner you get a hold on it, focus on it, and work to correct it...the sooner you can break that habit. And the sooner it will cease to be a problem, slowing your writing process down.
We′re on the internet! We have access to every spelling, definition, tense usage, known to mankind. If you′re writing off the top of your head, and you feel like you′re in a particular groove at the moment and don′t want to stop...write it the way you think is correct, and make sure that you come back later to look for it when you start the editing process.
As I′ve said in a previous writer′s article, I don′t think any author should just type out a story and then hand it over to an editor to ′fix it′ without going over it and doing some self editing for themselves first. Not ever. This isn′t your editor′s story. This is YOUR story. Own it. Go through it. What mistakes have you made? Have you made them before? Will you make them again?
Keep track of your mistakes, and do two or three minutes worth of research to correct your flaws so you can take them off the table as obstacles on the road to you being the best writer that you can be. Google it. Commit certain spellings and punctuation use and turns of phrase to memory. Copy and paste them into an email if you have to, so you can easily bring them up and remember, ″Oh yeah...I always spell the word ′occasionally′ with too many C′s or S′s or L′s, and I need to keep that in mind when I′m writing from now on. Don′t depend on your writing programs or your editors to catch your consistent mistakes. You′ll only make their jobs harder, and you won′t end up learning anything in the process. So those weaknesses will remain until you work to fix them yourselves.
In a lot of my earlier stories, I would often use the phrase, ″All of the sudden″. Or I used to write ′outloud′ as one word instead of two. And I thought that was perfectly normal. But I learned after a while and after some constructive comments that I was doing it wrong. So, I looked it up. I had a few minutes to spare, right? And, lo and behold, I had been doing it wrong all that time. Out loud is two words, and it′s ″All of A sudden″. So I had to try to add that to my loooooong list of grammatical errors that have repeatedly appeared in my stories from the very beginning. After creating a low-light reel for myself, I now keep a conscious and watchful eye out for those same mistakes. And even when my muse is on fire and I′m in a writing frenzy...when I get to one of those areas, I stop and think, ″Wait...let me make sure that I get this right on the first try.″ And eventually, I create new habits. Corrected habits. And everything becomes natural, to where I don′t have to look out for making that error anymore. THAT...is how you step your game up to the next level, one baby step at a time.
Something else to look for on your low-light reel? Cliché phrases that you may use over and over again, and don′t even realize it. Now, I have seen this in a lot of other writers′ work, and I′ve seen it in my own, so it can be difficult to notice unless you′re actively searching for it. When I say cliché phrases, I′m talking about those easy to rattle off ′connecting′ phrases that we may all use in casual conversation, but come off as unimaginative and unimpressive when you see it written in a story on the screen more than once.
Some of these phrases are:
″As a matter of fact...″
″If I had to be honest...″
″Well, before long...″
″On one hand...On the other hand...″
″I′m not going to lie...″
″You know what I mean?″
″If I had to guess...″
And of course...″All of a sudden...″
Now, I′m not saying that a writer shouldn′t ever USE any of these phrases. Just realize that it has become such a part of starting or ending a sentence in everyday conversation...that we may end up using it multiple times in our stories as well. And with the written word, it is MUCH more noticeable! If you often use the term, ″As a matter of fact...″ to start a sentence or to make a statement in your everyday speak? Go to your story, use the ′find′ function, and see how many times it shows up in your project. If it′s more than twice...then that may be a habit that you want to break. It might not be a full fledged crutch...but you′re definitely walking with a ′limp′ there. Hehehe! Make yourself aware of it, and try to find other ways to say the same thing, or find a way around saying it at all. If your audience keeps reading the same phrases over and over, it becomes tiresome. Get rid of anything and everything that makes you come off as anything less than AWESOME! K?
Another thing to look out for? The themes and plot directions for the stories you write. I wrote a ′One Life To Live′ article not long ago, and depending on who you are and what you′ve experienced in your life...you should take that into consideration as a writer. You′ve only lived one life, so you only have so many experiences to draw from. Some of you have been rejected in love before. Some of you have been cheated on in a relationship, or have been abused, or have had to make difficult discussions about whether or not you should come out of the closet, in the past. Now...this pertains mostly to writers who write multiple stories, either at once or one after another...but if the themes in your stories seem to be recurring or repetitive, try to change that up as well. This is something that I occasionally struggle with, myself. So if any of you guys have any advice on how to effectively accomplish this, please respond below and let me know! Hehehe! There are themes in my stories that repeat constantly, and I have made an attempt to avoid most of the blatant tropes that I′m known for, but there are some more passive elements of my stories that pop up again and again from time to time. The fear of coming out, the single mother, the feeling that the boy you like is out of your league, etc. Just like the cliché phrases I mentioned above...these things are hard to spot until you deliberately go looking for them. Something that I′m doing more often these days. (Wish me luck!)
So, take some time to make a mental note of all the places where you may stumble as a writer. What words do you have trouble spelling, what phrases do you use more than is necessary, what common themes do you have running through every story you write. Self analyze, figure them out, and then make an effort to correct those bad habits when you′re writing. If you have to make a physical notebook or webpage dedicated to the things that you feel you need to keep in mind...do it! No harm in that. Keep it close to you, and practice until you have it drilled into your brain where it′ll stay as a practical part of your writing process.
It won′t take long. Promise. And you can knock these constant errors down one at a time.
Hope this helps! And happy writing! ((Hugz))
Anyone who has ever read any of my personal story reviews of another author's story will almost always find a common theme popping up in my critique. Whether it's said in a positive or negative way, I am constantly pushing for people to give more and more detail in their work. (As a suggestion, of course.) Not in every single scene that they write about, but in a few choice scenes that I find myself wanting to dive deeper into as a reader. Now, that's just my opinion, and writers can take it or leave it as they see fit. But I can't help but feel like there are some events in the stories that I read where an entire chapter could be built around the scenes or plot points that writers sometimes choose to skip over. So, please feel free to absorb or dismiss this article if you want. Hehehe, no hard feelings. Promise. But as a reader and a lover of online fiction myself, this is what I see, and what I look for. And I'm hoping that I can give other writers something to think about while putting out new projects.
Imagine that you were watching a movie about the Titanic, or 9/11, or...hell...the life of Jesus Christ, as told by the Bible. And you're totally invested in the story being told...but, at the last minute...you got robbed of the (Sorry to say it this way...but...) the dramatic 'punchline' of the whole story? What if the Titanic hit the iceberg, and the screen faded to black, and then came back up to show a few people in a lifeboat saying, ″Man...that sure was a tragic experience!″ What the…? There was SO much that happened in the previous moments that, conveniently, got skipped over without any detail at all! You can't just 'skip' that shit! Hehehe! You can't skip the falling of the Twin Towers, or the Crucifixion. These are major parts of the story that you're trying to tell, and where your most potent descriptions will become the payoff for every person who had traveled this far on the journey with your characters and your writing in general. Choose those moments. Flesh them out. Don't build up to fake promises, if you can help it. There's SO much more of a story to tell in the small places that you might ignore or shrug off in order to get back to other parts of the story that you're more comfortable with, or may feel are more interesting. That can be damaging your storytelling ability as a whole in the long run.
So...let's talk details...
Read the stories that you've written so far. Go back, skim over them, reminisce over how awesome it was to finish those projects and put them out for a beloved audience to read. I don't want to suggest that there's anything wrong with them! Not at all. This isn′t about criticism. It′s about ′enhancement′. These stories might be truly incredible as they are...but is there a scene or two that you might have wanted to elaborate on? I know that I am notorious for being extremely 'wordy' and repetitive in my stories in many people′s eyes, especially the older ones that I wrote years ago. But even now, I regret not going into more detail about certain key scenes in some of my projects. I didn't know how to pick my moments back then. I was always racing to hurry up and get to the end of the story without really filling in the gaps that, ultimately, proved to really matter and stand out as some of the most memorable scenes that readers took to heart and ended up remembering in vivid detail. I didn't have the patience back then that I do now. I think lots of practice makes a difference.
When you're writing a story, it's easy to overlook a lot of details because the characters and storyline exist in your head before ′putting it on paper′. You see it so clearly. You know where it came from and where it's going, so moving from point A to point B is as easy as building a simple bridge between the two sides. 'This' happened, and then 'that' happened...and all I have to do is write some fluff in the middle to connect one big event to another. That'll work, right?
No. It won't. Not the way you think it will. Your readers don′t have access to the full picture the same way that you do. The translation of your ideas to an audience is where the true talent lies. You have to be able to get readers to see your vision. That′s the whole point, right?
I can't speak for everyone on this, but I can always tell when a writer is trying to rush from one major scene to another, and not really taking the time to focus on the cohesive situations that bind one moment to another. I can 'feel' it. I think that it's important to look at our own projects and find those 'passover' sentences that we use to progress the story forward, but don't really give the readers an idea of what those few sentences really mean.
″I haven't been the same since my parents' messy divorce. The way that it happened...it just ruined my idea of love, trust, and loyalty, in general. And that's why I feel hesitant to give my heart to Michael. Even though he's offered me a promising way out of my predicament.″
Nothing wrong with that short collection of sentences. It conveys emotion, and it progresses the story forward, where a lot is implied, but never said. Understandable. Sometimes, 'less is more'. I get it. However...when I read something like that, I immediately start asking myself questions. What's a 'messy divorce' in his eyes? The way what happened? What did he go through? How did he feel about it? What did Michael offer him as a way out, and why did it work? There's an entire CHAPTER worth of flashback information in there with the amount of questions that I have about what was just said. You know? It doesn′t take a 1500 word essay to explain it...it can be done in just a few sentences. But I kind of want to know what happened there.
A ′messy divorce′? Did one of his parents cheat? Did they just not get along? Was there a lot of fighting in the house? Was it abusive or just a scary experience from the main character′s point of view? Just a few sentences can give us a whole new perspective on his outlook on love and relationships and a whole lot more. It explains his discomfort in giving his heart away. It provides another layer to what he′s feeling, and how those feelings affect his behavior. So, if I personally read that in a story, this would be one of those moments that I′d be commenting on, and asking questions about. What happened there? If I keep reading...will this come up again later? Am I missing some important information? Will I find out more later on in the story?
Hehehe, I have a ′noisy′ imagination! Sorry. But I know that some other people do too, and they′ve called me out on some of the scenes that I′ve skipped over as well. And they were totally right to do so. I just didn′t see it until later.
I think the key is rereading the stuff you′ve written, and actively searching for places where you might ′hint′ at something exciting and important happening in your stories, but don′t really go into detail about it. Ask yourself...is there a ′scene′ in there somewhere? Something that will actually add something to your story?
Don′t get me wrong...if your characters are standing in a room...you don′t have to mention the temperature on the thermostat or describe the wallpaper. That′s not what I mean. It′s more like...
″My boyfriend and I had a fight earlier today. It just left me in a bad mood when I went to work.″
Raise your hand if you′d like to know what that fight was about! Or, if you′re ambitious...to even create a scene with dialogue and all to let your readers be a part of that argument! Sometimes, that tiny bit of detail can really draw your audience into the lives of your characters, even if it′s not the main drive of your story. Take a few moments and create a full experience, you know?
I hope this doesn′t sound like I want people to be more wordy when they don′t have to be! LOL! I swear that it′s not my intention. Just look at your work and see if you can pick out sentences here and there that target certain scenes that could use a bit more fleshing out. Be aware of your opportunities.
Funny story...one of my best friends was telling me a story that he saw on the news afew years ago, and I hadn′t heard about it yet at the time...and he was like, ″Yeah, there were these two naked homeless guys on a bridge, and one of them was doing this bath salts drug, and he was actually EATING the other guy′s face! The cops showed up, and he didn′t go down when they shot him, and they thought it was some ′zombie apocalypse′ type of stuff″ (That′s a true story, by the way!) But I just broke out, laughing hysterically! Like...WTF??? There is SO much more of that story that I′m not getting! You STARTED with two naked homeless guys on drugs on a bridge! There are like...25 steps missing before I reach the ″How the fuck did we get HERE???″ stage! LOL! That′s what I′m talking about. Some statements made in your storytelling might just need a ′touch′ of finesse to paint a full picture for your readers to jump into. Something to depict a more layered vision of what′s going on, and bring your readers in to peek behind the curtain and become involved in it. That′s all.
Keep asking yourself questions during the self editing process. If something was sad...why was it sad? If something tragic happened...what was it? Describe it for us so we can feel the weight of it all. If the main character finds someone super beautiful, or super annoying, or hilariously silly...show us why! Add a short scene to demonstrate that. Put yourself in the moment, and then expand on it so your audience can be right there with you.
It takes practice to recognize these moments, and nothing in art is perfect...that′s what makes it art. But if you′re looking to make a few baby steps towards making your stories a little more involving...give this a try. You might just enjoy it!
As always, I hope this helps! And I wish you guys the best!
Raise your hand if you′ve been on a roller coaster before! Hehehe, I′m just kidding. It′s the internet, I can′t see you raising your hand! Trust me, if I could set up spy cameras around you, it would be in the shower...not next to your laptop! ::Giggles::
Seriously, though...when riding a roller coaster, you experience certain peaks and valleys. You slow down in certain sections of the ride, left anticipating the next big ′dip′ with baited breath...and then everything speeds up and races through whatever loops and scream-inducing tricks you′ve got planned for your riders to go through. Roller coasters don′t just take you up into the Stratosphere and then let you race all the way down to the bottom in one fell swoop. I mean, that might be exciting for some, but...change it up a little bit, you know? A few twists and turns, a few loops, some variety! I think it just makes for a fun, and ultimately more realistic, experience in the stories we write.
Try this exercise for a week...
Starting on a Monday, take notes on everything that you did for that day. What you did, what you had for breakfast, interesting conversations you had, maybe some drama that you experienced...whatever. Just take notes, detailing your life for seven days in a row, and look at that list when you′re finished.
What happened during the last week of your life? Was there a huge betrayal of your trust? Was there an explosion at work? Was there a screaming match between you and a co-worker where somebody had a drink thrown in their face and turned over a dinner table in a public restaurant? I mean, the big theatrics are really entertaining in some stories...but is that real life? Or is that a reality show on prime time TV?
When I′m writing, even though I have a virtual FLOOD of ideas that I want to add into the plot to really make everything exciting and addictive and a ′roller coaster′ ride for everyone reading...I have to be aware of the reality of the situation. And that is this...
A story can′t be ALL drama, ALL the time! Hehehe, it just can′t. It can′t be all sex, it can′t be all action, it can′t be all horror, it can′t be all misery. I can remember when I first started writing...I wanted to write the sexiest, most explosive, stories ever made! Hehehe! But...that gets old SO fast if you don′t vary things up a bit with some character development from time to time. If you read my earliest stories, there was sex in every chapter. Sure, I tried to create a decent story to go along with it...but after a few chapters in each story, I mean...how many ways is there for the characters get ′naughty′ with one another? How many ways are there for me to describe the act? And if you have sex in every chapter, it becomes predictable and almost meaningless. For me, ″On The Outside″ was the first story on the site where sex didn′t happen in the very first chapter. That broke the mold. I took more time on the story and the characters and the conflict between being ′in′ or ′out′ of the closet. Most of my writing took a left turn after that. It was much closer to what I wanted to write in the first place. Stories where sex wasn′t the centerpiece of the story, but a fun little bonus to the romance involved.
With some of my other stories, I included a lot of ′soap opera′ type drama, which was always fun and challenging and I had a ton of fun with it...but even then, I had to learn that there have to be moments of normalcy in the text in order to make the drama stand out when it happened. If you′re writing a story, and somebody is dealing with a major tragedy EVERY single chapter, or a massive heartbreak, or an explosive secret, or the main character is blowing up an oil refinery...whatever...then, chances are, you′re going to exhaust your audience pretty quickly. How long can you keep up that pace and still captivate your readers′ attention? It works fine if you′re writing a short story or a mini-series that only lasts two or three chapters tops. But if you′re writing anything longer than that, it can become tiresome. Peaks and valleys are needed to provide a much needed change up to your narrative. It can sometimes feel like you′re losing momentum, or that you′re getting distracted from your massive ′push′ to reach the next big gasp moment in your story...but, trust me...stories work better when you introduce a little bit of downtime between jaw-dropping events. It′s one of the many things that I′ve learned along the way through trial and error.
Now, this is not a green light to find ways to slow down your story or get off topic when you′re writing. One thing you don′t want to do is waste your readers′ time! The best way for me to describe the big scenes in your story is to imagine it like the sentences you write in every paragraph. Every paragraph can′t be a joke or a ′zinger′. Build up to your key moments with a few sentences so the punchline has a bigger impact. Then...you settle down a bit to finish your thought, and begin building up to the next moment. Does that make sense?
I definitely love writing stories where secrets are exposed, or where big break ups happen, or when extremely erotic scenes take place between characters. I love angst, I love scandal, I love action, and everything that comes along with it. But how can I expect those moments to have any real effect when I deliberately try to find ways to forcefully shove them into every single chapter that I write? Hehehe, it′s like watching a movie where an unknown character gets killed and you scream, ″Oh no! Not...′that guy′! Whoever the hell he is!″
Take your time. Think about how powerful you want your big moments to be. If you write a story where two guys become romantically involved in the first chapter, they′re having sex and moving in with one another in second chapter, and then he′s cheating on him in the third chapter, and then there′s a murder plot in the fourth chapter...ummm...unless your chapters are REALLY long and super descriptive in nature, I would say that things are moving a bit fast in my opinion. That′s a lot to handle in four chapters, and I′m not saying that I′m not guilty of it myself, because I most definitely am! Hehehe! Like I said, it takes time and practice and patience to get to a place where your writing instincts will tell you otherwise. Know when to push forward and when to reign it in a little bit. Give your readers a breather. Let them connect to your cast as though they were living the same kind of lives that you′re living in your seven days worth of notes. Chances are, they′ll relate better to your story, and it′ll come off as being a close representation of their lives too.
Remember, reader connection is fifty percent of the effort when sharing your art with an open audience. Don′t just put it on display...include them. They′re a part of this too.
So...keep in mind that I′m definitely not asking you to write nonsense or unnecessary filler to break up those big dramatic scenes that you might be so anxious and fired up to write and put out there for a big crowd reaction. That feels great for a while, but I′m telling you...it′s not sustainable. That gimmick will eventually wear thin. And if you don′t have likeable, well developed, characters and a decent story behind those ′soap opera′ moments...things can go South really fast for stories like that. Not for ALL stories, but I′ve seen it happen more times than not.
Anyway, I hope this article was a little food for thought! As always, these are all things that I′ve learned through years of trying to get it right! Hehehe, and I′m still not quite there yet, but there a few steps of trial and error that you can skip over if you know about the possible hindrance ahead of time! So good luck! And I′ll see you guys next weekend!
What is sex appeal?
Take a moment and really think about that. What is it that we find ′sexy′ about the people we dream about? Now, not everybody writes romance or sexually themed stories online, but that doesn′t mean that your characters don′t have some sort of appeal to them that acts as a direct interest to your main character. What is it that draws your protagonist in? What is the bait? Why this particular boy over all others? Today...we′re talking about sex appeal. What it is, what it isn′t, and how you can use it to get your readers to agree with you.
I think one of the biggest mistakes that an author can make is assuming that the fact that your love interest is ′pretty to look at′ is enough to make them sexy. Ummm...no. No more than it does in real life. Maybe back when you were twelve, that was enough to flip your life upside down, but we grow up. Our tastes evolve and our search for someone special becomes more nuanced and more complex. Your love interest might have the silkiest hair, or the bluest eyes, or the most mouthwatering ass that you′ve ever seen, and while that is tantalizing in a variety of ways...that appeal won′t last long. Even in a fictional story. At some point, your readers will think, ″Ok, so he′s hot. We get it. Now what?″ Usually, when I describe the love interests in my own stories, I try to do so through the eyes of the beholder. Now, is this boy the sexiest thing to ever walk the face of the Earth? Well, of course not! Hehehe! But to my PROTAGONIST, he is! He is precisely what that character finds attractive in another person. That is his personal vision of perfection and beauty. And that could change from character to character. I don′t want to ′dictate′ what is and isn′t beautiful to my audience, I simply want to put them in the mindset of the character they′re reading about. So, in terms of appearance, sex appeal is whatever the main character says it is.
And still, that′s not enough.
Depending on what you, personally, find attractive about someone...you can bring your love interests to life by bringing those traits to life through their actions and dialogue. Maybe you′re a sucker for a shy guy. Maybe you like the brooding bad boy type, with a hint of mystery. You might be attracted to a more confident and straightforward personality. An extrovert who′s always the life of the party. But others might like the quiet, homebody, type. Someone to curl up on the couch with, who you enjoy giving a poke or a tickle in order to get him to smile, even when he′s trying to hide his giggles from you. I believe that sex appeal is created by the bridge that exists between two people. What you want, what you like, and a few surprises that you didn′t even know came with the total package. Sure, he′s cute...but he likes the same music that you like. His top five movies and yours are almost identical. You have similar ways of seeing the world. Similar ways of carrying yourself. A similar sense of humor. And in the places where you are different from one another, it′s more of an intriguing opportunity to learn something new, as opposed to arguing over it. Sex appeal is all about connection. If you readers can envision your love interest and truly understand what makes him sexy beyond his physical attributes...then you′ve got them hooked!
Also, the smallest gestures can truly bring a character′s sex appeal to the forefront. The actions of your love interest can come off as adorable if made into a habitual character trait. I use this technique from time to time when I′m writing. Some characters might flick their blond locks out of their eyes every few seconds. Some lightly bite the corner of their bottom lip when they′re flirting, or might twirl their pencil when they′re being shy. Fidgeting can be really cute in a character, and a well-timed blush can create a sweet little ″Awww″ moment that will give your readers the appropriate warm fuzzies needed to stay connected to the character being mentioned. This is not to say that your dream boy has to be flawless. As, quite often, little imperfections and character quirks can end up being just as sexual appealing as any other gleaming attribute. Some of my characters can be really suspicious when it comes to being ′liked′, and they don′t understand why. Some characters can become extremely clumsy in tense situations. And some are just downright insane in the head. Hehehe! But that′s fine. Sometimes, being comfortable with your own imperfections can be just as sexy. Let them own it. Play around with it. It′ll be fun, I promise.
Just remember to always create a 3-Dimensional image when you′re attempting to create the ideal boyfriend for your story. There′s more to sex appeal than simply being easy on the eyes. And the best way to demonstrate that, is through the way he interacts with your main character. As you′ve heard me say a million times before...′show, don′t tell′. We don′t need your protagonist′s inner monologue telling us he′s cute, or he′s nice, or he′s funny. Well...prove it. Have him joke around and say something funny. Have him grab a flower out of his neighbor′s yard and hand it to your main character as a token of affection. Show us how he blushes and looks down at his shoelaces because he′s too shy to look your protagonist in the eye when he′s declaring his true feelings about him. The idea is to get your readers to fall as deeply in love with your romantic lead as your main character. There′s nothing like being able to wrap yourself up in the fantasy being displayed in front of your very eyes. Experiencing the joy involved when it comes to sharing some quality time with a boy that many would find so CUTE! ″If only I could find myself a boy like that! Wow!″
Bottom line, you can find more sex appeal in the glimmer of a set of bright eyes than you can in the sizable bulge in the front of their pants. Something as simple as a shrug, a kiss on the cheek, a witty conversation on a first date, or a smile shared from across a crowded room...can truly impact the people reading your story. There′s an intangible x-factor that hides deeply within the actions of your love interest. Bring it to the surface. Put it in the spotlight, and let your main character drool over it whenever he sees it first hand. Hehehe!
So keep that in mind, and you can build up the most lovable boys to ever grace the pages of the written word. With practice, of course! 😛
Hope this helps! And thanks for reading!
You know...there′s often a ′complaint′ that goes around about a lot of the Marvel Comic Book movies that I never really understood. That is the introduction of humor into their storylines. Now, there are some people that I know that could, quite literally, find something wrong with everything in existence. If God Almighty showed up tomorrow in white robes, 400 feet tall, with an entire symphony of angels singing His praises behind him, all surrounded with the brightest light ever seen by human eyes...there are people who would still shrug their shoulders and think, ″That′s it? I expected more.″ So sometimes people complain for the sake of complaining. But the same argument kept coming up over and over again. I hear friends say it, and family members, and people on youtube...I can′t help but to wonder...
What the heck is so wrong about having a sense of humor?
Why is that a bad thing? Have we reached a point where we all prefer to be depressed, angry, or somber all the time? I would, personally, like for my audience to have some fun with my stories the same way that I do. That′s not to say that I have to write a full-blown comedy, where there′s a joke every two or three paragraphs. But, even the darkest themed stories on my site have a touch of humor added to brighten the mood every now and then. Otherwise, they might come off as dreary and frustrating to many of the people reading. The key is to find clever ways to pick your moments, and deliver the appropriate wink and a smile when it will be most effective. So, I′d like to talk about adding humor to our stories today, and hopefully it′ll spark a few ideas to make your stories even more enjoyable than they were before.
Going back to the big blockbuster movie idea, superhero movies did not invent the habit of injecting jokes and humor into their scripts. ::Gasp:: Shocker! I know, right? ″Die Hard″ had humor in it. ″Predator″ had humor in it. Everything from ″The Matrix″ to ″Aliens″ to ″Nightmare On Elm St″ had humor in them! It′s ok to SMILE! Even when Jason Vorhees is hacking camping teenagers to bits in the woods...that doesn′t mean you can′t add a slight giggle here and there. The whole idea behind humor is to have fun! So that your readers can smile and think to themselves, ″I really had a good time reading that.″ We′re all human beings. Flawed human beings. And that means that we do some silly shit from time to time. We occasionally stumble over our words and say something goofy when we don′t mean it. We sometimes walk right into a glass door while looking at that really cute boy across the street. Sometimes we go to a job interview with spinach in our teeth and our zipper down. Hehehe, I don′t know! Whatever you want. It doesn′t have to be all knock knock jokes and witty one-liners. Sometimes it′s just a coping mechanism to deal with a potentially humiliating situation. Have some fun with your characters, and allow them a few golden moments of levity away from the misery of life so they can recharge their batteries and emotionally prepare themselves for what′s to come next.
When you really think about your life in general, I′m sure that you can find some times when something happened to you that, at the time, might have seemed like the end of the world. Times when you were mortified, or where you did something that you regretted...that you can now look back and laugh at. Not because it′s ′funny′, but because it′s life. Hehehe! I could write an entire novel full of those moments alone. I once joined the soccer team for a girl that I liked. I once had a crush on a girl and ended up sleeping with her brother! I used to dash out of class and practically RUN to the gym locker room because I wanted to see a cute boy from the class before me half naked and getting dressed! LOL! I′ve done some pretty ridiculous things in my life. Harmless, and perfectly logical at the time. But I can find the humor in it now, and a lot of those moments have found their way into my stories. Humor doesn′t have to make anybody double over with laughter, it just has to display some of the more ridiculous sides of life. It′s reality, reflected in a circus mirror. Use that as a tool. Stories can′t be all sex and drama. Keep it fun.
There are different kinds of humor that can be injected into a situation. For example, I have a character, ′Cody′, in the ″New Kid In School″ series who has a very sarcastic, almost abrasive, sense of humor. When used at just the right moment, that razor sharp tongue of his can make some pretty deep cuts. But I also offset that ′meanstreak′ by demonstrating that he has a good heart and is willing to stand up for his friends. So readers can forgive him for verbally ripping people apart from time to time. Hehehe! In the story, ″Shelter″, I have a young character named ′Preston′, who′s comical presence comes from his innocence and naivete. It′s offbeat and weird, but he′s too adorable to do much more than shake your head and think, ″Ok...whatever, kid.″ Having characters that you can put in charge of bringing some light to a dark situation can sometimes make them a crowd favorite. As long as you don′t overdo it. You don′t want to make them into a total cartoon. The need to feel like real people, just with a comic side to them.
If you′re adding humor to a story, and don′t have that comic relief character to work with, sometimes the situation itself is funny enough. Ever had your mom walk in on you while you were masturbating? Hehehe, NOT so funny when it′s happening to you! But having it happen to a fictional character in your story? There′s some comedic gold in there somewhere. Ever slip up and something stupid to someone you were head over heels in love with? Ever get a cramp in your leg during sex? Ever trip over your own feet and have a complete spill right in front of the object of your affections? Love makes us do crazy things sometimes. And if you′re able to view it from the outside, you can find the humor in some of our biggest romance failures...and bring them to your story in ways that are just as entertaining as they are refreshing.
The one thing you don′t want to do is have the humor take away from the dramatic moments and serious situations that you might be writing about. Like I said, you have to pick your moments. If you have a suicidal teen, crying his eyes out, and holding a razor blade to his wrist...that′s obviously not a place for a joke. Don′t try to inject humor when two best friends are locked in a terrible shouting match, or in the center of an abusive relationship. I mean, this seems self explanatory, but you have to be careful and make sure that you′re paying attention to what′s going on in the story at that particular moment. When you use humor, it takes center stage. Every time. So don′t use it during a scene when some other emotion or situation is supposed to be the focus. The humor will undercut everything and you will lose the tone that you created for that particular scene. So it CAN work against you if you try to force it. Only do it when it feels natural.
Now, I get it...not everybody thinks of themselves as being ′funny′. But you really don′t have to be a comedian to add humor to your stories. It can be very subtle. It can come from insecurity or awkwardness or outbursts of unexpected joy. Express yourself in the best way that you know how. Those awkward moments are something that we can all laugh at, because we can all relate. We remember. And looking back...hehehe, I wouldn′t change a thing. So never feel pressured to take the fun and humor out of your projects. Choose your moments wisely. And have some fun. Your readers will appreciate it. Even the ones looking for something darker.
The dark side can be funny too.
″His eyes were as blue as a half-melted crayon, his skin as soft as wet clay...with a smile that could warm my heart like leftover meatloaf in the oven. He was so beautiful.″
Hehehe, ok, so that′s not the best collection of phrases to demonstrate the use of metaphor and simile! LOL! But I write a LOT...so I need to save my best stuff for the stories themselves. But we can start here, just so you guys can get an idea of what I′m babbling about this week.
Easily put, metaphors and similes are the words and phrases that we use to further enhance the details of whatever it is that we′re trying to say. It′s like watching something on a regular TV screen, and then switching it to high definition for a better picture. (That′s a simile, by the way. It was meant to give you guys a better understanding of the straightforward sample of information that I had given you in the sentence prior. Finding ways to use these enhancements can add style and grace to your projects, and paint a more vivid picture for your audience to hold on to.
To get the most basic foundation of how to accomplish this...we must first recognize the subtle difference between metaphors and similes. They′re very similar in nature, but not one hundred percent. For me? I think the difference goes beyond the idea that similes use the words ′like′ or ′as′ in their descriptions. Even though that is often cited as the major rule when it comes to telling one from another. In your writing, these are tools that you can use to make comparisons between what you′re thinking in your head, and what your audience is reading on the page.
Whenever I see a description that seems very basic in a story...functional, but not overly telling...I always get this old comedy routine vision in the back of my mind. Hehehe! You know how the comedian on stage says something like, ″Man, my wife is SO ugly!″ And it′s the audience′s duty to all shout out, ″How ugly is she???″ And he says, ″She′s so ugly, she had to pay her own pillows to sleep with her!″ Cue laugh track. When it comes to metaphor and simile, keep that in mind. When you make a flat statement like, ″His eyes were so blue.″ And don′t go into any further detail...imagine your willing audience asking you to finish the line. This will get you to see the places in your work where just a little bit more info could really make the difference between a good story and a great story.
How blue were his eyes? What can you compare them too? What kind of picture can you paint, using just a few words, that will give your readers an idea of exactly what your love interest looks like? Think of all the many shades of blue there are out there. Are they a piercing dark blue? Are they a neon shade of light blue? Are they almost grey or silver? Picture your character in your mind...take that shade of blue...and draw a comparison to line up with something that your readers might recognize from their own lives. The idea is to get on the same page and have the same image floating around in your imagination. Your character is fictional. They haven′t seen his eyes. But maybe they′ve seen the brightness of a cloudless Summer sky. Use that.
″His eyes were so blue! Like the brightness of a cloudless Summer sky!″
Do you see what I mean? Your readers can take that simile, and match the exact color of your fictional character′s eyes to a color that they can clearly create a mental picture of, and you can both go on from there. This works for everything that you want to enhance along the way. His eyes might be as green as well polished emeralds. His hair might be as blond as strands of freshly spun gold. Or his lips may be as soft and warm as warm marshmallow. Whatever you come up with, take some time to match the ideas in your head with something familiar and appealing to your readers, stimulating their senses and bringing them further into your personal online portrait. Most of your readers know the feel of soft blankets against their skin. They know what heartbreak feels like, what fear of rejection feels like, or the smell of freshly baked bread. Whether your descriptions are surrounding something tangible or intangible...a little practice can make this part of the writing process SO much fun! Hehehe! Just sayin′!
Now...what I′ve been using have all been similes so far. Using ′like′ or ′as′ to cue the readers that the statement I′m making is a comparison, but not a literal one. Metaphors are slightly different. With metaphors, your statements are being made as if they were literal, even when the audience knows, deep down, that it isn′t. Metaphors might seem like they′re a little bit fancier, due to their wording being a bit more complex in some cases...but it′s really just a slight variation on the use of simile, where the comparison is more implied than told. It′s a bit more abstract.
For example, if your main character thinks to himself, ″The butterflies in my stomach went wild, their fluttering wings slapping against my heart while I fought for breath.″...ummm, that′s not literal. Hehehe, or, at least I HOPE not! Unless you′re writing sci-fi, fantasy, or maybe even horror...I′m going to assume, as a reader, that you′re using metaphor to describe a feeling of nervousness and discomfort. I′m not actually picturing a nest of insects in someone′s belly, nearly suffocating him as he struggles to survive. That would be...weird. However, this use of metaphor has the same effect. The idea of ′butterflies in your stomach′ is something that people can associate with when approaching a situation that they find nerve-wracking or scary. Readers can identify with the feeling of it being hard to breathe when talking to someone they′re infatuated with. So metaphor serves the same ′HD TV′ function as simile, it just uses a little more finesse to do it. Similar, but different.
″I may have a few dark parts within me, but his presence in my life was like a ray of sunshine. It′s like he brightens up everything with his presence alone.″
″He brightens up everything. His presence alone, a ray of sunshine to steal away the darkest parts of me.″
The first is delivered as an attempt to give an explanation to readers who may want a bit more clarity, while the second is delivered literally...even though it′s obviously not a literal statement. The end result is the same, and the message has been sent. Congrats, writers! You just connected to your readership, and your vision is now right there for them to use to further engage in your story! That′s awesome!
Now...that being said, you have to know when to use metaphor and when not to. Every word of your project doesn′t have to be some overworked stream of flowery text and Shakespearean poetry. It′s fun to show off every once in a while, but choose your moments. Sometimes, it′s better to keep things simple. You don′t have to say, ″There was a determined rapping against the wood at the entrance of my domicile, the familiar sound of covered bone connecting to a hard surface, trying to grab my attention.″ Hehehe, it′s ok to just say, ″There was a knock at the door.″ No need to get carried away with the little things. But, in those moments when you feel a little flair and finesse is warranted, get your thoughts together and swing for the fences! Picture the comparisons that you want to make, and then make them a part of your story. Try to get your readers to visualize things the way you see it in your head. The end result might not be exact, but the closer your connection is to your readers...the more powerful your imagery will become as your story expands on that original foundation. They′ll see it like you see it, and that makes it easier for you to get your vision across in the most potent way possible.
Give it a try! Or, better yet, pay more attention to the metaphors and similes that you′ve used in the past. I′m sure that it has come, quite naturally, to many of you authors out there. You may not even notice you′re doing. Signs of true passion and natural talent! Never feel weird about studying your own process. And once you take a closer look at your work, find ways to get even better.
Challenges are the ′fun′ part! Hehehe!
I hope I made some sense with all this! And I hope it helps! Take care! And happy writing!
There are going to be times, every now and again...when the written content of your stories may take a very dark turn, or veer off into situations that are somewhat uncomfortable for other readers to absorb as readily as they do some of your 'brighter' themes. This can be an intimidating atmosphere for you to thrive in. The gritty realities and graphic nature of the story that you want to tell may be too much for some of your readers to handle or understand. But, while there is the temptation to avoid darker themes and controversial material at all costs, especially with the sheer brutality of the typical ′internet comment section′ working against you...I say GO for it anyway! They′ll get over it. The people who pretend to be the most offended by the story you wrote have NO problem ripping the author to shreds with their opinions. So you might as well balance things out by treating them the same way when you′re writing what′s in your heart. Hehehe, that being said, there are ways to tell a ′heavy′ tale without having it totally wreck the lives of the people absorbing it for the first time. Still, there are some stories with sensitive, and sometimes disturbing, details that deserve to be told. Whether your reading public is ready for it or not isn′t your concern. They have the option to stop reading. Period. But, as a writer, you have the right to bleed through your words and tell your story any way that you see fit. You just have to find a way to keep things ′accessible′ so at least some of your audience can latch onto it, and appreciate it for what it is. That′s the topic that I′m going to tackle today. So let′s get DARK!
The thing about many of these darker themed stories you may read online...is that they often come from a very personal place in the heart of the writer. It′s not always an author trying to be dark for the sake of being dark. Sometimes, it′s a much needed healing process, translated into fiction and created to convey some kind of message or express some sort of personal tragedy. Stories of loss, heartbreak, suicide, rape, physical or emotional abuse...they can be extremely hard to digest for some readers. And if they take it too close to heart, they may end up turning away from the project instead of dealing with the turmoil the story is putting them through. That′s understandable. But if this is a story that you really want to tell, something you really want to put out there for public consumption, then do it. Why not? Get it off of your chest. Share it with other people who might relate and feel even closer to the work than you do. You may touch something deep within them that they haven′t fully dealt with themselves. So every paragraph may end up being a therapy session for the both of you. Again, these stories are often very personal in nature. You′ll never find a more exposed artist than one who is delivering you an unrestricted look at their pain. There′s a rawness in it. Strip every piece of armor away and speak from the heart. It connects to an audience in a way that your ′happy go lucky′ romance stories just can′t. So, if you′ve been holding off on giving a dark themed story a try...maybe you′ll change your mind and step up to the plate after you finish this article.
Hehehe, I′d love to read it! But, then again, I happen to be a very dark individual, myself, at times. So that′s just me.
There are a lot of readers out there who use fiction as an escape from the problems and stressful impact of the world at large. They may be looking for something cheerful, or uplifting, or inspirational. But that may not be the kind of story that you want to tell. And that can shake a percentage of your audience out of their comfort zone in ways that they weren′t looking for and don′t appreciate in the long run. When it came to some very painful memories about my own past, and I felt the need to talk about it and add them to one or two of the stories that I was writing for the site...I had some difficulty with it at first. I dealt with some extremely abusive memories growing up in a household with a father that was...ummm, less than fatherly. I remember adding ′elements′ of that abusive relationship in a few stories, but I clearly wasn′t ready to tackle that situation yet. Especially when I added it (Briefly) to ″New Kid In School″. If you notice, that plot point was rather quickly written out of the story, and never brought up again. I simply wasn′t practiced enough to take the theme head on like I wanted to. Not at that time. In ″Gone From Daylight″, I tried to do the same, but it was a side story until I was more comfortable talking about it. However...when the time came where I really wanted to tell a ′no holds barred′ account from my personal experience with physical domestic abuse...I started writing ″My Only Escape″, and that was the right time for me to do so. That was my release. A lot of that story is autobiographical, and I still have moments where I have to deal with the aftermath of what happened way back then, even when I would rather leave it behind for good. But it was a story that I felt was dying to get out, and since it′s first chapter, I have received sooooo many emails from people who could relate in one way or another. Emails of support, and sympathy, and encouragement, as well as messages of people who had gone through similar experiences (Or who were younger, and experiencing them currently). I have NO regrets, whatsoever, about finally writing that story, and waiting for a time when I was emotionally stable enough to get it right. If you have a painful part of your past that you want to bring to the screen, and tell from a perspective that only others in your position can truly understand...then don′t wait. Do it. Pour your whole heart and soul into it. Let your voice be heard, and know that your writing had an impact on your readers that they′ll remember. Good or bad.
Three things to remember when writing a story that may come off as a bit disturbing to your readers, are as follows...
Give it meaning! If you′re going to sink into some truly dark themes and bring that into your story, make sure that you′re doing it for a legitimate reason. NOT for shock value. Shock value doesn′t last long, and will ultimately just become a part of your story that people would rather forget about instead of taking it to heart. If you′re going to have a rape scene, or a drug overdose...a suicide attempt, or someone battling terminal cancer...then I think writers should make sure that it is actually a part of the main character′s growth and evolution as a person. Don′t just throw it in there as some kind of sucker punch to your audience. That′s just plain MEAN! Hehehe! If a character of yours has recently beaten Leukemia? Then have that be a part of his or her personality. What outlook do they have on life now? Maybe they′re super excited to get back to living their lives. Maybe they′re angry at the time they lost battling the disease. Who knows? That′s up to you. But let it be known that the dark circumstances of the story had some meaning, and some impact on how the rest of the story plays out.
Don′t go overboard! Scenes of extreme violence and sexual abuse are hard to read. If it′s a part of your story, and you don′t want to pull punches about the reality of what happened…then use your own judgment when it comes to what you say and what you don′t say. I′m not saying that you shouldn′t include some of the graphic details needed to get your point across...but keep in mind what your goal is. You don′t want to depress and disgust your audience. Evoking sympathy and an emotional bond, capable of getting your readership to cheer for your main character is great! But let′s not drag our readers down so low that they can′t recover. Learn to ′allude′ to certain parts of your story, and go into painful details about others. As always, its important to find a balance. Don′t ′bully′ your audience into sharing a truly disgusting experience in a way that overpowers every other aspect of the story that you′re trying to tell. I think it′s important to not let the dark content take center stage, when it′s the characters and how they deal with the content that should be the focus of your story.
Give us hope! No matter how horrible a character′s life may seem, no matter how graphic you are with the details of their suffering...readers will struggle through it if they think there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Give us a few brief glimpses of joy. A possible solution to the tragedies they′re facing from chapter to chapter. If all you′re bringing to the table kis pain and murder and rape and misery...your audience will eventually get turned off and go elsewhere for a story that doesn′t make them feel like shit every time they read it. BUT...if you dispense some truly awful scenes here and there, but combine them with possible ways out of their situation...opportunities to experience some level of happiness if only they could get away...then people will keep reading. They may be disturbed and disgusted by the events that are currently taking place...but with just a few hints at a hopeful outcome, they will continue to read to see if things get better or that justice is served for the character involved. Be proud of that. It means that you told a great story and that people sympathize with your situations, no matter how dark they may be. This doesn′t mean that every story has to have a happy ending. It just means that you have to give your readers a break from the misery every now and then, to let them believe that things are not as dark as they may seem. At least for a little while. Think of it the same way as swimming underwater. Let your readers come up to the surface for a breath of fresh air every now and then before they drown. K?
The world isn′t always a happy place. Not by any means. And the stories of the abused, the less fortunate, and those in turmoil, are just as important as the uplifting stories that are told elsewhere. But there′s a skillful way to deliver that message without sending your audience running for the hills.
As always, I hope this helps you out! And I′ll be back soon for more! ((Hugz))
Not long ago, I wrote a short article on the concept of ″Show, Don′t Tell″, and made sure to add that both sides of the equation are needed to tell a good story. When it comes to exposition, it is the skillful use of both show and tell in unison that can give your story a smooth and natural feel, while still giving the audience the tools it needs to fully understand what′s going on. Finding a way to finesse both sides takes a little practice, but once you nail it down, it will pretty much become automatic in your writing process. So that′s the topic for today! Let′s talk ′exposition′!
Exposition is basically a way to fill your readers in on everything that′s going on with your story. Details like time, location, character details, what period the story takes place in, and more. Who are these characters? Where did they come from? What is their background? It′s fuel for the imagination, and it gets the writers and their readers on the same page as far as kicking things off and keeping them going from beginning to end. This is especially important if writing something from the supernatural or science fiction/fantasy genre, or in a story that takes place during some sort of past era or during a historical event. The world building aspect makes exposition super important so your readers can grab onto the rules of society and boundaries put in place for what they′re about to read. Now, exposition is a bit more ′tell′ than ′show′, but I′ve always thought that it was important to figure out how to find a decent balance between the two, regardless. Doing it out of balance can slow the entire flow of your story, and that′s not good. There are two ways of delivering exposition...narration (Or simply what you write about the characters and their situation) and dialogue (What the characters say out loud to one another). Without balance...giving an entire ′info dump′ of narration all at once can seem a little complicated and boring. While having a character deliver 100 years worth of backstory in one long winded speech can seem weird and unnecessary. It would be like randomly asking a stranger on the bus how they′re doing and having them tell you their life story without so much as taking a break to realize that you only wanted to hear, ″Fine. How are you?″ as a response. We want to give readers details, but we don′t want it to be a stumbling block in the story itself. Not easy, but possible.
One thing that I′ve learned over time is that exposition goes a lot smoother when it′s spread out over time. Not only does it keep your audience from getting bored, but it actually makes future chapters more engaging as your audience finds out a little bit more information as they keep reading. Things get a little deeper, layers are added, characters become more developed. It builds momentum in your storytelling. Much better than explaining everything all at once in the first ten pages of your story and having everyone try to remember it all for later use. Many readers look at exposition and treat a lot of the info as, ″Is this going to be on the test?″ So trying to cram a ton of details into their brain all at once can be a bit of an overwhelming experience. Trim it down. Think about what′s most important for them to know right away, tell them what they need to know to get started, and then add more details along the way. I′ve always found that it works out better that way in terms of reader involvement.
So, how do we choose between ′showing′ and ′telling′ when it comes to delivering the important information? And how do we trim it down in an efficient manner?
When I first started writing stories on Nifty, I used to always make sure that I mentioned the fact that my main character was gay. I was still brand new to writing gay fiction, and I always felt it was necessary to make that distinction so my readers wouldn′t suddenly be caught off guard. That...was totally unnecessary. Hehehe! I was writing gay fiction on a gay website for gay readers. There was hardly any ′surprise′ involved when it came to the fact that my main character was a homosexual. So I don′t feel the need to add that detail anymore. That can be ′shown′ to anyone reading, simply by stating the fact that this is a boy who finds another boy attractive. The fact that he′s gay is demonstrated through his feelings and his actions, and the audience will immediately come to the conclusion of, ″Oh, so he′s gay. Got it. Moving on.″ Done. The information has been delivered, and I didn′t have to muddy up the waters by explaining to my readers what′s going on. They got the memo, now let′s keep going.
You can ′tell′ your readers what they need to know without actually ′telling′ them at all. Use your prose to set up situations that will deliver the message you want them to receive. Like...you could begin a story like this:
′It was a particularly cold Winter night. I was huddled in a tent with three other soldiers, dreading the next battle against the Confederates that was sure to come just before dawn. I think about my dearest sister Eliza, back home...and I pray that her and the baby are alright.′ Now...in those first few sentences, you can cover a lot of ground in setting the stage for your audience. What has this small section suggested to us as readers? We know that it′s Winter time. We know that our main character is a soldier during a time of war. We know what side he′s fighting for and what side he′s fighting against. We know that he′s frightened and worried about going into battle. We know that a battle is quickly approaching. We know that has a sister, named Eliza, and that she has a baby back home, and he loves them both dearly. There we go. ALL of that information was given to your readers in the first three sentences of your story, and your audience is immediately engaged in what′s going on, and intrigued by what might happen next. You don′t have to explain the entire history of the Civil War, or talk about the horrors of combat, or mention that the soldier is straight or gay or anything like that. The audience has the foundation set for the story you′re trying to tell, and that′s all they need for right now. Later on, maybe you write a scene where the soldier wakes up the next morning, and while feeding on breakfast rations, your main character looks over and sees another soldier that he thinks is beautiful beyond words. (″Oh, so the main character is gay″) You can use that moment to mention that he′s been camping out with them for the past three months, you can give his infatuation a name and a description, you might hint at a few friendly moments between them that gives your audience a hint of their relationship...and then jump right back to the main plot of the story. Just give bits and pieces of information at a time when it′s useful, and keep your momentum going forward. Don′t stop for an info dump of details that aren′t directly relevant to that particular scene.
The same goes for all stories. At the very beginning of ″Jesse-101″, I started off with a bit of narrative exposition to detail an event that led up to the exact point where the story begins. Something that I felt was necessary to set the stage. But after those first few paragraphs, the main character, Tristan, is simply talking to his best friend, Lori, in his bedroom. While the opening scene is mostly dialogue, I tried to use their back and forth conversation to deliver the exposition needed for the audience to get a clear picture of what was going on and dive right in with no further explanation. Just from their banter, you learn that Tristan is in high school, he′s only out to his best friends and no one else, that he and Lori share a history of friendship together, that Tristan sees himself as being a bit ′sissy-ish′ and doesn′t have much in common with other boys his age, that he′s dealing with a recent rejection...that one conversation delivers a TON of needed information to the readers about the story, but without just having me write the details down in a narrative with no human interaction or emotional involvement. The bonus to giving exposition through dialogue is that you not only get important details and story plot points out there, but you get a sense of your characters′ personalities as well. You kill two birds with one stone, and you flawlessly move from ′tell′ to ′show′ without your audience even being aware of it. See? It′s all magic! Hehehe!
So...all in all, exposition is a part of writing a good story. It′s necessary. I know that there are critics who will pick it apart and try to make the ′E′ word something awful and lazy and worthy of dismissal, but it′s not. It is a necessary function when it comes to telling an effective tale and bringing people into the world that you′ve created. Don′t be afraid to give your readers a map to navigate through the situations that you′ve got planned for them, but don′t be afraid to have faith in their intelligence either. The actions and dialogue of your characters will infer and display the story details your readers need to know for them to understand what′s happening without you telling them directly. They′ll get it. ″Oh, this person is taking an insulin shot every morning before breakfast. He must be diabetic.″ Or, ″The main character is being woken up by his mom opening the shades and telling him to come down for breakfast. He must be a teenager.″ Or, ″This guy is wearing a skin-tight costume, and he′s perched on a rooftop looking down at the dark city landscape for criminals doing wrong. He must be some sort of hero or vigilante.″ Whatever. ′Tell′ in some parts. ′Show′ in other parts. And train yourself to know the difference, and what will be most effective in any given situation.
Ok, I′ve babbled on for long enough! Stop reading this and get back to writing! The world needs more of your genius! Hmmm...I wonder if this whole article counts as exposition. Food for thought, I guess. Best of luck! And I hope this helps!
When writing a story of your very own, I think there is an added effect that comes from using your own personal experiences as a blueprint for the writing itself. Your memories, your feelings, your beliefs, your personality...drawing from these sources gives the whole feel of a story a certain ′touch′ that can′t be achieved by just putting words on the screen. You may often hear the term, ″write what you know″ being thrown around a lot, and I couldn′t agree more. No matter what the content of your story may be, there is an underlying meaning and emotion beneath the surface that your audience can connect to if you′re speaking from the heart. For example, you may have never been to the Moon (I′m assuming. Hehehe!), but if you write a story about two people falling in love in a Moon based colony, set fifty years in the future...your readers can still relate to the story that you′re trying to tell. They recognize feelings of infatuation, and love, and awkwardness, and beauty, and fear of rejection. The more honest you are with the emotions you are drawing from, the more relatable your story will become...even if the premise is something that your readers previously knew nothing about. Tap into that deeper meaning, that hidden ′something′, that captures the hearts of all people.
This can be accomplished by using your own life experiences as a map to find a loyal and appreciative audience. Your joy, your regrets, your fears, your triumphs, and your mistakes. Weave it into every word you write and let it become a part of your project. The result will be worth it! Trust me!
However, while your life and emotions may be a powerful source to pull from...that source is not unlimited. We only have one life to draw from, right? (Hehehe, again...I′m assuming!) We′ve only had one childhood, one college experience, maybe a handful of relationships, one set of parents, a select cluster of good friends...our experiences and memories create our view of the world, but there are only so many experiences that we can use as inspiration. And for authors who are writing a bunch of different stories at one time, or those of us who are writing a variety of completed short stories, one after the other...′formulas′ begin to form. Ideas may repeat themselves. Characters may seem similar to one another. Dialogue may become repetitive, situations may seem overly familiar, and common themes may begin to tire themselves out. But I′m here to tell you that you can master your own formula and use it to your advantage! So let′s get into it, shall we?
Let me begin by saying that there′s nothing wrong with being yourself in the stories that you write. The idea of having a ′formula′ isn′t something to cringe and shy away from. I, personally, write a LOT of stories on my site. Hundreds of chapters, spinoffs, shorts, etc. And there will be people who will try to tell you that they′re all the same story. They′re not. Trust me. One story might deal with coming out of the closet, another might deal with financial differences, another might be a vampire sci fi story, and another might involve domestic abuse. The themes in every story change all the time. The obstacles the characters face are different. The interactions are different. Some stories have a darker tone, while others are more comedic in nature. It′s more than just changing the title and the character names to differentiate one story from another. It takes hard work and dedication to keep coming up with new angles to view life and love from. But it′s possible. Always keep that in mind. Like I said, we only have one set of personal life experiences to draw from. But the reason I write so many stories is because there are things that I want to talk about and issues I want to address that can′t POSSIBLY all fit into one story. It needs a story of its own. If I was just writing the same story over and over again, I would have gotten bored with it years ago.
I′ve actually learned to take the ′Comsie Formula′ comment as a HUGE compliment. To have someone recognize your particular voice and style in everything you write is incredibly flattering. Take what might be seen as a predictable formula and make it your ′signature′. Your stories are a part of you, and you′re a part of them. Take pride in that. Stephen King has a signature. Spielberg has a signature. Andrew Lloyd Wright, Quentin Tarantino, Elton John, and Pablo Picasso, have signatures. If it′s an honest expression of self, and your unique, literary, DNA has become evident in every story that you put out there, then isn′t that a good thing? People can read something and tell that it′s your work. Simply because your imprint relates to them in a familiar way that just feels like ′home′. Awesome! Readers will come back to read your stuff over and over again without question. Because you understand the underlying themes that bind us all together, allowing you to tell an infinite amount of stories that can, and will, hit every single time with your audience. Stick to what you know. Find ways to express what′s in your heart, and then work to get even better at it! The stories may vary, but the core remains familiar and entertaining, no matter what it is you′re writing.
I am a MASSIVE James Bond fan! I have been since I was a little boy, and I always will be! I, honestly, think that 007 is one of the greatest characters in cinematic history. The suave, charming but dangerous, spy...has been around since 1962...and they′re STILL coming out with another movie in 2019! Obviously, 1962 and 2019 have NOTHING in common! Hehehe! But the character evolves, changes, and reinvents itself, many times over...but still keeps the same ′feel′, without compromise. To the point where James Bond movies could feasibly go on forever! That is mind-blowing to me! Now, audiences have an idea of what to expect when they watch a Bond movie, but they may not realize that EVERY single movie has been following a very distinct formula since ″Goldfinger″! All of them. Same exact formula, and yet all of the movies, while the themes are similar, are vastly different from one another, and entertaining in their own right. Some of these formula ingredients are as follows:
Every Bond movie starts off with a mission that is mostly unrelated to the rest of the movie, and almost always involves a ′timer′ or ′countdown′ of some sort to get said mission completed.
This leads into the gunshot Bond intro, and an opening credit scene with a song by a currently popular artist or band, combined with a surreal montage of ′guns, gambling, and seductive women′.
Every Bond movie has an interaction with the Quartermaster (″Q″), who sets Bond up with a few technological spy gadgets that will ultimately come in handy later on in the film! (Remember my article on ′foreshadowing′? Hehehe!)
Every Bond movie has a meglomaniacal villain with a desire to take over the world in some way, and is accompanied by a special henchman. This henchman will have some sort of weapon, disfigurement, or ability, that makes them almost superhuman. A rival for Bond...but will end up dying due to Bond′s wits and skill. (Oh, and the evil base or lair ALWAYS blows up in the end!)
Every Bond movie has an extremely beautiful female character, who is there to help, hurt, or distract Bond from his task. This female will have a sexually suggestive name (Holly Goodhead, Plenty O′Toole, Pussy Galore, etc), and whether she is a friend or foe...she will end up having sex with Bond by the end of the movie.
Bond will meet the main villain for the first time, and beat him in a particular sport or game of chance. They will antagonize one another, but in a gentleman friendly way, and the villain will use that frustration to order Bond to be ′taken care of′ shortly afterward.
Every Bond movie, half way through, will have an intense chase scene of some sort. This chase scene will feature some variation of the original 007 theme! Yes...in EVERY movie! (Cars, boats, ski mobiles, tanks, trucks, etc)
And of course, the famous ″Bond...James Bond.″ line, and the vodka martini...shaken not stirred.
Here...take a few minutes and watch this short video, a montage of all the Bond movies combined...
Hehehe, God, I LOVE you, James Bond! LOL!
So, whether you′ve noticed it or not, decades of Bond films have all been closely connected to a core group of cinematic tropes that fans have all come to recognize and look forward to. To the point where we′d miss it if a part of the recipe was missing. Including Bond saying one of his famous quips after killing one of his enemies. It′s because there′s something about that formula that WORKS! It has been consistently successful for over 50 years now, and has appealed to a number of different generations without fail. It taps into that hidden space where we all relate and understand one another, despite our differences. Adventure and danger and sophistication and purpose. When you′re writing, no matter what your concept may be, always remember to return to those honest parts of yourself and make it a part of your project. That′s where your audience will find ′you′. And where you′ll find them in return. When reaching out to your readers, it′s that easy connection that can make or break the ′feel′ of a story.
Bottom line, draw from your real life. Something honest, something real. And no matter how many stories you write, no matter what anyone might say about you or your signature style...your fans will latch onto your story and truly feel in tune with what you′re doing. Your experiences share a lot more in common with other people′s experiences than you might believe. That heart and understanding is what will keep their attention. Every time. I′m not saying that you shouldn′t challenge yourself and try new things from time to time. I′m saying that it′s ok for you to be ′you′ in your writing. You′ve lived ONE life, and that story deserves to be told the way you want to tell it. Even if you tell it a million different ways. You′re a 3-dimensional person, with complexities and nuances that can be expressed in a variety of different stories. So go for it! Write a story when you′re angry. Write one when you′re heartbroken. Write one when you′re horny as hell! That′s three completely different stories right there...all coming from the same place. And if somebody recognizes your signature style...AWESOME! It′s a testament to your ability to become one with the text you type on a computer screen.
Let them see you. And allow your formula for success to carry you to new heights with every new release.
Hope this helps. And I wish you guys the best of luck!
Imagine that you're standing in the middle of a crowd of your readers and fans that absolutely love the stories you write and appreciate the love and energy you put into every word. Every single one of those loyal readers has a giant feather...and they surround you, lightly teasing and fawning all over you with those feathers, day and night. It's just a good feeling, you know? Hehehe, and there might ten, or twenty, or fifty, or one hundred, of them...giving you nothing but good vibes the whole time.
NOW...imagine that there is one person in that crowd...armed with a sharp, rusty, screwdriver. And that person runs up and STABS you right in the gut with it!
Hehehe, it doesn't matter how many fans you've got, or how many feathers...that's impossible to ignore. It hurts! And sometimes it cancels out everything else, and all you can focus on is the pain. If you're one of those people...then welcome to 'Part 2' of the 'Giving/Getting Criticism' blog post!
Oh yeah...it's our turn now!
Last week, I gave FIVE rules that I thought critics should keep in mind when reviewing stories online. That includes us, as writing peers, as well. This week, we have five rules of our own to think about when it comes to receiving that criticism. Hopefully, it will help us look at things from a different perspective, keep up our enthusiasm for something we love doing, and possibly take some of the 'sting' out of getting a few less than favorable reviews. So let's dive right in, shall we?
Writing can make you vulnerable sometimes. You may not even realize how much emotion you pour into the words you write on a screen. Feelings and memories and personal beliefs...desires, fantasies, hopes, and dreams. And when you're done, you've actually given birth to something that didn't exist before. You created something out of nothing, and it is so tempting to love that work unconditionally, no matter what anybody says about it. Don't feel guilty about that! It's a good thing. Be proud of what you done, and feel accomplished in knowing that there is a piece of you out there in the world that represents you as a writer and as a human being.
There's loving your story like a parent loves their child when they come home with a bad report card...and there's loving your work like the mother in the movie "The Bad Seed"! Hehehe! (If you don't know the reference, ummm...Google it) Fans and critics are two sides of the same coin. You simply can't have one without the other. It doesn't work that way. If you open yourself up to praise, then you have to open yourself up to ridicule as well. Your armor can't be selective when it comes to this, but if you stay in the right frame of mind, not only can you avoid some of the hurt and frustration involved, but you might actually come out better for it in the end. K?
So, here we go! These are my FIVE rules that every author and creator should take into account when getting criticism!
Rule #1 - Shields up! I realize that you have to wear your heart on your sleeve in order to tell an honest and emotionally engaging story...but the criticism will come your way. Expect it. And brace yourself for the impact. I say this because it's easy to make any negative comments on your work seem MUCH worse than they actually are. No one wants to admit to being sensitive, but let's be real about this...we're sensitive. There's nothing wrong with that. The harder you work on something and the closer it is to your heart...the more difficult it is to take criticism on it. At least for me, it is. Now, I happened to grow up with an abusive father when I was very young, and it was a very painful experience for me, trying to write that into the "New Kid In School" storyline. I approached it, but as comments came in, I found that I wasn't ready yet. I was much too close to the source and couldn't handle the critics' comments on that part of the story. Comments that weren't anywhere near as harsh as I made them out to be, originally. So, some of you may notice that the abuse element was quickly written out of the storyline and never mentioned again. I took another shot at it when I wrote "Gone From Daylight", where it is a side story to the main plot. And it wasn't until "My Only Escape" that I felt prepared to tackle the issue head on. And that took practice and a thicker skin to really tell the truth about some of the things I went through and was able to distance myself enough from the story to accept any and all comments about what was going on. When you have a tight connection to what you're writing, criticism can hurt. But DON'T take every unfavorable comment as a personal attack! It's not personal. To your readers, it's just a fictional story. We have to keep that in mind when reading their reviews of it. This is where you need to have your armor in place so that you can listen to what your audience is telling you with an objective eye and avoid making it personal. Have your shields ready! There are going to be times when you need them. Believe me.
Rule #2 - Shields down! Hehehe, remember when I told you to put your shields up JUST a few sentences ago? Yeah, well...you're going to need to take them down again! This is step two. The same vulnerability that you needed to tap into in order to create your story...you will need to tap into it again to accept the criticism you receive from readers, and improve as a writer. Again, this takes practice for some people. But there comes a time when we all have to be open to suggestions and try to see our own work through the eyes of the very people that we begged for validation in the first place. Hehehe, it's true! If you're asking for other people's opinion, expecting ONLY good news and nothing less than praise and worship...then you are in for a few harsh wake up calls in the future. And they won't be pretty.
One thing that you DON'T want to do is argue! Never get defensive and try to bully your readers out of their opinion. That is only going to make you look like a jackass. I've been guilty of that myself, and I regret it. I've learned better. If you feel the need to explain something to the reader that you think they didn't understand, then that's fine. Do so calmly and let them know why you made the choices you made. Or clue them in on the fact that you have a master plan in the works, and (without giving spoilers) they'll see the need for your story design in the near future. That's fine. But don't get into a war with your readers over how they truly feel about what you wrote. You won't change their minds and they won't change yours. It's an eternal stalemate before it even begins. Instead, thank them for their feedback, and examine their comments to see if they've made any valid points that could possibly point out weaknesses in your work. Try to look at things from their point of view. You're trying to be the best writer that you can be, right? Well, that means taking responsibility for your own flaws and blind spots...and then working to correct them. Writing a story isn't easy. Step up to the challenge. Your readers won't settle for anything mediocre when they're reading, and we shouldn't either when we're writing.
Rule #3 - DON'T get discouraged! Just because you get a few negative comments on a story, that doesn't mean that it's terrible and beyond redemption, or that you simply don't have the talent to write a story at all. As I've said in the past, the WORST reaction an author can get is 'silence'. If somebody is taking the time to comment and review your story at all, then you are already being given a gift that many writers never get. Even if the reaction is negative, you have captured the attention of a reader who took the time to let you know how they feel about something that you sat down and bravely put out there for public consumption. That's saying a lot. Appreciate that, and be grateful for the interaction. If you allow every negative comment to 'shut you down' in terms of continuing with the story...then you'll never get anything done, nor will you ever reach your full potential. Don't give up, don't put that story on the back burner or write it off as a loss, never going back to finish it. Have faith in your talent! Maybe you have a few stumbles along the way, but that's no reason to abandon the project. If you receive negative reviews on your work, make that an incentive to work even harder, as opposed to letting them beat you down. You had a dream to make your voice heard, and you're making that happen by expressing yourself your way. What's changed? Nothing. Keep writing. If you don't get them with 'this' story...you'll catch them with the next one. What's most important is that we all stay true to the stories that we want to tell. Do that, and we can conquer any criticism that comes our way. Always remember...we're creators. We create. Our job is already DONE before the critics ever get their hands on it. No apologies. K?
Rule #4 - Never be afraid to retrace your steps. Look at your feedback, both positive and negative, and see if there are any similarities in what they are trying to tell you. Whether they say, "AWESOME story! I think the part with the vampire unicorn was a bit weird, but other than that...I LOVED it!" or they say, "I didn't really like it. Sorry. The vampire unicorn thing? WTF was THAT about?"...there's an 'agreement' happening there. Hehehe! Go back and see why both positive and negative comments are stuck on the same problematic elements of the story. What did you do there? Can you see where they're coming from? Are there parts of your story that might need some tweaking or possibly need to be removed from the story altogether? Everything you write isn't going to be perfect. Even if you work hard on editing and revising it a million times in an attempt to do so. The whole point is to have your personal expression translated into words and feelings that someone else can understand and relate to. If that connection is broken, and they're not getting it...then you might want to go back and try to find a more accessible way of getting your message across. It's important that we really LISTEN to what our critics are trying to say to us. And that can really SUCK sometimes! LOL! But don't block them out. Because the worst, most hurtful, comments you'll ever receive might just end up bringing out the best in you. They may leave a few scars along the way, but if you come out better for it...then they're worth it, right?
Rule #5 - Know when to 'cash it' or 'trash it'! When you read criticisms of your work, and you've absorbed what it is what they had to say...you're left with a choice to make. Do I 'cash it'? And take their suggestions to heart in ways where I change up my way of writing and get better at doing what I do? Or do I 'trash it'? Because this person is just nitpicking and being rude without understanding how much time and effort I've put into making this story a reality? We have to know the difference. What you DON'T want to do is cave in every time somebody tells you that they don't like certain elements of your story! You can't please everybody. Don't try.
You will drive yourself CRAZY trying to chase the needs and desires of your audience. STOP it! K? You had a story in your heart that you wanted to write and share with people online. Write that story. You don't HAVE TO accept every suggestion that you get from your critics. Stand up for your choices as an author. Maybe you killed off a beloved character, maybe your story took on a darker tone, maybe you threw a monkey wrench into a previously 'perfect' relationship...wherever your instincts guided you in your writing, GO there! Why not? Just because your audience doesn't agree with your artistic choices, that doesn't mean that you have to change them. It's your story. You can do whatever you want with it. Follow your gut feelings and put out a project that you can truly be proud of...criticism be damned!
Me? I can be really 'wordy' in my stories sometimes. I make a lot of mechanical mistakes, formatting errors, continuity mishaps...I notice them a lot more now than I did when I was first writing my stories for the first time. So I'm still learning and challenging myself to do better with every chapter that I put out. But, despite it all, my goal is to maintain the flow and the emotion of every single story that I release. No excuses. And, while there are people who may not agree with some of the artistic choices that I've made, or the flawed presentation of the stories themselves...I hear your suggestions, but stick to my game plan. I'm stubborn like that. Hehehe! I think every creative mind reading this should be the same. Never let someone with a negative view on what you're written 'hijack' your story. It's YOURS! Own it. Both the good and the 'not so good'. Don't start kneeling down and surrendering to a group of people who think they know how to write the perfect story, and yet, all they do is instruct you on how to do all the hard work while they sit back and judge the end result. No. Stick up for your work. If you believe in it, and you think it truly represents your vision...then don't let anyone take that from you. Because there are people out there that will be overjoyed to read your story told YOUR way! Write for them instead.
So...there we go! As writers and artists, opinions and criticism is going to be a constant part of our lives, and while critics need to have a certain sense of grace and etiquette when approaching us, we need to display a certain sense of grace and etiquette when accepting and dealing with them as well. We can be a part of the problem too, and every critic isn't trying to cause you any embarrassment or emotional damage by letting you know that your writing could use some work. Be grateful for the feedback you get, whether it's cheers or jeers. K?
I hope this helps, you guys! Love you lots! And I'll be back with more soon! Later!
There are two sides to every story. And two sides to the critical review of every story, once it gets released. Hopefully, with a little bit of insight on both sides of the equation, I can help both the critics and the creators deal with their, often vastly opposing, views on what a good story is, and what it isn't.
This week, as the initial approach to a 'two-parter' blog post...we talk about giving and receiving criticism. Two sides of a coin that I don't think most people fully understand each other on these days. Especially on the internet, currently plagued by unprovoked rants and knee-jerk reactions. So I'm going to highlight FIVE points that I think both the critics and the creators need to recognize so we can all have a symbiotic relationship here. One that will ultimately be beneficial to both parties in the long run.
Now, seeing as I am a self-proclaimed author and one of the 'creators' myself, I'm going to use my insufferable bias and start off with the 'giving criticism' part of this article! LOL! Because, for every single person that has ever told an artist of any genre that they can't take criticism and are way too sensitive (I can't *TELL* you how many times I've heard that lame argument over the years), they need to look back at what they actually said to this person to provoke that particular response. Seriously. Some critics have gotten way out of control, and they have not been given the green light to be as hurtful and as brutal as they want to be to a writer, simply because they are viewing the extremely hard work of an individual and feel entitled to something more than what they got. So...with a certain level of grace, let's start with the rules of engagement aimed at the critics...
Rule #1 - Be constructive! For the love of God...have a point. When reviewing an author's work, think about what you didn't like about it, or what you thought could have been done better, and then give them your honest feelings on the matter. Simple, right? Not for some people. Don't just charge in like a wild rhino and send harsh comments like, "Your story sucks!" Not only is that not helpful in any way, but it's just plain rude and unnecessary and it makes you look like a total jackass. STOP IT! Take some time, read and absorb the writing as a whole, and find places where you think the story could use some improvement. What is it about the story that you didn't like? What turned you off? What questions did you have? What are some of the things that you felt were unfinished or needed more exploring. If you're taking the time to comment on somebody else's story, then we (as authors) should assume that you've put some actual thought into your critique, and have something more intelligent to offer than "I hated it, and you're not a competent writer because I didn't like it." Well...why? Explain in detail. If you can't make any valuable suggestions and articulate your distaste for said story...then you're not a critic. You're a 'heckler'. That's not the same thing. Also, along with the critique, feel free to mention what you liked about the story. You're taking the time to write a comment, right? Something about the story must have grabbed your attention and inspired you to review it. Make that a 3-dimensional part of your comment. "I liked the beginning, but I wasn't so crazy about how it ended." Then provide examples. While negative reviews might be hard to hear, this is the very purpose of feedback. "What did I do right? What did I do wrong?" Take some time and express yourself in your comments. It helps more than it hurts.
Rule #2 - The words you use? They matter. I'm sure that we all recognize the usage of words and the tone of voice in everyday conversation, even online. Not just as writers, but as human beings in general. Sometimes, there are language barriers that occur, worldwide, but try to be aware of what you're saying and how you're saying it, if possible. Use TACT when talking about the work of an individual who has just poured their entire heart and soul into a project that was meant to entertain you. NOT to ruin your day, or to frustrate you to the point of throwing a mini tantrum, simply because you don't like what you see. When reading a story that you think has a few flaws in it, feel free to be honest and let the writer know what might have confused you, or what might have been inconsistent from one chapter to the next, or if someone was acting out of character. These are criticisms that can actually help an author realize his or her mistakes and get better at their craft. But, please take a moment to calm down. The theatrics aren't necessary to get your point across. Why are you so angry? It's not an author's job to write 'your' story. It's an author's job to write their own story, and then share it with you. That's it. If you refer to an author's plots and their stories and their characters as...'stupid', 'annoying', 'weak', 'frustrating', 'cliche', 'contrived', 'bullshit', 'ugly', or any one of a thousand other negative descriptions that you would NEVER want to hear about yourself if you overheard other people talking about you, personally...then expect a backlash. Why would you do that? Every artist bleeds openly on the screen and reveals who they truly are in their writing, whether they know it or not. So when you make those nasty comments and use the 'just being honest' shield as an excuse, I think that's a cowardly way to express yourself. You can be honest and direct without being an asshole. Take it EASY, for Christ's sake. It's a fictional online story. Never forget that there is an actual person bearing the brunt of the humiliating rant that you're putting out in public for the whole world to see. Maybe you get off on hurting people for no reason. I do not.
Rule #3 - If you decide that you want to stop reading a story? If you decide to leave? Leave SILENTLY! Please, pay attention, because this is something that needs to be addressed. I'm SO sick of it, and I'm sure a lot of authors can agree with me on this one, even if there's a large group of readers out there who can't see it for themselves. If a story that you're reading isn't going the way you planned...if you feel the writing has gone downhill, or the plot is entering territory that you don't want to jump into...if you think the updates are too scarce or that certain story elements just aren't your thing...you may decide to stop reading. You might want to leave and find another writer that is more to your liking. And that is totally ok with me and with the authors that you've supported in the past. But...if you decide that their story is no longer an enjoyable read for you and you want to move on...then, just move on. Go away. Leave. It's alright. Just click on something else. No harm, no foul. Follow whatever story makes you happy.
Some people act as if they can't do that.
If you actually take the time to sit down and type out an angry email or post a nasty comment to specifically tell an author that you will no longer be reading their work because it's not what YOU want to read? Yes! I, personally, find that to be extremely rude, and you should stop thinking so much of yourself. Just leave. Why are you making an announcement about it? Why the big production? A reader that does this usually has one of three major motivations. One...they're trying to deliberately hurt the feelings of the author writing the story, and is just being cruel for the sake of feeling important. Two...they're hoping other people will see it and agree and feel empowered by damaging your story and your reputation as a whole. Or three...it's an empty threat that was made to emotionally manipulate you into writing everything their way instead of bringing your own personal genius to the written word the way that you intended from the very beginning. Neither one of these scenarios will make you look like anything other than a narcissist and a bully...so don't do it. There is content on the internet that you see every single day that you don't like, and you don't care for...but you don't feel the need to make some grandiose comment about every single one of them, do you? Why do it for THIS particular author? Why are you suddenly a 'warrior' for content that you don't agree with or enjoy? If you really care about the stories you read, and the authors that created them for your entertainment, then show your support for their hard work, and offer constructive criticism whenever you feel they give you less than 100% of their true effort. Don't INSULT them! And don't think that your departure from their readership is going to have some major impact on their fanbase that it didn't earn and doesn't deserve. That's your ego talking, and nobody asked you to walk away. There's the door. Exit of your own free will. We don't need to hear about it. Chances are, you never gave us any real love or support to begin with. No feedback at all. No comments. No emails. No word of mouth promotion. Nothing. So if your 'first' email to me is, "I'm not reading your stories any more!" My first reaction is probably going to be, "I didn't know you were reading my stories in the first place. Who are you, again???" What have I lost? Honestly.
Just stop reading. It's ok if you don't like a certain story. Nobody is faulting you for that. But it is an act of cruelty to go out of your way to shame an author just because a story isn't what you wanted it to be. Or because it takes too long to update. Or because the characters don't follow your idea of how they 'should' act and react to what's going on. I stand up for any author that has had to hear comments like these, and will continue to do so for as long as I'm alive. This isn't easy, writing and exposing your true feelings for a judgmental audience. Please, remember that. If any of you want a story done your way...then YOU write it. That's what I did in the beginning. Now you're reading writing tips from ME! Hehehe, and I'm a complete idiot. Trust me! So what does that tell you?
Rule #4 - Know your biases! One of the elements that is most endearing about well-written stories like the ones on GayAuthors, is the fact that we can all put ourselves into the stories and identify with the main characters and relate to the situations being put on display. We can reminisce over what it was like to be in that same position, to get that first kiss, or to experience those nervous jitters, or re-live that first time walking into a gay bar. The best stories take us back to moments when everything was so exciting and sweet...and we tend to personalize those moments and make them our own. I do it all the time. However, again...it's important to remember that it is NOT an author's job to write your life story. Writer's don't know you, personally. They weren't hired or contracted to build your fantasy and base it solely on your personality. Maybe you shared a similar experience, and that grips your heart and makes the reading all the more enjoyable, but don't burden the writers you love with the task of writing your personal fiction. Please don't. They are telling things from their perspective, and delivering a message that they understand as an individual. It's their story. So if the storytelling deviates from 'what would *I* do in this situation?' that doesn't mean that the story is unrealistic or wrong or lacking. I know that it's natural to connect with a story or a character and really WANT to take control and have your own personal motivations, ideas, and desires, take over and guide the story in a certain direction. I get that. It's flattering. But if you're giving serious criticism on a story or a character or a certain plot point...you have to make an effort to understand and recognize your own biases in your perspective sometimes. You need a slight disconnect. It's essential in how your comments are conveyed by other people.
I think "Billy Chase" is the one story where I've had the most trouble with this issue. And while I am HONORED that readers invest so much love and effort and can relate to what's going on...I have spent years trying to defend the poor kid and reminding people that it's JUST a fictional character and that the plot points and story arcs that I make are done for the sake of conflict and drama. It's IMPOSSIBLE to please every reader that comes across that story, and I understand that. But people that I've talked to in my emails have severe biases that factor in to how they view the series. And sometimes it's just not fair to fault the story itself for something that is so personal to that specific critic. I have to keep that in mind when I post new chapters, because Billy Chase was me when I was a 15 year old kid in the 90s. Shy, insecure, secretive, HORNY, hehehe! This is MY story, dangit! This is who I was back then. It's the foundation of who I am now. But not everybody grew up the same way I did. Some grew up in an earlier time, some are currently going through high school right now. Some grew up in a major metropolitan city like I did, and some grew up in a small rural area in the Bible belt of America. Our experiences are different. And since I'm the one piloting this plane...you'll just have to ride with me and hope for the best. Readers personalize the "Billy" character and then get frustrated and angry when he does something that they wouldn't do themselves.
Again...that's not fair to us as writers. We're not responsible for rewriting someone else's history. If they are so fired up about it, then they can sit behind a keyboard tell their own story. Don't let that get you down. K? Some people have been cheated on in a relationship, some people have made bad decisions while they were drunk, some people have had issues with drugs, or suffered through physical or sexual abuse, or simply have regrets over not going for the boy of their dreams when they had a chance. All of these things factor in towards how they read your story. It's baggage that some critics bring with them, and you just can't satisfy them all. It's insane to even try. They are triggered by certain situations and get flustered and full of rage, or deeply depressed and full of sorrow, and want to make your writing the culprit for making them feel this way. It isn't. That might be an unsolved issue that they need to take up with their therapist. That's not your fault. You're a writer. Take care of your own issues while you're writing. If you have something to say, then say it. And if critics disagree? So be it. You expressed yourself with honesty and integrity. So, by the time they read it, you've already done your job as an author. Be proud.
Rule #5 - Don't automatically expect an author to submit to your suggestions or demands just because you make them. I will admit, I have gotten plenty of emails with really GOOD ideas for stories, or for continuations of my own stories, and I was like, "WHOAH!!! That's a damn good idea! I wish I had thought of that!" Hehehe! Because there are a lot of fans and loyal readers that come up with concepts that never even crossed my mind. As writers, some of you guys might even incorporate some of these ideas into your story as time goes along. But don't feel pressured into using every idea that is sent to you. Like I said, you can't please everybody. Don't try. To you creative critics out there, we LOVE to hear your ideas, and I'd never discourage any of you from sending them in to your favorite author. But don't think that just because you hit the 'send' button and your idea is awesome, that an author is going to suddenly shut down their original game plan and follow your new path towards an ending that you're not even aware of yet. That's not how writing works.
See...some folks have an idea for a 'scene' or two. Something exciting and provocative and 'wouldn't it be cool if?' scenarios. But, when writing a story, those great ideas need a build up. They have an impact, and consequences, and have to fit into the rest of the plot . I can't speak for all writers, but I, personally, have a master plan in mind from the very beginning. And most times, other ideas, no matter how awesome they may be...don't fit. I'm thinking of my story as a whole, and I only make changes when they fit the narrative. For folks reading the story, they might think ahead and, again...think 'wouldn't it be cool if'? But those ideas only fit a scene or two, and then it skews from my timeline and leads to an ending of their design, not mine. Which defeats the whole purpose of me writing a story of my own in the first place. But who knows? If you think you've got a great idea for your author's project, maybe you'll inspire something great within them. But, if your ideas are far removed from what the author is trying to say or the message that they're trying to convey? It might not happen. If it's a fully fleshed out idea that you think would make for a great story...then take a shot and write it yourself. Don't say that you can't do that, because you already came up with the idea. That's one third of the battle already done. Maybe even HALF! Writing is very personal to most people. It is for me. I need to be connected to every part of it. Every word, every sentence, every phrase and metaphor. So, I may think your idea is fantastic and should be made into a story...it might not fit into my current expression. The story ideas were finished long before you guys got to read them.
So those are my five rules for critics that are reviewing and leaving comments on stories. I know that there are a lot of critics really don't mean to be cruel, but honesty doesn't mean brutality. If you think something is terrible, then the writer is going to assume that you know why it was terrible. So let them know your true feelings about it. Write your reviews as if you were talking to them face to face, instead of from behind the anonymous protection of a laptop screen. A true critic gives both positive and negative feedback if necessary, and concentrates on the writing itself without making it personal. Word choice is important, and you might be striking at a very sensitive nerve when you attack a story. So be civil. Have some class. And with a little coaching and true support...the writers you love will get better and better with every chapter or story they put out. That's what you want, isn't it? Give some encouragement when you can. It'll only make things more amazing in the future.
Alright! This ends 'Part 1' of this blog post! I hope it resonates with you all and will help out in the future. Don't worry, writers! It's our turn next! Hehehe, and we've got five rules of our own that we need to think about when it comes to criticism! So don't get too comfortable yet. See you next week!
You've written a story, you've gotten from point A to point B, and you made sure to wrap everything up, nice and tidy...but it's just not ready yet. Right? You want it to be your best work.
So you go back and edit it so that it'll seem like a much better, more professional, well-written story. You take a little more time with it, but even then, it doesn't seem quite right. So you go back again, and try to 'fix' everything that you think is wrong with it. You finish up...and it's OK...but...SHIT! Just before you go to bed, you toss and turn because you're thinking of a few more things that you want to say, and maybe a line of dialogue that you wanted to add to the third act. So you dive right back in and try to alter your project even more. You rephrase a couple of thoughts, add a little 'here', subtract a little 'there', and you wear yourself out trying to reach perfection. This is a natural, but often self-destructive way of handling your own writing in the long run. I know that sounds weird, but I've learned that this is a practice that needs to be recognized and avoided at all costs. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to art. K? If anything, it is the collection of imperfections that will ultimately set you apart from everyone else who is pursuing the same audience that you are trying to impress. There is such a thing as 'overworking' a story, and in your valiant attempt to improve on your original ideas, you can actually end up doing more harm than good if you're not careful!
So...this week's blog is all about leaving well enough alone and not letting your scrutinizing eye eat away at your story, taking the feeling and emotion out of what you're trying to say. This week, we talk about 'overworking' a story.
Now, I can only speak for myself when I say that my writing is most potent when I am in the moment. While I have an idea and a game plan and an outline fixed in my head...the writing itself is very spontaneous in nature. Those thoughts and emotions come through me and get translated into words as I channel my muse as best as I can. There are times when my typing fingers can't keep up with what's going on in my mind and in my heart. It can be a rush, to just zone out and have a story evolve and blossom right in front of my very eyes. Then, once the story or that chapter is done, I take a short break from it to make sure that I can look at it with an objective eye, where I'm not still all buzzed and excited over what I just created. Naturally, there are going to be mistakes. Spelling and mechanical errors, dialogue mishaps, and a few things that could be delivered in a better way. So I go back to the beginning and try to give it that good old-fashioned Comsie polish so it's a smooth and enjoyable read for anybody who happens to stumble across it online. However...I have my worries and insecurities just like any other writer, and there exists this temptation to keep thinking about the story long after it's finished. As well as the need to jump back into it so I can fix it. One of the main reasons that I edit all of my own stories is because I would hate to drive an editor into a friggin' ASYLUM with the tiny tweaks and twitches that I'm constantly putting into my stories at the last minute. Hehehe, that just wouldn't be a fair fight for any human being who would try to figure out why some of these things needed changing at all. I still try to add little touches of 'last-minute magic' before posting a new story, but I had to train myself to stop agonizing over the tiny micro details of every chapter the way that I used to. It's not easy, but I feel it's necessary.
You see...when you keep going back to your story, changing this and that, trying to correct issues that weren't really issues to begin with...you begin to work against the spontaneity of your own muse. That gut instinct that was pulling you along and guiding you to speak your truth and express your honest feelings? It can get lost if you become obsessed with bending and warping the natural flow of what you were trying to say in the first place. I've seen really heartfelt stories turn into something slightly 'wooden' and less appealing, simply because the original version was overworked in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience. Sometimes, the search for perfection can drain the 'life' out of a project. That's never a good thing.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't strive to be at your very best at all times. Of course you should. But, at the same time, you have to develop some level of faith in your own instincts. That energy and that passion that you put into those phrases and metaphors and emotionally engaging moments is the very essence of a great story. It's raw and it's real and it says something about who you are and where your heart lies when talking about the situation at hand. Don't lose that. Think about some of the best moments in your real life. Take a second and think about those times when you fell head over heels in love, when you laughed until your belly hurt, or when you were totally surprised by a bit of good fortune. Did you plan for those moments? Or did they just sort of happen? Life is really a matter of 'winging it' from one moment to another, and having that same feeling expressed in your stories is only going to make it more relatable to everyone reading it. By going back and putting an extra gloss on every situation and word of dialogue can sometimes make it seem fake and unrealistic. That spur of the moment genius that you had while writing gets pushed aside for robotic corrections and stilted conversations. It can become a disconnect between you and your readers.
If you think your readers can't recognize a labored scene in a story, you'd be wrong. They can often tell right away. And that's not your best work, is it?
I, personally, think that there has to be a time when you let your work speak for itself. Leave it alone. In a way, I imagine it would be like raising a child. You want to give your story a good foundation and bring it to a point where you can be proud of what it can accomplish...but at some point you have to let go and let it breathe on its own. You won't lose any love for it, hehehe, promise. Go back, touch your story up in a few places if needed, and then let your heart take control and give your brain a rest. STOP thinking about it! Hit the send button and anxiously wait for the reaction. Your audience might surprise you. Remember, we can all be our own worst critics sometimes, and the mistakes that you think are so unforgivable when you're reading your own work...most readers don't catch the at all. They're too busy enjoying what it is you have to say.
I've reached a point now where I barely even remember half of the stuff I write. Hehehe, it's true! Sometimes, somebody will quote something from one of my stories and I'll be like, "Wait! I wrote that? That sounds pretty cool. THANKS!" LOL! Sad, but true. But, like I said, that's because I write 'in the moment' and don't look back when I'm done. I would much rather have the passion take center stage. Don't be a 'George Lucas' and keep going back trying to fix "Star Wars"! "Star Wars" is fine just like it is. The extras aren't necessary, and they begin to intrude on the simplicity and innocence of the original work. Spill your heart out, make one or two edits for content and mistakes...and then leave it alone! Too much is too much. Less is more. And whatever cliché you want to attach to the same idea. Have some faith in your talent and let your story say what it needs to say. Allow your natural instincts shine without being hindered by afterthoughts and insecurities. K?
The more love you have for your own stories, the more that love will be transmitted to the people watching. It's like the difference between hearing an artist or band on a marketable CD, and seeing them live in concert. The concert is an entirely different experience. Feel good about your initial gut feelings, and bring them to your audience without giving them that 'perfection' handicap. I think they'll appreciate it.
I hope this helps you guys gain some trust in your muses, wherever they may be. And I'll be back soon with more!
Now, if you'll excuse me...I'm going to go back over this entire article and scrutinize every last word and detail to see if it's ok for posting! LOL! What??? It needs 'fixing', dammit! I'm insecure. So sue me...
Who is this person? And that person? Who are the characters populating this fictional world that I'm reading about? What do they look like, what are their personalities, and why should I care?
These are all questions that need to be asked and answered with every new story that you put out, as you are trying to paint a vivid picture with the words you type on the screen. No matter how clear the vision of your main characters and love interests may be in your head, you have to keep in mind the fact that your readers only have your descriptions to go on when it comes to visualizing the people they're reading about. If you're looking to set the stage for your written experience, then you're going to want to give your readers a series of images to adhere to. Someone that they can picture walking, talking, and acting, in your little movie of the mind. So, this week, we're talking about character descriptions. Their importance, their effect on readers, and how to effectively translate the actors in your story to an eager audience.
Let's get into it!
Whenever I read a story for the first time, I mentally try to set the scene and imagine the characters to the best of my ability. If you mention that someone has amazing blue eyes, I put that in the back of my mind and picture someone with amazingly blue eyes. If you mention that they're an older man with a 5 o'clock shadow, then I picture that. If you mention a certain hair style, like a Mohawk or an emo fringe or a buzzcut...then I keep that with me. This works to further connect me to the story that I'm reading. Many of your readers are doing the same thing. They want to breathe life into the characters that they're meeting for the first time. I always think about a story as a cooperative experience between writer and reader. You are both creating the dream at the same time. You set the bare bones, and they fill in the details. This can make for a really engrossing read and can make your story more realistic and enjoyable through the sheer involvement of your audience in its creation. I can break this process down into three rules that have helped me out in the past.
'Suggest'. Don't control. If you are giving a physical description of the characters in your story...leave your readers some room to create their own vision of what they look like. Always remember the eye of the beholder when it comes to beauty. Usually, when I give details on a character, they're very basic. Eye color, hair color, general build, skin color or ethnicity, approximate age, style of dress...etc. Sometimes, if I have something or someone in mind specifically, I'll add a few extra details that I think will complete the exact look that I'm going for. But, I feel that it's important to let your audience define their own vision of beauty. I'm willing to bet if I asked them what some of my characters look like in their mind's eye...no two visions would be alike. That's a GOOD thing! Allow them to fall in love with characters that they, personally, find super attractive. Let them attach the physical attributes of the ultimate love interest to something or someone that they hold close to their heart. It makes for a more immersive experience while reading.
Only add descriptions that are necessary. As a personal rule, I never add certain details unless they're a part of the character himself or herself. If they fit into the scale of what is considered 'average', then I feel like those descriptions are readily assumed, and therefore not needed. But...if one of those details is a defining part of the character themselves, then I might make mention of it. As an example...if a character is your average 5' 7" tall, give or take...I won't make that a part of the story. However, if the character is extra tall? Then that is a trait that gives the character a unique 'extra' that should be a part of what's going on. This goes for other details that need to be known if it affects how that character is seen or how they act. If their overweight, or emaciated, or rippling with muscles, or very short for their age. If they have a disability or a visible scar...if they have freckles, or braces, or wear glasses...these are all things that might not be assumed by your readers unless you tell them directly that this is what they look like. So, unless their appearance includes features that are somewhat unique to them...leave them out. You don't have to mention height, weight, or anything of that sort if they're average or not a departure from your typical protagonist's appearance.
Let the character speak for themselves, it will show the reader who they are through their actions. Basically, this means that you don't have to 'tell' your readers who this character is through exposition or by using stereotypes to define who they are in relation to the rest of your story. When I started writing these stories, I felt the need to mention that the main character was gay. But that wasn't necessary. The main character is a boy, and he finds another boy attractive. That already explains the 'gay' issue without me having to announce it. That's a bit of fat that can be trimmed off of the story when I'm putting it together. I have written stories with characters who were blind, or deaf, or transgendered, and those details were needed to set up that particular character and initiate the kind of interactions that they were going to have with other characters in the story. But if I can describe them and their differences without actually saying it out loud...then it will work much better in the long run. This goes back to my article on 'show, don't tell'. Sometimes your characters can provide all the details needed through their actions and deeds, without the desperate need for you to spell it out for your audience. They'll get it. Just write the character with those traits in mind, and people will make their own assumptions along the way. Some details are self explanatory when it comes to the flow and direction of the narrative. So let it stand on it's own. K?
So, keep those three rules in mind, and you can create a character that you love and want to present to your audience, while simultaneously giving your readers an opportunity to personalize their own visions of beauty and attraction by filling in the details of the characters you've given them to work with. Everybody has an idea of the most beautiful person in the world! Let them make that the love interest in your story, and they'll follow you, chapter to chapter, until the very end. Participation in the creation of a good story is key to making it work. There's a give and take between reader and writer. Never forget that.
I hope this helps you guys get an even deeper understanding of your audience, and vice versa. Good luck to you all! And I'll talk to ya some more next weekend!