Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Writing Images

This weeks assignments revolved around images.  The phrase that keeps being said is, "show, don't tell."  As cliche as that might be, it is actually a really good way at looking at it.  Simply put, show how the picture is moving, don't tell, or summarize, what is happening.  The gives your images a feeling of motion whereas a summary is just a static picture.  Here is an analogy.  A static image, a.k.a summary, is like a family photo.  It's nice, people look good, but you aren't going to spend the day picking out details.  A picture of a football player diving for a one handed catch with his toes just inside the goal line is the equivalent to "showing" an image.  It isn't easy to do, without some practice, but it is very important if you want to be a good writer.

So, one of the in class exercises we did was to go up the hall, look at the student art that was on display, and then write a poem on it.  We had 30 minutes.  There was some good art, some ok art, and then some really weird art (I actually saw a sculpture of a giant set of teeth...it was weird...nothing else, just teeth.  One of them was gold).  Anyway, I kept getting snagged by this charcoal picture of this girls face.  The only color were her green eyes.  They were almost a turquoise.  I've seen a lot of photos done like this (with photoshop).  The affect, if done right, is very dramatic.  Anyway, I wrote the poem.  After we wrote it, he then made us condense it into a Haiku-esque form.  Haiku being a very loose translation of what we did.  Anyway, here is the poem (unedited) and the two "Haikus" that I wrote.

Your eyes,
they capture me
and tear me asunder.
You watch,
but it is not me
that your vacant eyes follow.
Someone else
that is speared by your gaze.
I beg them to see me,
to burn me with their beauty.
Yet I stand here,
--cold and alone.

Eyes Haiku 1
Vacant eyes
A far-away stare
Leaves me wanting

Eyes Haiku 2
Laughing eyes
They watch another
I am invisible

So, there you have it.  The rest of class involved something called "story cubes".  Essentially, they are a set of dice that have pictures on them.  You roll several of them and then construct a story using those images.  If you get an image more than once, you have to use it more than once.  You also have to pick one of the images and have it as your title, which of course, the story cannot be about.  I'll spare you the gory details of how horrendous my cube story was.  When you have 2 aliens, 2 houses, a lightning bolt, a question mark, a speech bubble, a cellphone, a key, and a shooting star, you are not going to have literary genius.  To make matters worse, we had to roll the dice once more, pick an image, and change the whole context of the story.  I rolled a die, a pyramid, and a book.  Yeah, it was as bad as you are probably imagining.  It was fun, but very hard to do on the spur of the moment.  I think I will have to get a set and start practicing.

Till next time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Writing with Energy

Since I just sent my blog link to my professor, I will start by saying how much I really really really enjoy my creative writing class. Notice I said this with a straight face and without a hint of sarcasm. If you know me personally, you'll realize what an accomplishment that was.

Seriously, it is a fun class. I'm learning a lot. The textbook is really interesting to read.  It is also fascinating to sit and listen to other people talk about what you have written. It was hard not to say anything. Not because I disagreed with what they were saying, but rather, I wanted to join into fun of the discussion. As a novice writer, this kind of feedback is really helpful.

Anyway, one of the assignments we had was to write a 250 word short story that involved a minimum of two characters in a conflict situation. So here is the story. I've removed the last sentence as per a suggestion from my professor...I'll tell you what it is afterwards so you can see what I mean. The only "negative" comment was that the way I ended the story meant that there was no more. I admit, it was a fairly final ending. Mostly, I was trying to hit the 250 word mark and I'll be honest, I like an ending that hits "below the belt". Happy endings are easy, endings that leave you going "ouch" are harder.

The Stairwell

Sam pulled on Gary's arm, "Come on Gary. The stairs are this way." Gary mumbled a response as he staggered after his friend, his hand pressed to the wound on his head.

Sam gingerly picked his way through the debris field that used to be their office. He could see shapes moving in the flickering gloom. Voices calling out to each other as the survivors searched for friends and coworkers. Sam tried to not look down at the still forms trapped in the rubble. He wanted to stop and help, but he could feel the floor shifting as the remaining supports groaned under the extra weight. There wasn’t enough time.  They had to reach the stairwell. The stairwell was their salvation.

Gary tripped and went down. It wasn’t the first time. Sam struggled to help his friend stand. "Should have cut down on the burritos, Gary," Sam said lamely. Gary said nothing, just leaned against him, panting, eyes unfocused. "Seriously, Alice will kill me if I don't get you out of this. Just a few more steps and we'll be home free."

The shriek of tortured metal filled the air and the floor tilted alarmingly. Survivors screamed in panic as they lost their footing. Voices were cut off abruptly as heavy office furniture shifted. Sam staggered the last few steps and wrenched the door open.

Originally, the very last sentence was "His shout of triumph consumed by the raging fires below." I'll admit, that is a really harsh ending. I wasn't writing it to be anything longer. However, after listening to the discussion of my classmates, I might have to leave out that very depressing ending. That way, I can possibly expand on this story as the semester progresses. We'll see.

Till next time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Perception versus Reality

Had my first writing class today. It was actually really interesting. There were a mixture of people. Despite differences in age, we all shared a common desire. That is, to write. That in itself took some of the pressure off. After a discussion on what the difference was between essay writing, composition, and creative writing, we had to write five things about creative writing and what it means.

Wait. What? Seriously?

Ok. Back up. You want ME to write five things about writing and what I think it means. Um. Yeah. Ok.

So, after a brief moment of panic, I desperately tried come up with something deep and insightful. So, let's see. When we were discussing the differences between the three types of writing, I mentioned that creative writing was the soul as opposed to essays, which were dissection of a body, and compositions were constructing the body. He liked that, so let's try it.

1) Writing expresses the soul

Ok, a little cheesy, but that didn't hurt too bad. On to the next one. Let's see, someone mentioned that creative writing creates an experience. Ok, I can work with that.

2) Writing creates a world for others to experience.

That was a little painful, but I can't think of anything else...um, let's see...oh here's another one.  I think...

3) Allows us to be someone else

Ok, that's a serious "DUH!" That's the whole point! Aarrgh! This is horrible, but I have to come up with two more! It's like pulling teeth! Ok, just two more.  I can do it.

4) Express our deepest feelings

Not as stupid as number three.  But seriously, this sucks. I feel like I'm regurgitating something I learned in English 101...ok, one more and then I can finish.

5) Explore ourselves/the world

Seriously? What the hell is that crap!? I mean, yeah, you can do that, but I sound like a freaking parrot! People are going to hear this and think, "What the hell was he smoking at the last break?" Come on. I can do better than that. Think. Think! It's all crap. Wait a minute. That just might work.

6) It's all crap, but everyone eats it anyway.

Hey. That's different. What does it mean? Hmmm. I might be on to something here

7) You have to say what has to be said.

There you go. That's what I want to say. That felt good.

Number 6 and 7 happened after I read "Thirty-two Statements About Writing Poetry" by Marvin Bell and "Thirty-two Statements about Writing" by Catherynne M. Valente. If you ever get the chance, look them up. They are very interesting. On the one side, you have Bell who is very intellectual in his approach. He sentences are economical and sparse. He says a lot with just a few well-chosen words. On the flip side, you have Valente who uses the phrase, "...joyless husks of once-living flesh, and should be given no more attention than your average lurching zombie".

After reading them and the resulting class discussion, I had an "Aha!" moment (for the lack of a better cliche). What I figured out was that I really want to be like Bell and be the intellectual who can say a lot in just a few words. The reality is that I'm more like Valente. I might still have some deep insights, but I'm going to take my time and enjoy the scenery while I'm at it.

I'm not sure what this means for my writing. I still have genre's that I'm interested in writing and exploring. What I think it means is that I have a lot of perceived notions about how I am supposed to write and that what I am actually supposed to write are two different animals.  Perception versus Reality gets ya every time.

Till next time!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

World Building

No matter what genre of story you are writing, it needs a place to be.  A world.  An environment.  A milieu (I realise that I'm being a little pretentious using that word, but I can't help it). This can be as simple as a small room, to as complex as a galaxy spanning empire.  Irrespective of the style, you still have to put the story somewhere.  A story, unless you are really talented and creative, won't do very well in a formless void.

Some genre's, like historical fiction, already have world pre-made in which they exist.  This doesn't mean there is less work involved than a complete fantasy world, however.  In historical fiction, you need to research the time period you are writing in in order to maintain authenticity.  In a fantasy/sci-fi setting, you may not have to do as much research, but you have to create every aspect of the world(s) you are working in.  Otherwise, you might run into inconsistencies that will really annoy your readers.

If you want an example of inconsistencies in a science fiction setting, pick up a copy of The Nitpicker's Guide for Classic Trekkers by by Phil Farrand.  In it, he breaks down the original series and points out all the inconsistencies in the science and universe of Star Trek.  Of course, this just covers the television series.  One can only imagine what has happened with the book series.  Unless you are working with a group of authors on a massive world, like Star Trek, Star Wars, or the Forgotten Realms, your world is your own.  You won't be able to blame inconsistencies on other writers.

Before you panic and think that you have to spend hours world building, it isn't necessary to create your entire world before you can start writing.  However, it's probably a good idea to have some idea of the environment your characters are going to live in before you start writing.  Some of it you can create as you write, while some you'll have to preset.  Of course, things can change as you write, so don't feel that what you have set at the beginning is set in stone.

'Till next time.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Blank Page

One of my New Year's Resolutions, as mentioned in this post, was to write more.  To accomplish this lofty goal I stated that I would purchase some composition books/journals in order to write down all the stuff that floats around in my head.  It could be random.  It could be notes about a story, or whatever I needed to clear out so that I could focus more on the more formal writing and blogging.  This is what I have done.  I went to Target and purchased two wide-ruled composition books.  I would have preferred college-ruled, but for $0.94 each, I wasn't going to complain.

So, now I have these two notebooks.  I've been carrying one of them with me to work for last couple days on the off chance I need to write something down.  I have yet to write anything.  I keep meaning to, but the thought of staring at a blank piece of paper is intimidating.  I don't seem to have this problem with the computer, though.  For example, this blog entry is flowing quite well and I don't feel any fear what-so-ever.  I guess because if I mess something up, I can just hit the delete key and start over.  I won't have to look at any evidence that I may have made a mistake.  On paper, even if you use a pencil, there will still be some physical evidence that it happened.  Also, writing on paper is more of a physical act than typing on a computer.  Paper has texture and takes up space.  A computer screen is all virtual.  I can minimize this window or even close it all together.  At that point, it doesn't exist.  I don't have to look at it.  Writing by hand also represents a failure to me.

Growing up, I always had difficulty writing by hand.  Some testing I had done in college suggested that I have something called "Dysnomia".  Call it what you will, all I know is that writing in school was a very difficult thing for me.  In class essays were the worst.  While most other students had written a page or two, I was still struggling with the first two paragraphs.  It wasn't that I didn't understand the material, but rather I had a very difficult time physically writing.  Spelling was a huge issue and there were times I would leave out entire words from a sentence.  There were also times where the thought would get so disjointed that it wouldn't even make sense.  Needless to say, it was frustrating.

Given that "failure" (at least in my mind), it is no wonder that the thought of writing by hand in a journal would be scary.  It's hard to shut out those negative voices that say I can't do it.  It doesn't matter that what I'm writing is just bits and pieces.  There should be no pressure to adhere to grammar, spelling, or even the lines on the page.  It's an open book, so to speak.  Tabula Rasa.  A blank page with which I can start anew.  Intellectually, it makes sense.  Unfortunately, emotions are not rational.

I know that I will have to get over this fear if I am to become a successful writer.  Success, in my case, is writing freely and not necessarily becoming a bestselling author.  Don't get me wrong, it would be awesome if that happened, but I won't hold it as a measurement of my success.

Till next time, with fear and loathing in my brain.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Resolutions and Revolutions

Normally people do this before New Years, but I'm not what one would call "normal".  So here goes.  A look back and a look forward.  Out with the old and in with the new.  Add a few more cliches and you have yourself a cliche buffet.

A Look Back
A lot happened last year.  One year ago, I started seriously writing.  Not just writing for the sake of it, but writing for a purpose.  In this case, to get a story published.  To say, "I did it".  To that end, I wrote two children's stories and submitted them.  So far, nothing.  I have revised them and will be submitting them to different publishers soon.

Six months ago, I started blogging.  The purpose? To write.  To get ideas out of my head so that I could focus on writing stories.  It's worked so far.  I've been able to focus a little more when I get the clutter out.  An end result was that I was able to submit a short story, The Forgotten Arch, to Lulu.com's short story competition as part of NaNoWriMo.  Although, I didn't make it into the top 3, I did learn a lot about self-publishing and it was a great experience.  I also ended up with a great start to a larger story.  I've been fiddling around with it in my head (nothing on paper yet) and need to stop wasting time and just write it (self-sabotaging is a problem sometimes!).

A Look Forward
The future is always in flux, but I will make some resolutions.  It will be interesting to look back at the end of the year and see if any of them come to pass.

  1. I am taking a class in a couple weeks on creative writing.  I thoroughly expect to enjoy it as well be challenged by it.  It will last the entire Spring semester and I expect to have several posts on topics related to the class.  I've read most of the textbook and you'll see mention of it in earlier posts.
  2. Write more.  Blog more.  I have a lot of ideas swimming around in my head and I need to stop playing around and get them out.  I really slacked off in December and I paid the price for it mentally.  I plan on getting a journal to help writing bits and pieces as they come to me.  I thought just using a computer would be enough, but I've found that I don't always want to sit down and type.  So, pen and paper will be another outlet.
  3. Submit poetry/prose to more competitions.  There are a couple local competitions coming up that I am wanting to submit work to.  Both of them involve publication in a literary journal.  Even if I don't get anything published, I know it will be a positive experience.
  4. Submit "Sir Grumpsalot" and "Bobby and the Big Split" (both kids stories) to new publishers.  I've revised them, I just need to submit them
  5. Participate in NaNoWriMo (held in November).  This is a big one and will require a serious time commitment on my part.  However, I think it will be really awesome.  In order to participate, I will need to get in the habit of writing regularly.  The goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in 30 days.  That translates into over 1600 words a day.  Definitely need to limber up for that.
Thanks for reading my various postings in 2011.  I hope to see you all continue reading and following my journey.

Till next time