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Epic Emotions, Heroes & Parallels – Writing From The Heart

5 Dec

I have to be honest… I’ve felt a tremendous need for introspection over the past week or so on things that have nothing to do with my writing–probably because I’m going through a lot of changes.  Though, don’t worry, I’ll spare you most of the details.

One thing I do want to say is this: one way some of my most recent experiences are actually related to my writing, however, is that suddenly I feel more connected to my characters–particularly my heroine.

I remember when I was working on the last couple of scenes in Element 7 during my heavy edits, I felt really emotional about them because, in a way, I was going through some of the same things that my MC (main character) was: heart-break, confusion, disappointment…

Those are very potent, less-than-desirable experiences.  Though, perhaps going through these things will only help to make my writing that much more potent.

2012 has been a very dark year for me, actually (and most will never understand just how dark it truly was for me).  And really, it’s only been in the last couple of months that I’ve felt those dark clouds start to roll away.  The future–my future–doesn’t look quite as…well, bleak as it once did before.  I’d lost any sense of purpose in my life, but lately I’ve seemed to find some…

The Drifter, by Jack Vettriano.

The Drifter, by Jack Vettriano.

A Call to Action

I’m sure many writers know that there’s a moment in every epic “Hero’s Journey” story known as the Call to Action (or Adventure).  (This is relevant because Element 7 is, essentially, an nontraditional hero’s journey, folks!)  Typically, this Call occurs closer to the beginning of a story, but…I’m working on a trilogy, and I think my novel actually has two Calls to Action–one near the beginning, and one right at the end.

Why?

Well, there’s got to be something to look forward to in the sequel…right?  (‘Course, gotta leave readers hanging a bit, as well. ;))

Anyway, the reason I’m even bringing this up is because right now I feel like I am facing my own Call to Action (with starting my own interior design business and whatnot)…and, to be honest, it’s a pretty darn scary place to be.  If I chicken out, then I won’t have a “story” to live out and tell to others; if I answer the call…

…Well, I’ll kinda have to change.

Fact is I can’t continue to be the person I currently am if I want to get to where I want to go in life.  I have to move even more out of my comfort zone than I’ve been doing lately.

Baby steps are great, for a while, but sometimes you just have to take a huge freakin’ leap if you want to get to The Next Level.

You know what I’m sayin’?

Personal (Ironic) Parallels Between Fiction & Reality

So when I first started formulating the basic ideas behind Element 7, I was 19.

I’m 24 now.  (Yes, that means it’s been over 5 years since I started working on this thing!)

Ironically, my main character, Voi, is also 24, so I’m just now catching up to her, lol.  Also, ironically, Voi once made the decision to run her own business at a young age.  She’s a bit ahead of me, in some ways, and lately I haven’t just been looking at her as a hero so much as my hero.

Yes, that’s right–I actually look up to a fictional character.

You see, Voi is a lot more outgoing than I am.  She’s not afraid to do something crazy–like drop out of college to pursue her love of flight and become a stunt flyer then later an entrepreneur.  She’s not afraid to make mistakes–or rather, she doesn’t let fear stop her from making them.  Also, she’s a bit of a pioneer.

Most entrepreneurs are, methinks.

The point is I kinda admire that about her, and it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to relate to her so utterly directly.

It’s kinda neat.

So, as I sit here churning out my last edits before beta reading, I feel that I’m at a special point in my life where I can stop writing/editing from the notes and outdated plans and whatnot and just simply write from the heart.

Hmm…yeah, so no prompt this time!

Like I said, I’ve kind of been in an introspective mood, so I don’t really have a prompt for you readers like I usually do at the end, heh.  However, if you have any comments, do feel free to share! 😀

Tone & Emotion

2 Nov

Last week I’d intended on rushing enthusiastically into the second half of my edits, and then I realized, after staring at the same section for way too long, that this just wasn’t gonna happen.  My brain, apparently, didn’t want to be an editor; it wanted a different kind of stimulation.  So despite my intentions, I took a week-ish break from actively editing the story and just thought about some things.

I kind of feel like I need to do this at least for every 50K words or so that I go through because that’s a lot to focus on continuously when you’re making changes beyond line edits.  Stepping back every so often to see the big picture helps to keep things in perspective.

So as I was looking back at the changes I’d made so far, I noticed something about the tone I’ve been using: at the beginning I tried to keep things very light and whimsical, but then by the halfway point it’d become considerably more matter-of-fact and blunt.  (And I think I didn’t notice this until now because it happened so gradually.)  Suddenly things are really serious–a fact which has made it increasingly more difficult for me to edit and rewrite certain areas.

Tone & Emotion

I don’t really like to write serious stuff; deep down I prefer to be silly, to be honest, so if I’m required to write something serious it takes more effort than writing something that is more lighthearted.  Emotionally, it takes a toll on me because I strongly empathize with everything I put my characters through.  (I imagine this isn’t too uncommon with writers, though.  Especially women.  I was reading one author’s blog one day and she talked a bit about how sometimes she needs a break from writing from a certain character’s perspective; she finds it depressing, just due to the nature of the character.  So she’s now experimenting more with changing POVs.)

I wasn’t sure why this happened at first, the change in tone, but then I thought more about it and realized it’s actually a reflection of what’s happening in the story, of what the protagonist is going through: the story’s tone matches the reshaping of her worldview.  For some reason I was kind of disturbed by this realization, actually.  I mean, do I want to have her views influenced, and in what way?  (I’m sounding like an overprotective mother or something now.)  This can’t really be helped, of course, ’cause people’s views are influenced all the time when they step beyond what they know, but I can control how the protagonist reacts to those influences.

In any case, this is really making me consider my ending again to ensure it gives off the right message for the established story and character progression.  I recall fellow blogger and writer Mark Andrew Edwards musing about something similar not long ago, on consciously thinking about the messages being communicated in one’s story.  (I don’t necessarily think a story’s ending has to be uplifting and entirely likable, but it should be intentional–or rather unexpected yet inevitable, as they say.)

Ultimately, this project has not just been a huge learning experience but also a meditative one.  Writing stories isn’t just about putting words on the page and getting ideas across to readers; it’s also about engaging them–mentally and, even, emotionally.  Personally I feel I get more out of storytelling experiences when they accomplish all of these things, and sometimes I feel gypped when they don’t.  Though, it really depends on the kind of story, as well.  For most adult literature, however, those are my expectations, so I hope to meet them with this project in the end.

Do you find it easier to write in certain kinds of tones more than others?

If so, which ones, and why?

Setting Reflects Character Reflects Setting (Part II)

14 Sep

Late post today!

So last week I left off with the question: how can the words you choose to describe your characters and their surroundings work to your advantage so that the setting becomes not just a prop but a tool for complementing, amplifying or providing contrast to your characters?

Then I started writing an answer and it got really long (happens sometimes)…and I’m like, “Screw this.  Let’s keep things short.”

-er.

So here’s the short answer:

Draw From Elements of Setting to Demonstrate Aspects of Character

That’s basically what it comes down to.

Now for the explanation.

Imagine there’s this character…

…a young woman.  She’s having a moment of calm but it could be ruined at any moment because she’s avoiding some task that needs to be done but refuses to do it because it only confirms some truth she doesn’t want to acknowledge.  The reason she’s focusing on being calm is not only to avoid this thing but also because she believes she’s in a hopeless situation that’s only getting worse, and she’s doing her best to ignore this and wants to believe there is some hope left for her.  Even if she’s not sure how this is possible yet.

So we have a set up.  Vague as it might be.  (Feel free to fill in the particulars with your imagination.)

We also already have some strong emotions and states of mind we can play off of: calmness, peace, fear, guilt, denial, hopelessness, maybe even some paranoia.  In order to contribute to the overall mood of this situation, then, it would make sense (to me, anyway) to choose words and focus on things that inherently evoke or hint at these emotions, even when it comes down to painting the picture of the setting.

Maybe our protagonist finds gentle breezes to be soothing.  Maybe she equates being still with being at peace, so she isn’t really doing anything at the moment except for sitting in her kitchen, at a table perhaps, and listening to the curtains rustle in the wind at an open window.

Introducing the emotional elements through the setting can help the reader feel the quality of calmness and serenity that the protagonist longs to experience herself.

So let’s say now she closes her eyes, enjoying the moment…

But things are too laid-back now.  We need some contrast here.

To bring in the guilt, our protagonist needs to be reminded of what she’s been putting off, so maybe she becomes aware of a clock ticking off in the distance now.  The notion of time is unwantedly drilled into her mind, reminding her of that-thing-left-to-do and making her paranoid.  Yet she denies this by picking up the newspaper, perhaps, focusing on it instead.  Though, even this holds reminders of hopelessness: stories of the unfortunate and tragic accidents.  Lurid, sensational news.

She tosses the paper aside, frustrated.

Again, she listens to the clock and is paralyzed by its incessant, unchanging rhythm.

Eventually she’s able to fix her gaze onto some tulips sitting in a vase upon the table, just beginning to bloom.  They remind her of pleasant, happy things.  A symbol of new life and new beginnings…something she may never have.

Then someone pounds on the front door, giving her a start.  Her body tenses because suddenly she realizes it’s too late to do the thing she’s been avoiding, and now she could definitely be in trouble for it.

~

Obviously the protagonist has got to face the thing she’s avoiding sometime.  Though, by providing atmospheric context that supports the character’s situation, you can make connections between character and setting in a way that builds tension and enhances the moment, leading up to the point where a dramatic shift takes place.

Not always ideal for handling every situation in a story, but it’s one way of doing things.  I’m sure there are plenty of other methods.

What are some of the ways you connect characters with settings in your stories?

Writing an Experience

2 Mar

>

Sorry I’m posting this one so late.  My internet has been all wonked out for half the day, making me run around like a headless chicken, but it’s all good now.  We’re back in business.  (Though, technically, I did still post this on Wednesday. ;))

*     *     *
You know, I just kind of realized a couple of days ago that the folks over at Night Bazaar are actually posting on the very topic I planned on covering this week: Setting & Worldbuilding.  (They even announced it like a week or two in advance on their sidebar.)

I totally forgot about this.  I was gonna put up a picture of the local mountain here and everything, telling you about how it inspired me and whatnot.  But it looks like Courtney Schafer beat me to the chase.

Ha!

All right, well I don’t wanna look like a copy cat (and an amateur one at that), so I’ll wait ’til next week to do it.  I don’t think it really matters, though.  Still, I find it amusing.

Why I Love Worldbuilding (or creating make-believe places to escape to)

Okay, so ever since I was a little kid I was creating things from scratch: paper dolls and magical creatures coordinated to accompany board games I made up; piano and Noteworthy compositions; elaborate Barbie fashion shows complete with pre-show news broadcasts, galloping horses and half-time entertainment… No, I’m serious.  (I’ve got a video of it, but haven’t figured out how to convert it from the cassette to a computer format yet, dangit.  Maybe I’ll post it when I figure it out, heh.)

I mean, this was THE event girls in my neighborhood looked forward to each year.  (I only did it twice, but trust me, everyone was excited about it–including my parents.)  Everyone got involved.  It wasn’t just a show; it was an experience.

I guess you could say I was a kid that really, really loved to exercise her creativity.  I still do; I’m majoring in interior design, for one, and am writing a novel.  Both of those things take major creativity to pull off.

If I had all the brains, money and time in the world I would equally pursue music composition, interior design and novel-writing.  But life currently demands I stick to interior design and finish the one novel for the time being, so I digress.

Okay, so…what do interior design, music and Barbie, for heaven’s sake, have to do with writing a novel?

A lot, actually, if you’d care for me to explain.

With interior design, the goal is to present a client with a solution to whatever issues they are having with an existing space, or to present solutions for a yet-to-be-constructed interior.  The “solution” must serve the client’s functional, health, safety and aesthetic needs.

That is no small feat.  (People generally think that interior design just means making things look pretty, but trained, certified designers actually have to know how to implement building codes, among others, into their projects as well as how to present their ideas clearly via floor, electrical, reflected ceiling etc. plans using either hand or computer-aided drafting (CAD); hand drawings/sketches; materials boards; and/or computer software for presenting documents and 3D imagery.  The methods used are dependent upon the project and client types.

One of my instructors–an architect, actually–would go so far as to say that the interior designer has to become a psychologist of sorts; not only do many people not know what they want, but they can sometimes bring some…unwanted emotional baggage to the table that the designer would much rather not deal with.  The designer, then, must diplomatically sort through all the vagueness and extra stuff, figure out what people really want, and then exceed their wildest expectations.

Oy.  I think I’ll try a martini for the first time now.)

/unnecessary digression.

Ultimately, the interior designer is the visionary that coordinates an interior space that will shape the user’s overall experience while using that space.

The same can be said for a music composer; they create soundscapes that immerse the listener into an audible experience.  (Starting to see a pattern here?)

Even Barbie can be used to create a memorable experience.  (You’ll have to trust me on this one. ;))

They Say You Should Write What You Know

I see this advice out there a lot, but frankly, I feel like I don’t know that much.

I’m 22.  Do you know how many published fantasy and authors are younger than 28, or were when they published their first novel?  Probably only a handful.  (I can only think of Christopher Paolini, author of Eragon, and Sam Sykes, author of Tome of the Undergates, off the top of my head.)  All my favorite authors are in their 30s and beyond, so these guys are going to have a few life’s experiences under their belt.

As a young writer, I find this kind of intimidating.  Compared to these guys, what do I know?  I mean really.  I’m not a professional and I can’t really say I’m an expert at anything other than, well, how to be me.  So what gives me the right to write anything worth reading?

Well, here’s how I’ve come to look at it: sure, I have hobbies and things I’ve been involved with.  I’ve got my near bachelor’s education.  And I’ve got my own life experiences, people I’ve met and interacted with… and that’s about it.  That is all I know.  But even in this there is an abundance of emotional experiences I can draw upon for my writing.  I also have a vast imagination.

I think I’ve chosen to write fantasy for these very reasons–because I believe I am capable of creating an emotional experience by taking others to a place they’ve never been to before, by introducing them to a character who experiences something none of us will ever have to, or get to.  Depends on how you look at it.

But maybe that’s all “write what you know” really means, is writing from what you know not necessarily experientially, through certain kinds of actions, but through emotion.  Connecting with readers on an ordinary, human level, even when your story’s world is extraordinarily alien.

I believe that is my goal.  (I just now decided to have one beyond satisfying my imagination, heh.)

So Give Your Readers (and yourself) Something to Experience

If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s creating an experience.  When I write I do my best to achieve this, and I do this by focusing on my characters and their world.  I approach storytelling from a psychological standpoint–how certain things, ideas and people make my characters feel and react; how they show unspoken sentiments using body language and other social cues, etc.  (I’m fairly interested in this kind of thing.  I think you can infer a lot about a person by just watching and listening–truly listening–to the words they choose and how they choose to use them.)  For me, I’ve discovered that the story will naturally unravel from the players I’ve place on the giant board game that is the novel, though for other writers it’s sometimes the other way around.

You know, that little rant on interior design wasn’t such a digression after all.  There are a few things I can pull out of that which are relevant to writing.  When it comes down to it, I think most [edit: fiction] writers write for themselves first and for others second.  (I don’t know of anyone for which the reverse is true, but it’s a big world and I’m an introvert, after all.)  So then, like a designer must do with their clients, I challenge thee fellow writers with these three tasks:

  1. Sort through the vague stuff until you find your story;
  2. Figure out what you, as a writer and a person, truly want; and then
  3. Aim to exceed your wildest expectations.

This is pretty much what I’m aiming for now as I edit.

Ultimately, I am my own client, for now.  I do what I can on my own to craft a unique, hopefully memorable experience that maybe, just maybe captivates someone else, somewhere.  Somehow.  But maybe it won’t.  Maybe I’m not even writing something that will sell.  I know that only peer editing, reader’s reactions and submission to agents or publishers will tell me how my work is received, so I’ll have to let you know how that goes once I get that far. 🙂

(As tempting as it is to show people my work now, in the past I’ve learned that (1) unfinished, unedited work is subject to change, and (2) a faithful reader can only put up with so many of your “changes” before he gets tired of reading your work oh-so faithfully.  Being the somewhat capricious, slow writer that I am, I won’t ever again put a reader through this, as it is not a pleasant experience.)