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Monday, January 26, 2015

The Rules of Writing

According to Kurt Vonnegut

  1. Use the time of a stranger in such a way the he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal the character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what’s going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
  9. Find a subject you care about and which in your heart you feel others should care about.
  10. Do not ramble.
  11. Keep it simple. Simplicity of language is not only reputable, but perhaps is even sacred.
  12. Have guts to cut. Your rule might be this: If a sentence, not matter how excellent, does not illuminate your subject in some new and useful way, scratch it out.
  13. Sound like yourself. The writing style which is most natural to you is bound to echo the speech you heard when you were a child.
  14. Say what you mean. You should avoid Picasso-style or jazz-style writing, if you have something worth saying and wish to be understood.
  15. Pity the readers. Our stylistic options as writers are neither numerous or glamorous, since our readers are bound to be such imperfect artists.
  16. You choose. The most meaning aspect of our styles, which is what we choose to write about, is utterly unlimited.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Location, Location, Location

When is comes to picking a location I suggest going with what you know or inventing a whole new place all together. If you're simply faking it, your reader will know. I personally love setting my stories in Kansas City, Missouri and the cities/towns within it's metropolitan. It's my hometown and I love it. I still end up making up somethings, like street names, apartment complexes (both names and where they are located in the city), but typically I keep it real.

I like writing what I know. I love mentioning the Royals, Gates BBQ, The Plaza, Crowne Center, Hallmark, my fave radio station (96.5 the Buzz), and local beautiful parks (English Landing Park, Case Park, White Alloe Creek, Line Creek Park and Trail).  I seriously love my town and everything that makes it unique.

I do, however, invent places sometimes. I have never been to New Zealand but if I have a character who happens to be from there, I research the area 100% but make up the name of a small town and sprinkle it with bits of my research to give it an authentic sound. I also make sure the name I make up isn't too similar to a real place.

The problem with writing about somewhere you have never been is that if you make glaring mistakes, your readers will notice and it will take them out of your story.

There is a TV show on ABCFamily called "Switched at Birth", it takes place in the Kansas City area, mostly in Mission Hills, KS. On the show there is a place called East Riverside and it's the dangerous part of town. In the real world there is no East Riverside, just Riverside and its not at all dangerous. This is why when you make up a name, you shouldn't pick one that is actually in the area. Honestly, I can't watch the show. Whenever they mention the horrible "East Riverside" I can't help but roll my eyes.

So, with location, it's best to write what you know. That doesn't mean you shouldn't write about London or Budapest, but make sure you do thorough research. Or book a flight and get good hands on research, I mean, why not? A story may just be hidden inside of you that won't come out until you visit it's birth place...

I have more to say on location and setting, but I will save that for another post and another day.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gillian Flynn

I absolutely love Gillian Flynn's books. It doesn't hurt that each one is based in Missouri or that Dark Places, for the majority, is set in Kansas City. Gillian's writing is amazing. She takes risks and doesn't mind violently pulling you out of your comfort zone. To quote Stephen King (which I will do many times...) Gillian Flynn is the real deal, a sharp, acerbic, and compelling storyteller with a knack for the macabre.”

Dark Places is set in Kansas City and takes you to small town MO strips clubs, the middle of nowhere Kansas, and to the quiet suburb of Liberty. The story is about Libby Day, a woman, who as a girl witnessed the massacre of her family. Her testimony put her brother in prison but a local club obsessed with notorious crimes, "The Kill Club", makes her question it, sending her on a mission to discover who really killed her family.

Sharp Objects takes place in a small Missouri town near the boot hill of the state. A journalist, named Camille, who used to live there returns home to report on the deaths of two girls. During her stay she has to face a past the haunts her daily since it is literally written on her skin. She has words cut into skin, each one taunting her. As she works to uncover what exactly happened to the two girls, she finds herself identifying with the victims, a little too much. Camille ends up having to dig in and confront her own past in order to find out exactly what happened.

Gone Girl may be Flynn's most famous novel. It's a wicked look into the life of a young married couple and what happens when it goes terribly wrong. Nick and Amy were about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary when Amy goes missing. Of course, the husband is blamed, but he swears he didn't do it. This book is as toxic as Nick and Amy's marriage but oh-so-addicting. 

I suggest everyone read these books. Gillian Flynn needs to keep writing forever and ever. I hope to someday become as strong as a writer as she is!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Unfinished Business

John Steinbeck, author of Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Winter of Discontent, said to, "Abandon the notion that you ever going to finish." I agree.

They say there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you. I say the greater agony is finally telling that story but you can't finish it. This is different from writer's block. It's not that you can't write, it's that you can't write that particular story. 

I have dealt with this before, in fact, I am still dealing with it. What did I do? 

I saved it to a flash drive and then deleted it and anything related to it from computer. I am a firm believer that sometimes you need to get away from a piece work that you can't work on. Only pause, only push it away, do NOT give up on it. If a story has been with you for a long time, it needs to be shared and it deserves to be heard. There is nothing wrong with taking break, but giving up should never be an option.

During the break work on other stories. Don't quit writing. While working on other pieces, your unfinished story might come back to life. Always have a notebook around to write down those ideas so you don't lose them. 

So, if you come across this predicament, put your story on the back burner. Each story already comes with a beginning, middle, and ending, it's up to you to fill it out, but let the story guide you. Pause when needed and write with reckless abandon when it wants you to.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

It's All In Your Head (Literally)

Writer’s block come in many shapes and forms. Sometimes your brain is as empty as that blank screen in front of you. Other times you have a million ideas and no idea how to develop them. Its when you have the perfect outline but one little part has you stuck or you are stuck in the middle of your story and you have no clue where to take it. Writer’s block can come from boredom of your characters, you don’t hate them, you don’t like them, you just want them to go away and never come back. The worst is when your brain gets stuck on how much you think everyone is going to think your story sucks. 

First off, tell your brain to shut the fuck up! Your story does not suck. Get that out of your mind and remember why you are writing. You love your idea and want to see it come to light. That is all that matters, not what some imaginary people think.

Anyway, here are some things I do to help kill my writer’s block:

  1. Exercise. It boosts creativity like no other. It might sound kind of weird but no matter what exercise I am doing ideas just seem to flow the whole time. Also, studies show, that even just walking improves both convergent and divergent thinking, the two types associated with enhanced creativity.  
  2. Be productive. If the words aren’t coming, clean your bathroom, do the dishes, fold the laundry. 
  3. Step away from your computer, your notebook, your story. Sometimes you just need a break. Grab a coffee, watch some TV, and go back to it later.
  4. Step away from the computer once more and reach for a notebook. The computer can be distracting. With Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and just the internet in general, it’s too easy to slack off on your writing and allow for the writer’s block to grow. Physically writing out your thoughts fully engages you in your writing.
  5. Music. Music. Music. I write everything with a soundtrack. I write essays, research papers, stories, reports, you name, I write it with its own set of tunes. Music gets my creative juices flowing. 
  6. Get on Pinterest. People are constantly posting writing prompts. They are pretty awesome. Writing about something that wasn’t your original idea could help bring your story to life. Or, even better, it might turn into your story.
  7. Ask other people. I did. I was stuck with my latest blog post and I asked my Facebook friends. Ask your friends, ask people on social media, ask your mom or dad or sister or brother or significant other. Ask a kid, my kiddo gives me some funny ideas. 
  8. Change your scenery. If you always write in your kitchen, move to your bedroom. Leave your laptop at home, grab a notebook, and go to a park. 
  9. In the same step as changing your scenery, while you’re out there, people watch. Go all Harriet the Spy, and create stories for the people around you. Take their actions and interpret them for your story. Create a world for these people.
  10. Stop waiting for perfection. Margaret Atwood said, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
  11. For me, the most effective help for my writer’s block is to pick up a good book and read. Sometimes all you need to do is lose yourself in someone else’s story. It will inspire you.

I really hope these work for you! Good luck on any and all of your writing endeavors. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nothing Hurt and Everything Was Beautiful

I am sadly suffering from a bout of writer's block. So, today I have picked some of my favorite quotes from some of my favorite books... I hope they inspire you.

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” 
Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“I wonder how many people I've looked at all my life and never seen.” 
—John Steinbeck, The Winter of Our Discontent

“Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they'll make your soul impervious to the world's soft decay.” 
—Janet Fitch, White Oleander

“Sometimes you just have to try, even if you know it won’t work.” 
—Junot Diaz, Drown

“When we die, we will turn into songs, and we will hear each other and remember each other.” 
—Rob Sheffield, Love is a Mixtape

“We turn skeletons into goddesses and look to them as if they might teach us how not to need.” 
—Marya Hornbacher, Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

“The truth." Dumbledore sighed. "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” 
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

“If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” 
—J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.” 
—Dr. Seuss

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” 
—Robert Frost

“What a slut time is. She screws everybody.” 
John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

“It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace.” 
Chuck Palahniuk, Diary

“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I'm not living.” 
Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.” 
Suzanne Collins, Mockingjay

“Perhaps one did not want to be loved so much as to be understood.” 
George Orwell, 1984

“I've always been partial to the image of liquor as lubrication, a layer of protection from all the sharp thoughts in your head.” 
Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects

“The truly frightening flaw in humanity is our capacity for cruelty - we all have it.” 
Gillian Flynn, Dark Places

“Be careful what you wish for. There's always a catch.” 

Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

My next posts will deal with said writer's block and what to do with a story that is going nowhere. Thank you!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

What's In A Name?

I am a weird little collector of names. The moment I hear one I like I scribble it down in my journal. I think the names of characters are one of the most important elements of any good story.

While I am sure that there are moments in which you can pull any old name out of the hat and it will work, but normally you have to put some more consideration into naming your characters. Here are my tips:

1. Write down, email yourself, text yourself any and all names that you love. I would hate to miss a great name.

2. Watch the initials. Do all of your character's names start with "B" or "N"? If so, maybe you should switch it up a bit.

3. Check on name origins. If you are writing a story about the Irish Mafia but you give all of your characters German first names and Italian last names, you're going to take the reader out of the story.

4. You should also check out name meanings. Sometimes its a good way to subtly say something about the character. Also, instead of naming your character Hunter, you choose Chase because that means hunter. Or instead being in your face by naming a pretty girl Bonita, name her Alannah, which means beautiful.

5. Think about your novels time period and try to keep the name in the same tone. If you are writing a piece about the 18th century you wouldn't want to give your characters modern names (unless it was a fantasy novel, then that may work).

6. Try not to use names that are too long.  Or at least shorten them to nicknames. Typing out names that contain every letter of the alphabet is not only labor intensive to you, but distracting to the reader.

7. Avoid names that sound all the same. Do you have a Dan, Ann, Fran, Stan, and Jan in your story? Maybe you should replace them with their full versions. Daniel, Ann, Francis, Stanley, and Janette don't rhyme and are less likely to annoy the reader of time.

8. If you love a name, fuck the haters. I love my name and I swear, I will have a Vanessa in all of my stories, even if the Vanessa is just a background character! 

Friday, January 9, 2015

He Said, She Said

Said: To express in words...

They say "said is dead", but I disagree. I'm don't understand why people hate the word so much. I do understand that it is a little boring and can be annoying if repetitive, but using ten different variations in one set of dialog can be just as annoying, if not distracting.

I love "said", it's practically the only dialog tag I use. There are moments when "yelled" or "whispered" are appropriate, I use them and I use them correctly.  The reason I love "said" is because it's basically a form of punctuation. It allows the reader to use their imagination. For me, I'm writing my best when I don't tell my reader, but instead, I show them. Instead of writing "Fuck you!" he screamed in frustration, try "Fuck you!" he said, balling his up his fists in frustration. I prefer to let my characters actions set the scene and not their dialog.

I never had a problem with people using any word but "said" until I read Fifty Shades of Grey. E.L. James' editor needs to be fired. She used the dialog tag "muttered" over 200 times in the first novel alone. Who knows how many times she used it in her other novels. The word distracted me. "Muttered" means: to utter words indistinctly or in a low tone, typically talking to oneself. In her book, her characters would have full conversations of muttering and murmuring. How did they even understand each other? I would have shaken Ana and told her to speak the fuck up!

Anyway... if you hate using the word "said", if you find it boring or whatever, I get it. I just ask that you don't turn another, more distracting word, into your "said". Also, if you feel like you dialog isn't flowing, go back to using "said" or use action in place of the dialog tag.

"Said" will never truly be dead!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

While people tend to misattribute this quote to Ernest Hemingway (myself included) it is one of the few rules of writing that I follow. Now, I do NOT write while I’m actually drunk. I couldn’t type or use a pencil properly while drunk, let alone have a solid enough idea to write about. I do, however, write like I’m drunk. When you’re drunk you tend to become uninhibited. That lack of walls and barriers has always helped me to write (and so does a glass of wine or two).

The other rule I live and will die by is keeping a notebook with me at all times. I never know when a great idea will pop into my head. I write the most random of things in it. I write down names I like, places, phrases, quotes, my feelings. I write down words that have an interesting sounds, song lyrics, plot ideas, I basically write down everything so I don’t forget anything.

A lot of people tend to follow Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules for Good Writing. Those rules are: 

1. Never open a book with weather.

2. Avoid prologues.

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said”…he admonished gravely.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or        three per 100,000 words of prose. 

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

All of these rules work best when they are broken, though number three is something I believe in (I wholeheartedly blame Fifty Shades of Gray for this, but that is for another post, another day). So, write what you like and how you like. The point of creativity, to me, is to see just how far you can bend the rules before you dismantle them, and they should be dismantled!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Putting Pen to Paper

The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.  
― Stephen King

Writing is scary, I cannot deny that. I don't think any writer can. Putting a pen to paper is no easy task. What if what you write is stupid? What if no one likes it? What if its not perfect? 
Well, I can tell you with confidence that it won't be stupid, someone will like it, and perfect is boring. The world needs your words, your thoughts, and your novel. 
I'm hoping that with this blog I can inspire more writing and more reading. I want to share my love of the written word with the world. I firmly believe that words can change everything. They can make you smile or cry. They can take you on incredible journeys or emotional roller coasters. They can do serious damage or the most powerful of healing.  What you have to say matters. Your words matter. You matter.
I hope you come back and read my thoughts on writing. I hope I inspire you. I hope you write.