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Category Archives: On Writng

Anything regarding writing.

Personal Project – Fire and Stone: The Cast, Basics

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“A good story can be weighed down by mediocre characters. Good characters can carry a mediocre story.”
– I don’t know, I can’t find the source. *curls into a ball and cries*

In all seriousness, I cannot stress your characters’ importance. But if I were to explain it in a simple fashion, then allow me to talk as if I were discussing a movie.

Let’s go with The Matrix.

I’ll be 100% honest. I saw the Matrix sequels long before I saw the Matrix itself. As such, the initial shock and awe of “this world is a fabrication” was lost on account of “Yeah I knew that already.” In spite of this, I didn’t want this to spoil my enjoyment of the movie. As such I went in with the mindset of “Let’s see how it gets there.”

Well, to be honest, I almost fell asleep half the time. Not to say Mr. Reeves isn’t a good actor, but I found more personality in my cereal spoon than his performance.

Keanu Spoon

And it wasn’t just Keanu. Morpheus and Trinity struck me as such wooden characters that I found myself caring almost little for anything they did. I even considered shutting off the movie until I got to the major “betrayal scene.”

For those who have watched the movie you know what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t seen the Matrix i’ll not spoil this for you.

In this particular scene a character does and says somethings that put the main characters in a real, tense, life-threatening situation. This character fascinated me so much, because I heard, in that character’s monologue, all their strife, anger, and the many layers that makes a human a human. I was enthralled by this person’s performance on such a scale that it convinced me to watch the rest of this movie.

Now, i’m not saying the Matrix was a bad movie. In fact, I highly recommend it to anyone. However, as novel as the world and plot were, it meant little when none of the cast members came close to that level of intrigue and humanity.

The same goes for writing your story.

Your characters are your actors, and good actors are those who make the audience believe they are real people. It’s why Heath Ledger’s performance as “The Joker” was so haunting, and why Marissa Tomei won an Oscar for playing a woman from New Jersey in My Cousin Vinny. However, in a writer’s world we are not blessed with being able to pick and choose who portrays what in our story.

So it falls upon us, as writers, to create those characters ourselves.

For my story, Fire and Stone, no two characters got more development than Nijam and Elhove. These two, a girl and boy respectively, carry the brunt of the story, and as such they hold the responsibility of being the most realistic. Getting to that point, however, meant that I needed to get to know them better.

Ever have an imaginary friend? Someone you talk to? Listen to? Gives you advice even though, deep down, you’re really just talking to yourself? To me, making a character is a lot like that. I’ll give you an example, a bit of written dialogue I had when I “interviewed” Elhove.


(This is after I asked about his dad)

Elhove: Well what do you want to know? He’s the Elect. People like him. He’s kind of a big deal.

Me: Yeah but do you like him?

Elhove: *shrugs*

Me: What does that mean?

Elhove: I don’t know… I don’t talk to him much.

Me: What do you mean? You’re his son.

Elhove: Only when it’s convenient, I suppose.

Me: Convenient?

Elhove: The last time we talked he scolded me for missing my studies. *covers his arm*

Me: Is that when he gave you that scar?

Elhove:  *glares* Let’s talk about something else.

Silly as it sounds this “interview” went on for a couple of pages. In that time I really got to know a character I made up, simply by keeping in mind what kind of person he might be. As I learned more about him, I looked up various psychology books about children and teens who go through similar pains, all in an attempt to make him seem realistic. Throughout the interview a lot of his answers surprised me, and though he was a figment of my imagination, I felt as if he were a real human being. Whether that comes across to others is a different story, but the fact of the matter is I tried my hardest with everything I had.

For the sake of telling a good story, a lot of work goes into the mechanics. Regarding characters I found you have to practically talk to them, and make them feel like real people rather than just a few archetypes smashed together. This wasn’t the only way I got to know my characters but it definitely helped round them out. Maybe next time I’ll go over more details as to how I get to know my actors and actresses.

In the meantime here are a few links that helped me better understand the people on the page:

http://solsticeapocalypse.tumblr.com/tagged/character-crafting (this tumblr has a wealth of writing information. Very helpful stuff.)

http://www.springhole.net/writing/marysue.htm (how to tell if your character is a “Mary Sue”)

http://www.pgtc.com/~slmiller/characterdevelopment.htm (your basic, catchall character writing site. Contains a good list I use)

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So do any of you have a hard time getting to know your characters? What tricks or tips do you do to help round them out? Have you ever had a character talk back? What do you think about Character archetypes?

And with that I bid you all adieu until next time.

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Trope Discussion – The Love Triangle

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Alex loves Betty.
Carl loves Betty.
Betty cares for both.
Alex and Carl want her to choose.
She can’t because she doesn’t want to hurt them.
Drama/Hilarity ensues.

The Love Triangle, one of the many tropes that act as a double edged sword.

I’m not going to sugar coat my feelings: At one point in time I considered this trope is more trouble than it’s worth. People I knew often defended it by saying stuff like “this happens in real life” and “you can’t help who you fall in love with.” True as that may be, anyone who has actually lived a love triangle knows how frustrating this can be. Whether you’re on the pining or pined for end, a love triangle brings about a certain level of stress no matter the outcome.

The other issue that concerns me is that this trope is often used as “1 can’t chose between 2 and 3” when in reality this trope can be endless in it’s execution.

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For your consideration. The arrows show which way love is being given.

As shown above, the Love Triangle can be done multiple ways, and it has. Some notable examples are as follows:

2) Berserk, between Guts, Griffith, and Casca.
3) Archie Comics, Betty and Veronica to Archie.
4) The Wedding Singer, Where Julia and Glenn are engaged, but Robbie likes Julia.
5) Naruto, Naruto likes Sakura, Sakura likes Sasuke.
6) Wheel of Time, Elayne and Min over Rand.
7) Scott Pilgrim, where Scott dates both Ramona and Knives.

And so on and so forth. As you can tell, the examples and ways a Love Triangle can be handled is nearly infinite. Hence, my issue with this trope is not it’s existence but in it’s execution. When done well, it reveals an underlying strength or flaw the characters possess, and enriches the story with it’s multi-layered facet. When done poorly, it serves as pointless drama and does nothing short of aggravate everyone in the room.

So, fellow writers, should you choose to execute this trope, keep these things in mind:

  • This trope is highly volatile, and must be handled with care.
  • In real life this trope causes several issues, so keep them in mind at all times.
  • There are many paths this can take, as long as there are three it counts.
  • It’s been done to death, so be aware of cliches.

Keep this in mind and i’m sure both your sanity, your readers, and your characters will appreciate it.
—-

I spent this article explaining why this trope can be volatile so what tropes seem problematic for you? In what way? What’s the most common love triangle you’ve noticed? Is any one of them your favorite? Keep in mind this can be done for laughs, so how would you make them sound funny?

With that, have a nice day.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2013 in Advice, On Writng, Tropes

 

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Trope Discussion – The Father Figure

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Dedicated to my dad.

Ah “The Father”.

The character archetype that often overlaps with “The Mentor” and “The Old Friend.” They’re the male figure, always older, who exists to give guidance and motivation to the hero. Occasionally they turn out to be the villain, giving the protagonist an emotional as well as physical conflict. Whatever their role, “The Father” will be there to make sure the Hero/Heroine stays on the path of good and virtue.

Father’s day has me thinking about this trope because my own is like this trope incarnate. All throughout my life I thought about my father and how I’d picture a wise old sage stroking his beard while giving me advice from a mountain top. He was also my wrestling coach, so while I trained to fight the bad guy (read: other wrestlers) he was there to guide my training. As a person who loves to over analyze things, I often liken the events in my life as story elements, to which my father fulfills the role of “The Father Figure.”

Sounds cliched right? Well you wouldn’t be the only person who felt that way (read: me), but perhaps this is why tropes exist. If you feel this is a bit oversimplified stay tuned, I promise I have a point to all this.

I went to a public high school, which often meant I dealt with some colorful characters. There is something fascinating, looking back at the various cast members that composed your high school life. Like a good story should, I learned about these people and found out just how different other human beings are. In particular, I met a guy who we’ll call Ramon freshman year of high school.

Ramon was a fellow wrestler on my team, two years older, who occasionally chatted it up with me. During one of our chats we talked about our team and he told me: “Yeah, Coach is like a father to me.” In this instance Coach meant my dad, and by the look of his face he realized what he said. Intrigued I asked him what he meant while stupidly not catching on to his nervousness.

“Well… it’s weird you see… I like… Coach is like a dad to me… I mean I know he’s your dad, but he acts like a dad to me.”

At that moment I had an epiphany, but of what I didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t until the next year when another fellow wrestler said the same thing. See, my entire life I always saw my own dad as a father figure, and rightfully so, but that’s not always the case. In fact. sometimes the “The Father Figure” in your life can be someone with absolutely no blood relation.

Looking back on it, it seems like a “no duh” moment but at the time the discovery was quite profound. Soon enough I likened it to other characters in shows, most of whom lacked a living parent to be the father figure. Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, for example.

Throughout Luke Skywalker’s life he heard about this crazy dude named Ben Kenobi (great alias right? I mean seriously…). In spite of the rumors the farm boy has nothing but respect for the man who watched over him and nurtured his dreams and powers. Yeah he was a bit kooky, but you can’t deny the man was a source of guidance and virtue. Even in death the man gave him great advice.

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Okay… mostly good advice.

And how about Simba? The dude was raised by three different dads and he turned out okay.

What I’m getting at here is that a Father Figure isn’t always a dad. It can be a teacher, a coach, one of the last of the Jedi, or a couple of guys who save you after being chased by hyenas. The archetype, as it applies to our life, is that any male character who seeks to give guidance and aid can be a “father,” and we should be mindful of that. In the same way an adopted dad and a real dad can love their child, the “Father Figure” trope could apply to many people in our lives, and not just one.

So the next time you wonder if a character needs a mentor, but doesn’t get along with their dad, remember not all “Father FIgures” are fathers. “Father” is less of a classification and more of a title. Keep this in mind on this Father’s Day, for you might have more than one Father Figure in your life right now. I know I will and do.

So how do you approach the Father Figure archetype? Are they a mentor? Are they a good mentor? Do your characters have more than one, or are they a Father Figure to someone else? Any and all comments below are welcome, and don’t be afraid to comment.
I hope you all have had a wonderful Father’s Day, and have celebrated accordingly.

 
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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in On Writng, Tropes, Uncategorized

 

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Fear of Writing – How to put words on the paper

 

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Hey everyone, sorry for the massively late update.

If you’re like me then you’re a twenty something year old individual who spent most of his life in school. And, if you’ve experienced that, chances are you know what it’s like to procrastinate like crazy. In my last post I talked about the benefits of procrastination but keep in mind that even research needs to be kept on check.

I once read that, as an Aquarius, I am one who lives an Ivory Tower existence. In essence: I spend all my time looking out the top of my window and pontificate the meaning of existence and all that entails. All the while, the room remains unswept, the dishes pile up, and I never get any visitors because I smell like I haven’t bathed in years. In summary, if unchecked, I am doomed to the life of a smelly, unlikeable bore.

While I don’t take astrology seriously, I did find this to be an issue in my life. Too often had I told myself, “I’ll write after this episode,” and, fifteen episodes later, it’s twelve in the morning and I’ve no ambition to write. Either that, or I spent so much time “researching” that I never make the time to write.

This past year I knew this behavior wouldn’t fly, and I decided to make a change. I planned to write every single day, and to make progress even if it was just a few paragraphs. However, as someone who had never written on this scale before, how does one get to writing something as big as a novel?

Well, after weeks of never getting past the first page, my process boiled down to two rules.

Rule Number 1

At least 500 words a day.

When put into a word document, five hundred words comes out to about three, three sentence paragraphs. Honestly this can be a great exercise in and of itself because, not only are you writing, but you have three sentences to write what you want. You can get a lot accomplished, as I demonstrated with this paragraph.

Rule Number 2

Just Write

I could spend hours talking about how I would retroactively correct my writing. I could tell you about the many days I spent starting with a blank screen and, after hundreds of black printed letters, ended with a screen as blank as my grasp of Calculus. I could do that, or I could just write what I’m thinking and be done with it.

Part of the issue with writing is we want to get it right the first time. We want to make what’s in our heads be translated perfectly on the page. However, if you’ve ever tried that with a drawing, you’ll find that’s not always the case. Sometimes it takes more than one shot to write what you meant, but you’ll never find out what you need until you have a foundation. As I said in “Shitty First Draft,” that is your foundation.

That is all I have to offer: two simple rules. They carried me through all 309 pages of my Senior Project and I hope it serves you as well. If it doesn’t, well… I’m sure you’ll figure it out.

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So how do you guys get to writing? Do you just write? What inspires you to write? Do you have rules for your first draft?

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2013 in Advice, On Writng

 

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The Importance of Research, Experience, and Goofing Off

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Warning: Copious Personal Anecdote ahead. If hearing about another person’s life causes you indigestion or chronic migraine then please consult your nearest doctor. Otherwise enjoy.

Research is integral to the writing process. How else would we figure out:

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How one should prepare for a trip through dangerous locales, (like Central Europe.)

Or

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Fascinating facts about exotic animals.

Or

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How to get the FBI to come to your house.
(I swear officer, I’m a writer not a murderer!)

As frustrating as it may seem at times, research always proves to be a boon. Sometimes learning what you don’t know can be just what one needs to get themselves out of a rut. A while back I learned the joy of this discovery and brought it up whenever possible.

During one such conversation, a friend of mine said. “I’ve written a book already so I know how much research I need.” Knowing he was feeding me a question, I bit the hook and asked “how much?” He smirked and what he said next haunts me to this day.

“None at all,” he said with a smile. “I don’t need to research anything. It’s my world, and therefore it’s my rules. So what if it doesn’t make sense, it makes sense to me.”

As someone who stays up at ungodly hours, cycling through random Wikipedia pages for any scrap of information, you could guess my general reaction. After much frustrated stuttering he raised his hand to defend himself.

“Well, maybe not research in the regular sense. See, I watch a lot of movies. I play videogames all the time, and I often spend hours and hours doodling.”

I smirked at him and said, “sounds like procrastination to me.”

He shrugged and replied, “Maybe so. But it helps me write.”

We then changed the subject but what he said nagged in the back of my mind. How in the Seven Hells could someone procrastinate and still have the wherewithal to churn out a story? It bothered me to no end, so much so that I couldn’t bring myself to write. So I put on one of my favorite movies which I won’t mention here*.

During the movie, the protagonist is being chased by a terrible beast. Mid-flight, they and a friend rush into a thorny forest where they hope to elude their attacker. The assailant peeks in, hoping to catch a glimpse of its prey and tries to get at the protagonists through the holes in their defense.

As I watched this scene I remember I wrote a similar scene in my story. The more I saw, the more I realized I wrote this scene almost word for word.

That’s when it clicked: Yes my friend was procrastinating, but the way he did it gave him fuel to write his stories. And if what we enjoyed could be used to create, then what we did could do the same as well.

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A friend of mine “researching” what it’s like to have a mustache.

Silly as the above picture makes it sound, sometimes little things like this can make or break a story. Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) once said that watching a guy paint a store window helped him write (full information here. It’s a good one).

I know writers tend to be an introverted bunch so this last bit of advice may seem a bit overwhelming. However, if you go outside and try something new, you’ll always be richer for the experience.

Research comes in many forms and I think it’s worth a try to do any of the three. If you have trouble with research, I say start with looking up stuff you think is cool. If you don’t like watching movies or procrastinating then set aside your work for all of five minutes and goof off. If you’re not comfortable with trying new things then try something you like in a different manner and you may end up surprising yourself.

So go out and research, for the only wrong way is to not do it at all.

So how do you all like to research? Do you have something that always gives you a muse? Does a particular type freak you out to the core? Is there something you would like to try? Let me know in the comments. Otherwise, have a nice day.

(*The movie is The Land Before Time)

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in Advice, On Writng, Uncategorized

 

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Magic and Sanderson’s Two Laws

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When I was a child I loved watching Illusionists. One in particular came to the National Date Festival near my home. Every year he put on a show and never failed to amaze me with his tricks. One year (more specifically when I was 16) I gained the courage to talk to him. I told him I spent years watching his tricks and they never grew old. He smiled and thanked me for my patronage, to which I asked:

“How do you make your tricks seem so real?”

To which he responded

“True magic makes you believe it’s real, instead of tricking you into not seeing how it works.”

Back to the plot,

Magic is a narrative tool. On the basest level it allows a protagonist to kill an enemy with a fireball instead of cutting them in half. On a grander scale it can be deeply ingrained in your world’s machinations. In the hands of a master, magic can be narrative device that gives your story a flavor unique to your writing. However, when used poorly, it becomes a Deus Ex Machina.

For those who worry about becoming the latter, I’d look no further than Brandon Sanderson’s “Laws of Magic,” which can be found for free here on wikipedia.

In essence, his Two Laws talk about the practicality of magic in a story. With these guidelines, Sanderson hopes to present magic in a way that is both believable  and exciting. The First Law says that magic comes in two flavors:

The First is called “Hard Magic,” which has rules and restrictions that the audience understands. This turns magic into a science which can be fascinating in how the character’s apply it to their daily lives. It assures the audience and author that there are no unwelcome surprises but at the same time means the author has to truly understand their magic before presenting it. Examples of Hard Magic in stories include Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, or Alchemy in the series Fullmetal Alchemist.

The Second is called “Soft Magic,” or magic that has vague and undefined rules. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to Deus Ex Machina decreases. Examples of “Soft Magic” in stories includes Harry Potter or “Bending” in Avatar: The Last Airbender.

I’m not here to say that either one is better than the other, but rather the trick is to find what works for you. If you’re still having trouble with making a good system of magic then look no further than Sanderson’s Second Law.

In essence, the Second Law can be summed up as: Limits > Power. One of my favorite examples of this is in Paolo Bacigalupi’s short story The Alchemist. In that world magic can do anything, from healing the terminally ill to causing the sun to set early. However, everytime magic is used, thorny bristles rise up and grow in proportional size to the magic being used. This doesn’t seem like such a trade off until it overtakes farmland, eats away at houses, and releases pollen in the air that causes diseases not even magic can cure. The catharsis of the story begins when the protagonist want’s to find a way to use magic without causing these Spike Weeds to grow. It’s a good example to me because, like the various methods of fuel in the real world, magic in this world causes environmental problems when overused.

I hope this has helped you all with your magic making. Keep in mind, these are merely guidelines, not rules that make or break stories completely. When working on my short stories I find i’m a fan of writing Soft Magic, even though I know exactly how it works. Next time i’ll post an excerpt from a project I’ve been bandying about, but for now i’ll leave it be

So what kind of magic rules do you like most? Do you think all magic should come with limitations? Any particular examples you like?

 
 

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Fear of Writing – The Shitty First Draft

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For those of you who know me, this might come as a shock but i’m usually hit with writer’s block every single day. I get up, pop open whatever canvas I plan to use, and smile wide with the “I’m gonna get down and dirty with you” look I usually have and… nothing.

Then comes the denial (Oh come on. I can totally get started. I’m just having trouble is all.)

Then comes anger (Why can’t I write? What the ****!)

Then comes the bargaining (Oh great and powerful writing gods, I will sacrifice twenty sheets of paper in your honor if you grant me the muse.)

Then comes the depression (Why *hits wall* am *hits wall* I *hits wall* doing *hits wall* this? *hits wall and stays there*).

This used to be where I would stop and turn on the tv instead. This cycle would stick with me every single day, and eventually I gave up writing. The struggle to put my thoughts on a page became to daunting, too frightening, that for a while I felt I was unworthy of the written word in all it’s forms.

This was two years ago, and it would probably be my reality now if it weren’t for some fantastic advice.

My creative writing Professor assigned us a book called Bird By Bird, a short novella in which Anne Lamott, the author, talks about the trials and tribulations of writing. In it she talks about writers block, and not being afraid of the “Shitty First Draft.”

Because the book is currently on loan, I shall attempt to paraphrase here: A Shitty First Draft is essentially that first draft you write. You may say “but not all first drafts suck,” and that might be true, but for me I’ve never written a first draft that didn’t make me cringe. That being said, Anne Lamott reminds us that it’s okay to write that first draft, and you know why? Because, like the foundation for an amazing building, your Shitty First Draft puts the ground work for all your thoughts and ideas. It’s kinda like admitting your faults in an argument so no one can use them against you.

Is it terrible? Probably. But that’s no reason to be ashamed. As writers it’s that first draft that’s the greatest hurdle; the proverbial “single step” on a journey of a thousand miles. It seems daunting but no one said writing was easy. Each day we write we regurgitate our souls into words and that can be pretty terrifying.

With this in mind, I finally manage to make it to the “Acceptance” stage of writing (Okay i’m scared, but let’s see what comes of this. I can always redo what I wrote.) Funny enough, I found that most of our Writer’s Block comes from the fear of not doing well the first time around. Once we realize this fear our ability to write and rewrite becomes that much more acceptable. Heck, sometimes it even pays to say “I’m going to write the first things that come to mind and nothing is going to stop me.”

It all might seem very daunting but trust me, once you take that leap of faith into your Shitty First Draft writing becomes a significantly more enjoyable process. Until you get to editing of course, but that’s a story for another time.


So, do any of you have a fear of writing your first draft? How do you get past it? What other things seem to gunk up your writing? Questions, comments, and discussions in the comments please.

Otherwise, happy writing my friends.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2013 in On Writng, Uncategorized

 

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