Monthly Archives: February 2013

Keep Your Friends Close and Your Books Closer

Right after I published my last post, I thought of some writing advice I wanted to offer.  That’s how my brain works.  Always coming up with relevant information two seconds after it’s needed.

Oh well, that just means you get to hear more from me.  I know that this is all you want out of life.

Here is my advice:  Based on my personal experience, you should proceed with caution when basing a fictional character on someone you know in real life.

For one thing, if you base a character on someone in your family, you may cause some problems like…

1. Making that person the subject of ridicule.  Did you know that A. A. Milne, author of the famous Winnie the Pooh stories, based Christopher Robin on  none other than his son, Christopher Robin?  Yeah, little Chris didn’t enjoy school much after those books were published.  Or so I’ve heard from the Internet, which can be a reliable source sometimes.

2. Offending the person with a truthful, or not-so-truthful, portrayal.  If you’ve always resented your mother for packing your lunch for you even when you were well into your thirties, maybe writing about an annoying, hated mother who does the exact same thing isn’t the best way to tell her.

But my experience has not been with writing about family.  I do occasionally draw on my mother when I need to think about how a mother would react to something, but other than that, I keep things distant.  No, my experience has been with friends.

Family you are stuck with.  Friends have no such obligations.  Friendships change.  Sometimes they grow stronger over time, and sometimes bad things happen and ties are severed.  And then you get situations like this:

BFFs

BFFs2

 

This kind of thing has happened to me twice.  Well…not that exact situation.  But I did end up having two books kind of tainted for me.  Luckily both those books turned out to be crap, so they wouldn’t have made it far anyway, but I think my point is still valid.  If you tie your real life into your fictional writing, you risk having your life taint or color your writing in unexpected ways.  I find the best way to approach this now is to avoid basing characters on people I know.  I will, occasionally, take a certain trait or some specific thing that a person has done and insert those things into my writing to make the characters feel more real, but that’s as far as I go.  That way I can judge my writing as objectively as possible.

In conclusion, I am not saying that this rule must definitely apply to everyone.  But it is something to think about.  That’s all I wanted to point out.

Writer's-Block-Strip-19

Word of the Day: Ridicule (n) – speech or action intended to cause contemptuous laughter at a person or thing; derision.

P.S.  Bet you didn’t know this, but my best friend, Liz, has the cutest Jack Russel in the world!  Now, out of the goodness of her heart, she has brought that cuteness to your computer screens.  As of this writing, she only has three videos up, but I’m sure more are on the way.  Check out her YouTube channel by clicking here.  And here’s a sneak peek of little Zero’s antics:

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Brought to You by the Internet

I am a product of my generation.  I do, in fact, live on the internet.  Today I am going to share some of that internet with you.

First, for those of you who have faced the Rejection Amoeba and lost, or are going to do that sometime in the future, I thought I’d link you to this Cracked article.  It’s all about famous books that got rejected for really inane reasons.  If you need a pick-me-up, something to keep you going in this sea of NO, I suggest you take a look at it.

Second, I have a video for you.  There is a channel on YouTube that does Honest Movie Trailers.  I will warn you now that if you start watching these, you may find hours of your life slipping away.  Fortunately there aren’t too many.  And I’m sharing one here for you now.  It’s Twilight.  And it’s perfect.  Enjoy.

I don’t really have anything else to share right now.

Here’s an update on how Hellbound is doing – a lot of editors are reading it.  I may hear back from one or two of them someday.  Probably.  I hope.

That’s it.

Writer's Block Strip 18

Word of the Day: Abstinence (n) – any self-restraint, self-denial, or forbearance

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Beautiful Words

Did you know there is a website that compliments you?  It’s true.  Look:

Emergency Compliment

Click the image to go to the site and get yourself some free compliments.

Now on to the real reason I started a new blog post.

What makes words beautiful?

I just finished reading a book from the 1960s called Linsey Herself, by Ruth Wolff.  My mom told me I should read it.  She said the writing was very sophisticated and that she rarely encounters anything like it in this day and age.  After just a few chapters, I was able to see what she meant.  The narration has a very nostalgic feel to it, and the narrator – a teenage girl – has a very plain way of telling her story.  I don’t mean “plain” as in “boring,” because the writing is certainly not boring, but “plain” as in “she tells it like it is.”

Reading this book, I realized that the writing is quite beautiful.  This got me to thinking about what exactly makes words – ordinary, everyday words – into art.  What makes them beautiful?  Is it a way of arranging them?  Is it choosing prettier words over the homelier ones?  Take, for example, a list of plain ol’ words:

strong

tight

circle

family

close (as in the opposite of “far,” not “to close a door.”)

love

Is there anything special about these words?  Not necessarily.  We may associate certain things with them.  “Love” is certainly a weighty one.  But on their own they are no more or less beautiful than any other assemblage of letters.  Now take a quote from the first page of Linsey Herself:

It is a strong, tight, circle, our family, stitched close as needlepoint, Mama’s thread being love. – Linsey Herself, page 5

That sentence uses all the words in the above list, and yet it has a certain quality to it that the words themselves lack.  And so I must come to the conclusion that it is at least in part about the arrangement.  You must treat words like flowers, and arrange them in a way that is most pleasing to the eye.  But then you encounter another problem.  One I’ve talked about before.  Something I call “forced profundity.”

If you sit down with the intent of being profound, of creating beautiful words, then it is my belief that your intent will show through.  The words might come out beautiful, but it will seem forced.  This is a problem, because we can’t all just wait until the exact right moment strikes us for the spontaneous production of pretty writing.  Sometimes you need to be able to control when you produce something beautiful.  But don’t worry, because if painters can do it, so can you.

Art is about practice.  You can learn how to paint a beautiful flower, sculpt a beautiful woman (or man), play beautiful music, etc.  So you can learn to write beautifully.

Flower

But I think part of that learning is learning to let go.  When you let the words flow through you, go with what your instinct tells you to put down, take your brain out of it, then you’ve got something.  Or you’ve got a never-ending stream of consciousness that makes sense to no one but yourself (see this blog).  I didn’t say it’d be easy.  And thankfully there is such a thing as going back later and editing.

I’ll end with a list of some of my favorite words, which are beautiful to me on their own.  Some might even have been Words of the Day.

Copious

Apoplectic

Supercilious

Ebullient

Effervescent

Abscond (for you, Micah)

What is your favorite word?  Tell me in the comments section!

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Word of the Day: Ebullient (adj) – overflowing with fervor, enthusiasm, or excitement; high-spirited

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Immortality

I’ve been thinking a lot about immortality lately.  Not that I’d like to be immortal; that would be terrible.  But a lot of characters in books are immortal, and that poses more problems than you’d think.

For one thing, you have to define the limits of their immortality.  I know that sounds oxymoronic – limited immortality – but think about it: A character who is untouchable, like Superman without a weakness to green rocks, has little motivation to be careful and think things through.  He or she does not care at all about going blindly into any situation.  And why should they?  They can’t be harmed.  But that makes it a little difficult to create any amount of suspense around that character.  You know he or she is going to be fine no matter what.

Another thing is that an untouchable protagonist makes for a character that your readers can’t really relate to.  When was the last time you looked at Superman and thought, “I know exactly how he feels.  I hate it when entire buildings fall on me.  It really messes up my hair”?

Messed Up Hair

No worries, though, because your character can still have very human flaws that make him or her more empathetic.  That’s not what I want to talk about though.  What I want to talk about, as I said, is the possible limits of immortality.

For example: Have you thought about what would happen to an immortal if their head was cut off?  If they were chopped up into teeny tiny pieces?  Incinerated?  Dissolved in acid?  Do those things just not touch them?  Do they bleed when they’re cut?  Or can they simply not be cut?

Severed-Head

These are all things that must be established.  The reason I’m talking about this is I have several characters in Hellbound who are some form of “immortal.”  My protagonist is, for one.  As are the protagonist’s father and uncle.  But all the immortal characters do have weaknesses.  They can be killed in certain situations.  It’s just tricky, because most things can’t kill them.  So how do you create a sense of urgency?  Suspense?  When the reader knows that a character is untouchable, it is hard to do these things.

Fortunately, as the author, you control the world you create.  You can make exceptions to the rule, create an opponent who has the ability to harm immortals, define the parameters of your character’s immortality.  It is all your doing.  But you do have to think about those things.  It is not enough to say “He is immortal.”  You must say, “He is immortal, in that he will live forever, provided that no one ever attacks him with a man-made weapon and cuts his head off which will cause him to die.  Other weapons, like guns, have no effect on him because they are made by machines.”  And the explanations could go on and on.

That’s all I have to say really.  Just wanted to point out to you that immortality is complicated.

Have a comic:

Writer's Block Strip 16

Word of the Day: Parameter (n) – a limit or boundary; guideline.

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A Brief, Made-Up History of Books

I recently started rereading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  The first time I read it was in high school, which meant I was predisposed to dislike it.  Something about being forced to read books made it all the more unsavory to me.  Now that I’m out of school and can read it of my own free will, I figured I’d give it another shot.  I’ve had this anthology of all of Austen’s works sitting on my bookshelf for quite some time…

This book is big enough to conceal a small gun, a flask, and a copy of the bible if you so choose.

This book is big enough to conceal a small gun, a flask, and a copy of the bible if you so choose.

…so I went ahead and took a crack at it.  And the first thing that struck me was that, for all I’ve talked about Showing not Telling, Jane Austen does the exact opposite.  It is her style.  And it works for her.  This led me to wonder when the rules for writing modern fiction came to be.  The problem is that I have no skills in history, research, geography, political science, or attention span.  As a result, I have created this made-up history of books to explain the progression of fiction from the late something-80s to modern day.  Enjoy!

The first book was written in 1587 by a Spanish man, Gabriel de Jamón.  He was 27 at the time, and was writing a letter to his sister, who was vacationing in France.  The only problem was that women didn’t start learning how to read until the early 1600s, so Gabriel had to accompany all the stories in his letter with pictures.  The letter ended up being 39 pages long, and his sister was so caught up in the stories her brother told that she put a binding around it and loaned it out to all her friends.  Thus, the first book ever written was a picture book.  Since it was the first book ever, its title was simply, “El Libro,” or, “The Book.”  The word “Libro” had to be invented for the sole purpose of naming this new form of arranging words and pictures in the form of a story.

El Libro

The trend of writing books slowly began to spread throughout Europe.  Most notably, King James of England transcribed the stories of the Bible – which had until that point been passed on orally – into written text.  This is how we came to have the King James version of the Bible.

In the late 17oos and early 18oos, several British authors, such as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, started coming out with works of Fiction.  The word “Fiction” was not coined in the English language until around 1875, however, so the books had to be referred to as “Untruthworthy” pieces.  These books contained excellent examples of prose, but lacked any real structure by today’s standards.

It wasn’t until 1904 that a young, American author by the name of Eunice Umberly produced a piece of Fiction that followed the “Show don’t Tell” structure.  The people of the time found this idea to be so disturbing that Eunice was hanged two weeks after the publication of her novel; she was charged with disturbance of the peace.  Several years later, a man – Thomas Thicket – published a novel that followed the exact same structure, but this time the supreme court deemed it permissible, as men were always to be trusted more than women.

Supreme Court

With the emergence of Thicket’s writing came a veritable onslaught of new Fiction that led to the development of many of the rules that are taught in modern creative writing courses.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the history behind Show don’t Tell.  Please don’t ever, ever quote me on this.

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Word of the Day: Onslaught (n) – an onset, assault, or attack, especially a vigorous one.

P.S. If you found this post sexist, blame history, not me.

 

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