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!

Writer's Block Strip 17

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

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