Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Know your Stuff

Or just lie convincingly...

Recently I was reading a book on the year 2012, what that year means, ect. I was actually just getting interested in what the author had to say when she wrote: "Over two millennia After the Death of Christ." I get it, really I do: you're trying to figure out a more creative way to say the year. Why not write out AD? However, AD is “Latin for Year of our Lord Jesus Christ,” not After Death. It's a common mistake that people make all the time. Had this been a high school paper, or a random post on the internet, I might have just moved past it. This book was written by a supposed historian. Shouldn't a historian know what AD means? With this "small mistake," She discredited herself, and made me wonder if any of her facts were accurately researched.

This is a just a brief example of "knowing your stuff." If you don't know something, research it.... or cheat. Cheat? you ask. I know you've been taught not to cheat, but I don't mean that kind of cheating. A cheat would be working the story around so it’s not obvious that you don’t know a certain piece of information.

Example: She loaded an arrow into the crossbow, and took aim.

I feel like playing "what's wrong with this sentence, fantasy style." ;) The sentence itself is perfectly fine. Except, Crossbows don't fire arrows, they fire bolts or, occasionally, quarrels. So you could easily fix this sentence with:

She loaded a bolt into the crossbow, and took aim.

What's wrong with this sentence? Nothing, but as a writer you want to make sure your reader is completely immersed in the story. Unless you have explained what a bolt is, which could be superfluous in a story, it might be best just to cheat the sentence. How would that work?

She loaded the crossbow, and took aim.

Completely eliminating the name of the projectile, the author avoids looking stupid if they use ‘arrow,’ and the reader doesn't get confused if s/he doesn't know what a bolt is.

This is a pretty simple example, but you can see how a cheat would make it much simpler. All this to say, don't assume your audience doesn't know anything. If you do explain what a bolt is, don't do it blatantly. To sit and narrate an explanation could easily sound patronizing. We will talk about how to avoid this later.

The point is, in any story, you are going to have things you don't know. That's where research comes in. Research can look like many things.

Creative Research

My favorite kind of research involves watching tv, reading books, and even playing around on wikipedia. Through these outlets you find the jargon you need for your book, inspiration, and things to avoid. If you're writing a civil war book, watch civil war movies or go to a history museum. If you're writing fantasy, well, I consider playing Rappelz to be research, but I think that's just me procrastinating. In a couple weeks, I'm going to be going to the Extreme Mammals exhibit in San Francisco. I consider that creative research. Why? Because I write mostly speculative. Strange creatures are a part of that. Field trips like this are great for getting ideas, and learning random facts you might need later on.

Real Research


This can be the not-so-fun research, but it can double as schoolwork. The last three research papers I wrote, I chose something I could use later. I was writing about a girls with PTSD, Post-traumatic Stress, so when I had to pick my research paper for health class, that's what I chose. When I had to write a research paper centered on food, I wrote about how authors use food in fiction. Not only will you be interested in your paper, but you will glean information you will need later.

Read medical papers. Watch documentaries. Read local newspapers about a town your story is set in. Sure, the town may only have 2,000 people, but that's 2,000 people who will love your book because it portrays their town accurately. If it's incorrect, they will be annoyed with the inconsistencies.

Most of these are long, preplanned research, sometimes you are in the middle of a sentence, and you have no idea what something is called. Use your best guess, change the font to another color so you don't forget, and keep writing. If you're in the middle of a creative flow, don't stop! If you hop on the internet right then and there, you could get distracted and stop writing. Friends are great for this kind of thing too. Know your friends areas of knowledge, shoot them and email, text, or remember to ask them about it next time you see them.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Home Alone...this could be Bad...

"I need to write, but my Muse went on Holiday."

"On Holiday? Don't you mean vacation?"

"No, he lives in England. He doesn't take vacation, he goes off on holiday"

"How can your muse live in England? Don't you need him here?"

"No, I need him in England because I live in England."

"No you don't!"

"In my mind I do."

"You're insane."

"If I wasn't insane, I wouldn't be talking to myself right now. Therefore, you wouldn't exist."

"Excellent point."

The End

This has been Home Alone with Soni, she understands if you back away slowly and/or buy a straight jacket and will not take it personally.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Insomnia

1.. 2.. 3.. I lay as still as possible, enveloped in the thick flannel sheets. The events of the day drift through my thoughts in random order. None of them stick. 13… 14… 15… In… 17… Out… 19… Each breath paced, slowing gradually. The same process ever night. Maybe tonight I will sleep. 34… 35… 36… Soft music drifts from the iPod next to my head, keeping my mind occupied with song, with perpetual counting. 57… 58… 59… I’m floating as my body shuts down. I can’t feel the sheets on my skin. I can’t feel the cool breeze I know comes through the window, rattling the blinds. 70… 71... 72… My senses start to fade further into unconsciousness. My limbs are heavy. 81... 82… 93… Or was I at 83? I don’t remember, I must be almost there. 104… 105… 106… Where is my body? I can’t feel anything. My brain searches for my right arm but feels nothing. 120… 121... 122… The number become slow, labored, where was I? Did I skip one? 143… 145… 146… I can’t tell if I’m breathing. I must be. I have to be. Right? 158… 159… 160… Am I still awake? I feel like I’m going insane. Insane people think they are sane, right? I must not be crazy. 180… 191… 183… I start to feel something. A sharp pain tries to nudge its way into my head. 205... 206... 207… I will not move. I will not move. I will not move. 212… 213…. 214… A nail of pain pierces into my hip, taunting me. 237…238… 239… I will not move. 259… 260… Can’t take much more of this. 272… My body wakes itself up as I try to readjust. I find a position I think I could stay in all night.





1… 2... 3…

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gimme Some Space



Not that kind of Space! I usually don't go into grammar, but here are a few guidelines next time your words need a little elbow room.

A Lot or Alot?

Easiest question ever: A lot. It's always "a lot," seeing as "alot" is not an actual word. wink.gif



Already or All Ready?

Already means it's already done.
I already ate dinner.

All ready means completely ready.
We are all ready for dinner.



Can not or Cannot?

This is a very common question, with a very easy answer: Both. However, personal preference should be consistent in a particular piece. The 'Find' feature in your word processor will help you. Using cannot and can not in one piece will throw off your reader. (This rule applies also to the word Seatbelt and seat belt. even though some spell checks will tell you cannot and seatbelt are incorrect).



Every body or everybody?

Every body is used to reference physical bodies.
Every body of water is blue.
Every body needs water daily.

Everybody is in reference to every person.
Everybody wants to be a Cat.
(These rules also apply to anybody and any body)



Into or In to?

This is the hardest one for me.

Into relates to direction.
We are going into the city

Other times the sentence just lends to in and to being together.
We walked in to see the baby climbing the stairs.


Inbetween or In between?

Much like alot, inbetween is not a word. Erase it from your fingertips. In between, however, is perfectly acceptable. Usually the 'in' is superfluous. (hehe, I used superfluous, Miss Terry will be so proud!)
E.g.:
I sat in between my mom and dad.

A sentence that can also be written:
I sat between my mom and dad.

Upon or Up on

This really is the same thing as into. Upon implies being on something, and is usually a stationary word.
He sat upon the stool, watching the festivities. (If you used up on here, it would imply posture, not placement)

Up on usually implies actions.
He sat up on the bed to look out the window. (as in he was laying down, but then sat up).
or
He climbed up on the ladder.
Upon can be used in both these sentences, changing the sentence slightly.

I hope that helps you!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

If I Ate These Words

I would die of Poison.

So maybe that's a little extreme, but there are two words, when said together, that make me cringe. Writer's Block? No. Writer's cramp? no... "Chritistian Fiction." I'm not joking. I have huge issues with the words Christian Fiction. Before you get mad at me, let me explain. I was raised both at home and at church to have a "spirit of excellence" (Dan. 6:3). Granted, my mom never called it that, but the principle was still there. Calling a book Christian Fiction is like asking it to be cheesy or poorly written. But, hey, as long as it has a "powerful" conversion at the end, then we don't care if there are grammatical errors every two pages. I'm not saying all Christian Fiction is lame, but, if you go to a christian bookstore, good books are hard to find. In fact, the only really good books I found in a christian bookstore were either Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Francine Rivers. My favorite book could be characterized as Christian Fantasy... or is it Sci-Fi? Either way, it's not even in print anymore!

If you look at all these "Christian" books, you'll notice something: Most of them can't be found in a normal bookstore. What can you find at five locations near you (me)? those Fantasy, Scifi, and Francine Rivers books. Because they are actually good, and people like them. They are memorable, and non-Christians love them! (Also interesting is how many Christians reject the idea of Christian fantasy, and Francine Rivers because of how descriptive she is, yet those are the books that are taking the 'secular market' by storm!)

In my last post I interviewed Heidi Wright. What I didn't post was a conversation we had in later emails about her books in the Christian market. She told me "
...my books arent 'Christian' in the sense like [some other authors]. My Christian worldview comes through and I incorporate koine Greek, but that's about it." I wanted to give her a big hug, but she lives several hours away. Her books may not be Christian, but because they are written by a Christian, it comes through. It's not blatant, but it's there. The books are clean, the characters follow an unspoken moral code, there is a strong distinction between right and wrong.

As a Christian, your writing shouldn't have to be forced into a box that preaches Christianity on every page. The bad guy doesn't have to be converted and turn good; he can actually die! Really! Just like a Christian businessman doesn't announce to everyone he's a Christian, yet still practices honesty and work ethic. He doesn't make sure his clients are all Christian. He doesn't advertise as "A Christian Company." In & Out doesn't open stores inside churches. A writer who is Christian should be able to maintain their testimony without making it painfully obvious. "What about C.S. Lewis?" Lewis didn't publish in the Christian market, neither did Tolkien. "But I'm witnessing!" How many Non-Christians do you know that go to the Christian section of Borders for a good book? I don't know any.

A last example, is one you will all lecture me on. Since, after all, Christians should read Christian books. You may not know this name, but Orson Scott Card is a leading Sci-Fi novelist of today. His Ender books are phenomenal (personal favorite: Ender's Shadow). He's not an Atheist like so many people are inclined to believe. He is Mormon. A very devout Mormon actually. Just like secular authors who are Christians, his belief system shows through in his work. For the first half of the first book I read, I couldn't decide if he was Christian or not. When I found out he was Mormon, that made sense. He didn't have a Mormon hero, but his personal beliefs were laced tastefully through his book. Would an atheist catch it? Without a religious background, probably not. He writes some amazing books, but I didn't have to go to a "Mormon Bookstore" to find them. Why should I have to go to a Christian bookstore to find Christian fiction?

"A Spirit of Excellence" is about being the best. Not in a super cheesy, or self-centered way. We are supposed to give our all and strive to be excellent. So if, as writers, our work is done with that spirit of excellence, we don't have to force our beliefs in, and it should be good enough to stand against to a secular book and hold it's own. Most Christian books can't do that. Once the preaching is gone, there's not much story left. You should not have to sacrifice quality because you're trying to force feed the reader some all important moral. A mother bird drops the food into the baby's mouth, she doesn't jam it down their throat. Food is good, Christian values are great, but good things forced on someone lead to gagging (in case you missed the metaphor there).

Anyways, that's my three cents :-) There's a lot to be said on the difference between a Christian book and a book written by a Christian. Which one do you write?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not All Mythology is Myth



An Interview with Heidi Joelle Wright

Hello my darling, hello my honey, hello my ragtime gal... Sorry it's been stuck in my head for weeks! Moving on...While most of us "twenty-somethings" are struggling to finish the first hundred pages of our soon-to-be-novels Heidi Joelle Wright has written and self-published two novels. No, she didn't cheat and write the Shortest Book Ever(!). Her first novel , World's Collide, came to an end at 701 pages long... Yes... Seven hundred and one! The sequel, Lost and Found, came in as a close second at six hundred. Not too shabby, eh? (wow, suddenly I'm Canadian... okay then)

I met Heidi... nope... I can't do it... I met Joelle (her screen name) on a Narnia forum way back when I was just starting to take writing seriously. She was just finishing up World's Collide, a
nd was an inspiration to us little fledgling writers. So, after reading Lost and Found and becoming exceedingly more jealous than is probably healthy, I was prepared to beg for an interview. Of course, she didn't make me beg, but that's not the point. Without further ado (hehe, I did it again), here is an exclusive interview with Heidi Joelle Wright.


When did you start writing seriously?

March 2006. A friend had died and I needed something to keep my mind from obsessing over that fact. I don’t remember why I decided to try once again to write, but when I stopped writing that first time after I had sat down, I saw thirty pages worth of work.


That first writing session of new inspiration is always so exhilarating! Is this a family thing, or are you and your sister they only ones who write?

My dad has had a story laid out in his mind for decades, but he hasn’t written it out yet.


Are you kind of exclusive to fantasy, or are their other genres you enjoy?

Your question answers a question that I often ask people who’ve read my Fairy Tales! It is a divided opinion of whether my books are science fiction or fantasy. So, to answer your question, I prefer science fiction and fantasy. In recent years I’ve gained an appreciation for historical fiction, but I doubt I’ll ever write it.


Are you working right now? Going to school?

At this very moment I am in the biggest in-between of my life. I’ve recently moved and am looking for work. I did graduate with my AA degree; I plan to go back to school to get my bachelors in the future.


How do you balance your time between writing and the rest of you life?

HAHA. Ahem…. I have to be honest, not well. Especially with Worlds Collide, I was more than a bit obsessive. I’m the type of person who once they start a project, it is very difficult for me to focus on anything else until I finish. It was purely out of mercy that I passed Greek class, because I spent more time plotting and pondering story ideas than studying.


Trying to put this next question without sounding condescending, or like the weird aunt that coos over you at every family function like you're still three, but it didn't work... You are so young, is there a “when I grow up”?

First, thank you. Second, that’s a very good question. I think there is, but I have yet to figure it out. My motto for 2010 has been ‘I am so glad God is in control, because I have no idea what is going to happen!’.


Now you’ve self-published two substantial novels, what made you decide to self-publish?

When I heard about lulu.com, and that I could self-publish for free, and receive my novel in a book that I could display next to my traditionally published books and no one could tell which was self-published and which was “officially” published that decided it for me. I would have thought it was too good to be true if I hadn’t known someone who had used lulu for years and had had good experiences through it.


It is fun to see it in print! Do you ever plan to publish “Traditionally”?

Another good question. Maybe when I grow up? The biggest hindrance I have right now with getting Worlds Collide traditionally published (other than my fear of rejection) is most of the publishers or agents I’ve looked into won’t even consider a book over 200 thousand words, which it is.


Tell me about Worlds Collide, why first person?

First person is the only way I know how to write successfully. By successfully, I mean, more than ten pages.


And why so many perspectives?

Because I wanted to show the readers different sides of the same story and to be able to get into more than one character’s head. Such a big part of the story is how the characters interact; it wouldn’t be complete without more than one character’s perspective.


I have to say, one of the things that impressed me the most was how unique each voice was. It was easy to see their personalities through it. How did you keep each characters’ voice separate?

Thank you!

What’s the best way to answer this…before I wrote most of my characters, I had had their voices in my head for a long time. Some, a very long time. It came natural that when I wrote them down, they came out as individual voices.


So glad I'm not the only one who "hears voices." Did it every get confusing for you to keep it all straight?

The only thing that got confusing was the spellings of the names and places. I had a stack of little square pieces of paper that were my cheat sheets/security blanket! I’d take them with me whenever I’d write to make sure I spelled Kurios correctly, or that I had indeed changed the spelling of ‘Emily’ to ‘Emilee’.


I have to be honest, the editor in me was looking for 'Emily' to pop up somewhere. Do you have a favorite character to write for?

Dra or Emilee. Dra because she’s the most comfortable to write and Emilee because she can get away with what I never could.


I love Emilee! She was my favorite female character. Why two really long books instead of four "normal" size books?

I get this question a lot, especially for Worlds Collide. Short answer is, I view them as two stories. Lost and Found is Caleus’ story. Worlds Collide is its own entity; I have never felt comfortable breaking it up as I don’t feel any of the parts (well, maybe Part Three) stand well on their own.


I never intended on either book to be a 'tome'! In fact, I tried very hard not to drag any part of the story out.



That was very evident in your writing. So many people assume 700 pages means long drawn out descriptions, but it's very well paced. Now that you’ve finished your second book, what have you learned? And would you have changed anything from Worlds Collide?

Wow, it’s been three years since I finished Lost and Found, seems like a long time. I think I learned my strengths and weaknesses. Worlds Collide flowed so fast that my fingers couldn’t keep up with my brain, Lost and Found was harder and I had to work at it.


For your second question the answer is yes. Nothing big though, I’m very content with how it turned out. Lost and Found is the one I’d be more likely to change bits of!


A little more technical. You and I talked a very long time ago about your editing process. Can you take us through what happens to your work from when it gets written until it is published?

My work goes through three filters before I consider it done. First, I give it over to the Midget [her sister] and she edits for story structure. Her specialty is making sure I didn’t think I had written something explaining something and really hadn’t. Once it’s given the Midget Stamp of Approval, I hand it over to my mom. She edits it for grammatical and spelling errors. Once both of them have finished going through it I reread it through myself.


Has that process changed between World Collide and Lost and Found?

Very little. For Worlds Collide, I gave my mom and the midget a whole Part at a time to go through. For Lost and Found, I would give them whatever I had finished at the time!


What advice do you have for aspire writers?

Never give up. Not everyone can produce inspiration on demand, maybe today you may feel completely stuck, it may take some time for your ideas to ‘cook’ before they’re ready to be on paper. Don't give up on your story just because you feel stuck, even stuck for a long time!


Choose your audience before you starting writing. Before ’06, whenever I’d try to write I’d find myself asking ‘what would so and so think?’, and this was holding me back. It’s intimidating and overwhelming to be writing for the approval of the world! And, for me at least, when I’m intimidated and overwhelmed it’s much harder for me to go on without second-guessing myself. It’s much easier for me to write with the mindset that this is just a story for the midget.


Read! Watch movies! Tuck away bits you learn/hear/see from your friends, school, church, you cannot write from a ‘blank slate’, feed your imagination wherever you go.


Some great advice. Finally, what everyone really wants to know: What’s next? Are you working on anything, and can you tell us about it? Will we be seeing more Dunami? (okay, so I kinda snuck four questions in there… )

After Lost and Found my imagination felt sucked dry. It’s just this year that I feel I’ve filled my ‘inspiration bank’ enough up to write some more. I have a fully developed new character, and new ‘dunami race, and a few more new faces. I’m planning on incorporating some more of the mythology hinted in the end of the last book. Right now I’m working on how to tie it all together!


Thank you again, Joelle, it was fun! If you want to know more about these amazing "psuedofiction" novels, you can find them on her website, The Lonely Isle.


 
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