Seeing the World Differently

A friend of mine offered a suggestion for a post yesterday, based on an adventure we had a couple of days ago.  It was a logical suggestion, but the most interesting thing that came from the conversation was a discovery that we approach writing in two very different ways.

First, a little background.  We went to the shooting range over the weekend, which was a new experience for me.  I had never shot a gun before (except a dart gun in a college class).  He suggested that I think about that trip as a potential basis for a story.

I explained at this point that I do, in fact, need to physically experience my stories in order to write them.  However, those are more often fights, like the dragon battle scene that my sister and I “choreographed” in the swimming pool.

It turns out that he starts with a scenario, like walking through a park at night or visiting a pawn shop, and then develops a character that fits into the scene.  It’s a “what kind of person would…” form of writing, and while I understand it intellectually, my creative side doesn’t get it.  My characters come first, and then I follow them around to see what scenarios they get into.

Of course, when I told him that my characters talk in my head, his response was to ask, “Have you told that to a professional?”  Obviously my form of inspiration is foreign to his creativity.  🙂

Three Writing Lessons from High School

I learned some valuable writing lessons when I was in high school, and not all of them were in English class.  Here are three things that stuck with me and influenced me as a writer.

1. A poem is never finished, only abandoned.
This came from my favorite English teacher during my senior year of high school, and I think it applies to more than just poems.  She taught us to go back and take a second look, a third look, a fourth; keep revising, keep tweaking.  There is no such a thing as a perfect, finished work.  I might get to a point that I feel something is ready to be shared, where making major changes becomes minor tinkering, but there is always something that can be improved. 

2. Give me details!
Brevity may be the soul of wit, but there is such a thing as too brief in writing.  This is something that I learned (painfully) in two history classes.  I always struggled to reach the required number of pages for our papers, because I thought and wrote succinctly.  I also left out a lot of important stuff, as it turned out.  Unlike some authors, who decrease in word count on revision, my novels always get longer.  The details are often key, whether in a history paper or in a story!

3. Sometimes it’s a good to give the readers what they want, and sometimes it isn’t.
I learned this one from my high school best friend.  She started writing a fantasy story our junior year, building the initial character ideas from our group of friends.  At the time I read silly fluff (mostly romance novels) but she was starting to introduce me to fantasy.  There was a scene in her tale where the character based on me had a potential romantic entanglement. She wrote it to be a challenge to the characters, a problem they had to overcome.  I wanted it to be fluff!  (You’ll have to forgive my silliness; I was a teenage girl, after all.)  Somehow she managed to move the characters through the challenge and still weave in some legitimate romance for the vaguely Leigh character, but not in the way I originally requested.  (On top of that, another one of our friends took the initial problematic scene and ran in some ridiculous direction with it.  That story, with flaming oranges and mauve towels, became something of a legend in our group.)  In Dragon I knew I was going to irritate some people, but I stuck with my original plan.  It’s good to think of your readers, but don’t feel like you have to coddle them!

To be honest, I am many years removed from high school, so these memories may not be 100% accurate.  The key lessons still ring true today, though, and it’s fun to reflect on them from time to time!

Common Threads

Have you ever noticed that you collect people in your life who have shared characteristics?  Sometimes they don’t even know each other – maybe it’s a friend from high school, a college roommate, and a coworker who all have something in common.  I posted a funny little picture of a bat on my personal Facebook page and tagged it with the people I know who are very fond of bats.  Two of them worked with me at my last place of business (albeit in different departments) and the third was in the same Master’s program as me.  I know it’s not totally unlikely – I have a lot of animal fans among my friends – but it’s still odd enough to make me ponder.

In another example, my sister and two previous co-workers  have the same birthday.  Again, just a coincidence, but still an odd thing in common.

There are many people in my life who also share behavioral traits or personality quirks.  I’ll have moments where interacting with one person will make me think of someone else I know.  Often these shared characteristics are things that I don’t share with the people in question.  Perhaps it is simply that my personality is complementary to theirs in some way, making it more likely that I will attract friends who share that trait.

Once again, contemplating human behavior can lead to interesting implications for writing.  Anything that you notice about people, particularly the things that make them complex, layered individuals, can be incorporated into writing to build the same sense of depth for your characters.

The Conflict of Passion and Restraint

I have very strong opinions on a variety of subjects.  I’ve always read non-fiction and cared about science, but recently I’ve been adding news, politics, and current events to my list of interests.  Courtesy of this, there are many things that I want to share with the world.  In fact, I wrote a little article this afternoon about one of those subjects.

It will never be posted on this blog, however, or anywhere.

Why, you ask?  If I’m so passionate about something that I feel it’s necessary to write about it, why not share it with the world?

Beside the fact that the topic is not really pertinent to this blog, I know that there are lots of people with lots of different opinions in this world.  Some of them are my friends and family.  Some are strangers, readers, and people who I don’t need to offend.  Knowing this, I find that a bit of restraint is important.

Writing something so I can get the passionate argument out of head is important.  So is keeping it on my own computer rather than shoving it in the faces of others.  When I feel the need to discuss one of these subjects, I find someone who knows and shares my general opinion, or at least someone who is willing to discuss it rationally and logically.

It’s a matter of balance, of finding a way to resolve the conflict of passion and restraint.


Unexpected Friendship

One of my favorite things about writing Unexpected is developing the friendship between Doug (human computer programmer) and Kiwi (urban fairy).  Now, I love Kiwi all on her own; she has a lot to say, some of which tickles me when I write it.  I’ve been putting Kiwi’s Crazy Comments on my Facebook page, although some of her funniest are not really appropriate for that venue.  (I am planning to clean up her language somehow – but not until the revision.)  And Doug is our main point of view character, so I’m very familiar with his outlook on life.  He’s probably a lot more like me, personality-wise, than any of the other characters.

The friendship between them is what’s really interesting to write.  While I haven’t set out with the intention of developing it, like any relationship, it’s been growing and changing as they deal with the issues at hand.  They’ve both had opportunities to get prickly in defense of the other, chances to share deeply personal stories with one another, and they’ve even comforted each other in tough moments.  (That’s a bit awkward to arrange, by the way.  How do you hug someone who is 1/12th of your size?  Or 12 times your size?)

It’s pretty clear as their friendship grows that it’s based very heavily on my own relationship with my best friend.  I didn’t set out for it to be; in fact, I was originally planning to make Kiwi’s platonic affection for Doug just a best guess on the reader’s part.  The story carried us a bit further into their personal histories and dramas than I intended, however.  When you get into that kind of emotional territory, you need a friend backing you up, and I’m glad that both characters proved capable of that type of friendship.

Even if it is an exceptionally unconventional friendship.

Asking for Help

This novel is turning out to be an ask-my-friends kind of novel.  Not that there is anything wrong with that, of course, and honestly I’d rather use my own trusted sources than spend time digging around on the internet.  But while I’ve asked for help before (like when I got some incredible insight from my cousin who was a Marine), this one’s requiring a touch more than usual.

My best friend Jack helped me decide what Kiwi’s clothes should be made out of.  (Candy wrappers; shiny, unexpected, urban and easy to acquire.)

Some of my Facebook pals gave me a bit of insight into the college courses a computer programmer might have taken (for a comparison reference to an oddball professor).

Tonight I asked another friend for a “recommendation” on a video game that two of my characters planned to play.  (I’m going with Halo, since it’s a multi-player franchise with multiple games; if I don’t specify a number, it can be whichever the “new” Halo is at the time of reading!)

At less than 10,000 words and already three queries for help, I don’t expect the trend to abate any time soon!



How do people meet?

This is a question that authors and filmmakers frequently address, sometimes in unique and intriguing ways.

If the story involves the development of a relationship of any kind, the characters have to meet somehow.  At the very least they must learn of each others’ existence – you can’t be anything, even enemies, if you don’t even know about the other person.  These meetings are sometimes mundane, sometimes offbeat, but always necessary.  If an author doesn’t handle the meeting the right way, the relationship isn’t believable.

Even if there are people who start their part in the tale already in their relationship, it’s likely that their creator knows how they met.  There is a unique couple in Dragon, an elf and a human who are dating.  We meet them as a couple, but as the author I know that their relationship had an interesting start long before they are involved in the story of the book.

Sometimes it’s fun to find out how people met.  Occasionally the people who create TV shows will take us back, through conversation or even a flashback episode or two, to show us how our favorite team was assembled.  Authors will sometimes write the short stories of their characters’ meeting.  And sometimes a movie is almost entirely about the ways that people meet, interact, and intertwine their lives with each other.

Think about the most important people in your life.  How did you meet?  It isn’t just characters who have unique stories.  Fiction comes from somewhere – I’m sure you’ve got an interesting tale or two in your history, too.

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