Thursday, November 3, 2011

Thoughts Before the Fall

Why, hello there. It's been a while.

Hey, didn't you start another post like this?

Yeah, besides the point. Originality is overrated, especially within my craft. I've decided in advance to throw topic focus down the well for the duration of this post, so I ask your forgiveness for the wandering nature of my thoughts. I have a few things I want to talk about before I officially begin NaNoWriMo, as I feel these things are important for me to remember this month.

When I started this blog, my original intention was to use it for building a readership for my writing. It was going to be my "author blog," which, in short, was supposed to give people who love hopefully like my work a place to go to learn about me. Also, I wanted to document the experience of writing my first novel which, if I'm published, might provide some other new writer inspiration in the future. I find that I am always in need of encouragement and validation as a writer, so hopefully someday my words as random bits of advice might help someone in the future.

While these things are well and good, in practice, my blog has become a place for me to write about what I'm learning as a new writer. I can't be bothered to do the research, but I remember someone saying that "the best way to learn something is to teach it." I have found this to be 100% true. Whenever I talk about some aspect of writing or the creative process on the blog, I am forcing myself to think critically about it, making myself better understand my topic by putting it into words. As practice and reminders to myself, JJ's Magical Rag has proven it's worth, and I hope to continue using it as such for months and years to come. I humbly ask you to bear with me.

Oh no, not the bare/bear thing again...

So, as I might have mentioned in the past, National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo) kicked off Tuesday, the 1st of November. As of yet, I have not started. Shame on me. Truth is, I'm scared. This thing called "fear" happens to me a lot with writing. Luckily for me, this kind of writing stage fright is not uncommon. The solution (which, don't let me fool you, I know very well) is to just plow through it. All I need to do is start.

Well, tomorrow, I'm going to do just that. I'll even prove it. Look for a link in a special "Day 1 which is actually Day 3" blog post. There are a few things anyone who is considering participating in NaNoWriMo should remember:

   - Turn of your internal editor. That douchebag will just get in the way and show your progress.Your goal is 50,000 words, and you'll never get there unless you learn to initially ignore some of your mistakes.

   - Outline your story before you start. Even though it won't be perfect, your story will be better and more usable at the end of the month if you know where you're going when you start writing.

   - Don't be afraid to commit. There are some late night ahead if you want to reach 50,000 words. Accept it and work through it. Sleep is for the dead.

   - Have fun! I have heard it from a number of sources that NaNoWriMo is an extremely valuable experience whether or not you can actually use the material you wrote during November. Don't let the stress make you sick.


That'll about do it for today. Thank you for reading my irrelevant NaNoWriMo tips. Remember, by reading them, you help me help myself. Until next time....

Take the leap with me.

See you at the bottom


Friday, October 14, 2011

Fire Burn and Cauldron Bubble

Alas, there was a time, long, long ago.....a time where this blog was supposed to include "written triviality." I sat here last night, drinking Woodchuck's last fermented apples of the season (Try the stuff, it's great) when a wild flight of fancy took me. I want to write a Halloween story! Buh...buh....

BUH! Get it? Dramatic woodchuck? I know, I crack myself up.

Why, you ask?

    "Jarryd, a holiday-themed story will never sell. The markets and time-frame are too narrow."

I agree, it will likely never sell to a professional market. But that's not my purpose. My purpose is simple creative fancy. You see, before I got home to sit in front of the computer and drink fermented cider, I attended a meeting of my bi-monthly writer's group, the Palm City Word Weavers. We are a motley crew of experienced veterans and new talent. I am neither experienced nor talented, yet I do my best to learn from both. Anyway, at this meeting, several of my fellow writers presented Halloween-themed stories for critique. Needless to say, I was inspired. I had the privilege to listen to whimsical stories about magical pumpkins and creepy stories about the weird guy next door. As I listened, I got to thinking.....

    "Hell, fall is one of my favorite times of year. A time when harvest apples, leaf-diving whimsy, and the spirits of the dead all get together. Why can't I write about that?"

Good question, Jarryd.

I want to write this story. I may not be able to sell it in the traditional sense, but it'll give me something fun to read at Howl at the Moon next week. Plus, if it turns out well, there's this little contest the story would be perfect for.

So yes, the prospect of a sale on this one is a bit slim at the get-go. Who cares. Sometimes, you just have to write what you like. Until next time...

Be sure to fly all of your fancies,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Into the Middle of Things

As I mentioned last time, I signed myself up to participate in NaNoWriMo 2011, which challenges me to write a 50,000 word novel in a little under one month. As I also mentioned last time, I'm scared to death. When I'm scared or nervous, I tend to fret endlessly about everything regarding the subject of my nervousity. (ok, I totally didn't know "nervousity" was a word before I wrote it. I guess you learn new things every day *cue thumbs up*)


OK, back on topic. When nervousity gets the better of me, I worry. Not surprisingly, I'm currently worrying about my novel. The world I've created is of utmost importance to me and, like a child on their first day of school, I want to present it in the best possible light. It will be the first time most people will see my world, and I want to make sure it doesn't trip over the proverbial steps and land on its proverbial face.

Not pretty.

If my first novel is the first most people will see of my world, the beginning of said novel is the first part anyone will see period (.)

Gee pal, thanks for dragging us through the unecessary logic chain on that one.

I know it's tedious, but I just want to emphasize how important the beginning is to me, and therefore why I'm having so much trouble nailing it down. Not only is the beginning the first part of a novel potential readers (read: customers) see, it's also where novels are potentially sold or rejected by editors and agents. It lays the groundwork for the entire book, and often a book will sink or swim based on that groundwork. You might see why I'm concerned.

Anyway, there is a terrible precedent in the fantasy genre to start books slowly. In some of my favorite fantasy series, the first book starts by carefully laying out the protagonist's humble beginnings, usually as a Luke-Skywalker/Frodo-esc farmboy, who will eventually lose their family and humble beginnings to fiery tragedy. Hero will then promptly grow up to save the world in some fashion from glossy black rebreathers, magical lightning, and cyclopsian black towers. It's such a classic and mythical archetype that the farmboy-orphan beginning persists as a bit of a cliche within the genre. Now, I'm not one to buck tradition. I want my protagonist to follow similar lines, because, well, I like it. My only problem is that I actually want to sell my book. If I persisted with my preferred beginning, the only result would be a pile of pink rejection slips. So, in the interest of my future livelihood, I've been hard at work trying to find ways to subvert and disguise that particular trope.

After several sleepless nights, I remembered something I'd heard on an episode of Writing Excuses. They referred to something called "in medias res." According to God, in medias res translates from Latin as "into the middle of things." It is a narrative technique used by some authors to break out of slow and exposition-heavy beginnings by starting the narrative in the middle of the story (read: the action and fun parts) while periodically filling in the needed exposition (read: beginning). Homer was a fan, as he employed in medias res in both the Illiad and the Odyssey.

Who am I to second guess Homer?

Through much thought and careful plotting, I've decided to start the first novel with the end of the final novel. By allowing the reader to see what happens near the end of the trilogy, I hope to lend the first two books a sense of tragic inevitability before the story finally catches up to itself near the end of last book. While this technique doesn't exactly fit the exact definition of in medias res, it fits somewhere in between in medias res and a classic frame narrative. It's not exactly an original technique, but it's unique and interesting enough that it should serve to get people through the boring exposition to the meat of the story.

Remember to sign up for NaNoWriMo if you haven't yet, and check out my entry for the 150-word Reader's Digest contest =). If you have trouble getting to my entry, "Like" Reader's Digest, and disable "Secure Browsing" in your Facebook security settings. Until next time,

Be wary of faceplants and cyclopsian black towers,


Saturday, October 8, 2011

NaNoWriMo and Other Fatal Maladies

This week, I'm proud to announce my status as an "Official Participant" in NaNoWriMo 2011. For the uninitiated, NaNoWriMo stands for "National Novel Writing Month," which takes place annually in the month of November. My goal will be to write a 50,000-word novel in about 25 days. In short, I'm terrified.

So terrified.

According to Microsoft's Calculator suite, that equals 2000 words a day, or roughly 1.4 words a minute for 25 days straight. Why subject myself to such rushed literary torture? Three reasons:

1. I eventually want to write full time, which means writing (almost) everyday. I want to see what that's like, and NaNoWriMo gives me a good excuse.

2. I have a problem with accountability. With NaNoWriMo approaching in November, I now have a hard deadline for finishing my short stories, allowing me to move on to my novel.

3. I've been challenged. Fellow writer and blogger Candice Coghill threw down her proverbial glove on Facebook earlier this week, and I am now honor-bound to kick her literary tail.

Since I promised to document the experience of writing my first novel, I will be releasing frequent updates throughout the month of November, providing fresh and exciting updates from the gritty novel-writing front lines. Wartime press coverage will boldly go where no split infinitive has gone before.


Lastly, I've recently submitted a piece to the Reader's Digest contest, "Your Life....The Reader's Digest Version." The contest consists of 150-word stories, lessons, advice, etc. The winner receives $25,000 as well as publication. The contest was a great exercise, as it forced me to condense my message to a strict word limit and trained me to make every word count. I highly recommend everyone to give this a go. You can read and vote for my entry here.  Best of luck to anyone who enters!

Also, I've added my NaNoWriMo profile to the links on the left sidebar of my blog homepage. Check me out, or better yet, sign up and friend me. =) Until next time...

Game on,


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Art of Trailblazing and Remounting Steeds

Last week, I received my first rejection slip.

It hurt. Bad.

Well, I can't say I expected anything else. Now that my minor cardiac laceration has had time to heal, I'm taking a longer view on things. My story is good, I have no doubt. It was well executed and original, and my writing group liked it. I feel like it was good work. However, there is something vital, something extremely important I forgot during my time of wretched inconsolability. (yeah yeah, not a word). My story is good, yes. But it can be better. Much better, even. To me, this is good news. Even though they sent me a form letter rejection after two months with no feedback, I believe I have identified the things that, while relatively minor, caused my story to be rejected. My story, for instance, is fairly short. At 2000 words, it falls short of most professional market's preferred length of around 4000 words. There are several parts of my protagonist's story that could stand to be fleshed-out and clarified. Doing so, I know I can easily double the word count of my story.

Rejection, whether literary, professional, or romantic, is never easy. Just like dating, however, it's important to carry on. For me, it's time to get back on the proverbial horse.

*cue triumphant whinny*

With life doing its best to put me on my back, rejection is just what I needed to pick me up. I've been in a bit of a creative rut lately, so there's nothing like a good kick in the pants to get me moving again. All I can do is write, revise, and submit again. I know that if I keep at it, it will only be a matter of time. Comments, advice, and consolation are always encouraged. =)



Sunday, September 25, 2011

We Can't Repel Bias of this Magnitude!

This week, I've been cooking up a short story inspired by the Five for Fighting song posted at the top of my home page. It takes place from the point of view two characters with two very different perspectives of both the world and their shared situation. Sometime around last month, I posted my thoughts on bias and stereotypes as they relate to writing characters. It's an important topic and it highly relates to my current project, so I've decided to cover a slightly different aspect of it.

"Oh no," you say. "Not the dreaded and much-maligned repost!"

It's not that bad, I promise. Bear with me, it'll be worth it, I swear.....wait, I can never remember if it's



Oh well, I guess it doesn't really matter. Anywho, once more unto the purpose of this post.

Today, I want to talk about perspective. Everyone, as in us humans, perceives the world in different ways. As I discussed before, people form personal constructs or stereotypes based on how they view the world. Because we all have different personal experiences or beliefs, personal constructs and simple perceptions therefore vary from person to person. And because fiction, at its heart, is simply a simulation of real or imagined life, we generally want our characters to reflect this. A classic example of this (stolen shamelessly from the guys at Writing Excuses) is to have a hypothetical full cup of water sitting on a hypothetical table in a hypothetical room. 3 people walk into said room and see the cup. Each person (if they were real) would have somewhat different thoughts regarding the cup of water. For example, a nomad from the desert would view the cup of water differently than someone hailing from a more fertile climate.

Now, because I love fun examples, I'm gonna try to demonstrate this further. The example I'm going to use is...

wait for it......

Oh, yes I did. And yes. It is a trap.

Herein lies a valuable lesson within a lesson for everyone: You can learn something for everyone and everything. I promise you that Admiral Ackbar, commander of the Rebel fleet and failed University of Mississippi mascot candidate, has something to teach us about writing perspective.

At the time Ackbar discovers the potentially-fatal Imperial ambush and emphatically delivers his famous lines, several different things might have been going through his fishy head. Let us consider some of the things we know about our dear Admiral:
  1. Admiral Ackbar is a member of the Calamari species (I can't believe Lucas named them that), who risked everything to support the fledgling Rebel Alliance. If the Alliance fails, his people will most likely suffer greatly and/or be wiped out by the Empire.
  2. Ackbar is an Admiral and leader of the Rebel Fleet participating in the Battle of Endor. By nature, the small Rebel Alliance must be a tight-knit group. He likely cares a great deal about those whom he commands.
  3. Lastly, the Admiral is in a dire situation. He has just discovered that his hopes, friends, entire species, and own life are likely about to go up in a fiery miasma of Death-Star-operational-ness. 
So, when he utters his famous lines, "It's a trap!" and "We can't repel fire of that magnitude!", it initially seems a bit absurd and sensationalist. However, when we viewed through the lens of his perspective, Ackbar's reaction is quite understandable and appropriate.

When we write characters, we want to get into their heads. What are they thinking and feeling at the moment? How does their past affect them? These questions and others must be considered when we make our characters, and once considered, their actions should match accordingly -- for characters are simulations and analogs for real humans, and they must be real to us for them to be real for our readers. If we fail, and write characters based on stereotypes and give them no motivations and thoughts to inform on their action, the results will be flat and uninteresting. Remember, everyone (and every character) perceives the world in different ways. Write accordingly.

As always, thank y'all for reading. If you like it, feel free to share it and/or comment. I love hearing what everyone has to say. Until next time...

Beware of traps,


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Between the Seconds

So here I am again. It's been a while.

It certainly has.

Borat presents a rather apt topic. Why have I remained silent so long? The short answer is that I've been busy. The real answer is that I've been lazy.

Not drinking, though.  I promise.

Well, I suppose both answers are partially true. I have certainly been busy. And also lazy...

OK, I'm not getting anywhere with this. The truth is that pursuing writing extracurricularly (not a word, I know) is difficult. The reality is that while we have dreams and other lofty goals, our mortal need for food and shelter take precedence over such trivialities as building a writing career. Yet we must do it anyway.

One of the more interesting history lectures I've had the privilege to benefit from in school deals with the wealthy upper class of America's Gilded Age, and their theories of the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism. For the uninitiated, the former essentially states that the accumulation of wealth is good, and that folks who are wealthy deserve to be wealthy and that those who are poor deserve to be poor. According to the Gospel, if the poor had enough resourcefulness and essential pluck, it would be possible for such people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps into the grandeur of America's elite. Concurrently, Social Darwinism makes good use of Herbert Spencer's phrase "survival of the fittest," (a term not, ironically enough, belonging to Charles Darwin) supporting the Gospel of Wealth by stating that only the best and brightest eventually became wealthy, while it was just the chaff that remained in the the lower social classes.

In practice, however, this theory is not always valid -- especially for newly-arrived immigrants to late 19th and early 20th century America, when the Gospel of Wealth and Social Darwinism developed. Most of America's self-made men -- men like Andrew Carnegie -- were given opportunities and help all their lives, all of which combined to help them climb the social ladders. It's also worth mentioning that the vast majority of America's upper class became wealthy by inheriting it, followed closely by folks marrying into it. Self-made fortunes were a distant third.

For many of America's poor, however, no such opportunities -- or even basic education or a roof over their heads -- existed. Famous contemporary photographer Jacob August Riis documented the plight of newly-arrived immigrants in America's inner cities.

Opportunities are abound.

I digress, however. My point is that such theories as the "myth" of the self-made man -- myth, half-truth, or not -- eventually came to embody our national identity. Ask anyone on the street, and they're likely to tell you that they believe it is possible, through hard work and pluck, for anyone to become rich. The simple truth is, however, that the majority of people die in the same class they were born into. Most people have dreams, myself obviously included. The problem with dreams, however, is that most go unfulfilled. Life gets in the way. For me, life includes school and work. Most successful writers faced the same problem when they were trying to break in. And all of them overcame it. This post is as much an affirmation to myself as anything else. Those times I spend relaxing after work or school, I need to spend writing. My best work needs to be between the seconds of the rest of my life.

My dream is important to me, and although I might never achieve meteoric success and riches (and I'm not sure I want to), I, like most, believe hard work is necessary to bring my dream to fruition. If I don't get there, I feel I have no one other than myself to blame. I may need special opportunities and a measure of luck, but I believe I can do it.

As always, thank y'all for reading, and I hope to read your comments soon.

Remember to spay and neuter your pets,


P.S. -- Some of you may have noticed the Five for Fighting song near the top of my home page. It will come into play in a future post, so listen well. :)

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Writing Life

I find myself this morning, once again, at Starbucks. Rather than dithering on about characters and such, I've decided to talk about what keeps bringing me back to my favorite big, red chair across from the bar.

Alice knows why.

If other aspiring writers are anything like me, they have trouble finding time to write. Besides writing, I have things like college, work, and significant others competing for my time. Not surprisingly, writing does not always sit highest on my list of priorities, and as a result, I don't always get much writing done. This cannot always be blamed on my other commitments, however. Sometimes, I find myself sitting in front of the computer at home with a blank open office document, (yes, I use OpenOffice, don't hate.) unable or unwilling to write anything clever or coherent.

A cheapskate's best friend.

I came to the conclusion that writing at home wasn't for me. I just couldn't get in the write mindset [har har, I know, I'm a wriot (ha, did it again!)] Therefore, I decided to try out "working at the office." Maybe getting out of the home would be just the kick in the pants my muse needed. So, unwilling to resist a good cliche, I drove to the Starbucks nearest my house. It's also nice that my significant other happens to work here. See, never say I can't kill multiple birds with single stones ;).

In short, my coffeehouse writing experiment was an unparalleled success. In all my time at home, I managed to complete one short story. Conversely, during my short time working at Starbucks, I've completed one full short story and made significant progress on two others. Plus, I've outlined the beginning half of my first novel -- and, as you've likely gathered, I do most of my blogging here as well. You might think all of the motion and noise common at Starbucks would distract me from my work, but, quite contrarily, the constant hubbub caused me to focus even harder, upping my efficiency. Starbucks, it turns out, is the perfect place for this particular aspiring writer. I guess all cliches start somewhere.

More than meets the eye. Or is that Transformers?

Not all writers are like me. There are countless approaches to the writing life, only one of them being working away from home. Many writers, including several that I admire, prefer the big red chair in front of their fireplace versus the one in the coffeehouse with the chaos and commotion. But hey, it works for me.

So, I know many of you have dreams and extracurricular pursuits outside of your day jobs. I would love to hear about your secret projects and the strategies you use to work on them in the comments below. Also, I'm looking for a free, outside html-based music player program to embed in this blog. If you have any ideas or information, feel free to shoot me an email at Until next time...

Happy writing,  rhyming, and reminiscing,


Monday, August 22, 2011

How to Spot a Narcissist

So the only requests I've gotten in response to my informal topic drive is questions about myself to answer, which I will happily do. Just remember, I warned you.

I told you not to let me talk about myself.

Ok, so these first questions came to me from the wonderful Gayle Swift, over at  thatmatters2me:

When did you realize you were a writer?

Well, simply put, I realized I was a writer when I...realized I was a writer. In all seriousness, though, it hit me during my last year at the University of Florida. One night, I was crashing on the couch listening to one of the Harry Potter audiobooks, and I remember thinking that I wanted to know more about J.K. Rowlings world; the deeper backstory and history that she only alludes to in her novels. Instead of turning down the "fanfic" path like many aspiring writers, I decided to create my own world. It bounced around in my head for a few weeks before I realized I wanted to write novels about my world. And from that point on, I was hooked.

Who mentored you?

The first thing I did after deciding I wanted to write for a living was pick up a copy of Stephen King's "On Writing." That book was my first "mentor" in creative writing. Following that, I discovered a great podcast put out by 3 guys; a fantasy author, a horror author, and a scifi cartoonist. It's called Writing Excuses and I worked my way through their archives over about a year and a half. They have (and still are) taught/teaching me almost everything I know about fiction writing. The rest I learned from reading. I estimate that I read somewhere in the neighborhood of 75-100 books that first year.

What writer have influenced you the most?

This is a tough question, as I read so much after deciding to become a writer, and all of them influenced me in some way. If I had to choose a few, I would have to pick Oscar Wilde, Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Brandon Sanderson (one of the authors on Writing Excuses), Robert Jordon, George R.R. Martin, Jim Butcher, Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, and perhaps Alfred Lord Tennyson.

What would you like your writing to accomplish?

I would like people to enjoy my writing. I'm not after the Nobel Prize or a walrus' bucket full of money.  I enjoy writing my stories, and I want others to enjoy reading them - while still being intellectually stimulated. I envision people sticking my novel in their bag to take to park and the bookish college student putting it in his or her laptop bag to read during a boring lecture. Nothing big. It would be nice if my writing supported me financially, though. :)

This last question is from the amazing Candice Coghill, over at  Thus Sprake the Hermudgeon

Do you think the book (as opposed to the blog, the film, the whatever media you might name today) is as important to "your generation" as it is to mine?

I grew up in a household where books were very important. From young age, I was highly encouraged to read. After my parents seperated, I stopped reading as much and became more enamored with things like TV. It wasn't until my later school years that reading became important to me again. To answer your question, Candice, I do believe "the book" is just as important as "new media." To quote my literature professor, "...we learn about other cultures and the past by reading great works. In this way, we can be looking over the shoulder of history, and seeing it through their eyes." I am a historian as well as a writer, and I believe that having a broad understanding of the past is important, as it provides us with insights we might otherwise miss. Plus, as a modern media, movies and TV shows just can't provide the depth of a great novel.

Again, thank you so much Gayle and Candice for your questions. Have a great week, people. I always love reading your comments.



Saturday, August 20, 2011

Casting Call

I honestly have no idea what to write about this week. Currently, I'm finishing and polishing my stable of short stories before I start making a concerted effort at my novel, and therefore starting my "first-novel-documentary" experiment.

So, I don't want to randomly start pontificating again about random subjects related to writing. So instead, I'm going to ask you fine folks what I should randomly pontificate about. Or would it no longer be random, then?

Anyway, please please please comment and let me know what y'all want me to talk about. New poll question, btw. Weigh in.

"This is our most desperate hour. Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."


May the Force be with you,


Friday, August 12, 2011

In Living Color

So, Star Trek wins this week? Good. Mr. Spock approves.


I'm sitting here at Starbucks trying to decide what I want to say this week. I know, I can hear what y'all are thinking:  

Really guy, you're writing at Starbucks? Could you get any more hackneyed?

Well, that's not exactly what I thought, but hey, don't judge. Being in public is good pressure to write, plus there's this pretty girl who works here that I'm kinda crushing on, so in the name of coffeehouse stalkers everywhere, I'm darn well gonna be a walking (or perhaps sitting) cliche.

Like these guys

So where was I?  Right, Starbucks. People-watching is one of my favorite activities since I've started writing creatively, as it allows me to passively observe the human animal in it's natural, over-caffeinated environment. A busy chain cafe like this one, it turns out, is a great place to learn about writing characters.

Whether we realize it or not, when we observe the people around us, we from personal constructs; which my old communications textbook defines as "a mental yardstick by which we make initial judgments about eachother." Many of these constructs conform to societal stereotypes. For example, one might look at the guy standing at the register right now wearing track pants and a tank top and think "fitness nut." Therefore, he will order soy milk in his latte. Most new writers, again whether or not they realize it, use personal constructs when they create their characters. This is especially true for speculative fiction writers like myself.

Like members of the non-literary population, we form our personal constructs from what we observe around us; what we perceive as norms. Unlike everyone else though, we form most of our constructs from the media we consume, or what we see, hear and read. For fantasy writers, these tends to be greats like Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and (nowadays) J.K. Rowling. I know my first fantasy world formed around a bunch of characters loosely a bit too closely molded after Rowling's heroes and heroines. More traditionally, Fantasy writers fall into modeling their characters after Tolkien's characters, creating eternal archetypes (or, if you prefer, cliches): The wise wizard (Gandalf), the jaded warrior/lost heir (Aragorn), the stubborn dwarf (Gimli), the unlikely hero and the trustworthy friend (Frodo and Sam).

"The Unlikely Hero," Tolkien's one archetype that has survived mostly intact into modern fantasy.

New writers, it's time to take notice! What is your favorite book, movie, or TV show? Now take a look at your fledgling novel and look closely at your characters. You'll notice it too. I did. But take heart, there is hope.

A good way to learn to write believable characters is to first examine your own. Not your main character in your novel: yourself, your mind, you. After all, most define characters as simulations of real people, so how better to learn how to write good characters than to examine the real person you hopefully know best? Look deep down at yourself, and notice all the things you do or think. You may see yourself as a writer, but hopefully you are so much more. Maybe you like to run, or play an instrument. Are you married, or maybe you feel you are unlucky in love? While you may define yourself as a writer or academic, your personality shows shades of many different and changing things, like a living watercolor painting. Your characters should be the same way.

All masterpieces begin with a single color.

The good news is that most writers start with archetypes, and build on them with details and quirks to make them feel alive. This is fairly simple, and is a practice that improves with time. For example, let's take another look at the soy milk fitness nut.

So, there is a fitness nut at the counter. The uncreative writer might make him look impatiently at his watch as he waits for his soy latte. You could look at this another way, however. Maybe he's impatient because he's getting whole milk in his latte, due to the fact that his newlywed fitness nut wife won't let him have it at home. Perhaps he pulled ahead of her to get to the cafe first, so he could secretly enjoy his indulgence before she arrives. Maybe he's wearing track pants in the summer because he is the rare male anorexic, who despite working out constantly feels that his legs are too unsightly for running shorts. You get the idea. :)

There is another, surefire way to write great, real characters. Become them. That's right, I'm not crazy or delusional. Whenever you write a character, try to feel their motivations. Feel their pain and triumphs. Use the basic empathy you have for other humans, and put yourself in your character's shoes. I promise your writing will be more passionate and your characters will feel that much more real because of it. Great actors do the same thing with the characters they play. Here is a link to one of my all time favorite videos, Sir Ian McKellen describing how to do just that.

Well, this has been an extremely lengthy post. Sorry if I took up too much of you all's time, but hopefully y'all learned a bit. Remember, you want characters, not caricatures or cliches.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

From Mindscape to Word Processor

As this is my first "content-based" blog post, I want to get a basic, common sense disclaimer out of the way: I am going to talk a lot about writing in this blog. I am in no way an expert (at least not yet), nor do I represent the views of any other author or organization. This includes any agent, editor, or publisher I might have some day. In other words, any advice or opinions stated on this here blog belong solely to myself unless otherwise stated. Now, onto the fun stuff.

  For this first post, I want to explore what actually starting to write in my "built universe" felt like. It's something a lot of new authors (like myself) struggle with. I think it's important to talk about, because for many aspiring writers, the point where your universe becomes "real" is a huge barrier. Hopefully, reading about my experience will help some of those so afflicted take that first step into literary reality.

"...begins with a single step."

Alrighty, so at this point in my writing career, I am currently at the stage of the writing process (of my novel) where I am just beginning to draft my first chapters. Before I arrived at this stage, I spent upwards of a year researching and working through the process known to super-insiders as world-building; using stream of thought, outlines, etc, to build the setting in which your story takes place. Some people also lump "plotting" and "character development" in with world-building. It was the first thing I did when I decided I wanted to be a writer.

Personally, I spent months building the history, places, and characters for my world. The result was an incredibly detailed and well-fleshed out secondary world setting. Spending a long time world-building is common among new fantasy writers, including myself. Yet most of us never get past that stage. Why?

For me, it was fear. I fought writing my novel for the longest time. Mostly, it was because I was afraid to put my world and characters down onto the page; to make them tangible. I feared that if I wrote them down, they wouldn't be nearly as good on paper as I had envisioned them. I cared for my world, my characters, and my history, and I didn't want them to be revealed as less than I thought of them. And so I continued to let them stew in my head. As I've said before, many new writers find themselves in similar dilemmas. So how do you escape? How do you start writing?

I finally convinced myself by taking the equivalent of baby steps. I wrote short stories. Many of these take place within the world of my novel, giving me a place to explore my world and characters in a somewhat low-risk medium. It was still scary as hell, but I was able to overcome my literary cowardice, and I am eternally grateful I was able to do so. Once I started to write things down, I noticed that things started to come alive. Characters started taking on lives of their own, and the places I had only before imagined became organic. They were so much better than I had thought, and through critique an consideration, I learned I could revise them and make my babies even better.

Before I wrote that short story, I was only considering becoming a writer. Afterward, I knew what it was I wanted to do for a living. Now, several of these stories are nearly ready for submission, and one of them is already out there. I have also finally started my first novel.

Like many things worth doing in the world, writing is about overcoming fear. No matter how you do it, you have to eventually take that first step. If not, than you should go ahead and give up. Continuing to layer your world isn't doing any good past a certain point. But seriously, don't. There are few things more satisfying to me than the act of creating a new story. Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised. It'll be OK. :) As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why yes, I am starting a blog....

So, now that I'm getting ready to submit my first stories, I have decided it's time to start my oh-so-important author blog. I want people who like my work to have someplace to come to learn more about me, and hopefully talk to me. I've also decided to use this blog as a bit of an experiment. I'm currently writing my first fantasy novel, and I want to document the writing process for "posterity." I have no illusions about this blog's success, and I'm not expecting much, but as my mother likes to say, "you can't succeed if you don't try."

Ideally, I hope to update this here blog twice a week every once in awhile. I hope y'all enjoy my writing, and please feel free to leave comments, questions, etc. I'm pretty new to this writing/blogging/human social interaction thing, so be gentle with me and I'll be glad to chat or answer any questions you might have.