Monthly Archives: December 2013

Happy New Years!

It is a time to reflect for many, a day to recall memories and make promises for the future.

I tend to notice that the promises made today are forgotten tomorrow, and many are so vague or hollow that they seem to lack meaning. I find it preferable to make promises I can keep, promises that will make a difference in my life.

So this year, instead of making vague promises to “make this year better” or meaningless ones that I know I will never keep up with, I want to work on my attitude because it is something I am accountable for. I want to be slow to anger, get rid of the notion of judgement, speak with kindness and learn respect in all facets of the meaning. I want to experience the world in a way I never have, and to cherish my blessings because I know I will be happier for it.

I hope everyone has a wonderful evening tonight in celebration of the new year. Stay safe and keep off the roads if you are going to drink. Remember to let your family and friends know how much you love them more often than once or twice a year because you never know how long you will have to do so. Work on bettering your life with small and manageable steps. Don’t worry about disappointment because it is always bound to occur, just take it in stride and move forward.

I wish you all the best, enjoy the last night of 2013 and God Bless!

Writing Contest Idea

I took a bit of suggestion and decided to join my brother in a writing contest group. I wanted to share the beginnings of my experience as well as give the basic rules for anyone wishing to start an easy and friendly contest of their own.

The rules are simple. It is a contest among a group of friends or even extended friends if you want a more diverse group of individuals. The first writing prompt is selected by compiling ideas from each participant and choosing one at random. The rules for each prompt are decided by the person whose prompt idea was chosen. Prompt rules include freedoms and constraints to deadline, setting, time period, point of view- first, second and third- as well as maximum/minimum word or page length. Other possible limitations to enhance creativity for writing topics could include the following:

  1. A list of vocabulary that must be used
  2. Use of only words that begin with certain letters of the alphabet (I.E. Write this prompt only using words that begin with letters C-S of the alphabet)
  3. Story must contain the phrase… “<insert phrase of choice here>”

After a prompt is selected at random, each participant writes according to prompt rules and submits their story before the given deadline. Our contests begin at midnight, the night of the topic selection, and generally lasts one week. All submissions are emailed to my brother- the host of our writing contest- where each story is compiled into one email and sent back to each contestant for review. In the review process, every individual grades each submission based on five categories.

  1. Entertainment value
  2. Originality
  3. Writing Quality
  4. Appeal to prompt
  5. Plausibility

On a scale of 1-10, how was the piece as far as entertainment goes?

On a scale of 1-10, was the piece original?

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate the writing quality?

On a scale of 1-10, did the story appeal to the prompt?

On a scale of 1-10, how plausible is the piece?

After each category is scored on a scale of 1-10, they are added together. If done correctly, each submission will have a grade anywhere from 5-50. When you have reviewed and graded all submissions, they are sent to the host address to be added with the rest of the groups scores. The highest score is declared the winner of that prompt. If you cannot afford prizes and just enjoy the friendly competition and writing aspects, you will probably enjoy the novelty reward of bragging rights and future prompt selection. However, if your group wants to offer real prizes for the winning contestant and can afford to, that would be a great incentive to keep participants interested in giving it their best. In our group, all future prompts and rules are selected by the winner of the previous contest.

In a group of strangers some of these guidelines might prove problematic, so instead of having a host to collect and deliver submissions and also record scores, you could also send your submissions and scores via forum or any program that will allow all contestants to view each submission as well as tally scores in a table or counter.

After my writing contest group has gone through a handful or more prompts I will share some of the ideas we came up with as a new prompt suggestion post.

Word Appreciation

I just wanted to share a list of words with their definitions, words that you might not read or see very often.

Succor– help, relief, or assistance

Stupefy– to stun; to put into a state of low sensibility; numb state

Pusillanimous– cowardly

Bereaved– synonymous with robbed; to extend condolences to the bereaved

Felicity– joy; happiness

Ululate– to howl; to how as a dog or wold, hoot as an owl

Ardency– having or expressing fervor, passion; vehement, fierce; intensely devoted or enthusiastic

Abraded– to wear down or rub away with friction

Aberrant– unusual; straying from a defined path

All definitions were either derived from memory or recollected using http://www.dictionary.com. I hope some of these help kindle the motivation to write with greater interest for vocabulary. Incorporating words you have never used or seen before, in your writing, will help commit them to memory and can make you a stronger writer.

Starting Anew

One of my favorites from Greek mythology is the legend of the phoenix primarily because the life of the phoenix recurs generation after generation by “rising from the ashes”. For me, the cycle of the phoenix is symbolic in more ways than one, but I draw much of my interest in the idea of starting anew. All things must come to an end, good or otherwise, and I find that there is a great deal of opportunity in the end of a tale, despite the measure of closure. Where one door closes, another three could be opened, or so they say.

Direction is a curious thing, it’s precarious nature can be troubling or rewarding- sometimes both- depending on a myriad of variables; however, I am trumped by the knotted mess that occurs when ideas collide. I never did like the sound of “back to the drawing board” because I associate failure with those words, but I find myself mentally revisiting my first line of thought when I cannot get past a certain point. It is helpful to revert your attention back to the original idea, before the added emphasis and detail blurs the main point. Perhaps something from your original line of thought can help keep you focused and/or give you a sense of direction that would help conflicting ideas mesh into something plausible or coherent.

Writing Prompt Suggestions

If any of you are interested in some writing prompts- whether you are a teacher looking for ideas for a class, writing contest themes or simply looking for some free-writing story ideas – I follow a blogger on tumblr who shares some really great prompts that vary across a wide range of topics and genres for primarily educational purposes. Though I do not use them for educating anyone, I love some of the suggestions for personal writing development and enjoyment.

You can find the user here: http://writingprompts.tumblr.com/

My personal favorites include the prompt to “write about what you would do with minions for a week”, “tattooed-disney heroine turned villian”, and the “mysterious $5 island”. I feel like there is a lot of potential there and I hope you might find something inspiring as you look through the myriad of ideas.

Criticism

If you are like me, you can take criticism well and grow from it because we find it nice to have another mind to help catch mistakes. If you do not, well I can give you a couple reasons why you should value another persons criticism. Let me be clear about one thing. If someone comments on your work with “That sucks.” or “This is the worst thing I have ever seen.” you are dealing with an asshole, plain and simple. Criticism is telling you where exactly you went wrong and/or offering suggestions to amend mistakes in a positive and encouraging manner. Never listen to anyone degrade your work or you as an artist, they clearly have poor taste if the only thing they have to say is negative and rude in all respects.

Critiquing is a great tool to help you improve in your writing because the insight of another persons mind can give you a little perspective. For example, you might really like the angle of your story but another person might read it and interpret it differently. It happens a lot with setting imagery, but it also occurs with character descriptions and plot direction as well. After reading Game of Thrones all the way through, I can honestly say the terrain in my mind matched really well with what HBO producers had in mind with the TV series, but a few of the characters were slightly different than I imagined- excluding the obvious fluke with HBO’s impression of Daario Naharis. That aside, it is difficult to get what you envision to fit the same image in your readers minds, but opinions from beta readers, friends or family might help you see what they see and then it is for you to decide if you need to change things up, expand upon an idea or shut it down.

Criticism is also useful for the more mechanical side of writing. Do you ever get that bogged down feeling after a couple hours of writing? Sometimes it is lack of inspiration or distraction, but I go through times when I cannot get what I want out on paper even though I know exactly how the scene is to play out because I can see it vividly in my mind. I experience a problem that is more troubling than inspiration or motivation; it is my own dissatisfaction. No, I am not diagnosed with anything, but I have my perfectionist moments where I want it to be exactly as I imagined it or I do not want it at all. It is frustrating beyond belief, but I will put the pen down or walk away from the computer when I can’t get something right after awhile. More specifically, I drive myself crazy with repetition, the lack of how to say the same thing differently. Overuse of the same words or phrases irritate me to no end. Though, not long ago, I was reading a critique on another piece of work and they were telling the author to try writing through the block, even if it meant it would need some serious editing. They expressed the importance of getting your ideas out and onto paper above all else. It was a great suggestion.

As an attempt to resolve this personal issue, I have started taking that advice and thus far it has helped a bit. Instead of completely giving up on what I am working on, I will write the scene down in a different format and highlight the whole paragraph to go back and edit later. Instead of third-person, past-tense- which is my preferred perspective to write in- I will jot my ideas down in first-person as if I am telling personal account of something I witnessed. Storytelling is so much easier for me than trying to perfect all the little details because it highlights the major points and ensures that I won’t lose the idea while I take time off to refresh myself. Sometimes a new pair of eyes will catch things you will not always see, and so long as your works are copyrighted or protected in some way, you should not fear sharing them. I recommend doing your research on copyright before sharing any writing that you may wish to publish. In the event you enjoy free-writing for practice or fun (with no intention of publishing or selling) and want critiques on style, plot progression or character development then I suggest you try a writing contest/forum or ask a friend to take a look. In case you were not aware, many universities have a writing help desk that will look over your papers and go through your work with you for the sake of improving writing skills.

Do not be afraid of constructive criticism, use it as a tool to grow as a writer!

Inspiration

Inspiration is a driving force that keeps the pen moving or the fingers typing. For some, it might be hard to come by but others find it easily. I find the most troubling aspect of inspiration is its fleeting nature.

You might be sitting on an idea, but you have no sense of direction for it. You are stuck. We have all been there at some point. I have to admit I draw blanks quite often in mid sentence and with no idea how to continue, I might leave it open ended to finish another time or trash the idea altogether. Maybe it’s not meant to be or maybe a little inspiration would help.

Regardless of what potential there is, there is still the matter of figuring it out. Inspiration comes in many forms and tends to appear suddenly with an equally swift disappearance. Inspiration, or rather a lack thereof, is a major cause for some writers to go long periods without writing and that becomes frustrating.

So how do we fuel inspiration? There is no single answer, many possibilities exist, but not all of them will work for every individual.

Music is powerful and might help stir some emotions to get you thinking about the complexities of life, or vice versa- simplicity is important too.

Nature. Go outside and breathe in the fresh air. Look at the trees, the rivers and creeks, the woodland creatures and stretches of cultivated farm land.

You love the city? The flood of people walking down broadway? Think about their story, where they might be headed or how they got there that day. What do you see in dank and quiet alley next to your apartment complex? I suggest thinking about what you love whether it be the outdoors, city life, a movie or song or another author’s story.

On a second line of thought, you can take that advice twist it around. Picture the things you love and now imagine them in ruin, shattered remnants of a distant memory. What were to happen should a fire, natural or otherwise, raze a town? Life is never going to always be perfect, so take something beautiful and distort it. By destroying something cherished you can open the story up in a whole new way and introduce heroism, vengeance, justice, mercy, sacrifice and mourning, which in turn will open another set of opportunities.

Though I usually experience a continuous flow of inspiration throughout the day (most inconveniently while I am sitting through an important lecture) I do go through dry spells too. I favor imagery because I process best, visually. I also follow a cause-effect guideline in all that I do. If cause A (events, actions, etc…) happens, effect B (consequences, benefits, or both) will undoubtedly occur. It is a simple thing that you might not consider but it helps move a story along.

If you have trouble picturing something that has not yet been decided, try making an outline. Start with what you know and expand upon those ideas with the ripples of cause and effect in mind. If your story demands a more complicated approach then make sure you clearly define the laws of the world you have created. Write them out. For example, if physics does not exist in your universe then cause and effect may not apply in the same manner but there are still boundaries.

If anyone ever needs someone to bounce ideas off of, feel free to ask me! Best wishes in finding your inspiration!

Perspective- Part 2

Being my favorite subject, I wanted to share a little bit more about my experience with perspective and hopefully that might help stimulate some inspiring ideas in your writing.

I explained how this subject is a powerful tool for enhancing the mystery of a story due to lack of or limited perspective. The short story example may not have been to your liking, but the point of the matter is still relevant to all works. In everyday life assumptions are a common place occurrence that can lead to trouble or misunderstandings, and ultimately a learning experience. Non-fiction and biography authors know this well. It is easy to measure worth and make judgements based solely on what you see, and if you are writing fantasy or fiction you might consider how very frequently a character might misinterpret or jump to conclusions in a given situation no matter how skilled, powerful or knowledgeable they are. There is something invigorating about  reading a story with trial and tribulation, accompanied by success after realizing an old wisdom in a new light.

What I also wanted you to know is that perspective is always changing because the one who tells their story will continually learn and grow from their experiences. The birth of wisdom is realizing where you or another has erred and amending or addressing the problem in whichever manner you are able. Every soul caught in the conflict of morality will look into the pitch black and see something frightening, as if they never realized what they might be capable of. For every individual that image will be different because no one person views things in exactly the same light. They will hesitate, their resolve will waver, and then a decision will be made that might change their life forever.

I like to think that we use our pasts as references for the future, to guide us through the unknown. With that being said, if you could look into the hearts and minds of the stranger walking down the street, what would you see? How are they feeling? Is something bothering them or are they joyous? Perhaps your boss yelled at you today, not because of your competence or skill, but because they are going through a nasty divorce and have no one to help them, no way to cope with the misery. Too late though because the whole office saw the ordeal and now you look the fool. OR Maybe the single mom in line at the grocery store is not the “rude bitch” you just called her. The woman could very well be having a terrible time trying to manage the little child, full of energy, that she has had to raise alone, while also considering her financial stability and her baby’s health on top of the fact that she has no family to babysit while she looks for a decent a job to get off well-fare. You probably made her day two words worse.

We all come from somewhere, our histories dramatically different in many ways and each day is partially governed by our ability to cope and manage the chaotic flux of struggle. If you knew what that boss or mother had been through, would it justify their sour mood? Probably not. How is it fair for you to be the brunt of someones bad day when you weren’t the cause? It’s not, but maybe it would open your eyes to know that every person faces struggles that you are not apart of, that you may never imagine. The poor choices and the good are both a product of experiences, family, friends and faith or lack thereof, and even small acts can go a long way to changing someones mind about something if you can touch their hearts.

You cannot know what you cannot see, but how you choose to act or respond- independent of what you witnessed or how you were treated- is what defines you. A little perspective goes a long way, so put yourself in someone else’s shoes and ask yourself: “What’s next?”

Finals and Holiday Spirit

With finals underway, it has been a very busy week and the fun is not quite over. Many of us still have another week to go and others are just finishing up. Best wishes to all students preparing for their exams! Fortunately, with this semester coming to a close we are allowed to enjoy a nice little break from all of the routine of lectures, study and examination. If you are struggling to find a little inspiration to write over the break, I might encourage you to consider a topic of holiday spirit. Write a short story of a personal experience or something you really enjoy about this time of year. If you do not celebrate any of the traditional holidays, perhaps share a winter experience or any customs of your own. Another idea that might motivate you is New Years, a time of remembrance for some and resolution for others that are looking to simply move forward or start again.

Have a joyous holiday with safe travels, but most of all enjoy yourselves!

Perspective- Part 1

My favorite subject, above all else, is perspective. I love the complex reality that sometimes there is no right answer and action as well as inaction both have very grave consequences or favorable outcomes, depending on where you stand.

Every controversial topic ever discussed has two or more sides that stand at odds in a fight to prove their point of view is the “right” one. What makes you so sure that you know what is best for another individual? I have heard and read thousands of comments and concerns expressed about varying ideas for society, politics and government, foreign affairs, personal freedom debates and more. Moral conviction tends to be the primary reason behind a persons choices and the motivation to pursue their passions with persistence. I could talk endlessly on controversy because there is no single right answer, life is far more complex than that but I want to talk mostly about writing with perspective.

Why did you do what you did? Well, there is undoubtedly a reason, but is the answer as simple as revenge or more convoluted than that. For any action your characters make, you have to ask yourself what factors are involved in their decision, and if there are extenuating circumstances that cause them to deviate from their normal behaviors or personalities. Writing with perspective means not only considering different point of views as a reference, but picture yourself in their shoes with their histories and moral conviction guiding your choices. For instance, you might not know how to explain the traumatic experience from the victims points of view, because maybe you have never experienced it, but as an author you have to get the emotions and details as realistic as the world you have created. Make it realistic and write it from their perspective. That is not to say you should accept or practice a criminal lifestyle to write thrillers or mystery novels, obviously. Do not become your characters, just personify them in writing. As writers we have a unique disposition to tell both sides of the story without being personally involved or acquainted with them and the research required for experiences we have never had is a whole other topic I will get to another time.

Let me paint you a picture about perspective…

|—Start of Script—| You are kneeling- tears streaking your cheeks and the taste of salt on your lips- over the body of a woman whose features are soft and still. She was important to you and her body is lifeless, the soul ripped away by the cruel hands of death. You were too late to stop it, but you managed to catch the killer before they had time to flee. He’s tied and bound to a sturdy pipe at the far corner of the crime scene but his stone-cold eyes have not left the bloody scene where you are leaning over her mutilated corpse. You glance back in a furious rage and catch those steely eyes and your first thought is the bastard is reveling in this. Your thoughts so muddled by the shock of loss that you rush over and bring a knife to his throat with the intent to kill. Instantly your mind registers the severity of the threat you just made. Murder. Is it in you? Of course you’re not like him, you value life and have spent yours serving to protect those who cannot defend themselves from merciless killers like the scum before you. But… he killed her, he deserves it. You stumble backwards with your hand gripping your forehead, the knife clatters on the concrete flooring and you find yourself trembling with the stains of blood smeared across your clothes and hands. She’s lying cold somewhere behind you but you dare not look back, instead you look up and he’s staring above you, past you. The damned monster is staring at her. Was that a smile you saw? Enraged anew- your thoughts of honor and duty aside- you get to your feet. Suddenly there is a loud crash, splinters fly from the doorway and shouts can be heard storming the stairwell, hallway and finally the armed unit reaches you. Luckily, backup has arrived. They have removed your opportunity to try something foolish but that miserable guilt has yet to diminish. An hour later, you have been returned to headquarters and your partner is going to oversee the interrogation of the suspect. You, being so close to the situation, are forced to remain out of the way. Since you went against protocol in waiting before calling it in, on top of going in without backup, you’ll likely face questioning at some point. One of your other buddies that you work closely with just came out of the viewing room, they wanted you to know the suspect hasn’t said much, but they are insisting that they were not responsible for the girls death. “If he thinks he can get away with lying, he better think again.” you grate angrily. |— Pause in script—|

I am going to finish this in three different ways. The order you choose to read them in is up to you. On a personal note, I do not prefer to write or read in second-person but I really want you to imagine yourself witnessing this firsthand.

Ending 1) Several long hours pass and the interrogation has led to a new lead. Your agency is on it and checking viability of the suspects claims. It takes some time, but the pieces of the puzzle come together and your partner reports that the suspect found at the crime scene was framed. You have mixed feelings about this revelation because you saw him there, complacent to watch her bleed out. If he was framed he would have called 911, or fled, but he was crouched next to the body just waiting. As more information is uncovered, it turns out that the framed suspect was an agent from another agency working undercover on a lead for a connected case and he was in pursuit of a foreign operative when he came upon the crime scene. He was apparently studying the scene when you came in, gun poised to kill. There was no way to confirm the agents identity on the scene, but your anger almost led to undue murder and now his operation is even further behind. You assumed wrongly and imagined an enemy that you had yet to lay eyes on. Your actions may cost other innocent people their lives, but your boss and your partner does not blame you. You lost someone dear to you and what is done is done.

Ending 2) Your partner did it, the suspect broke on an immunity agreement and revealed the true intentions of his crimes as a small part of a bigger picture. According to the suspect, he had no choice but to cooperate because of a blackmail threat against his family if he failed to comply. There is a lot more at stake than just one life, but it does not change the misery you’ve had to tame for the sake of remaining collected. He killed her, and he will walk free. It is an unfair reality. You were right, if he was blackmailed and did not want part of this in the first place then how do you explain the smile you saw when he looked at her?  You know deep down that this man has no right to walk after what he has done. Yet, no one is going to do a thing about it because that was the deal. All charges cleared to get information on the bigger picture.

Ending 3) You storm into the interrogation room, assaulting one of the other agents in the process. Raw fury drives you to grab the suspect by the collar and drive him against the wall with a force you did not know you were capable of. He looks you in the eye, almost accepting the fact that you want him dead. You reach for your gun and shove it hard into his side. “I saw what you did.” the suspect grunts and seconds later a loud shot rings out. You pulled the trigger. That son of a bitch won’t be able to weasel his way out now. It does not take long, your actions have turned even your partner against you. You are pinned down, handcuffs clink, the reading of your rights is barely audible over the cacophony inside your head. You can’t think clearly and you vaguely recall this happening at the crime scene. A fuzzy blur steals your vision and that’s it. After you’ve awakened from your blackout you find yourself strapped to a medical bed with a monitor set up. It is hard to take in, but the doctor explains that you have a severe medical issue. The Doctor said the condition has been causing blackouts and memory loss and your lawyer rises from a chair across the room. Your lawyer says that due to the nature of the condition, you might not be held responsible for your actions while in a black period. Confused and frightened by the implication you ask if you did something that you can’t recall. The doctor frowned and said nothing and your lawyer is trying to find the words but the struggle is plain on their face. Is everything you know a lie?

After reading that little short script, and each alternate ending, I hope you can see how easy it is to misconstrue a situation without all of the facts. This is also a good lesson on circumstance because the way in which a few small details played out, determined the final outcome for the main character. My main purpose with this demonstration was to show you how important perspective is in writing. If you can come up with three differing alternative endings for this one perspective, Imagine how reading this from the suspects perspective would shed a different light on the outcome of the story. In the first ending, the character imagined the other agent smiling and reveling in a bloody slaughter, but it turned out that the real criminal got away before either of the agents arrived on scene. In the second ending, the character was right in his instinct. The suspect was responsible, but there was more to it than what is seen at first glance. Perhaps the suspect did enjoy his assigned task, or maybe he was truthful in that he had to choose between a stranger and his family. In a situation like coerced murder, how can you blame the man for choosing his family over someone he will never see again? In the third ending, we see a complete 360 of the character because based on the little information we have in his perspective, it was difficult to piece together that he was the killer.

There are two things you can do with perspective to enhance a story. You can broaden it and reduce it and both are effective depending on the circumstances. If you want to create surprise, you can limit perspective by keeping it to a single and biased point of view. For a similar result, you can also broaden the range of perspectives to share limited chunks of information from each one. If you are wanting to tease your readers with useful hints of information throughout the story, you need to consider how point of view will limit or contribute to the amount of knowledge the reader discovers as time goes on. Perspective can be a strategic thing used to manipulate the direction of the story and conceal the truth until the very last minute and a writer is never limited to one method.

This concludes the first part of Perspective.