RSS Feed

Category Archives: Writing Tips

Write or Die

Posted on

This is sort of a product plug without me getting paid for it.

Really, I just want to let my fellow writers know about this nifty little tool called Write or Die. http://writeordie.com/

Write or Die is a fantastic motivator for those who struggle actually writing. There is a free version online, or you can pay and download it to your computer or your iPad. They’ve got lots of options.

Anyways, Write or Die works like this: You pick how many words you want to write and in how much time you want to have written them. You select Gentle, Normal, or Kamikaze  consequences. Then you hit write.

If you selected Gentle, as you’re going along writing, if you stop writing for a certain amount of time, a little popup message will go off reminding you to continue writing.

If you selected Normal, a horribly obnoxious noise will remind you to keep writing.

If you selected Kamikaze, it will start deleting your words you have written until you continue to write.

So how much motivation do you need to write? This program is equipped with all of them. It really is a fantastic tool for National Novel Writing Month, where you have a set amount of time to finish your project.

Have any of my readers ever heard of/used this? If so, what are your thoughts on the program? And if you haven’t, but check it out after reading this, let me know what you think of it!

Advertisements

How Far is Too Far?

Speculative fiction is a growing category these days. It’s a rising trend (though really, it’s applicable to all fiction) to push the envelope and see what you can get away with. The constant question asked by amateur writers is “How far is too far?”

How far can you push the readers into uncomfortable territory before they balk and walk away? How far can you take an idea before it splits at the seams? How far can you diverge from the natural laws of the universe or the norms that we are used to and still make sense?

What many new writers do not realize is there is no such thing as “too far.” While it’s true that some decisions you make will scare some readers off or at least anger some people, it’s not true that you should let that dissuade you from writing something. You cannot please everyone.

As long as you write strongly enough, you create characters with enough depth, you create your own laws for how things work and you stick to those laws, you focus on little details to flesh things out, you can get away with anything! You don’t have to stick to reality. Because the beautiful thing is, this is fiction.

Who says cars can’t fly? Physics? Sure, but our physics are based on theories that are only our interpretation of phenomenon around us. Science is asking to be proven wrong, and some day it might. Who says people don’t have two heads? Biology? Well, that’s just from what we’ve seen. There could be thousands more species out there.

The point is, you shouldn’t let anyone tell you that you’re going too far into unknown and unexplored territory. As long as you spend the time developing the ideas in your head, as long as they are real to you and you know every minute detail of how things work, then you shouldn’t have any troubles going off the beaten track. It’s fiction; everything really worth writing, at its core, has already been written. What makes stories unique, what makes it possible for new stories to still be put out and published, is the unique combination of elements, words, and characters. If you just rehash something from someone else without adding in that new flair, that venture into uncharted territory, than you’ll have a bland story that no one will read.

You can’t go too far in fiction. But you can go not far enough.

Why I Write Fanfiction

There’s a lot of derision against fanfiction in the writing community. Harsh claims fly around like slings and arrows, claims such as: People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories; It’s such a waste of time; Fanfic writers are just lazy; It’s so poorly written.

I don’t agree with any of these claims. I’m going to break the claims down one by one and talk about why I write it.

1) People need to be creative enough to come up with their own characters and stories.
Most well-written fanfiction is created by authors in their spare time. The two authors I follow on fanfiction.net are a published writer and a college professor. The published author uses an established story to insert her own characters (who fit into the ‘verse very well) to explore them in ways they don’t get used in her books.

As you all know, I’m avidly working on my own stuff. But sometimes the plot bunnies run rampant in my head. I’m watching my favorite shows or reading my favorite books, and an off-handed idea will pop into my head. “What if…” Fanfiction is all about what ifs. What if the character had acted on that comment? What if they had ended up here instead of here? What if something more happened behind the scene that we, as an audience, didn’t get to see? When the plot bunnies run rampant in my head, I can’t focus on my own stories. I need to get the idea out in order to move forward. And what better way to get them out then to share them with other people who will enjoy it?

2) It’s such a waste of time.
Well, yes, but name one hobby that isn’t a waste of time?

And even then, “waste” is completely subjective. It’s wasteful if you look at it in you can never make money out of it. You can never get your fanfiction professionally published (at least not in the US).

But if you look at the other aspects, it’s not a waste of time. For me, writing fanfiction is an exercise in voice. I will not write a story unless I can capture the established character’s voice. The stuff I watch and read is very different from the things I write. I can get practice in writing separate voices, and that can translate into my books.

I also get practice at keeping my readers enthralled. Fanfiction is a way to quickly publish and get immediate feedback. If something is not working, I can find it out quicker than I would with my normal fiction if I didn’t have a critique group.

3) Fanfic writers are just lazy.
I know quite a few wannabe writers who also suffer from this disease. They don’t bother to check their continuity. They don’t bother to check facts. Some writers forget or refuse to do these things. Others live by the book of making their work completely accurate. Generalizations do not stand here.

The same can be said for fanfic writers. Some are lazy and just slap things together, throwing reality, continuity and facts to the wind. Others are meticulous, checking all sources of canonical/fanonical facts to get their story perfect. The good stories, the ones worth following, take the time to make their stories good. And then there’s the helpful readers; betas, who also work for free, will fact-check for you. So will readers that just feel nice enough to leave helpful reviews.

4) It’s so poorly written.
Once again, that is an unfair generalization. Yes, you will have to sift through a large amount of poorly written stories thanks to the ease of publishing in fanfiction forums. It’s just like self-publishing and e-publishing: People can easily publish crap. But those that really care about their craft will make sure it’s up to standards before they even show it to anyone.

It’s all about the standards of the author. There are a lot of crappy writers out there, I will admit to that. But there are also truly gifted and passionate artists. Fanfiction gives them a chance to build a fan base within an existing fan base. They have a chance to practice their craft as I’ve mentioned above.

Debunking the previous ideas aside, my biggest reason for writing fanfiction is pure love. I love the characters and worlds of which I write. I’m saddened by the limited amount we get with them. I cannot paint or draw. But I can express my affection for these stunning and well-crafted characters by continuing them in short vignettes and funny little stories. (Plus, as I said before, I get these ideas of what could happen and an intense desire to see it. Musical episode of Doctor Who, anyone?)

So the next time you think about degrading a fanfiction writer, make sure you sort out how much of your opinion is reasonably based and how much of it is unfair generalizations. Just like fan art, fanfiction is a way to express love for a character and explore abilities. In my opinion and experience, fanfiction is well worth the time and effort to write it—and if you enjoy it, worth the time it takes to sift through poorly-written stories to find those gems.

Can You Believe This?!

There are a number of different ways an author can choose to tell a story—a wide variety of point of views to pick from. But that is a post for another day.

One thing that remains nearly constant across all different points of view, for the reader, is that the reader starts out taking everything the narrator says at face value. For most stories, this will cause no problems. The narrator, in their own peculiar way, will tell you exactly what is going on when it is, when you need to know it is, or when they know it is.

But this rule does not stand all encompassing. Sometimes, the narrator’s words need to be taken with a grain of salt and a touch of disbelief. Sometimes the narrator tells you what is going on with a bit of embellishment. Sometimes the narrator straight up lies.

An unreliable narrator is great fun in writing and in reading. But you have to be careful to pull it off. Done incorrectly, you’ll frustrate and alienate the reader, appear inconsistent, or just seem like you don’t know what you’re doing.

Unreliable narrators are the more rare in the narrator stock, but they still exist more commonly than people would think.

The example foremost on my mind is the tailor from Enbizaka, from the song “The Tailor Shop on Enbizaka.” This song is written by Mothy P and performed by one of the Vocaloids. Vocaloid is a computer program that can create full songs including vocals and music. The Vocaloids are a large range of products. Each packaged voice has a different character associated with it. Luka, the program used to “sing” this song, is just one of many.

The song tells about this tailor who is renowned for her skill, but she’s unhappy because her significant other never comes home. She comforts herself with continuing her work. One day, she sees her lover with another woman with a red kimono. She goes back to her work, trying not to let her tears ruin the kimono she is working on. The next day, she notices the neighbors talking about the rising murder rate, but she’s distracted by seeing her lover with yet another girl. It continues on from there. You can check out the song below.


A more common example of an unreliable narrator would be Huckleberry Finn.


Due to his naivety and generous nature, he gives people far more credit than then deserve. The audience quickly figures out that he’s not completely accurate because they themselves were children at one point and can easily remember that time of embellishing and misinterpreting.

The narrator from Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” is another example of an unreliable narrator. He assures the reader that he can tell the story calmly and clearly, then goes on to prove how insane he is. Unlike some of the other unreliable narrators I’ve pointed out, the reader is in no danger of believing his words.


On a television scale, the Doctor from Doctor Who can be viewed as an unreliable narrator. He avoids at all possible chances telling the truth about himself. Every time he gives his age, it is incongruous to the last time. He’s actually been called out on it before. He avoids telling about his past exploits unless someone else specifically calls it out. And yet he’s the titular character and so the one we follow through the story. How much of what he tells us of how the universe works and of himself can we actually believe?

My favorite division of unreliable narrators are as follows:

  • The Picaro: A narrator who is characterized by exaggeration and bragging
  • The Madman: A narrator who has a severe mental illness that limits their ability to tell an accurate story
  • The Clown: A narrator who does not take narrations seriously and consciously plays with conventions, truth, and the reader’s expectations
  • The Naif: A narrator whose perception is immature or limited

There are a number of reasons for choosing an unreliable narrator to tell your story and a number of ways to do so. An unreliable narrator is not the worst choice; it does have its uses. If you couldn’t tell by Ethan’s blog post two days ago *double checks the cage lock*, Ethan is not the most reliable of narrators. He errs on the side of being a Picaro. Due to his insufferable ego, not everything he says is correct, though he is more honest with the audience than he is with those he speaks with. But you still need to be a bit wary when you read his tale; I cannot be held responsible for the validity of it.

Deadlines

Deadlines.

That one word can make people shudder, strike fear into their hearts.

But I’m not quite sure why.

For me, without deadlines, I would never get anything accomplished. I’m the kind of person that just loves checking things off a to-do list. It fills me with an automatic sense of accomplishment.

There are different types of deadlines. In work and in personal life, most deadlines that people think of are the big, looming, final deadline. If you leave that deadline as it is, of course it would terrify you. It’s human nature. You can’t imagine having to face something so big and impending.

What you need to do is break it up into smaller chunks. For the NCUR program book I was working on, I made a list of every section I needed, what information had to go into those sections, and when I would be getting that information. Based on when I would get the necessary information, I set a due date for each section. I had some curve balls thrown at me, but it got finished, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by the project until the very end.

I have a similar strategy with my fiction writing. I’m trying to keep up with my 500 words a day from Writing March Madness, but I’ll admit to faltering a bit. I have a map of where my plot is going. I’ve set specific times for when each plot point should happen, so I’ll hopefully have the first draft finished by October. If only the MCs would cooperate. Even my fanfiction has a schedule. I’ve promised my readers, a promise I intend to stick to, that I will get a new chapter up at least every two weeks.

The key to getting things done is to set manageable goals. Procrastinating gets nothing accomplished, and feeling like you’re overwhelmed will stop you dead in your tracks. Know your limits, and set your goals accordingly.

Slow Bake with Sugar

Wow, I haven’t updated this much this week… Between sewing cosplay, trying out some Latin American food recipes for a presentation next week, finishing up projects (because next week is the last week), and getting ready for graduation, I haven’t done much in the writing department.

My presentation in American Literature next week is on non-feminist characters in “feminist” literature (aka Edna Pontellier from The Awakening). While I’m not a major feminist (I pretty much do what I want), this presentation got me thinking about changing gender roles in today’s literature.

My favorite female characters–Jane Eyre, Yellena from Poison Study–are all kick-ass women. They’re not out actively trying to prove that they are just as good as men. They’re just living their lives. But they know how to defend themselves and they know where and how to draw the line.

Contemporary characters that get a lot of flack are Bella from Twilight and (I have heard quite a bit on) Katniss Everdeen. Bella is completely dependent on the men around her. When one leaves, she shuts down. She encourages his abusive and stalker-ish behavior. Katniss uses both of the two boys for anything she wants. Granted, yes, she’s in a survival competition, but she barely treats them like they’re actual humans. She just goes for whoever is most convenient.

There’s a pretty strong line between these two different types of characters. I like far more about the first two than just that they’re kick-ass. The thing is, junior high and high school girls, the biggest venue for all of the characters mentioned here, are very impressionable. They find something they like, they want to be just like it.

What are we teaching our kids? Do we want them to know that it’s good for them to know how to protect themselves, that they should stand up for themselves and what they believe in no matter who they’re standing up against? Or do we want to teach them that the most important thing in their lives is getting a boyfriend and giving up anything to please and keep him?

Subtle (or sometimes not-so subtle) distinctions in writing change what sort of message we are putting across. Take it on yourself to show contemporary girls that it is not enough to be a doormat any more. If you’re going to have a wimpy female character, then at least show realistic consequences for that character so that the young girls who may read your story won’t have a burning desire to be like that.

Because as writers, it’s our responsibility to change the world.

Pocket Notebooks

We had an NCUR debriefing lunch today. I’d never say no to free food. Especially when they have brownies.

So now that I’ve been stuffed with sugar, I’ll get back to blogging.

I want to talk today about the tool every writer should stick to: the pocket notebook.

Inspiration rarely strikes on schedule. In my experience, it usually comes in the most inconvenient time. Like when you’re driving down the street.

I also know from experience that it rarely stays in your memory until you can get it down.

Enter the handy dandy pocket notebook.

NOTE: Please do not use the handy dandy (pocket) notebook while driving. I cannot be held liable for any accidents this may cause.

The best part of this pocket notebook is that it doesn’t have to be in coherent order. I don’t know about you, but while I’m taking notes in a blank Word file, I feel like I have to write in complete sentences and have some semblance of structure and order.

But with the pocket notebook, I feel a lot freer in the way I put things in. Flip through some of my pocket notebooks that are full and sitting on a table. It’s filled with random phrases, dialogue, and names; addresses and phone numbers; nonsensical ideas and future inspiration. The notebooks even have odds and ends of other cards, papers, and sketches tucked into it.

The best thing ever about the pocket notebook is that it’s a boredom reliever. When I’m stuck at work, on a train, anything where I have nothing better to do, I’ll flip through it. Reading the things I have jotted down in it makes me want to write again. How’s that for you, portable inspiration?

It really doesn’t matter what the notebook is made out of. You could even just have a bunch of random sheets of paper or note cards in your pocket if that’s your style. But every true and wanna-be writer has some form of a pocket notebook with them. Do you have yours?