27 May 2013

The Muse Mondays Initiative

After my post last Monday, I realized that Muse Mondays is pretty much the only thing I've been at least somewhat consistent with. I suppose because on some level the muse is my gimmick, my shtick. But then at some point that day it hit me that I want to get more people involved. I don't just want it to be my weekly rant. I want it to be a thing.

How I do this? A blog hop, of course! So I want to recruit you!

Every week I'm going to write a post for Muse Mondays. And you can, too. I think the idea of a muse goes beyond the imaginary friend that helps you write. It’s about inspiration and ideas, too. Where do you find your ideas? What books do you read or music do you listen to that get your creative ideas going?

But since it is also about the imaginary friend who helps you write, I’m going to let mine take over on the first Monday of every month. Starting next week. Scary, right? We haven’t discussed what he’s going to talk about yet. This could be either brilliant or disastrous. But I guess that’s why it’s fun.  

Don’t feel obligated to do the same things I do, or to even write every week. Since it’s all about inspiration, do what inspires you. You can introduce your muse or your characters, or someone in your life who inspires you. 

I’ll have a separate page up soon on the blog with all the details and a place for you to sign up. I’ll probably create a badge for it, too, once I figure out how to do that sort of thing. Since this will probably take forever to get going, if you’re one of the first people to try it with me, I will give you heaps of praise and adoration--meaning links and retweets and such and such. 

So come back next Monday to sign up and see what psycho babble Jordan has to say. And join me in the madness...

26 May 2013

The Faux Fountain Pen Turns Two!

Yikes! It's hard to believe that it's been a whole two years since I took my first steps into the wonderful world of blogging. I could get all reflective and sentimental, but I'll spare you. I've certainly made some progress and am only hoping to make more in the following months.

Thanks to all of my followers, the ones who have been there from the beginning and the ones who have only recently stumbled onto my madness. For funzies, check out my very first blog post to see how it all began. And stop back tomorrow if you'd like to be recruited for something awesome...

Yes, I still have the pen. And it still works!

20 May 2013

Ideas are Everywhere

Have you ever people watched? Maybe you noticed someone interesting or overheard a conversation on the subway or in a store or restaurant. Most times you'll forget about these people as soon as they're out of your sight. But every once in a while, you may find yourself wondering who these people are and what their lives are like.

It's the "what ifs" that usually lead writers to create their ideas. That person on the subway could become your next character. We find our ideas in all sorts of places. Once you have just that spark of an idea, then you can shape it into a story and make it your own. But what's the best place to find ideas? Do they come more from observations or from the depths of our brains?

There's no right or wrong answer to where you should get your ideas. You should get them wherever you can find them. Sometimes they might pop up out of nowhere, as if they were a vine growing out of your brain. More often, though, they will come from something--an observation, a question, a character whose story you have to tell. Chances are that you won't need to go searching for ideas. They'll find you instead.

One of the most interesting places to find ideas actually happens while you're sleeping. That's right, dreams. Sure, some dreams are going to be complete nonsense, but every once in a while there could be an idea that strikes you. I mean, there's at least one best-selling author who this has happened to (cough sparkly vampires cough). I had a dream once that my boyfriend and I were performing in a play, but the play itself seemed interesting enough that I actually wrote it. I've even had dreams that have led to plot twists in something I'm already writing. And I'm working on a short story that stemmed from a dream. So the possibilities are endless. Don't dismiss an idea just because it seems crazy; your subconscious might be on to something.

Perhaps my favorite and yet most shameful treasure trove of ideas comes from watching bad daytime television. I mean, it's just chock full of perversion. I got an idea for a play from watching an episode of Dr. Phil. Sometimes you just watch these crazy people spilling all of their horrible secrets and problems and your brain just keeps going with it. I often forget that the initial idea for my WIP came from watching an investigatory special on E! and thinking, what if I created characters in that situation?

Ideas can come from anywhere. It's what you do with them that ultimately matters. By the time you've crafted your story, that initial idea may seem even strange and foreign. Things change as you write, because you're going to know what is needed the more involved you get with it. But all stories start with an idea, even if it's a tiny, almost insignificant thought. So if you find yourself asking "what if," you just might have struck gold.

15 May 2013

Visualize Your Characters, Part Three

This is the last part, I swear. So far I’ve talked about how you picture your characters, and how you introduce them to the reader. Now I want to just tie up some loose ends.

Including a vast, detailed description of a character on the first page of your book can seem awkward and out of place. Like I said last time, you need to find the right spot to include this information, and it will vary depending on your story. There’s a good spot in there; you just have to find it. But that doesn’t mean that you have to dump all that information on the reader all at once. You can stretch it out over the course of your novel, at least while we’re still getting to know your characters.

Give a description that helps us picture your characters right, but hold off on details that aren’t necessarily needed. If you need to include them for whatever reason, there may be a different spot for them. We may want to know how tall a character is or what hair color he has right when we meet him, but we don’t need know about the way he slouches or his nervous laugh. These are details that you can include at the right moment in your story. Maybe he has an embarrassing moment and that’s when a certain trait comes out. If you include too much information in the initial description, especially for traits that aren’t immediately noticeable, it might seem like unnecessary backstory.

While it’s important for your readers to be able to picture your characters, what they look like isn’t nearly as important as what they’re doing. You want to keep your action descriptions vivid, without bogging it down with unnecessary sighs and moans. Make your characters believable—give them individual traits or quirks that you can use every now and again. Make sure your characters have distinct voices, as every person has their own way of talking. Even a catch phrase can be acceptable, as long as you don’t overdo it (Jordan’s is “oh, for fuck’s sake,” and I actually use it in real life now, like a lot. More than he does. So I guess it's my catchphrase).

The bottom line here is that you want your characters to come off as real people. They need to look, talk, and act like a real person would. Of course, they’re still individuals and you can manipulate their personalities in whichever way you need that makes your story work. But make sure to describe them so that your reader believes this is a real person. If your character is beautiful and smart and nice and just perfect, then your reader will lose interest. This isn’t a real person. Real people have flaws. Your character doesn’t necessarily need to be aware of it (narcissism is a good flaw), but your reader does, and so do you.

So make your characters vivid and realistic. But ultimately, make them yours. 

13 May 2013

Hey, So...I Lied...

Ok, maybe not lied, exactly. More like jumped the gun. Which I tend to do. But hear me out. I worked eleven straight hours yesterday, no breaks, no food. Just brief drinks of water while walking very fast. I didn't even make it home in time to call my mom before she went to bed. So today I still had to run around to find a Mother's Day present (I'm a procrastinator. You should know this by now.) and then drive for forty-five minutes and spend the whole day with my mom and sister. So now, I get home and I'm all set to start writing my blog (except my boyfriend got himself a coffee and not one for me), and suddenly it's the only time that we have to go see Iron Man 3. Well then. Off we go.

So come back on Wednesday for Part Three to my Visualize Your Characters series. I'll probably have better ideas by then anyway.

10 May 2013

Visualize Your Characters, Part Two

We all know how important it is to give a proper description for your characters. If you don’t, your reader will have a hard time picturing what is happening to them, or they might create their own idea of what your characters look like (and you wouldn’t want that, now would you?). The real problem isn’t why you want to give a decent physical description, it’s when and how. You want the descriptions to fit in flawlessly with the rest of your prose. You want to introduce your characters in a way that fits in with your narrative.

To demonstrate what I feel is necessary in order to describe your characters properly, I’m going to use my three main characters as examples. Bear in mind that this is the roughest of rough drafts, but while the writing certainly isn’t flawless, I think the main points are there. So I’ll be able to describe when a character is describing himself, someone he's just met, and someone he's known all his lives. You’ll want to approach each character in a different way—what do we need to know about their appearance to get a good picture of them? If you’re writing in first person (which I do), how are these traits noticeable or important to your narrator?

One of the hardest things to do is to have a first person narrator describe him or herself. If you think about it, the narrator is basically talking to the reader, and if you were talking to somebody, would you start describing yourself? No, because that person would be looking right at you. So the narrator/reader relationship is slightly different. This is why it gets tricky. You want your narrator to be clear, but you don’t want the description to seem forced. And for the love of God, don’t have them stand in front of a mirror describing themselves. Don’t just work with your character; work with the story. Find a spot in your narrative where it works and doesn’t seem random. I snuck in Jordan’s description while he and his friends are talking about girls. He starts thinking about why girls find him attractive, which he finds hilarious because no one knows that he’s actually gay.

I don’t really know why I was hot. I guess you’ve got some girls that like muscular guys, you know, with lickable abs. But then some girls go for skinny guys. They all like tall guys, of course, and I wasn’t a giant or anything but I had my growth spurt at thirteen. And I didn’t really think the girls were going crazy over my brown eyes, or short, light brown hair…I guess it had to be my face. I’ve got high cheekbones and a smile that can kill. Plus a complexion that girls would be jealous of—I’ve probably had about three zits in my entire life. So I wasn’t drooling over myself in the mirror or anything, but I understood.

It’s probably the easiest for a first person narrator to point out their best features. He sort of glazes over most of his description, comparing himself to other guys, but then points out what he thinks actually makes him attractive. Like I said in my first post, it’s all about the character. Jordan is cocky, so he’s going to emphasize his good traits, and not even downplay his mediocre ones. But if your narrator is an insecure teenage girl, she might talk about how she hates her nose or can never get her hair right.

While having the narrator describe himself might be difficult, the easiest part is probably when he meets someone new. You get to see this character along with the narrator for the first time. Think about when you meet someone, like a classmate or a new coworker. You’ll notice their most striking features right away—red hair, bright blue eyes, an unusual way of dressing. But you’ll also be taking in their whole appearance, trying to memorize what they look like while remembering their name. When describing a new character, you’ll also want your narrator to respond internally. If they’re repulsed by the way the person smells or their crooked teeth, then they’ll be thinking mostly about that. If they find this person attractive, they’ll be thinking about that while trying to act calm and collected. And they’ll probably be taking in more detail. When Jordan first meets his math tutor, Tom, he immediately takes in every detail of his appearance because he is struck by it:

That smile nearly knocked me on my ass. He was definitely older, maybe around thirty. I couldn’t be sure. Just a bit taller than me, and skinny but not a twig. He had dark hair, almost black—a bit long but brushed out of his face, falling back in delicate waves down to his ears. And these blue eyes—I mean, I could have just died right there.

The thing I like about this is that Jordan tends to see people in comparison to himself—older, taller, etc. Always keep your character’s attitude in mind. Your reader doesn’t necessarily have to agree with your narrator’s perception, but they have to believe it. If he’s attracted to the person he meets, make it striking. Make him notice everything about this person and understand why he feels this way.

When it comes to somebody your narrator already knows, it’s a tricky balance. Like himself, he already knows what this person looks like. You probably want these descriptions to be brief—let the reader know what this person looks like but don’t make it a page long, glorifying every detail (unless say, your narrator is secretly in love with his best friend whom he’s known for years). While this person isn’t going to stand out to your narrator, he will notice things that are different or impressive—like a new haircut or a nice outfit. When Jordan describes his mother, he once again relates her to his own appearance, but mostly notices how she dresses, because it’s part of who she is:

Mom looked a lot like me—you know, a tiny stick of a thing—but with boobs. Since she was always working, she was always in some tight little dress or skirt with her hair pulled back. Today was no different. She threw her purse on the counter and started rummaging through it. When I stood next to her she stopped and looked up at me, crinkling her eyebrows. “When did you get taller than me?”

You can add in little details that work within the scene so that they are noticed but don’t stand out like a sore thumb. I could have had Jordan say that he was taller than his mother, but worked it into the scene instead. Rather than a passing thought, it asks questions about their relationship, like, why is she just noticing this now? How often do they see each other? There are a million little ways you can work in these sorts of details. Just look at your story and figure out where they fit in.

About halfway through this I decided there needs to be a Part Three. So come back on Monday for more about keeping descriptions fresh and maintaining them throughout your book. And probably some other things. :) 

08 May 2013

Visualize Your Characters, Part One

Have you ever played the Sims? If you’re also a writer, I’d be willing to bet money that you’ve played it as one of your characters. It’s a fun little indulgence. But isn’t the best part crafting your character before you even start the game? You get to pick every tiny detail, down to the shape of their nose and what they wear for pajamas. While it may not be perfect, (I couldn’t get Jordan’s hair quite right. And what do you mean a teenager can’t be in a relationship with an adult? Sheesh.) it’s pretty damn close. Then your character gets to frolic around town wreaking havoc (or just fishing a lot). It can be a lot of fun.

When you’re picturing what your characters look like, how do you decide? Do you plan out every tiny detail of their appearance, or does it just come to you? You want your readers to be able to visualize your characters. So the first step is that you have to be able to visualize them.

I’m having a difficult time truly picturing one of the characters for my side project. Other than the fact that he has green eyes and is just a little chubby, I can’t really picture him. His face isn’t clear, his hair, how he dresses. Nothing. And while this sort of predicament can be frustrating, it isn’t the end of the world. I truly believe in letting the characters speak for themselves, rather than forcing them to be what you want them to be. Sure, you could come up with a quick description, and if you don’t like it, you can always change it. But if your character is constantly changing, does he feel real to you? Or does he feel contrived?

Every character is different. You may be able to see them perfectly in your mind before you get the first word down, or you may have to start your story with your characters being blurry ghosts that haven’t fully developed yet. It took a very long time before Jordan was clear to me, probably over a month after I had finished the initial short story. His love interest, on the other hand, was clear to me in the very first scene I wrote him in. I really have no idea why. Maybe because it’s easier for a narrator to describe someone else rather than himself (more on this in my next post!). Maybe my characters are just finicky.

But how do you decide on what your characters look like? You want them to look like real people. You want there to be differences between them, like not having all of them have brown hair (Whoops. I may have done that. But there are like a million shades of brown…). And unless you’re writing romance, you probably don’t want to have your hero be a tall, muscular god who can easily lift the petite, long, flowing-haired beauty into his arms. Appearances have to work for the story as well as the characters. If your character is awkward, maybe he can have an awkward appearance. If he's confident and self-centered, he's probably good-looking. 

You can have fun with it, too. I’m a full supporter of geeking out when it comes to people who look like your characters. I once saw a boy on the subway that looked just like Jordan and had to seriously restrain myself from taking a picture of him. And I know there are plenty of authors who come up with dream casting for their books, which I feel can be a good and bad thing. But if a book is made into a movie, isn’t it hard to read the book without picturing the characters as the actors? I don’t think this is a bad thing. It really helps make the characters, and thus the entire book, more concrete as you read. If it helps you to see your characters better, then go for it. Just try not to get too attached, or realize that one of your characters looks like an actor you already like and become even more obsessed (not that I’ve done that or anything). But still, it’s a fun thing to do, like playlists or playing the Sims.

Come back on Friday for Part Two, where I’ll attempt to explain how to describe your characters.

03 May 2013

Read What You Write

If you ask advice about how to better yourself as a writer, most likely anyone will tell you that you have to read. You’d be hard pressed to find a writer who didn’t love to read. That’s probably what started us all on this crazy path they call being a writer. A love of words, and so, a love of books. So, of course you should read. But what?

I went through a phase (when I worked at a book store and got a decent discount) where I bought dozens of writing reference books. The how-to’s of dialogue, first pages, characters, plot, etc., etc. They accumulated in piles on my bedroom floor once the bookcase was full. And while I never read one in its entirety, I would pick them at random (or if I was having a specific issue) and skim through, searching for answers. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t find any. Sometimes advice is good, but those sorts of books aren’t going to tell you how to write your book. Only you can do that.

But that’s not to say you can’t seek out some kind of influence. When I used to write ridiculous, Gothic fantasies, my favorite writer hands down was Anne Rice. I adored The Vampire Chronicles. But it’s sort of like the chicken and the egg. Which came first? Did I write vampire stories because I loved to read them, or did I read them because I already wanted to write them?

Nowadays I struggle to name a favorite author, even a favorite book. I’ll occasionally jump on the bandwagon and read something that everyone else is reading, like The Hunger Games or the Millennium trilogy. I sometimes try to read poetry or short stories, but I crave novels more than anything. I don’t read nearly as much as I should, mostly because I’d rather be writing in my limited spare time.

But it should come as no surprise, really, that in the past couple of years I’ve been reading a lot of gay fiction. Obviously this time the writing came first. But I do find it interesting that I still crave to read the same genre as whatever it is I’m writing. I think it’s more than just being aware of how your genre works. It’s almost like wanting to be around people with whom you have things in common. If you like to write a certain genre, chances are you like to read it as well.

Of course, there’s the possibility for overkill. You want to absorb the influence of the books you read, but in the end, your work should stand on its own. There’s a chance you may get discouraged, if you start thinking that every idea has been done before. But you still have a story to tell. The most important thing I take away from reading is the drive to write. Sometimes I can’t get through a page without my thoughts drifting off into my own story. And that’s perfectly fine. That book will still be there when I close my laptop.