Your Writing Signatures

They say that every story under the sun has already been written, so the question becomes: why do we continue to write?

To put our own mark on it, of course! The best part of storytelling, in my opinion, is being able to make it your own. I know a book is good—or has the bones to be good—when I daydream about the way I would have written it, or continued it, or changed it. Those stories about which I’m indifferent garner no such attention.

One of my cabin mates on Camp NaNoWriMo posed the question, “Have you ever noticed a recurring theme, meme, or trend in your writing?” Finding the consistencies in my writing required some consideration, but I admit that I utilize similar themes/trademarks in many of my novels, such as:

  • Characters saddled with overwhelming responsibility, almost to the point of breaking them (and, in some cases, it succeeds)
  • The potential moral ambiguity in certain situations/presenting unanswerable questions
  • Sibling vs. sibling – I’ve never encountered this problem in my own life, so I’m not entirely sure where it originated
  • The real villain is never who you think it is – even when I’m writing. You’d think I would know these things before committing text to screen
  • Wars of economies
  • Links to the spiritual plane
  • A charming but snarky anti-hero – these characters always turn out to be the most empathetic for some reason
  • Storms – my favorite occurrence in/aspect of nature

Have you ever identified any recurring inclinations in your own works? Do you gravitate towards certain themes/genres/trends in the books you choose to read?

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Sketch #8: The Vortex

As an exercise to clear my head of the Sherlock Holmes stories after I read them (i.e. When Plot Bunnies Attack), I created my own inspired characters and wrote this scene. It’s more science fiction than mystery, more explosive than subtle, and more philosophical than deductive compared to Doyle’s originals. I toyed with different ideas of what to do with it, but I was distracted by newer, shinier ideas.

Ethan staggered forward, gripping his bloody upper arm tightly. Bound against a twisted metal post of the Empire State Building’s explosion-ripped observation deck, I could do nothing but watch.

“Play the system; play the game,” Jessica said, her smile a morbid expression of glee. Her knuckles were white with anticipation and, I suspect, some measure of excitement at the prospect of her imminent victory.

“You’re really enjoying this, aren’t you?” Ethan asked.

“Aren’t you?”

“If I wanted my own words as answers, I’d have said something different.” Continue reading

Experiential Writing: Reactive Plots

My name is not Grace. I trip and fall into plot holes on a regular basis. Sometimes I’ll suddenly change my mind about a detail in a story. Other times, I will find that I have written my story into a corner and lack the wit and cunning to conceive of and pull off a skillful escape. I’m also (gasp!) guilty of that cardinal writing sin: imposing my will upon the characters. Because I’m so familiar with it, when I’m reading another’s story, such things stand out to me. Continue reading

Obsessions

Storytelling is a mind battle. It includes strategy, tactics, positioning, secret and not-so-secret weapons, plans of attack, “enemies/allies,” and even pre-battle pep talking.

For me, one of those allies that so often becomes in its own way an enemy is obsession. I don’t mean obsession over a story. There’s the old adage that if you’re not having fun writing your material, your readers certainly aren’t going to have fun reading it. You want to be a bit obsessed with your story. It’s your creation, after all. Continue reading

Fiasco Friday: Serene Wilderness

Another poem I wrote under duress (okay, well, it was really just a poetry camp. But poetry is not my forte). Besides the moon, I also had (and continue to have) a preoccupation with the juxtaposition of opposites. Have I mentioned before that description is not my strength?

Serene Wilderness

The trees, with moss upon their trunks,

Stand tall amidst

The greens of the foliage upon

The forest floor.

Leaves span the ground,

Mushrooms push through humus

And litter the woods with color.

A mist drapes itself

Over the canopies.

A ray of light hits there and

There, on the showered floor.

Peace, with a pawing

Now and then of animals

Who call this their home.

And though calm rules

Beside serenity,

Wild is this place.

July Update

With the beginning of July, so starts Camp NaNoWriMo, Round 2. My goal was to begin a new project, working title The Campaign, but it’s still so fresh in my head that I don’t feel ready to write it (translation: I have no idea where to start). The good news is that, yesterday, I was within a chapter of finishing the second book of my Long Story, so I had the excitement to push through and complete it. That bumped up my word count for the first day of Camp to a little north of 3400.

Ah, the Long Story. Between the first two books, I’m nearing 400,000 words, but the inciting action for the biggest conflict has yet to happen. I anticipate that it will begin in another 30,000 words or so, but goodness! Sometimes your characters shrug you off and walk away, and other times (like now), they can’t seem to yell over each other loud enough. No sooner do I start a chapter following one character than another from an entirely separate story arc is screaming for my attention.

It’s not January, but I’ll list—mostly for my own benefit—my literary intentions for this year:

  • To write a novel of marketable quality. This doesn’t mean the actual writing itself has to be of marketable quality in the first draft, but that the story is something I can sell. I already have an idea (refer to the project I should be writing for Camp).
  • To continue my streak of writing 2000 words a day, no matter what. I had some exceptionally difficult days in June, mostly due to exhaustion, but I’m determined to make it through the entire year.
  • To refine my editing skills on others’ works as well as my own. I freelance edit pretty regularly, and I can’t begin to explain how much I’ve learned (well, I can, but that would require a separate blog post). I would like to try what I’ve learned on my own works, none of which I have ever seriously edited.
  • To read, in the remaining months of the year, four thorough nonfiction books. This isn’t something to which I have committed in the past. I gravitate towards fiction, but I am now finding the necessity of having a greater grasp on history and culture of all kinds.

Do you set up goals when it comes to writing, or do you wing it?

Experiential Writing: Sensitize Your Story

I’m one of the worst offenders when it comes to telling a story by simply telling the story. Every writer has his strengths/favorite aspects of the writing process. Mine happens to be plot. I love puzzling out and describing what happens next, but oftentimes this comes at the expense of thorough character development, setting description, and concentration on the actual language I use.

Words, however, should be utilized for more than just telling something. We’ve all heard the “show, don’t tell” maxim, but what does it really mean? Illustration, in hands lacking mastery, often delays plot—when I’m reading, I commonly find myself skipping over blocks of basic description to get to the meat of a story, which risks missing important or beautiful parts. At worst, it can drive me away from a book.

What words need to do—and do seldom enough in popular fiction, in my experience—is tell the story through the setting. When the character is angry, things around him are sharp, fiery, scalding, intense, pronounced, stilted, jagged, tight, etc. When he’s in the denouement of his story, his experience of the world is level, cool or warm, soft, flowing, still, curved, cushy, clear, etc. Things ripple and whisper (I’m sure you can devise superior verbs and adjectives). Note as well that the same word can be used to convey many different types of emotion depending on the context, so don’t reserve a word for a single emotional state (case in point: crackle, which can describe thunder’s angry snap or the sighing logs of a cozy fire).

Now imagine writing a scene in which you have two characters. One is furious, vengeful; the other, composed and positive. They happen to look out the same window at the same time. Though they are both viewing the same sunset, the first sees the sky ablaze and feels the stab of its red spokes, the other sees it aglow and feels the warm embrace of a soft radiance. It could even be the same character, but at different moments in his life.

Another example: a character that has just lost his family might see rain clouds in the sky as gashes in the firmament; one who has just had a revelation might see those same clouds as welcome harbingers of baptism.

Point: don’t just tell the reader what’s happening (plot), offer him an experience of it.

Practical Application:

  • Start by observing the way your emotions affect your view of the world.
  • Write up scene sketches if you want to record those experiences and play around with the ways different words interact in their contexts.
  • Pick a scene and try to view it from different emotional perspectives. This emulates the perspectives of different characters.