WriterWoes #11: Miss Teacher…?

I recently taught a Danish creative writing class, and it forced me to outline some of the many pitfalls of writing to a very varied audience in terms of age and writing experience. While this is not exactly a woe of writing, I will nonetheless share the material of the class on here in the vague belief that somebody may benefit from it – by happy mistake or otherwise.

Everything is based on my own experiences, which is the only way I believe that writing (and every other creative art) can be taught – Jedi-Padawan style!

*Curtain parts, lesson starts*

“Opening scene”:
Why do we write?

We have something to say – to ourselves and to others.

When we choose a genre, we work with different elements and rules, but every genre tell the same story – the story about you, and I, and us.

“Act I”:
Active & Passive

Always, always write active sentences.

This is the most basic rule that makes for good writing. I knew about it for long, but I never implemented it into my routine until recently – that was a mistake, I tell you.

Active sentences stay on eye-level with the reader. That is to say, they engage with the reader by offering more clarity and more emotional impact/investment than their passive counterparts. Therefore: always use them.

How to spot the difference?

If you can add “by” to the sentence, it’s passive.

Passive: “She was killed by the falling tree.”
Active: “The falling tree killed her.”

 “Act II”:
Saidisms & Purple Prose

Saidisms:

This is best explained with an illustration:

Unavngivet

Don’t dumb down your reader by explaining every single nuance of your characters’ dialogue. No one likes to be spoon-fed a book. Rather, write the dialogue well enough that you won’t need to clarify it. Then in the rare cases when you do choose to clarify, it will have a much stronger effect on the reader.

Writing is all about effect – about affecting your reader…

 

As an extension of saidisms, also be aware of excessive use of adverbs.

Purple Prose:

Purple prose… is not necessarily a bad thing, but it should be approached with caution. Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott. Fitzgerald, for example, are masters of this and their novels are literary classics that should be on every bibliophile’s shelf. Purple prose is, however, something that can quickly become an unintended crutch to lean on.

So, what is purple prose?

Purple prose = flowery, ornate, extravagant writing

Why can it become a crutch?

Because it may take the reader’s focus off the plot – indeed, it may even take your focus off your plot – and you will lose your reader along the way if your novel is pretty packaging without proper content.

“Act III”:
Microtension & Macrotension

Here it goes, simplified to the extreme:

Macrotension = plot, plot, plot and plot

Microtension = line-by-line-by-line basis

Microtension is what captures and holds the reader in the moment. It’s what makes them turn to a new page. Unfortunately, it’s often overlooked by the writer in favor of macrotension, of the important and exciting bits of your novel that you’ve been just dahhyying to write…….

Well, don’t.

Don’t do that, please.

Microtension is so, so important if you don’t want to lose your reader.

Here’s a couple of examples on how to implement microtension:

Character-based: a sudden change or contradiction in the protagonist’s emotions

Setting-based: the protagonist is in conflict – add a thunderstorm, kettle boiling over, knock on door etc.

Grammar-based: carefully consider the arrangement of your paragraphs. Think about the (sometimes) poor timing of subtitled TV-shows where you end up reading the joke before you hear it spoken aloud. Does the joke not lose impact/tension/effect because of this? This is the same with paragraphs. Move your protagonist’s realization of unrequited love to a new paragraph; don’t let it lose impact by bundling it together with the mundane tasks of checking emails and making breakfast.

Consider the paragraph work below, and tell me which one have the most impact?

She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person.
And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned.
When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?

She was afraid of what she had done. A proper person would stand up and face the consequences, but Juliette had never been a proper kind of person. And so Juliette ran.
Consequences be damned. When she finally stopped running, she was too far away from home to make it back in time for the funeral, which was really just as well, wasn’t it?

I admit that these two examples are both extremes, but they serve the purpose of explaining, do they not?

If you remind yourself to consciously work with microtension, you will not only have a better text for a final draft, but you will also have less overall editing to do.

“Curtain Call”:
“Thought verbs” 

This… is not a favorite technique of mine, though I do find myself intrigued by the idea and the lesson that lies therein.

What are thought verbs?

Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires etc.

What’s the problem with them?

Crutches and spoon-feeding, again.

Just like saidisms and purple prose, these so-called thought verbs run the risk of “saying too much”, and you thus run the risk of losing your reader along the way. Again, put your trust in the reader. They understand more than what you think they do.

*Curtain closes, lesson ends*

WriterWoes #8 – On writing fanfiction…

I recently read an article by Cara Diaconoff, in The Writer’s Chronicle, in which Diaconoff speaks for the inclusion of fanfiction into professional creative writing workshops.

As you’ve probably guessed… that’s what this post will be about…

So, now, let your eyes feast upon Diaconoff’s words as cited below!

“Taking fanfiction seriously leads to a productive interrogation of the concepts of originality, influence and intertextuality (…) Fanfiction writers are, in a sense, super-readers. To write successful fanfiction requires not only the traditional creative writing skills of crafting compelling characters and effectively deploying point of view and voice, but also a high degree of critical and rhetorical sophistication.”

“[Fanfiction writers must have] a complex sense of how texts operate in the world – a deep understanding of how literary and cinematic works construct, teach and manipulate their audiences.”  

(p. 66-67, 2016, The Writer’s Chronicle 49 (1))

So, yes, Diaconoff’s support of fanfiction prompted me to address this matter myself.

Or, that is to say, the matter has been on my mind for years, but Diaconoff’s article prompted me to add my own two cents, here, on my blog.

Now, be justly warned, my two cents are strongly biased!

I grew up in the online fanfiction/fandom community as both an avid consumer and contributor.

You can say, I suppose, that while I always had an interest in writing, fanfiction was where my interest in English writing truly began to flourish. It became my outlet where I could develop my English writing skills and understanding beyond that of my formal schooling. Indeed, as a self-taught writer of my foreign language, the fanfiction community was my primary English teacher aside from what kinda-sparse schooling that I had.

I’ve been a part of that world for about ten years now.

I know everything that there is to know – quiz me, if you want – and I am overjoyed to see that fanfiction is, at last, gaining the recognition that it deserves by professionals and academics.

Now – yes – I am fully aware that the Fifty Shades trilogy is based on Twilight fanfiction.

And – yes – I have read both.

It is my personal opinion that while the Fifty Shades series has done extremely well commercially – possibly thanks to the fanfiction community back when the series was self-published and not yet backed by major publishing houses and media outlets – it is not necessarily the best indicator of what you may find, out there, in the vast world of fanfiction. Not in regards to the erotica element – don’t get me wrong; nothing is “wrong” with that – but in regards to quality, style and voice.

With no professional editors at hand (beta-readers notwithstanding), there is admittedly a lot of Subpar Fanfiction on the internet…

… but there is also a lot of Good Fanfiction ready for reading.

Good Fanfiction has quality, style and a voice of its own. Most importantly, it requires literary intelligence and a deep understanding of intertextuality. As Diaconoff says in her article, it is not an easy task to take something made by someone else and make it your own, but that is exactly what Good Fanfiction does.

I myself started out writing Subpar Fanfiction.

Then I progressed to Good Fanfiction with the help of a supportive community (some of which have now become dear longtime friends to me). This, of course, also included a lot of “learning-by-doing” and “trial-and-error” cases, but, embarrassing as those were, they also made me the writer that I am today, ten years down the line.

So, tell me, please, is that not enough reason to start accrediting fanfiction for what it does – for the fledgling writers that it nurtures – rather than for what it, as some people argue, doesn’t do?

Besides, imitation is the best form of flattery – and, really, when is anything ever fully original in this day and age?

 

WriterWoes #7 – The creative process!

This post is actually inspired from a comment that I made on another post that got me thinking about my structural process when I write stories – and when I unleash my creativity in general, I suppose.

Despite my love for speculative fiction and the world building that this entails, be it large or small, my writing process is not geared towards years of planning and outlining prior to putting my pen to paper.

My creative process, be it painting or writing, is more… visceral, I suppose.

When I paint, I stray away from motifs and settle on abstract, impressionistic scenes.

Likewise, when I write, I get most of my inspiration while I write.

I build my world while I write it.

I do my research while I write.

I rarely ever do much before I start writing.

This means that there’ll be lots of pauses in my writing, where I head off to do extensive research or to expand on my world and characters, but the point still stands that I will have written at least five to ten chapters before I stop to do this.

I also prefer to plan my outline while I write, meaning that, well, my outlines get all sorts of messy, but then I color-code the different branches of the outline, making some of the text bold, some of the text larger, and— you get me?

Suddenly, somehow, there’s now an outline based on aesthetics – on visuals alone!

It makes sense, I guess, having been a painter for as long as I’ve been a writer.

The creative process is different for everyone, but I do think that it’s important to sit down and consider what your creative process is. If anything, simply because it will become far easier to nurture and cultivate your inspiration and motivation that way…

… and who doesn’t want that, amirite?

Drabble: “Gods of Egypt”

She wants to be a model, but she is born into a family of butchers.
At age twenty, she sleeps with a God of Egypt. He reaches up and touches her, bringing her through the nights with whiskers that poke her cheeks. One day, life grows inside of her. She calls him Moses, but one night Mr. Jackal pushes in too hard, and he takes Moses back; Moses will bring no plagues to Egypt. She changes her name to Nefertiti, a Queen of old, believing that this will leave no room for butchers – and yet, she knows, Mr. Jackal stays.

(Inspired by this poem of my own – also, this is a piece of fiction; I’m not out to bash religions or some such nonsense, m’kay? It’s pure creative inspiration, that’s all.)

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.Cursor-y.

poetry-9

(Inspired by TODAY-THIS-DAY-RIGHT-HERE!, when I spilt a drop – one single drop! – of water on my touchpad, dried it off carefully with a finger, and then suddenly had to wage war on my laptop as the cursor grew a life on its own, moving and clicking random shit until I finally managed to shut it down – talk about panic; what if it had deleted my novel and short story folders right before my very eyes!?)

WriterWoes #5 – Editing: masochism with words?

Editing.

Editing…

I spent eight months writing my last novel. Being part magical realism and part everything else, I developed my alternate contemporary world, did cultural research, did historical research, did climate research— hell, I even started doing Japanese language courses for research!

Then, eight months later, I now sit with my product in hand, feeling satisfied with what I’ve made…

Until the editing begins— holy clusterfuck of all that is green on God’s round earth!

Thus begins Edit Numero Uno.

And, mind you, I’m the type that also edit while I write, so at this point, the novel had technically been through profound editing – or so I thought.

Edit Numero Uno takes a couple of weeks with a focus on editing the flow – fair enough.

Edit Numero Dos involves printing the entire thing and editing in hand, focusing on the grammar – also fair enough.

Edit Numero Tres… was not supposed to happen. When I print my novels to edit them in hand, I consider that the last edit simply because it involves grammatical editing – the tiny bits, you know?

And yet, here I am, doing Edit Numero Tres, back to editing the flow, and it makes me wonder about the double-edged sword that is editing. It’s a lot like putting on makeup; you slap on a perfectly subtle layer of makeup, but then, there is that bit of eyeliner that is a little crooked, and what if you just pulled it further out, like that, and added some depth, and- oh fuck, no, no, raccoon eyes alert, abort mission! Likewise, imagine that you’re cooking a sauce, and wow, this is delicious, but it just needs a pinch of salt, and maybe a bit of rosemary, and yes, that’s— oh no, too much, no, no, I take it back, please!

…. You catch my drift here?

Just when you think you’re done editing, you realize that you’re not. Simultaneously, as you realize this, you also realize that you have a new problem to handle; one edit is fine, a second is also fine— but at the third, you begin to grow worried. You begin to wonder when enough is enough.

Am I polishing my work to its finest shine, or am I rubbing a hole in the silver?

I don’t believe that there is an answer to this (and if there is, then surely the answer is a much individual one), and so that’s not what I want to achieve with this post/rant. What I want to achieve, apparently, is to highlight the masochism that’s forever inherent in editing and writing by comparing it to beauty products and whisky sauce (rosemary works wonders for whisky sauce, didja know?)

Now, please, be gone and allow me to sit and bleed out my brain on my computer’s keyboard, and let’s perhaps add a little splatter on the screen for good measure, no?