“I’m going to be doing a lot of E now,” – me to the boyfriend
“Oh. Okay, for dinner I was thinking that we could…wait, WHAT?!” - boyfriend
I’ve written before on character a lot, and now I’m going to focus a bunch on story in several different articles, all of which are in various stages. So enjoy the first in this new series.
Energetic writing, in my opinion is key to crafting a good story. Now, energetic writing doesn’t necessarily mean what you think it means. I will be the first to tell that I am not an active person. I am almost criminally physically lazy. Energetic writing is not writing while on the treadmill and grunting out words while you do push-ups or nose-ups or whatever it is that active people do.. What I mean is that energy needs to come from your words. Your words need to be the peppy Chihuahua that barks and gets everyone attention in the neighbourhood (I’m talking to you, next door neighbour). A story needs to be energetic. It needs to be moving forward, it needs to be bouncing around, dragging along the reader like and taking it for a spin on the dance floor at the local polka hall. You need to be able to grab your reader and pull them along. Energetic writing in my mind focuses on three main principles; being enthusiastic, being engrossing, and being effective, and there’s a lot more e’s that can be divided up into those categories.
When someone is enthusiastic or passionate about what they are doing, it shows in the quality of their work. Anyone who has ever had to write an English essay on a topic they loved knows that their mark is way higher then it would’ve been if they were merely assigned something. That’s what’s so awesome about writing whatever you want; YOU CAN WRITE WHATEVER YOU WANT. When your writing is enthusiastic, it’s energetic. The care and time you put into something you’re enthusiastic about shows in the energy and plot of your writing.
Keep in mind though that being enthusiastic does not always mean you are going to come out with something fantastic. People are enthusiastic about different things, and sometimes your enthusiasm doesn’t always carry over. It might work for some, it might not work for others. Just because you’re enthusiastic over the mating habits of the common earthworm doesn’t mean that other people are. People who are interested will take note and be drawn in because of your enthusiasm, but it doesn’t mean that everyone will be drawn in.
When your writing is effective, it’s energetic. When it grabs the reader and sucks them in, it’s energetic. Being effective can mean many things, but it goes hand in hand with enthusiasm. It can be choosing your words, organizing your plot, working on character development, or even just having a plot to begin with. Being effective also means being emphatic and educational, since being effective also means doing your research and being clear, definite, and concise in your writing.
All of this leads to and contributes to the final part of the E.
Energetic writing is engrossing writing. It will grab your reader by the nose and make them hit their head repeatedly against the pages of the book, but in a good way. Your readers need to be dragged along for the ride, whether it be kicking or screaming or willingly having their hearts ripped out of their chest. Being engrossing means that the reader is right there with your characters, breathing the air inside your world and that means they are caught up in the energy present in your story.
A story needs to be ignited, and energetic writing leads to this ignition. Your words have the power to drag people into different worlds, and energetic writing will help you do that. Or at least, it always has for me.
But as I said before, you don’t have to listen to me. The Chihuahua next door has driven me crazy, so I shouldn’t be trusted.
This article has been brought to you by the letter “e”.
The new serial has its first post!
“A Serial Cheesy Novella in Which a Crime-Solving, Tea Afficiendo Tropical Harpy and Her Were-Jaguar Assistant Must Solve a Case Surrounding Beatrix Potter’s Missing Mycology Essay and Deadly, White-Capped Murder!”
you can find it at www.deathcaps-for-dinner.tumblr.com
Spoilers – there isn’t any history in here. Just definitions. I just thought the title was clever.
Time in a story can be a tricky thing, especially if you’re going back and forth between time periods. It’s one of the main four components of a story, with the others being setting, character, location, and time. Once you have a story that you want to tell, you have to decide a bunch of stuff that’s inherently linked to the time in a story. So, first let’s do the definition of time, just so we know (hint; the definition is not “a clock”. My TA did not find that as funny as I did.)
time /tīm/Noun: The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.
Holy buttnuggets Batman, that covers a lot of ground already. How can I cover the vastness and history of the entire cosmos within the ramblings of this article? Luckily, I’m not going to, because that way leads to insane asylums and doctors poking at me with sticks. I’m going to focus solely on a simple breakdown of time as it occurs between the pages of a book or a short story, or whatever type of poison you choose. So, here’s a super-basic breakdown of time in story. I wish I had a rap to go with this.
1. Story Time – All of the events covered by a story – this is allllll the crap that happens between the two covers.
2. Narrative Time – Is time that goes by in the narrative, including such lines as “the next morning” “three days passed” “one year later”. This is different from storytime because those days are not necessarily covered in the story time. Not all narrative time is considered story time, because no one wants to read a book about people twiddling their thumbs or brushing their teeth or changing their cat’s litter in between adventures and accidentally getting pee on your hand. Narrative time encompasses all the boring stuff that’s kind of glossed over and it can also refer to the cultural, historical and chronological factors surrounding the events of a narrative. It also includes flashbacks and fast forwards.
3. Reading Time – The time it takes for a reader to get through a novel.
All of the components of time in a story can be at the macro or micro level (either the really big picture or the really small picture), so keep that in mind so you can get a better picture of the massive complicated and messy honeycomb that is story. The components listed above are further broken down into more components, because nothing is ever easy and we all have to learn that lesson at some point. The mini components of story time (and I’m not talking about that beloved bedtime ritual) are frequency, duration, and order. All of this can be a little confusing, because it’s a mess of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff, and sometimes that just gives people headaches.
1. Order. This is what order things come in, and this can be so variable I’m not going to even bother writing down all the different types of order a narrative can be in. Order does not necessarily have to go from 1-7, for example. It can go in any order that you want it to. You can flashback, backtrack, have your characters look at history books. There is no right or wrong way to decide how things are going to be ordered. That they are going to be ordered is inevitable, but it’s up to you how you choose to order things. Look at Memento. The writers there took regular start-to-finish order, slapped it around a bit, shoved it in the trunk of 1997 Ford, and then pushed it into the river Thebes and then set the river on fire for good measure.
2. Duration. This is how long things last. Pretty simple.
3. Frequency. How often do things happen?
So there you have it. Some super-basic definitions about time in story. Next time we’ll go a little more in-depth and have a bunch more definitions. Because knowledge is power.
Disclaimer; I do not know a lot of things, so you can totally disregard this if you want to. I’m not allowed energy drinks because of what they do to me (“I’M A HUMMINGBEEBIRD! BZZZZZZZZ”), but I sneak them anyways, so I’m not exactly to be trusted and if you want you can always call the popo and have them arrest me for lying on the internet. HA.
Making Your Readers Identify with Your Characters
(PART THREE ON CHARACTER LIKEABILITY!)
So. I’ve written about Character Believability and Likeability here and , and here today I’m going to move on to another key point in snagging your readers and ruining their lives, because that’s what writers were born to do. I highly suggest looking at the other articles as well, because they are all tangled together like some big Gordian knot and a lot of the points are closely related. So here I’m going to talk about how to make a character that your readers can identify with, because if your readers can’t identify with your characters, most notably your protagonists, it kind of screws you over. That is wrong. We are supposed to screw them over.
An identifiable character is a character that your readers can identify with. This can happen in a variety of different ways and there are several schools on though on forcing your readers to identify with your readers. Why do you want to force people to do that? Because it emotionally invests them. You can’t crush their hopes and dreams and ships without first grabbing their emotions, running away with them, and laughing maniacally.
So, what are some things to keep in mind when making your readers identify with your characters?
Who is your Target Demographic?
It is very, very hard to make all types of people like a single character, or even have interest in your character. There are very few authors that are able to make characters that appeal to just about everyone, so one of the first thing in mind in trying to write a character your readers can identify with is thinking about who your readers are. A teenager is highly unlikely to be fascinated by a book that is about an aging woman with Alzheimer’s, like in the novel “Still Alice”, but is totally going to be down for books where the protagonist is a kick-ass teenager. By thinking and researching the genre and demographic your book is in, you’re more able to pander to your readers and what they look for in a character. I know that you are writing for you – you should always be writing because you love to write, but you should also make sure of the audience your book is aimed at and what kind of characters they identify with.
Characters are people.
By writing them as people, you are interesting people. When you are interesting people, you are making people identify with your characters. By giving them human traits and everyday tics and common likes and dislikes, you are creating someone people can identify with.
I cannot stress this enough. By writing real people, you are interesting real people.
What are some universal traits?
Emotional Responses are[ retty much the same. –Protagonists feeling revulsion at terrible acts.
Look at Bella. Millions and millions of people identify with her because she is the every-day girl that people can easily insert themselves into. I know not everyone likes Twilight, but the way she was able to makes her character so easy to identify with and insert themselves into the story captured readers in a way that every writer drools after.
Make them have strong and weak character traits. A believable character is a likeable character is an identifiable character. Like I said, the three articles are very closely tied in together. But once again, you don’t have listen to me. I wanted to run away and join the circus when I was sixteen. I’m not an adult. Don’t trust me to be the final word on anything.
I HAVE INTERNET AGAIN. Only took like, ten days.
I’ve been critiquing plot, character sketches and film scripts all day. I love it.
SEND ME YOUR STUFF AND I WILL DO THE SAME. I WILL RIP IT APART IF IT NEEDS REBUILDING. BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH.
(This is a workshop piece for my creative writing class being reviewed Tuesday. It is meant to be a spoken essay - creative nonfiction. I thought I would share it here as well.)
The world is ending.` `
In reality, the sun has set and somewhere one of your housemates is laughing, but all you can focus on is an inward collapse, a giant schism opening up and intent on devouring you. Your skin peels off and your face becomes not quite human. Blood is pumping through your veins and all you can do is shudder and cry and burn off the adrenaline before it becomes too hard to breathe. An anvil is on your chest and your vision is starting to narrow. A terrifying darkness starts to creep in and slowly smother you to death. You fumble with your phone and within minutes he’s there, slipping under the blankets with you, running his fingers down your back and murmuring comfort and consolation as you try to battle this horrible thing inside of you, this thing threatening to take away who you are.
In the golden glow of the lamp, he strokes your bare skin until your eyes are heavy and the world grows fuzzy around the edges. Your body sinks into soft sleep and you feel his lips brush against your right temple. You make a little sound of acknowledgement and darkness takes you.
The world is a wonderful and disturbing place for you. Your mind works fast and feels the need to ascribe meaning to everything. You watch your every move and you guard your thoughts and your tongue, unable to keep up with your own constant analysis in a political dance that has no meaning to anyone but you. Friendship does not come easily for you – easy camaraderie gives you fully fledged panic attacks. Everything you say, how you act, what you wear and how you hold yourself becomes something of grave importance, something that you cannot get wrong. If you do, you will die alone. A neurotic prophet, you are unable to untangle your anxiety from real life. You are a detective without an off switch, pulling meaning out of thin air.
You make a list of “social suicides”, and stay strict to your list. Social phobia becomes so intense, that when late for a study date with people who want to make friends with you, you cancel because you have curled up in a small film editing room, unable to deal with your fear. The friends you do make you hold tight to, unable to handle the processes of making new ones. You make yourself go out into a world you are awkward and ill at ease in for fear of becoming agoraphobic. Every moment is spent teetering on the brink, trying so hard to keep a balance that is only there inside your head.
You don’t know where it comes from. You don’t know if it’s the fact that 70% of your immediate family suffers from some form of diagnosed mental illness. You’re not sure if it’s chemical or a fossil left over from your elementary school days and the emotional, physical and sexual bullying that had you self-mutilating at the age of eleven. Maybe it’s the conflict you had over your sexuality. You wouldn’t consider yourself traumatized, but the trauma of everyday living sometimes grows so great you don’t get out of bed for days.
Your life is a litany of where things have or could go wrong. When you were a child, you could not fall asleep without saying your prayers. When you were twelve, a sleepover at a friend’s house involved an evacuation into the nearby woods when the house next door caught fire. You remember looking back and seeing the house explode, burning logs flying into the air. The fire had reached the propane tank, buried in the basement. Many nights afterwards were spent huddling in the bathroom, saying your prayers over and over again, forty times in a row with no interruption, or you would die in a fiery inferno. You pictured your family as a group of human torches, and you would lie on the bathroom floor and try to keep your breathing even until you fell into an exhausted sleep. Two and half years ago, your boyfriend’s brother snapped at you, and even now the first few minutes you speak to him you’re on edge, bracing yourself for something you know will never come. There are people in classes you have barely met, but will do anything to avoid, because something in them inspires such gut-wrenching fear in you.
Fear continues to guide your actions. You know it’s not rational, and you try to break the pattern. You keep yourself occupied. You write, you paint, you over-work yourself. You do not let yourself be alone. You get a cat. You open yourself to people and bare the broken clockwork of your mind. You lie down and you bare your throat in an act of submission, as if you were standing before a predator and not the general public.
The feeling of crazy is not something that you would normally want seen by other people. This vulnerability and insecurity is not anything you would ever want exposed. You stand and shiver and shake and are afraid of people seeing this part of you. You are afraid of condemnation from every avenue of your life, but you feel that exposure is important to your own acceptance and your own healing. You are revealing yourself. You are peeling away the fear of rejection and are letting people in.
However, there is someone you let in a long time ago, though sometimes you know he feels as if you are not open enough. While you can cut others off, you can’t cut him off. You can’t prune him out of your life. You’ve thought about it (for his own good), but the idea of not having him a breath away takes your own away in a painful clench. He is your roots, the thing that anchors you when you feel adrift. You don’t want to let him know that, but you think he does regardless of whether or not you tell him. You are so scared he’ll turn away when he sees the side of your face that isn’t quite human, but he hasn’t. Instead, he is teaching you to be human again.
You know that you need him. For the four and a half years you have been together, you have needed him. You are dependent on him. You might struggle against this, rail and fight and cry, but his quiet patience and acceptance, even his occasional ineptitude, keeps you going. You look at him and things are okay again. You look at him and see a future. There is something about loving someone so completely that makes the vulnerability of life almost okay. You need the way he smiles when he kisses you, the touch of his fingers against your cheek, the deep, slow sound of him breathing when he sleeps next to you. You’re not healed, but the rawness of your mind is eased by his presence better than any medication or doctor. He actively encourages, making dates for you and introducing you to girls he knows. He knows when you have been pushed too far and need to be away from other people. When you fail, he accepts that and comforts you with a hug, or will make you your favourite food. He’ll put on a pot of tea or your favourite movie. He won’t nag you about it, unless of course you need to be nagged. He is so in sync with you that his response is always appropriate. He pulls you back when you are close to the edge, and you do the same for him. You would do anything for him.
There are a million sayings floating around the social atmosphere about love and feeling undeserving, and the appreciation of love has become something clichéd and over-exaggerated. Accepting love has supposedly become like an epiphany, a lightning strike where suddenly you are deserving and things will be okay. But there is no lightning bolt. The struggle doesn’t end. Anxiety is like a cancer, and it does not go away overnight. It is an up and down process, the sliding climb up a muddy hill. It is a dirty process full of falls and tears of frustration. The only difference is that when you are with someone you love, whether it be family or friend or lover, is that there is someone on the top of that hill, cheering you on. He is your cheerleader.
Love isn’t about a cure for mental illness. It’s about an acceptance. It’s about an understanding. It’s about being there while I fight my own battles, offering help and leaping into the fray when needed. There are many other girls who would love to have his smile turned on him, his jokes, easy going nature, and his thoughtfulness directed on them. But every day when he turns and smiles, his smile is directed at you. You are so grateful for that, though sometimes that is more terrifying than facing a judgemental classroom or forcing a smile when someone is complimenting you. Love and mental illness are like two opposing teams, fighting each other for prominence. Sometimes one wins. Sometimes the other one wins. But regardless who wins the game, he’s still on the sidelines. There are times where he must get angry, when he’s frustrated and fed-up with your slow progress up the hill. There are times when he must curse when you slide back down. He doesn’t expect a cure though. He accepts it, and loves you still.
Not everyone is as lucky as you are, to have someone with an open heart and mind that is willing to accept what is and what will be. You know that. And you are so grateful for it. Tonight, he will come home and kiss you hello. You will put the kettle on and talk about your days. You will share in your failures and successes together. You will touch and laugh and cuddle under the covers while he puts an old movie on and your cat demands attention from the both of us. You will look at him, and you will love him, and he will look at you and feel the same.
For now, the world will not be ending, and you have him to thank for it.
Being a writer is awesome. You get to make up worlds, fill them with characters you love, and then kill them off one by one (because making your readers hurt is a special kind of drug). However, there is a lot of personal responsibility that comes with writing as well, and that’s something that a lot of writers don’t seem to realize. There are a lot of things I won’t discuss here that could fall under writer responsibility that people are sure to think should be included – the writer’s responsibility to their characters, to their readers, to agents or deadlines, his responsibility to inspire or change the reader’s life – those things are things that I believe differ from person to person and from writer to writer depending on your situation and beliefs. Instead, I’ll stick with things closely tied to the actual writing process. Onwards, brave companions!
1. Do your own work/writing/research.
Writing is WORK. It is not easy. That being said, you can’t hand off that work to someone else. It’s wonderful to bounce ideas off of someone, but you can’t take credit for their ideas. You also can’t take bits of other people’s writing and call it your own. Plagiarism is gross, guys. Furthermore, writing itself is not the only work that a writer is a responsible for. I’ve written before on how freakin’ important research is, but there’s no doubt that research can be the suckiest part of writing. I know that. Really. I just climbed through a million articles on Shambhala. Research can be horribly boring. However, you still need to do it. You need to do it for the sake of your story, because facts are awesome. Furthermore, you need to do it yourself. Only you know exactly what you need, and only you can decide what is worth including or not worth including. If you can’t do your own research or writing, that also implies that you are lazy or that your story is not worth it, and those are not traits I see in any of the successful writers I personally know. You are responsible for that. It’s a brutal truth, but a truth nonetheless.
2. You are responsible for your successes, but you are also responsible for your failures.
This is a big thing for me. I see a lot of writers that are super thrilled about when their writing goes well for them. It’s an awesome feeling. But I also see writers that love to play the blame game when things go wrong. “I didn’t sleep well last night.” “I just didn’t feel like writing.” “I didn’t want to do my fact-checking.” “My neighbours were being too noisy”. There are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to write, but I will bet that ninety percent of them are based around you. Blaming others does not one any good. If you can accept your successes, you need to be able to accept your failures as well.
3. When you do have a failure, learn from it.
I have what feels like a million writing failures. Really. I have made character mistakes, research mistakes, plotline and development mistakes. I cannot tell you many times I can look back on a certain piece of writing or something I did writing-related, wince, and hope to god that it stays buried in the shallow, cliff-side grave I covertly left it in during a moonlight gardening spree. Failures suck, but good does come from them. You can learn from your failures. Ignoring one of your weaknesses does not make the weakness go away. You owe it to yourself and your awesome writing ability to focus on your weaknesses like an angry shark until those weaknesses have been obliterated and devoured and you are cruising through an ocean of win.
4. Do everything to the best of your ability.
Because laziness sucks, and I KNOW you are better than that. You KNOW when something is not the best of your ability. Do you really want to let it out knowing that you half-assed it? That might work for school essays (guilty as charged over here), but it should never be acceptable for something that you are hoping to make into a career.
5. ACTUALLY WRITE.
This one is a no-brainer people. Seriously, just go do it. That’s the one thing a writer is pretty much totally responsible for.
You can totally do this, guys. So go to it.
If you don’t agree with me on this, that’s cool. If you do, that’s also cool. I am by no means an expert and this is just my personal opinion. I also think that Sharktopus and Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus are legitimate examples of excellent cinema, so there you go.