Pages

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Clara 1

Hello, all you fabulous readers of Anna's blog!

I'm afraid you're gonna be stuck with me instead today.  Anna has very kindly decided to leave you all at my mercy this month, and me at yours; the prospect of which is infinitely more daunting to me.

But that's not much of an introduction, is it?

Let's start again.

Hello, all you fabulous readers of Anna's blog!

It's Clara, from The Danger of Dreams (dangerofdreams.blogspot.com), a relatively new blog which I've mostly devoted to unpacking the writing process.  My biggest accomplishment so far has got to be how I've duped Anna into thinking I know enough about writing and organizing to be of some help to those of you who write.

Good grief.  How terrible can an introduction get?

It's this dratted "honesty" thing, I swear.  Interferes with all my good intentions.

Because honestly, I'm quite new at this whole writing thing myself, and my own process could definitely use some improvement.  I have yet to publish a major work, I procrastinate on drafting stories to read assorted and sundry fan fiction, and I was caught in the misery that is writer's block with my main story up until a few weeks ago.

So I invite you to join me as I basically improvise my way through this first post, and we'll see what happens!  If my words aren't enlightening or inspiring, I can guarantee that at least they'll be entertaining.  And really, what could be better than being entertained at somebody else's expense?  

Anna suggested that I take y'all "behind-the-scenes", so to speak, with a piece of my writing, revealing the backstory on how I got it how it is, and how I plan to get it where I want it to go.  Anna has brilliant suggestions.

The following excerpt I'm providing is from the first-person point of view of my character James, in a story I'm currently working on.  It's a little of a mundane beginning, but I think it introduces the characters of James and Miles well.

Below the excerpt, I'll criticize my work and sketch out how I organized it.  I'm going to leave off writing more specifically about organization until a later post, since I think it's more helpful at this point to give examples of organization rather than try to present it as an abstract concept.


I remember that the day everything fell apart started like any other.

The ear-splitting wail of the alarm clock in Miles' office woke me up at 5:30 a.m. and I groaned as I sat up in my sleeping bag.  I could see Miles' faint outline in the sleeping bag on the other side of the room, and I smiled at the way he could sleep through any noise.  I stood and tiptoed my way past the short stacks of papers that Miles had arranged around his side of the room, and lifted our empty mugs from his cluttered desk.  It was time to make coffee.

Our morning ritual was always coffee together before I left for school.  Ever since Miles and I moved out from Georgia to New York City for his work, we’d had to scrimp and pinch wherever we could to make ends meet. We lived out of Miles’ tiny law office in Manhattan, hiding the sleeping bags inside the closet during business hours. Coffee in the mornings seemed to be Miles’ way of reminding me that we could still feel at home in New York, even if only for a few minutes each day.

I filled our mugs from the sink in the adjoining bathroom, and then placed them inside the microwave on Miles’ desk, setting the timer for two minutes. During the day, the microwave was kept under the desk and out of sight; but at the moment, it was mine to command. I took the sack of ground coffee from inside the desk’s top drawer and inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma of the rich, dark powder. Coffee was, and still is, the best-smelling substance I know. 

As soon as the microwave’s timer dinged, I removed the mugs and measured a level spoonful of ground coffee into each one. We never used coffee filters; since neither of us much minded a few coffee grounds, a little extra caffeine at the bottom of our mugs. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I would have survived a day of high school without my morning jolt of caffeine-induced energy.

Miles woke up then, as always, to the smell of coffee. He blinked the sleep from his tired eyes and smiled at me before fumbling around his sleeping bag for his glasses. I smiled back in amusement.

“They’re on your other side,” I told him, “Right next to the amicus brief you were highlighting last night.”

He nodded his thanks as he found his thick, black-framed glasses, and then placed them carefully on his face. Then he peered intently into my face. 

“Ah, now I can see you. Good grief, James, you must’ve had an interesting dream.”

“Why’s that?” I asked as I handed him his mug and sat down cross-legged next to his sleeping bag.

“Your hair”, he answered with a half-smile, “Your hair seems to have been battling dragons all night long.”

He reached out with his free hand and absently ruffled my unruly brown mop.

“There”, he nodded, satisfied.

“That neatened it up?” I asked with a grin, which he returned.

“Not at all. I merely distributed the mess a little more evenly.”

“Sounds about normal, then”, I sighed, resigned to my fate.

I had given up on my hair a long time ago. As long as I could cover it with a hat, I looked decent enough for school. It wasn’t like girls were going to look at me twice anyway. 

Miles raised an eyebrow at me in amusement, and then cupped both hands around his mug to warm them. He sighed as he sipped his coffee, closing his eyes to savor it and letting his shoulders drop as he relaxed. If I loved coffee, he worshipped it. I sipped some of my own and let him lose himself in silence for a few minutes, enjoying his company without really realizing it at the time. I never felt like I needed to say anything around Miles.

He looked up from his half-drained mug with a more focused gleam in his grey eyes.

“Good coffee, this”, he nodded approvingly.

I shrugged. He said it every morning, and would probably say it if I handed him a mug of coal tar one morning instead of coffee. When you drink the stuff black the way Miles does, I doubt there’s any real difference in flavor between the two. Approving the coffee was just his way of signaling that he was now awake enough for conversation.

“So how late are you opening, Miles?” I asked. 

Most days Miles kept office hours until 6:00 p.m. so that we could have dinner together, but he was in the middle of a big case, which usually meant interviewing a lot of witnesses, which usually meant closing shop at 7:00 or later.

“Not too late”, he reassured me. “It’s a big case, but a pretty straightforward one. The press will have a field day with this one either way it’s decided; but thankfully, we have our ways to avoid them.”

He grinned mischievously at me, his dark brows dancing on his pale face. I grinned back, knowing that Miles was nowhere near famous enough as a lawyer to gain the attention of reporters. He knew it too, but he found a certain wry humor in it.

He gazed at the empty coffee mug in his hands wistfully, and then stood up reluctantly from his warm sleeping bag.

“So what are your plans for today, James?” he asked in a more business-like tone.

I stood up with him and grimaced as I envisioned the day ahead at school. It was only February, but I’d been ready for the school year to end since Christmas.

“The usual”, I answered. “Sit through class and take the dumb quizzes to prove I actually know stuff, then get pounded by the jocks because I make them look bad by actually knowing stuff, then go change into my janitor’s uniform and muck around in a job where I don’t need to use the stuff I actually know.”

Miles had patiently listened to my complaining tirade, his left eyebrow raising a little. I was pretty good at complaining, and he was pretty good at listening. 

He took my empty mug as he shook his head at me.

“James, James, James. You do have quite a cynical view of the world for your age.”

“I’m seventeen, Miles”, I countered, “Old enough to know that it’s ugly out there, and young enough to be allowed to complain without doing anything to fix it.”

He fastened those grey eyes onto mine, amused but with a wariness behind them. Seeing the dark circles under them, harsh in the pale light of a winter morning, I remembered how hard he had it and how little he complained. I looked away and firmed my lip. If he could get through it, I could get through it. At least for today.


And now for a look behind the scenes.

This excerpt is actually from a work of fanfiction for the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series; which for those of you who haven’t heard of it, features the Greek gods and heroes translated into modern America and the ensuing hardships and hilarity for their half-mortal descendants, the demigods. I grew up with the series, and I loved it so much that I never wanted the books to end. So I decided to continue the story with this one.

James and Miles are not from the books, but are my original characters. James is purely mortal without any godly parentage, which makes him different from most major characters in the books. I thought that his unique perspective as a mortal would add an interesting dynamic when he encounters gods and demigods further on in the story, those parts which I have yet to write. This beginning excerpt was meant to introduce him and his relationship with his legal guardian, Miles. They carry the main action of the story, so I spent more time than I would normally use for a introduction scene, in an effort to make them both believable and relatable to the reader.

And now that the back story’s out of the way, it’s time to criticize my heart out—what fun.

The first five paragraphs are bothering me right now. Aside from the first sentence in the story, which I like since it sets up some dramatic tension for later on, they’re…boring. They use far too many words for far too little action. In the fourth and fifth paragraphs especially, James doesn’t have to record every little step in the coffee-making process for it to be convincing to the reader. When I revise this later, I’ll probably cut some description and combine the paragraphs mentioned so that I can move the action along a little faster. For now, though, it’s alright as is.

Moving on.

The initial dialogue between James and Miles in the next few paragraphs is my favorite part of this excerpt. The familiarity and warmth between the two characters comes across nicely, and the detail about James’ unmanageable hair endears him to me. But maybe that’s just me. If I wanted to be really picky about it, I could rework parts of this exchange to make the pauses in conversation sound a little more natural, but they sound convincing enough for this draft.

The rest of my critique concerns nit-picky issues of word choice, character development, and style. Would James, a typical seventeen-year-old, use “tirade” to describe his complaining? Maybe not. Is there a surplus of adjectives in this draft that need to be replaced with stronger verbs? Maybe so. And is the dialogue towards the end adding to the reader’s knowledge of the characters enough for all of it to be kept? As much as I hate to admit it, probably not.

Also, a guy friend to whom I had sent this excerpt for feedback replied with an intriguing character-development-type-question as follows: “Is James more of a shy, in his own world guy or a kind of irreverant[sic], disenchanted with life kind of guy? I think that bears distinction as they're similar but they have a subtle warmness in the former vs coldness in the latter.” I really want to rework this section later to convey a more definite answer to his question. I think James likes to think he's all disenchanted with the world, but honestly, he's too young to really be all that cynical all the time. It'll be interesting trying to flesh out his character and get that across to readers.

In general, the organization of this excerpt is not as cut-and-dry as some of my other works. It is mostly organized in the order of events as they happened, but with some asides and explanations from James. But I’m not going to worry about it too much. Since it’s based off of James’ recollection, it’s okay if things are a little fuzzy around the edges and not as tightly structured as they could be. It could even feel more genuine this way. The main issue will be to keep the action moving while providing enough description to carry the reader through it without getting them bogged down in the details. It’s a delicate balancing act, so I’ll have to constantly reread and revise.

And that’s about it! I’m sure that I could find a thousand other little things to complain about, but this is a good starting (and stopping) point. I hope the comments I made were helpful in giving you a general idea of things to look for in your own writing as you revise and rework. And if they weren’t as helpful as you might have liked, don’t feel too discouraged. I plan to cover smaller, more specific issues related to the writing process in future posts; so I’ll be able to unpack each one more.
Feel free to leave your comments and questions below regarding the story, my remarks, or your own works. I’m always looking to improve my writing, and I love reading what other writers are working on!

Till next time,
Clara


Sunday, February 26, 2017

March Blog Swap with Clara from The Danger of Dreams!

Hey, would you look at that, I used an exclamation point in the blog post title.  It's taken three years and twenty-nine posts to reach this point, y'all.

Aaaaaand, I went back and looked to make sure.  Turns out I've actually used exclamation points in blog post titles at least four times before this.  So no, don't trust my memory, or my perception of myself.

But I'm not writing this post so I can talk about myself and punctuation.  I'm writing it so I can talk about my good friend Clara.  She has an awesome blog called The Danger of Dreams, which you should totally go to now.  She talks about a lot of cool topics, such as writing, organization, and trashing my sister's car!  Okay, so she hasn't actually talked about that on her blog, but I'm sure we all think she should.

In March she'll take over my blog, and I'll take over hers, and here's what will happen: 

On Girl with the Binder, you'll get some lovely--nay, fabulous--posts on writing and organization.  Let's face it, most of us could use help with that.  If you read my blog (which you probably do...) you know that I certainly could.  And no, I'm not going to put an exclamation point on that.  Clara is an awesome organizationist, and I'm so happy she'll be sharing some things with us.  I may post once or twice during the month on my home blog, but you know me.

Meanwhile, over on The Danger of Dreams, I'll be writing a few posts on writing and inspiration.  On her blog, Clara said: She'll be addressing the topic of Inspiration and taking her own unique spin on what it means and how we as writers harness it.  If truth be told, that itself inspires me, and I'm burning up with the desire to write out ALL THE THOUGHTS.  So yeah, I'm looking forward to that.

I'm sure y'all will enjoy this March, with all of its madness.  Clara will take very good care of you, and I'm sure I'll come back to find you all so much smarter and more organized than you used to be.  If you please though, do also come over to The Danger of Dreams and see what I'm doing over there.

Looking forward to it?  I know I am!  Be sure and give Clara a big welcome when she comes!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Anna's Thought Dump: Writing, Stealing, and Maggie Stiefvater

Hullo, my people.

I'm writing this blog post because I have some thoughts consuming me, and I must write them out, and I'd like to write them out for others to read.  I'll talk a little about that later.  Right now, you need to know that this post is about Maggie Stiefvater, and it's about me, and it's about writing.  Here are the topics I want to cover, written out neatly because that will make me feel good, and so I don't forget them.

1.) Writers vs. Storytellers
2.) Stealing
3.) Probably some rant-type thing that brings everything above together

Before we move onto those topics, I need to lay the foundation for this post.  Every so often, I stalk people.  Not in an illegal way, of course.  It's just there are interesting people who post interesting things on the internet, and I like to read these things, especially if they're about writing, because I can't stop writing, but sometimes it seems like I should add poorly to that statement.  Anyhow, yesterday I went to the library, and since then I have finished five of the nine books I checked out.  As a result, my soul burned to research some of these authors and see when/if subsequent books would come out.  Even though none of these authors was Maggie Stiefvater, somehow I wandered my way over to her website, and then to her blog.  Maggie is the author of the quadrilogy, THE RAVEN CYCLE, which I enjoyed, but probably not enough to read again, and THE SCORPIO RACES, which I not only enjoyed, but adored.  She's also written other books that I haven't read.

Maggie is someone who not only writes, but thinks about writing in a way I've seen few authors do, and then she tells the world her thoughts; and for that I'm very grateful.  See, as you've probably seen in my blog posts, I also think a lot about writing, but so often I simply have to take these thoughts from me and my own writing.  However, as I discovered today, Maggie Stiefvater has a lot for me to think about, a lot to feed my brain.

So here are her thoughts, added to mine, mixed and digested thoroughly, and then spewed back out for all of y'all.

It's not as gross as it sounds.

1.) Writers vs. Storytellers

In this blog post, Maggie says that she is a storyteller, not a writer, and there is a difference.  She says that writers write for themselves; that even if they never got published, they would still keep writing, just the same as if they had crowds of people clamoring for their next work.  I believe that is true of me.  I know why I write, or at least why I started to write, and I'll explain that in my rant to come.

Storytellers, however, write for an audience, and to change others.  Maggie says if she couldn't write with words, she'd find another way to tell stories.  And often I believe this is also true of myself.  Not that writing is simply the most convenient way to tell stories for me, or something I stumbled into; no, I will always write.  I know this.  However, there are things that I want to tell the world, or at least a great many people, and even if I couldn't use my writing for that, I'd use something else.

So can someone be both a writer and a storyteller?  Or is it simply that at my age, I'm bombarded with options and possibilities, and by the time I'm an adult, I'll have settled into one or the other?

While it's fun to think about, and to wonder about, it's pointless to put stress or worrying into it.  No matter what I am, I figure I'll either find out later, or it'll stop mattering to me.  Here, have a poem I wrote once while feeling sad and overwhelmed.  (Thankfully, this poem was the first sign of that passing.)

It was once that I dreamed
Of what I might be.
Until my dreams were everything
That consumed me.
I woke to find I was nothing
But smoke and tears,
The result of a million
Wasted years.
In the end, I threw away
All my dreams.
And became what I was always
Meant to be.

(To paraphrase all that, quit stressing out about stuff, and often you'll find it works itself out in the end.  Of course, God is the Mastermind behind that.)

2.) Stealing

In this blog post, Maggie talks about writers (general term, not vs. storytellers) being artists and thieves.  Now Maggie, my sister, who is an artist herself and has a lovely cardmaking-and-other-stuff blog right here, has a book called STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST, by Austin Kleon.  I'll confess, I haven't read the whole thing, but the general point is, artists don't create out of thin air.  We steal from what's around us.  Knowing how true that is of me and the stuff I write, I wasn't at all surprised to hear Maggie Stiefvater saying the same thing.  I highly recommend you read this blog post, because not only does she make some fabulous points, she also tells a funny story, and genuinely funny stories are awesome and hard to come by.

Now, something interesting she pointed out that I'd never consciously thought about, is the relationship between artist and thief.  I'd probably know this if I'd read STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST all the way through, but I didn't.  We (artists generally, writers specifically) don't just steal stuff and then use it as art.  If I see an interesting person, I don't just stick him into my interesting story and say, "Yep, there's beauty.  There's art."  But it's also not as simple as just finding some way to fit him into my story, or fit my story around him. 

I'll confess, I have a hard time putting this into words, because for me this has strayed from being a thought thing, and instead entered the realm of instinct.  I'll do my best, but pardon me for how disjointed and clunky this may sound.

As a writer, I steal all the time, from everything around me.  There are a lot of things that I notice, and so my brain always has far too much material to write about it all.  When God made me, though, he gave me an instinct that has served me extremely well as a writer.  Over time, it filters through all the stuff I take in, and spits out a story idea.  Sometimes it's several within a few hours, other times it may take me weeks just to get one.  I get the feeling author Sarah Prineas goes through much the same process, because she once told me she had to wait for her ideas to glom before she could write a story.

The point is, when stolen things go into my story, they've been processed, sometimes reshaped, molded, and kneaded, and fit together to form the story.

Now what is most intriguing about this is that all of those stolen pieces, that be reminded, didn't come from the author's mind, still reflect the author.  Because she* may not have created those things, but who stole them?  Chose them?  Who remade them, fit them together in a way she still thinks is beautiful?  I'm sure you've heard enough of the quotes by now to know that choices simultaneously make a person and reveal who she truly is.

Now here's the beautiful enigma: her choices don't just reveal who she has made herself to be, but who God has made her to be, and who and what He has used to shape her into who she is.  The truth is, it's not by her own cleverness or observational skills that she has these things.  God gives them to her.  And here's the sad part: if she doesn't give Him the glory, then she really is stealing, and she's stealing from God.

*I'm using she because I'm a she, and when I say she, I'm half talking about myself, so deal with it.

Well, I had no idea I was going to go there.  That's an example of "glommage," as Sarah would say.

3.) The Rant, or Conclusion, Where All of Our Ropes Meet in One Knot

Here is the story of my writing, including the part I don't often talk about.

Anyway, when I was six, I started reading chapter books.  I was either six or seven when I wrote down my first, albeit incomplete, story.  For me it was just fun, but it was also a natural response to how much I was reading.  I started a few stories between the ages of seven and ten.  Maybe four or five stories, and most of them didn't get far.  It wasn't something I really felt the need to do, but I liked feeling like I was making something.

When I was ten, I started a story called FIREBREATH, which was pretty much a blatant ripoff of ERAGON.  I also started a story called STORMY HURL, which I actually think there's still some merit to.  They didn't get far.  What's more important is that when I was ten, my Book Binder came into being.  As you can probably guess, it was a binder, and my original intention was that in it I would only put the stories that I eventually wanted to publish.  See, sometime around FIREBREATH's inception, I'd decided I wanted to be a famous author.  This was when I really started writing regularly, and I didn't go anywhere without taking my Book Binder.  I didn't write every day, by any means; that came later.  But I did have it in my head a lot.

When I was twelve, disaster struck, as it often does for twelve-year-olds.  I became an angsty brat, to put it nicely.  Not intentionally, but I was completely overwhelmed with all the new emotion that comes with puberty.  I was depressed and angry all the time.  And unfortunately, I turned violent.  I didn't know why at the time, and even know it's not really clear to me.  All I know is that for no reason at all, I'd be talking to a sibling of mine, and suddenly I'd want to attack them.  And sometimes I would.  Then I'd be ashamed and even more depressed, and I'd go off and cry where nobody could see me, and then a few days later I'd do it again.  And yes, that's as miserable as it sounds.  Anger issues hurt the person suffering from them just as much as the people around her.  I had a lot of stuff going on in my head, and a ton of fears that multiplied every day, and things just seemed to be getting worse and worse.

Some part of me knew, however, that I needed some way to get rid of all the excess energy that was pouring into my emotions, and influencing me to hurt other people.  That way ended up being Katie Bolsta.  Katie Bolsta was the first character I ever wrote who wasn't just a plot device.  Katie Bolsta was myself, as I wanted to be at the time.  She was fierce, and she was self-controlled, and she was in charge.  People respected her.

KATIE BOLSTA was also the first book that I wrote not for other people to read, for my future fans, but for myself.  It was also the first book partially inspired by a dream.  This is the first time I've been able to realize, looking back, that KATIE BOLSTA was the first book I ever wrote as an artist.  It was the first book that ever "glommed" for me, and I poured my life into it.

I've known, ever since then, why I write.  It's so I don't hurt others.  It's so I don't hurt myself, emotionally speaking.  It's so I stay steady and stable, and get rid of the baggage before it drags me down, and I thank God for it.

So I don't know what Maggie Stiefvater would call me.  But I do know that I write for myself and for God, and that the things I write for myself, I want to help other people; I think they can, too.

To this day, my main characters are the people I want to be.  And to this day, I'm careful to watch what I steal, because my choices reveal and make me who I am.



Man, that was a lot.  Please tell me your own thoughts on writers vs. storytellers, stealing, and any of the other topics that catch your attention.  You can stop reading now if you want, the other stuff is kind of extra-ish.

I know this was a long post, and went a lot of different places, but I hope it was beneficial to you!  I know it was to me. 

I'll spit out another post sometime.  I think the reason my posts often go on so long is because I do them so rarely, so if you have any writing-related things you want me to blog on, I'd be happy to, and in a succinter (don't judge) way.  I'm hoping to start posting more frequent and short posts.