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Monday, January 27, 2014

Learning from Every Genre

As a writer, it's important to read and watch fiction in addition to writing it. I have two new fiction goals I'm working on.
  1. Read and watch more fiction outside my usual genres of sci-fi, fantasy, and YA
  2. Read and watch more foreign fiction
The reason it’s good to branch out is because different genres and different cultures have different ways of storytelling, and if you apply the right techniques to the story you’re writing, it can make it fresh.

Mistborn for example, came about when the author, Brandon Sanderson, decided he wanted to combine the heist story with high fantasy. He is a straight-up fantasy writer, but the heist narratives inspired him. The outcome is that Mistborn is a fresh story in that genre section.

Last summer my brother and I put in some Dragon Ball Z movies and episodes. I was totally in it for nostalgia. My brothers and I and my friends all grew up on this show. I remember playing pretend Dragon Ball Z with some of my closest pals. So I thought it would be fun to revisit.

One night when we were watching, this amazing, beautiful dialogue exchange happened between two of the characters, a conversation that revealed the complexity of the characters and the complexity of their relationships. It astounded me so much that I was still thinking about it as the "camera" panned the scenery, each character, close ups on their faces, then close ups on their hands, then over the scenery again (this show is notorious for dragged-out pacing). I was still floored. I thought, Wow. I want to create a story that has those same complex relationships!

The truth is, you can learn something from just about anything, even an animated Japanese show made in the 90's.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Novel Drafts, Loglines, and What's Going on With September C. Fawkes

I recently finished the second draft of my novel! still has such a long way to go!

Some days I feel like I'm taking too long and need to hurry and get it done, but then I look at how much I'm learning during the process, and I know it's worth every minute. This isn't just about the book I'm working on now, it's about developing my skills as a writer for future books as well. Anyway, for me, when I rush through things, I just get frustrated. I'm a thorough person, so I do better taking the time to get everything right.

Next, I'll be going through and editing the first chapter (again. . . and it won't be the last time either). I'm sending it to a first chapter contest. Grand prize gets $200. But even if I don't win, every entry gets feedback from judges.

Then, I'm going to do a straight read through of my manuscript. No editing or revising, just reading and note-taking. I realized when I was almost done with my second draft that instead of looking at each individual scene, I really need to go through and see how the story is coming together on a larger-scale. After that, I'll get into the third draft.

I was really sick this last week, so while resting I finally read Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It's been a hot book in the writing community the last few years. It's really for screenwriters, but the principles can be applied to novels as well. Snyder's opening chapter is all about loglines--a one sentence pitch for a screenplay. And he offers insight on what a logline should do and gives tips on writing a good one.

Here's what I came up with as a logline for my novel:

Lone survivor of a species extermination order and a descendant of angels, a 17-year-old prince hides among humans to escape his enemies, the demons, but must face the shameful secrets of his past to unravel their plans.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Writing Empathetically vs. Sympathetically and Sentimentally

Several weeks ago, I read a story that had a passage like this:

"My parents never really cared about me," Allie said. "All my life they saw me as a disappointment, a waste of space. I was always the butt of their jokes. And no one really noticed. I was always last place, as far as they were concerned. I had a really difficult childhood. . ."

And it went on like this for about a paragraph or two.

I could see that the writer wanted to foster sympathy for the character, wanted to explain how the character felt about her upbringing.

But ultimately, it made her sound whiny--and I could tell that wasn't what the author intended.

At first I was a little sympathetic to the character. . .then after several sentences, the writing just felt sentimental to me, meaning, I felt like the writer was trying to coax me to feel a certain way, like I was being controlled, rather than letting me feel for the situation myself. 

It's a good idea to want your readers to connect with your characters' hardships, but it can backfire if it's too sentimental or sometimes even when it's sympathetic.

Instead, when you want to impact the reader, strive to create empathy.

Usually when I hear empathy, I think of someone who is in pain, going through a lot of difficulty, but really, it's a level of deep understanding--whether that's an understanding of fear, bravery, or obsession.

Here are two examples to illustrate empathetic writing.

In The Maze Runner, I got to a scene where James Dashner wanted to show that his main character, Thomas, was a hero with a good heart--but I could only tell because I'm not just a reader, I'm also a writer. He didn't write about it sympathetically or sentimentally, he created empathy simply by putting us in Thomas's head and showing us what he did in a given situation.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Letting Others Help You.

I recently met a woman who was going through a very difficult time. I offered on several occasions to help or get her help, but she always declined and asked me not to go to others for her sake.

Eventually, I stopped offering help.

Sure, it's good to go help her despite what she says. That's not my point. When I talked to her I sensed that she thought she was taking the "higher road" by declining others' help.

Sometimes our society romanticizes that characteristic--that the real "hero" suffers because he doesn't want to "put others out." While that might be a good quality to have, a better one is to let others help you when you cannot help yourself. Let others lighten your burdens when your hardships overwhelm you. When we close ourselves off and don't let others help, we only make difficult trials harder than they need to be.

We're humans. We aren't invulnerable. All of us will suffer and go through difficulties. Human relationships are a give-and-take. We give to others, but at times, we need to take what's given. It's only selfish if you take, take, take, and never give. It's unrealistic to expect yourself to shoulder all your trials alone.

And not only is it unrealistic, it's unnecessary.

What might be difficult for you might be easy for someone else. Let that person help you. If it's easy for them and they offered, you're hardly "putting them out" at all. When a friend can't open the peanut butter jar, and I can easily do it for them, then I'm not out anything worth noting.

Of course, we shouldn't be running for help every time we encounter something difficult--otherwise we will never learn and grow and become more self-reliant and independent. But sometimes, we just need help because we're overburdened or cannot help ourselves.

When help is accepted, both people are blessed. The person serving is blessed and the person receiving the service is blessed.

So, be honest with yourself, and when you need help, let others help you.