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Friday, August 29, 2014

Talent (like You've Never Seen Before)

When I first started this journey down the art path, I never thought I would hear the words, “Oh, you are so talented.” Because honestly, I started at the rock bottom. Right where anyone starts. 
- M. M. Shelline

I asked one of my closest, lifelong friends if I could share her story of becoming an artist on my blog, because just about everyone needs to hear it. The above picture is where her art skills were at the starting of her journey. It's a self-portrait. The below is another self-portrait, drawn just one year later.

The pictures alone testify that we can improve our skills no matter where they are, or where we feel they are. Here is her story (bolded by me for emphasis):

Monday, August 25, 2014

How to Brainstorm Better, with Plotting Tools

If you grew up like me, you were taught to brainstorm by just writing down whatever comes to mind. You sit down with a blank piece of paper and wrack your brain for ideas. There are a lot of instances where this is perfectly fine, and I know it works for people. But other times, brainstorming this way can be vague, nebulous, and not that productive. You might produce stories that are. . . lacking. They might be cliche or just so-so. I didn't know until the last year or two that you could actually, truly improve how you brainstorm.

Back when I would brainstorm the nebulous way, I'd just start throwing out ideas--whatever came to mind--without much of a direction. I'd just try to come up with something out of nothing, or tap into my subconscious. But now I know better. For me at least, I brainstorm better with a little structure.

In a book titled Steal like an Artist, Austin Kleon, the author, states that creativity comes about best when we give ourselves limitations; "It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom." The example he gives is that Dr. Suess was challenged to write a book in fifty or fewer words. He penned Green Eggs and Ham, now one of the most popular children's book. When we set limits, we give ourselves a little more direction with our creativity. The problem with the nebulous way of brainstorming is we can do anything, go any direction; there aren't restrictions or guidelines, so brainstorming that way is too vast.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Empty Threats

Sometimes when I'm reading a novel or watching a show, the writer throws an empty threat into it. In a novel I was recently reading, a love triangle develops, but I knew from day one that the protagonist was going to stay with her first love. Yet, the author dragged me about this awkward love triangle for the majority of the book. It was still interesting, but it lacked stakes, it lacked intensity because I knew nothing big would come out of it.

The story might have been better if the author actually threatened with something I believed could happen. Often empty threats in a story mean missed opportunities to write something that really digs into the reader's emotions.

It's like parenting kids. If you don't follow through with your threats, then the kid stops believing in them. The threats have no effect. But if you follow through with those threats, they work.

In writing, it's not required to follow through with all of your threats. But don't be afraid to follow through with a lot of them. Then readers know you're not afraid to do so, and they really don't know how the story is going to play out. The stakes are real. Will Joseph die? Will Kristin choose Jack over Stephen? Even if Joseph doesn't die, the threat doesn't feel empty, because the readers know you're not afraid to kill him.

But if you keep threatening to kill people, and you never do, then it can lose its effect.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Level-up Your Writing with Epic (Literally) Music

I did not know that "Epic" was, in actuality, a real genre of music, until I ran into a playlist of it on youtube. And oh-my-gosh it makes everything epic! Listen to it and your motivation to write will increase 50%. Your concentration when you write will increase 50%. (Do I even need to add it's super effective?)

I haven't been interested in doing a post on writing to music, because it's been done so many times. And frankly, unless it's J.K. Rowling, I don't really care what people are listening to when they write. I care about what I listen to, and I'm assuming most people are the same way. But this stuff--I had to share it, because it really made that big of an impact on me. And I've made a playlist of my favorites for other writers to listen to.

First off, some of you might be wondering what epic music is. You know all those awesome movie trailers where there is crazy cool music playing? And it gets you all pumped or all sentimental for the movie? That is epic music. The music used on trailers is not even from the movies' soundtracks. It's made by companies who specialize in making trailer scores. That's what they do.

Go here and start this playlist to hear some while you read the rest of this post.

Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Get a Job in the Writing World

How do you get a job in the writing world? Either working for best-selling authors like yourself, or having your book published or anything relative to the writing career path? (Name withheld)

The writing world can be so versatile that it really depends on your goals. I hate to say this, but networking can be a big help. I got my job, in part, because I knew my boss’s wife and kids. Today, you don’t even have to network in person. You can meet people in the writing field online. Look for internship opportunities. I did three internships in college and not only did they look good on a resume, they gave me skills I would later use in my job today. If you can afford it, don’t be afraid of doing cheap labor—it can lead to better jobs later.

While you don't need an English degree for most writing jobs, pursuing one will not only make you a better writer and a more respected professional, but can open doors to career-related opportunities and experiences. If you do pursue a degree, it's helpful that you have a career plan in mind. Because an English degree can be so versatile, a lot of people graduate and then don't know what to do with it.

Monday, August 4, 2014

What I've learned about Writing Action Scenes

With examples from Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, DBZ, and Die Hard.

I came to the realization last year that I didn't really know much about writing action or fight scenes. I knew some basic things like how you should keep your sentences short and use words with few syllables (that gives the scene a fast pace), how you need to make sure your action sequence is realistic, how you shouldn't give a blow-by-blow description because that gets boring. I took Tae Kwon Do as a teenager, so I do know a little about fighting people. I'm also a pretty good shot with a gun.

But I wanted to know more. I wanted to dig deeper

I wondered, what really makes an action scene great? What makes one better than another? What makes one bad? Not in the writing style, but in the content itself.  Are there cliche action scenes? Is it bad to use one? How do you improve an action scene?

I didn't know.

I asked people for references, blog posts, books, something, about writing great actions scenes. I couldn't find a book, and most people couldn't give me much guidance. But my friend James went out of his way to find a few sources for me, like this podcast from Writing Excuses, and a blog called Grading Fight Scenes, and he did his own podcast on the subject with author C. Michelle Jefferies.

But I wanted more. (I get kind of obsessive about writing.) I wanted to develop an eye for writing action scenes myself.

So I decided to start studying instead of just reading or watching action scenes.

And I quickly ran into my first problem.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Closing Remarks + Giveaway Winner + Giveaways to Come

Over the last month I've been giving out writing tips pulled from Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, while having an FMA pocket watch giveaway. First, I would like to say, there is plenty more going on in that story than what I've covered. I'll be talking more about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood in the next couple of posts (like one I'm doing about writing action scenes), but since I'm talking about writing in general and pulling from other stories, I'm not including those in my "Editing with the Elric" series. I'll just be referring to FMA for extra examples.

I'd also like to point out that I'm new to the Fullmetal world (saw it for the first time this year), so I wasn't able to go as in depth with the story as I would have liked. Someday I'd like to dig deeper to see exactly how it works. It's definitely one of the best written stories I've encountered.

What's to Come?


For at least a month, I'll be doing some general writing/reading/life posts, but I have been working feverishly on another story dissection like this. One word: Trigun. And that's one show I've probably seen a million times--so these posts are deep. I mean like, it's crazy the stuff I found when I started pulling that story apart. If you're a fan of the show, you're gonna eat it up. If you're a writer, you might learn something new.