Monthly Archives: December 2011
Have you ever written a paragraph of a story you were working on, read it back, and grumbled at how plain, uninspiring, or boring it was? Well, we all have. Even if you’ve got ideas in your head, as great as they might sound inside, sometimes you’ll put them on the screen and completely disappoint yourself. What sounded like an exciting, action packed scene in your mind now looks like a trudging block of exposition. It’s boring.
Well don’t let it get you down. It’s just something that’s going to happen when you’re pounding your thoughts into material. Quite often, even if what you just wrote looks terrible to you, it’s still a vital step in the creative process. It’s extremely important to put your thoughts down in written form. So many “writers” have the story all in their heads! It might be amazing and inspiring and wonderful, but no one can see it. That’s why actually filtering the ideas out of your mind into visible form is so important, but it’s of course only the first step.
Let’s go back to that boring block of exposition. Odds are that you’re going to have to dissect it, chop it up, sew it back together, and send a bolt of lightning into it before “It’s alive!” Silly, but truer than you think. Quite often you will have to remove entire sections of writing, even if your productive ego tells you “What are you doing!?” It just feel unnatural and wrong to delete something you put in your story, but trust me, don’t be afraid of it. Often less is far more, and there’s only one way to find out when that’s true.
But that still doesn’t say much for energizing that dead chunk of text. If you chop up paragraph cadavers and splice them back together, you’re still using dead word-meat. What do you need next? A bolt of lightning! But where do you find that? Well, there are many viable alternatives to a lightning rod affixed to your roof. Writing is an art, and just as there are a myriad different ways to bring a painting to life, the same can be said when it comes to writing. I’m going to bring out one that I personally like to employ in my work.
Personification. What’s that? Well, basically it’s when you take an lifeless, inanimate object, and give it active, even human traits. If you cut eyes and a mouth into your sandwich and make it talk, I suppose that’s personification. Thankfully we can be much more subtle when it comes to writing. How can we do this? Well the best way to explain is with an example.
The wind moved the curtains.
This sentence of exposition is to the point, but it’s also pretty boring. I think I just yawned.
The blackened night exhaled a heavy breath against the curtains as they fluttered in a ghostly dance.
Alright, I’ll admit I went a little overboard there, but this looks a lot better, doesn’t it?
Looking at those two sentences, why is the second one funner to read? It’s hardly because of the dramatic descriptive adjectives. Don’t believe me? Then let’s strip it bare, leaving only the personifications.
The night exhaled a breath against the curtains as they fluttered and danced.
It still sounds pretty darn good, doesn’t it? Some would even prefer this version to the last. Why? Well that’s a key point when it comes to personification. A writer can pile on all the fancy adjectives he wants onto his work, but when you overuse adjectives, you’re telling the reader what something is like, you’re not showing them what it’s like. That’s probably the most widely preached mantra of writing: Show, don’t tell.
When you utilize a personification as opposed to a handful of adjectives, you’re giving your setting human characteristics. Obviously, any human is going to more fully connect with human characteristics. It hits home harder, and it wraps us up in the scene. You see? That’s a personification right there “It wraps us into to the scene”. Obviously a sentence or paragraph cannot physically wrap around your body, but through use of a personification, your mind immediately grasps the idea behind that phrase and interprets it in a very literal, visceral way. That’s why personifications are so powerful when read. You might not even see them as you read, but they’re there, and they make you keep reading.
So now that you understand exactly what personification is, why don’t you try it out? I guarantee that you already use it in your writing, even if you never thought about it before, but now that we are thinking about it, let’s practice and evolve this particular skill.
Below is a list of random, lifeless objects. They’re lifeless because they’re not breathing and thinking, but you personally can breathe life into them through personification, and they will repay the favor by breathing life into your story.
So take each of these boring, inanimate objects, and use personification to place them each in a sentence that imbues them with life and human characteristics. Remember to make good use of active verbs, not passive ones (like were, had, and was), and for a twist, try to use little to no adjectives in each sentence. Don’t be afraid of using emotion! Just because a mansion can not feel literal sorrow, it can look very sad and alone as it sits atop a dark, cloudy mountaintop, right?
Post your practice results in the comments section and let me know how personification works for you!
Ready for part two? Read the next lesson here: Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part II: Metaphors & Similes
I’m not ashamed to say, this game sucked me in right away. I’ve always been a big Scrabble fan, so when I watched someone play WWF (Words With Friends), I thought it was stupid. I mean, come on, you can sit there and put down complete nonsense words, forcing your moves onto the board and basically “checking” if they’ll work or not. Theoretically speaking, you can try everything you have (or don’t have) before choosing which move is the very most points. There’s not a great deal of skill and foresight involved. Does that make it bad, though?
If you’re a Scrabble fan, you have to come at this game knowing that it ISN’T the same game. It’s all too similar, sure, but it’s in a whole ‘nother ballpark when it comes to actually playing the game. Obviously it’s far more friendly to beginners than Scrabble, as well as being a lot easier to play if you aren’t a walking dictionary like some people are. It’s easy to jump into, and those who might find Scrabble tedious, time-consuming, boring, WWF will be a lot funner for them. If you haven’t tried it yet, go ahead and check it out. it’s even on the iPhone or just about any other smart phone!
But as is true with any word game, it’s a good little exercise for you if you’re a writer. Scrabble is great for thinking of words and terms that seldom cross your mind otherwise, sure, but when it comes WWF, you’re likely going to learn a new word every couple turns (at least when you first start). I mean, maybe you knew that xi, qi, and qat were words, but I sure didn’t. It’s certainly a learning experience.
At the same time, that doesn’t mean it’s only full of crazy, ridiculous two-letter words composed of Q’s and X’s. You’re going to be really using your brain, building words and connections that you typically would never think of. You can never go wrong with working out your mind, and this game definitely is a workout, especially when you’re playing someone whos… well, a lot better than you. I wonder how good Alec Baldwin is…
So, do you play Words With Friends (or do you wanna start)? Add me on Facebook here and challenge me!
I must say that I’m a bit of a gamer. It kinda comes with the territory when you’re a sci-fi geek, so I doubt it comes as a shock. While books and movies can serve as a strong source of inspiration, I believe games do as well, more so as the years go by. What used to be silly games now have become fully interactive epics (play some of the Assassin’s Creed games if you don’t believe me). In any case, I’d just like to throw out this little update I found concerning a personal favorite of mine.
Even if it wasn’t the first major production involving the whole post-apocalyptic thing, Fallout has cornered the market when it comes to the genre. Sure, games like Borderlands and Rage tried riding on Fallout’s coattails, but they’re no Fallout. Fallout has withstood the test of time, and the PC version continues to encourage and support user mods. It’s an amazing series with a lot of variation to it. It’s also one of the most amazing single-player games out there when it comes to re-playability and expansive, massive environments with tons of things to do. Simply put, you can waste a lot of time if you get addicted.
I’ve always been a huge fan of anything post-apocalyptic. Why? Well I’m already a nerd when it comes to future stuff, sci-fi, space travel, all that. The post-apocalyptic is a future sci-fi scenario closer to reality. While a battleship jumping light-years through the galaxy is cool and all, it’s fantasy. It isn’t real (not for a long time, at least). With apocalyptic scenarios, they could come about any day, whether via chemical or nuclear warfare, or a slew of other nasty things. Not that I want it to happen, but it’s a thought-provoking topic to write about.
Another guilty pleasure of mine is the western genre. Maybe every guy in the world thinks gunslingers and dynamite are bad-ass, but either way, it’s another big point of inspiration to me. What’s cooler than westerns though? Future westerns. Lasers instead of bullets, spaceships instead of horses, whatever. Fusions of new and old are; let’s face it; always pretty damn awesome. That’s why when Fallout: New Vegas hit shelves, I was smitten. Regardless of how great the game would be or not, the subject matter alone got me drooling. .44 mags, war-torn landscapes, plasma grenades, and a cowboy hat or two. What else does a man need? I splurged and got the collector’s edition, complete with poker chips from the game, a deck of weathered and mismatched playing cards, and a graphic novel. Oh right, gambling too. How much better can it get?
Anyways, in February the Ultimate Edition comes out. It may not come with the cool little knick-knacks, but it does include all the DLC. That means you get way more than what you get in a similarly priced title. You’re getting heaps of extra content, making a game that’s already massive (taking hundreds of hours to complete… completely) even bigger. Let’s just say, it’s worth the money. You’re going to be saving at least 50 bucks on what the DLC would originally be priced if you bought it separately.
How does this all apply to the blog though? Well, let’s just say Fallout is a good piece of inspiration when it comes to the post-apocalyptic genre. If you don’t like something, you shouldn’t write about it. Fallout certainly bolstered my love for the genre, and I hope it comes across in my writing. Didn’t you know? Children of Solus (my in-work novel, click the like for more info) is a post-apocalyptic novel. You should read it.
Well, I’ve droned on for long enough, so I’ll just put down the link for more info.
Post a shout-out if you’re a Fallout fan too!
Who here hasn’t either played The Sims, or known someone who plays or played The Sims? Whether it be the old classic, the sequel, or the newest game in the franchise, almost anyone anywhere has seen the PC game in action; not including the seemingly innumerable amount of expansion and item packs. Let’s face it, it’s the most selling PC game franchise EVER. It’s also an amazing way to waste hours, days, or possibly years of your life. Managing the lives of your little people is ever so much more enjoyable than managing your own life.
But let me highlight a different aspect to the game we all know and love. Sure, it’s a time waster; a big one; but at the same time, it can actually be quite useful to who?
How exactly? Well that’s what I want to talk about in this post. As a writer, what’s your primary focus in any story you create? The protagonist, and secondarily the rest of your characters. A story is nothing without characters. The voice behind the theme. You can create an amazing, wondrous world of lush forests and castles in the sky, dragons soaring through the updrafts under shimmering twin suns… It’s going to be quite useless though unless you’ve got warriors in those castles and elves in those woods, following the tale of a poor blacksmith’s son who has just come of age, boldly venturing out of his small village and into the kingdom as he dreams of becoming a powerful knight.
What’s the key there? The people, and more importantly, the protagonist. When you read a book, whether you realize it or not, you’re developing a connection to the characters (mostly the protagonist). If that connection doesn’t form well, or doesn’t form at all, the emotions the character is feeling are not going to come across to the reader, and the events of the story are not going to have much impact. The emotional aspect is what separates good stories from bad stories. Sure, there are genres that don’t put a great deal of focus on that, but those are also not near as successful as the alternative. Why is Star Wars likely the most popular story of all time? Because there’s emotion behind it. My mother cried as she watched Obi Wan and Anakin battle over the boiling magma of Mustafar. She might be a pushover when it comes to that kind of thing, but that shows how much emotions factor into a story. And as we all know, there is no emotion if there is no character connection.
So as a writer, what is one of your most important skills? Making your character real; forging a connection on paper (or monitor) from the person in the story to the person reading their tale. How do we do that? Well, that topic could on forever, and there are a great many ways you can build a deep, powerful character, but I’m going to focus on one simple point that I think is the most important point of all.
Connecting to your own character.
If a character isn’t real to you, he or she isn’t going to be real to your readers. Every writer has their own personal ways they forge that initial connection with their protagonist. It’s oftentimes that an author will have created a character and a story around them through inspiration from something they saw, heard, or read. Something that touched them on an emotional level, and gave them that creative spark they needed to infuse those emotions and depth into their own character. I once created a very odd character after being inspired by a Disturbed song called Inside The Fire. It had very stirring lyrics, based on a very stirring subject, shown in a very stirring music video. The key behind any artistic medium is that it needs to… what? You guessed it: stir the reader. Take their heart and emotions and swish them all around, whether they be love, hate, sorrow, or anything in between. As you progress as a writer, you develop your personal methods of connecting to characters you write. Let’s talk about one that I’ve personally discovered.
What was I talking about at the start of this post? Right, a PC game, The Sims. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll explain it. It’s fairly simple. You create people, you put them in houses, you get them jobs, forge them relationships, and so on and so forth. The Sims series started off pretty old school and basic, but when The Sims 2 came out, that all changed. You could see your little created people close up, with pretty damn good graphics. Facial expressions, their interactions, etc. If The Sims 1 was a novel in which the characters were nice, but hard to relate with, The Sims 2 was a story in which you could really get connected to the characters. Through this enhanced level of connection and interaction, I found a neat writing tool.
Some people are very visual, writers included. While some writers might be just fine with the written word, others like being able to see their character. If you’re one of these people, you might even sketch up drawings of your characters. I’ve done that before, and even though I think I’m terrible with a pen or pencil, it does help to visualize the characters you place in your stories. How does The Sims fit into all this? Well, starting from the The Sims 2, and continuing into the newest title (The Sims 3, obviously), you were able to literally sculpt the faces of the people you made in the game. There’s a high level of customization, going as far as clothes, hair, and even jewelry. So how can you use this in writing?
Well like I said, whether you’re a visual person or not, seeing your characters with your own eyes is a useful ability. It helps you connect with them, and more so see them within the various sequences of action within your writing. There’s a reason movies are much more popular than books. It’s more common to connect to an image than it is to connect to written words. Using the vast amount of customization in The Sims 2 or 3, you’re able to create anyone you want to. Many have created celebrities in the game, and by that line of reasoning you can just as easily imagine; for example; your protagonist in your head before creating a Sim just like them. There are limits to this creative process, of course, but the tool doesn’t stop there.
The Sims, since the very beginning, has always encouraged storytelling. Whether the stories be silly, serious, or anything else, the game has always given the player easy access to a sort of visual storytelling system. You can pause your Sim’s life at any time, take a picture, and then go into the story editor and write whatever you want below that picture. Using this method, you create a bit of a photo storybook, with the photo on top, and the written words below it. Through this practice, you have even more at your fingertips for visual aids while you’re writing your actual novel, short story, or whatever it is you’re working on.
Again, there are always limits to this. It’s still a game, and you’re never going to be able to create the character in the game exactly as you imagine them within your head. Your own Sim creation skills are going to be a big factor on that, but it remains to be a very neat little tool when you’re trying to forge a strong connection to a character you’re writing on, as well as having a little fun along the way.
There are also a multitude of artists who create custom content for The Sims games, from new hairstyles, to skin tones, to clothes, to accessories, to even cars! If you don’t have the right resources to create that character in your head, odds are you can find what you need online. It might be a bit of a hunt, and a time waster, but it’s good fun and it can be useful to the creative process in the end. The best artists bar none when it comes to Sims stuff can be found on this site: http://gardenofshadows.digitalperversion.net/
The site is a bit more focused on the alternative, dark side of things, but the assortment of downloadables are astounding, and the quality is unbeatable. If you’ve got The Sims (or want to buy it) and you’re interested in checking out this little exercise, I’d strongly recommend checking them out.
I’ve blabbered on for long enough. I invite you to try out this exercise if you can and get back to me with your experience!
I’ll be honest here; I’ve been writing as a hobby for years, but never ever for a profit. I’ve never been published, because I’ve honestly never tried. Since I’ve been taking writing courses ranging from technical to fiction writing, though (and as I get older and actually need money), I’ve been doing a lot of searching for a good outlet to put my name out there. Blogging and uploading material online is all well and good, but it doesn’t give you that much publicity when you’re starting from scratch. I’ve never been a particularly internet savvy person when it comes to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, they’re all cogs in the machine of establishing a name for yourself when it comes to many many different skill types. In my case, it’s much better for someone to have heard of you than to have not when you’re submitting written work. And so my effort in earnest begun.
I’ve only been at it for a few weeks. Perhaps I’ve done alright, it’s very hard to tell. I have lurked around for publishing opportunities, though, and that’s something this blog was created to highlight. Early in my search, I found a fledgling little e-book company who had invented some newfangled type of literature. I won’t name any names, since my thoughts towards them now aren’t entirely kind, but I will relate my experience.
This new writing method was pretty simple. It focused on emotion, so while you might be reading one of their e-books, the writing style would have a much greater emphasis on the character’s senses, as well as his emotions as the story progresses. All the while, there would be abstract illustrations placed within the pages, drawn in mirror to the protagonist’s emotions in that particular scene. To be honest, the hype they put behind it was extremely blown up. I mean, it’s interesting, it’s cool, but it’s not exactly revolutionary. I mean, I learned awhile ago that the first noted piece of experimental literature (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne) written all the way back in 1759 even incorporated an entire page of black to mourn a character’s death. Expressive illustration in literature is nothing all that new, just seldom seen (undoubtedly because most people would not find it all that interesting).
Still, it’s an interesting idea and after reading all their information over I was a little excited to submit some of my work. Let’s be clear that when it comes to legalities, royalties, and pretty much anything to do with contracts and money, I’m a bit clueless. Reading over their contract, they preached the deal to be quite good. According to them, most publishers royalty numbers ranged from 6-10%. Theirs was 11.5%, and as they said, while you might publish one novel with a publisher, gaining 6-10% royalties off of it per sale, with them you could publish a novel in serial form, earning 11.5% royalties off of each purchase of $2.99. If you sold on astronomical levels, the royalty rate would slowly increase.
The next part of the contract discussed rights. In short, they would possess rights to your material for 5 years. You’d be completely prohibited from doing anything with it within that 5 year period. After the 5 years, you could opt out, but they would still skim 10% of your profits for the next few years. After reading this bit, I was more than a little apprehensive, but I was still interested. That’s when I hit the kicker.
Since they operate entirely on a word of mouth basis, putting no money into advertising, any writer employed by them is required to have a fairly impressive social media enterprise. 200+ friends on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. I was fairly upset when I got to this part, and after discussing the matter with one of their editors, it was made crystal clear that if you don’t have the numbers, don’t even bother submitting your work. The entire thing was extremely strict, but from the perspective of a writer new to the publishing world, I figured that’s just how you played the game.
After this upset, I set out to obtain the social media numbers I needed. Another requirement was an active blog, and the Sundance Press was born. In the meantime, I kept up my search for other opportunities. I found a few ezines and whatnot, offering anywhere from $3-10 for short stories, but while I haven’t crossed that idea out, that’s not exactly the kind of thing I was looking for. In my search I soon came across www.Etherbooks.com.
I had heard the name before, and it was quickly apparent that they are always open to submissions from just about anyone. I dove into the fine print right away, and was taken aback by how different the contract was. For one, the royalty rate is 20%. While the company sells only short stories through their exclusive app, they also accept short stories with a much more common word count (3000+ or so, compared to the 6500-10,000 that the other publisher wanted). Taking the smaller amount of work into account, the nearly doubled royalty rate made up for the difference.
As far as the rights went, you literally keep all rights to your work. That’s right, you can publish something on Etherbooks, and sell it to a third party ezine the next day, still completely within contract. Quite a contrast from the 5-year signing of one’s soul to the publishing Devil. It’s an understatement to say I was a bit more enthused about this publisher than the other.
As for what’s bad about it? Well, the first publisher sold their stuff for $2.99 through various ebook sites (and Kindle, etc.). Ether Books sells short stories (as well as serials, I believe) for 69 pence, which equals about a dollar in USD. Also, the other publisher was building a writers team of around a hundred. I wouldn’t be surprised if Etherbooks had upwards of a thousand writers. They seem to be very open to submitted work. Of various experiences with them, the story is usually something like “I submitted 3 short stories. Two were accepted and I haven’t been contacted about the last yet.” That leads me to believe that it might be quite easy to get lost in a sea of writers in Ether Books, meaning you might not get many sales at all.
It’s all speculation really. I haven’t been able to find anything of how well writers actually do with this publisher, but in the end it seems like a pretty risk free scenario to get your name out there. The contract is hardly a contract at all, the odds of acceptance are high, and the royalties are pretty impressive. What’s there to lose?
Since I’ve really found no negative reports about Ether Books, I’m going to write a few new short stories and submit them sometime soon. One is done so far, I’ve started on the second, and I have a good idea for a third. They promise to get back to you within 90 days concerning acceptance or rejection, and if you buy a premium membership with them (about $40) they promise to get back to you within 2 weeks. The other perk behind a premium membership is that you can publish as many pieces as you’d like, as opposed to only 5 without a membership. $40 is quite a bit when you realize that you’ll only be making about 20 cents per sale (before taxes…), but I suppose if you did become an established author through them, with a large library of pieces, you might do well enough to warrant the membership. In any case, that’s a bit far off for me.
I’ll be sure to post how my attempts with Ether Books turn out. It might be some time, but I’m not going anywhere. I invite anyone who’s had experience with Ether Books, or anyone who has published material through them to comment on what you thought about it!