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Sick Again, Seriously?

Apparently no matter what bug happens to be going around, I’ll get it. Last time it was the stomach bug, and I got that. Then a cold went around, and now I’ve got that. I still feel pretty terrible, but it’s getting better as time goes on. The last few days I’ve literally felt like a zombie. Everything hurt and when I walked around it was more like “trudging”, complete with the occasional grunt and moan. My skin might not have been rotting off the bone, but it sure felt like it.

The worst thing about being sick is that my brain seriously does not work. Most would think “Hey, you’re sick, you have nothing better to do, you can write!”, and I can’t. I try, but nothing comes. I just can’t think well when I feel like that, and the most I can do is force out an article for my job. Even then, that probably looks like crap, but oh well.

So what do I do while I’m sick? I lay on the couch and watch things on TV that I would never watch otherwise. On the worst day, I watched about 3 hours straight of The Next Great Baker and Cake Boss. And I wanted to eat cake all day. I got really sick of loud Italian voices though. It kept me busy though, so I can’t really complain. When it wasn’t on anymore, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sad, right?

The one creative thing I’ve been doing is some drawing. I’m terrible at it, but I’m on a friend’s art forum and they’re doing this little “Feb-A-Thon” thing where you upload something you’ve drawn everyday. It’s fun, and I decided to play along, even though in comparison to the other artists there my stuff looks like a 3-year-old drew it. It’s better than nothing though, because I need to keep my brain working somehow.

Since I know you’re wondering how badly I draw, here. It’s a character from something I’m working on, so while it’s garbage, at least it helps me visualize and keep writing.

Yes, I draw like a 7-year-old girl. Sue me.

 

I Got Published

Someone pointed out to me that all of my blog posts are like 500+ words long. Perhaps some people like that, but I imagine most of you sit down, start reading, and then say to themselves a few moments later “I don’t have time to read this, forget it.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but either way today I have a very short announcement: I got published. It’s nothing major, but it’s also not just something unimpressive like an online zine that is practically begging for submissions and will take anything with proper grammar. I talked about Ether Books before (check the link to my review on them below for more info), and that’s who accepted a short story of mine. It took about a month and half for them to get back to me, but that’s not too bad considering that they are a pretty big company, and are always growing.

Within two weeks my first published piece of fiction will be available to download through the Ether Books app on your iPhone (or smart phone?) or through iTunes. You can download the iTunes app to your computer here. The story is not available for download just yet, so in the meantime I’ll give you a short taste of the story “Company Girl”. Enjoy.

 

He’ll kill you, Johnny.

    The asphalt felt like jagged teeth against the balls of my feet. Clawing, digging, biting at my bare calloused flesh with each hurried footfall. The chill breeze nipped at my skin, goosebumps pouring down my spine. How long do I have? I couldn’t see the moon in the sky. Clouds veiled the luminary like shadowy fingers—as if someone jumped me from behind; a bag thrown over my head as they pulled me into the darkness. I could hardly see my own hands in front of my face. How did I get myself into this mess?
    The rustling obsidian walls at either side exhaled a devilish howl, the icy wind clinging to my bones …

 

Want to read more? I’ll be posting as soon as the story is available for download; I’d much appreciate your support!

Old Habits Die Hard

I’ve been writing for a pretty long time; I’ve brought that up before. A problem I always faced as a young writer was lack of focus and commitment. One day I want to write about something—and I’ve got the ideas all up top—but the next day, I’m bored. Maybe not bored with the idea, but bored with writing it. Something else would steal my interest, and I’d move onto that.

It was hard for me to focus on a single project, basically. I start something; I don’t finish it. I did that a lot, if not always. A lot of people have that problem. I know I have that problem, but I thought that I grew out of it a bit.

Seems I haven’t quite ditched the habit. It’s difficult, because while I am able to embark on a project and focus on it, I have so many ideas! I’m working on two novels and one serial. Those are all time-consuming projects. Amidst those things, I need to update this blog more often. I need to sit down and write articles for my job. When I do take the time to work on a personal writing project, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know which project to work on. Then the thought comes to mind that I should start writing something entirely new. A short story, or flash fiction. Something I can submit to places and possibly get published and paid for.

As much as I talk on this blog, and try my best to help people (mostly with their virus problems, as it seems from my 100+ hits a day on my “System-Check” Virus post), I have problems myself. I know I have the skill and ability to do useful things, but more often than not I just don’t know where to direct my figurative blows.

Old habits die hard, and I’ll still have to grapple with them for control. In the meantime, it’s good to take a step back and remember that everyone is always learning. As a writer, you never stop growing, and I’ve only just begun my journey.

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part IVa: Dialogue

We’re getting deep into these now, aren’t we? I feel pretty fancy using Roman numerals beyond a series of “I”s strung beside each other; now I’m using “V”s! Stupidity aside though, if you haven’t read any of the first three parts, I’d suggest you start here. You don’t have to, but since this series is aimed to build your repertoire of skills to liven up your writing, every little bit helps. If you’re too lazy and just want to read this one? Well, that’s okay too. Let’s get started.

Dialogue sounds pretty simple. In a way, it is. Compared to the other points I touched on in this series, dialogue seems far more basic and structural. That’s true, because without good, meaningful dialogue you don’t have a story. The thing is, dialogue is much more than just a boring, structured necessity. Dialogue is something you can use to help your story soar or plummet to the earth. Use it correctly, vividly, and it might even carry your writing (which we don’t want to happen, but still). Use it incorrectly, and no one will keep reading your stuff.

Listen up; dialogue is important.

Not just a little important; dialogue makes your story. Without dialogue, your story is going to read like an essay, complete with mind-numbing blocks of exposition that no one wants to read forever. Without dialogue, you might as well be writing something like this. An article. People read articles to learn something, or to follow something someone did (in the case of blogs in general). When people read to learn, they do want to be entertained, but they’re reading for a different purpose. When people are reading a blog about someone’s life, what happened to them that day, etc, the entire piece moves because it’s a firsthand account of something that really happened. Even though it’s not dialogue, it comes across more interesting because it’s almost as if the writer has sat you down and is directly talking to you about what happened. It comes across stronger than simple exposition.

What about stories though? People read stories for one reason: to be entertained. That’s why fiction writing is so difficult. If you know a lot about a certain topic and you know how to write, it’s not that hard to write something like this; something instructional. When you’re writing fiction, you have to captivate your reader at every turn. You have to keep them guessing, but you can’t confuse them too much. You have to keep the story moving, but not too fast. You have to make the characters believable, but not too believable and boring. You have to make the story more realistic than real life, but still include aliens and vampires.

Fun, right?

It is fun, but it’s a juggling act. Society has a pretty short attention span, and you have to make a masterfully concerted effort to keep that focus. It’s not easy. What’s the point behind all this? Dialogue is likely your number one tool in grabbing people’s attention. Exciting, believable dialogue that moves your story along will go a long way towards interesting your readers. How can we create that dialogue though? How can we do it right?

That’s an extremely complex topic. I could probably write a whole new series just on dialogue. Instead, I’ll try to be concise here. I’ll try to highlight a few things that I think are the key elements of successful dialogue.

  1. Understand your characters.
  2. Consider where your scene is going.
  3. Keep it real.

No kidding, that’s it. If you get those three points down, you’ll be a dialogue god. Unfortunately, not many have done that. I guarantee that even the greatest authors of all time still write a scene, read back the dialogue, and throw it in the trash. It’s a constant struggle. That’s not too say it’s hopeless; a lot of the time you can sit down and pound out a scene full of dialogue, read it back, and it’s perfect.

You have conversations yourself, so you know how people talk. When you try to replicate real speech onto the screen it often comes out sounding funny. Still, there will be a lot of times where it just flows. One character says something, and the next replies like anyone would, just like two people in real life. Hopefully you made sure to make their conversation mean something to the piece, but I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s go over each point in a little more depth.

 

Understand your characters

The point behind this is that you don’t want dialogue written that doesn’t match your character. If you’re writing the dialogue of a six-year-old, which spoken phrase would he use?

 

The sound of tiny feet against linoleum made Mrs. Parker turn towards the noise. The little boy tapped her leg patiently before speaking in an articulate voice, “Mother, my stomach is having pains.”

 

The sound of tiny scampering feet against linoleum made Mrs. Parker turn towards the noise. Her little one latched onto her leg—almost causing her to fall—and whined, “Mommy my tummy hurts!”

 

Obviously the first one doesn’t fit, unless little Timmy was abducted by aliens where they injected arcane knowledge into his little brain before laying him back in his bed. That’s the point here, dialogue needs to mirror your character’s motivations, goals, and personality. If you understand your character inside and out, you won’t make as many mistakes when you’re writing their dialogue.

If I could choose any of these three points to pick out as being the most important, it would be this one. I can get over a line of dialogue in a story that doesn’t have much purpose being there, or sounds a little contrived when I read it aloud, but when a character says or does something that just plain doesn’t fit them? That annoys me, and unless I’m really absorbed in the writing, I might not keep reading. Still, this is only one point. They’re all important; especially this next one.

 

Consider where your scene is going

This point is actually too simplified. Not only do you want to keep in mind the direction of the scene, you also want to look at the big picture. I’m talking about the plot, theme, and direction of the entire piece of writing. Dialogue in the first chapter might connect to something at the end of a book! Read the example below and keep in mind that this dialogue is placed a story titled… “A Shadow In The Deep” (if there is a real book called that, woops).

 

The smell of booze and saltwater drifted about the sleepy tavern, old neon lights above the bar humming a peaceful tune. A ratty old man, weathered and grey by the raging seas took a swig of his bottle and said to a man across from him, “Went out yesterday an’ caught me a whole mess of cod. Should have seen the nets full to bursting, ha ha!”

 

The smell of booze and saltwater drifted about the sleepy tavern, old neon lights above the bar humming a peaceful tune. An old man sat across from another, terror fixed on his wrinkled face as he whispered to the man across from him, “I think my days on the sea are over, Ted. Have you seen it? That thing? I swear, I saw it! Sliding beneath the waves, bigger than a whale! Someone’s going to get killed by that monster, mark my words…”

 
This one isn’t as obvious as the first examples with the little boy. There’s believable dialogue in both of these, and each example stays pretty true to a discussion between two old seadogs over a pitcher of ale. The difference here isn’t that one of these examples is wrong, it’s that the second one has a purpose being in the story and the first doesn’t.

There’s nothing wrong with a casual conversation between fishermen talking about their haul, but what does that tell the reader about the theme of the story? How does that move the story forward? It doesn’t, but when we read the second example, we see that one of the men is haunted by something he saw. He warns his old fishing buddy about what he thinks is out there, beneath the waves and waiting to strike, as he believes. When we read that, we’re given a glimpse of what’s to come. It creates suspense in knowing that as we read through this story, we’re slowly getting closer to learning the truth and meeting this monster face to face.

Don’t you agree that the second example accomplishes more, considering where the scene and story are going? This is a more difficult point, because we don’t want to load every line of dialogue too heavily with plot information, but we need for our dialogue to serve a purpose. Even if two of your characters have a casual conversation, it should serve a purpose, even if that purpose is just making the characters more comfortable around each other. Perhaps they shoot the breeze about sports in chapter three, and end up falling madly in love in chapter eight? The first small conversation served a purpose, and that’s the idea here.

 

Keep it real

The focus behind this point is pretty simple. We just want our dialogue to be believable. We want to be able to see the characters in front of us, and hear what they’re saying. That’s a difficult task you have as a writer, in that you’re trying to make words come across as visual. When your reader can picture what they’re reading clearly in their mind, you’re doing a great job. How can dialogue lend strongly to this, though? Lets look at another example.

 

When something doesn't sound natural, the emotion behind it is lost. You don't want to lose that emotion.

The slam of the door echoed through the house, shaking the walls as a woman stood facing the blocked doorway and said, “Abbie, you need to calm down. Open the door.”

“No mom,” Abbie replied. “You don’t understand me. I don’t want to talk to you.”

 

The slam of the door echoed through the house, shaking the walls as a woman pressed herself up against the doorway and pleaded, “Abbie! I’m sorry, I just want to talk, please! I love you…”

“You love me? You make me sick!” Abbie screamed back, her voice muffled through the thin walls. “You just don’t get it. Leave me alone!”

 
Do you see the difference this time? There’s nothing especially wrong with the first example. The dialogue stays true to the feelings of both mother and daughter, and it has a purpose. The problem is that it’s weak, robotic. Phrases like “You don’t understand me. I don’t want to talk to you.” tell the reader what’s going on and how the character feels, but they don’t sound natural. When you read that, you feel like you’re reading dialogue, not hearing it. It doesn’t flow like dialogue should.

In the second example though, it’s different. The dialogue is moving, active, raw. It fits the characters and progresses the scene, and it also sounds like a real argument between a teenage girl and her mom. You can feel the emotion here much more strongly than before, and because of that it’s much easier to hear it in your head as you read.

That’s the key behind this point: you want the dialogue to sound real. You don’t want your reader to read it; you want them to hear it. When your characters speak, it should sound as natural as if they were right in front of you having a conversation. How can you accomplish this? Well, it isn’t really that difficult. You’re human, you have family and friends. You talk. You know how people interact and converse, and when you create dialogue, you’re trying to mirror that. The subject of the written words can be anything, but the naturalness you hear in everyday speech needs to carry those written conversations. Beyond that, just read your dialogue aloud after you write it. If it sounds funny, you’ll probably hear it.

I hope all of that wasn’t too much information at once. Dialogue is an extremely deep and complicated process, but at the same time it’s very simple. There are a lot of ways to make your dialogue hit harder, but in the end, the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) policy works just as well. If you’re doubting some dialogue you’ve written, just ask yourself three questions mirroring the points above.

  1. Would my character say that?
  2. Does this dialogue serve a purpose?
  3. Does it sound natural?

If you can’t answer yes to all of those questions, odds are you should probably work on the dialogue in question till you can.

Thanks for reading. If you didn’t notice, this is a two part installment, so keep your eye out for part B of the dialogue discussion. Also be sure to check out any parts of this series that you missed!

 

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part III: Symbolism

 

In this installment I’m going talk about something a little more… epic. Like personification and metaphors, this tool will go a long way towards giving something bland and boring new life. What’s different about it, though? It’s far more difficult to pull off, unlike the relatively simple practice of using personification and metaphors. What is it?

Symbolism.

I think this concept makes a lot of newer writers nervous—like they want to use it effectively, but are afraid that they won’t be able to execute it correctly. Those concerns aren’t unwarranted. There are certainly simple uses of symbolism that you may have already used without thinking, but creating lasting, powerful symbols that carry through your writing is another story.

Because symbols are so… symbolic, it’s easy to turn them into clichés. Clichés are something you want to avoid as a writer. Some people like them, and I’m one of the few that believes they can add to a story with careful thought, but that’s another topic entirely. The point is, symbols can easily become clichés. Why should we avoid that? We’ll get to that a little later. For now, let’s look at some examples of simple symbols.

At least they're not human bones, right?


A man wearing pastel colors with a wide smile on his face.

The permeating smell of death inside a dreary old mansion.

A crusty pile of bones deep in the woods.

 

These are all pretty simple, and that’s the point. You probably wouldn’t think twice about any of these things as you read them within a story, but they are indeed symbols. The first would immediately tell you the pleasant, sunny demeanor of the man (unless you use it as an oxymoron, and he’s really an axe murderer). The second paints an immediate picture and mood behind a very scary venue. If a mansion smells like death, it’s not a very nice place. The third example is the most obvious use of symbolism. If your protagonist finds a pile of bones in the woods, it immediately tells him that he’s in a dangerous place. It creates suspense.

Did you notice? Each of these symbols have very different effects! The first might tell the reader about someone’s character (or create suspense if the symbol is an oxymoron), the second paints a better picture of the mood and setting, and the third primarily creates suspense, as well as telling you the mood of those woods. That’s the thing about symbols; they can achieve a variety of effects in comparison to the other writing practices I’ve highlighted in this series. While a metaphor might just make your reading a little more interesting, and might help set the mood a little but, even the smallest, subtlest symbols can paint a picture of your story in very graphic ways. That’s why it’s easier to mess up on them!

But how about bigger symbols? Ones that stretch far across your tale? Those are the most difficult to use to perfection, because they usually go a very long way to conveying two very important qualities to your entire story.

The first is mood and setting. Usually mood and setting only apply to one scene. The type of words you choose within a scene go a long way to telling the mood. If you employ verbs like “sweeping, drifted, ebbed, murmured” the mood of the scene is quite clearly slow, dreary, measured. It’s probably building suspense and leading up towards actions. If you use verbs like “snapped, bolted, snatched, barked” the mood of the scene is frantic, urgent, intense. As you can see, your word usage tells the mood of one particular scene.

Setting is a bit different, and not so straightforward. It’s up to you and your skill as a writer to paint the picture of your setting correctly. Setting directly relates to mood, and vice versa. If you write about a dark, scary tunnel full of ghostly whispers, the setting is going to make the mood scary. You can tell why setting is important now, can’t you? If you create a lackluster image of the setting, the reader probably won’t be able to interpret the correct mood, or a mood at all! If the reader doesn’t feel the mood of the scene, it’s very hard for the words on the page to draw them into your writing.

How can powerful symbols carry both setting and mood across your story, though? Well, that usually goes hand in hand with the theme of the story. Theme generally is a wide-stretching mood cast upon your entire story, but it also directly relates to the conflict and goal, beginning and end. It also makes up the entire message of the story. It tells the reader why the story is what the story is, as well as the purpose of the story. Before I create a few examples, look at a powerful use of symbolism in a famous piece of fiction.

In A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury, a butterfly is stepped on far in the past by a time traveler from the future. That small death changes history in a drastic way. Where’s the symbol there? Well, it’s the butterfly. That seemingly small symbol highlights a powerful theme of change. That tiny, insignificant insect changed everything, and placed a fierce level of guilt upon the person who stepped on it, and that guilt goes a long way to setting a very dramatic mood. Pretty epic stuff, right? Doesn’t it make you want to think up a powerful symbol for your own story?

Let’s look at some examples now. Open your mind and let your creativity flow! I hope these can stir up your imagination. Focus on the structure of these—how they work—and then sit down to think up some powerful symbols of your own!

 

Nature can be a powerful symbol.

Deep in the blistering Sahara, a spelunking hero battles murderous smugglers within looming desert caves. A sandstorm howls a violent tune as the combat ensues. The protagonist fights valiantly, and bests the thieves as he blows the entrance to the cave shut with a bundle of dynamite, entombing them with their ill-gotten treasure. As he steps back onto the blistering desert sands, the storm dies down and rain begins to fall.

A withered old man sits on the porch during a nice big family reunion… except it’s not nice at all. His children and grandchildren bicker like kindergarteners. He tries his best to keep the peace, but his words fall on deaf ears as grudges and rivalries lock in the negative mood. Sat upon his old wicker chair on the porch, he watches the tranquil, trickling creek in front of the house. Since his childhood, he’s played along the bank of the gentle stream, but now the feed of clear crystal water is stopped up and dirty. Taking a long deep breath, he thinks on a kind and happy past before passing on.

As you can see, these examples aren’t short little sentences. They aren’t simple visuals that portray a mood or help paint a better picture of a setting. These larger, stronger symbols can be literal or figurative—usually both. They can be embodied in a concrete object or something more ethereal; maybe an emotion, or a state of affairs, or even a spoken phrase. Something that almost always makes up that symbolic connection is a visual (or perceivable) symbol directly connecting to a figurative message. Let’s pick each of the examples above apart and see how they utilize symbolism.

In the first one, we have something like you’d see in an Indiana Jones flick. You might think that in a story involving so much action, there isn’t a whole lot of room for symbolism. Well, that’s not exactly true. When you’ve got lots of action, there might not be a great deal of room for deep, thoughtful symbols. They don’t always fit into a fast paced, action-packed tale. That doesn’t mean these kind of stories need to be devoid of strong symbols though. In the example above, I used weather as a symbol.

I think we can all think of a movie we saw where rain poured down as the protagonist cried or dealt with some saddening emotional situation. That’s a very cliché symbol to use. Like I said above, we should generally avoid clichés. They’re predictable and they can very easily make your story boring. That’s why I personally dislike the vast majority of romantic comedies. The symbolism and structure is usually very “cookie-cutter”, and that’s basically just another word for cliché. When a romantic comedy like 500 Days of Summer comes along, I’m pleasantly surprised. That one broke down certain walls and did a great job at finding originality within a genre that’s been beaten to death, but I’m straying from the point.

In my action story example, while the protagonist battles the bad guys, a violent sandstorm rages outside. The wild weather mirrors the action the hero is involved in within the caves, and once he comes out victorious and back into the desert, the storm dissipates and turns to rain. I took the old rain cliché and gave it a twist. Instead of the rain symbolizing pain and sorrow, it’s an emotional release. A washing, peaceful symbol contrasting the frantic, stressful scene that made up the rest of the story. It’s a happy ending, and it allows the reader to set the story down feeling good. Cliché? A little bit, but it works. Never underestimate the power of a soothing happy ending. I might enjoy and write stories with a darker, emotional undertone, but that doesn’t mean happy endings are all bad. You just have to figure out what fits your story best.

In the second example, we have a very different use of symbolism. It’s a very reflective story, and the theme underlying is that of change. The protagonist, the old man, is surrounded by stress, bad feelings. He’s thinking back on his childhood; on happy times when that stress wasn’t there. The symbol here is the creek he played around as a child. While times were once tranquil—just like the stream—now they are stressful and dirtied up. As a reflection of that, the creek is now stopped up and tainted. The theme entails change of situation and a change of times, and the symbol of the creek plays a powerful symbol between those things.

So, now that you’ve seen some examples of symbolism, do you think you can put them into your story? It takes a bit of effort creating those powerful links and ideas, and even more effort putting emotional strength and visuals behind your symbols, but if you understand your story on a deep level, the symbols will almost create themselves.

Unlike the last two chapters of this series, there’s no exercise to test out your skills this time. Instead, post a comment telling about a symbol you’ve used in your writing before, or one that you’d like to use now!

Be sure to check out the first two installments of the Breathe Life Into Your Writing! series in the links below if you haven’t read them yet! Stay tuned for the next part, where I’ll talk about… dialogue!

Children of Solus – Chapter Seven Is Up!

The latest chapter to my working post-apocalyptic novel is up for public viewing! Keep in mind that it’s in first draft form, so feel free to let me know if you come across any kinks that you think could be worked out. I love seeing my reading from my readers’ perspectives!

If you haven’t read any previous chapters, head over here and catch up!

 

Chapter Seven

The table was drenched in blood, the floor around it stained and slick. Kerning lay on the floor motionless, his clothes as soiled in red as the ground he rest against. Tavis’ eyes were closed, his hands flush against the side of the table as he watched silently over his friend.
    “Tavis… is he?” I had to catch my breath”the whole scene caught me off guard.
    “Gonna be nursing a nasty shiner in the morning? Yes.” His reply didn’t seem the answer the question in everyone’s mind. “I punched him. He’s fine”it’s not his blood.”
    Kerning moaned incoherently, rolling to his side. He did have it coming.
    “How is she?” Alyssa scooted past me, going to Jane’s side.
    She didn’t look good. The amount of blood she lost was staggering; her skin now shaded a pallid white. She was still breathing though. I guess Kerning didn’t have any blood to transfuse. Even if he did, I’d hate to guess who it was from. Maybe she was better off with whatever she had left.
    “She’s hanging in there…” Tavis crossed his arms, his voice barely above a whisper. “We won’t be able to tell if the venom is still spreading until later tonight.”

 

Read the rest of the chapter (and other previous chapters) here!

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part II: Metaphors & Similes

Welcome to part two of this little course. If you haven’t read part one, I’d strongly recommend you check that out first here. I say that not because it’s a necessary step in the learning process, but because this is a series meant to enhance your ability to liven up your writing. Each part is meant teach and equip you in the practice of a certain tool to turn boring writing into, well, not-boring writing.

Last time I talked about personification. It’s a useful tool, but odds are you’ve used it without even thinking about it. Still, when you mindfully apply these things to your writing, they’ll be much more effective, and certainly more fun to read. The subject of this part will be metaphors and similes. You’ve likely used these without thinking too, but like I said, when you thoughtfully use these skills in your writing, the results will look great.

So first off, what’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Here’s an example of both.

Metaphor: The moon was a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Simile: The moon was like a spotlight in the sky, illuminating the dreary harbor.

Pretty darn simple, huh? A metaphor is saying something is something else. A simile is saying like something is like something else. They’re very, very similar, and your reason behind using one in lieu of the other just depends on what looks, sounds, and flows better in your writing. In the example above, I like the metaphor version better. Why? Because though the scene’s setting is very mild and calm, a metaphor paints a strong, powerful image. Where a simile might be suggesting the similarity of one thing to something else, a metaphor is telling you like it is.

So where should you use metaphors and similes? That all depends on your writing. Don’t be afraid of using either; just be sure that the similarity is good. No one likes stupid metaphors—they need to be relatable and effective. How can we do this? How can we figure out where to use these skills? This calls for a little medley of examples, I think.

Her words were harsh.

This sentence works, but it’s very bland. It also makes use of “were”, which is a passive verb. It’s not strong, and it doesn’t do much to grab your attention. Let’s see how we can spice it up.

Her words cut into me.

What’s this one? It’s a personification. It’s effective and it impacts you, but for this sentence, I think we can afford to make it as hard-hitting as possible.

Her words were like razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

This one hits hard. When you read this one, you can really see how hurtful the situation is. However, this is a simile, and I think a metaphor might work even better.

Her words were razors, slicing and tearing at my heart.

A minor difference, but I think this usage transforms a comparison into something with poetic, hard-hitting emotional impact.

An overused metaphor, but the imagery is powerful.

Which one do you like the most? I have to bring out that there is no best version of this particular sentence. Why? That’s the next point; just because something sounds good doesn’t mean you should use it every time. Placement strongly relies on whether or not the phrase will fit well into your paragraph. If you just likened something to something else, used a personification in the sentence after that, and now are about to throw in another powerful metaphor, you should take a step back. Read the paragraph over, perhaps even aloud. You may end up rewriting the entire section.

The key there is balance. Just like a painter probably wouldn’t glop all his paint onto one side of the canvas, you shouldn’t bunch all your hard-hitting sentences next to each other. That’s not to say you should purposely write bad sentences, but simply that you should place extra emphasis on the sentences that matter. If you used a metaphor, and two seconds later, you’re using another one, read them both over. Decide which one creates a bigger impact, which one is more important, and simplify the other.

You want your writing to flow, as if the reader is ascending and descending soft gentle slopes, not climbing up and tumbling down jagged craggy mountains. Even if you’re writing a horror novel that is supposed to be anything but gentle, the writing still needs to flow. When you read, you don’t want to be thinking about reading, you want to be thinking about the story. Of course, effortless reading is not effortless writing. It takes a lot of editing to balance your writing and create that flow.

Without highs and lows to the gentle slopes you’re creating, they wouldn’t be very interesting, would they? Avoid flat writing. That’s why tools like personification and metaphors are so useful, because they create those rising peaks in each paragraph. They make the reading fun, and that’s very important.

So how can you apply metaphors or similes to your writing? Just like last time, I’m gonna give you a few different things to turn into metaphors or similes. Remember, you’re going to be describing these things by likening them to something else.

A sunset

A mean old lady

A shooting star

Don’t be shy! Post your results in the comments section!

 

Useful links:

Metaphoric Formula
The Difference Between Metaphor & Simile
Metaphor In History

Breathe Life Into Your Writing! Part I: Personification

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.

Don't let your exposition stay looking like this!

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.

Maybe this is a bit too literal of a visual aid, but I kind of want middle one's number and to have a brewski with the one on the left.

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.

Wind
Marble/s
Camera
Dress
Xylophone

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

Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition Arrives in February

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.

Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition Arrives in February | Bethesda Blog

Post a shout-out if you’re a Fallout fan too!

The Sims – A Neat Little Tool For Writers

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?

Writers!

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.

The key to a good story? Emotion.

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.

Even Sims have emotion!

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!