The subjective nature of our business

Joe’s Post #146

twilightOne of the hardest things to come to terms with as a writer is the subjective nature of our business. In simple terms, as much as we try to learn the craft, the techniques, or the tricks of the trade, it comes down to taste. Some people will like it and others won’t. Like the Twilight books. Or cucumber water.

I'll give the plot away.. it's about an ant man.

I’ll give the plot away.. it’s about an ant man.

I was reminded of this when our family went to see Ant-Man. As an editor or publisher (or agent), had this project landed on my desk, I would have rejected it. I mean, hey, it’s about a superhero who’s an ant?

What the hell?

But let’s say I bought the story. Let’s say I even made a movie with Michael Douglas and Paul Rudd and that hot chick from Lost. Let’s say I added some nifty special effects. Let’s say, by the end, I kinda thought it was good.

Well, was it?

The reviews were mixed. The youngest boy thought it was 10/10. He loved the idea of being an ant. He’s eight. The oldest boy thought (I kid you not) that he didn’t connect with the characters and all the emotional stuff seemed just, you know, thrown in. He’s 12 going on 30. The Prettiest-girl-in-the-world gave it 9/10 and for her, that’s really 12/10 since it’s a movie about super heroes and didn’t star Tatum Channing (or Channing Tatum, I can never remember).

I gave it 7/10, mostly for reasons the oldest boy mentioned, but it did make me laugh and I loved the world they brought us into.

And that’s the thing about all creative endeavours. Some people will like it and others want more Tatum.

But why does this matter? Why write about it?

It’s because we’ll always receive a butt load of rejections. Despite our best efforts, these feed all the wrongs dogs that live inside of us. Fear. Doubt. A feeling we’re not good enough.

The truth could be completely different. It’s all subjective. Maybe an editor had read 4 proposals about unicorns mating with jelly fish and yours was the 5th and no matter how good it was, they really were sick of uni-jellies. Or maybe their boss wanted a book about cave dwelling monks who fed on human flesh and you just sent in a story about loving your neighbourhood dog.

Who knows?

rhIt’s why Heinlein’s advice about writing and sending it out, then writing and sending it out, is still the best advice to remember. Get enough stories on enough desks and your odds of getting published are increased exponentially.

Cuz, you see, subjectiveness works in our favour as well.

Let subjectiveness inspire you.

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So, back to some stuff that I was doing, but forgot about since I’m getting old. Links! Please check them out.

Robert J Sawyer. Great writer, great advice on breaking in.

SFWA – a great organization with plenty of outstanding forums

Nathan Bransford – Again, great advice on a wide variety of writing subjects.

Does the Real World matter?

virtual-reality

Silk’s Post #134 — Joe’s last post, which warned that writers cannot hide in a room, made me laugh. Then it made me think. Then it sent me off into a hot-July-day, philosophical universe where all things can be possible and impossible at the same time, and no question is absurd.

So I ask: Does the Real World matter?

And what implications does the answer have for writers?

Here’s one super easy example of how increasingly blurred the edges of the Real World (the one we literally, physically experience), and the World of the Mind (the one we experience through imagination) have become: the news.

Here on our totally networked planet, we are constantly exposed to the Real World of wars, natural disasters, mass shootings, starvation, etc. (and happy things, too, of course, although those are usually afterthoughts when it comes to the news). But most of us experience these things purely in our imaginations, while sitting peacefully on the couch, popping cheese puffs, through the eyes of the adventurous reporters who are actually out there in the Real World. Yet we have the impression that we’ve “been there”, that we understand the experience. Hey, we’ve seen it with our own eyes! We’ve heard the bombs, observed the misery on the faces of victims, watched the cars get washed out to sea.

Thank you, TV, for making our world more – and less – real at the same time.

More and more today, the Internet is our source of Real World exposure. Cyberspace is much more real than carefully-produced TV, because here you can directly experience unfiltered, uncurated reality. It’s raw! It’s happening right now! It’s like having a real conversation with millions of real people living in the Real World!

Or not. I vote for “not”.

If TV is a gigantic reality show (and by “reality”, I of course mean fiction), then the Internet is an even more gigantic reality show on steroids. It’s the perfect tool for creating imaginary realms that pretend to be the Real World in an extremely compelling way. What it adds is the ultimate seduction of interactivity, producing virtual worlds that eclipse what we used to understand as the Real World, where stuff actually happens and is physically experienced – not just imagined while sitting in front of a computer or poking at a smart phone while walking down the street tripping over fire hydrants.

The dark side: we all know that online you can experience virtual death through games. How many more steps of imagination are required to lure people, hungry for self-esteem, to experience Real World death by recruiting them into the ultimate reality shows concocted by ideologues? Are these reality show “contestants” surprised when they actually find themselves bleeding real blood on their way to that great reality in the sky?

Well. This is getting a bit more dark than I intended.

The light side, then: online you can be whoever you want to be. It’s not the Real World, after all, so who’s to stop you? Make up your own reality show, starring you. Post your own movies of your cat doing tai chi. Join a chat room where fantasy historical characters talk to each other in Middle English. Start a blog on UFOs and alien abductions. Publish your own book (woohoo!). Entertain yourself for hours, days, weeks – while the sun rises and sets, rises and sets, and seasons change outside your window.

Oh, right. That would be hiding in a room, which Joe has already told us writers can’t do.

Perhaps I haven’t made my point about the increasingly blurry relationship between the Real World and the World of the Mind very directly here. It’s a challenging concept to get your head around. But I think it matters a lot, and it especially matters a lot to writers.

Before the very short slice of modernity we now inhabit, human beings had no choice but to experience the Real World directly. There were few filters and lenses used to “interpret” reality, the chief World of the Mind perspectives being whatever spiritual beliefs prevailed in a particular time and place to help explain the inexplicable. Oral storytelling was the only transmission mechanism for ideas. Once language matured and became more abstract, then was written down, and eventually was able to be read by some growing proportion of the population, the World of the Mind began to really bloom.

And writers gained a big chunk of the franchise in this new, imagined world of ideas, taking over from the oral storytellers. Whether writing about religion, or science, or society, or fictional stories, writers had to contemplate the difference between the Real World and the World of the Mind in order to do their jobs. There was non-fiction. There was fiction. There once seemed to be an effort made to distinguish between the two (allowing for the fact that lots of things experienced in the Real World were entirely misunderstood until science started explaining them).

Where do we stand today? Well, everyone’s a writer (and most are their own editors). And everyone can go everywhere, and experience everything. Virtually, of course.

Our experiential landscape has become an admixture of the Real World and the World of the Mind, without bright lines or sharp edges separating them. We’ve even outgrown the binary categories of non-fiction and fiction. Now there’s creative non-fiction, a kind of literary mule with a kick.

The discourse of public life has become a game of propagandists versus fact-checkers, where the “truth” is whatever you can get away with saying. World-changing events and trends engineered by humans are often constructed on foundations of fantasy masquerading as reality (the former often more appealing than the latter).

Today’s “reality” is an easy place to get lost.

So back to the question: does the Real World matter? Perhaps I should add “anymore”. And if it does – or doesn’t – what does that mean for writers?

Call me an idealist, but I say that writers – whose work still has a huge influence on the World of the Mind – have a responsibility to the Real World. A sacred responsibility, perhaps.

I hope we are, at least sometimes, more than entertainers. I hope we can do better things with our words than just sell them like a cheap fix to give readers a thrill. Or, worse, lead them into some dark place where the Real World no longer matters.

If slippery, tricky, malleable virtual reality is challenging the immutable truths of the Real World for supremacy, who better to keep those truths alive in the World of the Mind than writers? Isn’t that part of our job? To illuminate? To enlighten? To encourage thought?

Better writers than I have explored this theme in more beautiful words:

“What is the purpose of writing? For me personally, it is really to explain the mystery of life, and the mystery of life includes, of course, the personal, the political, the forces that make us what we are while there’s another force from inside battling to make us something else.” — Nadine Gordimer (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1991)

“When I sit down to write a book, I do not say to myself, “I am going to produce a work of art.” I write it because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I want to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing.”  — George Orwell (author of 1984 and Animal Farm)

“[My idealism is] still alive and well because without it the business of the writer would be meaningless … If we have any role at all, I think it’s the role of optimism, not blind or stupid optimism, but the kind which is meaningful, one that is rather close to that notion of the world which is not perfect, but which can be improved. In other words, we don’t just sit and hope that things will work out; we have a role to play to make that come about. That seems to me to be the reason for the existence of the writer.” — Chinua Achebe (author of Things Fall Apart)

“The role of a writer is not to say what we all can say, but what we are unable to say.” — Anais Nin (author of Delta of Venus)

“[In the end, all writing is about] enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.”  — Stephen King (legendary, prolific, multiple-award-winning writer)

“A writer should tend to lift people up, not lower them down. Writers do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life.” — E.B. White (Pulitzer Prize Special Citation, 1978)

 

Writers cannot hide in a room

Joe’s Post #145

Taking the Blindfold Off

homers headAs writers, we live in our heads a lot. I think I may have said this once or twice. We often sit in dark rooms, alone, gulping cold coffee and creating worlds filled with all manner of characters or monsters or fluffy bunnies.

But every so often, writers are forced into the real world. Into the big city.

It’s a scary place. There’s light and the smell of hot dogs and lots of people. There’s the ear-splitting sound of jackhammers, gritty air that makes your eyelids feel like sandpaper and even more people … everywhere … in cars, on the sidewalk, in malls, wandering into traffic, or shouting at imaginary demons …

In such a chaotic environment, though, is writing gold.

If you’re willing to observe it.

I watched an old Chinese couple navigate the Skytrain with only nods to each other. An unspoken language that only they understood, but understood completely.

I sat a seat away from an Aboriginal man who bobbed with the rhythm of the train, reading his bible and mouthing the words to himself.

I laughed as three young men, not even 20, gave each other advice on how to attract women. Apparently the secret is the right cologne.

And that’s just from a Skytrain run.

In the real world, there are more details, more ideas for characters, and more character traits to be mined than being in a room by yourself.

A balding man with a ring of hair, all well-combed, well maintained, except for the very back which stood up as if he’d been electrocuted. But it was the one place he couldn’t see, or had no one else at home who’d tell him.

A woman changes out of her high heels to ride the Seabus, wearing simple flipflops with her expensive suit until the Seabus had landed on the other side.

A gruff construction worker complains to his friend about aspheticides that killed pests with a lethal combination containing lead and arse-ianic. Personally, I think he’d sniffed a bit too much of that arse-ianic.

But there’s so much to see. To smell. To hear, taste or touch.

Or to imagine.

Opening line – “22 people sat beside the dead man and before someone noticed the blood.”

Or – “When Rebecca arrived at the airport, she realized she’d forgotten three things: the book she’d almost finished reading, her lucky jogging socks and her boyfriend. Well, she would miss two of those things.”

I honestly wished I’d brought a pen and paper to make notes, but I was on a different mission. Fun with the family. So I didn’t record all that I should have recorded, but the whole adventure did remind me that, to be good writer, you can’t just sit in the dark and make shit up.

Unless you’re Stephen King.

all work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being organized gives more time to write

Karalee’s Post #119

packed for Mexico

The fact that I’m writing a post today means that I’m organized. I’m off to Mexico in the morning with eight other members/friends of the Greer family: girlfriends and boyfriends, bride, groom and Grandma.

Our daughter is getting married a week Saturday.

Did you notice the bookcase in the background of the picture! It’s the cornerstone of our master room. Not only does it  add color, it’s like a serene picture that sets a peaceful mood in the room. We are both big readers and love to be surrounded by the glory of books. I bet many older adults out there love having a bookcase full of books simply to look at too!

Now, I’m organized to the point that my emergency pack is also ready. That means safety pins, needle and thread, buttons, and scissors – just in case any wedding or bridesmaids dresses need last minute adjusting. Grandma is a great fixer-upper!

My clothes are packed, the wedding dress and shoes are ready to go (I better not forget them in the rush in the morning!), Jocelyn’s necklace and earrings are safely stowed.

Our Power Point video is ready to be downloaded on the lanyards we got customized for the guests.

With nine of us traveling together with only an hour or so to change planes in Dallas and no food served on the plane, I’ve also organized snacks to tide young adults over. No grouchy growling stomachs if a mom can avoid it. Experience!

With all of this going on this week, I’ve managed to send in my submission to my group, keep up with my new business, get our hot tub in shape, deadhead my garden and the round-about at the end of the street that I look after, and cut and freeze all the basil that’s already grown this season!

Better busy than bored I always say!

 

Kevin and Rosa

 

My son Kevin has literally just arrived off the plane from travelling in SE Asia for two months, to jump on the plane again tomorrow for his sister’s wedding. He and his girlfriend Rosa are delighted to see each other and have changed to make sure the suit Kevin had made in Thailand and Rosa’s dress compliment each other.

 

 

I will be reading not writing over the next couple of weeks. What a treat that is too.

______________________________________________

Achievements this week:

  • Taking care of family and the house/garden
  • keeping up with my new business.
  • Moving towards making more changes in my life that need to happen to stay positive!

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Still sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy.
  • Daily meditation and exercise. Gratitude keeps me in a place of peace. It’s been challenging at times this week.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week. We are there for each other.
  • I will be reading not writing over the next couple of weeks. With traveling and paying for the weight of bags, I tend to download books on my iPad. This must be a major reason in the western world that ebooks have exploded in purchases. Even five years ago I wouldn’t have thought I would download books. Now it is commonplace.

Perspective Photos:

jazz trio

 

PK3 Jazz Trio on July 4. Right by the water in West Vancouver. Awesome concert. Check them out!

 

 

 

 

stairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

 

Are you a fussy reader?

Joe’s Post #144

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve become a fussy reader. Really fussy. All those voices that I have in my head when I do my own writing come out when I read other authors.

Hey, at least I’m expanding my self-loathing out into the universe. That’s a good thing, right?

So, here is a list of things that turn me off, because, you know, everyone wants to know what turns me off.

  • A bad opening. And by ‘bad’, I mean ‘boring’. I don’t need an explosion or a car chase or someone whacking some poor girl with a belt. I need something or someone to care about. Even beautiful language can only hold my attention for a page or two. What stuns me, though, is no matter what they say at workshops or conferences or retreats, books get published that suck at the very beginning.
  • You hide too much from me. I like to be teased, sure, like anyone, but when someone writes, “they saw the guy, then something happened,’ that books gets put down. I need details. I need specifics. I don’t need to be jerked around. Hello, Baldacci, I’m talking to you. I love your books, but every so often, you almost phone it in.
  • Too much narration. Ok, this is new, but I’ve found that the books I love to read have more than one character talking to his or herself. Too much narration, even in the first person, and I become like a man on an island desperately seeking some form of conversation. Even in Cast Away, Tom Hanks talked to a ball for Christsake.
  • No voice. Ok, like this is a lot harder to define, but a great voice will propel me far into the story, while a common voice, the one with correct sentence structure, rigidly proper punctuation and a bland delivery will be like some bureaucrat going on and on and on and on and at some point I fall asleep and start to drool.
  • Too much backstory. Oh, lordy, this one is a killer for me. Sometimes I’ll get hooked into a story and then whammo, I’m forced to read about who begat who and who begat them before that and how the world was created. Ugh.
  • Too much swearing. Ok, I totally know that makes me f*ing sound like some sort of uber PG a**hole, but sh*t, sometimes it’s like an author thinks voice is all about using them cuss words. Not that I’m against swearing, not at all, but the overuse of foul language seems like a copout to me.

GRROne thing I love, both in movies and in a book is a good surprise.

I’m jaded. I’ll admit that. I’m picky.

But if you can surprise me, then you’ve got me. For 2 hours, in the case of a movie, or for a week in the case of a book. Sixth Sense surprised the hell out of me, and it’s one of my most favourite movies. GRR Martin continues to surprise me and I’ll tackle each and every one of his 1000 page tomes with ravenous glee.

But screw something up, published or not, I won’t want to read ya.

So what things turn you off a book? The cover? Book length? Spelling errors (someone more common these days, much to my horror.)

Let us know.

Oh and who’s going to Surrey International Writer’s Conference this year?

Summertime and the living is easy

IMG_8743

Paula’s Post #109

Where did June go?

It seems like just last week my home was filled with my 5writers colleagues, all five of us caught up in our own fictional worlds and writing, writing, writing.

Our early summer writing retreat was a great kick off to what I envisioned as a time of renewal, the first step in a creative summer where I envisioned us all mind-mapping plotting and creating our new novels.

But life has a way of throwing curveballs at us and, for most of the 5writers, our June calendars have been disrupted by events beyond our control (both expected and unexpected).

These events have taken us physically, mentally and emotionally away from our respective ‘writers’ garrets’.

But this not a time for regrets. We are all moving forward in the best way we know how, juggling life’s many challenges.  Inevitably, our word count targets may suffer and remain unmet, but speaking for myself, I’m okay with that right now.

We do have some positives to focus on this week:

1) I’m posting to this blog for the first time in a long time and that makes me feel good. By posting, I’m back in touch with the blog, our followers and my 5writers group.

2) We 5writers have a new routine. In difficult times, routine can help simplify the chaos around us by helping us to put one foot in front of the other (whether we feel like it or not). In our case, our new routine now dictates a once month virtual group ‘submission date’ (the 5th of every month, of course). We’ve agreed that on the 5th, we will push the ‘send’ button and share our past month’s work in progress, whether that be a mere sentence, a paragraph or a full 30 pages of fresh new work. Baby steps.

3) Recent events have made us stronger than ever. We five matter. We matter to one another in the sense that we are more than just a ‘writing group’. So much more. For that I am very thankful.

So, maybe I have only 17 new pages, not 30, to show for June. But I am writing.

Yeah!

Let’s celebrate instead of being so worried or obsessed or critical about our individual ‘productivity’.

It’s summertime, and the living is easy.

Write to create anticipation. Readers love it.

Karalee’s Post #118

More and more I’m consciously experiencing the world around me from a writer’s perspective and focusing on how it makes me feel.

My medical background and experience helps too. It’s fairly common for people training in the medical field (like physiotherapists, doctors, nurses, etc.) to “feel like they are experiencing” the symptoms of different conditions they are learning about. It’s a weird phenomenon with weird feelings, and one I went through with various diseases and conditions myself.

It was nothing compared to what I experienced in my first job as a new graduate over 30 years ago.

I’ve always been interested in orthopedics and way back then, when I was working with the surgeon on the orthopedic ward, I decided it would be good for me to see real surgeries. I was granted permission to watch a total hip replacement and I went to work early that morning to partake in the exciting experience. I headed to the operating rooms, scrubbed up and gowned like a nurse instructed me to before I was escorted to the room where the surgery was to be performed. I was told to sit on “that chair” and the patient would be in shortly.

The nurse left and I was alone. With my thoughts. And anticipations.

Well, sitting and waiting let the demons in to play havoc. I have a special talent of conjuring up images (good for writing) and my mind went into overdrive, anticipating everything I was about to see and smell and what I worried about like, “what if the doctor asked me questions and I didn’t know the answer?” and “what if something went wrong”….

It was an interesting experience to say the least. One I am still emotionally attached to and have NEVER forgotten.

In the fifteen minutes I waited I had three strokes. I swear. Three.

I thought I was dying. The right side of my body was weak. Surely my brain was hemorrhaging! There was no way I was going to survive! I hadn’t made a will….

Apparently I was introduced to the art of fainting. Blacking out. BOOM. On the floor out cold!

One minute I’m sitting and staring at the equipment in the room-without-a-doctor-or-patient, and the next BAM. Somehow I’m on the floor. I woke the first time (and the second) and got myself back on the chair, feeling very stupid and vulnerable — and scared. After all, I was having a stroke!

Then the patient came in on wheels, on a stainless steel bed pushed by a couple of nurses. No blood. No weird cutting noises. Yet.

No doctor. Yet.

BAM!

I’m on the floor again. Out cold.

This time a nurse helped me back onto the chair. I was convinced I was dying. My brain was fuzzy. My body was weak and buzzing. My heart was racing. But of course I said I was alright.

Apparently it’s not uncommon to have this type of reaction your first time!

I didn’t realize back then, but this was GREAT writing stuff! I was definitely emotionally involved and over 30 years later those feelings are only a thought away and still as vivid as the day it happened. Like Silk talked about in her last post, Write with emotion, it’s creating the emotions and caring that readers remember and attach to.

Now THIS is what I want to create in my writing!

So, did I see the surgery? You bet! Once the initial cut was over, I had no problem. I even stood up next to the patient to watch the goings on and stayed on my feet.

The interesting point it highlights for me is that ANTICIPATION is incredibly important in upping the emotional involvement. Anticipation means that we are invested in the character or the outcome of something before it happens. To anticipate something, we CARE about the event or person and what is going on in the story.

I was invested in watching surgeries to increase my understanding and empathy of what patients undergo, and to help me in the rehabilitation process post-surgery. I wanted to know what physically happened under anesthesia, but the anticipation of blood and guts took over my composure as though I had no control.

Anticipation.

Powerful stuff.

Powerful enough to evoke intense feelings. Powerful enough to remember years later.

Powerful enough for writers to invest time and energy in producing in their writing!

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Achievements this week:

  • feeling great about my daughter’s wedding and enjoying the experience! This means my daughter’s dress and shoes are sorted, and in Mexico arrangements are made for getting hair and nails done! The hacienda hotel takes care of the other details, so we can relax and ENJOY!
  • my new business is challenging me and I love it!
  • grateful for where I am in life.
  • 1 hr/day writing. July 5th is on its way!

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Still sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy.
  • Daily meditation and exercise. Gratitude keeps me in a place of peace.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every week is rewarding and our group grows closer as life events happen. We are there for each other.
  • Staying positive is a choice, and I’ve decided to practice being positive daily.

Perspective Photos from days gone by:


My daughter and me having fun

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering my close friend that passed. Her daughter is a new mother. Memories….

 

 

 

Happy writing!

Write with emotion

dive-in

Silk’s Post #133 — It has been an emotional year, and not half over yet.

The world has had its punishing cataclysms, some delivered by nature, others by the hand of man. It has had some surprising social victories to celebrate, including progressive decisions by the US Supreme Court, and a demonstration of the awesome power of forgiveness in a Charleston church. Personally, I’ve had some unforgettable, joyful travel adventures and shared some soul-nourishing times with people I’m glad to have in my life. I’ve also lost some dear friends. Three women who I love have lost their longtime partners to cancer.

So, yeah, my feelings have been working overtime.

And that’s the natural response to the highs and lows life throws at you. In fact, despite the pain of sorrow, I think we long to experience emotions. It’s in our DNA. It means we’re alive. Maybe it even keeps us alive. My thesis is that emotions give our journey on earth meaning and significance, perhaps even more than the worldly successes we strive so hard to achieve.

People need to feel. And that’s why I think people read to feel.

While storytelling may be about connecting through narrative with ourselves, with others, with our past and future, with our common humanity, and with the rules of the road in life – as well as being the purest form of entertainment – it has a cardinal rule. And that rule has to do with emotion.

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton (Toy Story), in his fantastic TED Talk, The Clues to a Great Story, in 2012, said storytelling must do one thing above all else:

Make Me Care.

In his excellent book Writing 21st Century Fictionwriting guru Donald Maass puts it another way:

What is it that moves readers’ hearts? What conjures in readers’ imaginations a reality that, for a while, feels more real than their own lives? What glues readers to characters and makes those characters objects of identification: people with whom readers feel intimately involved, about whom they care, and whose outcomes matter greatly? Emotions. When readers feel little or nothing, then a story is just a collection of words. It’s empty.

You’ve heard this all before, haven’t you? As an abstract piece of wisdom, it seems so obvious it scarcely needs to be said. Of course storytelling must evoke emotions. It’s right here in my How To Be A Great Writer 101 notes. Got it. Let’s move on.

Actually, let’s not. Let’s stay right here in the complicated, shape-shifting, constricted, psychedelic, colourless, loud, passionate, confusing, silent, elating, scary, inspiring, tragic, heartwarming, tense, quicksand-filled world of emotional landscapes. Okay, let’s get out the roadmap and see where we are. Oh, right. I forgot. There is no road map.

We know a lot about emotions. Life is full of them. Psychology books dissect and explain them. We all feel them, personally. We can call upon all that knowledge to tell how something feels. Oops … did I say “tell”? Yes, that’s the trap, isn’t it?

So, following the fiction prescription of Show Don’t Tell, we can probably describe the visible clues that convey our character’s feelings. The glistening eyes that speak of sorrow held in check. The muscular tension of anger. The white-knuckled grip of fear. The glowing face of love. That’s better, right? Well, maybe.

But here’s the challenge. Getting across to a reader that a character is experiencing an emotion is not the same as getting the reader to experience an emotion. Far from it.

As Maass says, “Familiar emotions, especially when in neon lights, have little effect on readers.” He cautions against the extremes of “warm” emotional landscapes bestrewn with flowery purple prose, and “cool” emotional landscapes so devoid of overt feelings they’re like deserts of the heart.

So, let’s go back to Stanton’s cardinal rule: Make Me Care. It’s not just about intensity, or even authenticity. It’s about connection.

And that, naturally, leads us to character. If a reader doesn’t care about the character, can’t relate to him and what he’s experiencing, isn’t emotionally engaged in the outcome, all your attempts to write with emotion fail. The words just lie there on the page, dead on arrival.

Of course, you’ve heard all this too. Make your character relatable! Lure the reader into caring about him! Let’s say you’ve zoomed ahead of many writers (hopefully going beyond the simplistic advice of giving your character a flaw, because people are reported to love flaws, so any character with a flaw must be automatically relatable), and you’ve managed to achieve this wonderful state of character grace. Congratulations!

Now when you convey your character’s emotions, the reader should definitely feel something, right? Well, maybe.

What? There’s more to this emotional landscape navigation? Sorry, but the answer is Yes. Hey, if it were easy, everybody could be a bestselling novelist!

For example, there’s cliché avoidance, which applies to emotional stimuli and responses just as it applies to character, language and other elements of fiction. Two-dimensional (aka cardboard) emotions, predictable responses, melodrama – these don’t move readers at a deep level. Maass talks about the power of more nuanced emotions that surprise, that conflict, that intrigue and provoke.

The character’s dog is hit by a car and dies? Yes, that’s horribly sad, and it’s natural for the character be broken-hearted. But what else does he feel that adds dimension? Anger at the driver who hit his dog, or at himself for letting the dog run out on the road? Remorse and regret if he ran over it himself, in a mindless hurry to get somewhere? Secret relief that his life is simpler without a dog, that he’s now free to take that trip to Kathmandu? Self hatred at feeling this relief? Delayed mourning for his dead mother who gave him the dog when he was a teen? Fresh resentment for his girlfriend, who never liked his dog? What if there’s something about the circumstance that he actually finds funny, and is stricken with intolerable guilt about this taboo response?

It could be a simple case of boy-loses-dog. Or a much more nuanced case of boy’s-karma-runs-over-his-dogma. Sorry, I couldn’t resist a bit of black humour, so to all you dog lovers out there, please don’t send me hate mail.

Although, if you did, it would suggest something important: I Made You Care.

I believe some of the most powerful emotional effects you can achieve in fiction arise from those things that are the hardest to talk about in real life. Things that are threatening, taboo, disturbing, dangerous, fraught with dilemma. Things that are close to the soul, risky to examine. Things that reveal more about our secret selves than we want to share. Not just things we’re afraid of, but things we’re afraid to admit about ourselves. Things never talked about by what another writing guru, James Scott Bell, calls “Happy People in Happy Land.”

And that’s why, as writers, we open our own veins and bleed all over the paper. Everything we reveal about our characters also reveals something about ourselves. Writing with emotion in a way that really touches and engages readers to feel something means writing from the heart.

Or, as some of the greats would put it …

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. — Robert Frost

It’s all about passion. Heart is what drives us and determines our fate. — Isabel Allende

Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. — William Wordsworth

You get your readers emotionally involved in your characters by being emotionally involved yourself. Your characters must come alive for you. When you are writing about them, you have to feel all the emotions they are going through – hunger, pain, joy, despair. If you suffer along with them, so will the reader. — Sidney Sheldon

What comes from the heart goes to the heart. — Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions. — James A. Michener

I want to make you laugh or cry when you read a story … or do both at the same time. I want your heart, in other words. If you want to learn something, go to school. — Stephen King

 

Focus. The answer to get your writing done.

Karalee’s Post #117

paperworkI know how to organize myself. I make wonderful lists. I keep up my schedule in my calendar. I also purposely keep a few things solely in my head to challenge my intellect in the hopes that somehow I’m preventing Alzheimer’s by challenging my brain.

Yet inevitably I don’t get my list scratched off. I allow myself to repeatedly do the cardinal sin that successful people DON’T do. I do stuff that’s important alright, but I put off doing what I really don’t like to do.

It’s something that takes a lot of organizing, a lot of keeping track of everything and tallying up this and that. It’s putting everything in its proper slot, filing and recording separate entries. It’s one of the worst jobs I know of other than cleaning toilets.

The nasty is paperwork. I surmise that accountants don’t enjoy it either. Paperwork is a nine letter word that you can say fast twenty times and it still sounds like paperwork. It’s a relentless word that replicates itself like amoebas and makes scratching it off the To Do list impossible.

It’s my nemesis.

And my new business is creating a heck of a lot of new paperwork, which creates just as many reasons for me NOT to do it! And not doing it adds stress, which takes away from my ability to focus on my writing!

What am I to do? Am I a writer or not?

Well first off, if I am a writer I best think like one and get into the writers’ zone – that fictitious world that doesn’t give a damn about all the other worldly stuff that is happening regardless of one’s To Do list and paperwork that shoulda coulda be done.

I must focus in the writers’ zone to be productive, in the zone where writing is prioritized and guilt-free and there is nothing else to worry about. Period. End of.

Other stuff will wait.

Writers write despite the To Do list.

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Achievements this week:

  • preparations for my daughter’s wedding are coming together including a PowerPoint slideshow
  • continued training and connecting with people in my new business
  • 1 hr/day writing. July 5th is on its way!

Keeping balance in my life: 

  • Sticking to the Slight Edge philosophy to achieve success in my new business and juggle all the busyness in my life right now.
  • Daily meditation and exercise. Focusing on gratitude keeps me in a place of peace.
  • Staying in touch with fellow 5Writers every Monday (or Tuesday) keeps us connected in our writing and in our personal lives.
  • A positive attitude keeps me happy.

Perspective Photos:

garden ornament and flowers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

reading figure

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Writing!

Getting back to work

Joe’s Post #143

Getting back from a writing retreat or a workshop, or even a conference, is a lot like coming back from a vacation with a bad case of the runs. It’s not like you don’t want to get on with life, but sh*t just keeps cropping up.

orange is the new blackBack at home, there’s all sorts of distractions, from Orange is the New Black to a regular life full of ball hockey practices, dishes and yelling at the dog for barking at the cat who’s hissing at the frogs, to bills and fights with Canada Revenue Services.

So while it’s easy to find time to write when you’re on a retreat, or at a workshop, it’s hard to keep that momentum going.

In the last week, I wrote 30 pages. Better than most weeks in 2015, that’s for sure, but far below what I should be doing. And that got me thinking.

How do you keep up the momentum?

Thoughts?

For me, it routine is still my best hope, but I can write for 2 hours a day in the morning and produce 2 hours of crap. So that may not be everything.

keyFinding inspiration is the key. I mean, that’s what those other events are for, right?

Can you find it from other writers? Sure. So you need to be part of a group. A fun group that loves to write.

Can you find it from books on writing? Maybe, but it’s just as easy to get bogged down in editorial mode and that could mean you’ll be writing and rewriting and rewriting the same 30 pages over and over.

Can you find it from novels? Ah, that’s the ticket. At least for me. Nothing inspires like a good book.

Can you find it alone? Hmmm. Maybe, but inspiring myself is kind of like trying to cut my own hair. It usually ends in tears and a trip to the doctor to reattach an ear.

So how do you stay motivated?

talents