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Write-o-meter: 23rd of March

23 Mar

Taking my chances here, but a little bit of exhibitionism never hurt anyone …

Here’s status on my projects on the 23 of March. You can find more information about them on the Write-o-Meter page.

Losalia

Section 666

Tickets to the other side

Venus

Trashgod

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You already have it in you, dear reader

17 Mar

If you’re gonna read a writing book, it might as well be Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

This is not a field guide for entering the writers’ complex world, or an encyclopedia of smart-ass techniques. If there’s a catchphrase that would define it best, my pick would be “you already have it in you, dear reader.”

Let me explain why.

The book is structured in two parts. The first half is pretty much an autobiography, just what the title promises. It’s a story of King’s life and how his writing evolved, based on his experiences. A great way to show that you are what you write and the other way around.

While seeing how King grew from a teenager writing crappy (sort of…) stories to a record-breaking author is inspiring, what really struck me was the second half of the book, concerning technique.

‘But wait, you said this wasn’t a book about technique!’ I hear the crowds roar.

It isn’t. The advice King gives is so basic, so fundamental and simple, I would hardly call it ‘technique’. What makes it so hard-hitting is precisely the simplicity. Writing isn’t supposed to be hard, it is just a matter of putting all your heart and skill into learning how to do it properly. Yes, it may take a long time, but work pays off.

And that’s where the “you already have it in you, dear reader” kicks in: if you’re willing to put in the work, you can do it.

I’ve read this book about 2.5 years ago, so I’ll stop here since I don’t feel I can give it enough credit from memory. This post intends to do just one simple thing – convince you to read it. You should, if only for the most basic writing advice I’ve ever encountered: if you’re a writer (a professional writer that is) you should write 4 hours a day and read 4 hours more.

You see, it’s real work.

Good ideas DO grow on trees

14 Mar

Ever thought about mindmapping your way to richer characters?

I’ve been using mindmapping for years now, but I had only used it for educational and management purposes when it hit me: what a good tool to add some depth to my characters!

Since this is one of the most important things on my To improve list (somehow I feel my guys and gals – good or bad – generally need more meat), and since I am a visuals junkie, I had to take the shot. So, this post is about how mindmapping can be used to get some good work done on your characters. Nothing revolutionary, nothing fancy, but practical. The way I like my tools.

1.       What is mindmapping in the first place?

This is a story other people have already taken their time to write, so I’ll provide you with bibliography.

click on the image for an introduction into mindmapping

2.       Oh, I get it. But why should I use it?

There are two important things that mindmapping can do for a writer. The first is outlining – a mindmap is a great way to explore possibilities for your story. The second is getting a deeper, clearer view of your most important characters by constructing an exhaustive portrait of her/him/it.

By mindmapping your characters, you provide yourself with a coherent view of who they are and what their motivations, quirks and secrets are.  You put everything in one big picture that you can easily tap into with just one look. But guess what – this doesn’t do squat!

In my experience, it’s not being able to go back to the mindmap that helps – it’s actually making one. The process forces you to think of the characters by looking at them from all sides, hidden and obvious, and filling in the gaps.

3.       How should I go about doing it?

If you’v ever done characterisation essays in literature classes, this is the same process, reverse engineered. Instead of looking at existing heroes, your are creating new ones filling in a similar templat:

  • Visual characterisation – how the character looks, moves, dresses and generally behaves on a level that can be perceived visually
  • Dominant traits that the story will underline/feed on (including dominant passions and vices)
  • Direct characterisation – what other characters would have to say about the subject
  • Indirect characterisation – traits (psychological and emotional) that can be observed and extracted as conclusions from his/her behaviour

Well, the best way to go would be to give you and example. Here it is, mindmapping applied to Vasilisk, the main character in the Trashgod short story.

For this particular piece, I’ve used a dedicated software (a few options below), but if you feel like grabbing you crayons and an empty sheet of paper to open the floodgates of your child-powered creativity, don’t let me stand in your way (not that I would DARE to).

http://www.mindjet.com – ‘professional’ software

http://www.mindomo.com – partially free, subscrition based license; online, so location independent

http://www.freemind.sourceforge.net – freeware. fast and furious

An extra note on creative mindmapping: to keep your left-side brain from getting in the way, use all sorts of elements for mindmaps. Sketches, clippings, colours and, of course, writing – it doesn’t have to be a sterile land – my character looks like this or that, he does this and says all the wrong thigs, etc. The branches of your mind map could well be short scences from the (future) story.

4.       When should it be done?

Any time you feel it is necessary. So far, I have never done it before starting a story, it has been more of a way to clarify things and make sure that a character does not get wishy-washy when he has some serios decision-making to do.

However, if you have a clear enough picture in your mind, you can start to put some more ‚meat’ on the skeleton even before you write the first line. Of course, this isn’t just for the main character. Linking their mutual stereotypes and feelings could be fun and creative.

So, what are you waiting for? There are no excuses left. Better characters are lurking out there, waiting for the right writer to prey on.

Bait them with some mindmapping and enjoy your writing.

On the scene

25 Feb

I had a great time this evening.

“The Cherry Orchard” at the The National Theatre in Bucharest, enjoying  Marius Manole as Lopahin and Mircea Albulescu as Firs, has been a good experience for my brain, right before sinking into a weekend of organizing 16 hours of interviews.

I rarely go to the theatre, but that felt like such a shame when the cocktail of waltz music and Yasha’s ominous laughter filled my glass with goosebumps, and spilled over after Lopahin’s intoxicated gourging on sour cherry compote .

Stephen King said that a writer’s task is to read 4 hours/day and write 4 hours/day, but I’ll add a little something. A writer should go to the theatre, too.

It’s called STUDYING. Watching good actors and taking home the feelings you get during a play can be a one of the strongest ways to power up your character writing.

But wait – I’ve got an even better idea!!!

I’ve often felt, while writing, that what my characters were doing was unnatural, forced, even when their actions where congruent with the authentic personalities I had imagined for them. The big picture fit, but somehow, the paintbrush was too coarse or the color was wrong.

Ever felt that?

It’s a rhetorical question … I know you did if you care about what you write.

So … why not try acting and discover what being a character really feels like?

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