Saturday, October 29, 2011

Drawn and Quartered

For those of you that don't know, the act of drawing and quartering was one of the most gruesome and painful ways to be killed--and it still is. Your limbs would be tied to four horses and they would then run away from you--and then you died, in quarters.

No, I haven't been drawn and quartered--but it got your attention, didn't it? No, this is about reigning in the over-creative mind. I recently, you see, had a small series of epiphanies about various things that I should--and will--write. The problem is that I don't really have anything more than bare concepts for more than one plot.


So I won't. It seems, to a lot, of beginning writers, a simply uncontrolable flow of creativity and so they never write anything. Tragic--it really is.


Studies show (follow me through on this one--it turns out in the end) that the human mind actually absorbs information and functions more smoothly if allowed to run other issues in the background instead of in the o=forefront. That's why you'll be more likely to have a flash of inspiration soaping yourself in the shower than focusing intently on your plot block for three days.


So, how does this relate to reigning in creativity? Simple--you have to work on your most formed idea, and just let the other ones stew--NaNoWriMo, by the way, is perfect for this, because it forces you to put everything but your current project on that back burner. Going back to the drawn and quartered concept--when you have multiple ideas going on and you're affording attention to each and every one, the only place you're going to end up is dead--creatively speaking, at least. But, if three of the four ideas/horses are left on their own to roam about, you get dragged on for a bit and then you climb up the rope and ride that idea/horse into the proverbial sunset. The other ideas/horses won't just vanish while you do this--you'll come back to find them overfed, compliant, and ready to run again.


So, in short (you'll hate me for this)--you actually have to write.


Take care,

Voss

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Pulse


We've done it! At last! The one week mark is past, and the year's best holiday of all is upon us (okay, maybe it's not better than Chocolate Covered Anything Day, but who can wait until December 16th for that?)! I speak not of All Hallow's Eve, but of the glorious, mad, insane event known as National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo! Huzzah!

Now that it's so close, there's a strange thing going on all over the world. You can just feel and tap into that glorious energy that's abounding. People on every continent are getting excited, are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. It's so powerful I'm stuck halfway between hooting and hollering with joy and crying for sheer awesomeness.

It happens every year, too. To someone that's never done NaNoWriMo, it doesn't make sense, but it's almost like a pulse inside of every participant. It starts right around the end of September, when we realize that the forums open next month, and we get to be sucked back into the majesty of the event. Early October, the real die-hards pop up full of energy, planning their masterwork.

Then we hit this. The pulse is so strong you can feel the sheer power in your breast, threatening to burst out, and it gets stronger every second. Now, maybe this has something to do with NaNo Eve falling on All Hallow's Eve, and the spirits of the unfulfilled writers are filling us up to do get the same high we get, but by the time we hit the 31st of October, all of us go insane.

I think the big thing, the one thing that truly makes NaNoWriMo so amazing, is that it breaks the stereotype. When we think of authors, they're always suffering, drinking, dropping acid, and have way too many sticks shoved in a not so pleasant place to have sticks shoved into. They go through agonizing spells of writer's block (which doesn't exist) and decide that they need to piddle upon us lowly peons trying to make a name in their world.

NaNo probably makes their skin crawl, if they exist. Anyone can and should write a novel--that's how we operate. That's why people come in the first place--the memories, the pulse, brings them crowding back every year.

So, as the pulse grows stronger and stronger, and novelists break free from their chrysalides, we go. Write-ins are planned, plots are laid down, characters sketched and profiled, intravenous coffee is briefly considered, kick-offs are designed, MLs are worshipped, and large, thick lockboxes are decorated so as to imprison our inner editors in the coming month.

NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo. NaNo.

NANO!

NaNo NaNo (it would be great if somebody actually got that reference...but I doubt they will...too old school for a lot of you, I'm sure...)

Now, away with you, oh holy pilgrims of the inkwell! Prepare!
Voss

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Home Decorating = Writing Prep

We are visual creatures. 30% of the brain is devoted to processing visual signals. So, it stands to reason that we need a space with visual signals conducive to writing and creativity. In other words...

...it's an excuse for a total room makeover...or two...or three!

There are certain things that seem to work.

1: You want a clean workspace. Clutter does not good books make. It's perfectly fine to be an angsty author (or pretend to be an angsty author) while you're writing--throw balls of paper all over and chuck pencils into the ceiling--but it should be clean when you start every day.

2: Limit the amount of time you have to leave the condcuive space. Yes, this is that excuse you've been looking for to buy a mini-fridge for your office. Definitely keep reference materials and notes as close at hand as is humanly possible. This include baby name books, dictionaries, thesauri, and other research things you got your hands on. It also means, if you can, keep the internet close, keep foods and drink close, and keep your friends and family as far away as humanly possible, if not further. I promise that, without fail, as soon as you get on a roll with your writing, they're all going to need you, do if you can put distance between them and your office, it buys you some time before they can get to you.

3: Cut distractions. Yes, you want the internet close--but only for research! Research, I'm afraid, rarely involves Facebook (not never, but rarely). Unlike most people, I don't reccomend complete isolation from the phone, however--but you should stick to your guns if your friends want to hang out or what have you. Say no unless you really need that break--and then keep your writing with you anyway--inspiration can strike in the oddest of places.

4: Surround yourself with writing. If you have, say, a map, tack it to the wall...and put your ouline beside it...surrounded by your character sketches and weapon schematics...which are across from the giant banner that says "You can fix it!" and kitty corner to the "Hang in there" poster. Anything to keep you immersed in the project.

5: Have a woobie. Or two. Or three. Or four. Have a woobie army, if you must. A woobie is just a general term fro something soft to use for comfort. Personally, I think lazy, fluffy cats make the best woobies, but if a cat isn't available, use a blanket, a dog, a stuffed animal, or a rather fuzzy (and quiet!) man.

6: Make it private. Whatever it takes. I write in my bedroom quite often and, as such, have an official "Do Not Enter" sign on it...gotten through less than honest means by my sister so many years ago. We need that privacy--sometimes the stress gets too much and, should anyone make the mistake of coming into the office, they may not leave with all of their limbs. Forewarn people and keep it cordoned off. If a door isn't available, use a thick blanket and just nail it up there--whatever it takes. Not only will it save the family, but it makes it sort of a developmental cocoon--you go in with nothing but a seed of an idea and leave with a brilliant (if slightly deformed) butterfly.

7: Make it yours. Many writers have children, and they love them, but it behooves you to train them that "When mommy's in her office, the Devil possesses her and she might kill you." You need to be able to do what you want in there. If that means you have to stage a mock battle with the dresser as a stand-in for your opponent, or put up pictures of mostly unclad people to inspire that brilliant erotica (why didn't I think of that before?), you not only should, you must--and you must have the space that allows you to do such thing without judgment or ridicule from anyone but yourself.

Of course, this is just my opinion--it works for me, maybe not erfectly for you--but it can't hurt to try, right?

Voss

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Your Team

Lately, I've been examining a lot of visual story-telling formats. Cinema, television, graphic novles, comics, anime, manga--and I've always had a soft spot for what I call simply "teams".

We all know the teams--they're grouped together for some greater purpose, and each one of them is a unique individual instead of a faceless nothingness.

There's a formula to these teams, I'm noticing, that the most sucessful stories that use the team format use. I could be completely off base on this, but I doubt it. I thought I would share it here, since it interests me and I hope it will interest you.



  1. The Number: The ideal number of people for this team seems to be from 5-8 individuals. Traditionally, 6-7 is the number used. Look at the Power Rangers (it's successful, so deal with it). They rarely have more than 6 members. "The Magnificent Seven", "Seven Samurai", and "The League of Extraoridnary Gentlemen" all use 7 (Except the graphic novel "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen", which uses 6.). "Watchmen" uses 5 core members to their team. "Fullmetal Alchemist" has 7 homunculi. Even less obvious examples of the team ("Ouran High School Host Club" comes to mind.) stick generally to that 5-8 rule. That doesn't mean it's hard and fast, but it seems to work for the big names--why not give it a try?

  2. The Skills: Not only are all of the characters unique in their personalities, but they always bring something to the team that the other members don't. Sometimes it's completely idiotic and shallow, as in the Power Rangers (different major weapons), but sometimes it's actually useful, as in the dynamic differences in "Ouran High School Host Club". Their goal (see below) is to please their customers, and each one of them brings something different to the plate. One is strong and manly, one is calculating, one is traditionally handsome, one is just adorable, the twins are mischiveous, and they have one natural rookie. Again, though, this isn't an absolute. Look at "Seven Samurai". Several of them are nothing more than good swords, they have one archer, a strategist, and one guy that's impulsive about the things he does. But, you have to have some variance, either in skill or personality.

  3. The Personalities: You thought I forgot, didn't you? Yes, there are certain personalities that seem to pop up fairly regularly throughout this sort of team dynamic. You often have said impulsive character, who is usually naive, and someone more intelligent to temper that passion with logic. Someone rebellious and someone that adheres to the rules. You often have someone with a completely self-serving set of actions, which may or may not end up benifiting the team as a whole. A loner, a sweetheart, a flirt, a vixen--and all of these can be combined into any number of characters...though I don't reccomend having a flirty, logical, impulsive, strict, rebellious, self-serving, loner-sweetheart-vixen--that just makes you look like a bad writer.

  4. The Goal: This is why your team has been brought (or forced) together. Our Host Club friends are together to serve as escorts for youg ladies. The Seven Samurai are there to fend off the barbarians from the village. The Thundercats and the Power Rangers are both there to protect the world from evil and destruction in whichever form it's decided to take this time around. Whatever this goal is, they all have to be behind it, at least to some extent, at some point in the story.

  5. The Relationships: This is the easiest part--or the hardest. Why do these people get along or not? How do they get along? What about your loner? What's the deal there? I'd worry about leaving someone alone too long in a group--you might not wake up the next morning if they feel excluded. Who wants to go out? Who is going out? Who's married? Who's related? Who does the horizontal mambo? Who used to do the horizontal mambo, but doesn't do it anymore? And on and on and on. Look at "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". Allan Quatermain uses Tom Sawyer as a replacement for his son, and views Mina Harker as more or less in the way. At the same time, Captain Nemo is his equal. Dorian Gray and Mina Harker used to tangle the sheets. Dr. Jekyll has to deal with Mr. Hyde...which is another thing entirely. Sawyer wants to get it on with Mina, and everyone loves our resident Invisible Man--most of the time.

That's all it is. Take it or leave it, but that's the formula I've discovered through research and observation. If nothing else, I hope it was interesting to read.


Voss

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reverse-Lent/Screw Writing! I'm Going to Mime College

NaNoWriMo--have I posted enough about this yet? No, of course I haven't.

For you outsiders, let me give you a quick rundown of how it looks from the inside compared to the outside.

OUTSIDE: Crazy people waste a whole month of their lives writing fifty-thousand words of what they admit is crap (and we do admit it.).

INSIDE: All of us Nanites finally get to come together and chatter amidst the intoxicating clickity-clack of millions of keyboards worldwide--and we might even get a salvageable manuscript out of the whole ordeal.

It's all about perception.

Now, as any Nanite could tell you (I know the official term is "WriMo", but wouldn't you rather be a Nanite than a Writing Month?), NaNoWriMo is sort of a religious event--think of it like reverse-Lent. Every Catholic I've ever met hates Lent, and for good reason--you have to give up something awesome for something like a month. I know people who have given up soda, candy, sugar (that didn't last) sex (surprisingly, that did last), and on and on and on.

NaNoWriMo, on the other hand, is a month where you get something you only get once a year--reverse-Lent. Cherish it for the gift it is.

Now for something completely different.

Writers are solitary, fairly depressing people a scary amount of the time--in fact, according to standard psychology, people with as much self-induced stress and worry as the average American writer are considered mentally ill in one way or another, depending on who you ask. But we know better than that--it's a process that helps us do what needs doing.

Sometimes, though, that writerly depression and nastiness will line up with something else, like low biorhthyms, a death in the family, the two-week long snot fest that's running rampant around town, or one too many rejection letters for the same piece. During those, I have a quick (ish) process to pull yourself back up.

1: Mope. Mope a whole hell of a lot. Allow yourself anywhere from 1-3 days of straight up moping. What you do is up to you, but feel sorry for yourself, binge on chocolate and expensive coffee-esque drinks, take bubble-baths, get drunk--just mope.

2: Work. Start getting back into work-mode. I find that the best way to do that is to read about writing, especially with a good, familiar "How to Write" book. My favorite for that situation is a tie between "No Plot? No Problem!" by Chris Baty (go figure), "The Romance Writer's Handbook" by Rebecca Vinyard, and "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy" by Orson Scott Card. Also research for your next project. Whatever research materials you can find, snag them and devour them as quickly as possible.

3: Submit. Take that problem piece that no one will take, and lower your standards. If you've exhasuted half of your pro and semi-pro markets, go for token pay, even if you think that it's worth that $0.25 a word that Tor.com will give you, settle on that five dollar and a free e-copy market--just get it into someone's hands and out of your hair.

4: Smile. That's it. You've taken, at most, a week to stop being a real, professional writer, and now you're ready to get back on that war-cat and ride it into the four setting suns on the plains of Gilagag...or what have you.

Happy happiness,
Voss