Friday, June 25, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Dam the Babbling Brook

And I meant that quite literally, as in a structure that holds back water.

I had no time to give you a short update on Monday, so I'll simply say that Chapter 11 is underway and looking good. I'll have it done before June is out. Also, I'm attending a writing workshop hosted by Orson Scott Card next week, so don't expect an update post. I'll be too busy learning from the master. I'm really excited for it, and to finally meet him in person. He impressed me to write, by the way.

As for the Advice:
What did I mean by a babbling brook?

Something that beginning writers tend to do is go overboard with the dialogue. I know I did. Maybe they're some of you out there who are gifted masters of giving characters their voice, but it took some trial and error for me to get it right. And if you are a discovery writer (one who doesn't plan the story, but writes and lets the story flow with your whims) this becomes more apparent. Why? The characters are figuring out the story just as you are, and through talking, they may say too much or roam into tangent territory, speaking of things that are irrelevant to the story at hand or offer details that will have nothing to do with resolving the plot or build your characters personality. Why is this a problem? The reader may get lost or confused, and may feel betrayed having to remember details that didn't matter. If you find your characters speaking large paragraphs to each other through most of your book, you might be a babbling brook. Building a dam requires a plan. This applies to stories, too.

"Less is more:" this can't be stressed enough. The next time you're involved in a conversation, pay attention to how much people say, their brevity, their length, and so on. Do people generally speak in monologue? Not that I've noticed. When people do, I find myself, unintentionally, zoning out, meaning, I've lost interest in what is being discussed because the speaker has strayed from the topic at hand. The same will happen when reading a conversation. Generally, long speeches are necessary for segments of exposition (when a lot is explained and readers find the answers they want), but everyday interactions with other people tend to be short; one to two line paragraphs. Here's an example.

"Hey!" Billy shouted to Jen. "Where are you going?"
"To the mall. Wanna come?"
"Uh--maybe I shouldn't," Billy hesitated. What point did he have in going to the mall? He had no money and the mall was on the other side of town. Then again, this was an opportunity to spend time with Jen, something that his mother told him to never do. "I can't buy anything if I came with you."
Jen laughed. "Window shopping doesn't cost anything," she said, reaching for Billy's hand. "Come on!"

I came up with that on the top of my head, so I'll ask you if this sounds interesting or not. I think it does. Did I reveal too much? Did the characters say enough to keep the story moving along? Now, what if it read like this.

"Hey Jen!" Billy shouted. "Stop. Where are you going in such a hurry?"
"I'm going to the mall to do some window shopping. Would you like to come with me?"
"Uh--maybe I shouldn't," Billy said. "It's on the other side of town and I don't have any money to spend, and my mom thinks I shouldn't hang out with you. I don't know why. She thinks you're some kind of witch or something, but why would she say that? It doesn't make any sense. I'd like to hang out with you, though. I just don't know what will happen if my mom finds out."
Jen laughed, reaching for Billy's hand. "Come with me anyway. We'll have fun. Trust me!"

Now, I'd rather read a book using that first passage because the dialogue is short and interesting and the narrative reveals only enough to keep me interested. Water in a brook flows, and if it's noisy, it babbles. You want your story to flow without excess noise. Next time you write, remember to dam your babbling brook and let the water (story) flow.

Thanks for clicking!

I'm David, and I'm going to watch Toys that talk!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Writing? Exercise!

I almost completely forgot to write this week's column! Maybe it's because I'm a little stretched on something to say and I don't want to bring up a repeat. Then I had it, an experience worth mentioning. A couple months ago, I heard David Farland say at a conference that writers should "exercise," and not just in the writing sense. I think there's merit to that. Not just writers, but for everyone. Physical exercise is important.

I'll admit not being the perfect model of physical fitness for some time, now that I have a rather sedentary job. Years ago, I used to swim, swim and swim; four hours a day throughout high school. Now with a job and a family to provide for, spending as much time with them as possible, getting to the gym is more impossible than a hassle. However, after a solid year of practically no exertion,  I've become lethargic in body and mind. Lately, it's taken effect on my writing, even my drive to want to write. So I looked for a public outdoor pool, bought a pass, and re-acquainted myself with the water for a good two hours. I didn't even swim laps really, just floated like a log in a bayou. What happened next turned out to be quite the surprise. I felt energetic, thirsty, and motion, like the momentum of a rock tumbling downhill. The amount of chores I accomplished afterward were far more than I usually volunteer for, from cleaning tubs to scrubbing away five-year-old bug guts from my front bumper. I had motivation to do things that I'd been meaning to do for a long time.

And the writing bug hit hard in the form of a completely new story idea that came out of nowhere. I took note and set it aside so I can finish my current project. Maybe the advice this week is simple and something that I should've been doing all along, but think about it. Exercise time can be a great time to brainstorm or mold your ideas. Swimming works great for me, but there's a wide variety of physical actives to choose from. Find your favorite and create a routine. It doesn't have to be much, they say, about 30 minutes three days a week.

Hope this was helpful. It was for me. Keep up the good work out there, fellow Aspirers. We'll get there with constant vigilance by our side. Thanks for clicking and click back often for updates and Aspiring Advice.

I'm David, and my feet are cold.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Post: Sniffle Monster Got Me Good!

I must be the worst writer ever.
It's not that I can't write. I can, don't get me wrong. I just seem to have a terrible problem with attaining my personal goals lately. All I have to show for myself after this last week is a moderately thorough breakdown of chapter 11 for my current project. I guess that's what happens when you contract a nasty cold from Mississippi river area (I love spelling that word), and no solid deadline, and no one pestering me to "get it done." But I am glad to announce that most of my sniffles are gone, but it sure left a mark on my rather delicate respiratory system. The weather isn't much help either. 54 degrees in June? No matter. Once cured, I'm hitting the pool for some serious workoutage and maybe some material arts training in the fall, because I've always wanted to learn and it would be an excellent hands on opportunity to make my "hands on" combat more interesting in my little stories.

Update: None. I'm still where I was last week, mulling through the beginning of chapter 11. Could I be any lamer? Oh well. I'm planning to kick myself in the tush this week and produce something, or in other words, get it done! There's a new critique group in my area that I learned about recently. Would it hurt to be in two groups? I think I'll check it out and see how it goes.

I wish I had more to report on in regards to The Dragon's Heart being passed along and along towards NYC, but it could be months before any real news comes full circle. I'll keep you posted. I am excited, however, for the Orson Scott Card writer's conference in a couple of weeks. It's going to be a long two days, but I hope every minute of it will be influential, engrossing, and empowering.

Click back Thursday (or Friday) for more advice!

I'm David, and vambraces are awesome.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Aspiring Advice: Stages

An aspect of world building isn't simply a matter of creating the stage by which your story will be presented, but in how you will introduce your stage and how your stage will change throughout the course of your story. This week, I'll speak a bit on how to introduce your stage and make it intriguing.

Imagine that you are sitting in an aisle, waiting for a play to start in a fancy opera house. The curtain is closed. The story has yet to start. And then, the curtain is drawn. Right away you see a set or a location--a bedroom or a town square. Modern, period, or future. There might even be people sitting, walking, or doing something. Without saying a word, the stage has been set up for you. You have a good idea of where you are even though the characters haven't revealed any plot. Try and recreate that stage in your writing. Try it sometime. Watch a play and recreate the initial stage with words. It's a good writing exercise. Then, tell your reader where they are, and at the same time, do not give away details that are unnecessary. In other words, don't describe your future stages before you get there.

If you have ever gone to an elaborate stage production, you'd know that there are tons of backdrops, sets and props. What would happen if they're all revealed at once? It would look awkward and boring. However, this is what many first times writers (including myself) end up doing: revealing everything about the stage from the beginning. But it's important, right? Yes, but not that important. When I say "stage," I'm not referring to "plot." The stage is where things happen. Plot delves more into the characters and what they do, not the world in which they live. In other words, if your character is in the corridor of a castle, don't worry about describing all the lands surrounding the kingdom. How does telling your reader about a distant river help our character through the corridor? If the character is not presently there, such details don't matter. Describing them only bogs down the action and your plot. Worry about describing this river later, when your character sees it. The exception to this is if a character speaks of this or other locations, such as, "this is where you need to go now."

Develop your stages and figure out the order in which they will appear and how your plot measures in to the overall setting. This helps keep your writing focused instead of jotting unneeded exposition.

You guys are awesome. Keep it up.
Questions and topics are always welcomed

I'm David, and vitamins are your friend.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Returned, Unrefreshed

Back from my leave, I take a look at what's before me and see much that needs to be done. But life has a sense of humor. Though I have returned from vacation, I feel worse than when I left. Quite the opposite from what vacations are, huh? Things like that happen when you pick up a bug from out of state. So here I am, confined to bed rest with a rather nasty summer cold. I was actually looking forward to going to work today, but who in their right mind would appreciate someone like me coughing up a storm in a public work place?

Update: As promised, I didn't do a lick of writing on my vacation, but rather dreamed and though, plotted and imagined. I have a full cup now, but my mind isn't exactly clear today. It may not be clear for a couple days or more. Might I say that road trips are great for gathering cool and unique names? If you pay attention to road signs, you'll see lots of names that you wouldn't normally think of using in a story. My job this week is to get started on Chapter 11 and return to a set schedule--a chapter a week. That's the goal, but with editing, we're looking more at a chapter every two weeks. Collaborations are tougher in this regard. Both parties need to feel happy about the material before moving on. If it were just me doing it, I would have my first draft done by now. However, the first half wouldn't be nearly as good and well-thought-out without this partnership. I'm grateful for that, and my writing has improved immensely because of it.

Come back for advice on world building later this week!

I'm David, and Ricola is my friend.