Writing Across Mediums

See... I know you want to try writing on this. However, I promise, if you're used to a computer, it won't be any fun.
See… I know you want to try writing on this. However, I promise, if you’re used to a computer, it won’t be any fun.

Well, I spent this afternoon responding to discussion board posts which ranged from excellent to unreadable, and it sparked a thought… well, actually it sparked a number of thoughts. Some of them were very interesting and were posted on the discussion boards… some of them didn’t get posted. However, one of those thoughts was about how writing across different mediums generally creates stronger writers. For instance, if a fiction writer learns how to research and write academic papers, this will help him improve his research and character development for fiction. Similarly, if an academic writer learns to write fiction, it will help him improve his ability to connect his arguments and develop a centralized theme and goal, and his word choice in his papers (this I know from experience).  So, simply put, learning to write in a different medium (and I mean learning to do it well) will help you to improve whatever kind of writing that you already do.

There are a lot of ways to improve your writing, and we talk about many of them here. However, many times we don’t think of learning something completely new as a way to improve what we already do. However, every style of writing improves your fundamental use of words and information in a different way. Academic writing is about logic, evidence, proving a point; journalistic writing is about telling someone else’s story, or making someone else’s point; writing historical fiction requires the ability to integrate your own character’s and stories into an existing world and setting; writing fantasy or science fiction requires detailed creative efforts that mirror the real world; any fictional writing requires the ability to build effective plots and multi-dimensional characters. However, fundamentally every style of writing is about the effective use of words to communicate intent. Writing a good research paper is as much an art as writing a good short story, and writing a good short story is as much a science as writing a good research paper. Learning different styles of writing will force you to learn to use and view each of these fundamentals differently, and each of these different uses can be applied to every style of writing.

If you want to learn how to do this as well, go here.
If you want to learn how to do this as well, go here.

Being a martial artist, I naturally want to use martial arts as an illustration. I’ve known many fighters who spent their lives studied a single style, be it Wing Chun Kung Fu, Shorin-Ryu Karate, Hapkido, Muay Thai, etc, and many of them are very good within their style. However, pit them against someone with a fundamentally different fighting style and suddenly they’re lost. It’s very interesting watching someone who’s only ever practiced Wing Chun try to fight someone who’s only ever practiced Brazilian Jujitsu. Neither fighter really knows quite where to begin, and so nothing really happens for while as they feel each other out. However, a fighter who’s studied multiple styles closely can apply principles from each style to his own fighting. A Wing Chun fighter who is also skilled in Shorin-Ryu Karate, Aikido, and Brazilian Jujitsu can be hard when he needs to be hard, be soft when he needs to be soft, fight standing when he needs to fight standing, and fight on the ground when he needs to fight on the ground. Moreover, he can apply principles from each to the others. This will make him a stronger fighter over-all.

So, branch out. Learn something new. Personally, I’m thinking about trying to learn how to write a script.

!!!!!INTENSITY!!!!!!

Edgar A Poe“A short story must have a single mood and every sentence must build towards it.”  Edgar Allen Poe

Think back over the short stories you have read, and you will realize the truth lying in these words.  When you think about Poe’s quote, it makes sense from a practical point of view.  In a short story, there is no time to waste with complete character histories or their litany of day-to-day affairs, their numerous ups and downs.  No, when writing a short story, being concise is important.

Short stories have a singular focus, a primary conflict that the entire tale centers around.  Because of this, tone is essential from beginning to end.  This primary focus is the essence of the story.  Whether there is an internal battle resulting in the characters riding a roller coaster of emotions, or whether it is an external struggle like a political confrontation, the entire story must build on the tone created in the first paragraph.  The ending result is to be an intensified moment of lucidity (for either the audience or the character or both) built on the very first notes that started the tale.  This means that your first paragraph is just as important, if not more so, than your last paragraph.  Short story writers do not have the luxury of several beginning pages, or a chapter, to drag readers into their stories.  They have a sentence, maybe four, to really hook a reader by the nose and yank them into the middle of conflict (notice I said MIDDLE of conflict, not beginning).  Their may be some confusion or questions on the part of the reader, use this to your advantage.

Since Poe is the author of the commencing quote, let me use one of his pieces as an example.  The proceeding excerpt is the first paragraph in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

“THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a point definitely, settled –but the very definitiveness with which it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.”

Cask of AmontilladoThis tale, not surprisingly, ends in death, but the death, in and of itself, is not the most important aspect of the story.  Rather, the how it happened was the most important part.  The reader could probably foreshadow death, or at least a huge calamity, from the beginning of the story.  They did not read the story for a predictable ending.  Readers of short stories read for the INTENSITY.  Essentially, it all comes down to this.  Stories, like the Arts in general, are popular for having readers experience new things – new places, new emotions.

From this very first paragraph, the reader is to understand that the mood is dark.  Furthermore, the dark mood is created by a tone laced with hints of bitterness, vengeance/vindictiveness, and even traces of slyness.  As you continue reading the story, these points are not only continued, but are used as the foundation for the plot, meaning they become a greater and greater thread in the story as the tale progresses.

If this were a novel, we would probably have been given more of a background on the characters as well as snippets from Fortunato’s point of view – his fear and anguish.  However, instead we get a singular view point focused on ONE agenda, ONE act.  This sole purpose assists in intensifying the dark and frigid mood that Poe was trying to create.  The reader has no idea what injuries Fortunato inflicted upon the speaker, and it really doesn’t matter to the story.  It’s not part of the mood.  Poe was not interested in justification on the part of Fortunato, so he left this character relatively silent and in the dark.  As Mark Twain once wrote, he “would like to have written a shorter letter but didn’t have the time.”  This is one of the problems short story writers often encounter during their drafting processes.  Too much information is included by trying to inform the audience, make this or that point clear, erase plot holes, make the characters relateable or understandable, etc.  Unfortunately, what ends up happening is the mood is killed faster than a call from your mother during a heated make out session.  Unplanned distractions end up being assassins to even the best stories.

To further expound on Poe’s quote, I’ll add to it a quote from Joseph O’Connor, “A good short story is almost always about a moment of profound realisation. Or a hint of that. A quiet bomb.”   Think on this for a week.  Think of how it relates to mood as well as what other implications it may have for short stories.

Scene Challenge of the Week

Let’s see… It’s Wednesday again, right? That means it’s time for another scene challenge… which means that I have to come up with a cue and some rules… man, keeping this blog running can be a lot of work sometimes (that was a joke, if you didn’t catch it… although not untrue). Okay, if you don’t know the rules, here you go: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene.  Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction.  If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit.  If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.

Your challenge: Pick a favorite scene out of a novel that you like. Your challenge today is to rewrite this scene in your own style and voice. Obviously the essential nature of the scene and the character’s should stay the same, but the presentation of the scene should reflect your style of writing, rather than that of the original author. This can be challenging because we often tend to model our writing after authors that we like, instead of finding a voice of our own. After about a decade of writing this is something that I still struggle with sometimes, so this kind of exercise can make for excellent practice.

New Beginnings: To Psychology and Addictions

Inside the head are stores of philosophies that drive everything we do and say. Psychology at its most basic.

I had been planning on posting part of a new story I have been writing to celebrate my return back to the blog, but then my reason gave me a knock or two on the head, making me think that my short story may not make a very auspicious beginning to the New Year with its rather morose tone. I have never been a fan of New Year resolutions. But, I do love what the New Year symbolizes – a fresh start, a clean break, a revitalization of the spirit. It is not necessarily the best time for a story about a young girl lost in a world of brokenness and depravity. It seems to me that should come after all of the new resolutions have been broken, not before they’ve had a chance to begin.

So, in the spirit of fresh starts, I’m going to use this post to introduce/reintroduce myself to this blog and its loyal readers and to clue you in on my plans for my future posts in this coming new year. Hopefully, if I tell you my plans now, I will hold to them.

In the past year I have come to understand more fully the meaning behind, “Write what you know.” In light of this adage, I wrote “Asylum.” While I had been writing a page here and a page there on several storylines, nothing really came together quite as easily as “Asylum” came to me. Why?

Because I know pain and chemical imbalances. I know art and music. I am drawn towards darker subject matters, not because of the plots and characters themselves, but because of the psychology moving the characters and causing the plots. Even as a history major, my specialty was identifying causes and effects, tracing chains of events through hundreds of years. For everything, there is a reason. And I love digging into the emotional, and often damaged, depths of those reasons found in the human psyche.

Emily Grierson from "A Rose for Emily"
Emily Grierson from “A Rose for Emily”

I also love short stories, even more so than novels. I still remember reading Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” They were my gateway to short story addiction. Short stories offer the reader only a glimpse of a life as compared to a novel, which can span years. Still, within that glimpse lies a profound and magnified experience that can engage the mind in realm after realm of thought. Whereas a novel gives you a detailed description of point A to point B, short stories often retain a specific focus and minimalized plot which is often enhanced by the writing style.

So, over the next few weeks, and possibly months, I will be using my own writing to explore different aspects of psychology. I will be posting a mixture of informative blogs on various aspects of psychology in writing, short story analyses and summaries, and a few of my own short stories and short story excerpts.

In order to get the ball rolling, for those of you unfamiliar with “A Rose for Emily,” let me be the first to introduce you.  May it be your gateway to addiction.

Different Kinds of Writing

Journalistic writing focuses on the now. It is about informing the reader of what is happening.
Journalistic writing focuses on the now. It is about informing the reader of what is happening.

Recently I had a conversation with one of my students which ended with that student telling me that he/she shouldn’t be graded down for writing in a non-academic way because academic writing just wasn’t her style of writing. I’m sure that a lot of professors have had similar conversations over the years, and all been similarly annoyed with the confusion between writing styles (see voice), and writing styles (see type). For instance,  one might write in a very witty, sarcastic, nonchalant style (voice) and apply this to many styles (type) of writing. However, one cannot substitute a journalistic or personal style (type) of writing for an academic style (type) of write and expect to get away with it.

Academic writing focuses on the problem. It is about convincing the reader of a particular position through the use of logic and evidence.
Academic writing focuses on the problem. It is about convincing the reader of a particular position through the use of logic and evidence.

For instance, in journalistic writing the first person is not used, but quotes are heavily used, but they are generally attributed, not cited or referenced. The point of a piece is to distribute information. In personal writing the first person is often primarily used, and quotes/sources are generally not used. The point of a piece is to express feeling, opinion, desire, or to update on the minutia of life. In fictional writing the first person may or may not be used (depended on perspective), and while sources are heavily used (seriously, if you think you can write fiction without doing research, think again), they are not quoted, cited, referenced, or generally recognized in any way. The purpose of a piece is to tell a story, make a point, and entertain. In academic writing the third person is universally used, and sources are heavily used, cited, and referenced, but only rarely quoted. The point of a piece is to convince the reader of a particular position through the presentation of logic and evidence. These are all very different kinds of writing, but the witty, sarcastic, nonchalant style (voice) can be effectively used in all of them.

There are as many different styles (voices) of writing as there are people that write, and no style (voice) is necessarily right or wrong. However, there are only a certain number of styles (types) of writing (e.g. academic, journalistic, personal, fictional, inspirational, etc) of writing, and each one has certain expectations of form that must be met for it to be considered good. For instance, if a fictional piece is boring, then it is not good, remember one of the purposes of fictional writing is to entertain. An academic piece, on the other hand, can be exceptionally boring, and still be a good piece, because the purpose is not to entertain, but to support through logic and evidence. When you sit down to write something, take a moment to consider the style (type) of writing that you are planning to use. If you’re writing for a newspaper, then don’t write like you were writing a letter. If you’re writing a letter, then don’t write like you were writing an academic paper. However, you also must be aware of the styles (voices) that you are capable of writing in effectively. If you can’t pull off a witty, sarcastic style, then don’t try. Find the voice or voices that are yours (some people can write in more than one voice), and master it. Use it effectively, and don’t be afraid to adapt it to the various styles (types) of writing that you do. Remember that differences in form don’t have to render you mute, they just require a little adjustment.

Writing to the AUDIENCE

About two months ago I began a position working through the Washington Reading Corps, a branch of AmeriCorps.  The goal of Washington Reading Corps is to work with struggling students on their literacy skills, be it vocabulary, reading comprehension, speaking, active listening, etc.  In my specific position, I work with low-income pre-school children (4-5 year olds).  I have one specific classroom I work in, but I also work with the other 60 head-start sites in my area through special literacy events and projects.  Today I was one of about 30 people sorting through 20,000+ books.  That’s right.  Over 20,000 books.  The agency I’m partnered with teamed up with Bazillion Books for Kids, a Portland-based organization whose goal is to give books to over 100,000 kids.  Within my agency, our goal was to give 10 books to around 1,000 kids in our program.  Additionally, we wanted to create a lending library at each of the pre-school sites where parents had access to reading materials.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a day than to gather materials to increase literacy.  In our country, we keep hearing that grades are dropping.  Test scores are lower.  Society on a whole is getting more stupid. Well, to incredibly simplify the problem, it all comes back to literacy.  LITERACY skills are necessary to do anything in life, and the stronger they are, the better.  A huge part of literacy is the capability to read.  And yet, my generation, and the generations coming up behind me, are reading less and less.  Why? Through various discussions, observations, and researches done, here are the top reasons I’ve found.

1) Trouble reading and they get frustrated with trying

2) Lack of interest in material provided

3) Not shown the importance of reading

We have to walk before we can run. As one famous character is known for saying, “Elementary.”

As writers we should have a goal for everything we write.  Whether it is to entertain, to inform, to purge, to mock, or to uplift, every piece we write MUST have a purpose if it is to be anything of value.  However, more than having a purpose for the writing in general, we must also have goal of how that piece is going to reach readers.  If you are writing a book for a wide general audience, but the writing level and style in the book are at an advanced level, then the interest in the book is going to be low.  People will get frustrated and drop it.

And I recognize that people may disagree with me on this, but think about Twilight and Harry Potter.  Huge selling series.  Popular with both kids, teens, and adults.  Why? The reading levels were not complicated, which made the books accessible to general audiences.  However, in today’s culture, many classics with higher vocabulary levels and complicated syntax, such as Faulkner and Dickens, are not generally read.  If we are to increase literacy in our culture, is it going to come about through no reading at all or through the Twilights and Harry Potters?

Yes, it would be wonderfully nice if everyone in society read and understood Dickens, Dostoevsky, the Brontes, etc.  But we cannot start there.  Everyone has a reading level, and that’s where we must start.  When I was in school, we were regularly tested (about once every 6 weeks) to see how are reading levels were improving.  The advice given based on research at the time was that we should read 80-90% in our reading level and then 10-20% just above our reading level for optimum improvement.

Now, most natural readers do this automatically.  And yet, since most writers are natural readers we tend to have trouble understanding those who struggle with reading or who refuse to read for whatever reason.  But now, more than ever, it is important to write for AUDIENCES.  What stories will actually be read? What writing styles and genres will be reach the greatest number of people? What vocabulary will be understood?

To end, I want to encourage all of you to think and consider what you are writing.  There is a place for Dickens and Brontes, I cannot deny that.  All of my favorites are classics.  But, I also know that I would not have made it to the Alcotts and Brontes and Mitchells without the Nancy Drews, the Mary Higgins Clarks, the Madelaine L’Engles.

**SIDENOTE: All of this said, I do not and cannot excuse sloppy writing.  There is far too much of that due to poor literacy skills already.  Everybody wants to be a writer, a photographer, a whatever.  But they don’t want to put in the work to perfect their craft.  Sloppy writing does not fulfill a purpose.

Peace. Love. LIBERTY.

***Disclaimer: While this post does discus the duty of benefiting society, it in no way applies or connects this to any form of utilitarianism, socialism, or any other political or philosophical -ism. 😀

****This is the last post I will be making for a while.  I have many new projects in the works with the Washington Reading Corps, and unfortunately, as many of you may have noticed, I haven’t always had the time or energy to  get my posts up on time.  Luckily, Tobias has found someone wonderful to fill in during my hiatus. So, I’ll leave you with my signature “Peace, love, and LIBERTY*****

Stream of Consciousness

One of the genre’s greatest heroes, Virginia Woolf

Sometimes just getting everything out there, down on paper, to be seen by the eyes not the mind is freeing.  Its a release to not worry about grammatical structures, transitions, and all of the little stylistic things that make writing come alive and give you an A on a paper.  No, writing itself, free and unhindered, when you hit that space and the mind flies blank and filled all at once, a zone of sorts that only you have the access key to.  Only you know the password because its your password. And that password takes you into that zone where everything is unreadable but it comes to you, quickly, needing to get out.  And only when you get it out do  you realize what you were feeling, what you were trying to say.  Its as if the damn of words in your head has broken loose and you can finally see through the waterfall of thoughts now cascading, because that’s what those words have now become: thoughts.  And those thoughts flow now, faster and faster as you move farther into your zone.  When you finish reading the thoughts that have somehow managed to find their way onto paper, you realize that the thoughts have become meaningful building blocks. An actual outline of half-finished sentences, somewhat intelligible to the random stranger if they know how to look, to read, the words to your soul.  This odyssey into your zone is like the ocean and all the waves moving back and forth, an ebb and flow, transporting you here and there and here and there, and your body gently sways because you don’t have to think, you just have to feel.  The thoughts are already there, but you are finally giving your mind the permission to release them, outside the normal confines of stress, of life, you are you now.  Exploring that safe place in your mind, connecting with the sounds you hear outside.  There is no parameter, no measuring stick, that judges some thoughts, some words useless.  Everything is permissible. Everything must be written down.

The above paragraph is filled with typos, grammatical errors, half-baked sentences, and randomly connected thoughts.  The above paragraph is a form of stream of consciousness writing.  I first began to explore this particular style in high school.  Then, I forgot about it for a while.  Recently, it has come back to my attention.

Stream of consciousness is a characterized as a more natural method of writing.  Or, at least it is supposed to seem that way.  It’s commonly utilized to show thought processes, add character personality, add a more personal narrative tone.  James Joyce and Virginia Woolf use various forms of stream of consciousness writing such as interior monologues and soliloquies.

From James Joyce’s Ulysses:

James Joyce perfected the the genre in Ulysses.

“…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

Now when writing a story, be it a novel or a short story, this style of writing will still have some boundaries, some cohesiveness keeping everything together.  But, it will still seem more natural.  There will be an ebb and flow to the general direction of monologue, but like most thoughts in our head, there will be some dissonance, breaking up the natural rhythm.  The lack or addition of punctuation, the order of the words given, and the level of the words, all become a part of who the character is, who the narrator is.

In the above clip, lack of punctuation gives prominence to Molly (the character thinking the above)’s descent into passion, the after-sex and before-sex passionate lethargy.  Her thoughts are all focused around this event in some way, but within that event they run wild between memories, associations, and desire, all culminating in that final “Yes.”

It is also a great journaling method when writer’s block hits.  What it does is get everything out onto paper (or your computer screen).  In writing there’s a cliche that many times we don’t know what we’ve written, what we’ve created, what we were thinking, till we read it on paper.  Often times, those “ah ha” moments come when we’ve given ourselves the freedom to write, just write.  No constraints on what we put down or how we put it down.  The purpose is to just get it down as it comes into your head.

When you have finished, you can go back and read it, and perhaps you may find that nugget of inspiration hidden amid the rambling run-ons.

Memories Alive

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words; however, my experience is that most of the words are meaningless adjectives by themselves:  it is only when the thousand words are strung together in coherent sentences that they attempt to explain the picture.   And when these sentences are strung together, they create a memory.  So, it is memory that truly brings life to a picture; it is memory that tells the tale of why that moment in time was captured.

Neptune, Virginia Beach

I am looking down at a picture of my first trip to Virginia.  My dad and I are on the waterfront in Virginia Beach posing by a gigantic statue of King Triton, also known as Poseidon.  In the picture my hair is blowing and I am wearing my letter jacket and two layers of clothes.  These pictures only capture one-second snapshots of my adventure.

By itself  the words I can use to describe it are cold, windy, ocean, statue, but when I recall that day I remember the awe I felt as the birds constantly hovered above me, noisily waiting for me to throw them my last remnants of fries.  The wind was sharp and cutting, blowing salty ocean spray into our uncovered faces.  I remember jumping and laughing as I tried to touch the oncoming waves with just the tips of my fingers, hoping not to get soaked.  I can hear my dad complain about the cold while all I wanted to do was stay at the ocean’s edge staring off into space.

I desperately wanted to see dolphins playing in the horizon.  I wanted my dad to realize that our trip was not a waste of time.   The dolphins, I thought, would help him over his disappointment in driving ten hours for a restaurant that had closed years ago.  However, the dolphins never showed, but King Triton did.  A towering piece of art, the statue both intrigued and enthralled our imagination.  It was absolutely wonderful.  We left both happy and content.

Memory is the key to life; pictures and words are just the tools used to record memories.   Because as time goes by memory fades and is sometimes lost all together, pictures and word stories are vital in preserving memories.  My mother has no memory of a complete 18 month time period.   She can remember childhood friends and stories and songs, but her memory for a year and a half years is completely empty.  Not even a picture can help her remember those days because there is no basis on which to establish a mental connection.

That is how I know that memory is the key to remembrance.  Pictures say nothing, they know nothing.   Capturing the outward façade only they cannot express the joy or sorrow that lies underneath lying eyes.  They cannot tell the tale of the day.  Only memory can.  And through that memory, word stories.

As writers we have a powerful tool that many people do not possess.  We have the ability to capture memories and bring them to life for people.  The best biographies and the best histories are not the ones that clearly convey fact after fact.  No! Rather, the best ones are those that can transport the past moment into the present, evoking all of the sweetness and amazement or all of the tenseness and bitterness that existed at that time.

Scrapbooks are nice.  They are helpful for reminding us of our past.  But, written documentation of those moments is so much more powerful, so much more poignant, and so much more necessary for preserving and sharing memories.  You have within you the words to take a memory and bring it to life.

Aurora shooting victims. This picture belongs to The Hollywood Gossip, and this blog and its writers claim no ownership.

Two weeks ago I referenced a news article on the Aurora shooting.  I had seen pictures of the crime scene and had heard the news reports online and had felt disgusted, but it wasn’t until I read this news article that I truly felt the pain and sadness of the situation.  That’s because words hold memories, and memories hold power.  This memory is not mine.  I had no connection to it in any way.  But, as author Brady Dennis described the emotional turmoil, the confused and hurting thoughts of one of the victims, I was able to connect.

“But then he felt the molten buckshot of a shotgun blast pierce his neck and face. His left arm went limp. He collapsed onto the floor in front of his seat as chaos unfolded around him. As he lay bleeding, Barton heard the sounds of the movie yield to more primal sounds of terror. The screams of the wounded and dying.”

This is a memory.

I’m the Narrator

I am the narrator.

Does anyone else have a “signature” point of view that they write in? And do you have trouble writing from any other POV? I certainly do. I tend to write from first person limited POV, and it’s extremely difficult for me to write a story in anything other than that. I have written a grand total of ONE good story in a non-first person POV (it was 3rd person omniscient), and it was extremely difficult for me to write. So today, I’m going to talk about why I’m so in love with being the narrator of my stories through first person POV, as well as some of the problems I run into while using it.

First person point of view is perfect for me because I’m a psychological writer. I like to get inside the mind of my main character and see what makes them tick. I love writing from the perspective of just one particular character because they have a unique look at the people and events of the story. I like not knowing what other characters in the story are thinking…it leaves me in the dark as much as the narrator. For all intents and purposes, I AM the narrator. I’m inside the narrator’s head, I see what he/she sees, feel what they feel, think what they think. Aside from what they experience, I have no idea what’s going on elsewhere in the story. I’m usually as surprised by plot twists as the narrator is, actually, because I get so wrapped up inside that character that I have no way of reaching out to my other characters. I can speak to them but I can’t get inside their heads. It’s fascinating and makes my own work as new and exciting to me as it is to the characters in the story because like them, I have no idea what the hell is going on. From a writing perspective, I become the character who is narrating the story, at least in my head. It also makes everything feel more realistic. In real life we don’t see what everyone is thinking and we don’t have control over how others act. First person POV is great in my opinion because it is just that one character…one set of thoughts, one set of actions. It makes the writing process either, at least for me. Jumping to any other  POV is difficult because they tend to either overwhelm me with the thoughts of more characters than I can handle or just shut me out from their heads completely. It’s very disorienting, really.

Of course, first person POV can be extremely frustrating for me as a writer because I do have only that one perspective. If my

Seeing one set of toughts is quite enough for me, thanks.

narrator isn’t present at some event, I can’t talk about it in the story unless one of the other characters mentions it. I have to stay with the narrator through the whole work no matter how much I want to go see what’s happening with Rachel, Sam, or any other random cast members. It’s also a little annoying not being able to tell what everyone else is thinking at times. Character development can be really hard when you can’t see anything past what your narrator sees. Still, those quibbles are rather minor compared to the overall picture.

Simply put, first person point of view is AWESOME. I love it. I get to narrate all my own work in a more personal way than most writers get to. It’s a little more realistic, it’s fun, it’s exciting, and it keeps me on my toes, so to speak. It’s not for everyone, but it definitely works for me, and that’s what I tend to write in 99.9% of the time. I’m the narrator, and it’s a fantastic job.

J-ing with Style

My focus today is on that dreaded “J” word. The one that is often mocked and ridiculed. Sometimes it goes by the even more sissified word that begins with… a “D.” That’s right, today’s topic is on journaling.

As kids we are often encouraged to journal, or write in a diary, by our parents in teachers. As adults, we are often encouraged to journal by our shrinks. But, what makes us hesitate to write out our lives and our thoughts in a book? Why do we make fun of those who do? I’ll admit, for the longest time I was one of those who publicly scorned journals, and yet secretly attempted to keep one. But, I was HORRIBLE at it. I never had the discipline to write in one daily. And then I would feel guilty and stop. And then I would feel guilty about stopping and begin again. Vicious circle repeat.

Nowadays, almost everyone is a journaler whether they know it or not. It’s called blogging. Whether you blog about your life, your political aspirations and opinions, or your favorite recipes, you are journaling. And that’s what has allowed me to come out and proudly proclaim to you today, I JOURNAL. I even have a physical journal. I first really started journaling while I lived in Russia. Then, when I arrived back in the States, I kept at it. But, it’s different for me now than it used to be for two simple reasons.

1) A journal doesn’t have to be a “Dear Diary” experience. From the beginning of my recent journal adventure I cast away with they typical cliche of writing down only what you did. My journal is small enough that I can carry it with me anywhere. As a result, it has become my “miscellaneous, catch-all drawer” if you will. Any random thought that pops into my head that I want to remember to dwell on later goes in. Any story idea, art idea, etc. If I have four lines of something that resembles a poem, it goes in. This means my journal is more closely a reflection of me than any “Today, I went to the store” entry could be. Especially, when you consider the random sketches and half sentences that have been collected in there.

2) When I do write about my day, I throw out the cliche. Think of it this way. If you were a historian, or even a random reader, who found your diary 50 years from now, would you rather read “Today I went to the store.” Or “Today I found out that the Fred Meyer store is what occurs when Wal Mart and JC Penny have a love child that exploded.” The same basic information is conveyed, but the latter has a little extra spice.

Essentially, it’s as if you were making a story out of your life. And, if you want people to read it, you have to make the brand “YOU,” not “Generic.” It can also serve as good practice for writing stories, and you can switch perspectives for even more practice. Write about your life in first person. Then do another entry from third person.

“All great writers begin with a good leather binding and a respectable title.” James Barrie in Finding Neverland

As an example, I will give you a peek into my journal.
A good friend of mine and I were discussing Thanksgiving last night. One of the statements he made resonated with me. Basically, he was iffy about the whole holiday, as it was just another excuse for people to gorge themselves under the pretense of “family togetherness.”

And it made me think of my family. My whole extended Robinson clan of a family. Every Thanksgiving and/or Christmas, my mom’s side gets together and – celebrates. That means two grandparents, one great-aunt (who acts like a 50 year old), eight parents, eleven grandchildren, and an assortment of friends and significant others all gather into one three bedroom house to “enjoy” each other’s company.

Now, looking at it and the amount of food consumed by this clan of twenty-two plus people, it may be easy to group us into the category of superficial Thanksgiving-ers. But I don’t think that would be true. Now, I’ve never really celebrated Thanksgiving with any other family (well, I did celebrate it with my aunt-in-laws family once), so I don’t know how others celebrate holidays, but this is a little how ours goes.

One by one, the families trickle in. My memaw is already in the kitchen, her foster bedroom during these holiday days, and the house is filled with the aroma of freshly-baked, homemade rolls. A batch of fresh dough is sitting on the counter, because she knows that my aunts and uncles can’t pass by without taking a pinch.

The women congregate in the front living room and in the kitchen while the guys crowd around the tv in the den. Football is on. The Cowboys. And, even though most of the family has drifted away from their Cowboy-obsessed phase, it’s still football. Their boos, catcalls, and cheers can be heard down the block. Well, at least my brother’s voice can.

The grandkids have split themselves up, roaming about the house, sneaking into the kitchen for pre-feast bites, talking with aunts, cheering or booing the cowboys, facebook stalking their friends, inviting old friends over. We do it all.

“Dinner. Everyone gather round. Cassandra, go round up the guys.” My Memaw’s proclamation is like a magnet, attracting the family to her (or at least to the food in her hands). We gather round, hold hands, and then . . . “Ohhhhhhhhh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…” Yes, we break into song. Yes, my family is very patriotic, but the tradition of singing the “Star Spangled Banner” before our great meal actually has nothing to do with that. It started several years ago as a joke. I’m sure it happened because the boys were watching football, and the national anthem got stuck in their head. Still, whatever the reason, before we pray, we sing the anthem (usually loud and out-of tune).

We then bless the meal, fill our plates, and recreate Darwin’s theory of Survival of the Fittest: The quickest get a seat, the losers get the floor (or a really uncomfortable, small, black chair). We go around and state our thanks as is “traditional” Thanksgiving behavior, but after that we talk. And we talk. And we talk some more.
Then, after the food has begun trickling its way down our digestive courses, the music begins. With four pianists and a whole horde of singers in the family (and a grandmother who doesn’t take no for an answer), the singing can last for a while. A long while. Days even.

Now, my family isn’t perfect by any means, and we do have our arguments, our petty differences, our annoyances, but we’ve been given a great gift. We have two parents/grandparents that have made it their life mission to make sure that they keep the family together. And because we all love them, and we deep down we really love each other, we get together. We catch up. We celebrate the love that has filled this house for over twenty years of family togetherness.