Story Challenge of the Week

Well, my diet is over and I am officially in the maintenance phase of the program… during which I’m hoping to lose another 5-10 pounds or so :P. All told, at the moment I’ve lost somewhere around 32-33 pounds. I have another 15-25 that I would like to lose, but given the sheer amount of stress that Alayna and I are under at the moment everyone agreed that it might be best if counting calories wasn’t a constant worry. So, all in all I’m pretty happy. My goal is to keep myself under 200 lbs for the next 8 months or so and then, once the baby is born, we’ve moved, settled into our new place, Alayna has a job, I’m sleeping normally, and I’m beginning to get a handle on the Ph.D. program, then hopefully I can go back on a more intensive weightloss plan and lose the rest that I was hoping to lose–not exactly the norm for people in a Ph.D. program (usually they gain weight), but hopefully it will be possible. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: 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: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

Scene Challenge of the Week

indexI’m sure I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but I’m exhausted. It’s a good ‘I worked really hard and got a lot done’ kind of exhausted, but I am definitely exhausted. I’m a little over half way through my practice essays, which is a very good thing, so next week I’ll be able to sit down and just read through them repeatedly for a while before the test, which is also a very good thing. However, along with everything else I am definitely wiped. The sad thing is, Alayna is also. Most of the time we spend together is when we’re both so tired we can barely string three sentences together. However, this won’t last too much longer (for the moment at least). Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: 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: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

Scene Challenge of the Week

Well, yesterday was my first day off in quite a while. Too bad it didn’t last longer :), but now it’s back to work. However, I got to spend about four hours yesterday reading comic books. I honestly can’t remember the last time I sat down and read through a comic book. I asked Alayna, and apparently it was before I met her, so it’s obviously been a while. All in all, it was a good day. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: 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: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

Plot Challenge of the Week

fall-house-usherDo you hate it when people unexpectedly change things on you? We’ve been operating on WordPress for something like five years (honestly, I stopped really counting a couple of years ago… now when I do the annual ‘birthday of the blog’ post… I just guess) and they’ve sprung a few organizational changes on me. Today I logged in to find the entire administrative page has been ‘updated’ to a new system that doesn’t work quite the same way. I don’t like it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that as I use it, get used to it, and learn how to do what I need to do with it I’m sure that it will probably turn out to be ‘superior’ to the old format. In a year I’ll probably like this format a lot. Right now, it just frustrates me. Anyway, enough of my complaining, I have a plot challenge for you today. Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Plot Challenge of the Week

KaramazovSo, this week Alayna and I have the somewhat unique opportunity to crew an ultrarunner through a 100 mile marathon. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect, but this should be interesting at the very least. That being said, this means that there may or may not be a post on Saturday. The race starts Friday night and goes through Sunday (though our runner is likely to be finished with it by sometime on Saturday afternoon or evening), so a post for tomorrow really depends on how much work I get done earlier in the day on Friday. I’m intending to put something together, but I may be too busy for it to happen. Also, as of today I am officially a Master of Theology :)! Yay for graduating! Anyway, I do have a plot challenge for you today. Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

Scene Challenge of the Week

BartholdiAbstract art makes no sense to me. I like paintings of actual things… that actually look like actual things, and I’ve found that I like sculptures of actual things even more. However, painting or sculpture, if it doesn’t actually look like what its supposed to be about, then I can’t say that I particularly like it. For instance, many of Rodin’s sculptures look like piles of rock in the vague shape of a person, many of Degas’ are similar. Compare this with sculptures from Bartholdi and others that have a more realistic focus and I appreciate the latter much more. I am impressed by the skill required to craft features that look like an actual face, or a real lion, mane and all. Comparatively, I am much less impressed by the skill required to create a pile of rock that looks vaguely like a lion. That being said, I know nothing about art and I doubt I could do either. So, really all I can do is point to one and say ‘I like this better.’ Anyway, I’ve got a scene challenge for you. If you can’t remember the rules, I’ll provide them: 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: I want you to write a realistic scene. I don’t mean a scene that simply ‘could happen,’ but a scene rich with detail and meaning, but at the same time not overdraw. For instance, if your scene is in a desert, I want to feel hot and start to get thirsty while reading it, I don’t want to learn 101 facts about what the desert is like. This is going to be a variation of the movie/book scene challenges we’ve done in the past. Choose one of your favorite scenes from a good book or movie that just makes you feel rushed. However, instead of simply rewriting the scene, I want you to write a version of what happens that is entirely your own. Your own voice, your own characters, your own setting. Everything should be your own. This isn’t a simple rewrite for practice. I want you to write a scene that reflects the same mood, evokes the same emotions, and handles plot in the same way, but that is still completely your own work.

Adapting our imaginations into prose

Hello, internet!

I’m slightly frazzled from travelling, so today’s post might be a little disjointed.

After several weeks of intense travelling (and sleeping off my intense jetlag) I’ve finally got myself back into a healthy sleeping pattern where I actually see some daylight now and then, and I’ve found that – perhaps unsurprisingly – it’s really benefiting my writing. I sat down this morning determined to begin a fresh new draft of my book and I shot straight out of the starting blocks, writing 1,000 words and only stopping because I had to go and buy myself a shiny new phone.

I’m back now, with my shiny new phone successfully purchased, and I find myself eager to get back to writing. This is almost a novelty, because I’ve had a few weeks of fairly intense writer’s block, where I’ve been asking myself a lot of crippling existential questions about my writing and my desire to make a career as a writer, and it’s been tying me up and stopping me from getting any words down on the page.

I think there are a few factors which have renewed my creativity, as well as just having a healthier sleeping schedule. One was all of the advice and inspiration that I got from attending NerdCon: Stories in Minneapolis a couple of weeks ago. It’s only now, with all of my travelling done, that I’m really finding time to apply all of the lessons that I learned to my own writing. Mostly the authors speaking at NerdCon just reaffirmed a valuable lesson that I already knew, but had perhaps forgotten: every writer, even your favourite writer, sucked to begin with. All of the great writers in history began with a crappy first draft, which probably didn’t even get published after they’d rewritten it into a well-polished final draft, but the only way they eventually got published was by writing, and writing, and rewriting, and rewriting. As Maureen Johnson always says, as an aspiring writer, you have to “give yourself permission to suck”. You have to abandon the idea that you’re going to like what you write, at least at first. The only way to get good is to be bad, and then improve.

Sucking at something

I find that advice very empowering, so whenever I get a fresh dose of it, I’m always raring to go and write pages and pages of my crappy first draft without worrying about the quality, which is exactly what young aspiring writers should be doing.

As well as that, though, I think I’ve stumbled across another important lesson, in my recent writing.

I’m really enjoying the latest redraft of my story, which I’ve only just embarked upon, but as I get it down onto the page, I can’t help but shake my head at how different it is from how I originally imagined the story, when I first envisioned the book and the world it’s set in, about two years ago. I like this new envisioning of my book, and more importantly I think it’s the ‘easiest’ incarnation of my world that I’ve ever come up with, in terms of how well the plot and characters melt down into a story that I can actually tell. It’s more malleable, and less troublesome to mould into scenes and plot arcs, linked by a consistent narrative, which of course are all of the essential bare-bones elements of a story that can eventually be turned into a book.

That doesn’t change the fact that the book is very different from the one I was writing a year ago, or even six months ago. The narrative voice is very different, the events have changed sequence dramatically, characters who were in the background have moved into the foreground and vice versa, the technology that they use has regressed by about a century in terms of it’s level of advancement, and I have introduced some explicitly supernatural elements that were completely absent in earlier drafts. All of these changes have made it easier for me to write, and easier to actually tell the story, but they have moved the book further and further from my original conception of the story and the world that it takes place in. And I’m completely okay with that.

I think when authors first conceive of a fantasy world, and think it out, their original idea can be a very beautiful thing. Perhaps that’s fantasy at it’s purest – when it is just mere fantasy, in a writer’s head. But it’s a mistake to think that the world in our heads at the moment of conception is going to be exactly the same world that appears on the page once we’ve finally written the world into prose. The world you’ve created has to be filtered through you if it wants to get into print, where other people can experience it, and you’re an imperfect vessel for that transition. You can’t just open the floodgates and let it pour out unchanged or undiluted. You’re a human being with wants and needs and time constraints and bills to pay, and ultimately you have to change the shape of the world you’ve created so that it’s easy to draw out of yourself as quickly and efficiently as possible. It’s no good having a vast, wonderful and expansive fantasy world in your head if you find it impossible to turn into a story which you can actually write: if you can’t mould it into a format that will actually flow through your fingers and out onto the page. Ultimately, I think writability must come first, before any kind of integrity to our original vision. Sacrifices must be made to get the world out of our heads and onto the page.

In short, the important thing is to create a faithful prose adaptation of whatever fantasy world exists in our heads, the same way that a movie director would try to create a faithful cinematic adaptation of a fantasy world that exists in prose. There’s a certain nobility to preserving our original idea as much as possible…but it can be a useless nobility, if our goal is to get published. Sometimes characters must be swapped around, plots must be truncated or rearranged, and extrenuous dragons must be mercilessly excised, in order to make a book writeable. And, for that matter, publishable.

What are your thoughts?

Scene Challenge of the Week

Princess_and_the_GoblinWell, my final paper (the big 60 page one) is about half-way done. I’m at the top of page thirty and I have two major sections and a conclusion to go. The first major section was a little bit longer than I had intended it to be, so one of the sections is going to have to take a bit of a cut (which will be the third major section since I think I allotted a little too much space to it anyway). Having that much of it done is nice, but I’m behind schedule, which means that I need to pick it up some. Hopefully I can get the second major section done tomorrow and Thursday, and finish the third major section some on Thursday and some of Saturday. Anyway, I have a scene challenge for you and you all should know the rules, but just in case: 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: Choose one of your favorite scenes from a novel. After reading the scene a couple of times, rewrite it in your own style and voice. The characters and basic elements of the scene should remain the same, but the way it is written should reflect your voice and style of writing, rather than the original author’s. This can be very challenging, so don’t be too disappointed if you need a few tries to go it well.

Plot Challenge of the Week

413HGXT0H8LWell, I graded a ton of papers today, and learned a little (and I do mean a very little) about investment. Honestly, I got a lot of information about investment, but I’m really not at all sure how much I retained. However, I’m sure that this won’t be the only chance that I have to learn about it. Anyway, I have a plot challenge for you all. Here are the rules for today’s challenge:

Your challenge: Take a movie, book, short story, play (preferably something religious) that you love, and identify each character and significant plot point. Now, identify the three most significant, pivotal events in the story, and work your way back through the plot, but change those three events. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet you might change the death of Tibedo so that he lives. Now, work your way back through the story step by step and figure out how the characters would react to those changed plot points. How would they react (in character)? How does this change the overall events of the story? Feel free to use this as an impetus to write some up a new story entirely, but the goal here is to see how character’s themselves help to shape the plot of a story.

The Lessons We Learn (And Then Promptly Forget)

I've always thought this was a F. Scott Fitzgerald quote, but the Internet cites at least to other people who "coined" the phrase. Interesting...
Quote courtesy of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. (Illustration courtesy of Chris Piascik).

This past week, I’ve had to come to terms with a lesson I thought I’d already learned years ago: sometimes the best thing you can do for a piece of work you’re writing is to cut it to pieces.

I’ve probably mentioned this fact in some of my other posts, but I’m currently in the process of writing a thesis for my English M.A., and up until last week, it was going…not so well. The thesis proposal I’d sent out to my committee over the summer term was returned with a startling amount of red marks and puzzled comments—enough to make me seriously question whether I should even be attempting to write a thesis.

This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven't checked it out (or any of Eddings' creative works), you really should. Like right now.
This book has a lot of helpful tips on creative writing. If you haven’t checked it out, you really should. Like right now.

But my committee members apparently were not ready to give up on it. They sent me encouraging emails, met with me in person, and helped narrow and fine-tune my argument. Through their support, I was able to realize (again) that just because something needs work doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t worth the effort.

Somehow, I had forgotten a similar lesson that I’d learned during my creative writing class in undergrad.

I’d been working on this one story for years (still working on it, actually) and had almost given up on ever finishing, but on a whim I decided to completely rewrite the first chapter of the novel in first person. The results were amazing. I was able to gain a depth of insight into the main character that had been sorely missing in my first draft.

As fantasy writer David Eddings argues in the introduction of The Rivan Codex, sometimes it’s better to scratch everything you’ve written than to continue with a story that doesn’t quite work:

If something doesn’t work, dump it—even if it means that you have to rip up several hundred pages and a half-year’s work. More stories are ruined by the writer’s stubborn attachment to his own overwrought prose than by almost anything else. Let your stuff cool off for a month and then read it critically. Forget that you wrote it, and read it as if you didn’t really like the guy who put it down in the first place. Then take a meat-axe to it. Let it cool down some more, and then read it again. If it still doesn’t work, get rid of it. Revision is the soul of good writing. It’s the story that counts, not your fondness for your own gushy prose. Accept your losses and move on.

Moral of this post (no matter how many times I may be forced to learn it): the need for major revision is not an indication of failure, it’s “the soul of good writing.”