Finding, refining, amplifying

In a recent blog interview, I shared that when my high school English teacher asked me why I write, my answer was “because I have something to say.”

I seem to keep stumbling across a writing-related theme recently: does writing require talent? If so, what is it, specifically? If not, why do we keep torturing ourselves with it?

I think writing is about finding, then refining and amplifying your voice.

On finding your voice:

Finding your voice takes serious guts. Not everyone is going to like your voice, or even understand it, and some will positively detest it. Writing in your own voice, and then sending the piece to be read, and critiqued, by (gasp) others is a people-pleasers’ worst nightmare.

It also takes time and hard work. I was told that most people who start a story never finish. Finishing your story is your voice is very, very difficult. I’ve lost count of how many times I almost deleted my first draft of CYRION and THE BURNED BRIDGES PROTOCOL.

It’s too difficult, I told myself. People hate it. Novellas/MG is out of fashion – no one will even look at it. It’s too complicated. It’s too dark. It’s been done to death. I can’t do this.

Then, I walk away from my laptop, spend some time to collect myself, and dive back into my WIP. Repeat, until the tale is complete.

On refining your voice:

This is where things get really tricky. On one hand, it has taken a lot for me to find my voice, so compromise is not an option. On the other hand, I want to become a better writer.

I suggest the following experiment for illustrative purposes. No, no one else has to know but you. Find the busiest, noisiest street corner you can find, and then sing something into your phone/recording device. Sing the verse/line/song with your normal volume. Repeat song in your bathroom/any room with reasonably good acoustics. Finally, if you can, repeat in a recording studio.

Study the results.

The irritating background noise obscuring your song when you were at the street corner? That’s what poor grammar, typos, and miscellaneous line errors are doing to your prose. The bit of the song where you were a little flat/sharp/off key? Those are conceptual missteps in your prose. Notice how you can’t even hear those details when they were still buried under traffic noise? Refining your writing means removing the ‘noise’ and then reinforcing your melody, so your voice comes across strong, clear, and beautiful. That’s it.

Safely delete any critique failing this purpose.

On amplifying your voice:

I was recently reminded that pace and descriptive prose have an inverse relationship. When a burning plane is about to crash land on the roof of your MC’s house (for example), your MC is not going to spend time studying the sunny sky, the fluffy clouds, the spring breeze ruffling his/her hair and the clean scent of fresh-cut grass. No. S/he is going to be groping into the pockets of his/her dressing robe, praying that the pocket lint his/her questing fingers has found thus far would somehow materialize into a cellphone, so s/he could call 911. Or so s/he could record the whole thing for YouTube purposes.

Unless, of course, your MC is the antihero who masterminded the entire plane-on-fire-landing-on roof debacle. In which case, the descriptive prose might work exceedingly well. The YouTube bit would also make a lot more sense.

My point: there is a time and place for descriptive prose. In the right time and place, descriptive passages can amplify your voice – which is what you want. This applies to all the rules of writing. Well, they’re really more guidelines, aren’t they? Use them if they help. Otherwise, feel free to toss them away.

Any thoughts to share? Do feel free to comment below 🙂

You know you need a break when…

When I first started writing, I know I needed a break when my thoughts started to wander in odd directions. I’ve made recent additions to the list. By the way, I usually write with my trusty pencil on my trusty paper notebook.

Yeah, I’m old school, so? :p

The following are a few highlights.

I know I need a break when…

  • … I brainstorm ideas with 9-year-olds with the attention-span of parakeets on speed.
  • … I insist on spelling it “ominus”.
  • … I wrote the word “agony”, and I find myself wondering which works better: “Ebony and agony” or “agony and ivory”, right before singing both versions aloud, just so I could hear which version sounds better.
  • … I scribble “clink”, and automatically wonder if it should be “clinc” or “clinck”.
  • … I try to order citrus in order of intelligence. On one hand, the pomelo is much bigger than a lemon and animals with bigger brains are supposed to be smarter, no? On the other hand, does size really matter? The tiny kumquat is much more flavorful than the pomelo. Ultimately, when it comes to citrus, does intelligence correspond to size or to flavor?
  • … I try to fit my prose to the Major-General’s song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

How about you? How do you know when you’ve really had enough?

Creating subplots

I just noticed this nifty little button called “re-blog”. I’m still unsure of the whole re-blogging business, so if I did something wrong, then I’m so sorry. Truly, I intend no offense.

For instance, when writing an academic paper, I’d have to completely re-phrase my source’s words, or it still counts as plagiarism. Even if I cite. The only work-around is to enclose every unaltered word/phrase in quotation marks. Even then I was warned to quote no more than two lines from a single source, and no more than three quotes per page. Otherwise, I’d run the risk of sounding too much like a parrot. Or possibly, a grandfather bird (thank you, Sir Pratchett).

Does this rule also apply for re-blogged posts? If it does, should I just post the link? A link would count as a single quote, and should be less than two lines.

Of course, for all I know, my professor might have been a Quotation Nazi.

Anyway, I ran across this very illuminating post by Ms. Liana Brooks on subplots. Kindly click the link if you wish to see the post in its entirety. You won’t regret it. Below, I’m quoting the ‘take-away’ from Ms. Brooks’ post. In defiance of said Quotation Nazi, my quotation is significantly more than 2 lines.

Hah.

Quick and Dirty Tips For Creating Subplots

– Not everyone should love the hero.

– The more antagonists you have the more conflicts you create.

– Real life should happen to the characters, even if they are saving the world they have jobs and responsibilities.

– Give the character interests and friends outside of work.

– Multiple points of view aren’t a bad thing if you know how to juggle them.

– It all needs to come together at the end.

– Not every antagonist needs to be vanquished at the end.

– Give us more than one character to love– (from Diantha)

– Make each and every character count — (from Diantha)

Lying

I was recently reminded that I’m a terrible liar. Since I write fiction, and fiction is, by definition, stuff I made up… you see where I’m going with this? Therefore, contrary to the popular stance that honesty is the best policy, I’ve decided to try and become a better liar.

Purely for professional reasons, you understand. Any professional worth his/her salt should always strive to hone his/her craft, don’t you agree?

I’m going to start small. Let’s play a game I call “Spot the Lie”. Three of the following four are true. One is complete, made-up hogwash. You can man/woman up and post your guess in the comment box. Or just keep it in your head and check back later when I reveal the proverbial serpent in the garden. Here goes:

1) A priest bought me my first dog and we ate it in a curry sauce. During our meal we discussed the Western tradition of announcing upcoming nuptials with a diamond engagement ring, and the local tradition of presenting a Portuguese hand cannon. On one hand, the diamond ring is easier to show off at the engagement party and significantly easier to find than the hand cannon. On the other hand, just look at the divorce rates in Western countries. Maybe that which we obtain too easily, we do value too cheaply.

2) I have an ongoing unrequited love affair with music. While I love it to distraction, it does not appear to love me. I’m completely tone deaf and can’t carry a tune to save my life. Not even if it comes in a bucket. When he was a baby, my son would break into uncontrollable howls if I so much as hummed a few bars. Therefore, I’ve resigned myself to loving music from afar, as a humble listener.

3) My name isn’t my actual real first name. When my parents told the priest (older, stickler for rules) the name they wanted me baptized with, he balked. He said the name my parents chose was not a proper name because that particular saint was de-canonized. They must come up with another name right then and there. Otherwise, they’d have to wait another 6 months to re-schedule the whole thing. So, pulling a name out of thin air, I was christened “Margareta”. Nobody calls me by that name. At least, not anyone who seriously expect me to respond.

4) My mother has asthma and is severely allergic to fur. Growing up, I’ve only have ever had fish and the odd terrapin for pets. That said, after I left for college, my family somehow managed to acquire a vegetarian dog and a rooster.

Let the guessing begin 🙂