Posted in writing

The Writing Diaries pt. 7: The Dragon Called Hogwash

Once upon a time, there was a young writer who discovered a mystical element called “theme”. The little writer learned of the great power this element held and its ability to transform story craft. The notion of “theme” did in fact seem logical but the wide-eyed little writer paid no heed. The little writer surmised that by the process of osmosis, or more accurately, diffusion, this very important element would somehow take root and settle naturally into her little writer mind. But alas, the little writer was soon met with the great big dragon called, Hogwash. This great and terrible dragon was too fierce a match for the writer and it sent her packing, all the way back to the drawing board, where she pulled out her dusty old books and began her study anew.

I hope you enjoyed that little allegory about a certain writer and her misconceptions regarding theme. And in case you had any doubts about the true identity of the little writer, well, it’s me. Theme is something I have struggled with throughout my writing journey and for a time I thought the idea of theme was even a little exaggerated. I knew theme was important and I knew every story had one, but I failed to understand how to implement theme into my own works. I had assumed that my subconscious would weave together a coherent theme into my story and things would all work out in the end. But as I was trudging deep into yet another writing project, many of the same issues began to crop up on the page as they had in most of my previous projects. I had a niggling suspicion in the back of my mind that the root of my problems was theme, or the lack thereof.

I examined all of my notes on the subject and reviewed what other writers had to say on the topic and it all began to make sense. All this time, above all else, theme had been what was hindering my writing process the most. To be honest, I think the entire notion confused me a bit. With so many technical terms and methods discussed by writers like, experiment in living, and poetic justice, not to mention, story theme, in contrast to story idea/message, my understanding became murkier and murkier. It was also a little embarrassing, since theme is reinforced so rigidly on writing advice websites, like Story Embers. I’d even read entire books discussing it.

I think I’ve finally reached a point where I can comprehend the idea in a more straightforward, if somewhat simplistic way, (which is how people like me tend to think, per K.M. Weiland’s teachings).

Theme, is the unifying subject or idea explored via recurring patterns–what ties everything together. (i.e. Power Corrupts)

Another way to think of it is by the definition of synchronicity:

The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

Theme has always been hard for me to grasp because when I first begin to work on a new story, my ideas are generally very broad. In the plotting and planning phases, my thinking tends to be too big when I should be thinking much smaller. With world building, and character arcs being developed, I find it extremely difficult to narrow my focus to the very essence of my story. I began to ask myself, if all of the scenes, and dialogue were stripped away, what would my story really be about? What message would remain? For a long time I agonized over this problem. So I tasked myself with a challenge, what if I had a clear theme in mind from the very beginning, would it change or affect my writing process? You may recall the experiment I talked about a few months ago, when I endeavored to write a first draft entirely by hand. What I didn’t mention back then was that I also used that same story to test out my new understanding of theme.

I had a few of the basics down. I had an intro, a few characters in mind, and a few names and places to begin with. But I did not yet have a theme. I was at a loss on how to condense this broad story idea into a single, cognizant message. So I did what any writer in doubt does, I went to google. I couldn’t really believe that I was scrolling through lists of generic themes to carve my story around. But to my surprise I found just what I was looking for. I found a theme that worked with my story and in fact, was exactly what I needed to fill in the gaps and join everything together seamlessly. Never had an outline come together so quickly or easily before.

At first it felt like cheating to use a theme I had found on the internet, but I realized that tons of other people probably do that as well. I don’t mean to say that google is the ultimate cheat-sheet to solve all of your problems, but I am saying that theme doesn’t have to be something so abstract or unique only to one story. There are actually a finite number of themes and truths to express in your story, but there are infinite ways to deliver them. What matters most is the way you deliver your truth.

I’ll close with a bit of advice I wish I had known a long time ago and that is, theme matters, a lot. But your theme doesn’t have to be so complicated you can’t articulate it with a few words. You can have a simple theme and still have a broad and expansive story to express it. It’s better to develop your theme before you begin your first draft, as I have learned the hard way. Also, don’t get caught up in all of the technical jargon thrown your way while you’re still figuring things out, you can worry about that stuff later. Google can be a friend, (sometimes) so don’t be afraid to use the resources at your fingertips.

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I’m still trying to figure things out for myself, and just wanted to share some of my thoughts on this subject. If you’re also trying to make sense of all of these writing terms and elements, try not to worry, lots of us out here are right beside you treading those very same waters. And if you’ve already braved the rapids, perhaps you could share some of your thoughts and experiences with the rest of the class? We would all appreciate it.

Thanks for reading,

Lady S

Helpful Resources:

Story Embers – Guiding and Inspiring Christian Writers

Writing Your Story’s Theme, by K.M. Weiland

Posted in life, writing

Turtle vs. Sloth – A Writing Update

Hello there, how are you? I hope your spring is getting along well. You may have noticed that I’ve been absent for a bit. I’m still here, just fell behind on posting because I’ve been so busy with work and life, that everything else has gone out the window. I’m another year older, and maybe even a bit wiser. The years come and go, whether we want them to or not, and hopefully we continue to grow and blossom, just like the plants and gardens we tend. The weather here is warming up nicely, or so it seems, until winter swoops back in and reminds us that it’s not ready to move on just yet. Spring is strange like that though, almost like a battle of the seasons. Reminds me of myself too, hot and cold, summer and winter all at the same time. But before I blather on any longer about the weather, or my own existential crisis, let’s move on to the topic at hand– my writing progress.

I’m in the middle of two projects right now, and they are coming along nicely, for the most part. Sometimes I feel really motivated to write, and I make good progress, and other times I don’t feel up to writing anything for several days. I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself, but at the same time, I have that nagging feeling that I should be. I’ve been working on my short story and it’s up to 4k words. I’m quite pleased with how it’s turning out, but progress has been slow, and I feel the need to give myself a little push. Be it my job monopolizing all my time and energy, or procrastination, or writer’s block, or all of the above, I’m not entirely sure, I just know that I can do more. I’ve been trying to remind myself of the words from the author in The Right to Write, by Julia Cameron. After reading numerous essays, the point she’s driven home the most is–just write, and the words will come. I tell myself that often, but somehow I always have a very good excuse not to heed her advice.

As for my novel, don’t tell my characters, but I’ve been avoiding them. Due to many of the previous reasons I mentioned, but even more so because I’m getting very close to the midpoint. I can feel myself bucking under the weight of concerns that I’m not going to do it justice, or I won’t be able to pull it off. I know that’s a silly thing to worry about but I can’t quite shake it. I know that this novel is not going to be perfect, and that no novel ever is, but the pressure is starting to pinch a little. The good news is, I’m still very excited about the story. I love the characters, and the world, and I really want to explore it more deeply. The bad news is, it’s turning out to be quite hefty. I haven’t even reached the actual midpoint, and I’m already passed 50k words. If my math is correct, the final story should be in the range of 100k words. I’ll probably have to dig out my axe, and do some serious trimming in later edits. Or maybe a chainsaw would work better.

Me at work!

Beyond those two stories, I’m fairly bursting at the seems with excitement about my next projects. I have two in particular that I can’t wait to work on. I’m not sure when I can start seriously working on them, but I’m slowly gathering information and inspiration for later. One is a fantasy trilogy, and the other is a paranormal short story. Hopefully I can begin the short story sooner rather than later but only time will tell. Overall, I’m happy that I haven’t run out of ideas or inspiration, but again, I’ve come to realize that I need to be a little more strict with myself. Or at least try to find a routine, and practice more self-discipline.

So that’s where I am lately in terms of writing. And if you’re wondering about my reading habits…let’s just say, they’re even worse. (I am blaming that all on bed-time procrastination.) Work has been busy and long, so I don’t have much time to read during the day and all I can manage is a page or two at night before my eyes drop shut. It took me about four whole days to get through one chapter. But progress is still progress, no matter how small, right? Isn’t there a saying about eating the elephant, one bite at a time? Some days, are tough but keeping a positive mindset and continuing to aim towards improvement, can help to see us through the rough patches.

Where are you, with your writing these days? Have you been accomplishing much, or maybe just taking things one day at a time? Let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading,

Lady S

Posted in writing

The Writing Diaries pt. 5: Let’s Have a Conversation

As humans, we are blessed with the capability to have conversations with one another. Some of those conversations may be dreaded, others may be eagerly anticipated — and some conversations may be unexpectedly fascinating. Given the right circumstances, even the most introverted of introverts can find themselves invested in deep conversations at times. And whether we think so or not, the words we say, and the way we say them, say a lot about us. Tones, inflections, and word choice all play a huge role in how others perceive us. And that is especially true when it comes to novels.

Here’s a transcription of an interesting conversation I had, with my three-almost-four-year old nephew.

(Cat enters the scene.)

Nephew: “Can I pet him?!”

Me: “Sure you can!”

Nephew: *pets cat* “He’s so soft and crunchy!”

Me: “Um, yeah.”

Nephew:*pets cat again* *sniffs hand* “He smells like some kind of problem.”

Ouch. Sorry Rusty, you’ve been called out.

This conversation tells us a bit about what’s going on inside of my nephew’s head. He doesn’t dance around his words, but gets straight to the point, and tells us exactly what’s on his mind. (I’m kidding. I just thought the conversation was funny, and wanted to share it, lol.)

Back to the topic of today’s post which is — conversation, a.k.a., dialogue.

Dialogue is one of my favorite parts about stories. But what makes good dialogue? Inner monologue, thoughts, and prose, can tell us a lot about the characters or the story, but dialogue is how our characters interact with one another. And it can be tricky to write dialogue that feels authentic. I know we’ve all read the books with cringy, or overly-witty dialogue that no real person would say aloud. And then there are the long-winded lectures, usually found in older works. But among them all, thoughts and feelings are expressed. Just as in real life, our words carry weight, so it stands to reason that, in fiction, our words should be just as carefully chosen.

There are many ways to have engaging, and interesting dialogue; such as tones of voice, or a sense of sincerity behind the words. In one of my favorite books, The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater, there is actually very little dialogue, but when a character speaks, it usually matters. Each character has a unique, and distinct voice, and you almost always know who is speaking without having to be told. Much of this has to do with word choice, or certain phrases. But this approach of less is more, is greatly due to subtext, a.k.a. the unspoken implications in books. (This element is something I’m still trying to grasp fully, to put to use in my own novel). When a character is depicted vibrantly enough, readers don’t need things to be over-explained and there is an understanding between the reader, and the character on the page. When your characters are well developed, and words aren’t necessarily spoken explicitly, we can still have empathy and understanding of the character, adding another layer of depth to the character’s interactions.

Something I’ve learned from my own projects, is that I must listen very closely to my characters. Until I’ve actually begun writing the story, I may not know if my character is one of few, or many words. One I may have thought more subdued, might surprise me, and end up being the comical one. And a character I may have thought more talkative, may end up being reluctant to give too much away. Another thing we all should be doing, is taking note from real life. When we’re talking to our parents, our friends, or listening to the way others are talking to one another, we should pay close attention. Try and listen for the subtle cues that keep the conversation flowing, or the ones that stifle it or turn things awkward. In other words, the best way to craft authentic dialogue is to take from our experiences in every day life.

Dialogue is probably one of the funnest parts of your novel to write, but it’s difficult too. Being a person of few words myself, I sometimes struggle to keep the conversations on the page flowing easily, (kind of like in real life, too). So I have to really dig down, and get deep into my character’s heads. While I may be the one writing out their words, I have to remind myself, that I’m not the character on the page. I think the best way to write great dialogue, is to become familiar with your characters so as to be true to their voice. I love to read honest conversations between characters, and see the way they interact with one another. One of the hardest jobs of being a writer, is to find that connection with your characters and to be honest and sincere on the page.

In closing, dialogue is something that can be overlooked when you begin working on a story, but it has the ability, and potential, to be a master tool in crafting deep, and impactful stories. So I just wanted to share some of my thoughts, and have a little chat on the subject. What is your approach when it comes to writing dialogue? Do you have any tips or tricks to share?

Thanks for reading,

Lady S

Posted in writing

The Writing Diaries, pt. 4: Flopsy, Mopsy, and the Runaway Bunnies

“Once upon a time there were four little Rabbits, and their names were– Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. They lived with their Mother in a sand-bank, underneath the root of a very big fir-tree.

‘Now my dears,’ said old Mrs. Rabbit one morning, ‘you may go into the fields or down the lane, but don’t go into Mr. McGregor’s garden: your Father had an accident there; he was put in a pie by Mrs. McGregor. Now run along, and don’t get into mischief. I am going out.’

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, who were good little bunnies, went down the lane to gather blackberries: But Peter who was very naughty, ran straight away to Mr. McGregor’s garden, and squeezed under the gate!”

Bunnies are cute, I think most people can agree. But if you’re a writer, the word might trigger something a little different in your brain. Plot bunnies are story ideas that appear from out of nowhere, and refuse to go away until they are written. I’m sure all writers have dozens of stories and ideas swirling around in their heads, which is that magical brain fodder used to craft new and exciting stories. But what if you’re knee deep in a project, with a couple of K’s written down and all of a sudden…out pops a cute little plot bunny—bright eyed and bushy tailed? You’re then caught between two differing ideas, each demanding your attention.

I don’t know how other writers deal with the notorious plot bunny, but that saying about rabbits multiplying has never been more true. I’ve reached a bit of a rough spot in my current project, and I’ve been feeling stuck. But since I’ve run into a wall with one project, ideas for new stories seem to be cropping up everywhere. A few weeks ago, I was flipping through an old notebook, and stumbled across a story idea I’d completely forgotten. After I read the short scene, whoosh, my imagination started running on double time. I had to wrangle in my impulses, not to dive blindly into a new story so spur of the moment. Especially since I’ve already committed to another.

My question is this—how do you manage those shiny new ideas when you’re already working on a big project? As of now, I don’t feel equipped enough to juggle two stories at one time, so I’m trying to keep my focus on my main project. But that doesn’t change the fact these new ideas are growing, and evolving each day. I can try to ignore the characters inside my head all day long, meanwhile I’ll still hear them bickering amongst each other.

Right now, I think I’m suffering from a bit of the, grass is always greener on the other side syndrome; I’m struggling with one story, yet these new ideas sound so much better, and more intriguing. While working on my last novel, I experienced the same thing, during one of my many rounds of edits. I’d grown tired of that story, so I started plotting for my next project. I remember thinking that my next novel was going to be amazing. The ideas were flowing so easily, I couldn’t wait to begin writing. Now that I’m actually writing that novel, the rose-colored skies have begun to gray a little. I’m not going to give up though, or cave into the new ideas—especially since I’ve already written 40k words. I think it’s just a matter of forging ahead and pushing through the tough times.

My current project has so much yet to develop, and I’m actually I’m looking forward to it. But I need to find a way to match the excitement I feel for these new ideas, with the project I’m already working on. I’m going to have to dig deep, and rediscover those little nuggets of inspiration that encouraged me to first begin this novel. When I have a moment or two to spare, I’ll be jotting down those new little treasures that pop up (when I’m least expecting them). So if you’re looking for me, I’ll be out in the garden setting traps for some very naughty bunnies. But don’t worry, I shan’t be making any pies…at least not yet.

~

What do you do when you’re feeling bored with your story? How do you manage when a brand new story comes knocking on your door and says, “hello, may I come in?”.

Leave a comment to share your thoughts with me!

Thanks for reading,

Lady S

Posted in WORDS, writing

The Writing Diaries pt 2: In The Beginning

Hello friends, how are you doing? I hope this post finds you well.

I’d said that I would be posting each month, but with all that is going on these days, my blog has slid down the list of my priorities. But after much thought and consideration, I see that was a mistake. Sitting at my desk, chin in hand, staring out at the blue sky and bemoaning my existence – I realized something that had been staring me right in the face. I saw plainly that life is not on hold, contrary to what we’ve been told. The sun is still shining, birds are still singing, and life is brimming just beyond the front door. With that in mind, I built up the courage to finish up the draft that had been sitting untouched for over a month.20200315_191259

I bring you – The Writing Diaries: In The Beginning.

In this second installment, I’m going to cover exactly how I began my outlining process for my new novel, and what worked for me. As the title states, I’m taking you back to the very beginning…

In late 2018, as I was finishing up my [then] current novel, I felt that it was time to prepare for the next one. One day, I was wandering among the many notebooks at Michael’s craft store, and I figured it was the perfect opportunity to buy myself a shiny new notebook for my new outline. I love writing on smooth paper, so I chose a Rhodia dot pad. (My favorite, by the way.)

I took my treasure home and opened it up to the first page, ready for the story that had been building inside of me for years, to unfold across the silky pages. But with my pen poised above the paper, no words came. I had decided that it was time to officially begin, but I didn’t know where, or even how to start. Should I begin with chapter 1? The first plot point? The ending? Since it was only my second novel, I didn’t have a proven method for getting my brain into gear. (And I still don’t.) I knew that many authors like to list numerous possibilities, all with a what if attached to them. So I gave it a shot, but it wasn’t giving me the answers I needed.20200411_155059

I knew the general direction of the story, but I was having trouble conveying that idea on paper. So I wrote a short opening scene. It wasn’t much, but it was the first real glimpse I got of my novel’s world. For the very first time, sights and smells were described through the senses of my main character. Colors and feelings came to life in just a few sentences. Somehow, that small scene provided me with enough inspiration to get my creative juices pumping. Though it was more like a vitamin shot, which gave me a little boost, yet left me hesitant to start on the actual outline. I got a look at the surface skin of my story, but I needed to go deeper and work on the skeletal structure.

I drew a little map of what my world looked like, physically. Next, I wrote down some bits of information about the technology used there, the way people lived, and how the social structure was aligned. Then it was time to get to the actual story, but I still couldn’t find the traction to prompt my characters into action. It was then that I realized I needed to go back – years – and even centuries before my novel takes place. You may think it’s unnecessary to go so far back in time, when your characters weren’t born or even thought of yet, but that was exactly what I needed.20200411_155238

I knew that backstory was important, but I didn’t realize how necessary it was for getting my own brain into motion for developing the future of my story. Taking a moment to go down history lane, tracing all the way back to the exact domino that will effect the course of events for years to come, is vital for building a firm foundation under your story. And most surprisingly, the words did come – flowing easily from my pen.

As I traversed the past, I was amazed at how much information I gathered. I found answers and explanations I would need later on, that I may not have known about if I hadn’t gone back in time. If you’ve hit a road block, and you’re having trouble moving your story forward – why not go back? Even if only a fraction of that backstory makes it into your novel, that knowledge will keep your feet grounded as you wade through a sea of new ideas, and concepts.

What about you? What is one thing that helped get your story off the ground? Leave a comment down below, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Thank you so much for reading,

Lady S

 

Posted in WORDS

Reviving Inspiration

Hello, friends! Sorry for vanishing on you, but I’m back now, and hope to be posting more regularly.

Let’s move on with today’s post:

20190818_203358Reviving Inspiration

As of late, writing has been taking up much of my time, and brain space. I don’t typically talk about my writing online, but I thought I’d open up a bit today, and offer a glimpse into my writing journey. At the time of this writing, my very first novel has been completed. *cheers & applause!* It may be a tangled mess that needs work, but at least I can say I’ve finished the thing!

It took a lot longer than expected to finish the draft, but I’ll allow myself some slack, since it was the first work of fiction I’ve completed in years.

You heard that right– years.

But let’s start at the beginning.

In my early teens, I realized that writing was something I really enjoyed. So naturally, I began to write short stories, one after another. And then… I stopped completely, for a good three years. For some reason I had lost interest; be it laziness, fear, life or just plain discouragement, I don’t know.

But then, a couple of years ago, (2017-ish) I felt compelled to take up the mantle once again. I dusted off my ol’ writer’s cap, and allowed the story ideas and creative juices to start flowing.  (Little did I know, I was in for a looong and bumpy road.) With this resurgence of inspiration, I tossed together a very vague plot, and jumped right into the first draft.

I wrote a few chapters, and was on a roll, until I realized that I had dug myself into a hole. Painted myself into the corner, was up the creek without a paddle… You can probably get the picture. It was a wreck, and I ended up abandoning it.

Going back to the drawing board, I came up with new characters, different plot, yet still the same old quandary. What I like to call, naivety. (Until recently, I was a pantser in the extreme; writing by the seat of my pants, as they say. It makes me cringe now, thinking back to my lack of forethought.)20190816_143215

After trying, and failing four times, I had to sit myself down, and have a serious discussion. I had to admit that I had no idea what I was doing. And no matter how much I pretended that I didn’t need to plot, I was W R O N G.

This fact was further cemented, after I read K.M. Weiland’s books, Outlining Your Novel, and Structuring Your Novel, (both of which I highly recommend). After combing through multiple articles from her website,(and Story Embers,) I made the executive decision to begin a proper plot. It was difficult and awkward at times, but gradually I became accustomed to the process.

Fast forward through a long and painful process, I’d written the first draft. It was most definitely not a future best-seller, but it was a real story, with a (somewhat) consistent pace, and (slightly) recognizable structure, and most importantly, it was complete!

It was the first story I had completed in several years, and my first novel, e v e r. Currently, I’m neck deep in the second draft, in the throes of editing, and revising. But dare I say, I’m actually enjoying it. Though I may moan and groan, I know this is a very necessary step in working towards a future in writing. Becoming an author does not happen overnight. (Am I just realizing this now?)

For so long, I felt that writing (and completing) a novel was too far-fetched to be a reality. You too, may feel that your goal is beyond your capabilities, but don’t ever give up. Persevere, and work hard because in time, it is possible to reach your goal. 20190816_142808

I’ve already started outlining my next project, which I can’t wait to start writing, but I’m holding myself back, until I have a solid structure to build my world upon. I still have much to learn, and in fact, I have more questions now than ever. But that’s okay. Taking the time to study and hone my skills, I feel more hopeful about the future. And I’m going to keep striving, working hard and pushing forward.

So write on my friends! And remember, if I can do it– you can too!

~~~

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you found some small bit of inspiration in this post. And if you’re ever feeling discouraged, don’t forget that somewhere out there in that big wide world, there are others like you, (and me) who are struggling too. But through prayer, and hard work you can make it through!

Until next time,

Lady S