Archive for the 'Craft' Category

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 by Charlene Teglia
Feed My Frankenstein

Aren’t you glad you stopped by Genreality? Now you’re singing along with Alice Cooper so your day is already better. You’re welcome. But what does this have to do with writing? Just what the song says, you have to feed your imagination.

It’s very easy to get caught up in the grind of words, words, words, produce, produce, produce. But all of those words spring from someplace. You can argue philosophy all day long about where and how inspiration works, but there’s no arguing what happens when you forget to feed the process. For those coming to the end of the NaNoWriMo sprint, the piled up words are a mighty accomplishment. Still, it pays to think like a farmer and invest in the next crop of your imagination. Time to fertilize.

What feeds your imagination? The answers vary wildly and there are no wrong answers. A good place to start is by making a list and seeing what jumps out. A list of movies to watch, books to read, a fun coffee mug to drink from, a nifty pen for your desk, a tempting notebook you love the color or texture of. Look around you and see what catches your attention. That’s the thing calling to your imagination.

Maybe you suddenly want to read about dinosaurs or go to a natural history museum or wander through a science center playing with levers and pulleys. And before you know it, the technical story problem you’d been wrestling with has a solution. Maybe you find yourself obsessed with maps and realize a map of your world would help you write the next book in the series. Just the process of drawing your places or people can make the story’s shape gel.

Maybe you suddenly have an overwhelming urge to bury yourself in shape and color and the next day you visualize the setting for your fantasy world in vivid detail.

The words come from the recombining of multiple elements. Sensory details, historical details, geological or engineering details. Feed your imagination a varied diet of art, history, music, new flavorful foods, science journals, stellar photography. Dabble in wordless creative efforts; draw, paint, sculpt, play an instrument. Take a walk. Play with a child.

Feed your Frankenstein and the monster of a new story, poem, song, novel will be ready to catch lightning and come alive in words, words, words.

Monday, November 12th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Dream Projects: Deciding What to Work on Next

(Our theme week got sliced up a bit because I didn’t post last week.  Mea culpa.)

What would I write, if I had no other considerations?  Turns out, that’s a complicated question.  Like Diana, I love everything I’ve worked on, so it’s not like I’m not working on dream projects every single day.  It’s always been my dream to work as a full-time writer, and here I am, doing it.  But projects do get pushed back.  I have ideas that just haven’t cooked up yet and don’t really fit with I’m doing right now.  I’ve been extremely fortunate that since selling my first book, I’ve never really had to stop and figure out what to work on next.  Opportunities have presented themselves, and I’ve had projects to fill those opportunities.

There’s something of a flipside to this, which is that when an astonishing, fringe, crazy idea comes along, I don’t always have the time to work on it.  I can write two books a year.  This is great, because I can be productive, prolific, maintain a one book a year schedule on my series and then do other things, like YA, on the side.  The problem is that while I’m writing two books a year, I get ideas for probably 3-4 books a year.  And my contract obligations make it really easy to pick which ideas to work on:  the ones that have actually sold.  Which means I always have a couple of dream projects sitting on the sidelines because they’re not sold, and they’re not sold because they don’t really fit any category that I’m currently writing in.  I have an epic fantasy I want to write, and a space opera I want to write.  They’re going to be challenging to write (never mind marketing them), so I’ve put them to the side to let them cook a little longer.  And then, sometimes, an idea strikes that’s so immediate, so energizing, that I make room in the schedule, and worry about the rest.  This just happened to me, and I’m now working up a pitch for a YA novel that I didn’t know I’d be writing a year ago.

Someday, the other parts of my writing career will slow down, or a break will come for some other reason.  Then I expect a stretch of time will open up, and I’ll pull out my file folders on those ideas and go to town.

But there’s more:  I also want to write a screenplay someday, and I’d love to write comic books someday.  The reason I haven’t yet is that they’re both entirely different formats of writing.  I’d have to learn a whole new set of techniques, a whole new kind of writing, to do either one of those things.  And that takes time, which I don’t have right now.  But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about both.  I’ve already picked out which story of mine I want to translate to screenplay form — my WASP mystery, “The Girls from Avenger.”  And my comic book idea kicks ass.  I’d also love to write a tie-in for one of my beloved fangirl properties.  I’ve actually gotten close on that one a couple of times.  I expect it’ll happen someday, if I’m patient and prepared.

I may not have time to write every single idea I have, but that’s okay.  I collect and nurture them anyway.  Because if an opportunity ever comes along to go in any of these directions, you can bet I’ll be able to say “Yes,” because I’ve got the ideas tucked away.  Oh yes, I do.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 by J.A. Pitts
Trust the mirrors

While most people will agree that writing is a solitary endeavor, I’d like to point out one very important aspect of your social network.

My friends and I call it trusting your mirrors.

Due to human physiology, we cannot see out the back of our heads, so we can never truly see behind ourselves.  We can’t tell where we’ve been with a clear view.  But if you have a group of trusted confidants, then you can not only see behind you, but you can get the old “objects in mirrors appear larger than they are” aspect of it and really get a good look at what you’ve been doing.

Take a new story, for example.  You write it, and if you are like most writers I know, you immediately think that it sucks.  It doesn’t matter if it’s fresh off the hotplate of creation, you know, deep down, that it has negative value, you’ve wasted your time, and that this is the last thing you will ever write. Mainly because someone will finally figure out that you are a fraud and the entire house of cards will come tumbling down.  Or, you know, worse.

Not everyone goes through this roller-coaster of self-doubt and recrimination, but let me tell you, I know veterans with thirty years of sales who still think like this when they finish something new.  We are all meat puppets with a chemical soup battery in our heads that controls our emotions and our thoughts.  Who can blame us for panicking and expecting the worse.  It’s survival instincts.

But, if you are a very lucky person who has enough good sense to find like-minded individuals as well as a diverse base of support, than you can trust them to be your eyes in the back of your head.

They become your mirrors and they can show you a view of yourself that you cannot see.  This is an amazing gift, let me tell you.  Finding someone who you can trust to be honest and who has your best interest at heart is worth more than a Hugo, a Pulitzer or even a NY Times Bestseller slot.

Because you will always have to write the next thing and the world is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of place.  A single success or failure will not define your career.  If you surround yourself by good souls and put in the hard work you can maximize your success and minimize your pain.

Trust the mirrors, watch when things are larger than they appear and don’t forget to let those around you protect your flanks.  It’s what friends and family are for.

If you are not careful, you may end up having a very fulfilling life with good friends, good writing and high expectations.

And probably some wine, but that’s a different post.

Monday, October 22nd, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
In Praise of Brainstorming

I love brainstorming.  One of the reasons I can say I write everyday is that I count brainstorming as writing.  It doesn’t matter how tired or cranky or blocked I am, I can always sit down with a pen and notebook and let my imagination run wild for a few minutes.

I’ve always advocated brainstorming as a way to overcome writer’s block.  Giving yourself permission to write anything, pouring as many ideas on the page as you can in a set amount of time, can give you options about how to move your story forward and can simply physically unstick you and get you writing again.

But another benefit of brainstorming, for even when you don’t have writer’s block:  writing down all those crazy ideas, and pushing yourself to come up with as many ideas as you can for the next scene, the next plot twist, whatever, will help you push the envelope, avoid stereotypes, and move beyond what I call “top drawer” ideas.  Top drawer ideas are the ones you see everywhere.  The ones that make you able to guess who the murderer is ten minutes into a police drama.  It’s the plot twist we’ve all seen before — and we’ve all seen them before, because for the most part, if we’re all swimming in the same pop culture stew, we’ve been exposed to the same tropes and are pulling from that same stew for our ideas.  Brainstorming increases your chances of coming up with that surprising twist, exploring ground that isn’t quite so well explored.  You don’t just go to the drawer that’s easiest to reach, you have to keep opening drawers and searching until you find the thing that no one else thought of doing.

I’m always saying that writers should go big or go home, push the envelope, do the thing they think as crazy, do the thing that’s scary.  Because that’s going to be where you find the real treasure, that will make you stand out from the crowd and help you find your voice.

Friday, October 5th, 2012 by Diana Peterfreund
How Party Planning is Like Worldbuilding

Last Friday I traveled to Baltimore for the Book Festival, and participated in (among others) a panel on worldbuilding. This week I spent trying to put together some new proposals (I’m out of contract) and planning my daughter’s second birthday party. As I worked on these two seemingly disparate activities, I realized how much they actually have in common. So, how is Party Planning like Worldbuilding? Let me count the ways:

1. You have to pick a theme (or at least a scheme). I love theme parties. Last year, my daughter’s birthday was music-themed. All the invitations and cupcakes had notes on them, the piñata was shaped like a drum, and the piñata stuffing was all little horns or other noisemakers (this was a mistake, I now realize). This year, we’re arranging the theme around one of her favorite picture books. But even if you don’t have a concrete theme, you are making some choices — is it a birthday party, a retirement party, a Halloween party, a wedding? (Those of you who have planned a wedding know the number one question out of every vendors mouth is “What are your colors?”) Is it a fancy party or a backyard barbecue? Whether you’ve picked a color scheme, a theme, or just an event to celebrate, you need to decide what kind of party you are throwing.

The same thing happens in worldbuilding. Initial choices are going to inform everything that comes after. Have you set your fantasy novel our world or another? Is this world similar to your standard medieval Europe, or 1930s Germany, or imperial China? How do the magic or creatures of this world relate back to that? What is your magical system? You have to do the same things for a science fiction novel, a historical novel, and even a realistic novel. What is the science fictional element that makes this world different from our own. Where and when is it set? With a historical novel, you need to decide exactly when and where it takes place and what inventions and knowledge the characters possess. (And no, it’s not enough to say 1940s Europe. 1941 London is a vastly different place than 1945.) And with a contemporary, you need to worldbuild too, even if it means asking yourself what kind of place your story is set in — where is it and what’s the weather and how well do people know each other and what’s the general atmosphere?

2. All your details must support the theme. Once I decided on the musical theme for my daughter’s party, I related everything else I did back to that, from the decorations to the icing on the cupcakes. Yeah, there were cute Toy Story stickers at the party store, but my theme was music, so I passed them by. If you have decided to throw an elegant wedding, you’re probably going to put your invites on fine linen or pearlized paper, to indicate that to guests. If you’re throwing a backyard barbecue on the other hand, checkered plastic tablecloths are A-OK. A Halloween party might have hot mulled cider on tap, but a 4th of July bash would be an odd place for it.

Worldbuilding works the same way. Everything else you put in the book must hearken back to the big decision you made early on. On an obvious level, it means your regency characters can’t suddenly get their hands on smartphones. But it affects more subtle choices, too. Can magic do anything, or just specific things, and how? Is magic a known quantity to all of society, or is a secret kept by a select few? How sciency do you want your science fiction, or are you handwaving some “red matter” into the mix? Is your real place a REAL real place (Washington, DC, The Vatican, or the Titanic), or is it a based-on-a-real-place (like my “Eli University”) or is it a could-be-real place (like Robyn Carr’s Virgin River). If you’ve decided that the New York City you’re writing about is the real New York City, then you can’t suddenly populate the Village with Edwardian mansions, or make it easy to get across town on the subway, or have people watch the sun set over the ocean. These are only a few examples, but this is the most important part of your story. You can’t promise one kind of world to your readers and then deliver details that don’t match.

3. Don’t make your guests guess what you’re getting at. Obscurity is not your friend. If you are throwing a costume party, make sure you tell people to dress up, and what kind of dress to wear (remember poor Bridget Jones?) I was recently at a barbecue where one poor guest showed up in silk and high heels. A few years ago, I made the mistake of carting my husband along to a gathering I didn’t realize was meant to be a girls-only gabfest. Let your guests know what they’re in for, and that goes when they arrive, too. If you are having an “everyone wears white” party (like that time on Gossip Girl), guests are going to give the side-eye to your spaghetti entree.

The same thing works for worldbuilding. You have entered a contract with your reader for a particular experience, and now’s the time when you can have fun with them. Your Arabian-nights-tinged story shouldn’t be without a harem or a desert trek, your futuristic science fiction about a world where people stay young forever should actually explore the consequences of that situation, and your “this is Yale but not really” book (like anyone ever wrote that) should have people playing matching games, trying to decide which fictional person, place, or event corresponds to the truth (five years down the line, my favorite of these is the time one of my characters interned with a famous blonde conservative firebrand who was writing a book titled Why All Liberals Should Be Eaten By Wild Dogs — because truth isn’t necessarily that far from fiction). Not only do you want the things in your book to match the world you’ve built for them, but you want your readers to go, “Oh, how clever, of course it’s like that.”

I’m off to stuff blow up balloons… and decide on magical currency systems. I hope this had provided some cake and ice cream for thought.

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012 by Charlene Teglia
Writing prompts

Sometimes the mind and the page are equally blank. And at times like those, a writer’s best friend is a writing prompt. So here are ten ways to jumpstart your creative process:

1. Choose an image that grabs your attention. Write about it. Who or what is in the picture and why? Tell the story.

2. Make a list of words you like. Pick one or a handful. Write a poem or a paragraph using it (or them).

3. Write down potential story titles. Pick one. Write the story that goes with it.

4. Make a list of things that could happen in your current story. Pick one and write it.

5. Pick a topic you feel passionately about, for or against. Write about it.

6. Read poetry. Write flash-fiction about a character in the poem. (Ex: Prufrock walks on the beach and is actually taunted by mermaids.)

7. Write a scene from the point of view of a different character in your story, or a short story written by somebody else.

8. Go outside. Pay attention to everything you can detect by your senses. Write a poem or a paragraph about what you just observed.

9. Do a Jackson Pollack. Throw words out and arrange them in interesting patterns. It might not be art, but it might make you see your story or your topic differently. Wordles are also good for this.

10. Go look at your bank account and your current stack of bills. If that isn’t a good writing prompt, go back to #1 and start over.

Monday, September 17th, 2012 by Carrie Vaughn
Voice, Tone, and Costuming

I’ve been asked a couple of times recently if it’s hard jumping back and forth between projects.  It isn’t, for me.  In fact, I’m happier working on several stories at once, because I like being able to switch when I get stuck on one, and I think writing lots of different things keeps my creativity and writing skills sharp.

I got to thinking about how exactly I move between projects, and why I don’t find it difficult, and the best metaphor I can come up with is costumes.  Every project has its own “costume,” and I mentally put on that particular outfit when I move to another story.

The more I think about it, the better the metaphor works.  One of the keys of good costuming is identifying the components that make that costume easily identifiable.  In Regency costuming — clothing from the time of Jane Austen — one of the most important characteristics for women’s gowns is the empire waistline, the very high waist that hits just below the bustline.  Whatever else you do with your gown, it pretty much has to have that if you want the outfit to be identifiable as Regency.  If you’re making a Wonder Woman costume, you can do just about anything you want to — as long as you have a gold eagle on a red bodice and a blue star-spangled bottom.  Like Victorian Wonder Woman, and even the Renaissance Wonder Woman I did a few years ago.  There’s a reason young Clark Kent spent most of Smallville in a blue T-shirt and red jacket.

In writing, I think these traits might be what we mean when we talk about aspects like voice, tone, mood, or atmosphere.  I don’t change up my whole writing style when I move from project to project.  Rather, I think not just about the character and what that character’s voice is like, but also about what I’m trying to accomplish, what I want my reader to feel, and how I need to write in order to convey those feelings.  What kind of words do I need to use to depict humor, tragedy, or horror?  A dark and stormy night versus a sunny day?  What tone am I going for?  I have to slip that voice and tone on like a costume.  I can’t put on Superman’s red cape and then be surprised when people don’t recognize that I’m trying to play Wonder Woman.  I can’t wear an empire waist gown and then say I’m from the Renaissance (I would need a big hoop skirt and corset for that).

Here are samples from two projects I’ve been working on simultaneously.  From my current novel in progress, a superhero novel called Age of Tin:

Celia West sat alone in her office, a corner suite in the family penthouse at West Plaza.  She kept her wide, preternaturally slick desk neat, the few files stacked in a corner, pens lined up, computer screen conveniently placed, laptop dock accessible.  Everything else was put away in drawers and filing cabinets.  Anyone standing before her wouldn’t be able to tell a thing about her, except that she kept her office tidy.  People might make assumptions based on that.  They might even be right about some of them.

The voice I’m going for on this one is clean and modern, with a little snark.  I want to establish the setting as contemporary and urban, and the main character as someone who is very much control of her world.  I want the tone to be straightforward, but to hint that there’s lot going on under the surface.  That’s Celia’s mindset, so everything I can do to put the reader in that mindset will help the story.  And it helps me write the story, being able to put myself in that voice.

This one’s from a short story called “Roaring Twenties,” that takes place in a supernatural speakeasy in the 1920’s.

    The alley she turns down looks like any other alley, and that passage leads to another, until we’re alone with the trash cans and a yowling cat, under iron fire escapes and a sky threatening rain.  She knocks on a solid brick wall, blocks from any door or window, and I’m not surprised when a slot opens at head-height.  She leans in to whisper a word, and the door opens.  Either a door painted to look like bricks, or the wall itself swinging out, I can’t tell and it doesn’t really matter.

The music of a three piece combo playing jazz drifts in from down the hall, and it sounds like heaven.

This one, I want the story to read like jazz.  I chose first person point of view and present tense because it made the story feel fast to me, and made the world seem multilayered and dangerous.  The narrator, Pauline, isn’t a magician, but the friend she’s with, M, is, and so the voice I’m putting on is one of wonder.  Pauline moves comfortably enough through the world, but she constantly encounters the unexpected.  I’m trying to capture the same feeling I get when I watch the video for Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.  Stylish, dangerous, alluring.  How to capture that in prose?  Fast-paced, immediate, poetic, jazzy.

I’ve since finished the short story, but I’ve got another short story on deck that I need to start work on.  This one is a supernatural horror set late in World War II.  You can bet that will have an entirely different voice than either of these.  Sometimes, if it’ll help me put on a new voice, I’ll listen to music, look at pictures, or even watch a video or two. . .