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writing

Living Abroad And Storytelling

Writing is the perfect excuse to travel. If you’re looking to write deeper stories, live abroad and if possible learn the language there. In doing that, you’ll strengthen your understanding of people and widen your worldview. Here are three ways that living abroad makes you a stronger story teller.

Why People Do What They Do

We really do view the world differently based on our culture. American tourists abroad will often get a lot of flack for exactly that reason. They’re considered individualistic and inconsiderate. And, comparatively, I can’t say that is entirely wrong. Compared to many other countries, American culture is defined by a strong sense of the individual and personal needs over the needs of others.

By living in another country, people undergo what many call “culture shock.” For me, this felt like a coming to terms with discomfort caused by unfamiliar cultural pressures.
This forced self-awareness gives the “why” to people’s actions. Suddenly, you have to rethink even basic things. “Why do I do this?” becomes a constant question. So, it was by living abroad that I have developed a deeper sense of self-awareness. And as I’ve become more self aware, my writing has improved.

Knowing why people act how they do, subverting that, and juxtaposing it makes character interactions compelling. So, if you’re struggling with dialogue, or character development in general, try a different scenery. You’ll be shocked by what you find.

World Building Inspiration

One of the complaints that agents give is that they’re tired of “euro-centric” narratives. So, knights and castles? It’s a bit overdone, you know. The market is looking for something fresh, something new. You’ll find things so different from what you’re familiar with, and that’s inspiring. Every culture needs basic things: food, water, shelter. And yet, people addressed those basic needs so differently around the world. Going abroad helps you step away from the familiar. You can combine the familiar with the new, or you can pull entirely from the new. It makes the worlds you build feel 1. more real and 2. more inclusive. Nothing’s worse than a white-wash novel full of people, places, and things that are all the same. The world is filled with unique things, so things in your book should be unique as well.

It could be a festival, an art form, a fighting style, really anything could capture your attention while travelling. While in South America I was often amazed at the graffiti around the cities. Literally. Anything. You’ll see how people and culture come together and shape each other, and you’ll better under stand how you can write a culture in the context of a book.

Despite the fact that I’ve mainly focused on fantasy ideas with this, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to travel even when writing a modern fiction because with that it’s all the more important to make sure you’re getting the facts from the source.

Stories Different From The Ones You Know

Stories change around the world, as does the manner of storytelling. Your writing will feel fresh if you implement some of the writing techniques from various countries or cultures. American story telling is… for lack of a better word, very linear. This happens because of this and that leads to that. But, this isn’t true of all narrative styles. Some are more meandering, you’ll get at the finish but it might not be a straight path. Others dance around the central topic without ever brushing it explicitly. The best way to familiarize yourself with different approaches to narratives is to read literature from other cultures. Which is, in my opinion, best done in that language if you can manage it.

I have some recommendations, but I’m biased so take it with a grain of salt. One of my favorite Spanish authors is Federico Garcia Lorca, for obvious reasons. You can purchase his bilingual collection of poems on Amazon. Also, his works Bodas de Sangre, Yerma, and La Casa de Bernarda Alba are all gems in their own right.

For something less European, you could certainly read the works of Machado de Assis. Although I recommend the original Portuguese, I know that many people reading this likely won’t speak Portuguese. As such, here’s a link for purchasing his book Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas and, one of my all time favorites, Dom Casmurro. If you haven’t read them, they’re worth the read!

So, what do you think? In what ways has travelling helped you become a better writer? Comment below and don’t forget to follow the page for more updates.

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Friends Novel Publications writing

My WIP

On 5/19/2020 I finished my Draft 0, my dirty draft, of a WIP (work in progress) Fantasy. The dirty draft, which was written from the 10th to the 19th was 39,549 words. Now, almost a month later I’ve added almost 7,000 words and I’m not even through the first arc of the story. In this article I will go over my process and the content of my project.

Writing the Dirty Draft

What is a dirty draft? Basically, I’ve got a story and I’ve gotta get it pounded out on the page. So, I obsessively write, about 4,000-6,000 words a day to get the bare-bones of the plot and characters out on paper. Draft 0 is so flawed that it needs a heavy re-write, but I’ve worked through my basic character arcs and I’ve taken deep notes on what needs to be changed while writing draft 0. It’s the feel good part of the project.

To set up, I do a mood-board for each of the main characters and I write out a very short explanation of what’s going to take place. Here’s an example of my character boarding below. It consists of bare bones backstory, as well as images to inspire their character. Although I didn’t in this one, I also try to include physical ticks that they’ll do while speaking so that I can fall back on those when in doubt. This bare-bones explanation gives me plenty of room to work, but also direction when working.

Also, these aren’t my images, but they came off google! Credit to the original authors, although I couldn’t tell you who they were!

The Blurb

Once I finish the dirty draft, I try to hammer out a preliminary blurb. I run them by my Tale Foundry friends as well as my writing group (when possible) and make revisions as needed.

This is my blurb for now, but we’ll see if I do any major plot revisions that prompt a change in description. I don’t suspect it’ll be changing much, however. Not only does it feel good to make a blurb that sounds interesting, but you’ll need one later anyhow, so it’s good to get one going.

Digging Into Draft One

I am so grateful to Deseretgear who invited me to join their writing group. They’ve been a great help as I’ve written draft 1, not only to keep me moving but also to point out my reoccurring shortcomings. I wrote a .5 draft which I submitted to them, after fleshing out what I knew needed work. Once they gave me feedback, I added/removed the content that needed work.

So, now I’ve added around 7,000 words and will likely continue to do so. The average for YA fantasy is 60,000-80,000 words and by the time I complete these revisions I should be happily within that word count window.

For now, that’s all, but why don’t you comment below? What is your writing process? Do you write doing a dirty draft or do you have to dig right into the meat when you get started?

Categories
Reviews writing

Character Descriptions: Please Don’t Do This

While it’s true that clothing, facial features, and other physical qualities can help your character stand out from the crowd. Some of the most memorable characters stand out, not for their features, but for their quirky personalities. Obviously I’m not the quintessential writer, I’ve still got a long road ahead of me. However, as an avid reader, here are some things that novice writers do that kill their characters.

The Whole Face

The writer tells us everything. The hair, the eyes, the ears, oh don’t forget the earrings… it’s too much. In real life people don’t notice everything about a person’s face or figure. The average person will notice a couple to a handful of things. As such, if a writer wants their character to stand out, they’ve gotta stick to the most interesting stuff.
So, focus. What is most important or most unique about this character’s face? The scar on their chin? Their lack of eyebrows? Their earrings that drag their ears to their shoulders? The reader will not remember the character as well if they’re given everything all at once. Not only that, but the truly important details get lost in lengthy descriptions.

Exact Height

He’s five foot three, but she’s five foot two… they’re made for each other. Okay, unless it’s going to play a huge role in the plot. Please. Don’t. It’s awkward because most people don’t consider how tall a person is when they first meet them on the street. Well, if you’re a person like that, please comment below because this is a thought I’ve literally never had in my life. Generally when I look at people I think, very smol, small, about my height, tall, whoa tall. Never once have I been “huh, I bet that random guy is exactly six foot three” in my whole life.
Sure, saying they’re over seven foot or under three foot is fine. Why is this okay? Because at that point it’s a distinctive trait. If a person meets a fantasy creature that only comes up to their kneecaps, they’re going to notice that. But again, notice how I said “comes up to their kneecaps” because that is an adequate unit of measure in this scenario. Anyhow… just stop. We don’t need their exact height.

Descriptions Well Done

Obviously it’s not hard to find examples of well done descriptions. Here are some authors that I think do an excellent job of this.

Brandon Sanderson does an amazing job in Mistborn. The descriptions are gradual, as they become relevant, and remain enough to give us key features of the individuals. Also, some characters don’t get a description so much as a title that makes apparent their appearance. In the prologue, Lord Tresting isn’t described right away, but the title Lord already gives the reader some idea as to what he looks like. An image pops into their head. An image which is only clarified as it’s relevant to world building.

Another author who is sparse on upfront descriptions is Patrick Ness (at least in the book A Monster Calls). At first we know very little about Conor except he’s thirteen just a few months ago. This calls forth the image of a child. It isn’t until later on in the book that we get further descriptions.

If you can avoid clunky descriptions, that alone will do wonders for your writing. If you’ve read this far, don’t forget to follow the website for updates and until next time.

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writing

RPG Inspired Writing

With writing you sometimes feel like you have to do everything at once. However, if there’s anything that homebrew D&D taught me, it’s that build as you go is a perfectly valid way to write a campaign and, by extension, a book.

Have you played Dungeons and Dragons? Have you? Well, it’s amazing and I highly recommend it. If you haven’t played before, a good place to get started is by purchasing the Player’s Handbook. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but absolutely worth the investment as it delineates the basics a person needs to know about playing the marvelous game of Dungeons and Dragons.

Anyhow, I digress. So, in what ways can RPGs strengthen writing?

Only Provide Pertinent Details

Dungeons and Dragons is great because it teaches improvisation and build-as-you-go style world building. You only provide as much as you need to tell the story, not a bit more and not a bit less. There are hundreds and thousands of random character, name, and store generators that make up for the rest of what you don’t plan before session. Learning to deal with the unexpected actions your players take and cooperate with them on their adventure is optimal practice for book writing. After all, what characters cooperate with you while you write them?

Keep Moving

Also, it almost certainly breaks a writer of the need to endlessly mull over an element of their character’s backstory or an element of their world. You have to use it now! Too bad if it’s not perfect, you have to use it. No more time to think about the intricacies of what it means, go go go!

The players aren’t waiting for you if you’re a DM. They’re expecting you to know the game and the rules so that they can enjoy the story. The DM won’t wait for you if you’re a player. They need you to know at least your own character so they can build a world that will cater to that character’s development or downfall (depending on the type of campaign).

This encourages writers to pound out that first draft, no matter how messy. The more you practice it, the closer you’ll get to getting it right. Even if you aren’t a gardener, you’ll learn a lot by participating in RPG based character creation and world building.

Pitfalls

I won’t deny that it does have some pitfalls. Please… just don’t start your book in a bar, tavern, or with a group of guys that meet in the very RPG-typical way. It’s not good, 95% of the time. So, to sum up, not everything translates. Some things are better left to the RPG sphere. However, the benefits far outweigh the pitfalls.

What do you think? Do you agree that RPGs such as D&D can lead to stronger writing? Or am I wrong? Let me know your thoughts in the comments down below.

Categories
writing

A Bad Scene, Better Than None

Oh, you’re past the inciting incident and you haven’t reached the end just yet. You have a few thousand words to go through before you get there. And by a few I mean about 30,000? I’m low balling, by a lot. Anyhow, when you get to the flabby middle section of your book the most important thing is to keep moving.

writer's block

Fresh out of Ideas. What to Write?

Out of Ideas? 😦 What should you do if you’re in the middle and you find yourself out of ideas? This is where leading a meeting or running a RPG comes in handy because nothing says pull something out of the air right now like having a table full of expectant faces. Yikes. Literal nightmares. But, after a long while, after a very very long while, you get used to it. And you find that, yes, you can pull things out of the air. You’ve studied them so much that they spill out.

But wait, maybe you’re not to that point yet! So, what do you do? Well, I look up plot hook ideas because, surprise, the plot doesn’t happen at the beginning and the end of the story alone. A whole lot of it happens in the middle too. These guys can give your characters enough juicy action to keep kicking through the slump of your book.

So, here’s a pair of useful places to look:

  1. D&D Quest Ideas
  2. Subplot Ideas

I also recommend Save the Cat, Writes a Novel. It has some excellent plotting advice which should help you string your story quite nicely.

writer's block

Why a Bad Scene Is Better Than None

A bad scene can be rewritten. Half of the battle is getting through the middle of the book. If you can make it to the end you can re-hash, re-smash, and honestly re-write a lot of things. A bad scene is good because you know it’s bad. A bad scene can be tossed or re-written. So, write a scene you hate. Write a scene that sucks. If you write it, you’ll reach the end, and you’ll know how to change it when you go back.

In fact, Brandon Sanderson openly admitted in his lectures that he makes revision notes as he writes his first draft. This is perfect. If you really don’t like a scene, you can make a note about how you’ll do it better next time around. And thus, you’ll reach the end of your book.

writer's block

Keep Writing

Never give up. Even if you can’t make it this time, keep trying. Don’t give up and try to keep writing even through the terrible bits. You’ve got this. Feel free to comment below. Do you disagree?