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Monthly Archives: December 2012
Avoid Vacuum-Writing. It Sucks.
Last time I wrote on the Final Twist Blog about how I avoided writing in a vacuum outside my office: plentiful proficient people – aka your writers group! But I don’t stop there. A writing space is ripe for filling with things, good or bad. Mine requires a daily cleanse to maintain mental health and focus, but I wouldn’t want it empty. Keeping the
area full of actively helpful sources prevents the distractions from finding space and taking root.
There are so many tools that can help an author get through issues, and I need mine close at hand. The top five I reach for aren’t pretty boxes with plot tricks or inspirational quotes. I go for the paper literary tools, virtual or otherwise.
- “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Stephen King, On Writing. Your writing craft resource doesn’t have to be this particular book, but it’s well-quoted for a reason. The creator is prolific, talented, and famous. When someone like that shares his or her insight, it’s smart to listen. Scientists read Einstein. Authors read Einstein and King.
- “The human mind is not by nature scientific. Rational thinking is a learned skill. (The front page of your daily newspaper should be regarded as evidence of this…)”. Worlds of Wonder by David Gerrold is also a big hitter for me. It’s my genre book and more. The focus is on world creation, which is important no matter the fiction genre, but David Gerrold also delves into good writing and how to achieve it while staying motivated.
- It may be elementary, but my dictionary and thesaurus are both well-used and necessary tools. Not all are created equal, but I find www.dictionary.com works fine for me. The Webster’s dictionary makes appearances via www.merriam-webster.com, and both sites allow my monitor to fit on the same table, unlike the printed versions. Thesauruses are found at the same websites on different tabs. My writing “kinks” include over-using certain words, so the thesaurus is virtually propped open every editing session. A spectacular author recently clued me in to The Synonym Finder by J.I Rodale, and it’s at the top of my Christmas list in tandem with…
- The 2013 Writer’s Market. Knowing what publishers are looking for and the format they need it in is the same as understanding the application process for any other job. Your query letter/writing/application will be shuffled into oblivion the moment the hiring company realizes you didn’t read their directions or understand the market you are trying to work in. Arm yourself with the knowledge available.
As a side note: visit your target publishers on-line to make sure they haven’t updated mid-year before sending your precious written baby for automatic rejection.
- The grammar book your publisher prefers. Even with standardization being the hot new thing, they aren’t all the same. If you don’t have a publisher, The Chicago Manual of Style is highly referenced.
As writers, our paths are well-traveled ones. Using the knowledge of those who walked ahead successfully, along with the tools of the trade creates an enjoyable journey!
What references and tools keep you writing?
Natasha Storfer is a graduate of Texas A&M’s College of Engineering. After years of working within the limitations imposed by the laws of science, she turned to fiction as an outlet for imagination and creativity. Her writing includes fantasy, sci-fi, cyber-punk, and mystery.
Whenever I think about what fantasy means to me, I look back to Michael Ende’s classic, The Neverending Story. I put my hands on the keyboard and I ask myself, What do I want to see? If I don’t have an answer, then I’m in for a lame session filled with cold fingers, blank stares, and plucking at nose hairs. If I do have an answer, my next question is, What is happening? If I can’t answer that, I wind up spending most of the session going back and editing things I’ve already written. But the last barrier I have to pass before my fingers finally zip with lines is, What am I doing?
The inscription behind the talisman of AURYN reads, “Do as you wish,” which is a play on logic. The “wish” is not an indiscriminate exercise in self-fulfillment but a hidden desire you possess, and for me, the writing process is a journey of realizing the kinds of experiences I would like to create. Hypothetically, let’s say I decide to open a scene with a sword fight. (Yay!) I proceed to describe the gear, the environment, conditions of the fighters, maybe even their battle movements as the scene plays out – description, description, description.
But even with the most vivid language poetry, if all I do is describe what I see, I won’t achieve a sense of context that the scene takes place in, and the circumstance will change from being mysterious to the reader asking, “So what?”, and that’s no bueno. But as soon as I decide what’s happening, that this is a training session for a big tournament, I can begin to deliver details to offer that suggestion – wooden weapons, taunting jokes, a nearby clothes hangar with tabard crests. Now a reader has a puzzle to piece together and can begin to develop expectations (which is critical for an interactive reading experience).
Now that we have a context, let’s presume that the combatants are related. Let’s make them brothers. Even though this might be a practice session, they are putting everything they’ve got into winning. One of the brothers yields, but the other kicks him on the ground and forces him to continue. Now we are creating a mystery within the context of the story. Is there something more at stake than the narrative is letting on? Do the brothers actually hate each other?
An answer to my third writing question might be that I want to show how two brothers who hate each other learn to love and respect one another – that would be something I’d wish to accomplish. All of a sudden, the story can be conceived with a beginning, middle, and end. Solving the mystery is what leads us through the plot and into learning what the story is about without simply being told, “The brothers really hated each other, but after a while, they got along.”
Speaking from experience, it is a good idea that you have an answer for that mystery before you start writing. It avoids so many complications later.
Leif Carl Behmer received his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Texas–Pan American and his Bachelors in English at the University of Houston–Downtown. His passion for fantasy fiction stems from his exposure to fantasy in both classic fairytale literature and the fantasy role-playing genre of the video gaming industry. His pursuit of the discipline of writing led him to take courses in technical writing and dramatic writing, as well as studying tutor theory. Leif writes dramatic scripts for pop-culture conventions. He is currently a composition and literature instructor at Houston Community College and Lone Star Community College in Houston, Texas.