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Sorcery vs. Wizardry: The Magical Question (Leif Behmer)

So what’s the difference?

I used to feel the same unnerving frustration most readers become plagued with when they first enter the fantasy scene and discover that there is almost no consistency between different authors’ interpretations of magic (D&D literature aside). Why do some spells work only if you can say “the right words” while others require the right blend of exotic animal parts? (Eye of newt, etc.) And then still, we have magic that invades the storyline, completely unprovoked, to tear down the very backdrop of reality we cling to for understanding. (Time Bandits anyone?)

But this is a good quality in a genre, because it keeps things fresh. It prevents magic from losing its…magic. Sometimes magic is allegorical or an expression of profound emotional desire, and many authors choose to embody these motifs within a single character type, interchangeably called either a wizard or a sorcerer. These are people who have “figured it out”, having attained some sort of cosmic awareness which grants them special knowledge to tap into the secret capabilities of humanity and the universe.

In a broader term, we are describing magicians (or mages for short), but that word makes us think about fancy card tricks, sleek wands with white tips, long-legged disembodied ladies, and emotionally abused white rabbits. So, fantasy writers might look to folklore and call their magic-users shamans, witches, or warlocks. Still, those concepts are specific to a regional or occult-ish context, and are not broad enough titles to substitute for the useful but unimaginative phrase “magic-user”.

To most people’s comforts, wizardry and sorcery are blank enough slates for writers to create their own sandbox and see what castles they can come up with. But as it stands today, concurrent fantasy readers will have an idea of their differences. Where a wizard is seen more as an occupation like “doctor”, involving years of education and study leading to a unique and highly sought for expertise, a sorcerer implies a natural prodigy with the inborn talent and raw will to invoke fantastic phenomena. As a result, the wizard has become a figure with a degree of prestige, using tools (spell book, wand, etc.) and logic-based magic, where the sorcerer is the wild counterpart, emotionally driven with fiery eyes, a death touch, and can grab the moon out of the night sky and slide it into his/her pocket.

Terry Pratchett in particular loves to over emphasize the intellectualism of the Discworld wizards from the Unseen University in Ankh-Morpork, who, in Soul Music, pick apart a new kind of music box that plays “music with rocks in” trying to understand not how the box is playing music but why the sound makes them want to stomp their feet, bang their heads, and paint their bedroom walls black.

Wizardry depends on scientific (if absurd) methods to make magic understandable within a system of phenomena (which allows fantasy to blend into sci-fi). But when sorcery occurs, it has to happen, not simply as a plot device, but because it needs to happen in order to drive at some immediate, persistent, irrational desire that gives the reader a peek beyond the show magician’s curtain, which inexperienced fantasy readers may have become accustomed to taking for granted.

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.

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The Second Journey (Cash Anthony)

Notes on “character arc”

It’s been more than 10 years since I found “The Hero’s Journey,” by Chris Vogel, as I was looking for writing resources. For many writers, especially screenwriters, it’s one of those books on story structure that are essential references for this craft, the substance of which become ingrained in your mind as part of your writing toolbox.

Chris is a wonderful guy, a frequent speaker at film festivals and a presenter at screenwriting seminars, as well as a former studio ‘reader’ who had to cover two or three hundred scripts a week. Nowadays, he’s a story consultant who’s known for demonstrating how most of the classics of western literature hew to a certain structure that satisfies our need for epic stories. He worked closely with the producers of The Lion King, for example, and he still coaches writers and consults on scripts.

After I read “The Hero’s Journey,” I could see why it was hugely popular, and also why some writers complain that Chris seems to demand that they use his formula if they want to sell their screenplays to Hollywood. I could understand, too, why I had heard people talk about how tiresome and uninteresting movies had become, where such a structure was used yet again. (Chris actually “demands” no such thing, and the people who greenlight studio films these days are not English or comparative lit majors, they’re mainly accountants, which may explain why they keep getting stuck in a rut.) Then other story analysts, such as John Truby and Michael Hauge, came forward with other methods by which writers could improve their screenplays, and these methods had their moments of fame. I studied them all.

By coincidence, my deepening interest in story structure as a writer coincided with a much-needed look at “character” as a concept for actors on a stage. I was directing a play in which a group of men had to show how their characters changed with respect to racial prejudice, each one moving through a character arc that we had to help the audience see and hear and accept as temporarily ‘real’. Understanding and being able to convey to my actors how to start in one place and end up somewhere else wasn’t a theoretical pastime, for the audience members wouldn’t laugh or get a tear in their eye if we didn’t engage their emotions through an authentic conflict that each character faced. The importance of this journey for each one was shown through the relationships known to the audience, each character’s physical movement, and their vocal subtext–knowing what the lines meant in the context of the character’s life, and thus how and when to say them.

We made it through a month-long run of the play with only one revolt (some of the actors ‘got it’ more than others). Soon after that, as I put my writer’s cap back on, I found that Chris Vogel and Michael Hauge were about to begin teaching together, and the topic of their new seminar was “the Hero’s TWO Journeys.” They intended to show how today’s classic stories, as told in movies, consist of characters who change across time from one point of view to another, and what kind of change it is when we speak about “a character arc”. In epic stories, stories that we tell again and again and remember, it occurs by virtue of creating a journey undertaken on the surface, for a clearly visible objective, that is also exactly the best way to show the inner journey needed by the main character, at the same time. That the two stories must intertwine.

I had a huge smile when this seminar ended! It was exactly the answer I had been looking for, just at the time when I needed to put it all together, to get past a formula, or a pattern, or a series of rules. It was a way to understand that there was no limit on the number of stories that people would want to read, even if they dealt with the same issues that we explored via story since the days of the cavemen and the deer they carved in stone, deep inside a dark cave.

Now I see that the hero’s outer objective in a story changes depending on genre, setting, or the original story idea. But his inner objective is almost always going to be “a small step for a man,” a slight shift of perspective, a recognition of past blindness versus a new insight, a more open attitude toward community and a shift to higher-than-selfish values.

This allowed me to see that there are an infinite number of shifts in attitude and perspective that can underlie a character’s interior journey; for each of us makes tiny steps with respect to so many aspects of living in society. Dilemmas arise about where the limits are in almost every aspect of life. I need only pick one that I want to explore, and then come up with the human ‘wrappings’ that illustrate what is blocking or preventing this one shift. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

The events in the hero’s exterior journey bring the inner problem to light again and again; and if I want to use the Rule of Three, then only when he’s already tried to solve it and failed twice will an insight occur that will allow him to change, to take a leap of faith along his inner journey, and thus change his methods or understand his mistakes. It’s a familiar structure, because we’ve heard it in stories told us since infancy.

Since we all know how it feels to face a dilemma, to refuse to see the obvious because of an unrecognized prejudice or assumption, to stick to constricting habits or attitudes, to allow the low expectations of others to shape our fate—the list of internalized conflict and negativity and pain to remark upon can go on and on—as writers we can find many problems to give our characters, to set up a layer of conflict that interests, even compels a reader to ask “What’s going to happen to him next? What will he choose?”

Since it’s often—usually—extremely difficult for individuals to stop believing that their unsuccessful interior models will work, even fictitious characters require some time and several hard lessons before the way forward is clear. Depending on the genre and audience, a hero may find the exterior objective just that much too hard to reach at the end of the story, but he or she can truly be satisfied with having reached a new perspective that’s far more valuable.

Cash Anthony is an award-winning Houston screenwriter, author, editor, and director for stage and film. Her short stories have appeared in “A Death in Texas”, “Dead and Breakfast”, “A Box of Texas Chocolates”, “Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks”, “Underground Texas”, and “Deadly Diversions”. She holds a B.A. in Plan II and a J.D. from The University of Texas at Austin.

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Themed Anthologies (Mark H. Phillips)

The Final Twist, a group of Houston writers, has produced a themed anthology each year for the past seven years. The first two anthologies were mystery collections: Dead and Breakfast (2007) set in the wonderful world of Texas Bed & Breakfasts, and A Death in Texas (2008) which got rave reviews. A Box of Texas Chocolates (2009) was our group’s first multi-genre collection—our best seller yet and an award winner (New England Book Festival). It was followed by Twice-Twisted Tales of Texas (2010), a multi-genre collection featuring distinctively Texan landmarks. Underground Texas (2011), featured tales dealing literally or metaphorically with the underground. Deadly Diversions (2012) features hobby and pastime themed stories, while Dead of Night (soon to be published in 2013) stretched our group by dealing with the macabre and occult. The themed anthology process is getting so streamlined that we plan to release a second anthology later this year, a multi-genre collection that features recipes.

Themed anthologies are a great way to get stories published. Such collections allow for targeted marketing. Our book launch for our most successful collection, A Box of Texas Chocolates, was held in a chocolate store just prior to Valentine’s Day. Consignment deals allowed us to display Dead and Breakfast in actual Bed and Breakfast establishments, targeting an audience already interested in our theme. Similar marketing was possible with Twice-Twisted Tales of Texas—tourists could visit a famous landmark and then visit the gift store and buy a short story collection containing a story built around the attraction they had just explored.

Themed anthologies are also an effective spur to creativity, as well as a way to pull a writing group together. The Final Twist prides itself on ushering beginning writers into the profession. Many novice writers have problems with writer’s block or coming up with ideas. A theme helps focus their efforts. During peer-editing they can see the disparate ways other writers handle the same theme. This also brings the group together. Instead of every member off working on their isolated project, editing develops a synergy based on the entire group working on similar stories. Sometimes rules have to be laid down to keep the stories diverse—not all of the recipe stories can involve poison for instance. Our group has been fortunate in finding the proper balance between using the synergy of all working around a common theme and getting a very wide diversity of content.

So far, we’ve also been lucky in reaching easy consensus on our themes. The brainstorming sessions are both raucous and fun. Everyone understands that the theme has to be broad—we want the most diversity and creativity possible within the connecting theme. Texas Underground was inclusive enough to allow both stories that take place literally underground and stories that explore sub rosa clandestine Texan culture. A Box of Texas Chocolates was a multi-genre collection of short stories all having to do with Texas and chocolate (it also helped that a significant majority of the members are chocoholics). There were mystery, suspense, romance, fantasy, and science fiction stories. Dead of Night will feature both literal monsters in macabre occult stories as well as stories containing serial killers and other metaphorical monsters.

Another factor in the success of our anthologies is the thorough professionalism of my fellow Final Twist members. Our writing group is all about getting material out there to our readers. We work on generating, peer-editing, publishing, and promoting our stories. It also helps that our members can produce with a hard deadline in place. Most of us are primarily novelists. Short stories are a refreshing change of pace, an opportunity to keep our fans aware that we are still writing, but never an excuse to stop working on our novels. Usually stories are produced and first-round edited within a sixty day window. If your group members cannot be depended upon to produce quality material in that sort of time frame, themed anthologies could turn into a prolonged nightmare. You have to leave time to pull the project together, get it ready for the publisher, the inevitable last round edits, contracts, cover design issues, promotional engagements, blog tours, etc. Naturally everyone in the group has to be willing to pitch in; otherwise some poor soul will end up saddled with all that work and never get their own novel finished.

If you are looking for a way to make your writing group more productive I can recommend themed anthologies. Just don’t use the title that I’m still trying to get my group to accept: Texas Chili Cook-off Winners and Their Rip-Roaring Tales.

We’d like to share our award winner with one of you. To enter the drawing, hop on over to our publisher’s website, read about the different stories in A Box of Texas Chocolates, then come back here and use the comments to tell us your favorites. Each person leaving a comment will be entered in the prize drawing (one entry per person) and the winner announced here next week – so check back to see if you’ve won!

If you want to be among the first to know who won, come visit the authors at Katy Budget Books on February 9 from 1-3PM. You can register a second entry in the drawing for A Box of Texas Chocolates, register for a second drawing (it’s a surprise), visit with the writers, and of course, shop for books at this wonderful store. You may even choose to be one of the first to own the latest anthology – Deadly Diversions.

Mark H. Phillips has been writing stories and political tracts for as long as he can remember, submitting stories to a magazine at the age of twelve. He grew up in Central Illinois, and holds several degrees in Philosophy. Mark met his wife, Charlotte, ten years ago, and later discovered they shared a passion for writing – they are collaborating on books and short stories – their first novel is Hacksaw. He’s currently teaching pre-calculus, politial philosophy, and the theory of knowledge. He’s been a member of Houston Scriptwriters for three years, and is a member of Sisters in Crime and The Final Twist. His short stories appear in the Final Twist anthologies: A Death in TexasA Box of Texas ChocolatesTwisted Tales of Texas Landmarks, Underground Texas, and the upcoming Deadly Diversions.

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Fire Up Your Verbs (Sally Love)

THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET.

Bo-o-o-oring. Was it trotting, limping, ambling, pausing to bark at other dogs?

THE MAN LOOKED AT THE WOMAN.

“Looked” is so bland it might keep the reader from finishing the page. Be specific: leered, glared, smirked, grinned

SNIFFING THE AIR, THE DOG WALKED DOWN THE STREET. (GERUNDS)

Avoid using any gerunds at the start of a sentence. The structure is awkward and may stop the reader’s concentration to unravel the sentence meaning.

THE WOMAN FELT THE RAINDROPS. Physical

THE WOMAN FELT SAD. Emotional

An opportunity missed to show rather than tell.

THE MAN MOVED HIS FOOT.

Did he pick it up with both hands?

Search out a thesaurus that includes more than basics. Most computer thesauruses are lacking. The paperback-sized book you carried around in a back pocket or purse won’t take you far either. Check out the ones in bookstores and compare choices for “look, walk and move.” You’ll see the difference immediately.
Exercise: Highlight every verb on five pages of your manuscript. Find a more suitable, visual verb replacement, one that fires up the readers’ senses – sight, sound, touch, scent, taste.

The bedraggled mutt limped down the potholed street, stopping to lick his injured paw and peeking through his muddy fur for any sign of his owner.

Native Texan Sally Love grew up in Austin and spent more than twenty-five years as a financial writer and public relations/media relations specialist for financial and high-tech companies. She holds bachelor degrees in English and Journalism from The University of Texas and an MBA in Marketing from the University of Houston. She and retired optometrist husband, Lou, live in Houston. Her short stories have appeared in The Final Twist anthologies “A Box of Texas Chocolates”, “Twisted Tales of Texas Landmarks”, “Underground Texas” and “Deadly Diversions”. Look for more of her stories in L&L Dreamspell anthologies, “Mysteries, Dreams and Darkness”, “Mystery of the Green Mist”, and “Dreamspell Revenge II.”

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My top 5 Writing Tools (by Natasha Storfer)

Avoid Vacuum-Writing. It Sucks. 

vac•u•um [vak-yoom, -yoo-uh m, -yuh m] Show IPA noun, plural vac•u•ums for 1, 2, 4–6, vac•u•a [vak-yoo-uh] Show IPA , for 1, 2, 4, 6; adj.; v. noun

  1. a space entirely devoid of matter.
  2. an enclosed space from which matter, especially air, has been partially removed so that the matter or gas remaining in the space exerts less pressure than the atmosphere ( opposed to plenum ).
  3. the state or degree of exhaustion in such an enclosed space.
  4. a space not filled or occupied; emptiness; void: The loss left a vacuum in his heart.
  5. a vacuum cleaner or sweeper.

(Reference http://www.dictionary.com)

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.

  1. “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.
  2. “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.
  3. 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…
  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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Fantasy Writing: The Beginning, Middle, and Ende (Leif Carl Behmer)

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.”

How imaginative…

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.

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Every Day (Bridget P. Haines)

Writing is like lightning in a bottle. As authors, we often feel like we have to be struck by inspiration before we can sit down at the keys or with pen in hand, and put our ideas down. But if you want to write for a living, that isn’t a very helpful way to approach your craft.

I was in second grade when my mother decided I should take piano lessons. My foray into the musical arts didn’t last very long and, to be honest, I was a horrible pianist. I did take something away from those lessons, though. “Practice every day for at least one hour,” my teacher told me.

I wasn’t a good student; I hated practicing, and I stopped the lessons in a matter of weeks. It’s no surprise that I can barely play chopsticks some 33 years later. Professional musicians practice every day and that is why they are able to make a living at music.

In college, I was away from home for the first time. I wanted to be an art major, because I loved to draw. That lasted about three and a half years. I had some talent for two-dimensional art, but I was an impatient twenty-something and easily distracted by the new world around me.

One of my professors told me, “Draw every day, even if it’s just doodling.” I didn’t. I drew when the muse struck, and claimed I couldn’t draw otherwise, or if people were watching me, or on demand for assignments. I was rewarded for my excuses and lack of commitment with a slew of “C’s” in my art courses. Eventually, I switched majors and earned a degree in something that didn’t require me to be creative on demand.

I neglected to do something in both pursuits which might have made the difference between success and failure. I neglected to engage in my chosen craft every day. Two years ago, when I decided to give writing a real shot, I recognized that I would go down that same path to failure if I didn’t change my outlook on “practice.”

Write every day. I know what you’re thinking. “I don’t have ideas every day for my novel/story/memoirs.” So what? Who says you have to write that every day? Just do something directly related to your writing. Immerse yourself in the craft of writing every day, for at least an hour. Seven hours a week is not a huge commitment if this is something you want to succeed at.

“But Bridget,” you think, “I don’t have an hour of free time every day. I have work/kids/underwater basket weaving class.” I don’t recall saying it had to be a consecutive hour every day. 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there. Find those moments when you can focus on your craft. Tell your significant other and dependents that you are “On Duty” for that block of time. Turn off Facebook, the cell phone, the television, your email. Nothing is going to explode if you dedicate a few minutes to work on something important to you, right? And if you don’t make your hour today, add the time to tomorrow’s hour. At first, you may find yourself having to play catch-up on the weekends, but so be it.

I know some of you are looking at this, stumped over what to do for those seven hours a week if your muse is on vacation in Tahiti, sipping a drunken monkey on a beach, while you’re locked inside your brain trying to put thoughts to paper. Some ideas:

  • Write your story/novel/memoir. Duh. This is our goal, but it doesn’t make itself available to us every day. Some days, there seems to be a 30 foot-high wall between our ideas and our fingertips, locking away that all important route through our brain where ideas become prose. Some days, we have to do something else in order to break down that wall. Thus the rest of my suggestions.
  • Start a blog reviewing books, posting recipes, or telling jokes. My husband and I put together a small blog reviewing local food trucks. We try to post once every two weeks. It gets us used to deadlines and schedules, and also the practice of research (tasty, tasty research.)
  • Write little anecdotes for public consumption in a note on Facebook. I have a friend who puts up hilarious little slice-of-life snippets about incidents with her adorable son. It might not advance your novel, but it advances your ability to communicate a scene to a reader.
  • Read a book on writing and complete any provided exercises. There are thousands of resources out there. The more we learn, the better we write. One of my favorites is “On Writing” by Stephen King.
  • Doodle, or write up character sketches, of your protagonists and antagonists. They don’t have to be beautiful art or poetry, but get the images out of your head onto paper as a reference for yourself and others. I have in depth descriptions of Sister Mike Lassiter and Eleanor Wickham, as well as sketches of them. These will never appear in my stories, but the references ensure my characters are portrayed consistently.
  • Brainstorm story ideas. Make up a list of ideas you have for characters, scenes, plots, dialogue, situations, and backgrounds. Mix and match them. Who knows? Put enough of them together and you might find a story in there somewhere.
  • Interview your characters. Come up with a list of questions (I particularly like James Lipton’s 10 questions on “Inside the Actor’s Studio.”) and write your characters’ responses to them. This helps give your characters depth and life, and gives you a written reference for how they see the world.
  • Engage in text-based roleplay. There is an entire world on the internet in which people roleplay as characters in situations through the written word. Play-by-email, MUSHes and MUXes (played via telnet), Livejournal RP communities, Forum RP, and RP even on MMOs. Would it surprise you to know that several of my characters were created for MUXes? Eleanor Wickham started off as a cop on a game based in the world of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake stories. Finn Walker was crafted for a World of Darkness Changeling game. Roleplaying those characters in different environments helped me to craft their personalities. Visit Mud Stats and peruse what’s out there in the MUSH and MUX offerings.
  • If all other avenues elude you in which you actually write something, engage in research for your stories and take copious notes. Spend the day surfing the web, going to the library, photographing a location, or visiting a museum in order to inspire yourself and expand your knowledge base for your work. I’ve been to the Texas Renaissance Festival dozens of times, which inspired my story “Chivalry Is Dead.” It would have been very difficult to write if I’d never been there.
  • As a last resort (or in the case of having finished your draft), edit your story/novel/memoir. Duh part two. The word vomit we initially put on paper is typically not fit for human consumption. Go back and tighten up part of your story if you’re stuck in the progress department. BUT BE WARNED! Don’t get too deep into editing before the rest of the story is down. Many writers fall into the trap of an edit loop, where the rewrite the same chapter or three over and over and over, and never finish the story.

These are all just suggestions, but one thing is an imperative. Writers write. If you want to be a writer, then write every day.

What tricks do you use to get yourself writing again?

Bridget P. Haines is the author of “Cold Hard Cache” and “Chivalry Is Dead” from Deadly Diversions. A native of Niagara Falls, NY, she now lives with her husband Paul in Houston, TX. This self-proclaimed geek-girl is also a gamer, hobbyist photographer, and cake decorator.

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