Trying Too Hard

Saturday, December 18

So many great ideas strike you when you're just sitting and thinking.
I was thinking, as I usually do, about writing.
I've been struggling, unsure what to write, how to write it, and finding no enjoyment in bringing characters to life.
Then I realized the answer to writing.

Don't try too hard.

What seperates a good artist and a bad one? The good artist donesn't try too hard, doesn't let the lines get too stiff, or the color too vibrant.

Write the book you most want to read. That's all there is to it. The stories I most enjoy writing are the freewrites, the ones that "don't matter".

Cyril Connolly said it's "better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self."
I think that's true.

So here goes, I'm writing the post I want to write. And tonight, I'll work on my neglected story. I pull up a chair, switch on the computer, and let go.

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Naming Your Character: Numerology

Friday, December 3

I stumbled on something called Arithmacy (more commonly referred to as numerology) while reading The Sorcerer's Companion. Yes, I'm a major nerd.

Anyway, according to this numerology, your name can reveal great secrets about you and your personality. naturally, being the writer I am, after figured out my arithmancy, I immediately did my characters.
Like I said. I'm a nerd.

So here's a lovely diversion for writers; Does your character's name match up with their personality?
What the heck, it's Friday. Do something spontaneous.


The first step in analyzing a name is to convert it to a set of numbers. Each letter of the alphabet is assigned a numerical value between 1 and 9, according to the following chart:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
A B C D E F G H I
J K L M NO P QR
S T U V WX Y Z

As should be clear, the letters A, J, and S have the value of "1," B, K, and so forth. To analyze any name, write it down, and beneath each letter enter the corresponding numerical value. As an example, we'll analyze the name Nicholas Flamel:

N I C H O L A S F L A M E L
5 9 3 8 6 3 1 1 6 3 1 4 5 3

When you have all the numbers written down, add them up. In this case, the result if 58. According to the procedures of arithmancy, when a total exceeds 9--which it usually does-- it must be "reduced" to a single digit by adding the component numbers together, more than once, if necessary. Thus, 58 reduces to 13 (5+8=13), which reduces to 4 (1+3=4). The final result is known as the Character Number. This number indicates the general personality type of the individual.

The next number to be derived is the Heart Number, which refers to the individual's inner life and is said to indicate desires and fears hidden from others. The Heart Number is the total of all the vowels in the name, reduced to a single digit.

The third number to be derived is the Social Number, which refers to the outer personality. The social number is determined by adding up the value of the consonants in the name.


One: This is the number of the individual. Ones are independent, focused, single-minded, and determined. They set a goal and stick to it. They are leaders and inventors. Ones find it difficult to work with others and don't like to take orders. They can be self-centered, egotistical, and domineering. They are often loners.

Two: Two represents interaction, two-way communication, cooperation, and balance. Twos are imaginative, creative, and sweet natured. Peace, harmony, commitment, loyalty and fairness are characteristic. But two also introduces the idea of conflict, opposing forces, and the contrasting sides of things: night and day, good and evil. Twos can be withdrawn, moody, self-conscious, and indecisive.

Three: Three represents the idea of completeness or wholeness, as in the trios "past-present-future" and "mind-body-spirit". The Pythagoreans considered three to be the first "complete" number because, like three pebbles laid out in a row, it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Three indicates talent, energy, an artistic nature, humor, and social ease. Threes are often lucky, easygoing ,rich, and highly successful, but they can also be unfocused, easily offended, and superficial.

Four: Like a table that rests solidly on four legs, four indicates stability and firmness. Fours enjoy hard work. They are practical, reliable, and down to earth; they prefer logic and reason to flights of fancy. They are good at organization and getting things done. Like the cycle of the four seasons, they are also predictable. They can be stubborn, suspicious, overly practical, and prone to angry outbursts. The conflicts possible with "two" are doubled in four.

Five: Five is the number of instability and imbalance, indicating change and uncertainty. Fives are drawn to many things at once but commit to none. They are adventurous, energetic, and wiling to take risks. They enjoy travel and meeting new people but may not stay in one place very long. Fives can be conceited, irresponsible, quick-tempered, and impatient.

Six: Six represents harmony, friendship, and family life. Sixes are loyal, reliable, and loving. They adapt easily. They do well in teaching and the arts, but are often unsuccessful in business. They are sometimes prone to gossip and complacency. The Pythagorean regarded six as the perfect number because it was divisible by both two and three, and was the sum as well as the product of the first three digits (1+2+3=6, 1x2x3=6).

Seven: Perceptive, understanding, and bright, sevens enjoy hard work and challenges. They are often serious, scholarly, and interested in all things mysterious. Originality and imagination are more important than money and material possessions. Sevens can also be pessimistic, sarcastic, and insecure. Seven is sometimes considered a mystical or magical number because of its associations with the biblical seven days of creation, and the seven heavenly bodies of ancient astronomy (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter).

Eight: Eight indicates the possibility of great success in business, finance, and politics. Eights are practical, ambitious, committed, and hardworking. They can also be jealous, greedy, domineering, and power hungry. Eight is said to be the most unpredictable of numbers and can indicate the pinnacle of success or the depths of failure; the potential to go either way is presently from the beginning.

Nine: Represents completion and achievement to the fullest degree, as is the "complete" number, three, expressed three times (3x3=9). Nines dedicate themselves to the service of others, often as teachers, scientists, and humanitarians. Strongly determined, they work tirelessly and are an inspiration to others. However, they can also be arrogant and conceited when things don't go their way.

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 26

Photo by Tim Simmons
Happy Thanksgiving!
Here's wishing my fellow Americans good food, good company, and a relaxing weekend.
And the same goes for everyone else!

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Finding Time to Write Part II

Tuesday, November 23

Photo by Rick Bowden

I was skimming through Marc Shapiro's J. K. Rowling: The Wizard Behind Harry Potter when something caught my eye. Despite the pressure of being a single mother, working to stay alive, and all that "rubbish", she manage to find the time to write and completed The Sorcerer's Stone in one year. It's not as if she had unlimited time on her hands. But she prioritized her writing.

She wrote during train rides, at cafes, on scraps of papers. She rushed to finish her secretarial work so that she could use the corporate computer to write. She prayed constantly that no one would have a birthday or a meeting that she'd be obliged to attend.

Every spare moment she had, she wrote.

I know we have busy lives. I know that we rush to take care of families, work, and the occasional curve balls life throws at us. I know that writing can seem like just another thing on an already full plate.

But maybe we're just forgetting why we write. We write because we want to. No one's forcing you to do anything. So just remember your first writing sessions when writing was pulling characters from thin air and watching them walk around the page.

We need to stop dreading the blank page. If you've lost the love of writing, try free-writing every day before you write your novel. It gets your creative juices flowing before you have to tackle the novel.

In all honesty, this post title is a lie. We don't Find time to write; we Make time.

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I'm not Dead

Saturday, November 20

No, I'm still here. I've just been insanely busy the past couple of weeks.
New post coming soon. I promise.

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Omitting Needless Words

Tuesday, November 9

Photo taken by Ville Miettinen

Most of us want to write a novel. Some us may write fro kids while others target young adults. There's a big difference between an easy reader and a YA Fantasy; for one thing; size.
For the most part, we want to end up with a book that's around 250 pages. Which is why its disappointing when the rough draft comes out to be...40 pages, like my first rough draft (In size 12, Times New Roman).
For some, its only too easy to write Above and Beyond the Call of Duty and end up with rough drafts 700 pages in length. (Stephanie Meyer *cough*)
Others have a hard time thinking up enough events. And that's where the trouble begins.
The slower writers feel obliged to add any random scene and long-winded paragraphs, just so they can meet to word count goal. I'll admit, I've done this. But then I stumbled onto the best bit of writing advice I'd ever received:

Cut unnecessary parts...you'll never run out of ideas, so don't be afraid to let go of things.
-Todd Mitchell

And he's perfectly right.
Revision is mostly about hacking your novel to pieces and sewing it back together. Anything that doesn't belong needs to go.
If only it was that simple.
But, like most writers, we get attached. We fall in love with plot, with clever little aphorisms, with characters, with conflicts. And it hurts to let them go.
But let go we must.

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Creating Characters: Motive

Friday, November 5

Every character, minor or major, needs a motive. It’s the driving force behind everything they do.
In other words, their reasons. That’s all good and fine, but what it really boils down to is that there are consequences to their actions.
I cannot stress how important motive is. If there’s no reason your character should be doing something, then why are they doing it? Unless there’s a motive, your book will end up as pointless as a kid’s menu maze.
Courtesy of Applebee's


Self Interest
Face it. The human race can be selfish. But there’s a fine line between selfish and smart.
One of the most overpowering motives for a character is death. Most characters desperately don’t want to die. Death is the reason they do things they know are wrong, because self-preservation kicks in.
It doesn't have to be that extreme. Lying and cheating are things we do because we're afraid of the consequences.
This includes personal goals.
Other People
If humans were entirely logical we’d never risk our lives for someone we love, get angry, or set off on quests with only faith to guide us. If Spock needed to find the Holy Grail, he’d make sure of its location and existence before he went after it.
For the sake of a good story, humans don’t think in pure logic. We think about others. We do so many crazy things, good and bad, because of other people.
Your main character might risk his life for the woman he loves. That’s good.
He might get angry at a minor bad guy and accidentally spill the beans. That’s bad.
But either way, his actions are affected by other characters. The reason he acts is because of someone else.
Even the villain can be affected by others. Take Voldemort. He is so intent on killing Harry Potter himse that he spends far too much energy preparing a secluded trap for Harry and not enough time protecting all his lovely horcruxes.

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Nanowrimo 2010

Tuesday, November 2

For those of you who don't know, November is National Writing Month. On the Nanowrimo website, participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in one month.

How about you guys? Is anyone out there doing Nanowrimo this year? What are you writing and how far are you?

Feel free to link to your novel, and Good Luck to everyone!

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Elements of Fiction: Tone

Friday, October 29

Photo by Nicolas Marino

Tone is the overall mood of your story. Moods can change from scene to scene, but the tone lasts through the whole book.
Take, for example, the insanely popular book Twilight. Even though there’s a spattering of action-packed scenes, the majority are romance. The tone is romantic rather than supernatural.

Picture yourself holding the published, hardbound copy of your book, with your name across the bottom.
What is the overall tone? If a prospective reader glanced at it, what would they assume?

Now flip the book over.
What do the critics say about it? Do they proclaim it as an insightful classic or a heart-pounding action ride?

Open up your book. Go to the appendix where there’s an interview with the author (you!). One of the questions you were asked was, “Why did you write this book?”
How did you respond?

Step 1: Tone
Decide what you want the tone of your story to be. It is going to be light-hearted, thought-provoking, dark, or romantic?
This will provide the basis for everything you right. If you’re attempting to write a light-hearted picture book, it most likely will not include the death of a friend.
Everything you write will orbit around this theme. Do not be afraid to change it if you need to. Nothing is set in stone.

Step 2: Direction
Make up critic reviews for your published book. They must be good. You are, after all, writing the ideal reviews of your perfected final draft.
This exercise let’s you know what you want your book to end up like. It’s easier to get somewhere if you know where you’re going.

Step 3: Purpose
Why did you write your book?
Think carefully on this one.
Did you write it to entertain? Inform? Warn?
While it’s good know where you’re going, it’s just as necessary to know the reason behind the journey.

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Showing not Telling: Infodumps

Tuesday, October 26

At one point or another, you have to explain some aspects of your book. Even if the character knows exactly what’s going on, the reader might not. Put simply, an infodump is a large chunk of necessary information that bores the reader to death. I don’t know about you, but when I come across blocky paragraphs describing the scenery, my eyes tend to skim.
So how do we present crucial information by showing instead of telling?

Dialogue
One of the best ways to present facts is through characters talking to each other. But even this can be botched if the dialogue if nothing more than an infodump with quotations. Let’s compare;

Infodump
The alchemist selected a jar, filled to the brim with mercury. Mercury is a silver metal with a high density. It’s a liquid at room temperature, but exists in the solid cinnabar. Cinnabar is a powdery, red mineral that’s extremely poisonous when inhaled. Mercury was once thought to cause longevity. It is toxic and has been known to cause insanity. It was this material that the alchemist chose to work with.

Infodump with Quotations
The alchemist selected a jar, filled to the brim with mercury. He turned to his apprentice and explained, “This is mercury. Mercury is a silver metal with a high density. It’s a liquid at room temperature, but exists in the solid cinnabar. Cinnabar is a powdery, red mineral that’s extremely poisonous when inhaled. It is toxic and has been known to cause insanity.”

Face it; the second’s not much better. If you choose to do dialogue, make it a conversation;

Conversation
The alchemist selected a jar, filled to the brim with a silvery liquid. The apprentice craned his neck to see. “What’s that?”
The alchemist grunted and held the jar out for the apprentice’s inspection. “This, boy, is mercury.”
“And, uh, what exactly is it for?”
“Some believe it has the power to make you immortal.”
The apprentice’s eyes widened.
“Of course,” snapped the alchemist. “That’s utter rubbish. Far too many emperors have died because of that supposition. Everlasting life indeed. Mercury will kill you, boy. If it doesn’t drive you insane first.”
The apprentice looked warily as the sloshing metal. “Right. Well then, is there anything else we can use for the recipe…a substitute maybe?”
The alchemist laughed. “Closest thing you’ll get is cinnabar. But that’s got mercury in it anyway. Highly toxic. Take a whiff of that stuff and you’re a goner."

Thoughts
This only works if you’re using first person or third person omniscience POV. A character’s thoughts can be a powerful tool.

Before:
The day was bitterly cold. A crisp wind blew garbage across the street. Everyone was inside, enjoying the warmth of a fire. The entire sky was coated in white snow-clouds and it was only a matter of time before a blizzard hit. Even the queen’s palace was suffering from the icy weather, with servants scraping away at the frost-coated windows so the queen could enjoy looking outside.

After:
I marched down the slushy street, my woolen cloak wrapped tightly against the crisp winter wind. I was the only one outside. Every other sane person was indoors, tucked in a quilt by a blazing fire. But not me, I had a job to do. I groaned inwardly and kicked at a pile of frozen garbage. Blast this weather. I glanced up at the leaden sky blanketed with snow clouds. We’d have a blizzard before the month was out, for sure.
Another gust of wind sent me hurrying down the road again. I passed the queen’s palace and snickered at the poor, frozen guard on duty. The Queen didn’t much care about other people’s discomfort, evident by the army of servants scraping frost off the palace’s two-hundred-and-ten windows. Poor suckers. What was even the point of it? So that the queen could look outside and see the empty street?

Actions
The way characters behave can strengthen both Dialogue and Thoughts, and make a strong support on its own.

The alchemist selected a jar, filled to the brim with a silvery liquid. The apprentice craned his neck to see. [This reveals that the apprentice is curious and new to the alchemy experience] “What’s that?”
The alchemist grunted [Not the friendliest guy] and held the jar out for the apprentice’s inspection. “This, boy, is mercury.”
“And, uh, what exactly is it for?”
“Some believe it has the power to make you immortal.”
The apprentice’s eyes widened. [He’s naïve to believe such a myth]
“Of course,” snapped the alchemist. “That’s utter rubbish. Far too many emperors have died because of that supposition. Everlasting life indeed. Mercury will kill you, boy. If it doesn’t drive you insane first.”
The apprentice looked warily as the sloshing metal. [Now he’s nervous] “Right. Well then, is there anything else we can use for the recipe…a substitute maybe?”
The alchemist laughed. [He’s got a strange sense of humor] “Closest thing you’ll get is cinnabar. But that’s got mercury in it anyway. Highly toxic. Take a whiff of that stuff and you’re a goner.”

The apprentice’s reactions give us a clear definition of who he is without having to say, “The new apprentice didn’t know anything about alchemy and was incredibly gullible.”

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Guest Post: Janice Hardy on "Trail Blazing"

Friday, October 22

We’ve all read stories where clues were so seamlessly dropped in along the way that until the big secret was revealed, we never even realized they were there. But when we finally did, all the pieces of the story fell into place and we were awed by the skill in which that bread trail had been left. Those writers made it look easy, as if they knew from page one what clue went where and how it would all come together in the end.
I’m sure there are bound to be a few writers out that who really can write that way, but for most of us, those clues are either planned ahead of time, inserted after the fact, or happy accidents. Sometimes, (heck, probably most times) a combination of all three.

Planning the Trail
Some clues we know about in the planning stage of the novel. Those details that came to us as we were brainstorming and writing our outlines or making our notes. Important clues we work hard to build a scene around. Often these are the things our protag’s will discover down the line in some fashion and a critical plot twist may even hinge on them. They’re important, which is why we know about them from the start.

Stumbling Upon the Trail
Then there are those details that just kinda happen, and it isn’t until after that we realize that throwaway detail could be so much more. A bit of backstory or internalization that suddenly has greater meaning, an off-hand setting element that becomes the perfect hiding place for a long lost secret. The types of details that lurk in our brains and leak onto the page, and somehow, always seems to be better than the stuff we actively think up.

Marking the Trail
Last, there are those details that we go back and add in once we’ve figure out how the story unfolds. The purposeful red herrings, the hidden clues, the telling off-hand remark. Each detail is inserted at just the right spot so the reader can follow that trail, even if they don’t realize they’re following it.

Keeping the Trail Clean
No matter what type of writer you are (outliner or pantser), odds are you’re going to go back at some point and edit. Doing an edit pass for clues, hints, and foreshadowing isn’t a bad idea, especially if you’re not one of those mystery writers who think of these things naturally. (I think mystery writers are born with this skill) If you’re not sure where to leave those bread crumbs, try asking…

When do I want the reader to start suspecting things?
Sometimes you’ll want a surprise, other times you’ll want the tension of trying to figure it out to help pull your story along.

When does my protagonist start to figure it out?
Readers often spot things long before characters, but if it’s too obvious, then your character might look dumb if they haven’t figured it out yet. Make sure you have a good balance between reader hints and character hints. If your protag needs to know something by page 45, leave enough clues before then so the realization feels plausible.

Are there any slow/weak spots that could use some freshening up?
Weak spots in need of help could be opportunities to create a scene that links back or foreshadows another. Would adding in a layer of mystery help?

Do the characters encounter anything thematically or metaphorically linked to the thing?
You know how someone can say something and make you think of something different? Your brain picks up on it because there’s some link between the two things. You can do the same thing with your characters. Something they’ve heard or experienced might be the perfect trigger for a memory or realization in a later scene. Or, you can go back and add something that can make this happen.

Trails are made by folks wandering back and forth over them, so it makes sense that a good plot trail might take looking at from both ends of your novel. Knowing where a plot or subplot ends up makes it a lot easier to figure out where it starts. The more you wander that trail, the more you learn about it and the more you can share with those starting down it for the first time.


About Blue Fire

Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

Buy it here.

About Janice Hardy
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices.
Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

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How to Write Magic

Tuesday, October 19


Magic will make or break your book. There is no in-between. How you handle magic can mean the difference between an epic and just-another-fantasy-book.

Know Your Limits
Magic must have limits. Your characters can’t snap their fingers and have everything they want appear from thin air.
The other day I was critiquing a friend’s rough draft. A battle occurs between the magical bad guys and the relatively unarmed good guys. The bad guys were hurling everything they had; sending shockwaves through people, shaking the ground, uprooting slabs of cobblestone street and flinging it through the air, ect. Then, out of the blue, one of them turns a good guy into dust.
What?
If the antagonists had that power all along, why didn’t they use it? Turning your enemy into a pile of dust sounds a tad more effective than a shockwave.
Decide where your book’s magic is limited. J. K. Rowling created several rules for her own writing, such as “magic cannot bring dead people back to life” and “whatever you conjure out of thin air won’t last”.

Counteract
“But for heaven’s sake − you’re wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out − well − anything!”
“…The trouble is, the other side can do magic too...”
- Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Where there is light, there is darkness. Your protag can’t be wandering around with invincible magical powers.
Either the villain has magic too, or the protag’s magic comes at a price. Or both.

Supernatural Villain
If you’ve got a magical antagonist on your hands, you’ll probably end up writing an epic final battle. The battle should never be won because of magic. It’s not about who’s got the stronger firepower, it’s about good triumphing over evil. The main character should win because of a clever plan or an oversight on the villain’s part.

Supernatural Problems
Nothing gets handed to your character with no strings attached, least of all magic. Your character should make mistakes and possibly get hurt because of it.
Take the classic example of Frodo and the ring of power. It’s not just a cool ring that can make you invisible, it’s an evil artifact that slowly poisons and manipulates you.
If your character has a power, it doesn’t have to kill them. But it should weaken them or occasionally backfire.


Believable Magic
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but your magic must be believable. If a modern day kid starts seeing fairies, he’s gonna think that he’s gone crazy. Normal people wouldn’t think, “I can see fairies! Magic is so cool!”
In Alice in Wonderland, Alice thinks the whole thing’s a dream from start to finish, which is exactly what a sane person would think.

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Writing Contest: The Winner!

Tuesday, October 12

"Exit Scene" by spyroteknik
The winner of the "Exit Scene" writing contest is...

#2 by Dawn Stone!
Congratulations to and a big 'thank you' to the participants and voters!

The brightness frightened him. James covered his eyes, protecting them from the radiating sunlight that peered through the large window overlooking the city. He had made it. James was a survivor. With a quick glance, he could make out figures that seem to be a daughter, grasping onto her father, looking at the same beautiful city everyone had grown to love. Nothing much has changed, James thought. Half the population was dead, missing, gone, but James survived. He took steps toward the railing, filled with curiosity. The sky, still ashy disappointed James. He had assumed everything would be completely different. He had been unconscious for some time, and he was still unsure of the date. He approached a hooded figure, who was closest to him.
“Uh,” James wasn’t sure what to ask or even if this stranger was the person who could answer all his questions. “Why are we here?” He finally asked.
“No one knows why we’re here.” The stranger replied, and continued on their way. Where was his family? His baby, Jessica, or his wife. He shuddered at the thought, that they may not have survived, but all he knew was that despite the other survivors, he was still so alone.
James wandered throughout what reminded him of the viewing deck of the Empire State building. Impossible, he thought. Manhattan had already been wiped out. Everyone there, had been so easily killed, he recollected of the news report he had seen…a while ago.
“Excuse me—” James tried. “Miss—” Another try. “Can you—” Countless attempts began to frustrate him. Everyone seemed to preoccupied to help, or to care.
“Someone help me find my family!” He finally screamed. This caught the attention of many, who of which quickly turned to gaze at this maniac. Who dared to yell here? It was forbidden.
“Hey, you.”
James spun around to find a female, about his age, staring back at him.
“Miss, can you he—”
“Shh. Did you just wake up?” She interrupted. He didn’t know what she meant, but he took a wild guess and nodded. “How’d you get here? You should be in room 313 then.”
“I’m looking for my family!” He pleaded. “Please, help me find them. My daughter, she must be so scared.” The woman didn’t reply. She merely grabbed onto his arm, and lead him to room 313. “What are you doing?! I’m looking for my family!” James resisted, but this woman was much stronger than him. It was almost like she wasn’t human.
“You need to be quiet! You’ll get me in trouble too,” She insisted.
“In trouble? By who?”
“Look, you just woke up, but just do what I say,” She ordered.
They finally reached room 313. There wasn’t anything special about it. Just a room, with lots of empty chairs. The woman left him there, to sit in one of the hundred empty seats in the room. James sat there waiting, more irritated than ever.
“Welcome,” He heard as the lights turned down. “To your new home.”

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Writing Contest: Voting

Friday, October 8

Vote in the comments for your favorite submission.
A huge thanks to everyone who participated!

"Exit Scene" by Spyroteknik

#1

Night-Walker
While the rest of the earth sleeps, I am awake. I see things no one else can; beautiful things, wonderful things… but the vision comes at a price.
Insomnia. It’s a harmless enough word, not one you would think twice about if you read it or heard it. But it is the word that holds my existence in its hands. Insomnia – my gift and my curse. While we live in this world, visions of heaven come at the price of moments in hell.
Do you not understand? Follow me tonight and perhaps you will. I want you to know my mind, see what I see. For my end is coming, drawing nearer and nearer like the advance of dawn. Before it comes, I want to be ready. I want to know that someone else understands what I’ve been through, and what I see. So come with me, please.
Yes? Good. The clock is chiming midnight now. The light is all but gone, lingering only in the pinpoints of the stars that show through the smog. Come, let us go. Walk with me out onto the terrace and I will explain.
Ah, the air is cooler out here and the sounds of the metropolis louder. The noise drives many away, but I love it. When all is dark and the only sound you hear in the house is the even breathing of lucky sleepers, the traffic noise is the thing that reminds you that there are other people still awake and alive in the world.
It started when I was young and my nightmares would keep me awake at night. I would crawl into bed with my parents in those days, but as I grew older my pride won out over my fear and I huddled alone in my own bed, fighting back my imagination.
I’ve discovered a cure of sorts now. Pacing the terrace at night helps me stay sane through the long hours of darkness. And it allows me to see the first glimmers of light that let me go back to bed. Have you never realized how long night is? Right now in the autumn it lasts for nine hours! Have you ever spent nine hours pacing? Not until tonight? Well, how does it feel? It is lonely, is it not? Terribly lonely.
Having someone else with me eases the passage of time. It holds the nightmares at bay and there will be no glimpse of hell tonight. But look! The light is growing, slowly taking over the darkness. Every time I see the sun rise it catches my breath away. My vision is coming, in all its beauty. Wait for it… now! Can you see?
The city is bathed in liquid gold, the Midas’s touch of dawn. See the birds waking! This is glory; this is light; this is hope. Every skyscraper gleams with the sunlight on glass, every street shines with the reflection of the dew on its pavement. You’re turning away from the railing, leaving. Don’t go yet! See the sun rising between the buildings?
This is the one consolation of the insomniac. I have suffered through the torments of utter aloneness, pacing awake at night. But I am recompensed by seeing the majesty of dawn every morning. Who else begins their day with glimpses of heaven, but me?
In my curse, I find a blessing.

#2

The brightness frightened him. James covered his eyes, protecting them from the radiating sunlight that peered through the large window overlooking the city. He had made it. James was a survivor. With a quick glance, he could make out figures that seem to be a daughter, grasping onto her father, looking at the same beautiful city everyone had grown to love. Nothing much has changed, James thought. Half the population was dead, missing, gone, but James survived. He took steps toward the railing, filled with curiosity. The sky, still ashy disappointed James. He had assumed everything would be completely different. He had been unconscious for some time, and he was still unsure of the date. He approached a hooded figure, who was closest to him.
“Uh,” James wasn’t sure what to ask or even if this stranger was the person who could answer all his questions. “Why are we here?” He finally asked.
“No one knows why we’re here.” The stranger replied, and continued on their way. Where was his family? His baby, Jessica, or his wife. He shuddered at the thought, that they may not have survived, but all he knew was that despite the other survivors, he was still so alone.
James wandered throughout what reminded him of the viewing deck of the Empire State building. Impossible, he thought. Manhattan had already been wiped out. Everyone there, had been so easily killed, he recollected of the news report he had seen…a while ago.
“Excuse me—” James tried. “Miss—” Another try. “Can you—” Countless attempts began to frustrate him. Everyone seemed to preoccupied to help, or to care.
“Someone help me find my family!” He finally screamed. This caught the attention of many, who of which quickly turned to gaze at this maniac. Who dared to yell here? It was forbidden.
“Hey, you.”
James spun around to find a female, about his age staring back at him.
“Miss, can you he—”
“Shh. Did you just wake up?” She interrupted. He didn’t know what she meant, but he took a wild guess and nodded. “How’d you get here? You should be in room 313 then.”
“I’m looking for my family!” He pleaded. “Please, help me find them. My daughter, she must be so scared.” The woman didn’t reply. She merely grabbed onto his arm, and lead him to room 313. “What are you doing?! I’m looking for my family!” James resisted, but this woman was much stronger than him. It was almost like she wasn’t human.
“You need to be quiet! You’ll get me in trouble too,” She insisted.
“In trouble? By who?”
“Look, you just woke up, but just do what I say,” She ordered.
They finally reached room 313. There wasn’t anything special about it. Just a room, with lots of empty chairs. The woman left him there, to sit in one of the hundred empty seats in the room. James sat there waiting, more irritated than ever.
“Welcome,” He heard as the lights turned down. “To your new home.”

#3

The sun was setting, turning the storm clouds into colors of gold and breaking it's anger.
It had drawn him to the window and now he stared silently through the pane. Though he tried,
he couldn't capture the feeling it gave him
"What a beautiful sunset," he thought.
Others too had been brought to the window, caught by it's spell.
Birds seemed to come out of the sun's golden ball. They caught the winds draft and followed it wherever it chose to take them, to a destination known by none but their creator.
His eyes glanced downward for a moment and found the floor dreamily mirroring the scene above.
He felt a sense of childhood wonder.
"Though the times are ever changing
and the ground I walk on shakes,
I know these gifts my creator makes
for the delight of his creation," thought he in peace.

#4

Mr. Riley walked into his office feeling tired and alone. He had been a business man, and at work he had thought that he had always been an expert at talking about the things that needed to be talked about in a businessman’s job, but he had obviously been wrong. He had no wife, and therefore no children. He had friends, but none that truly interested him. He was growing old and tired of the world, and slowly but surely he was realizing the fact. He was realizing that there were hundreds of fine men waiting in line for his job, and the fact that his work really no longer needed him made him sad. He was also realizing that he tended to shut inside himself, and so his friends didn’t really need him either. He wanted to make a difference to someone, or something. He wanted to do something or say something that would make someone need him, or want him. Perhaps his friends did need him, even if his work didn’t, but didn’t know that they needed him because of his naturally quiet personality . Perhaps if he stated his opinions more than he would make more of a difference. Somehow he doubted it. Perhaps someone did enjoy his company but he didn’t know it. He doubted that even more. Mr. Riley looked out of the giant glass wall, and watched the sunset fall behind the looming city of New York. It was a bittersweet thing to see. It made the world look as shadowy and gloomy and lonely as he felt, and he wondered if maybe the rest of the people in the world sometimes felt this way. That made him feel good. But that made him think of the people he knew in particular. He thought of all his business partners at his retirement party. He could imagine them talking and laughing, not caring that he had left the party early. He thought of all his collage friends, who didn’t need him then and who, even though he hadn’t changed much over the years, would not notice him on the streets. He could almost see the family he could have had. A beautiful wife, beautiful children, and a beautiful home that he could come home to after work, along with a freshly prepared meal. But he didn’t have any of it. He tried to convince himself that he mattered, but he felt like no-one would notice if he disappeared off the face of the earth. He started to pack up his work things and he knew that this was the last time he would ever be in this office. He glanced up out the window again. The sun had left the darkness to rule the city, and Mr. Riley felt like it ruled him too.

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Last day to Submit

Thursday, October 7

Tomorrow at 7:00 pm, the writing contest will end.
This gives you 24 hours to send in your submission to writersnse@gmail.com or to post it as a comment.

A huge thanks to everyone who's participated for their creative stories and enthusiasm.

It's not too late! You can find the guidelines here.
By 7:30 tomorrow, submissions will be open for voting.

So show us what your made of!

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Writing Contest: "Exit Scene"

Friday, October 1

"Exit Scene" by spyroteknick

Here it is, the writing contest that so many of you voted "yes" for.
Here's how it works:

1. Write what comes to your mind when you look at the above picture. It could be the beginning of a story, a description of the setting, anything.

2. A maximum of 500 words. You won't be disqualified for writing more or less than that, but please keep in mind that you're not trying to write a novel.

3. Post your writing as a comment or e-mail it to me at writersnse@gmail.com. Whichever you're more comfortable with.

4. Submissions will be accepted until October 8th. (That gives you one week.)

5. Out of the top five, you guys will get to vote for your favorite!

Have fun!

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The One Rule to Writing

Tuesday, September 28

"There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

~W. Somerset Maugham

By now, we’ve probably heard plenty of writing rules. Show don’t tell, start with action, the main character must develop, pace yourself, ect.

And then, of course, there’s everyone’s personal rules. According to George Orwell, the six rules are
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print,
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do,
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out,
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active,
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent,
6. Break any of these rules sooner than saying anything outright barbarous.

Or maybe you’ll prefer John Rechy’s three rules; Show don’t tell, write about what you know, and always have a sympathetic character for the reader to relate to.

If that’s not enough, there’s always Elmore Leonard’s ten rules, Kurt Vonnegut’s ten, Norman Holland’s three, or Steven Goldsberry’s one hundred and one.

I believe that there’s only one rule: Write.

Sure, learn the craft of writing. Study what makes a reader tick and publishers squeal with joy. By all means, follow writing blogs, google images of random people who resemble your characters, and make playlists for your story. But nothing will ever replace the movement of pen on paper. Less talk, more action.

Now, I know this sounds obvious, but a lot of writers (like me) catch ourselves spending more time worrying that we’re not writing instead of actually doing it.

If your butt isn’t in the chair, you will not write a word.

So, Step 1, pull out a notebook and a pencil. Sit down. Comfortable? Good, because you’re not allowed leave. Chain your ankle to the desk if you have to.
Now….write.

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How to Write an Essay: The Conclusion

Friday, September 24

A conclusion is all commentary; no facts. You should have already made your point in your body paragraph. Unless the essay is really long, never use your conclusion to summarize. The conclusion is there to make your reader think. Clarify your theme, evaluate alternate ideas, or explain how the theme applies to the world.

Example:
It is human nature to judge. But a person's heart is impossible to discern. It doesn't matter who they were or what we think they might become, but who they are now. We must judge, but we must do so righteously. As it says in the book, "...what is said about men often has as must influence upon their lives...as what they do." Be cautious of how you label others; the label could become a brand.

The Essay:
Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror. Les Miserables pinpoints the problems in society and the rift between good and evil. Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail.
Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble. After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment. Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become an angel” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!"
It is human nature to judge. But a person's heart is impossible to discern. It doesn't matter who they were or what we think they might become, but who they are now. We must judge, but we must do so righteously. As it says in the book, "...what is said about men often has as must influence upon their lives...as what they do." Be cautious of how you label others; the label could become a brand.

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How to Write an Essay: Body Paragraphs

Tuesday, September 21

A body paragraph needs three things; a topic sentence, facts/examples, and commentary.

Topic Sentence
The topic sentence always comes first and is always an opinion.
My old LA teacher drilled this into my head; "Facts can't be supported. Facts are the supports."
(Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble.)

Facts/examples
Cut and dry; use evidence to support your topic sentence.
(After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment.)

Commentary
This is where you have free rein. Write your opinions, clarify statements you've made or make connections between statements.
(Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become a demon” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!")

Example:
(Les Misérables)
Jean Valjean, despite being a convict, is essentially noble. [Topic Sentence] After changing his name, Valjean settles down in a small town, always fearful that he will be discovered. When the police arrest another man in his name, Valjean must decide whether to turn himself in, or to keep silent in order to retain his liberty. In the end, Valjean reveals himself to save the innocent man from life imprisonment. [Example] Jean Valjean would rather die, abased and despised, then allow someone to suffer on his behalf. Jean Valjean would rather “re-enter into hell and there become a demon” than "remain in paradise and there become a demon!" [Commentary]

Part 1: The Introduction
Part 2: Body Paragraphs (You are Here)
Part 3: The Conclusion (Coming Soon)

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How to Write an Essay: The Introduction

Saturday, September 18

At one point or another, we’ve all had to write an essay. For most, they’re dull to write and even duller to read. Luckily, a formula exists that will produce a professional thesis.

The intro must include five things; Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, and Subject. The order doesn’t matter, as long as you include them. We call this a SOAPS intro.

Speaker
The Speaker is the figure you are focusing on.
For example, if you were writing about a book, the speaker would be the author and the title of the work. (Les Miserables, Victor Hugo).
If you were writing an analysis of Einstein’s works, the speaker would be Einstein.

Occasion
The events surrounding your speaker.
If you were writing about a book, this would include the events in the writer’s life that inspired them to write said book. (Victor Hugo spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror. He undoubtedly hated society and spoke against it in Les Miserables.)
If you were writing about a person, Occasion would pertain to the time period in which they lived. (Einstein was hated by Nazis and became an American citizen. His works aided the allies in constructing the atomic bomb and ending World War II.)

Audience
Who did the artist direct their work towards?
(Victor Hugo’s works were directed at society.)
Audience doesn’t always apply. (Einstein’s works were not directed toward anyone.)

Purpose
What is the purpose of their works?
(Why did Victor Hugo write Les Miserables? To pinpoint the problems with society and demonstrate the difference between good and evil.)
(Einstein developed his theories for the sake of knowledge and for the end of the war.)

Subject
This is your thesis statement. This usually appears at the end of the intro and details what your essay is about.
(Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail.)
(Einstein’s genius served as a launching pad for the twenty-first century, providing us with a greater understanding of the universe around us.)

Example:

Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, [speaker] spent the majority of his life as an exile during the time period that immediately followed the reign of terror [occasion]. Les Miserables pinpoints the problems in society and the rift between good and evil [purpose]. Hugo’s masterpiece stands as a reminder to us all [audience] that, no matter the consequences, good must prevail [subject].

Part 1: The Introduction (You are here)
Part 2: Body Paragraphs
Part 3: The Conclusion (Coming Soon)

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J.K. Rowling Tribute: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Stills

Tuesday, September 14

You've all heard of Harry Potter. The world-wide phenomenon that sparked a generation of fanatics to whom everyone else is a "muggle."

J.K. Rowling's personal story satisfies our hunger for real-world miracles; a poor, single mom scrawls the origins of a novel on a napkin, and becomes insanely wealthy and famous.
It's every writer's dream.

So, as tribute to the most successful writer of all time, here are stills from the upcoming movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (click on it for a larger view);

I'm guessing this is the Lovegood home. Which would explain the death eater wafting through the background.

Ron is unconscious in the foreground, his shirt off (naturally) with Harry by his side. Oh, and Hermione's casting a spell.

Obviously a death eater stopping a train (I'm assuming it's the Hogwarts Express). He looks more like a jedi.


A gathering of Death eaters, presumably the scene from the prologue. Voldemort is sitting at the head of the table (figures), with Snape to the right and Bellatrix the second person on the left. The Malfoys on the left look squeamish. Nagini is coming straight at the camera.

Ron is terrified for some reason and is pursued by a blurry figure wearing a scarf that resembles Lord Beckett from Pirates of the Carribean. Hagrid watches unperturbed on the sidelines.

Dumbledore's ghost.

Hermione looking scared and aiming her wand. Nothing new there. But who is the black figure in the background?

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How to Write an Epic

Friday, September 10

At one point or another, we've all wanted to write something epic. One that encompasses the struggle between light and darkness, tells of a hero who saves the world, and makes people read them over and over again.
Luckily, there's a template for that. All epics (Lord of the Rings, The Odyssey, Les Miserables) share key elements.

The Hero
Most heroes fall into the same archetype. He/She;
  • Performs feats (Frodo gets the ring to Mordor.)
  • Is essentially noble (Frodo's unselfish.)
  • Leaves behind temptations (He leaves behind the Shire and the enticings of the ring.)
  • Is committed to heroic role (He volunteers to take the ring to Mordor.)
  • Has a difficult goal; They suffer dangers and agonies (Frodo must destroy the ring in the center of the villain's territory. He is slowly being poisoned by the ring.)
  • Acts alone/with very few people (Frodo tries to do it himself but is joined by Sam. These two hobbits are a small force in comparison to the other seven members of the fellowship.)
  • Has something in common with ordinary people (Frodo is a simple hobbit with no training.)
  • Functions as a role model (What we learn from Frodo; grit your teeth and do it.)
  • Reassures the audience of potential ("Even the smallest person can change the course of the future".)
The Hero's Journey
  • They are of obscure origin, free to move, or are detached from petty concerns (No mortgage, bills, or family)
  • They are called upon to make a journey (The calling doesn't have to be subtle. The villain holding them at gunpoint is calling enough.)
  • They realize that they are not invincible (The hero must stand to lose something.)
  • They have a goal (Epic or not, a goal should be present in the story.)
  • Their way is uncertain and unclear.
  • They meet guides (servants, friends, or oracles provide them with information or assistance.)
  • They are tempted.
  • They leave their familar world.
  • They descend into darkness.
Descent into Darkness
This is the ultimate test. This is the point when Frodo gives in to the ring, Oddyseus journeys to the underworld, and Jean Valjean must decide whether to let Marius die.
It can be either literal or figurative. In a literal sense, the character must journey somewhere hellish. Figuratively, they become evil or have inward turmoil. (Kudos to Frodo for doing both.)
Their suffering renews the vigor of society and cleanses them of their own sins.

After Descent
They change as a result. They discover something better than their original goal. In other words, they grow up.
But the hero must not escape unscathed. They sufffer a wound, such as Frodo's bitten-off finger or Jean Valjean's loss of Cosette.

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Archetypes: Images and Motifs

Tuesday, September 7

To recap: archetypes are universal symbols used in literature, whether they were put there intentionally or no.
Imagery both foreshadows and represents.

Water: purification, boundaries
(You'll notice that when water is murky or dark, it is the exact opposite of purification; it is evil.)
Sun: Life, deity
(Polytheistic cultures usually had a sun god such as the Egyptians Horus, the Greek's Apollo, and the Aztec's Huitzilopochtli.)
Wind: change
(Every time the wind carries something from the character's grasp or a windstorm shakes the town, there will be change.)
Earth/soil: source of life
Garden: rebirth, cycles of life
Circle: unity, infinity
Desert: death, infertility

Dog: loyalty
Cat: craftiness
Fox: trickster
Pig: unclean, greed
Donkey: stupidity
Snake: evil
Swan: grace, good luck
Ant: industriousness

Zero: eternity
One: unity, individuality
Two: duality, conflict, separation
(Good against evil)
Three: cycle, balance
(The three fates, birth/life/death)
Four: organization, symmetry
(Four elements,four quarters of the moon, square)
Five: man
(Five fingers,toes, senses.)
Six: balance, love
Seven: otherworldly, supernatural
Eight: conscious
Nine: harmony
Ten: spiritual achievement
Eleven: creativity
Twelve: the universe
Thirteen: death, evil

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Archetypes: Color

Friday, September 3

An archetype is a universal symbol. Whether on accident or on purpose, every story holds traces of archetypes. Colors are especially potent. They can represent emotion and ideas.

Clear/Transparent: Open, nothing hidden, no secrets, no privacy, pure. (For example, Snow White's casket.)

Pink: Spring, gratitude, femininity, innocence. (Valentine's Day)

Blue: confidence, stability, harmony, cleanliness, wisdom, trust, nobility, eternity.

Gray: Lifelessness, humidity, boredom, decay, neutral, dullness.

Red: Violence, passion, excitement, danger.

Green: Life, growth, intelligence, youth, nature, wealth.

Black: Mystery, death, evil. (Black riders/Ring Wraiths, dementors, Voldemort, ect.)

White: Purity, rebirth, wholesome. (Unicorns)

Yellow: Enlightenment. (Certain sects of Buddhist monks wear only yellow)

Purple: Royalty, personal growth. (In ancient Egypt, only royalty could wear the color purple.)

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How to Create a Traitor

Tuesday, August 31

Traitor : A person who betrays another, a cause, or any trust. (Webster’s College Dictionary)

Betrayals are one of the most delightful plot twists. Not only does the traitor plunge everything into chaos, but can emotionally scar trusts and friendships.

True or False
The author knows thing that characters don’t. Is the traitor truly betraying their own side, or are they leading the enemy into a trap?

True Traitor
A cut-and-dry case; a traitor offers something of value to the enemy for selfish reasons.

False Traitor
Here’s where things get tricky. The “traitor” has not truly defected, but is trying to trick the enemy.
Back in 480 BC, the Persians attacked Greece. The Greeks had about 200 ships while the Persians had 700. A Greek general named Themistocles knew that unless they created a concentrated attack, the Persians would wipe them out. So he sent a trusted servant to the Persians. The servant played the role of a traitor, and he told the Persians that the Greeks were in disorder. He claimed that if the Persians attacked the Greek’s beachside camp by morning, they could take the Greeks by surprise. The Persians rushed to do battle and were ambushed by waiting Greeks.


The Offering
What is the traitor giving the enemy?
Knowledge is the first thing that comes to mind. The traitor often carries secrets to the enemy, such as locations or weaknesses. Let’s take World War II. Traitors provided information such as the whereabouts of Jews, the construction of new war technology, or the names of underground leaders.
Traitors can also provide prisoners. Oftentimes a traitor arranges to lead those who trust him into a trap. Then the enemy can swoop down and pick up his prisoners.


Motive
A character always has to have a reason for their actions. What motivates someone to commit treason?
Greed-They are basically bribed by the enemy. They are promised wealth or a high position of power. Sometimes they are threatened with death, or the deaths of those they love, so they concede.
Victory-They want to be on the winning side.
Revenge- They have a personal vendetta. In exchange for their betrayal, they ask for permission to kill so-and-so, to have what’s-his-face’s property, or to enslave that-one-guy.


Effects
Information given to the enemy can mean death for numerous people.
The traitor’s personal life is marred. Relationships are broken, their family can be torn apart, and most of the times the traitor is stabbed in the back by those he helped.
People who trusted the traitor can become bitter and angry. Some develop grudges while others only become deeply wounded and fall into depression. Those led into traps may find it hard to trust anyone ever again.

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Boring Book Syndrome: Tough Love

Saturday, August 28

This post is an expansion of tuesday's Tough Love section.

This seems to be a major issue for people; what to do when you love part of your story but hate the rest. 

One of my earliest stories suffered from this love/hate controversy. I loved the world I created and spent hours working out its mechanics. The events played out like actual history, and the villain was one of the most chilling antagonists I’d ever created.
One problem though; I absolutely hated the main character. The solution seemed simple. If you don’t like your main character, change him.
He went from slave, to thief, to soldier, to mythical creature. He became a She and flip-flopped back into a He. I hated every single one.
I figured I’d change it from character-driven to event-driven. But I couldn’t find the proper opening. All the doors that led into my richly imagined world seemed like they could only be opened through a character.
I gave up. I sadly stuck all related writings and drawings in the back of my file cabinet and forgot them for years.
A few months ago I stumbled across my old rough draft. I noticed that one character appeared in almost every scene and lit up the otherwise bland novel; the antagonist.
That couldn’t be right. The antagonist couldn’t be the main character!
But I noticed something. The antagonist had goals, the antagonist had enemies. True, he wasn’t a very nice main character, but he fit the description. The key to the story was right under my very nose.


So what do you do when you struggle to write something you love?

Step 1: Identify what you hate.
What’s holding you back? Is it your setting, your characters, your idea, or your writing technique?

Step 2: Change what you hate.

Setting: is there a way to write the same story somewhere else? Does it have to be a magical world? If it’s set in your basic medieval forest, is it possible to tell your story in a lush ancient jungle or vice-versa. Don’t let setting get in the way. The place you feel the most enthusiasm for is where you should be.

Characters: What character do you hate? Can you erase him? Can you change him? If it’s the main character, can you write the story without him? Can you put someone you love in his place?

Idea: Why do you hate it? Is it because it’s unoriginal and based off a movie you love? Don’t worry about being original. Half my books start out sounding exactly like the movie/book that inspired them. With each new draft you veer away from that plotline until someday it’s entirely yours.

Writing Technique: Don’t worry about what your rough draft sounds like. Every rough draft sucks. However, if you’re so frustrated with the way it sounds that you can’t go on, try experimenting with the style. Should it be more serious? More whimsical? Should you change the point of view? Let’s say you’re writing a horror story. You’ll probably not want to sound like Junie B. Jones or Spock. It’d be hard to raise suspense through the perspective of a kindergartener or an alien who can’t feel fear.

Step 3: Replace
If Step 2 doesn’t work out for you, try replacing what you hate with what you love. Go through your draft and pinpoint things that you felt excited to write. Give the things you love center stage.

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Boring Book Syndrome

Tuesday, August 24

Most of us (if not all) have had a rough draft that petered out and died. This is a separate form of writer's block. This is the Boring Book Syndrome. Symptoms include:

We've gotten bored with it,
We can't figure out what happens next, or
We're so in love with the idea and character that we refuse to let it go.

Bored
The idea may be interesting enough but even those can fall flat. If the writer isn't passionate about the idea, the book will come to a standstill.
Bestselling books don't always sound the greatest (Twilight: Girl falls in love with vampire. Harry Potter: Boy goes to wizard school.) And ideas that sound cool may never make a good book. (Black Powder: Boy goes back in time to stop the invention of gunpowder so his friend won't die. Have you ever heard of it? Probably not.)
The point is,if you as the writer aren't totally into your story, maybe it's not the one you should be writing (yet). Don't trash the idea completely; set it off to the side until you're ready to give it another shot.

What Next?
Don't freak out if you don't know for sure what happens next. Write whatever you're struggling with on a post-it-note and slap on your bedroom door. Then don't worry about it; you're subconscious will take care of the problem and one day the answer will come to you.
And if that doesn't work, rewind your plot back to the last point you felt the most energy. Un-write whatever comes after that.

Tough Love
Sometimes you love the characters and world you've created so much that you don't want to give up. But you can't go any farther and your plot is lacking the finer points of credibility.
Write it anyway. Fix it as you go along; revise. Some people say 'don't write it if it isn't a spectacular idea.' That really depends on the writer. Some of us are character-driven. Some of us live for plot. Don't dump it just because it isn't perfect. Rough drafts are never perfect.
If there's any reason for a story to be loved, that's a good enough reason.

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How to Write a Short Story

Friday, August 20

The term "short" is relative. Some short stories are 3 pages, others are 100. But no matter the length or genre, short stories share a few key elements.

Step One: Problem
Notice that the word 'problem' is singular. That's right; there's only one conflict.
Define your problem. For those who write by the seat of their pants, just keep one problem in mind as you go.

Secondary Problems
It's okay to add a smaller, second problem.
Let's say the main conflict is a teacher who attacks a particular college student's beliefs. If, as a side note, the student is poor, that's fine. But their poverty shouldn't be focused on too much.
You can even use the side conflict to strengthen the main one.
This poor college student might have to move because she can't afford the rent. She gets an apartment farther from campus and must ride the city bus every day to get to school. But, horror of horrors, the teacher she hates rides the same bus every morning. She must endure his rants before she even gets to class.

Step Two: Action or Event
Characters either act to fix their problem, or an event occurs.
In Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, the narrator is driven crazy by an old man and his "vulture eye". He takes action by killing the old man.
In Poe's The Cask of Amontillado the narrator is given the opportunity to lead an enemy into a trap.
Does your character take action? If so, how?
Does an event occur? How does it affect the character's life?

Step Three: Wrap it up
Every story, short or not, has a different way of drawing to a close. In most short stories, there is no ending. Questions remain unanswered, life goes on long after the last sentence.

A few questions to get your creative juices flowing;
How is the problem resolved? Is it resolved?
What happens to Main character? To their family? To their ideals?
What does the character learn?
Does it end without really ending? If so, is it a frustrating or a mysterious ending? (Frustrating a reader is always bad, no matter what the reading material.)

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Made to Stick for Writers: Epilogue

Tuesday, August 17

So if being sticky is so easy, how come people aren't just automatically programmed to think and act in those terms? What's in our way?

The Brothers Heath refer to this obstruction as the Curse of Knowledge.
An excerpt from the book:

"In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology...by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one o two roles: 'tappers' or 'listeners'. Tappers receive a list of twenty-five well-known songs such as 'Happy Birthday' and 'The Star-Spangled Banner'. Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on the table). The listener's job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped...
"The listener's job in this game is difficult...The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?
"When a tapper taps, she is hearing the song in her head...Meanwhile the listeners can't hear the tune-all they can hear is a bunch of disconnected taps...
"It's hard to be a tapper. The problem is that tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it's like to lack that knowledge. When they're tapping they can't imagine what it's like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than a song. This is the Curse of Knowledge. Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. Our knowledge has 'cursed' us."

Writers are the tappers in this equation. We hear the story in our head. We know the characters by heart. We see every detail, even the unwritten ones. The key is to getting that story across the gap to the reader. Write the book you most want to read, because you are the only one can tell it.

Intro
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue (You are here)

These posts are nothing more or less then the principles I've learned and applied after reading Made to Stick. I encourage you to read the book yourself. It might come in handy on the road to being published.

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Made to Stick for Writers: Story

Friday, August 13

Finally, something both readers and writers understand; story.

People have tried for years to classify stories by their plot. Aristotle claimed that there exist only four; simple tragic, simple fortunate, complex tragic, and complex fortunate.
Christopher Booker insists there are seven (overcoming the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, tragedy, comedy, and rebirth) while Robert McKee argues that there are twenty-five.

According to the authors of Made to Stick, successful and sticky stories can be categorized into three basic plots.

The Challenge Plot
The most basic of the Basic Plots. Character faces insurmountable odds and succeeds.
This includes most of Booker's plots such as overcoming the monster, rags to riches, and the quest.
The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Dracula, and Cinderella are all Challenge plots.

The Connection Plot
Two people (or groups of people) from radically different backgrounds come together. The tension in these types of plot can range from the consequences of being found out or the struggle to understand each other.
This is where you find your Romeo and Juliet, Twilight, and Titanic movie.

The Creativity Plot
The character has a mental breakthrough that allows them to deal with problems.
Stories such as Alexander Graham Bell's invention of the telephone or Galileo's analysis of the Solar System.
But not all Creative Plots are about changing the world.
When Ernest Shakleton and his crew were stranded, members threatened to mutiny; an act that could mean death for everyone. So Shackleton assigned the whiners to sleep in the same tent as himself. His presence toned down their negativity so that it didn't spread to others.


Intro
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional
Part 6: Story (You are here)
Part 7: Epilogue

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Made to Stick for Writers: Emotional

Tuesday, August 10


We've found our core message, we've hooked the reader, dragged them in with a few concrete details, and kept the tone with credibility. Now one of the most important questions; How do we make them care?
Why should the reader care about the main character? Sure they're going through difficulties, but so is everyone else in the world.
We think we can present a huge, insurmountable tragedy and the reader will care. But people don't care about problems, they care about other people. It's so much easier to feel for someone instead of something.
So before you dish out the blows, introduce your character.

By introducing, I don't mean a flat-out description. So she has brown hair and brown eyes, huh? So what?
To get someone to care about the character, show what the character cares about. What are their personal goals? What keeps them awake at night?
If you plan on killing a character right off the bat, first spend a little time humanizing them. It will be so much more painful if a character you've grown to love dies, rather than a character you don't even know.

This is where Showing Not Telling comes in. Show whatever it is they care about.
If it's another character they care about, show them becoming more gentle, more gruff, or more shy around that character (depending on their personality).
If it's revenge or justice, something abstract, show them taking steps to reach that.
If it's something material, show why they want it so bad and what they're willing to do to get it.
And if all they're trying to accomplish is surviving from day to day, then you should probably throw another motive in the mix.

Your main character's desires should drive the book, rather than plot goals.

Intro
Part 1: Simple
Part 2: Unexpected
Part 3: Concrete
Part 4: Credible
Part 5: Emotional (You are here)
Part 6: Story
Part 7: Epilogue

Read more...
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