Am I just imagining this?

The last time something unbelievable but very tangible happened to you, you might have come at it with some skepticism. You might have wondered what the catch was. But did you actually pinch yourself and later insist you must have been imagining it?

I am currently having a hard time reading a good book. It’s a fantasy, along the magical realism end by a very successful author and I keep putting it down because although the protagonist knows there is magic and knows she has it and knows she doesn’t know much about it, she keeps insisting she is imagining a very visceral, real magic experience that keeps happening to her instead of investigating it. Oh Em Gee lady! Just effing accept it already. We are halfway through the book and there are still lengthy sections about how sad she is because she can’t accept it is anything more than her imagination.

I see this so much in stories, specifically horror and fantasy. It’s like the author is worried the reader is going to think the protagonist is crazy if they accept what they are seeing right in front of them, feeling what is actually touching them, smelling actual smells, even though they are “not supposed to be there”.

Stephen King is a master at getting past this stage of disbelief in his characters quickly. They might be seeing or hearing or sensing something strange but quickly they come to accept it and move on, but other authors draw it out or even, in the case of my current read, manufacture it.

Why?

More drama? Oh please. If you need to add drama to your story it is not strong enough. To make the character sympathetic? Well, by the 18th time they blame their imagination, I am ready to kick them to the curb.

When writing, think about yourself. How would you react?

If you saw a ghost walk through your living room, how would your react the first time? If it happened again and again, how would that reaction change?

If you dabbled in a magic spell and it worked, how would your react? What if you kept going and the spells kept working?

Of course skepticism plays into all these things, especially after the fact. Maybe I nodded off and dreamed it. Maybe I just got lucky. But in that moment that you are looking at a ghost, really seeing a ghost, do you think you would really think, “Too bad this is just my imagination.”

Keep your characters real, always. Please!

And please share your thoughts!

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Better get started now

I see it frequently. I lived it myself. People toil away at their jobs they hate and clutch to their dreams, keeping them tucked away secret and safe. They imagine a day when things will just fall into place, someone will stumble across their work and give them the career they want.

So years pass and that day never comes. Sometimes that dream fades out, too painful to hold onto. Sometimes they finally try to take initiative themselves only to balk at all that is required to achieve it.

The path to any dream is twisted, rough and overgrown. There are mountains and there are rivers. Sometimes there is no true destination, just stops along the way, achievements, successes.

You can wait at the edge of that path forever waiting for a car to come along and take you safely to your stop. That car will probably never come. Or it could be waiting further up the path.

So you better get started now. Take those first few steps. Then take some more. Rest along side of the road if you get tired. Check out a few little paths winding off the way, hell turn right at that intersection if you get bored.

Better get started now. You might find the terrain gets easier as you go on, or maybe your legs just get stronger, you pick up better equipment along the way.

Better get started now. It could be decades until you reach your stop but you will never reach it if you keep waiting. Or maybe it’s right over that hill, you have no idea if you don’t scale it.

It’s never too late. It’s never too soon. The path is there and you can find a way. Instead of looking and thinking, “Well shit, I wish I started walking this path ten years ago. I’d be almost done by now!” it’s better to get started now. Sooner or later you have to do the work.

Better get started now.

How do I know I want to do this?

Let’s face it, being a writer can be brutal. The time, the rejections, the criticism, the skepticism from friends and family when you tell them you are working on getting published. Writers, and all artists really, spend alot of time feeling very vulnerable and suffer alot of heartbreaks due to their work.

So why do it? I mean, okay, you like writing. So write. And then tuck it away and maybe read it to yourself from time to time. But why put it out there? Why harden yourself enough to withstand group critiques and agent and publisher rejections, bad reviews and just plain old failure?

There are many paths ahead of me in my life right now. I have many great and beautiful things going on. How do i know I want to take this path, do this thing when there are so many pitfalls and so few guarantees?

I’ve written before about why we write, why we create. I solidly believe its because we have to. It is a compulsion. But the reason I WANT to do it?

Because it feels amazing.

Yes. Even with the rejections and criticism and the skepticism about my life goals, it feels so good to see a story, your story unfold in front of your eyes, to see loose ends tie themselves together. It feels so good to go to bed after writing an amazing revaluation. It feels so good to write the end.

And it continues! It feels good to have a reader, any reader respond to your work, to ask the questions you wanted them to ask, to gasp of the revelations you have revealed. It feels so good to have them feel what you felt about your characters, or even something totally unique. It feels good to have your story take on a life of it’s own in the hearts and minds of readers in your crit group, your friends, and on goodreads. When another author tells me her or she likes your work, oh hell yes.

It can hurt. It can really devastate you but so much of it feels wonderful, puts your on the top of the world, and as you continue to work it, to move forward the potential for the feeling only increases.

I write because I have to. I want to do this as my life’s work because at it’s best, it is the best thing in the world.

 

Themes

Themes. Be careful what you wish for. Love will find a way. It’s always darkest before the dawn. Oh wait, are those themes or cliches?

I remember back in high school English themes were all the rage. Kafka, Hemingway, Plath, all very theme oriented writers. But what about modern writers? What is the theme of Twilight? Does there have to be one?

I find in my reading that even the most pop fiction has some sort of standard theme, one of the ones listed above, and that is entirely and completely okay. Doesn’t Disney continue to bank on these themes movie after movie? Sure they do, because while they may be cliche, they are also timeless.

What I find to be the most interesting stories, however, are the ones that seem as if they didn’t intend to have a theme to start out. The theme reveals itself through word choices, through the actions of the villains and heroes. The theme is unintentional, but it bleeds out into the pages because it is centered deep in the authors heart. It is the authors passions, their beliefs, their fears, their hopes.

Writing is a deeply personal activity, no matter what the story. Very few writers can hand out a fresh manuscript and not feel like maybe they also included a few internal organs along with it.

And why shouldn’t they? All of their secrets are revealed on those pages, all of their characters possessing aspects of the writer.

A Theme is personal, and the more personal it is, the greater chance it can hurt a writer to have it revealed, but also the greater the chance it has to resonate deeply with readers, too take those passions, beliefs, fears and hopes and bury them into the hearts of the people who love the work.

What themes have struck you over the years? Which ones to you love to see in your reading? Which do you wish would play out already?

Birthday contemplation

Really, this is just an excuse to tell you all it’s my birthday.

But for real, I do have some thoughts I’d like to share, lessons learned that apply not only to writing but to life in general.

So in honor of my 34th, here are 34 things I’ve learned in my 34 years.

  1. Believe in something powerful. Whether it’s God, Science, Source or yourself, keep it for when you need something to drag you through the darkness.
  2. First impressions aren’t worth much (this is courtesy of my new neighbor who just brought over a delivery she got by accident while I was in the middle of my morning work out, shouting at the dog and my son not to open the door until i got the dogs outside so they didn’t maul her and her adorable children, all of whom i was meeting for the first time. Did i mention one of the dogs had shredded an unused diaper in the foyer that I hadn’t managed to clean up yet?)
  3. Everyone has something about them that sucks. Get over it.
  4. Everyone has something about them that is awesome. Find it.
  5. Jealousy detracts from you. Turn it to Admiration and use it to give honest praise and inspire yourself.
  6. Patience really is a virtue.
  7. Love is patient and love is kind, but the people you love can drain the life out of you if you don’t take time for yourself.
  8. The best stories root themselves into our hearts and continue to inspire us through out our life.
  9. Sometimes it’s okay to turn the TV on for the kids in the middle of the day.
  10. Life is too short to spend with people you don’t like.
  11. Dogs are some kind of angels. Messy, annoying, loud angels.
  12. There are no happy endings, because nothing ever ends (Stole this one from Peter Beagle)
  13. Sometimes the straightest path to your goal involves alot of difficult terrain.
  14. There is no us and them. Every group consists of individuals trying to do the best for themselves and their loved ones.
  15. Cats are assholes. Adorable, snuggly assholes.
  16. Relationships change because people change. It is okay to grow apart. It is okay to let go. It is okay to make adjustments and change with the relationship.
  17. It’s never too late to pursue a dream.
  18. No one will ever complete you. You are already complete. Find the pieces within yourself.
  19. Lies will always come back to you. Be honest, even when it is hard.
  20. It is possible, and important, to be honest and still be kind.
  21. Our planet is a beautiful gift. Enjoy it!
  22. Mistakes and failures are just lessons. They will never stop coming so just accept this already and move on to the next one.
  23. There is real magic. You will encounter it. Don’t brush it off or you won’t notice it the next time.
  24. Relationships are not supposed to be really hard. If it’s a constant struggle to be in it, then there is big problem.
  25. Everyone’s problems are the most important problems to them.
  26. Expect the best of people in your life. They will usually meet those expectation.
  27. Forgive the people you love. Count to ten, take a few days, whatever you need to do, but do it.
  28. Siblings are your best and worst friends. Cherish them.
  29. Whatever you do, whoever you are, own it.
  30. Don’t waste time trying to impress snobs.
  31. Giving compliments costs you nothing but it does alot to brighten the world.
  32. There are no calories on your birthday.
  33. If you don’t love yourself now, losing weight, gaining money, getting a boyfriend, a promotion, a new car, a boob job will not change that. You can always improve, but you have to like the product to start with.
  34. The world is NOT a bad place unless you focus on the bad.

Much love friends. Thanks for the support!

Why do you write what you write?

When I graduated from journalism school I interviewed for a few local papers. I wrote a few freelance articles.

Instead of journalism I found myself working in graphic design. I liked the work. It made sense to me and allowed me to be creative, something school board articles didn’t have alot of room for. At some point I gave up on journalism as a career altogether, although I still write the occasion article when the mood strikes me. I am not inspired to follow leads, at least not modern ones and I am not particularly interested in sifting out the facts, at least not in a way that is appropriate for modern journalism.

I write fiction. Particularly fantasy, horror, sci fi and spec fic. Occasionally I write poetry. I write music. That’s what I am compelled to write. That is what I want to pursue. That is where my best work lies.

Why? Well, that’s what I’ve always been most interested in reading. That’s the easy answer. The harder answer?

I write horror because it gives me control over my fears.I grew up supremely frightened of the monsters under my bed. If I create those monsters I can also destroy them.

I write fantasy/sci fi and spec fic because they stretch my mind, they provide me with a forum to answer all of the what if questions that are constantly running through my mind. They allow me a place to illustrate my own personal truths, set on a stage that isn’t as threatening as the real world (even if there are shadow parasites).

I write about these things because I think about these things, at length, and enjoy doing it and because they’re not real or quite so upsetting as things like politics.

So I am curious, writer friends, why do you write what you write?

When you decide you can’t fail

Writers are notoriously pessimistic, and for good reason. It is effing hard to publish a book, no matter which route you take. First you spend months, years, decades even writing a novel, than you edit the hell out of it for more months, years, decades. Then you pick a publishing path and go down it and that, unfortunately can be and often is the most crushing of all.

If it’s your first novel or your second novel or sometimes even your twelfth, well shit, you might have to swallow a nasty big pill that it’s just not that good. And how discouraging is that when you’ve bleed your creative blood into that book for so long?

I did it. I gave up. After I realized the novel I had been writing and editing since college was just not going to get cleaned up like I wanted it to, I had too much other responsibility, I didn’t have any more energy to give it, I puttered around with my plans of being a novelist an obscure dream that might never happen.

I thought about what I would do with my life when my kids went to school. Should I go back to get my Masters? Should I become a family therapist?

Then one day I was riding with my husband, talking about this subject and something came to me. I had a lovely, short, YA fairy tale fantasy that would be perfect for the market right now. And I didn’t have a strong investment in it that would stop me from cutting it to pieces to edit. Then I could self publish and let the card fall where they may.

And the more I thought about it, the more I wanted it. And the more I wanted it, the more excited I got about it. And the more excited I got, the more I realized that I could finally put aside the things that discouraged me before. I could see this as a learning experience. I could accept all that came with it as a learning experience.

Well, that novel never quite made it to kindle. (or you would see it heavily advertised on this site) but I did learn. I started this blog, which gave me a place to write about writing, which also made me realize I know alot about writing. It also made me realize how much I had to learn and then I went out and learned more.

It connected me to other writers here and on twitter. It gave me access to books and authors I never would have thought to read before. And it strengthened my resolve.

I don’t want to settle. And I will not. Maybe I will go back to school and get my masters. Maybe all the work I’ve done for the current novel I’m pitching will not pay off for a long time. Maybe I need more edits.

But none of that is failure.

A book can survive an infinite number of edits. A story can survive anything. And I have more books in me. Hell I have just waiting to be edited right now.

You can’t fail unless you give up. The options are limitless in the publishing world right now and every writer should ditch their ego and embrace their eventual, inevitable success.

Prologue hate, what to do?

To be totally honest, when I first heard that many agents HATE prologues I kinda rolled my eyes. Oh great, something else to nitpick over. But when I read up on it a little more I got it, sorta. Agents and editors  must be incredibly discerning and prologues, unfortunately, are often done wrong.

This is terrible news because the book I am currently trying to pitch has a prologue that there is no way I can cut and is completely out of format with the rest of my book if I just make it into a chapter.

So what is a prologue supposed to do? Done correctly it sets the tone, gives a little insight on the story that is to come, outside of the general flow and format of the rest of the book.

Why do people in the publishing industry hate it? Incorrectly used, it acts as an info dump. All the backstory in a chapter that isn’t good enough to be a chapter. I have read there is a general consensus that people don’t even read prologues (I always do).

So if you’re trying to decide if you should keep your prologue, make it chapter one or cut it completely here are some things to consider.

-Is it an excuse for backstory dump? Cut it and incorporate the info into the rest of the story.

– Does it fit with the timeline of the rest of the story? If most of the story takes place in 1989 but the prologue is in 1488 keep it.

– Does it contain your hook? Make it chapter one.

-Does it tell a slightly related story that never comes up again? Cut it

-Is it a different format than the rest of your story but is very relevant to the rest of the book? Keep it.

So what’s the solution to that hate in the publishing world? How do you prevent your manuscript from being tossed before it’s even given a chance?

Well, in my case I know my prologue is needed. But it could well be that when it gets to an editor they decide to make it into chapter one. I’m not comfortable making that decision as the first part of my story follows a specific format with POV of characters and the character in the prologue isn’t one of them. But that doesn’t mean when I submit a sample with a query I have to label the prologue as the prologue. With only 10-25 pages submitted, the format isn’t established yet.

What are your opinions of prologues? Do you read them? Do you write them? Do you hate them?