How to Title Stuff

You walk into a bookstore.  A promising book peeks out at you from a shelf.  You take it out and look it over.  Intriguing cover art, thick enough to really enjoy, and the synopsis looks great.  You look at the title again to memorize it for next time (you don’t have the funds this time to splurge on unknown books), and wince.  Despite all its promise, it has a generic title.  White Lie, a contemporary novel.  Dark Kingdom, a fantasy.  My Perfect Laddie, a romance.  Everything else sounds so promising, but someone didn’t know how to title their book.

For me, I wouldn’t be as enthusiastic.  A title that brings nothing new to the imagination doesn’t promise much for the rest of the book.

On the other hand, some writers produce brilliant titles.  The title gives a piece of the book which, combined with the cover, synopsis, and everything else, produces curiosity.  The Scorpio Races, for instance, is rather cryptic in terms of the contents of the book.  However, you know immediately it’s about a race, or a series of races.  Scorpio isn’t very easy to interpret— it has a couple different connotations, but none of them apply to racing.  It seems to imply a bit of danger and some other stuff that means more to people who have read the book.  Combined, the words leave more unknown than they clarified.  They create curiosity, and if you’re trying to figure out what the book is like, you’re still stuck.

I guess you’ll have to read the book to find out.  Sneaky author.

You know what a good title does: it makes you curious, it gives you a taste without shoving it down your throat.  But I think you also know how to create a good title.  I’m pretty sure I just explained it. Read the full post »

How to Write Epic Poetry

John Milton is as good as his writing.

He grew up wanting to write poetry, but held off on writing anything spectacularly huge until later in his life.  When he had succeeded in his career, had a family, and gone blind, he finally decided to write some epic poetry, the kind he always knew he could write.  He dictated Paradise Lost, and we still praise him for it.

But was it some act of genius?  Was it a lightning-strike of a Muse, a moment of inspiration unparalleled before and since?  Of course not.  He spent time on this thing.  He thought long and hard about how he was going to write it, who the characters were, and what story he wanted to tell.  He weighed the options of language— should he write it in English, or a more epic language of Greek or Latin?  (He was fluent in all three, and probably several more.)  Should it rhyme?  All of these deep, difficult questions plagued him, but he knocked them down one by one until he could produce the masterpiece we have today.

My point?  There’s a process, my friends, to writing epic poetry.  Homer, Virgil, Milton, all created amazing, lasting works— and you can too. Read the full post »

Enjoying Genre

I sincerely hope I never write literary fiction again.

Literary fiction is, when done correctly, gorgeous.  It explores deeply the complexities of a character, showing in a different light all the disgusting glory of human existence.  It insults, weeps, and delights itself.  Again, when done correctly, literary fiction is gorgeous.

I don’t want it.

A couple days ago, someone presented me with a visual prompt: the sun behind a pair of mountains behind a grove of trees, all frozen solid.  So I wrote a piece of flash fiction, and since I was on the spot and currently reading Thomas Wolfe, I wrote it in that style.  I wrote about choices, and change, and the affect of beauty on the mind.  It sounds so pretentious here, but it was only 200 words, and I showed as much as I could.  It was good practice for description and emotion.

The next day, I realized how much I loathed what I had written. Read the full post »

Writing as a Performance Art

Lately I’ve been fascinated by the concept of oral storytelling.

About a month or two ago, a friend sent me a link to some spoken word poetry.  It was fantastic.  The words themselves were beautiful, but the passion and skill of the performers made it better.  Around the same time, I listened to Neil Gaiman’s Worldbuilders readings of Jabberwocky and Green Eggs and Ham.  Anyone can read those stories, but he took it out of monotonous rhythm and made it interesting.  Plus, the accent.  Then I started on epic poetry.

If you’re at a party and they start passing around the Homer, just say no.

Last week, I found myself with the smudgy draft of a short epic poem, at nearly midnight.  It’s the short story equivalent of a real epic poem, and considering the inherent structure I’ve dissected and essayed upon since then, it’s doesn’t quite fall into all the parameters of epic poetry— but it has the basics.  I wrote a short poem in unrhymed blank verse, set in my current storyworld, about a mythic hero’s last sacrifice.  No, it doesn’t invoke the Muse.  No, it doesn’t begin in medias res.  Unfortunately, I skimped on both allegory and epic simile, because I haven’t created enough of this world to be that academic, and I still had a bit of a purple prose filter on.  But still, I consider it epic.

Probably the biggest reason is this: it’s written to be performed. Read the full post »

What’s Important? Artist Edition

Writing is hard.  At the beginning, everything is NaNoWriMo and instincts and blissful ignorance.  You begin to learn about the craft and get better, and while your first novel was truly terrible, you can laugh about it and move on.  You take pride in calling yourself a writer, among all those people who want to write but never do.  Then it begins to fade.  You keep making the same mistakes.  Words start coming slowly, and a bestselling author publishes two books in the time it takes you to get out of your slump.  The real world tries to pull you out of your fictional one.  Writing is hard.

Drawing is hard.  You start out doodling, and it turns out well, so you look into what else you can do.  It’s fun to experiment with colors, papers, and tools.  You start learning the glories of shadows, shapes, and (what a thrill!) crosshatching.  You’ve got your own sketchbook, and your doodles are getting more and more sophisticated.  Gone are the days of simple stick figures— you’ve got dragons and your friends’ faces and every good thing.  Then it begins to fade.  You begin to realize your circles are lopsided.  People look a little too noodly for your liking.  You’re still working on depth.  People want to see your sketchbook and start comparing you to other people.  You start drawings but don’t finish them because they don’t look right.  Drawing is hard.

Music.  Crafts.  Cooking.  All of it is hard.  Creating stuff is hard.  Words, sounds, sights, tastes, smells…  Well, anyone can make smells.  But good smells!  Creating is hard.  You have to think it up, gather materials, put stuff together to make different stuff, and throw it out for the world to judge.  When they get it, they might or might not like it.  If you don’t have to redo it, you get to start all over again, using none of the same things you just used!  Hurrah! Read the full post »

What’s Important?

A couple weeks ago, I stopped writing my WIP.  I had a fairly good beginning, but I was still unclear about the ending and middle— I wanted to do things intentionally, laying clues and weaving plot lines for the fantasy mystery I was planning.  After a couple false starts early on, I thought I finally had a solid beginning, and could begin to plan the rest, based on the promises I had already made.  For two weeks, I brainstormed.  With a blank piece of paper, a pen, and ambient productivity music from 99U, I worked out everything I wanted to do.  All the clues, all the reasoning in between, all the red herrings I needed.  I worked out everything.  After I finished, I began weaving all the different clues together into a timeline, outlining where characters needed to be and how they would arrive at answers.  It was humongous, but that’s what I expected— once written, it would be much tighter.

Then I looked at my beginning.  25k in, I was just getting to the choice, halfway through the first act.  That meant I was planning on having 8 times my current wordcount— 200k words.  For a fantasy MG mystery.  That’s not actually that bad, but considering the giant outline I had, even if I condensed it, that 200k wouldn’t be the maximum figure.  This novel was looking way thicker than I wanted it to be.  Not only that, but I had only outlined the first half so far, and the scene halfway through felt an awful lot like a denouement.  The entire thing felt wrong.

So I had to stop again.  While I like the idea of a complex mystery, there are limits to what a single novel can hold.  Glorious entanglements are one thing— confusing people and taking too long to tell a story is another. Read the full post »

One-Line Characterization

The world is full of people.  Depending on our situation or lifestyle, we might come into contact with as many as hundreds of people every week, or as few as a dozen.  Few people manage to live without human contact of any kind.  For me, I have about five different places I might find myself on a given day where the number of people around me meets or exceeds a hundred.  When I’m not with my family, I’m probably out in one of these areas, interacting with people.

Assuming I have five different social circles, each with a hundred people, that means I see five hundred people per week.  A couple overlap, and my family intermingles with these circles, but that’s the general figure.  Five hundred faces I see every week.  Five hundred people with completely different lives, who think thoughts wholly unknown to me.  I know many of their names, and can name the recognizable traits that allow me to tell them apart, but these are five hundred acquaintances, with some friends scattered among them.

How many people does your main character see in a week? Read the full post »

Transitions

This is a concept I’ve sat on for months, mentioning it here or there when I needed it. A couple times, I’ve started to write a post about it, but stopped. It seemed too elementary, too high school essay writing class. Transitions are technical, boring– useful, but the world is fully survivable without them. But recently, I’ve begun paying attention once again to transitions. Books, movies, anything with a scene break. Transitions make a story run smoothly.

Transitions are fairly self-explanatory. They bridge from one thing to another. When something is running smoothly, such as paragraphs in a scene, no transitions are necessary. But the moment something breaks, such as a scene, a chapter, or a viewpoint, a transition either exists to smooth it over, or doesn’t.

A chapter ends with a plot twist to make the reader want to keep reading. A transition makes it easy to keep reading. Read the full post »

Pacing with Acronyms

Who here knows exactly what pacing is?

Me neither.  Pacing is an ambiguous, amorphous mass hanging beyond the edges of perception.  We know how to define it, generally speaking (how quickly or slowly the story is moving), but how do you do pacing?  How do you write it, how do you perfect it, how do you even talk about it?  “Pacing was off,” people say about a story; “It tore along at a breakneck pace,” about something else.  But no one talks about it.  Sure, you get an episode with James Dashner on Writing Excuses, but it talks about different stuff.  Cliffhangers, chapter length, reveals— all things that can help.  But nothing that truly encompasses the massive scope of pacing.

Perhaps pacing is just a term that reviewers use.  Perhaps writers don’t use it because it sums up plot twists and emotion and everything else we’re trying to balance anyway— boiling it all down into pacing means we don’t focus on the little things that make it happen.  And yet…  I don’t think so.  Anything the reader can complain about ought to be fixable by the writer.  Even though pacing is the product of several writerly virtues, it’s much more than just a series of chapter endings.

Joss Whedon gave a screenwriting lecture/chat, sometime just after the Avengers dropped.  Unlike his SDCC appearances, he managed to get away from normal fan questions and talk about the craft of writing, exposing a lot of interesting ideas.  Among them was a single paragraph describing a language fluke he experienced while working on the script for Serenity.  Writing down the initials for specific character phenomena in each scene, he found himself writing the acronym “FASTER” under a scene.

That conglomeration of ingredients, he said, makes the audience crazily engaged in the story, and keeps them moving forward.  What is that?  That’s a breakneck pace.  As you drop letters from the acronym, the pace slows.  So, what’s the acronym? Read the full post »

Short Story Challenge: The Result

Last week (last year, in fact), I posted a short story challenge.  In 24 hours, write, edit, and publish a short story.  The ideal playground was New Year’s Eve, when sleep deprivation is socially acceptable anyway.  Some people decided to take it easy and start in the early afternoon, and some people (like me) started a bit too late.  Some people decided not to participate after all, and some decided not to publish.  Nevertheless, several people wrote short stories and posted them not a day later.  Those lucky writers began the new year having already affirmed their writing identities— they can now go on with their lives and write as much or as little as they wish.

Writing more is more fun, but still.

Those who participated (that I know of) are listed below, in no particular order.  I’ve tried to read and comment on all of them.  If you value a good short story, you’d be wise to do the same.

Last New Year’s Eve, by Rachel (typographigirl)

Nothing but the Tooth, by Robyn Hoode

Game Over, by Shim (magicandwriting)

Erasing the Future, by Anna Lee

Auld Lang Syne, by Erin (erinkenobi2893)  (For those interested, she posted another, original short story more recently: Dawn.)

Attack on Trowbridge, by Lily J

Smile, by agoodoldfashionedvillain

Avengers New Year, by Iris

A New Year’s Mistake, by Darci Cole (aka Thor)

And Briar Eden wrote a story as well, which unfortunately has remained untitled.  You can find that here.

You can find my short story, A Death of Stone, here.  Congratulations to all who rose to the challenge.  I hope this can happen again, if only in a year.  If you enjoyed the challenge of writing a short story, but found the 24-hour bit odious, you don’t need an occasion to write a short story.  This challenge proves several things: you’re all capable of producing a good story under a deadline, you’re bold enough to publish something you wrote (I know mine was imperfect— I’d have liked to have had another week to edit), and you can write a short story almost on command.  Sit down and write.  There’s nothing better for you and your writing career.

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