Color in the Lines

I love colors.

Ha! I hear you say.  You, Liam, love colors?  You have often said your favorite color is grey (spelled just so).  Your blog has only the barest bit of red.  The same is true of your socks!

To which I blink, wonder how you got a view of my socks, and begin to explain.  I love colors because of the symbolism they allow.  In general, that means moods, but occasionally colors symbolize abstract concepts or objects.  Studies say colors can strengthen different moods, such as blue with calm or yellow with happiness.  (Personally, I link blue with asphyxiation and yellow with disgust, but that’s me.)  Depending on that sort of thing, a day care might have blue walls with bright, happy murals.  Hospitals are traditionally considered white, which brings to mind sterilization and all manner of pointy things.

Film thinks a great deal about color.  In movies and TV shows, the hint of color in a shot can grab the attention.  The lack of color (a black and white film) gives a very different feel to a story.  Use darkness to create the feeling of mystery or evil, use bright colors to indicate reality— or sometimes, a world outside of reality.  Costumes, sets, lighting, all have colors in mind.

I feel like books don’t use that enough. Read the full post »

Hang a Flag

In a lot of my posts, I spend about eight hundred words describing a process.  Sometimes it concerns character, sometimes style, sometimes whatever comes into my head.  I do my best to be as clear as I can— do this for this effect, do that for that effect.  If you do this and you’re looking for that effect, you’re going to be disappointed.  If I’m really clear about it, I give an example and explain several times.  Somewhere in that eight hundred words, however, I’ll add another hundred words of disclaimer (at least, if I’m smart): this will not work all the time.  This rule is not a law.  You can listen or ignore.

I always feel like that one paragraph undermines the entire post.  It’s like saying to a five-year-old, don’t stick your hand in boiling water— then adding, but you can if you really want to.  It turns out that yes, you can stick your hand into boiling water without getting burned (there are gloves for that).  Under the correct circumstances, you can get away with it.  But that five-year-old isn’t going to have the forethought to create those conditions.

Did I just liken all of my followers to a five-year-old?  I’m sorry, that’s not quite what I meant.  Here’s the thing, though: writing rules are never absolutes.  (Even this writing rule isn’t an absolute; I think I’m going to add a disclaimer at the end of the post somewhere.)  When I or anyone else says never to do something, or that this type of character development only works under these circumstances, it isn’t necessarily true.  There are always places where you can break a rule.

That said, here’s another rule: if you’re going to commit a crime, confess first. Read the full post »

The Walk-On’s Moment of Glory

Once in a while, you write a great story.  I know it doesn’t seem likely, but it does happen.  The plot is intricate, the setting spectacular, and the characters delicious.  And I’m not just talking about the main character.  This is a story you think could be told brilliantly from any angle.  Yes, Hans the Fairy Butcher has the best story of all of them, and you’re glad you chose him— but Gertrude the Animal Rescue Professional is almost as good, and even that unnamed androgynous janitor (you lovingly call him/her/it The Janitor) could carry the plot with some entertaining flair.  The side characters are wonderful.  So just for fun, you imagine rewriting the book, perhaps in a short story or novella, the way those characters saw it.

Examples: Parallel Perspectives (a short story Howard Tayler wrote to follow his book Massively Parallel), Ender’s Shadow (book by Orson Scott Card mirroring Ender’s Game— probably my favorite version of this, and the longest one I’ve seen), and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, s3e13 or something like that.  While I enjoyed Parallel Perspectives, and Ender’s Shadow is brilliant, I’ll be focusing on the Buffy episode because that both inspired this post and did more work to be awesome than the other two combined.

In each of the three examples, the writers took a character who isn’t usually in the spotlight and followed them around through the plot of the story.  In Parallel Perspectives, there were several characters, each getting a couple pages of comics.  Ender’s Shadow got an entire book.  Buffy didn’t even use the same plot as another episode, but created two separate plots: the one the episode ought to follow and the one it actually followed.  Rather than treating Buffy as the main character and watching the characters figure out weirdness and then fight said weirdness, the episode follows Xander as he is ousted from the group for being simultaneously uncool and inept.  We don’t know what happens in the Buffy plot, so we have no clue what’s going to happen in the Xander plot, and it’s all great fun.  But the writers made it perfectly clear this story had to be told through Xander’s eyes.  Why?  Because Buffy’s plot was boring. Read the full post »

Spider-Blogger

Several funny things happened yesterday— not surprising, considering its April Fool’s Day status.  I usually don’t do anything for April Fools.  If it makes someone else feel bad or really confused, the prank isn’t worth it to me.  But April first was also a scheduled wrap-up day for the YAvengers blog.  Combine the two and what do you get?

I would encourage you to check out that wrap-up post.  March at YAvengers was about voice, mood, and style, and we wrote some pretty good posts.  (And the puns in the wrap-up alone…  I’m still cringing at myself.)  If the wrap-up doesn’t suit you, I’ve compiled Spider-Man’s Twitter takeover for you below.  Enjoy.

Read the full post »

And the Toaster Thought…

I read an article the other day about dialogue and blocking.  I have since lost track of it, but its premise struck me: dialogue in a narrative is not the same as dialogue in a movie.  It’s simple, but profound, and it’s something I often overlook since I experience stories so often through both film and book.

First off, a couple definitions.  Dialogue is the collection of words characters say— hi, how are you, where’s my cat, and so forth.  Blocking fills the gaps in the conversation, most notably answering this question: who is speaking right now?  The simplest blocking is a dialogue tag.  “Find me a stick,” he said.  “This is space, I don’t have a stick,” she replied.  But ending or beginning every line of dialogue with ‘[pronoun] said/cried/etc.’ can get boring.  As you seek to spice it up a little, or as your characters move while they speak, you can put action as blocking instead of a tag.  “By all my calculations, Sergeant Roberts actually needs a stick.”  The robot scratched its titanium head.  “Maybe a candlestick?”

In a script, for film or stage, blocking tells the actor what to do, what emotions they should portray.  Here a frown, there a shrug, perhaps now it’s time for a tango?  You see that blocking on the screen as you hear the actor’s lines.  The two are simultaneous.

Books, on the other hand, can never achieve that.  You can only write one sentence at a time— even if you break the sentence in two parts to put some blocking in, the words and the actions don’t happen simultaneously.  The reader’s imagination, however, fills this in.  Many times, in fact, I’ve read along and found myself imagining faces or gestures the character should be making, based on the words she was saying.  Because the writer didn’t want to chop up the character’s words, that blocking never saw the page.

My point is, the dialogue/blocking mix in film is different from the dialogue/blocking mix in books.  But the simultaneous stuff isn’t actually the thing.  Books and verbal storytelling have another advantage that movies cannot use effectively: the character’s actual thoughts and emotions. Read the full post »

Early Productivity

I know I haven’t posted a lot of writing tips lately, and I hope to get back to that soon, but today I’d like to focus on my second favorite topic of conversation: productivity.  Writing is great, and all these techniques are useful and fun, but it’s useless if you can’t sit yourself in a chair and do something.  Productivity gets your story written.  Productivity dies when you get writer’s block.  An enormous part of learning how to do art is learning how to be productive.

My life has a lot of deadlines in weird places through the day.  I might spend six hours of the day out of the house, driving, meeting people, whatever needs to be done.  In all that time, I am physically unable to produce.  Those hours are black holes that devour the three-second flashes of inspiration that come with menial work.  I might be ready to write in the middle of the drive home, but when I get there, that urge is gone.

Doesn’t it make sense, then, to make the time at home extremely productive, and the time away my recharging time?  I’ll think a bunch, talk to people, glean ideas from my surroundings, and come back ready.  But that means the time at home has to use that creative energy, or else it goes to waste.  I need to be productive when I have the opportunity, and allow myself to rest when I can’t be productive.

One cool thing about productivity is that it breeds productivity.  You’ve experienced it before.  You have an hour until you have to leave the house, and you haven’t done any work yet.  You sit down, put your hands to the keyboard, start forcing words out, and suddenly you’re flying along.  You look up and you have five minutes, but you’ve never typed faster.  If you had three more hours, you could get so much work done— but the deadline comes in the way.  Productivity breeds productivity.

But it’s hard, isn’t it?  You get all your other tasks done first and clear your schedule so you can write, but when you sit down to work, you start procrastinating. Read the full post »

Beauty

This is a regularly scheduled reminder.  Today, we’re multitasking, and would thus like to remind you of several things at once.

  1. There are many types of beauty.
  2. Anything in real life can be interpreted vaguely enough to apply to writing.

Thank you.

I was watching The Lego Movie recently, for about the fifth or sixth time, and something struck me about halfway through.  It’s a scene I absolutely adore, the midpoint and one of the biggest emotional impacts in the movie.  The bad guys have just attacked and the main character’s safe haven and most of his friends are destroyed or captured.  I love this scene every time I see it.  I consider it one of the most beautiful moments of all the movies I’ve watched.

But as I watched it this time, I realized it wasn’t all that beautiful.  Yes, there were a couple exquisite shots that really tugged at the emotions, but it wasn’t the cinematography or animation that made it beautiful.  It wasn’t, essentially, the way the writers told the story at that point.  It was the story they were telling. Read the full post »

Heart-Pounding Pride

Books don’t usually get physical reactions from me.  Tears are hard to come by.  I rarely grip books in terror.  While audiobooks have me making faces along with the characters, that too is pretty restrained.  Only the best of books can get a physical reaction out of me— The Book Thief almost made my eyes leak, The Way of Kings had some suspenseful moments, and The Raven Boys has such emotions (and such a great performance on audiobook) that I couldn’t help but make faces.  But there’s one physical reaction that keeps coming up.  It’s a heart-pounding feeling of suspense as I read.

For a long time, I had no idea what caused it, only where it happened.  The first time I remember was actually in my Warriors days.  (Animal fiction is still one of my favorite genres, honestly.)  Early on in the series, the main character makes a promise to bring his nephew into the clan.  Without going into too many details, the rest of the clan is already skeptical about the main character’s worth, and bringing his nephew along was not a good idea.  The scene where the main character fulfills his promise hit me really hard.  I was on the main character’s side, I knew his reasoning, and I still wanted to tear out my hair as I waited for the clan’s reaction.

That series is one of the ones that really drove me to write.  I think that scene, and the emotional and physical impact it had for me, definitely affected that. Read the full post »

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 »

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