Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Reading like a Writer

Writers don't read we study. We learn the craft by analyzing what's been done before. I read this often when I was first learning to write but never how do this. I, eventually,  learned how to pick a story apart through my literature classes as an undergrad.

So, to hopefully save you some confusion, I examined The Oblong Box by Poe from Tales of Mystery and Imagination to show you how to analyze a story.

When studying a story, especially one written by Poe, I always have Dictionary.com open. If I'm not absolutely sure of a word's meaning, I write it and the definition down. You better understand the story by doing this. Those words will live in your mind waiting for just the right opportunity to make you look good.

It also helps to go into a story knowing what you want to get from it. I read Poe because I love his language. I love language in general, actually, but Poe has an amazing way of using words in unusual ways.  

The Oblong Box starts with- "some years ago, I engaged passage from Charleston, SC...." I underlined "engaged passage" because I'd never seen engaged used like that. Further in is the line "I had nothing to do but to return home and digest my impatience at leisure." How awesome is "digest my impatience at leisure"! I underlined it and simply wrote "nice" in the margin.

Make notes of the plot points- subtle hints of things to come. At the beginning, the narrator, who will be traveling by ship, becomes obsessed with why his friend and fellow passenger, Wyatt, reserved "three state-rooms" when he only needed two. The narrator spends half the page wondering what the extra room is for; this lets you know the room is very important.

Ask yourself- why did the narrator become obsessed in the first place? Why didn't they simply ask Wyatt what the extra room was for? Wyatt was not the only person on the ship that the narrator knew, so why do they focus only on him?

Everything is in a story for a reason. Understand why the author included a detail and why they put it in that spot. 

A story is all about the careful release of information. Analyze, for example, what you know about the character and how the author revealed it to you. How did the author keep you turning the page?

Evaluate word choice to increase your vocabulary and add some spice to your story's language.

Always ask "why."


Monday, September 26, 2011

When and How to Buy Books on Writing


You have your first novel in mind and all you want to do is buy truckloads of books on writing.

I know you're excited but put the books down and step away from the Writing Reference section.

Restrain yourself

If you start buying writing books with no clear direction you'd end up with some you'd never use. (I know. I have plenty.)

The first thing you should do is write your story. Don't worry about it being perfect. Like I said in Got Nuts! -Rough Drafts, the first draft is going to be garbage. Its purpose is to move the story from your head to the computer or paper.

So, do you buy the books after you've written the draft?

Maybe.

Have you read any books in your chosen genre? Reading what's already been done can teach you more than any writing book ever could. In every genre, there are books and authors that set the standard. For Dark Fantasy, it's books by Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin; for Horror, it's Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker (to name a few). Find these giants for your genre and analyze them. Make notes in the margin. (Reading like a writer deserves its own post. I'll get into that next time.) Don't just read books in your genre, every story can teach you something.

If you've done this already, examine your story in comparison to what published authors have written. Do you notice an aspect of your story is lacking? For instance, are you characters flat, is your dialogue a bit weak, can your descriptions be better? Whenever trouble you're having, buy a book covering that subject. I usually go to Writer's Digest Shop, find a book I need then search for it on Amazon.com to see what others said about it. If the book got bad reviews, I look at the section called "Customers Who Bought this Item also Bought" to find similar books.

You should try finding the books you want in the library before you buy them, though. I have books I don't use anymore simply because I no longer need them. When I first started writing, my characters were flat and unemotional so I bought books on the subject. They helped me out a lot. I now have no problem making my characters come alive which means I no longer use those books.

Also, in almost every genre there's a book dedicated to how to write in that genre. For Horror, it's On Writing Horror by the Horror Writers Association; for Fantasy, there's The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, Terry Brooks and many others. Find yours and buy it if you can, it will definitely come in handy.

Good Luck and Have Fun!





Sunday, September 25, 2011

The When of My Story


Picturing the when of my story has become complicated or maybe I'm making it more complicated than it actually is. Every event is set but I can't see them in any sort of order. I tried to write them out list form but it didn't help. So, I tried another approach.

I never wrote down all my characters' exact ages. I had them set in my mind but never on paper. (Seems like an obvious thing to do first but I'm still learning). This helped a lot. I had to change some things. In my timeline, I set a character around 13 at a certain event but that couldn't be the case because I'd pictured her around 60 during another event happening at the same time.

It's also helping me determine exactly what's happened before the story. I'd written a simple scene where "Tom" was talking with "Susan". But, according to the ages of my characters and my timeline, "Susan" was gone well before the story started. It' s unlikely "Tom" would have a conversation with her in the present. Well all right, not unlikely but it's not happening in my story. 

My timeline is starting to sound like math problems but it needs to be done. "Mary" is 28 at the beginning of the story and her brother "James" is 21. If "Mary" was 10 when they were taken from their parents, how old was "James"?  3. But, in my mind, I had him at a much older age. James being 3 was a complete shock! I had to take chunks out of my story!

There's still a lot to sort out but writing down the ages helped me better picture my story.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Know Your Characters

I know naming comes with the job description but man, is it difficult. It's harder than writing the story and editing it. When creating a world, you sometimes need a new name for everything- cities, villages, races, stores, houses, rooms, professions- everything. On top of that, you can't name your characters something normal without a really good reason. But, names are extremely important and need to be given a lot of thought. You cannot do it if you don't know your world and characters as if they're your best friends.

I've been trying to come up with a name for my race of creatures. A couple of days ago, I sat down surrounded by Dictionary.com, a print dictionary, a print thesaurus and my journal and started jotting down words that described them. I was close to coming up with a name when it hit me...the first of the race aren't the type to name themselves. They love being what they are; they just don't care what they're called. They're extremely powerful so no ones dumb enough to call them out of their names.

But, my search will not go in vain. Though the first ones wouldn't name themselves, others of the same race would; smaller communities living in isolation. So, my race of creatures won't have one name but many (as if writing wasn't hard enough).

And, I finally know what I'm going to call their Power!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Unexpected Lesson Learned from YouTube

I signed up for YouTube just for the fun of it. I posted a few videos and subscribed to a few channels including Simon & Schuster, GameSpot, Nintendo 3DS and Capcom because it could but, I never checked them or logged-on regularly. I don't even remember by password. Fortunately, I can sign in through Google.

For the entire summer, the channels I subscribed to didn't post any new content then September rolls around and now I'm getting like 5 or 6 emails a day, probably more, from YouTube saying this channel has uploaded a new video. They're usually book or game trailers or general gaming news. It tells me the fall is really important for both the publishing and gaming industry. This may be obvious to people who've been gamers since they were children or those who've been interested in the publishing industry for years but I've only recently become seriously interested in both and did not know this. For someone who wants to be a published author, knowing the book retailing seasons is important.


I'm reading Publishing-for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management For Book Publishers by Thomas Woll which enforced what I'd just learned. Apparently, YouTube is not just for uploading funny videos of your cat.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Social Media and Job Hunting

As I said in Into the Unknown, I've been searching for a full-time job. You'd think after hearing all the doom and gloom people keep spewing about the job market, I'd be frightened or, at the very least, worried but, I'm not and I have every reason to be.

As an undergraduate, I'd apply for buckets of summer jobs from like October to July and would never even get an interview. If you've ever applied for a summer job in the federal government you know how much work filling out one application is- not to mention all the supplemental materials they ask for that sometimes included an official transcript which I had to pay for.

After all that work, I ended up, twice, in a job that pretty much exploited desperate college students. Then I graduated and was again on the hunt. The only thing that really worked for me was going through a temp agency but I can't take that route this time. I need something stable.

So going into this, I already knew simply finding an ad and applying for it was not going to work for me, it never has, but I had to try it anyway. I polished my resume, found an ad then spent hours changing my cover letter and resume to fit the job description. So far, I have nothing to show for it. I need to get creative.


Whenever I researched how people landed their entry-level position in publishing, I noticed they always got the job through cold-calling and networking. I took the hint.

It's funny. Years ago when I was thinking about what it would take to get published, I saw marketing as a four-letter-word and had hoped, somehow, I could avoid it. But now that I'm thinking about it more seriously, it doesn't look that bad; actually, it looks like it could be fun- a lot of work- but fun. I'm already on a lot of social media so now I'm researching ways to use what I've already set up to land, at least, an interview- without putting neon signs everywhere.

As it happens, I enjoy doing research and, because of my classes, I know how to do database searching and how to evaluate resources. I found this great book in the library called The Twitter Job Search Guide. I already knew some of the things the authors talked about but they pointed me in the direction of some great resources like Personal Branding Blog and 101 Job Search Experts on Twitter. On Thursday, I attended a free class at NYPL's SIBL (Science, Industry, and Business Library) Job Search Central that taught how to use LinkedIn to get a job. I need to first establish my brand, though. It is me boiled down to 160 characters (preferably less).

Job hunting, for me, has always been awful but using social media has made it more enjoyable. (I'm a nerd, so sue me.) I know it's going to be hard, a lot and I mean a lot of work, and full or rejections and wrong turns but I'm a writer remember ;)

Now, I need to create a schedule because using social media is extremely time consuming. I still need to complete class assignments and work on my stories. It's a good thing I prefer working at night.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Enjoy

I went into this story with a simple idea. A boss gives a picture of a female to a witch who he kept imprisoned in his basement. The witch drops the picture in a steaming cauldron putting a spell on the women in the photo. The women is driven to put herself into life threatening situations until, in the end, she is killed. The story turned out to be nothing like that but I love it! That always happens to me. I have a simple idea in mind but when I write the story, it transforms into something else entirety; it's better then I expected.

Enjoy


Trinny Bates packed the gun in her messenger bag. She had better- more effective- ways of killing people but relying on a weapon made her feel human.

Though no sun came through her wide apartment windows, the words "take your gun"
written on her floor in what could loosely be called blood sparkled. Trinny stared at it trying to remember the smiling, full of life Marylin Cory and not the rotting, violently jerking version that had written this message. It didn't work. She stroked the gun then turned her back on those memories and left.

The air outside was viscous. It possessed no life of its own so it was determined to rip out Trinny's. The sun wouldn’t arrive for another two hours. Until then, the world was colorless but even the sun couldn't bring life into this city. 

She found her car one block from where she left it. The place where she had parked it was saturated in blood. It dripped off the cars, mailboxes and street signs. Dozens of humans had to have leapt out their windows from a great height to make this mess. The sound of those loud humans...creatures... falling past her sixth floor window at two in the morning would’ve pleased her if they hadn’t climbed up the wall minutes later.  

Trinny's own car shone as though it had been cleaned recently. The door was unlocked. She shrugged and got in.

Her head started to hurt; a determined painful thump in her temples. To say the headache was her constant friend was overdramatic but the sentiment was still the same. After so long, it became easier to ignore the war raging between her temples. 

Trinny sped through the red light and was sad others stopped instead of running into her. Three more red lights and several close encounters later, she pulled into a building’s underground parking garage. The headache was like bricks hitting her skull. 

People...creatures... in gaudy and boring business suits walked across the garage to the elevators. They smiled at each other, joked but they were trapped in a cage of their own creation.

Several people...creatures...things waved to Trinny as she climbed out her car. The demons inside them knew who she was. They wanted to be friends. Trinny ignored them and shouldered her bag.

“Good morning Bates.”
 

James Wilson refused to call her Trinny. His opinion of the name was colorful and always entertaining. The nicest was Trinny sounded like someone whose brain was leaking out of their ears. She didn’t go by her first name so Bates was his only option. He gave her a half smile, always only a half smile and never showed any teeth.
 

People often thought they were siblings but James had a calm and intimidating demeanor Trinny could never accomplish. He had somehow managed to keep his turquoise eyes when they moved to the human world. Those eyes stood out spectacularly against his dark brown skin.

“Good morning James.”

“You try to kill yourself again,” he said eying the new scrapes on the car.

“Sort of.”

“When is that man going to learn his witch doesn’t work on you?”

“She gives me a headache.”

He chuckled as he grabbed Trinny’s hand, placed it in the crook of his arm and steered her towards the elevator. She itched to snatch her hand away, pull her gun on him and force him to stop acting like her subordinate. James would simply laugh and pat her head so, she had no choice but to let him treat her like a princess.

“So how was your night?” James asked, grinning more than was necessary.

“Loud.”

“Neighbors have a party?”

Trinny cringed. She wasn't in the mood for his games. 

“That’s what loud means." She put enough spice in each word to let James know she was irritated. 

“I wasn’t the one keeping you up last night so don’t growl at me.”

“You smell like a human, who was keeping you up last night?”

He flexed his muscle to squeeze her fingers to the point of breaking them, almost.

“How is that any of your business?”

He released her. She snatched her hand away then balked when his eyes shifted. It was the only sign a person got before he destroyed them. 

She stopped and folded her arms, “Why am I even afraid of you?”

James too stopped and turned to her. The hard calm in his eyes was infuriating.

“Because Bates, although I love you like a sister, I have no misgivings about hurting you to make a point.”

She flinched. “Demon.” 

James rolled his eyes.

“Come now.”

“Sardonic beast.”

“That’s better.”

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Adventures in Voting

Today was supposed to be the first time I voted in New York so, I was nervous but excited. I participated in the last 2 presidential elections but was registered in DC, which is not a state. Voting in NY is a whole different animal.

Visiting the Board of Elections in the City of New York's website and checking out the list of candidates didn't help my nerves- neither did visiting the New York State Board of Elections' page. The list was so intimidating. In the end, I called the BOE and asked them who would be on the ballot. Though the poll site is only two blocks from me, I didn't know exactly where it was so that, in of itself, was a little adventure.

I was excited but in the end, I couldn't vote. When I received my voter registration card, I noticed it said none beside party even though I had registered Democrat. I didn't think it would be a problem- shows I still have a lot to learn. For the primary election, I need to be registered Democrat, Republican or Independent.

I'm far more heartbroken than I thought I would be but, at least this is an easy fix (hopefully). The volunteer at the poll site gave me a form I need to fill out and mail in, which I will be doing today. I knew voting in NY would be different but I grossly underestimated how different it would be and how much I still don't know. 

Lesson Learned.


Friday, September 9, 2011

In Case You Missed It

In case you missed Obama's Job Plan speech last night, you can watch it here.


It was very well done; presented in terms everyone can understand. The American Jobs Act is a brilliant idea and sounds like the Obama Administration put a lot of thought and research into it.

I wonder if people will tear this apart and start turning it into something it isn't like that nonsense about death panels during the heath care debate. I just hope Republicans don't oppose the bill simply to make Obama look bad just so he won't get reelected. If they don't agree with it, they should come up with their own plan that has nothing to do with trickle-down economics because it doesn't work.

On a slightly unrelated note, what is so bad about socialism? People are using it like it's a four letter word. The only thing I know about socialism is from what I learned in my classes. According to Oxford Dictionaries, it is a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole. To me, it just sounds like a different way of running things. I'm in no position to say it's better or worse. Is socialism really as horrible as people say it is or is this simply a case of it's different so it must be bad? 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Yet Another Book

This is the reason why I stay away from bookstores. I can't help buying something. I went to B&N last week to kill some time and see if Naruto vol. 52 (manga) had been released yet (it hadn't). I was browsing the new fantasy books when I came across The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2011 edited by Paula Guran. I picked it up and could not put it down. Usually, I stay away from anthologies because I don't finish them. I didn't even make it halfway through the last two horror anthologies I bought. The "best horror" wasn't creepy and, for me, if a horror story isn't creepy it hasn't done its job, no matter how well written it is. When it comes to horror, I stick to the classics.

Since my writing falls more into dark fantasy than horror, I've become fascinated with the genre so, when I saw The Year's Best Dark Fantasy and Horror, I had to get it. Actually, I put the book back thinking I'd buy it at the end of the week when I got paid but I couldn't see myself walking out of the store without it and risk returning and not finding it. I bought this book in the name of research.

I'm enjoying it so far. I've had a hard time finding stories similar to mine but while reading this collection, I keep thinking, "sounds like something I'd write." I'm back to reading two books at a time but I don't feel overwhelmed. I'm really excited to have so many good books to read.

(I just checked Amazon and found out Naruto vol. 52 was released today. Man, am I in trouble!)

Friday, September 2, 2011

An Amazing Idea: We the People

Check this out! I'm curious how it'll work once it's up and running. It sounds spectacular. 


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