Monday, April 30, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Z is for...


...Zillions!


For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I have focused on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today is the final post in this month-long alphabetical blogathon, and it has been a fun, but LONG process. 

To end this series, the topic today is ZILLIONS.

All month long, I’ve written about things that are important to me in my writing; elements that I want to include in the stories I write, whether in a 100-word flash piece or in my 100,000-word WIP novel. 

But my last post for "Y" was something a little different – I didn’t just touch on a topic related to the craft of writing.  I said I wanted “You.” 

By that I meant I want someone to actually READ my work.  More than that, I want my readers to bring something of themselves to the pieces I write, and for the stories to become their stories.

Writing without readers is empty.   

I may use some pieces as practice or development and not want them to be generally read, but truthfully, those are the exception.  I WANT readers – I want you! 

Plus, while I welcome, cherish, and sincerely appreciate each and every individual reader, I want more than just you.

To share the deepest dream of almost any writer: I want my writing to reach as many readers as possible, both now and for years to come.  I want my work to last long after I’m dead and gone.

I want zillions of readers.

I hope you don’t think I’m shallow or ego-driven.  Writing, like all art, does not exist in a vacuum.  If no-one reads my work, then it is wasted.

I don’t want it to be wasted. 

So let me tell you that if you’ve read any of my work, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  I hope you have enjoyed what you read, and that maybe the story touched you and stuck with you in some small way.  I truly appreciate your readership, and I will never take it for granted.

But if you enjoyed something I've written, I would also never say “no’ to you inviting a friend along, too. 

In fact, feel free to bring a zillion of them.

-----

Thank you so much for visiting -- I hope you enjoyed this month's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge!

And you still have time to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z blogathon.  Ttry to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Y is for...



...You!


For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work. 

Today, the topic is YOU.

As a writer, I want readers. 

I want you.

In order for my writing to mean anything, I want you to read what I have written.

Otherwise, I might as well not even bother to write – I would simply be talking to myself (not that I don’t do that too, but that’s a topic for another day).

As an evolving writer, I try to not fixate on a quest for eventual publication, and I will never measure my success as a writer by how much financial gain comes from it.  But I do want at least one reader.

I want you to read my stories.

But I also ask for more than that.  In earlier A-to-Z posts, I’ve mentioned description, characterization, backstory, setting, and other elements and I’ve discussed how I lean towards the “less is more” theory when it comes to giving a reader the extra details of the story.  This is because I don’t want a reader to just passively read my stories.  I want them to bring some of themselves into the equation.   

Because when the descriptions and extraneous details are omitted, the reader can fill this in their OWN thoughts and details. Then the story becomes more than just a one-way flow of information from my head to the reader.  The reader helps flesh out and shape the story, making it much more of a personal experience.

I want you to read my stories -- and make them your own.

This is what I really want.

Thanks for visiting -- see you on Monday for the final installment in this alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Friday, April 27, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: X is for...


...X-Factor!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is X-FACTOR.

I think that with art, sometimes the entire reason why a piece speaks to me can't be determined.

Why do I like one piece of music over another that is similar? Why does a one painting stay with me longer than another that is much like the first one? What makes one movie have more impact on me than another similar one?

And in writing: Why do I care more for one piece of fiction over another piece with a similar style?

I could go through my entire A-to-Z list so far and rate the pieces on each element – believability, characterization, dialogue, and so forth. But I think there are times where all these would be so close as to not make a difference, or would all even out, and I would still be left with no clear reason why the one piece resonated more with me than the other one.

I could just ascribe it to personal taste, and I think that's a part of it, but I believe there is still some undefinable quality that the one story has that the other one doesn't. It's something unquantifiable, elusive, and mysterious.

An X-Factor.

It's what gives a special work that spark of magic; it's what moves it from something that is very good into something that is enchanted, transcendent, and powerful.

Well, in keeping with the theme of my A-to-Z Blogging Challenge posts, this extraordinary 'X-Factor' is definitely something that I want to incorporate into my writing.

The problem is that I don't think it's possible to consciously do it. The magic either happens or it doesn't.

Unfortunately, in most cases, it doesn't.

But I still want it.

What about you? Do you think there is some elusive, undefinable X-Factor that can give a piece something magical? How do you capture it?

Thanks for visiting -- see you tomorrow and Monday for the final posts in this alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: W is for...


...Wonder!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is WONDER.

When someone reads a piece I've written, I hope they enjoy it, but I also hope I perhaps brought a little sense of wonder to them.

Maybe not in the sense of, “I wonder what the Hell this idiot writer was thinking!”

Preferably more like a sense of surprise, interest, puzzlement, or joy.

Or a mix of all of them.

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I like an Unexpected ending, and how I would like to be able to incorporate a smooth and fulfilling ending-twist to many of my pieces.. But even if the reader sees my ending coming long before the final scene, I would still like to at least provide them some enjoyment and a little hint of wonder.

Something that lasts.

I hope that in even my shortest stories, I leave my readers with something that will stick with them long after the story is finished.

Maybe I made them change their perspective enough to see something familiar in a new way; maybe I gave a feather-light tickle to an old pleasant memory; maybe I gave them something new to think about; or maybe I left them with a sense of resolution and contentment that lingered for a while.

Something that evoked – maybe only just the slightest bit – that sense of wonder.

I think too be able to do that as a writer would be...

Well, wonderful!

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: V is for...


...Voice!
 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is VOICE.

All this month, as part of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, I've been hitting on topics that I would like to include in my writing – Characterization, Plot, Rhythm, good Editing, an appropriate Lexicon, and all the others. I want to stir all these elements together into a literary stew and pour it out into gripping stories that capture and connect with my reader.

But there's also this other little thing: I want it to sound like me.

I'm not the best guitar player in the world -- not the fastest; not the flashiest. But when I hear a recording of something I've played on, I can instantly tell that I was the one playing the guitar. For better or worse, I sound like me.

I want that to happen with my writing, too.

I want to have a unique voice that is immediately identifiable. I want my readers to recognize my work even if they didn't happen to see my name on the cover or the by-line.

A certain rhythm in the wording, a certain turn of phrase, a unique spin to the characters – for better or worse, I want all my writing to sound like me.

Not to sound the same, of course. I dabble in different genres and my style for a dark noir mystery would be different than how I would write a humorous, light, and quirky piece. But regardless of genre, I want to have a definite style which comes through and says, “Chris Fries wrote this.”

I think all the successful artists have a distinct, unique, identifiable style – that is part of the reason I would call them successful, regardless of how famous or financially well-off they became. People instantly recognize their work. Others may copy them, but they remain special.

As a writer, I may never be famous, or widely-read, and I may never make a dime from my writing. But if I develop a unique voice that instantly lets my reader know, "Chris Fries wrote this," then I think I will have achieved a certain level of suceess as a writer.

So what do you think? How important is to you to have a unique voice?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: U is for...


...Unexpected!

 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is UNEXPECTED.

I love a twist ending. Both as a reader and as a writer.

Especially with my short stories, I want my reader to have that sensation of surprise at the discovery of an ending they did not expect. While I may never reach the mastery of O. Henry, it is something that I strive for.

But I want it to be something that develops smoothly in the course of the story, and I want it to occur because I'm playing fair. Nothing forced, contrived, weak, or cliche.

No “and then I woke up” cheesiness. No inane or arbitrary hand-waving to try and cover up plot holes that are left unresolved. No unfair 'Deus ex Machina' manipulations where the surprise gets pulled out of thin air.

I want the ending to be unexpected, but I want it to be logical, consistent, and to provide a smooth and rewarding resolution to the story. I want it to be surprising, but not hidden – I even want to plant clues that don't give the ending away; clues that might seem totally insignificant on the first read, but which become clear and obvious after the fact.

This is what I want, although it is HARD to do well.

But I dream of being able to do it smoothly, effortlessly, and perfectly each and every time.

And then I wake up...

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: T is for...


...Triad!
 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is TRIAD.

The power of three.

In musical terms, it takes three notes to create a full chord – a root, a third, and a fifth. This base chord is then the starting point for all harmonic structure with alteration (minor, diminished, augmented) and extension (seventh, ninth, sixth, etc).

In writing, I also think there is a certain unity and cohesiveness in a triad. At some writing resources, this is even foramlly presented as 'The Rule of Three.'  Three elements joined together can  provide a tightly woven writing construction, both at the macro level (story structure, plot, characterization), and at the micro level (sentence construction).

A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. A plot has a build, a peak, and a resolution. A character has a past, a present, and a future.

The rule of three can even add a certain strength to sentences and descriptions. I think it can help develop rhythm, provide flow, and make things easier to read.

I tend to do it a lot – grouping things into three, often automatically, subconsciously, and as a normal part of the flow of my writing. It just seems to be a natural thing for me to do.

One thing, though – I DO adhere to the Oxford comma in my lists of three. We can debate about the 'proper' way to do it, but for me, that comma before the final item in a list is natural, expected, and correct.

That's just how I roll.

So are you like me and lean on the rule of three?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: S is for...


...Setting!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is SETTING.

When and where a story takes place can range from insignificant to vitally important.  It really depends on the story. 

If I’m creating a science fiction piece, I will probably spend more time on setting than I would with other stories.  For a suspense story for example, a setting like “modern day in some unnamed city” might be more than enough.

Fantasy writers can spend a tremendous amount of time developing an intricately woven alternate reality where a zoo of magical beasts exists alongside heroes and villains produced from heavily-branching multi-generational political dynasties.  Half of the story can just be getting the reader up to speed on the setting.

In general, I prefer not to do this.

Like with backstory, I typically try to supply just enough information and detail to anchor the story, and then let the characters and plot take it from there. 

But that doesn’t mean I don’t value setting or recognize that it is important.  Consider what “The Wizard of Oz” might have been if Dorothy had lived in the Bronx. “Over the Rainbow” might have become “Under the Subway” and the munchkins might have morphed into C.H.U.D.*-like beasts.

It’s just that, overall, I tend to lean towards the “Less is More” school of thought regarding what information to dump on my readers, and this applies to setting, too.

What about you?  Is setting a critical part of your stories?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!


*(reference to schlock ‘80’s horror film): C.H.U.D.


Friday, April 20, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: R is for...


...Rhythm!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is RHYTHM.

I’m a writer.  Well, OK – I guess until I achieve some measure of publication, I’m an aspiring writer.

But I’m also a musician.  I’ve played guitar for over 35 years. So it’s natural (or at least familiar) for me to think in terms of rhythm, beat, syncopation, accent, and dynamics. 

Rhythm is all around us – the beating of our heart, the ebb and flow of our breath, the tempo of day into night, the cycle of the seasons. Our lives themselves are immersed, surrounded, and defined by rhythm,

So it needs to be there in my writing, too.  Plot pacing, scene tempo, dialogue diction, and even the word-choices of my description all benefit form a sense of timing. 

I want there to be the proper beat to my prose, the right ebb and flow in my descriptions, the perfect tempo in my character development, and a fully-developed cycle in my plot.

So I’m striving to not repeat words unless I’m doing it intentionally to accent a beat; varying sentence length to compliment what I’m describing – fast and short for action, slow and long for rest; letting my characters reveal themselves within the proper timing; and constructing my plot to complete a cycle of rise and fall.

It’s not always easy.  But when it works, my writing is so much better for it.   

And you want to know one of the best ways I’ve found to test my work for the right rhythms?  Reading it aloud.  Better yet -- recording it and then playing it back. 

Sure, it can be painful to listen to when it doesn’t work out so well, but for me, this is a great way to appraise the rhythm and give a work that final check before declaring it “finished.”

So gimme a beat and let’s start writing!

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: Q is for...


...Quirk!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is QUIRK.

In this month-long blogathon, I’ve been itemizing these things I want to achieve in my writing.  I’ve talked about how important character is to me, about the need for tension and conflict, the use of dialogue, the vital importance of a compelling plot, and many more subjects.


All this is true, but there’s also something else I want to include, even in my most ‘serious’ writing.  It’s not at the level of plot or character in terms of importance -- and it’s best used sparingly -- but I think my writing is better for having it in there.

It’s just a dash of quirkiness.

Maybe it’s because I’m a smart-ass at heart, have a hopelessly warped sense of humor, watched entirely too much Monty Python’s Flying Circus during my formative years, or just plain failed to completely grow up, but I like a bit of irreverence in my work.  I think just a hint of slightly-skewed silliness can add that stick-to-you element that moves my stories from the mundane to the memorable.

A bizarre character trait; an odd setting; an outlandish sequence of events; or a weird and unexpected plot twist can be just the thing to add that right amount of smirk to a story.  

Although, like I said, it takes just a dab.  I don’t want my work to careen headlong into buffoonery and farce. Well, at least not EVERYTHING I write.  So, like a potent spice, it’s best to sprinkle lightly. 

But even the deepest, darkest, and most desperate tragedy can benefit from a corpse with a twinkle in his eye, don’t you think?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: P is for...


...Plot!
 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is PLOT.

In earlier posts, I wrote about how important characterization was in my writing; about how I wanted to create memorable characters that stick with a reader. I want my characters to seem like real people a reader can identify with, connect to, and become emotionally involved with.

But I also talked back on G-Day about how I'm a Genre writer, and that I want much more than just memorable characters in my writing.

I want plot – The sequence of interesting and emotionally gripping events, undercurrents, and backdrop that makes up the whole story.

Without that, even the best characters are wasted. Consider “Hamlet” – what if the story was about the day that the Danish prince decided to go fishing and caught some nice flouder for the royal supper? Or how about if “The Lord of the Rings” detailed the season that Frodo and his hobbit friends helped bring in a particularly bountiful harvest?

Think these revised stories would impact readers the way the originals have?

Nope.

For a story to work, there have to be interesting events that have significant impact. Events that CHANGE my characters. Maybe they don't need to have life and death stakes or nail-biting suspense, but my stories have to include emotionally-charged events that force my characters to evolve, to grow, and to achieve a deeper understanding of life or themselves -- or to suffer some sort of loss because they refused to.

For what I want in my writing, I think it boils down to a simple equation:

Compelling Characters + Gripping Plot = Successful Story.

That's all it takes.

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: O is for...


...Opposition!

 
For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is OPPOSITION.

As a writer who's still trying to learn all I can about writing, one of the things I keep coming across is that the basis for all effective drama is conflict. To hold my reader I have to incorporate conflict, tension, striving against outside forces or inner demons, risk, stakes, and other elements that basically boil down to the same thing – opposition. It doesn't have to be that THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE hinges on every minor detail of my story, but there better be elements of conflict and opposition, even if it's only at the inner emotional level within a single character.

OK, I get it, and actually, I agree. To make for interesting reading, I need to make characters, scenes, and plot elements that highlight tension, conflict, and opposition.

Who wants to read a story about an average guy with a happy life who does average things and everyone around him is happy, and in the end, everything turns out ordinary and happy?

Not a very interesting story idea, I'm afraid.

But sometimes, in my philosophical moods, I wonder: Why is this so? By relying on tension and conflict, am I appealing to the lower elements within us all to peddle my stories? Am I preying on that same instinct that causes us to gawk at accidents, peer out the windows at neighbors in trouble, and gossip around the water cooler over coworkers cheating on their spouses?

Maybe...But I think there's more to it than that.

We relish the drama and tension and opposition in a good story, but we also cheer for the hero who overcomes it, or at the least, sympathize with the protagonist as they sink under it.

I don't think I'm glorifying suffering and opposition – I'm helping provide readers with an escape from the struggles in their own lives, at least for a short while. Or at least I'm connecting with them on a fundamental level and giving them validation that we ALL endure opposition in some ways.

It's not only what makes a good story. It's what makes us human.

So what do you think?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Monday, April 16, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: N is for...


...Novel!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is NOVEL

As an aspiring writer, here’s a less-than-novel thing for me to say: “I’m working on a novel.”

Big surprise -- which aspiring writer isn’t?

I love short stories and have written quite a few, and some might actually make it into publication – eventually.  But there’s still something about writing a whole book that will make me feel like a “real” writer.

And I wonder why that is. 

Is it the length?  The fact that I will stick with it and complete something that should end up being around 100,000 words?  Or is it the length of time it’s taken me?  Almost two years and counting and it’s still not done -- although if I added up the word count of all the different unfinished versions it would be over 100k, so maybe that counts?

I’m not sure, but I think it’s because that was what initially pulled me into trying my hand at writing – to create a book based on a story idea I had floating around.  Since then I’ve expanded my interests and have also moved into short stories and I know I’m a much better writer because of it.

But I still want to finish that book.  It may never get published; it may never sell.  But I want to have at least seen it through from idea to completed rough draft to finished manuscript.

Too bad this A-to-Z Blogging Challenge has virtually dried up my free writing time and I’m getting almost nothing done on it during April, LOL!

How about you?  Has the novel bug bitten you, too?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: M is for...


...Motif!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is MOTIF

I want to write stories that not only entertain during the reading but that stay with a reader long after they’ve finished them.  Am I there yet?  Oh Hell, no! 

Just because I’m doing this series on writing as my entries in the 2012 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge doesn’t mean I’ve got it all down.  Not even close.   Like I said in a comment reply to an earlier post, it’s much easier to write these posts about how I’d like to write than to actually do the writing. 

But at least I’m blogging on elements I’m trying to use in my writing. 

Incorporating effective motifs is one of those elements, and it’s one that can be particularly elusive.

Just defining what a motif is can be difficult for many writers.  I’ve seen places where motif and theme will be blended into meaning virtually the same thing.  In my opinion, they’re not.  A theme is essentially “what the story is about,” above and beyond the basic plot.  A motif is a recurring item, element, event, topic, idea, or action that adds depth and impact to the story.  A motif doesn’t really have to have anything to do with a theme, but I think it works best when it does. 

So in my way of looking at it, a motif is a recurring device that illustrates and echoes a theme, reinforces it, and gives it added impact.

Say I’m writing a mystery (and not entirely coincidentally, I am).  So my basic plot covers whodunit, why’d they do it, and how they will be brought to justice.  But I also have several themes I’m trying to incorporate into the story, with the main one being the distance, difficulty, and strain in the relationship between a father and his son.

So how do I introduce a motif to reveal and reinforce this theme without being heavy-handed, obvious, clich├ęd, and painfully clumsy?  THIS is where it gets elusive for me, because more often than not, I can’t.

I know this is going to be little help to any fellow wanna-be-writers, but I find that the most effective motifs I create are the ones I don’t try to force.  They’re the ones that occur naturally.  I’ll be in the moment, writing the rough draft of a scene, and something will get stuck in off of the cuff, and when I read my work later, I’ll see it. 

In the case of my WIP mystery, I wrote an early scene where the son is in his teens and they’re arguing and the father goes to reach for his son and can’t grab him because the son keeps moving away.  When I read it later, I was like, “Huh…  out of arm’s reach and moving away’.  It may not be earth-shattering, but that action and image clearly echo my theme, so I can use it as a motif in the story. I will try to use again in later scenes, fitting it in hopefully subtle and natural ways.

Hopefully. 

Sorry, but like many of my A-to-Z blog posts, this is a writing topic where I know what to do, but struggle in describing how to do it, and frequently fall short in actually doing it.  ;^)

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Friday, April 13, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: L is for...


...Lexicon!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is LEXICON

Here’s a shocking revelation:  Writers use words.

So to be an effective writer, I have to effectively apply words. That’s all that writing is, really – choosing the right word at the right time and using it correctly.  Then repeating that process until I reach “THE END.” 

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s simple in the same way that all Michael Jordan had to do was put a ball through a hoop, or all DaVinci had to do was pick the right color splotch and put it on the right place of the canvas.

Writing is a matter of craft.  A master craftsman may have a vast number of tools in his collection, but he doesn’t use them all on everything he creates.  He may have several preloaded toolboxes and, depending on the job, he’ll grab one of the toolboxes and maybe a few special tools and he’s off to the job site.

This is what I mean by ‘Lexicon’.  It’s the collection of words that I choose to use on a given story.  To be the best writer I an, I want to have as huge a vocabulary as possible, but I’m not going to use every word I know on every story.  It just wouldn’t work.

Different stories need a different set of words. My setting, plot, style, and characters will all guide me towards which words to use.  My lexicon for the story is then is the toolbox full of words needed for this particular job.  How I put them together is a matter of craft, and the result will be the ‘voice’ of the story (TEASER:  Wait for V-Day for more on this).

I love learning new words and adding to all the tools I own as a writer.  But not every word I learn is going to added to a given story’s lexicon.  Some may only gather dust up on the pegboard.

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: K is for...


...Knowledge!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is KNOWLEDGE

My first 'real' topic for this A-to-Z Blogging Challenge was "Believability" back on April second   As a writer who mostly dabbles in mysteries and speculative fiction, believability is vitally important to me.  

But how do I achieve it?

Well, even if I'm writing outlandish things, I've still got to know what I'm writing about.  If I'm working on a mystery where someone is killed with a hard-to-identify poison, I can't just go, "Um, yeah... arsenic's a poison, isn't it?  That works."  Well, no it doesn't.  Arsenic was used historically as a murderer's poison, but tests such as the Marsh Test have been used to detect it since the 1840's.  It has long failed the "hard to detect" criteria.

This applies to everything in my writing.  If I'm setting my story in Cleveland, Ohio, I can't mention that it sits on Lake Huron (it's Lake Erie).  If I'm creating a character who's running for president, I can't talk about how the first primary election is in California (it's in Iowa, and actually it’s a caucus). 

Even with wildly-speculative topics, I need to get it right.  If I want to write about an alien invasion, I can't just throw out half-assed details: "The evil Rutabegians left their home planet of Kumquat in their carrot-shaped rockets and traveled the 900 parsecs to Earth.  Two days later they arrived and began feasting on human flesh."   

Rockets? 900 parsecs? TWO DAYS???  Um, no...  A parsec is approximately 3.26 light years.  So even if these vile vegetable beasts could accelerate a chemical-reaction rocket up to 99% of light-speed (around 300 millions meters per second), it would take over 2900 years to get to Earth.  And there's no way could they hold enough propellant in a rocket to achieve that level of acceleration.  

My point is that in order to make my writing believable, I have to do my homework.  I have to gain the knowledge of what I want to write about beforehand.  This means research and relying on my own real-life experiences.  I have to do my due diligence to anchor my story in reality, even when I'm writing about things that aren't real.  If I need those rutabegians to arrive in two days, I need to research faster-than-light travel and at least propose a believable way that they could make that trip.  Wormhole? Hyper-warp?  Maybe, but whatever it is, I need to do my research in order to make it plausible.

My reader has to at least believe that I know what the hell I'm talking about, and I have to do all I can to maintain that illusion...    

You know?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: J is for...


...Juxtaposition!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is JUXTAPOSITION

Juxtaposition is often associated with the visual arts.  But as I mentioned in yesterday's "Imagery" post, the best writing IS visual -- it's just that the images are being formed inside the reader's head.

Juxtaposition is used to create contrast and comparison; to give visual impact to images because of their associations.  Consider the two images I used in my word definition picture above.  By themselves, a tricycle or a tank would each hold certain individual meaning, but when placed next to each other, the visual and emotional impact is raised.  They are both broadly defined as 'vehicles', but it's the radical difference and the conflicting emotional subtext that pulls at the viewer:  Tricycles imply small children, innocence, and vulnerability.  Tanks are tools of war, death, and destruction. The emotional impact from conflict between the two becomes much larger than just the individual images taken by themselves.

This type of juxtaposition works well in writing, too.  Consider how many 'fish out of water' stories there have been -- these are successful because of the juxtaposition of the main character's emotions, values, and history against that of the environment they are thrust into.  Similarly, there are a gazillion "romance of opposites" stories where events force two drastically personality types together, and the juxtaposition of their characters creates the interest.

Juxtaposition invites conflict and tension -- the core of all drama and the vital element that hold a reader's interest. Seeing how characters react to events, people, and environments radically different from what they are familiar with is a plot element that can have universal appeal.

But Juxtaposition doesn't have to be of characters or even of large plot elements.  It can also be used in smaller doses in scenes, settings, or even within a single character.  But the secret it not to just throw weird elements together for the hell of it -- the goal is to use components that reveal story, highlight character, or add dramatic depth, and that can play off of each other, much like that tricycle and tank.

It's not always easy to do smoothly, but when it's done well, juxtaposition can create a strong emotional connection in your reader.

And that's the whole point of writing.

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: I is for...


...Imagery!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is IMAGERY

Fiction transports a reader to a world which exists only in the author's mind.  But when it works best, fiction actually goes beyond that and allows the reader to create their OWN world and connect to it in an emotionally meaningful way.

To have that level of impact, the reader has to be able to immerse themselves into the world.  It is up to the writer to give the reader the ability to do that.  This is where imagery comes in. 

Imagery is much more than simply dry description.  If I'm setting a scene in a room, I might be tempted to say, "The room was 19 feet, 6 inches by 15 feet.  The walls were painted in a pale beige color.  The room had two windows.  The one on the north wall was 24 inches above the floor and measured 36 inches by 72 inches.  Blah, blah, blah..."

This boring description might accurately describe the room, but what emotional impact does it have?

Zilch.  Nada.  None. 

There is nothing that pulls the reader into the room and makes them connect to it. To do this, I need to do more than simply describe the room -- I need to appeal to the senses. I need to provide mental images that really allow the reader to "see" the room at a deeper level.  So I also might want to mention smells, sounds, the room temperature, and other aspects that elicit an emotional response.

Not only do I need to describe things in an emotionally-compelling way that appeals to all the senses, I also have to be selective in choosing what to describe.  This is where we begin to shift from description to imagery.  Take that window in my earlier example.  Why even mention it if it adds nothing to the story?  In most cases, it makes more sense to leave it out. 

But what if the character in the room is someone who feels lonely -- distant and separated from people?  Then I may actually want to include the window to highlight that sense of him 'looking out' on the rest of the world.  But I'm sure not going to mention the dimensions.  Instead I might describe the window as "painted shut," "grimy," "airtight," mention how it muffles the sounds from the street below, or use other images that echo the character's isolation. 

If I do it right, that simple window then becomes much more than just a random item in the room -- it becomes an image which reveals a deeper understanding of the character. 

This is the type of imagery I need to use to transport my reader into that fictional world I'm trying to create.  

Huh--- Maybe there's a reason that "imagery" and "imagination" are related words...  ;^)

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Monday, April 9, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: H is for...


...Hook!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is HOOK

Most writers are familiar with the adage that you have to quickly hook your reader.  For an unpublished novelist, you may have at most one page to get a slush-reader, agent or publisher to keep on reading, and they've usually decided well before that.  It's the same way with short stories, if not more so.  I've heard that a paragraph or two is usually enough for a slush reader to decide if a piece is going to get past the slush gates.  If they read the rest of the story, it usually serves to only reinforce that initial gut decision.

To many writers, this rush to judgment seems hopelessly unfair.  But I actually understand the reasons and don't really have a problem with it.  I'm often the same way when deciding what book to buy if I'm unfamiliar with an author or the title -- I'll skim the back blurb and then read chapter one for a bit, and it usually only takes a page or so.  If I'm pulled in, I'll probably like the whole book.  If not, it's stuck back on the shelf.

So I get it. It just means that as a writer, I need to do all I can to get my reader on the hook as fast as possible.  But how to do that without resorting to cheap artificial gimmicks? 

It's not that hard -- just start with an interesting scene.

No descriptions of the weather, no rambling historical back-story, no slow-paced scene-setting -- start mid-scene with identifiable characters engaged in something that arouses curiosity, tension, concern, and questions in the reader.

It doesn't have to be death, mayhem, car-chases, and explosions.  Just something that seems interesting, intriguing, and gets the reader wondering, "What's going to happen next?" 

I get that question from my reader and I'm home free.

Well, maybe not home free, but I've at least gotten them onto page two or three -- then I also have to give them spotless prose; gripping dialogue; compelling characters; and a dynamic plot that keeps them involved until the final word.

But that's the easy part, right?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: G is for...


...Genre!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is GENRE

Among some devotes of the written word, there is a dividing line:  Literary fiction versus Genre fiction.  Depending upon which side of the fence you sit, your stereotype might be:

-- Literary Fiction is deep, moving, thoughtful, and artistic.  Genre fiction is commercial, idiotic schlock put out for mass consumption by bourgeois peasants.

...or...

-- Genre Fiction is involving, exciting, and emotionally gripping.  Literary Fiction is dry, boring, pretentious puffery read only by snooty snobs.

The less-confrontational stereotype is that Literary Fiction focuses on characters and Genre Fiction focuses on plot.

Frankly, I don't accept any of the stereotypes.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I think the best fiction is character-driven.  But I also want excitement and gripping plot twists.  So I write 'Genre' fiction -- mysteries, science-fiction, horror, and other speculative formats -- but I focus on characters.  I love the blend of both and think that when done successfully, it really makes for the most complete and compelling reading experience. 

Character AND plot.  Excitement AND art.  I want it all, damn it!

That's my chosen genre.

What about you?

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Friday, April 6, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: F is for...


...Frame of Reference!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is FRAME OF REFERENCE

By this, I mean a combination of Narrative Point of View, Narrative Voice, and Backstory.  Taken together, these work as the 'grounding' for a given piece of fiction -- the portal through which the reader enters the world of the story. 

Do I want to put the reader on the shoulder of my main character, (like third-person limited) or in their head (first-person)?  Or do I want them set away at a distance, maybe not connected to a single character, but to be able to know all and see all (like third-person omniscient)?  That way they might be able to make connections that the characters can't for themselves.

How much of the backstory should I reveal to the reader?  Again, do I want to give them insight into a character's motives and prior knowledge, or do I want them to be kept in the dark as much as possible, revealing the drama in bits and pieces as it happens?

There is no hard and fast dictate for successful fiction -- for any rule you might care to mention, I'm certain I can find several examples of captivating stories that break the rule. 

But for me, in general, I tend to start out third-person limited, revealing as little backstory as is absolutely needed.   I normally want my readers close, but not claustrophobic; and as in-the-moment as possible without being weighed down with a bunch of extra historical baggage. 

But there are times when this just doesn't work out well -- the story might need that first-person connection, or a sweeping historical base, or maybe even a separated, disconnected perspective for the reader.  If I just listen, the story tends to lead me to the right frame of reference, and it is typically because of the characters. 

Plot is crucial, but like I said back in my "C" post, I think my stories turn out best when the characters have anchored and given structure to my work. They are the ones who ultimately choose the best frame of reference.

I just gotta listen to my characters...

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: E is for...


...Editing!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is EDITING

To be truthful, this is something that I really wish I didn't have to do.  I wish I could just spew out perfect prose in a seamless stream of consciousness, but I can not, like...  make that sort of um, goodly writer-ish thing to, um... you know... like, happen.    

See?!?! 

So if I want my writing to be the best it can be, I have to edit.  Ruthlessly.  Almost ceaselessly.

I'm still learning to just get the story out in a first draft without stopping to obsess about every word, accepting that I'm going to edit later anyway.  But I still can't let a whole piece go from beginning to end without stopping to edit at some point.  My normal routine is to write for as long as I can, and the next time I touch the piece, I begin with a review and revision.  That editing gets me up to speed to then add on new material. 

Once the whole piece is "complete," there will still normally be several cycles of rest, review, and revision, until I get to the point where I can let it set, come back to it fresh, read the whole piece through, and like it as it stands.  For some rare pieces this is soon after the first draft; for most, it is many cycles before I begin submissions.

My ideal is to have the writing be as polished as a spotless pane of glass, where the reader doesn't even notice it because they've become so involved in the story. 

But that takes editing.  A LOT of editing!

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A to Z Blogging Challenge: D is for...


...Dialogue!

For my entries in the 2012 A to Z Challenge, I will be focusing on writing elements that I find important and that I want to incorporate into my work.

Today, the topic is DIALOGUE (I almost chose "Drama" for the letter 'D', but I think dialogue is actually more important, and I'll touch on elements of drama in later letters). 

Yesterday I wrote about how important characterization is to me in my stories.  Well, dialogue is one of the main tools to bring out that characterization.  Think of the ways we interact with the people in our own lives.  We see their actions, feel their touch, perhaps smell their perfume or sweat, and with a select few, maybe even taste their salty skin.  But we mainly listen to them, and hopefully have them listen to us.  The ability to communicate through words is what connects us to each other.  Heck, if you want to get all anthropological about it, it's the whole basis for human culture and society.

So I want to use that power of communication in my stories, and do it in a way that helps bond my readers with my characters.  To pull readers closer, I need my characters' words to have depth.  I want their dialogue to reveal traits about who they on the inside, to give hints about their pasts and their perspectives, and to convey their emotions in both blatant and subtle ways.  But it has to also seem natural and smooth, like people really talking.

That's my goal.

But there's a bonus:  In addition to revealing character, well-written dialogue can also move the plot along, too.  Dialogue can introduce drama, tension, and conflict. It can reveal back-story in a much more compelling way than just dumping it on the reader.  That's because dialogue is something that readers want to keep reading.  Dialogue has immediacy and impact -- readers feels like it is happening in front of them much more so than in dry descriptive passages.  In Elmore Leonard's "Writers on Writing" (also published as his "Ten Rules" book), his tenth rule is "try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip." He sums this up by saying, "I'll bet you don't skip the dialogue."

He's right. 

Thanks for visiting -- see you the rest of this month for more alphabetical fun!

Don't forget to visit HERE to see all the bloggers taking part in this A-to-Z challenge, and try to drop in on as many of them as you can!