Distraction Fodder

If a quote doesn't do it for you, a pic of some Avengers might.

If a quote doesn’t do it for you, a pic of some Avengers might.

A friend posts numerous resources for writers, and this one caught my eye.

I know I need the occasional shot in the brain from a good quote to remind me to get writing. How about you?

Here’s 72 of them, loaded and ready to battle my insecurity or procrastination. (Or maybe to cause more distraction from writing.)

If you like this, you might like my friend’s other resources. Check out @DebrasBlog on them there Twitters.

You Know You’re a Writer If…

A friend posted this collection of “You Know You’re a Writer If…” quotes to a writing group site, and I found the statements pretty funny. I’ve never done any of these. At all.

I think my wife has given up reminding me that all my characters are not real. Now she just lets me know if my suggestions for them sound out of character. (That’s true love. She’s awesome.)

Any of them stand out to you?

My Dauntless Daughter

My teenage daughter recently gave me a precious gift through her sneakiness.

I looked at Divergent by Veronica Roth when it came out on local shelves. For whatever reason, I read the description about how choices can define you, and I assumed it was some kind of quantum physics alternate universe storyline, where maybe the main character could see the answer to “What if I turned left instead of right, what if I did X instead of Y” and so on. You know, two roads diverging in a yellow wood, and what if you could see the way both paths would lead?
It was on my list of possible future reads, until my daughter mentioned it. “Have you heard about Divergent? My friends say it’s awesome. And they’re making a movie of it soon!”

I checked out the trailer and discovered it’s not what I thought at all.
But it seemed like an interesting dystopian world, and it piqued my interest. I bought the book shortly afterward.
It disappeared from the living room shelves, and I knew where it probably went. “Have you seen my copy of Divergent, sweetie?”
“Oh. Uhh… yeah. It’s in my room. I read it.”
This conversation has happened before.
“Also, Daddy, can we go get Insurgent sometime? And you should take the quiz to see which faction you’d belong to. I’m Dauntless.”
Being the concerned parent that I am, I committed to finding out exactly what my daughter was reading. So I grabbed the book and gave it some of my attention.
Which quickly became completely consumed attention.

First, it’s in Chicago, so that calls home to mind. Second, it explores some issues of morality and human interaction without becoming preachy. I enjoy that. Third, it is written in a fast-paced first person present-tense style, so it feels like I’m in the character’s head while everything is happening. Roth does well making sure the reader only knows what Tris knows, though that leads to some irritating moments. (“Why couldn’t she just spy on that conversation so that I could get the rest of it?”)
On top of all that, Roth provides insight into her thought process for the book, and her thoughts on dystopian settings. She explains she never set out to make a dystopia, but rather came to realize that the utopia she originally pictured might in fact be the next person’s vision of a hellish society. What one group may call the ideal, another group may call immoral, and vice versa.
Yes, it’s considered Young Adult fiction. I’m not sure if there’s a stigma associated with that. It certainly isn’t the deepest, most complex literature.
But it’s an entertaining story and consistent setting, with plenty of mysteries that tug at me. (“Why is everything destroyed? What happened to America in this world? How far in the future are we? What motivated this society to form the way they have?”)

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I picked up Insurgent as soon as I finished the first book, and used it to taunt my daughter mercilessly. I finished it late one night when she was staying the night with her grandmother who had come to visit. So I thought to surprise her by leaving it on her bed, wrapped with a ribbon, as a little gift.
Because, after all, it’s her fault that I finally sat down to read the book. And it’s her fault that now we have something else in common, something we can talk about and share with each other.
It’s also her fault that on Tuesday when Allegiant comes out, I will be rushing to the store to pick up a copy.
For my daughter, of course.
But as a concerned parent, I’ll have to read it.
You know, to make sure it’s okay.

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World History 101

There’s a world of difference between ‘The northern bandits are attacking’ and ‘The northern bandits are attacking… again.’

a recent article related to D&D

 

In fantasy and otherworldly settings, one of the pressures always lurking in the background is the need to convey a cohesive and “real” world. Thought should be given to the culture, the society, the religion or lack thereof. Even though there may never be a need to include it in the story, the writer should have a good sense of the history that shaped the setting. With that preparation, tidbits of information can be sprinkled into the story, giving the sense that the reader is stepping out of this life and into another life just as rich and vibrant as our own.

Without this, the reader may feel dropped into a pocket universe from Doctor Who, a tiny bubble of space and time separated from everything else.

The action of the story should be the most interesting moment in the fictional world’s timeline. However, it can’t be the only one.

Robert Jordan, in my mind, was a master of this sort of world-building. Subtle details pepper The Wheel of Time, like the names of the inns, the titles of various sword-fighting techniques, and the terms different cultures use for key elements.

As a musician, one of my favorite methods Jordan used was the addition of song as an expression of history and culture. Whether by name or by poetic lyrics, Jordan conveyed interesting ideas about the world his characters occupied. That enabled his readers to occupy the world as well.

Thanks to the encouragement of my critique group, I’ve been working on the long-intended rewrite of the story that got me started. (I put a hundred thousand words into the keyboard, then determined there were so many issues I wanted to fix that it would be easier to start over. If that’s not bad enough, I left my reviewer friend hanging on an unfinished sentence in the middle of a fight scene – a crime he will not let me live down.)

Chapter 5 is meant to introduce the main character to an Arcanist who presents a desirable alternative path, and introduce the reader to how “magic” works in the world. It also captures a bit of the background conflict between a harried village struggling to survive without adequate government support and the political powers using the few resources available to aid a separate allied nation to the north.

I planned for the Arcanist to put on a display to lift the spirits of the people (and to some extent, remind them who’s in control). As I prepared to write the chapter, I realized it would be fun to have the Arcanist present a bit of history to explain why precious resources are being “wasted” on that northern nation. And why shouldn’t that be done in song? The guy is already giving a performance.

So I found myself writing a ballad. And it hit me, if I’m going to try to write a poem that has the rhythm of a song, maybe I ought to actually write a song. That ensures it feels right.

But how is it a part of the history and culture? Simple: it needs an interesting title, and perhaps a sense of background. A few centuries ago, many songs (particularly church hymns) were popular tunes rewritten to tell the intended story. The song is a minor key, and the ballad is about a city under siege all winter.

Image taken from Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lute

Image taken from Wikipedia at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lute

With that in mind, I picture the Arcanist turning to a lute player in the village, asking, “How is your rendition of Bride’s Elegy?” as though that’s a well-known song.

“Middling at best, my Lord,” he’ll respond.

“Sufficient, I’m sure,” the Arcanist answers, and the lute player strums the strings.

Plus, I like that title for a mournful melody.

So here’s the song: a ballad called Through the Winter, sung to the tune of Bride’s Elegy.

Even if no one ever learns all the history that shapes the world I write, it’s worth the effort to incorporate that. A little bit of preparation and imagination goes a long way in achieving the goal: transporting the reader from this world and inviting them into the world in the writer’s mind.

Backstory

I am working on a project for my main blog, which (among other things) incorporates tabletop gaming with family and friends as a recurring topic. A friend started a group for the purpose of trying out the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons Next, the newest version of D&D currently in the playtesting stage.

I made a character for our adventures, but we never got to flesh out his story. My friend asked some questions and I thought about what I wanted to incorporate, which got me thinking about developing characters in our writing.

The worst thing one can say about characters in a given piece of fiction is that they are cardboard cutouts, one dimensional and overdone examples of something everyone has seen before. We want to write about real people, because the real people who read our work want someone they can relate to or at least find believable.

The mustache-twirling villain out to destroy the city because “I’m eeevil” is a great example of the cardboard character. He has a temperamental cat that hisses at everyone, and he wears a long black trench coat and top hat. No doubt he shakes his fist at the hero and screams “Curses! Foiled again! I’ll get you next time!” simply because that’s what villains do.

That’s what we want to avoid. Similar to that, the hero with the rock-hard jaw and butt chin who fights for truth, justice, and the American way, for no reason other than because he’s perfect… lame.

This is why heroes like Spider-Man and Batman work. They’re flawed, and their flaws push them to do better. They’re haunted, and no matter how much they do in the present, the ghosts of the past are still whispering, urging them on in the face of overwhelming opposition.

When writing a character, I want to take time to get in their head. What inspires them? What do they fear? What past failure is driving them toward future success?

My friend asked me for backstory on this D&D Next character I created as a joke. He asked for family connections – who does Lamoncha still talk to, and who does he avoid? He brought up goals: What is Lamoncha trying to do with his life, and how does he plan to do it?

I wanted to take it a bit off course, and feed some backstory to my friend to work into the campaign. Taking some time to think about these questions led to an easy 500 words explaining Lamoncha’s place in the world. If I was writing his story, maybe none of this matters to the plot. But it matters to understanding how Lamoncha reacts to the world around him, and that makes the responses and actions I write within the story more real, more true to life, something the reader can either relate to or at least believe based on what they know of the character.

Take time to figure out the character before trying to write them. On top of many helpful exercises one might find, I would add those questions:
1) What connections does the character maintain to his past? What connections did he/she sever and why?
2) What aspirations does the character have, and what actions does he/she take or plan to achieve them?
3) What fears motivate the character? What inspires or compels them on the path they’ve chosen?
4) Who does the character look up to, and why? How do they strive to emulate this role model?

Answer that, and the character takes on some depth, some body, some realism in the context of the story.

Here’s Lamoncha’s backstory, if you’re interested:

Lamoncha comes from a very strict clan of wood elves, something like how we might view the Amish today. They eschew mechanics and most technology, preferring the druidic connection to nature. Most of what they “build” is through the use of sung wood, where treeherds commune with the living plants through meditation and chanting, persuading the trees to grow and take on the necessary shapes.

Life is precious to the clan, and so any effort that requires destroying life to advance a society or a technology is viewed as anathema. For example, the elves view with anger and hatred the environmental impact of mining (so necessary to the working of metals) and the creep of urban civilizations into nature’s domain.

They also lived a very communal life, where just about everyone in the clan is considered family. Lamoncha actually doesn’t have a clear family tree sorted out in his head, due to the unique (and perhaps inappropriate) convoluted relationships of the clan members. As a result, while he is happy to be away from his home, he’s also unsure of how to adapt and relate to people in ‘normal’ societies, which contributes to his status as a loner.

He had a childhood friend Aerathiel who fled the clan as soon as she reached her 15th vernal equinox – the date the wood elves use to track age. She was forever in trouble for “outlandish” ideas and interest in things forbidden. She had a natural aptitude for magic and an interest in how magic and gearwork could be combined. When he left, he went to the nearest gnomes he could find in the hopes of tracking down “Rathie.”

Due to his frustration with his clan, Lamoncha has an outward hatred for druidic communities and orders. In addition, he figures they’re fairly connected, and he doesn’t want word of his whereabouts going back to his clan. He’d heard of some in the clan who were tasked with keeping the secrets of sung wood from getting into the outside world, for fear that opportunistic races might take advantage of it to force what they desire from plantlife. There are druids in the clan called the Coda, whose task it is to silence the song of any who might misuse the power they learned within the clan. Lamoncha wants nothing to do with them and fears they might hunt him if they knew where he was.

Finally, among the gnomes, there was one in particular to whom Lamoncha owes the greatest debt: Daneel Grixwin, the gearbinder Lamoncha served as apprentice. Daneel stood before the council of elders and made the original argument that Lamoncha should be taught, based not on trustworthiness but on an impassioned defense of the universal value of knowledge. Despite being over twice his height, Lamoncha looks up to Daneel as an individual possessed of great wisdom and insight.

Lights Out

When I sit down to write, I become Hammie the Squirrel.

OOH SHINY!

OOH SHINY!

Everything is more interesting than starting the project. “What’s on Facebook? I should check my mail on Lord of the Rings Online. I probably am due for a weekly gift. Which episode of Everybody Loves Raymond is my wife watching? Oh, that one? There’s a hilarious scene coming up I don’t want to miss. What’s going on in the world, CNN?”

I picked up an idea from a blog recently. The writer suggested typing blindfolded as a means to eliminate distractions.

I play piano very well. I can close my eyes and play songs I know by heart, because my hands are used to the muscle movements required to hit the right notes. Could it be the same with the keyboard?

Of course it could. If you’ve taken classical typing courses, with the ASDF JKL-Sem method, you probably already know how to type without looking at the keys or perhaps even the screen. If you’re like me, with no formal typing training but a lot of practice sitting at a computer expressing thoughts, you still might have a system for typing that allows you to do so with eyes closed.

I decided to try this method. Last night, sitting on my bed, I threw my fleece blanket over my head, popped some Lindsey Stirling into my iPod earbuds, and took one last glance to see what keys my fingers were resting on.

Within minutes I had pumped out 400 words with few errors, and an eagerness to keep going. I took a short break, and started again. I finished a 1200 word section of my current novel with no real issues or errors.

What about editing? I have to edit anyway, so if I can silence the editor’s voice while trying to simply write, even better.

The one drawback came close to the end of my effort, since I started around midnight. (Can’t help it. Strike when the iron is hot.) I am a coffeeholic, and a sleep-deprivation criminal. Four hours a night is doing good for me. (It’s not good for me, but it’s doing better than some nights when I get carried away with my various distractions.)

Even with the awesome beat behind Lindsey’s violin, the music kept trying to carry me off into dreams. Sitting on my bed in the comfort of the blanket probably contributed to that as well.

I nonetheless gave the piece a quick edit, read it to my wife, and enjoyed her positive reaction.

Considering I spent about two hours sitting in front of my computer earlier that evening, alternating between pointless Internet browsing and drowsy head-nodding, I counted this venture as a success.

Have you heard of this, or tried this before?

What are some of the ways you mitigate the power of distractions to your writing?

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Using Pain

From www.quotespedia.info

No image in the blog, no readers of the blog.

The quote isn’t news to anyone, I’m sure. But it is truth that we have to consider when we write. No one’s interested in a story without struggle, a character without conflict, a plot without pain.

If I want to move the reader, I think I ought to have been moved in a similar way in the past. Then I need to take that and pour all of it, unvarnished, unprettified, into the feelings and emotions of the character.

At our writer’s critique group, I’ve been submitting pieces of various stories, testing out how to write different magic systems or mechanics. If the non-fantasy-reader Christian ladies can make sense of what I write, and if they enjoy it, then I think I’m communicating clearly.

Last week I submitted yet another “Chapter 1” involving the outcast in a small village. My fellow writers connected with this character. They got her motivations, her feelings, her concerns. All said it was fantastic, a couple said it was the best they’d seen of my work thus far.

I have to think that’s because I borrowed from my real life experiences to glimpse how this character feels.

About a month ago, I had an evaluation at work, and I screwed up a couple of items. The overall grade was a passing score, but it felt like failure. I had to complete some additional training to get back up to speed before being allowed to work on my own.

When I went to work in the days following that failure, I would see grins on people’s faces and wonder, were they laughing at me? If a conversation stopped abruptly, or started up as soon as I left a room, were they talking about me? How did my friends and close coworkers feel about my grade? They all said nice things, but did they really mean it? After all, I’d seen this happen to other people before. I’ve probably talked about those other people.

Voices whispering, judgmental smirks, expressions of disappointment… these haunted me for days. To some extent, I still hear them by default.

I put all of this into my outcast character’s mind. I transcribed my thoughts in italics in her voice and put words to my fears.

And in doing so, I got the best feedback I’ve had thus far.

An assassin that can bend time, sure, that’s cool. Might be fun to read. A commoner thrust into the military machine because he has the power to hear the voice of the Elements, okay, fine. Seems interesting, maybe.

But everyone knows what it’s like to feel alone in a room full of people, to hear laughter and know that it’s about me. That’s a character readers can relate to and understand.

Using painful experiences lets me lock the reader in on the main character’s heart. Then I can throw in cool powers and technology. Or not.

Either way, the critique story is getting a chapter 2 next time, not another chapter 1.