Story Notes

Story Notes – The world of her own making

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My story ‘The world of her own making’ was published recently in A cappella Zoo (Issue 14) and I was so excited.

To read the story just head A cappella Zoo and order up Issue 14.

Because I love to know about the origins of a story from the writer’s perspective, I thought I would share some notes about this story with you.

Spoiler Alert: There are spoilers in the story notes below. So if you want to read the story with fresh eyes check it out first at A cappella Zoo before reading the notes.

About ‘The world of her own making’

I love origin myths; the expansiveness of the claims and the simplifying of all the complexity of the universe into something completely human centric. Our gods are so often personifications of us, with all of our most basic (and sometimes terrible) traits; jealousy, lust, rage, hunger. Any origin myth we’ve conjured up is such a great indication of our humanity—our desire to connect with something bigger than us, our wish for the simplicity of a god-like figure.

I wanted to write a story of a girl who ate the world and naturally, as I was writing it, it turned into an origin story. A new world from the old, not something from nothing but something born from a normal girl who simply got hungry.

I can’t imagine a universe where something comes from nothing. I think ultimately that makes me a believer in an infinite multi-verse which has its own issues but I like the idea of a new universe coming from something pre-existing because a lone god in an empty void creating all of existence is even more confusing and definitely less science-friendly.

I liked being able to really get into the texture of things in this story, assigning common tastes to objects that aren’t meant to be eaten and I enjoyed the ultimate grandeur of the tale. I guess thoughts of the universe are never far from my mind because they creep into my writing at any given opportunity.

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Inspiration Series

Inspiration Series – Jennifer Pendergast

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If you follow a well-known religion, I imagine it’s easy to answer the question “What do you believe?” At least it’s easy to give a brief answer, even if it is far from complete. For me, there hasn’t been a short answer since I started really thinking about what I believed, and really being honest about it.

And the same is true when I try to answer questions about my inspiration for writing. In her calls for submissions to this series, Star referred to the “almost spiritual” nature of inspiration, and that phrase really struck a chord for me.

The simple answer to where I get my inspiration from is “my head”.  My ideas can come as dreams, daydreams or random thoughts; they often arrive as phrases or concepts, sometimes characters and very occasionally as plots or stories. But where do those things come from? Your guess is as good as mine. I refer to The Muse as a shorthand for something I don’t really understand, in much the same way I might occasionally refer to God, although I don’t picture any particular entity when I use that word.

For me, the interesting thing is not the arrival of the original idea, but the process that turns it into a story. With the possible exception of dreams, my initial ideas are no more than snippets, in need of a great deal of development before they will become even the shortest stories.

When the writing flows best, it feels like a sort of transcribing, perhaps a stream of consciousness, although my writing would never be described as that by a reader. I write stories like I write non-fiction, by just letting the words flow, seeing where they take me, and then tidying them up into something more coherent after the fact.

Some writers talk about “Movies in my mind”. I have no mind’s eye – I could not, for example, give you a reliable physical description of someone I know well, let alone someone or something I’ve imagined. But when a story flows well, this transcribing does come close to something like a movie in my mind, or perhaps a radio play: sounds, words and emotions, but no pictures.

When the writing isn’t flowing, I try to write anyway, and then it’s more about joining the dots, working out where I want the story to go and how it’s going to get there. This is how I write when I’ve drawn up an outline first (something I think has advantages and disadvantages, and which is worthy of a post of its own). Writing to an outline feels much less natural, but it’s still an organic process, because the outline never has the richness and detail of the writing itself, and eventually the characters, places and storylines still take on a life of their own.

One place I both do and don’t get inspiration is real life, and in particular the real people I know. Anyone who knows a writer has probably wondered if they’ll end up in a story, or even asked to, and I can’t answer for other writers, but for me they answer is mostly no, but with a little bit of yes.

As a rule, I find real people far too restrictive. I want to write fiction, not fact, and I want to write the stories The Muse gives me, not the ones I’m already living. And that’s before you get only people’s feelings. If I wrote a character even loosely based on someone I knew, I’d be too worried about upsetting them, or getting things wrong, to really enjoy the writing process. Obviously there will always be name overlaps or relationships that mirror those in my life, but I choose names because they fit a character, not to link them to a real person. I normally say if a character has your name, you can guarantee they won’t have any other facets I particularly associate with you.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that I occasionally use an anecdote or characteristic from someone I know, to flesh out an established character who I’m clear it would work for. Real life, whether an overheard conversation on a train, or an old memory of my own, can inspire elements of a story, even the story itself. Very occasionally I go so far as to play the ‘what if?’ game in my stories, and to wonder what would have happened if a single moment in my life or someone’s close to me, had gone another way. I imagine that’s a game all humans play, but as writers, we get to play it out on paper.

Jennifer Pendergast writes principally for the love of the story, but is gradually building her portfolio and seeking publication of her short stories whilst polishing several draft novels with a view to publication in the longer term. She was delighted when two of her stories were featured in the Canadian edition of Reader’s Digest. Her weekly flash fiction and thoughts on writing can be found at her blog www.elmowrites.wordpress.com.

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A Good Read

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I read a lot.

I guess that makes sense, because they say a writer ought to do that, but as much as I read, I’m also pretty picky.  I want a lot of things from a book and I have my preferences (just like you do I’m sure) and I’ve lately been finding what I’ve been able to get into and what I haven’t interesting.  For example, despite my love of urban fantasy, I just can’t get through ‘American Gods’ (by Neil Gaiman), I enjoyed some of his short stories in an anthology of his I read, but there’s just something about American Gods I don’t like.  ‘Gone Girl’ (by Gillian Flynn) however caught me and kept me reading until late in the night and there’s not a hint of magic in that book.

So what is it that keeps me reading and makes me loathe to put a book down?

Let’s see here…

Emotional over physical

I like a style that gives more personal and emotional information than information about the environment and appearance of the characters.  I often try to do that in my stories and I’ve been told in the past that I don’t put in enough physical detail (someone told me once they didn’t like that they had to work to imagine the environment), but I like to use my imagination.  If I’m drowned in detail I get bored pretty fast because it slows down the pace and does all the work for me.  I also like to know what the characters are thinking and feeling as well as their emotional history, this gets me involved and makes me feel like they’re real.  I want to feel like the characters have an impact on the world and the story isn’t just taking them along for the ride.

Cheese factor & exposition

Contrary to popular belief, it is easy to be cheesy.  Exposition and info dumps are the bane of a good story’s existence.  I don’t like a story where things are constantly explained or dumbed down.  Cliche also falls into the cheese factor camp.  Unfortunately things are cliche for a reason, because they are true or good ideas, so sometimes one can’t avoid it altogether but it’s best to try wherever possible.  The stories that keep me up all night are the one’s with high amounts of realism (this can be achieved even in fantasy) and low exposition.

Keep moving

I love a story that moves swiftly.  I want to be pulled along on an adventure, I want to get lost in other worlds and learn new things.  Good pace is essential to keeping my attention.


Defying expectations

I’m currently trying to read Game of Thrones.  It’s a bit of a slog for me because it’s so rich in detail.  High fantasy has always been a tough nut for me to crack because of that, but what I love about the concept of Game of Thrones is that Mr. Martin writes with the specific intention of defying expectations.  I like that.  I want to be surprised, shocked and even horrified.  I want to experience things and think about things in ways I never would have thought of myself.  Because that’s the joy of reading to me, exploring the depths of other people’s minds and lives.

Solid Characters

If a character is solid enough I’ll care about them even if they’re sitting there eating cheese and playing solitaire.  Good characters are the foundation of a great story.

A little love

I like a little love.  If it’s all war and politics and business it eventually gets boring to me, and unrealistic.  Love is all around us, it motivates us and permeates the fabric of our existence.  Without a little love in our lives, things tend to fall flat.

Those are a few of my thoughts on what makes a good read…tell me about yours.

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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Rock your metaphors (like a hurricane)*

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I love metaphor.

I love when one thing means something else.  I love a story with layers.  I love when things linger below the surface.  I love metaphor so much that I don’t mind if I can’t understand what the metaphor is about and I’m left to fill in my own meaning.  I want stories to be rich and full and brimming with metaphors that make me think and question and relate.

When a metaphor is done well there is nothing like it, it fills you up and makes you feel as though art is real.  It makes you marvel at a world where such perfection of wordplay can exist.  However, where such a possibility of perfection lives, there must also be it’s opposite.

Bad metaphor rips open the page and exposes the story’s innards.  It jars you and dislodges you from the flow of the story making you feel as though you’ve tripped, fallen over the words and bruised your knee.  Now the world looks a little different, a little more mundane then when you set out on your little journey.  Maybe it was an inconsistent feeling that the metaphor gave off, or the wording was just a little too cliche, but either way you are trying to catch up to a story that is not as satisfying and that just won’t do.

Because I am fond of lists (although not to the scale of my love for metaphors) here is a list of ways in which you can rock your metaphors:

Avoid cliches.  I’m pretty sure even saying this is cliche, but it unfortunately needs to be said.  Sometimes I fall into the cliche trap and I’m lucky enough to have someone who loves me to pull me out.  So find someone who loves you (or just about anyone willing to point out your flaws) and get out of the habit.

Be consistent.  If you are writing a story set in medieval times don’t use modern metaphors.  Try to think about your characters, location, time period, feelings, themes and anything else that is a part of your story, then try to make your metaphors consistent with that.  Use the imagery you have available within the scope of your story to expand and reflect exactly what you’re trying to say.  Go through and check your metaphors at the end, make sure they are consistent throughout.

Symbolism matters.  Remember that even if you don’t intend it, people will read more into your story than you may have put in.  So start intending it.  Leave easter eggs.  Choose words, items, locations and people that mean something, that somehow reflect the themes in your story.  People will find patterns no matter what, but if you put some of those patterns in there you get bonus points for awesome!

Be accessible.  If you use something completely abstract or rare your readers might find themselves removed.  You want people to be able to vividly associate with whatever  image or feeling you are trying to conjure.  I reckon this is also based on your demographic and what kind of audience you are writing for.  If you are just writing for your own enjoyment though, go wild!

Experiment.  This doesn’t have to be the flip side of being accessible, but if it is than that’s okay!   Try things, be brave and bold and discover hidden meanings that you didn’t even know were there!

Got more ideas on how to rock metaphor?  Let me know!

*Intentional irony