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Find Another Tree

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I just finished a re-write for a book I’m working on and I was happy.  Then I started reading it yesterday and I got pissed off and stressed out because I hated the fucking thing.  I hated it before the re-write and I hated it after which is kind of a huge disappointment because I love the concept but I can’t nail the execution.

So we went for a walk because that’s what I like to do when I’m stressed—escape and talk to Ben.

I told him how much I hated the story and that I felt like I was overloading it with details and trying too hard.  I bitched and complained and Ben tried to make me feel better.

  Then we saw a cluster of people huddled around what looked like a small pile of leaves.  It was actually a bat that had fallen from a tree and it was tiny and scared and heartbreaking.

Ben ran back home to consult our wildlife bible and grab our net, gloves and a box just in case we needed to catch the little creature and bring it into the Toronto Wildlife Centre.  I stayed behind to watch over it with a bunch of kind people who were all concerned for its little, furry well-being.

The bat was at the base of a tree and it crawled up to the tree and tried to climb it.  But the problem was the bark on that particular tree was too smooth, so it systematically felt around for hand holds.  It went around the entire base of the tree looking for a way up and when it couldn’t find a way what did it do?  It hurled itself across the grass towards an adjacent tree with rough bark.  It was a harrowing journey for the poor little bat and everyone was cheering it on.  Then, finally, it got to the tree and climbed quickly to the very top, out of reach, and hung upside down to rest.  We all sighed with relief and Ben called to tell me what he had learned about bats from our wildlife bible.*

As I walked home I thought about the bat’s problem solving skills.  It tried that one, smooth-barked tree for a long time and then moved on when it couldn’t make it work.  If that wasn’t a lesson for me I don’t know what is.

Sometimes a story isn’t working, but instead of giving up completely you just need to find another tree.  Find a new path.  Find a completely different way to look at it.  Sometimes you have to let the old way go in order to find the way that actually works for you.

So I’m going to let the lesson of the bat inspire me and crawl away from this old tree as fast as I can.  Because I know there’s a different way to get that story out.  I know there’s a tree out there for this story, one with rough bark and lots of handholds to help me climb all the way to the top.

* Apparently if you find a bat on the ground and you can get near it, it means you should take it in to see a professional for help.  But in this case the bat had managed to get itself to safety so we will just check on it for a few days and if it’s still in the same place we will attempt a rescue or call the TWC to come help us retrieve it.  If you find an injured or orphaned animal please consult professionals as not all animals are in need of rescue and in some cases you might just be taking them away from their homes.

Toronto Wildlife Centre Hotline: 416-631-0662

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Write as you love

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Today’s blog post was supposed to be about rules.  Am I for them or against them?  So, to illustrate the only relevant point I have regarding rules, I am going to write about something completely different: writing what you love.

I am an emerging writer, an aspiring to be published writer.  I have faith I’ll get there one day, but in the meantime I’m learning to write what I love.  This is by far the most important thing anyone can possibly learn to do.  Why?  Because writing what you love is like falling in love, it’s dizzying, dazzling and beautiful.  It makes you excited about putting fingers to keyboard, pen to paper.

Now, by writing what you love, I don’t just mean mystery novels or epic poetry, it goes well beyond genre or format.  Writing what you love is about the base elements of the art, the magic of the craft.  It’s about the words and the concepts and the soul (if there is such a thing).

So what do I love?  I’ve been working on the answer to this question and I think I’ve narrowed it down.  I love abstraction, absurdism, lists, feelings, rituals, elemental magic and the suggestion of something deeper.  I love quantum writing, ideas that feel as though they could have a million meanings but only take shape when you read them, in the exact form you choose to perceive them.  I love rhymes and interjections of poetry, I love metaphor and good, quirky similes.

I find the best way to access the writing I love is to allow my mind to wander.  I like to reach out into my memories and the fringes of what I know to gather ideas and bring them back.  In order to do that though I have to be brave and let go of my fears and preconceptions.  Stilted writing comes when I’m thinking too much, worrying too much about this word or that sentence.

So how to write what you love?  Write as you love, with wild abandon, an open heart and a slightly reckless spirit.  Read books and pick out the words you love and remember them.  Study turns of phrase you admire and allow yourself to be free.  Listen to songs and watch TV and movies and pay attention to the words.  Some of my favorite writers are musicians.

Rules be damned, sometimes it’s just time to write what you love and worry about the details later!

What do you love to write?

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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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Let’s talk about Sex (baby)

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Sex is awesome.

It’s dynamic, sexy and it makes things more interesting pretty much every time.

I have recently been writing an novel/la that involves a bunch of sex and I’ve been learning as I go about the ways in which I want to approach it.  I don’t read a lot of erotica or romance novels or even loads of stories in which there is a lot of sex, but I’ve still read enough to know what I like and what I don’t.

So here’s Star’s Dos & Don’ts for sex in stories:

Don’t

Don’t use terms like throbbing member or glistening folds or heaving bosom.  I’m sure the first time someone wrote that it was novel and maybe even evocative (probably not though) but by now it’s just dumb.

Don’t make sex sound pedestrian or clinical.  Anyone can use the words penis and vagina and tits and ass, but if you use the words too much they’re excessive and if you use them only once in awhile then they can be jarring.  There are always exceptions of course, like if you’re meaning to be shocking or you’re writing about medical kinks.

Don’t make sex a toss away.  Don’t just throw it in to be evocative, make it mean something.  Even if that something is that it means nothing, that’s better than just sticking it in where it otherwise might not belong.

Do

Remember your most exciting sexual experiences, what do you recall?  Was it the tension of the moment before the electric union?  Was it the thrill of a glance across a room?  Was it a subtle gesture?  Was it the fun after a particularly cerebral relationship?   Don’t be shy, use your experiences and your fantasies to your benefit and focus in on the things that matter most.

Think outside yourself.  Now that we have you thinking about your own experiences, think beyond that (unless of course you’re sex connoisseur and have tried everything imaginable).  Don’t be afraid of experimenting with orgies and same sex partners, kinks and fantasies.  Don’t go overboard (unless you’re writing erotica) but don’t be afraid to add a little extra.

Use sexy language.  I don’t mean dirty talk ‘ooh ooh you are such a sexy beast’, I mean find the poetry in the moment.  Think about metaphor and rhythm and try to match your tone to the pace you want to achieve.  Remember you are a wordsmith and you have free reign over the language, explore it, get sexy and have fun!

Finally and most importantly, investigate the relationships and how your characters interact.  Explore more than their physiological feelings in the moment and see what happens.  Sometimes the best sex is with someone you’ve known and loved for years, other times that could be fraught with problems.  Find out what motivates the sex and that will set the tone.  It doesn’t always have to be super passionate and steamy, it can be lonely, painful, meaningful, joyful, fun, desperate.  All of this depends on your characters relationships with themselves or others though, so dig in and go wild!

Have I missed a spot?

Let me know!

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Keep It Simple

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I’ve been doing a lot of reviewing lately on forums and in writing groups.  I feel like it really helps me focus on my own style to take apart other people’s stuff and look at the bits.

What I’ve noticed most of all (especially in fantasy and sci-fi) is that people complicate things too much.  Obscure words, five words when one would do, thick dialogue, overdone description, info dumps, metaphors that don’t match the world.  All of this stuff starts to stack until you have a book or a story that’s too full.

Take a deep breath writers and cut, cut cut.

If it feels confusing when you’re writing it, it will likely be ten times worse when someone goes to read it.  Keep that in mind before you go spilling the guts of the world all over the page.

Keeping it simple also involves knowing what parts of the story matter and what don’t.  I think writers fall in love with their characters and their worlds so much that they think people want to hear every last tiny detail that comes to mind.  We don’t.  We want to hear the details that matter, that are relevant to the story and keep the protagonist(s) charging forward or contain some sort of meaningful moment.

I learned a lesson about this today as I was writing a story that may or may not become a novel/la.  It’s a about a girl hitching to California from Toronto.  So I had her get a ride from some guy and they shared a moment by the lake.  Then the moment was over, it was over and gone but still I was tempted to stretch it out, make it last.  I was about to continue with them having lunch somewhere and my fingers were poised over the keyboard.  But instead, I looked at the chapter and said, ‘lunch doesn’t matter, it’s irrelevant and useless, the moment is done’ and I was liberated after that.  Set free by simplicity and brevity.

So look at your stories and novels writers and ask yourself if you are writing because it matters or if the moment is gone and now you’re just saying stuff because you want to hear yourself talk.

Although being complicated may be cathartic for you, if you don’t keep it simple, your readers will quickly move on.

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Why Speculative Fiction?

I used to write a lot of non-fiction.  I would write about my world travels, my love affairs, moments in time that felt significant.  But it always fell short for me.  It felt laborious and although I tried to infuse my non-fiction with the magic I feel lives in the world, I could never quite make it…magical enough.

So I turned to fantasy.  The more I write the more I fall in love with the genre.  I am mostly interested in urban fantasy, magic realism, myth, fairytale and more subtle types of magic.  No high fantasy with elves and orcs.  No sci-fi with spaceships and lasers.  It’s not that I have a problem with high fantasy or sci-fi, it’s just not quite right for me.

What I love about the more subtle tones of fantasy is that it allows for vivid and vibrant metaphor.  I get to play with magical creatures and concepts and use them to represent things that are typically more mundane.  It gives me an opportunity to build the world I always used to imagine (and still do), where there are mysteries just beyond our reach and you can catch glimmers of magic in the corner of your eye.

A speculative approach also allows us to examine hard questions, challenges, bias’ and conflict within a unique and sometimes safer context.  When it is just beyond reality, it is easier to hold tough issues up to the light and take a good hard look.  Through the metaphor of magic we can find ways to express things that might otherwise be too crude or dull.

I want my stories to mean something and for the most part I’m succeeding at having them do just that.   You certainly don’t need to write non-fiction or mundane fiction (I don’t know what else to call regular fiction) in order to delve deep into the psyche of the world.

I’ve read a couple of articles suggesting that the world of speculative fiction is taken less seriously as an art form or a form of literature.  I’m not sure if that is entirely true, but to those who think that magic can’t have meaning I say, why not?  Sure there’s loads of speculative fiction out there that may not strive to do much more than tell a cool story that involves vampires or witches or spaceships.  But the same could be said of any genre.  What matters most is that there are loads of stories out there in the speculative fiction world that strive for meaning and purpose.

I love speculative fiction because it allows me to imagine a world just below the surface of our own, where magic is metaphor and everything means something.

Why do you love speculative fiction?

Or if you don’t, why not?

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Let your story stew

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I had an idea for a story last month.  It’s been sitting as a single note on my computer for a month.  It’s been stewing in my brain.  I didn’t think I would do anything with it ever, like it would be one of those things that you get all crazy inspired about and then it just gets lost.

It had been three days since I wrote a story.   I was getting annoyed.  I wanted some inspiration and my prompts just weren’t cutting it.  So I thought of my stew.  It was simmering and I tasted it.  I just wanted to try it, see if it was ready.  I held the story for a day and it wasn’t feeling right.  I was just being really one dimensional about it.  You know when you have an idea in your mind and you keep going at it from the same perspective?  Over and over it was the same story, until all of  a sudden I changed the focus, changed the perspective, the voice and BAM!  Awesomeness.  After that the stew was edible.  I worked the rest out quickly, it just came pouring out.

So now that I’m done, waiting for Ben to look over the story and give his feedback, I’m reflecting.  What did I learn?  Stew tastes better when it has been left to simmer.  Sometimes ideas don’t come right away.  Hell sometimes they don’t even come at all, but that’s okay.  It’s in there somewhere, it just needs some time.  The veggies need to get soft, the juices need to mingle.

Now that I have driven this metaphor into the ground, I would love to hear your thoughts on story development.  How does it work for you?  Are you a stove-top cooker or do you just toss things in the microwave and super-charge them?  Personally, I’m a little bit of both, but I have to learn to be patient with myself during those times when the microwave just won’t cut it.

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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