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Writing an outline

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I’ve decided to write an outline for my next book.


It’s a weird feeling. Usually i just dive headfirst into a novel, emotions in front, ready to do battle. That approach has served me well. I’ve gotten three books out of it, books I like, books I’m proud of. 



So why the outline?


Because I’m tackling something new: science fiction.

I wrote a short story based on a concept I learned about in an astronomy class I was auditing at U of T and I loved the idea so much I knew I had to make it into something bigger. But the thing about science fiction is that it requires…science. And to make my science fiction even remotely scientific, I need to do some research. Also, because my story will be set in a time that is beyond ours it requires a little world building. I’m working from the outside with this concept because it’s an idea about the universe itself, not about a single character, which is my usual approach.

I have to say I’m a little bit intimidated by the idea of the outline. It makes writing a book seem more like work. I write outlines for corporate clients, web videos and projects. I know when I finally sit down with it I’ll get into it and things will be fine, but right now it just seems liked a daunting proposition.

So why do I feel as though writing should be a purely emotional pursuit? It seems like a foolishly romantic notion: this idea that I should be some poet in a coffee shop spilling my guts in a moleskin notebook. It’s also unrealistic; I like structure, order and a good understanding of my direction in life—so why shouldn’t I like it in my writing?

Maybe I think an outline will restrict me. But it would be an imaginary restriction, because if I make it, I can destroy it. Maybe I think it will be too formal, that I will get bored of it if I have my whole path charted for me. Maybe I think writing is more exciting when it’s a mystery. But if that were true then I wouldn’t need to know the ending before I start a story…and I always know the ending before I start.

So where is the resistance coming from?


Writing a new genre is daunting, I’ve only written two or three pure science fiction stories before. Writing in a new format is daunting too. An outline is a new skill that I have yet to master.

But ultimately I think it will be good for me. The fear of trying new things has never stopped me before.

So watch your back outline…I’m coming for you.


P.S. Any tips or hints on good ways to outline a novel would be appreciated. If you have any just drop them in the comments section!

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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.

Uncategorized

Finding the balance

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I’m the kind of person who likes to throw myself into things, as evidenced by my long history of doing just that.



In little school I was devoted to figure skating, then in high school it was acting. Both had varying degrees of success (many medals and a strange, embarrassing YTV show where I talk to a lava lamp). During the rest of high school (after the acting business) I threw myself into raving, with all its trappings, and excelled at it; dancing for days on end, getting high and staying out late enough to constantly worry my mom (sorry mom!). When I left high school I committed myself to being a crazy, world travelling hippie and focussed on my commitment to visiting ‘power points’ that had something to do with Ley lines and energy or some such bullshit. Then came a dark time where I committed myself completely to two people in such a fervent manner that it led me to a pretty bad place. In the midst of that I also threw myself into a potential event planning career path which wasn’t ultimately my bag.

So I’m a pretty dedicated person when I put my mind to it.


After the dark times I threw myself into writing completely. I wrote four novels and over 50 short stories in the span of two years and loved every minute of it, then I decided I wanted to pursue science and now here I am.

But because I tend to be very focussed I have this feeling that if I’m not focussed completely and entirely on the thing I’m passionate about, then I don’t care enough about it and therefore I actually hate it and will ultimately fail at it.

Shit, that spiralled out of control pretty quickly.

With a mindset like that you could see how this would lead to complications with finding a balance between writing and school.


When I first started school for science I was pretty focussed on it. I had to get into the rhythm of the classes and realize it was something I could actually do. But while I worked away at school I had a nagging sense of guilt about ‘abandoning’ writing. The fact is I didn’t abandon it at all, but I thought I had just because I wasn’t giving it every last bit of my attention, which is a pretty flawed way of thinking.


Ultimately my brain is balancing things out for me naturally as I grow accustomed to school and need to give it less full-time attention. Sometimes I think about writing stuff, sometimes I think about science stuff, and sometimes I just think about sitting around in my underwear, eating chips and playing Zelda with Ben.

I think the main point of this story is not to stress about it if your focus shifts a bit here and there as time goes on. Just because you have a variety of interests and passions doesn’t mean your goals are any less achievable or focussed. In fact I know from experience it’s detrimental to focus all of your energy on just one thing. Life is about balance and finding it might not be easy, but it’s definitely necessary.

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Writing is writing

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Things have been crazy because I just started school again and when I meet up with other writers they ask me if I’ve been writing lately.


And I say yes.

But I hesitate. Why do I hesitate? Because I’ve been writing loads, just not fiction. I’ve been blogging a lot about my experiences at school over at my Cosmorphosis blog and it’s been extremely rewarding and fascinating, but there’s some tiny part of me that believes writing = writing fiction.


This is clearly a flawed thought and I have no idea where it comes from. Non-fiction is obviously a valid and important form of writing, from news to memoirs, sharing stories of the real world and our own lives is extremely valuable.

But it’s not fiction.

I think the moment I really committed to writing fiction was the same moment I officially committed to being a writer. Even though I had been writing non-fiction and travel memoirs for years, for some reason I only decided to take the moniker of writer when fiction was my focus.

It’s not a good, healthy thought. Writing is writing and all of it is great.

Whether it’s tweeting, blogging, writing a book, a poem, a single line or even a lab report (which I did for the first time ever this week), writing is important and meaningful because it’s all just various forms of expression. I can find the joy in any one of those forms, as evidenced by the fact that I loved writing the lab report.



I don’t want to limit myself to the form of fiction for my expression and I don’t think anyone should. As a writer, a creator of art, my focus will change throughout my life and as someone who considers herself open-minded and well suited for change I want to embrace that and proudly proclaim my love of self expression, no matter what form it comes in.

Random

I want to write what I know

New view of the Pillars of Creation — visible

(This post is meant to shed more light on the writing explanation for my cosmorphosis)

Since I officially decided to become a writer about three years ago I’ve written five books, three of which I love and want to publish. But in the summer after I had finished my fifth book I had a dilemma. I had enough practice writing novels from ideas that just came from nowhere (dreams, conversations with Ben, new articles online) and I wanted my next book to reflect the story I really wanted to tell. So I sat down and made a huge, sprawling mind map chart to outline all the things I was most interested in. Then I tried combining different concepts to make a full idea. It was a painful process (mostly because I often worry an idea will never come) but finally something presented itself.

An idea I loved.

An idea I felt could truly represent a lot of the things I cared about most and struggled with.


But then I realized that although the emotional aspect of the story was something I could definitely authoritatively write about, the technicalities of the story weren’t within the scope of my knowledge. I wanted to write a story that was essentially a love letter to the universe, but I didn’t have the understanding of the universe I needed/wanted to really get my point across.

I wanted to write what I know, but I didn’t know what I wanted to write.


So I decided to go back to school. Specifically to audit a course in astronomy and when I got there I realized it wasn’t enough. Sure it was nice to have a basic understanding of certain astronomical phenomena, but I wanted to know everything I possibly could about the birth and future death of the universe. How can you write a love letter to someone if you don’t know the person you’re writing to?

So I’m going back to school.

Maybe it’s taking the idea of research for a novel a little far, but obviously I have other reasons for doing it too. I’m not satisfied with the basics, I want to know the whole story. I want my love letter to the universe to encompass more than just one novel. I want to write thousands of stories in thousands of different ways to illuminate the mystery, wonder and sheer insanity of the cosmos.

I want to write what I know and I’m excited to figure out how.

____

(Image from the Hubble Space Telescope depicting the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation)

Story Notes

Story Notes – Leadership Camp

Leadership Camp

My story ‘Leadership Camp’ was published recently at Maudlin House and I was so honoured to be included with all the other wonderful stories in Issue 5!

To read the story just head on over to Maudlin House and check it out!

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 Maudlin House before reading the notes.

About ‘Leadership Camp’

This story was inspired by a call for submissions for a local Toronto anthology looking for stories with the subject ’20 Somethings Going Nowhere’. My story didn’t make it into the anthology but I’m actually happy about that because it found an amazing home at Maudlin House!

The truth is I don’t usually write stories with large casts. I find too many people hard to manage and I have a bit of a distaste for dialogue tags and try to avoid them whenever I can. Usually I stick to smaller interactions between one or two people, but this theme (in my mind) called for an ensemble so I wanted to give it a try. I tried a minimal style because I wanted it to be as dialogue heavy as possible (sort of like a script)—partly for the challenge and also because I thought the situation called for it.


A zombie apocalypse just popped into my head and honestly I usually try to avoid writing about apocalypse scenarios as much as possible because I worry they will come across as cliche. But as Ben always says, the most interesting thing about a zombie film is the interactions between the living. So I tried to focus on that and I think it turned out pretty well in the end (although the character’s actual fate is up to you to decide).

(Image by: Miquela Davis – miquelacomics.tumblr.com)

Cosmorphosis

Cosmorphosis

Butterfly emerges from stellar demise in planetary nebula NGC 63

It started with a book.

I had an idea for a story I wanted to write but I needed a little information on astrophysics to really get into the theme I wanted to explore—the cosmos and its absurd, fabulous majesty.  So Ben and I decided to audit Astronomy 201 at U of T (taught by the fantastic Dr. Michael Reid).  If you’ve never audited a class before I highly recommend it.  It’s a great way to learn about a subject without all the pressure that comes with attending university and it’s also an amazing way to decide if a subject is something you want to pursue.

In my case it turned out I wanted to do more than audit the astronomy class, I wanted to join it.

After each class I would bounce off the walls, thrilled with everything we were learning about the universe.  I wanted the class to go on forever and I was so sad that it was only an hour long.  So one day Ben looked at me and said: ‘If you like it so much why don’t you just be an astrophysicist?’

And so Cosmorphosis was born.

In a few short weeks I’ve signed up for high school (back to grade 8 math and grade 9 science for me!), created a blog, planned out a vlog/documentary with Ben and booted up a brand new twitter account with the goal of sharing my love of science and the universe with the world.

I still plan to keep writing of course and I’ve decided on a study plan that includes translating scientific principals into poetry and fiction and I plan to write my new book, the one that started it all, during the summer break.

So I hope to see you all over at Cosmorphosis and I will of course continue to post here as well about all things writing!

(The image for this post was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and shows the Butterfly Nebula-a dying star ejecting massive amounts of insanely hot gas into space. How amazing is that?)