Monday, July 30, 2012

Music to Write By

Do you write with music? We do. Here's what on our playlists and in our ears while we perform our writerly toil.

Greg Hardin

My first inclination when I'm writing is to put on classic jazz: Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, etc.  There is an energy and rhythm to the music that carries my thoughts and allows me to explore interesting side paths without becoming distracted from the main event.  Most of the music from these giants is instrumental -- something that helps as well.  I can get distracted by an interesting riff, but I'm not going to get caught up singing along like I might if I was listening to the latest pop song.  It works.

Then, there are the days when I want and need something different.  I don't know what I'm writing as well.  I'm frustrated with it.  I want to get distracted by lyrics in the hope I might be inspired and find what I'm looking for in my own thought processes.  Then, I turn to the indie rock greats.  Sufjan Stevens, Andrew Bird, Josh Ritter, Josh Rouse, Gary Jules.  These guys are always surprising me, always challenging me to think bigger, be weirder, try something new.  And it infuses my writing.  

I wish it didn't seem like my playlist is an all-male cast, but it seems it is.  Perhaps that speaks of the dominance of male influence on the music industry for so many years.  Perhaps it speaks to my own male ego and hidden (or not so hidden) sexist tendencies.  Or maybe these artists just resonate with the inner workings of my own creative instincts and it's all just a coincidence.  I don't feel like thinking about it anymore; I'll leave the analysis to the internet and my shrink.  The artists above are all damn good and while listening to them, I can pretend I'm just as good a writer.  

Laura Campbell
Silence? Music? Questions I ask myself every time I sit down to write. My different moods and my story’s different scenes require an assortment of sounds or lack there of. Some days my scenes need a kick in the butt to maintain the speed and intensity, so I play The Mars Volta (De-Loused In The Comatorium), Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Show Your Bones), The Used (Lies for the Liars), Halestorm (Halestorm), and The Distillers (Coral Fang). Then days when my characters experience powerful emotional scenes/moments, The Deftones (Diamond Eyes), NIN (The Fragile Left), and Placebo (Meds) help me get into the zone. And for the days when I need music to focus but lyrics are too distracting, I opt for classical (Tchiakovsky & Holst), movie score soundtracks (The Matrix & Harry Potter), and Enya (A Day Without Rain), although there are lyrics on this album, her voice blends in with the instrumental parts. Of course, there’s many more than this small sampling. These just tend to be my tried and true tunes.

Alex Villasante
I need music to write. The first thing I do is put on Pandora, or iTunes, or whatever is fueling my writing at the moment. While writing BOOKEND, I listened to Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes and the first twilight score until I should, by rights, have been sick of them. On Pandora I have a Joy Division station - sounds depressing I know, but it pulls up some great bands and songs that I don't have on my iTunes - early Bowie, Buzzcocks, Siouxsie. If I have a muse at all, it's music.

For FIND ME, I'm trying something a little different, creating playlists for my characters. So far on Mop's iPod is: Sharon Van Ettan, TV on the Radio, Felt and Kristen Hersh.

So do you write with music? Do you need silence or white noise? What do you listen to when you are writing?

Monday, July 23, 2012

July Bunch O' Links

By Alex Villasante

This post by published author Roni Loren literally stopped me in my tracks. Blogger beware - those pictures you (and I) are populating our blog posts with could get us in to trouble.

Bloggers Beware: You CAN be sued for using Pics on your Blog.

What do you fellow bloggers think? Will this change how you blog? I know it's making me think. Greg is a photographer as well as a writer - Greg, what are your thoughts?

By Greg Hardin

Okay, so many are audiobook haters, but I find that there are so many moments in my day when I can listen to a book, when I couldn't read one.  While I'm driving.  While I'm cooking.  While I'm outside cutting the grass.  Immersing myself in good writing is a great way to become a better writer myself.  Instead of flipping the radio on in any of the above scenarios, get a good audiobook.  Not only do you gain time in your day to "read", but by listening to the pacing and rhythm of a piece, you can gain a better understanding of subtler aspects of writing.  If you don't want to use audible, no problem; check out your local library.  Libraries have tons of great audiobooks.  My recommendation is to listen to a book you have read already and were thinking about revisiting.  Listening to it will allow you to enjoy it in a completely new way.

Here are a number of free short stories by very respectable authors, (Joyce, Dickins, Conrad, Irving, etc.)  When you need some inspiration read one or two.  :)

By Laura Campbell

Glimmer Train Literary Journal
-       Very Short Fiction Award: up to 3,000 words
o   First Place Prize: $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue
o   Deadline: July 31, 2012
o   Details here 
-       Short-Story Award for New Writers (unpublished): 1,500-12,000 words
o   First Place Prize: $1,500, publication in Glimmer Train Stories, and 20 copies of that issue
o   Deadline: August 30, 2012
o   Details here 

Writer’s Digest Magazine
-       13th Annual Short Short Story Competition
o   Summer Tales or Summer-Themed Fictional Stories 1,200 words or less
o   First Place Prize: $3,000, publication and a trip to the Writer’s Digest Conference
o   Deadline: November 15, 2012
o   Details here 

Narrative Magazine
-       Spring 2012 Story Contest
o   Fiction & Literary Nonfiction: 15,000 words or less
o   First Place Prize: $2,500 and considered for publication
o   Deadline: July 31, 2012
o   Details here

WOW! Women On Writing
-       Summer 2012 Flash Fiction Contest
o   Open (any style; any genre): 250-750 words
o   First Place Prize: $350, $25 Amazon Gift Certificate, publication on WOW! Women On Writing and an interview on the WOW! Women On WritingBlog.
o   Deadline: August 31, 2012
o   Details here 

 New Purlieu Review
o   Seeking Essays, Short Fiction, Artwork, Photos, and Poems
o   Theme: Family
o   Deadline: August 31, 2012
o   Details here

Monday, July 16, 2012

Head-Hopping: Confusing Readers

Who here finds themselves stuck in the head-hopping trap when they write a story with multiple points-of-view? It's OK. Raise your hand. This is a judgement-free zone.

I admit. I am one of those offenders. My critique partners, Alex and Greg, needed a neck brace after they recently read one of my submissions from the rapid whipping from one character's thoughts to another within the same scene. Once the embarrassment faded, I decided to put my mistake on display to help my fellow writers.

I'm going to use a small section to show you where I went wrong and share the solution that will eliminate the problem in future submissions.

For the sake of time, I'm going to fast forward to the first instance of head-hopping. It's important for you to know that the scene begins with the narrator describing a bar from Jack Ackerman's POV.

 Tonight Jack planned to stick around longer to keep his eye on McCrea. The drunker McCrea got to more he talked about Maryanne. He didn't let one minute go by without bringing her up in conversation, which pissed Jack off even more. 

McCrea could still smell Maryanne's sweet lilac perfume from his visit during lunch with her at McGregor's Grocer where she worked. 

As you can see, the first paragraph is from Jack's POV. Then all of a sudden, BAM! Now, the narrator is in McCrea's head in the second paragraph. Mass confusion ensues.

And here I thought I was smoothly transitioning from Jack's POV to McCrea's POV by introducing McCrea in the previous paragraph and sliding into his head in the following paragraph.

Not so much. I'm sure I even confused you just trying to explain my thought process.


The research I found explained that head-hopping is a common error. Novice, experienced, and published writers have been found guilty of head-hopping. I felt a bit better knowing I wasn't alone. Next, I realized that it wasn't the decision to tell the story from multiple POVs that failed, it was how I went about it.

You know that a chapter is built on multiple scenes tied together. To avoid reader confusion, I need to stick to just one POV per scene, which means I can have multiple POVs within the same chapter, I just need to smooth out my transitions.

So, back to the scene above. What you don't see here is the scene ends when McCrea exits through the back of the bar. What I should have done was allow the narrator to continue observing McCrea through Jack's eyes until the scene ended when McCrea exited the bar. Then, begin the new scene inside McCrea's head as the whiff of Maryanne's perfume triggers the memory of their lunch date.

The solution appears so simple that I could kick myself. Unfortunately, all reason and natural law is locked out of my head when I'm in the writing zone. The great part is that my intention to tell this story from multiple POVs is still possible, and the solution won't be hard to incorporate during revisions. Alex and Greg will be thankful for the lack of confusion and neck pain the next time I submit.

How do you avoid head-hopping when you're writing a story from multiple POVs? 

Monday, July 9, 2012

What You Put in the Hopper

This is a hopper:

Your brain is also a hopper.

There's a lot of conventional wisdom about what you should read while writing and a lot of it conflicts. Some say that you should read widely in your genre or read books like the ones you want to write - I heard one agent at a conference say that you should read 3000 words in your genre for every 1000 words you write. Others say to read outside your genre, to stay away from reading books or writers you admire because you could inadvertently (and badly) imitate those books.

I do both these things. I read in my genre - the kinds of books that I like to read and I also read books that are polar opposite to what I usually read and write. I don't write or normally read contemporary YA - so I've recently read 13 REASONS WHY and the (incredible) the FAULT IN OUR STARS.

But there's another thing I put in the hopper. Non fiction. I gravitate towards science based narrative non fiction, especially when it's about storytelling. I like to know how this thing, this writing thing that I'm compelled to do, works. Why do people tell stories? How do humans create narrative? Is it of any evolutionary use, or is it just a by product of being human? How does imagination work? Why does writer's block happen - I mean, what happens in the brain to cause a creative block?

These are the questions I've been considering in my reading life and they have nothing at all to do with what I'm writing. You could see this as a waste of reading time, I guess, when there are so many books to read. But I find these kind of books crucial, not to writing but to thinking. And usually, not always, I like to think when I write.

Here are two books non fiction books I'm reading now:

What do you read when you are writing?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Cliche vs. Archetype

By Greg Hardin

I was watching a new show on television with my wife the other day. It was about a heroine with a secret life as a crime fighter.  She wasn't a super hero or anything really fun like that; she just couldn't tell anyone what she did for a living, which was bumble her way through covert operations somehow remembering how to be a trained agent at just the right moment to save the day.  Or whatever.  I felt like I'd seen the show a thousand times.  There are some ideas and story lines which are constantly being repeated. Many of these are cliches.  They are repeated until we are sick of them.  There is no nourishment left, and there was never really enough meat in the first place to make a meal.

Then, there are the archetype story lines and characters.  These can appear to be indistinguishable from their cliche counterparts.  However, in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, they can be an endless source of inspiration.  There is a thin line here.  Very thin.  Many of these archetype characters and plots are still overdone by unskilled hands and become tiresome. It is worth differentiating, though.

A good rule of thumb is strip away all the details.  Simmer a story down to its essence.  That story of the secret government agent -- it can be boiled down to a story of someone with a hidden life they cannot tell others about.  That is an archetype.  That can be made into good fiction. It has become a cliche because the secret life that everyone seems to want to portray is that of a sexy but bumbling crime fighter.  The tv show, Weeds, is popular in part because they put a different spin on this archetypal story: a suburban mother who can't tell anyone about her secret life as a drug dealer.  A unique spin on the same basic idea.

Story archetypes are everywhere.  Find ones that resonate with you.  Identify the current cliches coming from misuse of these and think of ways to make the plot fresh and fun again.