Monthly Archives: August 2015

Writing and Meditation: Opening Yourself Up to Inspiration

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Recently, I returned from a trip to Oregon, where I had my first real experience with meditation. It was intriguing, especially because the individuals around me seemed so much better at meditating than me.

Meditation is not easy. But what it does do is something most other writing advice cannot. Meditation allows for inner exploration.

So much influence bombards us from the outside world that our minds can become clogged. Sitting down and focusing on writing becomes that much harder. Meditation gives your brain a chance to push away all that outer noise and focus inward.

When you’re able to focus on your internal influences, your creativity will increase.

How?

While outer information is vital to writing, (wide spread reading is a huge component to writing well) if you can’t process the information effectively, then your ability to interpret and discover new and fascinating ideas decreases.

Meditation provides the path to untainted creativity. When you’re aware of your thoughts, and are able to have an honest conversation with yourself, ideas will flow much easier.

However, to be successful, meditation needs to become a habit.

How does that happen?

  1. Time.

Make time to meditate, whether that’s going to meditation classes, retreats, listening to an instructive meditation disc, or spending ten minutes, or half an hour, three days a week on your own.

  1. Patience and forgiveness.

It takes time to learn how to meditate, and each person is different. What meditation means to one individual may be very different than what it means to another.

Forgive yourself if you’re unsuccessful when you start meditating. Forgive yourself if you miss a day or two of meditation, or if you hit a rough patch and find you’re unable to internally explore.

By forgiving yourself for your slip-ups, you’re allowing yourself to begin anew the next day. This stops you from stifling your creativity.

You’ll discover that after meditating, you’ll have a calmness in your mind. This is a fantastic time to write. You can focus on your current story or you can free write. Just get the ideas down before the outside world begins to clutter up your brain.

Over time, you’ll find that you carry that internal calmness with you. You’ll process information faster and more efficiently. You’ll be able to interpret both outer and inner stimuli. More ideas, as well as more connections to other discoveries, will come to you.

What do you think about writing and meditation?

(Photo courtesy of Angela Marie Henriette.)

 

 

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Heroes Need Flaws Too: Creating a Believable Hero

5572308074_fd3dbc34c6_zWhen we think of heroes, we think of Superman, marines, firefighters, etc. Often heroes are made to be unstoppable forces that are held up on pedestals. But this perfection makes heroes unbelievable. They become characters readers can’t relate to. Since the hero is usually the protagonist of the story, they must draw readers in. The best way to do that is to make the hero human. Give them flaws.

In real life, no one is perfect. We all have things in our past that have effected who we are now. We are all scarred in some way or another. The same goes for our fictional heroes. The first page of a story isn’t the beginning of a character’s life. There’s backstory. A hero’s past can create a compelling character, and for the most part, the hero wasn’t always a hero. Perhaps the character grew up in the inner city and ended up killing a person for a gang initiation. This murder haunted the character, and so to atone, he became a vigilante fighting to save innocent lives and punishing those who deserve it.

Backstory also shows readers what motivates the hero, what choices they’ll make (how they’ll behave), what emotional scars a hero has, what are their quirks, etc.

Flaws make a character believable. When a character is flawed, they make mistakes, sometimes their emotions overpower their reasoning, occasionally they overreact, and with every poor choice they make, they have to deal with the consequences. Readers empathize with this because readers know what it’s like to mess up. But, what really makes readers fall in love with heroes is when heroes struggle to move past their faults, when they grow as characters.

Flaws create conflict (both conflict within the character and conflict with other characters). Conflict within a character is also known as internal conflict. It occurs within a character’s mind. Many people may admire the character, but internally the character believes that they aren’t worthy, and never will be.

Conflict with other characters is known as external conflict. It’s the forces outside of the hero that are trying to prevent the hero from obtaining their goal. External conflict also disrupts relationships between characters, and will be something they have to work through in order to succeed.

The more conflict there is, the more tension increases within a story. But, if the conflict doesn’t make sense, then it will seem random and distance readers from the story. For example, a character can’t simply wake up one day and have women crying make him angry. There has to be a reason for this reaction, which circles back to a character’s past.

If a hero starts out being perfect, then there’s no room for growth, and despite all the external conflicts that occur, it’s the internal conflicts, and the accompanying personal growth, that makes a story appealing to readers.

What flaws do you give your characters?

(Photo courtesy of amanda tipton.)

 

Bleeding Out: Transmitting Raw Emotions onto the Page

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Emotions are an extremely important part of writing well. In real life, they connect people to each other. In literature, they connect readers to the characters. Without emotions, people wouldn’t be able to feel a story, and if they can’t feel a story, then they can’t relate to it.

Think about some of your favorite stories. How did they make you feel? In all of my favorite books, I’ve felt like I’ve been on an emotional roller-coaster. I was able to experience every emotion the protagonist did, whether that was fear, anticipation, excitement, panic, dread, or love.

Our brains are wired to process other peoples’ emotions. When a friend loses someone they love, we feel that loss. When a person yawns, we yawn. When we read an article about a deceased soldier being flown home, or a lion being injured, hunted, and then killed, we experience sadness or anger, perhaps both.

When we are able to put raw emotions onto the page, readers are able to sympathize. Our emotions resonate with them.

But transferring raw emotions into our writing isn’t easy – it’s exhausting – so how can we do it effectively?

  1. We have to feel. Putting up a wall between us and our characters will only harm our writing. If we distance ourselves from our story, readers will know. They’ll be able to feel it through our words. So, imagine scenes as if you were there. Sit back and close your eyes and picture yourself in your characters’ shoes. What does each character see, smell, hear, touch, taste, and feel? Once you can clearly picture and feel a scene, then we’ll be able to write it down in a way that readers will be able to fully experience it.

An author friend of mine has gotten so sucked into her own writing before that she sometimes finds herself crying because her characters are heartbroken, or her heart is pounding and she’s sweating because her characters are filled with apprehension and fear.

  1. Show instead of tell. In some of the workshops I’ve been in, one of the most common critiques is that writers are telling a story rather than showing it. They’ll say that a character feels angry rather than showing anger. For example, “Sally is filled with anger when she sees Rex with his new girlfriend,” rather than, “After spotting Rex with his new girlfriend, Sally rushes out of the party, and when she gets home, she grabs the nearest kitchen chair and hurls it across the room.”

Showing emotion has a much stronger impact than telling it. This is because showing keeps readers immersed in the story. They are in “feeling” mode rather than “thinking” mode. If you say a character is sad, then the reader has to think of sad memories in order to experience the emotion. But, if you show sadness, instead of naming it, then the character will automatically feel the emotion.

Also, by showing emotion, readers connect with the characters, and will want to continue reading. Often when emotions are stated, readers don’t care about what happens because they haven’t bonded with the characters.

It’s not easy to let raw emotions out. It means having to dig inside ourselves to find those emotions, but it will be worth it because then our stories will successfully carry emotion.

As Ernest Hemingway says, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

How do you go about bleeding on the page?

(Photo courtesy of SeRGioSVoX.)

Discovering Your Voice: What Type of Writer Are You?

13983083088_f4fe7e77b8_zOne of the most important aspects when writing is knowing what type of writer you are. I’m not referring to genre, though that is something you must know before you begin your novel. I’m talking about the voice you as an author portray.

Finding your unique voice as a writer will help you to gain a larger audience. But, in order to find your voice, you must know yourself. This means sorting through your emotions to find the core of what makes you different from other people.

While searching for what makes you unique, take an honest look at yourself and discover if you fear being judged. Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent trilogy, suffered from severe anxiety after the success of her first published novel. She had difficulty starting Insurgent, the second book in the trilogy, because of this anxiety. Ernest Hemingway also suffered from anxiety because of the pressure of readers’ expectations.

Fear of judgment can really harm your writing. It can dry up your creative juices and make you freeze. You may not be able to write at all. You keep thinking about how people may hate your novel, or you want to know what people will think of your book before you’ve finished or even started it.

Overcoming this fear will not only enable you to write, and write what makes you happy, but will allow you to continue searching for your unique voice.

Developing your own voice doesn’t come immediately. It doesn’t come quickly either. There’s a reason why debut novels often aren’t bestsellers. Many times writers are still developing their unique voices after they’ve written their first novel, and so it’s rare to see an author’s first written novel end up being published. Most authors have written at least one novel before the one they got published.

Take your time discovering your unique writer’s voice. Part of the journey to finding your voice is knowing why you write. It would be great to earn money off of writing. You invest so much time and energy in your novel that some recognition would be appreciated, but being a writer is more than earning money and acknowledgement. If those two reasons are the only reasons for why you write, you won’t have the endurance to wade through the murky, judgmental, and often convoluted world of publishing.

Find your internal reasons for writing. Accept that you are a writer, and that writing is a part of your identity.

Ask yourself, if you knew that you’d never make a cent off of your writing, would you still write?

(Photo courtesy of Nilufer Gadgieva.)

Creating a Love Triangle, Minus the Eye Rolling

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Love triangles in literature tend to have a polarizing effect on readers. Either readers enjoy love triangles, and their satisfaction of the novel enhances, or the love triangle destroys what would otherwise have been a good book.

Though love triangles are an established part of literature, it’s only in recent years that they’ve increased in popularity. Perhaps not in popularity of readers, but they are more frequently seen in novels, especially young adult novels.

A love triangle is a romantic relationship between three individuals. A few better known love triangles are:

  • Katniss/Peeta/Gale in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • Bella/Edward/Jacob in Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
  • Heathcliff/Cathy/Edgar in Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
  • The Phantom/Christine/Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (the novel that was adapted into Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical)

Typically, a love triangle involves one woman and two men, where the woman has difficulty choosing between the two men. While the woman cares for both men, the men usually are in competition with each other and usually fill archetypes. For example, one man is the woman’s childhood friend, while the other is the newcomer, a bad boy, a prince, etc.

Most times I’m not a fan of love triangles because often I find them to be trite. But if done well, a love triangle can be quite the adventure.

What makes a love triangle work?

  1. The protagonist isn’t sure of their identity. The two romantic choices can represent different aspects of the main character. Whomever the character chooses with show who the character wants to be, and who the character ultimately becomes. Will the protagonist become the hardened warrior, or choose a softer version of herself?
  2. Wish fulfillment. When faced with the choice between the bad boy and the good boy, in real life most individuals would choose the good boy. The good boy is practical, stable, and will be someone you can trust. However, in the fantasy world, the bad boy is much more exciting, and since fiction isn’t real, it’s easier to choose the intoxicating, bad boy, who’ll make you miserable in the long run, but who is great for a short while.
  3. The men in the love triangle are opposites. This option shows two different lives the protagonist can have. It’s not so much about the protagonist’s identity, but showing options. Will the protagonist go for the prince, who will provide the protagonist security and all her material desires, but who “was raised to be charming, not sincere,” or the rogue, who will be able to give her nothing but his love and loyalty? (quote by Prince Charming from Into the Woods)
  4. There is intense chemistry all around. The protagonist feels attracted to both men, and she could be happy with either choice. One of the aspects of love triangles that can get very annoying is when readers know that one choice is much better than the other, but the protagonist can’t see that.

A few things to watch out for:

  1. Making the entire story about the love triangle. When that occurs, it’s easy for the characters to turn into stereotypes and for the plot to simplify to the point of foolishness. The male characters do not exist just to be in love with the female protagonist. They have their own identities and personalities, responsibilities, quirks, loyalties, bad sides, etc.
  2. Sticking a love triangle into a work because it’s what’s popular. If the story doesn’t call for a love triangle, don’t put one in. Readers can tell when a romantic relationship feels forced. If there’s no chemistry, readers aren’t interested.

What do you think? Are you for or against love triangles?

(Photo courtesy of Greg Jordan.)