The Devil is in the Details: more is better

People start new stories a myriad of different ways. Sometimes it’s a flash of a scene they see in their mind’s eye or the lyrics to a song that sparks some dialogue. A specific smell might trigger it or the way someone is dressed.

I don’t know if it’s true of everyone but I like to believe that writers have a stronger connection to certain parts of a story than others so when inspiration strikes, that strength comes to the foreground.

For instance, you could be thumbing through a magazine and see a beautiful cursive type font and suddenly you see a young woman from Jane Austen’s world penning a letter over a scarred and ink-stained desk, a tendril of copper hair escaping her severe bun. Or you can hear the distant refrain from some classical Russian Ballet soundtrack and then you’re meandering down cobblestone streets, carrying a basket of fruit and bread down an alleyway to take home for dinner and you look up to admire the cloudless day in between the white washed buildings.

One is character driven inspiration and one is world driven.

When I write, I tend to be more character driven. I love the process of picking out names and giving the blank slate mannequins different personalities. I used to be really bad at creating believable characters. I would pour into them sugar, spice and everything nice on top of all my personal hopes and dreams. Guitar playing? Yep, since childhood. Knows several languages? Bein sûr! Can run 5k marathons and hike Mount Everest–without oxygen? Cake walk! And that’s just the main character.

Yeah I know >< We all start somewhere. (Keep that in mind when you’re writing!)

I’ve since learned to spread those qualities out among the entire cast. I’ve also learned that they really do need annoying habits and quirks to make them believable. I created a character that pretty much hates everything except music and death. He’s my first anti-hero and probably the most extreme character I’ve ever created. I’ve also made a character that sacrifices so much of herself for other people that she never figured out what she wanted out of life and has to journey to figure it out. Another extreme.

It was some big personal growth for me realizing how one-note my cast was and fixing it, adding to it and balancing them appropriately. I was pretty proud! I could re-read my drafts now and nod approvingly. Yes, these could be real people walking down the street. Yay me! Gold star on my forehead!

I still have more growth that needs to happen though, naturally. I realized this as I was trying to go back to writing one of my NaNoWriMo stories, “Hourglass”. In a nut shell, I abhor details.

Lemme explain.

I had my three main characters set up in this story. They had names and personalities that played off each other. They had importance in the story and provided plenty of conflict. All seemed well until I came to a flash back. Ahh crap. This means I need to provide BACKGROUND. And here, my friends, is where my downfall is while creating my characters.

Background. History. Family. Childhood.

Now these things don’t seem like they’re important in most stories. Unless you’re writing a biography or writing a lot about the character’s history, you’ll only ever really write about key events from their past to explain their current behaviors. Minimal effort put into the background may seem sufficient. Plus, this is a lot of extra work, writing down background stuff that may never end up in the story at all.

BUT MAYBE IT WILL.

I had an instance where my character basically had to go back and visit her husband in the past. She had to get answers from him that would determine her future actions. It is a rather pivotal scene that I’ve been stuck on for a long while because I never gave her enough history to augment this dialogue.

Creating history for your cast or characters can only benefit you in the long run. And the beauty of it is that you can make it as detailed or as simple as you like. If you don’t know how to start, there are tons of questionnaires out there on the internet. You can google it and come up with hundreds of results. There’s no shame in using them! There’s also no shame in changing details when you need to. Great aunt Mildred can become Great Aunt Tessie. Daddy could have died of leukemia instead of sickle-cell anemia. Favorite childhood snack could be popcorn instead of brownies.

The point of it is, to have the information on hand when it’s needed. Or even when it’s not needed. Often writers will have secrets about their characters that no one else is supposed to know, not even the readers, but sometimes they slip in anyway. Go for it! Details like that make them seem more alive and personable.

Plus, creating a character background allows you to be on-on-one with your cast. You can really get to know them, ask them questions and get answers. You’ll be able to know exactly how he/she will react in any given situation because you know them so well. They won’t act out of character when a bomb blows up their car or they’re passionately kissed by a stranger because you, as a writer, took the time to familiarize yourself with their personalities.

Yes. This is more work on top of everything else a writer is “supposed” to do but think of it as building a foundation. These details will build your stories brick by brick until you’ve created a mansion for readers to frolick through and enjoy.

Put in the work, reap the rewards!

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Real or Not Real? Location, location, location!

Hello my friends. Welcome back!

Lately I’ve been thinking about locations. Why? Well, I live in southern California and recently I’ve decided that the weather is bi-polar. Yep. I’ve taken to wearing tank tops with a coat just so I’m prepared for any eventuality. Being on the coast, we have such a thing called “May Gray” and “June Gloom.” It’s a time of year where we get a cloudy maritime layer of yuck over the city for the better part of the day and the sweet Cali sun will bust through. This year the weather seems to be flip-flopping a bit more than usual and I find I have to change my clothing at least once a day to follow suit.

Annoying sometimes as a resident. Intriguing as a Writer.

This got me thinking about all the books I’ve read that were based on real cities and places. I really love it when authors do this. The fact that I could board a plane to Forks, Washington or Manhattan, New York and follow the steps of the character; see the sights they saw and ate where they ate is very appealing. There’s a kind of grounding in reality with this kind of setting. Blue sky. Green grass. Neon lights. Yapping dogs. It’s comforting and familiar and it makes me that much more connected to the book.

I’ve set my “Silver Sun” story partly in my own city. I love being able to share a walk down Main Street with my readers and describe the smell of Thai food mixing with the pizza place across the street. I can include real live people (with permission of course) that I’ve talked to, like my favorite postal worker and my cat’s veterinarian. Not to mention its kind of cheating. There’s no need to make up a city and people to interact with. They’re already pre-set for the writing!

It definitely has appeal for a writer (and a resident in my case. I’m lucky to live in my little paradise.) Even less than desirable cities and neighborhoods can make intriguing stories. “Cry, the Beloved Country” by Alan Paton comes to mind and “A Child called It” by Dave Pelzer We just wouldn’t necessarily want to GO to those places. They’re tangible locations you could put  a pin in on a map though.

Then again you can also change reality and still base it on earthly locations. A melding of the two. There’s a whole genre that has explored this phenomenon and it’s called “Fiction” with sub-genres such as Paranormal, Science Fiction, and Magical Realism. A certain percentage of the story is based on earth with cities and people who resemble reality but might have portals to other worlds or have mythical creatures walking among the humans.

I think that would be a really awesome reality to live in. This kind of setting is where I base a lot of my stories in. There’s so much freedom! To be able to blow up the Golden Gate Bridge and then rebuild it with super advanced alien technology or step through a mirror and end up in another realm is appealing to imagine, not to mention write. You can choose how much science and how much fantasy are included in your story although you run the risk of getting those ultra fussy critics that demand facts to support your werewolf metamorphosis theory.  (My husband is one of these *ROLLS EYES*)

And then there is, in my opinion, the hardest kind of setting to write. Let’s sing about it Jasmine!

~”A whollee neewww worrlllddddd! A dazzling place I never knew!”~

Sorry. There’s your ear worm for the week. But it’s true. Writing an entirely new world is a daunting task. I’ve read quite a few Epic fantasy sagas that are so rich in politics and language and lore I wonder how they ever found the time to FINISH it. “The Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien, “Symphony of Ages” by Elizabeth Haydon and “The Belgariad/Mallorean” series by David Eddings. So much work and thought and love went into each one of these stories. But even these are still roughly based on reality.

Creme de la Creme? Science Fiction writing. How about we take all this up to the stars? I don’t read much Science Fiction because it’s not my cup of tea but I greatly admire authors who write this genre. This is completely new territory that they literally build from scratch. So little is known about space and what IS known barely makes sense to the professionals who study it much less curious writers. However, this, in its own way, gives complete freedom to the author to write whatever they want; even more so than fantasy writers.

Advanced technology. Brand new races of people. New threats and planets and galaxies born from their imagination. New problems and conflicts and malfunctions. New issues with politics and marriage and bearing children. All off the surface of the earth into the last frontier. How amazing is that?!

I certainly don’t have the fortitude or the will to create something out of nothing. Yet. Baby steps. But deciding where you’re going to base your story changes the whole tone of it. The setting really IS its own character. Probably the most important side character ever. World building gives the reader a frame of reference to where everything is happening to the main characters and paints the canvas of your mind with color and feeling. Don’t treat it like the background that it is. Make sure you can engage all five senses when you’re writing and have your characters interact with their surroundings frequently.

Keep it real. Or fantastical ;D Your choice!

Enjoy and keep plodding.

Do Re Mi–dafah is Writing Voice?

Voice is the author’s style, the quality that makes his or her writing unique, and which conveys the author’s attitude, personality, and character; or. Voice is the characteristic speech and thought patterns of the narrator of a work of fiction. ~(Taken from www.thebalance.com)

Go to your book shelf and pick a book by a favorite author.

Now pick another book from a different favorite and set it beside the first.

Open to the first page and read a chapter out of both.

They’re different right? Well, obviously they’re different but can you explain HOW? Can you describe specifics other than the novels aren’t the same genres or reading levels? (Saying they have a certain “Je ne sai quoi” is cheating btw.)

“It’s tone,” you might say. “Like the authors are writing with different accents or dialects.”

Or you might say it’s the way the sentences are structured. Maybe in the first novel they are short and gruff. In the other they may be beautifully sculpted, rolling trippingly off the tongue. Maybe they’re as dense and hard as stale bread. However the writing may be, you should be able to pick up any book by the same author and instantly recognize it as theirs. Different story, different plot line and characters maybe but still distinctly THEM. Why?

Writer’s voice should be consistent,  like speaking to a friend or receiving a letter from them. The way they curse a lot or the way they dot their “i”s with little hearts. If they speak softly or write ONLY WRITE IN CAPITAL LETTERS should be instantly recognizable as this specific friend. You’d recognize it anywhere. Authors have branded each of their stories with their own unique thumbprint; it is something they’ll be known for forever after, no matter how many books they write.

This concept is perhaps one of the most difficult I think for young writers to grasp because it’s not something that can be TAUGHT. Plot, characterization, pacing, arcs…these can all be taught and perfected with time. Voice cannot. It’s something every writer has to discover for themselves through the process of writing. For some it might take a couple of novels to figure out. For others it may come quickly and naturally.

I find myself in an in between category when it comes to discovering my own writer’s voice. When I write my blog posts or my flash fiction, I find that the writing style is bold and consistent. A little passionate sometimes maybe but it flows from one subject to another smoothly. At least in my opinion it is does. I rather enjoy that it is that way currently and that it is a reflection of my true self.

However.

(Yes you knew that was coming.)

Thus far I have limited myself to only writing short stories or flash fiction, usually fantasy or reality based. I’ve also had a steady diet of YA fiction in my reading lately, which explains the writing preferences.

BAD JESSIE! SPIT IT OUT!! SPIT OUT THE YA FICTION THIS INSTANT!

Awwww.

Writing fiction makes me feel confident and competent. I’m safe to bull shit safely within it’s walls because anything and everything goes. But it limits me as a writer. In a way, it’s taking the easy way out as compared to writing Nonfiction or poetry or even a genre I don’t read, like horror, subjects that require research and deep thought.

(Did I just make a blond joke out of writing fiction? I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry!)

Now it’s never bad to be thoroughly versed in one category before moving onto another. Being able to have an anchor to safely return to in this crazy writing world is a GOOD idea. Trying to have a finger in every pie as a beginner will likely confuse and deflate a budding writer. To really be certain that you’ve had a balanced diet though, you should explore different types of writing and reading. Penning a dark macabre flash fiction should still sound like you as much as the romance novella and the only way you’ll be able to achieve that is by knowing what you’re writing.

Telling a different story with the same voice takes practice and it’ll take some time for you to recognize it. Even longer to carry it throughout your career.

I guess I don’t really have much to say on this because I’m just discovering my own Writer’s voice but I felt I had to write about it so it’ll be on the list of subjects I can come back to eventually and expand upon.

Do Rei Mi! Good luck with your writing scales and arpeggios! 😉 I look forward to hearing your sweet new voices ^_^

Sweet Sweat Lady

“Are you ready?”

“Bet your sexy ass I am!” I murmured, closing my eyes and taking a breath. I focused in on my body, stilling my thoughts and preparing myself for what was to come. I forced the problems and worries of the day ahead to shut their yaps and leave me in peace. This was me time now. Time for just me and this deep timbered, ripped man who looked absolutely incredible in everything I’d ever seen him wear.

“Don’t push yourself. Remember to breathe.”

“Don’t worry about me baby. I’ll let you know if you’re going too fast.”

“Slowly now. There’s no rush…”

I started to move. He guided me with confidence, so sure in the knowledge that he’s done this before and he would be with me every step of the way. This wasn’t our first rodeo together but I wasn’t an intermediate at it either. Being a fatty most of my life it was painful to open up and be myself with anybody. I’d tried it with others but I always quit on them within the first month. We didn’t connect and they definitely didn’t understand. Until Dan. With him, it was straight-forward, no games, tell you like it is. What you saw is what you got with Danny Boy. He was refreshing and genuine with an ass I wanted to take a bite out of.

RAWR.

He began by telling me to move my arms up over my head and I obeyed without question, stretching my toes down in the opposite direction and giving myself a nice stretch. I bowed my back and pelvis upward, closing my eyes and enjoying the sensation.

“Ohhh that feels good,” I whispered.

“Feels nice doesn’t it?”

“Yes sir it does.”

His voice vibrated in my ear, guiding me into another position. It took me a minute to get there, heaving myself up and sitting up on my large bum but the transition was smoother today than it was last week. My joints didn’t complain nearly as much since Dan had been helping me “lubricate” them, generous and patient man that he was.

I could see my hunky eye candy better from this position and I took a deep breath. I placed a leg on either side of him and bent forward until I was almost touching him. In the distant recesses of my mind I was amazed I could do this. Before I was too shy, too stiff, too willing to give up in the face of my previous failures. Experience taught me that things rarely differ from man to man. Fakey assholes. Too full of themselves to understand that everyone has levels and layers to them and it takes time to get where they wanted to be. I’m so glad I was proven wrong.

My body followed his directions with ease and it gave me satisfaction that I could complete them. He didn’t say it aloud to me but I know Dan was pleased as well. My progress meant we were working out and able to advance at a good clip. The more confident I was, the happier I was and that pleased him. What woman could ask for more?

I tried to move fluidly from each movement to the next without too much impatience, knowing what was coming. Dan kept having to remind me to breathe (I always got light-headed because I held my breath too long) and to hold on for just a little bit longer. Sometimes I think he liked to torture me, stretching my limits a little too far because he was a sadist. I still adored him. All he had to do was groan at me or puff out an exacerbated breath and I was putty in his experienced hands. He was on my level. He was having to put his all in as well and not over-do it before it was time. His effort made me forgive his pushing and I submitted to his commands.

“Now I want you to spread your legs about shoulder width apart and push your hips up into the air–”

“Dan!” I cried, sweat already beading at my brow with effort.

His frank statement left my face red as a tomato but I did as he said, still facing him and feeling like an absolute hussy opening up this way to him. I stayed there, trying not to move or let my breath come too fast. Sometimes that would get me light-headed too. Maintain breath control, he said. Endurance is key, not strength.

“Just another few seconds–”

“Come on Danny Boy,” I whimpered. “I can’t keep this up all day. Just finish me!”

“Release and relax for a second, then move back up and squeeze. Pulse. Don’t lose momentum if your legs get tired. Try to keep going.”

“Yer killin’ me Smalls!” Or maybe I should be calling him Bigs?

Dan knew I would try to follow his directions to the very letter but sometimes, like now, it was too much. I sank back and eased my aching thighs down to rest flush with the floor again. He immediately switched to a more comfortable position and I felt relief. He knew I was at my limit. Such an attentive man.

“Move over onto your side now and keep the bottom leg straight. Bend the one on top over the straight one…”

Ohhh sideways huh? One of my favorites. Danny Boy was buttering me up for the grand finale now. My heart was racing. It was almost here. I could feel it. He was bringing me the ultimate pleasure.

“Switch sides.”

“Dannnnnn!”

“Bear with me. One more to go. Lay on your belly–”

“Yes!” I gasped.

I waited, listening to his breathing, trying to ignore the muscles already whining at me they’d had enough. They were done but I wasn’t. I wanted to earn my reward!

“Annnnnd…”

Beep Beeep beeeep.

Work out complete!”

I collapsed into a sweaty disgusting mess onto my yoga mat, feeling like I’d been chewed up and spit out. I was smiling though.

“Damn you Dan. I love those words.”

“You’ve just finished twenty-minute Yoga and Pilates total body workout. See you next time.”

“Oh yes you WILL Danny boy. Same time Thursday?”

God love hunky muscled men with stubble and free work out videos.