Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Upside of the Negative View

I am a relentlessly positive person. Some would say obnoxiously so. Therefore, I surprised myself when this post came to me. I was busily making a list of what I don’t want to do in my next job – sell, wear suits, be stuck in an office, re-enter the corporate world, etc. – when I realized I do this when I’m developing characters as well.

Sometimes when describing someone I find myself saying something like, “Well, she’s not your typical housewife” or “He’s not exactly a sports nut.” Shaping the individuals that people a story can be difficult if you only look at what you think they are. Instead, try seeing what they aren’t, where they don’t fit.

Let’s say I have a middle-aged woman I want to create. I might imagine her in a chair, reading. What’s in her hand? Better yet, what’s not in her hand? Certainly not a romance, she’s too cynical for that. Non-fiction? No, way – she reads for escape. Ah, I see it now. She’s into murder mysteries.

I have some difficulty with getting intimately acquainted with my male characters because I want to be authentic and “think like a man.” This trick has helped me tremendously in overcoming that impulse. It doesn’t matter whether the character is a man or woman, as long as you understand the boundaries that person has. What won’t this person do? If he’s a husband, is he unfaithful? Same thing goes for a wife.

So, next time you sit down for a cup of coffee with your protagonist, consider what kind of coffee they don’t like; hazelnut flavored, lukewarm? Or maybe it’s the kind of cup they won’t drink out of – Styrofoam, plastic, without a saucer.  Get to who this individual is by addressing who they are not.

For those who doubted it, see I can be negative! But only for a good cause.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chaos is the Birth Mother of Story

The truth is that the frantic swimming of millions of little sperm towards the ultimate impregnation of a microscopic egg is a great analogy for how ideas come together for writers (in fact, all creatives) to finally great a story; and there is nothing more chaotic.

I’ve written about chaos before, in its defense, but it’s time to do it again. So many people are frightened by the disorder of the mind that comes just before a great idea that they often don’t recognize that they are literally an incubator and that bedlam inside the mind is due to thoughts trying desperately to bond.

That feeling of madness is to be cherished and nurtured rather than avoided at all cost. In the end, when the concepts meld together and form the stem, then the flower, of your plot, you are either grateful to chaos or may ignore it completely and believe that the whole thing came from your careful outlining. I’m not disrespecting outlining here; just putting forth that it is not the genesis of creativity.

Give Chaos a chance! Invite her in and wait impatiently for the birth of Order...

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Sleepless Nights

Last night, I could not sleep. I’d think I was ready to slumber, put my book aside and turn off the light but that just seemed to be the signal to my brain to create. One of my current works-in-progress began to appear before me in scenes and before the night was through the story I had been struggling to make come to life had been laid out before my astonished self.

This has happened to me before and it’s a beautiful thing. The trouble is that during these periods I cannot actually write. I’ve tried to sit down at my computer and capture the thoughts as they come, but that simply shuts down the process. So, I’ve learned to surrender to the stream of consciousness and lie quietly, watching the movie in my head and scribbling notes. A handheld recorder has worked for me too, but frankly not as well. The sound of my own voice stifles whatever muse is in there throwing images and action up on my mental movie screen.

To be clear, this is exactly what it feels like when I have these sessions – like watching a disjointed movie, series of clips, or maybe a film trailer. I can see and hear the characters say and do things just the way I will write them.

Amazingly, it always takes me a while to recognize what’s happening. I’ll struggle to relax and fall asleep for hours, before I realize what’s happening and get a pen and paper, finally aware that I’m being given a gift. 

It has been over a year since I’ve had one of these extended “movie” nights, lasting for a couple of hours, and today I’m feeling so thrilled. My muse has returned in a really big way.

Here’s wishing you sleepless nights!

Monday, August 5, 2013

New Writing Rule!

I’m back from vacation and I’m ready to kick some major butt – my own! It’s time for some discipline in the Hall writing regime and I’ve taken up the challenge.

First, I have learned that if I let myself check email, Twitter or Facebook BEFORE I write, I’m dead in the water. So, I implemented my new writing rule today: No Social Media or email until I’ve written at least one page. Simple enough rule, but my habits kicked this morning and I almost slipped up. I caught myself in time and wrote a blog post before I hit the internet.

Actually, it felt very good to get a start at writing this morning – first thing. I had accomplished one goal right out of the gate. Also, it’s a nice way to wake up and I believe my mind is more open and ideas flow more easily before the world has had a chance to grab my attention.

So, I’m sticking to it. Tonight, I’m outlining (not really, jotting notes is more like it) some chapters I plan to attack at dawn (in the interest of full disclosure, my dawn is probably much later in the morning than your dawn). I’m still re-reading The War of Art, a life-saver if ever there was one, and the author’s urging towards discipline is my current inspiration – one step at a time.

Good luck, writing comrades, in knocking down the barriers.

PS - the picture above has no relevance to anything. It is simply me showing off a beautiful shot I got while on vacation!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Unseen

There’s a road nearby that I travel, to get to Roseville from my little city of Orangevale, several times a month, Roseville Parkway. In all the times I’ve driven it I’ve never noticed that much of it has sumptuous median plantings; including trees, thick and multi-layer bushes and brick trimming. It is really quite lovely. By the maturity of the trees, you can see that it was groomed and planted over several years. All of the trees are all still quite young, but the potential is there for a lovely leafy drive one day.

The other day, I was almost startled awake from my unconscious steering of the car by so suddenly noticing this feature of the parkway that I slowed down and nearly pulled over, thinking that I was going the wrong way – since I didn’t remember the median growth at all. 

After I got over the feeling of being lost, I resumed driving, mindful of my surroundings. What I saw was a very deliberate attempt to beautify a six-lane thoroughfare through a suburban and sometimes even rural area and whoever had undertaken this attempt had been successful. I enjoyed seeing the variations of both plants and design. 

Then I found it sad that a governmental agency had gone to the trouble of doing what so many of us demand – making our common areas more attractive – and I hadn’t even noticed. Additionally, I found it upsetting that I had driven this way so many times without seeing it. 

As a writer, I am most effective when I’m a good observer, not only of human interactions but also of my surroundings, both real and imagined. So, to know that I had driven blindly past such a distinctive landmark, repeatedly, was truly unsettling. 

It is the unseen things, which we writers point out, that make readers so interested in what we have to say. That really is a big part of our job, bringing forth the unrealized, unnoticed and laying it before our audience for their inspection and enjoyment. 

I’ve been shaken awake by this experience and honing in on my surroundings and the reactions of others in wholly new ways. I only hope I can hold on to this new awareness of things unseen and never again slip back into that state of not being present.