Tag Archives: Fiction writing

Pro-Tip: Censorship

21 Sep

typewriter

I’m all for the whole “time and place” argument against foul language, inappropriate content, and professional/academic versus casual approaches. It’s valid. There are certain things you’re just not going to say to your boss or professor or child.

HOWEVER, these concerns are often hindrances to a first draft. They’re often hindrances to any draft.

Because we are forced to fit our writing into scenarios that are often beyond our control–workplace style guides, teachers’ requests, audience’s age, etc.–the concern about how much of ourselves we let shine in a piece is often at the forefront of a writer’s process. And, just as often, we tone ourselves down to fit into those expectations.

I’m not here to tell writers to break rules that could break a career or a grade (like if you’re writing for children, or a business presentation, or a strict teacher). Part of life is fitting into those boxes, however annoying.

But if you are trying to make waves, start splashing. Write for yourself first, in exactly the way you want, often. Write as if no one is going to see it and as if those who might see it won’t judge. Worry about audience perception during the beta-reader/revision phase. If you hold off from the start, you’ll never know how your true message is received. Push the notion of acceptability. Embarrass yourself with your truthfulness and boldness.

Arthur Miller said, “The writer must be in it; he can’t be to one side of it, ever. He has to be endangered by it. His own attitudes have to be tested in it. The best work that anybody ever writes is the work that is on the verge of embarrassing him, always.”

He’s right. All of the fiction and poetry that has ever been deemed a classic is called such because it pushed the boundaries of its time and told truths people weren’t ready to hear. Some of this work has been banned in libraries and schools. What an honor. (This is not sarcasm.)

Whether journaling for personal gain or writing fiction for a crowd, push the limits. Push YOUR limits. Say what you need to say without concern for what your grandma might think, what Amazon reviewers might comment, what assumptions strangers might make about you personally–they DO NOT KNOW YOU.

While there IS a time and a place for certain approaches, art tends to ignore the schedule.

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At the 2013 James River Writers Conference: Session 3

8 Nov

Essay-writing season is dwindling down and there are only four more weeks of classes left which means I get to share another set of tips and insights from the 2013 James River Writers Conference. In the third session I attended, Kathryn Erskine, Elizabeth Huergo, and Dean King, led by moderator Gigi Amateau, discussed creating settings. Here are the key points about making a vital and purposeful setting in fiction writing:

  • Setting is a character. It says, “I am the place where something has occurred.” It can be sparse in physical description while rich in other senses. It can have a personality of sorts that incites a certain type of reaction from human characters, and can even be the driving force behind  characters’ motivations. For example, a setting at a movie theater might act as an instigator for protagonist girl X and antagonist guy Y to get a little close in the dark. Maybe the plot changes here and he’s not really such a bad guy after all. Maybe that first kiss during credits is messing with her head and he IS a bad guy. What if the setting is coastal and a hurricane blows through? That beach or ocean could take on almost human characteristics, rolling, recoiling, breaking to the storm. How does this make characters move? Do the characters show sympathy to the land for the beating it takes? You get my point.
  • Literature that feels familiar across cultures and nationalities can still be respectful of each when the setting is appropriately described. Avoid generalizations. Do real research. Get feedback on your description of certain people and places from readers in that demographic, people who know from first-hand, real-life experience what you’re trying to describe. Have them tell you if you’re wrong or offensive, or if you’ve gotten it right.
  • Present Absence is just as profound as a physical setting. I’m aware of how much an oxymoron that is. Think of it this way: Present Absence is the permeating sense of something missing. A setting that’s missing can have a huge impact on a character’s life. Maybe the character is living in a foster home. The nagging presence of a setting that is actually absent—a home, a family, a bedroom all her own—can alter the way your character thinks, feels, interacts with others, etc. This missing setting is no less a setting because the character has not attained it. Often it’s this missing place that is one of the character’s main goals and motivations which drives the plot.
  • Just as setting can be something absent, it can be intangible. Setting is not just place, but time. Think about the narrative structure around longing, waiting, forgetting, remembering. Time is what makes all of these concepts exist. Sure, the character involved in these things will likely be in a physical space as well, unless you happen to be writing some type of space-time-continuum story where the characters exist outside of that. But, it’s ok for there to be time AND place. No one said writers had to pick one setting and stick to it. Very few novels successfully occur in one place for the entire story.
  • Place/setting evokes memory which is an easy way to get characters and readers to connect.
  • If you’re writing specifics of a location, get maps. Also, if you plan to travel for research, decide what you’re looking for and what you’re hoping to learn before you go. It sounds like common sense, but you wouldn’t want to get caught up in irrelevant details (and that’s easy to do if you’re touring a new and beautiful location). The best suggestion given in the session in regards to travel was to take a manuscript and any previously completed formal research with you. Refer to spots in the manuscript that are missing that something and write in details directly where they belong in the story as you learn them. It was also suggested to find a travel sponsor to help with the trip. You may be able to do documentary-type travel writing with the info you gather, cover your travel costs, and still get that info for your novel.
  • Understand your setting from your character’s point of view, not your own.

Non-setting advice from the session:

  • Distinguish between drafting, revision, and editing. Try your hardest to avoid editing while you’re drafting. The wonderful part of drafting is the freedom to get your thoughts out. If you stop to edit every paragraph, those thoughts could float away before they’ve been written.
  • Narrative should speed up toward the end because you’re building to a culmination. You’re also finished describing things that you’ve already described at the beginning, so the attention can be placed on action and emotion rather than imagery.
  • We make legends because history gets stale. Make the legend seem like a real historical account with detailed and convincing visuals.

Hope you all are making progress on any projects you’ve started, and that these insights are as useful to you as they were to me. If you like these tips, be sure to check out the first two installments here and here, the first of which has also been published by the Penmen Review, here. Thanks for reading and, as always,

Happy writing!

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

marsicoam@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/marsicowritesite

https://twitter.com/MarsWriteSite

www.linkedin.com/pub/amanda-marsico/7b/ab8/b/

http://pinterest.com/wordsnsounds/

At the 2013 James River Writers Conference: Session 2

24 Oct

As promised, I’m here with installment two of the JWRC13 sessions review. The second session I attended was led by the 2013 finalists in fiction for the Library of Virginia Literary Awards: Gigi Amateau, Clifford Garstang, Robert Goolrick, Lydia Netzer, and Kevin Powers, moderated by Peggy J. Bagget. They graciously shared insights into their personal processes of writing fiction novels and answered audience questions about craft and publication. Here is what I learned based on their extensive experience and advice.

  • Very little of the original writing ends up in your final version of the manuscript, and then in the published product, but each iteration is necessary work. Be a fearless writer and a ruthless editor. It’s the process of tossing out the boring characters, over-description, nonsense, and inconsistencies that creates a polished narrative.
  • As the writer, or even as the narrator, ask yourself, “What right do I have to tell this story?” Examine and acknowledge biases, and then embrace or erase them depending on whether they serve the plot or not.
  • Characters, settings, or ideas that beg to be revisited can sometimes develop into a collection of short, related stories. No one said a novel HAS to be one long plot-line.
  • In a collection of short, related stories, use the first chapter as an outline for the entire novel by introducing the protagonists of each chapter/short story (this way each section to follow will fit in with the collective narrative even when the focus switches to a different person).
  • For writing realistic lows in a character’s life, ask yourself what loss looks like in that character. Don’t just tell the reader that he was so sad that he felt like crying for three days inside his closet. Show the reader what that loss and grief looks like on his face, in his posture, in his reactions towards others’ sympathies. Has he changed his clothes lately? Are his eyes bloodshot, glassy, or shadowed with blue? Is he eating? And when he finally goes to leave his house, do his hands shake as they reach for the doorknob? You get it.
  • Whether you’re a planner or a discovery writer, take a moment to outline in the middle of the drafting process as a way to take inventory of the novel. This is in contrast to outlining at the beginning of the novel where there’s nothing definite to take stock of. Additionally, outlining at onset, though a helpful tool for some, tend to make it harder to let go of ideas that just aren’t working once implemented. It’s never too late in a draft to hit that backspace button or break open a pack of erasers.
  • Notice how you feel while writing and editing. If you’re bored, irritated, or frustrated at the same spot in your story every time, that spot likely has a problem. Feeling stuck doesn’t necessarily mean that you are having a writer’s block. It might mean that the plot point or character itself is the block. Try shuffling its sequence, mood, or totally removing it to see if the block is relieved. Are you still bored, angry, blank? No? Good!
  • Lastly, most importantly, and easier said than done: Practice, practice, practice. Write every day. Write without an agenda. There is a definite plan in mind when writing for a major project like a novel, collection, or upcoming submission deadline. For personal practice and enrichment, there should be no pressure, no agenda. Just like the thematic song line in Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge advises, let “come what may.” There might even be a new novel in there somewhere.

 

It was wonderful to hear such useful tips from award-winning authors—outliners and discovery writers alike. I hope there’s a gem of inspiration that suits each of your needs and methods no matter how you go about planning and completing the arduous task that is fiction writing. Stay tuned for the third installment on creating setting, coming soon.

Happy writing,

 

–Amanda Marsico

Editor, Proofreader, Red Ink Enthusiast

marsicoam@gmail.com

www.facebook.com/marsicowritesite

https://twitter.com/MarsWriteSite

www.linkedin.com/pub/amanda-marsico/7b/ab8/b/

http://pinterest.com/wordsnsounds/

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