Wednesday, May 30, 2012

When Do You Do Your Best Creative Thinking?

I am not a morning person.

This simple fact wasn’t a problem back when I was a graduate student. I could get up as late as I wanted – unless I was teaching a class – and work as late as I needed to. Sometimes past midnight. No matter. I’d just get up late the next day anyway. Ah, those were heady days. Then I got a real job and an alarm clock. Shudders. At least I’ve trained myself to only hit the snooze button four or five times before I get out of bed. (My wife swears it’s more like six or seven.)

My problem isn’t just the difficulty in dragging myself out of bed. I learned a long time ago that I’m not a good decision maker early in the morning. My thoughts tend toward the pessimistic, and ideas which sounded great the night before somehow seem hopelessly pathetic when I’m first getting out of bed. For this reason, I never allow myself to think about my WIP when I wake up. I’d have given up writing years ago if I based my decisions on my early morning opinions of my manuscript.

So I’ve been surprised to find that I do some of my best creative thinking about 15 minutes after I get up. Whether I’m in the shower or eating breakfast or driving the 50 minutes to work every day – this is when I get my best ideas. Of course this often means I spend ten minutes sitting in the parking lot at work, jotting down all these ideas, but it’s better than losing them to the ether. I should probably invest in one of those portable voice recorders.

When do you do your best writing?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Friday Links

It’s Friday, so it’s time for some fun links.

First off, “How It Should Have Ended” has released another video. In preparation of their upcoming release of “How the Avengers should have ended,” they’ve released a teaser showing the drawing session for Black Widow. I haven’t been able to watch it yet, but I’ll bet it’s good. Here’s the link

Next, a link to a story about how one guy became a screenwriter almost overnight.

And finally, because I love castles, ruins, and almost any very old building, I give you a 360 degree panoramic view of the Cistine Chapel. . They sure knew how to build buildings back in the day. It’s no wonder I love writing about Hogwarts.

And for those of you living in the US, have a Great Memorial Day weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Should Scenes Always End in Disasters?

Some time back, I ran across a blog post describing the author's routine for developing scenes. She would work out the scene goal, the conflict, the setting, the character’s motivation, the dialogue beats she would use to set the tone, and the end of scene disaster. And it’s that last item I want to discuss.

One of the unwritten rules I've found for writing fiction is that every scene has to end on a disaster. The MC goes into a scene with a goal and the scene ends when the MC fails to meet that goal. Alternatively, the MC might attain the goal, but then discovers the resulting consequences have pushed their ultimate story ending goal even farther away. In other words, the MC has taken a step back.

I don’t always agree with this rule.

Now I'm not saying you shouldn't have end of scene disasters. They're a useful technique for keeping the tension and stakes high enough to make the reader turn pages. My beef is with the idea that “every” scene has to end in a disaster. In my opinion, unless you’re writing some sort of non-stop action thriller, you'll wear out your reader if you do this every time. Occasional successes by the MC, without the subsequent “oops, I guess this wasn't the best thing after all” moment, in my opinion, are good for the reader. It allows them to catch their breath.

Consider the first Harry Potter book, “The Sorceror's Stone.” In chapter eleven, we find Harry approaching his first Quidditch match, and his goal is to not embarrass himself or cause his team to lose. His team wins the match, of course, due to Harry's successful snagging of the Snitch, and the chapter ends with no ill effects. In fact, on the very last page, Hagrid accidentally reveals a clue that’s been eluding Harry for the last several chapters. A win-win all around, with no hint of a disaster. (Although Hagrid might have disagreed.)

The scene works because it ends on a promise. A promise that the stalled investigation is about to make some headway. And that's the most important thing when ending a scene. Leaving a new question in the reader's mind. What’s going to happen next? It doesn’t have to be a disaster to keep the reader interested.

To be honest, many authors get around this problem by defining “disaster” rather loosely -- considering anything that adds tension at the end of a scene to be a disaster, even if it’s good for the MC. Fine. I can live with that.  My problem is with those authors who insist that the MC should always be worse off when the scene ends.

What's your opinion on end of scene disasters?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Friday Links

In an attempt to force myself to post on a more regular basis, I’ve decided to try scheduling my posts. Every Wednesday I’ll post on the topic of writing and Fridays will be devoted to all things funny and quirky. Depending on how well this works, I may even add Mondays at a later date.

This Friday’s offering comes from, an amusing site dedicated to rewriting the endings to well-known movies. Their latest entries take on the Hunger Games movie. The links, which I’ve included below, take you to the Youtube versions, although you can watch them on the original site too if you wish. Enjoy!

How the Hunger Games Should Have Ended

How the Hunger Games Should Have Ended - Bonus Feature

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rowling's Way or the Publisher's Way?

I’ve been in a bit of a quandary lately. I might even go so far as to call it a crisis of sorts. As many of you who follow this blog are aware, I’m writing a story based around Hogwarts, the school of magic invented by J.K.K. Rowling. Although this all started out as an exercise to discover how Rowling might go about writing another series based on her wizardring world, I’m now using this story to teach myself the art of writing fiction. And believe me; the amount of information I’ve learned so far is staggering.

The thing is, my goal is to write the story as close to Rowling’s style as possible – partly because I feel my style is naturally similar to hers (although still pretty raw) and partly because I have a pet peeve against fan fiction that doesn’t sound as though it was written by the original author.

And therein lies the problem.

I want to use this story as a learning tool, but Rowling’s style breaks a good many of the so-called rules. She often wrote in a distant third person, occasionally drifting into omniscient POV, which American agents and publishers don’t care for as much as their British counterparts (or so I’ve been told). She mixed in a lot of telling along with her showing, her pages were filled with adverbs, and she used a ton of dialogue tags other than “he said.”

Now when I read the HP books, I didn’t notice any of these “rule-breakages” until I began learning the “rules.” Rowling’s style has been described as feeling as though you are being told a story rather than experiencing it, which is supposed to be a bad thing, but personally I often enjoy that style – as did, apparently, legions of her fans. It has to be done well, of course, and the narrator has to have an attitude of some kind (funny, sarcastic, etc.) or it won’t work. But I feel it is a valid style.

The upshot of all this is that I’m always running into situations where my CP reminds me I’m not following the rules I’m supposed to be learning, which can be maddening when I can find Rowling doing the exact same thing in her books. So should I stay with the way Rowling does it or should I follow all the rules?

So what do you think?  I would very much like to hear your opinions.

Thanks for listening.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Saw the Hunger Games Movie!

I saw Hunger Games this weekend with my wife and daughter. I had been looking forward to it for weeks, especially since my daughter had already seen the movie and liked it enough to want to go again.

I have to admit I came away feeling a little underwhelmed.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it, but based on everything I’d heard about how well Suzanne Collins had nailed the characters and their emotions and the whole feel of the games (I haven’t read the book yet), I expected more from the movie. I don’t know. Perhaps the kind of things which made the book rock just didn’t translate well to a 2 hour movie.

The biggest problem for me was that the movie felt too linear to be considered a great film. Everything was just a little bit too predictable and by the numbers, or so it seemed to me. For example, every time Katniss got into trouble, “someone” or “something” would conveniently show up and help her out. And when that turned out to be a “someone,” it didn’t take long before someone else conveniently showed up to kill that helpful person - just so Katniss wouldn’t have to do it herself. After a while, there didn't seem to be any suspense left. 

Still, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind watching kids killing each other.

Anyone else have opinions about the movie?

BTW, I’m proud to announce my daughter raised over $2000 in April to donate to the The Water Project, an international organization dedicated to providing water to undeveloped regions. The money will be used to build a well in Kenya.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Insecure Writer and a Lack of Ideas

Today is May's contribution to Alex Cavanaugh's Insecure Writers Support Group.

What makes me insecure as a writer this month? Two things, actually. First, I noticed a good percentage of my posts this year have been for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group, which tells me I’ve been lax about posting in a timely manner. Some of this had to do with my reluctance to spend what little time I have on my blog until I finished the structural rewrite of my first two chapters. I’m pleased to say the rewrites are essentially done, so my postings should become more frequent. No promises, though. Now that my WIP is moving forward again, I’m even more driven to spend time on it.

The main reason I’m insecure this month is because I’m worried about whether I’ll be able to come up with enough ideas for my next book. Now this might seem odd considering that I’m still probably at least a year away from finishing my current WIP, but this concern always sits there in the back of my mind.

You see, I’ve had (and continue to have) no problem coming up with ideas for my current WIP. In fact, I’ve had to strip many of them out simply because the book was becoming too long. One of the reasons I started to write a story about the further adventures at Hogwarts was because I found it so easy to dream up the wild and crazy stuff that happens there. But when this story is done, I’ll want to write something I can legally sell, so I’ll have to move on to my own worlds. And I have no idea whether the ideas will flow as easily once I walk away from Rowling’s world.

I already have the basic plots for two different story lines in my head, but it’s the filler scenes – the ones that flesh out a story - that have me worried. I’m afraid that, without the wonderful world Rowling created, I won’t be able to come up with enough new ideas to keep the story interesting.

Do any of you unpublished (or published) authors have the same fear? The fear that after pouring your heart and soul into your first book you won’t have anything left for another? If so, let me hear about them.