Changing Mediums

I’ve written on similar topics in the past, about how learning to write for the stage and the screen can sharpen your novel writing skills (and vice versa). I really can’t stress enough how well-rounded it can make you, forcing you to acknowledge setting and action in a new way.

I know as a primarily novel writer, I tend to become complacent with my fictional elements. I think I know all there is to know to establish a scene, enhance the tension, insert more writer-y lingo here. But whenever I feel like my head is getting too big for my story (or if I get incredibly stuck on a particular scene and can’t figure out the best way to play it out), I realize it’s time for a medium change.

pexels-photo-27008And that change in medium is to write it like a movie.

There are some great sites out there that can teach you how to write a screenplay (Adobe Story is one of them). That’s not what this blog is for. This is really to explain the process your mind goes through as you transfer your readers from their imagination to yours.

When you write a screenplay, your action is direct. The actor needs to know exactly how you see them in this scene – crossing to the door, dropping a plate, laughing uncontrollably.

Sometimes as writers we can get lost in the literary clutter. We try too hard sometimes to make things sound fancy when they really just need to be clear. Stripping down your work to the bare bones gives you that chance to find the skeleton of your story. Once you’re there and you know what you want your audience to see then you can spice it up.

Now the dialogue. That’s the hard part in writing a script for me. There’s not really direction tagged with the dialogue in a script, so your writing needs to make it clear to your actor how the character is feeling. They should be able to pick up on the cues of how to act through what you’re having them do.

The same should be true when you write a novel.

Gasping, crying, laughing, shrieking, murmuring – they’re all wonderful words to describe your characters voices. But are you overusing them in place of expressing those same words through other actions? What if instead of crying out, your character clenched her fists in fear? What if instead of smiling, your character felt the warm bubble in his gut that made his words drip like honey?

This is a lesson I’m learning heavily now as I edit Part 1 of my MG novel and begin writing Part 2. My writing had become stale in the last few chapters. Rather than create a detailed work of art, I had created a sketch, a rendering, of what I wanted my audience to see.

That’s not good enough for me.

Practically, I’ve just transferred my work from a Word Doc into Scrivener by scene. As much as it pains me to do, I’m going to go back, scene by scene, and mentally write my story into a script. Break it down to build it back up.

It’s going to be a painful process, and honestly, I’m going to hate most of it – does anyone really love editing? – but if it produces a better story in the end, I believe it will be worth it.

~Taylor

Rejecting Rejection

Life is funny sometimes. I planned out my blog posts at the beginning of January, and for today I wrote:

Life Update
-What’s going on in life (EG Update?)
-Talk about experiencing rejection

I think initially I just wanted to throw down a couple ideas because I was already running out of them (planning blog posts is not my favorite thing, surprisingly), but little did I know those words would mean so much more.

I applied to the Elizabeth George Grant for New Writers (that’s the EG Update reference above) last June. Since, I’ve made it to the second round, have spoken with some lady in their office, emailed with Elizabeth George herself (I assume it was her, anyway), and have waited patiently for the snail mail process they insist on using. You could ask for any amount of money through this grant, though of course you have to show writing samples and defend your request for x number of dollars.

pexels-photo-209641Remember when you applied for college (or watched nearly any movie where the character applies for college), and you knew before you opened the envelope if you got in or not? Skinny envelope equaled rejection, fat envelope equaled acceptance.

Last Friday I got a skinny envelope.

To say I was crushed would be an understatement. After I cried for an unseemly amount of time, I remember laying on the floor, staring at the wall while my dog snuck kisses in an attempt to cheer me up.

I’ll be honest, I thought I was going to get it. If not the “it” I requested, at least some of it. I mean, I at least assumed I’d make the $25 back I spent applying to the competition.

But alas, the $25 and who knows how much I spent in postage was never to be repaid.

If you’ve ever experienced rejection as a writer, you know how crippling it can be. While the letter or email or phone call may just be a simple “no,” writers hear

You aren’t good enough. black-and-white-person-woman-girl

You’re not right for this.

Do something else with your time.

Or much worse.

I know all that and more ran through my head Friday evening.

But then my husband reminded me of something. Sometimes the plan we make is not the story that’s being written. Don’t get me wrong, I would have LOVED having graduate school paid for. I mean seriously, no debt? Yes, please!

When I write a story, my goal is to make my character’s desires as hard to achieve as possible. What is a story without conflict? What is life without a little rejection? You have to experience the downs in order to appreciate the ups.

And boy did I have an up today.

It was a small up to most people, but huge to me.

I’ve been emailing my professors (I just finished graduate school you guys!) for letters of recommendation, when I received a response from my favorite professor to date. In short, his words were that I beat him to the punch. He had already written me a letter of recommendation before I even asked and said that he is sure I will find success in both writing and teaching.

I think my heart exploded in that moment.

I did not receive a glowing email from Elizabeth George asking me how many zeros to put on my check. I did not make back my $25 and change. I did not get to write an overly excited blog post to you all about how they renamed the Elizabeth George Grant after me.

But what I do have is a champion in my corner. I have people who believe in me. I have people who know without a doubt that I am a writer, grant money or not.

I can’t tell you how important it is to reject rejection. Maybe the rejection leads you to revision, and that’s totally cool. It’s quite normal, actually. Rejecting rejection is not allowing it to keep you on the floor, paralyzed while your dog licks your face. Rejecting rejection is saying “Okay, thank you for your time,” picking up your things, and moving on.

Because no one can stop you but you.

~Tay

 

The Elusiveness of Inspiration

We’ve all been there. You sit down to write and the words just won’t come. Maybe you’re just exhausted from working all day. You’re too tired to think straight, let alone write a coherent sentence. Or maybe you just can’t think of what to write. The muse may be singing, but you surely can’t hear it.

Every writer has felt this way, more than once. What separates the writers who make it from the writers who don’t, is that the latter quit trying.

But if I’m being honest, there are days I just don’t even want to write. It’s not necessarily that I don’t have something to say, I’m just being lazy or stubborn and I want some me time (read, I want some time to sit on the couch and stare at the wall and pretend to be productive).

There’s really no way to squash the elusiveness of inspiration. You’re either going to feel it or you’re not. Some days writing is like performing surgery on yourself. It’s painful. You don’t want to do it. The stuff coming out of you is pretty sickening. But you know if you don’t do it, it’ll only be worse the next day.

And that, my friends, is the key.

Writing through the tough times will bring you to the good times. Getting through the tough times is, well, tough, but there are ways to make it easier on yourself. Here are some tricks I’ve learned over the course of the last year and a half I’ve been in grad school.

Hide.

There’s nothing worse than trying to do something you don’t want to do while your significant other is watching Modern Family in the other room. Granted, my hubs wouldn’t dare do that without me, but you know what I mean. Anything can be a distraction when you’re doing something you don’t feel like doing. The only way to combat this is to hide. Find a secret place you can go to and get away from whatever might tempt you.

Write the easy/fun parts first.

People usually say this the other way around. If you do the hard stuff first then the rest will be smooth sailing. Well, pardon me if I’d rather dip my toes in the hot tub before I jump in and scald my skin off. In research paper-type writing, I found it better to start with the parts I was genuinely interested in, rather than the parts that would require me to find a billion sources that don’t exist. I’ve nearly broken my Mac ten times in my anger when I’ve tried to do it any other way.

The same goes for creative writing. I do prefer to write in a linear fashion, but it is okay to glaze over some parts if you intend to go back and rewrite them. Granted, if the parts aren’t interesting, then maybe they shouldn’t be there in the first place. BUT, if you want to wait until you’re in a better from of mind to write the heavier stuff, then do it. There’s no set rules on how you have to write. As long as the elements of the craft are in place, you could have written it backwards for all I care.

Make yourself a playlist.

Be prepared to switch this playlist up, otherwise you’ll make yourself sick of the songs. I have different playlists for different writing moods. If I’m working on an edgier piece I tend to listen to something like Halsey. If I need to get in a solid groove then I go for Explosions in the Sky. Whatever you know will work for you without getting you distracted.

Reward yourself.

Shoutout to my last blog post. Place rewards for yourself along the way, and pretty soon you won’t need them anymore. If I need to write 4,000 words for a class, I’ll give myself a Facebook break for ten minutes at every 1,000 words. UNLESS I’m in a groove. Then I keep going. The wisdom of giving yourself a reward is knowing when you know you don’t need it.

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Think like Faulkner. People don’t become masters in their chosen field because they’re talented. They become masters because they trained themselves to be.

~Liz

Follow me @liz_tampa on Twitter and @wethewriters on Instagram.

Show Me What You’ve Got

Show and tell. I remember getting so hyped in kindergarten to show off whatever pet rock I currently owned or my latest horrific drawing.

But let’s be real for a minute. In kindergarten you can barely string two sentences together without losing your entire audience. The glory of show and tell had nothing to do with the telling, it was all about the show.

When you read a book, a good book mind you, you’re often so engrossed in the story that you miss the fact that the author is describing to you the richness of their world. When you write a book, a good book mind you, it’s easy to get caught up in wanting the reader to know the story as fast as possible. You’re excited, it makes sense. Unfortunately, too much telling ends up looking a bit like word vomit.

But, that doesn’t mean we show off all our goodies too. There’s a balance, but yes, the scales do tip more toward the show side. Sorry friends, Lady Justice isn’t completely impartial.

So what does that mean for you?

It means that when you write and edit you need to look out for opportunities to give your story some flavor. Instead of giving your audience their usual mac and cheese (which they love), you might want to change things up with a new dish or two. Maybe some stir fry or a juicy burger.

How do you switch gears from telling to showing? Here are some simple ideas to get your brain in the right gear:

Classical Rewrite

This is currently my favorite exercise in grad school right now. Choose a classic, any classic, and rewrite a scene. Focus on showing the story through action, thoughts, and emotions. Instead of writing “It was cold.” try “His skin prickled as the goosebumps trailed up his arms. He pulled his coat tighter against the chill.” It’s a little dramatic, but you get the picture. Go as big as you want, knowing you may have to tone it down when you get to the final draft.

From Script to Screen

Find a product you love around the house. Anything from your clothes to your couch to your favorite candle. If you had to advertise this product on TV, what would you want to show. For example, I have a White Barn scented candle lit next to me. It supposedly smells like Cactus Blossom, which unfortunately I can’t verify. But that doesn’t matter. How would I market this product? How would I show on screen that it smells delicious?

I could show someone relaxing in the tub with this candle lit nearby. I can show the flames reflecting off something personal, like a family photo to suggest it’s good for everyone. I can show someone freaking out about not finding a lighter, because using this candle is obviously life or death.

Try to think about objects and people (note: not the same thing) in terms you aren’t used to. When you think in ways you aren’t comfortable with you tend to stumble across gold.

From Stage to Script

Take straight dialogue and turn it into straight action. No spoken or thought words. None. Only action. It’s similar to the first exercise except that you’re using a play, which are notoriously dialogue heavy. How would you take a song from Cats and rewrite it into an alley scene between two strays? Or how would you take the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet (gag me) and show it without either of them speaking? Kinda fun, right?

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Listen to my friend Anton Chekhov. He knows what’s good for you (and me). Take the time to flesh out the details of your writing, letting your reader experience the story with your characters. It will engage your audience and keep them coming back for more.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

How to Keep Your Creative Muscles Strong

Like anyone with a physical hobby who needs to work out to stay on top of their game, writers need to exercise their brain to keep their creative muscles from going dormant. Aside from a pen a paper, what you need most is time and solitude.

A few ideas wouldn’t hurt, either.

But how do you get those ideas? How do you stretch and grow the muscles in your brain to make your writing better?

The answer is simple: practice.

Here are a couple ways you can practice your writing that will help kindle your imagination (Some of them may seem familiar from a previous blog post. They’re worth repeating.):

Freewriting

Freewriting is an easy way to open up your mind to new ideas that may be stuck there in the clutter. To freewrite, just grab a pen and paper and set yourself a timer for 30 minutes. During that time just let the words flow. It doesn’t have to make sense. You can have a disjointed stream of consciousness or the beginning of a story.

But make sure you keep going for the duration of whatever time you choose to write. This exercise isn’t just to free up your ideas; it’s also to help your writing endurance. You don’t just run a 5k without first running a mile, then two miles, then three, building up your lung and leg strength.

Try to do this at least once a week, if not more.

Find a Photo and Tell a Story

Ever heard of Ransom Riggs? He’s the author of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. It’s this little best-seller turned major motion picture inspired from a set of vintage photographs. I don’t think I need to make a further case here for why this method is worth a try.

It’s as simple as this: find a photo and write a story centered on it. Your characters can be in the photo, own the photo, have been to the place in the photo. Try to be creative with it. I once wrote a short story based off a picture of a cardboard box about a soldier getting a care package from home.

Don’t just choose pictures that are easy to write about. Choose the difficult ones, too. This will help your creativity muscles when you found you’ve written yourself into a corner and need a way out.

Rewrite a Story from a Different Point of View

This can be something you’re already working on or a piece of a story written by someone else. If it’s written in 1st person, change the character. If it’s in the 3rd, try writing it in the 1st. If you really want to have some fun, incorporate 2nd person. If this is done well, it can be a really interesting twist.

Rewrite Dialogue into Action

This was a project we just did in one of my grad school courses and I loved it! Take a dialogue heavy scene and rewrite it with pure action. Use character’s expressions, body language/movements, and sounds to express what they’re thinking.

It’s a really fun and unique exercise that will have you pushing the boundaries. It also makes you appreciate dialogue that can be straight to the point and tell exactly what the character is thinking and how they feel. But it will also open your eyes to the possibility of choosing a different form of expression. You may just find yourself rewriting your own dialogue heavy scene into something more vivid for the reader.

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Most importantly, don’t let the moments of frustration cause you to quit. Every single writer has felt the urge to give up and try another day (or not at all). There are times you may have to lay an idea or manuscript to rest, and that’s okay. What you do after that is what makes you a writer.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter!

 

 

No More Excuses

Part of the reason why I decided to go to grad school was to force me to write. I’m one of those types who will convince myself that I’m just not in the right mood or the conditions aren’t perfect in order for me to write.

Truthfully, it’s never going to be the right time to write. Something is going to be in the way, whether it’s the house in disarray, your spouse or kids or roommates making an ungodly amount of noise, or your pet continually trying to hide under your desk (even though he’s way too big to fit).

When it seems like things are too much and life is not going to play fair, you have to decide whether you are going to make excuses and stay stagnant, or if you’re going to punch your excuses in the face and move.

Now when I say move, I don’t necessarily mean move forward. You may not be in the best frame of mind while you’re writing and the next day you find you have to delete two chapters that you labored over. It’s okay, it happens. I promise you right now, we’ve all been there.

The important thing is that you don’t stop, because once you stop, it’s that much harder to get going again.

Now that I’m in a program where I have to write daily and turn in word counts and outlines and character biographies, I’m realizing how unused my writing muscles had become. I gave myself reasons why I couldn’t write, and in doing so I let myself get lazy. Being creative was hard when it used to come naturally.

I hate to say it, but you know that old saying, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it?” Well…it’s true.

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There are tons of ways you can keep those creative muscles strong and healthy. Wednesday’s blog post will give you a couple things I suggest to do, but in between now and then, think about the moments you have felt most inspired. What were you doing? Where were you? Were you with people or alone? Were you eating/drinking anything? Thinking about these things will help you start to recreate your ideal writing situation, and will hopefully help you write even through those distracting or not so ideal moments.

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.

 

Believable Surprises

One of the first things that will make me stop reading a book is disbelief. Now, I realize that in reading you must suspend your disbelief and all that fancy jargon, but what I don’t have to suspend, and what I shouldn’t suspend, is my B.S.-o-meter. B.S. stands for Believable Surprises, by the way. (And I really really really wish I had done that on purpose.)

Believable surprises are those events that occur where you as the reader say, “Oh, I totally didn’t see that coming, but now that it’s happened, it totally makes sense.” It’s when your characters make decisions that aren’t predictable, but are still within character. Nothing will get me to shut a book faster than characters who don’t have a developed personality that informs their actions.

Maybe your character is a daredevil. Maybe they live life on the edge and are willing to take risks and do whatever it takes. Okay, but if that’s the case, there better be some realistic repercussions for their attitude. And on the topic of realistic, you can’t tell me that this character has never learned to curb their attitude under any circumstance? Yup, that ringing sound in the background is my B.S.-o-meter going crazy.

I mean, even Deadpool isn’t like that and he’s probably the most I-do-what-I-want-when-I-want character there is.

When you’re writing, take care that your character stays believable. He/she can change of course, but that rarely happens overnight.

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The best way to achieve that surprise for both you and the reader is to create a well-rounded character that is capable of making decisions that continually enhance aspects of their already developed personality. Sounds like a handful, but I know you’re up to the challenge!

Who’s your favorite character when it comes to believable surprises?

~Liz

Follow me @wethewriters on Instagram and @liz_tampa on Twitter.