SiWC 2015: Some Helpful Craft Psychology

Surrey International Writers’ Conference was amazing this year!  I met many wonderful authors and went to many amazing talks on things like the nitty gritty of the publishing side of the biz, and how to not fall into an unending well of depression brought on by improperly setting up the psychology around your writing career.  You know, keepin’ it casual.

It was very refreshing to hear more about the psychology of writing.  I have known for a long time that relying on external sources for motivation and validation is a mistake- so too is expecting to feel like you’ve “made it”.  So then what do?  How act?  Mongo just pawn in game of life!

Well for starters, I am working on building my own network.  I have a writing group, but I need to take charge and make it happen more often.  Building a group of trusted writers takes time and tons of effort, but it seems like a solid way to have a supportive environment in which to practice the craft.

Next I am going to celebrate more things.  It can’t be 15 years of work and then a single day of jubilation at seeing my book on a shelf.  It just can’t be that.  Why did I think that was a good way to go.  *rolls eyes at self*  SO the solution is to focus more on the journey, and celebrating the little steps along the way!

For instance, celebrate getting rejection letters.  They are proof that you submitted!

Celebrate finishing something.  Want to celebrate more often?  Bang out some short stories and treat cho self to something nice.  Reenforce the behaviour you want to cultivate!

I made a list of things for me to celebrate upcoming:

  • Announcing a publisher (SOON I SWEAR TO GOD)
  • Handing in the final draft
  • Getting the proofed MS to review and handing it off
  • Getting the back blurb
  • Getting any cover quotes
  • Submitting my author photo
  • When it goes to print
  • When it comes out

They likely won’t be huge celebrations, maybe just a meal out.  The point is to mark them and continue to support myself by acknowledging my successes.  If I’m only planning on having one big thing to look forward to, then what?  I will be looking to the next thing?  So like, ONE good day a year?  Naw bra.  I want many little things to be happy about.  I want to feel good about this process.

Also I need to get better at waiting for things that I have literally no control over.

In the mean time: more writing!

Good luck to everyone doing NaNoWriMo this year!  Crank out that word count.

Pic + video unrelated.

 

Cheers.

Heidi out.

You Will Never Know as Little About _____ as You Do Now.

Hello dear readers!  It’s been a while, mostly because I can’t really talk about things in the exciting phase.  I can say that my agent has begun the first round of submissions with my novel, and that it’s going extremely well.  I just need to wait on editors to get back to us about… things.

Hurray!

Mean time, I volunteered at SiWC again this year, and I gotta say it felt different.  Being there knowing an agent is hard at work for me was such a different feeling than being there searching for representation.  It was much nicer.

I got to time appointments with authors, called Blue Pencil Appointments.  It’s where writers sit down with published authors and get the first few pages of their work critiqued.  It was neat to be a part of from a distance; I like to think I’m familiarizing myself with stuff like that now because hopefully soon I’ll be in the author’s seat at conventions like SiWC!

Many writers got tons of good advice over the weekend.

I’m starting a new project, a comedy western.  Need to do something fun.  But you know how much I know about westerns?  Near 0%.  So I had an interesting idea; record everything I think I know about westerns.  Like, before I start my research.  Because I have a perspective that I will never have again (and it goes for just about anything):

I will never know as little about as I do right now.

From here on, I will only know more about westerns.  But I’d love to know what someone who knows nothing about westerns knows about westerns.  So I might as well write it down.  All the archetypes I know, all the plot devices, all the tropes etc.  And then as I do my research I’ll get a better idea of the genre, but still have a record of what “no-knowledge-Heidi” knew.

So, when you begin learning about a thing, take note of what you know before you begin learning, so you can look back and see what a layman knew about the thing!  A highly useful perspective that you won’t be able to have once you begin your quest.

That’s all for now!  I’m working on a list of common mistakes writers make when they’re starting out, and I’ll have that set to auto-update once I get the first entries few finished.

Thanks for stopping by!

Heidi out.

Character Creation Part 1

While I’m between projects, it’s interesting to see what starts to bubble up in my creative mind.  Sometimes it’s plot, sometimes it’s setting.  Right now it happens to be character.  For some reason, I’m getting wicked insults popping into my head in a new character voice.

Wicked dialogue does not a character make.  I must craft one, and hopefully I will create one to suit these lines that my hindbrain is feeding me.

So, here are some notes on character creation.

When writing, you have to know your character pretty well before you start off.  A lot of the discovery of who they are happens while you’re writing them, yes, but you need to have some idea of who they are at their core before you begin.

The trimmings can evolve as you go, and it’s quite thrilling when you discover parts of a character on the fly.

But who they are deep inside is yours to lay out and set in stone before the first time they grace your page.

It is a writer’s basic duty to lay out coherent characters.  If the players in your story are unbelievable, that is to say, they are untrue and your audience picks up on it, you lose all credibility as a writer.

Your plot can be genius, your settings magnificent, and your prose delightful, but if your characters give your reader pause, you’ve failed.

This is a rare case when the converse of the rule is just as true: your plot can have some holes, your setting could be a little bland, and your prose might be a bit generic, but if your characters grab your audience, buddy you’re in the door.

My first draft of this post included some examples of this, but I thought it would be better for you to discover your own.  Ask yourself, are there any stories that come to mind, films, TV shows, books, anything at all, where you forgave them a few mistakes because of their characters?  When you excused a lame plot hole or some flat exposition, because you were being drawn onwards by the strength of the character?

We forgive a lot if the characters ring true.

So how do we go about making believable characters?

First let’s look at where we get aspects of the character from.

From life.  “People watching” is a great way to spot things to stow away in your bag o’ writerly goodness.  From the smallest gesture to the way someone stands, from their accent to their dress, you can take that and run with it.  You can expand this into people you know, but there is a danger there.  Tuckerizing someone as an injoke is one thing, basing whole characters off of people you know is entirely another.  And I think very few writers would recommend it.  Let’s keep the friends we have, eh?  There are plenty of people yet to be invented that we can abuse.

A common mistake for new writers is to get hung up on names.

The name of your character is mostly unimportant.

Let me say that again.

You don’t need the name before you write the character.

Use a place holder name, and for godsakes, don’t wait until you have their perfect name before writing the story.  That’s an excuse and you’re fooling yourself.

I’ve heard some people advocate changing character names every ten thousand words, or every few dozen pages, or every other chapter or whatever.  The idea behind this is that we don’t want to get too attached to our characters- we need to be able to hurt them in brutal ways, and if you’re all precious about them, you’re going to have a hard time doing things that will make your work better.

So rename them.  Figure it out later or as you go along.

I like to pick a name and generally stick with it, but I’ve often found myself at a loss for a name at the start of something, so I use placeholder names.  Ctrl+F and replace is your friend.  Don’t get precious.  Names are unimportant.

But don’t be clever- stupid names that draw attention to you as the writer instead of keeping your audience in the work where they should be is something to avoid.  If it doesn’t make sense in the context of the story, find something ‘less cool’.

I’ll do another post about how writers intrude on the story, but for the purpose of character creation, one of the big ones is naming them.

With that out of the way, onwards.

So where do characters come from?  Life, yes, but also fiction.

Writers cannot ignore the thousands of years of story telling from cultures around the world, and all the myriad of characters that have already been created.  There is nothing new under the sun, but we’re all beautiful unique snowflakes, right?  So there should be characters left.  There will always be characters left.

The archetypes are there and you have to be aware of them.  Good writers get pretty familiar with maybe half a dozen archetypes, great writers have more.  These skeletons can be helpful forming a basis for your characters.  The specifics of their motivations, backgrounds, and surface details change, but these archetypes exist for a reason.  Use them.

As you get more and more specific with a character, the closer you come to creating a character that already exists.  It’s impossible to know every single story and every single character that’s ever been created, but this is where a sometimes overlooked aspect of creating comes into play: consuming.

You have to know what’s out there.  What characters are in the popular culture right now?  Are you inadvertently recreating them because they got under your skin without you realizing it?

One morning, I independently invented Dexter.  :/  Good thing I already knew about Dexter, or that could have gone on longer than it did.  It was one of those “smack your forehead and laugh” moments.  You can search the internet, ask friends, and check out TV Tropes.

Consuming media, literature, movies, TV shows, opera, whatever, is a vital part of the creation process.  You cannot write in a vacuum.

Where else do characters come from?

From yourself.

DANGER DANGER

HIGH VOLTAGE

This is very risky business.  A lot of first-time writers write themselves as the main character.  It’ll save you some time if you just listen when I say to NOT do that.  (Other characters that are wasting your time: a writer, a writer struggling to ‘make it’, someone writing anything, especially in a coffee shop).  I mean, I can’t tell you what to do… but know that agents and editors delete those stories without a second look as soon as they see those characters.

Of course, how do you write a character without putting yourself into them.  I don’t know that it’s possible.  Even the vilest of characters, those who I would be loathe to think I had even the slightest bit in common with, come from within me.  And because I’m not just creating flat evil, as in, a bad guy who has no past and is evil personified for no reason, I know that they have motives, desires, and feelings.

Empathy is the strongest source of character creation.

Understanding why characters do what they do leads to crafting complexity into them, and this is the breath of life.

I’ll say it again.  Empathy.

The best characters come from understanding.  You craft their stories, and in doing so, delve into their pasts, their motivations, their thoughts and feelings.

Truly understanding a character will allow you to bring richness to their portrayal that will draw your audience in.

This seems like a good place to leave off, as this topic is rather dense.  To recap:

Realistic characters are needed to tell your story.  These characters come from many places: real life, people you know, characters that already exist, and yourself.  Understanding your characters enables you to write them more convincingly.  Understanding what characters already exist enables you to create new characters.

Well I hope this has been helpful.  I do enjoy sharing my notes.

Happy writing!

Until next time dear readers, thanks for stopping by.

Heidi out.

National Theatre, You’re Doing Such a Good Job

Thanks to the stunningly vibrant Bard on the Beach that plays out every summer in Vancouver, I already love Shakespeare. Last year’s production of Hamlet was my first time experiencing that play, and boy oh boy was it something to behold! Their interpretations of Bill’s work is always surprising and delightful.

And now I have a new venue to experience the theatre: my dearest cinema. The National Theatre in London has been live-broadcasting their various productions for some time now, and today I thought I’d write a bit about them.

First it was Frankenstein, directed by Danny Boyle (who you may know as the director of such films as 28 Days Later, Sunshine, and Slumdog Millionaire). I was intrigued by the concept of having the two lead actors- playing Doctor Frankenstein and his Creature- swapping roles each night. And when I learned it was Benedict Cumberbatch as one of the two leads, well I was sold. I saw him twice, once in each role, from the comfort of a movie-theatre seat.

Now, don’t tell the attending crowd they’re “only in a movie theatre” because they don’t seem to know. Many are dressed up. There’s applause. It’s generally an older crowd- but something is changing. This is where the National Theatre’s strategy is bloody brilliant: they’re casting actors that a younger crowd knows and loves in stage productions that said crowd might otherwise not care about.

Agony! Outrage! Culture being forced upon us! Made to endure stage productions we know nothing of to get a glimpse of our favourite film actors!

Just a few days ago I stood in line with a friend, waiting for Coriolanus. It was mostly an older crowd, but speckled with people like us- several groups of young women, who were there for one reason and one reason alone: Tom Hiddleston.

You might know him from “The Avengers” franchise, where he has clearly stolen the show with his depiction of the “villain” Loki.

Now this is where the National Theatre’s strategy gets really brilliant. They draw in this new crowd with a face we can’t get enough of, and then, and here’s the important part, the production is so fabulous in every other merit that we become an audience for the whole of it, not just the actor that drew us there.

The rest of the cast is brilliant, by the way.

And yes you see right, that is in fact Mark Gatiss, from (and co-creator of) such other things as the BBC Sherlock and Doctor Who.

I find myself getting excited for King Lear (you had me at “directed by Sam Mendes”- aka another extremely talented film director). And War Horse. Their little teases of both of these were feeding off of my excitement for their depiction of Coriolanus that I couldn’t help but want to go to them.

They’ve successfully hooked me. They’re productions are so well put together that I will be going to others, even if I don’t know the cast or the director. They’ve had a brilliant go at creating brand loyalty here, and I must say they’ve succeeded spectacularly. A new generation of theatre-goers is upon us, one which was brought in by ulterior motives, but which has been won over. As expected, I’m sure. Well NT, I say excellent work. You are well met by this new audience, and I’m pleased to say that we’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the years to come.

And in case you missed it, and I (or, let’s be honest, more likely Mr. Hiddleston) have inspired you to check it out, there’s an encore of Coriolanus on the 22nd of February.

Because as far as I can figure, this fandom is pretty cray about him.

(Sidenote update: I’m on a two week writing retreat right now- just tooling up ye olde fifth novel, and reading and making notes on two books on the craft, to assimilate into my brain-noodle. Things are going well now, and I feel pretty darn excited about this manuscript.)

That’s all for now, dear readers.
As ever, thank you for reading.
Heidi out.

P.S. For reference, this post took a full two hours to put together, after thinking on it for several days.

Prisoners

I just got home from seeing a screening of Prisoners.

Holy smokes, I was not expecting that.  It had me on the edge of my seat for almost the whole film.  My chest is tight, my heart hurts from living in my throat for the past almost 3 hours.

The performances are excellent, the soundtrack is so unsettling, and the visual storytelling here is just top notch.  Oh, but the best thing, the very best thing, is the script.

I am so jealous of this script.  I want to give it a read and find out just how it managed to take me on this journey.  It had me in the palm of its hand and did things to me… things that films don’t do to me very often.  Like seriously, the intensity of emotion they managed to create; the craft level on every aspect of this film is stellar.  And like I said, the script-fu is just… damn.

I am a huge Hugh Jackman fan so I basically had to see this film, but it became apparent very early on that I was going to be in for way more than I bargained for.

I am having a hard time figuring out just exactly how to recommend this film; it’s not going to be for everyone.  Its pacing was brilliant, but it was slow (although it didn’t feel slow, if you know what I mean).  And if you have kids, god help you; I already feel sick to my stomach after seeing it, I don’t know how parents would survive this film.

 

Prisoners.