yeah, maybe, i dunno

Consistency, that’s what I originally was going to call this post, but then I was like, “Bluh, that’s so boring. Who’d want to read a post titled that?” Ironically, this post will be incredibly inconsistent. Earlier this week, I had a really great idea to cover tonight. And then I forgot it. So this one may also be a bit… meh.

After work today, I went shopping with my mom. She likes vegetables and seems hell-bent on getting me into them, too. I like vegetables fine. Just umm, not a lot of them. There’s a lot of weird ones out there. Anyway, my mom wanted to know what I was going to write about, too. I told her about consistency, but I was at a loss for how to relate this to writing. Aside from repeating what I’ve already mentioned previously about having a schedule and keeping it, I just wasn’t sure what to say.

But I think I have something now. More than once, I’ve heard about a writer’s voice. I read it in reviews, other blogs, group forums, but I was never really sure what it meant. Hell, I’m still not 100%, but today I take it to mean a writer’s style and syntax. How do they put the words on the page? How are scenes organized? How do characters develop? Almost like a pattern. If that’s the case, then most of the writers I read don’t have a distinctive voice. But there are some who I believe possess a unique storytelling voice. Steven Erikson, Frank Herbert, Tolkien… uhh. Hah. Like I said, I don’t read much. And I don’t want to bad-mouth any authors by name (particularly since they’re published and I’m not!). This isn’t a literary review blog. So yes, I know there are other really awesome, unique voices out there. Don’t rip me a new one.

Characters in a story should be consistent, from the big details to the small ones. Part of this is knowing who your characters are. Your main characters need to be as familiar to you as your own family. What they like, hate, eat, watch, wear. What they do on Saturday night, what they believe in, what sort of education they had. Can you get by without this? I guess. Probably. But I wouldn’t recommend it. Yes, it’s a lot of work. But writing is a lot of work, and your characters are an essential part of the process, maybe the most important part. Don’t skimp! So let’s say that you do all this work. How does it help? It informs you on how your characters respond in situations, to people, to other words. It affects what they say and how they say it. It affects the relationships in their lives.

Syntax… well. Sometimes I think maybe I over-emphasize the importance of that. Maybe because I’m protective of my own skills in that area. I want to believe it’s important to write well. Going with the word “rancid” instead of “putrid.” (And never, ever settling for “fetid!”) Moving one pronoun over a few words, begin with the prepositional phrase, avoid semicolons at all costs. They don’t impact the story in a direct way, except maybe the way a reader experiences it, and I’ve read a lot of books that don’t seem to care how the words land on the page as long as they form a coherent sentence and cover the beats. Hm. I guess I’m making it sound like that’s terrible. But some of the stuff I’ve read lately… man. I could’ve sworn a teenager wrote it!

(If you want to check out my Goodreads to see what I’m talking about, click here.)

How do you assemble your story? Do you use first person POV? Third person omniscient? Do you devote an entire chapter to one character? Or do you scene break to other characters every few pages? And my personal favorite, do you use flashbacks? How do you use them? These are all recurring tools that authors like to use from work to work. I am a huge fan of flashbacks. They convey (ideally) crucial, eye-opening information without taking over the story or making you start the story before your story actually starts. I hate first person. Reading it is fine (though it took time for me to get to that point, too), but I just cannot write it. I can’t take myself seriously, but I tip my hat to those writers that can manage. And I love to throw multiple POVs into each chapter. And I really love to insert worldview into the description. (Umm, if you don’t know what I mean, you really should check out Erikson’s Malazan series. It’s pretty much the hallmark of the series.) Anyway, once you settle on a style for putting your story together, you should stick to it. If you do flashbacks, do them consistently. (Note I didn’t say a lot.) If you do first person, do not switch to second or third. Tonight, I watched a pretty decent episode of Arrow on my DVR. It’s an entertaining show that often makes use of flashbacks. Tonight’s set of flashbacks, though… really bugged me with their inconsistency. Were they Moira’s recollections? No… I’m pretty sure they weren’t. Were they Oliver’s? Maybe, except he wasn’t even in all of them. So were they just objective flashbacks detailing something that happened? It appears so. But I think the show does it differently, and so I was really thrown.

On the bright side, tonight’s DVR episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t confuse me once. 🙂

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what a difference a day makes

This may be a short one. I’m having a definite off-week.

I haven’t been sleeping well. Apparently, staying up all night is for the young buck. When I was an undergrad, I remember staying up until 5 or 6 in the morning, getting no more than four or five hours. That doesn’t work anymore.

Sleep is great. But I also think it’s boring. I like to spend most of my time working out story stuff in my head, and I don’t remember anything useful about my dreams. I definitely can’t write when I’m asleep. So I stay up late, either trying to write or doing something that gets my mind in a storytelling sort of mood.

I mentioned this in a previous post, but writers need to make a schedule. This isn’t just to make sure you do write, it’s to make sure writing doesn’t turn the rest of your life upside-down. Some people find structure too restrictive. They prefer to go with the flow, not make plans, see what happens. Some people go the other way with it. I lean toward that direction a little. Structure is great. But I have trouble applying it where it’s needed most. Having a daily schedule isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t have to be treated like scripture. It’s a guide, and it has as much control over our lives as we’re willing to give it. Like everything else. But I think it’s okay to say that breakfast is best in the morning, sleep is best at night, and exercise is best somewhere between those times.

For some strange reason (it may involve a problem with discipline), I’ve never liked fitting my writing efforts into one fixed time of the day. In film school, I learned that about four hours a day was a good amount of time to work on scripts and papers. It sounds like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the day.

My problem was being consistent in choosing a specific time of day and sticking to it. Despite my preference for structure, I love flexibility. (I also loved eating out, but that’s a separate issue.) I’m not an expert at scheduling, but I think they work best when your list of daily responsibilities isn’t just floating around on the day planner.

Damn. I’m tired. But I’d like to put this in now before I forget it later.

Structure is pretty good in storytelling, too. We’re all familiar with the three act structure (beginning, middle, end). Most of us have probably even heard of Campbell’s description of the “hero’s journey.” (I used to know it really well, but I’m too wiped right now to recall everything.) His point was that there are patterns of storytelling that cross cultures and centuries. As writers, we could think of them as elements of structure. There’s a hero, there’s an antagonist. There’s a challenge, there’s some kind of resolution. Maybe it’s weak sauce. I know it’s not groundbreaking.

Of course, there are plenty of stories that don’t follow convention. Some are successful, others aren’t. I think this is where arguments about “formula” come into it. Hollywood’s notorious for producing formula films, stories where we can accurately predict the outcome of a narrative, the course of a character’s evolution, even the themes that emerge. Some audiences love it, and that’s fine. They appreciate and enjoy that sense of predictability. But there are others (myself included) that would prefer to be surprised–and challenged.

I don’t like being confused, though. (I’m looking at you Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.! God, this week’s episode was frustrating. How many twists and turns does it take until you turn a TV episode into a really expensive pretzel?) There’s a fine line, to be sure.

I gotta admit, though. S.H.I.E.L.D. was confusing, but at least it was bold about it.