Tips from Other People, Part 6.

You know what, people? I’ve never written a story with an actual antagonist. I’m not sure why exactly, since I love a good villain as much as the next person.

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Maybe it’s because I tend to be more interested in the complex problems that arise through lack of communication, or different definitions of love, rather than good guy/bad guy interactions. I’m not sure. It’s an interesting thing to consider, for sure, and may help me get closer to knowing what kind of story I really want to write.

But for now, we’re going to talk about baddies. Or rather, we’re going to read a post I found on Now Novel (a fabulous blog, and one I’m continually learning from) about how to make a convincing one. They start with a bullet list:

1. Give an antagonist unsavoury goals like Sauron or Lord Voldemort
2. Make your antagonist’s backstory believable
3. Make your antagonist’s misdeeds require decisive action
4. Show how your antagonist outwits opponents
5. Reveal the power an antagonist has over other characters
6. Don’t make overcoming your antagonist too easy
7. Read antagonist examples for description inspiration

And then proceed to elaborate on each point.

Hmmm… this has me wanting to write some nasty characters now. Time to spice it up.

 

Even the Geniuses.

Allllrighty folks. Here’s the post that I wanted to share with you last week, if it hadn’t been for my crummy internet.

Essentially, it’s two things that I love:

You know what these are?

That first one is a sample of (as far as we can tell) Shakespeare’s handwriting. The second one is Jane Austen’s.

You know why I love them (apart from the fact that they’re just beautiful, duh)?

Look at how much they both scribbled out. If they’d had computers, they would have worn out the backspace key by now.

If you can’t be encouraged by that, well I just can’t help you.

Introducing the Resident Poet.

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time (or just indulged in one enormous binge-read), you will have probably bumped into a post or two where I mention my resident poet. For clarification, he is my brother. He writes fantastic poems, contrasting with my terrible ones.

Today, I figured it would be fun to introduce him to you all, and what better way to introduce a resident poet than by sharing one of his poems? I asked him if I could share it first, of course, and he selected a few that he isn’t planning on publishing any time soon. To my surprise, the list included one of my absolute favorites. It’s called…

Mind’s-Eye-Hawaii
by Seth Bridges

Arriving blindly
At your mind’s-eye Hawaii
To find houses shedding paint and
Rain clouds over a heaving plain
Is a let-down.

You could turn back now
And go the way the wind blows,
Listen to rain and radio
All the way back to the been there,

Or maybe make the best of it…

Find a reason to stay.
Shelter under a tree
Or a boat on the beach,
Brush back the damp
Hair from your forehead,
Watch the wind
Carry down

A brown eagle
To the slated sand,
Shy of the glare
Of perfect summer.
The soft color of another season
Brings them out.

Later, when windows
Deepen to violet,
Peeling paint and
Sparkle of rain
On a tide sheet
Are reason enough
To be here.

There. Isn’t that nice? I told you he was good.

Also, I hope this is inspiring enough to make up for the fact that I couldn’t post anything on Tuesday. The downside to living in a forest is that sometimes the internet is crummy.

TTFN.

When the Work Becomes the Block.

So. Writer’s block. It mostly boils down to fear, right? Fear that you’ll ruin a good idea. Fear that your good idea actually sucks. Fear that you’ll never write anything as good as the last thing you wrote. Fear that… well, you can fill in the blanks for yourselves.

Lately, my main fear has been that my characters won’t talk to me. This is usually my most crippling fear, because when my characters are talking, I know a plot will present itself eventually. But if my characters won’t talk, then where am I?

High and dry, that’s where I am.

However, I have been telling myself that, even though I’m afraid, I’m not blocked, because I’ve been doing getting-to-know you exercises with my characters. Literary icebreaker games, if you will. If I’ve been doing all that, I can’t possibly be blocked, right?

Right?

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It’s sheer denial, ladies and gents. It’s just another avoidance mechanism. No matter how “fleshed out” the characters become, they can’t actually create the scenes.  I’m the only one that can do that.

I’ve been allowing the work of writing itself to feed my block.

I realized that at six o’clock this morning, and I’ve been disgusted ever since. Every time I think I’ve got this writing thing sorted, I realize that my brain has figured out a new way to wiggle out of getting any work done. To the point where it is actually using WORK to avoid work.

Have I leveled up? I think I’ve leveled up.

At any rate, it’s something to watch out for. Are we engaging in pointless busy-work in order to avoid doing the scary stuff? If so, there’s no way around it; we simply have to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps, stop clutching at our character questionnaires, and wade into the scenes. Even if they’re not working right, they’re still on the page, and we can use all that deep knowledge of our characters to fix them up later.

Now it’s time to stop working and get to work.

Inhabit an Otherness.

No, not in a creepy demonic possession/horror movie kind of way.

I recently discovered an article by Colum McCann, stuffed full of tips for new writers. Being that it is a long article, and every paragraph contains worth pondering for hours, and I’m super busy these days, I haven’t even made it to the end yet. Still, there’s something that I need to share. I was shackled for years by the old aphorism, “write what you know.” Well, if we all did that, we’d be writing nothing but autobiographies, wouldn’t we? And I have almost as little interest in writing my autobiography as anyone else would have in reading it. I decided to throw out that rule. Until, however, McCann gave me a new take on it:

“Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.

A writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is still to be created. Don’t sit around looking inward. That’s boring. In the end your navel contains only lint. You have to propel yourself outward, young writer.

The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves… Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.

In the end your first-grade teacher was correct: we can, indeed, only write what we know. It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise. But if we write towards what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of. We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.”

Inhabit an otherness. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. The fact is, we all know much more than we realize. It comes down to the idea of human universals. Even if there is a situation we have never experienced, a courage or cowardice we have never felt, we have the imaginative capability to project ourselves into those places.

And why not? Carpe Experientia, y’all.

Fragment of a Story I May Never Write.

Yeah, so… I was too busy celebrating freedom yesterday to share any inspiration with you. To make up for it, here is my contribution to this month’s Words on Wednesday linkup. But first, a little explanation…

It’s a scene from somewhere in the middle of a story I’m contemplating, centered around the fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oberon’s habit of becoming concerned with the love lives of random humans has always made me giggle, as does his habit of sending the endlessly mischievous and flighty Puck to do his dirty work. I wondered what would happen if Oberon became interested in bringing together a couple of average American high school students, and sent Puck in to bring them together. Puck (otherwise known as Robin Goodfellow), an ancient, shapeshifting animal spirit (yes, Puck is a pooka) masquerading as a teenager, and befriending a girl in the process, seems to hold certain possibilities.


 

 

“Hey Leah, come watch this movie with me,” her dad called from the living room. “It was one of my favorites growing up, you need to see it.”

“What is it?” Leah shouted back from the kitchen.

“It’s called Harvey. It’s got Jimmy Stuart in it, playing a guy whose best friend is a six-foot high white rabbit that only he can see.”

“What?” Leah came and stood in the doorway.

“I know, but you just have to see it, trust me. Then it will almost make sense. Besides, it’s a classic.”

“Okay…” Leah sat down on the edge of the couch, balancing her plate on her knees. She was more focused on not spilling her food while texting her friend than what was happening on screen, until suddenly Jimmy Stuart’s eerie monotone cut through her thoughts. “Harvey’s a pooka,” he was explaining to another character.

“A what?” Leah yelped, dropping her fork.

“A pooka,” Jimmy Stuart answered.

“Pookas are animal spirits from Celtic folklore,” Leah’s dad explained. “You okay there?”

“Yeah,” Leah muttered, retrieving her fork. “Yeah, I know what a pooka is. I’m going to get a new fork.”

She sat through the rest of the movie without seeing it, trying to keep from bursting into semi-hysterical laughter every five seconds. This was too unreal.

“So, what did you think?” her dad asked as the credits rolled.

“Oh, it was… cute. I liked it,” Leah managed to say. “Like, that whole pooka thing… that was funny.” She stood up. “Hey, I think I’m going to go to bed now. I didn’t really get much sleep last night.”

“Okay, hon.” Her dad looked at her closely. “Sure you’re all right? Not coming down with something, are you?”

“No, I’m fine. Night, Dad.” Finally, she escaped to her room.

 

###

 

The next morning, when Leah left the house, a tall white rabbit was leaning against the street light, arms folded and legs crossed casually. Leah pursed her lips and walked past him as if he wasn’t there, but he fell silently into step beside her.

“So, you’re spying on me now?” Leah asked him after a while.

The rabbit shrugged. “Why not? You spied on me first.”

Leah’s mouth opened, then shut. “I googled you,” she protested. “That’s different. Would you please stop already with this rabbit thing?”

“Why? You’re the only one who can see me, you know. To anybody else who might be watching you’re just a pretty young girl talking to her imaginary friend.”

“Well, whatever. It’s creeping me out. I just want you to go back to looking like yourself.”

The rabbit laughed. “I doubt if you would find that any less ‘creepy,’ as you put it.”

“I mean your normal, teenage-looking self. Your school self.”

“Normal,” the rabbit snorted. But as Leah watched, he began to melt and fold in on himself until Robin was walking beside her. The whole process couldn’t have taken more than three seconds.

“Well that was disturbing,” Leah observed after she recovered from her shock.

Robin clicked his tongue. “First you tell me to change because I’m ‘creepy.’ Then when I do change, I’m ‘disturbing.’ There’s no pleasing you, is there?”