Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Growth of Imagination: A Pro(B)logue Christmas Special

Any children in the room? Anybody who still sends letters to Santa, or puts out cookies and milk? Anyone who heatedly debates whether the ride around the world is possible through turbo-powered reindeer or powers of teleportation?

No? Okay then, it’s safe to read on.
Here’s the thing, dear readers. I’ve never really believed in Santa Claus.
It just wasn’t something my family did. Mom and Dad bought our presents, and we were aware of that, and we’d spaz out about all our gifts anyway. We knew of this ‘Santa’, but we knew him as nothing more than a story, or the subject of countless Christmas specials. Fiction.
It was the same thing with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. We just never did the whole, “These things exist!” spiel. Growing up, I think it surprised me how many people had gone through a period of time when they really, truly believed that these benevolent beings were real.
                Once, I think, we convinced Mom and Dad to let the ‘tooth fairy’ bring me money. But even then, I knew they were simply giving me a quarter.
                Once, at my grandparents’ house, we put out cookies, etc. But at the time I wasn’t thinking about the wonders of a jolly man in red sneaking into the house and leaving presents. I was thinking, “I wonder whether Dad or Grandpa will be the one to eat those cookies…”
                Do I feel like I missed out on something? Do I hold some kind of grudge against my parents for depriving me of memories that other people seem to cherish?
                Not really. *shrug*
                One thing is for sure. My imagination was not stunted by our lack of gift-giving folklore. As I mentioned in one of my last posts, there are four series in my head, extensively plotted. Other books lurk in the background.
                And a few days ago, I got the new idea for a middle-grade novel involving a girl with a bag of tricks, a boy who talks to pigeons and living gargoyles, and a nun-in-training named Hornet Grey.
                Writer’s block? Ha. It strikes now and again, but my biggest problem is finding the time and motivation to get all the ideas on paper.
                So if an imagination isn’t stoked into being by an early belief in Santa and company, where does it come from?
                Honestly, I don’t fully know. I doubt anyone knows, entirely. Who can say how we get the ideas for living gargoyles, or wizarding schools, or *sigh* vampires that sparkle? There are some odd books out there, folks. Even odder than the ones I’ve mentioned. And all those odd ideas come from somewhere.
                All the odd ideas. All the plot twists that shock even the authors. All the strands of story that don’t really seem to fit together, until suddenly – in a flash – they do.
                We can’t know where all these things come from.
                But I think we can take a pretty good guess.
                My first stories were a complete rip-off of the Magic Tree House books. Shortly after reading Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld, I figured out that a series that’s been around for a while actually needs to be steampunk. The book I’m revising now is a spin on the kid-goes-to-another-world story that we see in Chronicles of Narnia. Before coming up with this latest idea, I read A Tale Dark and Grimm – a middle-grade novel.
                We may not know all the specifics of how we develop our imaginations, or the paths those imaginations take us down. But the books we read play an important part of the process, I’m sure.
                What are you reading? What books have influenced your stories? What books have made you stop and think, “How on Earth did the author come up with this?
                And happy holidays, folks.
                If you’ll excuse me, I have some books to work on.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Storybook Romances: Instant Love v. The Blossom

I like the idea of love at first sight.
                I love when two characters meet for the first time, and zap. The chemistry between them inexorably links the two in your mind with a single thought: These two MUST end up together.

                However, I feel there’s a difference between flying sparks… and infernos that blaze out of control in less time than it takes to think, “Oh, they could be a cute couple.”

                How many books have you read where the author shoves two characters into a scene, they have their grand shining moment of [sometimes creepily] staring at each other, oblivious to all else for just a few moments…

                And then a chapter later they’re deeply, deeply in love. Willing to sacrifice everything (family, old friends, the futures they’d planned) in order to be together. Willing to die for the relationship, despite the fact they’ve only known each other for a few weeks, or days, or hours…

                As you may have gathered, this is not a plot element I’m particularly fond of. It’s something I find a lot in the paranormal/urban fantasy I’ve read. And to be honest, I think it may be one of the things that turns me off to those genres. I’m sure there are better stories in those genres than the ones I’ve read. I just haven’t found them yet.

                But, before I have paranormal-lovers dashing away in a huff, let me just say that I realize not every story can contain two people who’ve been growing together since birth, or a couple who’s been together for years and years. I think I’d find an excessive number of those stories to be tiring as well.

                Sometimes, your destined pair meets for the first time within the course of the story. Sometimes, events push them together very quickly. Sometimes it’s just necessary to move the plot forward, fast. And I’m not unaware that some people do fall for each other that quickly.

                My main concern is that the progression of these relationships is believable.

                I think Maureen Johnson handled this kind of thing very well in Name of the Star -- which I recommend, by the way. Boarding schools, ghosts, Jack the Ripper. T’is good. ;)

                In it, there’s a relationship that starts and progresses fairly quickly. Granted, I’m not particularly fond of the guy, and this relationship isn’t exactly a crucial, crucial piece of the plot. These particular characters aren’t risking their lives for each other by the end. Frankly, I still have my hopes that the Main Character will end up with a certain other character I’d love to know more about…

                But the relationship does move very quickly from, “I have just met you, and find you rather cute” to making out on a couple different occasions.

                It didn’t bother me as much as some fast-starting relationships, and I think a number of factors contributed to that.

1.       Somewhere around their first meeting, the MC states casually that he reminds him of her ex. This did two things for me. It showed me that he is conceivably the kind of guy that she would already think about dating (not just some random, shiny new guy who she knows nothing about ‘but that makes him INTERESTING 8D’) and it showed me the slightest hint of misgivings. When you first meet someone, you have no idea what they’re like. They could be your dream guy, but they could also be a psychopath, a socially awkward compulsive liar, or a vampire who’d pick drinking your blood over eating a hot fudge sundae, any time. There is a very high probability that you will have doubtish things on your mind, even if you choose to ignore them. Commenting on the love interest’s somehow-annoying habit will not immediately eliminate them as a candidate for love. The way I see things, it could make the situation feel more real.

2.       There was a brief time in the ‘friends’ stage, where they exchanged words, got to know each other a bit, etc. All of which led to…

3.       The Blossom. “I felt the like blossom in me.” That’s how Maureen Johnson put it, and when I read it I kind of paused and thought, “That’s exactly it.” Someone could be interesting at first. Intriguing. Definitely date-able. But I think that in most cases, there will be a few sharp moments where you really know for sure – where it becomes official.

                INSTANT LOVE

                Pros: Can quicken the pace. Potential to find later that not all is peachy – adds conflict.

                Cons: Easy to rush. Can be unbelievable. May be hard to get a sense of the character as an individual. Easy example: Imagine if Bella never ever met Edward. -_-

                THE BLOSSOM

                Pros: Can be more realistic/believable. Potential for ‘D’aaaaw!’ moments. More time to root for the characters to come together.

                Cons: Could take longer to set up. Impatient readers may want them to “get on with it already.” The MC noticing more of the love interest’s flaws could make them more noticeable to us as well, which could turn off some readers to the couple in the first place.

                I said it before, and I’ll say it again. I love when two characters meet, and zap. They’re linked together in your mind with a single thought: These two MUST end up together.

                But just because we think that right away, doesn’t mean the characters need to.

                What kind of relationships do you prefer in books? What books stand out in your mind as examples?  Books in genres besides the ones I mentioned? Which romances between characters fell flat, in your opinion? What relationships do you tend to write about?

                And if you’d like to change my mind about paranormal/urban fantasy, and have some book recommendations for me, leave them in the comments. XD

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reviving Your Writing: The Epiphany Mode

Okay. So. Aside from my guest post about NaNowrimo on another blog, I completely failed to post regularly during November. But that’s okay, because I’m reviving the blog now that December is upon us.

                It seemed fitting to write a post about revivals. Plus, it lets me tell you about all the things I’ve been doing that have not, unfortunately, been blogging.

                I’ve been in Epiphany Mode, dear readers. I’m sure some of you know what I mean, even if you’ve never called it that.

                You go about your business. Mow the lawn, take a shower, brush your hair, etc. etc. etc. Mundane things, that don’t take much brain power. This leaves your mind open to thinking about other things…

                Like stories.

                And suddenly, the ideas rush in. Plot points click together, character motivations finally make sense, and you suddenly realize The THING that will give your story the potential to be perfect.

                This, dear readers, is why I am now steampunking ALL the things in one previously genre-confused series (Any experts on meteorites or electricity?  Contact me, please). It’s also why I wrote down thirteen dialogue snatches the other night after my shower – and those were only the things I could half remember.

                It’s why two extensively-plotted series are currently battling for attention in my mind, with others lurking in the background. I’m working on a comic book for one of them, for heaven’s sake. [And since starting to write this blog post, Series #3 has landed back on the table. *sigh*] [And since adding that line, Series #3 has completely crowded out the others and soared into awesomeness.]

                To put it mildly, readers, I am not often the writer who has trouble finding ideas.

                But if you are… Or even if you’re just wiped after National Novel Writing Month, but still want to keep writing every day (this is where I’m at, but I understand that some might need time to recover. ;) ) here are some things I’ve found helpful for reenergizing.


                Put your music on shuffle. All of it. Think about your stories and character as you listen, and when your mind snags on a lyric, see if the rest of the song relates to your book as well. Add it to a playlist for your novel, and go back to listen to it whenever you need to find the story again. Lots of authors do this, and it’s interesting to see what inspired them. Even if you’re the kind of person who needs quiet to write, that doesn’t need to stop you from listening to your story playlist at other times.

                Also, movie soundtracks and instrumentals are lovely.


                Certain books exist in this world, that catch our minds on fire.

                You read them, and get the warm fuzzies inside at the thought that you are a writer. You could write things like that someday. Scott Westerfeld’s books do this to me all the time. I finally read Divergent by Veronica Roth this weekend (and passed it on to friends; the infiltration of my school has begun. >:) ) and l finally understand why I’ve heard so much about it. I also read Bloodhound, by Tamora Pierce, during NaNoWriMo. The feel of the book, the language, the ‘dog’ terminology, and even the journal-style format all kept me thinking about my NaNo novel, which was sort of my plan to begin with.

                There are also books that make you think “I could do better than this.”

                When those books come along? Do better.


                I don’t claim to be a serious artist. It’s a hobby, it’s fun, and it can really help me finalize ideas about a story – about scenes I’m picturing, the world my characters inhabit, the look of the characters themselves… I’m good enough to impress some classmates who watch me doodle over my shoulder, but I’m not as good as I’d like to be.
(click pics to embiggen)
                This was my ‘cover’ for this year’s NaNo Novel:

                And this page will be part of the aforementioned comic book: a short little thing depicting some events that take place before Book 1 in the series.

                I would post the actual cover, but it’s taking forever to color/shade etc. Obviously, things like this take up time I could’ve spent writing. But like I said, doodling things from my stories helps me finalize ideas. What do I think about the whole time I’m working on something like this? The characters. The story.

                And if you feel like even stick figures can be a stretch for you, why not look around on some photo-sharing websites, or magazines? Start gathering pictures that scream the title of your story, whether that means artistic shots of people who resemble your main characters, or a random pic of spider webs that find their way into your setting.

                Sometimes having something to look at is all the nudge you need to get excited about a project all over again.

                How do you revive your writing? What music or books have inspired you? And do any experts want to help me research some things? ;)