Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Special Blog Post for Historical Novelists

There’s a special place in my heart for historical novelists, and simply because I consider myself one. Mind you, the job isn’t the easiest in the world. We’re reputed to have next to no audience. We have to do a lot of research and fieldwork to accurately portray the times that we set our novels in – and if accuracy is going to hurt the story that we want, then we either change the story and deal with it, or keep our story and brace ourselves for historical purists who will soon barge into our lives and tear our novels apart.

If you are working on historical fiction, here are a few tips that you might want to consider. I’ve found that these work for me, so if you have more ideas, post them in the Comments section or post some links to articles that can help you, me, and other historical novelists who are currently developing dust allergies in the Archives sections of libraries everywhere.

1. Wikipedia is not the end of the road. This is a common illness propagating through college students nowadays: they Google a term, find a Wikipedia entry on it, and then use that single entry to form the bulk of their research work. If you must use Wikipedia, let it be your jump-off point for more research. Historical research is made deeper, richer, and more accurate if you can get your facts from as many sources as you possibly can.

2. Don’t be afraid of your library – bring bug spray and anti-allergy medications if you must. If you have a local library in your area, lucky you! If you’re still in school, then you’re way luckier than other novelists who have to spend on their history books. Visit the library, tuck yourself happily into the Archives or Stacks or whatever your Old Books Section is called, and do your research. A lot of historical research is still stashed in between the pages of books and isn’t available online.

3. If you’re really serious about historical research, branch out into journals and magazines. There are magazines such as National Geographic, Military History, History, and even Discover that tackle historical research. You can find interviews with experts and information on archaeological digs – these can enrich your work or provide new storylines that you can explore.

4. When you find historical research that you are interested in, try to search out experts in the field. Google their names and try to email them. Interview them if they’re close by. You can find these names in your favorite historical research magazines, or in the directory of your local college or university. Be careful, though: if these historical research experts are actively involved in research, you will need to work around their schedules and respect their need to devote more time to research.

5. Make maps. Ready to plot out your novel? A map can help you take care of things. Have a world map and an atlas ready for big epics that take your characters across continents; sketch your own little maps for your personal navigation through your settings.

6. Create a “planner.” What I like to do is print out calendars detailing what my characters will do from week to week. I won’t need to document everything, of course, but it gives me time to explore my characters in depth and write them better; it also makes them more real to me, so that I don’t feel like I’m creating them out of nothing, but simply writing about real people and real friends.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Write: Verb, not Noun

If there is one thing that you should remember as a writer, it's this: writers write.

Don't go around telling people that you're a writer, preen your feathers as you bask in their praise, and then go home and do nothing. You have no right to call yourself a writer unless you: 1) constantly practice your craft and work on improving it and 2) write.

You must therefore refrain from calling yourself a writer if you have one or more of the following flaws: 1) your grammar needs a sledgehammer, electric drill, and bulldozer to be corrected until your work is good enough to be read (and understood), 2) you are unwilling to have your grammar and syntax corrected, 3) you are unwilling to edit your work, 4) you are unwilling to do research for your work, 5) you are unwilling to be criticized, and 6) you just don't write.

Remember, you have a profession as well as a hobby on your hands. It will be exciting at times, and then draining at others. Make your fellow writers proud of you by actually writing, and writing well. If you only end up giving writers a bad name, then please, put your pen down, or set your computer aside, and let the rest of us live (and write) in peace.

If you do write, however, and live up to the demands of your profession, then keep up the good work!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Maybe the Child in You can Have the Final Say...

“All that I could think was that it was the most fun that I ever had.”

Have you ever found yourself saying those words? Have you ever thought that all the work that you did was just a whole load of great play? Have you ever looked back and thought, “I was so lucky.” Well, now is the time to tell your story!

This time, you cannot employ fiction. You have to think back on the most fun situation that you've ever experienced, and you have to tell it in the most engaging, most believable, and yes, most fun manner. You can use as many words as you want, and you can pepper your prose with figurative language. You just have to be truthful and you need a good story.

The best writers in the world can turn the most ordinary tales into stories worth cherishing. Bring out the writer in you! Provide links in the comments section, or show off your story!

Good luck and happy writing!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Sad First Sentence

Emotions can make or break a short story. Too many emotions can drown out your plot and collapse your work into a sloppy, muddy melodrama. Too few emotions can turn your characters into mindless cardboard cutouts who act without thinking or feeling. You need to balance everything in your story, as in real life. The same goes for a novel: can you imagine dragging your readers through a protracted soap opera, or characters so dry you can crumble them into powder?

It's your chance to try your luck at using emotions. You have 5000 words at your disposal, your choice of characters and plot, and this as your first sentence:

“I didn't think he would disappoint me, but he did.”

Post your work in the Comments section, or provide a link to your short story. Good luck, and happy writing!

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Triumph that Goes Beyond the Moment


“I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge - myth is more potent than history - dreams are more powerful than facts - hope always triumphs over experience - laughter is the cure for grief - love is stronger than death”

-Robert Fulghum

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Apocalyptic What If

It's time for you to try your luck at a Hollywood plot. Ask yourself:

“What if the world would end tomorrow?”

It's time for you to write a longer short story, of about 15,000 words or so (or less). You have your choice of characters and plot, but you cannot have more than three main characters. You also need to have an exciting story that should not employ any cliches or overused plots. You need to have a unique, exciting story, and you have to post it!

Provide a link to your story through the Comments section – and happy writing!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Differing Perspectives, Different Stories

This isn't a site strictly for writers. It's a place where people critique song lyrics and interpret them. There are enough cryptic songs out there to fuel speculation and debate on this site, and it's a wonderful place for writers to get an idea of how mere words can be interpreted differently.

Try your hand at it: look for a song, look at its lyrics, and then interpret them. Look for that song on the Song Meanings website, and then see how other people have interpreted the words. Do their interpretations match yours? Do you find yourself going, "Ah!" as you read the different interpretations and discover things that you did not get in your first reading of the song's lyrics?

The Song Meanings site is not meant to be a tutorial on how to write to please all people - but it's a way to see how people have so many different perspectives and opinions. Not everyone is going to understand what you write in the way that you want them to. Moreover, not everyone is going to understand what you write, PERIOD.

You just have to be prepared to face these possibilities as a writer and you can be a better, not to mention stronger writer with this kind of mindset.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Healing the World?

It's time to know yourself better once again, and to fill in the blanks creatively. Here are a few questions about the things and people that you love best, and it's up to you to choose which blanks they fall into, and how your sentences will make sense.

Copy and paste the numbered sentences below into a word processor, or print them out and answer them on paper. By filling in the blanks, you don't only know yourself, but you also give yourself a challenge by choosing which words will go where.

1. The world would be so much better if there were no ___________, and if there were more __________.

2. My idea of heaven: unlimited time to __________, unlimited quantities of ___________, and absolutely no _____________.

3. My idea of hell: unlimited time to __________, unlimited quantities of ___________, and absolutely no _____________.

4. I believe I would be a better person if I had more of ____________ and less of ____________.

5. Most of my friends are __________, and I hope they stay that way, because if they were _________, I would ________________.

6. When I am alone, I _________, but I wish I had more time to ___________.

7. There is no such thing as _______________ because __________.

8. If love were a __________, then I would be a _____________, and the world would be ____________.

9. I wish there was more ___________ in the world, because with all the ____________ now, I think we'd all end up ____________ or _______________ one day.

10. The world is _____________, and not ___________, as some people say it is.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Unblocker of Hopes and Dreams

Whenever a lot of people hear that something is therapeutic, they mistakenly assume that it is for healing and recovery from something sad or hurtful. Therapy, however, can also help you reassess your life and see where you are headed, and if you are actually doing the right things as you head in that direction. Vague? You can think of therapy as one way to keep yourself in check: have you accomplished your goals? How much more must you do to get to your end point? How successful are you?

In this unblocking exercise, you will write the biography that you want to have. You are going to talk about your hopes and dreams. All you need to do is to write as much as you can, whether you are using a pen and paper, or a computer. You only have to keep on writing and not stop until you are out of breath and happy with what you have written.

When you are done, keep a copy of your unblocking exercise. You will need it as a constant reminder of your goals. Here is the first sentence (or, if you like, the theme) that you need to use.

This is the story of the life that I want to lead.

So, what is the life you want to lead? Write it all out, keep on dreaming, and happy unblocking!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Tale for a Token


A stone rests on wood and looks out upon woods and trees. How did the stone get there? Why is it there? Where in the world are we? These are only a few questions that you may want to answer about this picture. However, you may have your own, so feel free to answer them.

Let's say that this photo was given to you for captioning. You need a title, and you need to provide a caption for it. The caption should be no more than 100 words. It can be written in prose or poetry. You can put a story in or write a mini-essay. In any case, you need only a hundred words to describe this photo.

Put in your titles and captions in the comments section of this blog entry. Good luck and happy captioning!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Last Sentence: A Special Shoutout to Teachers!

Let's give a shoutout to all the teachers who have made our lives both better and worse; who have been both inspiration and sources of desperation; and who have enriched our experiences, whether in school or out.

To celebrate our teachers, pick up your pen and get your paper ready. Or, open a new file on your PC and float those fingers over the keyboard. You need to write a short story about a teacher.

Use no more than 2000 words. Pick your setting: you can have a professor in a university or a teacher in a pre-school. Pick your plot: you can have people falling in love or students falling to their knees, begging for a passing grade.

Ah - and use this as your last sentence:

"It was all I needed to learn."

Post your work in the comments section, or post a link so that others can read your work. Happy Writing!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

How Well Do You Know Your Plot?

Indeed, plot is an issue for any novel. You can have a character-driven novel that could fall apart because of a poorly-constructed plot. You might also have a plot-driven novel that is full of fallacies or loopholes. No matter what the type of novel, no matter how many characters, you need conflict, and you need a story. So: is there a plot, or isn't there? How good is it? Do you know it well enough so that your plot doesn't sound like you came up with your story while you were passed out, drunk?

There are thousands of ways for you to get to know your plot. Perhaps the first and best way to know your plot is to draw up a plot carefully very early on. True, you might work best with flying by the seat of your pants, by making your story up as you go along. Still, you need to write a story that makes sense – or at least enough sense to be readable.

If you are all right with drawing up a plot beforehand, then you may want to try out these tips: Print out a calendar with blank entries and plot out what happens by the day and by the hour. Supplement this with a timeline. This way, you know what happens before what, and what happens after. This will also tell you if the flow of the story itself is logical, or if you need to tweak certain events so that your story moves well (and quickly, as the case might be).

2. As an exercise, try writing your your plot out as a short story. It doesn't have to be grammatically correct (although that would help). You can babble on and say, “Character A does this and so-and-so happens, and this leads to a so-and-so event.” How long is your short story? If it's too short, then you may not have enough material for a novel – and chances are, if you try to expand your short story, you may end up with a novel that is overblown – a novel that is not as “meaty” as you might want it to be.

On the other hand, if your short story is going on for way too long (and becoming its own novel) then you might consider trimming some plot angles, or perhaps even breaking the novel down into smaller books. The dimensions of “short” and “long” are relative, so you need to use your best judgment.

3. When you have your short story trimmed correctly, then try this as an exercise. Mark out your major events in your plot. Next, write these major events out on separate sheets of paper, or on separate index cards. Then, shuffle the index cards. Rearrange the index cards into your original plot.

Do this exercise every day so that you remember your plot. You might also want to keep the index cards to guide you on what happens before and after certain plot events.

If you want to make your story up as you go along, then take the necessary precautions. Take notes on what happens in your story so that you don't forget what happened before. This can save you time when you write, since you don't have to keep on re-reading your work to get back on track in your plot. There are many ways for you to keep track of your story: you can keep a planner, have a notebook handy, or simply have a stack of index cards that you can rearrange according to how your plot unfolds.

Whatever the case, good luck, and happy plotting!