Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Day of the Doctor (No Spoilers)

Yesterday, I saw the 50th anniversary episode of Doctor Who in the theaters in 3D. This blog won't be a discussion of the episode itself (because Spoilers!) instead I want to talk about my experience seeing it in the theater.

I went by myself because none of my friends or family in the area are caught up with the latest episodes. The only theater that had a showing of The Day of the Doctor was over an hour away, but in the end I decided it was worth it. Matt Smith is my favorite Doctor and his time is very limited. Plus, 3D! So I left early, arriving at the mall an hour and half before the movie was scheduled to start. I checked in at the kiosk and got my ticket. There was already a fair number of people in "line" (a roped off area marked "Doctor Who" showing 7:30). 

This was only my second experience going to the movies by myself, but I had faith that an audience of my fellow whovians would be friendly and I was not disappointed. People of all ages were waiting patiently in line, most seated, chatting about their theories and favorite Doctor Who moments. I sat down behind some high school girls. Behind me a middle-aged woman and her mother sat down. There were fezs galore and plenty of bow ties and converse shoes. I even recognized a t-shirt from an artist I follow, Karen Hallion.

The theater staff let us in with still an hour to go. I got a good seat a little less than halfway up the rows and right in the middle. An older gentleman watched my seat and coat for me while I ran to get popcorn and a drink. After I sat back down, I was joined by a father and his thirteen-year-old daughter. They were charming and we spent the next hour discussing our mutual love for this five decade long television epic. 

I enjoyed the episode thoroughly, but I enjoyed the people around me even more. When the lights dimmed, I could feel the tension around me. The eager anticipation. The excitement. Matt Smith appeared larger than life (watch out for that chin! Yowzah!) and gave a brief intro and told us to put our 3D glasses on. Then David Tennant appeared and the crowd went wild, drowning out his words. 

Laughter and gasps and tears rippled through the audience as we shared this incredible experience. There are few opportunities to share feelings with a crowd of strangers and honestly I felt a little overwhelmed. I've spent the last year or so as basically a hermit, but for once the crowd didn't make me feel panicked. These people are part of my tribe. I don't know most of their names and I'll likely never see them again, but for an hour and a half we shared something bigger on the inside. We shared excitement and anxiety. Terror and hope. We connected through this fairy tale of a mad man with a blue box. 

There're only three words that can express what this experience meant to me. 

Fantastic! Allons-y! Geronimo!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Denver or Bust!

It's been a while since I've written and I'm sorry. I've had a pretty exciting development interrupt all of my November plans (including NaNoWriMo. I'll try again next year).

I'm moving to Denver!

My boyfriend got a new job and we're headed West. I've always thought I would enjoy living in Colorado and now I finally get to. I'll be super busy over the next couple of weeks. Lots of packing, dancing wildly to musical soundtracks, and getting everything organized. But I wanted to check in with my blog followers and let you guys know what's going on. The next time you hear from me, I'll be writing from the Mile High City!

Monday, November 11, 2013

3 Books On Writing That Are Actually Worth Your Time

My mother has never put much stock on How-To-Write books, and I can understand why. It seems like a lot of people, whether published on their own or not, feel the need to tell other people how to go about writing a book. This a particularly difficult task because there are as many ways to write a book as there are writers. My way may not work for you. Your way might be completely foreign to me. Either way, as long as we both reach the end goal (a finished book!), what does it matter how we got there?

I have no time for the books that promise a foolproof way to success or tell you how to write the next breakout novel. That's nonsense. No one can predict what's going to be big. The only thing to do is write the book you want to write and write it well.

But I do think there is a place for books on writing. For me, that place is asking the right questions.

Aside from the very basic, "This is a verb. You need to have characters." ultimate beginner's books, I've found a few that actually turned out to be helpful. (The titles are links to the books on Amazon)

1. Elements of Fiction Writing: Character & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

This is actually the latest book I've read and it's been incredibly helpful. I was having trouble with my new book because it's told from two main characters' POVs in first person. I really felt like I hadn't solidified those characters and I turned to this book to help. The thing I liked best about this book was that it didn't tell you how to create in depth characterization. It asks you the right questions so you get there on your own. It really is a book of tools, not answers, and those tools have turned out to be very useful. Card takes you on a journey from basic character creation to understanding your story as a whole and how characterization plays into it. It's well written and easy to follow. I would definitely recommend it to anyone having trouble fully realizing their characters (also take a look at my blog about using the Myers Briggs test to understand you characters here).

2. The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell

This book is a really interesting adaptation of Sun Tzu's famous work with a literary twist. It approaches writing a book like a battle. From mental preparation to tactics to what to do after you've "won," it covers the entire experience of writing a novel. It does tend to be overarching and big-picture oriented, but the author does a good job of using concrete examples from real books to illustrate his points. It's full of encouragement and big ideas. It get's you to stop and think, then start writing. The first time I read through it, I kept putting the book down and working on my own book. Any book that gets you to sit down and write must be doing something right.

3. Story Structure: The Key to Successful Fiction by William Bernhardt

I've talked about this book before in my blog The Importance of Outlining, but I really can't stress how helpful this book has been. New York Times bestselling author, William Bernhardt, teaches a series of small group writing seminars that are basically the reason I finished my first book in one year. If you can't afford to take his classes or are too far away geographically, this book (and the rest of the Red Sneaker Writer series) are the next best thing. For me, structure is such an important part of creating a workable first draft. Otherwise you end up with 70,000+ words verging on stream of consciousness. It's hard to organize a mess like that, so why not start out with organization? From overarching structure to how to format an individual scene, this book gives you the nuts and bolts of writing. If you don't know how to use the tools, how can you create something amazing? Every time I start a book (and if I'm having trouble in the middle) I pick up this book. It helps me sort through my pile of scenes and characters and ideas to get to the skeleton of my story. And make sure that skeleton can support the book's weight.

If you have any questions about these books or know of some others that are helpful, comment below!

Friday, November 8, 2013

Myers-Briggs Test for Characters

So I've put Nanowrimo on hold because I just didn't have a good grasp of who my characters are. I know their pasts. I know what they do and even why, but I couldn't wrap my mind around how they think. Since I'm writing in 1st person POV for both of them, that's kind of important.

I've done a lot of different things, trying to get a firm understanding of my MCs. I've filled out pretty much every questionnaire I could find, most full of trivial details. I've got concept pictures of them. I've worked out their past lives. But I still couldn't quite understand them.

I looked over several psychology/psychiatry books (because, let's face it, when I don't understand something I turn to science), but I still couldn't find what I was looking for. My main characters aren't crazy. Books on psychosis and biopolar disorder and borderline personality disorder didn't help. I began to feel like the thing I was seeking was so ordinary, so commonplace, that everyone else automatically understood it. What was I missing?

Then I remembered something. The Myers-Briggs test. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a psychometric questionnaire that is supposed to examine differences in how people perceive and make decisions about their world. Whether they're more rational or emotional. More introverted or extroverted. Based on the work of Carl Jung, the MBTI "focuses on normal populations and emphasizes the value of naturally occuring differences." (Wikipedia)

Which was exactly what I wanted.

I've taken the test twice so far, one time for each of my protagonists. But it was so helpful that I'm considering taking it as my antagonists, too.

There are four areas that the MBTI measures and for each area, there are two options. The first is Introverted vs Extroverted. Intuition vs Sensing. Feeling vs Thinking. And Percieving vs Judging. There are 16 possible outcomes of the test, and each one gives a lot of information about how the person handles energy, information, decision-making, and their lifestyle.

For instance, one of my characters tested INTJ, meaning she's introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging. This tells me that she prefers one or two close friends and quiet time. That she's good with abstract thinking, but not necessarily at focusing on current situations. She values objective criteria, but doesn't have much use for social considerations. She also likes to have a sense of control which can seem limiting to other people.

That's incredible! Now when I write as her, I know that focus will be something she struggles with. That she uses memories and speculation about the future to understand the present. That she might get overwhelmed by a crowd or be severely uncomfortable when she loses control. Hopefully, I'll be able to translate all of this information into organic, sincere writing because now I understand how she thinks. Hopefully I'll be able to fully get into her head.

The test is only 72 questions and you can take it for free here as many times as you like. After you get your result, you can look it up on Wikipedia for more information (just type INTJ or whatever your result is into the Wiki search bar). It'll also give you historical and fictional examples of other people who are the same type. Typelogic.com is another site that will give you a lot of info.

If you're having trouble solidifying your characters, it can't hurt to give this a shot. It worked for me. Let me know if it works for you!

Also, I found some fun charts showing MBTI types for the characters of Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. (I'm Hermione and Tom! Although occasionally I test as Luna and Matthew.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Poisonwood Bible: A Review

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is the best book I've read in a while. I'd heard it mention before, but I didn't know much about it. I bought it because it follows a zealous missionary family as they journey into the heart of the Congo in 1960 and I thought it would give me a good insight into the type of people that dedicate their life so zealously to their religion. I got more than I ever could have expected.

Instead of following the missionary himself, the story focuses on the women around him - his wife and four daughters. This is their story.

As a writer, arguably the most fascinating aspect of this book was its structure. It has five point-of-view characters, the mother and daughters, and each is written in first person. As someone who loves first person for its intimacy, this book is exactly what I picture when I say first person can be done amazingly. I've read a lot of articles and op-eds that declare first person the realm of the beginner. That true "literary" works are not written as such. That's complete bunk. Of course first person can be done badly. So can any POV. And, yes, first person may actually be more difficult to do well, but when someone with the skill of Ms. Kingsolver does it, it transcends all expectations.

Each character had such a uinique voice that even without the character's name at the beginning of each chapter, I would have known who was speaking. From the physical immediateness of little five year old Ruth May to the shallow, almost illiterate complaints of sixteen year old Rachel, each character achieves individuality. I'm sure this took a lot of work on the writer's part, but it comes off as so easy, so organic, I never once questioned the author's choice of POV.

The story itself weaves a complex tapestry of what counts as "everyday" life in the Congo with the vast socio-economic history of the region. The questions it forces its characters (and readers) to confront are intriguing and uncomfortable. It questions religion's place in a world where one person or one group of people hold such dominating power over others. From the abusive relationship between the father and his family to the abusive relationship between the colonial powers and their victim Africa. The Poisonwood Bible is a spectacular work of technical ability, social consciousness, and the intimacy of a family.

It is by far one of the best books I have ever read and I met its end with the melancholic regret of finishing a good book. I'm sure I'll pick it up again in my lifetime if for no other reason then to study the masterful writing technique of Barbara Kingsolver and her other books have earned a place on my to-read list.

“Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I've only found sorrow.” 

-The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo: Day One

Well, it's here. I have to admit even though I did some planning, even though I've got my outline done, November 1st snuck up on me. I wasn't planning for November to start until sometime next week! But apparently the calender doesn't keep my plans in mind.

So here we are. Day one.

What's the first scene I have? Only one of the most complicated and delicate scenes in the existence of literary fiction: an attempted suicide in first person.


I'm just a glutton for punishment. But I'm in my chair. I've got a steady supply of coffee and a comfy blanket. I'm ready to get started.

Today's goal is 2,000 words. Wish me luck!