Monday, July 26, 2010

Italian Sonnet

Faerie Tale

The lady walks throughout the marketplace
She dips her hand among the ivory pearls
And all around her face the spice that whirls
It keeps her from the one she loves, his face
Always before her eyes, but not to lace
Her fingers with his own. The fabric furls
About her head with her loose hair it twirls
And traps her in the human realm no trace
Of him she cannot call her own until
She spreads the faerie ointment 'crost her eyes
The mortal world falls silent and more still
She turns and sees for gone are human lies
He waits to take her with him past the rill
That keeps the foolish mortal from the Seelie wise.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Setting the Scene

     Let's talk about details today.  Last week we talked about all of the details that make up a complex (fat, actually, but you'd have to read the post not to be offended) character.  Let's talk about your character's world now.

     Setting is complicated.  Not enough details and your reader has no idea if the character is in Hong Kong or Timbuktu (Yes, I know, a token Timbuktu reference.  So sue me.  Actually, don't.  Just go with it, because you know you've pulled a Timbuktu and it probably wasn't the first or last time, either.)  Too many details on the other hand, and your reader is either so focused on the colorful wings of the butterfly sitting on the leaf on the branch of the tree the main character is sitting under that the reader has completely forgotten that there's actually a character demanding attention sitting under that tree (see how those details work to convolute things?) or the reader threw the book at the wall in disgust when the description of the tree hit page three (I didn't mean to rhyme but I'm not changing it.  Subconscious poet, apparently.  The first person to compare my shoe size to Henry Wadsworth's gets it, though), let alone the butterfly on page six.

     Of course, at this point, you could very well be ready to metaphorically throw this blog at the wall.  (I'll pay the person who accomplishes this feat literally fifty dollars.  And that's literally accomplishing the feat, not literally fifty dollars.  We'll get to the pet peeve of using literally incorrectly at a later date.)  Ergo, I digress.

     Setting is a balancing act.  Your characters, and by extension the readers identifying with your characters, need to be grounded in their fictional world.  What is the layout of the house? How is the house decorated?  There doesn't have to be an entire chapter devoted to describing the house, but we need to be comfortable with where the rooms are, how the characters get to those rooms (Stairs?  Elevator?  Jet pack?  X-Wing?  Think it through, each options has huge implications for your story.  For instance, if you choose the X-Wing, Luke Skywalker better show up at some point in this tale of yours.  Also, if you choose the X-Wing, you have a 99% shot at getting me to read it, no questions asked.  Well, almost none.  But enough of my geek-self.) and overall what the general atmosphere of the house is.  Is the furniture cozy and overstuffed, perfect for snuggling?  Or is it a modern environment, with streamlined furniture that shows off artistic tendencies or maybe just a snotty desire to throw money at couches of a purely non-functioning variety (You know the kind I'm talking about.  If you can't nap on it, it does not deserve the name of couch)?  

     Notice that ultimately all of this winds up reflecting back on your character.

     Writing is sneaky that way.

     Everything that you write should reveal a piece of information to the reader.  Now your readers are smart.  That's why they're reading your book.  (You're welcome for that.)  You don't have to spell everything out for them.  A reader can figure out that Carter's childhood home in upper Manhatten isn't exactly welcoming with its cold metal chairs, the bare lights in the high ceilings, empty walls without any family photos, and more servants around than family members, without you telling them in great detail what each element represents.  A reader can figure out from these little clues that Carter didn't have a warm and cuddly family like Elaine did, growing up on a Kentucky farm, with rough, handmade rocking chairs on the wooden porch, massive quilts with crooked stitches sewn by firelight, and cool grass to run through while catching fireflies in the mason jars that hold grandma's sweet peach preserves in the winter.  

    These are the details you want to create your story world with.  We learn where we are, we can visualize it clearly, with enough left to the imagination to keep our minds active and involved painting the picture in our heads, and we learn something about the characters.  Describing your setting doesn't have to be complicated.  Think about what your character sees and how he or she sees it.  Then tell your reader. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Debutante 1852

I tie the ribbon around my neck
The satin slides under my fingers.
I inspect the mirror.
Burgundy band seems to slice me in two.
The heavy cameo weighs me down, my mother's
Image ever around my neck.
Millstone for everything I cannot be.
Skirts rustle as I descend
Hung by a small ribbon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Put Some Meat on Those Bones!

     This post is for the blogfest put together by Carrie Bailey, @PeevishPenman on Twitter.  You can find  the rest of the blogs at her blog.  I feel very privileged to have been invited to participate, and I'm also very excited since this is my first blogfest!  (the lovely Ms. Bailey had to explain a blogfest to me, lol)  The topic is "advice for new writers" and I'll be talking (Typing?  Though, by the time you read this, I won't be typing anymore.  Hm.) about (Obviously.  Or not so obvious if you haven't read the title, but if you came from the blogfest links list, then you had to have read the title.  Which means, if you did, that you're new to my blog and my random interruptions of myself.  Welcome. ^_~ ) putting meat on those bones.  Specifically, the bones of your characters.

     Skinny seems to be the ideal for the majority of society today.  (I wish we were focused more on finding hobbits and faeries, but nobody listens to me.  Yet.)  Whatever.  Be skinny, follow the magazines, focus on your health, lose weight, whatever you want to do -- with yourself.  Here's where skinny is bad: in your story.  Skinny characters -- here meaning characters with no substance, no meat, no depth, just stick figures on a page like hangman Bob -- can be death to your story.

     If you've taken any writing classes, you have probably studied terms like stock characters, flat characters, static characters.  You can sum those all up in my book as skinny characters.  They are your stereotypical characters, the characters with no dimension, and characters with no change, no arc, to assign definitions respectively.  Now, oftentimes, stories need such characters.  The supporting players, so to speak.  But your skinny characters should never be main characters, and your main characters should never be skinny, so to speak.  You can describe them as skinny, but they shouldn't be skinny.  See?  No?  Here, eat some eggs, you look a little thin yourself, and I'll explain.

     The main character(s) of any story must have meat on his or her bones.  They must have depth, a multi-faceted personality, there should be dimension, so that there is something new to find out about them as the story progresses.  Again, if you've taken writing classes, you've probably heard all of this before, and you're about to leave because you think I'm a nutzoid who's writing herself into circles, which is probably true, but I'm going to share the part that writing classes never teach -- at least not when I took them.  The big question is always how?  How do I give my character depth?  How do I give them dimension?  How?  I don't get it.  (That was my response at first)

     Start making lists.  Even if you're not a list maker, and I'm not, make a list, and write it down.  Grab an index card for each character in your story.  Write down their names, and their roles such as good guy/girl bad guy/girl, (protagonist and antagonist if you want to get fancy with it).  Why?  You have to know who your characters are.  Once you've established their roles, focus on the individual.  Here's where the list comes in.

     Where did your character go to school?  Does he or she have any brothers or sisters?  Older or younger and how many?  Did they come from a broken home, the foster care system, a happy and loving family?  What is your character's history?  Did they enjoy school?  Which part, recess or science class?  Maybe he or she like history better than science or recess.

     What color are your character's eyes?  His or her hair?  What style?  Google (I love that this is now a legitimate verb) actors with the same coloring, pin down your character's appearance in your mind's eye.  Does he or she walk tall and proud, full of grace, or does the character shuffle along, head down, ashamed to meet the eyes of the world?  And for pete's sake, why?  Assign a why to physical idiosyncrasies, such as an odd walk.  It doesn't have to be explicitly stated in your story, but you as the author should know why.  What nationality is your character?  Does the character live in his or her country of origin?  If not, why?  Any scars, tattoos, piercings?  Hey, how does your character feel about tattoos and piercings?  Opposed or can't wait to get more ink?

     Hm, look at that.  Your character's not so skinny anymore.

     You've established a history and a physical appearance.  This is the depth to your character.  There has to be something more to a main character than just the surface level.  They can't be skin deep.  Knowing where characters came from, what they look like, how they present themselves -- and why, all put meat on the bones.  But we're not done yet.  There's another list to be made.

     What does your character do?  And I don't mean his or her job, although that's important.  Does your character even have a job?  Why or why not?  Did the character want that job?  Did the character go to school for that job?  These are all important questions, and every aspect of a character's life can and probably should be analyzed this way.  What I'm really talking about here are quirks.  Not quarks, but quirks.  

     How does your character tie his or her shoes?  How do your characters eat breakfast?  Do they touch the spoon to their chins before they take a bite?  (that was sitcom reference, I don't do that, I promise)  Do they always have to sit in certain spots?  Do they cross their legs when they sit?  Favorite colors and foods are also important.  Try thinking about why your characters like those foods and colors.  Special childhood memories of mom's homemade meatloaf?  Blue is the color of the ocean where your character went on family vacations.  Think about it.  This is where we find our character's dimension, the multi-faceted personality. Does your character have a temper?  Big or small?  How easily does he or she lose said temper?  Has this caused problems before (which ties back into the history of the character).  Favorite television shows.  Is traveling fun, or even an option, for your character?  What about animals, any opinions there?  Conservative or a free spirit?  Modern or traditional, or stuck somewhere in between?  Is your character obsessive-compulsive, ordering every little thing in life, impulsive, changing everything on a moment's whim?  Use little actions to show this.  Would your character straighten the silverware on the table at the restaurant he or she visits every Tuesday night while waiting for the same order to arrive (if you guessed Big Boy Burger, you are correct.  Bazinga.).  Does your character go to a different restaurant as often as possible, only eating things that haven't been eaten before?  Start with the little details of the daily routine -- right handed or left handed, by the way -- and work your way up to the details of the way your character meets life throughout the day.

     Now, step back and look at your character.

     Looks pretty healthy to me.  I'm seeing a lot of meat on the bones.  You know where your character came from, the character's appearance -- and the whys behind it, and all of the idiosyncrasies that finish off your character's transformation from skinny to plump and juicy.

     Are all of the details you established, all of the answers to why, every quirk, every bit of history, going to make it into the story?  No, of course not.  But you need to know.  How can you introduce the reader to your character if you don't know your character?  Introduce yourselves now, because you can.  Your character is a living, breathing entity, with a personality and a life story waiting to be shared through the story you give them, the actions you write (because remember, showing is always better than just telling), and the dialogue (Which we didn't really discuss, but make sure you know what speech patterns your character has: does he or she start every sentence with "so" for example.  You can see my previous post on this topic) you create.  

     There it is.  The best advice I can think of for new writers.  Remember, your reader won't know and connect with your character unless you do.  Once you, the writer, know your character, the ins and outs of what makes the character, then the audience can know your character.  The readers can connect with those obsessive-compulsive quirks, with the shuffling walk, with the old-fashioned haircut because your character is afraid of change, and the desire and fear to break out of the hamburger on Tuesday rut your character is in as the story opens.

     See?  Not so skinny.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Form Poetry

This is a heroic couplet poem.  The strict form requires perfect iambic pentameter and an aa bb cc dd ee rhyme scheme in its ten lines.


I want to walk along a million miles
And then to see the ever lonely isles.
When all the world's as cold as is the plate
And I shall walk and seek to know your fate.
If ever I was going there I know
I'd see you in that killing place of snow.
When all the worlds' around you know that I
Cannot content to sit and die and why
When I as yet am free to yearn and seek
Be lost and still submit to be so meek?

Monday, July 5, 2010

What Price We Pay For Beauty

There is always a cost for Beauty.
The honest, outward nature.
A Beast forgoes his pride
For the pearl of priceless
Integrity is cast aside
Old feelings buried down
To earn the kiss of sacred Beauty
Truth is carefully disguised.
Paint and ruffled feathers
Smoothing creams and
I wonder who will wonder
If the Beast is not still there?
Waiting under shadowed table.
Lurking in the darkened hall.
The Beast is only biding time
Simmering til he finally
Falls below the Beauty's damning
And is deemed unworthy after all.