Sunday, May 29, 2016

Writing Ramblings and a Peek Inside My Brain

This is my first post as a blogger, and I'm going to copy Faith in the sense that it's about my writing journey, but I don't want to focus on it, because writing isn't the only part of my life that's relatively interesting.

I don't actually know how old I was when I started writing.  Probably around nine, although I know I was writing stories about people named Bob and cats doing interesting things.  I do know, however, that my first writing was drastically limited by my spelling skills (hence the vast amounts of cats and dogs.  I mean, how would I know how to spell "wombat" at the age of six?).  I used writing to grow my imaginary world, which has been called My Own Little World since I was three.  It's much bigger now, with complex Alternate Universes and lots of different outcomes within those universes.  How do I keep it all straight?  I don't.  My writing is still mostly an outlet for this world, although I sometimes have separate stories set in other worlds.  Or this one.  Or Mars.  Or wherever the heck I feel like putting a story.  

Now I would spend this blog post describing my mind palace in detail, but 1) you don't want to hear about it, and 2) I want to talk about other more interesting things.  Like my obsession with history, rainy days, research, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other authors who have long since left this planet (my last post as a guest has a little more about this).  

I am a history geek, and I'm that weird friend who likes writing essays and doing research.  I read biographies for fun, and get ridiculously exciting when I find a primary source.  Along with my love for history comes my love for classic literature.  Faith can tell you a lot about this.  When she began to create this year's summer reading list, she was looking up countless new novels and I was suggesting countless old ones.  I mean, how can you improve on perfection?  Granted, not every old book is good, just like not every new book is good, but in my experience, I prefer an older style.  

In comes J.R.R. Tolkien.  More specifically, Middle-Earth and everything about it.  I would not consider myself a geek yet, as I've only read the Quenta Silmarillion once (and need to read it at least two more times to really understand what's going on), and haven't completed any other books on Middle-Earth history, unless you count The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  

Well there's the summary of my brain at the moment.  I don't have a specific plan for what I'll be posting, although I'm thinking about some book vs. movie reviews, which haven't been considered yet, and happen to be part of a topic I'm rather passionate about.  (What I'm really saying: If you'd left out that stupid kissing scene, you would've had time for that important plot point that the book had but you didn't!!).  Yeah.  Maybe I won't be doing reviews.  

Keep writing, and do your research.  Please.  It's a pet peeve of mine.  

~ Grace Weiser

Sunday, May 22, 2016

10 Years by the Seat of my Pants

Author’s note: This is a long ramble about Faith's life but there are two important things to note at the bottom of this post, marked with asterisks (**).

I’m not really sure if we’re getting anywhere with my “writing tips.” Heaven knows I haven’t studied writing for very long. So I’m going to put up a poll to figure out what you guys would rather have me talk about. (I’m not sure if I have enough readers to conduct a proper poll; however, I’ll give it a go.)

So today I’m going to talk a little about my personal life -- give you all a proper introduction, which I don’t think I’ve done. Then I’ll tie it into writing, as I always do. Such is my life.

As you can see if you follow the link to my profile, I am a college student -- a rising sophomore and a recently converted English major, in fact. I started out as a Nursing major, but quickly discovered that my jumbled brain worked much better in the humanities than it did in science. Then I switched to Journalism, but I didn’t feel ready to specialize so narrowly when I hadn’t taken time to explore the many facets of writing. At the end of this year I converted to the English major, and I’ll be concentrating in writing. I also hope to minor in Spanish and possibly Chinese. I may pursue editing as my day job, or I may go into something that has to do with foreign languages. Translating, perhaps, or public relations. I don’t know. The English major is very versatile when it comes to career choice, which I, the ever-procrastinating decision maker, enjoy. Besides, I love foreign languages. I’d eventually like to add German and maybe French to my repertoire as well.

I started writing creatively when I was probably around eight. I was homeschooled, but I begged to go to public school. My parents wouldn’t let me, so as my revenge I decided to write about public school and live vicariously through the characters I created. I wish I could find this story now. I’m sure it’s horrendous. I remember something about a super long hallway with even numbered doors on one side and odd numbered doors on the other...little did I know public school was hardly so organized. (My parents finally caved and let me go public for my junior and senior years of high school. Not the greatest years to adjust, let me tell you...although it did allow me to skip a grade.) Writing was my escape into the world I wished I lived in -- I also wrote about summer camp a good deal, although I’d never attended one of those either. I remember spending more time designing flyers for my make believe summer camp than actually writing about it. I had a good time. Eight year olds write for pure enjoyment -- no pressure, no self-doubt. It was a good starting point.

I was also a big proponent of fanfiction from a young age. According to my sister, I would tell her stories about Disney princesses ever since she was a toddler. I don’t remember this; however, I do remember spinning tales about the characters from my favorite TV shows, including Arthur, Backyardigans, and Magic School Bus. I told these all out loud until we got into the Lord of the Rings. Then we started writing our continuations of Merry and Pippin’s adventures after they returned to the Shire. At this point we learned the name of what we were doing, although we never published any of our stories. Publication flitted across my mind from time to time as I worked on a few original things, including a fantasy story that marks the longest novel I have ever written (totally by the seat of my pants, too -- it’s only about 60,000 words, but my attention span was usually shorter than that), a badly-researched historical fiction novel, and a short mystery. However, it wasn’t something I thought too seriously about.

Then my sister and I discovered the Harry Potter fandom. And oh, what a fandom it was. Growing up, our internet usage was pretty restricted, but at this point we were teenagers -- young adults, our grandfather called us -- and we were given access to the wonderful world of Pinterest. My sister had read the series several times; I had stopped after Goblet of Fire, the fourth book, but she filled me in on the rest of the series. I also saw the movies -- not the same, I know. However, we were intrigued by the idea that two of the next-generation characters, Scorpius Malfoy and Rose Weasley, could get together. (If you’re not in the Harry Potter fandom, just bear with me for a second.) Because our fanfiction took place after the series had ended, I felt justified in not having technically read the whole thing. Plus -- and herein lies the rub -- I found my first chance to get unofficially published. is the largest hall of -- you guessed it -- Harry Potter fanfiction since 2001. I’m not going to tell you my username because seriously, I’m trying to build a professional base here, and also the writing isn’t as good as I’d like it to be. However, this is such an integral part of my writing journey that I can’t leave it out. The site also has an extensive forums, and while it is intended for those who love the series to fangirl (or fanguy) together, for me it was a veritable playground for marketing and publishing. I entered challenges, published stories, got reviews, even advertised a little. This went on for about two years, and for a while I didn’t think I could ever stop. Although I played entirely inside J.K. Rowling’s ready-made world, I learned to develop characters more deeply than I’d ever done before. I tried my hand at writing romance, humor, suspense, even children’s fiction. I learned how to leave constructive feedback without being nasty. I learned how fun it is to have people who follow your work. I learned that when I write a character solely for the purpose of love interest, they fall flatter than a toad taking a siesta on the highway. (Looking back, I see this happened in my other works as well. However, this is when I realized it.) I fell in love with my characters, which made me feel slightly guilty, since after all they were technically J.K. Rowling’s. But the characterization was mine, and at this point I began to wish I had my very own characters to develop again, so I could claim full credit for them.

Then Rowling decided to write a play (called the Cursed Child, if you haven’t heard) about the Next-Gen characters, and I realized my headcanon was doomed. HarryPotterFanfiction also began to fall apart -- in fact, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, I suggest you check it out now before it disappears forever. As one thing followed another, my fanfiction days slowly drew to a close. I decided that if I ever wanted to get into the realm of published fiction -- really truly, honest-to-goodness, professionally published fiction -- I should start work right away. I had a couple ideas, and I slowly started to develop them. I eventually settled on the sci-fi/YA novel that I’m planning right now. Hopefully you’ll get to see some snippets on Wattpad after Camp Nano this July. Time machines are involved. However, I can’t promise I’ll get that far by that point.

My publish-happy fever got me into this blog at the beginning of this year. I’m pretty sure I started this project the day after I thought of it, which explains my struggle to participate and my general lack of planning. (Hey, I wrote and lived by the seat of my pants for almost ten years. Forgive me if I’m just now starting to get into planning ahead.) I’ve started to slow down a little, now that I’ve realized how much time this all takes -- plus, I really need some training on writing short stories, to be honest. I might have to revamp this project after I take the fiction writing workshop my school offers. In any case, it’s been a good experience and maybe gained me a few followers. Possibly.

I’ve recently started reading through the wonderful Writing Fiction for Dummies by Randy Ingermanson and Peter Economy. You may have heard of Randy as “The Snowflake Guy” due to his novel planning method (which you can check out here) and Peter -- honestly, the guy just has a great last name. It’s a great resource for anyone who wants to get published. They are very real with you. Novel writing is a buttload of work, no kidding. So is writing short stories. Or blogs. You have to be dedicated and write even when you don’t want to. Writing changes you. Heck, I’ve even become a planner in the last week! When did that happen? (Well, for novel writing, anyway. For everything else I’m just as spontaneous as ever. For example, I had a totally different blog post “planned” for today. Maybe I’ll write it next week.)

**Oh! I almost forgot to introduce the new co-writer of this blog! Meet Grace Weiser -- yes, I know, she’s already written about half the blog in guest posts, so we decided to make her an official writer. She’ll be posting at least once a month. Click on her profile link up in the sidebar. JUST DO IT. (Sorry Nike, I totally stole your slogan.)

Also, for any of you participating in the Once Upon Now challenge, the deadline is June 12 at 3:59pm EST. So you can’t post it at midnight as we procrastinators usually do. Or you can, but it would have to be midnight on June 11.

Ciao for now!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Guest Post: All the Best People are Dead

Before we begin, if you have a living author whom you defend with hard, cold, steel, I am sorry in advance.  I am an unashamed Classics girl.  Please don’t kill me for calling your author shallow.  In fact, put the book title in the comments, and if it looks like something I’d be interested in, I might read it.  Who knows?  Opinions can be changed.  

I can honestly say that I do not, as a general rule, enjoy modern fantasy novels.  I don’t usually enjoy dystopian or science fiction either.  Basically I don’t enjoy modern fiction, at least as far as I’ve read (there are one or two that I do like, but they are almost never the first thing off my shelves)  Soooo shallow...but I digress.  There are authors (unfortunately all dead) who have written in those genres, whose works I love with a passion.  Jules Verne and J.R.R. Tolkien are two of them.  I have over time discovered that all my favorite authors are all deceased, and I am a history GEEK.  In all caps.  With italics.  And underlined.  Also with fireworks.  I love history.  Can you tell?  
In my personal opinion, Tolkien is the best fantasy writer of all time, and the father of fantasy as we know it.  He took his entire life building Middle Earth, and put infinitely more thought into it than any other fantasy world that I have ever heard of.  We can learn a lot from his stories, and while not all of it is applicable to a short story, I will present some things which I have discovered.  I’m not asking that you take everything that I say and write a 5,000 word tale, because you’ll probably go crazy, and it’s not worth spending the rest of your life to work out a world if you only need it for three pages of action, but it’s worth reading, at least, and storing away in your mind palace for future reference.  

  1. Give your world distinctly different ethnicities.
This is something that you can do a little in a short story, but don’t feel like you need to stress over deep developement unless you plan on writing a novel in the same world later.  Be careful that you don’t make everyone have the same skin tone.  People who live in one area of the world might have more melanin in their skin than people who live on another continent.  In The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien added a very important group of people, the DrĂședain, a tribe-like people in the mountains who showed Aragorn and company a series of paths in the woods to evade an Orc army.  Basically what I’m saying is don’t make everyone the same.
  1. Place and event names are important.  
It is not “The Mountain”; it is “Caradhras”.  It is not “The Lake-Village”; it is “Dale”.  If a tree is important, give it a name.  If a road will be travelled on, give it a name.  If a tiny valley will be used or talked about, name that tiny valley.  Do not ignore the importance of giving something a title.  I have read multiple books where names have been ignored, and it ruins the entire story.  I don’t care if your world only exists for 6,000 words.  Give everything a name.  Very rarely can the object name successfully exist in the name of the landmark or battle.   The Party Tree in the Shire and The Lonely Mountain are two examples where it might work; however, different people groups (such as the Elves) called The Lonely Mountain something entirely different.  The same is true with Rivendell, or the Last Homely House.  
  1. Along with the ethnicities, give the people different cultures.
While there’s nothing wrong with having common beliefs, every culture needs to view those beliefs differently, and have different ways of approaching their deity, or deities.  Not only that, but their relationships with other people, their laws, and their superstitions vary from people to people.  What kind of songs do they sing?  What foods do they eat?  Do they have different instruments?  Do they have different names for different places?  Are certain things or people held in higher respect than others?  Why?  Don’t go into great detail for a little story, but make sure the difference is clear.
  1. Give your world a history.  
No, you don’t have to write five books on the topic, and if you’re just writing a short story, this isn’t something you’re going to want to dive into headfirst.  But believe me,  a culture is shaped by its past.  You can also tie this into the first two points.  How did the different people groups originate and disburse?  How are their beliefs and cultures affected by their history.  Do two different groups of people see the same event from totally different viewpoints?  Does it affect their relationship with other peoples?  If so, how?  To go back to Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, the Elves and Dwarves are enemies partly because of a war that went on between them in the past.  The Elves believe that the Dwarves caused the war, and the Dwarves believe the opposite.  In our own world, America and Europe view World War II very differently, because while they were both on the same side(for the most part), they had different perspectives on what was going on, as well as how it affected them.

I just realized how lengthy that became.  I can usually summarize pretty well, but whatever, at least you have my advice.  Take all of it, some of it, or none of it as you see fit.  Just remember that a good story needs a solid world, and how well you build your world will determine whether your story falls or flies.
Now that you’ve read all that, I’d be glad to hear any advice you might have, or tips you’ve heard in different places.  How do you go about building a world?  Everyone does it a little differently.  Is there anything that you have found to be essential?  Any advice on forming a clear idea of the world?  And last but not least, have you created an entire language?  If you have, congratulations!  If you haven’t, don’t feel badly.  J.R.R. Tolkien is literally the only person I have ever heard of who has built a language system for his fantasy world.  I have tried - and given up one hour into the process.  

Keep reading, and keep working on your stories!  I would be writing one...okay I should be writing a short story and really have no excuse for why I’m not.  Oh, and if you haven’t read anything by Tolkien, I suggest you do over the summer.  The Hobbit is my favorite, but read the entire series.  And the Silmarillion, and The Book of Lost Tales, and The Children of HĂșrin...
Once you’ve read them, tell me what you think.  I’ll be in my hobbit-hole and tea is at four.

~ Grace Weiser

Monday, May 9, 2016

Once Upon Now -- Target's Challenge

Hello all, it's Faith again!

I know it has been atrociously long since I posted last, but bear with me...finals week has driven me up a wall and I still have a paper to finish (because I procrastinated). Seriously, if there was a class dedicated to procrastination, I would get straight A’s.

Hopefully I’m not gonna shoot myself in the foot here, but I’m planning to start posting weekly after this.

No, Vernon Dursley, I think you mean NEW posts on Sundays. If you want weekly updates, enter your e-mail into the subscribe bar! If you don’t want weekly updates, enter your e-mail into the subscribe bar! Then filter all these blog posts into your spam!

Which brings us in a very non-linear fashion to May’s topic: FANTASY.

Fantasy is a really fun genre to write, but I’ll be honest: I’m not sure how putting this into a short story is going to go. Fantasy requires tons of worldbuilding. Perhaps this will be the motivation we need to create characters and settings as complex as we would create for a full-length novel.

But before you run away screaming, I have a little incentive for you. And by “I,” I mean Target.

Target is hosting it’s Once Upon Now contest on Wattpad. (It is in no way affiliated with this blog, but I think it’s cool.) The instructions are listed on the official Wattpad page, but here’s a few of the basics.

  • Write a story of between 4000 and 9000 words that “alludes to or uses elements of a fairy tale or myth.”
  • Set your tale in modern times
  • Post stories by 7:59 GMT on June 12
  • Be at least 13 years old
  • Be a US resident (sorry, not my rules)
  • Win up to or more than $500

You can follow the link (click the picture) to read more details. However, this is a fantastic way to practice writing within a specific genre. Not only are you given the time period and the most basic of premises, you are encouraged to come up with your own version of a storyline, mix and match characters, and so forth. Genre writing can produce some really cliche responses (you know, like those unicorns you thought of the minute you read the word “fantasy”), and this is an awesome way to break the mold.

I for one will be submitting something. I hope you’ll attempt this with me!