Monday, May 31, 2010

In the Details

There is magic in the details of writing. Like the lens of a camera, detail can be used to help the reader focus on your story. The trick is to learn the quantity of detail to include.

Too much detail and all we offer is mess and chaos. The reader finds herself sifting through wads of pointless description and grows bored. Too little detail and all the reader gains is a vague blur.

The reader is a skilled traveller. Even though you take them on a journey, they can fill in many of the gaps. They can create the places, furnish the spaces, but they also want a guide’s hand through your world. They want the highlights pointed out. They want to be able to touch your vision and experience it as if it were their own.

They want to smell the burning toast, but most importantly, they want to feel. They want to care. Their emotions are directed through focussing your writer’s lens in all the right places.

How do you find the right balance of detail in your stories? How do you know if you’ve written enough detail or too much?

Friday, May 28, 2010

A Writer’s Focus

When you write do you focus on only one project at a time? Or are you constantly thinking of new ideas and stories?

There is a belief that to focus on only one story at a time is the best way to go. A writer can concentrate on all aspects of their project – the characters, the plot, the atmosphere, the style. This would mean they don’t water it down with intrusions of other ideas that don’t belong.

I asked this question via twitter. Everyone who responded said that they don’t go by this rule. They all pursued multiple ideas and projects. And they all indicated a little guilt over the fact as if it were a bad thing.

When I’m writing a powerful scene that’s charged with emotion or drama I do find I must focus on that scene only to be able to capture the full essence of the scene. I write my best when I’m focussed. But, I’m also one of those people who read more than one book at a time and I have multiple short stories and articles in the works, a hundred blog ideas floating around my mind and a number of book ideas calling for attention. None of this is a bad thing. It’s natural for a writer to be abuzz with ideas to explore.

How then can I focus on one project with all that jumbled in my head?

I make a list of priorities, I follow a schedule and I have an internal switch to control the chaos.

When a deadline draws near, that’s my priority. Because of this, I try to write all my blog posts ahead of time and preschedule them to post. I try to be a week ahead. I then schedule my novel and non-fiction book writing time and try to stick to it. On the weekends I give myself the freedom to explore short story ideas.

It’s a handful, I know, but when I’m not writing, I’m thinking. I have notepads throughout the house so I can jot thoughts down when something triggers an idea. I cut out newspaper articles and put them in a pile to think about later.

I don’t spend a lot of time on a new idea. I’ll make a note and move back to the highest priority in my schedule.

Do you work on one project at a time? How do you manage your time and focus your thoughts?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Cliché Plot Monster

Have you ever started to write a story only to realise it’s a copy of another?

I’ve done this on multiple occasions. It’s the curse of the cliché monster. We read a story and we file what we like about it in our minds. Years, or months, or even days later it re-emerges in our own stories. It’s not something we do on a conscious level. But it is something to watch out for.

It’s crucial to make the story your own. Create a twist from the original, veer off in a completely different direction. Don’t settle with what you have, but strive to make something new.

The cliché monster lurks in all of us. It likes to live not only within the phrases we use, but also in the plots we pursue. If we want our writing to be greater than mass produced pulp written to a formula, then we must study our plots as carefully as we study our words. We must seek the crispiness of a freshly tossed salad of events in our stories and surprise our readers with excellence.

Are you also plagued by the cliché plot monster? How do you keep it fresh?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Writing and Music

Some see their writing as a creative expression and they cling to their freedom with the fierceness of a bulldog guarding its territory. Some see their writing as a vehicle to deliver their story and they stick to the rules like cement. But should we claim one approach is better than another? Would it be better to mix the two?

Writing and music are very similar things. Anyone can make music by taking random stabs at the piano keys. Anyone can write by stringing a few sentences together. But, to do them well, both crafts must be learned first. The rules must be understood. The skill of subtle nuances must be discovered and then practiced.

Both writing and music require a certain freedom to gain the magic of rhythm. Both feed on the almost mystical knowledge of timing to gain a mood.

It takes time to master both. A musician must play. A writer must write. Then the beautiful notes of a masterpiece begin to unfold. Confidence begins to sing out from your creations. The music then touches not only the ears, but it reaches down to the heart. The writing touches not only the mind, but it reaches down to the soul.

How much importance do you place on the creativity of writing versus learning the rules of writing?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Distractions and How to Fight Them

Distractions are a writer’s worst enemy. They slow us down, they break our train of thought, they stop us from doing the one thing we were born to do: write.

Today I have a sick cat to worry about. My thoughts keep straying away from my writing because of it. I also have some council tree cutters in my front yard. There’s nothing like the sound of a chainsaw to distract. This week I’ve also been sick and it’s so easy to use that excuse to distract me from my writing.

So, how do we fight these distractions?

Find the best time for you to write. This varies for every writer. I write best in the morning when my brain is still fresh. The neighbour’s kids have gone to school, my husband has gone to work, and the house is mostly quiet. I guard this time carefully.

Use music. If it’s horrible noise that’s distracting me, then I put some great writing music on. It helps me focus. I can’t use any music with lyrics because the words distract me, so I’ve made up a playlist of instrumental background music. It depends on how bad the outside distractions are as to how loud I turn up the music. Sometimes I even have to go so far as to use my headphones to block everything else out.

Fight temptation. Don’t tell yourself you’ll only watch 30mins of TV if you know it will likely end up being an hour or more. Don’t get yourself a snack if you know you are only eating because it’s a distraction. Don’t start a job if you know you can’t finish it before your scheduled writing time begins.

Decide not to be distracted. The mind is a powerful thing. We can deicide against anything that lures us away from our writing. I can write this piece without allowing the chainsaw outside to grab at my thoughts. I don’t have any music on either because I made the decision that I would write now.

Allow the distraction. This might sound strange since we are trying to fight it, but sometimes we must give distractions our attention. Children can’t be ignored. A kitchen burning down can’t be ignored. A cat demanding a pat can’t be ignored. Often we feel better after giving these things some time. Often our minds are clearer and we are more able to write.

These are just a few suggestions. Perhaps you can think of some more? What are your worst distractions? What do you do to fight them?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Do’s and Don’ts of Blog Design

There are so many blogs out there that have such wonderful, interesting and helpful content, but the design of their site lets them down. Most people read more than one blog so they don’t have a lot of time to decipher what you may have written. You don’t want them to give up and move on to the next blog. So, below are some tips on how to improve your blog design.

DO use soothing colours such as pastels, neutrals, and anything toned down and complimentary for the overall look of your blog.

DO NOT use large blocks of strident colours like hot pink or vibrant green or fire engine red. If you must use these colours make sure they aren’t anywhere near your text. If you need sunglasses to look at your blog, then change the colours.

DO NOT use white text on a black background. Please. I beg you. It hurts my eyes. Most people are used to dark text on a light background. It is easy to read and doesn’t offend in any way. (You are exempt from this rule if your blog is designed to show off your art or photography).

DO NOT allow a pattern to intrude over any of your text. Fussy backgrounds are often the worst culprit for this. Flowers and swirls and patterns don’t belong over your post or even behind it. Even if it intrudes a small fraction, move it. It’s annoying for the reader otherwise.

DO be shy in the use of animated gifs. Often they cheapen the look of your blog and they only serve to distract your readers from your words.

DO use a standard font such as Times New Roman or Arial or similar variants. And make sure the font doesn’t get too small. The idea is to keep it easy to read.

DO keep the most important sidebar elements up high. Many readers won’t bother scrolling all the way down to the bottom to find what they are after.

DO NOT make your readers scroll down before they can start reading. Best way to do this is to keep your blog title small. Also, if you must have an introduction, put it in the sidebar.

DO keep it simple. Simplicity is key. The design is meant to attract the reader, not distract.

Can you think of some other design elements that will aid your readers in an enjoyable experience? What are the design elements that most turn you off from a blog?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Shiny 'n' New

As you can see, I've bitten the proverbial bullet and decided to start a second blog. This one will be about writing, blogging, books, social media and anything creative.

It is something I've deliberated over for quite some time now. My first blog, Fearfully and Wonderfully, is a devotional blog and I post every day except Sundays. I feel strongly that God has called me to write for Him and I'm very passionate about it.

But I also feel passionate about other forms of writing. In particular, I love reading and writing Fantasy and Science Fiction. I'm a bit of a geek and I love strange science facts and the advancement of technology. And I love writing about people.

My plan is to post here three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Fridays. I'll see how it goes to begin with and make any adjustments if I need to.

Like the angel image above (which I hand painted in Photoshop), it's a W.I.P.

Wish me luck! :)