Friday, November 30, 2012

Writing in a private diary is easy

Just posted in my private diary. As usual the words flowed easily. There was no self consciousness, no nervous editing while I was doing the writing. I listened to music and just let words flow out, enjoying myself. The finished post was rough but OK. I like the raw energy that comes out in this diary. I'm surprised when I go back and find sentences that are direct, simple, full of colour. The writing still stands after coming out in a rush, without any neurotic editing and re-editing. 

I always go back to the diary posts later and do some edits. I do this as part of the fiction writing process. Learning to create sentences that are tight and clear. But the original out pour is always easy.

Of course the diary posts will never be made public. 

When I write fiction I know it won't be sent into the public arena until I'm ready. I can always press the delete button. But still, for some reason, I tighten up and worry when I sit to do the 'serious' writing. 

As a fiction experiment this afternoon I'm going to write out the alien story I've been stuck on. I'm going to pretend to be each of the characters and quickly jot down their journal entries. I'll think about how that person/alien is feeling. Try to get right inside their heads (or whatever some aliens have). See if a story outline suggests itself. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter - by Trent Hergenrader

This tale about the daughter of a selkie made me cry. I loved the exquisite writing.

Why was I moved to tears? Because Trent Hergenrader made me feel the huge gap left by the mother's absence. I felt the daughter's sadness and need for love, her isolation. 

On the first reading I thought the ending showed the girl left stranded between 2 worlds. But on the second reading I'm not so sure. The last sentence - In my hand, the shimmering auburn coat felt warm and dry. Maybe this means she chooses her mother's world?

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter:

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Writing and yoga - and small daily steps

Well.  SOME progress.

I've gone back to free writing. I'm just enjoying writing out small scenes and not worrying too much about where I'm going plot wise. Trying to tap more into sensory detail and capture images or bits of dialogue. 

There are 2 routines I want to establish. Daily yoga practice. And daily writing practice.

When I do a yoga stretch, I accept that my body is weak and stiff. I know I'm on a giant learning curve. I understand that I won't be able to stretch all the way into a pose. That I'll be wobbly and unbalanced. But I know if I just keep gently stretching, keep working at it, always pushing out, there'll be improvements. 

I'm kind to myself when it comes to learning yoga.

But I'm hard and impatient when it comes to writing. I know that most of the work is in the revision. I know that a finished draft is only the first step in the process. That it's insane to expect flowing writing that is tight and clear in the first scribble. And I know that most ideas won't result in a finished story line.

So maybe when I write I should think of the writing as a series of yoga asanas. I need to remember I'm only a student and just keep stretching.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Why am I so stupid ?

I've come to a total STOP with the writing. I haven't even been doing free writing, which is crazy. How hard can it be to sit there and happily scribble away for 20 minutes? You know, "Free Writing' where the goal is to just fill a page with any dreck you want. 

I start reading novels but don't finish them. Maybe I miss the tightness and vividness I've found in the short form? Or am I just getting more critical, more demanding when it comes to novels? 

I've only been doing critiques. Because crits draw on logic and analysis. And my problem is that I can't tap into the weird and fantastic. Or rather I can't find the creative links between all the stuff in my head - scenes, ideas, characters, themes, images. 

This morning I was reading some-one's critique about a character in a story. And I suddenly got an insight into why I've stayed blocked on the 'Enlightenment' story. The MC is in denial that her boyfriend doesn't love her. And BF is in denial that his obsession with meditation is really a way to avoid emotional conflict. I couldn't find the words these 2 people will say to each other. I only had one scene - in an ashram. I've had all these fragments and endless 'maybes' I keep throwing away.

But this morning I realised that my MC is boring. She just watches him, desperately wishing the relationship will go back to the way it was. She's just waiting for the joy and romance to come back. I couldn't work out what she's DOING while she's waiting. What are the interactions and dialogue that happens between these 2 characters? My MC felt boring, so I felt bored and stuck in the writing.

But what if the MC isn't a sad introvert who pines away in silence? What if she's extroverted and even a bit bossy. How about flipping it around so that she's the more dominant personality? Now that I see the BF as the wishy washy and ineffective character it feels right. Well yeah . . . if the focus is on the woman, maybe it should have been obvious that she needs to be the one DOING stuff. Whereas a BF who wants to meditate all day works ok as the passive one who just waits for stuff to happen. DUH. 

My stupidity, my inability to get out of a thinking rut, still amazes me.

All this time I was thinking that the story would finish with the woman having an insight and realising that he doesn't love her. 

Now I'm thinking the story could end with them staying stuck. She doesn't understand why he can't see that the guru is clearly a fake. But she can't see their relationship is fake - while it's obvious to the reader.

This feels a lot more like a humorous piece now. The new problem is how to make the woman a sympathetic character. I don't want a shrill control freak. 

So - the goal for today - write out what these 2 characters each need and how their conflicted needs could be shown in the way they interact.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The importance of moving

I wanted to write out the rescue scene last night for my alien 'Dragon' story. But I still can't see how the alien creature is going to be rescued. 

I had this idea that one of the creatures is snared in some growth. A man and his daughter frees the animal by cutting off one of its horns. It turns out the horn is of great value and the man is able to avoid starvation by selling it.

But the 'horn' aspect won't work. It's too obvious. The creature (scary and dangerous) has something very valuable, but it mustn't be obvious to the reader how the father and daughter are going to benefit from their kind act. 

Then there's the usual problem of Back Story. How to include it in a natural and interesting way. So many writing problems that kept rising up the more I tried to piece things together in my head. 

This morning I enjoyed reading a story written in first person POV on Strangehorizons. I realised that the back story was all there in the MC's thoughts. It hadn't occurred to me until now, that when someone is thinking about their past and having an emotional response, they're automatically giving the reader back story and dry facts. Back story that's vivid and interesting because it's being filtered through a character's emotions.

It's amazing how long it takes me to see the obvious when it comes to writing. I'm sure I'm not this slow in other areas.  

Then I went for a walk. Did some house cleaning. Not thinking at all about writing. Out of the blue, while I was scrubbing the bathroom sink I decided to write the story in first person POV. From the daughter's POV. I'd been thinking the story would be in 3rd person and the child would ask her father questions. The back story would be there is his answers.

But the father rescues the scary creature because his daughter begs him to. Maybe the story's MC is the daughter, not the father. OK. So the back story could be there in the daughter's thoughts and emotions.

And another solution. The alien master race that once used the flying creatures - the reason why they kept herds of these creatures? They ate them. Simple. But this works for me. Maybe they cut off their wings so the creatures couldn't escape. And now the creatures are growing and adapting - and so are the humans.

So I went from feeling totally stuck to feeling that maybe I can still do this. I've seen writing advice before about going for a walk when you're stuck. But I need to remember - the brain REALLY DOES tap into stuff better when you move around. 

The human body, including the brain, wasn't designed to stay still for more than 20 minutes. 

Types of past tense - post on Anne R. Allen's Blog:

Clear simple explanation - though I'll NEVER understand all the rules of grammar back to front.

Anne R. Allen's Blog: Should You Eliminate "Was" From Your Writing? Why Sometimes "the Rules" are Wrong.:

'via Blog this'

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Best literary sex scenes: writers' favourites | Books | The Guardian

I realised something after I read a post by Edmund White in The Guardian. In literature, well written sex combines the sublime with the grossly physical.

People are conflicted about sex. There's this basic hormonal drive - but also a desire for it to be something more. People fantasize about having sex that's a 'religious' experience. They want sex to transcend the boring, the ordinary.

Erotica doesn't work if it leans too far into poetry - the writing can lack passion and raw energy. The reader can become detached. Same problem if it's just the usual 'docking procedure' you can find in any porn book. 

Something else I've realised. Pornography is just about the sex act. Erotica is mainly about fetishism. The sex act is still there, inside the erotica, but the sex is also transferred onto objects - onto what's going on outside the sex act.

Edmund White

I think the sexiest passages are those about Luc in Alan Hollinghurst'sThe Folding Star. The 33-year-old Edward Manners leaves England for Belgium and a job as the tutor to the 17-year-old Luc. After mooning over the boy for months, astonishingly he falls into Edward's arms. As he sleeps after sex Edward studies his handsome face: "While he slept I kept watch over him - a smooth shoulder, the little pool of his clavicle, his neck, his extraordinary face, his hair muddled and pushed back." This is the romantic postlude. The sex act itself is much more strenuous: "I was up on the chair, fucking him like a squaddy doing push-ups, ten, twenty, fifty ... His chest, his face, were smeared with sweat but it was mine: the water poured off me like a boxer, my soaked hair fell forward and stung my eyes." This sex-writing is convincing because it mixes the sublime with the carnal, the grossly physical with the spiritual – and all of it experienced as a shock, the longed-for consummation that one can't believe is really happening.

Best literary sex scenes: writers' favourites | Books | The Guardian:

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Start with character - not the plot

My favorite prompt is making a bullet list of all my characters’ likes and dislikes. I was a little apprehensive of wasting good writing time, but when I suddenly knew how, my character reacted to anything he encountered; it became one of my pre-writing commandments.

Cathy Colborn - - 10/7/12

When I started out trying to write, I came across some good advice for beginner writers. When you want to create a story, DON'T think about possible scenes or events -  the action, the plot. Start off by focusing totally on character. Build a character and story ideas, the events will begin to flow out.

But for some reason, even though I saw the truth of that advice, I've been going round and round in circles trying to string bits of action together. 

WHY ? It hasn't been working for me. 

So - this weeks prompt in the writing group is a story about some-one needing an allowance. I had the idea of a henchman /minion timidly asking his evil overlord for a small allowance.  But as usual, got stuck on WHAT HAPPENS. So tonight I'll make a list of this character's likes and dislikes - and see if that gives me an idea for a story.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Flash—"Dedication" by Stephen Graham Jones—April 30, 2012

I read this piece during lunch today and it blew me away.  An example of a 'simple' outpour of emotion that builds up into something powerful and moving.

Interestingly, I didn't have any problem with the lack of paragraph breaks, with the density of the writing. I loved the way I was carried along in a rush of emotion. 

The last two sentences are perfect.

I'm going to experiment using this kind of emotional outpour as a way of finding the elements for a story.  Not stopping for paragraph breaks, just letting stuff pour out in one rush should help me turn off the inner editor when drafting something up. 

SmokeLong Weekly—"Dedication" by Stephen Graham Jones—April 30, 2012:

'via Blog this'

Sunday, April 1, 2012

From little things big things grow

Stories can spring from the tiniest seeds.

I found a Flash that grew out of a writer's response to a scene in a James Bond movie - 'Thunderball'

A writer was so touched by this character she went on to write a flash about him. Ode to the Double Crossed Lackey in Thunderball

A pilot working for the bad guys makes a delivery in a sea plane. His welcoming party slash his breathing pipe and leave him to drown.

His death is cruel and terrible. You watch the poor bastard yank desperately on his harness, then reach out to the swimmers near him, begging for help. But they  ignore him and keep going about their job. Totally unfazed about the fact a man is drowning right next to them. 

When I read this flash I was taken back to the moment years ago when I watched this scene on the big screen. 

The writer mined her feelings and wrote out some of the questions and feelings that came up for her.  And the Flash is basically just that - the writer's response to a character in a movie scene. 

For me, the best part of the flash story is the memory of the pilot as a child, happy with his sister. It's the knowledge about his sister that gives real pathos to his death scene in the film. 

I love the idea of one small moment that grows into a story. We have such powerful responses to the world around us. But most of the time we don't sit still and go deep into it. Especially the painful stuff.

This is why writing can be great therapy. Because writing forces you to try and understand. You have to keep drilling into stuff.

One of my great weaknesses is that I don't sit long enough with a writing idea. I need to be patient, keep asking questions, keep sifting, keep mining below for the good stuff.

Next time I have a powerful response to a small moment in a movie, a book - a real life stranger, I'll start writing out the questions that come into my head.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Can't write a complete story ? Start with prompts

I've just joined the Internet Writing Workshop.

I'm impressed by the professionalism of this online group.

The IWW Practice List involves submitting 400 words in response to a weekly prompt. I can't write whole stories yet, but maybe I can complete 400 word exercises.

And I've submitted twice! Just one baby step. But it's a start.

Responding to a prompt with 400 words, completing an 'exercise', isn't as terrifying as sitting down to Write A Story. Seems I'm more inspired by an idea that isn't mine - is that because someone else's idea is more exotic somehow?  Does it get you out of a mental rut?

The two pieces I produced came out of early writing attempts. I tried again to find my way into a tooth fairy story. The theme that keeps coming up is man's pollution of nature. But I still have no idea about the characters to hang the story on. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lesson about writing from the heart

Did one of the fortnightly exercises posted in Critique Circle. The prompt was to write a story located in a forest. And to include a centaur, a whale, cheese and a chestnut. 

I was attracted by the difficulty of the exercise.

At first I had a vague idea about a centaur in an ancient forest. But WHO was the centaur and what was the story about? Started thinking this over, going around in a bored half-hearted way. But I still wanted to meet the challenge.

Then I wondered how a centaur would cope with the modern world. And I felt a shift, a feeling that something had clicked into place. 

Googled 'whale' and got pictures of killer whales. The images reminded me of a joke card I'd seen ages ago - a Killer whale mid air and biting off a man's arm. The caption read 'Sally the Killer Whale couldn't stand the humiliation any more'. Then I made a link from there to the theme of Man against Nature. And eventually I ground out 400 words. 

I actually finished a writing exercise. And I can do it again. Yes?

If I'm going to stay on the treadmill and put in 10,000 hours of practice, if I'm going to get to a point where I can FINISH storylines I'll need to tap more deeply into the joy, into the sub-conscious, into the weird and wonderful. I need to let go more.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

NO Progress

Have to confess I'm still a Big Fat Procrastinator.  

NO writing done this week-end, and I haven't been getting in 15 minutes of free writing in the mornings AT ALL. I should be taking advantage of the long summer days.  I'm blazing with the energy (if not the will) to write. When winter swings back, I'll be shambling around like a tired old bear again.

At least I'm coughing up a few blog posts. And I doing a critique every week. God I'm pathetic.

This week-end I'm going to try to find the right actions/scene for the Enlightenment story. I'll start out by free writing like crazy and see if my subconscious can throw me a couple of crumbs. 

If I can keep this pace up, my first shitty novel draft should be finished when I'm 82.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Resolutions for 2012

Continue with 3 blog sites -

Hanafrank blog - to collect bits of writing gold for future reference. To record writing progress or experiments. Eventually I'll spend time interacting with other writing blogs. 

Story draft blog - to collect info for research and spew out story drafts. 

Secret Diary blog - mainly for personal therapy, for free writing. To collect memories or any material that might go into the story draft site. In this site I write easily and with abandon. Hopefully over time this relaxed voice will be reflected more and more in the hanafrank blog. In the secret Diary blog for example, I don't use words like 'abandon' or 'reflected'.

Spend less time watching TV - which won't be hard because I'm becoming less and less interested in TV.  If you spend a lot of time analysing story structure, the weaknesses in TV movies becomes more and more obvious. I find it hard to watch entire TV movies now.

Have to set writing goals - Have to commit to finishing a story no matter how crappy and stupid and boring the finished result is. So. Write a short story each month. Just FINISH it. Doesn't have to be sent out into the public arena. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Just bloody FINISH one story each month so the right side of my brain can build the necessary writing muscles. The more I practice at making the connections in a story, the faster I'll be able to solve problems and get unblocked. One day I might be able to draft 2,000 words a day.

This year focus on deconstructing published fiction as the best way to learn the writing craft. 

Minimum writing goal for 2012 - 

15 minutes of free writing EVERY DAY, even if it's just the diary site.

One shitty but COMPLETE story outline every month. 

Plagiarise an existing novel and make changes. See if it morphs into something original. Study the original and learn more about the craft as I go.

Start collecting words, phrases, pictures - and put into a 'prompt' box. 

Enlightenment story

Came back to the enlightenment story again. 

I have this intent to write about the similarity between fake gurus and fake love. An idea that gurus who preach selflessness, compassion, loss of ego etc, are often selfish and inflated with a sense of their own importance. But their devotees choose not to see the guru in front of them. The same way people in love choose not see that they aren't loved back. Most of us want to stay in the dream, we want the romance to continue.

So the picture in my head (a scene from real life) is of 2 people inside an ashram about to receive shaktipat from a famous swami. And I just sit there blocked. I can't work out how to reveal the boyfriend and the swami are both phonies. I see now that it's boring being stuck inside the POV of a sad girlfriend for most of the story. I need action in some form. But how to set things in motion ? How to show the MC waking up and seeing reality ?

I was also struggling with bringing E to life. Then the idea came, out of no-where, to base the boyfriend on W instead, and I felt something click.

I'm still making the mistake of not letting go early enough when I get stuck. I just stay trapped by the same scene, the same line of dialogue, the same POV, just asking myself over and over, why isn't this working? I need to let go earlier, experiment more. Remind myself I'm just writing words that no-one will see until I'm ready to show them.

I so GET it now. The need to let go and kill your darlings.

AND - Real life can be great inspiration, but doesn't transfer directly into fiction. 

Sometimes you also need to raise the stakes to make a good story. In real life I gave E $200 for an intensive workshop with Baba Muktananda. In the fiction, maybe the MC will give her boyfriend money for the cost of a trip to India. Maybe he's been living off her for several years. Maybe I could change the location from a small ashram in Melbourne to a famous ashram in India. 

So, in a nut shell -

MC adores W who is seeking enlightenment. MC's desire is to feel settled and safe with the perfect lover. She ignores a feeling that something is wrong, ignores the fact that W is increasingly distant and cold. W's biggest motive is to learn to transcend his emotions and become enlightened - to reach a state of bliss, a state of perfection through his Indian swami. There is a precise moment when MC realises the swami is fake and this also opens her eyes to the fact that she doesn't have a real relationship with W.

But how to SHOW this ? How is reality exposed to the MC through a fake guru?