Inspiration

In dreamland, this is what every writer's desk looks like.

I was lucky enough to go to college at a place where best-selling authors not only taught, but came to visit.  That alone was enough to inspire me to try to work harder, because it proved that people from podunk towns in the middle of nowhere could become successful in writing.

Inspiration can come from anywhere.  Books, television, movies, comics, cartoons, anywhere.  I personally get it from all those places, and life.  Don’t shun your inspiration because it might come from a less than perfectly philisophical place.

Enjoying Badfic!

Romance novels are badfic given covers and a picture of Fabio.

I have recently had the joy of writing badfic for the fun of it.  For those of you who are not familiar, badfic is the term given to really poorly written fiction based on a previously existing work or character.  It is filled with clichés, bad dialogue and improbably events that center around the complete de-characterization of a character some other author worked long and hard on.

It can be enjoyable to write badfic though.  How often do you get to throw caution to the wind and make your heroine into either a carbon copy of yourself (because you’re absolutely certain that Riddick would totally change his murdering ways for you) or a complete paragon of womanhood that would put Martha Stewart to shame in the dominatrix of perfection category.  Speaking of which, how often do you get to write your main male character as your dream guy?

Actually, male badfic characters have a lot in common with really expensive vibrators.  Think about it.  They are always characterised as strong, hard bodied, able to run all night, and able to satisfy a woman every time.  I can’t think of any man who fits all those categories without rechargeable batteries being involved.

I love laughing at the clichés, how the hero will always fall immediately in love with the heroine, how she will save him from his own loneliness, how he will find her the sweetest woman alive, and not to mention how he is the greatest warrior around.

If you write badfic without knowing it, it can be sad.  But writing it for fun?  Putting in things like alabaster brows and hard muscled arms and certain a face like an angel or two, can make you laugh as hard as a cleverly written joke.  Take the time, write your own badfic, or enjoy someone else’s.

OMG! Cookies!

My secret weapon against the husband-person!

 

I was overwhelmed last night with the urge to make cookies.  But only while writing.  The moment I set aside my especially bloody chapter though, the urge was gone.  No cookies, no chocolate-y chip-y goodness coming my way.  What is it about violence that makes me want to bake? 

I can only wager a guess, as my degree is in English and not in psychology or one of a dozen other -ologies that would give me any insight into the frightening place that is my mind.   Perhaps it is my response to violence, to try and make something comforting.  Maybe I am reacting to the violence I create by feeling the need to also create something gentle, harmless, and joy-inducing. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I loves me some violence.  I can’t stop laughing during those movies like Jason X or Friday the 13th Part MXVIII-2, where they just keep killing people in ridiculous ways.  My favorite part of Eastern Promises is the scene where Viggo Mortenson’s character is grappling nekkid with those two Chechen guys (and it has nothing to do with him being nekkid, I swear!).  I find something in baking cookies that centers me, just as much or more as violence in my writing centers me.  I have control over it, over the characters, over the violence, over the cookies.  I can make those cookies crispy or puffy, chewy or flat, and I can control that violence and make it blatant and blood spattering or subtle and leave it to the imagination of the reader. 

Baking cookies may not be a lot like killing demons with angel-forged swords, but in the end, perhaps it has the same purpose.  Defend the honor of innocence, destroy the demons (inner or otherwise) and create a new world, one where fewer demons and more cookies exist.

Melts in Your Mouth

These are crack to some people. Delicious crack.

I learned last night that M&Ms are made up of 25% blue candies, 25% orange candies, 12.5% brown candies, and a mixture of the rest of the colors.  I had no idea it was that simple and yet that scientific.  It reminded me of writing, and how formulaic and yet unique it can be.

Using a percentage can be invaluable when you are writing.  Thinking about what is most important to get in there, what is less important, and what needs to be left out all together (I’m looking at you, weird pretzel piece M&Ms) can help you craft your story as easily as if you had already planned the entire thing out.

Cultivating your own ideas is excellent, but pouring out your elements in exact proportions can be invaluable to the idea of your story.  Adding in elements too thickly, such as too much sex, or too much exposition at the beginning of the book, is something that can ruin a story that has a very good start.  Balance is very important, and should always depend on what kind of story you are writing.

If you are writing a zombie horror epic, I think it would probably be best if the sexy bits were part of that “assortment of red, yellow, and green” that you get with your M&Ms.  While the horror should definitely be your 25% of blue, the zombies your 25% of orange, and smart writing should always be your 12.5% of brown.

No writing is going to be as formulaic as this.  If it is, you’re doing something wrong.  But thinking about the M&Ms percentage mix can truly help you decide what is most important, what is least important, and what should probably be left out of your world-roving zombie horror epic. 

I’ll give you a hint.  It’s the sex.

Dream Sequences

Little do we know that he is dreaming of world domination...and fish.

Many authors have used dream sequences in fiction to do some exposition without blatantly telling the reader what happened in the past.  Nancy Collins has done this in one of the best sequences I have ever read, showing the tormented, innocent past of her vampire Sonja Blue without making her explain it to someone else.  In fact, we are left guessing whether she ever tells anyone out right what happened to make her a vampire, except for the demon that did it to her.

The dream sequence its self is a fantastic writing device, if a little trite.  True, nobody wants a huge hunk of exposition in the middle of a moving story, but sometimes, it needs to be there.  The problem with a dream sequence is balance.

A writer might be tempted to spill out every single secret a character has in the middle of the dream sequence for one simple reason.  Nobody but the reader will know.  None of the other characters will realize that the main protagonist has been through a lifetime of abuse or was brutalized, making them the person they are now.  Everyone but the reader is left in the dark, to have such surprises come on them when it is most dramatic.

But what does that leave for the reader?  What kind of attachment can one have to a character who holds no intrigue?  While the argument could be made that a reader is more attached to a character after learning all of his or her secrets, it takes the tension out of the story.  Who would know whether Sonja had the strength to stop Morgan or not at the end of Midnight Blue if they had not seen what he had done to her?

The balance of putting in a dream sequence will be different for everyone.  Whether it is simple flashes of a mediocre past, or a chapter-long look into the character’s psyche, it is a writing device that while slightly clichéd, is also easy to use, and can be done in hundreds of creative ways.

So is the power of dreams.

Cake By Any Other Hands

I could do this. With some time, money, strawberries, cake, and Duff Goldman.

I rarely purchase bakery cake.

There are two reasons for this.  One is because bakery cake gets expensive, and two is because I think I can make pretty good cake on my own.  I’ve been told that my cake is life altering.  This got me thinking this morning as I stood in line for the bakery cake I had ordered and paid through the nose for, about writing and how it can be a lot like ordering cake, or making it yourself.

First there is convenience.  Starting with ideas that other people have come up with is convenient as hell.  Fanfiction is a prime example of this.  You are allowed to take a world that already has rules and characters, and make it into something that pleases you with a minimum of fuss.  Sure, you are sacrificing artistic integrity, but is it any worse than paying $32.99 for  cake a shade of chartreuse that you could not manage in your own kitchen?  It is also handy to know that you can always go back to the source work, and siphon off just a little more if need be.

On the other side of the convenience coin is satisfaction.  Does it satisfy you to work within someone else’s world and rules, just like it satisfies you to bring in a beautiful cake to work, say on the last day of your department’s long-suffering temp (so sorry Ashley) and then have to admit you got it at a bakery?  The spice of satisfaction, the essence of being able to claim something as your own is gone.  Nobody will ooh and ahh over your confectionary skills, because in the end, you did nothing but pay for the damn thing.  The same thing, in concept, can be said about writing using someone else’s source-work.

Now, I can hear you all saying:  “But Monica, what about things you have enjoyed, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies“?  Okay, I admit I enjoyed it.  But I don’t have any respect for the author.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to remove the words peasants and townspeople and replace them with zombies, scourges, and the undead.  That’s what the fine and replace feature is for in Word.  The fact of the matter is, you can’t be as satisfied with such an endeavor.

Before I get any angry comments, I will admit, there is something satisfying about writing fanfiction or amalgams of a new idea and something already published.  You get to finish the story the way you would have preferred.  You no longer have to rely on your imaginary endings to make things go right.  And you get to see your favorite characters in adventures that the author may never have considered.  In the end, you could come up with something seriously clever and entertaining and even better, profitable.

But in the end, you have bakery cake.  You have someone else’s work with your name on it.  And that, my friends, smells like the stench of mediocrity that follows Lindsay Lohan around like a blind poodle.

Take some pride.  Write it yourself.  Bake your own cake.  And get the kudos you so desperately deserve.

These Boots Were Made For Walkin’

Walking in these shoes requires a bunion on the left first toe...

 

Sometimes, it just takes the right pair of shoes to get me into character.

I never feel as good in pretty flip flops as I do in a set of black leather boots complete with grommets and straps to pull them on with.  And as irreverent as it is, shoes are important for characters too.

Think of your most dainty, frilly character.  Now put him or her in a pair of steel-toed work boots and try to write him or her the same way.  The same goes for your toughest ass-kicking, name taking he-man of a she-woman.  Does it fit to have him or her in a pair of Buster Browns or Farragamo heels?  Even if for humor’s sake, I’m willing to bed that it makes those characters harder to write.

I wore my big black boots, certainly not my biggest pair, but big enough, to work today, and I felt like I could kick the ass of anyone in my way.  No, no; it has nothing to do with the endless frustration of working a menial desk job in an industry as cold and unfeeling as a speculum (life insurance).  Okay, maybe a little, but still, if I had been wearing flip flops, it would have never occurred to me to imagine what it would be like to kick the living shit out of the sycophantic little ass kisser in the customer service department.

Clothing and especially footwear can set the mood for your characters and your stories.  A moment of peril can be symbolized by torn clothing or missing shoes.  Great joy can come from beautiful costume frocks and slippers with roses as big as dahlias.  Black is the perpetual color of mourning and bad assery, while white is perfect for the innocent or the super evil.  Some authors fear about writing about clothing and shoes too much, but there is a happy medium out there.

I swear.  There is.

Three paragraphs for one person’s appearance?  Okay.

Three paragraphs for one person’s blue button up shirt?  Not okay.

Get the idea?

On the same topic, the clothing or shoes do not even have to be all that special.  One item of clothing might be acceptably unique, but wracking your brain to give every single person a special “look” is a task reserved for those who write crappy self-insert fanfiction and manga artists.  To me, a long black trench is trumped in sexiness any day by a simple black button down shirt and jeans.

Keep your uber special, ultra rare, made of a fiber only found in one country on the entire planet, non-replaceable coats and gowns of silver lace for the costume ball that I’m sure is in your story later on anyway, you closeted Labyrinth fan you.  Allow the umbra of plain clothing to envelope you in its cold, uncreative embrace.

And hear the world cheer in relief.

One of my characters wears biker boots, but only chapters after she was forced to run down streets in her stiletto heels.  Did it make for good fiction?  Yeah, but only because I wrote in how painful it was for her, and how her poor choice in shoes effected the outcome of what happened shortly afterwards, just as wearing uncomfortable shoes to work would keep you from being affective.  Keep it in mind, folks, that while your boots may be for walking, they might not be right for your character’s path.

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