Monday, June 27, 2011

Loving the Language Blogfest!

Today is 27 June, which means it's time for Loving the Language Blogfest! I've been itching to write this all day, so without any further ado, here is some of the most amazing literature I have ever read - from The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien:
Denethor looked indeed much more like a great wizard than Gandalf did, more kingly, beautiful, and powerful; and older. Yet by a sense other than sight Pippin perceived that Gandalf had the greater power and the deeper wisdom, and a majesty that was veiled. And he was older, far older.
Pause. Let it sink in. With something that profound, I can really only let the words speak for themselves. So, now something from my writing:
He wakes as if he is waking from a dream. He hangs, motionless, timeless, in a world of grey, in a world of nothing. Suspended in the air, he blinks twice. Then, like the floodgates somewhere have opened, he falls to solid ground.
Struggling to his feet, he stretches, and when he looks down, realises that he is standing on nothing. He looks up, then down again, and then to the side in every direction, but can see nothing but emptiness.
Where is he? I guess that what I love about this piece - and about this scene in general. It's ambiguous. It transports the reader to a foreign world where they know nothing, where they have to try and work out what it happening.

Well, that's me, participating in my first blogfest! Catch you all later!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

JuNoWriMo, Awards, and Nine Million Other Things

Why nine million? Because I read once that nine is a mystical number. Cool, huh?

Anyway. I haven't ever mentioned it, but at the start of this month, I signed up for JuNoWriMo (June Novel Writing Month) on Shallee McArthur's blog (go and check it out, by the way - I love her posts, and maybe you will too). A spin-off of NaNoWriMo, this event was not designed to require 50 000 words by midnight of the last day. Instead, participants simply had to choose a writing goal. One writing goal. Simple, complex - it didn't matter. You choose. It might have been writing 5 000 words per day. It might have been writing 5 words per day.

In my case, it was to finally finish the plot outline for the first novel of my trilogy by the end of June.

On June 20, I realised how far behind I was. And I made a solid determination that I would work hard and complete what I had started, and grasp hold of what I had aimed for. But then, of course, the day after: my drama teacher tells me he would like my portfolio the next day (why wasn't I warned about this?), I remember about that short story for English, I realise that I have youth group after school for two days in a row, I arrange an important meeting concerning the kids program at church (which I help run) - and suddenly half my week had flown out the window.

However, in saying this, there is this amazing thing called night. Heard of it? It's a time when you don't have school, your homework is done, you don't have meetings; and youth group doesn't usually overlap into it for very long. And also, the sky is black, which makes the whole environment magical, and if you pick up pen and paper during night, then you are sucked into the world you are writing of utterly.

And that's what's been happening to me. Moral of the story: don't find time, make time.

I'll give you an update on JuNoWriMo at the end of the month, but for now, on to other things.

I loooooooong time ago, I received this award from David Powers King, which I was meant to pass on to others. But I didn't. So I'm doing it now! I would like to award the following people with The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award:

Laura Josephsen
Jackson Porter
J.M. Tohline
Paul Joseph
Shallee McArthur

Seriously, go and check out the blogs of all these people. They're so awesome. If you didn't recieve this award, then here, you can have this one instead, which I got from Laura Josephsen:

In addition to this, tell me in the comments why you think you deserve "The Irresistibly Sweet Blog Award" and I might give it to you too.

Next thing! Blogfests. I've entered myself in two blogfests that are coming up:

Teen Writers Summer Blogfest
Loving the Language Blogfest

Loving the Language is on Monday, where I'm going to be posting my favourite lines out of every book I've ever read. Can't wait.

Anyway, I've only got one more thing to say (if you haven't noticed, this is a very miscellaneous post): you might have noticed that the page of my blog titled, "Ashed", has now become, "Ashed & Other Works". Which means that I'm going to be posting more short stories and poems on my blog for you to read.

So, that is all. I wish you all a great day/night. And remember to comment with why you deserve the award I dished out, if you didn't get it. Have a good one, guys. See you on Monday.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Two Choices, One Solution

It seems as though I've fallen into an accidental series. I began with Four Words, Endless Possibilities, an inspiring post about the very beginning of any story. Then was Three Words, One Feeling, which concerned the very end of many stories and humanity's yearning for happiness.

And today, the series continues with a story of something that happened to me, and how it relates to storytelling.

My life turned upside-down on 22 February, at the start of this year. Most of you will already know about my city's battle with earthquakes over the last year from my previous post, or maybe from this one, which I published directly after the earthquake in February. But on that day, my city was thrust into disaster, and I was thrust into making one of the biggest decisions of my life.

After the quake, I had the rare opportunity to switch schools. Things had already changed so much - why not take that extra step and change them a bit more? I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leave the state boys' school I am currently attending in order to pursue a new life a a semi-private, co-education, Christian school on the other side of the city, where I knew a total of no-one.

And it became a real dilemma for me for quite a few weeks, because, the truth is, I was not scared of not knowing anyone. In actual fact, I was excited by it. It was one of the most appealing things about the school (apart from there being girls there), because it meant that I could reinvent myself. No-one at that school had any preconceptions of me, so I could have been anyone I wanted to be and no-one would have questioned it. I could have entirely started over, wiped the slate clean.

But I didn't.

Why not? If I was not a storyteller, the extent of my answer would simply be that the loyalty I felt towards my current school outweighed the desire I had to go to a new one. And that's valid. However, I am a storyteller, and when I looked at this question from a storyteller's point of view, I discovered another simple, but very true answer: nothing forced me to leave.

Nothing forced me to leave.

In writing, the dilemma I experienced is often referred to as the "call to adventure". It occurs in Act One of a story (see below), and most of the time, although a character may struggle with it, the call to adventure is ignored. Only when something happens to force the character into this strange new world (represented by the first red dot on the diagram below) is the "call to adventure" accepted. The character enters a new world (Act Two), because they had no other choice.

James Scott Bell writes in his book, "Plot & Structure", "We are creatures of habit; we search for security. Our characters are the same. So unless there is something to push the Lead into Act II, he will be quite content to stay in Act I!"

It makes sense, too. That's why I didn't change schools after the earthquake. Although I didn't realise it at the time, I was content where I was, and I had no huge reason to change - which is exactly what characters need.

And you have to give them that.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Earthquake: Part 3

I can't believe it. I really can't.

Due to the 22 February earthquake earlier this year, my school is wrecked - and because of that, I now go to school in the afternoon (from 1PM - 6PM) at another campus. The host school uses their campus in the morning.

But that's not what I can't believe. I've been in this routine since 15 March, and I'm really quite used to it now.

What I can't believe is this: even though my city, Christchurch, has been crippled by the earthquake on 4 September last year, and then again in February this year, Mother Nature has decided to cripple us again. Meet the 6.3 magnitude quake, 13 June 2011.

I woke up on that day unsuspecting. I can't remember what I did in the morning, but I left for school sometime after midday. There was an aftershock while I was on my way - a big one too. So when I got to school I had to go straight to the field, the emergency assembly point.

But soon we were back in class, and everything was back to normal. Just kidding. Half an hour later there was a huge earthquake. It measured 6.3 on the Richter Scale, and felt incredibly violent.

For those of you who have never experienced what it feels like to be in a major earthquake, this is quite possibly the best way I can describe it: when the ground moves like that, you suddenly feel helpless, and you realise that there is a wild and uncontrollable force at work - and it is a lot bigger than you are. The ground can either jolt or roll, but it's terrifying either way. And when it lasts for more than twenty seconds, it feels like an eternity. If it's only small, you fear whether it will build up to be huge or not.

It's hard to explain.

But anyway. I need to go, so I'll leave you with this: I think the biggest thing on peoples' minds now I think is that no-one knows when this is going to stop. After September, we thought it was over. After February, we thought it was over. After June ... well ... is it really?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Three Words, One Feeling

Three words. Three magical words.

This post is obviously the inverse of my previous one, Four Words, Endless Possibilities. How do you end a matrix of dreams? After you've picked up the pencil, filled in those lines, after you've connected ideas in ways never done before, and after you've found those worlds, those unknown chains of events those strange rituals and mysterious people - what then? How do you wrap up such a story?

The greatest endings leave us with a feeling of resonance. Like the last notes in a symphony, they make us sigh and think, That was truly amazing. The greatest endings give us a sense of peace and satisfaction. And although some satisfying endings can be tragic, often times they end with the magical three words above, because happy endings tend to give us the most satisfaction. Sometimes happy endings can be disguised: the hero might not have reached his goal, but he may have grown as a person enough to convince the reader that the sacrifice was worth it.

If you were to strip away the mechanics of writing, many of the greatest endings have these magical three words glowing beneath.

So, why do these three words satisfy us so much? The answer is simple: because as humans, we strive to be happy. I think that sometimes we underestimate happiness, and our deep connection to it, and our yearning for it. I saw this quote by Joy Green recently: "Happiness is, in fact, as profound an emotion as misery, and there's as much drama in baking a cake as in World War III if you can tell the story so that we can see how the process changes someone's life. I wish a few more beginning writers would try to capture that. So sick of death, suicide, tragedy. Dark is not necessarily equal to deep."

What does this quote say in essence? It says that humanity is linked with a passion for happiness, and that stories should reflect that. As my mum would say, humanity's yearning for happiness is a "truth message". It's something we all understand at the most basic level. It's hardwired into our systems.

So, take advantage of that. Pick up that pencil one more time and write an ending that satisfies, and ending that resonates. Fill in that last line. And do it with those magical three words.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Four Words, Endless Possibilities

I came across this image on the internet a few weeks ago, and I was immediately inspired.

Four magical words, several blank lines and a pencil.

The reason these four words are magical is that they have served as the beginning for every single story that has ever existed. Non-fiction, fiction, and stories that have not been written down or even thought of yet - all of them begin with these four words, whether it appears so or not. If you take any beginning of any story and strip away the fancy wording or the hooking intentions, these four words are glowing underneath.

And their glow does something amazing: it heralds a world of adventure, of fantasy and of dreams, of dynamic characters that we relate to, and of events that grip us, of themes and insights and love and life and hate - everything a great story is and has. These words set up a stage upon which anything can happen.

So, when I saw this image, I felt that I was being called - no, begged - to pick up that pencil and fill in those blank lines. I thought of everything that pencil could do, and all that those lines could hold, and all that those magical four words could be the precursors to. You think about it: if you were to pick up the pencil, what story would you write? How would you explore the world of endless possibilities?

And the possibilities truly are endless. Somerset Maugham once said, "All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary - it's just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences." How many words are in the dictionary? According to the Oxford Dictionary, between 250,000 and 750,000; and considering that a single word can be repeated thousands of times in a single novel, is it really worth trying to work out how many combination of words (of novel-length) there possibly are?

Christopher Booker wrote a work of non-fiction that reduced fiction to only seven plots - laid out seven sets of rules that fiction plots may follow. I remember coming across this when I was just starting out on my novel-writing journey, and how with time I deemed the idea to be a little off the mark. A plot cannot be described in one word. A plot cannot be paralleled with rules. Plot structure, yes. Theme, yes. Conflict, yes. But not entire plots. Plots are the way that themes and structures and conflicts and so many other elements are connected - that's why people write novels, not single words.

John Carey criticised Booker's volume, saying, "If there are only seven plots, you ought to be able to describe it in fewer than 700 pages. What's the point of reducing an infinite field?"

To be honest, I agree with him. The field is infinite. The possibilities are endless. And to think that they all stemmed from just four magical words.

So pick up the pencil. Fill in those lines. Write something that you can be proud of. Take chances. Connect ideas in ways that have never been done before. Find those worlds out there, those unknown chains of events, strange rituals and mysterious people. Use your imagination. Delve deep into that bottomless pit of ideas. Drink from the cup that never empties.

Here, I'll start you off:

Once upon a time ...
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