Saturday, December 31, 2011

Creating Goals For Your Blog

The week has given me quite a lot to celebrate. Christmas. New books. New clothes. Tomorrow is New Year's Day. And now, I present my 50th post! What a milestone!

When I started blogging in February this year, I really had no idea what I was doing. Someone just told me I should start a blog, so I did - what could possibly go wrong? But I had no idea what I wanted to achieve, or whom I wanted my audience to be, or what it was I wanted my blog to be. I had no goals.

However, the new year is almost upon us, I've reached a milestone post, and I feel I've been goal-less for quite long enough! So, here's how I've gone about creating goals for Writing Fire for 2012, and here's my advice on doing the same for your own blog:
  • Brainstorm. Get a blank piece of paper and write in the middle, "Words that I want to describe my blog." Then, around the outside, write just that - things you want your blog to be. These words could be very different to each other (quirky but professional, for example). Doesn't matter. Write them down.
  • Expand. Encompassing the words you put down in your brainstorm, now write a few paragraphs on what you would like your blog to be. This is an expansion of your brainstorm; for example, I expanded on the word consistent by writing, "I want my posts to be consistent in terms of length, content, and also when I post, so that my followers know what to expect from me; yet varied so that my posts do not become boring." Notice that this doesn't specify what I will blog about, or when, or how long posts will be - that comes later, this is just the base.
  • Distill. By expanding on your brainstorm, you developed all the basic ideas. Now, with everything in mind, condense your number of paragraphs down into one sentence (and don't cheat by using semicolons). This is your mission statement. This is what your blog is about. It will be reflected in every post, even in your layout. You'll find it will probably be adjective-heavy, containing many of the words in your brainstorm. For example: "Jumping Elephants exists as a social site for zoo-keepers that provides quirky and interesting articles on animals and zoos." This statement will be reflected in every post you write.
  • Specify. Now you go into detail. Pull out every adjective in your statement and determine how exactly you are going to create this effect. I asked, "How exactly will I make my blog unique?" Voice, obviously. But also things like posting vlogs or interviews or live posts. "How exactly will I make my posts more consistent?" A blogging schedule. On Monday, post about this; Wednesday, this; Friday, this. Possibly a limit of 700 words per post. You get the idea. Do this for each adjective.
And you're done! Brainstorm, expand, distill, specify. BEDS. The idea now is to use your specifics (these are your basic goals) to develop your blog so that it fits your mission statement completely (which is your ultimate goal). I've already started towards my ultimate goal by redesigning Writing Fire and adding a sweet banner - isn't it awesome?

Anyway, good luck for 2012 and achieving your goals. Who's ready for the best year yet?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

On Backstory

Back in November, I came across a short film on youtube that revolved around an aspiring writer's experience of day one of NaNoWriMo (I tried desperately to find it again so I could embed it in this post, but to no avail).

At first, it depicted a woman sitting at her desk with her computer and her coffee, wondering what she could possibly write 50,000 words about. Then, with a basic idea in her head, she began to write. As she did, the camera delved inside the story, with actors acting out the writer's writing. This was an amusing way of doing it, especially when the one character's personality completely changed two or three times, showing that the writer couldn't decide whether this character was going to be the good guy or the bad guy.

However, the best part of the short film was when one character interrupted the MC, who was discussing what the plan was for the immediate future. "You can't do that," he said to her. "Don't you know that when I was a boy--"

"No, no," interrupted another, very casually. "There's no time for backstory now - we have to help this young lady with her quest."

"But when I was a boy--!"

"No time for backstory!"

For some reason I found this incredibly funny. But it's also very true. At the start of a novel, any novel, your reader will care more about what's happening now than what happened in the past. The reader wants to be pulled into an exciting story, not listen to a history lesson - they simply aren't invested enough in your MC to care about what's happened to them in the past.

Imagine meeting someone new. At first, all you really want to do is get to know said person on the surface, find out how they act, whether they are nice enough to befriend. After you've got to know that person on the surface, once you care somewhat for them, then you talk about the past. Become more interested in who they are and what they've done and where they've been. Same principle here.

In The Maze Runner by James Dashner, the MC, Thomas, wakes up in a box with no memory of his past. This happens in sentence one, chapter one. There is ... no ... backstory. None. And that's why the book pulls you in so much - because Dashner puts all his effort into telling the story that is happening here and now, rather than one that happened ages ago. Because Thomas has no memory, the reader discovers things about the past with him, as he discovers them.

But what if your MC's actions are justified or explained by his past? What if backstory is essential to the story, and essential at the beginning? In my WIP, my MC, Zeth, is like Thomas: he also lost his memory. But this is backstory - it happened six years before chapter one. It is also the driving force behind many of Zeth's decisions at the start of the book, so the reader has to know it. What do I do?

These are my thoughts:

  • If it's crucial, then reveal it. But only if it's crucial. Don't reveal things that the reader doesn't have to know, things that the story will make sense without.
  • Don't info-dump. When I first wrote the scene in which Zeth revealed his memory loss, I had him stand up in front of an entire room full of people, most of whom he wasn't very acquainted with, and deliver his entire life story. Big mistake. People don't usually talk about the past, especially to people they don't know, and especially if their past hurt them. Reveal the crucial details in a realistic manner.
  • Don't waste it. Don't reveal backstory simply for the sake of revealing it. Of course, that's important, but try and use it for something else, too. If it comes out in the form of dialogue, don't waste that dialogue; instead use it to build an effective conversation scene that affects the plot at this moment, that builds tension or deepens character relationships.
So, these are my ideas on revealing backstory early on in a manuscript. Do you agree? Disagree? Have anything to add? Tell me in the comments.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Character: It's All A Matter Of Perception

At this time of the year, the sun goes down late and rises early. Throughout the course of the day, only a few clouds are in the sky. The temperature is pretty warm, and there's a light breeze, and the birds are singing. It feels like summer. Overall, it feels like Christmas.

Some of my blog readers come from New Zealand and Australia - and these people are probably nodding their heads right now. Many of my blog readers, however, come from elsewhere in the world, specifically the U.S. and Canada - and these people are probably confused right now.

Because for those of you who live in the Northern Hemisphere, these things don't describe Christmas at all. In the Northern Hemisphere, Christmas is in winter, involves only a short break, cold temperatures and short days. But having grown up in the Southern Hemisphere, when I think summer, I think Christmas - and vice versa.
Allow me to change the subject momentarily. I promise, it relates. I recently read the following in Story by Robert McKee (read this book! - it's fantastic):

"Your characters, indeed all characters, in the pursuit of any desire, at any moment in story, will always take the minimum, conservative action from his point of view. All human beings always do. Humanity is fundamentally conservative, as indeed is all of nature. No organism ever expends more energy than necessary, risks anything it doesn't have to, or takes any action unless it must. Why should it? If a task can be done in an easy way without risk of loss or pain, or the expenditure of energy, why would any creature do the more difficult, dangerous, or enervating thing?"

At first, this might seem untrue. My Dad asked me why, if McKee's words are true, I try hard at school. Why don't I just go for the bare minimum, rather than putting a good amount of effort into my work? The answer to this question lies in the words, "from his point of view". McKee explains:

"In life we often see people, even animals, acting with extreme behavior that seems unnecessary, if not stupid. But this is our objective view of their situation. Subjectively, from within the experience of the creature, this apparently intemperate action was minimal, conservative and necessary. What's thought 'conservative,' after all, is always relative to point of view."

My efforts at school are conservative relative to my desires and my previous experience. For example, I put in sometimes great amounts of time and effort because I feel that this action will be necessary to secure me the high grade I want. Conservative, based on my desire. I also know that if I don't put in the effort, I could fail. Yet, in subjects I don't find interesting, in which I have a much easier (self-imposed) goal, conservative action means doing enough to get the pass grade. Anything more than that would be a bonus.

So, just like how I perceive Christmas differently from those of you who live in the Northern Hemisphere due to my upbringing and experiences, your characters will view what is conservative differently, based on their upbringings, experiences, and desires. And therefore, the same situation would entail two different (but minimalist) reactions from two different characters.

And this is the first thing to remember while considering what actions your characters will take.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...