Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In 2013, I Will

I guess it's that time again. Everyone's starting to reflect on the past year and look to the coming one.

It's hard for me to accurately say what 2012 was like. It contained some of the best experiences of my life: I spoke in front of 700 people, and I even made them laugh; I performed in a theatresports competition; and I made an entire short film with some mates in 48 hours. I also did many other things, which I loved: I began to create respectable videos; I took ice-skating lessons; I came further with my writing; I ate Thai food three days in a row with my youth leader and life mentor while we were away for a conference.

But, as whole, it seemed like a year in which my goal was simply to survive. Looking back at 2012 is like looking back at a photograph with low contrast and low saturation. There are some bright, vivid parts, but I only see those when I look at them closely.

Over the last week or so, I've been putting together this video of what my life will be like in 2013. And it really makes me believe that 2013 is going to be a high-saturation year.

What will you do in 2013?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What Actually Happens When I Write

The other night, I was supposed to be writing. This video happened instead.

New video coming soon!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Why Punctuation Really Does Matter

Last week I did a speech for school, and I figured that you'd all enjoy it. It's not quite the same in writing as it is being performed, but you get the idea!

*     *     *

Three intransitive verbs walk into a bar. They sit. They drink. They leave.
     A dangling modifier walks into a bar. After finishing a drink, the bartender asks it to leave.
     The bar was walked into by the passive voice.

By the lack of laughter ensuing these incredibly witty puns, it's obvious that they are difficult to understand. This is because they're heavily technical, involving jargon specific to a field that, I think, isn't explored nearly as much as it should be – and that field is grammar.
     Most people have the same view towards grammar: it’s useful, sure, and it has its benefits, but let’s not get pedantic, here. It may clarify meaning and structure our sentences, but who really cares where the apostrophe goes or whether to use a comma or not? Does it really matter?
     Why yes, yes it does.
     Let’s start with the comma. I can understand why we have such issues with the comma. At primary school, we’re taught to use commas when listing items and when we’d naturally take a breath in a sentence – and this is, unfortunately, rather inaccurate teaching. We’re not told that commas should be used to connect an independent clause to a dependent clause, and that it can’t connect two independent clauses – unless, of course, you throw a conjunction in there. We’re not told that it should be used to offset parenthetical elements, or to offset introductory elements like prepositional phrases and participle phrases.
     And you can see why.
     But as we get older and our capacity for big and confusing words grows, I believe we should learn at least the fundamentals of grammar and how sentences work, so that we can put an end to the awkward, costly, and sometimes even deadly misuse of commas.
     Consider this. On May 24, 2010, Stuart Springfield tweeted the following, badly punctuated sentence: “All those out there that like to cook and eat my wife just made a new blog at [URL].” Now, of course, he meant to write, “All those out there that like to cook and eat” - comma - “my wife just made a new blog at [URL].” But because he didn't include the comma, the meaning of the original tweet was that a bunch of cannibals, who take pleasure from eating his wife, just started a blog. What concerns me about this is that it appears that the eating process is on-going – not past, but present. And so I imagine a woman with only one arm and leg, having her limbs lopped off every now and then, and eaten over a progressive period of time.
     Yeah, punctuation is dangerous.
     But if that doesn't convince you to think about how you employ the comma in your sentences, take a look at another example of misuse. In 2006, Rogers Communication, which is Canada's largest cable TV provider, lost a total of $2,130,000 because of a misplaced comma in a contract. Forget losing limbs; that is an expensive comma.
     “Well, alright,” you say. “You've convinced me. But what about those other marks?”
     Oh, like the apostrophe? Well, I believe that apostrophes should be used correctly, if for no other reason, to keep people like me sane. I was walking through the mall the other day, and I almost had a mental breakdown because every store I came across was advertising “Father's Day” with an apostrophe between the r and the s. “Well, hey there, little multimillion-dollar stores; today we're going to talk about some year one grammar. Did you know that using an apostrophe between the r and the s in “Father's Day” implies that the day is in honour of only one father?” Really, the apostrophe should be at the end of the word, after the s, implying more than one father. Because, of course, there is more than one father in the world; and since I'm not related to anyone here, I think that's safe to say.
     But apart from my sanity, it's also your dignity that's on the line. We were taught, unlike with commas, how to use apostrophes correctly in primary school, and so there's really no excuse to see signs such as: “Please return the trolley's”, with an apostrophe s. “That apostrophe! It signifies possession! Return the trolley's what?”
     So, commas, apostrophes. But when you asked about “those other marks”, you were really meaning the obscure ones, weren't you? Like colons and semi-colons, hyphens and brackets. Okay, okay. Well, let me first give you a little backstory. A few hundred years ago, writers used these obscure marks at every possible chance they got; and they followed punctuation rules religiously. You only need to pick up a book like Moby Dick or Jane Eyre discover this.
     But then, one fine evening, in recent times, everyone went to bed, and in their dreams they completely forgot what punctuation was, what a colon, a semi-colon, a bracket was. The next morning, one ingenious man woke up, looked at his keyboard, and said, “That … that dot-dot thing … it looks like a pair of eyes! And the banana shaped one; it's a mouth! And if you join them together … oh my goodness, it's a face!” And thus smileys were invented.
     However, although they are not commonly used, these kind of “other” marks do have a very useful and specific function, outside of making up smileys. Brackets are used to offset parenthetical elements of sentence. Colons are used to initiate a list. Semi-colons are used to separate items in a list initiated by a colon, and join two independent clauses together into a single sentence (such as: I like cake; cake is good). Even hyphens – hyphens for goodness' sake – can be useful. Don't believe me? Well, if it's not “extra-marital sex” with a hyphen between “extra” and “marital”, then perhaps it's “extra marital sex” without the hyphen, which, as Lynne Truss points out in her book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, is a completely different bunch of coconuts.

So, what is the point of this speech? What am I trying to tell you?
     I'm trying to tell you that grammar and punctuation don't have to be boring, they don't have to be a chore; in fact, they can be really fun! And if you put in the effort to learn about them, you'll find that you become much more confident and clear in your writing, your speaking, and generally your communication of ideas. But most of all, you'll never ever … have to accidentally tweet about cannibals.
     Thank you.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cats, Zombies, and Re-Entry

I'm terrible at writing these sorts of posts. By these sorts, I mean the returning-after-a-long-and-unintended-hiatus sorts, the ones that I half-feel require a lengthy justification of my absence, while also the ones I feel that, if they included a long explanation, would be (let's be honest) unnecessary and a little bit boring.

And the longer I put of writing the Return of the Nick post, the more daunting it becomes - and so I put it off a little further. But no more! Here I am, conquering the mountain of procrastination and re-entering the blogosphere.

The truth is, I haven't really been gone for any particular reason (insert wild gasps of astonishment here), so I really want to make one up. And the truth is, having been gone for quite a while, I really miss you guys. I really do. Over the last year and a half I've met some of the most amazing people, and discovered that the internet is more than just a place to rofl at hilarious pictures of cats doing stupid things (although that's probably number two on the list of reasons for the internet's greatness).

I've genuinely loved getting to know so many of you (albeit not quite as many as as I would like), and, while this rather unexpected break was quite nice, I don't think I'm ready to sacrifice all those awesome blogging friends yet. Let's save that kind of stuff for a zombie apocalypse (mwuahahahaha).

I'm not exactly sure how Writing Fire is going to be run from now, but count on it: you haven't seen the last of me!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Wildcard: Awesome Terrible Analogies

The title says it all. These apparently came from the Washington Post, and are hilariously funny. Enjoy!
  • He was as tall as a 6′3″ tree.
  • The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  • The lamp just sat there, like an inanimate object.
  • The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
  • You know how in “Rocky” he prepares for the fight by punching sides of raw beef? Well, yesterday it was as cold as that meat locker he was in.
  • I felt a nameless dread. Well, there probably is a long German name for it, like Geschpooklichkeit or something, but I don’t speak German. Anyway, it’s a dread that nobody knows the name for, like those little square plastic gizmos that close your bread bags. I don’t know the name for those either.
  • Fishing is like waiting for something that does not happen very often.
  • It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall.
  • The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  • The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
  • He felt like he was being hunted down like a dog, in a place that hunts dogs, I suppose.
  • He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  • The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
  • She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  • Her eyes were like two brown circles with big black dots in the center.
  • He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame. Maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Wildcard: Bloodgeoning

Write. Shoot. Cut. Survive. This is the motto of New Zealand's V48 Hour Film Festival, which, several weekends ago, I was lucky enough to take part in. Participants have 48 hours, from 7PM on Friday to 7PM on Sunday to create a short film from scratch, after receiving a number of restriction to prevent pre-planning.

It was seriously the greatest experience in the world.

Notable events were getting a face full of red maple syrup (which actually served as fantastic blood), making far too many Blues Clues references, writing my first ever film script, as well the police showing up to the edge of a forest where we were filming at 3 o'clock in the morning. And, of course, not sleeping.

One of the first things I noticed about being tired from not sleeping was that everything was funny, even when it wasn't - and then some. We had some hilarious moments that didn't really make much sense. The other thing I noticed about not sleeping was that it completely blew my sense of time out of the water. One night, I went to bed at 3AM, got up at 6AM and then had crashed again by noon. And when I woke up at about 1PM, I had no idea why it wasn't dinner time yet.

Anyway, this is the film we made: a short horror called Bloodgeoning. Our restrictions were: horror; a leaf as a prop; an unlucky character named Nicky Brick; a line of dialogue, "I did that"; and at least two seconds of slow motion. Enjoy! Oh, and watch the bloopers too (which are the bottom one), because they're completely awesome!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Writing Advice: What Is A Protagonist? (Part 1)

And more importantly, how do you write a good one?

The first thing to note is that the protagonist of a story is not always the same as the viewpoint character, or even the main character. They can, of course, be the same character (like in The Hunger Games), but not always. Often these three terms are confused and defined synonymously, but there is a subtle difference between them.

The veiwpoint character is the one who is telling the story, regardless of whether it is told in first-person or third-person, while the main character is the character the story is focussed on. In the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson narrates the story, making him the viewpoint character, while Holmes is the main character. In George Orwell's Animal Farm, there is no viewpoint character at all - the POV is omniscient, as if the author is narrating the story - and the main character is Napoleon.

The protagonist, however, differs in one significant way: it is the character who possesses the most willpower. He must have a strong and conscious desire, more prominent than any other character's, that drives him to act throughout the story - although, sometimes, the desire causes the protagonist to be inactive.

In the Greek tragedy, Antigone, by Sophocles, the main character of the story is Creon, the King of the city Thebes, as it focusses on his downfall. The protagonist, however, is his niece, Antigone, who desires to bury her deceased and treasonous brother (thus showing his memory respect). As it happens, Creon is also the antagonist of the story, because he is the one who gets in the protagonist's way.

So. I'm glad we have that sorted.

One thing to remember about writing a protagonist is that he must always have the capacity to pursue, and then obtain, his object of desire. He does't have to reach his goal, but he must be able to. The reason for this is that a reader will not connect with a character who doesn't have any chance of succeeding, because no-one wants to believe that their own desires are unachievable. We carry hope until the end. In this way, a character with impossible goals is not empathetic. And, plus, why would we waste our time on someone who is literally hopeless?

This, among many others, is one reason why I dislike Holden from The Catcher in the Rye. His desire is impossible: to cling onto his childhood forever and help others to do the same. While this goal shows insight into his character, it frustrates me in terms of story, because he would never actually to be able to achieve it. And even if he could, he probably wouldn't do anything about it (because, hey, it's Holden Caulfield).

In short, a protagonist differs from other characters because he or she has a desire that is achievable prominent in the development of the story.

Stay tuned for part two. ... (Oh, and you may have noticed that I am posting again after a much-too-long hiatus. I know, I'm awesome.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Wildcard: A Book of Pure Awesome

On Wednesday of this week, I was wandering through Whitcoulls, the local bookstore, when I stumbled upon A Book of Pure Awesome.

Said Book of Pure Awesome
When I saw it on the shelf, my eyes widened and I blurted hysterically to the people I was with, "Look at this!" Except I cracked about three highs in that short sentence. Then I proceeded to remove the book from the shelf and immersed myself in its awesome.

Needless to say, I went home that day with another book, called How Language Works, to add to my collection. I've always been interested in linguistics and phonetics, but I've never actually taken the time to do much research on either. But this book is a great place for me to start, and so far it's fascinating.

Look, it even has diagrams!

More diagrams!

A family tree!
Obviously, I'm excessively excited about reading this book. The author, David Crystal, is incredibly clear and concise, covers a wide range of related topics and is a great teacher. Plus, it's a book on linguistics. What more could you want?

Have you come across any Books of Pure Awesome lately?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Writing Advice: Inspiring Dialogue

Have you ever come across dialogue that is meant to be inspiring, but just isn't?

Whether it was in a novel, film, play, TV show, short story, or whatever, you found yourself cringing. The line (or monologue - which is even worse) was supposed to be wise and motivational, a deep insight into life, but the way it came out made you think, Puh-lease, this is so lame. No one would ever say that in real life - it's so cliché!

I'll give you an example from Eragon by Christopher Paolini (and this is one of the few criticisms I'll make of it because it's one of my favourite books). This monologue comes from Eragon's wise-guy uncle:
"First, let no one rule your mind or body. Take special care that your thoughts remain unfettered. One may be a free man and yet be bound tighter than a slave. Give men your ear, but not your heart. Show respect for those in power, but don't follow them blindly. Judge with logic and reason, but comment not. ..."
And that's only half of it.

Of course, these are all great messages that Paolini expresses, profound and true. But do they connect with us? Not really, no, because this kind of self-aware insight is rarely found in real life. No-one I know would ever speak like that, and if they did, I'd have to stifle hysterical laughter.

So how does a writer express his or her ideas, viewpoints and life lessons without stating them blatantly? Through story. Through events and turning points and character responses. Every time we write, we are showing the reader what we think life is like. "This is my perception. This is my vision of the world, and the nature of the people who inhabit it. This is what these people would do under these circumstances for these reasons."

Story is a metaphor for life. It's a vessel through which readers become emotionally attached to an idea. You could tell someone of the repulsiveness of teen violence, or they could read the Hunger Games. Which do you think would leave them more convicted? You could have a character say, "There's always hope," or you could show it by having your protagonist achieve his or her goal despite the immense odds stacked against them. Again, which would connect to the reader more?

When it comes down to it, it's a question of showing or telling.

And of course, there is a place for telling. There is a place inspiring dialogue - JRR Tolkien was especially good at using it. But if you use it too much, or in the wrong way, it ends up having the opposite effect.

So, as a rule of thumb, let telling dialogue compliment your showing. Express yourself first and foremost through events and character - and if you need dialogue to finish the job, go for it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Campaign: Nowhere to Run

“Told you it was suicide.”
     I crawled to the wall under the bridge and sat up against it, listening to the sound of the rain on the city streets above. “Lies,” I grunted through barred teeth, pain shooting through my leg. “I'm still here.” I grinned.
     Patrick glowered at me. “Cut it out. You were this damn close.” He held up his thumb and forefinger a quarter inch apart. “You're lucky to be alive still. Those men out there are highly trained – they could have killed you.”
     “But they didn't.”
     Patrick slicked back his wet hair and growled, “I don't care! Look, this isn't a game, all right? In case you haven't noticed, we're fugitives, John. Fugitives. There isn't a doctor in a hundred miles who will get that bullet out without calling the cops. And you're in no condition to get that far.”
     “But we have to get out her somehow. We can't just wait!”
     Patrick looked out towards the flashing blue and red lights. “But we can't run, either.”
     “Then what are we gonna do?”
     “Yeah,” Patrick mumbled. “That's just it. … That's just it.”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

21 Minus: Interview with Gracie!

21 Minus is here!

As Anna Wagner, the organiser of this sweet event, describes it, "21 Minus is my attempt to bring together a group of fantastic young writers, all aged twenty-one or younger, and let them tell their stories via questions asked by their peers. It will also feature some great giveaways (including an ARC of GRIM!) and should be lots of fun all the way around."

The idea is, each participant interviews another participant. Although we knew who we were interviewing, we had no idea who was interviewing us. When the interviews are posted (today!) we include the link to the blog of the person we interviewed, so everyone can blog hop to find out who interviewed whom!

Hi Nice To Meet YouSo, if you want to meet some cool young writers, you can join in the blog hop and go and read everyone's interviews! Plus, I hear there are prizes involved ...

Anyway, today I interviewed Gracie from I Am A Writer, Hear Me Roar:

1) Why did you choose to start blogging?

It all started with a book, of course — Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb, which is a book about how to write a book and go through the process of getting published. I read it and it referred me to a whole bunch of good websites about publishing, etc. One of the websites it suggested was Guide to Literary Agents, so for some reason I signed up for an e-mail subscription, even though at that point I had no interest in trying to get an agent. Then one of the features they had referred me to some writer’s blogs, and I discovered the insane online world of writers and publication. I remembered a blog I had started and left in the dust about writing and such, so I decided to revive it and see where it could go. Personally, I just wanted to blog because I wanted to have fun sharing ideas and whatnot. Also, it’s writing.

2) How (and why) did you start writing?

How? Well, when I was four, I started to painstakingly carve out wobbly letters with a pencil crayon... actually I have no idea. I was really young when I started writing and started loving it. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be an author. Some little kids have those crazy dreams for a career – Disney princess, superhero, whatever. Not me. I have always wanted to be an author. I think a lot of the reason I got into writing so young though was because of my love of reading, and that probably came from my parents somewhat, because they both like to read.

3) What do you think are the best things about the online writing community?

What you can learn, I think. There is so much to learn about writing and publishing, but you can find so much information online. Sometimes I’ll hear things about people doing the exact wrong thing when looking for a literary agent or whatever, and I just don’t understand how they somehow don’t find the information they need when the resources are right there at their fingertips. You just have to take the initiative to go and find the information you need.

Publishing isn’t the only thing to learn about online, either. I’ve learned about stuff I never would have thought. There’s so many different opinions about books and various things to do with books... it could be like, a philosophy course or something. So I guess the discussion about various book/book-related issues is another awesome thing about the online writing community. J

4) How does your family influence or support you in your writing?

I’m not one of those people who has to be constantly yammering on to everyone about their current characters and stories, but my family is definitely supportive. One thing that is really awesome is that my parents are actually parents that don’t just automatically love my work, especially my dad. If I want them to properly critique it, then they will. Usually I’ll get them to look over my work if I’m planning to submit it somewhere, and the feedback they’ve given in the past has been extremely helpful. As far as influencing my writing... my blog writing is influenced more by my family than my WIPs, just because my stories are usually really weird and it’s harder to fit real-life situations into them, although I’m sure eventually aspects of my family life will appear somewhere...

5) What's the hardest thing about writing?

Making myself sit down and WRITE. I have no idea why, but that is what’s hardest for me - making myself stop surfing the internet or reading or whatever else and just writing the ideas in my head. I’ll have the whole next scene planned out, but I won’t sit down and write it. Oh, I have a good quote, by Gene Fowler: “Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.”

6) What are your thoughts on the YA genre at the moment?

That’s certainly a broad question... I love YA, which makes sense, because I am currently a Young Adult. Yes, there’s a lot of stereotypes and things done over and over again in YA, but there are millions of books in the world. Out of all of those, I’m sure I can find books that I like. There’s a lot more to YA than just vampires and dystopian worlds. Lots of people seem to like throwing out general statements about YA these days, but really you can’t do that. There’s too many books, too much variety, too much uniqueness to just put them all in a group and make a statement about them.  

7) If you had to describe your latest WIP in one word, what would it be?

Augh. Because that thing is a mess right now! Haha...
*     *     *     *     *

Thanks, Gracie! This was a really fun interview.

Okay. Now, if you want to head over to Gracie's blog and read her interview with another sweet young writer, click here. And for all you need to need about the blog tour, including the details on prizes (and how to win them!), you can visit Anna's blog.
Have fun hopping!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Advice: Making Change Meaningful

I'm studying The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger in my English class at the moment, and one of the things that annoys me about the book is that there's not plot. Nothing. Zip, zilch, nil. The whole thing is made up of the ramblings and insight of a delusional 50's teenager as he goes about his life.

Sure, it's packed with fantastic symbolism and great characterisation, and there's even a chain of events. But the story is so lacking that I wouldn't dare call it a story at all.

Truth is, a chain of events does not make a story, and nor does simply change. There are changes all through The Catcher in the Rye, for example when the protagonist, Holden, runs away to New York from his prestigious boarding high school (which he hates). But this change isn't meaningful, and nor are any of the others - which is a problem considering that it is meaningful changes that create story.

For a change to be meaningful, it must be expressed in terms of a story value. Story values do not refer to virtues or morals, although they include them. Robert McKee writes in Story* that, rather, they are "the universal qualities of human experience that may shift from positive to negative, or negative to positive, from one moment to the next."

This means that one or more themes, if you like, must switch to their opposite. For example, freedom/captivity (positive/negative) is a story value, and can be used to create meaningful change when a character's experience moves from one side of the coin to the other - when they are freed from captivity or captured from freedom. Love/hate is also a story value, and so is justice/injustice, loyalty/betrayal, peace/unrest, hope/despair ...

... You get the picture.

So, if we look back at the change of Holden leaving his school, what story value switch(es) could we possibly apply? Loyalty to betrayal? There was never loyalty in the first place. Self-righteousness to guilt? He's always felt guilty about his lack of motivation in school. Captivity to freedom? Holden probably sees it this way, but reader doesn't buy it. After all, Holden's cynical perspective is not exclusively directed towards his school, but rather towards the whole world. So while he remains within his own mind, he'll never be free.

Hm. No meaningful change there.

The point is, in every scene of every good story there will always be a reversal in one or more story values. If not, why is the scene there? What does it achieve? Like all the scenes in The Catcher in the Rye, it may be exposition and character perspectives. But these can be worked into scenes that involve meaningful change. It may be difficult, but it's not impossible.

And finally, I'll leave Robert McKee with the last word, because he is pretty much a whole bunch of awesomesauce rolled into a ball of more awesomesauce: "No scene that doesn't turn. This is our ideal."

*There's a reason why I mention this book so often in my posts. Seriously, it's the best $35 I've ever spent.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Campaign: The Candle

Shadows crept across the wall, dancing in the firelight.
     James tugged against his chains and screamed through his gag. No, not yet! I need more time!
     The darkness wrapped itself around the wall, twisting, writhing. It approached the candle on the floor in the center of the small room and was motionless for a time, an unnatural shadow in the light.
     Then, the shadow began to transform and grow up out of the stone floor. It twisted until it was in the form of a human, then it took on colour so that it resembled a handsome young man with flowing gold hair and a stern face.
     The man pulled the gag from James's mouth. “Where is it?”
     James turned his head away, shaking. “I don't know,” he gasped. “No-one ever told me.”
     The man grabbed James by the chin and looked deep into his eyes. “Where?” His grip tightened.
     “I don't know!” James cried through barred teeth. Pain exploded in his jaw.
     “Then die.”The man stepped backwards and was absorbed by a swirling shadow. The room fell into darkness, leaving nothing but a dead man and a snuffed out candle.

*     *     *     *     *

This is not the first time I've submitted an entry for a challenge in one of Rachael Harrie's campaigns with only fifteen minutes to go. Procrastination for the win. Anyway, here were the rules:

Write a short story/flash fiction story in 200 words or less, excluding the title. It can be in any format, including a poem. Begin the story with the words, “Shadows crept across the wall”. These five words will be included in the word count.
If you want to give yourself an added challenge (optional), do one or more of these:
  • end the story with the words: "everything faded." (also included in the word count)
  • include the word "orange" in the story
  • write in the same genre you normally write
  • make your story 200 words exactly!

I think mine came in at 199 words.

And if you'd like to vote for me, I'm entry 207!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wildcard: One Year On ...

I've pretty much blown my blogging schedule out of the water this week, I know. The reason is that today is a really important day for me and the rest of my city (and, in a way, the rest of my country), and I felt it would be insensitive to myself to not break from routine and mention it. So, you might find this post a little self-indulgent, but bear with me.

22 February 2011. One year ago today was the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, that claimed the lives of 185 people. I've talked about it a number of times since the conception of Writing Fire, whether it be directly after the event (like here and here) or later on (like here and here).

Today was a day of reflection. I keep thinking about what I was doing this time last year. I remember being so freaked out, and sitting around the table with my family in the dark after the sun had set, with no electricity, listening to the reports on the radio. It felt like we were in a war - which I suppose, in a way, we were. Us against nature.

It's so weird to think that it's been an entire year. In the last twelve months, I've had a ridiculous amount of time off school, I've shovelled silt (sand and water that bubbles up through the cracked ground) out of a number of peoples' yards, moved furniture, and I've gone to school from 1:00PM to 6:00PM. So much of my normal life was affected.

But then, so much went on as usual, too - at least for me. I ran this blog, I kept writing, kept reading, passed my exams, hung out with old people, met new people, experienced the ups and downs of teenage life (don't get me started).

And through everything, normal or not (if that word even has any meaning anymore), Christchurch has pressed on. We're starting out the other side. The journey to recovery has begun - and, yes, it has a long way to go - but it's begun. Things will never be exactly as they were, but different isn't necessarily bad. It just means getting used to a new future, but one that's no less bright than what might have been.

That's what the entire city remembered at 12:51PM today, the time when the quake struck one year ago. Hundreds of thousands of people observed two minutes silences, reflecting on the struggles and triumphs of the past year and looking to the future.

And, as a mark of respect, thousands of road-cones still marking off damaged areas were decorated with flowers. People went out and put roses and all sorts in the top of them, making something beautiful out of a symbol of destruction.

Kia kaha, Christchurch.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Wildcard: Writerly Phenomena

Since I became a writer, I've noticed a few writerly phenomena that can occur from time to time. Some a very different to others, but they're all unnaturally awesome (or un-awesome) and relate to writing in some way. Here are just a select few of them:

Purple Tree Syndrome. This one is pretty generic, and it has more to do with reading than writing - but close enough, I thought. I coined the term Purple Tree Syndrome sometime last week. It basically occurs when you're reading a book and your eyes are looking at the words, but you aren't actually taking any of them in because you are too busy thinking about purple trees or something equally irrelevant. Then you have to go back a re-read the entire sentence, paragraph or even page in order to pick up the meaning you missed the first time. If you have a particularly bad case of the syndrome, you may have to re-read up to three or four times.

Writer Recognition. This is when you can tell a writer from a muggle - I mean, from an ordinary member of society - while knowing very little about them and using only their appearance as a guide. This happened to me the other day when I asked one of my new teachers if she was a writer - and she was! Sweet guessing skills, I know. When she asked why I had asked, I said, "Well, I write stuff, too. And ... you just strike me as the kind of person who would write." Of course, it did help that she was an English teacher.

Aiding the Future. This is always helpful, in any area of life. But, in writing, this happens when you have a seemingly unimportant idea, then months later it turns out to be the most useful idea ever. I had this happen to me when I was stuck in the dark chasms of writers' block (*shudders*). I needed a new idea to move forward, but I couldn't think of anything that would fit. Then suddenly I remembered an idea I had had four months ago, and I realised that expanding on it would do exactly what I needed! Thank-you four-months-ago-Nick! Of course, the reciprocal of this is Hindering the Future, when you drive yourself down a street that turns out to be a dead end.

Writerly Perception. Perception is a phenomenon, even when it isn't related to writing (I was shocked when I learned that, too). But it's still incredible how different people view writing very differently. This image that's been circulating Facebook recently pretty much sums that all up:

So, there you have it. What are a few writerly phenomena you've come across?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Origins: How I Became A Writer

I have an innate love for stories. I've loved them since before I can remember, and it was this innate love that led me to where I am right now, sitting in front of the computer writing about how I became a writer. It's this innate love that will lead me into the future.

Before I could write, I simply started with telling stories in any other way I could. And there stories weren't always mine - in fact, mostly they were other peoples'. In particular, I remember being obsessed with Peter Pan to the point where I re-created it through the use of designing fridge magnets of the characters and props.

I upped the ante when I was five by learning to read, write and hold a pencil. Suddenly my love of stories was coupled with a love of words, sentences and writing in general. I no longer had to resort to fridge magnets.

Over the next several years I made writing a good hobby. I wrote approximately five gazillion first pages to many different stories - all of which are locked somewhere deep down in the dungeons of my laptop and haven't seen the light of day since I first created them. I never really advanced in my writing during that time period, but writing never really left me either.

When I started high school, I was required to do a year-long project as homework. In other words (or the same words rearranged), a homework project that took the whole year. I decided to take a shot at writing a novel, with absolutely no idea whatsoever about what I was in for. I thought that I could learn how to do everything involved with writing a novel in a couple of weeks, plan out a story, write it, revise, and then get it published - in a year. And then it would probably become a best-seller, too.

One year later, I handed in a terrible plot outline and 5,000 words to my teachers.

But it doesn't matter, because I learned so much that year, and I began to get serious about writing. I began to call myself a writer. And once I began to call myself a writer, it's then that I became one.

Then, a year ago today, I plunged another similar world, again with no idea what I was doing. One year ago today I started this blog, which was Ellipsis Station at that point. It took awhile to get things rolling, but eventually I found a whole bunch of awesome people - and not just people, writers! I found you! So thanks for being awesome, keeping me company, and convincing me that I'm not the only one out there crazy enough to love writing.

So, that's how I started. What about you?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Writers' Platform-Building Campaign

A few days ago, Rachael Harrie annouced her fourth Writers' Platform-Builing Campaign. In short, the campaign is a way to meet and connect with other writers. Rachael describes it as "a way to link those of us in the writing community together with the aim of helping to build our online platforms. The Campaigners are all bloggers in a similar position, who genuinely want to pay it forward, make connections and friends within the writing community, and help build each others' online platforms while at the same time building theirs."

I participated in the third campaign, and I loved it. I'm really looking forward to this one. So if you haven't signed up already, I completely recommend heading over to Rachael's blog to do that. It should be heaps of fun, so I hope to see you all there!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writing Advice: What Is Voice?

Most writers, and even a lot of non-writers, presumably, have come across the term “voice” and understand the gist of it. But how would you best define it, especially in comparison with sound and tone?

In the comments section of last week's post on tone, Dave of Route 19Writers pointed me to a fantastic post by Cynthia Chapman, this one written on voice – or authorial voice, as she describes it. In this post, she lays out a great definition of what voice is, with references to both sound and tone:
“An author's voice is usually the writer's natural tone, rhythm, and choice of words. To put it more poetically – a reflection of the writer's soul. A writer's voice is unique to each person, which is why the same story can be told in different ways by different people. In comparison, a character's voice is crafted by the writer to fit a certain character in the story.”

First of all, as this definition explains, there are two types of voice: authorial voice and character voice. Your sound and tone, both of which are contained within voice, will be natural for you – that's for authorial voice. But if you are telling your story in a character's voice, then the sound and tone of it will be the natural writing style of that character. And that's for you to craft and work out.

But how do sound and tone actually differ from voice?

As I mentioned above, sound is an aspect of voice. But your voice (whether authorial or character) will not only include, but also and determine your sound. It will naturally dictate your word choice and the way you fit words and sentences together.

Tone is all about intentionality, the attitude with which the narrator addresses the reader. Once again, voice is all about the overall effect, the general way the story is told, and tone is simply an aspect of that.

And what about finding your voice? The simple answer to that question is that it can't be done – it's impossible. You can't loose your voice, so you can't find it. It exists as soon as you write your first word. My five-year-old writing-self had a voice. My friends who only write 250 creative words each year because school forces them to have voices. Even their five-year-old selves had voices.

But you can develop your voice. For character voice, you need to learn that character inside and out. Take on their thoughts and opinions. When you write as them, you become them. For authorial voice, there's only one option: write. The more you write, the more you grow as a writer, the more your voice matures. That's the best way to develop your voice.

Needless to say, this is another excuse to write as much as you can. But then again, most of us don't need excuses, do we?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guest Wildcard: The Just Culprit, or the Culprit Just?

Today I have the privilege of welcoming a very important person to me. He's a gifted teacher, preacher, and as you'll soon learn, writer. With many years of experience behind him (I'm not sure if he'd appreciate me saying how many), he today delves into one of the sneakiest adverbs. So, with no further, may I introduce my fantastic dad, Warren Hight. (And because everyone loves giveaways, he's featuring one of those, too!)

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I was marking an assignment the other day, a book review. The student had written that the author “in the first chapter just laid out the basic facts.” The basic facts in this case were foundational to later steps the author went on to develop. I stopped because something jarred within me as I read it.

If the basic facts were essential to what followed, how in any possible reading of them could the author just lay them out? That little word had robbed his sentence of all its power. The author laid out the basic facts, nothing just about it. It was intentional, it was necessary.

I remember years ago I was attending a chapel service and during the notices the speaker stopped short and said, “Bother, I used that word.” What word? I had to think back over what he had said. It was this same little culprit. An adverb, I believe. And I have been told by the owner of this blog site that a writer ought to avoid adverbs—and clichés—like the plague.

Yet I find myself saying it all the time—and then correcting myself; because if it’s worth doing or saying it’s worth not just doing or just saying! “What are you up to?” “Just writing.” Not meaning, exclusively focussed on a writing. Not meaning, go away I’m busy. Meaning, oh, it’s not so important, I don’t think you’d really be interested. Writing Fire suggests passion, determination. Nothing just about that, you know!

Now, I don’t even need to argue that just is a very good word—perhaps even one that any character in any story could justly own. Just and true, noble; or, “Oh, that things were just” (we can come to terms with unfair, eventually); and, of course, when you have just finished something, meaning only now have you completed what you were doing—who can fault that? But when I short change the labour, discounting the noble intent, this is what I abhor, and abhor in myself as often as it slips out. “I just wanted to give you a call,” and we sound somehow apologetic.

The Just So StoriesI am awed to think that writers and authors will read this; I wonder if your characters let slip the occasional ‘just’ without thinking? I suppose a character saturated in the argot of some levels of conversational culture will accurately reflect this tendency of ours, and be the better drawn character for it! But story characters are often less lazy than we are in real life, and the words of their speech are born of due deliberation.

My admiration goes to Nick for his initiative with this blog, and my thanks to him for entertaining the idea of me posting a “wild-card” blog. I just hope he’ll publish it. And if he does, by way of thanks, I’ll have a copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories sent to a random commenter.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Writing Advice: What Is Tone?

In last week's Writing Advice post, I began to point out that it is, in writing, just as important to pay attention to the words as the story. After all, words are what we're using to paint the picture - and we want to paint the clearest picture possible.

Tone, like sound, is an aspect of writing that can pull the reader out of the story if done poorly. It is on the same spectrum as sound, although at the opposite end. While sound deals mostly with sentence construction and repetition of words, tone has no such connection to technicalities (instead, it's more connected to writing as an art). Sound is objective, tone is subjective. Sound is about the perception of the reader, tone is about the intention of the writer.

Tone is the intention with which the narrator addresses the reader. In novels with third-person narrators, the tone is usually unnoticeable, because when the writer is the narrator, they only have one purpose: to tell the story. Little work on tone is needed. But when a character, rather than the writer, is the narrator, their task is not only to tell the story, but also the provide insight into their thoughts and opinions and nature.

For example, Killing Floor by Lee Child, narrated by tough-guy ex-military cop Jack Reacher, opens with this paragraph:
"I was arrested in Eno's diner. At twelve o'clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in the heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town."
This narration, with clipped and fragmented sentences, may seem more to do with sound than tone at a surface glance. But, in actual fact, it is a technique used to develop the tone. In this case, we immediately learn that Jack Reacher does not waste words. He says what he has to - nothing more. This one insight into his character, right from the start.

A second insight from the tone comes from not how Reacher narrates (unlike the first), but what he narrates.   He tells us that he was arrested on sentence one. Then, while the natural thing to do would but explain how he got arrested, instead Reacher tells us what he was eating, when, and makes sure we know that it was a late breakfast, rather than lunch. It's as if the arrest wasn't even important - like it's just one of the things that happen every day. No big deal. No for Jack Reacher, anyway.

This is a great use of tone, because it provides insight. But sometimes, tone can get in the way of the story. An example from The Hunger Games (don't get me wrong - I love this book), that I find very borderline in this context is:
"The girl with the arrows, Glimmer I hear someone call her - ugh, the names the people in District 1 give their children are so ridiculous - anyway, Glimmer scales the tree until the branches begin to crack under her feet and then has the good sense to stop."
While this expresses Katniss's opinion (and opinionate nature) I felt that this sentence stopped the story dead for a few moments. At that point in time, I didn't want to hear Katniss's view on Glimmer's name, I just wanted her to tell me what happened next.

And there you go. That's tone. It gives insight into the mind of a character simply through the way they narrate the story (and sometimes what they narrate), but sometimes it detracts from the story. So, as the writer, it's your job to work out when to tone it up, and when to tone it down.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Awards and New Followers!

Wow, so much has been happening! Over the last couple of weeks Writing Fire's gained a lot of new followers. Plus, Lara Schiffbauer gave me the The Versatile Blogger Award and the Kreativ Blogger Award. And then just this morning, the crew at Route 19 Writers gave me the Liebster Award, which is secretly one I've always wanted.

To accept these awards, I have to hand them on to a certain number of people. The Liebster Award is for those with blogs with under 200 followers (yeah, I just scraped through!), that I think should have more. I also have to write five things about myself for that one. The others are self-explanatory.

So, my five things:

  • I'm about to buy the scripts to the original Star Wars trilogy so that I can sit down to the movies with them and analyse the storytelling. I know, I'm that cool.
  • I recently discovered the Go Teen Writers community. If you're a teen writer, then I definitely recommend becoming a part of it - this bunch of people are awesome!
  • My friends keep telling about this weird place called Owtside. Outside, maybe? I don't know how you spell it. Sounds kind of strange to me.
  • I used to be indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.
  • I estimated the other day that I have well over 30,000 words of plotting and backstory written out long-hand in my notebooks. Yeah.
As a bit of a challenge, I thought I'd give these awards to a select group of only my latest followers. So here goes!

I'd like to award the Liebster Award to:

Rachelle Rea
Len Lambert
McKenzie McCann

The Kreative Blogger Award and The Versatile Blogger Award go to:

Lydia Kang
PK Hrezo
Nick Wilford
Kamille Elahi
Brenda Sills
Sarah Elizabeth

And here are my other newest followers (if your blog isn't linked, then I couldn't find it):

Dave Amaditz
Erica Vetsch
Dianne Gardner
Medeia Sharif
Lola Sharp
Diane Fordham
JM Cooper
Roland D. Yeomans
Kelly Valentine
Meg Dunley
Mohamed Mughal
Sarah Faulkner

Go check out these blogs!

And also, I should mention as a bit of a sidenote: if you are a fan of awesomeness (which I know you are), then you should definitely check Writing Fire on Thursday. Something exciting is coming. And there will be free stuff.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Writing Advice: Finding Peace in the Darkness

Have you ever had a really peaceful experience? A time when, somewhere deep inside your heart and mind, you simply feel good or unafraid; and somehow you know, or at least hope, that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should? I know I've been there.

Peace can come in two different packages. First is peace because of the circumstances. This is when the sun is shining, everything is perfect, and you reflect on life with a smile on your face and the most gratitude you've ever felt. But second, second is peace in spite of the circumstances. This is when nothing is going right, you're at rock-bottom in the midst of darkness; bleeding, hurting, dying - but even so, you still hear that little voice that says, "Don't give up. Things will turn out. There's hope yet."

In this way, if we choose to, we can feel peace in the darkness. And so can our characters.

In Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, there's a fantastic scene in which Eragon realises that the world is round. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders and fate of it in his hands, and he has just flown out of a terrible storm on the back of his dragon. But despite this, when he notices the curvature of the horizon (something he has never seen before), he's wonderstuck. And he forgets all of his worries for a moment and finds peace, in awe of the world's roundness.

Or what about the scene in The Return of the King when Sam and Frodo are on the slopes of Mount Doom? Who could forget it? The pair are famished and parched, frightened and lost, and surrounded by blackness and an inhospitable landscape. They're cold and dying. But in such despair, and after all the horrors they've been through, the recall to each other life as it blissfully was back in the Shire - and not only find peace, but also the hope and courage they need to complete their quest. The result? An incredibly moving scene.

Or in The Matrix, when the machines are closing in and Trinity has every reason to run screaming. But instead, she finds peace enough to stay with Neo and even say, "I'm not afraid anymore."

Am I making sense yet?

Having your characters find peace in the darkness, usually near the climax of the story, can heighten the emotional investment of the reader. It makes the reader long further for the protagonist to achieve his or her desire, because we admire characters who can trade fear for peace, sorrow for joy. We want those kind of characters to win.

And when they do, the reader is all the more moved because of it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Writing Advice: What Is Sound?

In Story, Robert McKee writes that 75 percent of a writer's efforts are spent on constructing the plot. However, because it isn't in keeping with the purpose of the book, he never mentions the importance of that remaining 25 percent: the execution. The writing itself. The truth is that all reader (including agents and editors) will notice the writing before the story. And if it's not up to par, they'll put it down before even getting into the plot.

Sound is one of the most important aspects of the "execution" to pay attention to because it can be incredibly noticeable if done poorly. As in, it sticks out like a sore thumb (cliché alert!) and pulls the reader out of the story - which is never a good thing. But if sound is done well, it's invisible - which is exactly what you want.

In this context, sound is synonymous with rhythm, or even lilt. It's the flow of a sentence or paragraph, the way the writing sounds within the reader's mind. In The First Five Pages, Noah Lukeman writes that sound "is one of the distinctions between writing general and writing as an art form," because "prose can be technically correct but rhythmically unpleasant." To strengthen your sound, take a look at:

Poor sentence construction. In this blog post, as a part of her series on grammar, Beth Revis gives a few examples of how independent clauses and dependent clauses fit together in a number of different ways (as long as you use the correct rules). However, many people pointed out that, although technically correct, the sentences sounded wrong, like run-ons.

Echoes. Echoes occur most frequently when a character's name is repeated too often (Bill gave the map to Joe and Joe thanked Bill), when he/she is repeated to often, or when an usual word or phrase is repeated too often. In the case of unusual words, these can be as far apart as one every twenty pages, but still call attention to themselves. In On Writing, Stephen King tells of a novel he once read that constantly repeated the word zestful, and it annoyed him so much that he's never used that word in his own writing. Not once.

Alliteration and rhyme. In prose, avoid these two things like the plague, unless you have a very good reason not to. Alliteration and rhyme draw attention to themselves like nothing on Earth and pull the reader straight out of the story.

Resonance. This aspect of sound is subtle, and can be difficult to get right. It is the overall sound of sentences in contrast with each other. The resonance of a short sentence will be different when contrasted with long sentences, rather than other short sentences - and vice versa. Sentences starting with an independent clause will resonate differently to dependent clause starters, infinitive starters, participle starters, etc. It's your job to choose the write ones and then fit them together in a way that strengthens the overall sound of the paragraph, page, and book.

And that's it. If you can sort out these things, then your sound will be strong enough that the reader doesn't notice it. Instead, they'll be focussed right where you want them: on the story.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wildcard: Why Commenting Is Important

Most of us follow tons of blogs. Often hundreds, sometimes over a thousand. But how many do you actually, truly follow? Maybe not as many as you thought. The truth is that Blogger lies to you each and every day - not all of your followers are actually following you; not all of my followers are actually following me. And you aren't actually following all the blogs you've subscribed to, and nor am I.

To actually follow someone's blog means more than just to click the "follow" button. It means to actively participate in what they're doing. To give your opinion, support, feedback, express your interest in what they have to say. And the best way to do this on any blog is through these magic things called ...
... comments.

Of course, there are only 24 hours in each day, and there's never enough time to follow everyone we'd like to. There's never enough time to be an active part of everyone's blogs. Heck, there's hardly enough time to be an active part of anyone's blog.

So, this is where comments come in. Comments are great because they don't have to be long at all, and they only take a minute to write. And it could be simply something like: "Neat post!" But this doesn't matter. because the real meaning of a comment is in the subtext: "Hey. I'm actually following you. I'm interested in what you're saying. I enjoy your opinion and your voice. Plus, I exist. See your 57th follower? That's not a robot from Antarctica. That's me."

This is why comments are important. They're an easy way to show a blogger that you're listening. And I'll admit that this is something I need to work on, but these are simply my thoughts on the matter.

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While we're on the topic of comments, I have an award to give out! David Powers King decided to be awesome by giving me the Great Comments Award, and so now I'm passing it on to my top commenters (wait a sec - is commenters even a word?):

Thank you all for sharing your voice on this blog. I appreciate it!

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Way of the Future

It's 16 days into the new year and everyone seems to be diving into 2012 with excitement and anticipation. I'm pretty excited for whatever's lurking out there, including giant spaceships and futuristic cities built on water.

New Year is a very important event. But why? Not because of what it is - after all, it's only a change of date (and that happens every day) - but because of what it symbolises. It symbolises the old departing, the new arriving. It symbolises change. This is why we make New Years Resolutions. We could choose to change at any time of the year, but we choose January 1 because of the symbol of change it carries.

Over the last year or so, this blog has been quite mish-mash. Just look through the archives and see for yourself. When I started blogging, I had no plan at all and no reason at all besides "Why not?" Result: mish-mash.

But the arrival of the new year I've decided to make some changes. I set a few goals using the BEDS Goalsetting Method, and worked out a list of things that would need to happen to reach my goals. Creating a new layout was one of those things. Here are a two more:

A Blogging Schedule. Yup, I'm gonna be working by one of these bad boys. On Mondays will be exclusively Writing Advice (unless the occasional blogfest or monthly vlog jumps in there). Thurdays will be Wildcard days, when I'll post about anything and everything I can possibly think of that relates to writing. I might even throw in a few Saturday posts from time to time.

Acknowledging New Followers. David Powers King does this over at his blog, and I think it's a fantastic idea. So I'm adopting it. It means that new followers get to feel welcome and invited and not like internet ghosts that go invisible through all time and space. So, with no further ado, may I welcome Writing Fire's fantastic 170th follower:

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the way of the future for Writing Fire. I hope you'll enjoy the changes!
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