A-Z blog challenge: E is for Emotion

Writing prose with emotion is hard for me. I start off with scenes that are flat and emotionless. My characters are acting and talking as if what is happening isn’t touching them emotionally. It’s as if they don’t care and are just shrugging it off. Are they fighting for their lives against a winged demon? Oh yeah, it’s just everyday stuff, whatever, blah, blah, I’m so bored.

This should be a moment of terror. The character believes they might die. But it’s terror tempered with determination to live, the will to push themselves mentally and physically beyond what they’ve ever done before. Maybe there’s a little elation in the mix. In an action scene like this the character’s adrenalin will be high and that complex cocktail of feeling has to come off the page and raise the reader’s heartbeat.

What I want is overblown drama on an operatic scale. I want to leave my reader exhausted and wrung out. But it’s hard to push myself to get there. I’ve learnt to moderate my emotions and I’m afraid that, instead of being moved, the reader will think I’m ridiculous. I don’t want to make a fool of myself so I draw back and I contain the emotion. I let it out in tiny little drips that people barely notice. And, for real life, that’s ok.

It’s like a tap. For real life, I want a gentle trickle. For my writing, sometimes I want a torrent. But the tap is stiff with disuse and I struggle to fully turn it on. When I do manage it, I feel embarrassed. I’m working on that by practicing writing pieces that are as emotionally laden as I can make them. These are just practice pieces that will never see the light of day and so I don’t have to worry whether a reader will find them ridiculous. I can learn to control the emotion tap in private and when it comes to writing scenes in my work-in-progress then I will have the skill to get the emotional balance right.

How do you feel about writing with emotion? Is it easy or difficult? Are there some emotions you find harder than others?

A-Z blog challenge: D is for Distraction

Oh, there’s just so much of it! The things I could spend my time doing:

Watching tv
Playing video games
Messing about on the internet
Hanging out with friends
Getting a master’s degree
Playing with my cats
Reading non-writing related blogs and news
Watching butterflies

And of course there are the things I think I should be doing:

Hanging out with friends
Keeping up with my correspondence

But instead I’m writing. At least in theory. I don’t have a lot of spare time at the moment so everything that I could do I have to think ‘will this take time away from my writing?’ The answer is almost always yes because I can’t reduce the hours I work (which is not all that many to be fair) or reduce my commuting time, so there’s nowhere else for the time to come from. If the answer is yes, then ‘is this something I’m willing to give up writing time for?’ If I’m honest, in the past, I often have given up writing time – because I’m tired, or because it’s hard, or because I didn’t believe in myself enough, or because I didn’t feel I could say no to friends or family or other obligations. But I’ve reached a stage in my writing where the answer is going to be no much more often.

Oh look, a butterfly. Being chased by a lolcat. What was I doing again?

A-Z blog challenge: C is for Character

A funny thing happened on the way to the end of my novel. I always thought I was more interested in plot and events and writing about the stuff that happens. Characters were just what events happened to, vehicles for moving the story along. My stories grew out of a scene and things developed from there. I thought the scene that inspired the story was about the event, about what was happening.

I realised recently that actually it’s the other way around. I was working on my novel, trying to get to grips with all the elements of it, and I realised I have loads of characters. I’m not sure where they all came from. And while I was putting them into my spreadsheet I realised that each one is quite fleshed out in my mind.

Thinking back to all the scenes that started the fragments of all the stories that are gathering dust on my hard drive, it wasn’t about the events at all. They are all characters searching for a story to be in.

So, weird place to be in. But good.

By the way, I thought a post on characters was a good opportunity to showcase the work of my talented cousin who painted the picture in this post. If you like it, you can see more of her work at her Deviant Art gallery.

A-Z blog challenge: B is for Blogging and Blogosphere

I love blogging. It took a while to find my voice and a good rhythm, and now I have it has become something I really enjoy.

I like being part of the blogosphere. Even if it’s just on the edge and what I do is mainly lurk. I read blogs about writing by people who write and who have varying degrees of publishing success. Other blogs I read are about books, feminism, privilege and prejudice, paganism, pop culture, astronomy, body positivity and some other random stuff. Occasionally I comment. I love it when people comment here.

Then there are memes and challenges. Make a list of something? Brilliant. Get ideas for blog posts by doing challenges? Awesome.

When I started blogging two and a half years ago I was looking for the discipline of writing regularly despite all the other demands that life has. To start with my posts were very short. I couldn’t think of anything to say that someone else might want to hear, or that hadn’t already been said by someone else. Gradually, I got over being shy and embarassed about my writing and for the last six months or so, my posts are longer and more detailed. I like to think that I’m a better writer because of it. I’m certainly more confident and that’s no small thing.  

A-Z blog challenge: A is for Analysis

I like to analyse stuff. This week I have some time off from my day job and I am working on my novel. For me, this means looking at the 65,000 words of scenes that I have and trying to work out in what order they should go. So I have scene cards and a spreadsheet, and I finally worked out what the damn thing is about, and I’m trying to get it all together.

Writer-friends of a less analytical bent say I should worry less about this kind of detail and just write and then everything will just fall into place. Not for me it won’t. Or at least, it might, but it won’t be as effective as it will be if I do it deliberately. Analysis leads to mindful practice. To learn how to write you need to write. I read a little while ago that you need to write a million words at least. And that is probably true but, like training to become better at anything, it will be more effective if you are mindful of what you are doing. You could write a million words and will be a little better at writing at the end of it without giving it any thought. But if you pay attention, and analyse what you’re doing, the million words will work harder for you and you’ll be much better by the end.

To analyse writing I read loads of ‘how-to-write’ books. Some are fantastic and have some really helpful stuff in them. Some are not that helpful at all. Others are incomprehensible – which for me are those ones about The Hero’s Journey or the three act structure (more on this in a later A-Z post). I read widely and try to work out what makes a good book good. I ask for the opinions of my writers’ groups. I read loads of blogs about books and writing. And I filter everything through a series of questions:

Who said it? What qualifies them? What do I think of their opinions? What biases do I know them to have?

How do I feel about what has been said? If I have an emotional reaction of any kind, but especially a negative one, then this is something to look at very closely.

How does it fit with what I already know/believe? Is it something that deepens my understanding? Is it something that challenges my understanding?

How can I use this information/feedback/idea? Is there enough detail here for me to apply it? How would I change my writing to accommodate it? What direction will it take me in and is that where I want to go? How will this help me improve?

I also do critiquing for other members of my writing groups and I realised a couple of years ago that the person really getting the benefit from the exercise was me. Looking at the work of a fellow unpublished author, noticing what was working and what wasn’t, along with the discipline of trying to suggest how it could be done differently, gave me a great opportunity to understand what I was doing with writing. Naturally, when you come across a passage that isn’t working you think about how you would have written it. This may or may not be useful to the person being critiqued, but it is certainly useful to the critiquer.

My favourite question is why? It always has been and is true in all the spheres of my life. Why did something happen? Why did a person behave like that? I need to know. And I guess that’s why I write – to pose the question and explore the answer.