A Question on Quora

This week I’d like to share with you an answer I posted on Quora. If you like the answer and are a member, I’d appreciate it if you’d vote for it. Quora is an excellent Q&A site with a great number of experts on topics. I’m glad to be a part of it.

Now onto the answer, if you’re too lazy to click on the link:

While I will say that some novelists can be arrogant (just as some filmmakers certainly are), most of us want readers to enjoy what we’ve put forward. We’re proud of our work. When our work is made into a film, it’s a huge compliment. But some of the things that we write don’t translate well onto film and can only be expressed in the mind of the reader. When you read, you get to use your own stage/set, picture the characters without the hindrance of an actor’s appearance, and be swept away with some carefully crafted words.

Granted, if you’re too ignorant or lazy to read, go ahead and watch the movie adaptation of a novel. Ultimately, you’ll only get to scrape the surface and enjoy someone else’s interpretation of those words instead of diving in and immersing yourself into another world.

You may have a learning disability that prohibits you from enjoying a novel, however, so watching a movie may be the only way you can enjoy the interpretation of a printed work. Sadly enough, you may have to wait quite some time to get different versions of a tale.

One of the best adaptations of a novel, in my opinion, was the serialization of Stephen King’s The Stand. Even though it was made for TV, and cut out many details, it was great. However, it still wasn’t the same as the novel. That novel was amazing. I read it when I had the flu. My father gave it to me as a gift (he had a sick sense of humor which I’ve apparently inherited). Anyway, it’s one of my favorites, but the film itself and the novel are separate entities.

Something I like to do is actually see a film first, then read the novel. For me, it’s like going “behind the scenes” to find out what really happened, as if the author truly knows what happened, and all the extra details seem much more juicy and fun. If you haven’t done this, try it with the Harry Potter serials, if you like that genre. I had a blast doing it that way with the first three films and novels.

If the question’s intent was to insult writers/novelists by calling them arrogant, I would say that it failed (at least with me, because I was highly amused by the question). If, however, it was genuine, it’s a great one, because it asks for definitive analysis and thought as to why we enjoy the things we enjoy.

Important Writing Tools

A fan via Facebook message writes:

What tools do you use to write?

There are a lot of people who want tools, gadgets, and apps to test out or play with while writing. Sometimes it lends a false sense of productivity, or an excuse NOT to write, but they can be useful.

Do you use Scrivener? LitLift? Jotterpad at all? Open Office? Have you tried Sunrise Calendar? Do you use a calendar at all? What dictionary and thesaurus do you use? Is there a certain website you use to research (Quora, Wiki, or just ask friends?), or a particular style reference? Do you use Word Counter’s website, or just keep the count in Scrivener? I use Jotterpad on my phone when I’m in bed or away from a PC, but not everyone does.

I agree with the questioner — having too many tools, gadgets, and apps can give you a false sense of productivity, and actually become a crutch. For me, I keep it simple, and put everything into one tool.

That tool is Scrivener.

I don’t use a calendar for writing because I keep notes, either directly into Scrivener, and I write on a daily basis. If you do want a reminder to write every day, set an alarm on your mobile phone that has a note, “time to write.”

Writing for me is something I do on my laptop. I don’t use an app when I’m out and about, because when I’m out, I want to be engaged in my surroundings. If I’m at a café, I want to be enjoying my tea and biscuits, and taking in my reading or visiting with a friend. If I go to a bookstore, I will bring my laptop with me, but I don’t always use it for writing.

I like to write at home, by myself, where I can focus on my craft without distraction. I find extraneous tools to cause a major distraction. So, every morning, I sit down, boot up my laptop, derp around the internet for a bit, then settle down and write in Scrivener. I can format the way I want, keep my research there, and organize my chapters just the way I like them. Scrivener has formatting for graphic novels, screenplays, short stories, and novels. So I can do what I want!

For a dictionary and thesaurus, I just highlight a word I want and right click on it in Scrivener, and it brings me to thesaurus.com, and I can look up definitions there just by clicking on the ‘dictionary’ tab. If I’m not happy with the results insofar as definitions, I will consult both Merriam-Webster and Oxford English Dictionary. OED is great for word origins and when using British English, and Merriam-Webster is great for American English (yes, that’s a real thing, thank you Noah Webster).

When I need to do research, I will start with trying to find videos on YouTube. From there, it will help me develop questions and areas for further research. If I can’t find what I want or need, I’ll head over to Quora where a large number of experts share their knowledge and opinions. After that, it’s off to asking people I know what they think and know about certain subjects. After all that, I typically have a general understanding of the subject, and from there, it’s my own mistakes and/or poetic license.

My word counts come directly from Scrivener, although sometimes I like to check with Word Counter just to see if it differs.

I think that whatever tools work for you, you should use and explore. The only caveat I would give, however, is not to let your tools control you. YOU control your tools. The moment your organizational tools stop helping you organize and get your writing done is the moment you need to start trashing those tools and go back to basics.

Most importantly, keep it simple, and keep your focus on your creative craft.

Because that’s what matters.

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

The Importance of a Concordance

Writing a single short story doesn’t typically require anything more than a few notes so you can keep your characters straight (unless you have just one or two characters to juggle, and if that can’t be done without notes, you’re in trouble). But when you’re writing a novel, a series, or have plans to do so, a concordance is your best friends.

Ideally, your concordance will help you keep names of characters straight, as well as their backgrounds and details. It can also help you develop your story, keep track of land and landmarks, buildings, history of your fantasy world, and little things, such as where your character was injured during the war (I’m looking at you, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who couldn’t keep track of Watson’s injury location — shoulder or leg — or what his first name was — John or James).

Anyone who writes epic stories knows how important it is to keep track of your characters, because ultimately, some avid fan will chronicle your work, characters, storylines, etc. George R. R. Martin has a fan upon whom he can call for keeping his characters straight. A fan-based concordance, in fact. One that’s so detailed the author himself uses it. Not all of us will be lucky enough to have the brilliance of Martin’s incredible stories, or get a fan base so rabid, so it’s best to just do it yourself, and do it early enough so that you can keep track and not become overwhelmed.

So what should be in your concordance? I went over it a tad in the second paragraph, but here’s a handy list that will help you keep things straight:

  • Characters Main characters, side characters, even one-time characters belong here. Don’t forget to detail their lives prior to your story, and add anything you think is relevant.
  • Landmarks Got an old building you want to write about? Consider the landscape of your world, and if there are any special places your characters will visit.
  • Maps Along with landmarks, maps are handy to have even if you can’t draw well. Whether you’re superimposing your world over Google Maps, or drawing a world all your own, keep your maps handy. You don’t want to establish that Town is 300 miles from City, only to have your character arrive there by foot in just a few hours later on (unless they’ve got super-speed, or something).
  • Factions Any time you have groups of people and tension, you wind up with factions. They can be political, religious, bad hairdo people versus good hairdo people, etc. Just be sure to keep them in order so that you don’t wind up having a character switch factions (without explanation, that is).
  • History/Timeline – During your story, things happen. Characters change, die, are born, reborn, move away, go to prison, etc. Make sure you add to your concordance as you go along. This will ensure you don’t suddenly bring back a character at the end of the story by accident. Unless your story is supposed to have that happen (and will be explained unless you’re going for something absurd), keeping track of your history and events is best done in a timeline.

Ultimately, your concordance will keep your story cohesive and is one of the best things you can do for yourself, especially when writing a series. But just be sure to keep your concordance as notes, rather than a highly detailed encyclopedia. Your story is what matters — the notes just support it.

Follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira) where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.

Write Away

The week before last (couldn’t post last week due to other writing projects taking precedence) I went on a bit about needing a muse, or rather, not needing a muse.

That’s what this whole blog is about, after all.

In my personal life, I’ve been stressed out to my limits. I won’t get into why, but things have been looking pretty bad for my immediate family, and we’ve had some ups and downs. But I can’t let that interfere with my ability to write. No matter what, I have to get up, pick up my laptop, and work. Whether it’s for my personal projects or a client project, it has to be done and it has to be done well.

The way it used to be was, I didn’t think I could just sit down and write. I thought I had to be inspired by something special. I had to have one of those ‘aha’ moments and write a manuscript or an article in a flurry of abandon to produce a masterpiece that would be lauded long after I died.

Yeah. That worked out about as well as putting your hand through a mangler.

My writing stank. It was putrid. Forced, false, and stilted, full of cliches and overusing words. Blah. (There are a couple of reasons for this, actually, but I’ll go into that some other time.)

It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties when I realized that the lessons I’d gotten during a Shingon Esoteric Buddhist retreat that I could apply it to my writing.

During that retreat, one of the things we did was calligraphy — meditative calligraphy. Our Sensei taught us to write in Japanese kanji, and we were practicing one character throughout the week. Well, if you know me, you know I can’t draw to save my life. I can do a mean stick figure, but that’s about it. So, the elegance of the kanji calligraphy was way out of my league. But, an assignment is an assignment, so I sat there on my mat, ink brush in one hand, paper on the floor, tongue sticking out to one side as I attempted to imitate the strokes of the brush as our Sensei had done so effortlessly.

It looked like a little kid’s drawing…well, actually worse. It was bad.

Sensei looked over my shoulder. “Practice more,” he told me. I shook my head, discouraged.

“I just don’t have the talent,” I told him. He smiled at me.

“This looks like my first drawing when I was a child,” he said. “You can practice, and you can become good.”

So, all week long, I practiced. I brought my materials home, and I kept practicing. Page after crappy page. But I was encouraged and determined to show improvement. 

At the end of the week, we were sitting for meditative calligraphy again, for the same character.

Once again, Sensei came over and looked at my work.

“Much better,” he commented. “You’ve practiced.”

I nodded. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was a slight improvement over the chicken scratch I’d produced before. “Hope I get even better.”

“Practice ten-thousand times and you will be a master.”

That stayed with me. If you practice anything ten-thousand times, then, yes, you can achieve mastery over something.

So it is with writing. Practice, practice, and practice some more, and eventually you will master the craft. You don’t need to wait for inspiration, because inspiration will come to you when you practice. The more you open your mind to the possibilities of your stories, the more you’ll gain insight to your own words.

On the days you don’t feel like writing, promise yourself you’ll write just 500 words (that’s one page, come on already) about anything. I mean anything. Here are some prompts to get you started:

  • A man walks into a bar and realizes he has a drinking problem.
  • A dog decides to take up ice skating.
  • A small group of people face having to eat one of their own to survive.
  • Gorillas figure out how to shoot people.
  • One beauty contest goes horribly wrong.

Pick one of these and do just 500 words about it. See if it turns into something, and go from there. That’s exactly what I do when I don’t feel like writing.

Now, I’m off to write a short story about a road trip. Let’s see where this road takes me. Write away.

This post is dedicated to Howard Mittelmark and Sandra Newman, authors of How Not to Write a Novel. Once they’ve inspired you, follow them on Twitter. But don’t leave me hanging! You can follow me on Twitter (@Spellvira), where you can read absurdities on an infrequent basis. You can also learn more and read excerpts of my work on my tumblr page.