Sunday, November 24, 2013

Comestibles & Character Identity

(The most perfect dessert from a wonderful bakery/cafe called "Bread and Chocolate")

As Thanksgiving is swiftly bearing down on us, I thought I would hail its many gravy boats and gooey marshmallow yam dishes,  praise buttery mashed potato peaks and  liberal dollops of fresh cranberry sauce that gleam like jelly garnets. But I'm not engaging in run-on sentences just to rant about the sanctioned sweet gluttony of this coming Thursday, though, believe me, I could go on for paragraphs about how my grandma's dinner rolls maintain the perfect ratio between airy fluff and warm substance. . . I want to talk about food as a potentially defining aspect of character identity.

For example, who can think of Charles Dickens's Miss Havisham without shuddering at her petrified wedding cake, the symbol of her ruin and lost hopes? Who can imagine Gollum without his repulsive penchant for gnashing raw and wriggling fish? Food can also function as a driving force in your character's life; in the manga/anime Kekkaishi, Yoshimora is obsessed with making the perfect cake for a girl who once almost lost her life because of him. Food can also define a place. I must confess that I still harbor a secret hope that when I die, heaven has a welcome feast at Redwall Abbey (Long have I dreamed of their nut-crusted cheeses and berry cordials)! 

I'm not saying that you should randomly insert your characters's most loved and loathed dishes, but I do think that food can sometimes act as a lens for insight into your characters. In my own life, there are dishes that uniquely define my identity, scents and tastes that now belong to the secrets of the past. For many Thanksgivings, I didn't eat turkey. My Mom lived in Spain for almost two years in her twenties and learned how to create several dishes, including paella. Thanksgiving in my family meant the sizzling of shrimp and the sweet juice of scallops mixed with peas, vegetables, and brown rice (though I always picked out the red peppers. I detest peppers). But my mother passed away and foolishly, I never learned how to make paella her way. So I will always nurse a tiny sorrow on Thanksgiving even as I treasure the memory of lost spices and flavors.

Have a great Thanksgiving, fellow denizens of Earth! In the words of a friend, "Be good to each other." 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Poe's Dream

"Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before." - from "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe

I hope I never grow too afraid to stop staring into my darkness and fishing for stars. I won't pretend there aren't hours when I wonder what it would be like to have a quiet brain, without characters jostling for room and demanding ink to flesh out their silhouettes. It seems such an easy thing to throw oneself into the routine of school and work and set aside folly-filled pages until a more "convenient" time. It should be easy, right? Rational, even. But when I ignore these stories, I ignore myself. We share the same reflection.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Silver Days

Lake George (undoubtedly a Faerie realm!)


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Fairy Portals and Autumn Rainbows

Alas, my graduate proposal has eaten my brains. But I will get back to my storytelling ink in a week. I wished on a rainbow after all, the only one I have seen all year:

Of course, if that doesn't work, I may just take this portal to Faerie!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Revise thyself!

                                                                 (Ragged Loveliness)

Ahem . . . pardon my intolerable lateness. I lost most of August to an unexpected tonsillectomy. Project Two Moons must now contend with my last semester of graduate school, learning Japanese, wedding planning and preparing to move halfway across the globe all by the end of December (insert mega-gulp). However, I fully intend to complete the rough draft before November! I guess that makes it Project Four Moons? Meh. I think the most important lesson I have learned from my miserable end-of-summer experience is that grape popsicles are simply fabulous (but four boxes later, I doubt I shall ever eat them again!). No, that's not it . . . I learned that all my plans and passions can be pulverized, and I will still spring ink from the wreckage. Don't surrender your writer's quill just because you are mired in a desolate moment. Time passes, but we scribblers are our own eternal punishment. You have to cut yourself some slack for being a fallible mortal. Give yourself permission to follow the strand of syllables inside again. Sentences are always waiting to be picked up, even if you have to leave them hanging for awhile.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Progress Report 5: Reclaiming the Joy of Drafting

                                                A Snowy Ephemera Fairy (Or a bug)

      Late. Indeed, I am. My reasons are my own and I shall not enumerate them here as mundanities and melodrama are ultimately just lame elaborations of the common expression, "That's life!" But I am also 27k closer to my goal (Cue the heralds). By the end of next week, I will have crossed the halfway mark to finishing Project Two Moons. Insert happy face emoticon.
      But this week deserves some trumpet toots, as well: I rediscovered the joy of drafting. That's right, "JOY." Normally, I detest drafting. Inking each word is like pulling teeth. It hurts. But I think that's because sometimes I expect my characters to smile back perfectly from the page, immediately. I don't give them time to adjust from my ephemeral mindscape to the nitty-gritty 2-D world of adverbs, adjectives, and the dreaded dangling modifier. I've got to stop expecting them to be so finite. They were in flux in my head. Likewise, I need to give them paper space to just be
      So I let two of my main protagonists banter a bit in the last chapter and watched their emotions swing between loathing and love, the vulnerability of truth and the despicable agony of hidden choices. I'm not going to keep all their quarrels. After all, my WIP is fiction, not reality TV! But letting my characters play on the page helped me to figure their hearts out. 

Monday, July 29, 2013

Progress Report 4: The good kind of writer's block

Alas, I realize this report is a little belated. But I am officially 1/3 done with Project Two Moons! I wrestled with a particular issue in my last chapter, a technique I first learned about in my one and only acting class in college: "Blocking." This technique refers to how an actor is positioned in relation to the stage. I try to apply the same principle to my characters. Where exactly are they in their location? (Next to a snarled patch of raspberries that cling to their skirt's hem, standing under the shade of a dusty suit of armor, enduring the icy smack of rain drops sneaking through the hole in the roof's thatching, etc.) Secondly, what are your characters doing, especially while speaking? (Chewing a tooth pick, secretly scratching poems into the cheap underside of a particle board desk, etc.)

I'm not saying you should over-clutter your dialogue with unnecessary character movement. However, it's too easy to fill up a scene with dialogue and leave the rest of the room, or even the character, a "void." One of my favorite quotes from the Tao Te Ching also calls attention to the idea of burgeoning richness within the confines of space: "We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever you want." So don't let the initial "emptiness" of portions of your draft discourage you. Block it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Progress Report 3: Maximize the Minimal

          I'm one fourth done with Project Two Moons. But don't break out the confetti just yet. That's a measly 3 out of 12 chapters on file, which translates into roughly 15k words. (Like I said, hold the hurrahs). Technically, I'm actually one week behind in my ink jot quota . . . However,considering I was afflicted with a grievous cold and a massive case of poison ivy all in the same week, I am forgiving my temporary lapse in brilliancy just this once. I can still finish the draft before the end of August! Hmm, what have I learned so far in my drafting process? The importance of maximizing the impact of minor characters! Don't create flimsy paper dolls blown aside with a page. Weigh them down with motives, mannerisms, manias, the works! Make them memorable. Just be careful not to let them steal the story. For example, a dead emperor in my current WIP is taking up far too much time in a princess's heart. If I'm not careful, I won't leave room for Jack. Bother!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Progress Report 2: Information Overload


              Project Two Moons is running slowly, but I just hit my first 10k mark! Hurrah. Hopefully my mental drive has finished warming up and will kick into high drive now. Today I want to ponder the perils of first chapters. Specifically, the danger of information overload. I frequently catch myself trying to lay out way too much world-building in the first chapters. I have to remind myself that I should be leaving a tantalizing bread crumb trail for my readers, not a spilled cart-load of loaves. However, sometimes I just need to write the idea down even if I know I'm ultimately not going to include it in that particular section. That's what sister files are for! I can always transplant the idea later on in an appropriate passage. First drafts are inherently messy. But that's okay. In fact, it's MORE than okay. It's the reality of writing and I have to accept it if I am going to escape the mire of hyper-analysis and actually string syllables into sentences. Perfection is a process, not an instantaneous imprint! The Greeks got it: their word for perfection meant "complete" or "finished."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Camping on the Iceberg: How to turn an idea into a novel

An incarnadine clue . . . 

         The first week has already evaporated and it's time for my very first progress report on Project Two Moons. I must confess that the first week is always my favorite, because the majority of my ink is dedicated to plotting my brains out! I have a very specific process I follow before I begin writing a manuscript, because there is nothing worse than plunging many thousands of words into a story line only to realize that the plot is a shallow ink stream that meanders off the page into a lethal mire of tiresome cliches. Every writer has their own process, but this is the method that works best for me:

 1. Working Title -a title sets the tone. The words may change, but it is essential to pin down the general ambiance of your book.
 2. Kernel Sentence & Pitch Combo (the big SO WHAT. In other words, why I am writing this? How is it different? What is my golden hook?)
 3. Synopsis - I know it might be tempting to write the synopsis AFTER you have finished your manuscript, but this initial step cannot be skipped, ever. Even if significant details change later on, having a solid idea of the plot's progression and how the characters evolve over the course of your story before you commit major ink time to it is crucial.
 4. Character Profiles (for everyone, major, minor, even animals.)These include the physiology, sociology, and psychology of each character. See my previous post for greater details.
 5. Master World File - The landscape of my world-geological, political, economic, magical, etc. This step outlines all setting details, histories, and important terms, etc. It also establishes the story's boundaries. For example, the consequences of magic systems (I learned this rule when I had the good luck to take a creative writing class from Brandon Sanderson at BYU). Massive power is boring without a clearly defined consequence for using it. Imagine Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood without the Law of Equivalent Exchange!
 6. Chapter Outline - Honestly, this part takes me the longest. Each chapter is its own microcosm of evolving characters and events that must thread seamlessly into the next. Correctly weaving all these shining beads of thought together is a process of trial and error. Mostly error, but eventually, after much random pondering, sounding off ideas with friends and family, and late night scribbling . . . I get it! The working blueprint. A lot of this information won't make it into the actual novel. The reader will only see the tip of the iceberg. The foundation must lie beneath the page, within me. I must admit there is a certain keen satisfaction that comes when I can hold the luminescence of a new world in my head and play grand high creatrix of destiny! My WIP has gone through these initial steps. Now comes the hardest part - fitting ink and syllable to the dream. Time to blast some M83 music to accompany the tap of my keyboard.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Project Two Moons

Summer Salutations! I've never done this before . . . charted a work-in-progress online. But I think tracking my ink will sharpen my creative quill while also giving me a chance to meta-write about the process, so it's time for a grand experiment! Today is June 25th. I'm going to set my deadline for August 25th. That's two months to finish the first full draft of my next novel, hence, Project Two Moons. I shall be giving weekly progress reports to analyze what works, what doesn't, and what inspires. Today's scintillating thought: “Books are gems. Books which leaves your spine aching from sitting up all night reading them; Books whose characters live in the bright corners of your mind. Books which hold the limits of space and time within them; Books which teach you all that man knows and all that man wants. Books are power.” -Philip Womack The only hint I shall give today about my current WIP can be found in this photo:

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fantasia Nostalgia

I was cleaning out some old boxes when I came across my childhood scrawlings. Oh, the days of sparkly gel pens and colored pencils! Some of these pictures had stories, too. Whole chronicles! Perhaps I shall write them one day.

Sunday, June 2, 2013


Nature makes the best messes. I wish all my messes could be half so bountiful with color and spark!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yellow Jubilation

I stumbled upon this beauty on a walk. I believe it might be a Trout Lily aka "Dogtooth Violet." I do so love spring's sudden exclamation marks!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

10-1 Countdown Story

Poor blog! I've been so busy with my student teaching semester that I fear I have neglected you. So today I'd like to share one of my favorite creative writing exercises that I learned in a fiction class: the 10-1 countdown story. The rules are simple: You write a story in ten sentences. But here's the catch. The first sentence must be ten words long. The next sentence has nine, then eight . . . Get the picture? Your last sentence is just one word. Here is my hastily inked example: Every dragon gets tired of pillaging kingdoms and collecting princesses. But it's not easy to retire as a monster. Peasants hold grudges when you eat their sheep. Every knight is after your life's work. Forget counting rubies and stacking coins. Cozy dens are for rabbits. So unleash your beast. Sharpen your claws. File fangs. Roar!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Fairy Home

A good friend made me a most unique present for Christmas: A fairy home! Apparently, she got the idea from Pinterest.
Plenty of pearls and pixie dust to please the most particular fairy . . .
Notice the front door and window? Now this is what I call a mini-mansion of luxury!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Power to the Paint

Insomnia+Powerpoint clipart = pseudo-cover for my new WIP!