Be Violent And Original (in your writing, naturally)

Image“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” – Gustave Flaubert

Live a good life. This isn’t something I should have to tell you. As you make your way through the workaday world, you should strive to do no harm, treasure your relationships with family and friends, seek calming pleasures that contribute to peace of mind, and live in harmony and balance.

Your written life? That’s a different creature all together.

Safe, tame, bland, and sometimes “it’s good” (with the unspoken “but…” attached on the end like a phantom limb) are among the worst things someone can say about your work. Whenever you write, your goal should be to provide elements that hook your audience and reels them in and after the story has been told, leaves them with an emotional takeaway.

Writing is about risk-taking, about snapping off the handbrakes, about shrugging off restraint, about leaving your internal censor bound and gagged in a tiny room, allowing your words and imagination to run amuck and wreak havoc in the world you’ve created.

If you’re not currently writing this way, what’s holding you back? What’s bridling your passion? What’s preventing you from creating bold characters, powerful phrases and dangerous situations? If not yours, then whose hand is on the lever that controls the sluice gates holding back the churning anxiety, obsession and peril your story desperately needs?

Are you trapped within the safe zone because of fear? Then allow me to geek out a moment as I quote the litany of fear, an incantation used by the religious/political sisterhood known as the Bene Gesserit from Frank Herbert’s science fiction classic, Dune:

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Fear is also an art-killer. It’s typically the fear of being judged by professionals, critics and peers, of not being admired by the audience for taking a controversial stance or doing horrible things to characters. But the possible opinions and tastes of everyone outside yourself shouldn’t factor in while you’re creating your story. The transfer of ownership hasn’t taken place at this point. It isn’t the reader’s story yet, it’s still yours, so why not write fiercely?

Give your characters barbed tongues and let them spit venom. Give them the courage to do all the things you would never dream of attempting, even on your most adventurous or foolhardy day. Tear their hearts out and make them suffer as you place them smack dab in the center of conflict and tension-filled drama.

Basically, I’m asking you to fish out that key that you’ve hidden in the back of a junk drawer within the deep recesses of your mind and open the door to your wildest imaginings.

You’ll come to discover that if you’re open, honest and free in your writing, yes, you will have your critics and people who won’t either like or understand your work, but you’ll also attract an audience that will come back for more.

What’s that? You need more incentive? Okay, well I didn’t want to break out the big guns but here goes:

I dare you to become more engaging and intriguing with your writing. I double-dog dare you.

See what you made me do? Happy now?

Sally forth and be writeful.

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Writers Are Defined by the Words They Use

“In the most basic way, writers are defined not by the stories they tell, or their politics, or their gender, or their race, but by the words they use. Writing begins with language, and it is in that initial choosing, as one sifts through the wayward lushness of our wonderful mongrel English, that choice of vocabulary and grammar and tone, the selection on the palette, that determines who’s sitting at that desk. Language creates the writer’s attitude toward the particular story he’s decided to tell.” — Donald E. Westlake

Applying Life Lessons To Your Writing

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If you approach online surfing with the mentality of a prospector and sift through content, letting the useless bits fall away (no judgments on the content you derive enjoyment from) the interwebz is packed to the rafters with knowledge, wisdom and lessons. It’s the wise sage of our virtual village.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of the adages that can be applied to your life can also be applied to your everyday writing, be it screen, creative, novel, short story, blogging, etc.

The goal of a post like this isn’t to sugar coat how difficult and torturous writing can be at times, there’s no masking that truth. Your takeaway from this should be that your approach to and mental outlook on writing needs to become a positive thing, if it isn’t already.

“There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time”

Unlike Lord Chesterfield, to whom the above quote is attributed, I’m not opposed to multitasking, and I’m sure you’re a marvel at juggling several things at a time, but when you sit down to write, that’s all you should be focused on.

“But,” you say, “I’m a chronic multitasker!” Don’t worry, I’m not trying to strip you of your royal heritage, but it is essential to develop a meditative focus when it comes to act of writing. You’re creating a world, sharing an experience, and/or teaching a lesson to your reader, and they deserve your full attention, don’t they?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained/You only get out of life what you put into it.

What exactly can you put into your writing?  The answer to that question is up to you. Hard work, determination, and a positive attitude are a few things that come to mind. Doing the donkey work and writing everyday, come hell or high water, are the breadcrumbs you lay down to attract the muse.

“There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they’re necessary to reach the places we’ve chosen to go.” –Richard Bach

You will make mistakes in your writing. That fact is as certain as one day you will die (but not for a long, long, long time, knock wood). All the missteps in tackling a story you couldn’t work out an ending for, creating characters that refuse to talk to you, stories that lie as flat as road kill, and even writing that makes you absolutely retch. Embrace it all. Mistakes are your teachers along the rocky path of becoming a successful writer. To be clear, being successful has nothing to do with publication, sales, or fame. Sure, that stuff’s awful nice to have (great job if you can get it) but satisfying your inner critic is the mark of true success, in my humble opinion.

“People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?” — Nhat Hanh

Yup, we’re back on that positivity kick again. Why? Because it’s your cheerleader when you absolutely hate your work, your rah-rah section when you’re slogging through difficult writing, and your attaboy when you finally clear the briar patch of a formerly impossible writing task. The responsibility rests upon your shoulders to become your biggest fan throughout all the writing stages–brainstorming, outlining, character development, the draft, and yes, even editing.

I could list others, but I think you get the point and you’re smart enough to figure the rest out on your own. Good luck, and stay positive.

Sally forth and be writeful.

Annie Proulx Suggests You Live Before You Write

Spend some time living before you start writing. What I find to be very bad advice is the snappy little sentence, “Write what you know.” It is the most tiresome and stupid advice that could possibly be given. If we write simply about what we know we never grow. We don’t develop any facility for languages, or an interest in others, or a desire to travel and explore and face experience head-on. We just coil tighter and tighter into our boring little selves. What one should write about is what interests one.

I Question Your Character (and so should you)

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As stated in a previous post, hand in hand with creating a strong premise for your story, developing believable characters to fill your imaginary world is an essential part of constructing fiction. The best way for your audience to identify with characters lies in your ability to understand them fully, and the best way for you to accomplish this is to talk to them, or better yet, ask them a series of questions. It’s important that you don’t allow them be evasive and certainly do not take no for an answer.

Don’t worry, you won’t be asking them complicated things like their strategy on balancing the nation’s budget, why the burning sun doesn’t incinerate itself, or how do you solve a problem like Maria? The list of questions below are relatively basic, some which have occurred to you and others that most likely haven’t. And even though most of their answers aren’t particularly relevant to your story and probably won’t come up in conversation, it will aid you in understanding the inner workings of their nonexistent minds.

You’ll notice that the questions have been broken up into bite-sized nuggets, thus making the task of developing your characters less insurmountable, and offering you a coffee or ciggie butt break between your interrogation, should you need it. Now, without further ado:

101 Character Development Questions (grill ‘em like a steak!)

Character Development Questions #1 – The Basics

These are the first questions you need to answer about your character – the stuff you probably need to know to get started.

  1. Name?
  2. Age?
  3. Approximate height?
  4. Approximate weight?
  5. Hair color?
  6. Eye color?
  7. Skin tone?
  8. Do they speak with an accent?
  9. Where are they from?
  10. Where are they now?

Character Development Questions #2 – Backstory

Developing a solid backstory for your characters is essential – even if you don’t put much or any of it in the narrative. The more you treat your character as though they are a real person, the more real they’ll become.

  1. Who are their parents? Biologically and socially.
  2. What is their earliest memory?
  3. What did they want to be when they grew up?
  4. What did/do their parents want them to be?
  5. Do they have siblings? Older or younger? Brothers or sisters?
  6. Do they have or have they ever had children? How many?
  7. Do they or have ever had a significant other? Are they still with them? Why? Why not?
  8. What were they doing right before the story starts?
  9. Up until now, what’s the most noteworthy thing they’ve done? To them? To the people around them?
  10. What was their education like?

Character Development Questions #3 – Tastes

Your characters likes and dislikes is possibly the most overt part of ‘who they are’.

  1. What’s your character’s favorite color?
  2. Do they/would they choose to wear a scent? What would it be?
  3. Do they care about what things look like? All things, or only some?
  4. What’s their favorite ice cream flavor?
  5. Are they a tea, or coffee drinker? Or soft drinks, or do they drink a lot of alcohol? What kind?
  6. What kind of books do they read? What TV shows and movies do they watch?
  7. What kind of music do they like? Do they like music at all?
  8. If they were about to die, what would they have as their last meal?
  9. Are they hedonistic? In all cases? Or does practicality sometimes/always/often win out?
  10. Do they have any philias or phobias?

Character Development Questions #4 – Morals, Beliefs, and Faith

A character’s moral code and beliefs can offer a lot of insights on their motives, and the likelihood of their taking a given course of action.

  1. Do they have an internal (something that they’ve come up with for themselves) or an external (something handed to them via religion, family traits, etc.) moral code?
  2. To what extent are their actions dictated by this code?
  3. Do they believe in a God or Gods/Goddesses/Higher being of some description?
  4. Are they superstitious?
  5. Do they value faith/instinct more highly than reason?
  6. Do they believe in an afterlife? If so, what’s it like?
  7. Do they have any specific beliefs that manifest obviously?
  8. Are the respectful of the beliefs of others? To what extent?
  9. Have they ever had to stand up to criticism for being religious? Or not being religious?
  10. Would they be more likely to act for the good of the one, or the good of the many?

Character Development Questions #5 – Relationships

It would be difficult to write a character who never interacted with anyone else. We learn more about a character from the way other people react to them than by their actions alone.

  1. Do they make friends easily?
  2. Do they have a best friend?
  3. Can they get people to do what they want them to? If so, how?
  4. Do they have a lot of romantic relationships? Serious, or short term?
  5. Do they fall in and out of love easily?
  6. Do strangers and acquaintances actually like them when they meet?
  7. Do they have a network (people they’re connected to without necessarily knowing)?
  8. What is their relationship like with their family?
  9. Are they still in touch with non-family people they were in touch with a year ago? Five years? Ten? More?
  10. Do they like children? Do they want children of their own?

Character Development Questions #6 – Physical Appearance

Time to play dress up!

  1. How does this character dress? How would they choose to dress, if all options were open to them?
  2. Do they have any tattoos? What do they mean?
  3. Do they have piercings? How many? Is this culturally appropriate for them?
  4. Do they have scars? Where did they come from?
  5. Do they alter their appearance in some way on a regular basis (make up, hair dye, etc.)?
  6. Is there something they’d choose to change about their appearance if they had the opportunity to?
  7. Is there something about their appearance they’re particularly proud of/happy with?
  8. Objectively, are they physically attractive? Fairly plain? Unattractive?
  9. Do they have an accurate mental picture and opinion of their physical appearance?
  10. How much time do they spend thinking about their physical appearance?

Character Development Questions #7 – General Knowledge

How well acquainted is your character with the world around them?

  1. Can they navigate their own local area without getting lost? To what degree?
  2. Do they know who the top politician or monarch is where they live? What about elsewhere?
  3. Do they know if/where there are any major conflicts going on right now?
  4. Do they know the composition of water?
  5. Do they know how to eat a pomegranate (or any other tricky item of food)?
  6. Are they good with the technology available to them? Average? Completely hopeless?
  7. Could they paint a house… without making a mess of it?
  8. Could they bake a cake? Would you eat it if they did?
  9. Do they know how to perform basic maintenance on the common mode of transportation?
  10. Do they know the price of a loaf of bread?

Character Development Questions #8 – Specific Knowledge

What about special skills?

  1. Do they have a specific qualification in a narrow area?
  2. Is there something they do or know exceptionally well that most other people don’t?
  3. Do people often comment on a particular skill or area of knowledge to this character? Behind their back?
  4. Is there an area this character could be considered top of their field or a genius in?
  5. Have they deliberately sought to gain knowledge in a specific area? If so, why?
  6. Do they speak more than one language? More than two? Why?
  7. Does their cultural background effect what they would be expected to know?
  8. Have they ever been publicly acknowledged for being well-versed in something?
  9. Have they ever been bullied for knowing a lot about something?
  10. Do they actively seek new knowledge, or let it come to them naturally?

Character Development Questions #9 – “What if…” Questions

These questions are designed to give you a different perspective on why certain things are important about your character – or why they’re not.

  1. What if they’d been born with a different biological sex?
  2. What if they’d have more or less siblings?
  3. What if a key formative event in their past had gone differently?
  4. What if they lost a limb?
  5. What if someone close to them died unexpectedly?
  6. What if they’d been born 50 years earlier? 100 years? 1000?
  7. What if they’d done something completely different on the morning when the story starts?
  8. What if they found enough money to make them wealthy for the rest of their life in a bag?
  9. What if they were stranded and deserted?
  10. What if they were betrayed by someone they trusted?

Character Development Questions #10 – Miscellany

These are just questions that any real person would likely be able to answer, but a fictional character often can’t.

  1. What did they have for breakfast this morning?
  2. What ridiculous beliefs did they have as a child?
  3. Do they like marshmallow treats?
  4. Do they sleep on their side, front, or back?
  5. Do they work better with sound or silence?
  6. Do they have a strange obsession with something minor?
  7. Do they like art?
  8. How fast can they run?
  9. Do they prefer to sit on the floor or on a chair?
  10. What do they want, right now?

Question 101 – Why Should Give A Tinker’s Damn About Your Character?

Don’t get offended, it’s a valid question. What makes your character interesting? Am I supposed to like them, or hate them? Why?

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Congrats! You’ve made it to the end of the tedious, yet invaluable character question list. Hopefully it helps. Now stop standing around here gawking. Sally forth and be writeful.

Enjoy your holiday weekend (and you really should have invited me over for barbeque. Next year, eh?)

Frank Conroy: “The Author Makes A Tacit Deal with the Reader”

The author makes a tacit deal with the reader. You hand them a backpack. You ask them to place certain things in it—to remember, to keep in mind — as they make their way up the hill. If you hand them a yellow Volkswagen and they have to haul this to the top of the mountain—to the end of the story—and they find that this Volkswagen has nothing whatsoever to do with your story, you’re going to have a very irritated reader on your hands.

21 Writing Lessons A Wise Man Would Share (and no, I’m not calling myself wise)

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  1. Commitment is what transforms an idea floating around in your head into reality. Putting pen to paper speaks boldly of your intentions and are the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to shape ethereal things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.
  2. No one is perfect. The quicker this is realized the faster you can get on with being excellent. Start every morning ready to write harder than you did the day before and plot further than you ever imagine.
  3. Avoid over explaining yourself in writing. Be confident that your audience is intelligent enough to understand.
  4. Write down what’s most important to you in your writing career and the steps to accomplish that goal and show up. Sometimes we tend to do the things that are most important to us when it’s written down.
  5. Play the hand you’re dealt. Stop envying someone else’s talent or success. Have the courage to face your own writing challenges head on. It builds character. Start looking for a way through instead of a way out.
  6. Become a student of life. Learn something new every day. The day you stop learning is the day you become obsolete so keep learning and keep writing.
  7. No excuses. Stop making excuses for not writing and replace them with ways to do better writing. Excuses are a waste of time and energy.
  8. Never be ashamed to tell anyone you’re a writer, whether you’re published or not. The definition of a writer is a person who writes or is able to write. Being ashamed to acknowledge this fact to people speaks to self-doubt, which is a desire killer.
  9. Never be afraid of a writing challenge. If you never strive to be more than what you are, you’ll never truly know what you can become.
  10. Service to others. Pointing people in the right direction is such a small thing. Give advice to those who ask for it. Offer support to those who want it. We’re all here to teach as well as learn.
  11. Work like hell. If you want to earn a living as a writer, that is. Treat it like a profession, put your absolute best foot forward and be thorough. Cross every “T” and dot every “I”.
  12. Discover you. Find your passion, life purpose, and pursue them… then write about them.
  13. Don’t take it personally. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and laugh at something that you’ve written in the past that’s just plain awful. Self-awareness and self-confidence shows that you’re comfortable in your own skin.
  14. Manage your time. Our situation and environment is ever changing so be careful not to confuse the things that are urgent with the things that are important. Look for time wasters and eliminate them.
  15. Ask for help. Writing can be tough and although you do a majority of it alone, you should never write in a total vacuum and there’s no shame in seeking advice when you’re stuck.
  16. Do your homework. Know what you’re getting into before you start writing in a particular field, format or genre. Doing your homework reduces uncertainty and fear.
  17. Daydream often. Your imagination is a muscle that requires exercise and daydreaming is an excellent way to flex. Embrace and preserve your daydreams at all cost.
  18. Forgive and set free. Freeing your mind to write is almost as important as actually sitting down to write, so cultivate a healthy dose of forgiveness and set someone free. Learn to forgive others and stop carrying those bags of hate, guilt or regret.
  19. Stay one step ahead. Avoid big fish/small pond thinking if at all possible. If you’ve mastered a particular style of writing, why not be proactive, take the initiative, and see what other types of writing challenges are out there for you?
  20. Self-love. Become your own priority. Strive to be the you, you want to be. Once you accomplish this, it will show in your writing, trust me.
  21. Finish what you started. Avoid the urge to stray. Distractions are the writer’s most fearsome adversary. Avoid jumping off a project because a better idea has come along. Jot the better idea down, set it aside, and come back to it when you’re done with your current project.

Sally forth and be wisely writeful.

— Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

 

John Fowles on the Psyche-Consuming Business of Writing

  1. There are only two races on this planet – the intelligent and the stupid.
  2. There comes a time in each life like a point of fulcrum. At that time you must accept yourself. It is not any more what you will become. It is what you are and always will be.
  3. The most important questions in life can never be answered by anyone except oneself.
  4. We all write poems; it is simply that poets are the ones who write in words.
  5. You may think novelists always have fixed plans to which they work, so that the future predicted by Chapter One is always inexorably the actuality of Chapter Thirteen. But novelists write for countless different reasons: for money, for fame, for reviewers, for parents, for friends, for loved ones; for vanity, for pride, for curiosity, for amusement: as skilled furniture makers enjoy making furniture, as drunkards like drinking, as judges like judging, as Sicilians like emptying a shotgun into an enemy’s back. I could fill a book with reasons, and they would all be true, though not true of all. Only one same reason is shared by all of us: we wish to create worlds as real as, but other than the world that is. Or was. This is why we cannot plan. We know a world is an organism, not a machine.
  6. There are many reasons why novelists write, but they all have one thing in common – a need to create an alternative world.
  7. That was the tragedy. Not that one man had the courage to be evil. But that millions had not the courage to be good.
  8. Wealth is a monster. It takes a month to learn to control it financially. And many years to learn to control it psychologically.
  9. I think all the arts draw on a nostalgia or longing for a better world—at root a better metaphysical condition—than the one that is. Self-destructive, I don’t know, but certainly we are all victims of some form of manic depression. That is the price of being what we are. I would never choose—even if I could!—to be a more “normal” human being; I would never choose something without that emotional cost, severe though it can become.
  10. Writing novels is a time-consuming, psyche-consuming business. I mean I don’t think a good teacher actually would be likely to write good novels.
  11. What interests me about novelists as a species is the obsessiveness of the activity, the fact that novelists have to go on writing. I think that probably must come from a sense of the irrecoverable. In every novelist’s life there is some more acute sense of loss than with other people, and I suppose I must have felt that. I didn’t realize it, I suppose, till the last ten or fifteen years. In fact you have to write novels to begin to understand this. There’s a kind of backwardness in the novel…an attempt to get back to a lost world.
  12. If a novelist isn’t in exile I suspect he’d be in trouble.

Of Our Hue Filmworks: The Maconheiro Preview Clips

The Tale of The Maconheiro:

Preview clip starring Steph Van Vlack, Pedro Rezende, Charlotte Grant, Julia Giolzetti, and Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys. Written & Directed by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys. Copyright 2008-2016 Of Our Hue Filmworks. All Rights Reserved.

Deborah and Verity meeting:

Preview clip starring Monica Hammond and Charlotte Grant. Written & Directed by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys. Copyright 2008-2016 Of Our Hue Filmworks. All Rights Reserved.

Steve’s crib:

Preview clip starring Monica Hammond, Daniel Petsche, Elizabeth Sawyer and Chris Van Kirk. Written & Directed by Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys. Copyright 2008-2016 Of Our Hue Filmworks. All Rights Reserved.