ANGER CLEANING!

Whew.  This was an exhausting week, creatively speaking.

Ever get hyper-frustrated with something about your writing (or art (or music)) that just won’t turn out right, no matter how long you stare at it and how much you tweak it?

Of course you do.

 

Tip of a fishToil Your Fury Away.

Most of the time, in those instances, the best thing to do is to step away for a while.  But you can’t just do nothing – no, you’re upset because that lack of progress is making you feel unproductive, and just sitting on that pent-up irritation energy won’t do a whole lot to wind it down.

So!  Find an important, monotonous drudge of a task (that maybe you’ve been putting off) to do around the house, and do it angrily.  You’re already in a bad mood, so what could it hurt?  Cleaning is an easy fallback; it’s just one of those things that can almost always stand to be done (particularly if you live with messy people).  But reorganizing, repairs, yardwork – it’s all good, so long as it can occupy you for a half-hour or more.

Whatever the task, throwing yourself into it can be cathartic.  It won’t be taxing on your tired brain, and it will be a welcome redirection of focus (which confers the added bonus that you’ll do a better job at it than you would have if you were approaching it in the normal, reluctant, eager to get it over with manner).  On the other side of things, repetitive physical work can be conducive to creative thinking, so you may just find yourself with a new idea or two.  In any case, it will use up your anxious fervor, and when you’re done, you’ll know that you’ve accomplished something – an often desperately needed feeling.

 

I spent a couple of hours anger-cleaning my kitchen today.

 

Cleeeaaaan

Some of it fits in a photograph.

 

And now, order is restored.

(Although, to be fair, the source of the rage-fuel in this particular instance was primarily the messiness itself…but still)

Bene scribete.

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Synopses

While putting the finishing touches on The Amber Ring these last couple weeks, I figured I’d also better throw together a full synopsis for it.

Synopses are kind of a drag.

Not because they’re hard to write – I’ve had more than my fair share of practice summarizing.  It’s because they’re not always easy to keep exciting.  Maintaining something of the flavor and tone of your work while drying it up to its basic elements can be a frustrating task.  I’m certain there are numerous others who can give better advice on the subject than I can, but since I’m here, and so, ostensibly, are you, I’ll go over some of the things I like to keep in mind.

There’s no real easy, short-cut way to approach the whole process, but here are a few points to ponder:

 

Tip of a fish

Synopsis Considerations

 

  • A synopsis is typically a two-to-eight page summary of the entire work – the big twists, the ending, everything (important).
  • The editor or agent you’re submitting to might have a specific requirement as to what constitutes a page, but if not, double-spaced 12-point Courier New with one inch margins is a good place to start.
  • The first paragraph is often best utilized in setting up the chief protagonist – who she is, and how she got to where she is when the story begins.  If you already have a pitch line, it might fit nicely in here.  The remaining paragraphs will then recount the events that constitute the story in the order in which they are presented.
  • At least to start with, only include details essential to understanding the main plot; subplots can be added in order of precedence if there is room left in your alloted space and it would make the summary stronger on the whole.
  • The manuscript to synopsis event space ratio can be wildly inconsistent.  Some scenes may take half a sentence, some half a page, depending on how much plot-essential material they contain.  Some scenes can be omitted altogether.
  • Use strong, descriptive, succinct language (because it’s that easy, right?  (>^-‘)> ).  Word economy is paramount.
  • It’s O.K. to be a little conversational; it can help to engage the reader.
  • If you need some ideas on summarizing, look up recaps for TV episodes, or pull up your favorite films on Wikipedia and read the plot sections.  These usually constitute what amounts to synopsis copy.
  • If you’re really stuck on a blank page, you can try zero-drafting (or better yet, dictating if you have speech-to-text software) your initial go by describing the story, stream-of-conscious, from start to finish as you would a good book or movie to a friend.  You can always edit the result up or down as needed, or scrap it and try again.
  • Cheat.  If page format isn’t directly specified, and you’re aiming for a certain length, tweak the margins and line spacing (but preferably not the font) to your advantage.
  • It doesn’t hurt to conclude the synopsis with a poetic statement that encapsulates some important thematic element from the story’s ending.
  • Have someone who has not read your work take a look at the finished synopsis, and ask them if the story when presented thus is easily followable, makes sense, and is free from superfluous material.

 

Ultimately, a synopsis just serves as a quick overview of a story’s plot to ensure that it’s coherent, original, and interesting.  It doesn’t have to be as brilliantly executed as the manuscript, but anything you can do within its limits to show off the promise of your work will surely be a point in your favor.

 

Bene scribete.

Names

Naming characters is an important, sometimes fun, sometimes tricky part of the fiction-writing process, and is something I alternately love and dread.  A name is a symbol that represents someone, both offering identity to those it is attached to, and in turn adopting it from them.

I find that there are generally three ways (or a mix thereof) to come up with and decide upon those monikers:

  • Namesakes.  One simple way to name a character is to do so (in part or in whole) after someone else – someone you know, someone from history, or even another character from some other work.  Such a name will probably already have strong connotations for you, and those might just be appropriate for who you’re writing.
  • Meaning.  The advantage writers have over parents in the naming department is the foreknowledge of who this person or creature they’re creating will be, and can choose a name that is symbolically fitting (or ironically incongruous).  This can be in the form of a name that’s also a word in the operative language (Will, Victor, Dawn, Amber, etc.), a word from another language, or something suitable trolled from babynames.com.  (>^-‘)>
  • Aesthetics.  Often, just focusing on how a name sounds and looks is all you need to do.  I tend to lean mostly in this direction, relying heavily on phonetics when working out what to call characters.  Sounds used together in specific ways can evoke qualities of roughness, delicacy, power, playfulness, and a number of other feelings to subconsciously color the impression of the named.  Spelling should also be a consideration; the visual appeal of different letter arrangements can have the same sort of impact.  All of this goes for whether you’re picking a common name or making up a new one (though I could probably do a whole separate post on the latter!).

 

However you end up choosing your names, there is one thing I always recommend.

 

Tip of a fishName Your Characters As Soon As Possible.

The less you’ve decided about a character, the easier it is to settle on a name.  At least that’s always been the case for me.  Sometimes, the name will even help slightly with further direction!

The more important a character is, the more true this becomes.  If you have a strong image of the character in mind by the time you start thinking seriously about what to call them, picking a name that feels right can be a daunting task.  It means you have all the more context and nuance to map to that all-important referential symbol.  It’ll seem like you have to find a name that already represents all facets of the character, rather than letting the name come to do so naturally as the character develops.

 

But what about you?  Do you agonize over the subtleties of your characters’ names?  How do you like to go about choosing them?

 

Bene scribete.

Out Loud

Errors in text can sometimes be hard to find.  Not the big and ugly ones, but the little, seemingly innocuous oversights, like missing or repeated words.  It’s because the mind wants to find meaning, and it will readily compensate for what it feels is close enough.

For istnacne, msot of yuo wlil prboblay be albe to
to raed tihs wtihuot any graet mnetal eforft.

It’s normally a good thing, but maybe not so helpful when you’re trying to get some copyediting done.  One way to compensate – have it read aloud to you.  But I don’t mean by another person.

 

Tip of a fishTalking Computers = Neat.

Unlike a person, a speech synthesis program has no context or expectation-bias, so it will read everything on the page in a literal, straightforward manner.  Feeding your text through one can be very handy for catching those last little silly errors, and just hearing your story spoken back to you can be useful for a number of other reasons (not to mention the entertainment value of having it done in a droning, not-quite-right electronic voice).

Most computer (or phone, for that matter) operating systems come with speech synthesis these days, but there are also plenty of websites and free downloadable programs out there which will do the trick.  My personal favorite is Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which has a pretty competent one built in.  Rather than printing my drafts out, I like to convert them for the Kindle to get a more natural and focused read-through, and the option to have it speak it is right there, so it works out nicely.

It’s also funny to hear it pronounce every single one of the proper nouns correctly…except for the most important ones (i.e., any of my protagonists).  (>^-‘)>

 

Kindles can talk

The word was ‘dragon’, Kindle.

 

There isn’t a perfect text-to-speech program out there yet, but they’re still fun to play around with, and can make for a handy utility in your writing arsenal.  What means have you found work best for catching all your typographical blunders?

 

Bene scribete.

Zero Drafting

Last week, I talked about a writing exercise that helps get my brain working faster when my pace has slowed to a crawl.  After spewing out a lot of nonsense that way, I wanted to see if I could apply that high-output word vomit toward something a little more productive, and eventually gravitated toward my current approach of beginning with a hectically speed-written, gloriously sloppy version of each scene in The Book.  A “Draft 0”, if you will.

The basics of zero-drafting are similar to the exercise, only the goal is to try to follow the points of your story-planning rather than letting your mind lead you at random.  You still write as quickly as you can without stopping; the garbage can be cleaned out later.  I started by only doing ten minutes at a time, taking a short break between stints, then moved on to doing a whole scene at once, and now I’ll do an entire chapter in a single go (usually about a two-hour endeavor).  The immediate results are truly cringe-worthy, but that’s O.K.  No one else has to look at this stuff (…for real, this time!).  It gives you a basic framework to follow for the first legitimate draft; some passages will have to be tossed, but many might only need a little editing, and you may even find that the narrative took a few unplanned but ultimately beneficial turns because of the pressure and spontaneity – ideas that could have been missed if you had instead plodded carefully through the first run with an overfocused mind.

Because of my deep-seated need for precision and my perpetual worry of screwing things up, there’s always a build-up of anxiety before I start a draft 0, but once I get rolling with it, it’s extremely liberating.  Regardless of how terrible it is when finished, it’s still a big step forward in the process of getting the book together, and it actually leaves me with a sense of accomplishment.  That’s not something to take for granted; in a solitary activity like writing, self-encouragement is imperative to sticking with it.

In any event, the issue at core here is the subject of today’s Fish Tip.

 

Tip of a fishWrite First.  Edit Second.

It has to be some sort of writing axiom.  Things tend to go a lot more smoothly if you get your ideas down first, and then organize them afterward.  If you edit first, and only write down a sentence after you’ve revised it several times mentally, then the process slows dramatically, and you leave yourself at the mercy of the slog (not to mention it will likely need to be edited again, anyway).

It’s a sentiment we’re all familiar with, I’m sure, but it’s something that certainly still gives me trouble.  One of those things that’s easier said than done!

 

Bene scribete.